It’s not that he didn’t think someone could pull a prank on SHIELD. It’s that he didn’t think anyone who knew about SHIELD would, but Steve is pretty sure it’s not standard procedure to play rowdy rock music at top volume in SHIELD headquarters. Especially not when they managed to get Steve to come in, trying to convince him to join up. (He refused.)
It doesn’t help that each computer seems to be playing the same song at different intervals which means he has no idea what the words are because everything clashes so bad into more of a noise bath than most modern music is already. Steve’s got certain opinions about modern music.
It takes them about an hour to get every computer silent and uninstall the prompts that had caused the mayhem. In the same hour, they’ve tracked down the culprit. And somehow Steve is still here.
“So that’s him?”
“That’s him,” the handler says mildly.
Steve stares through a pane of one way glass into the interrogation room. The kid in the chair doesn’t look too worried. He’s slumped in it, head propped on his raised fist. The cuff around his wrist has to be for show because Steve would bet those thin fingers could slide right through it. He looks bored, like he’s got no idea just how much trouble he’s in, but something tells Steve he really does. He just doesn’t care – or doesn’t want them to know he does.
The agent sitting across from the kid keeps tapping his pen on the table with growing impatience as the kid either ignores his questions or mouths off. They don’t seem to be getting anywhere.
“Who showed you how to do it?”
“Pft. Like anyone had to show me.”
There’s a good amount of pride in the kid’s voice, all bravado and confidence. He doesn’t think it’s faked. Or, if it is, it’s not the skill that’s faked. It reminds him a little of Bucky. And then it doesn’t at all because Steve has enough problems without remembering Bucky. He folds his arms as he watches the kid keep deflecting and aggravating like he’s been trained to do so.
“Why am I here?” Steve asks after another few minutes because really, it’s not like he’s all that experienced with teenagers. He remembers being one and he doesn’t think he dealt with his age mates particularly well then, either. Besides, he doesn’t actually work for SHIELD (“Yet,” Fury keeps telling him), as much as they would like him to.
“We thought maybe trying someone with a little more… friendliness might help loosen him up,” the handler replies blandly. Steve keeps having trouble remembering the guy’s name. He knows it’s rude, but the guy is kind of forgettable except for his whole uncomfortable fascination with Captain America.
“Just try it.”
“When are you guys going to get it through your heads that I don’t work for you?”
“Consider it a favor for a fan.”
“This better not be a ploy to get-”
The agent in the room abruptly lunges across the table at the kid. Steve moves before he’s thinking, slamming the door open with his shoulder. He grabs two handfuls of the agent’s jacket and jerks him off the kid, tossing him bodily across the room. The handler- Coulson, that’s his name- Coulson’s right after him and as Steve puts himself between the agent and the kid, Coulson drags the guy up and out of the interrogation room.
Leaving Steve with a surly teenage boy that now sported a busted lip. Great. What the hell is his life anymore.
The two of them eye each other as the kid tongues the bleeding slit in his lip like it doesn’t hurt. Awkwardly, Steve drags out his handkerchief and offers it but the kid just looks at him like he’s nuts. His eyes narrow and Steve absently catalogues the deep brown color. His hair is darker, near black, short on the sides and back, fluffy and slightly curly on top, falling over his forehead and into his eyes. Thin face, strong jaw, slight dimple in the chin that’s sure to deepen as he ages. Thick brows, thick lashes. Steve puts him at maybe sixteen, barest edge of uneven stubble on his chin, but he really isn’t great at guessing when it comes to kids (or women, for that matter.) About the only ones he ever had much contact with were Bucky’s sisters and they’d cheerfully told him their ages often enough to keep straight.
“Guess you ate your vegetables, huh, He-Man?” the kid drawls out as he leans back in his chair, letting it rest precariously on the back legs. He’s gone back to being lazy and guarded.
Steve doesn’t get the reference but he’s pretty sure the kid would use that against him somehow. He sits down in the chair the agent vacated. “Guess so. Got a name, pal?”
“Maybe. Do you, pal?”
“Steve.” He considers what it might take to impress a kid and adds, “Captain Steve Rogers.”
