[personal profile] dragonofmemory
No Black and White in the Blue
By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers movie-verse or Marvel Ultimates, nor do I make any claim to. Also don't own the song 'Blue' by Mai Yamane/Yoko Cano, from which I've stolen the title.
Characters: Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov/Ults Tony Stark, slight Tony/Tony, Clint Barton, Thor, Bruce Banner, Rhodey, Pepper Potts, Ults Steve
Warnings: Please note Ults Tony Stark is a self-professed higher functioning alcoholic. According to canon he's also had a few suicide attempts, and he does think about and doesn't quite care as much as he should about some of the fatal consequences of drinking too much. Keep that in mind, if you are unfamiliar with Ults and this is a problem for you. Also, there's a lot of talk about grief and the (off-screen) death of a child. The child's death was a little on the gruesome side, but there are no real descriptions of the event. Again, just take into consideration your own comfort levels. Finally, this fic was written in order to kill iloome through feels. That stated, there are a lot of feels. Really, a lot. I'm told they're pretty effective. Don't say I didn't warn you if you become collateral damage.
Rating: PG 13
Summary:Anthony Stark just wants to drink and contemplate his failures in peace. Unfortunately Antonio Stark chose just that moment to appear. Now Tony has to deal with an alternate version of himself, the tension between him and Steve, and the differences between the dimensions on top of everything else.

But the biggest monster maybe too much for even two Tonys to stop...
Thanks: Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] narwhale_callin, who says I need to write all the Natasha fic. Also many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] salmastryon for reading it as well and making sure it's Evil enough.
Notes: And here is Chapter Two.  Looks like you'll be getting it on Monday for at least another week, since a trip to Hong Kong will keep me busy for the rest of it.  Anyway, here is the start of the angsty. It only gets worse from here.  Also, there are random Steve feels.  I did not plan on Steve feels going into this, but they happened anyway.  I suppose I should stop being surprised by Steve feels worming their way in.

Chapter One


~

Tony woke up screaming.

"It's 3:36 am, Sir. You are in Stark Towers. Ms. Potts has moved out. The temperature is fifty-six degrees Fahrenheit with a chance of rain later in the..." JARVIS's calm voice continued to spew out facts and figures, his voice soothing. Tony placed his hand over the arc reactor protectively as he trembled and forced himself to breathe.

"You can stop, JARVIS," he said eventually, forcing his shaking legs to support him as he went to the bathroom to wipe away the worst of the sweat with a towel. He wasn't sleeping any more tonight, that was for sure.

Coffee, then workshop. He could get a head start looking through the code on those nanites.

He went to the kitchen, intent on the coffee that would at least give him something warm to calm his nerves. It didn't help matters when a voice called out to him in the half-light. "Are you always a walking flashlight?"

Tony jumped and swore, knocking back against the counter. That was going to bruise. "Do you always hang around in dark kitchens waiting to sneak up on people?" he snapped back.

He turned on the lights, wincing as he waited for his eyes to adjust. Antonio was sitting at the kitchen table, a bottle of orange vodka in one hand and a tumbler in the other. Somehow, Tony wasn't surprised. "You go through more alcohol than I do," he muttered, wondering if he'd have to get JARVIS to order more before the end of the week.

"Life is too short to waste on being sober," Antonio said with a shrug. "Night light?"

Tony's hand went up to cover the reactor, not quite hiding the light but enough to keep anyone from trying to rip it out. "Arc reactor," he said stiffly, hand not moving from its defensive position.

"In your chest?" Antonio said, making to stand. He swayed a little, before walking closer. "Why ever would you put one in there? How deep does it go?"

Tony took a step back, bumping into the counter again. "Easy," Antonio said, holding his hands up in surrender. "Not trying to hurt you. Just curious."

Tony took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. He didn't run as Antonio started to move closer again, though he wanted to. He shivered as Antonio touched his arm, a fleeting brush of fingers that gave Tony plenty of time to move away if he needed to. When Tony didn't, his doppelganger guided him to the kitchen table and pushed his tumbler of vodka towards him. The smell of it woke Tony out of his haze, and he gulped it down, letting it warm him up.

"I'm surprised you didn't steal a tablet and look me up," Tony said after a few minutes.

"I considered it, but I didn't know how drunk I should be before I started," Antonio said.

"At least five more shots," Tony said, letting the alcohol steady his shaking hands.

He finally lowered the hand over the arc reactor, and Antonio peered at the light curiously. "How deep does it go?" he asked.

"Deep enough," Tony replied. "You don't have one."

"No," Antonio said. "I've never had one. At least, never had one in my chest. I have one that powers the suit, obviously. Why did you do it?"

"It beat carrying around a car battery attached to my chest." Tony shrugged, keeping his voice calm despite the fact he knew his other self would be able to read through this easily. "There's shrapnel next to my heart. The electromagnet keeps the shrapnel from killing me."

"Ah." The look Antonio was giving him turned sad. "I'm sorry. Though it couldn't have been one of Gregory's weapons that..."

"It was one of mine," Tony admitted. Antonio looked surprised, and Tony's stomach twisted in knots. "You don't make weapons."

