April 2, 1865 - Richmond, Virginia
As far as prisons went, Tony Stark supposed he could be confined to much worse. His accommodations at Castle Thunder (a name with a bit too much sturm und drang for his liking, but he supposed it was an effective deterrent for treason) were certainly much better than those of most of the other prisoners held at Richmond's civilian prison. He had a room of his own--an actual room, not a cell--and permission to use the commandant's office when he felt the urge to draft. Tony's room was small but pleasant. The wallpaper wasn't to his taste, but he'd covered most of the area between the two windows in newspaper clippings, hundreds upon hundreds of names in tiny print. Tony could never know how many of them were affected by war machinery of his own design, but he felt as if every single one of them had stared down the barrel of the Stark Repeating Gun or the Stark 1863 army revolver.
He had been a prisoner in his own home on Franklin Street for two months before he was moved to Castle Thunder. At least before he could come and go, but his movements were very limited and always accompanied by a well-armed escort. His outrage at being confined by his own government cooled over time as news of the war trickled in. Battles were not going in their favor, the ranks of soldiers thinning as their terms of service came to an end or they simply deserted. Times were desperate. People were desperate, and the idea that one of the most brilliant engineers in the Confederacy one day decided to give up the design and manufacture of weapons did not sit well.
There had been some pleading letters, even one from Jefferson Davis. Tony didn't care if the letters came from God, he wasn't going to make any more guns. He told the president as much in his letter--with a postscript that the Confederate States of America needed more currency printed like it needed a hole in the head, and was Davis enjoying spending the war with his head in the sand?--so Tony shouldn't have been surprised when a group of soldiers arrived outside his Virginia home to escort him to Castle Thunder, where he'd been ever since.
The food was actually quite palatable, as was the company. Captain Tiberius Stone was a stern commandant to the prisoners under his watch, but Tony had known Ty for years. It was due to this friendship that Tony's year in prison had been more akin to a year away at school, rather than the punishment it might have been.
It was not uncommon for Tony to share breakfast with the commandant on Sunday mornings, and as usual he was summoned to Captain Stone's office for their customary eggs and bacon. When he arrived, however, Tony was greeted by biscuits and bacon. Odd, but not unusual. Their morning meal was often simpler if the commandant had pressing business elsewhere. Ty was engrossed in a government missive and did not so much as glance at Tony as he entered.
"Morning, Ty," said Tony as he seated himself. "Busy day ahead?"
Captain Stone hummed in agreement, never taking his eyes off the letter on his desk.
"No coffee?" Tony did not conceal his disappointment. Being a prisoner had few perks, but access to coffee was high on the list. Coffee was a rarity for all but soldiers in the field, who gladly traded their plentiful Confederate tobacco rations for coveted Federal coffee.
"No, not today." Ty set the letter aside and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms. "What I wouldn't give for it to be this time last week," he said.
They rarely discussed business or politics, but Tony felt the door had been left open. "What's wrong?" he asked as he reached for the butter.
Ty squinted at him. "I shouldn't tell you, but word's going to get around fast enough. Lee is concerned that he can't hold the line at Petersburg."
"That isn't exactly news. He's been fighting desertion more than he has the enemy lately. He can't possibly hope to hold out indefinitely."
"He's talking of retreating. Tonight," Ty replied, stabbing at the memorandum with one finger.
Tony considered this as he chewed his biscuit. He had watched wagons filled with crates and trunks filing down Cary Street all week, headed from the capitol toward the depot. Armed guards accompanied the wagons, which never traveled in numbers large enough to arouse the fear or suspicion of the general populace, but such a thing could hardly escape the eye of an imprisoned man with little else to do but watch the pulse of Richmond outside his window.
At length he said, "They've ordered an evacuation, haven't they?"
"They're meeting at the capitol now. We'll know more within the hour, but yes." Ty sighed and downed a piece of bacon. "We'll be dealing with a fugitive government, as if things aren't difficult already."
Tony leaned back in his chair and inspected the ceiling. There was a fine crack running diagonally from the far left corner toward the center of the room. "That's a lot of people and documents to move. Papers, bullion, supplies, food for the soldiers in the area. You'll never have enough working engines."
"No, Tony. I'm not letting you out to play engineer."
"Humor me, Ty," Tony said. He leaned forward and placed a hand over Ty's where it rested on the hated memorandum. "I'm only in here because I didn't want to manufacture what the government wanted me to manufacture. I said I was willing to improve the rail system, but the War Department thought it was a waste of time. Now it's needed, so let me salvage what I can."
Ty pulled his hand away and stood, tugging at the hem of his uniform tunic. "Jeff Davis was right. You are a mendacious son of a bitch," he said. "You can quit trying to paint yourself as a national industrial hero. You could be the second coming, but I'm not going to release you unless I receive orders to do so. Now if you will excuse me, I'm overdue."
Ty never was much for touch. Tony knew that, and he knew the gravity of the situation, but it still stung to be brushed aside in such a brusque manner. He plucked the memorandum from Ty's desk, but the letter did not contain any information he hadn't already heard from Ty. He replaced it and wandered back to his own room to stand at the window for a moment, thinking. It was unusually warm and still for early April; the distant plumes of dark smoke from the depot rose straight into the air. He watched Ty's retreating back headed off in the direction of Capitol Square, passing yet another wagon loaded with wooden crates. More vital records, he imagined by the size of them. Crowds of people were on their way to various church services, ignorant of the utter chaos that would descend upon them later that day.
