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

But the biggest monster maybe too much for even two Tonys to stop...
Thanks: Thanks as always to Nar, for pointing out I have an almost sex scene that I keep forgetting. Also thanks to Salma, for pointing out things that needed fixing in this chapter. And thanks to iloome, ladedanixie, fujimore, actionfan, hogwartshoney, krusca, Bibli, Turtle, and be_mine for reviewing the last chapter. I always appreciate comments!
Notes: Okay, so first things first. Posting on Mondays sucks, so I won't be doing this anymore. Sorry iloome, but the next update is going to have to be Thursday. It will end up being Wednesday night for most of you, but I just can't do Mondays any more.

Now on to notes for the fic itself... So like, I keep forgetting that there's an almost sex scene in this chapter. -_-;;; It's two paragraphs and nothing much happens, but I wonder if I should up the rating? At least before I completely forget about it again. Speaking of the almost sex, it's potentially dub-con in nature due to a flashback that halts it. It is stopped immediately once the flashback hits. I'm not sure if that would be enough to count as dub-con, but if it is, let me know.

This is also the chapter I did some drunk writing in. You can tell, because Rhodey was not supposed to be part of this fic. A bit of Vodka, and Rhodey decides to take over. Why do you do this to me, Rhodey? You just made the fic longer.

Finally, this is my one cliff hanger of the fic. And yes, I'm totally a bitch for making you wait a couple days longer than normal for the resolution of it, but damn it, updating on Mondays sucks. So. Just keep that in mind.

That said, I hope you enjoy and have a happy Easter!

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three

~

Natasha walked into the living room, finding their guest watching the news and shaking his head as he sipped at his ever-present martini. "He shouldn't do this to himself," the man murmured quietly.

"No, he shouldn't," Natasha agreed, watching Antonio turn to her with wounded eyes as she fought down the irrational hurt at that. He had good reason to be hurt at the sound of her voice.

"Weren't you supposed to be at the funeral?" Antonio asked, his voice laced with tension and longing.

"I sent my regrets," Natasha replied. "But I'm off on a secret mission. Mostly I wanted to talk to you." She looked up at the screen, ignoring the way Antonio's hand tightened around the glass.

"He'll be okay," she said, returning to their earlier topic to try to relax him. To throw him off guard, her mind supplied. But that wasn't what she wanted, not really. She just wanted to not see betrayal in his blue eyes. "The others will help," she continued. "They have him."

"And you have me, I suppose?" Antonio said bitingly. "What now? Espionage and intrigue? Darling, your murder plans always did have flair. After all, usually one doesn't make a big production of killing children, but you did it stunningly."

Natasha winced at the words, and it wasn't an act. "Stark-"

Antonio sighed, swirling the alcohol in the glass. "Yes, I know. Different worlds. I apologize. That was... unfair of me."

Natasha was quiet as she sat down next to the other Tony. He didn't relax, regarding her warily. She hated that look. "Not a lot's been fair to you," she said, curling her legs up against her chest. "I'm the one who should be apologizing."

"It wasn't you," Antonio said with a shrug. "Emotional responses aside, intellectually it's logical, given the state of other changes I've seen. And the others have continually vouched for you, saying you wouldn't turn on them. You have nothing to apologize for."

"It was a version of me," Natasha said, closing her eyes. She could picture it so well, if Clint hadn't made her consider switching sides. She could have done something like that to this world's Tony Stark, and with the Red Room's conditioning, she wouldn't have even felt guilty. It sickened her, because she never wanted it to happen, and it terrified her, because of how compromised that thought revealed her to be.

"She should have shaken off the Red Room's conditioning," she said, resolutely not thinking about what if her other self had and murdered Clint's family anyway. "She shouldn't have done that to you."

Antonio regarded her thoughtfully, a cold gleam in his eyes. "Back when we started our whole torrid affair, my Natasha once told me love was for children." Natasha refused to react to that, keeping her breath steady. She had said that to Loki, feeding him half truths to lure out the information she wanted. It looks like her other self had been doing the same. She had the feeling this Tony had seen through the act she threw up too. "I assumed," he continued, "to my great misfortune, that the sentiment had changed after I proposed to her. But you really are compromised, aren't you, Ms. Romanov? Interesting."

"Is there a problem with that?" she snapped.

Blue eyes stared back at her, far too intelligent for the amount of alcohol the man consumed. Not even her Tony could read her this well. She wondered how long this Tony had been intimate with her other self, for him to know her this well. The other Natasha must have had to allow a few of her natural tells in order for this Tony to believe her.

Then Antonio raised his glass to her. "No problems from me," he said. "But you're still lying to them. I've gone over the security footage of my Natasha extensively since she died, looking for hints of her betrayal. Hindsight and all that. And you... You, my darling, are hiding something."