"I make some," Antonio said, "but not enough to really follow Dad's legacy. I left that to Greg. Though I did let SHIELD have some of my Iron Man tech, stupid of me, I know, but buying my way onto the team was one of my only options at the time. When did our dear father leave us in this world?"

Tony looked away. "Seventeen."

"Ah, that makes sense." Antonio nursed his drink thoughtfully. "Yes, I suppose I might have as well, if he had died earlier, or if he hadn't been estranged from Gregory. If I'd needed his approval. Of course, it was around that time he started actively manipulating me too, so I resented him more after that. The Iron Man suits were meant for exploration of various planets. In the end, I just refurbished them."

"But you didn't make them as weapons," Tony said. What could he have been without weapons? He wouldn't be Iron Man, but did the people he save outweigh the people he killed? A blue sun dress spotted in red flashed across his vision, and his breath hitched. "Why did you become Iron Man then?" Tony asked, struggling for something to distract his thoughts away from the image of a small hand.

Now it was Antonio's turn to look away. "More or less the same reason. I'm dying. Well, was dying. I'm not sure anymore. We haven't had time to run the tests since Anthony..."

Tony refilled his other self's glass, only spilling a little of the vodka as his hand shook. If it wasn't a heart full of shrapnel, then what was killing this version of him?

Antonio smiled, toasting him in response to the concerned glance. "The ultimate leveler of the rich and poor, old boy. Cancer." Antonio tapped the side of his head, where Tony could now see faint scars that were carefully hidden around the hairline. "Brain tumor. I figured if I was going to die, I might as well do some good. Maybe go out in a blaze of glory instead of..."

Tony took in his doppelganger's pallor and taunt lines. Chemotherapy, his mind supplied. It had probably been a while since his last treatment, because enough of the color had returned to his other self that Tony had been thrown off at first. Tony wondered if the signs ever truly went away though, if you knew where to look. "You think it's gone now?" he asked.

"I don't know," Antonio replied, a strange grief in his voice. "And if the cancer is gone, I'm not sure why..."

"Why you keep fighting?" Tony asked. He looked down at the arc reactor, wondering what he'd do if he could have it gone. "I don't think it makes much of a difference now. We've both come too far."

"I suppose," Antonio said, grief replaced by a thoughtful look. "'I am Iron Man,' hm?"

"I thought you said you didn't look me up."

"Clint did show me a few things," Antonio explained with a faint smile. "I do love how brash you are. I've never quite managed to shock the press like that."

"Yeah, and the Pope's Catholic," Tony replied. "That's complete B.S."

"Oh, I never said I haven't shocked the press," the doppelganger said with a chuckle. "But never in quite that manner, and frankly, sex tapes don't count."

Tony supposed that made sense, especially if the suits were public knowledge before hand, meant for space exploration. The Paparazzi would have had a completely different spin on how to report on Tony Stark and his escapades. Tony wondered if there was a version of himself out there that used the suits for just that instead of for fighting. "Sex tapes, huh?" Tony said, suddenly glad he'd never had that particular desire.

"It was leaked," Antonio said with a shrug. The topic seemed to make him uncomfortable though, and he quickly changed the subject before Tony could wonder who it was with. "You look like you could use more sleep."

Tony did. He really did. Because he'd been trying to be better ever since he and Pepper broke up, since she wasn't around to coax him to bed any more. If he had been more aware, more awake, maybe he'd make less mistakes. Maybe Pepper wouldn't have left him. But right now, he couldn't close his eyes without seeing... "I don't think sleep is a good idea," Tony said quietly. "Besides, you aren't sleeping either."

"Not drunk enough yet," Antonio said, raising his glass up to the light ruefully. "We all have our demons that haunt us at night. I'm surprised you stay as sober as you do."

"Piloting the suit drunk wasn't a good experience," Tony replied, thinking back to his birthday.

"In your opinion. It works fine for me." His doppelganger looked thoughtful, rolling the vodka in the glass. "We do sleep better when there's someone with us."

Tony snorted. The last thing he needed was to prove Natasha right about that narcissist comment on his file, though he'd admit the particularly vivid and thoroughly detailed thought had crossed his mind. He wasn't in the mood right now though. "You seducing me?"

"Merely stating what we've both thought of," his doppelganger said with a smirk, as if he'd been reading Tony's thoughts. Either that,or Antonio was thinking the same or dirtier, and Tony was leaning more towards the latter since he couldn't imagine himself as a mind-reader in any dimension.

Antonio downed the rest of the tumbler. "Though at the moment, I'd settle for stressing the word 'sleep'."

Tony thought about it. He did sleep better when there was someone warm curled up to him, and if the nightmares returned... Well, it was another version of himself. The other him wouldn't still be awake and getting drunk if he had pleasant dreams. "Alright," he said softly. This wasn't like needing help from the others, right? It was just him.

Fifteen minutes later, Tony found himself back in the bed he'd thought he had abandoned for the night, curled around an alternative version of himself who never had an arc reactor and smelled so strongly of orange vodka that Tony felt light-headed. His life was weird, but as he felt a light caress along his jaw, Tony decided that he didn't care. He fell asleep with his head on his other self's shoulder, and a hand slowly petting his hair.