As for Tony, he was stuck in prison. He might as well be productive, so he tried to spend the next hour and a half working on his theory of wireless telegraphy. His focus left something to be desired, however, so he set aside his pen and tried to read, instead. The effort was an abject failure; the book was a censored translation of Les Miserables which read like a flowery casualty list. He'd just given up on the book when there came a knock at the door. Upon opening it, Tony was greeted by the unexpected but most welcome sight of Pepper Potts, eyes alight and slightly out of breath. She was still dressed for church in the grey taffeta she'd bought for herself with his money--his birthday present for her, she'd said--and hadn't made it home yet to change before returning to her post at the hospital.
"Pepper, darling, what a surprise," he said, ushering her into Ty's office where there was more comfortable seating.
"Good morning, Tony," she said. He gestured for her to have a seat and took Ty's chair for himself. "Playing house while the commandant is away?"
"His chair is more comfortable than mine," Tony replied. "Not that I'm unhappy to see you, Pep, but what in the hell are you doing here?"
Pepper's smile was mischievous, as always. "Oh, Tony, I have such news! General Lee gave Happy permission to leave the front. We're to be married tonight." When her announcement was met with a frown rather than congratulations, her enthusiasm wilted slightly. "What's wrong?"
Tony leaned forward and took her hand. "It isn't common knowledge yet, but Ty tells me they're going to call for evacuation tonight."
"Oh, God," she breathed. "That can't be."
"Lee can't hold the lines. Everyone who can should get out as soon as possible. That goes for you, too. I'm sorry, Pep," he said, and he meant it. Pepper and Happy had met at the iron works, where he worked in the foundry and she was employed as an office clerk and assistant to an often harried Tony. When Happy signed up to fight in the war, Pepper was momentarily heartbroken. She recovered soon enough to threaten Happy that if he didn't make it home to Richmond in one piece to marry her, she'd kill him herself.
Pepper stared at her lap for a moment, handkerchief clutched tightly in one hand. "We have to go through with it, in any case," she said. "I've no way to contact Happy and postpone."
"Then do it as close to the road as you can, so the two of you can get out," said Tony.
"I'd like you to be there. I know Happy would like it, too."
Tony sighed. "I'd love to, but I don't think they're going to be releasing any of us. I believe I'm stuck here until the changing of the guard, as it were."
Her smile returned, resolute. "I know. That's why I've arranged with Happy and Dr. Minnigerode to meet here."
"What? I can't allow you to do that, it's too dangerous!" It was all Tony could do not to leap over the desk and shake some sense into her. "The army's going to burn the bridges as they leave."
Pepper shrugged one shoulder and squeezed his hand. "I won't abandon the hospital. There are too many men who can't be evacuated who will need care even after we're overrun. If I'm to stay here, anyway, I might as well do it as a married woman."
"I'm staying, Tony," she insisted, and suddenly he was reminded of how much steel there was in her. He searched for a crack in her resolve and, finding none, nodded at last. "Congratulations, Pep," he said, kissing her on the cheek. "Now, will you do something for me?"
"Anything," she said.
"I'm concerned that the army might try to set fire to the iron works tonight," he said. "They can shut me down, but they're not going to destroy what I spent years building. I'd like you to take whatever money is necessary and hire a dozen men to stand guard at the place. Former employees, customers you trust, it doesn't matter who they are as long as they're men who will stay there until I can get to them."
"Of course," she said.
"Excellent. Now get going, don't you have a wedding to prepare for?"
She grinned at him and headed for the door. "Happy should be here around midnight. Dr. Minnigerode and I will arrive a little early. And wear something nice," she added before flouncing out the door.
Tony sat down behind Ty's desk and sighed. Pepper might be safe, if she kept her temper in check and continued to work at the hospital. It wasn't guaranteed that the Yankees would behave like barbarians. Tony knew without a doubt, however, that if they caught Happy in town, he'd be thrown into prison. His chances of sneaking into town and back out again to rejoin the front lines were slim to none. Disgusted, Tony balled up the memo from General Lee on Ty's desk and tossed it into the corner. It bounced off the wall and landed in front of the old wooden filing cabinet where the commandant kept the prison records.
Tony stroked his moustache absently. Perhaps, he thought, he should increase Happy's chances.
Word of evacuation spread like ripples across a pond, the situation being described as increasingly dire as the day progressed. It soon became apparent that the news the churchgoers had laughed off that morning as mere rumor was indeed fact, and that Richmond was soon to be overrun by bloodthirsty Yankees. Tony had his doubts. Though his lines were broken and he'd been forced to retreat, Lee was still out there, and that was the main focus of the Union's military strength. There was no doubt that there would be Union troops walking the streets of Richmond soon after midnight, but whether they intended to demolish the town and salt the earth or simply raise a different flag remained to be seen. One thing was certain: everyone who could leave was doing so, and this was the sticking point upon which Tony mused for most of the day.
The whistles of departing trains grew few and far between. He was getting fidgety, wanting to check on his iron works to be sure the idiot soldiers didn't plan to burn it. Surely Pepper did as he asked and hired guards, he thought. She'd yet to disappoint him as an employee, but this was certainly not the time to start. He thought of Happy making his way from the trenches, only to fight his way into town like a salmon swimming upstream. Tony hoped he would make it, for Pepper's sake.
He watched from his window as soldiers went door to door and confiscated the city's liquor supply, pouring it out into the gutter in a misguided effort to avert rioting. Gangs of miscreants followed the troops around town, slurping at the eddies of booze in the streets as the sun swung low in the late afternoon. Tony had already jimmied open the lower drawer of Ty's desk where he kept the good bourbon and was in the process of downing as much of it as possible before the patrol came by to confiscate it.