The kid blinks once and something shifts. Abruptly, he’s not amused anymore. “Really? You poor soul. Patriotic parents?”
“Well, my father served if that’s what you mean.” He’s not sure what that has to do with anything.
“Your buddies tease you about it?”
“About my father?”
The kid scoffs like Steve’s stupid and starts picking at his nails. Steve isn’t happy to see that they’re bitten down bloody and the skin around them is pink and scabby. “About your name.”
“No, not really. They were more about the whole Star Spangled Man thing-” Steve stops because the kid twitches and abruptly jerks his head up to stare hard at him. “What?”
“Oh my god,” the kid says with disgust. He gets to his feet, glaring as his hands tighten up into shaking fists and Steve wonders just what he’s done. “You guys are low. What, you didn’t think you could break me so they send you in here to pretend to be Captain freaking America? Do you think I’m stupid?”
Steve gives it a few seconds to let the kid huff before he says a little sheepishly. “Well. You did hack into a top secret government organization.”
“Like it was hard. Your security is a joke.”
“Still got caught.”
The kid scowls and sits down again. “If I’d had time, I could have wiped you out.”
Steve just nods because there’s no merit in fighting with the kid about it. Maybe he could have. He was apparently bright enough to worry a few people into tracking him down. Coulson said they’d found him in a public library using one of the courtesy computers.
“Tony,” the kid says suddenly. He’s not looking at Steve, back to picking at his nails. Steve smiles.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
Tony snorts. “I’m surprised they didn’t send you in here with a suit on.”
“It’s probably best left in the museum.” Steve considers something. “What was it you made the computers play?”
“Only the best band alive.” Tony shrugs. “I figure anyone’d known Dirty Deeds.”
Steve pulls out his notebook and jots it down. He’s not sure if Dirty Deeds is the band or the song but he doubts that matters. Before he can ask more, there’s a knock and then Coulson sticks his head in.
“Captain Rogers, a moment?”
“Oh my god, your name really is Steve Rogers?”
Steve gets up and gives Tony a smile. “It was nice talking to you, Tony.”
The kid is silent as Steve files out to the hall but follows him with fugitive eyes. Coulson closes the door after him and motions for him to come near. Steve has a bad feeling about this.
“The blood sample Agent Connell obtained-”
“Is that what we’re calling it?” Steve interjects, suddenly livid on Tony’s behalf. “You know that’s a minor, right!?”
Coulson goes on as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “The sample is currently being run against our databanks. A child clever enough to hack into even a fraction of our mainframe had to have been noticed before now. We should know within a day or so who he is, especially after you obtained his name. Good job.”
“Just tell me that idiot’s getting his for that stunt.”
“Of course. We don’t condone child abuse here no matter how aggravating the individual. Believe me, he’s already been reported.”
Steve huffs out a breath, slightly mollified, and turns to look at the glass again. Tony’s still sprawled in his chair, but he’s looking less bored and more like a lonely, scared kid. Maybe that’s just Steve projecting.
“So, what’s going to happen to him?”
“Don’t worry about that. He’s being handled.” Steve looks at Coulson, eyes narrowing, and the agent smiles back. “I’m handling him.”
That actually does relax him a bit even though he’s known the man less than two weeks. He’s pretty sure Coulson won’t let anything more happen to the kid, but… maybe he’ll check in here and there. Just to make sure.
Steve finally drags himself away from Interrogation. The longer he stays, the more risk he has of getting forcibly employed.
They beg him to come in two days later because Tony refuses to talk to anyone except “the Captain America wannabe” and they still don’t know who he is because, surprise surprise, no record of his DNA. Steve’s in the middle of a workout (has been for hours) when the junior agent shows up. The guy is almost crying by the time Steve gets him to leave. Half an hour later, it’s Coulson.
“Did you at least listen to why?” Coulson asks, smiling as Steve ignores him in favor of pummeling the sandbag.
He’s learned how fast his knuckles will heal when he breaks them, which takes a lot of effort on its own, so when he feels it happen, he’s not worried. It hurts though, so he pauses and flexes, straightens out the finger so the healing bone will slot back into place. Doesn’t take long. If he left it for an hour, it’d be back to perfection. Had been a pretty handy trick back in the war. Not so much now.
