[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 for betaing and flailing, and to [livejournal.com profile] salmastryon for making this chapter end in such an angsty spot.  Also, since I've got a non-ideal work schedule for proper posting and I didn't much time for posting last week, thanks to szzzt, 69pineapples, katharienne, AvocadoLove, hogwartshoney, and kerravon for commenting on chapter one.  Also thanks to actionfan and Michelle for commenting on chapter two.  And many, many thanks to quandong_crumble and iloome for commenting on both chapters, cause who doesn't love return commenters?  XD
Notes: So here is where the Angst finally starts picking up at the end of the chapter!  Not like there wasn't angst before, but now I can stop feeling guilty about not delivering the proper amount of angst that I've been promising.  Fair warning, it really does only get worse from here...  Also, this is the chapter with the OC and the major angst concerning a child's death happens.  So read with caution, if this is a thing for you.

Chapter One Chapter Two

~

Steve was ignoring the media storm that he had brewed up. Fury was, well, furious with him for not getting out there and fixing it, but Steve was more than willing to let the PR people do their jobs for once instead of throwing the most popular Avenger at the crowds this time. He'd said what he needed to. That was what mattered.

There was still no sign of the stolen tech from the alternative world, though they'd had one false lead they'd needed to investigate. The Tonys were getting along like a house on fire, which was a little worrisome, but there had been no major explosions yet. As long as the Tower was still standing at the end of the day, Steve decided it wasn't worth fretting over.

Now if only Steve could sleep.

Sometime later, he woke up again, brushing tears away absently. The dreams were getting worse. He almost missed the nightmares, because these dreams... What would Bucky have done, after the war? Steve wasn't short on imagination. He could picture Bucky with a pretty dame on his arm, walking down the aisle. Arguing with old friends over the decision to drop the bomb, which parts of the history/future Steve had learned that Bucky would hate (McCarthyism, Nixon, Vietnam), which parts he would like (color TV, going to the moon, and he was pretty sure Bucky would have gotten a kick out of the 80's if just to tease Steve about how the clothing baffled his artistic senses and color palates). He could picture the family Bucky could have had, and the house Bucky talked about saving up his wages for. He could picture it so well, that his fingers itched to draw the scenes, even though every line would feel like an open wound.

Steve stared up at the dark ceiling of his bedroom, seeing Bucky smiling back at him and imagining the crow's feet around his eyes and how the years would have weathered him. Still handsome, because Bucky would have aged well, dark hair turned to a silky silver. He'd have mellowed a little, settled down, but he'd still tease Steve about being scrawny kid he'd have to look after.

Then Steve closed his eyes, and all he could see was Bucky falling.

What was it the other Tony said his Steve did? Gymnastics. Steve didn't know much about gymnastics, but he could go through the training course Tony had made, letting it put him through some paces. And maybe he could set up some classes for it later. Anything that kept his body moving, exhausting it to the point of collapse, so that he didn't have these long nights where he did nothing but think.

Steve got up, making his way to the kitchen first for some water. He was more dismayed than surprised to see the lights on already. After all, he was hardly the only one with sleeping problems in the Tower. Last time he'd been up it'd been Thor, looking haunted after nightmares of his brother's atrocities. Before that it had been Natasha, small and quiet, arms wrapped around herself as she looked up at him with blank eyes. He'd seen all of the Avengers here at some point or another, though Tony was rarer since he stayed down in his workshop when he couldn't sleep.

He hadn't been expecting their visiting Tony, however, though perhaps he should have. His Tony had just as many nightmares, after all, so he should have realized Antonio would be the same. And with his proper workshop back in another dimension, this Tony must be looking for another place of comfort.

When he walked in and saw Antonio at the kitchen table, though, Steve immediately knew something was wrong. Antonio took far too long to realize Steve was there, and even longer to recognize him if the furrowed brow was anything to go by. His eyes were unfocused, and he looked too pale. Antonio finally raised his glass, some of the liquid splashing over the side. "Cap'n! Come to join me for a night Cap?" he slurred, giggling at his pun.

"I can't get drunk," Steve said, taking in the dilated blue eyes and the slow breathing. What had he called himself? 'A higher functioning alcoholic.' Steve had seen Antonio drink a lot before, but he'd never seen the genius like this.

"More's the pity," Antonio said mournfully. After a moment, he perked up. A moment that was far too long for Antonio's genius brain to come to this realization. "More for me then!"

Steve took a step closer, smelling the alcohol even from this distance. He looked around, only seeing one nearly empty bottle of Vodka, but that didn't mean anything. Half a bottle of Vodka could do quite a bit of damage to a normal person, but at the rate this Tony drank Steve had no idea how much was actually in him. He had a suspicion that however much Antonio had drank, it was too much. "I think you've had enough," Steve said, carefully making his way over to the drunk.

"Nonesense, old boy. Just getting started," Antonio said, drinking from his tumbler and spilling more of the beverage. Leave it to Tony Stark to still be able to talk with alcohol poisoning.

Steve bit the inside of his cheek, absently calculating angles to throw his shield that would knock the glass out of Antonio's hand without hurting him. Not that he had his shield or could throw it in the kitchen, but it calmed the spike of fear when Antonio listed to the side while his lips were on the tumbler.

