Author's Note: Rereading this…omg what a heartbreaker! Have no idea what I was doing.
Thank you to my amazing beta ravingbeauty for getting this all cleaned up, and doing such a wonderful story justice for me.
Old soldiers never die; they simply fade away – General Douglas MacArthur
January 12, 1945 - Belgium
He knew something was terribly wrong. A hollow ache had settled in his chest, one that he knew was not just from the cold of this place. It was an ache he knew would never leave him. Somehow he'd known. Known the moment he had lost him.
His brother's letter had come with the last letter from Steve. Determination and resolution rolling off the page with every word, the letter had told him he was going to put an end to Hydra once and for all; it was going to be the final confrontation. Just as they were knocking on Berlin's door here, Steve was going to end the evil machinations of Hydra.
Howard's letter had told him of the resolution of that final assault. Captain America had saved the world… but at the price of his own life. Tony's hands trembled violently, almost ripping the paper, but his face never changed. His felt his heart breaking in his already numb chest. He reread the final line again and again:
I will search for him, little brother, and I will find him.
Lieutenant Anthony Stark carefully put away the folded paper. Eyes hot and dry, he took a moment to light a cigarette, using the familiar gesture as a vain attempt to steady his nerves, to center his wildly gyrating mind. Pulling off his helmet he ran a trembling hand through his hair, almost hoping a sniper would get him.
He was so cold here; this damn place was so cold.
Smoke puffed out before Tony as he exhaled. They had been in this godforsaken place for a month, but things were finally moving. They were going to break this line, even if it broke him in the process. They were getting closer everyday; Hitler was scared. Tony had foolishly dared to hope for a future. Now – just like that – he'd lost him. Somewhere in the cold and ice, just like he was now.
A soft snow began to fall. Dark eyes turned skyward to watch the fluffy white flakes descend before melting against his bruised and swollen face. He'd been hit several days earlier by a tree limb during a barrage that had brought a mighty pine crashing right onto his foxhole. He rubbed absently at the bridge of his nose; the deep cut there kept opening up, blood freezing quickly.
God he wanted to cry. If that would bring Steve back, he would in a heartbeat. But he was gone. And all Tony could do was keep moving. What was one more soldier in this war? He hoped against hope that perhaps Howard would find him, and if not…
His eyes slid closed as he whispered, "Wait for me…" the tears beginning to leak from the corner of his eyes, tracking across his dirty, bloody face. "Remember me."
May 22, 2012 – New York
Heart pounding, he whirled in growing confusion and fear. Where was he? What was happening? Gasping for breath as if he'd run a great distance, he was unable to comprehend the lights and sounds.
"At ease, soldier," said a man dressed in black approaching briskly. Steve locked onto the man, looking for a lifeline. "You've been asleep for some time, Captain Rogers," he spoke soothingly, like one would to a child.
"How long…?" he asked slowly, trying to wrap his mind around the seemingly impossible words.
"Close to 70 years." The blond man was reeling, an image coming to his scattered mind, one of a laughing, smiling man in a sun drenched field… before it rebelled completely. 70 years…
He woke with a gasp, chest aching, heart thumping so hard he was sure it would beat right out of his chest. Disoriented blue eyes blinked and glanced around the darkened room, the unfamiliar shapes disorienting and confusing him. It took long moments for his pounding heart to finally slow, before reality returned and he remembered… remembered everything. He slumped forward in the big, comfy bed. It wasn't a nightmare… it was real.
A large trembling hand ran through his tussled blond hair as he collected himself.
In the months after he'd been thawed and awakened, Steve Rogers had been forced to come to grips with some bitter realities. His world was gone; his time was gone. Now he was running to catch up. Only he didn't want to, didn't want to be in this place. He wanted to go home… and home was where his lover was. His battered heart thrummed weakly at the thought. It was a painfully cruel reality he was facing – Tony was gone.
He got out of the bed, not caring the sheets were a tangled mess, and moved out of the room, into the dark of the silent tower. His feet took him on a now familiar route, upwards to the top of the tower where he'd look out over the now unfamiliar skyline.
The wind whipped across his overheated body, cool and soothing as he leaned against the railing staring off at the dark horizon. His restless mind once more tried to assimilate this new time, and all that had happened to him.
His mission, his reason for being awakened, had been accomplished; Loki was defeated, the Avengers were a new force for the Earth, a deterrent to other worlds. Still here he was, wandering through this life like a ghost, half in this world and half wanting to be in the next.
Everyone he'd known had been taken from him. When he'd been told how long he'd been frozen, it had been overwhelming. Amongst the painful realizations, though, there had been the faintest of hopes – Anthony Stark, son of Howard Stark.
Steve had been floored when he'd heard the name – Tony… His desperate heart had been eager to meet the man, hoping for what he didn't know. And then when he'd finally seen him out of his Iron Man suit, Steve had been rendered speechless; his knees had wobbled and the breath had completely left him.
He was the spitting image of his uncle.
Heartbreakingly like his Tony, so achingly close… and still so far away. His personality had been large like Howard's, talkative and showy.
