There was a blue police box in the middle of Killian Court.
At five p.m. on a January evening, night had already fallen, and a Nor’easter was blowing in. Tony could swear that the Maclaurin Buildings had been in use since his university was founded – its lighting was unreliable, its heating even less, and the current weather outside was not helping his foul mood at all.
All of his students had already left, as did all of the other graduate students and professors, rushing home as quickly as possible to avoid the worst of the winter storm. Only Tony was left to lock up the building doors, and he did it with clumsy grace, cursing loudly as he pushed the door open and received a face full of freezing wind. Over the screaming wind, he couldn’t even hear himself, and wasn’t that his worst luck? Tony braced his entire body against the door, taking three tries to put the key into the keyhole and locking up for the night.
Once the doors were finally shut, he hitched his coat closer to himself and burrowed into his scarf. It’s been ten seconds since he left the Maclaurin Buildings, and he could already feel cold nipping his bare nose. He turned around, fighting against the weather as he struggled to put one foot in front of the other.
With all the intent of moving quickly across campus and back into the warmth of his house so that he could work on his thesis and not drink himself to an unintended engineering binge, he still couldn’t have missed it.
A blue box was there, plain and simple, right in the heart of MIT. Tony found himself slowing down, walking towards it, mesmerized.
It looked vaguely like the classic red telephone booths stationed across the United Kingdom he had seen before, although it seemed a bit larger and taller than those booths. But Tony was 87% sure that America did not use police call boxes, whatever purpose they served. Second, Tony was completely confident that MIT did not own a police call box, even for a practical joke. He would have heard of it if his fellow peers were going to stage a hack.
Hell, he’d been the one leading those hacks for the past few years - even though he was no longer an undergraduate student but a graduate on his third degree.
So with all the evidence that pointed to the fact that the police box came out of nowhere, Tony was curious.
The box was glowing dully, pulsating with an inviting light, and Tony had the urge to touch it. This was the dumbest plan he had, considering that it was way below freezing and he was headed towards hypothermia if he stayed out here any longer, but Tony peeled a glove off from his fingers and pressed his hand against the wooden exterior. It was lukewarm, buzzing weakly under his palm. “POLICE TELEPHONE, FREE FOR USE OF PUBLIC…PULL TO OPEN,” the sign on the call box read.
Clearly, someone had misplaced cop equipment, and as an upstanding citizen of the law, it would only make sense for him to notify the appropriate law authorities of their missing…box, even though Tony was still sure that America didn’t use these.
Tony moved to open the doors – if nothing else, he assumed there would be a phone inside – but the doors wouldn’t open. Tony gripped the handles harder and tried again; the doors still refused to budge. He frowned and let out a huff.
Just as he was about to try again, squat down a little lower and looking at the keyhole, a distinctly British voice interrupted him. “Oi! What are you doing with my ship?”
Tony leapt back in shock, jerking his hand away from the box. He didn’t shriek at all, nosiree, from being caught out snooping around the box. He turned around to see a tall, skinny man standing behind him. He looked like a professor, with a brown suit and horn-rimmed glasses, but even with a long trench coat over his attire, hands tucked snugly, he was not dressed for the New England winter at all. For one, the man didn’t have a cap on – surely his ears must be freezing. Second, he was wearing sneakers instead of boots. It was as if he couldn’t feel the cold at all, and Tony was freezing looking at him.
“Come again?” Tony asked in disbelief, shouting over the wind. This blue police box could no way be a ship. He must have misheard him. And with all the screaming that was going on, it was entirely possible that he could have heard it wrongly.
But the professor-looking man just nodded, flapping his hand in the direction of the box. “Yes, that right there is a ship. My ship. How can you see my ship?”
Tony stared at the man, ignoring the way he was slowly freezing to death, because this was too good. He looked back at it. “It’s right in the middle of MIT, how could I not see it?”
“The TARDIS has a chameleon circuit that would allow her to blend in with her environment.” The man stated it in such a matter-of-fact tone that it was as if Tony was the dumb one in this conversation.
“What,” Tony deadpanned, and he stared at the man. Tony had two doctorates and was on his third. He knew mechanics like the back of his hand. In fact, he probably knew mechanics better than the back of his hand, and he had no idea what the man was blabbering on about. “First of all, you need to explain to me what a TARDIS is. Second, this here?” Tony patted the wooden exterior. The warmth that emitted from it was an appreciated feeling under his hand; he was tempted to press his nose against it too. Tony tamped down the urge and continued, “This doesn’t blend in at all, especially not here.”
“Okay, well, the chameleon circuit is broken, that’s for sure, but it’s okay,” the man explained rapidly. ”And what that is is a TARDIS, T-A-R-D-I-S, Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It’s a ship that travels across time and space.”
The man rocked back on his heels of his high-top sneakers, looking nonchalant at the fact that he just said that something was broken. Tony considered him before he glanced back at the TARDIS.
“So are you here to get it fixed? Because I know nothing about…chameleon circuits, but I’m a quick study,” Tony asked. “I’m sure that if you give me a couple hours I can have it fixed.”
The man waved his suggestion off. “Nah, I like it this way. She needs no fixing. A police box is her preferred state anyway. This is just a pit stop, got knocked off-course for a bit going to the 1600s to visit Pachelbel – Canon in D as it stands is utterly atrocious.”
“What we have now is terrible,” Tony grumbled, grimacing. If he had to listen to that song one more time at one of his mother’s balls, he was going to cause a riot. It was the worst.
“Yes, well, what Johann had originally was worse.” The man gave him a bland smile, and Tony crunched his nose with the thought.
But talking about classical music was less interesting than this box and the man who claimed he owned a spaceship. Tony turned back to look at the TARDIS, and the man came up beside him. While the freezing torrent of snow battered against his entire being and covering everything within reach, Tony only had eyes for the contraption. It was fascinating to see something new and unique, different from anything else he had seen before. But he also knew that current technology did not permit anything like this to be a spaceship. He asked, “So you’re a time traveler?”
The man tilted his head from side to side. “Of a sort. Time Lord. Name’s the Doctor, pleased to meet ya.”
The man blinked. “That’s a new one,” he mused. “But if we’re going the technicalities of this, I am a doctor of everything.”
“That’s a very bold statement there, Doc. We don’t have enough time to learn everything, especially not at the Doctorate level.”
“But that’s just it, I know everything. Had enough time and adventures to learn lots of things, you know. I may not have the papers to prove it, but I know a lot. Curse of the Time Lords. I’m the Doctor. Hello!” The Doctor waved his hand, each finger moving individually as he did so.
Tony rolled his eyes.
Although the man was interesting, his non-answer was quickly making him lose his interest, and the cold wasn’t helping either. He was probably high on crack . Now that he wasn’t so focused on the ship itself, he could finally feel the chill seeping through his coat. He was cold; he didn’t know why he was entertaining this stranger. He had work to do, prototypes to test, a thesis to write. “Whatever, Doctor. Pleasure. Fair warning, you might want to park your…spaceship elsewhere. This is a college campus, and we’re curious students.”
The Doctor scoffed and waved off his concern. “I’ll be fine. I’ll be gone in the morning.”
Tony was too cold to argue the man in the trench coat, so he just waved the Doctor goodbye and left him to his devices.
Because if what he said was true, that the Doctor was a time traveler (not that he believed the nutter – he was a man of science, after all, and that police box was not a spaceship, no matter how many times the man insisted) – then he should be gone by morning. Either way, it wasn’t his business.
However, he still couldn’t stop a small wave of disappointment of realizing that the ship and the man would probably be gone in the morning.
Tony sighed in relief when the blast of hot air from within greeted him when he opened the door.
“I’m home!” Tony called out, tossing his scarf and coat over the couch. He was utterly chilled to the bone, grumpy and tired and hungry, and he still had so much to do before he could sleep. He already regretted stopping to talk to the crazy man because it cut into his valuable and precious time.
The couch looked good, but as he looked over to his kitchen, food sounded good too.
“Coffee,” he finally decided, and he made a beeline towards the coffee pot.
“ Exterminate! ” A metal robot shaped like a pepper pot came whizzing down the hallway. A second robot with a claw for a hand chased after the first bot, beeping equally excitedly in greeting.
“There is nothing to exterminate at the moment, Butterfingers!” Tony snapped back, watching the coffee drip into the pot with hungry eyes.
When the first robot heard the news, him stopped in his tracks, leaving the second robot to crash ungainly into him. The second bot beeped confusedly, tilting its claws in curiosity.
“ Explain!” Butterfingers said. His voice was gravelly, and he sounded utterly disappointed at the news. Tony gave the robot a level-headed stare even as he expertly poured his coffee into his mug.
“I just got home,” he said, “let me get coffee first and then maybe, just maybe, I’ll let you blow up some of my projects.”
Upon hearing the news, Butterfingers perked up again. “Exterminate!” He whizzed off, leaving the second bot to chase after him excitedly.
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said, fondly watching them leave. “That’s no guarantee that you’ll exterminate anything tonight though.” He picked up his mug and followed after them at a more sedate pace.
“Hey, you’re back late,” Rhodey remarked, coming out of the bathroom with a towel around his neck. “How was lab?”
Tony shrugged. “Electricity went out for a good thirty seconds in the middle of lab before the generators kicked in, and the kids were idiots. One even dropped acid on himself because he was too busy staring at his classmate. I’m running a lab, not a playground, and this isn’t even the subject I’m studying! What did I do to deserve to be the TA for lab?”
“You probably insulted the department head,” Rhodey replied flatly. It was true, but Tony wouldn’t admit it. He scowled at Rhodey, who wasn’t even looking. Tony scowled harder at his back. “But even then, you’re usually never this late.”
“No,” Tony agreed. “I was stopped by a nutjob with a police box in the middle of Killian Court.”
Rhodey stopped short and looked back at him. “Say what?” he asked. “What the hell?”
“A police box? Kinda like one of those London red telephone booths but blue. Not sure if it was a prank or just a weird British dude lugging around stolen cop equipment.”
“Well, it’s not the first time we’ve seen weird things,” Rhodey pointed out. “Remember the time –“
“Didn’t we agree that we would never mention that incident again?” Tony interrupted. He glared at his friend.
Rhodey gave a cheeky grin back. “Nope.” But he let the matter drop anyway. This is why he was Tony’s best friend, and Tony appreciated him.
Until Rhodey decided to continue., “Or remember that other time when you created Butterfingers out of a whisk and plunger because you were drunk engineering like usual?”
“I couldn’t have even been that drunk!” he protested. “Butterfingers just appeared out of the blue one day and never left! I couldn’t have possibly created Butterfingers. I may do drunken binges, but even I wouldn’t stoop so low as to use a plunger to create my projects. Why don’t you believe me?”
Rhodey gave him a flat stare. “Because it’s you, Tones,” he pointed out. “Only you would be drunk and engineer something crazy from our bathroom. You don’t even remember that night.”
He wasn’t wrong either, except Tony was sure that he didn’t create Butterfingers at all. He just didn’t know where the bot came from. It literally just appeared one day while Tony was either bleary with sleep, or drunk, or both, but he was sure that he was working on stuff for SI, not...something so useless and permanently angry, destroying everything he touched. But no matter what reason that engendered Butterfingers, the bot was here to stay for good.
And he sure was very good at extermination.
Rhodey stopped at his door and turned around to face Tony with a glint in his eye that Tony was sure he wouldn’t like what he had to say next. “Or remember that other time when –“
Tony knew exactly what he was talking about, and there was no way he was going to stand for this harassment anymore. Tony shoved Rhodey into his room. “Okay, we’re definitely not talking about that either, or else I’m going to pull up that other time where you –“
The door slammed in his face. Rude , he thought, but Tony was grinning anyway. That was a resounding success. “Love you too, honeybunches!” he called through the door.
“I don’t know why I’m your friend!” The muffled voice yelled back.
“I make your life interesting! And Butterfingers would probably exterminate you.”
As if he could hear Rhodey’s words, the muffled growling voice of Butterfingers sounded down the hallway. “ Exterminate!” Then the echo of the high-powered whine reached Tony’s ears, and he nearly spilled his coffee as he turned.
“That’s a no, Butterfingers!” Tony shouted, running to his lab. Butterfingers tended to get too eager in destroying things. “What did I tell you about unsupervised extermination!”
“ Ex–ter–mi–nate?” The bot’s head turned, its plunger arm moving up and down. On the other side, DUM-E’s claw was hooked around the whisk. Tony sighed.
“I have two idiots for bots.” He looked up, praying for patience. “DUM-E, get off of Butterfingers. I know you like to play with the whisk, but you like to pull the thing, and I do not have the time to fix you or Butterfingers! I have so much work to do and fixing you because you were a dumb idiot is the last thing I need tonight.”
DUM-E whined, rotating his claw and trapping himself even further on Butterfinger’s whisk. Tony growled, “Oh my God, DUM-E. What did I tell you?”
Tony set his coffee mug down upon his desk with a little more force than necessary, some of the precious liquid splashing over its rim, and he stomped over to his bots. With a quick movement, he detached DUM-E’s claw from the whisk. “Do not get your claw stuck in Butterfinger’s arm again!” he chastised harshly. DUM-E’s claw wilted.
“ Exterminate?” Butterfingers asked. Tony swung around.
“And you! There will be no extermination tonight!”
The camera tipped down in sadness. “ Ex–plain.”
“Because I need to get the weapons ready for Dad, and I have midterms to oversee tomorrow. Go back to your charging stations. I need to focus.” He spared a glance at the clock, and then he despaired and groaned out loud. “I can’t even go to bed tonight because you dumb idiots wasted my precious time to work.”
“ Ex-ter-min-ate.” Butterfingers moped, his whisk wilting.
Tony huffed. “Fine. Just this once.” Aluminum foil was good for cleaning out gunk in his metal projects, but they were also good for pet robots who enjoyed destroying things a little bit too much. He had balls of them laying around his workshop, and so he picked one off from off his desk and tossed it in the air.
“ Exterminate!” A laser beam shot out from the robot, completely demolishing the foil. The ashes fluttered gently to the ground, and Tony watched as Butterfingers whirled around happily. “Exterminate! Exterminate!”
“That’s it, Butterfingers. That’s all I have for you. Go back to your station.” With a happy squeal, Butterfingers whizzed off, satisfied that his extermination was complete.
As soon as Butterfingers settled beside DUM-E by the charging station, Tony stared after the bot, and he sighed. He turned back to his mental checklist, a never ending list of tasks that seems to grow longer every time he thought about it. He just wanted a good night’s sleep for once…was that too much to ask for? But with the imminent shareholder’s meeting, he had no choice but to work through the night so that he could at least make a dent in his work.
The lights flickered on and off, and Tony glared up at it. “Can you stop that? I’m trying to work here!”
It flickered again before it stayed on. Tony grumbled before turning to his work.
When his seven a.m. alarm rang, he had gotten zero sleep, not enough coffee in his system, and a grumpiness that would send most people who encountered him running for the hills. He needed more coffee, desperately. Tony’s back cracked in a series of pops as he got up and stretched, snatching his sadly empty mug from his desk. He followed the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee once he exited his workshop, and he grinned tiredly.
“This is why you’re my best friend,” Tony declared, slumping over the coffee station…where there was no pot. “Aaaand I take that back.” He needed his coffee.
“Chill man, it’s right here,” Rhodey said fondly, pouring coffee into his empty mug. “Although I really shouldn’t be feeding your caffeine addiction. What you really need is sleep.”
Tony didn’t answer at first, bringing the cup of gold to his lips, inhaling the bitter smell and taking a sip. The coffee was just on the other side of scalding, but Tony didn’t care. It was delicious. “Sleep is for the weak,” Tony brazenly said, pushing the sleepiness to the back of his mind. “I’ll be fine.”
Rhodey spluttered. “It’s not healthy.”
Tony drained his coffee and blindly reached for the coffee pot again. It took him a few aborted tries before he curled his fingers around the handle and poured himself another cup of coffee. Having done this so many times for years, he could literally do this while he was asleep. “Really Rhodey, it’s not the first time I’ve gone without sleep. I’ll be fine.”
Finally, Tony turned to look at him and raised an eyebrow when he saw Rhodey already dressed in his ROTC workout clothes. “Early morning workout?”
“Yeah. In the snow.” He grimaced. “Gotta go, but I made breakfast for you. Eat it.”
“Not your mother!” The front door slammed shut.
“You act like one though.” Tony grinned into his mug even though Rhodey wasn’t there to hear his final parting shot or see the upturn tick at the corners of his lips. Food sounded good, although he ignored the entire steaming plate of breakfast that Rhodey made for him and only grabbed the slice of buttered toast on his way out the door.
Tony was still absently chewing on the final bites of his toast when he saw that the box – the TARDIS – was still parked in the middle of Killian Court. The campus was now bustling with students hurrying to classes before they became tardy, and in the morning light with the snowstorm dying down there was no way that genius-level intellectuals would miss a great big police box in the middle of their campus.
However, as Tony looked around, somehow they were, just walking right past the blue police box as if it wasn’t even there. It was mind-boggling to see the glaringly out-of-place thing be so unnoticed in the midst of the smartest kids in the world.
Tony debated whether to go to class or stay here and check out the interesting police box more. On the one hand, he had a midterm he had to oversee. It was important, but as Tony’s feet slowed down while he stared at the TARDIS, he found that he couldn’t care more about the students. This TARDIS thing, right here, seemed way more interesting than twenty questions of fives sheets of paper that he had to answer in a dim classroom.
…He should probably go to class. With any luck, the TARDIS would still be there when he returned.
It still didn’t change the fact that the seconds hand on the clock ticked extraordinarily slowly as he sat there in front of the classroom with his feet propped up on the desk, twirling his pen between his fingers. He couldn’t concentrate on his work whatsoever, now that he knew that the box was just sitting outside and waiting for him to ease his insatiable scientific curiosity. His students’ heads were bowed over their desks, pens scratching rapidly away on their tests, and he sighed quietly, bored and impatiently waiting for the students to finish their exams.
Five…four…three…two… “Time is up!” Tony gleefully said when the minute hand reached ‘12.’ He couldn’t wait long enough for these students to flee…and there was still a student working on the exam. “You, hey, next to Mr. James, yes I’m talking to you. What about ‘time is up’ was unclear?”
“But I’m not done yet!” the student protested. Tony rolled his eyes.
“And you can get a zero if you don’t turn it in right now.” Tony made a point by picking up the papers on his desk and neatening the stack with a thump against the table. Needless to say, the student slunk forward and submitted the exam. “Good, now you won’t have a zero even if you didn’t finish it.”
He couldn’t shove the stack of papers into his bag fast enough before he was darting out of the classroom to see if the TARDIS was still there.
And it was, much to Tony’s excitement. Tony hitched his bag higher up his shoulder, making a beeline for the ship. It was easier to study it up close when it was daylight, and Tony could see that the TARDIS was a shade of blue that reminded him of blueberries. Besides the fact that it was a blue wooden police box, the TARDIS itself was nondescript. Tony tried the doors again. Expectedly, the doors were still locked.
He took a quick glance behind him, making sure that no one was noticing that he was about to (illegally) break into a police box. Satisfied with the lack of attention, he turned back to crouch in front of the lock, taking out his lock pick set from his bag. It was something he always carried with him since he had a tendency to forget his keys or get locked out of his own labs by Rhodey.
He needed to work on his artificial intelligence program, stat.
Breaking into this police box was hard, Tony quickly discovered. Every time he set the tumblers to their correct unlocking position, somehow the tumblers fell right back down. Every time. It was as if the locks had a life form of their own.
Tony groaned under his breath. He just wanted to check the thing out – it wasn’t like he’s seen a police box before.
He turned to look over his shoulder again.
This time, there was a man standing there placidly behind him, staring directly at him with a bemused look on his face. Tony yelped and nearly brained himself against the blue box, barely stopping himself from crashing into them with a flailing hand. Then he whirled around and stared.
The man was gorgeous, to put it lightly. In reality, he looked like a Greek statue, with blond hair slicked back without a strand out of place and a well-groomed beard that made him look older and wise. His chest stretched the red sweater he wore, hugging every inch of muscle that was not covered by the well-worn black leather jacket. Tony had to stop himself from undressing the man after he reached the waistband of his pants and drag his eyes back up to see his blue eyes twinkling with curiosity and then with amusement. Tony blushed; the man looked like he knew what Tony was doing to him.