He slid into the seat next to Antonio. "Doesn't look like you just started to me," Steve said, eying the bottle. There wasn't much left in it, but he didn't want Antonio to finish it off either. Which meant either he had to be stealthy in stealing the bottle away, or drink it himself. He glanced at the label and winced. Stealth then.

"I know what you're doing," Antonio said, looking a little more alert as he also eyed the bottle. "You're trying to cut me off. It won't work."

"Oh?" Steve said, weighing his choices again. He had to distract Antonio or he'd never be able to steal the bottle. "Why do you say that?"

"You're softer than my Cap," Antonio said with a faint smile, not quite answering the question. "He's a lot rougher. You wouldn't just grab it and toss me over your shoulder."

Steve winced. "He does that?" He had the feeling he wouldn't like his other self very much, especially not if he mistreated a drunk Tony.

"It's surprisingly effective," Antonio said with a slur. "Oh, don't give me those eyes. He's a good man, the other you. He's more of a hit first, ask questions later sort of fellow, but he's a good man."

Antonio stared into his drink before drowning it. "Unlike me," he said when he'd finished, losing some of his focus.

"Tony, that's not-" Antonio was reaching for the bottle to refill his drink. Steve had to act. "I'll drink it."

Antonio stared at him a moment, then raised an eyebrow. "The other you hates vodka," he stated.

Steve did not let his face react. That was something he and his other self appeared to have in common. He'd drink a good German beer any day, as he'd cultivated a taste for it during the war. Whiskey and Gin he could drink as well, along with some good wines. But Vodka? He hated both that and the Asian drink Tony made him try once. "Guess that's one thing we don't have in common then," he lied.

"Very well," Antonio said with a wide smile that told Steve he wasn't fooled. He slid the bottle towards Steve. "Bottoms up."

Bastard. He knew. Now Steve had to finish the bottle or else Antonio would try to take it back. Steve steadied himself, then drank straight from the bottle.

He felt tears prick at his eyes as the alcohol burned his throat, but he kept drinking until the last of it was gone, holding off the inevitable coughing fit until the end. What he wouldn't give for a chaser, but there hadn't been time to get one. Antonio was roaring with laughter as Steve clutched at the bottle and kept it from falling as he tried to draw a breath without coughing again. He hated vodka.

"You are a terrible liar," Antonio crowed. "Both of you."

Steve was pretty sure all of his taste buds were dead. Not that the serum wouldn't take care of that in short order, but the memory of the scorching was still fresh. He glared at the still chuckling blue-eyed Tony. That he was this lucid was a good sign, right?

"Now I have to get another bottle," Antonio said, starting to stand.

Steve rushed to steady the other man as he wobbled, feeling how cold and clammy his skin was. "Now you're going to bed," Steve said firmly, his tone brooking no argument.

That didn't mean Antonio wouldn't try. "Not drunk enough to sleep," he replied.

"You drink any more and you're going to a more permanent sleep," Steve said, worry thickening his voice.

"Ah, but would that be such a bad thing? 'To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to Dream. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come...'"

Steve froze, holding Antonio against him with a stone-like grip. He'd have been impressed Antonio could remember Shakespeare while this soused if he could get past the meaning of what Antonio had just said. "You recognize that quote, don't you?" Antonio said curiously, attempting to tilt his head to look at Steve, but he lacked the coordination to turn. Steve nearly lost his grip on Antonio as he twisted around. "Interesting. I think you're better read than my Cap. You-"

"You can't mean that," Steve said, his voice sounding stricken to his own ears.

"Softer," Antonio muttered. "Much softer. I keep forgetting that."

Steve swallowed, knowing the lack of denial was just as good as a confirmation. "Does he... Does the Steve in your world know?" Steve asked around the lump in his throat.

"Common knowledge," Antonio replied, smiling gently at the memory. "He just looks at me sadly. He and Thor stop me every so often. Thor less now than he did before Asgard was destroyed. He's started to see the appeal."

Steve closed his eyes, taking a breath that threatened to shatter him. "Not on my watch, Mister," he said weakly, unable to look into Antonio's eyes.

"That's what my Cap usually says too," Antonio mused, leaning into Steve. The other man was so cold. Cold as death. Steve resolutely didn't think about that, unconsciously rubbing Antonio's arm to warm him up. "Well, that and that I'll be damned," he continued. "But I'm already that already, so it doesn't change much."

"You're a good man," Steve protested.

"My Cap," Antonio said sleepily as if Steve hadn't spoken. "I like the sound of that."

"Let's get you to bed," Steve said finally, leading them in the direction of the guest bedroom as he tried not to think about the fact that the other Steve stopping Antonio had happened more than once.

It was a testament to how drunk Antonio was that instead of an innuendo, he just looked confused. "Are we going the right way..? This is... It's the wrong room."