His Tony had been quiet, reserved… strong and silent.
Steve had been angry then. Angry at himself for hoping, angry at the world for forcing him back. Lashing out in hurt and desperation, he'd been angry at Tony Stark; all he wanted was his Tony, not this look-alike.
It wasn't until after Steve had seen Tony in action that he'd begun to change his mind. Beneath that loud, flashy façade Steve had seen glimpses of his Tony. When he'd saved them all from the missile… willing to lay down his life…
The memory made his gasp in physical pain as he slowly slid to the floor, tears streaming from his eyes. "He's so much like you…" he whispered, succumbing to his silent sorrow.
Unbeknownst to the blond, someone was watching – the man he'd been thinking of so painfully.
Watching and worrying.
Tony Stark did not sleep much these days, or at least he hadn't since Captain America had been defrosted. Seated in his lab, he watched the balcony camera trained on the slumped and dejected man. He ran a hand through his dark hair, frustrated and helpless.
At the beginning he'd been so excited to meet the man. He had grown up on legends of Captain America and his father's tales of bravery and valor during the war. Cap had been the world's first super soldier and Tony's personal hero. Then, for some reason he could not fathom, Steve Rogers had not liked him. For the longest time, he'd thought Steve hated him. They had been oil and water… and the genius billionaire had not been able to understand why.
They had eventually reached an uneasy truce, and then a friendship had formed, young and tentative. Yet Tony knew the big guy was holding back. Something was keeping him in the past.
Then his nightmares had begun. Not Afghanistan, not his war, not his nightmares… but like he was remembering someone else's memories. It was confusing and frustrating and he'd thought he was losing his mind.
Why was he seeing battles of World War II? He knew the places somehow – North Africa, Italy, France, Belgium… Germany. The dreams hadn't been just the battles, though. There were dreams of Captain America. Except he wasn't Captain America… he was Steve, and the dreams were erotic, passion filled, and full of love. They left him feeling heartbroken and alone, like he'd lost something precious, his chest aching more than when he'd had his arc reactor installed.
Now, months later, the dreams still plagued him and his worry about the blond man was stealing his sleep as well. He knew Steve was crying. He knew he went there almost every night to sit. Tony wanted to fix him… but Steve wasn't one of his inventions and he had no idea what he could do. He wondered, not for the first time, if he should confide in the blond, tell him of his dreams… perhaps Steve would understand.
But each time he chickened out.
So every night Tony sat watching the little drama play out. Every time Tony wanted to go hug him and promise that everything would be ok. His emotions were a confusing jumble, as if his own were competing with another's.
One thing was clear, though – all he wanted was for Steve to smile again… to live again.
A sudden thought occurred to him, making him pause. He frowned; it seemed like someone else's idea, someone else whispering in his mind. He wanted to bash his head against the workbench, but the voice was soft and persistent. Surrendering, he sighed, "Maybe dad could help."
Galvanized into action he hurried upwards, avoiding Steve as he made his way to the top of the Tower. "JARVIS, get my suit," he ordered. Tony snapped on his bracelets, diving off the tower as the suit formed around him, and blasted off into the night.
Steve woke slowly, the morning light shining across his face. He blinked, shifting in discomfort; he must have fallen asleep. He was still sitting outside, the sun warm and comforting. He closed his eyes again and turned his face towards the heat, enjoying the warmth.
Tony's breath caught as he approached. The big man wore only a plain white t-shirt and boxer shorts, while the sun seemed to halo his head – it was an arresting image. He paused, undecided, wondering if he should let things be. Then shaking off his doubts, he continued as the voice urged him on. Steve needed this… and somehow he thought he needed this as well.
"Steve?" he spoke softly, the man turned to look at him, confusion evident on his face. "I have something you need to see." Features solemn, he settled beside the man on the floor, sliding the metal box toward him; for once he had no sarcastic comments. "It was in dad's things."
Curious, Steve opened the metal box, revealing a faded envelope addressed to him. Large hands lifted it slowly, revealing the other contents of the box.
Tony heard Steve gasp as the colour drained from his face.
Worried, Tony glanced down, lifting an eyebrow as he saw what had caught Steve's attention. It looked like a picture of himself wearing a faded uniform, circa WWII. The man in the picture, though, had a scar arching across his face, his expression solemn and serious… a hint of something in his eyes.
Tony knew who it was in a heart beat, "That's my uncle, the one I'm named for." His father had rarely spoken of his younger brother, as if the memory had been too painful for him. He watched Steve pull out the photo, setting it aside carefully before checking the rest of the box: dog tags, a folded American flag, and medals, including a Medal of Honor. Tony sucked in a breath at the sight; he knew his Uncle had been a war hero and that his father had held him in the highest esteem, a place he seemed to reserve for only two men. But he hadn't known his uncle had been a Medal of Honor recipient. There were photos of Steve as well, the edges rounded and well worn, something brown staining the corner of one.
Steve said nothing. His heart beat painfully as unrelenting memories dragged painfully across his consciousness. The beloved, scarred face was back in sharp relief, smiling, looking at him with love.
