He was just a kid from Brooklyn. Only, this wasn’t Brooklyn anymore; not his anyway. This was a world that was run by technology. He couldn’t take a single step without seeing someone pulling out one of those cell phone things and making a call. What happened to the cans on a string? And where were all the kids playing catch in the street?
Steve took a deep breath and let it go on a sigh. Leaning forward on his motorcycle, he took in the street once more. There used to be a theatre just across the road, and there, where an alley had once been, that was where Bucky had saved his bacon on more than one occasion – not that Steve had ever needed saving.
But, none of that was there anymore. Steve barely recognised the place. All he had left of Brooklyn, of home, were the memories, and even they were beginning to fade a little.
He started the bike up once more and pulled away from the side of the road, taking a left at the end. The day was warm, the breeze cooling, his leather jacket worn in enough now to be comfortable and offer some protection against any chill. But his mind was focused on none of that. He just wanted to find something, anything, familiar – something that didn’t make him feel so out of place.
“It’s a big world out there, Cap,” Tony had mocked a few weeks back. “You might get lost.”
“I think I can handle it,” Steve had returned whilst toying with Tony’s latest invention – a small device with a screen the size of a finger end. Apparently, all he had to do was hold any of his fingertips to it for thirty seconds and it would set off an alarm back at Stark Tower.
When Tony was sure it was working properly, he said each member of the team would have one because none of them knew when they might run into trouble. Until then, Steve was the guinea pig.
“I guess it runs in the family,” he muttered to himself as he parked up and pulled himself from his bike, “turning me into a test subject.”
He brushed the thoughts away. Right now, he just wanted to relax some place that he knew – which, in that moment, was a spot next to the New York Harbour just across from Liberty Island. He looked out at the island and Lady Liberty looked back at him. A face he recognised, an ideal he remembered. Not everything had changed, somethings still remained the same.
“That’s him!” a young voice called and Steve turned his head enough to see a young boy tugging at his mother’s sleeve. “Mom! That’s him! It’s Captain America!”
“It’s rude to point, honey. Now leave the nice man alone – he doesn’t want to be bothered by you,” the mother reprimanded, pushing down his arm as she offered up an apologetic smile to Steve.
He offered a small smile in return and inclined his head. “Ma’am.”
The boy was not deterred though, and broke free from his mother’s grip to run towards Steve. “Is it true?” he asked, eyes wide and grin wider. “Did you really kill a hundred Nazis by yourself?”
Lowering himself to one knee so he was at the boy’s level, he thought the question over before meeting the boy’s eyes. “For every man that died by my hand, there was a grieving widow and kid, just like you and your mom. If there had been any other way, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.”
“But they were the bad guys!”
“Son, when it comes to war, there are no good or bad guys. There’s just a bunch of people doing what they think is right and a bunch more just trying to survive. It’s the bullies you’ve got to look out for.”
For a moment, the boy’s face fell into a frown, as if he didn’t fully understand the weight of Steve’s words, but the grin was back in no time and he nodded enthusiastically.
“Yes, Sir!” he answered, standing to attention and holding his hand to his head in salute.
Steve brought his own hand up, mimicking the boy’s action and pulling it away as the boy ran off back to his mother.
“They are so impressionable at that age.” The words came from behind, a thick German accent coating them, strong and guttural. “Wouldn’t you agree, Mr Rogers?”
Steve stood slowly and turned to face the man, his hand already sliding into his pocket to grip Tony’s device, just in case. “I’m sorry, have we met?”
“Ah, nein,” the man replied with a slight shake of his head, a tight smile settling on his features, revealing just enough teeth to be considered dangerous. He held out a hand. “I am Thomas Schmidt. I believe you met a distant relative of mine.”
“Schmidt’s a common name,” Steve answered, squaring his shoulders and looking the man up and down. He didn’t take the man’s hand; instead he kept his own buried in his pocket where his fingers wrapped around the device and he started counting up to thirty.
Schmidt looked down at his hand briefly before shrugging and moving it back to his side. “You know, Mr Rogers, where I come from, it is not considered polite to refuse to shake a man’s hand when it is offered to you. Perhaps manners is not something they teach you in America.”
“You’ll forgive me if I’m a little wary of your intentions.”
“Ahh, you think I’m a – how would you say? – Nazi bully?”
“The way I see it, Mr Schmidt, one man doesn’t sneak up on another unless he has something to hide.”
“And you would be right. The question is, of course, what am I hiding?” Schmidt’s grin grew into something predatory and he slipped his hand into his pocket.
When he pulled his hand back out enough for Steve to see what he was gripping, Steve recognised what looked like an old German Luger. There was very little doubt in his mind that it was in no less working order than Tony’s repulsors or Clint’s bow and arrows. Immediately, Steve pulled his own hands free and held them out in front of him in an attempt to cajole the man.
“Easy there, Fella,” he forced out, inwardly cursing as he thought about the now abandoned device. Had it been thirty seconds? “You don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Again, you are right. Hurting people is messy. I would much rather they do as I say so I’m not made to be the bad guy – or, the bully as you say.” One hand still gripping the gun, his other gestured in the air, emphasising each word with a motion of some sort, each ‘you’ by pointing to Steve.
“Mr Schmidt,” Steve started.
Schmidt cut him off. “Thomas, please.”
Steve cleared his throat a little, looking the man up and down before continuing. “Mr Schmidt,” he reinforced, receiving a thinly masked scowl in return, “whatever it is you’re after, I can guarantee that you won’t find it here.”
“You see, that is where you a wrong. I have already found exactly what I am looking for.”
Brow burrowing, a light frown tugged at Steve’s lips. “And what’s that?”
“You, Mr Rogers. Or rather, I should say, we want what makes you....” Schmidt paused, taking in a brief breath, his eyes wandering up and down Steve, “you.”
Steve understood perfectly. “You want the formula to the serum.”
“You catch on quick. They never told me how smart you are.”
“The thing is, Mister,” Steve continued, “I don’t like bullies. So if you think I would just willingly give myself to you-”
“Nein! You think I am this stupid?” The air turned suddenly colder, or maybe it was just the man who had turned icy, his eyes taking on a deadly shine. “If you do not come with us, Captain America, I will begin by shooting the child and his mother.”
The words chilled Steve, his mind already going over a dozen ways the scene could play out – most of them ending badly. “And if I go with you, you leave them alone?”
“If you don’t, they will die.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
That grin returned to Schmidt’s face and Steve was reminded of a shark. “Let’s go, Mr Rogers,” he answered, putting his hand on Steve’s arm.
Steve brushed it away and took a step back. “Not until I have your word you’ll leave them alone.”
“Why do you care? I find this fascinating. They are nothing to you and yet you refuse to come with me unless I let them live?” Schmidt pulled the gun completely free from his pocket. “Well, let me try explaining this another way – for every second of my time you waste, I will shoot one person.”
Heart speeding up in his chest, Steve fought the urge to wrestle the gun from the man. Such an action could cause a bystander to get hit if it were to accidentally go off. There was no choice really, not one Steve could see anyway. And if Tony’s device had worked, then the others would find him... or at least that’s how it was supposed to work.
“Okay, fine,” he forced out, shoulders slumping and gaze falling a little in defeat, “I’ll do it. I’ll go with you.”
“Good, you have made the right choice,” Schmidt answered. “Of course, if you had just said that in the first place, then you wouldn’t have wasted my time. But now, I’m forced to be the bad guy so that next time, you won’t take so long.”