He hears something scraping across the floor and looks back to see Coulson settling down in a chair with his cellphone.
“Are you just gonna sit there until I go with you?”
“Gives me time to catch up on Super Nanny. I’ve been too busy lately to watch any.”
Steve is almost sure he preferred it when Coulson was just in awe of him those first few days. He huffs out a breath and looks at the bag but he’s not so into tearing it apart with his fists. He thinks back to Tony, alone in the interrogation room, and hates himself a little.
“So he won’t talk?” Steve asks without looking back at the agent.
“Nothing but insults. You made quite the impression.” Coulson flicks on the sound from his cellphone. Steve hasn’t really gotten into modern television yet. He’s still kind of unnerved that it’s in color and how lifelike the action can be.
“And you’ve got no idea who he is?”
“Not even one. Which is strange because we keep track of talent like that.”
Steve purses his lips. He flexes his hand again - still hurts. “What do you want from me?”
“We’d like you to talk to him. Nothing too adventurous, just maybe see what you can find out.” Coulson makes it seem like it’d be easy but somehow, Steve’s pretty sure nothing is easy when a kid’s involved. “Maybe some clue we can use to find his parents and return him to them. Like a surname.”
“I’m not working for you,” Steve says because it needs to be said but Coulson just smiles and nods the way his teachers used to when he told them he was going to join the army. “You owe me.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll compensate your time.”
It’s not what Steve meant and he’s pretty sure Coulson knows that, but he keeps remembering the way Tony looked at him when he left. The way he seemed scared under the bluster.
He goes to see the kid.
They’ve given Tony a locked room that at least has a bed in it and a bathroom attached. It’s some kind of beige color that’s less visually offensive than white but still painfully boring. When Steve gets there, Tony is sitting cross legged on the floor with pieces from some kind of electronics littered around him. He’s got part of it in his hands, using a small screw driver to remove smaller bits.
Tony looks up as the door opens. He’s surprised for a moment before he drags a mask of smugness and turns back to his project, whatever it is. “Came crawling back, huh?”
“They said you weren’t talking to them,” Steve mutters and then feels rather stupid when Tony just snorts and keeps tinkering.
“Yeah, well, maybe when they let me get some fresh air, I’ll be more genial.”
Steve spies a chair by the door and sinks into it. The room is pretty small. Kind of claustrophobic. Completely plain. “What did that used to be?”
“Pretty sure it was masquerading around as a game console but this sure isn’t an Atari.”
Steve has no idea what an Atari is, and very limited knowledge about games in general, outside of Baseball. This electronic game whatever is out of the scope of what the last two weeks have taught him about the modern world. It’s a weird comfort that Tony seems a little dismayed by the thing that is not an Atari, too.
“You think they might bring me a microwave?” Tony asks.
It takes Steve a second to remember what that means. “You’re hungry?”
“No, I mean. This doesn’t have everything I need in it. Microwave won’t either, but you know, more parts. Might be able to jury rig something.”
Steve looks at the parts of the game console. “…What exactly are you making?”
“No idea. I’ll let you in on it when I figure that out.” Tony grabs some wire and starts fiddling with it. “Soldering iron wouldn’t go amiss, either.”
“I’m pretty sure they won’t let you have that.”
“Their loss. Now no one gets to play with the ray gun.”
“Yeah, I mean, the theoretical ray gun that I am totally not building.”
Steve gives him a look but Tony just hunches his shoulders and concentrates on the pieces. Sighing a bit, Steve wonders how any of this is his life. “Okay. How about this? I’ll ask them about the microwave if you tell me your last name.”
Tony pauses. He rubs the edge of his thumb against the green piece in his hand, following a silver line across the top of it. Then he glances at Steve through the veil of his shaggy bangs. It’s like he’s deciding something serious, weighing out the options for and against, figuring out how far he can trust Steve. For his part, Steve just sits under the scrutiny and takes it.
“You promise?” the kid asks.
“I swear on my mother’s grave,” Steve replies.
“Well, at least you didn’t swear on Freedom, the Flag, or the American Way.” Tony shakes his head a little ruefully. “It’s Stark. Tony Stark.”