Tony may have had a small crush on the man. He was totally his type: big, strong, beautiful.
“What are you doing?” the man asked. His voice was a rich, deep baritone, and Tony fell in love just a little bit more.
“Nothing,” Tony said. Like he wasn’t trying to break into a place that he probably wasn’t supposed to go into, not at all.
The man chuckled, looking amused. Tony was disgruntled that the man didn’t even play along with his obvious lie. “Okay.”
“This box isn’t supposed to be here,” Tony defended himself, dropping all pretense. But seriously, Tony warned the Doctor, and yet the box was still here. “It’s out of place, it’s glaringly obvious, and I can’t believe that no one has seen it yet!”
“It’s the chameleon circuits,” the man replied, stepping closer to the box. “They’re what allow the TARDISes to blend into their environments.”
“Right. The chameleon circuits. The Doctor mentioned that,” Tony said. Now the man mentioned the same thing “But it can’t be chameleon circuits if I can see it.”
“You can see it because the TARDIS wants you to.” The man reached up to press his hand upon the wooden exterior. His gaze softened as he stroked the thing, as if he was caressing a lover. “Hey beautiful.”
Tony couldn’t believe his ears, and he stared as he greeted her like an old friend. Just like the Doctor, the man was crazy, pretending that such an inanimate object was real. And Tony had liked his looks. He was disappointed, but still he said, “That’s a thing…a police box.”
“No, no, she’s a bit more than that. She’s sentient.”
“That’s not possible,” Tony denied. “It can’t be alive.”
The man shook his head. “Can’t you feel it? She understands you, you know.” The man looked back at him. “You must’ve touched her, surely. You should be able to feel something alive when you touched her exterior.”
“It’s not possible.” Tony sounded like a broken record, but really, it didn’t make sense. Everything was rooted in science, and what the man was saying was that this TARDIS wasn’t part of science, but more. Tony couldn’t believe it, not without more proof.
“A lot of things that don't seem possible are,” the man said. He took Tony’s hand and placed it beside his upon the blue wooden box. “Feel the thrumming? That’s not just electronics. Can’t you feel her?”
Tony looked at the man, then shifted his gaze to consider the TARDIS. The thing was, he did feel a buzz, just like last time. There was a gentle nudge in the back of his mind, like a feeling of realness from the TARDIS when he touched it. But still, he didn’t believe in magic though. The evidence might all have been there, but being so deeply rooted in real sciences, it was hard to wrap around the thoughts of mysticism.
“I—” Tony hesitated, “—I feel it. It can’t be though. It can’t be real.”
“She, not it,” the man corrected. “And it’s certainly possible. Think about it. Why is this police box here? Where did it come from?”
Which had been the question Tony was asking since the beginning of this whole affair. “I don’t know. But it’s not supposed to be here.”
“Yeah,” the man agreed. “It’s not, but why then, is it here?”
Tony shrugged. “A prank I guess.”
The man laughed. “No, it’s not. This here, this TARDIS, she’s going to blow your mind, and she’s not a prank at all.”
“Let’s say I believe you, which I still don’t,” he said slowly, looking up at the wheezing light of the box, “if she understands me, why hasn’t she allowed me to enter?”
The man chuckled, his eyes crinkling with mirth. “She tells me that you tried breaking in. She didn’t very much appreciate that.”
Then the man dropped his hand from the surface of the TARDIS and stepped away. “Good luck getting in. She likes you, but she also likes having fun. Try asking her, it’s as simple as that.”
Tony stared at the TARDIS, considering it. “You’re...real,” he mused. “But you’re a thing. It can’t be possible that you can be sentient. I shouldn’t be asking a thing permission to enter.”
But it was the best lead he had so far in possibly figuring out this thing. He just...didn’t quite believe it though, not now at least, not when he was so focused on figuring it out just by using all the science he knew.
“You know, you look familiar,” the man said, but with Tony so focused on the TARDIS in front of him, he sounded as if he was far away.
He replied absently, “I get that a lot.”
It took him a while before the conversation replayed in his head, and Tony realized he never caught his name. He snapped back to the present. “What did you say your name was?”
There was no answer. The man was long gone, and he was alone in the middle of the university grounds, where his breath was coming out in visible puffs, and he was standing in front of a thing. He couldn’t stop from feeling a wave of disappointment.
Tony took a step back, and he crashed ungainly into a figure. Tony turned.
“Again?” the Doctor asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Not doing anything,” Tony denied. Never mind the fact that the Doctor had caught him trying to break into the TARDIS red-handed. Again.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you tell me your name first, and then I’ll decide whether that is true,” he said. “This was the second time I’ve caught you trying to break into my TARDIS.”
“Tony,” Tony replied. “Tony Stark.”
“You’re Tony Stark,” the Doctor said flatly. He was staring at Tony, mouth gaping open and eyes glinting with an unreadable look.
Tony nodded. “I suppose you’ve heard of me.”
“You’re the Tony Stark,” the Doctor repeated himself, his eyes lightening with excitement. “Of course I’ve heard of you! You didn’t say so before.” He sounded accusatory.
Tony scowled in response. “I’m a busy man, as you well know if you’ve heard of me. Company to run, theses to write, projects to finish. I’m here because your ship is more interesting than you, no offense.”
The Doctor totally took offense. “See if I show you the inside then,” he replied petulantly, crossing his arms over his chest.
Damn, him and his mouth. But really, in for a penny, in for a pound – might as well put his entire foot in his mouth. “You’re still parked out here, even when I told you to move it because it is a college campus, which means that your ship, or whatever this thing is, has issues. And I’m good at fixing issues…mechanical ones that is.”
It was a good deal, because if the ship really had mechanical issues, Tony would be the man to fix it. He was a genius after all, and fixing things was his specialty. That, and inventing things, but Tony loved making broken things better. And if this ship was broken, Tony was interested in fixing it, learning about it, and making it better.
“My TARDIS doesn’t have issues, thank you very much.” The Doctor sounded so insulted by the notion of it, and Tony had to suppress a smile. “She is perfectly fine.”
“Uh huh,” Tony replied, letting disbelief color his voice. “It’s still here though.”
Tony stared at the Doctor, willing him to say otherwise. Good thing he had the advantage here, standing in front of the TARDIS and blocking the only entrance the Doctor had to get into to his ship.
“Give up Tony, the TARDIS will never let you in,” the Doctor said with a smug smile on his face.
Tony knew a lost battle when he saw one, but far be it for him to give up now. His curiosity was overwhelming, and he needed to know what was in that TARDIS. And now he knew that something was wrong with the ship, Tony had time to figure out how to break in and fix it.
As he walked away, Tony called back, “don’t think for a second that I’ve given up.”
“Oh, fuck off!” came the brazen reply.
Tony smirked, deliberately facing away from the Doctor so that he wouldn’t see it.
Down a decrepit alleyway was something that was out of time, whatever time it was; he didn’t know because he was kicked out into the cold before the suit shut down. He approached the suit and knocked his knuckles against it. “Tony, please, let me in? It’s been days.”
The Iron Man suit was lifeless and cold, its eyes dark. Still, he got the feeling that those eyes were still judging him. He rocked back on his heels, rubbing his hand over his beard. He wasn’t going to cry, not now, but he still felt the tears gathering at the corners of his eyes.
He tried again, reaching up and pressing his hand in the cheek of the helmet. “I’m sorry for whatever I did, but really, I just want to come back and travel with you. I know you can hear me.”
There was no answer, just like the last several times he’d been pleading the suit, and he didn’t know what to do as he sighed and walked out of the alley, leaving the suit behind. Even though it shouldn’t make him feel comfortable leaving something so high tech there, he knew that the suit could camouflage itself, and besides, he didn’t think with all his strength he would be able to move the thing otherwise. It looked like the suit, but it wasn’t the suit he’d known for many years.
Too preoccupied in his thoughts, as well as the suddenness of being kicked out into the winter cold, he had to admit that he’d also been lost for the same amount of time he had been moping, wandering around in the winter wonderland without a clue as to where he was.
He didn’t really know what really happened in between the time he was with the suit and then standing in the middle of a freezing Nor’easter; he was supposed to be vacationing in an alien planet, as he was promised. But as it was, he was currently walking in the freezing cold, displaced and put out into what seemed like the middle of nowhere. He may have been exaggerating a little: there was civilization, and he knew he was in a town, if not a city.
He just didn’t know where he was. Nothing around him seemed familiar to him. He didn’t even know what year he landed in. This, all this anxiety of not knowing where he was felt similar to a time before, where he just awoke from the ice. And the chill of the cold was not helping him forget that past. The ground was slippery with ice and all the signposts were covered in snow, and he puffed out breaths of smoke as he walked around aimlessly.
Now, as the chill finally reached his aching bones, he finally surfaced from his thoughts and admitted defeat. He needed to find someplace warm to hunker down while he was being displaced.
There, across the street, was an inviting café, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted towards him. He stepped forwards unconsciously, transfixed by the scent, and only a squeal of tires and a loud honking broke him out of his reverie. He leapt backwards back onto the sidewalk, slipped when he landed on a patch of ice, and fell ungracefully into a heap.
He was supposed to be agile; he fought Nazis and monsters, leaped across buildings and fallen off skyscrapers, but one day in the freezing cold and he was downed by a simple sidewalk. It was embarrassing. He groaned softly, closing his eyes and sulked while ice melted under him.
“I know Deborah’s coffee is to die for, and I agree, but wouldn’t it be better to live to have that cup of coffee?”
He let out a breath before he looked up to see a boy with a pair of twinkling chocolate brown eyes looking down at him. He looked young, maybe in his early twenties, hitching a backpack on his back. He had met him before, beside the blue box, but those eyes...those eyes reminded him of someone else, and there was that pang that shot through his heart as a cruel reminder of his desolate state. Still, he swallowed as the boy held a gloved hand out.
He gave the boy a sheepish and embarrassed grin, taking the proffered hand and standing up. Standing, he was a lot taller than the boy, but the boy had an air about him that made him seem a lot larger than life.
“You know, I’ve actually never had Deborah’s coffee before,” he admitted, and the boy’s brown eyes widened in shock.
“What do you mean you never had Deborah’s before?” the boy asked incredulously. “Now you’ve done it.”
He grabbed his hand and crossed the street, seemingly ignoring all incoming traffic. Thankfully though, this time there were no cars that impeded their trek towards the large, bustling café.
And then they burst into the sweet warmth that chased the chill away. In here, the smell of coffee was nearly overpowering, but it was a good, inviting smell that made his mouth water. Then he looked down to see the boy looking back at him with a knowing smirk. “You’ll really love it,” he promised before he stepped up to the counter confidently.
“Deborah,” he greeted the barista, leaning over the counter. “How are you, my lovely eye candy?”
The barista, to be frank, looked like a sunburn gone wrong, skin redder than a plum tomato and cheeks gaunt. There were permanent bags under her eyes. Despite that, the boy gave her a sultry grin, reaching over the counter to brush her cheek, and she smiled grotesquely in return.
“Oh, you know, Tony,” Deborah replied. Her voice sounded like she smoked one pack too many cigarettes, and it grated upon his nerves. She looked at him curiously before she turned back to address Tony. “Business busy like always. Customers love my coffee.”
“As they should,” Tony replied. “Cheap and delicious coffee at the crossroads between school and work, what’s not to love about this place?”
Deborah nodded, grinning all the while. “Your usual, then?”
“Yes.” Tony then turned to the man. “And how about you? What do you want?”
“Ah,” he stuttered, caught off-guard by the question. (He was not busy staring at Tony’s back instead of looking at the menu, but based on Deborah’s knowing smirk, he wasn’t hiding as well as he was hoping it to.) “What do you recommend?”
“That depends,” Tony replied. “If you want something sweet, Bloody Caramel Macchiato is good. Lots of vanilla and caramel syrup. It’s totally tooth-rotting. If you want something more chocolate-y, I’d go for the Hell yes, Red Velvet, extra whipped cream on top.”
“What is the Übermensch?” He was sure he was pronouncing it wrong, stumbling over the Germanic word on his dumb tongue, and Tony laughed lightly. His cheeks heated in embarrassment, but he still gave a self-deprecating smile.
“Übermensch,” Tony repeated it perfectly, accent and all, “coffee, as black as my soul, made with the best roast I have ever tasted.”
“It’s definitely not for the faint of men,” Deborah added.
An unsubtle cough from behind them interrupted their conversation, and they turned to see an impatient businessman staring at them pointedly. The easy banter they had dissipated, much to his eternal disappointment. He enjoyed their light conversation. “I, ah, I’ll just have that then,” he said. He wasn’t even going to attempt to repeat it.
Deborah nodded, grabbing a cup from the stack beside the register. “Name?”
“Stevens,” he said. He blushed as soon as the words left his mouth, recalling another time he used that name. Tony gave him an interested look, and it took all of his concentration to ignore him.
“Stevens, huh?” Tony asked. “You left before I could ask you your name last time.”
Stevens nodded. He couldn’t give his real name, not now, not when time was in flux and there was a possibility that he could ruin everything with the wrong word at the wrong time. Only his beard kept him from being recognized. As it was, his name was on the edge of revealing his true identity.
“That will be two dollars and twenty-one cents,” Deborah said.
Tony waved Stevens off as he tried to pay. “My treat,” he said, slapping a tenner on the counter. “You never had Deborah’s coffee before, and that’s an utter crime. How can you be here and never had her coffee before?”
“It’s actually my first time here.”
“I can’t believe you’re in Cambridge and you never had Deborah’s coffee before,” Tony corrected without missing a beat.
Stevens shook his head. “No, I meant that this is my first time here in Cambridge, or even Boston proper. Never been here before. I just landed and was walking around because I didn’t know where I was going.”
“Oh.” Tony’s eyes widened briefly. “Welcome, then.”
Stevens smiled. “Thanks.”
They collected their coffee, Stevens’s a pure black coffee and Tony’s an alarmingly red milkshake-type drink with an absurd amount of whipped cream on top, and moved towards the back of the café, where there remained only one table left in the busy place.
“Isn’t it a little bit cold to have a frozen drink?” Stevens eyed the drink in Tony’s hand.
Tony took a long drag from it as they walked over to the table. “Never. I’ve got to have my fix of sugar and caffeine.”
It was so familiarly typical that Stevens couldn’t help but smile.
The café was warm enough to make their coats and scarves overbearingly stifling, so as they took their seats, they shed them and placed them over their chairs. And with everything but just a simple sweater that Tony wore, Stevens got to really look at the boy who picked him up from the icy road outside..
The brown hair was damp with lingering melting snow, and the sultry smile that Tony directed at Deborah was now turned to him. Stevens returned the smile, feeling amused and fond and slightly sad. Although he didn’t know this Tony, this Tony reminded him of another Tony that he knew, and he missed him.
“Hey,” Tony said. “I just got you coffee, what’s got you down in the dumps? Did a girl dump you?”
Stevens shook his head. “I had a small argument and got kicked out. Told me to walk around and cool my bull-headed stubbornness off.”
“Oh,” Tony said, drawing the word out in contemplation. “So is that why even your beard looks sad?”
“I’m not sad,” Stevens protested.
“Whatever you say, sweetheart.” Tony took a sip of his stop-sign colored drink. Without a straw, the whipped cream left a mustache on the top of his upper lip, and Stevens fought an unwilling smile. Despite his best efforts, Tony caught it and tilted his head. “What?”
“You got some–“ Stevens reached out unthinkingly, years of habit that had him swiping the cream off of his lip. And when his mind caught up to him, he blushed and drew his hand back. “I’m so–“
Just as quickly, Tony held onto his wrist and licked the cream off of his outstretched fingers, tongue twirling expertly and curling around the pads of his digits. Stevens inhaled sharply, stunned that he was so forward to flirt with him even with the massive age gap between them, and in a public place no less. But when he stared at him longer, those chocolate brown eyes that were staring back at him looked so familiar, but also so young.
His breath caught, and he was unable to draw away from that captivating gaze, even though he was many years his senior and a lot more experienced now than before. Despite that, Stevens felt like he was still in his twenties, when he last saw that playfulness and innocence. Tony took one last swipe, and finally let go of his wrist, leaving him bereft and to be frank, sad with longing.
“Wow,” Tony remarked, after Stevens continued to sit there in frozen silence. “I didn’t know that I could break people, but it seems like I’ve broken you, Mr. Stevens.”
Stevens swallowed. “I’ve never had anyone be so forward before,” he managed. No one but you . He was sure his face was just as red as Tony’s drink, and although he wasn’t fully certain that the boy in front of him was the same man he loved for many years, he had an inkling that he was.
It was intriguing that out of everyone at any point in time, he would find the right person at the right time. And that right person was looking at him curiously.
“And? Did you like it?” Tony tucked a hand under his chin, gazing at him.
Stevens gave a single nod automatically. He was utterly hopeless. And this train of thought was too dangerous to go down on: he couldn’t do this, fall for this version of this man. “D-did,” he stammered, trying to get his mind back on something safe, easy to talk about. It was too much for his brain to handle, now that he could see the similarities between Tony and...Tony. He cleared his throat. “Did you get the TARDIS open? I know you were trying to get in the last time I saw you.”
“I haven’t tried,” Tony admitted. “Been elsewhere, busy with work and my own thesis. And I’m still thinking, and disbelieving it.”
“It’s not that hard to believe if you displace everything you know right now.”
Tony frowned, downing his coffee. “It isn’t that easy to let go of all the scientific knowledge I’ve learned either. I’ve been creating something similar to sentience with Artificial Intelligence technology, and DUM-E’s a good example of my first attempt at it. It’s too bad half the time his learning skills result in disastrous consequences. But you’ve been talking about a new life form within the TARDIS, and I find that really hard to believe, when that looks like a thing and not a life form.”
“Let’s go back to that thought,” Stevens said, looking intently at Tony. “Even though the TARDIS looks like a thing, is it really that far-fetched that she can be sentient too? Animals are alive; so can a TARDIS. Even though she looks like a thing, she definitely is sentient.”
Tony juggled his coffee cup between his hands, pondering over the words. “You may have a point,” Tony ultimately conceded. But before he could continue, a beep from his bag interrupted him and Tony scowled. He pulled out a beeper, looked at it and grumbled. “Excuse me,” Tony said apologetically. He was already standing up from his seat. “I need to make a call.”
Stevens waved him off. “It’s important, I understand.”
Without Tony’s eyes on him, it was too easy for Stevens too watch him walk away, hips swaying with every step. It was a familiar thing, watching him march confidently towards the counter again where Tony was asking Deborah if he could borrow her phone.
“You’ve asked to use my phone for the fifth time this week,” she replied with a bite, although she looked fond. “I can’t believe you don’t have one of those stupid briefcase phones.”
Tony visibly shuddered. He said, “You won’t be catching me with that thing. It’ll make me look like a corporate goon.”
Stevens watched the exchange with fondness, and admittedly with slight jealousy too, as the two leaned forward and laughed, sharing the joke. Now that he’s seen Tony, talked with him, memories from a time before, one of a long time ago, crawled out from the depths of his mind. The more he watched the man grabbing the phone from the receiver and cheerfully said, “Hello honeybunches,” he was more and more certain that the man in front of him was the same person that he loved for many years.
Although he had believed that he didn’t know this particular Tony, the way he acted and moved and flirted looked so familiar. He had seen the same carefree look on a boy more than a hundred years ago, and seeing this, right here, right now, it brought up wistful memories from the dredges of his mind.
Tony talked animatedly into the phone, his entire body expressing his emotions even though the other person on the line couldn’t see him. His hands flailed as he spoke and sometimes his knees bent as he threw his head back and groaned. Stevens caught him looking back at him more than once, and every time, Tony gave a little grin that Stevens matched, like they were sharing a secret with each other, before Tony turned away again and continued to talk down the line.
As much as he missed his Tony, he was falling in love all over again, watching him place the phone on the receiver a little harder than necessary and stomping back to their table. His face was stony, but when he caught Stevens’s eye, he looked apologetic.
“I’m sorry,” Tony said, “I have to cut this short. One of the professors have disappeared without notice and the department head is calling me into work to substitute for the professor. Like it’s my responsibility to be the helpful one when things go tits up.”