It took Steve a moment longer than it should have to understand the meaning beneath the words. By then, Schmidt was already raising his arm and aiming the gun somewhere behind Steve to where he imagined the kid and his mother must be.
The reaction was automatic for Steve, no thinking required. Putting himself between a gun and another human life, it was second nature; even if the trigger was being pulled and the bullet would hit him before his mind had a chance to catch up. Somewhere, in his murky thoughts, he knew he expected pain to spread out from his shoulder. Instead, it burned at his abdomen. Schmidt had been aiming for the kid.
He was barely aware of his knees colliding with cement or of falling forward onto his hands, but he was aware of Schmidt’s breath against his ear as the man whispered to him.
“You are a brave man, Mr Rogers, and extremely lucky that you are not one to die so easily. It is just a shame that your act of valiance has wasted more of my time.”
Tony leaned over the workbench, browguard pulled down over his face and blowtorch steady in his hand. The familiar beats and chords of AC/DC blasted in the background, the music blocking out the outside world and making it easier for Tony to concentrate on his suit modifications. Except, as much as he tried to block out all other noises and no matter how loud his music was, there was a dull beeping underneath it all that managed to irritate Tony enough for him to knock the blowtorch off and pause in his work.
“Mute!” he called out and the music stopped. The beeping was still there, like the dripping of a tap that wasn’t turned completely off – constant and downright annoying.
He pushed his browguard up in irritation. “JARVIS, what is that god-awful beeping and why is it disrupting my work?”
“I believe it is Mr. Rogers’ safety alarm, Sir,” JARVIS answered promptly.
Tony frowned at that and pulled the browguard completely free of his head, allowing it to fall to the workbench, along with the blowtorch, as he made his way across the room toward a console at the far wall. It was still a work in progress, but it appeared to be in working order, right from the flashing red dot on the display screen next to Steve’s name to that annoying beeping from the speaker.
“JARVIS,” he started, his tone cautious, his eyes never leaving that red dot, “when did Steve leave the building?”
“I believe Mr Rogers left some while ago for some fresh air.”
“Time, JARVIS, I want a time...”
“Seventeen twenty-five, Sir.”
“And how long ago did the alarm go off?” Tony pulled his phone from his pocket, searching the contact list for Steve. He was already dialling the number before JARVIS had a chance to answer his question.
“Approximately two to three minutes ago.”
No answer on the cell, just the constant ringing. He cursed and hung up. “And why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, anger coating his words.
“I tried, Sir, but I believe your exact words were ‘I don’t want to be disturbed unless the building is on fire’.”
“Did I say that?” He cocked his head to the side, thinking back for a moment.
With a shake of his head, Tony tried calling Steve once more, just as the red dot vanished from the screen. “Remind me to add a common sense meter to your systems, JARVIS,” he answered, half distracted by the ringing of the cell and half by the vanishing dot.
Still no answer.
“What are you playing at, Cap?” he asked the thin air, receiving no reply for the trouble.
It didn’t take him long to climb the stairs from his workshop, taking two and three at a time, to reach the living area. Somewhere along the line, Stark Tower had become a home to the Avengers – a place they could all return to. The downside was that sometimes it got a little crowded. But when they had all just come back from a mission, it came in handy to have somewhere to relax and unwind.
Their last mission as a group had been over a month ago and Tony still hadn’t managed to get rid of Natasha or Clint. At least Banner provided some intellectual entertainment which was always good for confusing Steve around the dinner table, and providing mental stimulation and stuff.
“Hey, has anyone seen Steve?” he called, looking to each member of the team in turn.
Banner sat at the kitchen worktop, his glasses on and papers strewn about in front of him. Ever since he had returned to civilisation, he had spent as much of his time as possible catching up on what he had missed – or at least all the new science theories and breakthroughs and almost breakthroughs that had been going on. Natasha and Clint, they sat around a table near the television playing cards – Clint with his back to the window, no doubt forced to sit there by Natasha. Tony wouldn’t blame her in the slightest, not after Clint had fleeced him of a good hundred bucks until Tony had noticed the man had been seeing the reflections of his cards in the window.
Natasha lay her cards face down on the table, careful not to reveal a single one to Clint. She looked over her shoulder to Tony, a slight crease in her brow as she bobbed her head. “What’s up?”
Tony shook his head and looked down at the phone in his hands once more. “He’s not answering his cell.”
“You sure he didn’t leave it in his room again?” Banner questioned, looking up from his papers. He laid his glasses on the worktop and rubbed briefly at his eyes.
“More than likely,” Tony answered. He had to admit, the good Captain did have a habit of leaving his cell phone just about anywhere and everywhere. But it wasn’t the cell business that was bugging him. “But that doesn’t explain the alarm going off.”
Banner sat up straighter, so did Natasha – Clint was already so tense from his game of cards that if he sat up any straighter he would be standing.
“The alarm?” Natasha’s frown deepened and she turned in her seat to face Tony fully. “Are you sure?”
“He could have just accidentally brushed it again like the last time,” Clint added.
Tony shook his head. “I’ve made some changes since then – increased the contact time needed, even added a little something extra special for the Cap.” One of those ‘if lost, please return to’ stickers had found its way onto the back of the device.
Natasha raised an eyebrow at that, lip quirking in the corner for a moment. “Oh, really?”
“You have an extremely dirty mind, Agent Romanoff.” He moved over to a display unit in the kitchen as he spoke, pulling up the information on Steve’s alarm. He was about to explain how not only had the alarm gone off, but had also stopped – he hadn’t gotten around to building in a reset button yet, so there was no way it could have just stopped without being tampered with somehow – however, JARVIS stopped him in his tracks, interrupting him before he could even open his mouth.
“Sir, I believe there is a news broadcast that may be of interest to you.”
“JARVIS, now is not the time for another made up scandal about Stark Industries...”
“Sir,” JARVIS continued, undeterred, and the television flickered on, “it’s about a shooting near the harbour.”
Tony paused in what he was doing and turned his attention to the television. The others had redirected their attention to the screen also. A young blond reporter stood explaining the events as police worked in the background.
“Police have yet to release a statement as to what has happened, but witnesses claim shots were fired.”
“JARVIS, pause it right there...” Tony forced out. By the look on Clint’s face, he had seen it too. JARVIS obeyed and the picture on screen paused, the reporter’s voice disappearing to be replaced by another order from Tony. “There, at the bottom right – blow that up for me.”
JARVIS did as he was told and Tony swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. “That bike look familiar to anyone?”
First of all, thank you immensely for reading!! I just hope you keep enjoying. I've got the rest of this fic pretty much planned out so it's just a matter of writing all that up.
I was hoping to get this chapter up yesterday but, the best laid plans of mice and men and all... (AKA - sod's law always interferes).
It hadn’t taken Tony long to don his suit and head downtown to the crime scene. The whole while he fought against the twisting of his stomach and the niggling doubt and worry that scratched at the back of his mind, vying for attention.
He hoped it was all a waste. In fact, he was looking forward to the conversation he would have with the great Captain America – a Captain America who had no doubt saved the day again by wrestling a purse thief to the ground. That was the type of thing Captain – no, Steve Rogers, would do. And maybe if Tony’s calibrations were off, it would explain the alarm. Not that Tony would ever admit that to Steve, or anyone for that matter.
