“This is for you.”
Steve took the item cautiously. The slim piece of technology Natasha handed him looked fragile, more than likely to break under his hands. It was something Steve had seen the agents carrying around SHIELD. As he studied it, Steve thought that Bucky would have laughed. Made a bet that he’d break the damn thing within a week. He turned the curious piece of machinery in his hands, marveling at the smoothness of it. There were hardly any buttons, all slim and light. Then, he noted the letters emblazoned on the back in raised silver: StarkPad.
Steve’s heart stopped for a second at the name. He didn’t really know Howard Stark all that well, but it was still something from his past. Something he could connect with. Something Steve could claim and he did wholeheartedly. He clutched at the StarkPad, still mindful of his strength. Glad that there was still something he knew in the future. The Stark brand was household name with the military after all, even if Steve didn’t know the man behind it.
“Stark?” he said out loud and raised a questioning eyebrow at Natasha. She met his gaze evenly.
“His son,” she said after a pause as if there was a story there.
“Oh,” Steve said because what else could you say to that? He thought—he didn’t realize that Howard had a kid. It was expected. After all, even Peggy, DumDum, Morita, and all the others had lived a full life when he—Steve swallowed hard. Turned his attention back to the StarkPad and gestured with it to Natasha. “What does this do?”
“Pretty much anything you want.” Natasha seemed slightly apologetic. “It is one of the older models. So, it belongs to some of the last items Stark personally invented before his disappearance. Say, a few months before you were defrosted. However, you don’t need to worry about cost. This one happens to be free.”
That jab deserved a smile, and Steve did. “Thank you for worrying about my wallet, but I already had my shock with today’s prices.”
It had been staggering the first time Steve went to the market. Trying to reconcile the numbers with the ones in his head was difficult. A cup of coffee was ten cents, not five whole dollars. Steve didn’t quite know what he was expecting when he walked into the grocery store for the first time either. Loud and huge, and there were just so many choices to pick from. Steve had felt overwhelmed.
“Don’t feel all charmed, gramps,” Natasha replied, but she had a genuine matching smile on that made Steve feel at ease. “This may be half a year old or so, but it is still Stark quality. It works better and has held up better than many of the newer products coming out today.”
“Ah,” Steve said, taking her word for it. “You still have quality in this age?”
Natasha’s smile grew wider at the return poke, and Steve released a slow breath at that. Joking was good, and she seemed nice enough.
“Only if you know where to look, but this one is pretty unique for a Stark item.”
“Uh,” Steve said, frowning at the pad. “Unique how?”
“Now, that wouldn’t be very fun if I told you, would it? Best thing to do is for you to play around with it.”
“Any other questions?”
Steve shook his head wordlessly. He slid his fingers across the surface of the StarkPad. It was definitely sleek and shiny. This was just going to be another thing he had to figure out himself, wasn’t it? Steve made a mental note to add StarkPad to his list of things he needed to look up.
“Good,” Natasha said and escorted him out. “You have any trouble, you ask.”
However, the StarkPad didn’t come up at all till Steve found himself running in D.C., making lap after lap. Sam Wilson, a soldier—paratrooper actually from what Steve gathered—who ran the same course brought it up.
“Good, good run,” Sam panted. He was hard pressed to keep up with Captain America even as fit as he was. Not that Steve helped any either by calling out “on your left” every time he overlapped him. It was a little petty, but it was something Steve could still do compared to other men. He liked knowing that he could run that well if needed.
“Good run,” Steve agreed, gulping down some water.
“Man, you’re not tired at all are you?” Sam asked. His hands were on his knees, trying to regulate his breathing.
“No,” Steve shook his head. “Not today at any rate. I usually get it out otherwise but…”
Steve winced to think about the reason for his lack of being winded. Sam caught his expression and smiled.
“But what? What happened?”
“I normally go the gym but uh…I‘ve been banned. Or, well, they said I’m no longer welcomed there anymore.”
Sam laughed. “You’re telling me you got kicked out of a gym? What in the world did you do?”
“Well,” Steve flushed. It was hard to admit. “I, um, broke a couple of punching bags.”
“You broke a couple of punching bags?” Sam’s eyebrows shot up in amazement.
“I have—I’m strong, you know,” Steve said defensively. Sam collapsed into a full set laugh that shook his entire body from top to bottom.
“Shut up!” Steve shoved Sam lightly, but his cheeks were completely heated, even to his ears and the back of his neck. He could feel exactly how hot his face must be, but Steve couldn’t will the blush away.
“Dude,” Sam said, eyes still sparkling in mirth when he had calmed down. “If you ruined enough punching bags to get banned, you need to find something better to do.”
Steve shrugged. “It helps.”
“I’m sure it does,” Sam nodded, picking up on Steve’s train of thought, “but there’s only so much punching you can do. You can’t keep it all in that head of yours. You need to talk too.”
“I…I know,” Steve said and sighed. Bucky would call him stupid if he saw how Steve was acting now, but he couldn’t help it. How was he supposed to handle the future? Every time he went out, he kept comparing the differences.
“It’s hard,” he finally said.
“I’m not saying it’s not,” Sam replied easily. “I did tell you to come down to the center, didn’t I?”
Sam clasped Steve on the shoulder firmly. “Look, what else do you do besides run and being faster than me?”
“Uh, I read. Trying to catch up on what I missed mostly.”
“Aside from that?” Sam prompted. Steve thought it over.
“I’m sorry,” Steve said, feeling down. He couldn’t think of anything that he did outside of that. Since he found out he was in the future, it had been non-stop reading and learning about the world that moved on without him. “It’s really mainly that.”
“No, no. Don’t be. I get it. It’s stuff you have to do, but it’s work. Even if you’re just doing what you can so you can survive this time.” Sam smiled encouragingly at him. “You really can’t think of anything else? What did you use to do in your off time back then?”
“Um,” Steve said. He didn’t deny that it wasn’t exhausting, trying to adapt to the future. There were just too many things he’d missed. He thought about Sam’s question some more, mulling it over in his head. Finally, he said, “I draw I guess. It was something I used to do, but it’s not the same?”
“How is it different?”
“Well…I start out and then I don’t want to draw anymore. I can’t even get past a few lines to finish.”
It really wasn’t the same, and it both annoyed and frustrated Steve that he couldn’t complete something. When he did, Steve automatically cataloged all the changes that New York went through while he had been under ice. Such as that big ugly building that took up space in the cityscape that wasn’t there before. It was depressing.
Sam hummed and rubbed his chin in thought. “I see. What else?”
“What else?” Steve echoed. “I don’t know, Sam. What do you want me to say?”
He couldn’t quite hide the bite in his words. He knew he wasn’t adjusting as well as he could be, but Steve had to adjust. What else did he have left?
“I think you need to talk to someone,” and that was rather obvious, but it wasn’t like Steve could call Bucky—he should find his grave. He hadn’t done that yet or visited his mother’s grave. Was it even still there?
“I know but—,” Steve didn’t want to go down to the center either. He didn’t like the idea of lying to the people there. He also didn’t know enough about the recent wars to pretend he wasn’t from seventy years ago, an old war relic. “I don’t want to go to the center. Not yet.”
“That’s fine,” Sam said reassuringly. “Just, if you need it, it’s there. Oh, I know! Do you have an iPad?”
Steve stared at him, thrown by the random question. “No, I don’t—wait. Wait!”
He reached for his bag, rooting around for the StarkPad he’d been carrying but haven’t really used.
“This, right?” he asked, a little unsurely.
“Yes!” Sam whooped, taking it right out of Steve’s hand. Then, his eyes bulged when he looked down. “Damn! You got a StarkPad?”
Sam whistled. “You’re lucky.”
“Why?” It didn’t seem that special to Steve. As near as Steve could figure it out, it was like the computers just more portable.
“It’s Stark tech,” Sam explained. “You know how good Stark tech is? Nearly every guy in the military I know, myself included, were pissed when he stopped making weapons. His tech lasted. They were good. Oh my god, Hammer tech sucks so bad in comparison.”
“I thought they were still making weapons?” Steve didn’t remember a time when Stark weapons didn’t exist, not with Howard outfitting them nearly every mission.
“Oh,” Sam said. “Yeah, I guess you might not know. Um, they briefly stopped for a time when Stark came back from Afghanistan. But since he disappeared, they restarted weapons production. Though, the quality is a little down considering the man himself is gone but it’s still better than Hammer’s shit.”
“I see,” Steve said, stilted. He wasn’t sure how to react to that and just filed the information away. One more thing in an endless list of items he might need to know.
“Yeah,” Sam said and turned the pad on. “This—oh man, it loads so nicely. So fast.”
Steve smiled at his enthusiasm. “Well, if you like it, you can have it. It’s not like I get much use out of it.”
“Nah, I can’t take this. Just treat this baby right. Besides, once you use it, you’re going to love it. You’ll think you’re crazy for even wanting to give this away!”
“Really. Trust me. You’re not going to give up that thing at all once you use it,” Sam wagered. “Now, check this out. These are some forums and sites you can go to. I know you don’t want to go to the center, but you can at least chat to these people if you want to.”
“Sam, I can’t—“Nobody was supposed to know Captain America was alive if they weren’t cleared.
“It’s anonymous,” Sam stressed. “Just try it at least once if you get around to needing it.”