Even his petulance was familiar, and it brought joy that Stevens got to see it. A grin overtook his face. “Not a problem, Tony. I understand.”
Tony looked at him gratefully, shrugging his coat on again. “Thanks, Stevens. You’ve given me a lot to think about. We should talk more about it next time. See you soon?”
Stevens smiled. “Sure.”
A coy look from Tony was all Stevens saw before there was a peck of lips pressed against his cheek. “Looking forward to it,” Tony said, smirking. He picked up his drink and dashed out, giving one last cheerful wave to a stunned and frozen Stevens.
He never saw that coming, but he couldn’t say he didn’t like it either.
It was only after he left did Stevens realize that they forgot to exchange contact information, just like last time, but by then, Tony was long gone, leaving him only a pulled-out chair in front of him.
“That boy, always running around like there’s a fire on his tail,” Deborah said, wiping a nearby table down.
“I know a thing or two about that,” Stevens sighed, slumping slightly in his seat. He was stranded again…as usual, unsure and unsettled, time moving normally around him, yet him being a man out of time. He would probably never get used to the feeling of being displaced. Meeting Tony, however, shone a bright light in a dim situation.
He picked up his coffee. It was lukewarm now, and he brought it up to his lips.
“Do you like it?” she asked, watching him swallow.
“It’s,” Stevens started, still thinking about Tony and not about the taste of the drink, “good.”
But really, if he was entirely honest with himself, after taking another gulp of his coffee, there was just something off about the taste. It was good, he didn’t lie, but there was also something underlying all that bitterness that tasted weird. He just couldn’t pinpoint it.
However, Deborah brightened, her grotesque grin creeping up her face. “That’s excellent to hear. I am always happy to see another convert.”
She moved away, leaving Stevens alone in his thoughts. Because now that Tony was no longer there to distract him from thinking again, there was something that felt weird about this place.
He just needed to find out what. He took another sip of his coffee, smacking his lips together in confusion.
“No, no, no!” The Doctor cried. “You can’t do this to me!”
The grating dug against his back as he lay under the console with a wrench in his hand and a screwdriver by his side. A turn of the wrench powered down the lights of the entire console room, leaving only the green glow of the Time Rotor to illuminate his workspace. He groaned; he made it worse.
“You can’t be unfixable now, we still have so many adventures to do!” The Doctor blindly grabbed for his screwdriver and pressed it to a button, hoping, just hoping, that what he did would work. “Just tell me how to fix you!”
A connector sparked and a wire fell from its plug onto the Doctor’s face. “Ow,” he groaned, closing his eyes for a moment. He didn’t know why the TARDIS was so recalcitrant recently, but the fact that he was in the wrong place, wrong time made him utterly grumpy.
The cold that seeped in from the outside didn’t help either - he accidentally turned off the heating, too.
“Please, let me help you and get you fixed up,” he begged to his TARDIS.
The TARDIS lightly wheezed; he got the feeling that she was laughing at him, but he didn’t know why.
“Such a bad girl sometimes, you.”
Another wire shot out from its plug, and it would have landed on his face again if he didn’t turn away at the last second. “Oi! Careful with this pretty face here!”
“Oh...my...God,” he heard an unexpected voice from inside the TARDIS. “What the fuck.”
“What?” the Doctor asked. His voice was high-pitched and flabbergasted; no one could enter through the door. He knew he locked those doors. So why did he hear a voice? The Doctor sat up abruptly, hitting his forehead against the console as he did so. He rubbed his head. “Ow. But seriously, what?”
The doors of the TARDIS were open, the chilly breeze blowing in through the doors, but there was no one there. “Who’s there?”
The Doctor dashed across the console room, onto the walkway, and stuck his head out the doors of the TARDIS, the cold air nipping his nose as he looked left, and then right. Then he craned his head around the TARDIS.
“You! You’re back!” the Doctor accused. “Why are you back? Bad question, I don’t want to know.”
“Your ship,” Tony replied, voice faint as he disappeared to the back of the box, completely ignoring the Doctor. He popped out from behind the TARDIS, looking up at the wooden box with a stunned look on his face. “That should be scientifically impossible.”
“It’s Time Lord technology,” the Doctor replied. “It’s not bound by the rules of your primitive science. Wait a second, I shouldn’t be explaining this to you. You keep trying to break into my ship! Stop it!”
Tony dashed around to the back of the TARDIS and then appeared on the other side of the TARDIS walls. “That...is so cool!”
“You didn’t answer my question!”
“You didn’t ask one,” Tony replied.
The Doctor found himself smiling unwillingly at the intruder. “You’re right, I suppose. How did you open the door? I was sure that the doors were locked.”
“I asked nicely.” Tony shrugged. “I didn’t believe it would work, but it did, and then I walked in.”
“But...what? She doesn’t let anyone in.” Except Donna, but Donna was a special case. She had Time Lord-y stuff within herself, after all.
Tony shrugged. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Cheeky bugger,” the Doctor grumbled, moving aside. “Come on in then, invite yourself, since the TARDIS let you in.”
“Thank you Doctor.” Tony passed the man and walked into the TARDIS, looking up at it in awe. The room was still mostly dark, but what lights illuminated the console room still visibly impressed Tony. “Wow. This is amazing!”
The Doctor couldn’t help but preen at that.
“But you also broke her, didn’t you?”
“I did no such thing!” the Doctor said grouchily, his good mood evaporating. It was a close call that he didn’t whine; he wouldn’t ever live it down if he did. “Something broke her in the Time Vortex and I had to make an emergency stop before she stopped in the middle of nowhere before I could fix her. I was lucky I landed on Earth at all. I thought I was going to be stranded at Midnight or something. Although, I do have to say, being stranded on Midnight doesn’t sound all too bad, except the fact that I would not have the materials to fix the TARDIS. Not that I need it, but it would be nice to have some materials on hand for bargain just in case. Except, Earth doesn’t really have the materials either, but at least the TARDIS carries a lot of things. It’s bigger on the inside after all.”
Tony’s face was glazed over by the end of the Doctor’s rambling. “Right,” Tony said, making it sound more like ‘riiiiiight.’ “So, your TARDIS needs fixing.”
The Doctor crossed his arms. “I can handle it myself!”
“Says the man who’s been parked in the middle of the MIT campus for the past two days. Really, it’s like you’re incapable of fixing her.”
The Doctor reared back in offense. “I’ll have you know that I have fixed this TARDIS successfully every single time before. It’s just that something else has gone wrong, and I don’t know what. But until I do figure it out, I’m stuck here.”
“Let me help then,” Tony said. “It’ll be a great learning experience for me anyway, learning something new about mechanics, and I love anything mechanical.”
“I know, you’ve created a lot of great things, and you’ll create amazing things in the future. But you shouldn’t know that because it’s in your future.”
“Okay, so then, if you know me, then you’ll know that I can fix your TARDIS, even if it’s some new tech that I’ve never seen before.”
The Doctor nodded gravely. “I know.”
They stared at each other, silence thick between them. Then the Doctor sighed, turning around and looking at the dim light of the Time Rotor. “Fine. You can help, but only help. Nothing more. You’re just going to get her working, and not improve her. You got that?”
Tony could barely contain his excitement, running his hands over the darkened console, looking around and visibly admiring the entire room. “Yeah, I got it. Nothing else but fixing.”
“And don’t touch anything!”
Tony turned and gave him the stink-eye. “Yeah right. You can’t expect me to fix things without touching. What do you want me to do? Telepathy or something?”
“Sure, why not,” the Doctor replied, smirking back at him.
They glared at each other, heightened tension prickling the air and suppressing everything around them. The Doctor would not bow down to this boy, never mind the fact that he was one Tony Stark—the future Avenger and the Ultimate Hero. The Doctor had more pride and ego than that, and he would not cave to him.
“Fine!” the Doctor shouted. He threw his hands up in the air in exasperation and turned away. He can’t believe he caved to him. But really, Tony Stark was one of the best if he did say so himself, and it was helpful if he did take a look at the TARDIS.
He didn’t have to like it though.
The Doctor threw a wrench at Tony’s face.
“Touchy,” Tony said, catching it before the tool could hurt him. He wasn’t hurt by the Doctor’s foul attitude, given the way that he was grinning like a lunatic. He twirled the tool in his hand, walking around the console room and observing everything with a sharp eye.
“Mind if I check your TARDIS out?”
“Yes,” The Doctor said immediately.
Tony shrugged. “That’s too bad.” He walked up the stairs that lead into the other rooms of the TARDIS, ignoring grunt of displeasure the Doctor sent his way. The Doctor huffed, turning back and crawling under the console panel again. He definitely noticed the smug smile on Tony’s face.
He grouched, “I say yes, and he doesn’t listen. Why did you let him in?”
The TARDIS blasted a wave of air at him through the grates, and the Doctor cursed.
Just because he could do this mechanical engineering class in his sleep didn’t mean that he wanted to. Obie was still riding his ass about his unfinished project Tony needed to work on for Stark Industries, and he was two weeks behind on his thesis.
He kind of hated his life.
“I had a look of your latest exam, and you guys did an absolute shit job. Most of you guys understood the beam theory just fine, but your conceptual understanding of the limitations of how to go about a non-standard structure of one that you hadn’t seen before was completely in the gutter. Good thing this exam is only worth twenty percent of your grade and you have two more exams to make up for it,” Tony said to the sleepy nine am faces. “Or not, depending whether you decide to continue to party too hard on a Wednesday evening .”
Tony raised his voice gradually until he was nearly shouting in the expanse of the large lecture hall. Still, some students snored on. Useless, the lot of them. “Anyway, you guys can pick up your exam on the way out the door, and make sure you can hold your liquor next time. Get out.”
Bags were packed and students left more quickly than they came in. Typical. A few students hung around after class to ask him a few questions, and Tony was forced to remain on call until all of their questions were answered.
Rhodey was waiting for him when he finally left the hall. “Brunch?” he asked plainly, foregoing a greeting. Tony nodded and fell in step with his friend.
“Obie’s riding my ass to finish the latest guns for the military,” Tony grouched. “I should be heading home to finish it.”
“A couple more hours won’t hurt him,” Rhodey said. “When was the last time you ate anyway?”
“Which lunch?” Rhodey looked at him suspiciously. “Yesterday lunch?”
Tony hesitated before he replied haltingly, “Maybe more like three days ago?”
Rhodey groaned in exasperation, throwing his hands up in the air. “Tony! Are you kidding me?”
“I was busy!” he retorted. Busy daydreaming about a certain man that he saw falling in front of him, the same man who told him about the TARDIS, but still, it was more important than eating. At that same moment, his stomach growled. Tony glared down in betrayal, and Rhodey laughed.
He said, “That’s not an excuse not to eat.”
“Tell that to Dr. Smith,” Tony shot back. “I still can’t believe he decided not to turn up to lectures one day without notice and Dr. Jones made me give the lectures. Literally any other grad student can teach this class, and I have to do it. I’m not even professor material.”
“No you’re not,” Rhodey agreed. “Pity for those who ever have to be in your class.”
“Right?” Tony looked up at his friend, and there he was, fighting a smile. Tony scowled. “What now?”
“You keep saying that you’re a horrible lecturer, but you still carve out a large portion of your time to help your students, even when it isn’t convenient for you,” Rhodey said, fully grinning now.
Tony shoved him against the wall with his shoulder. Rhodey was a horrible friend. “That’s bullshit. I hate their dumb faces – they don’t pay attention in class, and they always fail my exams. They don’t even deserve to be in MIT. Dumb, the entire lot of them.”
Rhodey laughed. “Whatever you say, Tones, whatever you say. I know that most of them like you and the way that you’re patient with them during office hours. You’re a better prof than Dr. Smith anyway.”
“Dr. Smith doesn’t know the difference between his right hand and left foot, let alone anything he teaches.” Tony rolled his eyes.
“You’ve been teaching most of his classes anyway, so I’m not surprised that the kids have taken to you.”
“He still needs to come back, I’m not gonna teach all his classes permanently,” Tony grouched. “Now stop laughing, or else you’re paying.”
“Yeah right, you never pay anyway,” Rhodey said, small bursts of laughter still spilling from his mouth. Tony shoved him into the wall. Or, he tried; Rhodey was bigger than Tony, and when he was expecting it, it was like shoving a shoulder against a brick wall. “It’s always on my dime even though you’re the rich one.”
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” Tony grumbled, stomping past him and ignoring the giggles that followed behind him. The hallway lights flickered ominously as then left the building.
“Also, has Cambridge been dealing with a lot of blackouts lately?” Rhodey asked. “There’s just been a constant flickering of lights everywhere I go.”
“Probably power surges and the weather,” Tony dismissed. “I don’t think that there’s anything to worry about. It’s typical.”
“Maybe,” Rhodey seemed skeptical. “Just seems that this year’s blackouts have occurred more often.”
“Weather’s worse,” Tony said again, and they walked to Deborah’s café. There really was nothing to it. Bad cables, perhaps, but nothing they should be worried about. The smell of delicious heavenly coffee invaded his nose, and he inhaled deeply, cherishing the love of his life. Then, his eyes trailed over to the table in the corner, unbidden.
There he was – Stevens, that is – his head tilted over a notebook with his hands creating broad strokes with his pencil. His hair flopped over so that it covered his eyes, and he bit his bottom lip slightly as his arms moved. There was a cup of coffee on the table, but it remained there, untouched, as his attention was focused on the thing he was working on.
“Earth to Tony,” Rhodey said, snapping his fingers in front of his face. “What are you looking at anyway?”
“Nothing.” Tony broke off his stare, but his friend looked in the same direction that he was looking at. “Stop, it’s nothing.”
“Uh huh. So the man with the sad beard isn’t the one you’re staring at and blushing over.”
“Shut up,” Tony hissed. “I’m not blushing.”
“You’re totally blushing,” Deborah interrupted. “He’s been here every day for a cup of black coffee and nothing else. He doesn’t even finish his coffee.”
Rhodey snorted, and Tony glared at him. “Hey Debs, I’m not here for him. I’m here for breakfast and for a nice cup of your coffee. Please and thank you.”
“No problem,” she replied. “I’ll get it set up at the Captain’s table.”
Tony said, “It’s okay that it’s not with—” but Deborah had already moved away from them, so Tony trailed off, “—Stevens.”
“Oh!” Rhodey said brightly. “So he’s a captain. And when were going to tell me about this Captain?”
“Never.” That was a new piece of information – Tony didn’t know that Stevens was a Captain, but the more he observed, the more he could see the set of his shoulders that suggested that the man was familiar with the military. He stared at the man, standing stock-still, observing and memorizing, and then Stevens looked up, brushed his hair back with his fingers. He grinned when he saw him.
Rhodey ribbed him and sent him staggering sideways. Tony glared at his friend. “What did you do that for?”
“Come on, Tones, I’m your best friend. I should know these things.”
“We didn’t even have a coffee date.” He glared at Rhodey when he scoffed and said a little louder, “There’s nothing to it. Besides, he has a girl.”
“Yeah, so that’s why you look so smitten.” Rhodey threw his arm over Tony’s shoulder and considered him. “Doesn’t he seem too old for you?”
“Maybe, but he’s cute,” Tony whined. He stole another glance towards the far table, and Stevens gave him a wave and a grin.
Rhodey snorted. “Come on, you can introduce me to him.”
Tony couldn’t protest with the way Rhodey forcibly directed him towards the table. Those piercing blue eyes looked amused when they approached, and Tony couldn’t stop the grin on his face. “Hello again, Stevens.”
“Tony.” The man looked over to acknowledge Rhodey’s presence.
“This man is leaving,” Tony replied quickly as he lightly pushed Rhodey towards the direction of the door. He didn’t need Rhodey to be here; he wanted to talk to talk to Stevens more, picked up where they left off when he had to take care of class and everything else that kept him busy for the past day.
But Rhodey would not have it, settling his weight down so that it felt as if Tony was pushing a brick wall. “This man is not leaving,” Rhodey retorted.
“I don’t know why I’m friends with you,” Tony said. “Who even refers to themselves in third person?”
“I make your life interesting, Tony. And someone has to look out for you because you can’t take care of yourself.” He grinned brightly, ignoring Tony’s “Not true, Rhodey. I can take care of myself.” “James Rhodes.”
“Stevens, please.” They shook hands.
“I’ve got your meals,” Deborah said, bustling in with three plates.
Stevens looked flabbergasted and wide-eyed, not unlike a deer in headlights. “But I didn’t order breakfast,” he stammered.
Tony took a seat across from Stevens and Rhodey sat beside him. “Give up Stevens. Deborah always does this.”
“Food for the starving students and busy workers,” Deborah agreed. She gently stopped Stevens from reaching for his wallet. “On the house, dear.”
“But, I can’t.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Tony replied. “Debbie owes me anyway. Fixed a lot of her stuff.”
Stevens looked conflicted, but in the end, he settled on resignation and gratefulness. “Thank you.”
“I hope your sad beard will stop being so sad now, now that Tony’s here.”
“It’s…” Stevens tried saying, but Deborah had already left, walking away with a bounce to her step, and he trailed off, “not a sad beard.”
Tony snorted, and then he considered him. “Are you still displaced?”
Stevens picked at his plate and nodded glumly. “It’s taking longer than I thought to ask for his forgiveness.”
“Oh, so it’s a him,” Rhodey said consideringly. “Tony said the other person was a her.”
“Shut up, Rhodey,” Tony grumbled.
Stevens looked like a deer in headlights. “Umm…” he stammered, his cheeks staining red. But he gave a tense nod.
Rhodey laughed. “Chill, it’s cool.”
Stevens slumped over his plate of food. “I just...I don’t even know what I did wrong,” he said morosely.
“He’s not worth it then,” Tony said. “If you don’t know what you did wrong and he’s not inclined to tell you, you should drop his ass to the curb.”
Stevens looked horrified. “I couldn’t,” he mumbled. “I really care for him.”
Tony made a sympathetic noise, but not too sympathetic because he hadn’t stopped thinking about Stevens - his ass in particular - since he saw him by the TARDIS and this reminder of competition was unwelcome. But before Tony could speak up, Stevens mumbled into his plate, “He told me that he was sick of me moping and that I should get rid of it before he would allow me to come back…” The rest of the sentence was too low and unintelligible to hear, but Tony found himself grinning like a lunatic.
“So he wanted you to have fun and enjoy yourself?” Tony asked.
Stevens nodded miserably. “He’s mad because I’ve ‘been sad,’ his words.”
“And you’re here moping instead of doing what he asked you to do,” Rhodey pointed out.
“I’m not sad! But he dropped me in the middle of nowhere,” Stevens replied. “I didn’t even know where I was or when I was and it was all just very confusing very confusing very quickly.”.
“Wait,” Rhodey tried to interrupt but Tony had an agenda.
“Well, that’s a weird way to say it, but just to clarify,You’re in Cambridge. It’s the year 1989, and you’re here with someone who knows how to have a good time,” Tony said brightly. He pushed away his half-eaten plate of food. “Tell you what, how would you like to come by my workshop?”
Stevens’s eyes widened. “Your workshop?” he breathed.
“Yeah,” Tony replied, grinning. He had Stevens’s attention. “Robots and metal and all, lots of fun.”
“I’d...I’d really love that.”
“Whenever you’re ready to go,” Tony said.
Stevens smiled. It was infectious, and Tony found himself grinning harder in return. “I’m ready now.”
Tony gathered his coat, leaving Rhodey in his seat contentedly finishing his plate of food. “Don’t break him,” Rhodey warned.
Tony reared back in mock-affront. “Me? Break him? Aren’t you supposed to threaten him instead?”
Rhodey glanced at Stevens for a moment before he said, “he couldn’t hurt a fly with that face.”
His face was scrunched up as he sipped his coffee, and he was smacking his lips together as if he tasted something funny, looking down at his mug with confusion. “Does your coffee tastes weird to you?” he asked.
Tony grabbed Stevens’s cup and swallowed the rest of it. “No, tastes fine to me, why?” Tony looked up to see Stevens’s stunned face and frozen form, hand still curled as if his mug was still in his hand. There was a slight tinge of pink that stained his cheeks. The blue eyes shone cerulean blue under the incandescent lights and his pink lips were parted in surprise as they stared at each other.
