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Steve Rogers had been THE ONE. Erskine had felt it the moment he saw the skinny kid arguing with his friend at the World’s Fair. In the end the kid hadn’t taken much the convincing; he’d wanted to change the world so damn badly. Erskine, together with Howard Stark (aware of the real world but uninterested in being unplugged), had brought Steve to the underground lab to injected him with ‘the serum’, a tracking program to help their real world operatives locate Steve’s body in one of Hydra’s many battery farms.

They had almost had him but Hydra interrupted the procedure, and in the battle Steve’s real world body had been lost. His connection with the Matrix hadn’t been severed though, and Steve Rogers emerged from the metal coffin a completely different man. Erskine had been in awe, his long search over. He’d known a few special individuals over the years who bend the rules of the Matrix but he’d never met anyone who could change their own coding the way Steve had.

“You’re the One,” he’d beamed, right before a Hydra agent took over the body of one of the Senators in the room and shot him through the heart.

Steve had been distraught to have his mentor die in his arms, and furious that he’d been denied an escape from the Matrix, but damned if he wasn’t going to make Hydra’s life hell for it.

Hydra threw everything it could at ‘Captain America’, but he’d made himself too strong, too smart. They’d even tried to break his heart by dropping his best friend from a speeding train, but still he kept coming after them. In the end they gave him an ultimatum; his own life, or the lives of a million batteries. Hydra, smug in its victory, had thought they’d seen the last of the troublesome human.

 

Several years later… Coulson had spent every day since Erskine died trying to find Steve Roger’s capsule. The original tracking program had been lost in the battle with the Hydra sentinels but he’d worked the problem every day until one glorious morning he’d been blessed with the faint flicker of a red dot on his much-mended screen. He jumped on the comms.

“Sir, I’ve found him.”

 

Steve whined as he came too, the room far too bright. His struggle to sit up is ended by a firm hand on his shoulder.

“Easy, son. You’ll be okay.”

“Why do my eyes hurt?” he croaked weakly.

“…because you’ve never used them before.”

 

Despite knowing better the crew of the Triskellion had not expected their saviour to look so… small. Short, weak, and stick thin, it was a miracle Hydra had allowed such a faulty battery to survive so long. But if anything, it reinforced the crews belief that Steve was the One, because even in the years since his disappearance no one had managed to affect the own coding the way he had.

Banner came closest, but he couldn’t control it and his antics in the Matrix often did more harm than good. He preferred to stay out of the Matrix as much as possible, growing comfortable his role as the ship’s physician. The other crew members came to Fury’s attention for the way they bent the rules of the Matrix as easy as breathing. 

Hawkeye was an expert marksman. He never missed a shot no matter impossible the odds or ridiculous the situation. He had never quite made it through the jump program though and had fallen off more buildings, and into more dumpsters, than anyone cared to remember.

Widow had been taking down men twice her size long before she had the ability to upload fight programs, and she was the only known person to have survived possession by an Agent.

Stark had known about the Matrix for most of his life and twisted and bent it to his whims - he’d created his own goddamn element, for christsake. He had been unplugged from the Matrix as a necessity - Hydra were closing in on his pods location - and was far older than the usual candidates. He would have much preferred to have remained plugged into the Matrix, like his father before him, enjoying a certain level of comfort and luxury, and complained about it often.

Coulson had come to discover the Matrix through his boyhood obsession with Captain America, and had jumped at the chance to join Fury’s crew and lead the hunt for Steve Roger’s long lost pod.

After they’d rescued him and taken him down the long road of recovering from muscle atrophy, not that Steve had a lot of those to begin with, Coulson had become his rock in this strange real world. He answered every question Steve had and always had a comforting smile ready for him. Coulson thought it was utterly strange to be looked at like a surrogate father figure by the man he’d spent his entire life idolising, but he wouldn’t change a thing. Except maybe Darcy.

Darcy was their primary operator, being the only ‘free range’ human on board, and a damn fine programmer. But she gave Stark a run for her money in the inane chatter department, and never failed to make the dynamic duo, as she’d taken to calling Coulson and his latest protege, blush with her inappropriateness.

 

It surprises Steve just how quickly he comes to think of them as his family. Even the grumpy captain, Fury. He pushed, ever so slightly, for Steve to suit up again. There’s still a fight to be won, still minds to be freed from Hydra’s grasp. Following Fury’s most emotional plea yet, and a few words of encouragement from Coulson, Steve spends the night staring at metal chair with the name ‘Capsicle’ scratched into it by Stark. Over breakfast he gave Fury his answer.

Darcy, sitting like a queen upon her thrown of recycled parts, surrounded by screens filled with neon green code, taps away on several keyboards at once as talks him through his first trip back into the Matrix in her usual flippant way.