"We're going the right way," Steve replied, pushing open the guest bedroom door and leading Antonio inside. He paused, eying the bathroom. Antonio positively reeked of alcohol, but Steve wasn't sure he could handle Antonio in the shower. He didn't know how much history this Antonio shared with his Tony as far as the fear of water went. The bed, on the other hand, looked welcoming, even if it seemed surprisingly unused. Steve shook his head. The cleaning bots must have been in here.

Finally, Antonio's confusion faded as he wiggled suggestively against him. At least, Antonio attempted to. It came out more uncoordinated than anything. "Putting me to bed, Cap?" Antonio purred.

"To sleep," Steve corrected, pushing the other man to the bed. Antonio was surprisingly pliant as Steve stripped him then forced him to drink some water. "Has the other me..?" Steve started as he picked up an empty trash can and moved it closer to the bed, unsure if Antonio would throw up. He looked fine now, but drunks could be unpredictable.

"A few times," Antonio replied quietly as he finished the last of the water. "Sometimes he even lets me pretend it's the hangover that makes me so sick. Not many people will stay through that, you know. He... He's good, the other you. He is."

Steve felt like he was missing part of this conversation. What else made Antonio sick? Now wasn't the time to ask though, not when the man was falling asleep. "You're so concerned about reassuring me, but you won't listen when I say the same to you," Steve said sadly. Glossed blue eyes stared back at him. They weren't the right eyes, and the face was too gaunt (that sickness Antonio mentioned?) and the hair was too long. Steve couldn't help but reach out though, brushing the bangs out of his face. "You're good too."

"You don't know me," Antonio said sleepily. "You know your me. Anthony. Not Antonio. Anthony was the best of me..."

"I know Tony Stark," Steve replied. "And you're similar enough in the things that count." He wondered if every Tony Stark would be so good at breaking Steve's heart. This Tony, he was so different that it made Steve want to go to his Tony, just to make sure he was still breathing. But he was also so similar, that Steve could only wonder... "Go to sleep," Steve said as Antonio leaned into his hand.

"So bossy," Antonio said, but his eyes were slipping closed.

Steve looked around, spotting a chair on the other side of the bed. Antonio hadn't thrown up, which meant all that alcohol was still in his system. He couldn't chance leaving Antonio alone. He walked around, sliding into the chair with a heavy sigh. "JARVIS, lights," he said quietly, settling in as the lights faded.

Not drunk enough, this Tony had said. Not drunk enough to chase away the nightmares, but willing to nearly kill himself to find that release? Another reason Steve couldn't just leave after that. Not when Antonio didn't have his own version of Steve Rogers to stop him. Maybe Antonio and the other Steve weren't in the same sort of relationship, but Steve could stand in as a much needed friend in the mean time. If this Tony was the same as his, then Tony was always short on friends anyway.

If this Tony was the same as his Tony... Steve cut short that thought.

Steve stared at the sleeping figure, trying to imagine what his world was like. Bucky was alive, but apparently Asgard had fallen? And Antonio... Antonio was so sick that he looked pale and gaunt on the best days, and he tried drinking himself to death more than once. His Tony was as much a light house to Steve when he was lost among the waves as Bucky had been before the ice. He wondered if his other self felt the same, even if it was only in friendship. He couldn't imagine a version of him that wouldn't try to keep Tony safe, even if it was from himself.

He sat there for over an hour, starting when he heard a soft knock on the door. It opened before he could call out. "Hey. JARVIS said you came here tonight? Sorry. I was-" His Tony stopped in the doorway, staring at Steve as the blue light from the reactor flooded the room.

Suddenly, the comment about going to the wrong room made a lot more sense. Steve was... Steve told himself very firmly that he was not imagining the two of them sleeping together. Not until he was alone and preferably in a shower where no one would hear him as he took care of the problem.

"It's not what it looks like," Tony said quietly. "Natasha's comment about narcissism aside, we're just... sleeping. Really. Nothing more, so don't-"

"It's okay," Steve said, cutting Tony off before he got more agitated and woke up his other self. He decided it wasn't the time to mention he wasn't exactly against other reasons the Tonys might end up in the same bed together. "I trust you," Steve continued, which was true as well. Steve was, admittedly, not immune to being jealous, but he knew Tony wasn't the type to stray. "And he seems to need it."

Tony looked surprised by the admission. Steve still wasn't sure what was going on between them, but it warmed something in him that Tony hadn't taken on other lovers while they were figuring things out. There were many things Steve had learned he'd been painfully wrong about in his initial assessment of Tony, and one of them was how incredibly faithful the man was, playboy reputation aside. That Tony was staying celibate now meant he was serious about wherever they were headed, and it sent a wave of happiness through Steve to realize they were both on the same track.

Tony coughed softly, looking awkward. "So... any reason you're here, then?"

"He was drinking too much," Steve replied, looking down. "I didn't want to chance letting him sleep it off alone."

Tony swore, sounding guilty. "Should have been up earlier. But I got caught up in those nanites of his."

When Tony fell silent, Steve looked at the figure sleeping, sprawled on the big bed. Not the first time this has happened even in this dimension then. He honestly didn't know how to take that knowledge.

"It's funny," Tony said, breaking the silence. "He makes me look well adjusted, which is just... That's fucked up."