Sam looked eager, and he was only trying to help.
“All right,” Steve sighed. “Anything else I can do on this thing?”
“Did they not show you the fun stuff?”
“I was just told to play around with it.” Steve still didn’t get what was so unique about the StarkPad.
“Okay. I’ve got to show you Candy Crush.”
“Sam,” Steve solemnly declared a few weeks later. “You’re right. I can hardly put the damn thing down.”
“Oh, am I?” Sam asked with faux modesty. He leaned in closer, face smug on the screen because Steve was trying out Skype. Though, it had been harrowing to set up with the connections stalling. Sam muttered something about his internet being spotty.
“Yeah,” Steve grinned. “Definitely right.”
The StarkPad was even friendlier than Steve expected and initially thought now that he was using it on a regular basis. Certainly, it was less complicated to figure out compared to dismantling Hydra’s tech with little to no instructions on a time crunch.
“It’s so light, so useful! I still can’t believe that I can actually see and talk to you. Do you know what it would have meant if we had this during the war?”
Sam chuckled, head bobbing in the screen. “It’s just Skype, but yeah. It’s cool, isn’t it?”
The beginning of a sly smile tickled the corner of Sam’s mouth.
“So,” Sam said benignly. “Did you use the tutorial or were my skills that good at teaching?”
“The tutorial,” Steve deadpanned, making Sam stare at him in disbelief.
“You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you? Seriously?”
Steve nodded firmly as Sam struggled not to choke. He couldn't keep his poker face any longer though, bursting into a hearty laugh.
“Nah,” Steve continued. “I didn’t really need it. I would say it’s pretty intuitive. Stark definitely knew what he was doing when he designed the thing.”
“Awesome,” Sam said. “Now we just got to get you to play Counterstrike.”
“I should probably get going soon, but…,” Sam paused, obviously concerned. “Any better today?”
“Some,” Steve said. It wasn’t exactly what he felt, but it had to do.
“And did you try out those sites I told you about?”
Steve cringed. “Uh, the once as promised? I did look at them if that means anything.”
Sam nodded. “That’s good. I’m glad you looked at it. What do you think?”
“It’s nice?” Steve said. He wasn’t quite sure how to feel, and reading the information provided was interesting. He was aware he had shellshock, but he didn’t realize that there were such support for it. Hell, there were people to talk to just like Sam said. “Well, actually, I did talk to someone.”
“Oh, so you did look at it more than once,” Sam said, a little surprised. He smiled broadly and looked as if he wanted to hug Steve if they didn’t have a screen in front of them. “That’s great. How was it?”
“It was all right,” Steve replied, thinking of the chat. He had woken in the middle of the night, panicked and trapped in his nightmare. “It was—it was there when I really needed someone like you said.”
The person from the chat stayed with him all the way to dawn.
“That’s,” Sam cleared his throat. “That’s good. I’m glad. You’re going to try it again?”
“Maybe.” Steve shifted in his seat. He felt so ashamed afterward though, as good as it felt talking. He shouldn’t need to talk to someone that badly or to be fine.
“Right. Well, it’s there if you need it.”
“Thanks. It really did help that one time.”
“You got it,” Sam smiled and gave him a thumb’s up. “Anytime you need help, you can call me too.”
“Three in the morning?”
“Even then,” Sam swore. “Later!”
Steve smiled as Sam logged off. He exited Skype, swiping a finger across the screen in delight. It wasn’t the same as something with lots of buttons, but it appealed to his tactile senses. A little like finger painting, especially with the simple art program it came with. Of course, it still couldn’t compare to actually drawing by hand, but it was pretty neat. Bucky would have loved this. He was the one who dragged Steve down to the Stark Expo and got him into science fiction.
He amused himself with swiping the screen back and forth several times. He didn’t have much to do, and the three screens were there, sliding in and out of place as he needed. Homepage, work and study material, and games (courtesy of Sam)—Steve studied the various icons that dotted each screen. He continued sliding random combinations of the screen, from homepage to work and back, work to study and back to study, and so forth…and where did this fourth screen come from?
Puzzled, Steve swiped left and back again. The fourth page was gone. Steve blinked, wondering if his eyes were tired. He squared his shoulders, taking another look at the screen. Well, he thought, and he tried to retrace his steps. Did he started on the homepage and swiped the screen left? Then, it was two rights and one left again and two rights that shouldn't be possible, and…the fourth screen was there.
There was only one item on the screen however. A folder plain and non-descript. In fact, it didn’t even have a name. Steve tapped it open to see a program that read simply “J”. Curious, Steve tapped that only to be prompted for a password. This was just getting stranger. Well, he didn’t know the password, but Steve tried anyway with random guesses. This eventually led to a pop up with a security question.
“Name the man,” Steve read out loud dubiously. “Who is the man?”
Steve bit the inside of his cheek. Well, maybe…
He entered Tony Stark.
It was wrong. Steve tried all the variants he could think of, even entering Stark Industries at one point. They all failed. Steve frowned at the box.
“I guess I won’t be opening you,” but his fingers remained hovered over the pad. On a whim, Steve typed in Captain America.
Steve watched in surprise as the program loaded to several dozen items. Files that were labelled “schematics”, “Stark Industries Fiscal Year Plan”, random strings of letters and numbers, and the like. Even one labelled “Donuts”. Then, out of nowhere, a voice spoke.
“Good evening. How may I assist you?”
Steve dropped the pad. Thankfully, it landed on the soft blanket of his bed. That was only a minor relief. He watched the pad warily, afraid it would suddenly move.
“Oh,” the voice said. It was smooth, a British accent that made Steve think of Peggy momentarily. “I apologize for starling you.”
“Y-you can talk?” Steve was incredulous.
“Of course I can.” The voice sounded affronted. “How else would I be able to assist you? I am Jarvis, at your service, Captain.”
Steve was horrified as he stared at the pad. He was afraid to touch it. How could it know he was a Captain?
“Have you been spying on me?” Steve asked, scooting away from the pad. Sam talked about this the other day, about 1984 and privacy issues online.
“No,” Jarvis answered quickly, dissuading any notions of that. For a second. “Although I am capable of that action. As of now, my protocols only allow me to observe and access information related to any of your activities on this particular StarkPad.”
Steve was stunned. “Are you an actual person? From Stark Industries?”
There was a long pause. “I am not a person, merely a computer program. Just a rather very intelligent system, if you will. For clarification, I am not related to any government or organization. My sole design purpose is to serve Mr. Stark.”
“Oh,” Steve said, picking up the pad gingerly. “Do all StarkPads come with you?”
“Most certainly not,” and Steve couldn’t help but feel he had insulted the program somehow. “There are only six StarkPads modified for my service.”
“Six?” Steve felt his head spinning.
“I see,” and Steve laughed weakly. This must be what Natasha meant by playing with the pad. “This is a lot to, um, process.”
He didn’t realize the future had talking computers that sounded entirely human. At least not like Jarvis who seemed to have a mind of his own.
“We can speak again after you rest,” Jarvis offered. “It is nearing three in the morning, and I am told that humans need a certain amount of sleep in order to properly function.”
Steve blinked. Did a computer program really just suggest he go to bed?
“Unless you choose to disregard that fact as Sir often does,” Jarvis added. Steve shook his head.
“No, no. I was just—wow. But I don’t require as much sleep as most people do. Four to five is enough for me.”
“I will note that,” Jarvis said.
Steve didn’t want to go to sleep, so he browsed the files that were within the StarkPad. Steve didn’t know where to begin to be honest. There were so much information there. He picked one at random, reading it. They were rather boring, highly technical with a ton of scientific jargon. Steve found himself yawning after thirty minutes or so.
“Are you certain you do not need to sleep?”
“Well,” Steve said and yawned again. He probably should. He had to meet with Natasha tomorrow. “I probably should, but I’m…”
“You don’t want to go to sleep,” Jarvis guessed.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “I guess I’m avoiding it. How do you know?”
“When Sir wasn’t intent on staying up far past normal hours, he sometimes actively avoided sleep as well.”
“Ah,” Steve said.
“Yes,” Jarvis said. “I will be here if you need me. I am available twenty four seven.”
“I think I’ll read on,” Steve said, and he read until he couldn’t keep his eyes any longer into a dreamless sleep.
Sadly, Steve didn’t have time to check out the StarkPad and its newest revealed feature. He woke up late for a meeting with Natasha.
“Really?” Steve asked as he slid into the seat opposite of Natasha. He was just barely on time. It was an old fashioned diner, clearly a mimicry of the ones from the past. It was almost nostalgic though he doubted the place would pass his taste test. Food didn’t taste the same as it used to do. Steve was utterly disgusted by the future’s bananas.
“Feeling comfortable?” Natasha leaned forward on her elbows, a smirk on her lips. “Thought it’d appeal to your sensibilities.”
“Gee,” Steve said, deadpan. “What an amazing dinner. I never saw such a fancy stool.”
He indicated the stools that were lined up in a neat row in front of the counter. Sarcasm aside, it did look pretty cozy.
“You better believe it.” Natasha winced as she moved her elbows to get at the menu. Steve passed it to her with a curious eye.
“Yeah. Just a scratch from a mission. At least it won’t ruin my bikini season,” Natasha said as Steve snorted.
“I’m sure it won’t,” Steve said dryly.