It was just like the other day, when Tony grabbed his wrist and licked the stray whipped cream off his fingers, and Tony had to admit, he really loved the taste of the man. He licked his lips again to watch Stevens’s eyes darken further.
“Ugh, you guys, we’re in public, and in a crowded cafe!” Rhodey said in disgust, ribbing Tony and breaking the tension. “Can’t you just, I don’t know, make goo-goo eyes at each other somewhere else? Maybe get a room?”
Stevens’s blush deepened, and he ducked his head shyly, cutting off all eye contact with Tony. Tony gave Rhodey a dirty look, and he looked back up, unfazed by it. “Get out of here, show him your workshop, let me eat my lunch in peace. I’ll see you later, Tones.”
“Yeah,” Tony replied, burying himself into his coat. “Shall we?”
Stevens was frowning even as he moved to follow Tony back out into the cold crisp air. Tony was excited. He was also a little bit nervous; he couldn’t believe that Stevens was interested in him and his work. Most people who he took home cared nothing about what he was working on. In fact, some of them hated it because his workshop was home, and everything else...wasn’t. But when Tony saw the excitement on Stevens’s face, he wanted to share that with him.
And perhaps this could be something.
“My workshop is a damned mess, but it’s an organized mess, with lots of fun things, and explosions, and don’t forget the dumb robots. Stevens, you like explosions right? Stevens?” Tony looked up when Stevens didn’t reply, and he looked over his shoulder.
Stevens ten feet behind, staring through the window of Deborah’s cafe, eyes wide and face pale.
“Stevens?” Tony asked, walking back towards him.
Stevens pointed shakily at the window. “That’s…that’s...,” he stuttered. Tony looked towards where he was pointing.
“That’s only Deborah, Stevens,” Tony replied gently. “You’ve met her, and from what she’s told me, you’ve known her for a week.”
“But, he’s...she’s…” Stevens stared, stunned. “That’s...not possible.”
Tony slipped the outstretched hand into his palm and dragged it closer to him. When he had Stevens’s attention, he asked, “Are you okay?”
There was a crazed look in Stevens’s eyes. “I...thought I saw someone from my past,” he said, voice hoarse, looking back towards the window again.
“Hey, no, Deb’s really sweet and nice. She wouldn’t hurt anyone.” Tony took a step backwards and turned around, bringing Stevensn’s hand with him. Thankfully this time Stevens followed. “Let me take you home. You look like you could use some rest.”
For five minutes they were silent on their walk back to Tony’s place, but those five minutes were the longest in Tony’s life. For one, ever since he placed his hand in Stevens’s palm, he could feel the addictive warmth through his glove, and it felt safe. Warm, solid. And the man was beautiful, even if he was off his rockers sometimes.
Then again, he couldn’t judge—he could be crazy too. Still, Stevens was interesting, different, unique because he was a mystery that Tony couldn’t figure out quite yet even as he got to know a little more about Stevens.
As if Stevens was just one note off in a perfect symphony. Indeed, Stevens was amazing, but Tony recalled the very first conversation he had with him, all those days ago when they stood in front of the TARDIS, and Tony got the impression that Stevens was something else.
They were a block from Tony’s house when Stevens cleared his throat. He was carrying himself better, as if the walk in the chill shedded the effects of the incident earlier, and he was more self-assured. “I’m very sorry about what just happened there,” he said. “Something just came over me, and it was like I was hallucinating for a moment.”
Tony waved off the apology. “It’s PTSD, isn’t it? Took you back to the war?”
Stevens nodded, refusing to look at Tony. He looked embarrassed, and Tony stopped, turning to Stevens fully. “It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” he said gently, squeezing Stevens’s palm. “I know the most innocent things can be triggering.”
A beat longer, then, “Yeah,” Stevens said finally. He gave a fragile smile, visibly shaking off the feeling then. “Come on then, you were taking me to see your workshop?”
Tony nodded. He put a bounce to his step, dragging Stevens behind him. He was going to pretend that nothing was wrong, for his sake. Besides, he wasn’t privy to that conversation. Not yet, at least.
He hoped one day that he got the chance. But that was here nor there, so Tony said instead, “You’re going to love it, I swear. Never a day where it isn’t interesting.”
“I believe that.”
Tony bounded up the stairs, nearly slipping when his foot caught a patch of black ice. Only Stevens’s grip held him up and he smiled his thanks. “I just really hope my bots didn’t destroy anything while I was gone. They usually are pretty good about that. I’m home!”
“Butterfingers!” Tony grinned as the bots whizzed down the corridor. “I brought a friend home. Name’s Stevens. I repeat, he’s a friend. Do not exterminate him!”
“Ex-ter-mi-nate?” Butterfingers asked, twirling his plunger.
Tony huffed. “I said no, Butterfingers. We can exterminate later. Sorry, Butterfingers can get trigger-happy.”
When Tony looked over, Stevens had a giant grin on his face. “I know someone else who loves blowing stuff as well.”
“It can’t be me can it?” Tony winked playfully.
Stevens gave a weak laugh, smiling at him but not giving him an answer. Then, he turned to Butterfingers and said, “Hello Butterfingers. It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Ex-ter-min-ate!” Butterfingers said happily, tilting his whisk up and down.
“Oh, and DUM-E!” Tony called out, looking past the pepper robot.
When there was no expectant reply, Stevens turned to see Tony beginning to frown.
Tony tried again. “DUM-E?”
Tony glared at Butterfingers. “Did you exterminate your brother?” He quickly marched into his workshop. He feared the worst, that DUM-E have been completely incinerated by the violent bolt of electricity that ran through Butterfinger’s whisk. Tony couldn’t care less about the dumb bot, what with the way that he couldn’t do anything right, getting into things where he wasn’t supposed to be, and being a general nuisance. But still, DUM-E was his child, and God forbid he’s gone. “DUM-E!”
There was a beeping in the corner, the buzzing of wheels in the air, and Tony slowly walked around his work desk to see that DUM-E was alive and well, but that he had fallen over on his way to his charging station.
“Really, DUM-E, really?” Tony said exasperatedly, stomping over to the fallen bot. “You are terrible. I created you to help me, but every time I have to help you instead because you are an utterly useless robot who can’t stay on his wheels.”
Tony was not looking forward to heaving DUM-E back upright; he was so very heavy, and DUM-E was larger than Tony too. But the task needed to be done, and as soon as Tony worked up the motivation to lift him up, he would do so too. However, before he could do so, DUM-E was back on his feet.
It was Stevens, gently lifting up the bot like it was nothing and placing the bot back onto his charging station.
“Thanks,” Tony said in relief. Stevens was a guest; he shouldn’t have had to do his work for him. Regardless, he was glad that he didn’t have to do the task. “Sorry you had to see this dumbo while he was on critical battery levels because he couldn’t get around to his charging station without falling.”
DUM-E beeped and twirled his claws excitedly, as if he was completely innocent. Tony huffed, but he walked forward and stroked DUM-E’s claw. He was relieved that DUM-E wasn’t exterminated.
Stevens laughed. “It’s not a problem.” And as if he needed another way for Tony to like him more, Stevens turned to DUM-E and said, “Hello DUM-E. It’s very nice to meet you.”
DUM-E tilted his claw up and down in an approximation of a wave, and he began to move off his charging station.
Tony pushed him back. “Oh my God, DUM-E! You need to charge, you idiot! Next time you move off your charging station before you’re fully charged, I will donate you to the labs, and see if you like that!”
“And you!” Tony twirled around, pointing at Butterfingers. “Did you let DUM-E clean you today?”
The plunger moved up and down, and Butterfingers turned completely around to show that he had been cleaned. Tony grinned. “Good boy. I’ll let you exterminate.”
“Exterminate! Exterminate!” Butterfingers growled eagerly.
Tony grabbed a ball of aluminum foil and tossed it in the air, letting Butterfingers blast it into dust. Then, he grabbed pieces of scrap metal from his desk before he turned to Stevens. There was a big smile on Stevens’s face, looking at Butterfingers fondly, and Tony couldn’t help but match his grin.
He didn’t do this often, allow Butterfingers to destroy everything to his heart’s desire, but it was also a special day. Tony hoped it was a date, too. Still, with all the scraps he had from failed projects, he could treat both his bot and Stevens to this special thing.
“We’re going to the backyard to destroy scrap metal,” Tony said, lifting the scrap in his arms. “It’s too enclosed in here to do much, and the blasts can be scorching. Come along with us?”
“Gladly,” Stevens replied, returning Tony’s excitement, and followed Butterfingers and Tony.
The afternoon was spent out in the backyard destroying pieces of scrap metal into smithereens, Butterfingers gleefully saying, “Exterminate!” after ever bolt of laser. It was fun, especially with Stevens by his side, relaxing beside him and his body pressed against his. It made Tony more aware of the man, a man who accepted him and his bots, even joining in on the fun when Stevens tossed a piece of aluminum foil into the chilly air and watching the ball explode into dust.
They stopped for a late lunch, and Stevens somehow made a killer spaghetti and meatballs with the items he found around the kitchen. Tony didn’t even know that he owned half the things that Stevens collected from his various cupboards, but once he put his fork into his mouth, all thoughts flew out of his head.
Tony moaned around the first bite, closing his eyes for a moment to savor the taste. The flavors of onions and garlic burst into his mouth, mellowed by the taste of tomato and basil. And when he opened his eyes again, he could see a faint dusting of pink that graced Stevens’s cheek.
“Thanks,” Tony said with his mouth full. “I didn’t even know you could make something out of whatever I had in the kitchen.”
“Close your mouth, Tony,” Stevens ultimately said, laughing softly.
Tony swallowed. “All I subsist on is Deborah’s meals and coffee. This is so delicious!”
Tony grinned when Stevensn’s blush darkened.
They fell into an easy silence, forks clinking softly against the ceramic plates, and it felt comfortable just sitting there with Stevens. It was so easy to to push all of his tasks to the back of his mind: no projects, no thesis, no class.
“I finally got into the TARDIS,” Tony said, twirling his fork into his spaghetti. “You were right. I asked the TARDIS to let me in, and she did. I didn’t believe it at first.”
“Yeah?” Stevens breathed. “And you got to see the inside too?”
“I definitely did. But really, bigger on the inside? That was really, really amazing.” Tony was excited all over again thinking about it. “How does it work, with the fact that the TARDIS is one particular size, and the inside is filled with so many things? It should be scientifically impossible.”
“Scientifically impossible in human terms,” Stevens agreed. “But remember, the TARDIS isn’t Earth technology, I’m sure the Doctor told you.”
“He said it was Gallifreyan technology, created by his people.”
Stevens nodded, smiling back.
“How does it all work?” Tony asked. “It’s so hard to imagine that there is a whole world out there than just Earth.”
“I actually don’t know. I’m an artist, not a scientist. I can’t tell you much about the science behind the Time Rotor or the different ways the TARDIS breaks four dimensions, or anything about that. That’s the Doctor’s job. What I can tell you is that the TARDIS is beautiful and very able. She travels in time and space, and it’s so amazing how capable she is as a ship.”
“Yeah, she definitely is,” Tony agreed. He set down his fork on his plate. “I’m going to figure it out.”
Stevens grinned. “I’m sure you will.”
Tony didn’t know what compelled him to take Stevens back out onto the porch after lunch. The temperature was dropping rapidly, but seeing the excitement on Stevens’ face earlier when he saw Butterfingers exterminating everything was so contagious that he wanted to happen again and again, forever. He couldn’t help it: he loved that soft, easy grin that graced his face, turning his sadness into something different, something that Tony liked.
So even though they sat out there again, watching as the day slowly turned to night, the warmth of his joy easily chased away the cold.
“Thanks,” Stevens said softly. “I had a lot of fun today. I know you’re busy.”
“Hey, I needed a break too, and if you weren’t here, I would have probably been in my workshop all day working on projects instead.” Tony looked at Stevens. “You’re actually doing me a favor too.”
“Well then, I’m glad to be of service.”
They fell into a comfortable silence, and Tony shivered hard as the chilly breeze blew by him. Without looking, Stevens put his arm around Tony and tucked him closer by his side. Tony couldn’t complain; the man was a radiator, and sitting next to him was comforting
He liked this. Still though, there was something that was pressing on his mind, like the fact that Stevens felt just slightly out of place with a vernacular that was either too old, or too young, and the fact that he looked like he lived a million years already.
Tony said, “You know, I’ve been trying to figure you out. You seem different, sound different, act differently from anyone else, and I’m not sure what it is.”
Stevens glanced at him. “You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Probably not,” Tony agreed. “But there’s a big box in the middle of the MIT campus, and the fact that you knew what it was...she, sorry… It’s like you know more than you’re telling me. And also, you’ve made me believe in something I didn’t believe in before.”
Stevens’s eyes were piercing when they stared at him. “What do you think?”
Tony paused, looked up, and thought, eyes twitching as he pulled pieces of information from his mind like fractured pieces of a puzzle. “I think,” Tony said slowly, “that all technology may not have been created, the fact that we are still learning things about the world, et cetera.”
Tony looked at Stevens, really looked at him, staring straight into his azure eyes and leaning slightly forward. “There is a lot of missing puzzle pieces that I don’t know yet. But I also think that you’re not from this time.”
Stevens bobbed his head down and up in acknowledgement to Tony’s hypothesis. “I can’t tell you who I am. Complications and all that.”
“Changing something can change everything?” Tony asked. “Like a time traveller.”
“Yeah, like a time traveller.”
“But time travel is impossible.” Even though Tony did see the size difference between the interior of the TARDIS in comparison to the exterior, it was just simply hard to believe that such a thing like time travel existed because it...just wasn’t possible.
“For now it is,” Stevens said. “It’s impossible now because the tech doesn’t exist yet.”
“I don’t think time travel is a science that will be found until long after I’m dead.” Tony was just repeating himself now. But really, Stevens acted like he was an old soul, kind of like how Howard acted, with his outdated vernacular and ancient eyes. But as Tony talked to Stevens more, he also realized that Stevens had some future tech knowledge that they didn’t have yet, so it was hard to place who Stevens was. It was attractive, that mystery, and Tony couldn’t help but lean forward into Stevens’s space. Tony wanted him.
Although Stevens looked like he knew something that Tony didn’t, he didn’t elaborate further. Tony wanted to ask, wanted to push, but all of that fell away when Stevens looked at him heatedly, eyes piercing him and took his breath away. Their faces were merely inches away from each other. It was like fate was pulling them together, and Tony was helpless under its whims. But he didn’t care; he wanted this, wanted to be closer to this interesting, unique man and learn more about him. He didn’t care that Stevens was a man out of time; he wanted to understand everything.
Tony whispered, “Who are you?”
And just like that, the spell was broken. Stevens drew back, eyes hooded.
“I can’t tell you. You know that.” Stevens stood up, and Tony felt bereft as the warmth from Stevens body dissipated. “Thank you, Tony, for the good time.”
Tony wanted to take his words back, but it was too late, and the easy camaraderie slipped away like dust blowing in the wind.
“But, can’t you stay?” Tony stood up as well and faced Stevens, pleading, hoping that he would break and concede.
Stevens shook his head. “I wish I could. I want to, but you know too much already, and the more I stay, the more danger the timelines will be.” Stevens gathered Tony up into his arms, clinging onto him almost desperately, like there was some loss that Stevens wasn’t telling him. “Thank you, so much, for the fun day.”
Tony watched as Stevens turned around and left, never looking back. Oddly enough, it hurt to be so close to him, not knowing a lot about him, yet feeling like there was something missing in his life when he walked away.
Tony stood out there in the dark and in the cold, alone in his thoughts when Rhodey opened the back door. “How long have you been standing there, idiot?” Rhodey asked. “Where’s the Captain?”
“Gone,” Tony replied. “He left.”
He tried not to feel sad about it; he barely knew Stevens after all. But it still felt...like there was an aching in his heart.
“He’ll be back, right? I saw the way he looked at you.” Rhodey stepped aside and let Tony through the door. “He’s most certainly attracted to you. And you brought him home to see your workshop. You never let anyone see your workshop.”
Tony exhaled. “I don’t know, Rhodey, I don’t know. I don’t think so, though.”
Rhodey shook his head. “He likes you. He won’t be able to stay away.”
There was a fragile flame of hope; Tony couldn’t think of that - he couldn’t think of him when Stevens moved away like a ghost in the wind.
“I’ll be in my workshop if you need me,” Tony said, sighing.
He regretted it, not kissing Tony. He had a chance to; he wanted to! But it wasn’t fair for his Tony if he were to kiss this younger Tony now, even if they were the same person in different time periods.
He wanted to go back to his Tony. Sure, his Tony may not have a physical body, but Stevens didn’t care; he just wanted to be with his man, forever. Instead, he was stuck outside, in the cold, wandering around like a lonely traveller with nothing to do, stranded in the middle of the cold Cambridge in February, 1989. He felt guilty to want Tony’s younger self, even though he was given permission.
Stevens walked down Main Street, passing by strangers with cups of Deborah’s famous coffee in their hands, and then he remembered the incident that happened hours earlier.
It was a mystery in his hands. He didn’t understand why he was thinking about the Red Skull now; he hadn’t thought about him in over a century, counting all the moments he had been awake and discounting the fact that he was closer to his past than ever before. But still, earlier, back at the cafe, he was hallucinating Deborah as the Red Skull, and he didn’t know why. They were two different people, and the Red Skull had long been dead.
Stevens had to go back to Deborah’s cafe. There was something wrong, something very, very wrong about that place, and he didn’t know what it was.
The winter breeze was picking up again, as if the weather had one last spite for him, chilling him to the bone and reminding of the time - before, as if he wasn’t reminded already.
So lost in his thoughts, he nearly crashed into someone.
“Excuse me,” he said apologetically. He stepped aside to let the shorter man in front of him pass.
Bundled up in swathes of heavy coats and a hat, the smaller man mumbled something incomprehensible through his scarf. As he moved past Stevens, he glanced up, and Stevens froze, staring at those familiar eyes that he also hadn’t seen in years.
“No,” he whispered, horrified, watching as the man walk away from him, holding the only cup of coffee that did not bear Deborah’s logo on it. He couldn’t believe that that man was here, alive, in the States, much less within yards of… .
Once was a happenstance, twice was a coincidence. He didn’t need a third, because with them came destruction. And if one Arnim Zola was here, even though he was all bundled up in heavy winter coats and a black hat, Stevens’s original belief of hallucinating Red Skull wasn’t too far off the bat.
They were both here - HYDRA, always alive, no matter what time period it was, and he had to stop it.
“What does this do?” Tony asked, pointing to the funny contraption that spun around and made a winding-up noise.
“That goes bang!” the Doctor said. “And this goes whiz, and that goes whoosh…”
“I don’t think those are proper terms for what they are, Doctor,” Tony crossed his arms, and then his legs, leaning against the console with his hip against panel three, as the Doctor had described before.
“I’m trying to explain to you what they truly do!” the Doctor replied indignantly.
“And if you know me, you know I’m smarter than that. Just explain it to me more clearly,” Tony cajoled.
“I don’t have time to explain this to you! It’s complicated Gallifreyan technology, more complex than your human brain can take.”
“I did two Doctorates before I was twenty-one, and I’m working on my third,” Tony said, uncrossing his arms, “If there is anyone who would be able to understand this...Gallifreyan technology, it would be me, Doctor. And you’ve been stranded here for days now, which means that you have no way to figure out what is wrong with your TARDIS.”
The Doctor stared at Tony angrily; Tony stared back cooly. “You are insufferable,” the Doctor said, waggling a finger. “Okay, how about this: this is the retroscope. It—”
“—looks back to previous things, but assuming that you are someone who can jump forward and back in time, it allows you to move up and down in time based on where you want to go,” Tony deduced, uncrossing his arms and stepping up to look at his reflection in the mirror...retroscope.
“You…” the Doctor said, “are an asshole .”
“And you are too.” Tony grinned. “We’re two genius assholes in the same room, what do you expect?”
“I don’t know what I expected,” the Doctor said grumpily. He stomped down the stairs, moving in the basement area, and Tony peered through the grates. “I expected that the TARDIS would work with me to be fixed, considering that I am a genius and that I have the skills to fix a TARDIS since I’ve had her for the past ten reincarnations, and then she goes and pulls this on me so that I am stuck here in the middle of boring Boston, America, with nothing to do!”
