He’s staring at the single lit monitor, arms folded across his chest, gaze intent. Beside him Nick Fury stands in smug silence.
“You’re shitting me, right?” Tony Stark says, gaze flicking briefly toward the other man before it goes back to the monitor to fix on the image there. “There’s no way that can actually be…”
“Oh, it’s him, Tony,” Fury says, his tone, as always when he speaks to him, that amused, barely-patient rumble. “The real deal.”
“Good God, he’s fucking gorgeous. And impossible.” His childhood hero come to life. The old pictures didn’t even remotely do him justice and even his brain can’t quite process that at first. “Frozen in sea ice you said? How does that even work?” Fury’s one eye narrows on him.
“Cheating on your girl already, Stark? So I need to warn all my male agents about you now too?”
“Pepper’s way too smart to stick with me. She kicked my ass out after a month. Literally. And she was wearing the new black-patent Jimmy Choos I bought her too, which was all kinds of hot and amazing, if I do say so myself. We’re better as friends-with-tension instead anyway, considering she runs my company now.” His head feels light and his throat raw, as if he’s just downed a shot of Patrón.
He’s babbling. He knows he is. Rhodey would have kicked him in the shin about now, but Rhodey isn’t here. It’s only him and Fury in this overly sci-fi looking black metal office – and really, who does the whole black-glass techno-pipe look these days anyway? – staring at a monitor screen that shows one of the SHIELD gyms and a muscular young blond man in a tight white tee shirt and khaki chinos punching the hell out of what looks like a Kevlar sandbag. And the sandbag is losing. Badly.
“And hell yes warn them, I like a challenge. I mean, no, okay maybe only the ones that look like him. Coulson’s safe, by the way. Hey, you can see out of that eye can’t you?” Tony bites on a knuckle and hisses as the oddly wholesome-looking blond Adonis on the screen speeds up his blows on the bag to the point that it almost appears to be vibrating. There’s an intriguing intensity about the look on his face… like he’s visualizing something specific in place of the bag. Tony takes a moment to wonder what – or who – that might be. Taking a pounding. He swallows hard. Tries not to drool. “He’s not one of yours. He can’t be. Is he?”
Fury’s lips tighten. “In a way, he’s the very first SHIELD agent, so yes, Stark, one of mine. But.” Fury’s voice breaks off. Tony flicks his gaze over to him, reads stress in Fury’s face. Or is that actual concern? From Fury? Tony barely keeps a snort of disbelief back behind his hand.
Fury folds his arms over his chest and looks back at Tony, the single-eyed gaze clearly weighing him. Then he makes a decision that he obviously doesn’t want to make and starts to talk. “The last thing he knew was 1945. No time has passed for him. Just last week, he was punching Nazis in Norway at the height of World War II. Then he suddenly finds himself smack in the middle of Times Square in 2009 in peace time. He thought he’d been captured and put into a mind-control experiment. We barely got him back under cover.”
Tony doesn’t smile at all even though he taps his fingers against his lips thoughtfully. “And by Nazis you mean Hydra with their impossible energy weapons far beyond their time.” He raises his brows high in mock astonishment. “Or our time for that matter.”
Fury’s glare is impressive. “How the fuck you find out about that, Stark?” He looks like he wants to tear someone to pieces but at least he doesn’t try to deny it.
Tony returns the glare smugly. “Stay out of my A.I.’s code and I’ll stay out of yours. What kind of name is ULTRON anyway? Are you guys stuck in the 50’s or something?”
Fury’s still glaring at him, but it’s more a somber and resigned kind of glare now. The kind you give a kid for breaking the big picture window for the third time with his rocket experiments (not that he’d know or anything). “Information on Hydra is classified to the highest levels, Stark. Don’t make me regret not putting you on that plane with Stane’s body. Again.”
“Hey. Iron Man here. Six months of world peace? Remember that?” Tony says, pouting deliberately.
“Until you lost it over your own mortality. Now you’re just a high-maintenance pain in my ass,” Fury retorts sharply, then sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. “But unfortunately, you’re the best choice I have for getting through to Cap right now… though I dearly wish otherwise.”