“Okay, Cap,” he muttered to the air, bringing himself down slowly to the ground just behind one of the police cars, “where are you?”
His eyes and scanners searched the scene, spotting Steve’s bike easily – but no Steve. If he was out helping little old ladies across the street whilst Tony was there making a fool of himself and possibly, maybe worrying just the tiniest of bits, Tony would murder the guy himself. Or at least, he would find some form of torture that would drive Steve to the point of madness – something like reruns of MTV shows playing daily around Stark Tower and a new alarm clock with one of those raunchy songs Steve always squirmed at set for the alarm.
Turning his head back and forth, Tony cursed under his breath and gripped the arm of the first police officer he saw – who happened to be walking right by him, completely unaware Tony’s presence.
“Excuse me,” he started, removing his grip and retracting his faceplate so he would talk to the man properly. “Have you seen a really muscular guy around here at all? Perfect hair, insanely polite, annoying as hell?”
The young man just looked back at him with an expression on his face that Tony would expect to see someone wearing if they happened to be watching a grisly mountain man riding on the back of a bright, white unicorn.
“I’ll take that as a no...”
The officer blinked at Tony and opened his mouth almost cautiously. “I don’t think you’re supposed to be back here,” he finally said, as if he wasn’t entirely sure what the rules were when Iron Man was concerned.
“Save it, kid,” Tony dismissed, his gaze already roaming the scene once more. He set his sights on a small evidence marker which appeared to be sitting next to a large stain on the ground. “That guy I mentioned, if you see him – tell him Iron Man is looking for him.”
With that, his faceplate fell back into place and he didn’t wait for the officer to reply before heading off toward the evidence marker. Blood. Definitely blood. The scanners in his suit confirmed it, also picking up an item that looked far too familiar for Tony’s liking. Steve’s device, it lay next to the puddle of blood with a hole the size of bullet right through the centre.
“Guys? Do you read me?” He turned the device over in his hands and straightened up.
“What’s the situation, Stark?” Natasha answered, all business, all agent.
Tony took a breath before speaking. He needed it to compose himself. “I’ve got a large pool of blood here and no sign of Steve. I think... I think the blood might be his.”
“Are you sure?” Banner’s voice crackled over the comm system and Tony found himself nodding despite the fact none of the others would be able to see the motion.
“As sure as the sky is blue,” Tony answered reluctantly. “Or you know, as sure as the molecules in the air –” He paused, brushing away the distracting thoughts that threatened to worsen his already short attention span and refocused himself. “Cap’s hurt, and if he’s hurt as badly as I think he is, we need to find him soon.”
“What do you want us to do?” Natasha again, and Tony imagined she was already grabbing her gun and checking it for bullets.
“Agent Romanoff,” Tony started in reply, “Dr Banner, I need you to work with JARVIS. See if you can pick up Steve’s cell phone location. Last time I checked, the GPS was still enabled and unless Steve’s suddenly become tech savvy, it still should be.”
“What about me?” Like Natasha, Clint was as much an agent of SHIELD, always ready to follow orders, always ready to fall in line or out of line when needed.
“I could use your eyes down here, Barton,” Tony answered. “See if you can spot anything I might have missed. Also, I want to know exactly what happened here...”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Me? I’m going to follow this really suspicious van that just pulled away from the street opposite here. Could be nothing, but in my experience, suspicious vans and crime scenes are usually connected – especially vans with blacked out windows.”
A pounding head was something Steve associated with the old days where getting beat up day in and day out had lasting consequences. It usually also came with a very swollen jaw and a black eye or two. Ever since the serum though, the aches and pains tended to disappear quicker, and the only time he every really got a headache was when Tony would talk a load of gobbledygook about atoms and molecular structures and words that Steve was sure Tony made up on the spot just to confuse him.
But that moment wasn’t one of those times. That moment, and that pounding headache, were different. It radiated from the back of his skull and outwards in such a way that Steve knew exactly what the cause was. Schmidt had knocked him out and, if Steve was right, had taken him elsewhere.
He groaned despite himself, his mind groggy and still trying to fit the pieces together. When he tried to move, nothing worked, as if some force were weighing down on him. A moment of panic flitted through him when he felt the chill of the air against his skin but he pushed it down and focused on trying to force his eyes open, praying that no matter where he was, ice would not be involved.
“He’s waking up,” a female voice echoed out from somewhere beyond the grogginess and confusion. “The drugs are wearing off...”
“Increase the dosage,” a second voice ordered; this one male with a sense of authority about him.
Neither of the voices belonged to Schmidt and both were clearly American. Were they working with him?
“It’s already high enough to knock out a horse,” the woman argued, a trace of panic lining her tone.
“Then you better make it a very large horse we’re knocking out.”
“Anything higher than this would kill a normal man...”
The sound of doors swinging open interrupted the back and forth chatter of the two, and Steve blinked away enough blurriness to see the familiar figure of Schmidt moving closer.
“This is no ordinary man,” Schmidt answered, his footsteps echoing in the empty space of the room, “this is Captain America, the super soldier.”
With Schmidt right there in front of him and the effects from the drugs fading away, the memories slotted into place. The threat, the gunshot, the pain... and then the distant sound of what could have been another gunshot. Steve blinked again, vision clearing further, and glanced about the room briefly before down at himself to assess the situation. Leather straps, three of them, kept him in place on the bed, and off to the left a drip was set up – the drugs no doubt, there to keep him out of it. But they were definitely wearing off now, clarity was returning, and with it – more pain.
His torso was bare, except for the white bandaging around the lower section – the section where the pain radiated out from. Little specks of red stained the white and Steve knew the bullet must have gone in real deep – was probably still in deep. He swallowed the bitter taste at the back of his throat. Sure, he healed quicker than a normal man, but a few scratches and some bruising was one thing. A bullet wound? He would need more than a good night’s sleep to fix that.
And what about the kid?
“You shot him, didn’t you?” The words slipped out, raw and gruff. He met and held Schmidt’s gaze, refusing to waver at the twisted smile on the man’s face because Schmidt knew exactly who Steve was talking about.
“A graze, no more,” Schmidt answered, something akin to madness dancing in his eyes. “Think of it as a gesture of good faith – my gift to you.”
“Good faith, huh?” Steve raised an eyebrow. “I’m strapped to a bed.”
He jostled at the straps to prove his point – not too hard, just enough to both test their strength and show Schmidt that he didn’t view this arrangement as friendly.
“A safety precaution, so no one else gets hurt. After all, it would be in your best interests to comply.”
“Or what? You’ll shoot me again?”
“Something like that.” Schmidt’s smile turned tight and he spun on his heel, already heading back toward the exit. “Start the procedure,” he instructed. “A pint should be enough for now.”
A pint? A pint of wh- oh.
For the first time since opening his eyes, Steve began paying attention to the other two in the room – both dressed in white outfits, the kind that he always associated with medical staff. Judging by all the medical equipment around them, not to mention the needle in the woman’s hand, he didn’t think it would be a huge leap to guess she was a nurse and the guy ordering her about was a doctor.
The woman didn’t speak as she moved to his left side and unhooked the drip from his arm. It wasn’t of much use anyway, so Steve was thankful for the removal of the needle. That was until he felt the pinch of the other needle.
He had given blood before, he knew how it worked. After the serum was lost, he had lost count of the amount of vials of blood the scientists and doctors had taken from him. So he knew how it worked, and he knew that the needle didn’t need to be as far in as she pushed it. It was more uncomfortable than painful, but it meant that he couldn’t make an attempt at breaking the straps without possibly causing the needle to dig in further or catch something that it really was not supposed to catch. He was no doctor, but he knew that wouldn’t be good.
