i've learned of many pains and woes from these years of my own life
but why is it that i'm still aching inside?
– Glow, English lyrics by кran
Growing up, Steve wasn't quite sure what to think of about his blank wrist. His mother, Sarah, had a name on her wrist – his father, Joseph Rogers – and Bucky had a name on his wrist when Steve met him, but there was no name on his.
“There will be a name there one day,” his mother told him when he asked. “Everyone has someone out there for them; they're just not always born at the same time as you.”
Steve thought about that, but it wasn't exactly true. Bucky's mom didn't have a name on her wrist and neither did the nice lady who lived three apartments down from them. The only difference between them was that Bucky's mom had gotten married to a man who never said anything about the name on his wrist and the nice lady, Miss Johnson, hadn't.
“Just because they don't have a name on their wrist doesn't mean that there isn't someone waiting for them.”
Steve was five and thought that his mother had the answers to everything.
– – –
When Steve was eleven, the stock market crashed. That was when his life started to fall apart.
Steve classified his life as Before and After. There was life Before where things might not have been easy, but that was a time when he was happy, when his mother smiled and his father was a little bit distant but a steady constant in his life. After, there were shouting matches in the night and his father came home smelling of smoke and cheap whiskey; his mother would be in the kitchen in the morning with bruises.
He knew better than to ask.
When things got really bad, when his father was yelling and throwing bottles, and his mother was working, Steve stayed with Bucky. Things weren't good with Bucky, but at least his parents weren't yelling at each other and at least Mrs. Barnes never stood in the kitchen with blank eyes and bruises on her arms.
He could hear his parents yelling at each other through the thin walls of the apartment. He wanted to cover his ears with the pillow on Bucky's bed, but Bucky was there beside him turning up the radio and that was enough.
Mrs. Barnes gave him a sympathetic look when he had to leave in the evenings.
“If you ever need anything,” she said, her voice soft and her eyes imploring. “You know you always have a place here, Steve.”
“I know.” He tried to smile but his cheeks hurt too much.
She nodded, not looking convinced, and ruffled his hair, “You should get home, your mother will be worried about you.”
She never mentioned his father.
– – –
His father never laid hands on him, but Steve knew he was the focus of most of the arguments. If they weren't arguing about his health, how expensive it was to treat him, then he was yelling about how worthless Steve was. He tried not to let it show how much the words hurt him.
“You're perfect the way you are,” Sarah said. She ruffled his hair at him and smiled, but it looked painful and wrong; her cheek was swelled up and an ugly shade of blue-black. “Don't listen to anything he says about you.”
Sarah kissed his forehead before tucking him into bed and leaving the room.
Steve lay there for several long hours, staring at the ceiling. His father had fallen asleep on the couch, drunk, and smelling strongly of liquor. Steve had long since gotten used to the smell.
But the words he'd said when he'd stumbled into the apartment kept playing across the ceiling, like they were written in smoke.
“Damn worthless kid doesn't even have a name on his wrist; kid's broken and you know it.”
Broken? Yes, yes he was. Steve knew that. It was in the tone of the doctors when they tut-tutted over how underweight he was, how his immune system wasn't good enough, the asthma, the heart murmur; he wasn't going to live past his fifteenth birthday, the doctors said. It was a shame, they said, but perhaps for the best that his wrist stayed blank.
Blank. Steve heard the word everywhere, always whispered behind hands. If you were a blank, then you weren't worth anything.
He looked at his blank wrist and wished for a name to appear. Maybe then he wouldn't be such a failure as a son, maybe then his mother wouldn't look at him with those sad eyes.
No matter how many prayers he sent, a name never appeared.
“Do you ever regret it?” Steve asked.
“Your father?” Sarah blinked, pulling Steve closer so that his head was resting on her shoulder. “There are times I do, yes. But he gave me you. That's more than I could ever ask for.”
“He hurt you.”
Her grip tightened, just a hair but Steve noticed it. “We're all hurting right now. It's not... it's the drink.”
But that wasn't true, because his father had had that haunted look on his face before he started drinking – sometimes. There were times Before when he would sit and stare at the wall for hours and not say a thing, but he would snap out of it when Sarah laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. Then he would start, look around and see her and smile, place his hand on hers and squeeze.
Those were good times, those times belonged to Before. It wasn't Before anymore.
Even then, the smiles never seemed to reach his eyes. His eyes always had this distant look to them, like the sky that you could never reach.
Steve's parents taught him that, just because there was a name on your wrist, you didn't always get your happy after.
Steve stood in the doorway to the kitchen and living room, watching his father with empty eyes. He tried to picture the happy, smiling man that he saw in pictures but he couldn't. All he could see was a man who was too drunk to care about anything except his own misery.
“S'no wonder you got no name... who'd want... want a cripple piece o' damaged goods like... like you?” He kept hiccuping, tried to take a drink from the bottle he was holding and slopped most of it down his front. He didn't notice. “Should've just left you... worthless bit of goods what you are...”
Silence, except for Joseph's continued mumblings, fell over father and son. Steve didn't move from his position in the doorway, watching until his father passed out on the couch. The bottle fell to the floor with a loud clunk.
You should just die, that voice in the back of his head said. Then none of this would matter.
He was a Blank. He was no good to anyone.
Mr. Barnes was stoic as always at the funeral. He stood there the entire time, just staring off into space, even as they lowered the coffin with his wife's body into the ground. Bucky was trying not to cry, but Steve nudged him and a couple of tears slipped out.
He didn't say anything about it.
The only people present were Steve, Bucky, Sarah Rogers, the priest, and Mr. Barnes. Steve's father was passed out at home. It didn't feel much like a home anymore.
Steve and Bucky had helped pay for the funeral; they'd been scraping together money from any odd jobs that they could perform. It was expensive, but they'd somehow managed.
Afterwards, life went back to how it was before.
right for once.
Life was hard. Bucky's father passed away a few years earlier, same illness that took his wife – Consumption, people whispered, that's what it was – which left Bucky alone. Even though he was old enough now, life was still hard and difficult and he had nowhere else to go; he moved in with Steve and his mother.
“Why not go find your soul-mate?” Steve asked, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Bucky glared at him – and probably would have kicked him too if it wasn't for the fact that Steve was twenty-one, built like a tooth-pick, and spent more days of the week bedridden than he did on his feet. “It's not that easy.”
“You've got his name on your wrist which means he's got yours.”
Howard Stark. That was the name on Bucky's wrist. Everyone knew who the Stark family was; they were like American royalty – rich, famous, big weapons contractor. Isaac Stark was always in the papers for some reason; the last big party he'd thrown, what new developments he'd made, anything really. His wife, Helen, was at the top of fashion.
It was also common knowledge that they had a son, Howard.
Steve didn't really understand why Bucky just didn't try to find him; if he did, then he'd get out of this hellhole that they were stuck in, barely scraping by and always about to be turned out onto the streets. Steve couldn't hold down a job but he'd managed a couple of small commission pieces for magazines and newspapers – there were people out there who'd take his art and pay him for it. His mother was working overtime at the hospital, trying to eek out just a little bit more.
“Yeah, well, y'know that people fake the names on their wrist?” Bucky was staring at the wall, looking like he was fancying whether or not to kick it. “They'd probably just think that I was faking it. Besides, this is where I belong. If he really wants me, then he can come find me.”
Steve rolled his eyes, “Idiot.”
Steve was alone. Well, except for Bucky.
They got kicked out of the apartment a few days later. Steve left most of the stuff behind, packing a handful of photographs of his parents during better times, some clothes, and his art supplies. Really, there wasn't much that was left anyway.
Nothing but unhappy memories and a reminder that there was no one waiting for him. He was alone.
After that, Bucky and him got by mostly on odd jobs. Bucky managed to get a better paying job doing some factory work and Steve managed a couple of free-lance jobs as an artist, nothing too strenuous. His health was remained as poor as ever.
Doctors were hard to pay for and they didn't have the money anyway, so there wasn't much that they could do besides try and manage the symptoms as best they could. Steve scraped by and the two of them made the best of what little they did have.
They often didn't stay in one place for long; bouncing from one cheap apartment to a shelter or another cheap apartment. Steve cooked when they could afford it, other times they'd line up at a soup kitchen and hope that they got something.
Steve knew about the stash of newspaper clippings that Bucky kept in his suitcase. He didn't say anything about them, but he knew the subject of all of them: Howard Stark.
“You should just go find him, I'm sure he's looking for you.”
“He'll live,” Bucky replied, turning over on the thin mattress to stare at the stained ceiling; it was leaking in one corner. “You, on the other hand, keep picking fights and getting beat up in alley ways.”
“I can look after myself.”
“Sure you can.” Bucky snorted and rolled over, ending the conversation.
Steve stuck his tongue out at him. He really could look after himself. Bucky, though, Bucky had a shot at something special, something Steve would never know, and he was willing to throw it all away.
He could almost hate him for it.
Blank. The only good thing about him was that there was no name on his first. That was a lucky thing. No one to mourn him when he died; he'd thought that was a good thing in war, no one to write home to, no grieving widow or sweetheart to worry about.
It wasn't enough. He was too weak, too skinny, he had asthma and his heart wasn't very good either. If they put him out on the field, he'd just be dead weight.
Steve was used to doors being slammed in his face. He'd never have a partner, someone who loved him unconditionally, because he was worthless. He stood up, he tried to do the right thing, but all it got him was a punch in the face – usually more than one, he refused to give up – and another person telling him that he should just give up.
He never did.
It didn't matter how many times Steve tried, there was no one who would give him a chance. If it wasn't his asthma, it was his heart; he wasn't strong enough, he'd just be in the way. He'd heard it all before.
'S no wonder you don't got a name on your wrist.
Who would want a scrawny, sickly thing like him? It didn't matter what his mother had told him, he wasn't the kind of guy women were lining up to dance with. They'd probably worry about stepping on him.
But Steve didn't let that stop him. He'd keep pushing himself, he'd keep standing up for people who couldn't; it didn't matter so much if that meant he got beat up for it. He wasn't the one who needed to beat up people smaller than him to prove a point.
