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Living In The Future

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When Tony turned eighteen, he did an interview with Time Magazine. It was a huge PR blow for Hammer Multinational, but Tony wasn't really competing with Hammer anymore. Stark Solutions was rolling along, doing its own thing in the tech sector, and Justin Hammer's excess and his tantrums and incompetence were slowly destroying his arms company, which had long since gobbled up Stark International and ruined it.

They asked Tony, why Stark Solutions? Why not simply sit back and live on his trust fund, for that matter?

And Tony said, "When my father died, Obadiah Stane took over Stark International and locked me out. SI was the love of my father's life, and it was my home. I was sixteen when he took it from me and I couldn't do anything, but I had the distant hope of one day getting it back. I don't...blame Obadiah, not anymore." (Tony was mindful of Whitney, and unwilling to castigate a man in a coma.) "He just did what he thought he had to do. It must have been hard for him to anticipate losing the company to a kid who wasn't even in his twenties yet. But...when Hammer bought SI, he took away my trust, the one thing my father hoped would ensure I had a worry-free life. Worse, he took away my hope that I'd get my home back someday. I had to move forward. I had to find a new place to call home. I wanted to build my own, so that nobody could take it away from me again."

Hammer stock had dipped significantly. Tony felt a vindictive glee over that.

But it was true: he had to find a new home. He's still searching, really, but he's only eighteen, just shy of nineteen, and the world is at his feet. SI is a thing of the past, and so is high school; college seems kind of unnecessary at this point. So for now it's just Stark Solutions and Iron Man.

SHIELD contracts with Stark Solutions for engine maintenance on the Helicarrier and new technology when Tony designs something he thinks even they can't fuck up. In return they've provided occasional support to Iron Man (not that he ever asked for it) and access to the Helicarrier, 24-7, plus a decent if not impressive security clearance.

Which means sometimes he ends up here, in this dark room only illuminated by the glow of the light in the glass suspension tank. Inside it, Captain America floats serenely in a vat of bio-gel, frozen in an attitude of pride -- arms back, chest forward, head tilted up, like an art deco angel or Iron Man mid-flight. Sometimes Tony tinkers with the calculations the biologists are running to try and find out how to revive him, studying his vitals and his cellular structure, but more often he sits and works quietly, talking to Cap as if he could answer back.

He's tired, and the numbers on his tablet are starting to blur a little in front of his eyes. Running the company is taking a lot of his time, mostly because he's not an MBA and is picking up the tricks of the trade on the fly. That'll settle down eventually, when he has a little more experience, but in the meantime between Solutions, heroism, trying to keep in touch with Rhodey and Pep long-distance at West Point and Stanford respectively, and repairs on both his armor and theirs when they need it, he's working fourteen-hour days on a regular basis, twenty-hour days when things are rough. He figures at least he's doing it now, when he has the boundless energy of youth to keep him going.

It's been a twenty-hour-day week. The pressure has finally eased off, now that the markets are closed for the weekend, and maybe he should catch a few hours of shuteye. There's always a room open on the residential level of the Helicarrier for him, Fury makes sure of that. Still, he feels more weary than tired, and if he tries to sleep now his mind will just race and race.

He clears his tablet and leans back, looking up at Cap, the elegant shadow in the tank. Almost of their own accord, his hands call up the CGI model the biologists have done of Cap's DNA. He has absolutely beautiful DNA, and in it Tony can read Captain America's history: the weak, sickly child, the places where the serum bonded, the patches where it smoothed over the rough stuff and made him who he was when he joined the fight and took Europe by storm. The bonds between the original DNA and the serum repairs are tight, symmetrical, almost machinelike in their precision. Nanobots couldn't have done better (and Tony's seen the disastrous results of SHIELD's attempts).

He lets his mind drift with the spiralling rotation of the DNA and the slower, almost unnoticeable rotation of Cap in his tank. The Serum is only half the story; it was activated by specific light-wave bombardment, the nature of the waves spreading the bonds over the DNA and securing them in place. Having your whole genetic code rewritten, yeah, that would hurt, and having it happen all at once would only make it worse. The reports on Project Rebirth say he screamed his lungs out when they put him through it. Cap's own words, in neat schoolboy copperplate in the evaluation, speak of how the excruciating pain was still worth it.