"Seems a waste, doesn't it?" Ty said when he returned. He looked like most of the other Confederate officers Tony had seen in the street that day, tired and wound so tight there was a near-feverish gleam to his eyes. He carried a valise, which he set on the desk and immediately started packing things from the desk and the cabinets.
"This is too good for the rascals in the gutter," Tony agreed, and poured a measure for Ty. The commandant downed it in one gulp. "You've been gone all day."
"There's too much to do. Damn, we have to get out of here before they burn the bridges."
"I heard a rumor we might be exchanged for Union prisoners. I suppose that isn't happening now."
"No," said Ty. "No more exchanges."
Tony watched him for a moment until frustration and the need to know finally overwhelmed him. "What is to happen to us, then?" he asked.
"I am to report with the rest of the prison guards to catch the wagons at Mayo Bridge before they torch it," said Ty. He plucked two cigars from their box before shoving it in his bag. "The Provost Marshal's determined a skeleton guard to remain behind here, at Libby, and at the penitentiary."
"I want to leave." Ty still didn't look at him, which only added fuel to the fire of his temper. Tony slammed a hand on the desk, the sound so loud it startled both of them. "I said I want to leave, Ty. I don't have to go with you, but for God's sake, I don't belong here."
Ty tossed a book into his bag with a frustrated sound. "The government disagrees."
"Hang the government, I need to make sure they don't burn down my foundry!"
Ty watched him through narrowed eyes. He pointed one finger at him and said quietly, "Take care, Tony. We might be retreating, but we can pause long enough to shoot a traitor."
Tony could hardly believe his ears. "We've been friends for years, and you threaten to shoot me?"
"I'd rather not do it, myself," Ty said, "but there are others with ears who might hear you spout that garbage and hang you in a fit of patriotism."
They didn't move for a long moment. Finally, Tony said, "You won't even let me slip through the cracks, will you?"
Ty snapped his kit bag closed. "I'm sorry, Tony. With any luck, they'll march in here and release you to spite us. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the chaos," he said, and handed him one of the cigars before leaving.
Tony kicked the desk, but it did nothing to relieve his temper. He grabbed the half-full bottle of bourbon and launched it out the window. It shattered in the street just to the left of Ty, who glanced back up at the window and saluted Tony before continuing on his way.
Tony sat down heavily in Ty's desk chair. The church bells began to strike six. Outside he could hear the steady rumble of wagons and soldiers' feet and more shattering glass, and the occasional train whistle. The first whiff of smoke reached him, which meant the soldiers were setting fire to the stores and warehouses ahead of the incoming Union troops.
He mourned the loss of the bourbon. He had nothing to do but wait until midnight and hope that Pepper and Happy made it there in one piece.
It was closer to one in the morning by the time Happy arrived, looking sooty and overjoyed at the same time. He immediately went to Pepper and clasped her as tightly as he could, until she had to slap his elbow to alert him to the fact that she could no longer breathe. "The wind's picked up. I was hoping this place hadn't burned yet. I had to dodge the Yankees at the north edge of town," he said, straightening the hem of his uniform shirt.
"I don't fancy dealing with either the fire or the enemy," said Dr. Minnigerode, balancing his wire-rimmed spectacles on his nose. He gestured to Pepper and Happy, who moved to stand facing one another in front of him. "Let us begin, shall we? Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee."
Tony stood to one side, half paying attention to the ceremony being conducted in Dr. Minnigerode's faint German accent, and half watching out the window like a sentry. The glow of the warehouse fires had drawn nearer, though the mobs of looters seemed to have slowed to a trickle. Tony moved to check his watch, but thought better of it.
"Marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God," the minister was saying. "Into this holy union Virginia and Harold now come to be joined. If any of you can show just cause why they may not be lawfully married, speak now; or else forever hold your peace."
All three of them turned to look at Tony. He was so busy puzzling over how strange it was to hear two of his best friends being referred to as, "Virginia and Harold," that it took him a moment to realize anything was expected of him. He coughed and gestured for them to continue. Dr. Minnigerode adjusted his spectacles and turned to Pepper. "Virginia, will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage?"
A movement in the street caught Tony's eye. He leaned over to get a better look and found a regiment of Yankee soldiers standing outside. Their leader, a captain judging by the uniform, was conversing with the prison officer on duty.
"I will," said Pepper. Tony glanced back in time to see her smile at Happy before turning his attention back to the window. The Union troops were on their way into the building now. Tony could hear their booted tread.
"Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?" the minister asked.
"I will," said Happy. He had never looked so elated and so frightened at the same time.
The door opened. A Yankee officer stood there, gun in hand, a puzzled look on his clean-shaven face. "I'm looking for Captain Tiberius Stone," the soldier said. Dr. Minnigerode hesitated, throwing an uncertain look to Pepper and Happy. Tony crossed the room in an instant and held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture.
"The commandant is long gone, Captain. It is captain, isn't it?" The soldier nodded. Tony continued, "You might have noticed that we're right in the middle of a wedding. Would you mind waiting just a moment so we could get these two lovebirds hitched before all hell breaks loose?"
The Yankee considered the situation for a moment before deciding he was at a total loss. "Of course," he said. He holstered his gun, removed his hat, and stood at ease.
"Good man!" Tony clapped him on the shoulder. "Dr. Minnigerode, if you please?"
The minister looked unsettled, but cleared his throat and continued. "Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?"
Tony elbowed the soldier. "We will," they said in unison.