“Boston’s not boring!” Tony retorted. “Plus, we’re in Cambridge.”
The Doctor glared up at him. “Oh, it’s the same thing. Compared to all the other planets and places out there, the metropolitan Boston area is so utterly boring! Why couldn’t the TARDIS park me in London for example? At least London is interesting. Oh, or the San Andreas Faultline, lots of rift energy there. But no—” the Doctor waved his hands above his head “—the TARDIS had to park me in the middle of bloody nowhere and it is bo-ring!”
“It is in the middle of February, I’ll give you that,” Tony conceded. “Still, there’s always things to do, and if not, there’s always Deborah’s coffee.”
“I don’t drink coffee, I drink tea.” The Doctor stomped back up the stairs, holding a book in his hands.
“So,” Tony said, trailing the word. “You claim you’re an alien and yet you’re pretty British. Tea?”
The Doctor glared at him. “Don’t knock tea. Tea had saved my life. And also, Britain has a very good history, unlike yours. I’m friends with the Queen. Granted, Queen Victoria did not like me much, tried to have me executed, but Queen Elizabeth, both of them, love me. Saved all of them once or twice. America, however, is such a baby, still walking its first steps.” He threw the book at Tony. Tony caught it, just barely. “That’s the manual for the TARDIS since you’re so keen on fixing her for me.”
Tony sniffed. “Rude, throwing things at my head.”
“I don’t need help!”
“Yeah, you do,” he replied plainly, cracking the manual open. And then he lifted it high in the air. “And what language is this? It’s all circle-y and incomprehensible.”
“Old High Gallifreyan, the TARDIS doesn’t translate Old High Gallifreyan,” the Doctor dismissed. “Good luck trying to translate it.”
Tony glared at the Doctor again.
“If it weren’t for the fact that the TARDIS was so interesting, I would have left,” Tony said, “because you are truly an asshole.”
“You are too!” the Doctor retorted.
“But!” Tony continued as if he didn’t hear a word the Doctor said, “Unfortunately for you, because this ship is so interesting, I am not moving from my place, so—” Tony tossed the TARDIS manual back, “—you can either be helpful, or I can just figure things myself and make things better. And that would take me longer.”
The Doctor stared at Tony, and Tony grinned when he saw the Doctor gritting his teeth. “Fine,” the Doctor finally huffed before he reached into his pocket and pulled out a tool.
Tony stared at it curiously. “What’s that?”
“Sonic screwdriver.” The Doctor pointed the screwdriver at the manual. The screwdriver made a whizzing noise for a few seconds before it stopped, and the Doctor tossed the manual back at Tony. “There, it’s all English now for your dumb human brain to understand.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Tony said, looking down at it. He was quiet, flipping through the pages of the manual as the Doctor ducked back under the console. “You know, this doesn’t seem hard at all. It’s all pretty typical: engines, wheel, battery, et cetera. Sure, it may be all Star Trek-y, but even the most difficult, Gallifreyan technology has some basis in regular motors, and I’m good with motors.”
“You could at least have the decency to admire this gorgeous thing,” the Doctor said, pulling his head out of Panel 5.
“I’m admiring the TARDIS, but I’m also figuring out how to fix her,” Tony replied. He placed the manual on the chair before approaching the Doctor. “I’ll have to tear her panels apart before I can figure out what’s wrong with her, but then I can make her better.”
The Doctor cried, “You’ll do no such thing! I will not let you do that! I told you no touching!”
“You’ll be stuck here for months if you don’t.”
The Doctor laid on the grating, looking up at the TARDIS ceiling, and he bemoaned, “I just want to fix you! Why won’t you let me fix you!”
Tony ignored the Doctor as he crawled underneath the console panels, looking at the mess of tangled wires and blinking lights. “Please tell me you didn’t do this.”
“Don’t judge, I’m not an engineer, and she works just fine!” The Doctor said.
“Clearly.” Tony’s voice was muffled slightly with the fact that half of his body was under the console, but even so, the Doctor growled at the dry sacrasm.
He insisted, “She worked fine!”
“I don’t even know how you manage to keep her working with that mess in there,” Tony snarked back. He tugged the wires out, detaching them from their plugs, ignoring the way the Doctor was growling behind him.
“You,” the Doctor said, gritting his teeth, “I think I need tea to deal with you.”
“Cool, can you get me some coffee while you’re at it?”
“Get your own coffee!” The Doctor yelled back, stomping down the walkway and bursting past the TARDIS door. He slammed the door none too gently (he was going to be so punished later, but really, Tony was insufferable, and he shouldn’t have to deal with his behavior. It was his TARDIS after all).
The Doctor inhaled in the crisp winter air. He missed the smell of Britain; America always smelled alien and wrong. Up ahead, the street light flickered. So did all the store signs, blinking on and off as if they succumbed to a power surge.
It was probably nothing, probably just a normal weather blackout. Yet, underneath the smell of all the cold was the smell of trouble. There was something alien about the way the lights flickered, and the Doctor inhaled deeply, feeling the air around him. The air tasted metallic.
It definitely was trouble. He liked trouble.
A shopping trip took the Doctor running around the city to a store called a Radio Shack, a hardware store, two grocery shops, and a Macy’s. His pockets overflowed with his purchases as he absentmindedly walked down the street with his eyes glued to the contraption in his hand. The wires hung freely in the air, bouncing with every step he took.
The Doctor grabbed a wire and curled it, plugging it into the center. It sparked, releasing a bolt of electricity, and he swore under his breath, nearly dropped the thing when the spark was nearly too much for his Time Lord body to handle.
When the sparks died away though, the contraption was done, and it was working, powering up so that he can find alien tech.
So focused on gleefully staring at his new machine in his hand, he nearly walked into his TARDIS face-first. He looked up, juggled the machine into one hand, and reached into his pocket for his key.
The TARDIS door swung open, revealing Tony, hair disheveled and face streaked with grease. “Did you get my coffee?” he asked.
“No.” The Doctor peered at the blinking red light and the beeping noise. Tony reached for the device, and the Doctor lifted it high above his head. Tony gave him a stink-eye, and then he peered up.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Alien tracking device.” As the Doctor turned, the blinks and the beeps sped up. He walked forward slowly, letting the machine guide him by the speeding and slowing beeps and blinks that emitted from the device. His eyes were riveted towards the lights, and he barely glanced up as the lights slowed down nearly imperceptibly, then sped up again when the Doctor turned slightly.
“With an ostrich egg in the middle? Where did you even get an ostrich egg?”
“At the supermarket,” the Doctor said.
“And it works?” Tony asked incredulously, but the Doctor ignored him, stepping aside when Tony reached out again to study it.
“It works,” the Doctor sniffed, following the racing lights and the incessant beeping noise.
He burst through the door as the lights blinked at him like there was no tomorrow. He stopped, looked up, stared at the face of a bemused barista with red skin and hollowed-out eyes. The Doctor frowned and shook his device, banging his hand on it, but the beeping droned on. He looked up again, covering the speaker so that the noise silenced.
“Ah, hello there.” The Doctor gave his best grin. “Please don’t mind this, I’m just looking for anomalies around here, but it seems that this thing is faulty.” He pounded the top of it for good measure.
“Nothing new.” The barista shrugged. One glance at her apron showed him that her name was ‘Deborah.’ He gave a tongue-in-cheek grin, and she smiled in return. “But perhaps you might like a cup of coffee before you go on your day?”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“Tea,” the Doctor nodded decisively. “Tea does sound good, especially after this long and trying day. Thank you.”
The barista smiled. “I’ll bring it out to you in a bit.”
The Doctor was about to look down at his device again when someone called out, “Doctor?”
It was a very familiar voice, one that he hadn’t heard from in a while. The Doctor spun around, staring at the man in the far corner of the cafe. “Captain?”
Captain Stevens beckoned him over with a pen in his hand. The Doctor walked over. He said, “I thought you were with Iron Man, and I thought you were headed over to Apalapachia for vacation.”
Stevens shook his head. “He told me that I needed to stop moping before he was going to take me anywhere, and then he kicked me out without telling me where I was. I wasn’t moping, mind you, but TARDISes are the bosses.”
The Doctor gave him a knowing nod. After all, his TARDIS was the boss. “You’re definitely not wrong there.”
“I’m stuck here until Tony decides to let me travel with him again. I had to find out from Tony’s younger self that I was at MIT, 1989.”
“Ah, yes, MIT, 1989, where Tony Stark is working on three Doctorates and is entirely insufferable.” The Doctor plopped down in the seat across from Stevens, setting down his contraption on the table. “Did you know that he is an asshole?”
“I think he’s really sweet,” Stevens replied.
The Doctor squinted. “You’ve seemed to have met him, but are you sure we’re talking about the same person?”
Stevens laughed. “I’m pretty sure you’re biased. It’s funny though, I never thought I would be here. Never thought that I was ever going to go back in time and see a young Tony.” He placed his sketchbook on the table and picked up his coffee. “What are you doing here though? Last time we saw you, you said you were going on a date with River Song.”
“River Song? You mean the professor? Now why would I do that?” The Doctor tilted his head curiously. “I don’t know her.”
“Oh.” Stevens looked sheepish. “Never mind then. Don’t mind me Doctor. They’re spoilers. Can’t tell you much, future you’s orders.”
The Doctor groaned. “I hate that word: spoilers. It’s an annoying word when you’re all Time Lord-y and stuff. But I was actually on my way to see Pachelbel when the TARDIS was knocked off course and landed me here and broke down. I still can’t believe she landed me here of all places.”
“Captain, here’s your coffee,” Deborah interrupted them, placing the mug of freshly made coffee on the table, beside his sketchbook. “And sir, here’s your tea.”
“Thank you Deborah,” Stevens said, sighing. “You’re always too kind.”
“Anything for my favorite captain.” She winked, then she looked down at his sketchbook. “Gorgeous drawing. Those eyes look very familiar.”
“Perhaps they do,” Stevens agreed, hunching over his sketchbook in a poor attempt to hide his drawing. “Thank you again.”
“Who are you drawing?” the Doctor asked curiously.
He squinted at the blush that graced Stevens’s face. “Yeah right. You’re drawing him, like you usually do.”
“Maybe.” Stevens had a little silly smile on his face, like he did when he was thinking of one particular person. It was a very familiar look.
“Come on, really, Captain?” The Doctor grinned into his cup of tea.
“Shut up,” Stevens replied, scowling now. “How about that device you have there?”
“Alien tracker,” the Doctor replied. “There’s something going on around here, and I don’t know what’s going on, but I doesn’t smell like it’s anything good. Followed it here, but the barista looks like a harmless alien.”
“Are you sure?” Stevens asked. “Deborah doesn’t seem harmless.”
The Doctor waved it off. “Harmless red alien. Don’t think she would be able to hurt a fly. No, there’s got to be something else, but I think this tracking machine is glitching on me.”
“Did you ask Tony to look at it?”
“No, why?” he asked brusquely, bringing the device closer to himself and clinging onto it protectively. “He’s already very smug in fixing my TARDIS, I don’t need him to fix every tech thing he sees. I do know my way around machines, you know.”
“I highly doubt that, considering that the TARDIS innards were an utter mess,” Tony interrupted their conversation. The Doctor jerked in surprise, and he looked up as Tony dropped into a seat at their table, holding a cup of coffee in his hands. He nodded at the Doctor first. He accused, “You didn’t get me a cup of coffee.”
“I told you to get your own coffee,” the Doctor griped back, scowling.
Tony rolled his eyes before he turned to Stevens and grinned. “Hello Stevens.”
Stevens couldn’t keep a sappy grin off his face, and the Doctor smirked when he saw the look that crossed Stevens’s face as he eyed Tony. “Tony.” Even his voice turned lovesick. The Doctor rolled his eyes.
Tony waggled his fingers between the two. “You two know each other?”
“Yeah, we met a few times before.”
“So, is this like a time traveller alien meeting?” Tony asked, turning his head side to side and looking at them.
“It was a coincidence. I saw the Doctor at the counter.”
Tony tilted his head in confusion. “But you knew he was here though. You were there, standing in front of the TARDIS. You’ve been avoiding him this entire time?”
“You were avoiding me,” the Doctor said flatly, but his eyes told a different story. Accusatory, mostly, but also a little bit amused and understanding.
“Yeah, maybe?” Stevens said sheepishly.
The Doctor waved it off. “I probably would have run away too,” the Doctor explained to Tony. “Not that I don’t like you, it’s just that multiple time travellers in the same place does not bode well for everyone else. But now I’m here, and you’re here, and there’s trouble, so I guess we’ll be here until the trouble is all done.”
“What trouble?” Tony asked sharply.
“Not your problem,” the Doctor said dismissively. “Come along Stevens, we’ve got a mystery alien to catch.”
“Ah, actually,” Stevens hesitated, “if it’s alright with you, I’m just going to stay here for a bit. I’m following my own lead.”
The Doctor looked at him, and then at Tony, before he shrugged. “Alright, just don’t take too long. Trouble is never far away. Eyes open. Don’t blink.”
“You too, Doctor.”
“And you,” the Doctor pointed at Tony, “I don’t want to go back and see my TARDIS all dismantled because you were so curious about it.”
Tony grinned. “Can’t promise you that, but I can promise that when I’m all done, she’s going to be all better.”
The Doctor squeezed his alien tracking device in his hand because if he didn’t, he was that close to strangling Tony’s neck instead.
He couldn’t stop grinning after the Doctor left the cafe. Indeed, there was trouble just around the corner, but there was also Tony by his side, and it made it very hard to think about anything else. It was as if the meeting from last time was forgotten when Stevens set his eyes on Tony because he never failed to take his breath away.
“I’m sorry,” Tony said first before Stevens could say anything. “I don’t say sorry to people, but I’m saying sorry to you. I’m sorry for pushing before. I didn’t mean it.”
Stevens waved the apology off. “You didn’t know,” he replied. “Time and space is a very fickle thing. I should have been more careful about telling you stuff.”
“Still, I should have let you have your secrets.” Tony fiddled with his cup holder, pushing it down and pulling it back up his cup. “I’m just curious and it’s just that...I don’t like mysteries, especially when it comes to something so interesting.”
Stevens nodded. “I definitely understand that. I just don’t want to break the future.”
Tony’s eyes were bright and swirling honey brown; it never stopped taking Stevens’s breath away. When he licked his lips, he couldn’t help but stare at the motion. No matter what age he was, he loved Tony. “How—” Stevens said, nearly stuttering, “how are you?”
Tony swallowed his coffee and grabbed Stevens’s, curling over his cup protectively. It was a familiar motion, and his heart panged slightly, but it also made him ecstatic. “Busy, but I’m always busy,” Tony said. “I’ve been taking over the prof’s class full time.”
“An engineering professor. He’s been missing class for the past several days without notice, and no one knows where he is,” Tony groaned dramatically. “Still can’t believe he bailed on the class and I have to teach all his classes.”
“But you’re good with the students, I’ve heard, so I can’t imagine they want him back,” Stevens said.
“Who told you that?” Tony asked, frowning. “Lemme guess, it was Rhodey, wasn’t it. Rhodey thinks I’m great with kids. I hate kids. They’re so dumb.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Stevens said, leaning forward and smiling gently at him. “Look at DUM-E and Butterfingers. You love them.”
“No I don’t,” Tony griped, but Stevens knew that he was bluffing and it wasn’t true at all. He saw the way Tony’s eyes twinkled with love even as he exasperatedly chided them. Stevens let out a burst of laughter. Tony gave him a self-deprecating grin. “Alright, yeah, the kids are okay, but still, I still can’t believe the professor’s been missing for this long without telling us where he went. I’m tempted to give him a piece of my mind.”
“Have you tried looking for him?”
Tony shook his head. “No time, but as soon as I do, I will. This is fucking crazy. He can’t just disappear without a trace.”
Stevens hummed. “You’re right. But maybe there’s something happening to them too.”
“Like what? Is this some time travelling riddle you’re trying to tell me?” Tony asked.
“I don’t know yet, but the lights have been flickering a lot since I’ve been here.” As to punctuate his point, the lights at Deborah’s cafe flickered on and off.
“Weather’s been abnormally terrible this year,” Tony dismissed automatically. “It’s really nothing to worry about.”
“Is it really?” Stevens asked. “It hasn’t been snowing for the past several days, and the weather has been more or less nice, if a bit frigid.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Maybe there’s something more to all these power outages. Something like someone’s using an abnormal amount of electricity.”
Tony shook his head. “This power outages are normal this time of year, so I don’t think the blackouts and my professor’s disappearance are linked.”
Stevens huffed. “Okay,” he finally conceded, leaning back against his chair.
“You’re being weird,” Tony noted. “Not sure what’s going on with you. Is it the PTSD thing again?”
“I’m fine,” Stevens said. “It’s just...it feels weird right now. Like there’s something wrong.”
Tony shrugged. “Well, whatever it is, I’m sure that you’ll figure it out.”
“Yeah,” Stevens said. He looked down at his sketchbook. Tony was right there; he couldn’t close it or else it would look too suspicious, like he was hiding something. Granted, he was hiding something, but Tony had always been curious for his own good. He could feel his eyes on him, trying to look over and peek what he was looking at.
Tony asked, “What are you drawing?”
Stevens glanced up, looking like a deer in headlights, and Tony quickly backtracked, waving his arms in front of him. “You don’t have to show me if you don’t want to.”
The thing was though, Stevens wanted to show him too. He nodded, gnawing on his bottom lip absentmindedly, deciding whether that showing him this picture would affect the timelines. He just wanted Tony.
His mind made up, Stevens tore out a sheet of paper from his sketchbook. “Here,” he said. He was sure that his cheeks were slightly red, and his heart was beating out of his chest; he wondered if Tony could hear it. Thankfully, his hands were steady when he handed the piece of paper to him.
Tony plucked it out of his hand, giving him a sultry smile that made his blush deepen. While he was older this time around, Tony never failed to be more confident in himself than Stevens was. He had not one ounce of shame. Then he looked down and gasped. “That’s me.” He studied it in wide-eyed wonder.
Stevens had drawn him the way he saw Tony right now: vulnerable, sweet, young, but also coy and flirty. It looked much, much different from his confident playboy act. He saw past it; he knew him after all.
Tony visibly deflated, giving him a shy smile. “I really love it,” he said.
Stevens’s eyes crinkled, and he ducked his head slightly. “I love it, too.”
Stevens wanted to say I love you, it was right there on the tip of his tongue, but it wasn’t fair that he would say it to this Tony, not to his own. Besides, he was young. Stevens held it back, just barely. Every time he was with Tony, he just kept screwing things up because he was such a familiar presence that he forgets himself, and he couldn’t help but come back every time because he needed him, no matter which Tony it was.
He had to stop this; he couldn’t.
“You know,” Stevens said, jerking his thumb towards the door, “I may have to find the Doctor after all, now that I think about it. He has a tendency to get into trouble if someone’s not watching him.”
Stevens needed an out, lest he did something dumb. Like kiss Tony. Because he was that close to kissing him, and he couldn’t.
Stevens moved to get up, but Tony stopped him with a hand on his arm. It felt like an electric shock up his arm. “Didn’t you say that you had a lead here though?” Tony inquired.
When Stevens nodded, Tony said, “Then let me go find the Doctor. I have a better idea as to where trouble can happen anyway.”
“Are you sure?” Stevens asked. “It may be dangerous. Actually, it’s dangerous because anything to do with the Doctor just naturally tend to be that way. Besides, you’re busy.”
“But you’re doing a stakeout,” Tony pointed out. “I’m just here because I wanted coffee, and then I was going to go back to the TARDIS and fix it.”
Stevens hesitated, looking conflicted. But he finally said, “Okay,” settling back into his seat.
Tony got up instead, picking up his coffee and downing it in one gulp. “You know, I’d think fate keep wanting us to meet and telling us that we can’t meet long,” Tony said lightly.
More than you’d ever know. But Stevens couldn’t tell him that. It was too disastrous.
“I’m always here, Tony,” he said instead, ignoring the aching in his heart.
“But I’m always busy and running around.” Tony looked at Stevens again, pursing his lips. Stevens wanted so desperately to kiss those plump, red lips, and he resisted. “See you later?”