Steve remembers another man named Stark with dark eyes and dark hair and an annoyingly endearing personality. And now that he knows to look for it, he can see some of Howard in Tony. He wonders if this is a grandson, or a great grandson maybe.
“Oh,” Steve says, his throat getting a little tight on the word. The room suddenly feels a lot smaller. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, well, that’s my end of it.” Tony goes back to staring at his mess. “Your turn.”
Steve is embarrassingly glad to escape the room and Tony goddamn Stark. Or he would be if Coulson weren’t right out there waiting. Coulson takes one look at him and then leads Steve up to the roof. The elevator ride is blessedly quiet, even if that’s too small by half, and then it’s fresh air and the sky and okay, okay, he’s okay.
Steve remembers the briefings about shellshock back in the war, back when things made sense even when they didn’t, and he knows if he just hangs on, being overwhelmed and panicked will stop. Steve knows he’s a courageous man and he’d never run from anything, not even when his body screams for it, so he just needs to push through and keep his head until it’s over. He’s pretty sure the sergeant hadn’t had any of this future stuff in mind, but Steve forgives him because who the hell would.
If he just holds onto his sanity, keeps his composure, everything will level itself out. It’s only shameful if the people back home find out, and it’s not like Steve has any people back home to know. Besides, at least he could make himself move and isn’t shaking like a leaf. He remembers some of the guys that couldn’t handle it and he’s not that bad. He’s fine, he’s great.
“Stark,” Coulson muses, fiddling with his cellphone, and it jerks Steve out of his head in a second. “Tony Stark.”
His heart is still going a little fast. Steve swallows and mutters out, “That mean something to you?”
“Maybe. Depends on whether or not the lab matches his DNA as a familial relation to Howard Stark. I believe you knew him.” Coulson finishes tapping on the cellphone and then slides it into his pocket and Steve feels for the thousandth time unnerved by a phone you could carry around in your pocket.
“I did. Think you’ll find anything?”
“Stark did have a son. He disappeared and was thought to have been kidnapped or murdered. No sign of him since then.” Steve hates the thought of what Howard must have gone through. It twists him up hard inside, the very thought of his friend hurting over the loss of someone close to him. “The boy might be his grandson and might lead us back to Stark’s son, if he’s still alive. Matches the family intellect, anyway.”
“He wants a microwave,” Steve offers because it’s all he can make himself say. Coulson just nods like somehow he understands.
“I’ll have one brought to him. Good work, Captain Rogers.”
Steve makes himself leave the roof. He goes back home and smiles at the pretty nurse next door, getting in just as he is. She’s been sweet to him since he moved in a week ago and he thinks maybe when he ever stops being so messed up, he might take her to dinner some time. If it stops, anyway.
He sinks down onto the couch among all the things he has managed to gather on his three outings outside the apartment walls. He has a radio that was made only a couple years after he went down and a phonograph with an automatic record changer, the kind he and Bucky had never been able to afford. It’s been harder to find records than the player, at least records of the right music and not the modern stuff just put down on vinyl. Found a couple old posters at the flea market and dozens of little odds and ends.
SHIELD had been very nice about setting him up with seventy years of back pay. Steve has no idea what to do with that ridiculous sum of money.
Maybe he’s spending a little too much time in the quiet. Steve goes to work out until he’s tried, which is kind of hard to get to anymore. It’s late in the night and then he goes back home and the phone is ringing.
Having refused a cellphone, Steve has a wall unit that is still strangely lacking a rotary wheel, but it feels less insane than something not connected by wire. The phone never rings unless it’s SHIELD trying to get in touch with him or harangue him about working for them, which is just as well.
He thinks about ignoring it. Then he feels bad and picks up. “Rogers.”
“I don’t suppose you had anything to do with that explosion,” Nick Fury drawls without a hint of humor. “Because if you knew anything, I’m sure you’d have informed us.”
Explosion? “No, sir. Is anyone hurt?”
“No. But Mr. Fix-it Jr.’s gone MIA.”
Steve doesn’t get that reference and he is kind of sick of that, but something clicks and he asks, “Tony?”