“Why’s that? Other than my amazing charm, fabulous good looks and stunning intellect, of course.”
“Because he knew your father.” Tony went utterly and completely still. “And meeting Howard Stark’s 40-year-old son might just be enough to finally convince Captain America we’re telling him the truth.”
It’s hours later and Tony has been whirled through a series of briefings and updates and recommendations from psychiatrists and psychologists on how to handle his first contact with Steve Rogers that he’s barely paid any attention to. Though he’d watched the video of Rogers’ first awakening in that badly faked retro-room and the amateur mistake with the ball game on the ‘radio’ very intently. Watched the way he tore through field-trained SHIELD agents like they weren’t even there as he made his escape too. Though nobody had died, there were some significant injuries -- yet Steve Rogers didn’t even have a mark on him.
By the time Tony’s had more than enough of their fussing and prosing it’s late afternoon. He long ago patched his PDA into the ultra-secure monitoring system that tracks Rogers around and has been keeping an eye on the other man. Watching him finish his workout in the gym. Showering. And why the hell Fury has security cameras in the showers is beyond him, though he does appreciate the view. More than appreciates it, actually. Though he does make a mental note to himself to do any working out at his own penthouse and never on SHIELD grounds if Fury’s that paranoid. Eventually, Rogers takes a hearty meal in the cafeteria. The young man keeps his head down and doesn’t interact with many people as he eats; it’s clear he’s well aware of the agents assigned to watch him and the heavy-duty Tasers they’re sporting.
It’s after Rogers goes to turn in his tray and somehow ends up offering to help out in the kitchens by doing dishes and for some reason they let him, – maybe it’s the shy smile or the determined chin that weakens the will of the terrifying gorgon who rules the SHIELD kitchen but Rogers is soon elbows-deep in suds and scrubbing away at grimy pots – that Tony figures he’s seen enough.
“I’m sure this is all fascinating and possibly relevant to someone who isn’t me, but my consulting rates go up drastically after five, gentlemen and lady, and I’m sure Fury doesn’t want your annual budgets going poof at the first 15 minute billable increment,” Tony says, rising to his feet and pocketing the PDA that shows Rogers is finally on his way to his assigned rooms, two armed agents trailing behind him at a respectful distance. The man looks downcast, his hands stuffed into his pants pockets, his shoulders hunched. Like a kid being sent to his room.
His eyes are a brilliant blue. Tony’s made a note of that already. And he’s dark blond, not light blond. Chest hair too. And every hair, actually. The shower images are still playing somewhere behind his eyelids as he breezes out of the room of spluttering shrinks and anal-retentive agents. But Coulson isn’t there and neither is Natalie…Natasha… Agent Hypodermic Injector or whateverthefuck her name is this week so Tony Stark makes his escape with ease.
He saunters up to the agent posted in the hallway outside before anyone he left behind manages to get their brains together enough to protest him ditching them. “Hey you. Follow me,” he says without breaking stride, gesturing impatiently. The man looks confused and annoyed but follows. Tony knows the way to Rogers rooms already from scoping out the floor plans of Fury’s little playpen earlier through the mainframe, but figures having a black-clad thug tagging along on his heels will give him less hassles with Fury’s security in the long run.
He’s right. Even when the guy behind him obviously gets an ass-chewing through his earpiece that make him straighten up and glare at Tony, he just follows him to his destination.
Tony stops before a plain metal door marked ‘LS-1154’ and looks back at the guy following him. The two guards who had followed Rogers to his room are conspicuous by their absence.
“You stay out here,” he tells the still-glowering guard. “But if you hear screaming, give Fury a call. It’ll probably be me and I know he’ll want to watch me get killed.” Then Tony rapped on the metal door briskly with his knuckles.
“Mr. Rogers?” he called out cheerfully. “You decent?” Then he rolls his eyes toward the ceiling and bites back a laugh for the sudden internal dissonance. It takes a good thirty seconds before the door opens and he’s staring up into those amazing blue eyes narrowed on him suspiciously from close range.