“Everyone, please observe that the “Fasten your seatbelt” and “No smoking” signs have been turned on. Sit back and enjoy your flight…”

Steve feels the jolt of the cold metal spike into the base of his neck, he quickly forgets it as his system is flushed with endorphins. He glances around the Stark Tower penthouse (an unhackable entry/exit point) and finds his crewmates staring at him.

“I hate your RSI,” Stark snarks before countering Steve’s larger body, still wearing old WWII uniform, by covering himself in a red and gold suit of high tech armor.

“Wow…” Steve gasps. Stark preens until Widow bangs on his helmet with the butt of her gun.

“Let’s go before I drown in testosterone,” she drawls in her seldom used husky tones.

The crew files out to the helipad and Steve gawks at the futuristic world below him before his eyes settle on the strange transport plane.

“Can you fly that?” he asks Hawkeye, who’s made himself comfortable in the pilots seat.

“Not yet,” he smirks, before tapping the communications device in his ear.

“Operator.”

“Darcy-Lou, I’m gonna need a pilot program for a quinjet.”

“You want fries with that?”

Hawkeye’s eyes flutter for a split second and then he’s flipping toggles and switches like he knows what he’s doing, which Steve supposes, he does now.

Once they’re in the air and its safe to engage the autopilot Fury calls for them to assemble around a holographic display.

“Alright, our target…”

 

They work well together, and complete mission after mission with minimal issues. They’ve come face to face with Hydra agents a few times and Steve does what he’s been ordered to do: Run. The last time he faced an agent things didn’t go so well for him and he’s not ready to try again.

 

Hydra thought they had destroyed Steve Rogers, but apparently he’d just been offline. Now that he’s back online and running amok in their system he’s causing even more problems for them than he did before. Especially now that he’s working with the crew of resistance vessel Triskellion, who are becoming a larger annoyance than the crews of the Asgardia and the Milano combined. It can’t be tolerated. They try force, they try turning those still plugged in against him, but nothing works. It’s Agent Pearce who suggests trying to break Captain America’s spirit again. Whilst it hadn’t been successful the first time, it had had an impressive effect on the Captain. It was worth trying again, the powers that be agreed, and dusted off an old battery.

 

Their latest mission is putting their newest recruit, Falcon, through his paces but he holds his own alongside Steve and Widow.

The latter swears in Russian as Darcy passes along a message through her earpiece.

“We’ve got Agents incoming!”

“Where’s our nearest exit?”

“24hr diner, two blocks north, phone booth in the back,” comes unnervingly serious reply. That’s not good, Steve thinks. Darcy only gets serious when things look like their going to get really bad.

“Falcon, Widow, make for the exit. I’ve got your six.”

Falcon flies ahead and clears a path for them, his metal wings folding back as he strides into the diner, ignoring the panic and confusion he causes as he makes for the phone in the back.

Widow’s almost at the door when she hears the sound of 240 pound body being thrown against a car. She freezes when she sees his masked assailant. She’s knows him. He’s not an Agent but just as deadly, a terrifyingly efficient assassination program with a shiny metal arm. They must be really pissing Hydra off if they’re bringing out the big guns.

He’s matching Steve blow for blow, and when he almost takes Steve’s head off with a Bowie knife Widow leaps into action, quite literally, wrapping her legs around his head. Her usual move is to flip them on their back before taking them out, but the Winter Soldier, as the program is known, doesn’t even falter under her weight. He throws her off and moves to shoot her in the head, but Widow is faster, throwing some sort of miniature EMP device at his metal arm.

“Run!” Steve shouts at her and she complies, hesitating only for the briefest of moments. Steve tries to follow but the soldier doesn’t give up, blocking his path to the diner. They battle each other for five long minutes, Darcy counting down the seconds before Hydra agents arrive and she’ll have to cut the hardline in his ear, before he finally gets the upper hand, throwing the soldier halfway down the street, his mask coming off in his hand. Steve drops it and races for the exit, Darcy’s voice growing increasingly panicked.

“Get to the fucking exit, Rogers!”

He falls in the door as a bullet grazes he shoulder, pushing diners aside as he makes for the phone. He’s got it halfway up to his head when screams pull his attention back to the door. The Winter Soldier points a gun at his heart and fires.

“Bucky?!”

 

“Whoa, Steve! We got you. You’re okay,” Falcon tries to calm him down as he and Coulson keep him from leaping out of his chair. Steve blinks, the Matrix and his best friends face fading from his vision. He exhales shakily, his heart and mind racing. Coulson gives him a concerned look but he waves it off, as well as Darcy’s curious stare. He does a damn good job of pretending everything’s okay as he gives Fury his mission report but the second he’s dismissed he disappears into the bowels of the ship.

Coulson finds him a couple of hours later, curled up in a fraying chair that used to be his, but he hadn’t stepped foot in this section of the ship since the day they found Steve.

“This is how you found me?” Steve asks, gesturing at the mess of screens and cobbled together pieces of tech. Coulson nods. “Think you can find someone else?”