“You’re not HYDRA, are you?” he asked. If he was forced to lie there until the opportunity for escape arose, he might as well make use of the time. “You and your pal over there.” He nodded to the doctor who busied himself with what looked like one of those plastic cooling cases Steve had seen when he’d offered to get the groceries one time.
The nurse looked him up and down before returning her gaze to the task at hand – taking a couple of sample vials before setting up an empty blood bag. “No,” she answered simply.
“But Schmidt is.” Whilst the German had made no reference to the organisation as of yet, Steve knew in his gut that the man was a member. The way he talked, he was probably running it just like the relative he mentioned had done.
She looked at him, her eyes cold and features rigid. Her lack of reply was answer enough.
Of all the things Tony Stark had been accused of, subtlety was not one of them. It was right at the bottom of that infamous list of what people thought of him; right next to modest and frugal. Charming, flashy, egotistical; they were the ones he heard most often. So, he should have expected it when the van he was tailing started doubling back on itself and heading down narrow alleys as if they knew someone was following them. After all, he was wearing a bright red and gold suit as he flew above them. He might as well have been wearing a flashing neon sign saying ‘I’ve got my eye on you’. There were plans in the motion for a stealth armour, but as with most of his plans, he was still working out the kinks.
On towards Brooklyn Bridge, then briefly dipping into Chinatown before heading towards Madison – they were like tourists who couldn’t decide which part of New York City they wanted to see first. Tony was fast getting tired of the game of cat and mouse. He didn’t have time to waste, not if Steve was hurt. If he was bleeding out somewhere... No, Tony had to get there fast and if the clowns in the van didn’t lead him to the Captain soon, he would have to find another way.
“Barton,” he called, turning his attention to comms system. “You at the Harbour yet?”
“Almost,” Barton replied. “Should be there in another ten minutes.”
The van took another left and Tony turned to follow, narrowly missing the side of a building in his hurry to keep them in sight. “Just get there.”
He cut the comms at about the same time he realised he had lost track of the van. Heart speeding up in his chest, his gaze flickered back and forth, searching the cars for any sign of the van. He slowed in his flight a little in order to check the side streets as he passed them by. Nothing. Absolutely nothing... and then.
He turned down an alley, slow in his approach toward the now stationary van. There was no sign of the people from inside, no Steve or open doors that they might have disappeared through. But the van had stopped, so this had to be it. This had to be the area.
The backdoor of the van opened and Tony came to a stop, attempting to make out what was going on inside. His display zoomed in, highlighting the contours and sharp angles of what could only be a weapon – a rocket launcher if Tony was right, far too overly modified to be military, and it was aimed right at him.
“Well, this can’t be good.”
Thank to everyone for reading! One more chapter after this. It's planned out and partly written, so I've just gotta get the rest down and hopefully have it up within the next week.
With the blood bag filling at his side, Steve had plenty of time to take in his surroundings and assess his situation properly. The room was sparse and windowless, the machines at his side turned off – after all, there was little need to monitor his heartbeat now. The place reminded him somewhat of that room where he had become the super soldier, but on a smaller scale and with less equipment... and less Stark. Where the logo for Stark Industries might have sat, instead was a short acronym: AIM.
A plan was already forming in Steve’s mind by the time the doctor came over to attend to the blood bag. He just needed the right opportunity to take action – preferably when he didn’t have a needle stuck in his arm.
“I gotta wonder,” Steve began, breaking into the hollow silence in the room that had continued on since Schmidt’s departure. The German was definitely the most talkative of the bunch. “You taking orders from Schmidt? Big cheese like yourself? I thought you’d be running the show.”
The doctor snorted, busying himself with the bits and pieces next to the bed as he waited to squeeze just that little bit more blood out of Steve. “Well, Mr Rogers, you needn’t worry yourself about that. This is but a temporary alliance at best.”
“So Schmidt isn’t the only one looking to replicate the serum?” Not that the question needed asking. He only had to look at Dr Banner to find the answer to that one.
Both eyebrows raised, the doctor looked to Steve. “Just about everybody wants to replicate the serum.”
“Including AIM?” Steve questioned, nodding toward the acronym that branded the equipment.
A small smile played across the doctor’s lips, but he didn’t answer. Instead, he turned his attention to the blood bag – stopping the flow of blood before moving onto the needle. Steve watched him closely.
“I don’t really know who you are or what your plans are, Doc,” Steve continued on, his gaze locked on the needle now free from his arm, “but I bet, deep down inside, you’re just a big old softy, right?”
The doctor simply played with the bag of blood a moment longer before turning away to place it in the cool box. When he did, Steve gave the straps a quick tug. His side protested at the movement, but pain was something he had learned to ignore.
“I must say, Mr Rogers, I am somewhat disappointed,” the doctor uttered, voice tight and mocking, back still turned. “After everything I’ve heard, I expected you to have more fight in you beyond simple words.”
“Then maybe we should change that.”
Another tug, sharp and hard, his torso twisting to the left. He felt the first strap give, heard it snap. The doctor heard it too, swinging around to face him. He was already too late. Steve sent him flying backwards over the equipment with a good old punch to the kisser. Before he had even finished crashing to the ground, Steve moved onto the other straps keeping him in place.
“With all due respect, Doc,” he breathed out, “I’ve been buried in a block of ice for almost seventy years. Do you really think a few straps could keep me from escaping?”
The last strap was the hardest, his head already spinning from the excessive blood loss. It was a terribly familiar feeling of trying to catch your breath whilst also trying not to fall flat on your face as your vision swam. He pushed through it and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
“Stay right there!” the nurse called out to him, her voice rising in pitch.
The doctor lay out for the count, motionless and silent, which left only the nurse standing in the way of Steve’s exit. Using the bed to keep him upright, legs a little wobbly, he turned to face her.
“Ma’am, I have no intention of fighting a dame.”
She held something out in her hands. It wasn’t a gun, or at least not any gun Steve had seen before, but it did look familiar – like something Natasha would use. “I will taser your ass if you move.”
He raised his arms out in front of him; a daring move, letting go the bed. It took him a breath to steady himself, but when he did, he stepped forward. “If we can just talk about this...”
“I said stay where you are.”
“I can’t do that.”
So distracted by the nurse and her weapon, Steve didn’t see Schmidt enter, or hear him until he spoke. The thick German accent coated the words that brushed through the air toward Steve.
“Believe me, Mr Rogers,” Schmidt spoke up, “you do not want Ms Riley to follow through on her threat. Whilst I believe hers is an unfamiliar weapon to you, you do understand the basic concept of electricity, correct? If I am right, it was involved in your creation after all.”
Fists forming at his side, Steve took an angry step forward, all pain forgotten momentarily at the sight of the man – the man who had injured an innocent child because Steve had wasted his time. Schmidt shook his head and tutted, raising the Luger from before.
“If Ms Riley’s weapon is not enough to deter you, then perhaps mine is? And if not, then I believe I know of something that may work...” Schmidt paused in his one-sided conversation with Steve long enough to look to the nurse and motion his gun somewhere behind Steve and toward the doctor. “You are no longer required at this moment in time, Ms Riley – if you would be so kind as to take Doctor Grant with you as you leave.”