“Oh god they are that bright a blue,” he rattles off, not letting the other man get a word out even though he opens his mouth to speak. “Seriously, that is almost criminally unfair of you, Steve. I can call you Steve can’t I?” He takes a step forward, expecting the other man to back away – most people do before the patented Tony Stark whirlwind – but tall, broad and stubborn stays put, heavy arm across the doorway barring his way. That means Tony is suddenly standing much too far inside his own comfort zone to someone he’s just spied on in the shower and had very bad thoughts about while doing so.
“Do I know you, sir?” a wary, quiet voice asks. He looks up into stunningly azure blue eyes again, feels the heat radiating off the other man even through his David August mid-weight suit and all at once his public smile fails him.
“Not yet,” Tony says, voice a little tighter than he’d like it to be. He smells sweat and industrial dish soap. It’s a much more enticing combination than it should be, he bemoans. “But somebody told me you knew my father. Howard Stark.”
The blue eyes narrow, scan his face quickly, then widen slightly in something almost like recognition. Maybe it’s just resignation, but tall and broad finally takes a step back. Tony follows him in, unbuttoning his suddenly overly warm suit coat. He spins on a heel as he walks into a decent sized, if sparsely furnished, studio-style apartment. This far underground there are no windows, of course, but on the far wall is a large flat-screen display. It’s currently dark. There’s a bookshelf covered with hard-bound books. Recent magazines on a low table. And there’s a crisply made double bed in the far corner too that he’s trying very hard not to look at too obviously.
The metal door closes quietly behind them. The other man is looking at him warily now, arms folded over his broad chest. It’s a good look for him, Tony thinks, mind spinning a bit at the way the thin white cotton tee shirt stretches to accommodate all that muscle.
“Anthony Edward Stark,” Tony says, fiddling with the button of his coat before lifting that hand to swipe it through his hair, flashing a quick grin at the stoic face of the other man. “But you can call me Tony.”
“Howard’s… son,” the other man says after a moment, his mouth tight, impressive arms tense. “But you’re… older than he is.” It’s a jolt to hear him say ‘is’, instead of ‘was’ about his father. It lends a gravity to the situation he suddenly doubts he wants to deal with.
“Well, don’t tell anyone but I just turned 40 this year. It was a hell of a party too – made all the papers,” he hides an internal wince behind another flashing grin. Having Rhodey beat him down in a version of his own suit had certainly been the highlight of it for the press. Probably the best part as far as he was concerned too, actually, but there was still no way he was letting Fury know that.
“All the papers. Sure.” The blue eyes just look weary now. As if the man’s suddenly tired of trying to figure this place and its odd inhabitants out. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not sure I believe you.”
Tony raises a brow at him. “Tony,” he repeats firmly, smiling his best photo shoot smile. “Only people who work for me call me sir. And you sure don’t work for me, Steve.”
“Work for you?”
“Yeah. For me. Tony Stark, former CEO and Chairman emeritus of Stark Industries. I’m still primary shareholder, of course. I may be reckless and irresponsible, but I’m not stupid.”
There’s another flicker in the other man’s eyes. “Stark Industries. That’s Howard’s…” His voice trails off. Tony slips a hand in his pocket, pulls out his PDA. Taps it a few times just to find the local network again. The Stark Industries logo flashes and spins on the big screen for a moment as it flickers to life. Along with his latest personal greeting. April’s Playmate of the Month disappears with a wave and a delightfully silicone-enhanced bounce. He’d gone looking for the neatly hidden scars personally.
“Yeah. Good old Dad,” he says keeping as much bitterness out of his voice as he can as he hacks blithely into SHIELD’s systems. Recently discovered home movies and a gift of a new element to power his arc reactor without killing him notwithstanding, his memories of his father are mostly still painful. “He always knew the government contracts were the sure thing. Particularly if you made lots of things that go boom.”
The blue eyes go wider. “He makes aero planes and… um, yeah, last I knew.”
Tony swivels around with a frown, PDA in hand, data scrolling across it rapidly. “That’s where it started, yeah. Then we got into guidance systems, detection systems, security protocols, missile controls and smart weapons. After the mines, hand-held weapons and plain old bombs that is.”