The minister launched into scripture, so Tony took the opportunity to study the soldier next to him. The man was tall--he had a few inches and several pounds on Tony. There was soot on his face and uniform from the spreading fires outside, which only served to highlight the gold of his hair where it had remained relatively clean under his hat. His uniform was in good repair, which meant he valued his position and took it seriously. A Yankee idealist, Tony thought as he took in the man's posture and bearing. Not exactly what the remaining citizens of Richmond wanted to deal with, though at the moment he was also humoring a frankly ridiculous group of romantic rebels, so perhaps there was hope for him yet.
"If nothing else, it will be a memorable wedding," Tony murmured out of the side of his mouth. The soldier raised an eyebrow.
"Indeed," he said. "I'll admit, I've never attended a wedding in a stranger place than this."
"Are you going to arrest him as soon as this is finished?"
"I am under orders to arrest any rebel soldier I encounter, yes."
Tony thought as much. He considered bargaining for a stay, citing the happy couple's wedding night, but there was no guarantee the soldier's leniency would extend that far. No matter, he had planned for this contingency. "Seeing as this ceremony is taking place in a prison, who's to say the groom isn't a current inmate? That would mean you should be releasing him, not condemning him."
The soldier cast him a wary look, but the minister pronounced Pepper and Happy to be man and wife, and Pepper was kissing Happy and then she kissed Tony on the cheek and then the soldier whose name none of them even knew. Tony was amused to no end when the soldier blushed to the roots of his hair. He was still smiling when Dr. Minnigerode beckoned them over to sign the marriage license. Tony signed his name with a flourish on the first witness line before passing the pen to the captain. He signed his name below Tony's, Steven Rogers, Capt. 139th NY, US, and wouldn't that give some clerk in vital records pause, Tony thought.
"Well, Captain Rogers?" Tony asked. Both Pepper and Happy froze, as if they only then realized who the stranger at their wedding was and what his presence meant.
"I understand that you're here as an occupying force, Captain," said Pepper, chin held high, "but surely even a Yankee like you would not deprive me of my wedding night."
Rogers was not cowed, but he did seem to appreciate the fact that Pepper could be downright vicious when she wanted to be. "I would certainly prefer not to disrupt the...festivities, ma'am," he said. "But I don't think it will be necessary, since your husband was a prisoner of the Confederacy here, and not the United States."
Pepper and Happy both looked gobsmacked. Tony stepped in smoothly before either of them could speak. "That is why we held the ceremony here, isn't it? Both the groom and the best man are prisoners." He looked pointedly at Happy, who nodded on cue.
"I'll just need to see the prison records, to confirm that you should be released," said Rogers. Tony indicated the wooden filing cabinet in one corner of Ty's office.
"You'll find us under Stark, Anthony and Hogan, Harold," he supplied helpfully. Rogers pulled open the appropriate drawers and withdrew two files, laying them on the commandant's desk to peruse. After only a moment, he looked up with a smile.
"Congratulations, gentlemen. You are no longer prisoners of the Confederacy."
"I didn't know I was one," Happy muttered. Pepper stepped on his foot. "Thank you Captain," she said sweetly as Rogers handed them some hastily-written pardon papers.
"My pleasure, ma'am. Now, if you would excuse me, I need to evacuate this building. The fire's three blocks away, but I don't want these prisoners burned alive on my watch."
Tony grabbed his coat. "Any idea how far west it's spread?"
Rogers shook his head. "I heard the prisoners in the penitentiary torched it after they broke out, but that's all I know," he said as they descended the stairs. Tony paused a moment out in the street, longing to savor his freedom, but the chaos around them was not exactly what he'd wished to find upon his release. Smoldering bits of paper floated on the breeze, and Pepper brushed one from her dress before it could catch fire. Tony caught one of the larger ones as it drifted by and discovered that it was a one dollar note from the Virginia Treasury, not even worth the smoldering paper on which it was printed, now. He pulled Ty's cigar from an inside vest pocket, bit off the end, and lit it from the burning note.
Rogers was ordering his regiment to clear the building before moving on to fight the approaching fire. He glanced up and nodded to Tony, before disappearing back into the prison. Taking a deep breath, Tony set off down Cary Street in the direction of the iron works. Pepper and Happy followed him for a few blocks before cutting back to the west, where the hospital and Happy's best chance of sneaking out of town to rejoin Lee's forces lay. Before they parted ways, Tony shook Happy's hand and wished him luck.
"You'd better come back in one piece," he said, "or Pepper will kill you."
Happy grinned. "I know," he said, and the newlyweds were gone.
Tony continued toward the iron works alone. It was eerily quiet. The train whistles and church bells were conspicuously absent. There was a dull crackling roar from the fire as it swept through the downtown business district, but Tony kept south of it near the water. Soon the familiar silhouette of Stark Iron Works loomed large and unscathed, and a knot of worry Tony hadn't taken the time to acknowledge loosened in his gut.
He was home.
April 4, 1865
Two days after the Confederate government went fugitive and the fire destroyed two-thirds of downtown, Stark Iron Works was at least partly operational once more. Tony opened the buildings dedicated to employee housing and offered them to Richmond residents displaced by the fire. Ever mindful of their pride, he offered jobs to those who wished to live there but who were too proud to accept a handout. The housing was nearly half-full, but the campus had the feeling of a refugee camp about it. The iron works produced materials Tony knew would be needed to rebuild the city: steel rails for the railroad, more rail cars to bring in supplies, nails and bolts for building construction. What had been the Confederate armory remained closed.
As one of the displaced, Tony himself was living out of the office. He'd kept a cot there before he was spirited away to Castle Thunder, taking naps in the office when he oversaw projects that required much of his attention. Now it was his home until the house on Franklin Street could be rebuilt. At the moment he was dozing on the cot, contemplating the practicality of an electric trolley in the city.