"He said it wasn't the first time he's tried to kill himself," Steve said, looking up at the blue lit figure standing across the room. Tony was a literal beacon of light in this world that Steve would be adrift without. And Steve was burning with a question he was terrified of asking, because he would be right back in the darkened ice if that light ever went out. He couldn't help but think that with only the arc reactor's light, Tony's eyes looked a little blue.

Now it was Tony's turn to look away. Steve felt his breath hitch as the silence went on, answering the question he couldn't ask with equal words.

"Tony," Steve choked out. "I need you. Please don't..."

At that, Tony looked up, sitting on the bed on the other side of the alternate him. "You... It's been a while, I promise," Tony said, starting to reach out to Steve, but hesitating and pulling back. "And you don't need me, Steve. There's others who-"

"I do," Steve said. "I need all of the Avengers. You're all that's grounding me in this century. But Tony, you know I..."

This time Tony didn't hesitate, leaning over his other self to press a finger against Steve's lips. He smiled weakly, trailing his finger over Steve's upper lip, then lower. Steve caught the hand as it moved on to his cheek, bringing it back to his mouth as he pressed a kiss into Tony's fingers. If Tony wouldn't let him say the words, he'd find another way.

Tony's hand curled around his briefly, but Steve felt him pulling away shortly after. He let Tony go for now, but he wasn't going to let this go on the way things were much longer. It wasn't the time yet, not with all that was going on. Not with Antonio still sleeping.

His Tony reached down to his sleeping alternate, hand running through his dark hair. Antonio stirred, blinking wearily up at the light source. "Greg?" he asked, a small smile on his lips. "Didja bring coffee?"

"Sorry, but I'm not Gregory," Tony said, his eyes shutting down at the words. "No coffee either. You were the one who said we needed more sleep."

Steve watched as Antonio struggled to sit up, reaching out to Tony's face. "Anthony."

"Sorry to disappoint," Tony joked, though the tone felt flat.

"You're never a disappointment," Antonio said, tugging Tony down until he was lying on the bed and curling around him. "Not to me. Never a disappointment to me, Anthony."

"Which one are you talking to?" Tony asked, though his voice wavered, sounding much more wounded and vulnerable than he had earlier.

"I'd have been proud if my Anthony could have grown up to be like you," Antonio said, and Steve watched as his Tony's shoulders shook. Antonio kissed his forehead, seemingly unaware Steve was still in the room. "Sleep," Antonio said, alcohol already pulling him back under.

Steve wanted to pull his Tony out of the doppelganger's arms to hold him for himself. He couldn't though; he couldn't take that comfort away from Antonio. But he ached to do so, and listening to Tony's breaths even out into sleep didn't change that.

"You don't have to stay," Tony said some time later. Steve had been drifting, so it took him a moment to recognize that it was his Tony talking. "I'll look after him."

"I'd like to stay, if you don't mind," Steve said.

For a moment, Steve thought Tony would say no. But then he saw the small nod in the glow of the arc reactor, and Steve felt some of the tension leave his shoulders. "Good night, Steve," Tony said.

"Night," Steve replied, leaning back in the chair. They could talk later. The sound of two people breathing was enough to lull him to a light sleep, and this time neither the dreams nor the nightmares haunted him.

* * *

It had been a while since Tony regularly woke up curled into someone else. Not since he and Pepper broke up, really. It was even longer since he'd been curled up to a male form. Most of his affairs with men had been limited to one night stands and he never stayed in bed with those.

The smell of alcohol was a little overwhelming, but on the whole Tony was more than willing to curl closer. It was definitely weird feeling a beard pricking at his neck though. Not a bad weird, but different. He could see now what Pepper meant when she complained it tickled.

There was a soft chuckle that didn't belong to his other self. Tony cracked open an eye to see Steve wearing a tired, but amused smile. "Comfortable?" he asked quietly.

Tony fought the urge to stick out his tongue and snuggle closer. He may be accused of acting childish, but he had enough dignity left not to give people more ammunition. Antonio answered before he could, nuzzling closer and prickling Tony's neck further. "Very, though I could do without the hangover. You're more than welcome to join us."

Both Steve and Tony tensed at that, and Tony felt a hand rubbing small, soothing circles on his back to relax him. "Hm," Antonio said. "It's not like us to move so slowly, old boy."

"There are reasons," Tony said. He'd meant to sound more annoyed, but it came out a little like a pout, which he was going to blame on the hand wrapped around his back. And there were reasons, and good ones too. He'd taken things slowly with Pepper because he wanted to do things right. He wanted to do things right with Steve too, plus there had been Steve's added baggage, and the fact Tony had still been getting over Pepper... They just - they needed slow.

His doppelganger chuckled. "If you say so. I guess that means that for now, you're all mine."

That got a reaction out of Steve. Tony raised a sleepy eyebrow at the face Steve was making. Tony couldn't tell if he was angry or flustered. He needed more coffee before trying to discern Steve's disapproval faces. "You're not helping," Tony told his alternate self. "And you're being an ass."

"Did you expect anything less of us?" Antonio asked.

Tony paused, then replied, "No, not really."

