The first time it happened it was Christmas Eve Eve. He was busy packing up to go to the Rhodes’ home, having been invited for his second year in a row, and his last year as an undergrad. Rhodey was finishing up his Master’s in Aerospace Engineering next semester, and so this was going to be his last trip back home for the holidays before the USAF shipped him off to god knows where. Maybe Tony could use his contacts in the military to make it somewhere nice. Like the United Arab Emirates. Stark Industries had a hotel or something there, Tony thought. Some place his dad used to court his “secretaries” that he had thought Tony didn’t know about. There was a lot he had thought Tony didn’t know about.
“Tony don’t you dare tell me you’re packing more of those stupid polo shirts.”
Tony stopped with a half-folded polo in his hand. “How come you’re allowed to wear them and I’m not?”
Rhodey walked into the room and leaned against the doorframe. “Because they make me look distinguished. You look like an overgrown prep school freshman.” He snatched the polo out of Tony’s hands and threw it across the room. “Pack a bunch of hoodies, some dress shirts if you really have to, it’ll be covered in an ugly sweater anyway. No slacks, either, jeans only.”
“You wound me, honeybear.” Tony splayed a hand over his heart. “I just want Mama Rhodey to like me.”
“She adopted you the second she saw you, Tones.”
“Immaterial, opinions change.” Tony busied his hands by unpacking and repacking his suitcase.
Rhodey sighed and held Tony’s hands down. “Just because your dad basically disowned you does not mean my mom will. She would smack you for even entertaining that thought.”
Tony opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by the doorbell to the apartment. He sighed. “Saved by the bell.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes. “I’ll grab it.”
Mumbling to himself about completely unfair standards, Tony continued packing his suitcase.
“Hey Tones?” A cacophony of struggling noises came from the direction of the front door. “I might be wrong, but I think this one’s for you.”
Tony frowned. He never got visitors – he didn’t know anyone who would want to visit him besides maybe Jarvis and Aunt Peg; all their visitors came for Rhodey.
He walked out of his bedroom and into the front room, freezing when he saw who it was. Rhodey was doing his best to prop up a very tall, very muscular man with honey-blonde hair and a face full of bruises and blood. His top was torn off his body from the neck to his ribs, revealing even more cuts and bruises on his chest and what Tony could see of his arms and back.
The damning part, though, was what he was wearing. His pants were more muted than usual, more a navy than the bright blue Tony knew, but the red and white stripes following up his hips and the red boots on his feet were unmistakable. He might have missed it if he hadn’t had the man’s pictures on his walls and shoved down his throat for all his childhood. He never thought he’d meet the man in person, though, given he was definitely dead. Absolutely, completely, totally dead.
The man coughed and gave him a weak thumbs up.
Tony rubbed his hands hard over his face. “God fucking damnit.”
He ran over to help Rhodey move the hulk of a man to the old worn couch in the middle of the living area, plopping him down with little ceremony. He looked even worse off lying still, if that was possible.
“Hey Rogers?” Tony poked the super-soldier’s face, but Rogers barely opened his eyes. “I need you to keep your eyes open for me, okay? I don’t know much about your biology – or, well, I know more than most people but I’m basing everything off data from the forties, which you probably don’t know how bad that is in today’s terms, or maybe you do, I have no idea how long you’ve been alive again – but I need you to stay awake until I can figure out how to keep you alive enough that your body will take care of the rest, okay?”
Rogers blinked hard, shifting slightly and groaning. “You haven’t changed a bit, you know that?” He grabbed Tony’s arm with a solid hand that was much warmer than it needed to be. “Still talk a mile a minute about stuff nobody else can understand.”
Tony flinched hard, having a pretty damn good idea who Rogers thought he was, but didn’t let that stop his hands from roaming over the (hard, hot, extremely fit) body in front of him to assess the damage. It mostly looked superficial, but there was no way to tell for sure without some expensive medical equipment… or maybe…
“Tones, I’m gonna need a little context here.”
“Go grab me the prototype on my desk, I’ll explain in a minute.” He didn’t look at Rhodey, but he heard the sigh that meant he was going to do it. He held his hand out behind him, getting to work the second Rhodey put the device in his hands.
Jarvis had been pressuring him to be safer in the lab more than usual, lately – probably spurred on by the explosion that took out half the MIT robotics division last week, with zero casualties mind you – so instead he decided to make a scanner that could assess internal injuries using radio- and electromagnetic-waves, based on the new MRI machine Johns Hopkins got their hands on a few months ago. It was only a rough image, but it was handheld and could help EMTs (and Rhodey) see what needed the most attention first, streamlining triage and therefore saving lives and time and money.