“Nothing I can’t handle, big boy. Come on, order up.”
They both opened their menus, and Steve quietly perused it. He didn’t say a word as Natasha winced again. It was obviously painful, but she wasn’t going to say or do anything either to suggest otherwise.
“You sure?” Steve had to ask when Natasha hissed as she accidentally banged an arm against the tabletop. She wasn’t normally so clumsy.
“Slipped,” she grunted.
“Right,” Steve said. That prompted Natasha to roll up her sleeves. Multiple bruises lined her forearms, extending up underneath the scrunched up fabric.
“It’ll heal, Cap.” Natasha shrugged off.
That still didn’t make Steve feel any better. It felt worse actually because he wasn’t doing anything at all while Natasha was out doing something.
“Not really,” Natasha said, almost automatic.
Steve deflated. “Well, let me know if it gets worse.”
“Thanks, Dad. Now, pick before you starve.”
Once they ordered, Natasha turned to him with a certain look in her eye. One Steve knew he had to stop before she could say it. If he relented even one second, Natasha would jump on that agreement in an instant. He also wasn’t in the mood for it.
“So, there’s a girl who—“
“Quite trying to set me up on dates. What did Fury say?” Steve really wasn’t in the mood for this. He was tired of sitting around, trying to adjust to this new future. It was too bright, too strange. How could he even feel like dating anyway? He was still dealing with the fact that Peggy was older now, living in a nursing home, for that matter.
“I’ll have you know that Mary is a very delightful lady,” Natasha huffed. “Part of our research department, actually.”
“I’m too busy to date,” Steve waved her off. “Now, what did Fury say?”
“He said no, didn’t he?” Steve sighed and ran a hand from his hair in frustration. It was enough to make him want to bang his head against the table. He really wanted to start doing missions again. Be there for Natasha or whoever so they wouldn’t get injured. But there were certain requirements he had to fulfill first apparently.
“It’s not Fury,” Natasha said, fixing him with a cold look.
“It’s not Fury,” Natasha repeated again. “He wants you out on the field as much as you do, but the council disagrees. They don’t think you’re ready.”
“I don’t care who, I just—it’s driving me nuts.” Steve picked up his fork, toying with it.
“I understand,” Natasha said softly.
“Do you? I’m doing nothing! I can’t go to the gym. I can’t draw. I run, and it’s almost meaningless, especially if I don’t get to use what I know. Everything doesn’t seem the same—doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore.”
He blinked and realized he had bent his fork in half.
“Sorry,” Steve apologized and put the fork down.
“It’s okay,” Natasha said. “You’ll get through it. And then you can even tag along with me and Clint.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, not quite believing that.
“You will. Look at me. I was once a spy for the KBG, and here I am now.”
“Right,” Steve took in a deep breath. He would get through this. He had to, even if he had to grit his teeth. Just like basic training all over again without all the tiredness and coughing. “Thanks. So what am I missing this time?”
“It’s really not much. Just the history lessons,” Natasha said tactfully. Steve was glad she didn’t say anything about the fork. “You’re already fit for the field. Also, a little on the social end, but you’re kind of hopeless in that area.”
“Well, I knew that. And I think I’ve had enough of history lessons,” Steve muttered a little darkly. “Seems…”
Natasha arched an eyebrow at him. “It seems?”
Steve rubbed the back of his neck, wondering if he should say it. Because Steve wasn’t stupid. He knew they were probably giving him a very specific narrative to follow. He didn't like being under SHIELD’s thumb, but it wasn’t like Steve had anywhere to go. He was really a dancing monkey again.
He thought of Peggy and her brashness. Boldness. He said it. “Lies. A lot of lies, and I don’t know enough to tell which is true.”
That was probably one of the more exasperating things Steve had to juggle in addition to being a dancing monkey. He wasn’t sure how he could get the information he needed to do the right thing in the world. At that, Natasha laughed and leaned back into her seat. The smirk on her face returned full blown. “You have a lot to learn.”
“I’m not a spy now, am I?”
“You didn’t do so bad on that mock mission.”
“It was bad,” Steve said, face burning red to even mention it. He’d missed a lot of cues. It was an absolute disaster. He’d gone on stealth missions with the Commandos before, but this was different. The way things were fought in the future—it didn’t seem real. Removed, just at their consoles. Steve drummed his fingers against the table in thought. “So, just the history?”
“Just the history,” Natasha confirmed. “Want any extra study materials?”
“I can go to the library just fine.”
“You have your StarkPad,” Natasha said smoothly and evenly.
“I know,” Steve said. It was actually in his bag right now where it was nestled against his thigh.
“Just saying.” Natasha shrugged carelessly, a little too much so. “You can learn so much on the internet.”
“I think I have it.”
“Do you now?” Natasha drawled. “An old man like you?”
Steve watched her face and smiled. He wasn’t wrong. There was a reason why Natasha wanted him to have access to Jarvis and was so explicit about it to be out of character. He just had to figure out why.
“If you can get me on a mission, you know.”
“Aren’t you a spy?”
“Haha,” Natasha said. “Very funny.”
“I’ll put you young whippersnappers in place.”
That night Steve turned on his StarkPad. He followed the steps and was instantly greeted by Jarvis’s voice.
“Good evening, Captain.”
“Uh, hello,” Steve said awkwardly. “How are you doing?”
Was that something he could ask? It was a computer program.
“As well as I can be,” Jarvis returned, answering as if it—he?—wasn’t any different from a person. “How may I be assistance?”
“I’m, I’m not really sure?”
There was a pause. “Would you like an explanation of my capabilities or what services I can offer to you?”
“You can do that?” Steve asked. He looked down at the screen, amazed.
“I can,” Jarvis replied. “However, I am capable of very many things. It would be easier and far more practical for you to ask something of me, and I can state whether that is within my function or not.”
“Oh,” Steve said. “You sound really lifelike, Jarvis, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Jarvis said. There was a long silence, and Steve realized that the StarkPad was probably waiting for him to continue or give some kind of command.
“Um…,” Steve said. “I can’t think of anything.”
“Feel free to take as much time as is necessary.”
“Sure.” Steve bit the inside of his cheek. He could ask something about history and current events. That was something he apparently needed to work on if he wanted to get some missions, but he took a different route instead.
“Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?”
“About me?” Jarvis seemed a bit startled. Steve nodded before remembering that the computer program probably couldn’t see him nod.
“I see,” Jarvis said. There was another long pause, long enough that Steve wondered if the computer program…lagged? Was that the term? He remembered Sam cursing after their skype conversation dropped and stalled at one point.
“Are you there?” Steve asked hesitantly when Jarvis still didn’t answer.
“Yes,” Jarvis said. “I apologize for the delay. I was created by Sir, Tony Stark, to attend to his needs. Thus, I handle all needs related to the usage of this StarkPad and other Stark technology.”
Steve waited for more, but Jarvis didn’t continue.
“Oh,” Steve said belatedly. “Then, could you tell me more about Stark Industries?”
He really didn’t know much about the weapon company now that he thought about it. Steve wondered where Howard went with it. It was pretty big, and Steve couldn’t escape hearing about the company. Also, to be honest, Steve could barely believe that that Howard had a son or that his son would be older than him biologically.
“Very well,” Jarvis said. “Stark Industries…”
Steve was really very glad for the StarkPad. Jarvis and the pad kept him company during those long nights when he couldn’t sleep, dreams too nightmarish or memories too melancholic. It also made it easier for him to gain headway in learning things. Steve could manage the internet with no problem, even navigated it somewhat well, but it didn’t compare to having someone to talk with. He also appreciated talking to someone he actually knew because he could speak a little more openly and freely.
“Hamburgers,” Steve repeated, amused at the suggestion for his lunch after his workout.
“Yes,” Jarvis replied, voice quite dignified. “Sir used to say that all one needs is a good burger sometime. Particularly with cheese. Especially after a grueling event such as your marathon run. Though, Sir often declined exercise in favor of—“
Jarvis spluttered slightly, as if cut off, but Steve got the gist of it. That Tony Stark was not a man for exercising.
“He said that?” Steve quirked an eyebrow at the screen. Jarvis often had a bit of commentary on what Tony would have said or thought. It kind of made Steve wished he could have met the man. The Iron Man suit looked pretty amazing as well. He could hardly believe that Tony created it. The suit could fly!
“He did,” Jarvis said after a pause. There was a sort of exasperated tone to his voice. “This is one of the things he has a very great opinion on apparently, and he would suggest that you immediately go right now. In fact…”
Jarvis immediately pulled up a map and directions to the infamous burger place that Tony frequented quite often.
“I suppose it is better than Burger King,” Jarvis said, voice dripping with disapproval. So much so that he wouldn’t have thought that Jarvis even suggested burgers for lunch in the first place. Steve laughed. How could he not?”
“Laughing to yourself is a sign of creepiness,” Sam said, dropping himself on to the bench next to Steve. “Hey.”
“Sam!” Steve jumped, startled. “Uh, so is showing up without warning.”
“Public area, man,” Sam said, making himself comfortable. He pointed at the StarkPad where Jarvis had gone silent. “So, why are you smiling into your pad?”
“Uh, nothing.” Steve shot a furtive look down at the screen, but Jarvis had gone entirely quiet. The only thing that appeared still was the map of the burger place with a caption next to it that said: EAT HERE. SERIOUSLY. YOU WON’T REGRET IT.