Steve sighed in exasperation, shifting in his chair. "Look, if you two are-"

"Are you enjoying the mental image, Captain?" Antonio asked.

Tony's other eyebrow joined the first as Steve turned a little red. That wasn't a response Tony had been expecting. Also, a little hot, knowing Steve was having those kinds of thoughts about him. "If you're awake," Steve continued ignoring the comment. "We need to talk."

His doppelganger moaned, burying his face against Tony. Tony automatically brought up a hand to run though his other self's hair, noting the wince. He started to rub gently, messaging Antonio's head in hopes of alleviating the headache and praying he wasn't about to get puked on. "You are a cruel man," Antonio muttered to Steve. "No 'talks' during a hangover. If we promise to let you watch, would you leave me in peace?"

"Tony."

He could feel Antonio's mouth turn into a pout against his neck. "That's the same tone in every universe," he muttered, prompting a snort from Tony.

"Don't look at me for help," Tony replied. "He's angry with you, not me, this time."

"Et tu, Antony?" the other him asked with a sigh. He groaned as he pulled away and sat up, blinking red-rimmed eyes at Steve. Tony missed the contact immediately, and he wondered if that was part revenge for throwing his other self under the bus.

"Alright, let's get this over with," Antonio said.

"Next time, you find one of us," Steve said, his eyes hard. "And you start cutting back on how much you drink while you're here."

"I'm touched," Antonio said dryly. "Though I don't see why it's any of your concern."

"While you're here, you are our concern," Steve said as Tony sat up as well. "And I can't... Promise me you won't do that again. Find one of us or the other Avengers."

Antonio narrowed his eyes, which Tony knew from experience could be quite a feat with a hangover. "I think you need to remember that I'm not him," he said, gesturing to Tony. "And I don't need-"

"Please," Tony said, moving behind his other self and resting his chin on Antonio's shoulder. He felt his doppelganger tense as he slipped his arm around Antonio's waist.

"That's not fair," Antonio said grumpily. "I never thought another version of myself would try to keep me sober."

"Please," Tony repeated again, hugging him tighter. He felt strange, because he wasn't a stranger to the bottle himself, but he'd never been as far gone on it as Antonio either. This version of him took alcoholism to whole new levels.

Antonio sighed, leaning back against Tony's chest. Tony resolved to have a chat with JARVIS to alert them if this happened again. He'd also make some adjustments to the code he was giving Antonio. Maybe his other self would catch it, but he could at least try to have JARVIS notify the people in the other world if it happened again once he went back home.

"Alright," Antonio said softly, sagging against him in defeat. There was a grief in his shoulders that made Tony want to hold him that much tighter. "But I can't... I'm not stopping completely. Not after..."

Steve looked about to argue, but Tony knew this was as good as they were going to get. "Okay," he agreed before Steve could speak. Because he knew far too well that you had to want to stop, and this Tony didn't want to. Not to mention the withdrawals. Maybe it was a matter of time, or maybe the drink would eventually claim him, but right now the fact that he'd cut back was a big enough concession for Tony to accept.

"Tony-" Steve started.

"Later," Tony said. He would explain later if Steve was going to go all righteous and judgmental. Right now he had to keep watch over Antonio's back, taking the small steps for what they were and maybe encouraging the next one.

"Maybe I shouldn't be surprised," Antonio murmured. "Anthony got me the closest to sober I've ever been."

"I'm not..." Tony choked out, hating his alternate self in that moment. It was the story of his life: People who were already dead were always better than him.

"I know," the other Tony, placing a hand over Tony's that was wrapped around him. "I'm sorry. You're not Gregory or my Anthony. I keep..."

Tony hunched down, pressing his face against Antonio's back since he didn't want to see what Steve was making of this conversation. It was too early in the morning for emotions. Without coffee, he was too willing to let things out, to let his guard down just enough to say things he didn't want to admit. Knowing that Steve was watching all of this just made things worse.

He felt Antonio shift around and arms curl around his back as his doppelganger returned the embrace. "I meant what I said last night," Antonio said. He was a bit surprised his other self remembered anything from last night. Did the nanites help flush the alcohol from Antonio's system? "I'd have liked it if he could have grown up to be someone like you," he continued.

"You really wouldn't," Tony protested. He started to say more, but a hand on his cheek stopped him. Bastard. It really wasn't fair that someone else already knew all of Tony's weaknesses.

"I would," Antonio said. "You have his smile. He'd have liked you as much as I do."

Tony didn't know if this was messed up psychology or if he was healthier to stay away from this. He didn't care though, because he wanted to stay curled up with his other self. Whether Antonio thought he was Gregory or Anthony, it was still approval, which was something he never got when being compared to the dead. He was found lacking by his father compared to Captain America, by the rest of the world compared to his father. Even Steve, at first, had wanted Howard back more than him. At least now he was getting approval.

"Come on, Captain," he heard himself drawl. Except it wasn't himself. It was Tony's voice, but definitely his other self's cadence. "Join the cuddle pile. You know you want to."

Tony immediately imagined how it would feel to have Steve's arms wrap around both of them, like they'd wrapped around him the other day. Never mind what he'd thought earlier about staying the same. If Steve was added into the equation too, Tony could deal with change.