There was a knock at the door. "Come in," Tony called without bothering to get up.
"Mr. Stark?" The voice was familiar but unexpected, and Tony sat up to find Captain Rogers standing there, looking official.
"Captain," said Tony with a nod, "What can I do for you?"
"General Weitzel noticed that your factory was operational once again," Rogers said.
"Is that Godfrey Weitzel? He always was a sharp one, it's good to see his powers of observation haven't dulled since I saw him last."
"He also noticed that you did not apply for an operating permit." Tony snorted. Rogers shot him a look of vague disapproval and added, "He'd like to tour the iron works to be certain you aren't producing any illegal items before issuing the permit."
Tony stood and brushed a speck of lint from his sleeve. "First, Godfrey--excuse me, General Weitzel is certainly welcome to come take a gander at things, but it isn't necessary because second, this foundry hasn't produced weapons of any kind since July of last year."
Rogers shrugged. "All the same, he'd like to come. I think he'd like a chance to speak with you."
"Well then, let him come. My home is his home," said Tony, spreading his arms wide to indicate the office. Rogers seemed surprised.
"You live here?"
"Along with almost a hundred families whose homes were lost. My residence was lost in the fire, unfortunately. Most of my personal effects were at Castle Thunder, though, so at least they were saved."
"I wasn't aware. I'm sorry for your loss," said Rogers, as if he were expressing condolences at the death of a loved one. As ridiculous as it was, Tony found it oddly touching.
"Yes, well, it's only a house. We'll all survive. But thank you, all the same," he said. There was an awkward moment of silence before Rogers made to leave. "Will you accompany General Weitzel on his tour?"
"I would like to see it, yes. We'll be by before dinner tomorrow."
"Supper," said Tony. Rogers looked at him blankly, so he explained, "Down here, dinner is what you eat midday and supper is in the evening. So you'll be by before supper."
Rogers still looked doubtful, but he nodded. "Right," he said. "We'll see you before...well, later." After one more bemused glance in Tony's direction, he departed.
Tony sat down to sketch out plans for his trolley system, smiling to himself.
April 5, 1865
At ten in the morning, Pepper threw open Tony's office door without knocking. "It's Happy," she said, and the look on her face brought him to his feet.
"What happened?" he asked, fearing the worst. He took her arm and guided her to a chair.
"They brought him in this morning," she said voice trembling.
"Oh, Pepper," said Tony. He knelt down next to her chair and took her hand, which had a death-grip on a damp handkerchief.
"He has a broken leg. A broken leg, Tony, he's off the front," she said and broke down in sobs of relief. Tony hugged her hard.
"That's wonderful news."
"Isn't it?" she sniffed. "I never thought I'd be so happy about a broken leg."
"Did he have any news from the front lines?" Tony asked.
She nodded and swiped at a stray piece of hair that had fallen loose. "They keep bringing in more casualties from the front. Happy said the rumor was that Lee was going to surrender at Appomattox."
Tony shook his head. "I hate this," he said.
Pepper gave him a watery smile. "I hate it a little less this morning," she said.
He squeezed her hand. "Me, too."
General Weitzel, it turned out, was not all that concerned that Stark Iron Works had opened without permission. He remembered having met Tony on a number of occasions at West Point and toured the facility with interest and intelligent questions. Tony felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders now that Happy was safely ensconced in the hospital under Pepper's watchful eye, and he was surprised to find himself enjoying the experience of having a fellow engineer to talk to. Captain Rogers followed along on the tour a few steps behind but still listening attentively as Tony and the general discussed bridges and rail lines. Tony made an effort to explain some of the more obscure bits of conversation to Rogers, who seemed to appreciate it.
It was agreed that Stark Iron Works would contribute to the rebuilding of Richmond by working with the Union troops to reconstruct the burned bridges. With the bridges rebuilt, trains could bring the provisions and supplies badly needed by civilians and occupying soldiers alike.
As Tony shook hands with the general before he left, he noticed a wagon approaching, accompanied by two soldiers. It passed the general's horse and pulled up right in front of them and Tony could see crates and barrels stacked high. The two colored infantrymen in the wagon looked wary.
"Corporals Rhodes and Wilson, 38th USCT," the driver said as he stepped down from the wagon seat. Both corporals saluted Captain Rogers.
"Where would you like the rations?" Wilson inquired. He wore his hair long with the odd feather woven into it, and Tony knew there had to be a story there.
"Rations?" Tony repeated dumbly. Wilson and Rhodes exchanged a puzzled glance.
"Pork, brown sugar, tea, grits, crackers..." Rhodes said. "No coffee, though. That was the first thing to go."
"The only thing to go," said Wilson. "Most everybody is too proud to take the handouts, but they had fewer scruples when word got around that there was coffee."
Tony was still lost, so he was grateful when Rogers stepped forward. "I took the liberty of ordering rations for the citizens you're housing on the iron works campus," he explained to Tony. "I thought you might not have a chance to send someone to the Christian Commission where they're being handed out."
"Oh," said Tony. He grinned and gestured to the employee housing. "They're staying in the building over there. There's a kitchen just behind it, you can unload them there. And thanks."
Captain Rogers added his own thanks as Wilson and Rhodes hopped back on the wagon to steer it in the proper direction.
"It was no trouble," said Wilson. Rhodes nodded.
"We're just glad someone's taking it," he said. "All that food sitting there, it's a waste."
Tony watched the wagon depart for a moment, then turned back to find Rogers looking terribly pleased with himself. "Now your residents will have something to eat for supper tonight," said Rogers, placing particular emphasis on the word supper.