“Blew up the door, who the hell knows how. I’ve got to hand it to the kid, if I weren’t so pissed about losing Stark’s get, I might be laughing. But as it is, I am very much not amused.”
He’ll worry about Fury being pissed later. Right now, he’s horrified because they don’t know where the kid is and centering on what Fury just called him and, “He’s Howard’s?”
“Ridiculously close coincidental genetic relation apparently,” Fury says, like that means something. “If he’s not Howard’s grandson, I’m the Queen of England and do I look like a tea drinker to you?”
He needs to find this kid.
He needs to kill this kid.
For two days, Steve has been one step behind Tony. The other teams have been about as successful, which is not at all. Whoever Tony was before he turned up on SHEILD’s radar, he’s proving slippery as anything to track. Steve’s ear is sore from the communicator they stuck in it that he hasn’t removed it because he hasn’t slept and every time he hears something from it, he startles so bad that he nearly hits something. No one’s said anything about it, but the two agents assigned to him are giving him a wide berth.
Steve made sure they knew he wasn’t working for them, that this was just because a kid was involved, Howard’s grandson specifically, and that after this he was done, and they’d all nodded and handed him the communicator and weapons and something called gipiyes. The last of it he’d immediately given off to one of his agents, a red haired woman who smiled once and has been cool as death since. Steve likes her. She does her job and didn’t try to get him to sign anything or ask what he thinks of the future, and she’s been right with him the whole time. The other agent is a replacement for their first third member, who Steve had almost decked because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut for more than two seconds at a time.
So, it has been two days and the kid is still gone. Steve’s spent most of his time checking the library, shelters, and centers for runaways or at risk kids. Night’s falling again and one of the other teams reports nothing, making Steve jump again. He finally rips the communicator out of his ear, frustrated enough that he nearly crushes the tiny thing, but at the last second he manages to just shove it into his pocket.
“Rogers?” the redhead says – R something, Russian sounding, Romav? God he needs to get better with the names of these people – and he waves a dismissive hand.
“Just. Tell me if they say something important.”
Steve likes her. Maybe when this is over, he’ll buy her a beer. Do people even do that anymore? Is he allowed to just buy a dame a drink? Will she think he’s hitting on her? Ugh, this is definitely not the time.
They comb through another couple libraries when Red goes still, head tilted as she listens. “Stane International just reported a break in. The culprit is a boy matching Stark’s description.”
That’s all Steve needs. They get to Stane International’s New York office (which is way too big, just like every other building in the city) just as the police are shoving Tony into the back of a car because Red drives like a banshee. A tall man in a suit stands aside with another officer, giving a statement. He seems pretty genial for the victim of a break in, giving the three of them a curious glance as they arrive.
Red immediately steps in and starts talking to the cops while Steve hangs back and just revels in the knowledge that Tony is alive and unharmed and he is going to kill that boy. He doesn’t know what exactly Tony had been trying to do but when he finds out-
Steve stops himself. No. This isn’t his business. He just agreed to find the kid and return him to SHIELD so they can take care of him and that’s it. He doesn’t owe Tony more than that and he certainly doesn’t owe SHIELD. But as Steve continues to watch Tony sitting miserably in the cop car, eyes down and shoulders hunched up… He drags a hand down his face because he is in so deep.
“-understand your position, Miss, boys will be boys. That’s why we just kicked him out the first time he broke in,” comes filtering in through the haze of Steve’s mind and he looks up to see that the suited man is laughing a bit with Red, who smiles indulgently. “As long as this doesn’t happen again, I don’t mind letting him off into your custody.”
First time? Steve gives the sulking boy another look, which is wasted because Tony is staring very intently at his lap and probably doesn’t even know Steve is there. That changes when Red signals Steve and he goes for the cop car. The moment he opens it, Tony’s staring at him like he hadn’t believed he’d ever see Steve again. It’s something almost endearing or pitiful, Steve’s not sure which. Tony gets out of the car, the picture of contrition for about a second before he bolts. He gets about a foot and then Steve’s got his arm in a firm grip that stops him dead with a flinch.