The arms folded over that delicious chest flex. The other man is huddling in almost as if cold, though the room seems plenty warm to Tony.
“Howard. He told me later he’s the one who designed and built the machine they put me in…for the Project.”
Tony lifts a brow. “Huh. Did he?”
The dark blond head lifts, the blue eyes seem a little confused as well as wary now. “You don’t know?”
“Nope. Dad and I didn’t talk all that much.” Tony turns to face the flat screen on the back wall. Taps his PDA. “Well, I did. But he never stayed around to listen. But I can find out here.”
It takes longer than it did at the Senate Hearing, of course, but tapping into the network here he’s inside SHIELD’s firewalls already and it takes only a few minutes more before he’s pulling up the data he wants. The images are digital enhancements of old photos. He sees Steve then as he’d been before Project Rebirth; skinny, asthmatic, narrow-shouldered. Tony glances between the picture and the man behind him. Sees the broader shoulders. The height gain. The lines of him are the same, only more. Much more. Same dark blond hair. Same impossibly blue eyes, though.
Steve is staring at the picture of himself on-screen – taken in a crowd somewhere with a taller man with dark hair in a rather hot brown army uniform laughing beside him, a couple of passably pretty girls in period dresses, deep red lipstick and rolled hair trailing along behind. It takes a moment, but Tony finally notices Steve’s not looking at himself or the girls, but at the man standing beside him. There’s a hollow look in his eyes. For a friend?
He reads the image tags. Steven G. Rogers, Subject Epsilon. And Sergeant James B. Barnes. Hm. Then Tony makes a deliberately loud sound. Flips images through what looks like a series of more clinical shots of Steve alone. Clearly displaying how thin his chest had been. How frail his limbs. How low his BMI. Steve’s expression loses some of the hollowness after a minute. He seems immune to the images of his old self, though Tony is impressed. It’s hard to believe he’s the same man; except for the eyes.
“Wow, they generated raw bone mass too? That must have hurt like a sonofabitch.”
“I thought I was splitting apart.” His voice is hushed.
Tony, who has broken more than his share of bones during his daredevil life, imagines it was much worse than even that, but he only says with deliberate lightness, “I can see why. Glad you didn’t though.” Tony rakes him with a deliberately smoldering gaze. ”Because you turned out smokin’ hot, baby.”
Steve blinks then, gaze shifting from the old images on the screen to Tony’s face and away from his memory of pain. Frowns a little. “Um, ‘hot’?”
“Attractive. Desirable. You know, sexy.” And Tony suddenly remembers that back in the day there were far worse consequences than just a round of badly worded headlines and grainy tabloid photos for a month if you were caught fondling your best buddy in a back alley. He wonders if Captain America had been up on that kind of thing back in his time or not. He seems kind of confused more than offended though, he notes with a careful sidelong look. Interesting. He scrolls through pictures quickly until one tag catches his eye. “And oh shit as soon as I say the word sexy in conjunction with you, sure enough, there’s dear ol’ Dad. What a buzz-kill.”
They both look at the image on the screen. On it is Howard Stark, grinning in a way that Tony recognizes more from his own mirror than from any fond memories of his father. Howard is standing outdoors somewhere in the sun, bare-headed, with his arm slung companionably around the shoulders of a taller, tired-looking gray-haired man wearing a hat who has small round glasses perched on his nose.
He hears a gasp then and glances back at Steve Rogers. Who is staring at him in wide-eyed shock, his arms at his sides, hands fisted tightly. “Sweet Mary and Joseph, it’s true,” he murmurs. “You smile just like he does… like he did. You’re Howard’s son.”
“Then… everyone I ever knew really is dead.”
Tony feels something thick climb unwelcome into his throat at the look of utter devastation that takes over the other man’s face then. As it does he gets a vague sense of something clicking into place in his head. Or maybe in his heart. Either way, it’s something he’s never felt before.
But he forces it down firmly to say as steadily as he can, “That is, also, unfortunately true. I’m very sorry.”
And it may be the hardest thing he's done since watching Yinsen die, but he stays standing silently in the middle of the room, gaze locked on the floor as Captain America... no, as Steve Rogers begins to cry.