Tony couldn't help but return his smile. "That they will," he said. "I'll be sure they know Captain Rogers is responsible."
"Please call me Steve," the captain said.
"Very well, Steve," said Tony, "would you like to stay for supper?"
Steve grinned. "I'd be delighted. I even know what's on the menu."
Tony laughed, and led Steve toward the dining hall.
April 12, 1865
The smell of coffee might have been the most glorious smell in Tony's recent memory. He told Pepper as much as she refilled his cup.
"I'm surprised you managed to find any at all," she said. "The suppliers have been out for days."
"I traded for it," said Tony. He took a long sip and sighed blissfully. "Steve brought it in return for eating some of his meals here."
Tony waved a hand. "Captain Rogers. The other witness to your wedding."
"Ah," she said, eyebrows raised as she raised her coffee cup to her lips.
"What?" Tony asked.
"Nothing," she said. Tony eyed her suspiciously. They continued to enjoy their coffee in companionable silence.
April 14, 1865
Tony and Steve were on their way to meet with General Weitzel, Tony's latest drafts for the new Mayo Bridge tucked under one arm, when they crossed paths with a group of shackled Confederate officers being led by a stern-looking Union regiment. Tony wouldn't have recognized Ty Stone if the man hadn't called his name.
"Ty?" Tony approached him warily, one eye on the Union escort. Steve nodded to the soldiers, who paused long enough to allow Tony to speak with the former commandant. "Are you all right?"
"Been better," said Ty. There was an angry gash above his left eye that looked like it came from the butt of a gun. "They caught us just south of town when our engine died on the rails. Guess I should have let you work on the railroad, after all."
Tony winced at Ty's wheezing half-chuckle. As much as it hurt to be betrayed by the man, he'd been Ty's friend for years and he didn't want to see him suffer. "I'm sorry, Ty."
"Looks like I'm headed for Libby. Will you come visit me?" Tony didn't realize how close they were standing until he felt Ty pluck at his sleeve with one shackled hand. Tony took a tiny step back.
"I don't think so," he said quietly. Ty looked puzzled until he glanced over Tony's shoulder and saw Steve standing there. The look on his face shifted from confusion to distaste in an instant.
"I see," he said. "Supply and demand, is it?"
"Ty," said Tony, hating the pleading note that crept into his voice.
Ty spit on his shoes. "Careful, Captain," he said to Steve, though his venomous glare was still fixed on Tony, "this one's liable to turn on you."
Tony stood there as the Union regiment ushered the prisoners past. Steve hovered just behind him, radiating righteous anger. It was all too much, and Tony marched onward toward General Weitzel's temporary residence in the Davis mansion.
"What was that?" Steve asked.
"Nothing. Ty is--was--a friend."
"Is that how you stayed out of the cells at Castle Thunder? Because the commandant was a friend?" Steve asked.
"Good behavior," Tony replied flatly. "I was a model prisoner."
Steve scowled, and out of the corner of his eye Tony could practically see it on his face as he put two and two together. Tony snorted. "That's charming."
"You, wanting to defend my honor."
"Don't be ridiculous." Steve was flushed, jaw set in that determined way that Tony had come to associate with Steve's bull-headed response to things not going according to plan.
Tony chuckled and shook his head. They'd arrived at the mansion, and he knocked on the front door. "I appreciate the sentiment, but I never did anything that I didn't want to do. Ty Stone was a friend before the war, why shouldn't he be one during it?"
One of the general's aides answered and asked them to wait in the parlor as he went to announce their presence. The house was silent apart from the ticking of a clock on the mantel.
"He shouldn't have...taken advantage. Of the situation," Steve said quietly. "It's conduct unbecoming an officer, whatever the army."
He looked uncomfortable, but Tony couldn't help but push him just a little bit further. Leaning into Steve's personal space just slightly, he asked, "You mean it was unbecoming because he was in a position of authority? Or because such conduct is...unsavory?" Tony smiled, all teeth and no warmth, and stepped away. Before Steve could reply, the aide returned to escort them to General Weitzel's makeshift office.
General Weitzel was nowhere to be seen. In Weitzel's usual chair there saw a man Tony did not recognize. He stood upon their entrance.
"General Osborn," said Steve, and Tony felt more than saw the captain salute the man. "This is unexpected."
"I imagine so. At ease," said Osborn. He regarded Tony with eerily pale, deep-set eyes. "Tony Stark, is it?"
Tony extended his hand. "At your service," he said. The general's handshake was that of a man who asserted authority at every opportunity, and Tony surreptitiously flexed his fingers in discomfort once his hand was released.
"Indeed. Are these the plans for the Mayo Bridge?"
"The latest draft, yes. I anticipate very few changes from this point," Tony replied, unrolling the plans and spreading them on the general's desk. "Once General Weitzel signs off on the design, production of the parts can begin at the foundry. Construction should begin in a month or so, and should be complete in six months, barring any lengthy stretch of bad weather."
Osborn examined the plans. "And the rest of your designs?"
Tony cocked his head in uncertainty. "I wasn't aware I had been commissioned to design any of the other bridges," he said slowly. "If that's the case, I can certainly discuss the terms with General Weitzel--"
"General Weitzel has been transferred," said General Osborn. Tony's jaw snapped shut in surprise. Beside him, he could see his sentiments mirrored on Steve's face for just a moment before the captain schooled his features. "It was felt that General Weitzel was not handling the situation here with the necessary resolve."