"Not lying exactly," Natasha said.

"Then indulge an old drunk," Antonio replied.

Natasha looked away, staring at the news without really seeing it. Clint knew. He didn't have to ask. But this... She couldn't refuse if this Tony was asking. The others wouldn't believe him if he tried to tell them, but Natasha Romanov owed this Tony Stark a debt that she didn't know if she could make up for. "There have been rumors," she said softly. "About old enemies coming back. Enemies that would need to be infiltrated. And one day, the problem will be big enough that Nick Fury is going to decide to send me in. He'll ask me to betray the team, probably publicly after I've managed to subdue the suspicions of those in power. It'll tip them over to trusting me completely. And I won't be able to say no, not with what's at stake. When that day comes, I will have to make it hurt. I will have to use everything the team has told me against them, and I won't be able to allow myself to regret it."

Antonio sucked in a breath beside her. He was quiet for a long moment, and Natasha allowed the coverage of the funeral to wash over her. Her Tony, the one on the screen, was flanked by Clint and Bruce, with Steve and Thor keeping away any reporter that tried to get close by looming menacingly.

Her boys.

The thought sent shivers down her spine, because that was only a step below family. They were dangerous, because they were a link that others could exploit and use to hurt her. They were dangerous and so very addicting. Clint had said it was a good look on her, but she was scared of what it meant to give in.

"I see Fury has his ways in this world too," Antonio said, the anger in his voice startling her out of her thoughts. "At least he shouldn't have the 'trinkets' I found on my brother's servers in this world, helping him control the more unreasonable members of his special team. But not having the tech never stopped him before."

Natasha watched Antonio grow more agitated. He was angry... for her? That was unexpected. "It's the way of things," she said with a casual shrug that she didn't feel. If it wasn't this rumor, there would be another. There was always another. And there wasn't much she could do beyond prepare for the day it happened and hope they would forgive her eventually. If they didn't take her back, she'd know better than to let herself get too close next time. She should have known better this time.

"And that's that?" Antonio asked, his anger shifting to her now. "You're just going to go along with it and let it happen?"

"You know as well as I do someone has to be the villain," Natasha said. "Sometimes, it's the only way."

Antonio deflated at that, looking lost and so frighteningly lonely. Her Tony and this one, they'd both seen things that would crush morals down from back and white until only grey was left. "Gregory was like that, sometimes," he said, his voice just barely above a whisper. "But I can't..."

"You already have though, haven't you?" Natasha asked. "Taken part in something that the others would hate you for if they knew."

"Yes," Antonio said, staring down at his hands. "I thought I could..." He was unable to finish.

Natasha uncurled from her position, taking a reckless chance as she leaned over and kissed him gently on the lips. He kissed her back desperately as he licked into her mouth with a passion that nearly broke her as his hands fell to her hips. Had anyone ever loved her that much? If it had been her, she didn't know if she could have gone through with the mission, even with the Red Room's conditioning. No matter what the movies said, she knew love was not an all-powerful force that could break brainwashing, but part of her ached that this passion had been given to another her so freely and then tossed away like a soiled pair of gloves.

He pulled her closer and she went willingly. Natasha had been right. The other Tony did want this, and his affinity for denial was almost higher than her Tony's. She could be his Natasha for a while, but the Natasha that he deserved, not the one who hurt him. He left her mouth, slowly trailing kisses along her neck. She gasped as he hit a spot right behind her ear, licking it teasingly in promise of a later mark. She held back a moan at the tongue that denied her as she was sure that it would only turn into a whine, and she gripped his shoulders tightly, wanting to leave a bruise on those well muscled arms. His hands moved upward slowly, cupping her breasts as his mouth moved back down, pulling at the zipper of her jumpsuit with his teeth.

She knew what Antonio was doing, trying to drive her wild so this became about her. But this was for him, and Natasha was going to make the sex mind-blowing for him as well. Tony wasn't the only one who knew some good tricks. She pushed him down onto the couch, keeping her touch light. He went down with a whine at the loss of contact, blue eyes burning into her as she chased him down, straddling his hips and brushing against his slowly hardening erection as she leaned down to kiss him again.

Then he went completely still underneath her, muscles tensing under her hands.

Natasha was off him in an instant, trying to gain back her breath as she wondered what went wrong. She hadn't been reading him wrong. He had obviously wanted this, but something changed. Something she was missing.

His eyes were cold and guarded when she looked at him again. "May I ask why you did that?" he asked lightly, though his knuckles were white as they curled into fists.