But when Tony looked up, Steve's expression was stormy. "I'll stay over here," he said, his voice tight with anger.

Tony felt his spirits fall. He was about to tell his other self off for making Steve jealous, but Antonio beat him to the chase. "Then I will just keep him to myself," he said.

Tony opened his mouth and prepared to move away when a small nose that Tony was not going to admit was a squeak escaped him. He glared at Antonio, who only smirked back and didn't remove the hand gripping his ass. He should, by all rights, move away. Except that would mean moving away from comfort, and Antonio knew that, the bastard.

"You do that," Steve said, his face a stone of disapproval. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm already late for my morning workout." He left without a backward glance at the two of them.

Tony sighed internally, not giving up on glaring as Antonio gave him another squeeze. "You've made him angry."

"Oh, I wouldn't call that angry," Antonio chuckled. When Tony's glare changed to questioning, his alternate self continued with a smirk. "And I doubt he's going for a workout. At least, not the kind he would do in a gym. He was having a rather impressive party between his legs, old boy. I imagine it had something to do with the thought of the two of us together."

Tony hadn't thought to look down from Steve's face. He wasn't going to make that mistake again, since obviously Steve's angry face was too much like his 'I'm ridiculously turned on and trying to hide it' face. Thinking back over Steve's past behavior, Tony wondered how many of those storm outs had been to hide little Cap's interest. This required further research. And testing. Lots of testing.

"Besides," Antonio said. "You weren't exactly pulling away."

"I should have," Tony said, though he still didn't pull away, and he knew Antonio could feel how those revelations had been affecting him. Unlike Steve, Tony felt no reason to hide the fact he was half hard.

Antonio's hand returned upwards on Tony's back. Tony could only figure that his alternate did indeed know why he hadn't pulled away. He needed the contact, and Tony knew his other self wouldn't take it too far. "The offer is still open," Antonio said. "Just imagine his face if we let him watch."

Tony could imagine Steve's face. He'd been imagining it filled with lust for a while now. Also the thought of sex with his other self was... Okay, maybe Natasha had a point about the whole narcissist thing, because fuck, that was hot. "No," he said firmly, refusing to let any regret enter his voice.

"If you say so, old boy," Antonio said with a knowing smirk.

Tony could see why Pepper and Rhodey hated that smirk.

* * *

Two days later Tony left his other self in bed as he got up early. He snuck out of the room and headed down to the workshop. There he suited up, flying off into the pre-dawn sky.

It was quiet. Tony didn't put on any music, so all he could hear was the wind and the occasional beep from the suit to avoid other air traffic. He hated the silence, hated the oppressive quiet and loneliness, but he didn't talk to JARVIS or ask for music.

He only stopped to pick up some flowers and to clear his visit with the perimeter guard at the battle site, who waved Iron Man through even with the flimsy excuse that he wanted to check for evidence one last time. He touched down lightly in front of the crumbling buildings. They'd be brought down soon and rebuilt on money from the Maria Stark Foundation, because the weapons Tony had created had been so strong that the buildings that had been hit by them were too dangerous to stand as they were. But for now they still stood, in no danger of falling down right this minute, and Tony put the flowers he'd bought on the sidewalk. The worst of the debris had been cleaned up, to the point where the side walk almost looked normal. Then he stepped out of the suit, feeling the chilly air through the jacket he'd worn under the suit.

He should say something. But what could he say? It wasn't like there was anyone to say it to. So he stood vigil and every time he closed his eyes, he could see the blue spotted in red, and the hand that had lain where he placed the flowers.

He'd been there for two hours before Thor landed next to him. "We were worried," Thor said by way of greeting. "You do not look well, my friend."

"I'm fine," Tony said, feeling distant. He almost couldn't tell if he was here or in the battle, because it was playing before his eyes like JARVIS's cameras. He could hear the screams, feel the blinding explosion that changed every sound to ringing. See her hand, knowing he'd failed.

Thor looked down at the flowers, his gaze softening. "It was here?"

"She's dead because of me," Tony said, his mouth on automatic.

"She is dead because a few thoughtless mortals decided that violence was the way to get what they desired," Thor said. "You did everything you could, Shield-brother."

Anger pulled Tony out of the battle and into the present. "I could have saved her!" he yelled, clenching his hands into fists. "You've seen the footage. There was half a dozen things I could have done to save her. She was killed by my tech, Thor! If I'd found it sooner, or if I'd been faster-"

Thor set down Mjölnir, coming to stand in front of Tony as he took Tony's hands in his own. "If that is true, then we are all to blame for her death, since none of us found the stolen weapons in time," Thor said calmly. "And it was our fault for not having your back, Tony, allowing you to be wounded and unable to make the right call. You had a concussion and fought bravely despite your wounds. You cannot blame yourself for this."

"Why not?" Tony asked with a laugh that held no mirth. "Everyone else does."

"My friend-"

"Not everyone," a female voice said.