“Yeah.” He nodded. He took his fill of seeing the sight of Tony walking away, smiling slightly at the swagger and the last wink that Tony sent his way as he left the cafe.
Tony walked out of Deborah’s cafe, hitching his coat closer to himself. He couldn’t believe he offered to help Stevens to find the Doctor; he just wanted to go back in and sit down in the warmth, talk to the man he liked (and maybe get into his pants, too).
It felt like fate was pushing them together, teasing them for a little bit, and then pulling them away again before they could do anything further. Tony grumbled under his breath, looking back through the window of the cafe and staring at the man that he liked. Stevens was busy scanning the cafe, taking particular interest at Deborah, before he looked down and scribbled something in his notebook.
And the Doctor, too, was quite a character: sassy, such an asshole, but still exceedingly smart and able to give Tony a run for his money.
He didn’t know where to even start looking for the Doctor - he was long gone, chasing down his lead, but it was true that Tony had a better idea of the town than Stevens probably did.
But if trouble was afoot, trouble would be found where trouble was made, and Tony had an inkling where some of those trouble spots were. He set off, picking a route. It went north, and it was just a good as any place to start with the fact that the Doctor was long gone.
And if anything, if the Doctor was looking for trouble, perhaps Tony could find trouble. “Trouble” was his middle name.
However, four hours later, Tony still hadn’t found him, and he was freezing and frustrated. It was also fully dark, and the wind was picking up. He had looked at every possible place that could have had trouble, but the Doctor was not there. Tired and hungry, Tony finally decided to drop by the TARDIS one last time before heading home - the Doctor was an adult; he could take care of himself.
It didn’t matter that Tony wanted to please Stevens and find the Doctor; the fact that there was no trace of him made Tony cranky. Still, he could see if the Doctor had returned to his TARDIS; it was his base of operations after all.
The TARDIS greeted him like an old friend when he placed his hand upon her handlebars. The door gently clicked open, and he walked into the warmth. The console room was empty, leaving Tony free to explore undisturbed.
With the Doctor usually there frantically moving around, it was hard to fully appreciate the beauty of the TARDIS engineering. However, now, with him out, Tony walked around the room slowly, studying everything with appreciation. He placed a hand on the circular plates on the wall, feeling the rubbery texture and admiring the orange-like glow that illuminated the room.
He stepped away, looking up and stepping backwards, gliding his hand upon the coral structure that felt amazingly like what he thought coral would feel like, and then, in the far corner, was a glowing...thing suspended in bubbling water.
It was like the thing was beckoning him closer, and Tony slowly walked forward, entranced. He didn’t know what or why he felt compelled this way. Time slowed down as his fingers stretched out.
The sentient buzzing of the TARDIS faded into the background, and the golden glow from the glass casing reached back to encircle his fingers in greeting. The glow dragged Tony’s hand closer, and Tony willingly went, smiling bemusedly as the red plant stretched its sapling closer to the glass.
Tony took another step closer, and his palm touched the glass.
There was a spark, and he flew backwards into the console, hitting his head against the Time Rotor before he slid down to the floor. He barely braced himself from sprawling ungainly on the grating, and he sat up, rubbing his head.
“Ow,” Tony said belatedly. He looked up at the cylindrical casing, where the golden glow was swirling around the small plant. It looked...happy, perking up and growing bigger before Tony’s eyes. Tony scrambled to stand up, staring at it the entire time. He felt a new presence in the back of his mind, greeting him and thanking him, and Tony’s lips twitched up. It wasn’t malicious or evil; it felt comforting and playful, perhaps a little loud and shy and curious at the same time. Tony liked it.
He said, out loud, “You’re welcome.” Tony didn’t know what it was, but he didn’t mind the constant thrumming of curious energy.
The TARDIS doors slammed open, and the noise broke Tony out of his reverie. He startled, turning to see the Doctor stomping back in with his beeping device.
“Bust!” the Doctor yelled. “All were a bust! Why does Boston have so much alien tech? That makes no sense. There shouldn’t be any alien tech - Boston’s boring!”
Tony opened his mouth to correct the geography and then slammed it shut again. The Doctor wasn’t listening anyway.
The Doctor looked up after his rant, finally noticing Tony by the glass casing. He stopped short and his jaw dropped. “Did…” he stuttered, “did you touch that?” He raced over, pushing Tony aside. “You touched it! You weren’t supposed to touch it!”
“It wasn’t my fault,” Tony protested. “If anything, it touched me! I didn’t do anything!”
“But it can’t!” the Doctor despaired. His hand hovered over it frantically, close to the glass but not touching it. He repeated, “You’re not supposed to touch it!”
Tony approached the Doctor. “What is it?” he asked.
The Doctor turned around and glared at Tony. “Don’t. You can’t ask that. This isn’t something you should know.”
“Why?” Tony challenged. “Is it because it will affect the fabric of time and space?”
Tony was kidding, but he sobered when the Doctor didn’t laugh at his joke. “You’re not supposed to touch this,” the Doctor said darkly, face stony and hard. “I don’t know what will happen now that you touched it, but it’s not going to be anything good. You should leave.”
Never let it be said that Tony didn’t know when he crossed the line. He bowed his head in acknowledgement and walked out.
The golden glow still swirled around the red sapling ten minutes later, but it no longer seemed in danger of exploding. The Doctor breathed a sigh of relief, collapsing into his chair. He propped his feet up against the console.
“Why did you show Tony this?” the Doctor asked the TARDIS. He was sure that he had hidden this away in a safe place, away from prying eyes and curious fingers. “Cap and Tony gave this to us for safekeeping; you shouldn’t have shown his younger self this.”
The TARDIS brushed against the back of his mind lightly, and the Doctor pushed back. “Just because that is Tony himself, in TARDIS form, you had no right to show him his own self. It’s too dangerous. You know that. It muddles the timelines all together, and who knows, bad things can happen.”
“Bad things happen when two of the same people stand in the same place at the same time,” the Doctor said darkly. “It makes time and space unstable. You know that.”
The TARDIS was silent for once, respecting him as his face turned stormy and sad. He didn’t remember the last time his selves were there together in one place; he would have erased it from his memory until the last generation experienced it and retained it. But unlike Time Lords, humans didn’t have that capability. “Don’t show this to him again,” he ordered.
In response, the TARDIS turned on the scanner, scanning all the information the Doctor’s new device collected. It was an attempt at getting back into his good books, and damn if it wasn't working. He couldn’t stay mad at her for long, especially not when she was trying so hard to valiantly pretend that she’d never been anything but a perfectly respectable and efficient vehicle for his adventures in time and space.
He stood up, looked at the scanned results, and cursed.
“It’s always the Cybermen,” he grumbled, leaning forward. “It’s always the Cybermen.”
A distant but continuous banging on his door broke him out of his reverie.
“Rhodey, get the door!” Tony shouted absently, settling a microchip onto the motherboard. This wasn’t particularly in his current field of expertise, but he was tired of using Deborah’s phone all the time and hated the suitcase phones all the businesspeople walked around with. He needed something smaller, more portable and easy to use, and if this new phone worked out, he could revolutionize the telephone industry.
Needless to say, he was busy, and he didn’t need the constant barrage of knocks. After a few seconds, the knocks stopped, and Tony breathed a sigh of relief, hunching over the motherboard again. He was about to solder in the chip when the banging started up again, even more loudly than before.
He nearly slammed his iron down in anger, settling it down gently at the last second before he slumped in his chair. “Shut up!” he shouted.
“Exterminate?” Butterfingers asked.
Tony rubbed his hands over his eyes. He muttered lowly, too lowly for Butterfingers to hear, else he might take it as an invitation. “I wish.”
He didn’t know where Rhodey was; it was normally his job to answer the door. Tony was shit at them, and he was banned from ever answering after he opened the door entirely naked and completely unashamed of it. (It was winter too.)
Still, the person at the door seemed like he wasn’t ever planning to stop banging on his door, and Rhodey wasn’t about to answer it either, which left Tony to do the task. He harrumphed, threw himself off his chair and strode down the corridor.
The Doctor was on his front porch, holding his ostrich egg scanner under his arm and a cup from Deborah’s. He looked put out when he saw him; Tony probably looked the same.
“What are you doing here?” Tony asked flatly. “Did the ostrich egg tell you to come here?”
“You have alien tech,” the Doctor replied. “At least that’s what my scanner says.”
“I don’t have alien tech in my house! I would have noticed if I had any.”
“Look.” The Doctor did a complicated juggle before he held up his scanner so that Tony could see it better. The red light was blinking incessantly.
“I don’t believe it; I think it’s faulty.” Tony was unimpressed. He looked up and gave the Doctor a hard stare. “Is this just an excuse?”
The Doctor huffed, and he grimaced. “I’m sorry for kicking you out of my TARDIS last time. I just...touchy subject. And I don’t apologize. But I need your help.”
“Fine.” Tony crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. “Why now though?”
“Because there is something wrong with this place, and I need your help,” the Doctor said, sobering up. He bit his lip and rocked back on his heels. He looked guilty, and he rubbed the back of his in embarrassment. “And also, my TARDIS seems to like you better than me right now, and she’s only responding to you fixing her.”
Tony nodded slowly. It sounded as if the Doctor was genuinely remorseful, and it was hard to stay mad at him. He stared at the ostrich egg. Just looking at it made Tony want to laugh. The egg had wires sticking out of the top and there was an antenna on it. From one of the wires hung a screen, swinging freely in the air. “Fine. Let me take a look at that first. I still think your thing is faulty.”
“And I think you have an alien in your house,” the Doctor said, walked into the house once Tony moved back. At Tony’s outstretched hand, the Doctor gave one last longing look at his scanner before he reluctantly handed it over to him.
“I still can’t believe you managed to make a scanner out of an ostrich egg,” Tony remarked, fiddling with it as he absently walked down the corridor. “How’s the tea?”
“Mildly explosive and somewhat bird-flavored.”
Tony stopped, fingers stilling on the wires, and he turned around with an eyebrow raised. “What?”
The Doctor looked entirely too innocent, taking another gulp from his cup. “Nothing.”
Tony huffed a laugh, returning to the scanner. “You’re weird, just like this ostrich egg scanner.”
“Oi! Don’t insult my scanner! It works perfectly fine!”
“I’m sure,” Tony said dryly. “It doesn’t seem to even work, considering the scanner is pouring out gibberish.”
“It works perfectly fine,” the Doctor said, scowling. “Just because your mini human brain can’t read it doesn't mean it doesn’t work.”
“Back with the insults, I see.”
“When you stop insulting me, I’ll stop insulting you,” he replied petulantly, crossing his arms. “Besides, I did find aliens with that thing, and I still think you have alien tech somewhere.”
“Whatever you say Doc,” Tony dismissed it.
They walked back into Tony’s workshop, Tony leading the way. He fiddled with the controls as he continued walking forward, just barely missing the inside of the doorway - he brushed up against it; few inches over, he would have hit face-first into the wall.
“What?” the Doctor said behind him. There was a thump of something falling to the floor and a softened splash as the distinct sound of liquid spreading onto the floor. “No. It can’t be.”
Tony looked up sharply. The Doctor stood stock-still at the door frame, face pale and mouth gaped open like a fish out of the water. Deborah’s to-go cup was no longer in his hand, but rather on the floor, spilling tea over his shoes and the floor, and the hand that held the cup was pointed shakily ahead. “It can’t be,” he repeated.
“Exterminate!” Butterfingers growled, moving forward.
“Dalek!” the Doctor roared. He whipped out his sonic screwdriver and pointed it at Butterfingers. “Tony, get away from him!”
“What?” Tony said, perplexed, looking between the Doctor and Butterfingers. “Wait, what are you doing?”
“It’s a Dalek!” The screwdriver whined. In response, Butterfingers powered up his whisk, preparing to fire.
“Stop!” Tony shouted. “He’s Butterfingers! He’s mine!”
“He’s a Dalek!” the Doctor said at the same time Butterfingers growled, “Exterminate!”
Tony stepped in the middle of their standoff. “Stop.”
There was a look of horror on the Doctor’s face when he saw that Tony was in the middle of the line of fire. He jerked his screwdriver off to the side with a hasty jerk, but it was much too late to stop the pulse of light that emitted from the screwdriver. It shot past Tony’s shoulder, taking a lock of hair with it, before it hit the shelf at the far end of the wall and sent Tony’s projects to the floor in a clattering heap.
Tony’s desk suffered a worse fate: Butterfingers’s extermination demolished everything, from the desk lamp, to the Doctor’s ostrich scanner.
“My motherboard!” Tony cried when he saw the smoking hole where his desk had been. He despaired. “No!”
He whirled around. “You are in so much trouble, Butterfingers.”
Butterfingers the Dalek shifted his camera from side to side. “Ex-plain.”
“You destroyed my project that I was working on, and you blasted a hole in my desk!” Tony reprimanded. “You know the rules: no destroying things without my permission!”
“Ex-ter-min-ate,” Butterfingers said. His camera was tilted down in misery.
“Time out.” Tony pointed at the corner. “You have no idea how much trouble you’re in. I should donate you to the labs and let the students dismantle you.”
Butterfingers slunk to the time out corner dejectly.
“And you!” Tony spun around, pointing at the Doctor, who was still stunned. “You’re here as a guest. Butterfingers is my bot!”
“But he’s a…” the Doctor tried, but Tony barreled over him, “Dalek or not, he’s mine. You don’t get to touch what’s mine.”
Tony forcefully guided the Doctor into sitting in his chair which remained surprisingly unscathed during the terse standoff. “You’re lucky that Butterfingers didn’t hurt you. His extermination is very thorough.”
Tony ignored the tiny, “but he’s a Dalek!” that burst through the Doctor’s mouth, moving towards Butterfingers instead.
“Dunce cap for you,” Tony said severely. “You are in so much trouble. One week of no extermination.”
“Ex-ter-min-ate,” Butterfingers said sadly.
Tony rapped on his metal exterior sharply. “Next time you pull a stunt like this I am really donating you to the local community college. I won’t even donate you to labs. At least in labs, they know what they’re doing.”
Butterfingers fell silent, and DUM-E rolled over in sympathy.
“And you, DUM-E,” Tony said, catching DUM-E’s strut and pushing him backwards, “this is punishment for Butterfingers. You’re not supposed to come over. Goddamnit. I have bots for idiots. You’re supposed to help me.”
“So you don’t have Cybermen?” the Doctor asked in a non-sequitur, finally coming out of his trance. “My scanner says that there are Cybermen.”
Tony groaned in exasperation. “Your scanner is glitchy!”
“It brought me to you!” the Doctor said. “And you have a Dalek!”
“Daleks are not harmless!” The Doctor gathered the broken and ruined scanner in his arms. “Look, it broke my scanner!”
“He, not it,” Tony retorted. “And it’s better off broken anyway. It doesn’t work.”
“Listen to me! Daleks are the most relentless race in the universe!” The Doctor retorted.
Tony gritted his teeth. “The worst damage he does is exterminate my projects. Sometimes. When I allow him.”
The Doctor growled wordlessly. He stepped back, cradling his broken scanners. “You’re no help. I’m going to leave.”
“I wanted you to leave ten minutes ago.”
“Fine to me!”
The Doctor shot him a parting glance. “And don’t bother coming by the TARDIS anymore.”
“She’s her own person,” Tony said, clenching his fists by his side. “You won’t even last ten minutes without my help.”
“Yeah I will!”
“Whatever you say Doc. Whatever you say.”
The Doctor slammed the front door shut.
“This is definitely not my job,” Tony grumbled under his breath, stomping his feet in the snow. “Still can’t believe he’s still missing after all this time, like I don’t have work to complete.”
At least Obie was no longer hounding his ass after the last successful board meeting. It was a short-lived break, but an appreciated one nonetheless. But really, it was slightly strange that the professor had failed to show up in the middle of the Spring semester without notice of absence to his classes or to the department head, and Tony was determined to get down to the bottom of it. As much as he griped about the fact that the classes were boring to teach and that he wanted Dr. Smith to come back and take the reigns of his classes, it was also worrisome that he disappeared without a trace.
Tony held a ripped piece of notepaper in his hand, crease worn and ink nearly faded away, and he opened the paper to double check the address as he held up a map in front of him. He cursed, ignoring the dirty glares that were sent his way.
He didn’t understand why he had to learn how to read maps - he had other people to do that for him - but there he was, trying to figure out north from east to find the professor’s house, walking forward in the cold with the wind threatening to blow away the map he held in his hands.
So inconvenient. The paper that held Doctor Smith’s address was snatched from his hand, fluttering away in a strong breeze, flying over the passing cars and into someplace unknown. Tony stared after it.
It was a mighty good thing that he already memorized the address.
He hated the map that he held in his hands; it was so very inconvenient. Finally, after three wrong turns, walking down an alleyway, and nearly getting mauled by a cat, he reached the right intersection, then he turned again and walked down the correct street, grumbling under his breath all the while and cursing the cold.
The house was just up ahead. Tony got an ominous feeling as he approached it, and he unconsciously slowed down. Its roof was piled on with snow and the gutter had long strips of icicles. The inside was all dark, as if no one was living there.
“I hope this trip was all worth it,” Tony said, marching up the steps, trying to ignore the creepy sensation that crawled down his spine. He didn’t believe in demons, for god’s sake. He didn’t believe that he would be in danger, no matter what the Doctor and what Stevens said.
Still, he hesitated when his hand hovered the chilly door knob. It was hard to shake that sensation, the premonition that something bad was coming.
Tony muttered under his breath, “Man up. You’re a Stark. Iron will.” He took a deep breath, and turned the doorknob.
Shockingly, the door was unlocked and turned at his prompting. Tony stared at the open door, mouth gaped open. It wasn’t...the door wasn’t supposed to be unlocked. He took an instinctive step back, horrified.
Inside was pitch black. Only the light from the outside illuminated what it could reach. Tony swallowed before he geared himself up, braced himself.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Tony chanted to himself. He stepped into the dark house, feeling the wall and flicking on the light switch when his fingers brushed over it. The lightbulb flickered before it stayed on, gripping onto the last dredges of life. Its dimness was enough to illuminate the room. It was eerily creepy, cold in more than just the way that the heater hadn't been warming the house for days. Tony breathed in the stale air, trying to settle his racing heart. Nothing was wrong with the place…Tony could dream that it was only the fact that the house felt like it hadn't been lived in for days. Weeks even.
Still, Tony couldn't shake off the feeling that something was there. Something menacing. It made the hair at the back of Tony's neck prickle and his skin raise with goosebumps. He looked over his shoulder, but nothing was there.
"Professor?" Tony called out cautiously. In the silent coldness, his voice was unnaturally loud.
There was no answer, like he expected. Yet, he still couldn't shake off the feeling that there was something vitally wrong, besides the fact that his professor was missing. It was as if someone was watching him.
Tony took a step forward.
Behind him, gears whirred. Tony whirled around, and his breath caught in his throat. He didn’t see it before. It was entirely unexpected sound in the silence of the house. The robot activated, shifting its neck to stare straight ahead, and its eyes glowed blue.
“What are you doing here?” Tony asked softly, curiously, tilting his head.
That right there was a robot; Tony was good with robots.
“You will identify yourself,” the robot said. “You have been selected for an upgrade. You are compatible.”
Tony scoffed. “I should think so. I’ve been making upgrades to bots since I was six. DUM-E was a testament to that. I probably shouldn’t use DUM-E though because he’s still a dumb bot. I gave him the first instance of artificial intelligence, you know? He’s supposed to help me, but he’s such a nuisance instead.”
“You will identify yourself,” the robot repeated.
“You sound so flat,” Tony said. “Who was your engineer? Not creative at all, I have to say: you’re too clunky, and what are those things sticking out of your head? Antennas? Sensors? And you sound so flat.”
“You have been selected for upgrade. You are compatible,” the robot said.
Tony frowned. “Yeah yeah. I heard you the first time. I suppose you don’t have voice parsing software, considering you act like you didn’t hear a word I just said.”
“You will comply with the upgrade.”
Tony challenged the monotone order. “And if I don’t?”
Finally the robot moved, stepping forth with a clunk clunk clunk. “You will comply with the upgrade. Resistance is futile. Resistance results in deletion.”