“Don’t even think about it,” Steve edges out one word at a time between his clenched teeth. Tony stares at him with mutiny in his head but only jerks his arm once before giving in to the fact that Steve’s not going to let him go anytime soon.
Red finishes with the man in the suit and then comes over. She inclines her head to Tony. “Hello, Mr. Stark.”
“Hello, fascist government dog,” Tony replies blithely and Steve sees her lips quirk a bit on one side like she thinks he’s just being cute.
“That’s better than comrade, I guess,” she says and then turns to Steve. “Fury wants us back at headquarters. I think he wants to try and put the fear of something worse than God into the kid.”
“I’m not afraid of you guys.”
Steve ignores him. “Is he going to just toss him in another locked room?”
“Possibly.” Red shifts her weight from one foot to the other, almost like she’s bored instead of tired. “He’s pretty pissed.”
“Didn’t work the first time,” Steve grumbles, firming his grip on Tony’s arm.
“Does this count as police brutality? Because I think this counts as police brutality.”
“We have more secure facilities.” Red is smirking again but keeps her eyes on Steve’s face and he on hers.
“Not sure a windowless box ten levels underground is the right place for a kid,” Steve says.
“Twenty-seven,” she corrects.
“Oh that is so much better, really, I should be grateful.”
Steve gives Tony a dirty look. The kid glares back mulishly but finally shuts up. Drawing in a slow breath that does nothing to calm him, Steve gives in to the fact that he’s about to thoroughly complicate things for himself.
“He’s coming with me.”
“What?” Tony echoes the look on Red’s face. Steve stares stonily back at both of them.
“Look, Howard Stark was a friend of mine,” Steve begins and he tries to ignore the way Tony’s face goes blank at the mention. “I’m not about to let you bury his family under twenty-seven levels of concrete.”
“I don’t think you’re thinking clearly, Rogers,” Red says as her stance shifts again, firming, like she’s getting ready to pounce. “I think you should sleep on it.”
“I’ll sleep on it as soon as this idiot is in bed where he will stay until morning like the good little boy I know he can be- won’t you?” Steve finishes, eyes narrow as he stares the kid down.
“Yeah. Totally. I’m the best kid, really,” Tony says but it sounds a little more hollow and overwhelmed than mouthy now.
Red is very still a second or two longer and then she just sighs and rolls her eyes. “I’ll let Fury know. You might want to take your phone off the hook because he’s not going to like that.”
“He can yell at me in the morning,” Steve promises. Then he pauses and adds, “This does not mean I’m working for you.”
“I think we’re a little past that now,” she says and then drives them back to Steve’s place. Steve sits in the back with Tony and doesn’t let go of him the entire way. He’s not sure how much of a flight risk Tony really is at this point, but who knows how long Tony will actually listen to him, even if right now he’s acting pretty subdued.
It holds out until they get to the apartment and Steve feels a lot better once Red leaves them and he’s locked his door. Tony stands in the cluttered living room with his lips set in a thin line, looking from one thing to another with half veiled interest warring with disgust.
“It’s like a museum in here.”
Steve is way too tired to deal with this right now. He sinks down onto the couch and points at the bedroom. “In. Don’t you dare go out the window, I will hear you.”
“Super hearing, right, got it, any other super powers I should know about? Can your flatulence kill ten men, Grandpa?”
Tony shuts up when Steve just glares at him. He turns on his heel and marches himself into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Steve waits ten minutes but he doesn’t hear the window open. Then he lets himself relax into the cushions. He’s pretty sure he’ll wake up if a window or the door open, so he’s not too worried about missing it if Tony makes a break.
Steve has been a little scared to look into what happened to the people he knew after he went down in the ice. Coulson offered to look for him, but Steve told him not to. He’s not sure he wants to know. Even now, with a piece of Howard’s life in the next room, Steve is still unsure. He hopes the others had a happier time of things than Howard apparently did.
That’s the last thing to cross his mind before Steve is out like a light.
Steve wakes up to loud, obnoxious chewing. He opens his eyes and stares at Tony sitting not two feet away, cross legged on the floor with a bowl in his hands. Tony chews, swallows, and then says with mild disgust, "You have crap taste in cereal."