Oh God, thought Tony, this is not good. Not many Richmonders were willing to swallow their pride to admit it, but they'd been extremely lucky to have a fair man like Godfrey Weitzel in charge. His hopes for a peaceable and benevolent occupation were dashed as Osborn stepped closer and said, "Now, where are the rest of your designs, Mr. Stark?"
"I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific, General. I'm quite prolific."
Osborn pulled a sheet of paper from beneath the bridge plans and read aloud, "Land torpedoes, type CS45 and CS63; water torpedo type CS32; the Stark Repeating Gun; the chemical shell prototype; and finally, any other designs in the preliminary or testing stages."
Tony swallowed, mouth dry. "None of those plans exist anymore, General. They were destroyed when I stopped weapons production last year."
"Somehow I cannot believe that an engineer of your caliber would have destroyed all the plans for your designs. If nothing else, surely they remain here," said Osborn, tapping his own temple with one gloved finger. "The United States government was impressed by your ingenuity, Mr. Stark. You have single-handedly advanced the art of administering violent death miles beyond what we were capable of just a few short years ago. We would like the opportunity to turn that brilliant mind of yours to our own advantage, for once, rather than view your creations as they come hurtling toward us in battle."
Beside him, Steve looked pained. "Tony--"
"I must decline, General," Tony said more loudly, attempting to be as polite as possible despite the fear and anger warring in his gut.
Osborn smirked. He threw a conspiratorial arm around Tony's shoulders. "The Confederate government held you in prison for over a year. Surely you'd like the chance to get a little of your own back?"
Fighting down quiet, indignant rage, Tony replied, "I ceased weapons production because I have human sympathies, not Union ones."
Osborn was quite close, so Tony felt the blow where it started in Osborn's body long before it struck him across the face. Not hard enough to draw blood, Tony noted, feeling the inside of his cheek with his tongue, but it would still be sore as hell. Osborn had a hand on the back of his neck, not squeezing, but asserting the fact that he was in charge as if Tony were an insolent dog to be scruffed.
"I saw Lee sign the capitulation orders and hand them over to Grant," he hissed. "It's only a matter of time before this stinking war is over. Leavenworth's almost finished, you know. You can be one of the inaugural prisoners. Then we'll have all the time in the world to reverse-engineer what we want while you rot in a cell. You won't be sitting pretty like the commandant's mistress this time." Tony tried to suppress his flinch, but Osborn caught it. "That's right, Stark, I know all about that. Disgusting. If the corps of engineers didn't have a use for you, I'd hang you out the window right now."
"That's enough, Sir." Steve was standing with one hand on his revolver, his face like a thundercloud.
"Excuse me, soldier?"
"You heard me, Sir."
Osborn glared at Steve, his hand still gripping Tony by the neck. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"A personal friend of Secretary Stanton's," Steve replied coldly, "and I don't think he'd approve of your methods. Sir."
Tony's surprise that Steve was a friend of the United States Secretary of War registered on only a vague level. He held his breath, waiting to see what might happen as Steve and Osborn reached a standoff.
There was a knock at the door, and Osborn abruptly released him before calling for entry. The general's aide rushed in with a telegram and Tony took the opportunity to take two shaky steps away from the general. Osborn turned to Steve and jabbed a finger in his direction. "Get him out of here and keep an eye on him," he said. "I don't want to see either of you again."
"Yes, sir," Steve replied with a salute. Tony felt a hand at his elbow, guiding him out of the room, out of the building, and into the street. Tony hadn't realized how stifling the General's office had been until he was outside, and suddenly he was taking huge gasping breaths. "Easy," said Steve, steering him toward a bench. Tony sat down heavily, loosening his tie so he could breathe and rubbing absently at his chest. It was a long moment before his heart slowed and he looked up. Steve had brought them to the south end of Capitol Square, where the scorched ruins across the street marked the fire's leading edge.
"I'm starting to regret my decision not to make guns any longer," Tony said after a moment, "because I'd love to make one specifically to shoot that bastard." Steve said nothing, and Tony turned to him, suddenly wary. "I suppose that's treason."
Steve chuckled. "It is, yes," he said, "but Osborne was out of line."
"Do you really know Secretary Stanton?"
"I shook his hand once," said Steve. Tony groaned. "There's precedent," Steve insisted. "If you genuinely object to war, you should write to Lincoln. He exempted the Shakers from conscription, I'm willing to bet he'd listen to you. Even if he agrees and wants to throw you in Leavenworth, at least it might be a more comfortable cell."
Tony leaned forward and buried his hands in his hair. "God, I'm bound and determined to give everyone at least a dozen reasons to throw me in jail."
"You do have a way with people," said Steve.
"If my father could see me now," Tony said with a sigh. "The son of a munitions expert, turned pacifist? How droll."
"Tony." Steve paused, clearly trying to work out what he was trying to say. "What made you change your mind? About the weapons, I mean."
"War is one of the most inspiring things in the world. I filed over a hundred patents in the last four years. We had military contracts, contracts with each individual state, with city militias."
Tony paused, thinking things through. "Then I saw the things I designed in action, firsthand. You know how a land torpedo works, right? The soldier steps on the pressure plate, or the trip wire, and the torpedo explodes. Depending on how close he is, there isn't much left of the soldier. It might kill him immediately, or he might hang on for days or weeks until the infection from the wounds gets him. Longstreet was right, they are an underhanded way to fight a war. Our numbers have been dwindling since the day this late unpleasantness began, though, so the prospect of doing damage without placing more of our men in harm's way was an appealing one. The problem is that they kill indiscriminately. Yankees, Rebels, women, children, horses, dogs."