Both Thor and Tony jumped at the new voice. Thor immediately picked up Mjölnir and stood in front of Tony. Which Tony would have been offended about, but yeah, his suit was in the direction of the voice and although it was in lockdown, it was useless until he reactivated it. He needed to come up with a better way than the bracelets to call the suit.

Tony looked up to see a middle-aged woman with brown skin and red-rimmed eyes. Her dark hair was straightened and rested on her shoulders stylishly, and she had a brown coat wrapped around her, though Tony could see the black dress underneath. Rebecca Conner, née Jefferson, his mind supplied. Born 1975. Married Bobby Conner in 1999, disowned by both of their families for the interracial marriage. Moved to New York in 2000. In 2002, she got her MD. In 2004, she had her first child, a girl named...

"Jasmine always came home from school this way," Dr. Conner said, her soft southern accent slipping through her polished tone. "She stopped by the corner store to look at the fashion magazines. She wanted to design 'em one day."

Tony closed his eyes, every word feeling like a bullet. "You are..?" Thor asked uncertainly.

"Dr. Becca Conner," the woman said, not offering her hand.

"Civilians aren't allowed to be here," Tony said, unable to look away once he opened his eyes again, but wishing desperately that he could.

"They let me through when I said I wanted to visit the place she... One of the policemen came with me, but I figured he could hang back a little when I saw I wasn't the first one here. He agreed." Dr. Conner walked forward, kneeling by the flowers. "She was here, wasn't she?"

Tony nodded, his voice catching in his throat. She leaned down and traced the sidewalk with her fingers as Tony waited for the accusations. Thor wouldn't let her get violent, but Tony wanted to let her hit him. It wouldn't atone for what he'd done, but if it would make her happier, he'd let her.

But she didn't try to hit him, or scream at him, or any of the things he wanted her to do. She stayed there on the ground, closing her eyes as she put her hands together in prayer. Tony and Thor didn't speak, watching as some tears fell down her face.

Tony felt Thor's hand on his back, but he couldn't look away. This was his punishment, his guilt. His duty to stand watch and understand just how much the death and destruction he wrought cost. He felt tears prick at his own eyes, but he held them back. He didn't deserve to shed them.

Finally, the woman stood up and wiped her eyes. "Rest in peace, baby girl. I know God just needed to take back one of his angels," she said quietly. Tony felt dirty, standing beside her at such a private moment when this was all his fault.

Then she turned around to look at Tony, sharp and intelligent eyes piercing through him. She was a doctor, and a good one, Tony recalled from her file. The complete antithesis of everything Tony was. She was brilliant and amazing, and Tony had ruined her life twice over, because not only had he taken her daughter, but her husband died during the Chitauri attack. Here was a woman who used her intelligence to save lives instead of taking them, and Tony had given her nothing but hell. "I..." he started, knowing that no apology could ever make up for his failure. Nothing could possibly make up for a girl's life.

"I meant what I said," Dr. Conner, looking up at him with a firm look in her eyes that were still bright with unshed tears. "Not everyone blames you."

Tony felt his mouth open wordlessly before he finally forced his voice to work. "You can't mean that. After everything-"

"My Bobby, he swore by Stark weapons," Dr. Conner interrupted, smoothing down her jacket. "He said it was the only thing that kept him alive when he was on active duty. He wouldn't accept an upgrade after you got out of the guns business. Said Stark guns were meant to last, and he didn't trust Hammer Tech to have his back when things got rough."

Tony felt like he couldn't breathe as she went on, faces of the soldiers he'd failed nearly overwhelming him as they passed before his eyes. "After he got back," she continued, "Bobby always kept a Stark model 1610 in the drawer beside the bed to protect us."

"It didn't save him in the end," Tony said, the words sticking in his throat. One more person he'd failed to save.

"He left it home that day when he went to see if he could help out with the first responders," Dr. Conner replied calmly. "I used it to protect me and Jasmine from looters. He'd have wanted it that way."

He felt Thor's hand on his back trying to ground him, anchor him, but he was too far adrift to catch the line. "So what?" he asked, feeling angry despite himself. "You forgive me because I made guns? Even ones that didn't save either of them? Weapons that killed her?"

"No," Dr. Conner said. "But you were always a part of my life, Mr. Stark, and I want you to realize that. Bobby grumbled about your decision to stop making guns, but I respected it. Especially when you became Jasmine's favorite. She figured if her Daddy trusted Stark Tech so much, it had to be good. You had to be good."

Tony was finally able to look away, closing his eyes. His lungs burned with every breath he took. "Not good enough to save her," he said quietly. He wasn't good. He wasn't a good man at all. Thor and the others, they were good. But him? He didn't have the red room or brainwashing as an excuse. He didn't have the pursuit of science to better humanity to blame. The weapons were all him. One hundred percent war profiteering Tony Stark, continuing his father's bloody legacy with a quick retort and a charming smile. His other self hadn't focused solely on weapons. He could have done the same.

"You weren't drunk like the papers say?" Dr. Conner asked, and Tony flinched.

"Nay, fair lady," Thor replied for him. "The Man of Iron was wounded, but not drunk."