* * *

Steve stood outside the workshop door holding two coffees and a cup of tea. The coffees were for the Tonys, and the tea for himself. He stared at the access panel, not putting in his code. He took a deep breath, going over what he was going to say in his head.

He was sorry. He shouldn't have yelled and blamed Tony like that the other day, and he didn't mean to imply that Tony couldn't take care of himself. He'd been angry, and taking it out on Tony wasn't right. It was a mistake, and he hoped Tony would be able to forgive him if he tried harder.

Now if only he could say all of that before Tony cut him off and kicked him out.

As mentally prepared as he was ever going to be, Steve punched in his code. It didn't work. He stared down at the panel flashing 'Access Denied' at him in frustration. This had an even less chance of working if Tony refused to let him in at all. "JARVIS, can you tell Tony I have coffee?" Steve pleaded, hoping maybe the temptation of caffeine would work.

There was silence for a moment before JARVIS replied, "I'm sorry, Captain, but Mr. Stark is unwilling to open the door for you at this time."

Steve considered JARVIS's wording before putting in Natasha's codes. It hurt when the words 'Access Granted' came up on the panel. He'd been locked out specifically.

"You're not supposed to use other people's access codes," Tony said to him as he walked in. "And JARVIS, those codes are DNA locked. You shouldn't have let him in."

"My apologies, Sir, but the code was correct and Captain Rogers is on the approved-"

"Yeah, don't try covering your ass, JARVIS. It doesn't work so well when you don't have one to cover," Tony said, but he didn't sound annoyed. He just sounded resigned.

Tony was sitting behind a couple of computers, flanked by the other Tony - Antonio, from what Bruce and Thor said - from the alternate universe. It was unnerving, having two pairs of very similar, yet different colored eyes staring up at him. Especially when they both looked so guarded.

"Right, so give whatever lecture you came here to make and leave," Tony said, jumping on the defensive.

"I'm not here to lecture you," Steve replied, forcing down his own temper. He really wasn't here to start a fight.

"Then what are you here for?" Tony asked.

Steve closed his eyes, setting the coffee down. "To bring you both coffee and apologize."

His Tony still looked defensive, but Anotiono's eyes turned calculating. "Is that bribery coffee?" he asked. "Because I'm willing to be bribed, especially if the brew is Irish."

His Tony sent Antonio a glare, earning him a sigh in return as Antonio nursed the drink already in his hand. Just how much did the other Tony Stark drink anyway?

"What do you have to apologize for?" Tony asked, cutting through his thoughts.

"For what I said earlier," Steve replied. "I never meant to imply I don't trust you. And before that, I never should have... It wasn't right for me to lash out at you like that."

"Why not? You weren't lying," Tony spat. "I wasn't aware you were in the habit of saying things you don't mean. What is America coming to?"

"Tony, I was angry. We were all affected by what happened!"

"What happened was I failed!" Tony shouted. "I didn't listen and I didn't get it right. Are you happy now that you've been proven right?"

"Tony," Steve said, feeling his heart break at the words. "That's not-"

"But that is what-"

"Easy," Antonio said, placing a hand on Tony's back. Tony whirled around, eyes flashing in anger. "He's come to apologize, not to gloat," Antonio continued.

"And what do you know about this?" Tony demanded.

"Enough, I think, to know why you couldn't sleep last night."

Both Steve and Tony winced at the mention of nightmares. Tony probably because of not wanting to admit it, and Steve... Steve didn't even think about how it was affecting Tony, and all of those things he'd said...

"I'm not..." Tony said, looking back to Steve, then to his other self who still kept a comforting hand on his back. Tony's breath hitched, and after a long, tense moment, he leaned forward, crumpling against his other self.

Antonio immediately pulled him into a hug. Steve had to step closer to hear what he was whispering. "I know. Shh, I know. I know what you're feeling."

"I'm sorry," Steve said, feeling like a third wheel and hating the sensation of being useless. "Tony, there was nothing you could have done. It wasn't your fault."

Tony shuddered once, then pulled away from his other self. There was no trace of wetness in his eyes or any sign of his moment of weakness. He walked over to the holographic displays, pulling up something on his phone. "I think we both know that isn't true," he said, giving his phone a flick. Newspaper headings and articles came up on the displays, and Tony zoomed in on one in particular. "And we're not the only ones who know it," Tony said as Steve took a step back, his eyes going wide.

"Tony-"

"I need to make an appearance for Pepper and SI. Let me know when the team has come to a decision, if you haven't made one already," Tony said as he walked out, the door sliding behind him.

Steve stood there stunned, looking at the articles and pictures with growing horror. Antonio whistled. "It's gotten a lot more vicious since I stole a tablet this morning," he said, flicking through a few of the articles with practiced ease.

"How... They're blaming him for this?" Steve asked, a growing fury rising in him. He also felt sick, because he'd said many of the same things to Tony when the mission had gone south. "And they want him off the team," he realized with a start, reading the article Tony had singled out, sickness winning over the anger. Was that what Tony meant about the team making a decision? How could he even think he'd be off the team?

"I assume you'll talk to the team about it," Antonio said with a questionable casualness.

"What?" Steve wheeled on Antonio, finally having a direction for the anger to go. "What's there to discuss? The press doesn't have a say on who stays on the Avengers! We need Tony on the team!"