“You know, sometimes I think you like being punched.”
Bucky hauled him to his feet, watched him with a concerned eye as he dusted himself off and wiped the blood away from the corner of his mouth. That was Bucky – always coming to his rescue.
“You get your orders?” Steve asked, keeping that twinge of resentment he felt out of his voice. Of course Bucky got in with no problems; he could charm anyone he met and he had the advantage of being fit and healthy, no asthma or heart problems to speak of.
“107th, Sergeant James Barnes, shipping out tomorrow morning.” Bucky looked proud of himself, a smile playing about his lips. He was planning something.
Steve snorted, “I should be going with you.”
“Don't be like that; c'mon, it's my last night and I've got plans to see the future.” Bucky threw an arm around Steve's shoulders, pulling him forward and shoving a newspaper into his hands.
Steve flipped it open to find an ad for the Stark Expo. Normally, he would have said something, but there was a spring in Bucky's step and he was grinning so much that it had to hurt. Steve hadn't seem him this happy in a long time.
“Finally decided that you'd go after him?”
Bucky shrugged, “Figured I'd at least get one last look; no point to introducing myself since I'm shipping out tomorrow. Maybe when this is all over there'll be a chance for something.”
Steve rolled his eyes and didn't reply.
He didn't notice Steve slipping away when he spotted the recruitment posters.
If he could fight and make the world a better place – help end the war – then it would be worth it. Maybe if he got out there, he could make a difference. There was no one waiting for him and there never would be; there was no one to mourn him if he didn't come home.
He would fight. He couldn't do anything less.
Steve couldn't help but smile at that; she certainly didn't take kindly to men treating her like she was anything other than the trained government agent that she was. He could respect that.
There was just something in the way that she held herself that demanded respect. It was also a little intimidating. But the little quirk at the corner of her mouth that betrayed her amusement made Steve smile, just a little, just like how she punched a recruit flat on his back when he gave her lip.
She definitely had quite a bit of iron in her; it took a lot to stand up like that. Not to mention making her way in a man's world.
Steve wondered, sometimes, during training, if maybe there was a chance for him to have that happiness that he saw in all the old movies. The ones where all of the battles were fought, the war was won, and at the end the couple met, revealing that they had been destined for each other the entire time.
Of course, the snag for that little fantasy was that Agent Carter obviously had a name on her wrist. There was just no way someone like that could be broken the way he was.
“What are you waiting for?” Agent Carter asked him, when they talked about dancing on the way to his procedure.
“The right partner.” I think I found them.
She smiled and, Steve thought he'd imagined this, pulled a little on the cuff of her uniform, revealing her left wrist.
There was no name there.
He had a chance.
He wanted to do something. Steve hadn't felt this angry before. But a good man was dead. A man he knew, respected, looked up. It wasn't fair.
The serum might have worked, but he still didn't have his chance. Or, at least, not the way he'd originally thought of it.
The tights were just uncomfortable.
She was, Steve blushed to admit it, pretty. Fair haired with bright green eyes, the way she carried herself reminded him a little bit of his mother. She didn't have the same iron to her that Peggy did, but there was a strength there in the way that she walked, carried herself.
“I, um, it's very nice to meet you.”
Steve thought he looked like an idiot.
“You're going to want to get used to this,” she told him, once they were done with a flurry of cameras and reporters. He was still in the stupid uniform. “The government doesn't want anyone to know that you're a Blank – well, besides those who already know. I'm your cover.”
“Oh.” He hadn't thought about that.
Sharon just smiled, “Go get changed. Those tights can't be comfortable. We can talk more then.”
“I haven't found him yet,” she said. “I was told that if I helped you out, that they'd help me find him. Chances are, he's probably somewhere overseas right now. I mean, he'd probably be about your age and almost everyone I know is trying to help out somehow.”
“That why you volunteered for this?”
Sharon hummed thoughtfully, “I chose to do this for a lot of reasons. I wanted to do something to help out; I could've gone to work in a factory, but when I tried, someone swooped in and asked me if I 'wanted to fight for my country on the most important battlefield of the war.' I kind of expected that it was some experimental all-women unit, not this.
“But when they briefed me on what I was supposed to do, I said yes. I wanted to help and if I can help by doing this, then I'll do it. Maybe I'll find him and maybe I won't; I'm not going to let the thought of the what ifs ruin my life or stop me from doing what I can.”
“Senator Brandt approached you too?” He could believe it, the man seemed to have every angle covered.
“He's in charge of this entire show, so yes he did,” Sharon shrugged. “What about you? I saw you in the papers when you caught that Nazi.”
“It was either this or be stuck in a lab. At least this way I'm doing something.” Steve couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Sharon gently placed a hand on his arm and squeezed, “You'll get your chance, don't worry about that.”
The two of them fell into a comfortable silence after that, just watching the rain as it hit the windows. They were sitting in a little lounge, overlooking the streets of New York below them. It was the first time in a long while that Steve actually felt content.
“I don't know – maybe?”
“Oh, I know that tone. Who's the lucky lady?”
Steve looked down at his hands, feeling his cheeks flush, “I met her while I was – before all this happened. She's got a mean left hook; you just look at her and know that she's gonna go places. She's wonderful and, well, beautiful.”
“Do you know how she feels about you?” Sharon was leaning forward eagerly. “She sounds like an amazing person.”
That made Steve smile just a little, “Yeah, she really is.”
Leaning close, Sharon pressed a kiss to his cheek, “Take care of yourself, Steve. And good luck.”
She pulled back with a wink, pretending to dab at tears with a handkerchief. But her eyes were bright and her smile was real. He'd miss her; she was a good person.
Steve managed a smile for her, leaning in to kiss her cheek as well. “You too. I hope you find him.”
“Oh I will, don't you worry about that.”
As she walked away, chatting with the reporters for a few moments before blending into the crowd of New York streets, Steve could almost picture what life might have been like with her. Sharon might not have had Peggy's iron or her left hook, but she strength too. He'd miss her.
But he wasn't hers and she wasn't his; another Steven Rogers would be lucky enough to know just how wonderful a woman she was.
He meant it when he wished her the best. She deserved it.
He could do this. He was going to do everything he could. Schmidt was out to dominate the world solely because he thought he was entitled to it. Schmidt didn't care who he hurt, who he had to step on and over, to get what he wanted.
Steve was going to stop that. He might have just been a kid from Brooklyn who got a chance, but he had the power to make a difference.
He was going to damn well do that.
him than he'd been before.
“What made you change your mind?”
Eventually they'd managed to find one of Bucky's uniforms that had survived and was in decent condition. Of course, Bucky still was bruised and dirty and there wasn't much that could be done about that beyond attempting to clean himself up.
Bucky sat down next to him, still looking ragged and bruised but better than he had before. It helped that he was smiling, a little bit of the mischievous glint back in his eyes.
“Well, when they were experimenting on me, it was kind of all I could think about, y'know? And, well, I kind of thought that if I could just make it out of this alive, I'd do it. I'd tell him. 'Course, I thought that I'd have to write back to the States until you told me he was here.”
“I thought you'd like to know.” He didn't feel so bitter; he had a chance, maybe, at something with Peggy. Maybe it wouldn't be perfect, but it was more than what he deserved.
“Yeah, well, thanks.”
The two of them just sat there for a few more minutes in a comfortable, friendly silence.
“Well, here's hoping that I don't make a complete fool of himself,” Bucky said eventually, standing up and dusting off his uniform.
“You'll do fine,” Steve rolled his eyes and stood up. “You always do fine. I'm the one who can't figure out how to talk to a girl without making myself look like an idiot.”
“Dunno about that; you manage with that pretty agent just fine.”
Steve blushed, “You think?”
“She likes you. I guess it's part of the charm.” Bucky shrugged as they walked across the camp, towards where Howard had his little workshop set up. “But hey, congratulations. I was starting to worry about you.”
“Yeah, at least now I know I'm not the only one making sure you're not making stupid choices because you're the self-sacrificing type of guy. You'd jump in the way of a tank if it meant that someone else would walk away from it.”
Bucky paused, thoughtful, “If you jump in front of a tank, I'm going to punch you for being an idiot.”
When they entered Howard's makeshift workshop, the man in question was buried up to his elbows in the engine of a Jeep. His sleeves were rolled up past his elbows and there was grease smeared on his arms and face; his shirt and vest were probably not as clean as they'd been when he started.
Steve rapped his knuckles against the table as they entered, “Mr. Stark.”
Howard jumped, dropping the wrench he'd been holding, “Rogers, what can I do for you?”
“I've got someone who wants to meet you.”
“You do, huh?” Howard was wiping his hands on his pants, which didn't do much. His eyes drifted from Steve to Bucky and Steve could've sworn that the world had just jerked to a stop under his feet.
Quite suddenly, Steve felt awkwardly like the third wheel on a bicycle.
Howard had zeroed in on Bucky, “You are?”
For his part, Bucky stood a little straighter with a grin playing at his lips, “Sergeant James Barnes. I thought I'd kept you waiting long enough.”
“Are you jealous?” Peggy asked, sitting beside him.
“A little, he's my best friend. But more than that, I want him to be happy. Howard makes him happy, so that's all that matters to me.”
Peggy smiled, “I'm sure he'd say the same thing about you.”
Steve smiled and flushed just a little. The two of them fell into silence after that, just watching the happy couple as they talked.
Despite the lingering bruises, Bucky looked more alive than Steve could ever remember him looking. He was laughing at something Howard said, ruffling the millionaire's hair affectionately. Howard tried to look affronted, but it didn't work because his face broke out into a huge smile.
And Steve thought that war was an ugly thing, but at least there were still beautiful things in the world. He glanced shyly at Peggy and smiled.
Sometimes, he knew, they snuck off for a moment or two alone. They'd come back with silly grins on their faces and clothing a little mussed up, lips red an sporting suspicious marks on their necks. But that was just how things were. Steve never said anything about it.
So long as Bucky was happy – and, obviously, Howard made him happy – then it was fine. They had a job to do and they'd get it done.
Steve's eyebrows were in his hairline, “Really? You and Howard?”