"Fair lady? Never been called that before," she said with a hint of amusement, before returning to a more solemn tone. "With a concussion, you'd be disoriented and in pain. That's enough to throw anyone's judgement off. If you weren't drunk, then you did the best you could, given the circumstances. It wasn't your fault."

"If I'd been faster or-"

"Stop." The command brought Tony to a halt, and there weren't many people who could command his silence. But he gave it to this woman.

Dr. Conner walked up to them, and it was only Thor's hand on his back that kept Tony in place as she reached up. Instead of a slap, he felt a hand brushing his cheek, wiping away the tears he hadn't realized were falling. "Those kinds of thoughts won't bring my baby back, Mr. Stark. You couldn't save her, but you saved the rest of us. That's one of the first things you learn as a doctor. You can't save everyone.

"Lord knows how many times I've wondered why the patient's family didn't blame me," she continued. "But we aren't gods, Mr. Stark, not even him." Dr. Conner motioned towards Thor, who bowed his head. "Only God saves us all in the end, the rest of us just try to do the best we can. And I believe those whom God takes from us come back as angels to guide us and help us from making the same mistakes."

"I don't believe in God," Tony said numbly, vaguely knowing that that wasn't the best thing to say in this situation. He was in too far over his head, drowning on dry land as this woman who was everything he wasn't floated above the water.

She looked sad at his words, but didn't preach to him, thankfully. The last thing he needed was pretty lies wrapped in a big religious bow saying he was forgiven of all his sins. The world didn't work like that. The universe's only kindness for him would be the oblivion after his death. He could only hope to save enough people from his own inventions before that happened.

"Then I'll believe for the both of us," Dr. Conner said. "But you can't let this stop you from going back out there. There are kids out there just like my Jasmine, and you're one of the few people who can keep them safe when aliens and monsters try to tear the world apart. You're one of the only people who can stand up to them, so that's what you have to keep doing. For Jasmine and everyone else we couldn't save."

Tony stiffened as she pulled him down into a hug. This woman had more strength than any of them, and he still couldn't understand how she was doing this. Tony was a fake, masquerading around and hidden under a suit of armor. Dr. Becca Conner and people like her were the real heroes, saving lives on a daily basis, not just whenever a major threat happened. She had every right to hate him and curse his name, but here she was forgiving him when Tony knew he didn't deserve it. He didn't think he could do what she did. "I..." he said again, wishing he could promise that he wouldn't let it happen again, wishing he did believe in angels, because it would be easier to think he hadn't destroyed the little girl entirely. But he couldn't do either. Tony Stark could deny a lot of things, but he couldn't live in denial for this.

"I'm sorry," he choked out, knowing it wasn't enough, would never be enough, but it was the only thing he could give.

He felt Dr. Conner's shoulders hitch in a sob underneath him. "I know," was all she said as she started crying again.

When she finally let him go, she turned to both him and Thor. Thor also had tears rolling down his cheeks, but Thor made it look noble, rather than the weakness Tony felt for having lost control in front of them. "Come with me to the funeral," she said, as she wiped her own tears away. "All of the Avengers are invited. But you especially."

"But your brother-"

"He wasn't Jasmine's guardian, no matter how much he helped me out after Bobby's death," Dr. Conner said. "He can deal with me if he wants to scream at someone. And I know Jasmine would have liked to have you all there."

"You do us a great honor," Thor replied. "I will pass on word to the others."

Tony couldn't. He couldn't handle it, the thought of standing there and watching the coffin (closed coffin service, because Tony had seen first hand how gruesome his weapons had left her) being lowered to the ground knowing that he was the cause.

"Mr. Stark?"

He also couldn't say no. This was his fault. He had to see it through to the end. He couldn't deny this request. He nodded, taking a moment to compose himself before he spoke again. "I'll be there."

"Thank you," Dr. Conner said.

He didn't deserve her thanks or her comfort. There was no way for him to make this right. He couldn't face the quiet pride in Thor's eyes either, but he also couldn't resist the hug Thor drew him into. "Come, my friend. Let us prepare and let Dr. Conner take over our vigil here."

Dr. Conner nodded and turned back to the flowers on the sidewalk. She wiped at her eyes and said, "Jasmine would have liked the flowers."

Tony couldn't look at her any longer. He pulled away from Thor and let the suit shelter him before he took off to return to the Tower. He needed to pick out a dark suit and prepare for the hell that he was walking into. Now that was denial he'd allow himself to sink into for what short time he could, because there was no way to 'prepare' for this. There was no penitence to erase this sin, and no God to forgive him. There was only himself and the dead.

It's not like he could forgive himself anyway.

~TBC~

Memory: And there ends chapter 3. For some reason, this fic has so many angst scene ends. I'm not sure why that ended up happening, but at least they're not cliff hangers? Except for one, anyway...

Have some Tony feels for the end of the chapter. Because this quote does make me think of both Galen and Tony. XD

"It's easier not to want forgiveness or to expect it. We just keep trying to fix the mistake so we don't have to ask. But you end up trying so hard to atone for one set of mistakes that you over compensate and make new ones. And then you can never break out of the cycle. You just keep going around and around. No way out and no where to go."
-Matthew Gideon, Crusade

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