Antonio looked surprised for a moment, before he took one of the coffees on the tray Steve had brought down. "Can't say I was expecting that response, not when..." Antonio shook himself, looking away. "But then, you're in love with him, aren't you?"

Steve felt his eyes widen. "How did you..?"

"Just because I drink doesn't mean I'm unobservant. Higher functioning alcoholic," he said with a small toast. "He does feel the same way, if you weren't aware."

Steve swallowed. They'd been dancing around this for awhile, him and his Tony. They were both aware of the potential between them, but that wasn't the problem. "I can never say the right thing," he admitted, looking at the lab door sadly.

"You have more tact than the Cap from my world," Antonio said wryly. "Though I'll admit that you do seem to stumble upon the wrong words more frequently around this world's me than mine does. I don't think I've ever been quite as angry with Cap as Anthony is with you."

"Are you and him..?" Steve asked, unsure how to ask, and half wishing he could take it back when he considered how rude it was.

"Like you two? No," Antonio said. "I've always gotten the feeling he doesn't like me very much, and I get his disapproval more often than not. Though for the record..." He glanced up and down Steve, openly undressing him with his eyes. Steve fought down a blush, but by the smirk Antonio's face, he wasn't that successful. "For the record, I wouldn't say no if my Cap gave up on married women. Or maybe I should give marriage another shot. Either I'll be more tempting, or I could conspire a threesome."

That was galling, thinking of his other self stealing another man's wife. Some of that must have shown on his face, because Antonio laughed. "You look like you swallowed a lemon," he said, sounding highly amused. "I'm going to have to get this off the security cameras before I leave."

"The other me, does he really..?" Steve asked, unable to bring himself to finish the question again, but this time out of disgust.

"Oh, yes. Mrs. Janet Pym, to be exact. Or Van Dyne, after the divorce." Steve winced. Divorce? He was a home wrecker now? "Admittedly," Antonio continued. "Gail was supposed to marry you before the ice, so no one blames you for coveting Bucky's wife."

Steve's mind stuttered to a halt as the world lurched underneath him. "Bucky's wife?" he asked, feeling his breath freeze in his lungs. "Bucky... Bucky survived the war?"

"And married the girlfriend of my world's Cap," Antonio said callously. But then he came closer and put a hand on Steve's shoulder. "I take it he didn't survive here?"

"He..." Steve said, mind rushing forward now with images of what could have happened if he'd been faster, or stronger, or smarter. What could have happened if he'd saved Bucky, as he obviously managed to in this other, alternative universe? "He fell," Steve heard himself say, feeling very far away. "I couldn't save him."

The pressure on his shoulder brought him back, as did the hand brushing at his cheek. Steve blinked, realizing for the first time he'd been crying. He shouldn't show weakness in front of the others, because they needed him to be strong as their leader. But in some other universe, he'd been good enough. Here he hadn't been able to stop Bucky from falling.

He wanted to lean forward into Tony, to try to stave off this feeling for a while longer because Tony wasn't quite the same as the others. They weren't quite there yet in their relationship, but Tony was the first person in this new time that Steve felt like he could let in like he had Peggy or Bucky. But when his vision cleared, blue eyes instead of brown gazed across from him.

Steve started back, pushing Antonio's hands away. He rubbed his eyes, getting rid of the last of the tears. He didn't have time for this.

"Your other self knows how to grieve," Antonio said quietly. "Even if sometimes I think he's too caught up in it. You, though... I wonder if you know how."

"I don't have time," Steve said, pushing down the grief that threatened to overwhelm him. He couldn't let go of his emotions right now, not when the situation with the press was a mess and they had to find whatever weapon Antonio's brother had designed.

"More's the pity," Antonio said. "You might want to look into that. In the mean time, I'll look after my other self."

"I should..." He should go after Tony and ignore the ache that was building in his chest. He needed to fix this and talk to the press. He needed...

"Leave him to me for now. Go do your gymnastics or whatever you do to abuse the gym when you're sulking in this universe."

"I don't sulk," Steve said, forcing his voice into a growl instead of sounding... well, sulky. In a way he was glad Antonio was making light of the situation, because it allowed him to step back, focus on the bickering. Not think about Bucky.

Antonio snorted, downing the last of his coffee. "Darling, some things are universal. You sulking is one of them." He was smiling gently, taking the bite out of his words, but Steve still scowled.

"Go sulk," Antonio said playfully as he walked to the elevator. "And find him after you've gotten it out of your system. I should have him calm by then. Now, I have a martini to make. See you around, Captain."

Steve glared as Antonio left, then went up to the gym where he was definitely not going to sulk or think of trains and snow. Taking out aggression on punching bags was different, and if he didn't stop when his hands started to bleed... They'd heal over soon enough and no one would know. But when he got there, Clint was already lifting weights. "Come down to sulk?" the archer asked with a smirk.

Steve grit his teeth. He didn't want to deal with anyone right now. "Came down to see if anyone wanted to spar," he lied, because it was the only way Clint would leave him alone. Clint hated getting his ass kicked.