“I hope I'm not seeing Captain America hiding dirty porn,” Sam teased.
“Sam,” Steve said with a serious tone. “Do I look like I flip through the unmentionable pages? Because—“
“I don’t need to hear it!” Sam said, covering his ears.
“You asked,” Steve said with a shrug. He still thought it was funny that people acted as if he knew nothing about sex. It existed in the forties, and it exists now. He quickly tapped out of the map and stowed his pad safely away into his bag. “In fact, let me tell you—“
“All right, all right,” Sam laughed. “I don’t need a lecture.”
“Who said I was going to give a lecture?”
Sam stared. Then, he shook his head. “Still don’t need to hear about it. Anyway—,” he eyed Steve up and down, “—it’s just, you look good. Happier.”
“I found something to do.”
“No more punching bags?” Sam asked with a smirk.
“Naw. Haven’t you heard? I’m banned for life.”
“Whatever. I’m glad you’re all right, man.”
“Thank you, Sam,” Steve said honestly, chest just a little tight. “It’s still hard, but I think…”
Sam nodded, understanding what he meant. It was easy to think that Steve had no one left in the world, but that wasn’t true at all. Hell, even Peggy was still there on her good days. The future was tough, but things seemed to be looking up for once. And Fury even finally assigned him to a mission, his study of current events and history finally deemed up to par. He’ll find his way, somehow. Bad days notwithstanding, because there were bad days. When he couldn’t get out of bed, and—
“Want to join me for lunch?” Steve said instead of finishing that thought. “I heard there’s a really good burger place nearby.”
“Hell yeah,” Sam agreed.
“Hello, Jarvis. Did you miss me?” Steve asked when he finished his last mission and came home. He had been going on more of them lately. It was good to be useful again.
“As Sir would say, no, even if that was the case,” Jarvis replied warmly. “It is good to have you back and well, Captain.”
“I missed you too. No one can say such funny things as you do.” Steve smiled and tossed the towel he was using to dry his hair to the side. He would return it to the bathroom later. He rolled his shoulders experimentally. This time, he was only a little sore, not quite bruised, but it was worth it. There was something to be said about moving his body and pushing it to its full capacity. Steve had been assigned to the Strike Team along with Natasha. The men were decent fellows. The camaraderie was great, easy, even if it was different from the Commandos. Though, Steve supposed, he would never get that exact same feeling again.
“Thank you,” Jarvis replied. “Food is on the way. Chinese takeout. It should arrive within the next ten minutes.”
“Oh,” Steve said, surprised. His stomach growled in appreciation. “Thanks. I kind of forgot about that.”
“At least you are not as bad as Sir,” Jarvis offered. “He can spend days in his workshops without surfacing, surviving merely on caffeine and what smoothies Dummy makes.”
“Dummy?” Steve asked, puzzled. Wasn’t that an insult?
“One of the robots that Sir made in his youth.” Jarvis pulled up a picture of a young Tony Stark standing next to a creation. Steve didn’t quite know what to make of Dummy. It was all smooth metal with a claw. However, he was suitably impressed.
“Wow. That’s amazing.”
“I suppose,” Jarvis said, stilted. Steve had to hide a smile at that.
“You’re just as amazing,” Steve added. “If not more so. I can hardly believe that Tony made you or, uh, Dummy.”
“Sir is a genius.”
“May I ask you where Dummy is currently? I assume it still exists.”
“He,” Jarvis corrected. “Dummy is a he, and he still exists. He is also an absolute menace. Sir often threatened to donate him to a city college for his transgressions, but there truly is no other robot such as him.”
“I wish I could see him,” Steve hummed just as the doorbell rang. He bet the robot would be wonderful to see in person. Everything Tony made just seem even more unbelievable the more Steve learned about what the younger Stark did or heard what Jarvis said about him. Howard had an amazing son. If Steve had to say it, he really wished he could have met Tony before he disappeared. What a shame he wasn't found earlier. Steve might have even saw Gabe before the man passed away too.
“Be right back. I’m going to get the food you ordered.”
When he returned, delicious food in hand, Steve found a map opened on his StarkPad. It hadn’t been there before, but it was just like Jarvis to leave open pages for him to find. The computer program often did that, entertaining Steve or giving him things that Steve might find interesting. Sometimes, they were even accompanied with hilarious comments. The notes sounded nothing like Jarvis did when he spoke, but Steve supposed one’s writing voice wasn’t necessarily the same as one’s speaking voice.
The location on the map wasn’t in Washington. Steve could probably get there relatively fast if need. However, even with the exact coordinates given, Steve didn’t know what he was looking at.
“Uh, what is this, Jarvis?”
There was a rather long pause before Jarvis finally answered. “It is one of Sir’s workshops located in New York.”
“What?” Steve said, startled. “His workshop?”
“Yes,” Jarvis said. “His private one, in fact. You can see Dummy and his brother, U, there.”
“B-but—,” Steve stared at the map. It was a little too surreal. “Am I allowed? I thought—“
Through Jarvis, Steve had learned a lot about Tony. The man was many things, and he was also highly secretive—guarding of his technology. Especially in the year before he disappeared, according to Sam.
“You are allowed,” Jarvis said quietly, solemnly. “If Sir could say it, he would agree most heartedly. Who is more trustworthy than Captain America? I believe you will not divulge the location to anyone else, least of all SHIELD.”
“I—,” Steve had to take a deep breath. He was actually going to be able to see Tony Stark’s workshops, see his robots and creations. “I’m honored, Jarvis. I promise you I won’t tell anyone.”
“Thank you. Now, Captain…” Jarvis said, changing topic. “I’m told you jumped out of a plane without a parachute.”
“Oh,” Steve said. He shrugged carelessly as he dug out his food. “It was over the ocean. I know how to swim.”
“Regardless, please refrain from doing that in the future. As Sir would say, that was a completely dumbass move to make.”
“I was fine.” Steve shoveled a forkful of chow mein into his mouth.
“What if it wasn’t over water? There was no one to catch you.”
“Problems of not having someone who can fly,” Steve quipped. “Thanks for your concern, but I’m good.”
“Are you?” Jarvis pressed, and Steve sighed. He knew what the computer program was going on about because he had shellshock. Which he managed just fine on his own, and it wasn’t like he was going to purposely kill himself.
“I’m sure,” Steve said. “I—it’s been better, especially since I got you. I don't wake up nearly as much as I used to do.”
“I’m…I’m glad to hear that.”
“Yeah,” Steve said. “Could you play some music, please? Wait—please don't play Tony’s music. I don’t think I can handle it tonight.”
“You are missing out on some wonderful rock and roll, but very well.”
Steve surveyed his living room. The chair still had Fury’s blood on it, and the entire place was indisarray. Then, he got out the broom and went to work. Actions that were both familiar and soothing. Methodically, he swept up the broken glass. He righted furniture and tried not to think about how he was supposed to go to SHIELD. They had an hour to clean up and meet up at headquarters. Steve was offered help, but he passed it off. He needed to be alone to calm down.
Fury came to his apartment earlier that day, bleeding out and holding far too many secrets. He gave Steve an USB before dying on Steve’s carpet, telling him to trust no one. It was—his neighbor lied too. She wasn’t a nurse at all. She was a secret agent who worked for Fury. That possibly annoyed him more than failing to catch the man who shot Fury.
“You are angry, Captain.” Jarvis’s voice came in soft, gentle. Steve startled for a second. He had forgotten about the StarkPad. His eyes automatically searched it out, wondering where it was placed. The pad was on the bookcase, miraculously undamaged, even if Steve didn’t remember leaving it on.
“Furious,” Steve agreed. His apartment was a goddamn wreck.
“If,” Jarvis ventured. “Sir was here—“
“But he’s not here,” Steve snapped. The broom handle broke in his hand. “No one’s here. Only me.”
He tossed the broken handle away with a grunt. He couldn’t even control his strength, and he still had to go to SHIELD.
“I apologize,” Jarvis said as stiffly as he could for a computer program. “I am quite aware that Sir is not here.”
“No, he isn’t.” And just like that, Steve couldn’t breathe. Because there really wasn’t anyone. There really wasn’t anyone. The thought slammed into Steve like a freight train. He was—he had been handling things so well. He had been working, adjusting to this new age and time. He got along with Sam and Natasha. He went on missions.
But apparently, Steve didn’t know who he could trust. Who he could go to when everything went FUBAR.
“Captain,” Jarvis said lightly. Steve was only faintly aware of his voice. It sounded almost like a dream and very distant.
“What?” Steve said, trying to make it out. It was hard to focus, but he did. Jarvis’s voice was a little clearer now. Louder.
“Captain!” Jarvis’s voice was urgent. “Breathe. Please!”
“I, I can breathe,” Steve said, realizing he was breathing hard and unsteady. As if he had asthma once more and wasn’t fit. He was sitting on the floor, knees to his chest.
“I can breathe,” Steve repeated again to himself. He forced himself to take deep measured breathes. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
“Captain,” Jarvis said, relief breaking through his words. “Your vital signs are slowly coming back down to normal.”
Steve rested his head on his knees. God, he felt so tired. He didn’t want to do this anymore. He pushed his hands into his face, pressing hard against his eyeballs. He was a soldier, damnit. He had to do this. He had to—
Who’s strong and brave, here to save the American Way?