"It's something I can give you," Natasha said, too late to back out now as she smoothed her hair down but didn't pull the zipper back up. It wasn't guilt that prompted this. If it was just for a night or two until Antonio returned home, she knew she would enjoy the sex. There was no question of that. And it was short enough that he wouldn't become attached to her rather than her other self. She wouldn't become that attached either. She knew better than that. No strings. She could give him this and be what he wanted, and part of her desperately wanted it as well.

"I can guess what she must have done," Natasha continued. "I... I could give you some memories you don't have to doubt. I don't mind if you pretended that I was her. I can be her, if that's what you want."

"You don't love me," Antonio said, his voice a low rasp. "And you don't love him."

"He's my friend," she replied, feeling like the ground was dropping out from under her with that admission. It had been bad enough with Clint, but this... One person, maybe two, she could handle. So many weak points at once left her scrambling to build defenses as the flood overwhelmed her.

But she forced herself to look the other Tony in the eye, seeing the endless blue that both chilled and warmed her. "He's my friend," she said more firmly. "I'm not in love with him, no, but does that make my love any less?"

"No, I suppose not," Antonio said, looking at her with a haunted expression that he allowed himself for the first time in her sight. He was dying of thirst, and her barricades had sprung with too many leaks against the flood.

She waited, wondering if this would actually help, or if it would simply make things worse. "What went wrong?" she asked quietly, searching for a clue.

He looked away. "There are too many... Under other circumstances, I would accept gladly. I'm sure you're aware how far I'm willing to go into denial. But I'm afraid even an illusion wouldn't help me. She was..." Antonio paused, swallowing and trying to hide the hitch in his breath. "She was on top of me just like that when she killed Jarvis. She shot him right though the head and returned the gun to mine like it was nothing. I don't think I could relax enough now to keep going."

Natasha nodded, cold fury burning up her throat like acid. That bitch had killed someone that important to Tony while trying to seduce him? How much of a monster had she been in that world? The anger was better than the guilt she felt, because she hadn't known - couldn't have known - that would trigger him.

How much of a monster could she have been here?

"What would it have been like, if you were in her place?" Antonio mused, picking up his glass again and throwing back the remainder of his martini.

"I don't know," she said, her voice rough and low. Could she have loved Antonio Stark? She didn't know the answer to that, or how she could push away the thought of the wounded look this Tony gave her duplicated on the faces of her teammates.

"Neither do I," he said, returning his blue eyes, now dull and guarded, to the news on the screen.

Natasha closed her eyes for a moment, opening them as she stood up and zipped her jumpsuit properly. Now that she knew, she'd only make things worse by-

"You could stay," Antonio said, stopping her in her tracks. "I promised our dear Captain that I wouldn't drink as much, but if I'm alone, the chances of me breaking that promise would increase exponentially."

"You're sure?" she asked.

"Darling, never question my numbers. I'll be through the bottle in an hour left to my own devices."

"That wasn't what I meant, Stark." Besides which, having her in the room would only intensify the urge to drink. She could see the way his hands shook even now.

"I didn't think you did," he replied. "But it's a yes to that as well. Sex might be off the table, but I'm willing to take a few other memories."

Natasha stared at him and his stiff posture, taking in the gaunt lines where some sort of illness had worn away at this Tony Stark. What was he playing at? He wouldn't have asked her to stay for himself, not after turning down her offer. He was...

He was telling her not to feel guilty.

Natasha returned to the couch, sitting down a safe distance away. The other Tony didn't wince, but she could tell he wanted to. She could also still feel the sense of longing in those blue eyes, which she had missed her chance to ease. "Thank you," she said quietly, wondering if she could still soothe some of this Tony's pain, or if they were both deluding themselves.

Antonio nodded, looking back at the screen and not at her. How many people abused that kindness? Far too many, she decided, but as long as she was around, she would try her best to put a stop from anyone else hurting him.

* * *

Tony was shaking by the time they got home. He didn't know how Dr. Conner could stay so calm at the service, not when it was for her own daughter.

"Tony," Steve said.

Tony jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Steve and the others all looked haggard and worried, and he saw Steve's frown when he shrugged off the hand. "I'm fine," Tony said. "I have some things to do though, so I'll-"

"Tony."

"I can't," Tony said desperately. "Please, just... Not right now. I need..." Tony closed his eyes, trying to block everything out. "I have to go," he said, pivoting away as he went back to the elevator.

"Wait!"

"Let him go, Steve," Tony heard Bruce say just before the elevator closed around him. Tony tried to breathe as it went down. To blank his mind, until he couldn't see Jasmine's hand or the accusing faces as he stood behind Dr. Conner, until he couldn't hear the battle or the jeers of the crowd. Until he could no longer feel the heat of the explosions or the wind of the cemetery.

He stumbled into his workshop, barely registering that the lights were already on. "Easy," he heard someone - heard himself - say as arms wrapped around him. "I've got you, old boy."