Then he smiled, and Clint obviously sensed what he was in for, hurriedly putting the weights down. "Well, I should-"

"Thanks for volunteering," Steve said as he changed his mind on wanting someone around. He took a panicking Clint by the arm and led him to the boxing equipment. "Wouldn't want people to think I'm sulking, right? I'll go easy on you."

Clint groaned, muttering something about passive-aggressive sulkers. Steve didn't bother to respond. Clint would learn the hard way.

* * *

Clint groaned as Natasha walked in the living room. She raised an eyebrow at him draped over the couch in his usual 'I'm in pain' position. "What happened to you?" she asked.

"Cap is a passive-aggressive bastard," he replied.

"Maybe you shouldn't tell him that then," Natasha said, feeling the worry subside as she guessed at the cause of Steve choosing Clint as his target. Clint probably deserved whatever training Steve had put him through. "You should also wait to say that when he's not in the room."

"Wait, what?" Clint shot up, wincing as the motion pulled on his probably sore muscles. He looked over at the door frantically to see a politely beaming Steve Rogers.

"Morning, Clint," Steve said, looking deceptively innocent. Natasha almost envied him for that, because so few people could pull that off without coming across as insincere. Both Clint and Natasha had gotten to know Steve within the past few months, however, so neither of them were fooled. "Just who I was looking for," Steve continued. "Ready for more training?"

Clint turned pleading eyes on her. As much as Natasha was loathe to bail him out, she did need to speak with Steve. Besides, that would make the next time Clint needed help better, if he thought he stood a chance of getting it. "Sorry, Cap. Fury says we need to talk to the press and with Stark.... Let's just say he wants you to do it."

Steve sighed, his shoulders slumping as he ran a hand through his hair. "What more can we say?" Steve asked. "We've already done one press conference, so what more does he need?"

"It's more what the public wants. JARVIS, if you please," she said, motioning to the TV for JARVIS to turn it on. He knew what she needed.

"-step down from the Avengers? Many people are asking why Captain America hasn't taken Mr. Stark off the team himself. Citizens are demanding that Mr. Stark take accountability for his actions, since he was allegedly piloting the suit while drunk. The allegations have been made based on how he was swerving and losing control of the suit in battle. Richard Jefferson, uncle to Jasmine Conner, is leading the crowd calling for Mr. Stark to be brought up on charges of manslaughter."

"Jasmine is dead because of him!" said a dark-skinned man as the camera switched to him. "And that murderer is still part of the Avengers? The Merchant of Death hasn't changed, and he still sells to terrorists while he drinks the profit! Is that the sort of man we want kids to see as a role model? What that monster deserves is to be behind bars! Drunk drivers are charged with manslaughter, so how's this different? He needs-"

"JARVIS, off," Steve snapped. Natasha could see his hands trembling in suppressed rage. "Fury wants me to address this?"

"Someone needs to," Natasha said with a careful shrug. "They're only going to get worse if we don't. Fury said it's your call to make if he's off the team."

"If he's..."

Natasha did not back down as Steve loomed over her, but she was willing to admit to herself that Steve Rogers was an extremely intimidating man when he wanted to be.

"You're right. Something needs to be done about it, and now," Steve said. "Call the press conference. They've got an hour to get here if they want to hear it."

With that, Steve pivoted, exiting the room with a dangerous air about him. Natasha almost felt pity for the reporters. Almost, but not quite.

"I'll get the popcorn," Clint volunteered cheerfully.

Natasha nodded, turning to go make a few phone calls. Tony was in the doorway, his eyes shut tight against the world. "I guess that settles that," he muttered, before leaving as well.

She immediately felt guilty. Natasha had been playing calm to rile Steve up, but if Tony had seen that... He always assumed the worst. She nearly went after him, but he wouldn't believe anything she said right now. He'd have to hear it at the press conference with everyone else. "Clint, popcorn goes down to the workshop," she said over her shoulder.

"Sure thing," he said with a salute.

Natasha made the calls, keeping her voice calm and collected as she did so as to not give away what was in store for them. Admittedly, it was a bit harder than normal when they kept pestering her for her opinion and she wanted to rip into them for what they were implying (and flat out saying) about Tony, but she firmly reminded herself how much more satisfying it would be watching America's golden boy tear them a new one. She repeated 'no comment' for the sixteenth time, allowing a small smile to flit across her face. They had no idea what they were in for.

That done, she alerted the staff and Pepper. After working with them as Natalie Rushman, the ones who were blissfully unaware of her spying still snapped to attention when she was in the room. The ones who were aware (mostly Pepper and Happy) were in various stages of forgiving her. When they asked questions, she let a bit of smugness creep into her voice when she told them to watch and see, because it was going to be good.

Once everything was settled, Natasha got some paperwork done as she kept an eye on the clock. When it was time, she went down to the workshop, surprised that her codes actually worked. After Tony's earlier retreat, she would have bet on having to use her emergency codes to get them out of lock down.

The alternative Tony (Antonio, as they've all dubbed him) saw her as she walked in, and an emotion she'd only seen directed at Pepper or Steve showed in his eyes as they lingered around her hips and chest, then up to her face. Then he his body language closed off, hand tightening around his glass of alcohol that he was never without. Before he looked away, she saw a raw, wounded expression in his eyes that she saw sometimes when her Tony was reminded of Stane.