He placed the scanner on the most abused parts of Rogers’ body that he could see, noting the dislocated shoulder, punctured lung, and fractured (maybe broken) femur, along with lots of puddles of blood without a source that meant that most of his internal bleeding had probably patched itself up, if the knowledge he’d retained from his own hospital visits could apply.
“You’re in luck, Captain.” He patted Rogers on an area that didn’t seem to have any massive damage, internal or otherwise, but Rogers still clenched his jaw tight enough Tony could hear it.
“I told you to call me Steve.”
Tony ignored him. “You’re gonna heal up fine, I think, once we get your insides all in the right places. It’s gonna hurt like a bitch, though.”
Rogers waved that off with a limp hand. “Just put me back together, Stark. You know I can handle the pain.”
“You know this guy?” Tony had almost forgotten Rhodey was still there.
He shook his head. “Not really, no. I think he’s thinking of Howard.”
Rhodey crossed his arms, narrowing his eyes at Tony. “Pull the other one.”
“No, seriously.” Tony looked back at Rogers, at Steve, and could barely believe it himself. “He thinks he’s back with my dad when he was my age, back in World War II.”
“This dude is my age, Tony. World War II ended forty years ago.”
Tony looked back up at Rhodey, making sure to make eye contact. “Yeah, and how did it end?”
Rhodey shrugged. “Official story? The atomic bombs.”
“And the unofficial story?”
Sighing, Rhodey uncrossed his arms and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Well, it was over a few days before that, when the Japanese surrendered because it was discovered them and Germany had a plan to carpet bomb the world.”
Tony made a go on gesture.
“So it really ended when the plot was found out, when Captain America flew the bomber into the Arctic.”
“Do they teach you Captain America’s real name in your fancy army programs?”
“Air Force,” Rhodey off-handedly corrected, “and I’m not even there yet. It’s not like they give everyone a history lesson in basic training, and they keep identities like that under a pretty tight lock and key.”
Tony rubbed his hands over his face and got up, pacing back and forth across the room as he spoke. “Right, so here’s your history lesson. Dear old dad worked with the Allied forces making bombs and guns and, most importantly, shields. That last category just so happened to include a very specific target-shaped red, white, and blue vibranium monstrosity often seen on the back of everyone’s favorite war hero, Captain America. Howard knew Captain America, knew him well, and after the plane went down he and my Aunt Peg spent a lot of years looking for him in the ice. They never found him, but Howard was pretty damn convinced he was out there somewhere. More convinced than he would have been if he was just looking for a body.”
Rhodey hummed. “So your dad thought he was still alive.”
“Yeah, basically. He raised me on that idea, that the great Captain America would be able to see me, to see what he’d accomplished, because apparently the living legend wasn’t too into technology. He turned down some pretty damn cool shit in favor of his over-sized frizbee, but the guy always had a soft spot for kids I guess. Howard had a pretty fucking big crush on the dude, not that he’d have ever admitted it.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Rhodey leaned forward in his seat – when did he sit down? Tony must have just not noticed – and tapped his fingers on the coffee table. “You know the identity of Captain America.”
“Yeah. And now so do you.” He stepped back to gesture at Steve, who gave Rhodey a cheeky little wave. God, this man was so not what Tony was expecting.
Rhodey closed his eyes. “So you’re telling me that Captain-fucking-America is here bleeding out on our couch.”
“Not bleeding out, just bleeding.” Steve added.
“Shut your face, Rogers,” Tony said without looking at him, “Anyone who shows up half-dead on the doorstep doesn’t get a say. That’s Rhodey’s rule, not mine.”
Steve gave him a sloppy salute. “That’s your rule too, Stark. And Peggy’s.” He stopped suddenly, looking almost panicked. “Wait, what day is it? Me ‘n’ Peg’re supposed to go out dancing. I don’t wanna miss that.”
Tony took pity on him and patted Steve’s shoulder. “I’ll tell Peggy what happened, don’t worry. She’ll wait until you’re back in dancing form.”
Steve mumbled something about never being in dancing form as he dozed off, finally.
Now that Steve was finally out, Tony focused all his attention on Rhodey. He was…panicking.
“We’ve got Captain-fucking-America dying on our couch!” he shouted, too loud.
Tony clamped a hand over his best friend’s mouth, ineffectually attempting to shut him up. “Quiet down. I have a feeling the powers that be don’t want everyone in the state of Massachusetts to know we’re harboring one of the most well-known soldiers in history.”
When Rhodey showed no sign that he was going to run his mouth again, Tony let his hand fall.
“Captain America is alive.” Rhodey said, probably in mild shock. “I know who Captain America is.”
Tony ran his tongue over his teeth, thinking. “Mama Rhodes is gonna hate me,” He said rubbing the back of his neck, “but I think I’m going to have to miss Christmas this year.”