Tony is conscious that he's falling asleep, but just as he drifts off he imagines he sees something brush against the screen where the DNA is turning, a wave and a particle at once, a feather, the aperture of an eagle's eye tightening to focus --

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer

A vast image out of the Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere

blank and pitiless as the

indignant desert

Tony starts awake with a yelp, the tablet falling from his hands to the floor. The fragments of poetry (never his favorite subject) leak away, some forgotten teacher's voice from the Tomorrow Academy reciting them fading, but the image remains of light and heat and mass and oh, wow.

Tony has totally always wanted to yell this, and while he's not in a bathtub he's not going to waste the opportunity:

"EUREKA!"


Tony should call the SHIELD biologists and possibly Nick Fury. He should take the time to explain his revelation and then they could run tests on the blood samples they have from Cap, and then test it on...mice or something, Tony's fuzzy on how the wet sciences work when they don't involve machine/brain interfaces, and then eventually in five or six months or maybe years they'll have tested it out on Cap and gotten their Captain America back.

That's what Tony should do.

Instead, because he's Tony Stark, he leaps to his feet and runs to the bank of screens surrounding Cap's tank. He starts by inputting code and running a few tests of his own, working out the kinks, calling up what scraps and sketches of research actually survive from the old Rebirth days. The light-wave bombardment information is more available than the mysterious Serum formula, but Tony doesn't need the Serum -- Cap's already got it inching sluggishly through his veins. All he needs is the right frequency and saturation level, because if the Serum is light-reactive, and currently dormant, then the proper application of new radiation bombardment should --

And all the equipment is here, because when they brought Cap here they brought all the crap that made him Captain America, too.

Around three in the morning an alarm sounds, somewhere, but Tony ignores it. Shortly thereafter, someone begins pounding on the door, but it's just background noise. Tony is in the zone, and it's not even practical anymore, it's this theoretical puzzle to solve.

Tony flips a switch, and it's a good thing it's three in the morning, because half the lights in the Helicarrier go out. Man, he needs to upgrade their generators. He makes a mental note and then goes back to what he was doing, rewiring the old forties-style bombardment guns, and then he flips another switch and Fury's outside the door yelling at him and half the circuits in this stupid antique machine fry and explode...

Tony looks up.

Captain America is turning, turning, so slowly turning...

And his eyes open.

He's staring right at Tony, blue eyes focusing through the tank, and Tony stares back in awe.

Then, suddenly, Cap's whole body moves -- he pushes forward, legs propelling him up against the edge of the tank. He pauses, looks around, back at Tony, and then begins beating on the tank, fists moving slowly, pounding on the glass.

Tony holds up his hands, the universal gesture for Wait, stop, I got this and runs around to the monitors, hacking through the safeguards easily and initiating the drain mechanism on the tank. The liquid lowers, and so does Cap, and when it drains away completely he's standing there, tall and graceful and alive, hands pressed to the glass. He grabs the oxygen mask on his face with one hand and pulls it down around his neck, heaving in real, fresh, unrecycled air.

Then he bellows.

"LET ME OUT OF HERE, YOU NAZI MONSTER!"

Tony rocks backwards and then hears himself bellow back, over the half dozen new alarms going off, "I'M NOT A NAZI!"

Cap's eyes widen. "YOU'RE AMERICAN? WHERE AM I? WHAT'S THAT NOISE?"

"GIMME A MINUTE, I'LL GET YOU OUT!" Tony promises, hands dancing across the console, searching for the release on the tank. With a hiss, it begins retracting, the upper housing vanishing into the ceiling as the glass slides into the floor. Captain America stumbles and staggers without the glass to hold him up and Tony vaults the console, shoving a shoulder under his arm to support him.

"Easy, easy," he says. The other man is slick from the bio-gel he's been soaking in for the past year and change, and he's completely, totally naked except for the disengaged oxygen mask around his neck.

"What," he gasps, as Tony helps him to one of the benches along the edge of the room. The alarms have gone worryingly silent.

"It's okay, I'm a friend, you're safe," Tony babbles, pulling off his shirt and trying to wipe the gel away. Note to self: new shirt. "You're in an American government facility, sorry for the surprise. And the slime."

"I've had worse," Cap says, giving him a dazzling if somewhat confused smile.

Which of course is when the doors blow open and Nick Fury bursts in.

He takes in the remains of the tank, the gel-soaked footprints, the softly smoldering equipment.

"Uh. Captain America, this is Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD," Tony says. "Director Fury...Captain America."

Captain America currently has Tony's shirt bundled up and held protectively over his privates. An entire squad of SHIELD agents are standing in the doorway looking confused. Fury looks like he might actually blow a vein.

Tony definitely could have handled this better.