"I'm fine," Tony grit out, trying to push his other self away. He'd come down here to not see anyone. His private sanctuary was violated.

"No, you're not," his doppelganger said cheerfully, pinning his arms. Then, as if reading Tony's mind, "And there's nobody here but us Tonys."

"Chickens," Tony corrected absently as he stopped fighting.

"Don't sell us short. We're devilishly handsome cocks, if I do say so myself," Antonio said, and Tony could hear the smirk in his own tone.

"Go away." The last thing he wanted right now was to deal with himself.

"Sorry, but not this time," Antonio said. "I do, however, come bearing gifts. I have your finest vodka and vermouth ready to be made into martinis, along with a half-full bottle of olives."

"It was full the other day," Tony said weakly. He couldn't quite manage a glare.

"The lovely Ms. Potts is far from the only one who likes their martinis dirty," Antonio replied.

Tony was decidedly not thinking about if the other him meant his own Pepper or if he'd been talking with this world's Pepper behind his back. Besides, the vodka looked incredibly appealing.

"I also have cupcakes," Antonio said, guiding him further into the workshop. "Chocolate ones, with frosting and sprinkles. Not baked myself, obviously, but homemade. I know how we like to comfort eat."

"Why couldn't I save her?" he heard his voice say. At first, he assumed it was the other him, but that couldn't be right. Antonio hadn't been the one to fail. So that left...

He felt himself being drawn into a proper hug, and Tony felt like he was shaking apart. Arms tightened around him as he trembled. "We always screw up somehow," Antonio said. "We can't save them from ourselves, no matter how hard we try. I know. Shh."

Tony could think of a few ways to save the world from Tony Stark, but that wouldn't stop people from abusing his tech after he was gone. He wanted... He hated this.

"Come on," his doppelganger said. "I think we both need a drink."

* * *

Steve rubbed his eyes wearily, glancing through the information on the screen of his tablet. The program Tony and Bruce created to find the Tesseract, now re-calibrated to find the alternate Tony's missing tech, had once been just a bunch of mysterious numbers and baffling calculations to him, but by now he was pretty familiar with it. Mostly due to the fact that he hadn't slept at all last night, but Steve was not thinking about that as he sipped his coffee that did nothing to perk him up, thanks to the serum.

Still, while he wasn't as brilliant as Tony was, to take a whole new area of scientific knowledge in one night and become an expert, Steve was pretty pleased with himself. As pleased as he could be while trying not to think about the man in the workshop downstairs. The program itself was pretty complex, so it'd taken him all night to get the basics of it down, but now he could flip through it and understand the data just as well as Bruce or the Tonys could, and he considered that an accomplishment.

"Wow, you look like you've had a rough night," a voice said, pulling Steve's attention away from the never ending stream of data.

"Colonel Rhodes," Steve said looking up. He started to stand for a proper salute, but the Colonel waved him off.

"I've told you, Jim or Rhodey works fine," Col... Rhodey said with a grin that looked as exhausted as Steve felt. "Cause if you don't, I have to be polite, and I can't have a fanboy moment of calling you Steve."

Steve returned a shy smile. He hadn't spent all that much time with Tony's best friend, but he liked what he saw of the man, even if 'fanboying' over Captain America was still a foreign concept to him. "I thought you were supposed to be in the Middle East, Rhodey."

"According to the official report, I am in the Middle East. I'm a figment of your imagination who is not here taking leave despite his superiors being pissed about it. If anyone asks, that's what you tell them, since they wouldn't want the terrorists trying something because they think I'm not around," Rhodey said, grin changing into something warmer when Steve used his nick name. He quickly sobered, however. "I came as soon as I could. How is he?"

Steve closed his eyes, running his fingers through his hair for what must have been the umpteenth time that morning. His hair was probably more of a mess than Tony's. "He was shaking when we got back last night. Bruce said to let him go, but..."

Rhodey sighed. "I'd trust Bruce on this, despite my gut screaming to break down the damned workshop wall. That man can read Tony better than psychics can read tea leaves. I'm a little jealous of that ability, to be honest." His eyes fell on Steve with a contemplative gaze. Steve felt his cheeks heating up as he guessed at what the Air Force officer was thinking.

"And you've been up all night worrying about him, haven't you?" Rhodey asked, confirming Steve's suspicions.

"I was learning how to read the data on the program Tony and Bruce set up," Steve said stubbornly, ignoring the blush.

"Uh-huh," Rhodey said, not looking convinced. In fact, he looked smug. "I approve of the worrying, by the way. So when are you going to make an honest man out of him?"

The bastard waited until Steve took a drink from his coffee, which Steve nearly choked on. "It's legal in New York now, ya know," Rhodey added helpfully.