With Rhodey’s (admittedly limited) medical knowledge, they decided it would be best if they didn’t mess with Steve any more than necessary, leaving his body to sort its shit out on its own. The only real danger was breaks healing wrong, but given that most of his bones seemed to be in the correct positions from what they could tell, he would be perfectly fine. He just needed fluids, nutrients, and a few days of rest.
IVs did prove tricky though. Jerry-rigging one was child’s play, but puncturing his skin was the hard part. Or when they did get the needle through, his skin healed and pushed it back out in a few minutes. Luckily he was coherent enough to drink a glass of water every few hours, so they ended up mixing in some powdered vitamins Rhodey had lying around into his drinks so his metabolism wouldn’t start eating him alive – a trick he’d learned after years of living with Tony who “only ate pizza, cheeseburgers, and weird green milkshakes that were probably full of motor oil and god knew what else.” So Tony’s shitty diet did come in handy sometimes.
It was Christmas morning when Steve finally woke up. Tony had sent Rhodey packing after the first night, claiming Mama Rhodes would have his head if her son missed Christmas for reasons she could never know. It took a little convincing, but eventually Rhodey agreed, and he took the first plane back home to Philly on Christmas Eve, leaving Tony alone with Steve for the rest of the break.
“This is some good hot cocoa.”
Tony thought he was just hearing things, hallucinating on lack of sleep and too much eggnog, but no that was Steve, half sitting up on the couch across the room, sipping at the mug of cocoa that Tony replaced an hour ago. There were ten full mugs that had gone cold now sitting in the sink.
“Glad you think so,” Tony looked back down to his work deliberately. He didn’t want to be caught staring at the large expanse of bare skin taking up residence on his favorite couch. “It’s an old family recipe. Not mine, of course, Mom couldn’t cook for her life, but Ana had a long line of great bakers in her family, so I was the kid she passed it all down to.”
There were rustling noises, and Tony snuck a brief look to see Steve sitting up, rubbing at his neck. “Do you uh, have any clean clothes I could borrow?”
Tony kept looking down at his work, though he hadn’t written anything since Steve’s first comment. “None that would fit you. Now that you’re awake I can run out and see if any stores are open where I can grab something. I didn’t want to leave you all alone and vulnerable though, sleeping beauty.”
He could feel Steve’s eyes on him. “You’re uh. Not Howard.”
“No, no I’m not.” He wasn’t going to explain it unprompted. If Steve wanted to have a chat about dear old dad, he could damn well start it himself.
“Thanks for taking me in.” Steve stood up, stretching. “I looked up Stark in a directory after I got away from the mooks. I didn’t think to check the first name.”
Tony gave up on pretending to do his work, looking Steve in the eyes for the first time. They were bluer than they had any right to be. “Wouldn’t matter if you did, you’d still end up in the same place.”
As much as he hated talking about Howard, he hated beating around the bush more. Tony stood up and held out his hand, almost going weak in the knees when Steve took it in his own large, warm, firm hands.
“Tony Stark, Howard’s son.”
“Steve Rogers, Howard’s friend.”
Yeah, and wasn’t that a fun little reminder. He dropped Steve’s hand unsurreptitiously. “Well, looks like you just missed him by about a year or so.”
Steve frowned. He looked like an overgrown puppy dog with that face. “What, um. When is it right now?”
Tony crossed his arms and looked down. No matter what this man’s reaction was going to be, Tony would bet it wasn’t going to be ecstatic. “1989. Christmas Day.”
“It’s ’89? I missed almost fifty years?” Steve sounded flabbergasted, as to be expected, but not liable to freak out and go all Jekyll and Hyde on him, so that was a plus. “I knew I’d been out a while when there were screens and stuff outside, but that’s a lot longer than I thought.”
Tony picked up his own mug of lukewarm cocoa just to give him some thing to do with his hands. “Who are these ‘mooks’ you keep talking about?”
Steve shook his head. “I don’t know, exactly. They had me in a room with an old ball game on the radio. Some dame dressed real queer walked in claiming she was a nurse, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out how true that was. The walls were all fake, so I jumped through and ran, had to have fought over two dozen guys to get outta that basement they had me in. Then I picked up a directory, found ‘Stark’, and legged it over here.”
“Well then.” Tony looked back down at his work to give himself something to star at that wasn’t the sweat-slick pecs of America’s-most-lusted-after-Sweetheart. He’d been out for fifty years, and apparently haven’t had any sort of introduction since he woke up. This might actually be kind of fun. “How about we get you acquainted with the wonders of modern technology?”
Steve gave him a small smile that had the power to melt even the coldest of hearts. Or, something like that. They really picked the perfect lab rat if he could break through people’s defenses just like that. “How about this: you help get me into some new clothes, and then we can talk shop.”
And he got to dress up Captain America? Merry Christmas to him. “Deal.”