She did as she was told, moving swiftly past Steve before helping the doctor up and out of the room. When the door swung shut, Steve took another step forward. The less people hurt, the better.
“The serum will never work for you,” Steve spat out, eyeing the gun. “And even if it does, there will always be someone there to bring you down.”
Schmidt cocked his head to side. “People like yourself, Captain America? Or perhaps Iron Man? The billionaire with a shiny toy at his disposal.”
Steve’s insides turned cold.
“Mr Stark will not be coming to your rescue, Mr Rogers. None of your friends will.”
Clint perched on the edge of a low rooftop and gazed out over at the crime scene. Aside from the flashing lights and police officers, the puddle of blood and lack of Steve, the thing that stood out most for Clint was that he hadn’t been the first to find this perfect vantage point. He hadn’t been the first to look over the scene, detached but ever watchful.
It was barely noticeable, but there were little telltale signs – ash from a cigarette coating the ground, a partial boot-print, right where Clint had been about to place his own foot. Someone had been watching the entire time – from Steve going missing to Tony arriving.
“It’s a trap,” he said immediately, everything slotting into place. His hand snapped up to his comms device and he took a step back from the ledge, eyes darting back and forth, searching. “Stark, it’s a trap. The van was a trap.”
“Yeah, I kind of got that,” Tony’s voice crackled over the comms, grouchy and exerted.
“What’s your location?”
“I’m down by the- woah, that was a clo-” The comms cut out, silence remained where the rest of Tony’s words should have been.
“Stark... Stark? Do you copy? Stark!”
More dead air for another breath before Natasha’s voice broke through, her tone questioning with just a trace of worry. “What happened? Where’s Stark?”
Clint was already moving, racing across the rooftop to search for any sign of where Tony might have gone; not so easy when he couldn’t fly but the man in the tin suit could. “I think he’s been hit... Any sign of him on the system?”
A moment’s pause and an almost too straight answer that brought Clint to a standstill. “He’s gone dark.”
“Damn it. Nats, they had eyes down here. They were waiting for us to show up.” Which meant whoever was behind it all was watching them, and no doubt had eyes on Stark Tower as well. “I’m heading back to you – in the meantime, add Stark to your search list.”
Schmidt pulled something from his pocket with his free hand, a remote from the looks of it. With the tap of a button, a screen on the wall opposite flashed on. Images flickered across it like a bad homemade movie, the camerawork shaky and all over the place, like whoever was working it wasn’t sure where to aim. At first, Steve had trouble realising what he was watching, then he saw the flash of red and gold, followed by the telltale glow of Iron Man’s repulsor blasts.
“Tony,” he breathed out, feeling a spark of hope at the sight of the man.
It didn’t last.
The spark was extinguished almost as quickly as it had been kindled. Distracted by one rocket, Tony didn’t see the other heading toward him. Steve lurched forward, breaking into a run toward the screen as if he could somehow warn him... if he just shouted loud enough.
An explosion lit up the sky and the screen went blank. Steve stalled, eyes still locked on where Tony had been displayed, his legs refusing to take another step. Denial wormed its way into his mind, twisting around the disbelief and shock.
“There is no one coming for you,” Schmidt informed him, moving to stand right behind Steve – so close that Steve could almost feel the man’s breath on his skin. “As you can see, Iron Man is no more...”
Anger swelled inside of Steve. He could feel it bubbling through him like fiery lava. His hands once again formed fists at his side and he was barely a second away from turning on the spot and giving Schmidt exactly what he deserved. The cold muzzle of the Luger against his shoulder blade stopped him from following through on the action.
“It would be unfortunate to have to shoot you again, as you will be of much more use as a lab rat if you’re alive.” The rough metal of the gun pressed harder into Steve’s skin. “However, there are places I can shoot you that won’t kill. Your hand, your arm, your leg... with your healing prowess, there is so much potential for fun. So I suggest you start behaving like the good laboratory experiment that you are.”
“I spent a good twelve years of my life getting beat up by bullies, Mr Schmidt. Pain isn’t something I’m afraid of.”
“Ah, no, of course not. Someone as gallant as you? You would much rather sacrifice yourself to save others, correct?” Schmidt pulled the gun away and circled around Steve. “You are wasting my time, Mr Rogers – remember that, and remember that if you continue to do so, Iron Man won’t be the only one to die by my orders.”
Jaw clenching tightly, Steve shook his head. “I watched my best friend fall to his death because of Johann Schmidt and his little HYDRA posse. I won’t stand idly by whilst you threaten my new friends, and I won’t believe that one little rocket could take down Iron Man when a demigod and a whole army of aliens failed to do so.”
“Then you are a fool, like your good friend Dr Erskine. You are a fool who doesn’t comprehend the full potential of the power you hold within your grasp and lengths to which I am willing to go to obtain it. Surely you of all people should understand how important it is to recreate the serum. As it stands, you... you are but one man. In a world where numbers mean everything, one super soldier is nothing. You are nothing...”
“You’re forgetting one thing,” Steve informed him, catching and meeting the man’s gaze, standing tall and unwavering.
“And what is that, Mr Rogers?”
“I’m not alone.”
Darkness. Claustrophobic, panic-inducing darkness. For what felt like the longest time, but was in actuality closer to one or two minutes, Tony couldn’t see anything, move anything, or hear anything – other than his own voice and laboured breathing.
“System reboot,” he commanded, knowing that his voice shook ever so slightly. “JARVIS, God damn it – answer me. Reboot Iron Man systems... get this fricking suit up and running now!”
After discovering the van and its little hidey hole, Tony had also discovered that it had not one, but three rocket launchers hidden in the back of it and just enough people to make sure they could all be fired at him at exactly the same time. The fight had been short. He had managed to send one rocket off, exploding in the skies above New York City. The second was a closer call, and the third... that had exploded right in his face and had sent him flying into the roof of a nearby building.
Since then, the suit had shutdown and hadn’t turned back on since. He couldn’t even get comms up and running, and on top of that – he was pretty damn sure he was bruised all over and possibly had a concussion. Actually, he most likely had a concussion, but it was a little hard to tell when he couldn’t see or move in the slightest.
“JARVIS, if you do not answer right this minute, I swear – I will give Dummy free reign over the parts of you that are hardware. Do you hear me? JARVIS?!”
The first flicker of light lit up the heads-up display and after a moment, the familiar start up sequence began to kick in. He breathed out in relief.
“JARVIS, you hear me?”
“Welcome back, Sir,” JARVIS answered. “Restoration of power to Iron Man suit almost complete.”
As soon as he could move again, he retracted the faceplate and gulped down the fresh air. Nothing like being trapped in his suit for however long to make him appreciate the feel of oxygen rich air in his lungs.
“Stark? You there?” Natasha’s voice played through the internal comms system. “Do you read me?”
“Loud and clear, sweet cheeks,” Tony answered, the faceplate now dropping back into place. No more time to enjoy the fact he was alive. He still had to find Steve.
“If you ever call me that again, I will pluck out your eyeballs and wear them as jewellery.”
“Good to hear your voice too.” Tony just grinned and returned to the skies once more. He found the alley just as quickly as before but the van was long gone. “Listen, I lost the van – so I really need some good news. You managed to get a lock on Steve yet?”
“Just. I’m sending you the address now.”
It flashed up on the HUD as JARVIS marked out the most direct path to it automatically. Five minutes, maybe ten if he hit on anymore trouble. He prayed that he didn’t.