Steve nodded. "The newspapers up north called you the 'Merchant of Death,'" he said. Tony flashed him a wry smile.
"I saved those clippings," he said.
A group of army sentries passed. Steve nodded to them and waited patiently for Tony to continue.
"I was at Spotsylvania, overseeing the delivery of a shipment of torpedoes to Lee's army. We didn't expect Grant's attack, and we were in a tight spot. Part of Lee's fortifications was particularly vulnerable and he needed the means to retreat before he was overrun. I suggested burying torpedoes in the vulnerable spot, so we did. As we were pulling back, the first wave of Union soldiers came over the trenches. We thought we'd just pull out, but the fighting stayed put. It was raining and I was at the back of the line, but I could see that the fighting was frenzied in a way I never expected. I ended up helping the medics as best I could, but the wounded were almost always too far gone. I watched a man take a bullet in the knee and fall. He might have survived if he hadn't tripped a torpedo when he landed. There were arcs of mud and blood in the air when it exploded and after it all settled I could barely tell that there had been a man there at all.
"The bodies were piled so high that there were wounded men trapped beneath them who were drowning in the mud. I was trying to pull one free when a man set off a torpedo not ten feet away. I felt the hit in my chest, but I didn't know how bad it was. I only knew I was still alive, and that the man I'd been trying to pull to safety was now bleeding to death from a fragment wound in the neck. The medics later told me my wound was relatively superficial, though there are still fragments they didn't remove. When I returned to Richmond three days later, I stopped production of the torpedoes and the guns."
Steve remained silent for a long moment. There was only the sound of distant wagon traffic and the birds swooping low, roosting as the sun disappeared behind the charred ruins of the War Department. At length, Steve said, "What you witnessed, Tony, it's all part and parcel of war. I wish it weren't. I admire you for trying to change it."
"You're one of the few," said Tony. "My decision wasn't exactly popular. The War Department offered to buy the foundry, at least. I refused."
"I'm sure that went well."
"Well, I might have said something to the effect that it was my business, and Jefferson Davis had always been a presumptuous son of a bitch." When Steve blinked in surprise, Tony waved a dismissive hand. "We were at West Point together. There was an issue with some illegal whiskey. He got off without any charges, and his ego never was the same."
"You were at West Point?"
"As an engineer, yes, though we probably engineered more pranks on one another than we did bridges or railroads."
Steve looked mildly horrified. "I'm sure I don't want to know."
"No, you don't." Tony's smile turned wicked for a split-second before he grew serious once again. "Would you help me with something?"
"Yes," said Steve, and Tony's breath caught at the earnestness of his reply.
Even two weeks after the city fell, it was still eerily dark and silent after nightfall. They were mostly silent as they headed back to the iron works. For his part, Tony spent most of the walk recalling the look on Steve's face in Osborne's office, and how his hand strayed to his gun when the general had struck him.
Back at the office, Tony lit the lantern by the door and rolled up the braided rug behind his desk to reveal a cellar door in the pine floor. Steve followed him down the short flight of stairs.
"I would never have guessed this was here," he said.
"That's the idea," said Tony. "Hand me the shovel under the stairs." Steve did, and Tony set about digging in one corner of the dirt floor. It was ten minutes or so before his shovel hit something hard. He tossed it aside with a triumphant exclamation and started scrabbling in the sandy dirt until he found the edges of the wooden plank, which worked loose with relative ease. Under the plank was a metal box with a combination lock.
"34-44-54-64?" Steve asked from somewhere behind him as he scrolled through the numbers on the dials.
Tony chuckled. "You were expecting the Fibonacci sequence?" He flipped open the lid of the box to reveal stacks of papers, composition books, and blueprints.
"As I haven't any idea what that is, it might have been a better choice for a combination. What is all this?"
"My designs," said Tony. "I lied to Osborn. I buried these here when I thought things might get ugly over the foundry shutting down." He leafed through a notebook, finding weapons plans in various stages of development: a diagram of a repeating gun small enough to be considered a personal armament rather than artillery, plans for land and water torpedoes of various designs, and a half-thought proposal for an artillery shell that could deliver chlorine gas. There was one sketch he had started for fun of a modernized suit of armor with attached, steam-powered weaponry. It was totally impractical, but he'd enjoyed puzzling out how it might work in theory. He tossed the stack of papers back into the box and sat back on his heels. "Burn it," he said.
"These are things that never saw production, and I intend to keep it that way." He held out a hand, and after a moment Steve handed him a tin matchsafe. Without another word, Tony pulled out a match, struck it on the sole of his shoe, and threw it in the metal box. The papers were damp and smoldered slowly, and he had to use three more matches before they were destroyed to his satisfaction. By this point his eyes stung a bit from the smoke in the low room, so with Steve's help they closed the box once more and heaped earth back on it.
"That, as they say, is that," said Tony, leaning back against the wall and swiping a hand across his forehead. "Now the only place Osborn or anyone else could possibly hope to find those designs is in my head."
Steve sat next to him and brushed dirt off of his uniform. "I hope the combination to your brain is more complex that the one for your lockbox."
Tony laughed. "I'd like to think it is." Sobering, he turned to Steve and said, "Thank you."
They were sitting so close that their knees were touching. Steve leaned toward him and Tony moved to meet him, but Steve placed a hand directly over where he knew the scar on Tony's chest would be. "Don't do this because you think you owe me anything, Tony," he said, his voice rough.
"I do owe you," Tony said, gripping Steve's hand. He tried to lean in further, but Steve pulled back.
"I'm not Tiberius Stone," he said seriously.
"Thank God," said Tony, and finally Steve stopped pushing him away.