"I'm aware," Steve said hoarsely as he finished coughing up the coffee that had wound up in his wind pipe. Rhodey laughed as Steve kept his cursing mental. "Rhodey" or not, cursing in front of a higher ranking officer was bad form.

When Rhodey finally stopped laughing, he stood up with a rueful smile. "It's probably been enough time to let Tony process by himself. Want to come check on him with me?"

Revenge, Steve decided, was indeed sweet. "There's something you should know before going down there," Steve said.

Rhodey went from good-natured teasing to worrying in a second flat. "Did something happen that wasn't in the news?"

It was a pity Rhodey didn't have a drink as well. "We didn't want it to get out," Steve confirmed, intentionally biting his lip.

"What happened?" Rhodey demanded, only just stopping from pushing into Steve's personal space intimidatingly.

"There's two Tonys right now," Steve replied.

Rhodey choked on air. Steve felt vindicated. "What the... You're shitting me. What is it, some kind of clone?" Rhodey asked in disbelief.

"Alternative universe," Steve said seriously, with a hint of an innocent smile that Rhodey wasn't buying. "He has blue eyes. And no, I'm not shitting you. There's really two of them."

"The universe does not need two Anthony Starks," Rhodey said solemnly. "And I say this as his best friend. There should only ever be one of him."

"The other one is named Antonio," Steve said helpfully.

"I don't want to know," Rhodey groaned. "Come on. If there's two of them, then there's double the trouble."

Steve very politely withheld the laughter as he followed Rhodey down to the lab. That didn't stop the smug grin at the good-natured glares Rhodey sent his way, but Steve was the model of restraint in his victory.

His victory turned to fear when the elevator doors opened and the sight of empty bottles greeted him. "JARVIS, where-"

"Keep your voice down," Tony hissed. Not Tony. Antonio, who had an arm wrapped around Tony. "Not that we don't sleep like the dead after drinking anyway, but I'm not chancing it after all the trouble it took to get him there."

Tony was sleeping soundly against the Antonio's shoulder, snoring softly. Steve melted a little at the sight, letting the scene calm the spike of adrenaline as Antonio kept speaking. "It's not as bad as it looks. Dummy poured out some of them in the sink when he wasn't looking," Antonio explained, a fond look on his face.

"Holy shit. There really are two of them," Rhodey said, freezing behind Steve.

The effect on the other Tony was immediate. He tensed, narrowing his eyes at Rhodey. "Rhodes, what a pleasant surprise," he said in a voice that implied it was anything but.

Rhodey looked taken aback by the response. Steve himself was surprised. Even Rhodey was bad in that world?

"Let me guess," Antonio said dryly after a moment of silence. "You and him are still friends in this universe?"

It was there for just a brief second, but Steve saw the look of pure longing in the other Tony's eyes. By the way Rhodey's hands curled into fists, he hadn't missed it either. "What happened in your world?" Rhodey asked quietly.

"The usual," Antonio said with a shrug. "I gave him War Machine and was an ass, he took off to play with Fury's little band and get upgrades from my brother."

Antonio shifted their version of the genius gently, keen blue eyes measuring up Rhodey. "Interesting," he said. "You've done the same, or something similar, if I'm reading you right. Yet you still seem to be friends."

"He didn't leave me much choice," Rhodey said, his voice filling with guilt. "The government ordered me to take it to Hammer."

"I'm almost glad my Rhodey took his suit to Greg," Antonio muttered. "At least Gregory had quality."

Rhodey winced. "Yeah, Tony's never let me live that one down either."

"What changed your mind here?" Antonio asked.

"I found out he was pushing everyone away because he was dying," Rhodey said simply. Steve had read the file on Tony's palladium poisoning, but hearing Rhodey talk about it was still a shock. Steve swallowed, reminding himself firmly that Tony wasn't dying any more.

Then Antonio started laughing softly, catching them both off guard. There was a slightly hysterical note to it that worried Steve. "Is that all it took?" the other Tony asked incredulously. "If I told him that now, do you think he would come back?"

Steve felt like the air had been punched out of him. Antonio was obviously sick - all of them had noticed that, and Bruce kept trying to lure him down to the lab for a quick check over. He was too pale, too gaunt, more than just what alcohol abuse would do to him. But dying? Antonio hadn't had the arc reactor, so what else could it be? "You're dying?" Steve asked, not wanting to believe it despite the signs of sickness.

"Ah, I see he didn't tell you that part," Antonio said, looking down at his alternative self. "Cancer," he said simply. "Though it may be in remission after... after the last tumor was taken out. Haven't had time to check."