“And Barton?” he questioned, already setting off in what he hoped would be the direction Steve was in if the location was right.
“He’s on his way back now.”
“Have him check for anymore surprises while he’s at it. I don’t wanna pull Steve out of whatever fire he’s in just to come home to another one.”
“Just watch your back, Romanoff – these guys know what they’re doing and we need to show them that nobody, nobody, declares war on the Avengers.”
“Good luck, Stark.”
This chapter would not end! In fact, this chapter as a whole... man, I had so much trouble. If it wasn't one section, it was another. But hopefully, I've finally got it right. And hey, an actual conversation between Tony and Steve - I can't believe this is the first chapter where they're actually in the same scene together.
A huge thank you to everyone for reading and for all the comments. I've had a lot of fun writing this fic.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
That twisted smile of Schmidt’s spread across his face and a small chuckle built somewhere in his throat.
“You are an idealist, Mr Rogers,” he started, his tone almost amused at the thought. “I admire this – after all, I am an idealist too. You see, my great uncle – your Johann Schmidt – when he passed on, he did so without also passing on what made him one of HYDRAs most powerful and glorious leaders. The only legacy he left behind was his name and a meagre position of power. That is not enough. With the serum, he was not just superior... he was a god.”
Steve raised a sceptical eyebrow. The way the man spoke, his desire for greatness, it reminded him so much of the one he fought decades ago – even if for him it felt more like months. “And you want to be a god too?”
“Is that so wrong of me? To wish to restore HYDRA? To rise up the ranks once more? With my ideals and the serum in your blood, HYDRA could restore the world to its true glory. I could build an empire where there would be no more war because everyone would be under one rule – HYDRA’s rule.”
“In my opinion, it’s exactly those types of ideals that create war in the first place.”
A sneer formed on Schmidt’s lips. “You are Captain America, you would say this. America is a hybrid at best, and yet it stands above all others as if it is some kind of superpower.” Schmidt began stalking back and forth, his hand gestures returning, his gun waved carelessly about in the air. “Tell me, Mr Rogers, what makes America so much better than anyone else? I could offer you power and riches beyond your wildest dreams, but I know you would not accept. Why is that?”
“My loyalty is as much to the people as it is to America. Captain America isn’t up for sale, and neither is freedom. America is no better or worse than anyone else; it’s just a bunch of people going about their business. I know we might not seem like much to you, but there will always be those who will fight for their country and their freedom... Even if they don’t have some serum to make them stronger, they’ll still fight as hard as they can.”
“Heart warming, truly. In time, perhaps you will see that not everyone is so willing to put their lives on the line.” Schmidt tilted his head to the side, his gaze surveying Steve so intently that Steve found himself tensing. “Enough talk now, Mr Rogers, there is much work to be done. Now, if you would kindly return to your bed.”
“By bringing me here, Mr Schmidt, you lost your one advantage. It’s just you and me now.” And the gun... But so long as there were no civilians to get caught in the crossfire, Steve would take what he could get. Of course, he would have preferred to have his shield at hand, or something of the like.
“Are you refusing me?” Schmidt questioned. “Even now, when I have shown you what I am willing to do – you refuse me? Perhaps I should have killed the boy after all. Or perhaps you need just a little bit more persuasion?”
He raised the Luger to aim it at Steve, and Steve could tell that it wasn’t hesitancy that kept the madman from pulling the trigger. It was indecision. He was deciding where to shoot. “How much blood can Captain America lose before passing out completely? Perhaps we should find out?”
The drugs were well out of his system, so Steve couldn’t blame them for his sluggish reaction time. Having a bullet in his abdomen? That would do the trick. Add to that the blood loss, and he definitely wasn’t on his top form. Still, he managed to dive to the side enough for the bullet from Schmidt’s gun to simply clip him and no more. That he could deal with. Landing on his side though, that sent a jarring pain up and down the length of his body. That slowed him down more than anything else.
“Didn’t you hear me, Schmidt?” Steve questioned, grimacing at the way his side ached as he dragged himself up from the floor to face the German once more. “It’s just you and me. I can do this all day and you’ll be no closer to getting your hands on the serum.”
“You think you are a hero, Mr Rogers, but it is people like yourself who are the first to die. Your self-sacrifice will not save, only delay.” He raised the gun once more, and Steve readied himself.
The shot never came. Somewhere, beyond their room, there was a loud crash. It was the type of entrance a billionaire playboy wearing a metal suit would make. A much needed distraction.
Steve rushed forward, taking advantage of Schmidt’s inattentiveness and his focus on the noises from elsewhere. He gripped the man’s right wrist, pushing both it and the gun up as he brought his fist around to connect with Schmidt’s jaw. The gun went off, the bullet sent wide, and Schmidt was thrown backwards by the force of Steve’s blow.
The gun was dropped from Schmidt’s grasp, skittering across the floor to somewhere out of reach. Steve was too focused on the man to see where. He stalked forward, already bending down to grip the madman’s collar and pull him upwards.
“Not so impressive without your gun, are you?” he questioned.
“Then it is a good thing I always carry a spare.”
Steve didn’t see the flash of silver until it was too late. He heard the gun go off though; at about the same time he felt the bullet pierce the flesh of his leg. Just the right angle to make him lose his balance and to cause his grip on Schmidt to slacken enough for the man to break free.
“A man must rely on the strengths he has, Mr Rogers,” Schmidt mocked, pushing himself away from Steve and giving him a wide berth as he circled around behind him. “But then, I hear you are not so fond of guns...”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t use them,” Steve pointed out. He pushed himself up enough to face Schmidt’s direction, his gaze scanning the floor for any sign of the Luger whilst also taking in the man’s movements. He was after the blood bag. “You just don’t give up, do you?”
By the bed, barely a foot or two away from Schmidt’s feet... Steve dove forward, toward the Luger. He was a moment too late. Schmidt saw it too and kicked it out of reach.
“And neither do you,” the German answered, snapping the lid of the cool box shut. He raised his gun and aimed it at Steve, never once turning his back as he headed for the exit. “It has been a pleasure, Captain America.”
Another shot, and this time, Steve barely made it out of the way. Whether or not it nicked him, he couldn’t tell. There was too much pain everywhere else for him to notice, and by the time he recovered enough, the door to the room swung shut and Schmidt was nowhere to be seen.
“JARVIS,” Tony began, his tone authoritative, “scan the building for heat signatures.”
Getting to the address Natasha had given him had been simple enough. Getting inside? That was different. The van he had been following earlier was parked out front, so just marching in through the front entrance probably wasn’t the best of plans. It was a small building in that it wasn’t a sky scraper, but instead was only two floors high. But despite its meagre look, Tony suspected there was more to it.
“Scan complete, Sir,” JARVIS returned.
The HUD changed to display what JARVIS had found and Tony tracked the movements of the half dozen or so people within the building. There was a group on the second floor, clustered together in what appeared to be the same room. There was another one, possibly two, just down from there, and then there was the faintest trace of heat coming from what looked like a basement to the building. There was no way to identify which was Steve.
“Any ideas?” Tony asked. “I mean, I could try knocking – ‘Can Captain America come out to play?’”
“Forgive my reservations, Sir, but I do not believe that will work.”
“Really, JARVIS? And I thought it was such a good plan.”