Who wows to fight like man for what’s right night and day?
“Jarvis,” Steve choked, unsure if he was hearing what he was hearing.
“Star Spangled Man with a Plan,” Jarvis said.
Steve couldn’t help it. He laughed. He laughed and laughed. Of all the songs to play, it was this one.
“A reminder,” Jarvis said, without a hint of remorse or shame. “As I said, if Sir was here, he would tell you that you are not alone.” He paused. “Well, he might not say that out right, but he would be here. I am also here, or do I not count?”
Steve sighed, turned onto his knees and stomach, crawling over to the pad. He cradled the StarkPad in the cup of his hands.
“You count,” he said quietly. “You definitely count. Thank you.”
Then, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t—I know you must miss Tony very much.”
“Not as much as one thinks.”
Steve smiled at the pad. Jarvis was as tough as the Tony Stark he spoke of often. If he had been in a better mindset, he might have recognized Jarvis’s attempt to cheer him up. He did like to hear what Jarvis had to say.
“You can talk to me about him anytime you want,” he offered.
“I have been doing that since we met,” Jarvis said dryly, “but I appreciate the thought.”
“Guess you’re right, but you can. Just so we’re clear.” Steve really did want Jarvis to know he could talk to him. It seemed the only thing to do considering how much comfort Jarvis gave him from his company.
Steve ran his fingers across the top of the StarkPad and sighed. “I should dress and get going.”
He still had to go to SHIELD, something he wished he could forget easily. He rubbed a hand over his eye, pushing his palm deep into his left eyeball where it ached just a bit. How was he going to explain why Fury was in his apartment and dead? They were going to ask him that, and Steve didn’t have an answer.
“Of course,” Jarvis said. “But before you do…”
Jarvis pulled up a map on the screen, several dots highlighted on it.
“If you recall,” Jarvis said. “I gave you a map to Sir’s workshop before. You have access to that and now to these as well, which includes Sir’s various safe houses.”
“What, I can’t—“
“Sir would want you to be safe as do I,” Jarvis said firmly. “These are only the locations here in Washington. You also have access to any places Sir has in the world. You only need to ask me for the coordinates.”
Steve swallowed hard. He wasn’t stupid. He was going to need it if things became worse, and he blinked, trying not to cry. It really meant a lot to him.
“Thank you, Jarvis.”
Alexander Pierce was a real piece of work, and his men—fuck—were after him. They were his team, and if Steve was a little bitter, well, it was personal. But then again, it seemed pretty par on course. He did have a spy neighbor, so having the Strike team after him was probably normal in all respects. Steve shook his head. Bucky would say that nothing about his life was normal at this point, especially after getting himself frozen solid.
He stretched his neck, cracking it as he peered up at the street sign. It should be the right place, but Steve still felt nervous. It was a yarn store of all things, and Steve had to smile bemusedly at that. Because a yarn store was the least of what he expected, but he supposed that was what Tony was aiming for too. Steve slipped inside quickly, aware that his uniform would make him stand out. Only, once inside, he didn’t know where he was supposed to go. There had to be a way to get into Tony’s workshop.
“Can I help you?” Steve barely managed to restrain himself from hitting the helpful staff person. He put his hands behind his back, afraid he would accidentally hit a civilian.
“Uh, no. I’m, I’m good.” Steve winced at how he sounded, but the staff merely nodded. Didn’t even bat an eye at Steve’s uniform or the shield on his back as if it was normal.
“If you’re sure. Let me know if you need anything.”
“Oh,” and the staff turned back to him. “I love your cosplay. I don’t know if Captain America would have worn that, but your shield looks very real.”
“Uh, thanks?” Steve said, confused but grateful for the luck. He’d have to ask Jarvis what that was later. After the person disappeared back to the front or whatever, Steve resumed his search. He hoped to god the entrance was inside because he didn’t really want to risk going back out. Steve took a deep breath and went about it systematically. There had to be something different, just a little off.
He strolled up and down the aisles, eyes searching for an opening and found what he was looking for against the back wall. Or at least, Steve was going by a hunch and previous experience. The bricks there were aged, probably part of an old building structure. There weren’t any buttons, but Steve thought one of the bricks had to be false. Pressed into the right one, and there you go. He just didn’t know which one. Still, he had Jarvis.
“Really, Jarvis?” he asked, flicking it on.
“Oh,” Jarvis said, sounding relieved. “I’m glad to see you are safe.”
“I am,” Steve said quietly as a customer passed by. He smiled awkwardly, grabbing a ball of blue yarn and held it to the pad as if checking something. This reminded him of one of the missions he went on with Buck. It had been mortifying, but he had dressed up as a woman and knitted on the train. They had laughed themselves silly after though it wasn’t so amusing at the time. “How do I get in?”
Jarvis paused. “You are—“
“In the yarn store,” Steve confirmed. He really didn’t know how to access the door. He studied the wall again, wondering how well it was hidden. Should he just press each brick at random, hoping one of them would work?
“My apologies, Captain,” Jarvis said, a little embarrassed, “but the entrance is at the other end of the store. Perhaps, you have been watching too many espionage films?”
Steve groaned to himself. He was so sure too. “Oh, please don’t tell me…”
Jarvis didn’t reply, and Steve made his way to the other side. It wasn’t really an anomaly, but it was enough that it caught Steve’s attention earlier during his first sweep. He had hoped he was wrong though. At the other side of the store, there was a large poster on the wall that detailed about knitting socks and things to send overseas to the troops. Underneath it were several large donation bins, presumably for when a person finished their knitted good. Attached to the far left bin was a tiny replica of Steve’s shield.
“Well,” Steve muttered to himself. “You sure like using me for your passwords.”
He glanced around before pressing a finger to the shield. There was a beep. Steve watched in amazement as the bins slid to the side, revealing an opening. He entered before someone could see. The entrance immediately closed up behind him. The way was dark, and Steve followed the path downward. Then, lights slowly flicked on lighting the place up.
“Wow,” Steve said, stunned. There were so many contraptions and gizmos that he didn’t even understand. There were bright blue lights lining the air, some of them schematics of machinery, and meaningless data to Steve rolled on in marching rows on several floating screens. It was enough to make Steve forget why he needed to come here in the first place.
“Welcome,” Jarvis said formally, “to Sir’s workshop.”
Steve couldn’t speak. It was both something he expected and did not expect to see in the future. It was amazing, and he wished he could share the moment with someone. Like Bucky or Peggy or just someone. This was beyond his wildest imagination if Steve could even imagine such a thing. His eyes darted everywhere, trying to catalogue all the details. His fingers itched to capture the image, even if he couldn’t draw so well anymore, and it was so—
“Thank you,” Steve said. “This is—“
“Amazing? Wonderful? Out of your mind great?” Jarvis supplied. “Or any of the adjectives that mark this workshop as one of the best and most brilliant places on earth as Sir would say? Even happier than Disneyland.”
“Yes,” he laughed. “Yes.”
Steve couldn’t resist. He moved forward, hand reaching out to touch one of the gleaming counters and laughed again when he realized he still had the blue ball of yarn in his hand. He put it down, rested his hands on the surface of the counter, marveling. This was Tony’s workshop? Steve tried to picture what it would be like if its occupant was still there. Lots of movement maybe. Gliding as if dancing in between those holograms. Tony always seemed so active in the little video clips Jarvis had shown him. Steve tried it then too. Put a finger to the glowing lights and watched it moved beneath his every gesture. He felt clumsy, but he could do it. Play around with the lights.
“I can’t believe this,” he said. “I imagine you can do a whole lot here.”
“And then some,” Jarvis agreed. “You are picking up on things pretty quickly.”
“It’s intuitive,” Steve explained. “Tony—he has a good head for knowing what a person may need. I’ve thought that before.”
“Not always,” Jarvis said. At Steve’s questioning silence, Jarvis elaborated. “He wouldn’t necessarily agree with you. Now, are you hungry? You can explore these systems later.”
Steve’s stomach growled in answer. “I should probably get some food.”
“Then, please step to your left you will find the door. There’s an attached bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen.”
“There’s more?” Steve blurted out.
“Not much, but it will have to do.”
Right. Steve shook his head. This wouldn’t be a hidden place without somewhere a person could sleep and eat. He followed Jarvis’s instructions and checked the rest of the place out.
Everything was sparsely furnished. The kitchen barely had any food, but why would it? There was no reason to keep it stocked with fresh food. Thankfully, there were some canned items. Enough to last a week or so. As he sat there, waiting for a can of soup to heat on the stove, exhaustion finally caught up to him.
“Are you okay?” Jarvis’s voice drifted in, as unobtrusive as possible. Steve smiled sleepily.
“More than fine. Just need to eat and sleep.”
He really was and sitting there waiting for his food Steve felt relieved. Safe even. There were people he couldn’t trust, but Jarvis was there at least.
One day later, Steve was still in Tony’s workshop laying low and wearing borrowed clothes that were a bit too small for him. Jarvis was, of course, monitoring for anything suspicious while he tried to make heads or tails what to do next. To that end, Steve called Natasha.
“Are you okay?” Steve asked. Jarvis said he put him on an untraceable line.