There was something oddly choked and stilted about Antonio's words that Steve didn't understand. It made him ache a little, and wish that his Tony was awake to tug him into a hug and protect him, no matter how much his Tony would hate that. He couldn't stand to lose Tony to a disease like that, no matter how irrational it made his thoughts.

Rhodey was apparently thinking along the same lines, but had more compunction to follow through. He quickly walked over and dropped down on the cot, surprising Steve by pulling Antonio into a tight hug.

Antonio stiffened for a moment before giving a shuddery breath. "In every universe, you give the best hugs," he said, so softly that even with the serum enhancing his hearing, Steve almost missed it. "You said I always go at things alone, and that one day that would get both of us killed."

"Yeah, both you and my Tony are asses like that," Rhodey said, tightening his grip. "But any version of me that doesn't come back for you anyway isn't exactly a catch either."

Steve was feeling very much like a third (fourth? Did his Tony conked out on Antonio's shoulder count?) wheel, and he shifted nervously. He didn't want to leave without a sitrep. Well, he didn't want to leave at all, but he knew enough about Rhodey and Tony that feeling jealous would be ridiculous and alienate him from one of his best resources on how to deal with Tony when things got rough. So yes, he may have wanted to be the one holding his Tony, but he knew enough to know that apparently both Tonys needed their Rhodey time uninterrupted.

The sitrep did give him an excuse though, and he was willing to grab on to that and use it. "How is he?" he asked quietly.

"Like I said, not as bad as it looks. I made sure of that," Antonio said, snuggling against Rhodey as if he were determined to make the best of it. "And you can ask JARVIS. I didn't break the limit you both set, even though he did. I was the model of restraint."

Steve didn't ask JARVIS, because Antonio certainly didn't seem drunk. Well, no more than usual at any rate, because Steve wasn't entirely sure he'd ever seen Antonio completely sober.

"He'll be okay," Antonio continued, sighing as Rhodey ran a hand through his hair. "You might as well come over for a cuddle too. I know you want to, Captain."

"That's okay," Steve said with a wistful smile. "He's in good hands. And I should get back to the paperwork Fury wanted done. Look after him for me."

Rhodey nodded, a pleased smile on his face letting Steve know he'd said the right thing. Antonio just looked baffled at being included in Steve's command. "Yes, Sir," Antonio said finally, injecting an air of flippancy in the words.

Steve was just about to leave when his tablet started to beep wildly. He immediately reached to silence it, eyes widening over the data.

"What is it?" Rhodey asked tensely.

"Wake Tony up," Steve said, catching Antonio's eyes. "We have a hit."

* * *

Unfortunately, the stolen tech was very well guarded. In the very least it meant this wasn't another false alarm, but Tony could have done with a false alarm right now. His head was pounding. He fired another shot at one of the crazies who called themselves the Serpent Society. They looked the part, if Tony's hungover brain was to be believed, scales and all. "They from your world?" Tony asked, dodging a tail that threatened to knock him out of the sky.

Antonio avoided being clawed by flying out of range. "We weren't aware so many people had gone through the portal," he said as he fired a repulsor blast at the head of a snake person with flaps like a cobra on its sides. He missed.

"So it's a toss up?" Clint said incredulously. "No, sorry. I don't believe in snake people. They're your brand of crazy, Alternate Tony."

Tony heard Rhodey snort. "I wasn't aware one of Earth's mightiest heroes was afraid of snakes."

"I'm not scared," Clint said rather unconvincingly as he stayed well back from the fight on his perch. "Natasha has a thing against snakes."

"Snakes," she said dryly. "Why'd it have to be snakes."

"Chatter, fellas," Cap said, but with the sort of delight that entered his voice when he recognized a quote. Tony would have felt his insides melting a bit with fondness, but his head was pounding too much.

Instead, he rolled his eyes even if no one could see it, flying over Thor who was on the ground swinging Mjölnir around. He ignored the feed of the media going crazy over three Iron Man suits, figuring he'd come up with an excuse later. Either that, or he could just leave things to Fury. Pepper would kill him when it eventually came back to her, but it might be worth it.

He downed another snake person, flying low to avoid detection. He landed on the perimeter of the building, seeing a door with an electronic lock. He smirked as he took out the two guards and got the lock undone in under a minute. "Heading in," he said over the com. "JARVIS has the passcode. He'll let you in when you get close."

"Iron Man, wait for back up!" he heard Steve say. Which he ignored, stepping through the now open door into a well lit corridor. He was hungover, not helpless.

"He has back up," he heard his own voice say. He bet the others were having a blast trying to tell them apart.

The sound of repulsors powering down and the clank of the armor let Tony know his alternate self was right behind him. He raised an eyebrow that Antonio wouldn't be able to see. Judging by the thumbs up he was given, his doppelganger knew anyway. "Going in," he repeated, knowing Antonio was smirking.