Carefully Steve turned back to the envelope, opening it with trembling hands. Inside was a letter folded around another, smaller envelope. He read the letter first,
June 11, 1981
I'm not sure why I am writing you today, as I have spent the better part of the last several decades searching for you with no success. I never truly believed you were dead, but simply waiting for a time when you would be needed again. I do believe that you will be needed again, that this world will have call for Captain America once more. For my brother's sake, though, I wish I had been able to find you.
I am torn for him, Steve. He was never happier than he was with you. You gave him the freedom to be who he was, you gave him hope, and most of all you gave him love. I thank you for that; I thank you for giving him a reason to go on.
My son turned seven today, perhaps that is why am I am in such a contemplative mood. I see my brother in him. The way he looks, the way he acts… he is my son, but I think my brother is there, too. I am a man of science, not given much to fanciful thoughts, but if reincarnation exists, I would like to believe that somehow, someway my brother was reborn with him.
Should this letter ever find you, I want you know what became of him, that ragged hero. He made it to the end, all the way to Berlin. He saw V-E Day, but only lived a week after that. The doctors said it was pneumonia, but deep down I think he just couldn't live without you.
I don't blame you, Steve, I never have… and I hope that if you did die in that crash that the two of you are together again and happy wherever that maybe. Take care of yourself, Steve, and if you find Tony again, take care of him, too.
Steve let the letter slip from his limp fingers as he sat back, overwhelmed.
Tony, far too nosy for his own good, had read the letter along with him, leaning into the other man. Dots connected in his mind; with all he'd seen in this world it did not seem all that farfetched that he may perhaps be sharing his uncle's memories. Glancing back at the other man, Tony was distressed to see the tears running down his face, recognizing the desperate look of a man whose wounds had been violently reopened.
Tony didn't say a word. Without a thought, he wrapped his arms around Steve, pulling him close. He felt the big frame shaking and shuddering in his sorrow, touching Tony deeply. Steve and his uncle… they had been lovers. It seemed somewhat farfetched, but at the same time, so perfect.
Eventually they drew apart, "Sorry…" Steve muttered weakly, eyes puffy and swollen.
Sniffing, Tony scrubbed at his own face, "Nothing to be sorry for."
Then Steve picked up the small envelope, biting his lip as he recognized the writing immediately – Tony. He opened it slowly, carefully, unfolding the crinkled, faded paper delicately, almost afraid of what it would say.
May 8, 1945
We won, Steve. We won, and I lived long enough to see this war through to the end. I don't think, however, that I will leave this place. I have made peace with that. I left many good men here and it is fitting that I, too, will be laid to rest with them. Don't be sad for me, Steve. I know we'll meet again. Not in this life, but perhaps the next. Remember me always as I will remember you, a skinny blond that made me believe in fate, made me believe in love.
Lieutenant Anthony Stark
108th Infantry Division
United States Military
Neither man said a word. For once in his life Tony was speechless. He didn't believe in destiny or fate… but his dreams of the past and the words of his uncle were beginning to make him a believer.
The sun was fully up now and Steve seemed calmer… more collected, the tears drying on his cheeks. He turned to the man next to him, smiling a little. "Did you know about your Uncle?" he asked, voice husky and low.
Tony shook his head slowly, "Dad rarely talked about him."
Steve nodded, "He'd never admit to it, but he was a hero."
May 8, 2013 – Belgium
The tall, broad figure walked amongst the bright white stones slowly. Row upon row of crosses stretched as far as the eye could see against a backdrop of almost too green grass. He wore his dress uniform, looking as neat and as pressed as he had in 1945. In his hand he held a bouquet of white roses. Keeping pace beside him was a smaller dark haired man wearing an expensive suit. The pair made a handsome couple in the bright sunlight.
They paused among the rows, locating the stone they were searching for, Lieutenant Anthony Stark.
Steve knelt, laying the roses near the stone, tucking away his sunglasses.
"Ok?" Steve felt a strong hand grip his shoulder.
"Yeah," he said, giving his boyfriend a smile.
Tony kissed his temple softly, "I'll give you a few minutes."
Nodding, Steve watched the man wander a little ways off, patiently waiting for him. The blond turned back to the grave marker, the silent white stone. Suddenly unsure of what he wanted to say. So much had happened in a year; a love had blossomed on the balcony over the contents of that metal box. He had fallen in love all over again with Tony Stark.
"I hope you don't mind," he said to the stone, smiling a little. Steve was sure this Tony and his were somehow connected. Though the 21st century had changed him, he was positive deep down that it was the same man he'd fallen in love with so many years ago. Today, though, he was saying goodbye to the past. "I'll always remember you," he said softly, recalling his promise.
Standing slowly, Steve turned away from the stone and looked to his lover; it was time to embrace the future. Tony was waiting for him. As he grasped the warm callused palm a sense of peace settled over him. He had found a place in this new world, and love. "Ready to go home?"
Nodding, the blond leaned down, kissing his dark haired man in full view of others, uncaring, marveling he could do so in this time. Parting, a surprised Tony smiled at him as the lovers walked, hand in hand, in the bright sunlight.