She hated the fact that another version of her had done that. She also hated to think about why, because she was becoming more and more compromised every day when it came to the team. Most of all, she hated the fact that the look was directed at her, because the guilt that followed it was misplaced and ridiculous, but so, so strong.

She walked over slowly, choreographing her movements so that the other Tony could see her. Her Tony looked up, brown eyes meeting hers before he looked away. "Come to tell me the news?" he said, his voice dull and flat.

"The press conference starts in a few minutes," she said, standing closer to Tony and wishing he would believe her if she tried to reassure him. She nodded to the Antonio, who didn't lose the tension about his gaunt frame. "Clint's bringing the popcorn," she added.

"Then watch it elsewhere," Tony snapped. "There's plenty of TVs in the Tower."

"It's not what you're thinking it is," she said. She wanted to coax him over to the cot in the corner, but she didn't know how well Antonio would take that. It was obvious that his attraction to her still ran deep and if he were anything like her Tony, he could sink pretty far into denial, but Tony was always more protective of others than he was of himself. She couldn't underestimate that.

"Then what is it? Tony asked, spinning around to face her and waving his arms as he yelled. Unlike Steve, Tony wasn't intimidating like this. He would have been if it had been one of the other Avengers being hung out to dry by the press, but this was just him. Him and his own reputation on the line, and instead of intimidating, he just sounded broken.

She didn't let her expression change, despite the fact that she wanted to soften the lines and show Tony she was on his side for this. She was good at reading people, and she could calm him down easily, but Antonio... How much emotional manipulation had her other self put him through? He'd cut her off from her Tony, and she'd lose her chance. Unfortunately, she didn't know what else to do to help him. "Something you should watch," she said instead, sitting down on the cot.

"Why the hell would I-" Tony started, then cut off, looking up at his alternative self whose hand had settled on his back.

"Why don't we listen for once, old boy," Antonio said, moving closer. Part of her was still wary of this doppelganger, and she had to stop herself from moving her hands closer to the knife strapped to her thigh as her Tony leaned into him for comfort. Mutual trust, she reminded herself. But she couldn't help mentally bringing up Tony's file and glancing through a list of people that proved Tony Stark was not a great judge of character (for all his paranoia), and it didn't seem like Antonio was any better, if what her other self had done to him was true. Still, her Tony wouldn't take a protective rage any better from her than he had from Steve, so she held back.

Maybe she hadn't hidden it well enough, or maybe Antonio was a much more perceptive drunk than Tony was, because he was looking at her now, some of the mistrust replaced by curiosity.

"I..." Tony said as Antonio led them over to the cot. She wasn't the only one protective of her Tony, she realized. The blue-eyed Stark positioned them on the far end of the cot and put himself between Natasha and Tony. She nodded, letting him keep up the 'protection' for now if it made him more comfortable. She kept watch on him though, looking for any movement that could be suspicious.

"Have I missed anything?" Clint asked as he came in. He held a huge bowl of popcorn in his hands, which he offered to the Tonys after plopping down next to Natasha. Tony didn't take any, and he wouldn't so long as it was offered. He'd steal some of it soon enough though, because Tony equated food with comfort. Antonio took a handful, inspected it for a moment, then ate.

"I believe Captain Rogers has just taken the podium, Agent Barton," JARVIS replied.

"Put it on the screen then please?" Natasha asked politely, because she had a bit of a soft spot for Tony and his creations, and it was always better to be polite to the AI that controlled your shower preferences.

"Of course, Agent Romanov. It would be my pleasure," JARVIS replied. She rather thought he approved of her methods, so long as it worked towards Tony's best interests.

The 'screen' was really the opposite wall, but it definitely wasn't a projection either. Steve was at the podium, fully decked out in his Captain America uniform. He was already speaking, but they hadn't missed much. "-called the conference today to extend our condolences to the Conner family in their time of loss. What happened the other day was a tragedy. I've seen..." Steve paused, and she could see he was gathering his composure for what he was about to say. "I've seen a lot of death in my time, but the loss of a child's life never loses its ability to shatter even the most hardened war veterans. 'Unfortunate' and 'sorry' aren't words any where near enough to adequately convey feelings."

Natasha glanced over at Tony, who was curling in on himself at every word. Antonio leaned against his shoulder in support, but Tony didn't seem to feel it as he closed down further as Steve spoke. Part of her wanted to lean over and run a hand through his hair, an impulse she stomped down on. Antonio probably wouldn't take kindly to it.

"Captain, is it true that Mr. Stark was drinking before he came out?" one of the reporters yelled.

The man got a firm glare of disapproval from Steve. "I'm not taking questions right now, Mister. You have to wait your turn. But on the subject of Mr. Stark, he said he hadn't been drinking, and I'm inclined to accept his word. There were no toxicology tests because it wasn't deemed necessary at the time, though if the police require medical records about the concussion Mr. Stark got during the fight, they will have to ask through proper channels. Mr. Stark made a mistake. A costly one, but not one that I feel is worth losing Iron Man on the team when he could save more people by-"

"He's a murderer!" someone in the crowd cried. "He killed that girl with one of his own weapons. He should be taken to court for treason since he's selling the weapons to terrorists again!"