“Well, why not?” Bucky shrugged. “We've talked about it; his father's pretty set on the whole you find your soul-mate, marry 'em, and have kids schtick. It's not like we're gonna marry anyone else.”
“How are you even going to have kids? You don't exactly have the equipment for that.”
Bucky shoved him, “Shut up. Howard's got a friend who's willing to help us out with that. I like kids. It'll be fun; you can be an uncle. How's that sound?”
“Sounds good to me.” Steve smiled at the thought.
“You thought about asking Agent Carter? You know she's got a thing for you, right?”
He blushed, “I... I know. I was thinking about it. You know, when all of this is over.”
“Then we'll just have to take Hydra out and end this war.” Bucky nodded to himself, “Shouldn't be too hard.”
“Alright, let's get this done.”
He should've – he could've done something.
It was all his fault.
Steve stared at the red liquid then downed it without a single thought. It tasted bitter but he was still stone cold sober.
All his fault.
He hadn't been able to face Howard when they got back. All those promises broken. It was his fault. He'd let Bucky down; had let him fall. There was no excuse for that.
He should have done something.
Steve tightened his grip on the glass, a wave of anger crashing into him. The glass cracked under his grip but he didn't care. He'd make Hydra pay.
No matter what it took. He would see to it that Hydra was completely destroyed. He would do it. For Bucky. For Howard. For everyone whose dreams and lives had been crushed by Schmidt's unquenchable thirst for power.
He swore he would end Schmidt.
The ice and sea were rushing up towards him, Steve could see it through the large windows and there was a bitingly cold wind whipping at his hair and face through the broken panes. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath right before the plane crashed into the ice.
Steve was thrown forward against the console before he was knocked back into the seat and then he hit the floor.
There was water rushing in. Cold. He tried to breathe but inhaled water instead of air. Choking. It was cold... so cold... then...
i'm lost in sadness, still trying to pick myself up
though the war ended, you cannot see a single thing
i am always alone
– Corruption Garden, English lyrics by кran
The times that Howard Stark was home, he spent most of it drinking if he wasn't already drunk. Maria got this tight, pained look on her face and her jaw would twitch as her mouth thinned; her eyes were distant and she'd wrap Tony up in her arms and take him out for ice cream.
Tony knew his father didn't love him. Howard spent months on end away – business, was his excuse. But Tony knew better.
“He loves you, Tony,” Maria told him every night as she tucked him into bed. “He does. He... Howard just doesn't know how to show it.”
And Tony wanted to believe his mother, because she had that haunted look in her eyes and the pain was raw in her voice and all he wanted to do was make that all go away. Tony wanted to see his mother smile.
“He's never here.”
Maria blinked slowly, swallowed heavily and nodded her head a few times. Her eyes were sparkling bright in the dim light of his bedside light. When she spoke, her voice was choked, “I know, sweetie, I know.”
“It's because of me, isn't it?” Tony was eight and he knew that his father looked at him with a frown and a deep furrow to his brow that Tony knew meant disapproval. “It's because of the name on my wrist.”
When he said that, Maria reached over with her shaking hands and gently smoothed her fingers over his wrist; over the name written there in that delicate flowing cursive that marked Tony as belonging to someone. That name had been there for as long as Tony could remember, probably longer.
“No, no that's not it,” Maria said. “It's... complicated. But it's not your fault; it's never been your fault, Tony. You should never think that way.”
“Tony.” Maria placed her index finger gently over Tony's lips. “I'll explain when you're older. It's complicated, but it's never been your fault. If nothing else, remember that.”
Tony didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded. That seemed to be what he was supposed to do because Maria smiled – and it almost reached her eyes – and leaned in to kiss his forehead.
“Goodnight. Sleep well, my dear.”
She made sure that Tony was snugly tucked into bed and comfortable. Before she left, she looked back once more and smiled at him before flipping off the light and closing the door.
Even after she left, Tony lay there and stared at the ceiling.
He held up his arm and, even in the dark, he could still read the name written there on his wrist.
After a few moments of just staring at it, Tony rolled over and curled up and held his arm tightly to his chest with his wrist over his heart. Tony was shaking and he could feel the tears pricking at his eyes and he let them fall now that there was no one there to see them.
Even as he cried, Tony prayed. He prayed that his Steven would come and sweep him up in his arms and hold him and tell him that everything would be alright; that he loved him.
His dreams were always filled with thoughts of what Steven Rogers could be like. Tony hoped beyond anything that he would be like the heroes in the books that his mother read to him sometimes. Someone who would ride in on a white horse and sweep Tony up into his arms and carry him away from a father who didn't love him.
But, deep inside, Tony prayed that Steve Rogers would be like Captain America. Because the good Captain was brave and smart and handsome and, well, perfect. Tony admired him more than all of the heroes in his books and comics. One day, he hoped that he could be someone like that.
It wasn't the last time that Tony had a dream like that. But like all of his childish dreaming, he eventually stopped hoping and praying that the impossible would happen. Captain America was only a child's desperate dream. Not to mention that he was long dead.
But it wasn't the last night that Tony Stark cried himself to sleep.
Those were the only times where Tony saw his father cry.
Howard would sit and stare into the fire with empty eyes. He wouldn't move for hours. Sometimes Tony swore he saw his lips moving but words never came out. But there would always be tears trickling slowly down his cheeks.
“James wouldn't have wanted you to waste your life like this,” Maria said, her voice low and cold. “And he certainly wouldn't want you to neglect your son. What would he think of you if he could see you now?”
There never was any comeback to that. Howard's mouth twitched and there would be a vacant look in his eyes.
After those arguments, Howard would collapse in on himself. He looked small and defeated, with his eyes dull and glassy. Then he'd wander off, bottle of whiskey in hand, to his lab. He wouldn't come out until days had passed. His mother never said anything about it, but there was a tortured look on her face whenever it happened.
Tony didn't know who James was. The only time that James came up in conversation was during those arguments and his mother was hitting below the belt. That much Tony did know.
Whoever James was, the mention of him made Howard's eyes glaze over and the tears come. He looked like one of those dolls that Maria collected and kept on the shelves. The ones made of porcelain and their vacant, staring eyes.
Maria never looked like she wanted to talk about it, so Tony didn't ask her. He found her crying several times but she always stopped when she realized he was there.
“Oh, Tony...” she'd croon. And then she'd reach out and take him into her arms and hold him just a little too tightly while she sniffled. “It'll all be alright, you'll see... you'll see...”
Tony never mentioned that it sounded more like she was trying to convince herself rather than him.
Maria was a little misty eyed, but she smiled and hugged him and kissed both of his cheeks.
“You'll behave, right? Oh Tony, please behave. I know that you're angry with Howard but please, don't act out because of that. And make sure that you eat. Please look after yourself – for me.”
“I will, mom. Don't worry; I'll make you proud.”
Tony set his mouth in that firm line that he'd picked up from his father. He was determined. He'd make it through school and after that... after that he wasn't sure but he'd figure it out when he made it to that point.
Maria smiled, really smiled, and ruffled his hair, “That's my son.”
She kissed his cheeks one more time before he left for school. She was smiling and waving at him as he slowly made his way towards his dormitory.
That was the last time that Tony saw his mother.
“I'm sorry, son,” he apologize, voice deep and grim. Tony liked that about Mr. Grayson; he always sounded serious. But it only made everything so much more real.
Tony couldn't remember all that much after that. It was all a blur and there were flashes from cameras and reporters shoving their recorders at him and asking him how it felt, how he felt, what it was like to lose his family.
Obadiah was there, handling the press in that calm and patient way that he always did. He placed a hand on Tony's shoulder – heavy, so heavy, and alone, I'm all alone – and gave him a sad smile and said, “Don't worry, we'll get through this.”
Tony wasn't so sure. The words didn't sound like words to him.
He tried to fix the image of his mother's smile in his mind, but all he could think of was the pained look on her face when she argued with his father. Tony remembered how she never looked happy – except when she saw him off to school that very first day.
That was how Tony wanted to remember her.
The name on his wrist was just another broken promise.
Sure, Tony had a name on his wrist, but he'd never met his Steven Rogers. He met a Steven Rogers in school but he had someone else's name on his wrist. He wasn't Tony's.
Tony was alone. He was surrounded by people but none of those people knew him. Tony supposed that there was some truth to the idea that he was in a sea of people but he was all alone.
The name on his wrist was a promise, he belonged to someone, but... that someone wasn't around. Maybe he just wasn't looking hard enough? Tony didn't have an answer. He'd just have to keep searching until he found him.
Tony Stark was thirteen when the media ran its first pity story on him. They didn't stop with just one.
But there were other news clippings too.
There were a handful of clippings related to the USO and Captain America.
Howard had a rather impressive collection of Captain America memorabilia and comics. Tony had gotten in the habit of stealing the comics whenever Howard wasn't looking – they'd been a great part of his childhood fantasies.
What Tony hadn't realized that Captain America was very much real. He wasn't just the propaganda show; he was a soldier and a hero.
And when Tony found a beaten old photograph of the Captain tucked away inside the back cover of one of the comics, he felt his heart flutter in his chest and his breathing hitch.
Smiling out of the photograph, helmet in his hands – and Tony would recognize his costume anywhere – was Captain America.
He was tall, with pale hair and a warm, kind face. His smile was bright an just a shade amused as he looked at the dark-haired man beside him. Tony could fill in the blanks; he could imagine bright blue eyes sparkling with life and the way his blond hair fell perfectly around his face... Tony wasn't sure how he knew all of that, but he did.
For several long moments, Tony sat there and took in the entirety of Captain America. From the strong line of his jaw to the broad stretch of his shoulders. Even though the photograph cut off, Tony could tell that he was tall and, well, built.
Captain America was beautiful and perfect, captured in a moment of time. He was forever ageless. Tony knew he'd gone down during the War. He was dead. There was no point to dreaming.
Even though it was stupid, Tony carefully tucked the photograph into his pocket.
He was spitting out blood and nursing a probable concussion. Rhodey was in some of his classes and had been friendly towards him; Tony hadn't known what to do with that.