Unfortunately, the guards on the inside were very human. Very human, and in very, very familiar uniforms. Antonio stiffened in the armor, so he hadn't been the only one to recognize it.

Was he that expressive in the armor? Tony wondered idly as he shot the man with a repulsor, not holding back on the power level.

"Well," his doppelganger said after a moment. "They're actually human in this dimension. I don't know if that makes it better or worse."

Tony did not want to know. "Cap, the Serpent Society have found buyers, and they're old friends of yours."

Steve didn't answer. It was Natasha who cursed, then asked sharply, "Hydra?"

"Yeah," Tony replied, moving down the corridor further into the building. "Cap, talk to me. How're you holding up?"

"I've been better," Steve said, his voice shaking a little. Tony could hear the familiar clash of metal that had the unique timbre of vibranium, so Steve was still in the fight. He didn't sound particularly well though.

Tony switched over to a private channel with Thor. "Thor-"

"Aye, my friend. Both Hawkeye and myself have eyes on our Captain," Thor said, anticipating his request. "We will keep watch over him."

"Thanks." He still itched to keep an eye on Steve himself, but he could trust Thor and Clint to keep Steve safe. One of the benefits to working on a team, that.

"This way," Antonio said as more Hydra soldiers started to swarm them.

It took longer than Tony would have liked to get to the central computer banks, but the Hydra soldiers took their motto so goddamn seriously. Honestly, two more taking the place of the fallen one was pretty stupid when faced with two Iron Men, but they kept coming. After a few misshots where they went after the same person, however, he worked surprisingly well together with his other self. It was exhilarating and more than a little exciting in ways Tony tried not to think about. Steve wasn't the only one with fantasies of the two of them together.

When they made it finally, Antonio's face plate came up as he walked over to the computer and started hacking the systems.

Tony watched the doors, repulsors hot as he waited for more Hydra idiots to press their luck. Antonio would have better luck with the hacking anyway, considering his hangover was no where near as bad as Tony's. "Any trouble getting in?" he asked.

"Merely an annoyance," Antonio replied, his fingers flying over the keys. He must have taken the gauntlets off as well for that speed. "Especially with the help of JARVIS. But I'm in. Let's see what... Christ."

Tony snapped around, ignoring the threat of potential incoming guards and the pain in his head at the motion. "What's wrong?"

"They didn't only get Greg's tech," Antonio said, the blood gone from his face. "They have Reed Richards's notes on The City and have started playing with his genetic enhancements."

The name Richards sounded familiar, but not in terms of genetics. The Richards he remembered from the academic papers were all about exploration and space travel. "And this makes things worse?"

"His experiment 'Death' leveled Washington DC in a matter of seconds with a single thought, obliterating everything within a ten mile radius," Antonio replied. "And they're in the final stage of recreating him a few levels down from here."

It was Tony's turn to swear. Recreating him. A human weapon. "Has anyone ever told you how fucked up your world is?" he asked before switching over to the general com. "Hear that? Anyone close?"

"There's too many of them," Steve replied. "Hydra has been gathering here for a while, not just a week or two. We're in the building now, but we're not getting very far. ETA?"

"Fifteen minutes to completion," Antonio said. Tony pulled off his own gauntlets after pushing a chair against the door, joining the other him at the computers. It was a sturdy metal door and locked. It should hold for a few minutes. "And I can't get in for a remote shut down."

Tony tried a few tricks of his own, going straight for the power source of the building as JARVIS confirmed his doppelganger's assessment. He scanned the data from the project as he did. If they could cut the power, they had a chance. The experiment was a delicate one, and at this stage Hydra couldn't stop without killing the subject. A few minutes off life support, and the weapon - he couldn't bring himself to think of it as a person, not right now - would die. Hydra would be right back at square one with months worth of... "This isn't the first time your tech thieves have gotten though," Tony said.

Antonio's mouth was set in a grim line. "So you noticed that too? Monica and I are going to have a nice long chat when I get back. It would appear SHIELD has a mole."

Tony resisted the urge to pound at the keys in frustration. "No good. Even if we cut the power, the back up generators would require a manual override. Also no where near our current position."

"It's a good thing I'm rather handy with EMPs then," Antonio said.

"You've got one strong enough?" Even he couldn't make an EMP that strong. He cut their conversation off from the rest of the Avengers.

"I had some help from another version of us," Antonio admitted. "His armor was like nothing I've ever seen, and it shut down any tech that was near it. Nearly killed me when the nanites shut down. Took me a while to shield against it."

"You never said that you've worked with another us before," Tony said, feeling like that was something that should have been mentioned. And no, he wasn't jealous.