Steve was quiet for a moment, and Natasha wondered if she shouldn't have offered to go with him for support. The last thing the Avengers needed was Captain America going berserk on a bunch of reporters. It'd be fun, but Fury would hold her responsible for it getting out of hand and the paper work for attacking reporters was a bitch. Steve also looked like he might appreciate a friend up there, but she didn't examine her feelings on that too closely.

But Steve held on to his temper and looked into a now silent crowd. She envied his ability to silence reporters. "If that's true," he said finally, "You're gonna have to try me first."

That got a response both from the crowd and from Tony. "What the hell? What does he-"

"Just be quiet, kotyonok," Natasha said, earning her an eyebrow from Clint. She shrugged. She had been using the pet name with Tony in private since they slept together, but now that the secret was out, there was no reason to hide it anymore.

"You can't be serious," one of the reporters on screen said. "This had nothing to do with you!"

"It was my plan that put Mr. Stark in that position," Steve said calmly. "So in a sense, I am responsible. This 'crime' you're accusing Tony of, I've committed it too. I make mistakes just like everyone else does."

"This isn't about mistakes, Captain. This is-" someone else said.

"It's not?" Steve asked. "Because I just told you he wasn't drunk. He had a concussion that affected his judgement, but if he hadn't stayed in the battle we'd be mourning hundreds of other lives. So if it's treason you're trying to bring him to court for, son, you might want to check the news. Two weeks ago a military stock hold was attacked. There was a big commotion over it, if I remember correctly. Turns out there were quite a few old Stark weapons from before Tony stopped production held there. The Avengers were in the process of tracking them down when the tragedy yesterday happened. If that counts for treason, then the country I loved has changed to be almost unrecognizable."

Clint swallowed a handful of popcorn, crunching obnoxiously. "There's nothing better than watching Cap chew out reporters," he said, reaching for another handful.

"I don't know," Antonio drawled, waiting for Clint to put the popcorn in his mouth. "You should have seen him as president."

Clint choked on the popcorn. Natasha had to pound him on the back several times. "Bastard," he muttered as Antonio smirked. Natasha decided she approved of this Tony Stark. She could definitely get to like him.

"Sadly, Cap wouldn't let me be the VP," Antonio said mournfully. "But watching him bitch out the politicians was a thing of beauty."

"I'd have voted for him," Tony said with a weak smile. Natasha relaxed slightly to see it, relieved that he was feeling well enough to quip.

"What do you mean I couldn't have done the same?" Cap said on screen, drawing their attention back to the press release. "'Captain America never lost a soldier' is a lie. My mistakes have cost plenty of lives before, and I know every single one of them I could find a name for. But my mistakes haven't been caught on CCTV for everyone to analyze and come up with four different ways she could have been saved in 20/20 hindsight!"

"Soldiers are different from a kid, Cap!"

"Are they?" Steve asked, his voice laden with sorrow. "The war I fought in, a lot of times there wasn't any difference. Children fought too. A life is a life."

"And which 'mistake' would you be tried for then?" one reporter asked. Balding, middle-aged, terrible fashion. Natasha made a note of him, because he was going to get an unpleasant surprise sometime soon for that question. She was torn between wanting to have been there for Steve, and keeping an eye on Tony like she was doing. She didn't meet Clint's gaze when he looked her way.

Steve went quiet for a moment, looking out at the crowd but not seeing it. "James Buchanan Barnes," he said, with an air of finality to the name. There was a haunted expression on his face that could only have been Steve reliving the event in his own mind.

"That was different," Tony protested automatically.

"Was it?" Natasha asked.

"He picked up my weapon, my shield. And my mistake... My inability to save him, that cost him his life," Steve said, choking over the words. "He was a bigger hero than me. I had the serum which let me do all these things, but he had none of that, and he still went to war. And I failed him. That was my failure. My mistake."

The crowd erupted at that, but Steve ignored all the questions. "Iron Man, Tony Stark, is a good man. If you don't think that he hasn't run every scenario over and over again to figure out how he could have saved her if he'd done something differently, you're wrong. We can only learn from our mistakes, because we can't go back and fix them, but he's doing the best he can to learn. He stays on the team, and that's my final word on the subject."

There was a roar of questions, but Steve pivoted away from the podium, ignoring all of the reporters.

Tony stood up. "I need to..."

"Go," Natasha said. "He needs someone with him."

Tony nodded, then looked to Antonio questioningly. The doppelganger raised his glass, then pointed to a tablet in his lap. "I still have plenty of differences to find in the dimensions. Don't worry about me."

It was clear her Tony did worry, looking at her and Clint for confirmation. It wasn't in suspicion though. It was concern. Clint saluted him lazily in response, letting Tony know he would take care of things.

Which meant it was Natasha's turn to leave as well, because Antonio was obviously conflicted about her presence. After Tony had left, she stood up. Clint followed her a little ways, pulling her to the side when they were out of hearing of the other Tony. "We need to talk about this?" he asked.

"Do we?' she challenged.

"You told me once that you were compromised," he said quietly. "I'd like to know what I'm seeing."

Natasha let the silence stretch on. She wasn't going to be able to bluff this one. Sure, she could lie convincingly enough, but Clint already had too much evidence. "The team makes things... difficult," she said wearily.