“You should stop picking fights with guys twice your size,” Rhodey said. He pulled Tony to his feet and slid an arm under Tony's shoulders to keep him upright when his legs refused to support him.
Tony's head was spinning and his vision was fading in and out of focus but he recognized Rhodey's voice. “Don't give me much of a choice.”
“Just gotta learn to say no.”
Tony passed out sometime after that, but when he woke up in the hospital hours later Rhodey was at his side.
He didn't leave.
She was a whirlwind of energy and Tony wasn't sure what to make of her at first, but eventually she grew on him – Tony liked to joke that Pepper was like a fine wine, better with age or a fungus in that she grew on you with time. But Pepper was good with people and good at finding things out; Tony didn't know how she did it. Pepper was like an information wizard... or something.
So, of course, she found out about the name on his wrist.
“And you have no idea who they are?”
Pepper just gave him a hard look, “Well, I don't think you're looking hard enough.”
Tony barked out a laugh and smiled, “I somehow doubt that they're just gonna pop into being. If they haven't heard of me...”
By that time, Tony was well aware that he was all over the press. They loved to run pity stories about how he was alone, how he was a Blank – Tony never saw fit to correct them on that matter, after all, it wasn't important since he had a name on his wrist and belong to someone. It just so happened that that someone was dead.
Fate must have really hated the Stark family, Tony thought. His parents had been Blanks and their marriage an unhappy one. The sight of his mother crying, of his father crying, the memories of being left alone and abandoned by a man who never loved him stayed with Tony.
Pepper, Tony was happy to know, had a name on her wrist and a man to go with it. That was how he met Happy.
Much to Tony's amusement, Happy was something of a dork. And he did kind of think that Tony was kind of amazing, which Tony thought was kind of funny. He wasn't used to people thinking of him as being any form of a good person. But Happy believed in him and so did Pepper and Rhodey; all of them believed that he would go on and do great things. Tony thought it was stupid.
Tony Stark, after all, was nothing more than damaged goods.
But that was okay, because for a few brief moments in time, Tony felt like he was wanted. That hole in his chest felt a little less empty and the edges weren't as jagged as he knew them to be.
It wasn't a perfect solution and it was very likely to blow up in his face, but Tony didn't care.
Anything was better than the burning ache of loneliness buried deep within his chest. If alcohol and sex made it a little less sharp, he'd indulge in it until he couldn't remember his own name.
He just wished that the comforting numbness would linger just a little bit longer.
It wasn't a good reputation. The press had a field day with it; he topped the gossip blogs which were always going on about what woman he was seen with and where, who he'd slept with. There were even blogs solely dedicated to who he had and hadn't slept with, Tony thought it was all rather impressive.
They all still believed that he was a Blank.
Tony was perfectly fine with that. He might as well have been. After all, his Steven Rogers was most likely dead no matter what the promise of his name on his wrist meant. Fate was just fucking with him.
When he'd taken the reigns of Stark Industries at twenty-one, he'd brought Pepper and Happy with him. Pepper had taken over the search for his Steven Rogers, using that strange knack of hers for finding people and information but she'd had no luck; every Steven Rogers she found had someone.
Happy went along with it; he didn't say anything about the name on Tony's wrist, but he was always there with a kind word and a shoulder of support when it was needed. He wordlessly drove women home after a one-night stand, picked Tony up from random places in town without a complaint and always with a smile. Happy never said anything, but Tony knew he was just a little worried.
Then there was Pepper. Pepper who cleaned up all of Tony's messes with a roll of her eyes and a sharp retort on her tongue. But always there when he was low with words of encouragement and support.
Rhodey was there too. But he was busy with his duties in the military most of the time and wasn't always there to pull Tony back from the edge.
But all of them tried to keep Tony together. He wasn't sure what he'd done to deserve friends like them; he would do anything for them but he had problems understanding why they'd do the same for him. He didn't deserve it.
Pepper looked up from the paperwork she was sorting through when Tony stumbled in, drunk as always, one night. She sighed and set it aside and stood up, catching him under the shoulder as he stumbled.
“You really should have called,” Pepper grumbled as the two of them awkwardly made their way down the hall to Tony's bedroom. “You're a mess.”
“Yes, because smelling of cheap perfume and alcohol with vomit down your front is the perfect picture of 'fine.'”
Pepper unceremoniously dumped Tony on his bed, ignoring his slurred protests as she quickly and efficiently stripped him of his jacket, tie, and shoes. She tossed those aside before pulling off his shirt and tucking him under the covers.
“I'm not telling you a bed time story,” she quipped when Tony opened his mouth.
Everything was blurring around the edges and the words tumbled out without much thought to the consequences.
“D'you think... that he'd... want me?”
Pepper stopped what she was doing and looked at Tony, face unreadable for a few seconds before it broke into one of those warm Pepper-smiles that Tony knew so well.
“You're a wonderful person, Tony. I'm sure that he'd see past all of those walls you've built up. You just need to wait. He'll come eventually. We'll find him.”
She sounded so sure and determined that Tony couldn't help but believe her, even if he wouldn't remember what she said when he woke up.
When he went to Afghanistan for a weapons demonstration of the Jericho missile, he took it with him. He kept it carefully tucked behind his Kevlar vest.
He hadn't expected everything to go to hell.
Waking up strapped to a car battery powering an electromagnet embedded in his chest that was keeping him alive wasn't what Tony had signed up for. He hadn't expected that. Peeling back the bandages and tugging at his shirt revealed a large number of incisions and cuts where the shrapnel had pierced his flesh. Most of the cuts weren't serious, but there were a few that looked deeper than others and were neatly stitched up.
“You're lucky I was here,” Yinsen told him.
“Thanks.” Tony wasn't sure why he'd bothered to save his life, but the men with the guns who sometimes shouted at them from outside the metal doors probably had something to do with that.
Tony had fully expected that he was going to die. He'd almost been looking forward to it. If he died, he'd get to see him.
He felt a little cheated.
“Oh, I did manage to save this for you,” Yinsen interrupted his dark thoughts.
He held out the framed picture of Captain America and Tony took it from him, weighing it in his hands for a few minutes.
The edges of the frame were stained with blood and part of one edge was damaged. The back of the frame had shrapnel embedded in it but it hadn't managed to pierce through. Somehow, miraculously, the photo had survived without any harm having some to it.
Yinsen nodded at it, “Your lover?”
Tony snorted, hands tightening their grip, “Something like that.”
He tucked the picture carefully away in his shirt next to the electromagnet embedded in his chest. It felt warm against his skin and Tony drew strength from that.
Conversation after that died a quick death when their captors made their appearance, dragging Tony off to make their demands (tough luck, there, Stark Industries wouldn't pay up – probably). They used their guns to both intimidate Tony and to hit him about when he didn't co-operate or move quick enough for them.
Eventually, they dumped him back in the cell with Yinsen. Tony stumbled and only managed to catch himself on the edge of a table, hands holding the car battery that power the electromagnet keeping him alive. His cuts from the shrapnel burned and he was quite certain that he'd torn open a couple of them from the rough treatment.
Yinsen helped him back to his feet and over to the cot in the corner. Tony lay down, feeling more exhausted then he'd ever felt before his life.
“You should rest,” Yinsen said. “They'll want more from you later, I'm sure.”
He was so tired that all Tony managed to do was nod his head and then he was dropping off into unconsciousness.
Captain America's picture was like a brand against the bare skin of his chest. It burned and his entire being felt heavy, like he'd strapped a pair of leaden weights to himself. What was he supposed to do?
“There's nothing I can do. They're gonna kill me anyway...”
And he would see him. If there was anything after death, then maybe he'd get to see him.
“So this is it? The last moments of the great Tony Stark? What about him?” Yinsen jabbed his finger at where Tony had tucked Captain America's picture. “You're just going to let them kill you. What would he think of you?”
Captain America would have fought, would have planned a way out of this already. He wouldn't just give up. What these people were doing wasn't right and he wouldn't have stood for it; he would stand up and fight back, he wouldn't take this lying down.
Could he face him when he died having done nothing to try and change the wrongs he'd wrought on the world?
Tony shrugged, “Always does what's right. Beyond that? I don't know; I've never met him.”
“I see.” Yinsen paused and then gestured at Tony's wrist when he next spoke, “We met once before, you know, at a conference. I had thought you were a Blank.”
“Yeah, well, it's not like I'm going to go around bragging about the fact that I've got a name on my wrist and it, more than likely, belongs to a man who's been dead for nearly seventy years.” Tony snorted, “I've always thought my family was cursed.”
Yinsen smiled wryly, “Well, you seem to have a knack for attempting the impossible. I don't see why he would be any different.”
“What about you?” Tony asked. “Got someone waiting for you?”
“I have a wife and children. I'll see them again when I leave this place.”
Tony Stark was still alive while better, braver men lay in their graves. Those men were dead. Dead because of him.
What right did Tony Stark have to love? To live?
The only reason he kept pressing forward was because he had to do better; he owed it to their memories. If he could do better, if he could right the wrongs he'd done, then maybe, one day, he'd be able to face them with a clear conscience.
And maybe he'd be worthy of the name on his wrist.
“No one. There is no gala or press conference for this, Pepper. Just the next mission.” Tony flicked aside a hologram of potential upgrades for the armour. “I'm going to find my weapons and I'm going to destroy them. That's all there is to it.”
Pepper's mouth tightened into a thin line, “You've changed, Tony. I don't know if it's for the better or not.”
And with that, she turned on her heel and walked out of the garage, flipping her phone out to call Happy for a ride down to Stark Industries corporate offices. There was purpose in her step as she walked up the stairs and Tony couldn't help but admire that.
Tony couldn't help but wonder how he'd gotten so lucky to be surrounded by people who were so, well good. He didn't deserve their friendship or their concern. He'd felt that way before but now... now it was just so much worse.
What he owed them was to make the world a better place for them to live in. If he got a little banged up along the way, then that was fine; it wasn't like there would be anyone left to mourn him.
The name on his wrist was a promise that would never be kept. He was alone and he always would be.