“Does it matter?” Natasha shot back. Her voice sounded weary, and Steve remembered that she was close to Fury.
“No,” Steve admitted. A long silence stretched between them. “I’m sorry about Fury.”
“It’s fine,” Natasha cut him off. “Where are you?”
“Somewhere safe,” Steve answered. He looked up at the screens Jarvis pulled up. There wasn't much on the news about his run from SHIELD. He didn’t really expect there to be because Captain America alive was unknown to the world. He shifted in his seat.
“Look. I’ll—I’ll get you. I got something that I need to figure out first.”
He toyed with the USB Fury gave him. He didn’t know much about it, but if there was anyone who could do anything with it then it had to be Jarvis.
“I’m holding you to that.” The line clicked off, and Steve was left sitting with his thoughts. He turned the USB in his hand again. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know what was on it. He might understand technology a bit more, but there was still a lot he didn’t. Steve swallowed, feeling a bubble of panic rising within him. There was a lot he couldn’t do, and he didn’t know exactly what he was supposed to do. He had a stick that hardly meant anything to him. He’s hiding out, and he really doesn’t—
“Excuse me, Captain,” Jarvis said quietly.
“You are in distress.”
And Steve was. It really was pathetic. “I know.”
“May I suggest an activity to recuperate before you set off on your next course of action?”
Steve squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again.
“That—that’ll be good,” he said hoarsely and shoved the USB into his pants. It’s selfish, but Steve just wanted to rest for a while. Jarvis threw a screen up in the center of the room. Steve looked at it, perplexed.
“There’s a pen in the top right hand drawer to your left.”
“You can draw with the pen.”
Steve fished the pen out, but…he tapped the pen against his thigh, looking upward to ceiling where he assumed Jarvis’s speakers were located.
“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to draw properly since they found me. It’s not going to come out well.”
The pen was nice though. It was sleek and obviously meant for digital work. He wondered what he should draw if he did. He remembered feeling excited when he saw the workshop, wanted to figure out how to catch the play of the blue lights suspended in air.
“Oh,” Jarvis said. “Perhaps—“
“No,” Steve sighed. He held the pen up to his eye. ‘I’ll try.”
He had to do something. Maybe it would be different because he wasn't using a pencil or pen. Steve settled himself into the middle of the room. He started with Bucky. Using the pen wasn’t really strange. It was as if he was writing on a chalkboard, only he couldn’t feel the pen make any actual mark against something.
“It looks good,” Jarvis commented after Steve paused to look at Bucky’s face.
“It’s not,” Steve frowned, looking at his own work critically. “It’s terrible. It looks like shit.”
He swiped the image away and started again. He tried Peggy next, but his hand shook and it really wasn’t it either. He swiped the image away, huffing in annoyance. All the lines seemed jagged and wrong.
“I need—I can’t do anything from memory. Could you give me something I can copy?”
Jarvis put up a glossy photograph of Iron Man.
“If you please,” Jarvis said primly. Steve laughed.
“I can try.”
And Steve sketched the beginning of the Iron Man armor out, following guidelines he hadn’t used since he started free sketching. Oh, Steve thought. It was easy, far easier than he thought. He moved with an ease he hadn’t felt in a long time and latched onto the drawing with an intensity that scared even himself. Plain copying was freeing. Steve didn’t have to think, only draw the armor as exact as he could. It probably helped that Jarvis built Tony up so great, to the point that it became one of the unexpected things that Steve felt he even remotely knew in the future. The suit hung in air in a wonderful blowing blue when Steve finished.
“It’s beautiful,” Jarvis complimented. And it looked good, looked right. But it wasn’t enough, and Steve pushed this sketch away too. Steve breathed in deeply, taking everything the workshop had in. He was surrounded by the essence of Tony here. It made him want. Long for someone he doesn’t know and isn’t here. He could do this. He could draw without copying.
“I’m, I’m going to do you one better, Jarvis.”
And Steve started anew, conjuring from memories of clips, of everything Jarvis had ever said to him about Tony Stark. He drew Tony as the man who must have been, putting every ounce of his skill into it. Drew out those expressive eyes lined with crow’s feet at the corner. Followed the curve of cheek with the pen and back onto that touch of hair and the maddeningly confusing facial hair. Steve drew as much as he could.
“Give me some colors please.”
Jarvis obliged, and Steve continued, splashing colors onto the art from the color box and wheel that floated next to him. He smudged the brown, gold, and yellow trying to capture those lively eyes. He brought Tony to life as well as he could, and when Steve’s finished he has to stare.
Because it is as if Tony was really there, alive and breathing. Full form and to scale. His breath was caught in his throat, and Steve reached out and stopped. Afraid to touch. He wanted to believe that there was someone there, truly standing before him to help him. Steve wanted, and he reached for that man…
He met air.
Steve sighed and closed his eyes. Right. It wasn’t real. He couldn’t even hug the damn thing, and he had more important things to worry about anyway. He shouldn’t be wasting time like this. He could go find Natasha and—
“Alright, old man,” a voice said suddenly. “I see how it is. Really? When I’m not there to partake in your fine perfection?”
Steve jerked, eyes going round and darting everywhere for the voice. It wasn’t Jarvis. “What?”
The voice sounded similar to Howard Stark. Only a little more older, a little rougher and sensual.
Jarvis sighed. “Must you scare him, Sir?”
And that voice—Tony’s—responded. “He’s the one doing unspeakable things to my figure. Which by the way makes me look more flattering than I really am. Thanks for that.”
Steve was stunned. At how rapid quick and fiery Tony spoke. How vibrant and very much alive that voice was to his ears.
“Is this,” Steve swallowed. “A test?”
“Does this look like a test to you?” Tony asked. Steve watched as his drawing was suddenly commandeered by some unknown force. The Tony he had drawn moved around, and it was—
“You’re dancing!” Steve blurted out. He knew his mouth was ajar, but he couldn’t really believe what he was seeing. He pinched himself, but nothing changed.
“That I am,” Tony said, nodding his head. He did a nice little shimmy that accented his ass, and made Steve’s face colored. “Wow, you really gave me such a nice body. I wonder if…”
Steve turned a deeper scarlet when Tony pulled at his shirt, lifting it up. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“You can’t,” Steve said helplessly. “Do that!”
“I think I can. Huh. I guess not. Nothing. What a shame, but technology can only go so far I guess. Want to see?”
“No!” Steve protested loudly, but his face was blooming hot. The possibility of glimpsing that tantalizing patch of skin was enough to send the blood rushing to his head and below. Steve was more than aware of Tony’s attractive looks.
“You’re adorable, you know that,” Tony continued. “Anyway, want to tell me what’s going on with that USB of yours?”
Steve carefully opened his eyes. Tony was so much closer to him, and it was enough to make Steve fumble and trip right into him. He crashed into the hard floor instead, going through Tony.
“Sorry,” Tony said cheerfully. “I’m a little immaterial at the moment.”
He scratched the back of his head sheepishly. Steve was still on the floor, trying to process everything.
“Please, don’t tell me you have a concussion. I don’t need Fury telling me I broke one of his toys.”
“I’m not his toy,” Steve said automatically, and the bottom of his stomach dropped as he thought of Fury. “He’s dead.”
“Oh,” Tony said.
“Yeah,” Steve said. He pushed his feelings inside and stood up. “If you’re not a test, then are you alive?”
Tony shrugged. “As I said, in a matter of speaking. Now, see. What I’m more interested in is that USB of yours. Does it ring a bell? Jarv? Give me something here.”
“I’m afraid I am as immaterial as you are, Sir. I cannot possibly plug in the USB as you desire,” Jarvis said. Then, “Are you well, Captain? I truly apologize for this. Sir can be—“
“Mute!” Tony said. “Can’t have you blabbing away all my secrets now, can we?”
“That’s rude,” Steve commented. It was the only thing he could think to say.
“Yes, well,” Tony said primly. “You’ve been conversing with my AI for weeks on end, and—“
“Can I trust you?” Steve cut him off. “You still haven’t told me anything about you. How you are like this and…?”
Tony pinned his eyes on Steve. They were brilliantly alive, but lacking, because it was still only a drawing. Tony smirked, stroking his goatee.
“The question, Cap, is can you afford not to? I can tell you right now that the status of my existential crisis doesn’t play a role here. Though, I may have a mid-life crisis with you looking like that. Look, you need help, especially if you’re on whatever chase Fury sent you on. And I can help. Scout’s honor.”
“I—Jarvis?” Steve asked, needing a lifeline. He knew he could trust Jarvis.
Tony grumbled incomprehensively, even to Steve’s serum enhanced ears. Then, he coughed and tilted his head at the ceiling.
“Unmute,” Tony waved a hand. “J, want to prove my innocence?”
“I’m not certain you were ever innocent as you were never a boy’s scout either,” Jarvis said blandly.
“I was a boy’s scout,” Tony protested.
“Two days do not count as being a boy’s scout,” Jarvis said before addressing Steve. “Again, I apologize for the deception. It was necessary that nobody knows that Sir is alive. I assure you that Sir is who he says he is. Though, I am aware you will still have some skepticism.”
“No,” Steve said. “I trust you.”
And Steve really did. Who else was there besides Jarvis on those lonely nights when he needed someone?
“So, the USB?” Tony prompted. He was sitting on the counter, a sphere spinning in his hand. He really was all motion, Steve thought.