"They do," Clint said with a grin.

"Are you going to report this to Fury?"

"Fuck Fury," Clint said, his grin fading into something softer. "It's a good look on you, being compromised. It's better like this."

"And if there's a mission?" She knew one day Fury would tell her to betray the team. She was a good spy. One of the best. He would ask her to because it was only a matter of time that he got desperate enough to need her. She didn't know what she would say when he did.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Clint said. "For now, it's okay the way things are."

She couldn't just dismiss the future that easily, no matter how appealing that was. Natasha looked back at Antonio, knowing that it was what she would have to face from her Tony and the rest of the team if she had to do it. The thought of the betrayal in those blue eyes being reflected in brown tore her apart. She was compromised, and compromised badly.

"Look after him," she said, nodding to where the doppelganger sat flicking through the news articles of the press release, not knowing if she meant this Tony, or hers in the inevitability of what will come.

Clint nodded, taking her hand and squeezing it in promise.

She pulled away, watching as Clint went back to the cot, chatting cheerfully to the alternate Tony. Then she left, because she had work to do that wouldn't wait for her guilt to let up.

* * *

Steve was in his room, staring up at the ceiling as he lay on his bed. One thing went through his mind. Bucky. His breath hitched at the memories of Bucky's eyes as he fell, trying to push the image away but failing.

The soft knock on his door didn't chase the image away either. He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and rubbing at his eyes. "Come in," he said, hoping whoever it was wouldn't be in here for long.

"Steve?" Tony asked, poking his head in.

Steve sighed. Of course now Tony would want to talk. He motioned for Tony to come in, and the engineer took a seat next to him in the bed. "You didn't have to do that," Tony said, looking at the far wall.

"I did," Steve replied.

Tony shook his head. "It'd have been better to kick me off the team. The Tower would still be yours and I wouldn't stop the funding, so-"

"Don't," Steve said, turning to face Tony. He raised a hand to Tony's face, watching as Tony leaned into the hand. "I... The team needs you. You're not just Iron Man, Tony, or the guy that gives us things and a place to live. We need you." I need you, Steve couldn't quite bring himself to say.

Tony heard it anyway, closing his eyes. "I don't know why. You'd be better without me."

Steve smiled, rubbing his thumb over Tony's cheek. "No, we wouldn't. Don't know if I could explain it, but it's true. We need Tony Stark."

Tony shook his head. "What you said wasn't true. I was out of position. I wasn't following your plan."

"If you'd been in position, you'd never have seen her in the first place. She'd still be dead." But then it wouldn't have been so obviously Tony's fault in front of the cameras. They both knew that. She'd just have been a victim, a tragic one, but the blame would have fallen on the terrorists, or Steve himself.

"You didn't have to..." Tony started again.

"I did," Steve repeated.

"What happened with Barnes was different."

Steve took a deep breath, wincing as it hitched painfully. "Was it?" Steve asked. "When you close your eyes, what do you see?"

Tony was silent, and for a while, Steve wondered if he'd get an answer at all. Then Tony started to tremble. "Blue sundress," he said, close to a whisper. "It... I-It was spotted with red, her hand was... It was off to the side, a few inches away."

Steve hadn't seen the body. He hadn't realized... He swallowed, forcing himself not to dwell on the gruesome image. "I see Bucky's eyes," Steve admitted. "And all I can think about is what I could have done differently."

"I should have been able to save her," Tony said brokenly. "There was nothing you could have-"

"Bucky is alive in the other world!" The words left Steve in a rush, and it felt like a raw wound.

Tony's head snapped up, his eyes going wide. "What? How do you..?"

Steve laughed. It was painful and slightly hysterical. "The other you mentioned it. Bucky survived and married the dame that the other me fancied."

"Well, that sucks," Tony said with classic Tony Tact. Steve laughed again, feeling like he was breaking apart. "Well, not that he was alive, but marrying... Anyway, things might have gone differently there. That mission on the train might not have happened at all. You don't know-"

"Things did go differently," Steve said. "Bucky was safe. The other me, he kept Bucky alive. Bucky's death is my fault."

"Steve," Tony said helplessly.

Brown eyes. Before, he'd wanted nothing more than to lean into Tony, accepting the comfort that was given, but blue eyes had stopped him. Now they were the proper brown, with just as much grief as Steve felt.

Steve pulled Tony closer until the other man was practically in his lap and buried his face in Tony's now shoulder. Tony tensed. Neither of them were ready for this step, no matter how long they'd been dancing around each other. But then Steve felt deft hands running through his hair, and Tony was suddenly clinging to Steve as much as he was to Tony.

He felt lips brush against his forehead as he pulled in a shuddery breath. It wasn't Bucky or Peggy, but he was starting to regard Tony just as precious. And Tony was here, sitting next to him. Solid. He needed that, even if they weren't ready for this. Tony seemed like he needed it too.

It wasn't much, but it was enough to build on.

~TBC~

Memory:  The next chapter is where all the fun starts.  This one is just a warm up.  XD  Anyway, hope you enjoyed all the Steve angst.  And the Tonys together.  There's lots more of that coming up.

Now for the quote of the chapter.

"Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world."
-The Talmud

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January 2017

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