Tony shrugged and winced. His shoulder was still rather tender from his fight with Obadiah and he still looked like he'd been in a bar fight the night before; his cheek was bruised and there were several cuts to his face, hands, and arms. Pepper had been dabbing make-up on them to make them look a little less prominent.
“Really? And how's that mouthful of a department name going for you? What was it? Strategic something or other?”
Coulson's lips twitched in amusement, “You can just call us SHIELD.”
Then he was being ushered out by Pepper with Rhodey and Happy close behind him and he was greeted by reporters all talking at once and that charming reporter who he remembered wrote for Vanity Fair was there and she seemed almost vindictive as she poked at his alibi.
Of course, Tony blew all of Coulson's careful preparation to hell with one simple declaration as he tossed the cards aside.
“I am Iron Man.”
the things of tomorrow, i do not understand
the things of the past are out of my own hands
– Hello, Worker, English lyrics by кran
The sound of traffic was the first thing he heard. Then, the sounds of a radio. A ball game? Steve thought it was. He recognized the plays. He'd been to this game. But that wasn't possible.
Steve opened his eyes to white walls. He glanced around. The room was bare, sparsely furnished. There was a dresser and a mirror with a radio perched on top of it; aside from the dresser, the bed, and a night stand, the room was empty. There wasn't anything that lent the room any personality.
The curtains billowed in a light wind and he could hear the sounds of the street below. But something about that didn't sound right. There was the sound of traffic but he couldn't hear the people.
The entire place felt wrong.
He pushed himself up into a sitting position. Dimly, he noted that he was dressed in a t-shirt and loose fitting slacks; his uniform was nowhere to be seen. Point in fact, Steve couldn't see any of his possessions anywhere.
When he glanced down, he noticed something. There was what looked like a black smudge on his wrist. His breath caught in his throat.
Shaking, he raised it, tilted it so that he could see it.
There, written in an elegant, curving script and shining black ink was a name. Steve held his breath, almost unable to believe that it was actually there but it was.
Steve raised a trembling hand to touch it. The skin felt smooth under his fingers as he traced the name. He almost couldn't believe it. There was a name on his wrist. He had a soul-mate. He wouldn't be alone.
The thought that something – possibly everything – had changed was still there, but it was a little easier to think about. But Steve knew everything was different. When he'd gone down there hadn't been a name on his wrist, but now there was. What else had changed?
He was so wrapped up in the thoughts of his soul-mate – What's he like? Will he like me? How long have I kept him waiting? – that he almost didn't notice the young woman stepping into the room.
Steve looked up at her, unconsciously covering his wrist with a hand. She had a pleasant if not a bit bland smile on her face, crisp clothes, and very dark hair that fell around her face in soft waves. But her shoulders were tense and the way she looked at him and straightened the watch on her wrist made it clear that she was uncomfortable.
“Good morning. Or should I say afternoon?” Her laugh was fake and grated on his ears just a little.
Roars of cheers came from the radio along with an excited announcement. Steve glanced at it for a second before looking back to her.
“Where am I?”
“You're in a recovery room in New York City.” Her response was too punctual, too smooth. It sounded rehearsed.
Steve frowned, “Where am I really?”
Her smile slipped a little and she blinked, eyes wide. “I'm sorry. I don't understand.”
“Where am I?” Steve stood up, noting that she looked a little scared as he did. “What year is it?”
“I don't understand.” Her smile was faltering and she kept nervously glancing behind her. “Captain Rogers, please–”
“I know the game. I was there. Where am I? What year is it?” Please tell me I'm not too late.
There was a sharp-edged shard of fear lodged deep inside of his chest. It dug into his heart and lungs with each breath. He had so many unanswered questions and worries. What had happened to him? How was he still alive? How much time had passed since he went down?
She looked uncomfortable now; this conversation probably hadn't gone down the way she'd rehearsed. Her posture was stiff, unyielding. She didn't back down when Steve stood up.
Two men stormed into the room, both of them kitted out in body armour – although it wasn't body armour that Steve had ever seen before – and military uniform. Their stern expressions said that they meant business; clearly they weren't there to answer his questions.
Well then, he'd just have to find those answers on his own.
Steve grabbed one of the men by his extended arms, using his own momentum to flip him over Steve's shoulder. That sent him flying into the wall which gave out completely from the force, revealing a barren room outside that resembled the back-stage area of the USO shows.
He only stopped to acknowledge that for a half-second before pivoting on his heel and landing a punch right in the centre of the other man's chest, sending him flying back into the dresser.
Climbing over the man who had knocked out a hole in the wall, Steve kicked out a little more of it. The room – set? – hadn't been built incredibly well and Steve stumbled out onto cool concrete. A quick look around revealed that there were no windows and that the one on the set had a backdrop to provide a view of the city.
Two double doors led out somewhere and Steve made a beeline for them. Steve made a beeline for them, throwing them open and charging out into a hall full of people in crisp suits.
They all turned to look at him, some of them looking confused and others with looks of dawning comprehension on their faces. Somewhere overhead, he could hear someone over an intercom.
Everything was a blur after that. He left the building, out onto the streets and this was New York. The buildings he knew but they didn't look the same. There were bright lights everywhere and people dressed in ways he'd never seen before. The cars in the street – which he had just run into – were all sleek lines and nothing like what he knew.
What had happened? How long – just how long had he been gone?
Steve kept running.
Times Square was all bright lights and moving images in colour. There were bright advertisements for shows everywhere and people were milling about and staring at him with wide eyes. Steve stopped. He couldn't believe this.
Cars were screeching to a stop and men in suits were streaming out, forming a perimeter around Steve and turning people away.
“At ease, soldier.” A tall man stepped forwards, hands behind his back. One of his eyes was covered by a patch and he just radiated command.
Steve just stared.
The man continued, “Sorry about that little charade back there, but we thought it would be best if we broke it to you slowly.”
The man inclined his head a little, “You've been asleep, Captain. For almost seventy years.”
“... sprung up after the war. Two of our founding members were Howard Stark and an Agent Carter, who was the first director as well. 'Course, they're both gone now but we're still around. We're still needed. And so are you.”
“I'm not so sure about that,” Steve replied. He glanced at his wrist and the name there. Nearly seventy years had gone by; there was no guarantee that his soul-mate was even still alive. An entire life could have played out while he lay sleeping in the ice.
Something told him that wasn't the case, but Steve was practical. He knew there was a chance that, even though Anthony Stark's name was on his wrist, he was too late. But he tried to be positive.
Fury smiled, a mere quirk of the corner of his lips, “I wouldn't be so sure about that; the world's changed a lot since you went down, Captain. We'll have to get you caught up to speed.”
“Agent Barton!” Fury barked, making Steve start. He'd thought that this room was sound-proof.
There was a flurry of swearing from overhead and then the vent in the ceiling clattered to the ground, followed by a man who landed in a rather undignified heap. He climbed to his feet, shooting Fury a dirty look as he did.
He was only a few inches shorter than Steve was and maybe a couple years older. He had the look of a soldier.
“Sir,” he greeted tersely.
“Since Agent Barton is apparently so anxious to meet you, Captain, he'll be in charge of getting you up to speed. If you have any questions, you can ask him.” Fury definitely looked amused, especially because Barton looked rather irritated about the arrangement. “Now, play nice.”
And with that, Fury strode out of the room with a definite spring in his step. Barton watched him go with a scowl on his face. Then he turned to Steve.
“C'mon, let's go.”
Barton slouched in on himself a little as they left the room, Steve trailing just a little ways behind him. The SHIELD base was rather sparse in terms of decoration, making Barton the most interesting thing to look at. But staring seemed a little awkward, not to mention inappropriate.
It wasn't until they were winding their way down into the lobby that Steve thought to ask, “Where are we going?”
“Out. There's a really good little Italian place about a block from here, you hungry?” Barton explained. He still sounded a little gruff but not as confrontational as he had when Fury was in the room.
“Yes,” Steve replied, a little confused. “Am I even allowed off base?”
“If you weren't, Fury wouldn't've asked me to show you around. He's only doing this cause I messed up back there; he wasn't supposed to know I was in the ceiling.”
“Do you do that often? Hide in the ceiling, I mean.”
Barton pushed the doors open leading into the streets and turned left, Steve falling into step beside him.
“Yeah, I'm not as good as 'Tasha, though. If I was her, you wouldn't know I was even there. 'Course, that means she gets all the fun assignments. Phil's gonna be jealous though.”
His voice was fond as he talked about them and he even smiled – which lit up his entire face and made him look much younger – when he made that last quip. Obviously they were close.
That made Barton laugh and his smile turned to a grin, “Not gonna lie, Cap, you're kind of a big deal. Phil hasn't been able to talk about much else since they found you in the ice.”
“Y'know, I was kind of expecting that you'd be a little more talkative. Like, I dunno, got any questions?”
“Do you know an Anthony Stark?”
The words were out of Steve's mouth before he could think them through. He knew he was turning red, but he'd been wanting to ask since he'd seen the name. Now just seemed like the best time.
“You mean Tony Stark? Yeah, I do. Kind of. Except not really. Everyone kind of knows who he is.” Barton was giving him a funny look, “Why?”
Steve was bright red, “I, um, well, that's... kind of a long story.”
Unable to figure out a way to tell Barton, Steve just wordlessly held out his wrist. Barton glanced at it, once, then did a double-take.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
Steve smiled, just a little, “Afraid not.”
“Well, huh that changes a lot of things. Gonna talk to Fury about it?”
“I don't know. I'd rather find him first, you know? I haven't even met him yet.” Steve dropped his voice and his wrist, “I don't even know if he'll want me.”
Barton recovered from whatever shock it was he'd experienced in the last minute. By that time they were already pushing the doors open to the restaurant. A short, bright-eyed brunette woman rushed forward to greet them.
“Clint! How are you?” Her voice was a little breathy, but she was smiling widely at them. “How are Phil and Natasha doing?”
“I'm good, Felicity, and they're working but last I heard they're doing good. Can I get a table somewhere private? And, uh, this is Steve. He's new.”