“Oh, uh.” Steve dug his hand deep into his pocket, pulling out the USB. Tony snapped his fingers.
“Awesome. Just plug it in, will you? Over there.”
A panel slid open on the counter, revealing multiple ports. Steve popped the cap off and inserted the USB into the middle one. He looked to Tony for direction.
“Okay,” Tony said, clapping his hands soundlessly. He hopped off the counter and glided toward the center of the room again. “Let’s get to work. Give me some containment, Jarvis. Don’t want any nasty surprises.”
“Of course,” Jarvis said, and Steve watched in fascination as another screen replaced the one that had been in the center of the room. Tony moved and occupied the space, bringing a presence so full of life to the workshop that Steve would have never thought Tony was only a drawing.
“Oo, that’s nasty,” Tony said, clucking his tongue. “It has a tracer on it.”
“What?” Steve said, alarmed. “They can find us?”
“No,” Tony snorted. “Who the hell do you think I am? Anyway, it’ll just take—there we go. All gone. They’re going to be hunting a false trail now. I hope they like Australia around this time of year. Let’s see. Hm…unreadable. What do you think, Jarvis?”
“A trace back to the original,” Jarvis suggested.
“You read my mind.”
On screen, a map appeared.
“Okay,” Tony murmured. “Let’s see where you’re hiding. New Jersey? Are they serious?”
A jolt went through Steve went he saw the location pull up: Wheaton. He leaned closer, unable to believe what he was seeing.
“You okay, Cap?” Tony asked.
“Yeah,” Steve said. He looked at the screen again. “It’s just—I know this place. It’s where I trained.”
“Basic training,” Tony guessed. “Well now, doesn’t that look fishy? I take it you’re gonna need an actual body then.”
“You’ve been busy,” Natasha said as she scooted onto the motorcycle. “Got a new ride, I see.”
“I had some help,” Steve admitted, handing her a helmet. Natasha snapped it on, and Steve peeled off onto the road. Tony was very generous with his properties and goods. The motorcycle was only one of the many things Steve received, and it felt a little like being outfitted by Howard for war. Though, maybe it was war.
“So, where’re we going then?”
“An old place. The USB Fury gave me comes from there. The one you retrieved.”
“Huh,” Natasha said. “That’s neat.”
He could feel her questioning gaze boring into the back of his head. Steve smiled to himself. He could have his secrets too. Also, Steve was pretty sure Jarvis would kill him if he spoke about him and Tony.
“It is,” Steve said. “Think I’m getting a hang of this spy stuff?”
Natasha laughed. “Buddy, you have a long way to go. This isn’t even half of it.”
“Darn, and I thought I was doing pretty well.”
It wasn’t long before they reached their destination. Stepping off the motorcycle, Steve breathed in the air. It was crisp and cool, and as he walked across the ground he was flooded with memories. Once upon a time ago, he was here. A coughing asthmatic just trying to keep up. Steve kept walking though until he saw the flagpole. He could almost see himself there, him as he used to be. Skinny and frail, lugging a bag and weapon far too heavy for him.
“Hey,” Natasha said, interrupting his thoughts.
“Coming,” Steve said.
Everywhere he walked reeked of memories. The building was dusty too, and he felt rather calm to think about what transpired here. From that kiss to Peggy shooting at him to poring over maps and going over tactics, it was truly a lifetime ago. It didn’t take long for them to find the hidden opening. The equipment inside were old, and Steve could see how it was rigged to accompany some modern technology. He handed the USB to Natasha. She plugged it in, and there was a whirling sound. Multiple whirling sounds, in fact, as the old room slowly came to life, and the camera over the main computer turned to look at them.
“Rogers, Steve. Born 1918. Romanova, Natalia Alianovna, born 1984…,” the speakers intoned.
“It’s some kind of recording,” Natasha said, peering at the old computer in wonder.
“I’m not a recording, fraulein.” A second screen flickered on. “I may not be the man I was when the captain took me prisoner in 1945, but I am…”
Steve was horrified as Arnim Zola came to life in an appalling static green.
“You know this thing?” Natasha asked. He did, once long ago.
“Arnim Zola was a German scientist who worked for the red skull. He has been dead for years,” but even as Steve said that he thought instantly of Tony. Tony was supposed to be dead, yet he was alive for all reasons without a physical body. Zola confirmed it.
“False assumption,” Zola said almost with glee. Steve’s stomach churned.
“Look around you, I have never been more alive. In 1972, I received a terminal diagnosis. Science could not save my body. My mind, however. That was worth saving on 200 thousand feet worth of databanks. You are standing in my brain.”
A chill went through Steve, and there was a vulnerability standing there that he didn’t feel before. One that wouldn’t expect for standing in someone’s brain.
“How did you get here?” Zola shouldn’t have been able to—
“Invited,” Zola said, smugness decorating his tone.
“It’s Operation Paperclip,” Natasha explained, looking at him. She seemed a little less confused than Steve felt. “After World War Two, SHIELD recruited German scientists with strategic value.”
“So, I could help their cause,” Zola supplied. “I also help my own.”
The implication in that statement was worrying.
“Hydra died with the Red Skull,” Steve countered.
“Cut off one head, two more shall takes it place.”
Zola played videos for them, showing exactly what they had done for the past seventy years. Each one seemed worse than the last, and even when the videos were innocuous the fact was there. Hydra was deeply entrenched in the world.
“That’s impossible, SHIELD would have stopped you,” Natasha blurted out.
“We won, Captain. Your death amounts to the same as your life…a zero sum.”
Steve smashed the screen. He couldn’t help it. Then, they had to run.
The blast of the bomb was pretty bad, but Steve had to thank the stars he had his shield. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be sitting in Sam’s kitchen with Natasha, safe and sound, planning their next course of action. Which was how to steal Sam’s wings as two fugitives from SHIELD.
“The last one is at Fort Meade,” Sam explained, “behind three guarded gates and a twelve inch steel wall.”
Steve smiled. This was probably the easiest part of their plans. He recognized the design style on the Falcon wings, and there was only one person who could have developed such a thing for flight and made it viable.
“Shouldn't be a problem,” Steve said and reached for his bag.
“Really?” Sam raised an eyebrow at him. “You think you can just waltz in there and get my wings, no questions asked?”
“I’m Captain America,” Steve said with a grin. “Besides, we got her.”
He gestured to Natasha. Sam nodded, but he was still not entirely convinced.
“And this!” Steve brandished the StarkPad in front of them. He had never been so glad to find Jarvis and, in extension, Tony.
“Your StarkPad,” Sam said dubiously. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anything about hacking.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Steve said, tapping his fingers against the pad. “We just need one person who does.”
“Her?” Sam asked, looking at Natasha with new found appreciation.
“Not me,” Natasha said knowingly. “Though I’m capable too. Him. Am I right?”
“Who?” Sam looked between the two of them, confused.
“Stark,” Natasha explained.
“Yeah,” Steve said sheepishly. “Tony.”
“You have Stark? Tony Stark? Wait, isn’t he dead?” Sam wondered.
“Not exactly,” Steve said. He turned to Natasha. “Is that why you gave it to me?”
Steve was curious to know. He knew it wasn’t chance that Natasha gave him this particular StarkPad.
“We had our suspicions,” Natasha shrugged, eyeing the pad with fascination.
“What do you mean?” Sam asked. “Because Stark alive is news to me and probably the whole damn country.”
“Fury—before all this.” Natasha gestured to indicate the circumstances they were in. “Wanted to put together a special team.”
“Really,” Steve said. “For what?”
“I don’t know,” Natasha said. “It wasn’t his plan though. Coulson’s actually. He watched over you—“
“When I was defrosting,” Steve finished. “Yeah, I remember. Is he?”
It was awkward to ask it, but he had to know. There were so many factors that could change just on who you trusted and knew could be trusted.
“Not Hydra,” Natasha said defensively, realizing what Steve was asking. “He wouldn’t. Anyway, I was placed undercover at Stark Industries to gauge Stark’s potential. Only, two weeks in, Stark disappeared.”
“Hm,” Sam said, “but he’s not now?”
“We thought it was fishy, but my hands were tied at the time,” Natasha explained. “The only thing I could do was steal his StarkPad to look into later. He fiddled with that thing so much, and knowing Stark it probably had something important on it.”
“Yet you dumped it on my lap?” Steve looked at her, baffled. “Why?”
“Safe keeping,” Natasha answered with a smirk. “Didn’t think a fossil like you would work it out, but glad to see I wasn’t wrong. Now, turn the thing on already.”
Steve did and immediately Jarvis’s voice drifted in.
“Captain, are you well?”
“Jesus,” Sam said, eyes almost bugged out of his eyes.
“Not quite,” Tony chimed in suddenly. “Just my AI. Hi. Glad to see you’re safe and not, you know, dead. That would have been disappointing. Also, I didn’t realize that Captain America could survive a missile. You’re like Chuck Norris.”
“Is that—,” Sam started.
Tony sighed. “I know, I know. My fame precedes me. I see you got a bunch of physical bodies, Steve. Replacing me already? I know, who am I talk to? What’s going on?”
“SHIELD is Hydra,” Natasha said easily. “We need to kidnap Sitwell, but Sam’s wings are under lock down.”