He stayed hovering for a moment longer, looking the building over. Sneaking in through a window just didn’t feel right; not after the clowns from the van had greeted him with rocket launchers. It was only right to return the favour, especially when his suit packed plenty of firepower.
“Any structural weaknesses near the group on the second floor?”
“I believe the brickwork in a building of this kind will be vulnerable to a small missile or two.”
“Then I guess that’ll have to do.” A small smirk played on Tony’s lips. “JARVIS, lock onto a spot that will cause the least amount of damage to those on the other side. Don’t want to hurt Steve by accident...”
A breath, and then, “Locked on.”
The display flashed again, heat signatures vanishing to be replaced by the usual visual. A target was painted onto the building, flashing and twisting, ready and waiting.
A blink of the eye, no more, no less. The missile was fired and it hit the building right where it was supposed to. In the explosion of dust and brick and smoke, a hole was formed and Tony took advantage of the situation, of the element of surprise. He moved forward instantly, scanners ready. Within moments, he identified two of the people in the room as enemies and dealt with them quickly – a repulsor beam to the chest for the pair of them.
The smoke stalled him when it came to the other two men; both silhouetted figures were big and broad-shouldered enough to maybe, possibly be Steve, and Tony couldn’t afford to take any risks. Within the time it took to realise that neither were in fact Steve, they had recovered enough to start fighting back.
The bullets from their guns dinged and bounced off of the Iron Man suit and Tony raised his right arm in the direction of the burliest of the men, his eyebrow mimicking the motion. He didn’t hesitate in sending the man flying backward into a wall. The last of the men paused, gun lowering; no doubt the hopelessness of the situation finally dawning on him.
Slowly, Tony turned his aim to the other man.
“Where is he?” he asked, voice unwavering and determined.
The man shook his head and raised his gun again. Tony fired before the man even had a chance to touch the trigger, let alone pull it.
“I guess I’ll just have to find him the old fashioned way.”
He walked through the rubble of the room and to the doorway, where the door hung open on its lower hinge – the upper barely attached anymore. Apart from some dust at the entrance, the corridor was untouched. Long and white, with a large window at the opposite end providing some light; it was the sort of typical corridor Tony expected of such a building.
“JARVIS,” he started, gazing back and forth.
“On it, Sir.”
The display changed again, heat signatures revealed once more. Hidden away behind one of the doors at the end of the corridor were another two masses of red. He nodded in acknowledgement of their presence and the screen flashed back to its usual display.
“Maybe we should try asking them, see if they know where Steve is.”
He headed down the corridor and stopped outside the door, listening for a moment. Whoever was inside knew he was there, the silence told him that much. He considered knocking for a moment, and coming out a witty comment of some kind about pizza delivery, but such a manner was far too delicate. A hole in the wall and one room almost destroyed wasn’t nearly half enough destruction for his liking. Another door though, that might start to even things up.
He took a step back, looked the door up and down, then aimed for the hinges and lock. It was less dramatic than his entrance into the building, but when the door fell forward into the room, he felt a small sense of triumph and stepped forward.
As with the other room, the furnishings were minimal and probably left over from the last occupants. Unlike the other room, this one held only two people and neither of them had guns. The man, he sat unmoving on a chair, slack jawed and bruised. The woman though, she had enough about her to attempt to reach for the taser that lay just to her left.
Tony marched forward, gripping her neck loosely enough for it to not cause injury but strong enough for her to know his hand was there and would squeeze if he felt he needed to. She stopped her movements immediately, arm falling to her side.
Faceplate going up, Tony looked her in the eye. “You seem like a person in the know,” he said, glancing once more to the man and his bruised jaw – definitely the work of Steve. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know wha-”
He tightened his grip just ever so slightly and her lie died away. “Don’t play games with me.”
“The basement... He’s in the basement.”
Super soldier or not, bleeding out was most definitely not fun or a good idea. Steve grimaced, gripping the bed with his hands and using it as an aid to help him stand. Given that he could barely put any pressure on his injured leg, he needed all the help he could get. Still, there was Schmidt to think about... which was really difficult considering how much his head was spinning in that moment. And the double vision? That wasn’t helping in the slightest.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your long hair.” The words echoed through the air, followed by the door swinging open and that ever familiar swagger of red and gold.
“Stark!” Relief flooded through him and he couldn’t stop the smile that tugged at his lips. Pushing away from the bed, he moved forward but stumbled, losing his footing almost immediately.
Tony was there though, catching him before he managed to greet the ground with his face. “Woah, easy there – I’ve got you, big guy.”
If he sunk into the support that Tony offered a little more readily than what would be expected of Captain America, Tony said nothing. The man just wrapped his arm around Steve’s waist, the faceplate of his suit up and out the way so that Steve could see the worry in Tony’s eyes and the light bruising at the edge of his brow.
“You’re late,” was all he could say before he found himself groaning against the ache in his side.
“Well, you know – I had to stop for coffee and doughnuts first.”
Steve would have laughed, if he had thought he could manage it. Instead, he tried to push himself up straight, placing weight on his own legs once more. After all, the injuries could wait. Schmidt was getting away.
“Schmidt,” he started, taking only one unsuccessful step before falling back again into Tony’s grasp, “We have to...”
“Hey, priorities here, Cap,” Tony answered with a shake of his head. “You’re bleeding... really bleeding. We need to get you to a doctor.”
“No... no more doctors.” And this time Steve really did laugh, the sardonic kind, or at least the coughing noise was meant to be a laugh. The very idea of not wishing to see anymore doctors seemed ridiculous to him. But he figured for one day, he’d had enough of white coats and beeping machines and needles and drugs. “Just... just take me home, Stark.”
Tony’s response was delayed enough to make Steve believe he would deny him, but he nodded, his tone sober and dry. “You’re the boss, Cap’n.”
Somewhere along the line, Steve was sure he must have blacked out. From Tony’s response to arriving back at Stark Tower, there were gaps and blurred memories that took far too much effort to think about. Steve didn’t bother trying. He was sure he was lying down now, but he could have been hung upside down from the ceiling for all he knew – the sensation was about the same, the feeling of not being entirely there.
“Just rest, Cap,” Tony soothed, leaning across him to look him in the eye. The suit was gone, and it was Tony’s hands that played across his skin, fixing him up.
“The bullet,” he tried to say, but the rest of the words died, drowsiness too heavy.
Tony understood though. “I’ll get it out, don’t worry.”
And that was the last he remembered, before waking up once more in his own bed, his own room. No machines hooked up to him, no straps keeping him in place. Just clean white sheets tucking him in and keeping him warm, the curtains open and gently blowing on the breeze from beyond the open window.
Daylight trickled into the room and Steve pushed up, pulling the covers away enough to swing his legs over the side of the bed. He wasn’t surprised to find himself in just his boxers and wrapped up like a mummy in bandages. Whoever the first aider, and Steve strongly suspected it had been all Tony, had gone a tad overboard.
He started with a couple of stretches, still seated on the bed, and bent to each side in turn, testing. When he decided it was enough and the aching had dulled enough to be disregarded as nothing more than a minor nuisance, he pushed gingerly to his legs. It was then that his door swung open and Tony marched in with a tray in one hand and what looked like Steve’s jacket in the other.
“Ah, good – you’re up,” Tony greeted, his gaze travelling up and down Steve briefly before looking anywhere and everywhere else in the room.
The motion was enough to remind Steve that he was standing there half naked and he quickly grabbed a pair of trousers that had been laid over a chair, ready and waiting. He pulled them on just as quick and cleared his throat.