Felicity smiled and nodded, “Of course, follow me.”
She grabbed a couple of menus and led them through the restaurant, which was fairly busy and crammed with a number of people, to a booth near the back. Once they were seated, she grinned at them and handed them their menus, “Your server will be with you shortly. Tell Natasha and Phil I said hello.”
“Will do. Tell Harry I said hi.”
Once they were alone, Barton grabbed Steve's menu and pulled it down so that he could look Steve in the eye, “Don't go selling yourself short there, Cap. Pretty sure Tony will be thrilled to meet you.”
“You really think so?”
Barton shrugged, “You're kind of: a) a national hero these days; b) a legend and hey, now you're a living legend which is even better; and c) you're really not hard on the eyes.”
Steve flushed, “What's he like?”
“Not sure, never met him. You could ask Phil when he gets back and he gets over his heroworship and fanboying of you, but I get the feeling that he'd probably not give you an unbiased account of Tony Stark's personality.”
“Is he related to Howard Stark?”
Steve nodded. He'd had his suspicions – Stark wasn't a very common last name – but it felt a little bit awkward to think about the fact that his soul-mate was probably the son of his best friend's lover. So much had changed and it felt as though he'd just closed his eyes for a moment and everything had changed. He was, technically, well over ninety now, if he counted the years since he was born.
“The Stark Expo's been all over the news lately; he started it up again. 'Till now, there hasn't been an Expo since the '70s, I think.”
“I went to the one in '43, it was pretty interesting.”
Their waitress made her entrance then, an older woman who looked about Steve's age. She smiled at the both of them, “Can I get you two anything to drink?”
Steve hastily glanced at the menu, “Um, Coke is fine.”
Barton shrugged, “I'll have the same.”
“Alright, two Cokes. Have you decided on what you'd like to order to start with or would you like some more time?”
Neither of them had even looked at the menu, but Barton came here a lot so he probably knew what was good.
Barton smiled at the waitress, “A little more time would be nice.”
She nodded, “I'll be back in a few minutes then.”
“If you want, I can pull up Stark's file when we get back to base. Or I can just show you how to use the Internet – which is amazing, by the way, you'll love it – and you can pull up whatever you want on him.” Barton frowned for a moment, “Though, I'd take a lot of what's said about him with a grain of salt.”
“They don't like him?”
Barton shrugged, leaned forward conspiratorially, “Stark's a public figure. If they're not building you up then they're tearing you down. He's not in town right now, but he's got a penthouse here. I'll call Phil, see if he knows what's up. Maybe we can get you a meeting.”
“Oh, that would be great!” Steve smiled.
“Yeah, uh, no problem, Cap.” Barton seemed a little taken aback.
“You can call me Steve, Agent Barton.”
“Alright, Clint. What's good to order?”
The two of them fell into comfortable conversation after that. They stopped to order their food and lingered for quite a while at the table. Clint explained some of the major events that had happened since Steve had gone under and about what was going on in the world at the moment. He didn't know all the details, but he promised that he'd show Steve how to use a computer when they got back and that would help.
“I'm not the techy kind of guy,” Clint said. “Fury should've asked someone else, I don't really get how much of it works. But, uh, the internet's really cool. You've got all this information and you can access it instantly. Just type in what you want and it'll pull it up.”
“Really? That's impressive.”
“Well, yeah, we've come a long way in seventy years.” Clint grinned, leaning back and stretching. “Oh yeah, we'll probably have to get you something else to wear just so you don't stand out.”
Steve glanced down; he was still in the slacks and shirt that he'd been wearing when he woke up. The only thing he'd been given after was a new pair of shoes and some socks.
“S'not a big deal. We can do it some other time. Probably should ask Tasha, she's better at this fashion stuff than I am.”
“What's she like?”
Steve nodded, “She's your girl, right? Tell me about her.”
“Gorgeous, strong – she could take me down in minutes – and deadly. She might look like this delicate little thing, but Tasha will take you down easily. Though, she and I think that Phil's probably the most deadly; you don't know when he's gonna strike.”
Clint was fiddling with the napkins, which was when Steve spotted the names on his wrist. It took him a few seconds to realize that it wasn't just one name like he'd originally thought, but two. They were entwined together, making them look like just the one, but they took up too much space to just be a single name.
“What? Oh, it's nothing.” Clint drew his arm back towards himself protectively. “I, um.”
“You have two soul-mates?” There was no judgment in Steve's voice, just curiosity. “Wow, that's – you're so lucky.”
Clint looked at him, nervous, “Really?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, you don't just have one person but two. You... you won't ever have to be alone.”
He thought back to those years growing up, thinking that there was something wrong with him because he didn't have a name on his wrist. Those times where he'd just lie awake and wish, hope, that one day there would be someone out there who would love him, would fill that aching hole inside of him. Clint was luckier than he probably knew.
Clint was still looking at him a little dubiously, “I guess so... you don't think there's something wrong with it? This is kind of unusual, I mean.”
“Well, yeah it's kind of unusual – I hadn't heard about bonds between more than two people before – but there's nothing wrong with it. So long as you're all happy, then it doesn't matter what sort of bond it is.”
Clint stared at him for several long moments before he spoke again.
“You need to stop being so fucking perfect.”
Clint showed him the basics and he picked the rest up from there. He spent several hours digging through old archives looking for any trace of his old comrades. He found marriage records – unsurprising – and death records.
Philips had passed away in the '60s after a long career in the army and in the government. The others had all passed in the '90s or the '00s; Falsworth had been killed in a car accident in '85 along with his wife. All of them were survived by children and grandchildren; they'd all lived out their lives.
He was proud of them; proud and a little bit sad. It really hit home in that moment, when he was looking at the obituary for Dugan, that he was alone. Everyone he had known was gone.
He looked up Sharon.
There were a couple of newspaper articles, an announcement of her marriage to a Steven Rogers of Winnipeg, an announcement a year later of the birth of their first child, a son named Grant. He found a further two birth announcements – this time for a daughter and another son – before he came across her obituary.
'Sharon Evans Rogers, born 17 June 1917, passed away on 6 September 1994. Mrs. Rogers is predeceased by her husband, Steven, and survived by her three children, Grant, Matilda, and Christopher, seven grandchildren, and a great granddaughter. Mrs. Rogers was a happy homemaker and an active member in the community; she moved to Winnipeg in 1950 from New York and met her husband. The two of them were married in January 1951.'
There were details for the funeral and burial after that. Steve just stared and smiled a little sadly. She'd gotten her happy ending; the ending that she more than deserved.
Peggy's records were a little more spotty. There was no marriage record there, unsurprising but he found an obituary dated October 2002. At least she'd lived a long life, Fury said that she'd been the first Director of SHIELD and he could believe it. If anyone could take the world by storm, it was her.
It took Steve a few more days of just soaking in the idea that everyone he knew was gone before he took a deep breath, sat down at the terminal that Clint had showed him, and typed in two words.
He got more results than he knew what to do with.
Newspaper articles, journals, images, Stark Industries main page, and multiple entries on what Clint called blogs but Steve still wasn't sure what they were exactly. He clicked on the Stark Industries main page, checked out the biography there. It was probably sanitized, sure, and left out a number of details but there was a picture.
Steve sucked in a sharp breath.
Even though it was just a picture, the charisma was definitely there. Tony Stark had his father's charisma and hair, but his eyes were a breath-taking shade of hazel. He looked older – the biography said he was thirty-seven – but he was still the most beautiful person Steve had ever seen; it didn't matter to him that Tony was older.
There was an announcement for the Stark World Expo too. Steve clicked on that, looked at the dates. It was probably his best chance.
He was walking back from the shooting range with Clint a few days later when he told Clint what his plan was.
“I'm thinking about going to the Stark Expo, maybe I'll be able to meet Tony there. Or at least meet someone who can help.”
“Huh, you'll want Virginia Potts. She's taken over his company, used to be his personal assistant. If anyone can help you meet Tony Stark, it would be her.”
“And she'll be there?”
“She's the current CEO of Stark Industries, yeah she's gonna be there.” Clint tipped his head back, “Though you're probably gonna have to explain the whole chilling in the Arctic for seventy years thing. Maybe spring it on her that you're Captain America. That might help.”
“I'll figure something out,” Steve said. “I've still got a couple of days.”
Clint slapped him on the shoulder, “Well, you're on your own. I'm shipping out tomorrow with Phil for New Mexico. Something came up and SHIELD's interested so...”
Steve grinned, “Take care and good luck.”
“Right back at you.”
After staring at the case for several minutes, Tony grumbled and forced the locks, opening the lid.
Half of the case was taken up by a very old, battered looking suitcase. The edges were worn and peeling quite a bit and the latches that kept it closed were worn. Besides that, it looked rather ordinary – it didn't look like anything Howard would have owned.
After a few minutes of just staring, curiosity got the better of Tony and he pulled it out of the case and set it on the floor before he flipped open the latches and opened it.
Folded up neatly was an old army dress uniform, medals laid neatly out on top. The fabric smelled just a little musty, but otherwise it was in perfect condition. There was also a stack of letters and postcards, tied up with string to keep them in place, and a few journals that looked a little water-stained and dog-eared.
A couple of photographs had been pinned to the lid of the suitcase, all of them of the same grinning young man with dark hair.
Pride in place, tucked in safely, was a framed photograph.
Tony gently lifted it out of the case, taking in the smiling faces. It was a black-and-white photo, but he could identify his father with ease. Howard was off to one side of the tall, smiling blond in the middle – and just looking at him made Tony's heart flutter a little in his chest – and Howard had an arm slung around the waist of the same grinning dark-haired man from the other photographs.
There were others in the shot with them, but Tony found himself unable to look away from the three men in the middle. He couldn't ever remember seeing his father look so happy, so carefree, so young. The young man who he was holding had his arm around Howard's shoulders and although the grin looked a little bit crooked, it also looked happy.
But the blond next to them smiling out of the camera... Tony couldn't look away. Even though there was no colour, he easily filled in the red, white, and blue of the uniform.