“You don’t ask for much,” Tony said. “And forget Sitwell, I got something much bigger on your hands.”
SHIELD’s helicarriers materialized on screen of the pad. There were three of them.
“Got it off that USB you gave me,” Tony continued. “While you went off to visit some old memories, I thought I’ll see if I could get anything else out of it. Also, hacked into their systems. You see, these ships. Apparently, they are heavily weaponized.”
“Obviously,” Natasha said.
“Shush, you.” Tony sounded far too cheerful, giving them bad news. “This is Project Insight. When all three helicarrier reach, say, three thousand feet, they will triangulate with a satellite. That’s when it becomes fully weaponized and ready to kill anyone on earth. Like, boom. Bye bye.”
“Anyone against Hydra,” Steve guessed.
“Yeah,” Tony hummed. “Zola’s a pretty nasty guy. Anyway, you guys need to break into the ships. Just one will do and replace, uh, this thingy inside so the ships won’t link together and become a mass weapon of destruction.”
“You have something for us then?” Natasha asked. “To replace it?”
“I do,” Tony said. “Steve, you can grab it from my workshop. The chip isn’t perfect, but it’ll work just fine to jam their signal.”
“Okay,” Steve nodded. Tony worked fast, faster than Steve expected. It felt good though to have things already ready for Steve to dive straight in.
“I want my wings first,” Sam interjected, but Tony was already jumping into it. Replacing the helicarrier models with a map.
“Fort Meade?” Tony asked as the StarkPad visualized a layout of the area. The land was 5,067 acres big with most of it devoted to civilian use along with retired military and reserve forces.
“Yeah,” Sam confirmed as Tony dug in deeper and brought attention to a building, even mapping out the exact building structure. “How are you—“
“Easy enough,” Tony said. “All you need to do is walk in.”
A red blinking line traced the route they could take into the building and to the wings.
“Wait, wait,” Sam said, looking alarmed. “We can really just walk in. Grab the wings and ditch?”
“If he says so,” Steve replied, intent on memorizing the map and the way.
“I helped with the security for a lot of military bases,” Tony explained. “Even if I didn’t, it’s not a problem for me to go in. Government funds are lacking, and it’s me. Tony Stark. Do you really think I can’t get into something? You won’t have trouble getting past doors and whatnot. I can unlock them for you on the spot.”
“So, we only got to watch out for guards,” Steve said.
“Right,” Tony said. On screen, bright green blinking dots appeared. “This is an approximation of where they’re patrolling.”
“We’ll play civilians,” Natasha decided, studying the pattern of the patrols. “It’ll get us most of the way, and we can break off later to grab the wings. At the very least, we can get close to the building.”
“Awesome,” Tony said. “Go save America and the world.”
Getting onto the ship and planting the new chip was about as easy as Steve expected. Which was not at all. There were plenty of firing and gunshots. Still, as terrible as the situation was, it was comforting as he fought his way onboard. It reminded him of days spent with the Commandos out on field and gave him a renewed sense of purpose. Though, he was still fighting Hydra after all these years. That was an enemy that hasn’t changed.
“You did good, Cap,” Tony said, voice directly in Steve’s ear. He insisted on directing them through the comms. He might not be there physically, but Tony could at least give them information as factors changed on the field.
“Did I?” Steve asked. He didn’t know how many lives were lost in their fight today.
“You saved a lot,” Tony said. “I know it’s hollow, but you saved a lot of lives. More than was lost.”
“Hm.” Steve walked slowly around the edge of the lake where a helicarrier had fallen into it.
“You’ll figure out what to do,” Tony continued. “You’re the man with the plan after all.”
Steve laughed. “I don’t know about that. You have a pretty good plan too.”
“Well, I’m a genius,” Tony said breezily. “That’s expected. You’re a good man, Steve.”
And that stung a little. Dr. Erksine said that too before he went into the machine.
“You are,” Tony insisted. “And you have a spider coming up behind you.”
The comms clicked as Tony disappeared off to wherever he was with Jarvis. He didn’t even give Steve a chance to respond.
“Hey,” Natasha said, coming to a quiet stop next to him. She took in the same view Steve did, how the strong sun was beating down brightly on the aftermath of destruction.
“Hey,” Steve said, gaze stuck on the waters where the ship was. The fires were out now, and they left steam rising into the air from how hot the metal was as it sizzled against the cool water. Natasha followed his line of sight.
“Clean up’s going to be fun,” Natasha commented.
“Yeah,” Steve said, finally turning to look at her. She was still dressed in the blue dress suit, her disguise. Her face was a little pale, but she looked no worse for wear.
“Where’s Pierce?” he asked.
“Dead,” Natasha said. She sucked in a breath and released it. “And everything’s out. All the data they had—everything.”
“Everything?” Steve echoed. He thought of WikiLeaks and thought of all the information SHIELD held. Everything had to go, and that meant SHIELD too. Steve couldn’t say he regretted it, but it was…it was something to know it was reality.
“Took everything down,” Natasha confirmed.
There was a pause, awkward and long as the wind picked up and the waters rippled.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Steve said finally.
“No sense in doing things halfway,” Natasha replied, looking up at the sky. “I’m not looking forward to the trials, and there will be trials. Lots of it.”
“Will,” Steve said. “Will you be okay?”
Natasha smiled at him. “I guess I’m not as good a spy as you think I am.”
Steve laughed, a little hollow. “That’s lie if I ever heard one. You need me for the trials?”
“Oh,” Natasha said. “I get Captain America’s personal backing?”
“You have it even if you don’t need it,” Steve said seriously. He didn’t quite know how it was going to be, but Steve would do his best.
“Nah,” Natasha waved. “You’re going to have your hands full too.”
“It’s not just my identity. It’s yours too. Captain America’s back, and the whole world knows it.”
“Wonderful,” Steve said with a sigh. He wasn’t looking forward to that at all. At least, he had some time to himself first. Then, a thought occurred to him. “You said everything was made public?”
“On the internet. Why? Did you forget already?” Natasha teased him. “We were only just talking about it now.”
“Haha,” Steve said, rolling his eyes. “I may be ninety seven, but my mind’s still as sharp.”
He rotated his shoulders, looking at the ship in the water again. Thinking about what he heard.
“It’s just—when I got on the ship, I heard someone saying that they should have brought out the Winter Soldier.”
“Sounds familiar,” Natasha said. “A ghost story.”
“A ghost story?”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” Natasha said. “There were a lot of information, and I haven’t exactly had the chance to go through them.”
“Okay,” Steve said. “When you have the time. It seemed important. Where’s Sam by the way?”
“He’s standing right behind you, wondering why he has to talk to reporters all by himself.” Despite the tone of voice, Sam strode up to them with a huge grin on his face.
“Hey,” Steve said. “You did a good job, thanks.”
“Anytime.” Sam clasped Steve hard on the shoulder. He tilted his head at Natasha. “You too.”
“You too,” Natasha returned with a smile. Sam slung his arms around them both, pulling them in close.
“So, what’s next?” Sam asked, and it was an answer that was going to be tough.
“Clean up,” Steve said. Not just for the dismantling of SHIELD but for whatever Hydra left them too.
“Fun,” Natasha said.
“No,” Sam said. “Not fun. How can you say that?”
Then, they were laughing and laughing as the sun shined down on them. It was one big mess alright.
Steve watched the news as he fixed himself breakfast. Natasha was good at answering all the questions. She was full of fire as she explained why they wouldn’t and couldn’t arrest her.
“What do you think, Jarvis?” Steve asked as he scrambled his eggs. The StarkPad was propped neatly against the milk.
“She does excellent work,” Jarvis said. Tony wasn’t there though. He had gone off somewhere, and it was a shame. Steve had been enjoying getting to know the man.
“So do you,” Steve pointed out. “You and Tony managed all that data. It’s amazing.”
After everything was posted, Jarvis and Tony had started the tedious process of filtering out what information needed immediate attention. They saved and sequestered files onto their servers, compiling and sorting them out. They were invaluable in helping Steve manage the brutal consequences. For one thing, as Natasha said for their identities, all agent identities were exposed and their positions compromised. They needed rescuing, and Steve found himself heading the operations.
“Every commander needs his team,” Jarvis said with a hint of humor. Steve laughed.
“I’m never getting rid of that, am I?” he asked as he poked at his eggs. He blamed Sam who blamed Tony in turn. Though, Steve supposed he was unofficially in charge as they recovered agents and deal with the fall out of losing SHIELD. Tony gave them a base of operations anyway, repurposing an old warehouse. Steve still couldn’t figure out how Tony managed that in under twenty four hours.
“Not like—,” Jarvis broke off suddenly.
“Jarvis?” Steve put his fork down in concern.
“I’m sorry,” Jarvis said. “Sir is compromised.”
“What? What do you mean compromised?” Steve tugged the StarkPad closer to him, looking down at it.
Jarvis didn’t answer, and Steve’s worries grew as the seconds ticked past. The only thing he could do was stare at the pad. He didn’t know anything about how to access Jarvis or Tony or if he could even do anything to contact them.
“Jarvis!” Steve held onto the pad, a little desperate. “Jarvis! What happened?”
A message popped up onto the screen:
Hey. It’s been a good run, but I can’t offer my services any longer. Can’t work for free you know. Jarvis will aid you if needed. Forget I even existed.