"Because I didn't work with him," Antonio said darkly. "He was dead when Reed and I found him, and his world was on fire. I had to reverse engineer-"

Antonio turned around to face Tony, cutting himself short. His blue eyes were locked onto Tony's chest. At the reactor. Tony had been hoping his other self would forget about that.

"We'll find another way," Antonio said, turning back to the computer.

"We've got eleven minutes left," Tony said calmly. "There's no time for another way." He cut the external speakers of his suit, making sure only JARVIS could hear him. "JARVIS, jam any transmissions from Antonio's armor. Do not resume until you come back online. And I need you to warn any near by hospitals and police stations of what we're about to do."

"Sir, I recommend against-"

"Do it, JARVIS," he said, cutting the com off and going back to the external speakers.

Antonio was staring at him with an odd look, but he couldn't have figured it out yet. He'd been studying his other self's suit since he got here, and this version of him was used to having a whole team of people monitoring him, not JARVIS. A team that was currently in another dimension. "I'm not using an EMP-" Antonio started.

Shots were being fired at the door, and Tony's little chair wasn't going to last them long once they got through the metal doors. "The arc reactor is shielded," he said tersely.

"Not shielded against this!" Antonio shouted.

"We have to chance it," Tony said, already knowing the chances were bad. "You know what the cost of life could be if Hydra gets it to work. I'll be fine."

He kept his face plate down, knowing he could get away with a lie easier like this. Still it was a risk, and Antonio's face was a look of pure anguish. "I can't..."

"I've called the others," Tony said. "If things do go wrong, they can get me out of here. I've got replacements for the reactor back at the Tower. It's a simple switch. I can last that long."

At this, Antonio appeared to consider. "Thor can teleport you back? And you aren't lying about the other reactors?"

"Like I said, it's a simple switch. Pepper made me have a few extras on hand," Tony said, filing away the knowledge that the other Thor could teleport for a time he could give a fuck. Which might be never, if he were honest about his chances of surviving this. "This isn't the first time the reactor's gone out," Tony continued. "The others will know what to do."

The banging on the door stopped, replaced by a low hiss of melting metal. "Do it now!" Tony said, cutting the base's power with a few stokes. "JARVIS," he said on a private channel as the room went dark. "Give the others a heads up about the plan."

"I can't..." Antonio repeated.

"Tony!" Cap yelled over the com, despite Tony remembering to tell JARVIS to block the other transmissions. "What's going on? Why is JARVIS saying-"

"I promise, it will work," Tony said, both for Cap and his other self as the generators switched on, bringing on the emergency lights. "Do it now!"

Antonio's breath hitched, then he closed his eyes.

Tony didn't know if he was expecting a flash of light or anything, but suddenly Steve's voice in his ear cut off as the HUD died and the emergency lights faded as well. He gasped as the pain in his chest started, feeling his heart in his ears as it worked over time, eventually forced to slow. He fell to his knees, then back, wishing he'd thought to lie down before the pulse hit. Not that it would matter soon anyway.

At least he'd gotten to hear Steve's voice again before he died.

He heard yelling as something pulled at the hidden catches of his face plate. Then he was staring up at his own face with angry blue eyes. "You promised, damn you. You said-"

"Better this way," Tony said, feeling short of breath. "Not your fault." And it was better this way. The others would be better off without him and his bad press. The public would be happy - they'd have a heroic death to play up and Tony would be off the team. Best of both worlds. The Avengers would be sad, of course. Pepper would probably cry, and Rhodey and Happy would mourn, but they were all strong. They'd get over him eventually. It might take them a little while, but they would. And they'd be so much better off.

This wouldn't make up for Jasmine's death, or Yinsens's, or anyone else's, but it was worth it, right? He'd tried not to waste his life any more. This was a good death.

The calm didn't last as the pain got worse and his vision funneled to a greyish-brown. He panicked then, thinking of the portal and the endless stars. There was a voice screaming at him to stay, but it was fading, leaving him alone in the grey void. He was alone again. He was terrified of being alone for this. No. Please. Don't leave.

Tony didn't want to die alone.

~TBC~

Memory: Well, I never said it was a slash almost sex scene, did I? XD I'd say sorry for the disappointment if there was any, but I'm really not. You should be glad you got that much of a sex scene, since I loathe writing them in general.

I should give you a fair warning... be prepared for angst in the next chapter. Lots of angst. Lots and lots of angst. It happens occasionally. But again, you'll see it on Thursday, not Monday. If you are worried, check the tags. The tags (and what's not in them) should lead you true.

And now, the quote of the chapter: (Seriously, considering all the Galen and Tony combined feels I've been getting lately, I think I just need Technomage Tony. We all know this would be awesome)

"Perhaps then we can both forgive ourselves our common crime."
"What crime?"
"Being alive."
-Galen and Gideon, Crusade