Tony shook his head and shoved the photo aside. It didn't matter. His heart could flutter all it wanted and he could smile all he liked at the thought, but that would never make it true. He was long dead – dead before Tony had even been conceived – and he was never coming back. Tony was alone.
It took Tony a few seconds to realize that underneath the photo, separate from the other letters, there was an envelope. It was simply addressed to Howard Stark in the neat, even script of a typewriter; the edges were slightly yellowed. Tony flipped it over; the seal had never been broken. He ripped it open.
Inside was a neatly typed up letter from the S.S.R and their commander, a Colonel Phillips.
I regret very much to inform you of the death of Sergeant James Barnes who was killed in action on the 23rd of this month.
Sergeant Barnes and his company were taking part in an operation against HYDRA in the Alps. He was killed after defending Captain Rogers from a surprise attack during the course of the operation. Unfortunately his remains could not be recovered due to the precarious location of where he was killed.
Myself, along with his C.O. Captain Rogers, and his company deeply sympathize with you and your loss. Sergeant Barnes was a great man and a good friend to many in his company and his loss is deeply felt. He gave his life in service to his country and will be honored as such. We hope that you will take some consolation in this.
His effects will be sent to you shortly.
In true sympathy,
PS. Captain Rogers wishes to express his sympathies and apologize for, and I quote, “failing to bring Bucky back home with him.”
He tossed the letter back into the suitcase. So what if his father had an affair during the War? What did it matter? Howard Stark had never loved his wife and son. It didn't matter if Tony didn't know him at all.
Tony wasn't sure if he wanted to go through all of the old letters and photographs. He didn't want to keep dredging up images of a father and a man he never knew; it was so much easier to just go on hating Howard when he wasn't so human.
The photograph, though, he picked up again. Captain America looked so happy in it, like the one already had. He looked like a soldier, but there was a strength to him that Tony found both appealing and attractive. It wasn't fair that his father had gotten to know that strength and he hadn't.
He thought back to the letter. Captain Rogers was probably Captain America. His identity wasn't known, but going by the pictures and the letter, that was probably the case. Captain Steven Rogers. Tony wondered how different he'd be from the Captain America that he knew from his comics from the stories that were still being told today.
But that was stupid and unimportant. He shoved the thought aside just as he shoved the picture aside. Captain Steven Rogers was dead. There was no way around that. He needed to stop dreaming about the could have beens and think about the future.
True, he was dying. But Fury seemed to think that there was a way to stop that. And there was something else too, something that Fury wasn't saying. Tony was valuable to them, sure, because of the armour. But they had Rhodes, so he didn't even fully have that anymore.
Which left the question: Could he ever face Captain Steven Rogers – the man who had given his life for his country – now? If he just gave up, would he be disappointed in him?
Probably, that treacherous little voice in the back of his head murmured. He didn't give up. Why should you?
That pretty much answered it. Tony sighed. He had a lot of work to do.
Eying them with trepidation, he stepped around one of them and jogged up the steps towards the redhead standing at the top of them. She'd spotted him before he made it up the stairs and was walking towards him, purpose in her step and looking more than a little harried.
“I'm sorry, but we're evacuating the grounds right now and you really shouldn't be here. Why are you here?”
“Are you Miss Potts?
“I – yes, I am.” She blinked, “Answer the question, please.”
Steve took a deep breath, he'd practised this. He could do this.
“I was hoping that you could introduce me to Mr. Stark.” Steve smiled at her, trying to be as sincere as possible. She was still a pretty lady, though, and that was making his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth. “I, uh, I'm Steve Rogers.”
She stared at him for several long moments, “You're joking.”
“Ma'am, I wouldn't joke about this.” Steve took a deep breath, tugging at the sleeve of his shirt and holding out his wrist for her inspection. “I'm looking for him.”
She stepped over, took his wrist and ran her fingers over the name there.
Then she slapped him.
Well he hadn't expected that. It hadn't hurt, but it was still kind of shocking.
“Where the hell have you been?!” she snapped. “I looked everywhere for you, hoping that maybe – just maybe – you'd be able to pull him back together and you only now show up?! You better have a damn good explanation for this.”
“I, uh,” Steve flushed just a little. “This is going to sound unbelievable but it's the truth, I swear. I kind of was frozen somewhere in the Arctic Circle.”
“I was frozen there since 1944,” Steve added, as though that would help.
“You – you what? How?!”
Steve opened his mouth to explain but a soft click followed by a mechanical beep interrupted him. He glanced back at one of the drones behind them, which was giving off that beeping along with a little flashing red light.
He turned back to her and motioned picking her up, “May I? We'll be able to move faster.”
She was looking at the drone, but snapped her attention back to Steve when he spoke, “Uh, yeah, sure.”
Knocking her knees out from under her, she wrapped her arms around his neck as Steve picked her up and cradled her to his chest. She wasn't heavy, Steve noted, holding her tight against him. Then he started running, pouring in every bit of speed he had in him.
She let out a small squeak as he ran – it was probably faster than anything she was used to – there was a building not too far; they only needed to get far enough away to find shelter. The first explosion rocked the ground, Steve only noted it, ducking behind one of the huge, decorative stone pillars.
Several more explosions could be heard, but Steve could see the edge of the expo grounds. One simple vault over the low stonework fence and they were in the clear.
“Are you alright? Miss Potts?” Steve gently set her down on her feet, catching her before she could fall because her knees were shaking so badly. He helped her over to sit down on the stone fence. “Sorry about that.”
“Oh, no. You don't have to apologize. I just – I can't take this. All this stress. And oh god, how did we get here so quickly? What's going on?!”
“I'm a fast runner,” Steve said with a small smile. “And I think you probably have a better idea of what just happened then I do.”
She shook her head, “No, I meant how are you here? If what you're saying is true – and I'm not saying it is – you should be dead because the human body isn't meant to be frozen and then unthawed. It just doesn't work like that.”
Steve offered her a weak smile, “I don't really understand all the science myself, but the doctors and scientists said that it's got something to do with the serum Doctor Erskine used on me. Something about my body going dormant when exposed to low enough temperatures.”
She was staring at him like he'd completely lost it. Steve wasn't sure what to say.
“So, wait, you're saying that you're from the '40s and your name is Steve Rogers and that you're Tony's soul-mate and somehow you got frozen and now you're here.”
“Pretty much, yes.”
Steve looked up in time to catch a red and gold blur just as it slammed into the ground nearby. It stood up, revealing that it was a suit of armour. He did a double-take because he recognized it and his heart had suddenly jumped up into his throat.
The helmet was shorting out, shooting sparks into the night, and the man in the suit reached up and ripped it off, tossing it carelessly aside as he rushed forwards.
“Pepper, Pep, are you alright? Sorry I wasn't there quick enough. Are you alright? You're not hurt are you? Because if you are Happy is going to kill me and I'd rather not die just yet because I nearly died already and–”
“Tony, Tony I'm fine, don't worry about it and you are an ass. You hear me? You are an ass. You didn't say you were dying! I only just found out!”
Steve watched, heart still in his throat and palms sweating. They were both talking quickly, but he picked up enough to get the gist of the conversation. His heart plummeted in the same instance that he found his voice.
“Well, I was but now I'm not and – who are you?” He'd only warranted a quick glance from Tony at first, but his eyes had snapped back pretty quickly after he noticed Steve.
Steve's heart was back in his throat. It was hard to concentrate on what he'd rehearsed when Tony was looking at him like that, so many emotions in his eyes and Steve just wanted to sweep him into his arms and hold him close while telling him he'd never let him go, and he looked even more beautiful than he had in the photographs.
He took a deep breath, nervously shuffled his feet, before stepping forward, “I'm Steve Rogers. I... I think you've been waiting for me.”
For several very long, very painful seconds, no one said anything. No one moved.
That didn't last for long because Steve, quite suddenly, had an armful of armour and Tony. Before he could say anything – well, actually he tried to say something but it wound up being muffled because Tony was kissing him hard.
At the moment that their lips touched, a spark shot down Steve's spine and he knew. He just knew that yes, this was his soul-mate and this was perfect. This was where he was supposed to be.
He tilted his head and softened the kiss. Tony's mouth was warm and wet and soft against his, but Steve could practically taste the desperation, love, elation, and passion on his lips. The kiss didn't last long, but it still left Steve feeling breathless and a little off-centre.
Tony was babbling, “Oh my god it's actually you. There's no way – but it is – you look exactly the same how but you're here.”
Gently, almost afraid that he'd spook Tony, he cupped his face with one hand and smiled, “I'm here. Sorry I kept you waiting.”
Tony's hands were strong and heavy on Steve's hips, he kept murmuring, “You're here... I can't believe it, you're actually here.”
“Um, Tony?” Pepper interrupted. The two of them started and turned to look at her. “Care to explain what's going on?”
“He's coming home with me!” Tony blurted out.
She was giving them both a hard look, but then sighed. “Alright, fine, head home. Get some rest, Tony. You,” she pointed at Steve, “You have some explaining to do.”
Pepper smiled then, “Alright, go. I'll handle the press. We'll talk in the morning. Tony? Don't do anything stupid.”
With that, she strode away from them towards the entrance of the expo grounds where there was a large congregation of police and reporters. Even though she still looked a little shaken, she pulled herself together quickly enough.
Once she was gone, Tony turned back to him with a silly smile on his face.
“You are coming back with me, right?”
Steve smiled, “Um, yeah. If that's alright...?”
“More than alright! It's kind of a good thing you're here instead of back in Malibu because I kind of destroyed the mansion there and it's a bit of a long story but I'll tell you all about it later and I really hope you don't mind sharing a bed because I really don't want to sleep alone tonight because I'm afraid that if I close my eyes and wake up this is all going to be a dream.”
“It's not a dream – I'm not a dream,” Steve said, leaning in just enough to kiss Tony's cheek. He knew he was blushing when he pulled away and added, “And... and I don't mind sharing a bed with you.”
“Oh good because that means I don't have to worry about losing you and please tell me that's not all you've got with you.” Tony gestured at Steve as he spoke, “But seriously you're really attractive, has anyone told you that? Because you are and I'm still not sure I believe that you're actually here and I'm starting to think I need to shut up so you should kiss me again before I say something really stupid.”