“Oh, so you do answer questions after all. That doesn’t sound ominous,” Tony said sarcastically, watching as the robot took a step closer. Tony took a step back automatically. As much as he liked robots, this robot’s ominous warning of deletion didn’t seem like something Tony wanted to find out.
“You will identify yourself.”
“Man, you’re so insistent in asking me my name, aren’t you,” Tony remarked despite his anxiety. “You’re much too forward and a little too clunky for my tastes, I have to say. I do like a bit more skin to mine, that and more refined bots. But I guess if you must know before I’m upgraded, I’m Tony. Tony Stark.”
The robot stilled. It’s beady eyes glowed red. “Processing,” it said. Then its eyes turned blue. “You are identified as Anthony Edwards Stark. You have been determined as compatible for upgrade as Supreme Leader.”
“Supreme Leader?” Tony asked. “That sounds like work. I don’t like to lead people. I like to create things.”
“You will be upgraded as Supreme Leader,” it repeated.
“Can I improve you? You are, frankly, completely inefficient and ugly. You look like a project eight-year-old me would make. I’m twenty now, which means that I have come a long way from ugliness.”
The robot stepped closer again, its step vibrating the floor. “You will come to be upgraded.”
“Wait, before I follow you though,” Tony said, holding up his hand. Surprisingly, the bot stilled. “Where’s the professor? Professor Smith?”
“John Smith has been upgraded into Cybermen.”
“Is that what you’re are? A Cyberman?”
“We are the Cybermen.”
“Yikes,” Tony said. “I assume that you are a hive mind then, if the rest of you act like the way you do. Sounds like you seriously need an upgrade.”
“You will help us upgrade and then you will be upgraded.”
Tony shrugged. “Yeah, okay.” He didn’t want to be deleted, whatever that meant; he didn’t want to find out. So if he had to obey at first to get himself out of this predicament, well.
That was nothing new. He’s escaped kidnapping before. He could do it again.
The cafe crowd was interestingly thin compared to the normal bustling crowd that would have otherwise been there, especially during this time of day. Stevens frowned. Instead of his head being buried in his sketchbook like other days he'd been there, he was people-watching instead, pretending to sip on his coffee.
He didn’t want to drink the coffee, in case the coffee was poisoned, but not having anything either from this place would also look suspicious. So, as he sat with his cup of untouched coffee, Stevens was mostly keeping an eye on Deborah. He sat at the cafe, staking out the place, and during the days he’d been sitting there, he'd seen Arnim Zola again, grabbing a coffee from the counter and rushing off again.
And, after so many days in the cafe, he was almost entirely sure that Deborah was the Red Skull; he wasn’t hallucinating. It bore the question: how did the Red Skull return from wherever he went the first time around, and how long was he here?
If Stevens was truly honest with himself, he also wanted to know why the Red Skull chose to switch genders as he infiltrated America with whatever HYDRA came up with. It was so bizarre, a bit hilarious, too, but Stevens just wanted it all to be over.
He just wanted to be with the man he loved, the one he’d grown with and hurt and missed desperately, not just the younger version of Tony. But he couldn’t, not now, especially with the way he needed to tie up this loose end and the fact that his own TARDIS was still not responding to him.
He thought he was done avenging. He’d already given his shield to Sam a long time ago before he jumped into the TARDIS and Tony took him to see the stars. He loved it, not having to fight like his life was on the line.
And here he was with the need for Captain America; his work seemed to never end. Stevens sighed. Because Stevens was on high alert, he noticed Rhodey coming into the cafe before Rhodey noticed him. However, when he did, he made a beeline towards him.
“Captain,” Rhodey greeted.
“Rhodes,” Stevens acknowledged. “Would you like a seat?”
Rhodey shook his head. “I’ll pass, thank you. I’m on my way to class. Unlike some people who can skip class and still get a four-point-oh gpa, I do need to listen to the dry lectures. But I just wanted to tell you that Tony is my best friend…”
“Nothing’s happening, I promise you,” Stevens said said hastily.
“Regardless, though, he’s a friend of mine, and I bet that you have some history with the way you look at each other,” Rhodey barrelled on, “And seriously, you need to work out your problems. Tony doesn’t deserve to be hurt.”
“He doesn’t,” Stevens agreed. “I just...he’s going to be hurt if he comes close to me, and I can’t bear him seeing hurt.”
“He’s already hurt.”
Stevens corrected, “Hurt more. I can’t do that to him.” I have to leave him behind, he didn’t say.
“Just,” Rhodey said, deflated, “he’s my best friend, and he’s been hurt enough.”
“I know.” Stevens nodded. “I just...being around me would hurt more than if I were to push him away now.”
“As long as you know.” Deborah approached them with a to-go cup of steaming hot coffee, and Rhodey took it gratefully. “Thanks, Debs.”
She nodded. “Anytime for my favorite student.”
“Thought that was Tony.”
She shook her head, still giving them her disarming smile. “No, that’s you. Tony gives me trouble.”
Stevens couldn’t help but feel chills down his spine when she winked at them and turned around to go back to the counter. Because that wink didn’t look like it was anything friendly. Focused so hard on the woman (it was the Red Skull, Stevens was sure), he missed Rhodey swallowing his drink. But he didn’t miss it when Rhodey said aloud, “That really hit the spot. Deborah’s coffee is delicious. Hail HYDRA.”
Stevens whipped around. “What did you say?” he asked sharply.
“I said that the coffee was delicious,” Rhodey repeated.
“No, what did you say after?” Stevens gestured wildly. If he heard correctly...
Rhodey shook his head, frowning. “Hail Hydra?” he asked. “It’s the name of this drink.”
Stevens jaw dropped, but Rhodey was too preoccupied with drinking his coffee. Rhodey gave him a final stern warning, “Keep in mind what I said, Captain. Tony’s my friend.”
Stevens could only watch, stunned, as Rhodey turned around and left, as if he did not notice that anything was wrong. Unbidden, Stevens’s eyes slid over the counter where Deborah was hanging her apron on the hook. Like she knew he was staring at her, she caught his eye and smirked her grotesque smile.
As one, all of Deborah’s patrons stood up and walked out the door. Stevens himself felt the pull of something compelling him to stand up himself and walk out the door with the rest of the group.
Once he was outside, the wave of cold air washed away the haze of whatever Deborah had placed upon them, but it seemed like he was the only one. All around him, Deborah’s patrons, as well as people on the street, walked nearly mechanically in the same direction. It was surreal to see them blankly walking ahead, as if compelled by some invisible force. Stevens swallowed, but he walked with them, observing.
There were metal robots marching the streets alongside the blank faces of the humans.
“You will become like us,” the bots said as one. “You will be upgraded and converted into Cybermen.”
One last mission, Stevens chanted to himself, walking with the rest of the crowd for a few blocks, observing his surroundings in his peripheral vision. There were a lot more Cybermen than he expected, not that he had that much of an expectation.
It just seemed that, given the sheer number of Cybermen walking down the streets alongside them, they were preparing for and army. Maybe a war. And Stevens thought he was done with war when he defeated Thanos for the last time.
It never ended, and Stevens heart ached because of it. He was never done being Cap even though he already handed his shield to Sam. But he wouldn’t leave this alone; it was never in his nature to leave an Earth desperate for help and leave it alone.
Stevens ducked into a side alley when the Cybermen seemed most focused on other people, and he leapt and grabbed the staircase, clamoring up to the roof. He breathed a little harder than normal; he hadn’t been Cap for a while, and it showed.
Still, supersoldier serum never failed him, and he leapt over the gap onto another roof, following the progression of the human line, watching as the Cybermen repeated over and over, “You will be upgraded to Cybermen.”
The street lights flickered ominously.
The train of humans walked in a single file line into a building that was ugly, large, a dull gunmetal grey. In the far distance, Stevens could see the dim flashes of lights that illuminated the open warehouse door briefly. He didn’t know what was contained inside; still, it made Stevens shudder.
He really hated aliens trying to take over the planet again and again. It was tiring.
Stevens made his way closer to the industrial building, and although he was sure no one was looking up, stealth was still ingrained deeply within his mind, keeping his footsteps light and carefully leaping over rooftops so that, if by chance a Cyberman did look up and see him, he wouldn’t be subjected to the same fate as the other humans.
The building was finally ahead of him in all of its dull glory. Below, the humans blindly walked into the building as if they couldn’t see the danger they were about to be in. When there was danger, his nature was to charge into this. But, it was too easy to run into this thoughtlessly, and he was way outnumbered. He would lose.
No scouts, no information as to what the Cybermen were capable of, and he still didn’t understand what the humans were for. He didn’t have any backup, so if anything were to go wrong, he was utterly screwed.
Stevens didn’t like his odds of it. Then again, he had single handedly razed Nazis in their own territory; he could do it again. Bullies were bullies, and he was just a boy from Brooklyn. Stevens huffed, and then he leapt down, landing on the ground as lightly as he could.
It was easy to go unnoticed by the Cybermen, using all his training he attained from SHIELD to slip out of sight while he strategized his next moves.
All of his half-made plans went out the window as soon as he saw a glimpse of someone surrounded by a squad of Cybermen, their metal boots clanking dully against the ground. The figure was small, showing just a glimpse of spiky brown hair, entirely flanked like a prisoner.
Stevens gasped. “Tony!” he gasped, shocked. It wasn’t even intentional to give away his position; it just slipped out.
Just looking at him, surrounded like a high-ranked prisoner, didn’t bode well for anybody. If anything were to happen to Tony now, then everything would go to hell: he would never meet Tony later in life. He couldn’t have that happen to him. If he didn’t stop it now, then he would lose Tony forever.
He couldn’t lose Tony. Not again, and not before Stevens met him again.
He didn't think; he began to take a step forward. A hand stopped him, and he whirled around, elbow raised towards the head of whoever grabbed him. It was instinct, and the Doctor fell to the ground with a barely muffled curse.
"Ow," the Doctor said from the ground. "It's just me."
Stevens sighed harshly. "You shouldn't surprise me. I'm a soldier."
"I thought you heard me!" he said, standing up and rubbing his temple. "Good thing you don't hit hard."
Stevens stared at him disbelievingly. He knew for a fact that his hits were much harder than the average human, and he didn’t really hold back in such a tense situation. However, the Doctor simply grinned back, unfazed by the purple bruise that was growing from where Stevens had hit him. "Anyway! I found you, and we have a big problem on our hands which consists of Cybermen."
"And the Red Skull too," Stevens pointed.
"He's not that evil," the Doctor dismissed. "The Cybermen, though, they're a nuisance, and they should stop picking on you Earthlings. Emotions is what makes you great."
"The Red Skull is not that evil? He was the one who tried to use the Tesseract for his own good. He's HYDRA!" Stevens was breathing hard, nose flaring. "There's two of us, an army of Cybermen, Red Skull leading them--"
"—I don't think he can lead them," the Doctor said. "Partnering with them, perhaps."
"Either way, the Red Skull is in league with them, and they have Tony," Stevens said. "I hope you have a really good plan right now."
"You led a one man assault in a German bunker at one point," the Doctor mused.
"And I'll do it again if I have to," Stevens said. "But if that's the Red Skull, I think infiltrating the place will be a lot harder because I’ve done it to him once before."
"And the Cybermen are a lot harder to kill than humans," the Doctor acknowledged. "Well, I guess we'll go with Plan B."
"And what's Plan B?"
"You distract them from the front, and I'll distract them from the back."
"Okay," Stevens said slowly, drawing out the word, "so…"
"Follow the crowd. You're good stock, after all." The Doctor grinned and patted him on the chest. "I'm not, so I'm going to sneak in a different way, take some Cybermen down with me like usual. And then maybe save history again, like you human beings always seem to need, as usual."
"Right." Stevens bit his lip; for Tony.
He straightened, imitating the blank stare all the others had as they walked into the factory. He didn't know what was inside; he was anxious, just a bit, but so did everything else when he still he had the shield back then. He was a fighter, and for the sake of Earth, but mostly for Tony, he would do this mission, one last time.
(It was always the last time.)
Stevens walked out of the alleyway, keeping pace with others. It was unnervingly easy to slip into the line and walk with the others.
The factory building loomed overhead as he walked up the ramp into the building itself. In here, Cybermen flooded into nearly every available space. Yet, still more humans continued to march blindly through. Stevens kept a straight face as Cybermen walked out of what looked like pods, replaced by humans walking into the same pods. And oh, that's what conversion meant. Stevens bit his tongue, because humans were being converted into Cybermen.
He couldn’t let this happen, no matter what the Doctor said. He had to stop this, rescue Tony, rescue everybody.
And when the blank stare of one James Rhodes passed by him, about to walk into a converter, he tackled him to the ground, breaking his cover. He wouldn’t let Tony’s friend, his friend, no matter if Rhodey didn’t know him, be converted into a Cyberman because that would change history. And he couldn’t let that happen.
His abrupt movement knocked Rhodey out, but it also brought the attention onto himself.
“Fuck,” he said, watching as the Cybermen turned to him as one and surrounded him. He stood over Rhodey’s supine body, covering him. He had no shield, a man to protect. There was an army of deadly soldiers surrounding him and no plan. He breathed hard, chewing on his lip.
“Resistance is not tolerated. Resistance results in deletion,” a Cyberman says.
“Well,” Stevens huffed. “You can only delete me if you can catch me, and I won’t make it easy for you. Does anyone want to leave now? Last chance.”
As one, the Cybermen lifted their hand towards him, not unlike the way Iron Man lifted his arm up to shoot a repulsor beam. They made a fist, and Stevens leapt into the air as deadly bolts of laser light shot under him. With a twist of his body, he landed behind one of the bots, crouched as more beams of light flew over his head.
It was a familiar dance, born from practicing with Iron Man a long time ago, and it awakened his body in more ways than one. Indeed, he had done this before, with Ultron, although back then, he had a shield and his entire team with him. This time, he was by himself, fighting all of these bots single handedly. They were slower than Iron Man, but Iron Man was just one man; the Cybermen were an army of bots, and by himself, it was less about winning and more about delaying his own death.
However, looking at them and the fact that those pods seemed to be conversion pods, they must be human though. Or at least, were, because these were humans that were in these bots. And Stevens desperately hoped that, even if they were fighting him, they were still innocent people. And he couldn’t hurt them. It made it even harder because those bots swarmed him like bugs. When one went down, two came back up, fighting him.
Stevens dodged the beams of light deftly, adrenaline pumping through his body. He forgot the energy that came with fighting, but it was all coming back to him now, and he laughed, ducking, and weaving and leaping in the air. Then, Stevens gasped when a bolt grazed his forehead, and then another hit his side. They were painful. He fell to a knee, clutching the wound by his hip, gritting his teeth and dodging yet another bolt.
It had been a while since he could do this easily; he was out of shape despite the supersoldier serum coursing through his veins. The Cybermen had him surrounded again, their fists all outstretched away from their bodies.
They were the firing squad; he was the prisoner.
Time slowed: he regretted falling here, falling now, because this was it, what felt like the end of his journey, dying on a cold winter February night of 1989. He never expected that he would die here, during a time he never expected that he would be in. But when the guns were pointed at him with no way of escaping - it wasn’t a movie, after all - he had to face it. He was mortal, and even he couldn’t shake off multiple firings at point blank. Still, if there was any reconciliation, at least he got to see Tony one last time.
He trusted that the Doctor would get Tony and Rhodey out. Stevens closed his eyes, waiting.
“You didn’t expect that you would die so easily, would you?” a strong Germanic accent cut through the haze in his brain. The pitch was lower, deeper, and it sounded exactly the same as it did back in World War II. Stevens’s eyes snapped open. “I won’t give you that satisfaction, Captain.”
Stevens looked up. Deborah was looking back at him, still looking so ridiculous with that blonde wig and barista apron. Arnim Zola stood beside her, staring at him with beady eyes behind a ridiculously large pair of round glasses. Deborah reached up and took her wig off, pulling it back dramatically to reveal the Red Skull’s bald head. Then, he yanked the apron unceremoniously off himself so that the string that was hooked behind his neck snapped in two. He smirked, a grotesque smile plastered on his face. “You remember me, do you not?”
Stevens said nothing. He wasn’t going to give the Red Skull the satisfaction.
“The lost Captain America,” the Red Skull repeated, sneering down at him. The way the Red Skull said his title sounded like a slur, and it was mocking him. “Did you think I would not remember you, and what you did? You did grow a beard, which threw me off, and I wasn’t sure when I saw you in my cafe. But then with this little stunt you pulled, I knew it was you. No one else could do the things you just did.”
Stevens craned his neck. Finally, he asked, “Why are you doing this? Haven’t you learned your lesson?”
The Red Skull stared down at him with beady eyes and a scowl on his face. “Captain, have you seen the state of the country and the people? Broken and lost, needing guidance and control. And really, they’re all so emotional too, frightened and all. This is perfect: HYDRA and the Cybermen, ruling the world like the way it should be.”
Stevens shouted back, “And you’re using innocent people to do your dirty deeds!”
“They crave it, can’t you see it?”
Stevens glared back. “I think you’re imposing your ideologies on them. Mind control, really?”
“For the good of HYDRA, Captain,” the Red Skull dismissed. “You two! Take him to the rest of the prisoners. The rest of you! Back to work. I want enough Cybermen so that I can launch an assault! Hail HYDRA!”
Stevens followed the squad of Cybermen who surrounded him; he had no choice, if he wanted to live. He just hoped that Rhodey got away. Stevens glanced back. Just past the Cybermen’s moving head, he got the briefest glance that Rhodey was looking straight back at him, eyes clear.
“What is this place?” Tony asked.
The security control room he was in looked like a normal control room, except no one was at the desk monitoring the security videos play up on the massive screen in grainy black and white that showed the factory floor below. Both humans and Cybermen filled every screen, and Tony observed as the people walked into large pods in a soldier’s march before they came out of the those pods after a few moments as Cybermen, turning sharply and following the rest of the Cybermen.
He should have more self-control, and more fear of the place, being surrounded by all of these robots, but he was mostly just apathetic. They were terribly made, too slow, too dumb. Tony could do better.
“Humans will be converted into the Cybermen,” a Cyberman intoned. “You will become like us.”
“Way to be cryptic,” Tony said, crossing his arms. He took a step forward, stared into the eyes of the Cybermen. “What does that mean?” He waved his hand, gesturing to the screens behind him. “Are you talking about the fact that you change humans into robots?”
“We were exactly like you once, but we have become better,” the Cyberman said, it’s mouthpiece flashing blue lines as they spoke. “We have no weaknesses.”
“What weaknesses are you talking about?”
“We do not feel. We are strong. Humans are weakened by emotions.”
Tony was about to make a quip as to how emotions were not weaknesses, were they robots? (jab totally intended), but before he could do so, someone cut in. “Really now, you think humans are weakened by emotions?” Tony turned around to see Stevens fuming as he came in. “We’re not. We’re stronger.”
“Humans have destroyed each other time and time again,” the Cyberman stated.
“Do you know who I am?” Stevens asked. Almost as soon as he said that, his ears reddened, and he drew back. He looked as if he wanted to take the words back, but Tony didn’t know why he would. Stevens looked ragged, his hair mussed, his clothes burned away in places, and his eyes wild, as if he was just in a scuffle.
“Processing.” The Cyberman’s eyes glowed red. “You are Steve Rogers.”
“Wait.” Tony’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He pointed at the man. “I thought you were Stevens… Steve Rogers?”
“Also known as the man who destroyed my plans for HYDRA,” a man who looked like Deborah came in. However, his voice was a lot deeper and his eyes looked a lot colder than Deborah. A relative perhaps? But they really did look the same. “How does it feel now that I am in the process of ruling the world?”
“What makes you think that you’ll succeed?” Stevens challenged. “It’s the same game as you played last time, and if I defeated you once, I can defeat you again.”
“Who are you?” Tony interrupted, looking between The Red Skull and Stevens.
“That’s the Red Skull,” Stevens said, glaring at him. “You knew him as Deborah.”
The Red Skull laughed. “And you’re Captain America, the perfect icon for America. You’re just one man, out of an entire army of Cybermen. You have no Howling Commandos, just you versus me and my army. It’s a checkmate, is it not?”
“You’re Captain America?” Tony asked incredulously. “But Captain America had been lost in the war.”