“How long was I out?” he questioned, because after the time in the ice, he could never be too sure.
“Don’t worry, Sleeping Beauty, you haven’t missed anything. The world’s still turning and we haven’t fought off anymore bad guys without you.”
“Stark...” He was aware that the name came out sounding somewhat like a plea. He needed an answer, not jokes.
Tony’s features grew more sombre, and Steve couldn’t help but notice how much more prominent the bruise on his brow had become. Sure, he was Iron Man, but that didn’t mean he didn’t get hurt in that suit. If anything, sometimes it was the suit that did the damage.
“You slept through the night, no more,” Tony answered, the words so gently spoken that Steve knew they were the truth.
“Thank you.” He dropped onto the bed and heaved out a weary sigh. “You know... for everything.”
The small smile on Tony’s face was no longer a smile but a grin that reflected in his eyes. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were talking about me saving your ass.”
“I had them on the ropes...” A familiar lie in an unfamiliar setting, with a person that wasn’t Bucky. And yet, it felt oddly comfortable.
“Ye-hah, of course you did, Cap.” And because, apparently Tony thought he looked a little too mopey, the man threw the leather jacket at him. “Thought you might want this back.”
Steve pulled the jacket away from his head and held it up in front of him. Blood stained the brown and when he looked closely, he could see the bullet hole – right through the pocket. “I really liked this jacket.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you a new one... maybe one with Kevlar and metal plating so you know, you don’t get shot anymore...” Silence for a moment, a mere breath where neither of them said the things that were on their mind, until Tony broke it. “You really had us worried there. We thought... well, you had us worried, okay? So do me a favour and don’t do it again... I don’t think I could stand the glares from Agent Romanoff. Which reminds me...” He held the tray up to emphasise its presence before placing it on the bed beside Steve. Orange juice and pancakes. “She sent this up.”
Steve looked the tray over before returning his attention to Tony. His gaze took in the bruise once more and he wondered how many more Tony was hiding beneath that long sleeved shirt of his. Again, he found himself thinking of Bucky, the memory a painful cavity within his chest. “I should never have gotten you dragged into this.”
“That’s the beauty of being a team, Captain, you don’t have to do any of this alone. And you’re not the only one who could maybe benefit from having a few friends around, you know?”
“What? You mean you?” Eyebrow raised, Steve looked Tony up and down. He didn’t miss the sight of something vulnerable in the man’s usually cocky eyes, something so sincere and truthful.
Then it was gone, cockiness slipping back into place. “Well, there’s Bruce as well – having the other guy as company all the time wouldn’t exactly be my idea of fun. And of course, Clint and Natasha – don’t tell them I said so, but I think they secretly like it here.”
A smile played across Steve’s lips. “Thanks, Tony.”
“You’ve already said that.”
“I mean it... I... I’m glad to know you have my back.” He hung his head, shaking it a little. “I’ve spent so much time thinking about my past since waking up from the ice, so much time thinking about everything I’ve lost and all the things that aren’t there anymore... A lot has changed, but it’s not all bad.”
“Is that a compliment, Mr Rogers?”
Steve snorted. “I don’t know – wouldn’t want to inflate your ego too much, your head’s already the size of Manhattan.”
“Manhattan? I’d have said at least Queens, if not the whole of New York.”
“I can’t argue there.”
He looked up, meeting Tony’s gaze, that grin of his present, his eyes lit up. For a moment, they stayed like that, a silent understanding passing between them both. But like before, Tony was the one to break the silence, clearing his throat a little before speaking.
“Well, you better eat up and get your strength back, but not too quickly. Fury wants a report when you’re feeling up to it, so give it a day or two. It’ll give me some time to do a little more digging on these new friends you’ve made.”
That was enough to sober Steve up. “Anymore sign of them?”
“JARVIS picked up a suspicious looking car on the surveillance system but it’s long gone, and if this Schmidt guy and his buddies at AIM have any sense – they’ll be long gone too.”
“But they’ll be back, won’t they?”
“That’s the funny thing about bad guys, they just don’t seem to know when they’re beat. Now we know they’re out there though, we’ll be ready for them.”
“Then maybe I should skip breakfast and get straight to training.” Steve made to stand but Tony stepped in his way, offering up a disapproving look.
“Bad idea, Cap. Wouldn’t want any of those wounds to open up before they’re fully healed. Don’t get me wrong, what you do is your business, but if I let you out of this room, Agent Romanoff has already informed me of at least sixteen ways she could kill me with a spoon, and that’s only the wooden kind – imagine what the woman could do with metal.”
Steve smirked a little, amused at the idea. “You’re afraid of a dame?”
“I’m afraid of Agent Romanoff.” Tony leaned in a little, his tone turning conspiratorial and hushed. “In fact, you do realise that she’s probably listening to this entire conversation? Any moment now, she’ll march through that door and force you back into bed.”
“I appreciate your concern, Tony, I really do – but don’t you think that’s taking it a little far?”
“You think I’m joking. Fine.” And Tony stepped to the side, nonchalant as he swung his arm out, gesturing for Steve to pass him by. “Go ahead, go train. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“One day,” Steve answered, taking a seat back on the bed. “I’ll rest for one day, then it’s back to work.”
“I’ll take that.” Tony grinned, the devilish kind he saved for whenever he knew he was right or had won an argument of some kind. Pushing back, he motioned to the tray. “Now, don’t forget to eat your pancakes and drink your OJ. And no sneaking out because the walls have eyes.”
“You mean ears... the walls have ears.”
“Why would the walls have ears? That’s ridiculous.” Pausing at the door, Tony looked back into the room, his brow burrowed. “Maybe I should get you another blanket.”
“Tony... Tony – stop. I’m fine. Look, I’m resting... I don’t need any more blankets.” Or confusing references that made his head spin.
Tony nodded. “I’ll have JARVIS call me when you’re finished so I can collect your tray.”
“Why don’t I just bri-”
“Sixteen ways to die by a wooden spoon. Do you really want to risk that?”
And honestly, Steve was beginning to think that Tony was deliberately being exhausting so that he wouldn’t have enough energy left to even think about training, let alone enough to go through with it.
He huffed out and raised his arms in defeat. “Fine. You win.”
“I usually do.” Tony lingered at the doorway only long enough to offer up that devilish grin once more, then he was gone and the door clicked shut behind him.
Steve stared after him for a few moments longer before pushing up from the bed and heading toward the window. New York was splayed out in front of him, busy and nonstop, the streets filled with cars and people talking on their phones as electronic billboards flashed and changed to advertise something new. It was so different from the New York he knew. Everything was different – and maybe, if he thought about it, even he was different.
He was still a man out of his time, still decades away from the place he once called home. But maybe it wasn’t all bad. He had a purpose here, in this new New York... and he had friends. He had a place he could call home once more. Maybe it was time he started adding new memories to that dusty collection of old ones.
Past the sirens and skyscrapers, past the technology and the phrases that Steve would never get his head around, Lady Liberty still stood... the ideals were still there, as were the people who would fight for them. People he was proud to call friends.
Not everything had changed after all. Some things still remained the same.
Author's end notes: Thank you so much for reading! It means a lot to me. And once again, thanks to Dairi for giving me this prompt in the first place.
Additionally, I have to say that I chickened out on including Thor in this fic. He's a very imposing character and his speech is so hard to get right! Maybe one day I'll dare write him...