Stevens...no...Steve deflated. “I was,” he said softly. “I am.”
“Dad had been looking for you for so long, and here you are. How?” Tony paused for a minute, but when his mind started running, he connected the dots together. “No, wait. You’re a time traveller. So that means you've been found, and then you’ve become a time traveller. That makes sense. I suppose.”
It stung that he was finally figuring it out; he should have seen it. He saw the signs, after all, that Stevens...no Steve , was a man out of time, yet he looked so young. Still, now that he knew, he couldn’t look away because Captain America was his hero. But also, Steve was much older than him, a perfect hero, and he also lied. “You didn’t tell me before,” he snapped at Steve.
Steve nodded, ducking his head in shame. “I wasn’t going to tell you. I couldn’t have told you because if I told you, then the timelines will converge and bad things would happen.”
“But now I know.”
Steve looked so sad that it was heartbreaking. “I know.”
The Red Skull laughed. “The secrets are revealed! This is excellent. Too bad I have plans for you, and that is to convert you into one of them—” his lips curled up in distaste “—because killing you would be too much of a mercy.”
He walked forward slowly. “How does it feel now, to lose?”
“You can say big words now, but you won’t win,” Steve snarled, turning back to him.
“With you in basically a prisoner?” the Red Skull snorted. “You are even more delusional than I thought.”
“I may not be able to defeat you like this, but I’m not the only one here,” Steve said.
The Red Skull leaned forward. “Then where. Are. They,” he said slowly, mocking him.
Steve tilted his head to the side, gesturing vaguely in Tony’s direction. “He’s one of them.”
“And he’s a prisoner as much as you are,” the Red Skull dismissed. “He can’t do anything. Not while we’re watching him.”
“You think?” Steve asked nonchalantly. “Tony is amazing at tech. But even if you don’t think so, I do have another someone.”
At that moment, the door swung open again, revealing the Doctor flanked by two Cybermen.
“This man claims he is the Doctor. The Doctor is an enemy of the Cybermen.”
“He’s not as important as this man right here,” the Red Skull gestured, ignoring the Doctor completely. “Was this supposed to be your other ally?”
“Oi!” the Doctor said, offended. “I think I deserve some acknowledgement. I’m the Doctor. Nice to meet you!”
“More like an idiot instead,” the Red Skull shot back. “We’ve met before.”
The Doctor pouted, although the Red Skull couldn’t see it, with his back turned to him. He said, “I’m more dangerous than that man in front of you.”
“He destroyed HYDRA!” the Red Skull snarled. “I’ve been waiting for a long time to get my revenge, and now I have the perfect chance to do so.”
“Also, I see that you’ve been in league with the Cybermen,” the Doctor commented casually.
“Allies for a greater cause,” the Red Skull said. “I help them take over the world, and they will make me Leader.”
“But why? The humans are so much better with free thought and creativity, and you are taking that away from them!” the Doctor protested.
The Red Skull threw his arms out, turning around. “The humans crave subjugation. Look at them, their wars, their destruction. HYDRA can remove all that and create a better world. The Cybermen, for their commitment to the cause, will be free to control Earth too.”
“But the Cybermen don’t care about your petty squabbles,” the Doctor said. “They want your Earth and remove all emotions, everything that makes humans humans.”
“Emotions make us weak, Doctor.”
“No they don’t!” he cried. “It makes them stronger!”
“Emotion is a weakness,” a Cyberman confirmed. “Humans will become the Cybermen and be the superior race. The Supreme Leader have been chosen to lead the Cybermen.”
“That’s right,” the Red Skull said. “I have been waiting for a long time to lead HYDRA into a new era, an era of peace. My emotions will be gone, and I will become strong!”
“The Supreme Leader will be led by Anthony Stark. We will be upgraded and then become the superior race in the entire universe. You are not compatible for Supreme Leader.”
The Red Skull swung around. “What are you talking about? We had an agreement and an alliance!” he shouted. “We agreed that I would provide you the humans, and you would give me the leadership to rule the world!”
“Anthony Stark will become Supreme Leader. He will upgrade us,” the Cyberman repeated. “You will become one of us and upgraded into Cybermen, but Anthony Stark will be Supreme Leader.”
All this time, Tony had been quiet as the Cybermen and the Red Skull bantered back and forth, but finally he interjected, “Don’t I have a say in this, since I’m all, you know, ‘Anthony’ Stark?”
When the Cybermen fell silent, he prowled forward. “You see, I’ve been watching you, and you guys are much too power hungry. Me, on the other hand, I don’t like leading people because it’s so much work to do so. Besides, I’m not cool with the whole upgrading thing, you know?”
He stopped in front of Steve, gazing into his eyes. “I looked up to you as a kid. Captain America, saving America, Dad’s favorite hero. You may be Steve Rogers, but to me, you’re Stevens. Captain Stevens. Let me be the one to save you this time.”
Steve...no, Stevens, gave him a hopeful look, one that gave Tony butterflies in his stomach. Tony looked at him for a beat longer before he finally pulled away.
“You know,” Tony continued, turned away from Stevens. “While you were busy talking about dominating the world and all, you really should have been paying attention to me. The Cybermen were right. I’m Tony Stark. I built my first robot when I was five, and I haven’t stopped creating since. Bots are my specialty, but I also am good at computers.”
“The thing is—” Tony walked backwards, keeping his enemies all within his sight, “—you should have been looking at the screens, because I have a bot who really likes to exterminate stuff.”
“Exterminate! Exterminate!” Butterfingers’s voice crackled over the comms.
Stevens grinned, stretching his arms out. “And that’s my third backup. Unexpected, but appreciated all the same.”
The Doctor grinned, bouncing on his toes. “Do you know what that means Cybermen? Think about it. How many Cybermen does it take to kill a Dalek?” He slowly twirled around, eyeing the robots that crowded around him. “Answer is: an entire fleet. But! Even an entire fleet could not kill a Dalek, but you know what? One Dalek can destroy an entire fleet of Cybermen.”
“And do you know what the best thing is?” The Doctor addressed Tony, staring at him with a piercing gaze.
“I’ve got a feeling you’re going to tell me, whether I want to know or not,” Tony said back.
“Hold that thought,” replied the Doctor. “The best thing about this whole situation is that Butterfingers is a Dalek, and he’s a Dalek that doesn’t want to kill me. I like it when they don’t want to kill me.”
“You completely forgot about the time he tried to blow your head off the other day,” Tony muttered under his breath. He caught Stevens shit-eating grin, and he grinned too. It was funny, even though there was a gaping hole in the lab wall where the extermination was a little too thorough.
“Don’t convert them. Just kill them all,” the Red Skull ordered.
“They will be converted,” the Cyberman said. “You will be converted.”
“But I’m on your side! And I got you your army!”
“But Anthony Stark will upgrade the Cybermen to become the superior race.”
“I will not be converted into some mindless robot!” The Red Skull shouted back, his red face reddening even more, if that were even possible. “I was made to be leader.”
“You will comply with your upgrade,” the Cyberman returned. “If you resist, you will be deleted. Those who are not compatible will be deleted.”
“It’s the same game every single time,” the Doctor said back, rolling his eyes. “Every time, you try to take over the world, Earth especially, when they are so young and have so much potential, and you’re removing them from what they do best. When will you learn?”
“We will not stop until we are the superior race in the universe!”
The Doctor groaned. “Single and narrow-focused mindset, I tell you,” he said to Tony. “They always try the same damn thing. Ev-er-y single time. Look. You aren’t the best race - you’re being defeated by a single Dalek down there, but also, you have no idea how easy it is to defeat you. Mind control, really? No wonder the tea tasted funny.” The Doctor gagged for dramatic effect.
“But, remember, while Daleks can defeat you, do not forget who defeated the Daleks! They were the Time Lords.”
“The Time Lords were lost in the Time War.”
“All of them,” the Doctor said darkly. “All of them except the Master and I. And I killed the Master. I’m the Last of the Time Lords, but I will carry the legacy.”
“And you will be defeated by the Cybermen!”
The Doctor laughed a manic laugh and shook his head. “Out there, I have someone working on interrupting your signal and wrecking things while you are in here talking to me. But you should have been looking at us inside too, because that boy over there,” the Doctor pointed to Tony, “he’s a hero. He’s a technological genius.”
“While you were distracted, he was fixing the code that you have so conveniently placed in your server, and!” The Doctor stepped away from the Cybermen that were flanking him, stepping beside the computer. “We have ruined your plans again.”
He looked at the control panel and zeroed in on the switch with a blinking red light. “Red light,” he mused. “Sounds dangerous. It’s like a red button, warning people away from it because it will do dangerous things. But all it does is makes me want to flick the…” he paused for dramatic effect, “switch.”
The action of flicking the switch echoed in the room, and the Doctor grinned gleefully as he turned around. He turned around to see the echoing cry of the Cybermen. Every one of them were jerking in agony, clutching their head in their metal arms, screaming.
“What Tony did was put the code of emotion back into the robots!” the Doctor shouted over the screaming. “You have your humanity back, and it’s killing you to feel everything that you were and the dread that you have become!”
“You’re killing them?” Stevens cried.
“They can’t be saved,” the Doctor said sadly.
“I…” Stevens choked. “I thought they could be! They were innocent!”
“Not everything can be saved, Stevens,” the Doctor replied. “You, out of all people, know this best.”
Stevens bit his lip. “It’s not fair.”
The Doctor made a noise of understanding. “No. No it isn’t.”
Stevens fell silent. “Who was your insider?”
“Funny thing,” the Doctor said. “He says his name is James Rhodes. Found him fleeing the factory.”
“Tony’s friend,” Stevens confirmed. Then, as he processed the statement, he gasped. “Tony!”
They turned around as one to see the Red Skull holding Tony up by his hair with a gun to his head. Tony looked angry, but also regretful that he was in that position.
“This pretty boy will get a bullet in his head if you don’t stay there,” the Red Skull warned.
Stevens sighed harshly. “You lost. Again. This desperate attempt of hurting me won’t work.”
“On the contrary, I do think it will,” the Red Skull sneered back. “You love him, I can see it in your eyes. If I kill him, I can destroy you.”
Stevens’s breath caught. “Don’t.”
The Red Skull laughed and pulled Tony’s hair back even further and forcing Tony to crane his neck and reveal the weakest part of himself. “I think I will, actually.Destroy you. Destroy your timeline.”
“No!” Stevens shouted, reaching out as if he could stop the Red Skull from pulling the trigger by pure will. The Red Skull grinned gruesomely and tightened his grip on the gun.
The Red Skull could only get a look of surprise on his face before he crumpled to the floor. Tony nearly fell too at the deadweight, but he caught himself and swung around. In what used to be where the Red Skull’s place revealed Butterfingers.
“Exterminate, exterminate, ex-ter-mi-nate!” Butterfingers growled gleefully, rolling to a stop in front of Tony. His camera twitched from side to side, like he was looking at the Captain and the Doctor before he twirled his whisk and plunger. “Ex-ter-mi-nate!”
“Good boy,” Tony laughed. He patted the bot on the head. “You did very well.”
There was a hitch of a breath behind him, and as Tony began to turn, he found himself pressed against a solid wall of muscle.
“Huh.” Tony’s voice was muffled in Stevens’s shirt. He wrapped his arms around Stevens’s waist. “Is this what you’ve been hiding all this time?”
Stevens gave a wet laugh, and Tony felt the press of his lips in his disheveled hair. “There’s more to it, if you’re interested,” Stevens replied.
“If I’m interested?” Tony asked incredulously. “Who do you think I am?”
“Tony Stark, smartest engineer I know who manages to get out of any situation he’s in with pure will,” Stevens replied, unshed tears brimming in his eyes, and then he tilted his head down so that he could press his lips against Tony’s.
His lips were soft and dry, and Tony groaned softly, clinging to the back of Stevens’s jacket. He couldn’t believe it: after all this time, he finally got Stevens, the hottest man he’d ever met, who was an enigma.
“Ugh,” the Doctor said behind him, gagging. “You guys should go home and do couple-y things away from me. I’ll just be over there and take care of the cleanup.”
Stevens and Tony laughed, pulling their lips away from each other, but Tony couldn’t bear to untangle his fingers from Stevensn’s jacket, and, based on the way Stevens had his hot palm curled at the nape of Tony’s neck, he couldn’t either. Tony watched him as Stevens’s went through a myriad of emotions that flitted on his face, before he nodded decisively and dragged his hand down his arms. He stepped out of Tony’s hold, but he didn’t let go, tangling his fingers in Tony’s hand.
“Good night Doctor,” Stevens said.
“Good night,” Tony echoed absently, feeling the warmth seeping through his clothes.
He liked this, and he was glad that Stevens finally came around.
Stevens couldn’t deny it: he wanted Tony, and he couldn’t stop touching him. No matter what age, what time period, he needed him like air.
Stevens held Tony’s hand tightly. He wanted to keep him forever, all versions of Tony, and based on Tony’s flushed face, it seemed as if he was okay with that prospect. Stevens hadn’t known this Tony for a long time, but even younger, he was nearly the same.
He knew he couldn’t keep this version of Tony; he was just starting his journey, but it didn’t mean that wouldn’t try and wish so hard he could. He loved him.
All the people around him, now broken out of their mind control, looked lost and confused, scared and hesitant. But Stevens didn’t worry about that; all that was on his mind was that Tony was safe and sound, and that was all that mattered to him. He wanted to be selfish, just this once; he had done his dues many times over.
Stevens pushed Tony back against the wall, leaning down to kiss him desperately. Fireworks sparked behind his eyes: it was all heat and love, and he swallowed the whimper that Tony emitted.
“Fuck,” Tony said, reaching up to comb his fingers through Stevens’s hair. “I thought you weren’t going to do this.”
“You’re you,” Stevens said, touching him everywhere. He missed this, so much. “I need you, and you’ve been through an ordeal.”
“I was nervous when he grabbed me,” Tony whispered. “But I knew you would save me.”
Stevens shook his head. “I didn’t save you,” Stevens denied, “that was Butterfingers.”
“Sure, but you were there when I needed you,” Tony said.
You were there when I needed you. It was like a punch to the gut, not being there the last time. But he was here now, he was there when Tony needed him again. Stevens pressed his forehead against Tony’s shoulder, shaking slightly. He was there this time, and that was what mattered.
“Yeah,” Stevens breathed, clutching Tony tightly.
“Captain America was my hero,” Tony said, holding onto Stevens. “Now he can be my true hero.”
I love you, Stevens wanted to say. He wanted to say those words to him so badly. But he wasn’t the right Stevens to tell him that. He had his own Tony; this Tony needed to find his Stevens.
Because he remembered it, once, a very long time ago, forty-seven years or more than a hundred and fifteen years, if one was counting. But he wasn’t counting; he didn’t have to. Stevens would always have his Tony, and Tony would have his Stevens.
He was Captain Stevens; the boy he held in his arms was Doctor Tony Stark. They weren’t Stevens and Tony.
“Are you going to travel with the Doctor once you get the TARDIS fixed?” Stevens asked. He didn’t want Tony to go, but he had to. Their timelines were more intertwined than not, and this was their history and future.
Tony nodded hesitantly. “There’s so much in the world out there,” he said in awe. “I would be so dumb as to not take that advantage and see everything the world has to offer. But I’m not sure if the Doctor would let me. We didn’t part on the best terms last time.”
“You’re Tony Stark,” Stevens said. And he was. He knew that Tony would travel with the Doctor; it was his history after all, and Tony’s future. “He’ll let you.”
“You think?” Tony asked skeptically.
“He will, whether he likes it or not,” Stevens affirms.
Tony nodded. “Okay,” he said, as if it was that plain and simple. “Time and space...breaking the fourth dimension. Wow. That’s...that’s a dream to be able to do, and figure out in scientific terms. Looking forward to it.”
There was a pang of impending loss as the final decision was made, and Stevens’s heart ached. He was going to miss this Tony, but the past him would get him, and he would have his Tony again.
Iron Man. His TARDIS.
Still, he leaned over once again, savoring the warmth of Tony’s flesh body because he no longer could have this, and Stevens brushed his lips one more time over Tony’s own soft and warm lips. He wouldn’t have this again; he couldn’t allow himself to do more than that. He licked his way into Tony’s mouth, tracing and memorizing the taste and feel of Tony one last time.
Tony intertwined their fingers together, and Stevens nuzzled Tony’s nose, inhaling Tony’s scent. It was too addicting.
He couldn’t do more than that - it wouldn’t be fair.
He finally pulled away, looking softly down at Tony’s beautiful shining eyes. “Good luck,” Stevens said softly, as to not break their final moment together.
“You won’t be coming along?” Tony asked.
Stevens shook his head regretfully. “I can’t. Time travellers don’t travel well together, but the Doctor needs a companion. I have my own. Besides, you have a future to create.”
“Will I see you again?”
“Then I’ll see you,” Tony said confidently, smiling.
Stevens couldn’t help but smile back.
The TARDIS was all fixed, Earth had been saved once again (they always needed saving), and it left just the Doctor and the TARDIS, living a lonely traveller’s life in time and space. He longed for a companion for one more time; he was too hurt, too broken to take another one. The Ood had told him that his song was ending, and he couldn’t take it, the fact that he would hurt another companion again if he did take one on.
The Doctor walked around the console, looking up in nostalgia and sadness, letting the wheeze of the Time Rotor wash over him in comfort.
“You’re not going to leave without me, are you?” Tony asked. The Doctor turned in surprise.
“What?” the Doctor asked in shock. He looked around. “You’re not supposed to be here, my ship’s in space!”
“Nah, you haven’t left yet.” He was leaning on the TARDIS doors and his legs were crossed. “I asked the TARDIS if she’d left me in. And she did. But you’re not running away without me, are you?”
The Doctor gaped. “No, no, no, I can’t take you.”
“Why not? You have all of time and space at your fingertips, and now that I’ve seen what this is, I want to see what it can do.”
“But you’re Tony Stark,” the Doctor replied. “You have so much more important things you need to do, and besides, I can’t take you because I…” kill people around me.
“Come on, Doctor, I may be Tony Stark, but seriously, time and space, anywhere, anytime, what is there to lose? You can take me everywhere with this ship, and I can learn how to drive this thing so that I can help, and I can come back here same time, same place, without anyone knowing better.”
“No, I can’t. I’m really sorry, but you can’t come with me,” the Doctor said.
Tony’s face fell. “Oh, okay then,” he said somberly, his excitement vanishing without a trace. “I’ll just go then. Good luck on your travels, Doctor.” He turned to leave, walking across the walkway with his head bowed. And the Doctor watched him press his hand against the TARDIS door.
The Doctor huffed. He was lying to himself: he wanted a companion - he didn’t like being a lonely traveller. He wanted to show off the entire space and time; new universes to see, new adventures to create, new memories of a lifetime.
Tony turned the doorknob.
“Well, come along then,” the Doctor exasperatedly said. “Invite yourself and make yourself at home, why don’t you?”
Tony stopped. He turned around. He smirked, radiating smugness that could compete the Doctor’s own. “With pleasure, Doctor.”
The Doctor waggled his finger. “You’re lucky I like you, else I would have tossed you into space.”
Big, fat lies, and they both knew it. A giant grin overtook Tony’s face. “Keep dreaming on. Now, didn’t you say you had all of time and space at your fingertips? Are you just going to just stand there and bluff now?”
The Doctor made an offended noise, turning back to the central console, his trenchcoat billowing dramatically. “What did you take me for? A nutter?” The Doctor looked back at Tony, pressing on cogs and spinning wheels and ringing a bell, fluttering around the controls with a manic grin on his face.
“You aren’t one?” Tony retorted.
The Doctor pointed at him. “If the next words are more insults, I’m just going to leave without you.”
“Fat chance. The TARDIS loves me, and she won’t leave me behind.”
The Time Rotor wheezed in response, and the Doctor mock frowned. “You’re a traitor, utter traitor.” One of the roundels popped off from the wall and flew towards the Doctor’s head in response. “Oi!”
Tony laughed. “You both love me.”
“Dunno why I do,” the Doctor grumbled, but he couldn’t stop the grin that overtook his face. He turned the wheel. “Let me show you what this sexy thing can do. Allons-y?”
Tony matched his grin. “Allons-y!”
END OF PART 1