Steve smiled, cupping Tony's face with both of his hands and kissing him softly. He pulled away before Tony could deepen the kiss, grinning when Tony leaned forward, trying to kiss him again. He brushed back some of Tony's hair from his face.
“I like listening to you talk.” He stepped back, “And hang on; I'll be right back.”
It was a quick trip back to the entrance of the expo and back. He hadn't been able to bring the overnight bag he'd packed – and, really, he didn't have much besides his shield – into the grounds because of all the security, so he'd stashed it in one of the many lockers that they had on site for just such purposes. Tony, of course, was right where he left him and looking like a little lost duckling.
It was both the most adorable and the most heart-wrenching sight Steve had ever seen.
“Hey,” Steve gently nudged him. The armour's paint was scratched up and there were a few dents and scratches from what was probably a fight. “You ready?”
“Uh yeah, okay, sure. How'd you get here?”
“I walked and took the subway.”
Tony stared, blinked, and then shook his head. “You know what, I'm just going to call Happy to pick us up and we are going to go home and then sleep.”
“Eat dinner and then sleep,” Steve corrected. He smiled when Tony gave him a look, “You need to eat, Tony.”
“Fine, fine, I'll eat. Wait, when was the last time I ate? I think that was a couple days ago, maybe? I dunno, I've been busy and don't look at me like that I was trying to keep myself from dying.”
Steve felt his heart drop at that, “So you were actually dying.”
“Well, yes, but I'm not anymore so you don't have to worry about that and can we talk about this later because it's kind of awkward and it's kind of a long story and this is really not a good time to be talking about this so how about I call Happy and we go home and talk about it there?”
Steve sighed and nodded, “Alright.”
As it turned out, Tony didn't actually have to make the call because a man jogged over to them, looking out of breath and bruised.
“Happy!” Tony grinned. “You saved me from having to make the call for a pick-up! How'd it go at Hammer with Agent Romanoff?”
“Sir,” Happy greeted, he glanced at Steve. “You're looking a lot better than the last time I saw you.”
“Yeah, I know, I feel better too. Guess what? Look who I found!” He grabbed Steve's arm and tugged him forward. “Steve this is Happy Hogan, Happy this is Steve Rogers. Look at him! He's perfect!”
Steve held out a hand, “Hello, it's a pleasure to meet you.”
“Yeah, right back at you...” Happy was looking at Tony, confused, but he distractedly took Steve's hand and shook it. “Tony, are you–”
“Sure? Of course I'm sure, he's got my name and everything and there's this funny little electric current that goes through my skin whenever he touches me so yeah, I'm sure.”
He knew what Tony was talking about, that little thrill under his skin whenever he touched Tony's skin or the shock down his spine when he'd kissed him. Hearing Tony say it made it all the more real.
Happy gave them both one more look before he nodded, “Alright then, the car is this way.”
He led them down an alley and out onto a street where a car was waiting for them. The boots of Tony's suit made little clacking noises as he walked and the joints whirred. And the entire short walk, he kept one armoured hand around Steve's arm.
Tony started talking again once they were in the car, “I had to reinforce all my cars cause they can't really take the weight of the suit otherwise without it dragging on th road. I had to up the suspension and weight-bearing capabilities since the suit weighs somewhere around three-hundred pounds which is a lot when you think about it.”
Carefully, Steve ran his hands over the arm of the suit, tracing the lines of the armour. “It's all very impressive. I wish I could've seen it in action.”
“Really? Huh, well, when I've fixed it up and it's all clean and I've got the helmet working against because those drones really did a number on it I'll take you out for a flight and show you what it can do.”
“I'd like that,” Steve said. “I'd like that a lot.”
Tony smiled and it was a beautiful, breath-taking, genuine smile. True, Steve thought, there was still something dark lingering in Tony's eyes, but it wasn't as obvious as it had been. He'd erase that; one day he would be able to look at Tony and not see any traces of harm that his absence had done to him.
Despite how awkward it was, Tony managed to cuddle up to Steve's side. The armour dug into his side a little but Steve didn't mind. Instead, he raised a hand and stroked Tony's hair, which was sticking up at odd angles from the helmet.
Steve caught Happy's eye in the rear view mirror and Happy smiled. Clearly he cared about Tony a great deal.
The drive was a relatively quick one through the winding streets of New York. Eventually they pulled up in front of an extremely high-end and modern looking building. It was all sleek glass straight up, although Steve could make out a few balconies set into the building at higher levels. He didn't have long to admire it, though, because Tony was pulling him out of the car and into the building before cramming him into the elevator.
“I own the whole building but I usually just use the penthouse; there's a couple of other Stark Industries executives here and Pep and Happy have a place too. There's a workshop up there and I can get out of this,” he gestured at the suit, “and there's a kitchen, unless you'd rather order something in.”
Steve frowned, “Um, I'm not sure. Unless there's something I can make, then there's not much that I can do.”
Tony nodded, more to himself than Steve. “Alright, order in it is. Got anything in particular you'd like?”
“So long as you eat something, I don't really care.”
“Alright then. Wonder if that Chinese place is still open...”
Steve smiled, saying nothing as Tony rambled on about the different foodstuffs that the place he was talking about offered. Having never had Chinese before, Steve was just a little hesitant to try it, but if it made Tony happy and so long as he ate it didn't really matter. There was an unfamiliar, but very welcome, feeling of contentment radiating outwards from his heart.
He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering his mother and her words from so many years ago, and thanked her for telling him that he never should have given up hope.
“... are you even listening to me? You're not; am I boring you?” Tony was looking at him with wide eyes, making him look more than a little bit startled. There was also a spark of such self-conscious panic lurking in his eyes that Steve felt a sharp stab of guilt in his gut.
“No, I just – I don't really understand much of what you're saying,” Steve replied, feeling just a little sheepish. “I, um, haven't been awake very long.”
Tony stared at him for a few seconds, “Wait a minute, you've never had Chinese before? You're seriously missing out. What have you been eating the past – how long have you been not wherever you were? Please tell me you haven't been eating garbage.”
“No, I haven't and no, I haven't been eating garbage, that wouldn't be very healthy.” Steve shuffled his feet a little nervously before blurting it out, “I was frozen, Tony, somewhere in the Arctic circle since 1944.”
“I'm not,” Steve replied as the elevator pinged to a stop and they stepped out of it into the penthouse. “I went down in 1944; I didn't expect to wake up here, find out that seventy years had passed, and that there was someone who was waiting for me.”
There was a pained, tight look to Tony's eyes when Steve looked up to meet them. He wanted to ask after it, wanted to make it go away, but it was gone just as quickly as it appeared; covered up with a grin.
“Then we'll just have to order everything on the menu, won't we? Find out what you like.” Tony's grin turned a little more mischievous, “But first I'm going to need your help with something.”
“Help me get out of the armour? Normally there's a quick release but it got damaged in the fight and I'm gonna have to fix all of this anyway and if you just pull on certain parts of it, it should come off fairly easily.”
Steve bit his lip and looked the armour up and down, “I'm not going to break anything, am I?”
“I can fix it, don't worry about it. Just... help?”
Steve was pretty sure that Tony was attempting to use what Clint called 'puppy eyes' on him and he could see where they got the name from. Whatever purpose they were meant to accomplish, Steve wasn't sure, but he thought that Tony's hazel eyes were very mesmerizing; he certainly couldn't look away. He just smiled and shook his head.
“Alright, tell me what to do.”
For all Tony's talk about the quick release of the armour being broken, the armour came apart fairly easily. Steve just had to apply enough pressure to pull the various parts and then whatever mechanisms held it in place released. The armour wasn't particularly heavy and soon there was a fairly large pile of parts.
Once he was out of the suit except for the boots, Tony reached down and pulled something which let him step out of the boots easily. He clapped his hands together, grinning a little self-consciously. That tight, pained look was back again.
Tony, out of the suit, was several inches shorter than Steve was; but he was still himself – dark-haired, bright hazel eyes, charisma and handsome features. There was muscle too, that Steve could see under the tight fighting clothes Tony wore under the armour.
“So, do you want dinner or not?”
Despite the light tone of his voice and the grin on his lips, there was still a tight, pained set to Tony's eyes. Along with that, there was a tense set to his shoulders. His entire posture screamed anxiety.
There was something pooling low in his stomach and tightening it into knots. Steve was hit with the thought that they were moving too fast, but he'd spent so long thinking that he was alone – that there was something wrong with him – and, obviously, Tony had underlying issues too. There was a stab of guilt at that; he'd left Tony alone for so many years, but he was here now and he had a chance to try and fix that.
And maybe he couldn't fix it, but he could try and mend as best he could. Maybe neither of them could be fixed but at least they had each other now. That would be enough.
Steve stepped forward and gently took Tony's face in his hands, “What's wrong?”
“Nothing! Nothing's wrong. Dinner. I thought we were ordering dinner.”
“You're doing that thing – that thing that Rhodey does whenever he thinks I've done something wrong or when I've said something that he thinks is stupid. I haven't done anything! And there's–”
Steve did the only thing he could think of to shut Tony up. He kissed him.
It wasn't a long kiss and Steve pulled away before Tony could deepen it, smiling just a little when Tony whined about it; his hands were fisted in Steve's shirt. Steve stroked his cheeks gently.
“I waited well over seventy years for you,” Steve breathed softly. “I'd thought that there was something wrong – there wasn't a name on my wrist. I got used to people saying that I was broken. But that's not true anymore. I've got you now and I'm not going to let you go.”
“That's just it – I didn't wait.”
Steve pressed his forehead against Tony's; they had a lot to talk about. “I never expected you to.”
That made Tony make a face in response, which made Steve chuckle because he thought it was adorable, and the two of them stood there for a few more moments. Tony unclenched his hands from Steve's shirt, reaching up to wrap them around his wrists instead; his thumbs gently stroking over Steve's pulse.
“You need to eat,” Steve said, breaking the silence. “I'm up for anything.”
Tony laughed, though there wasn't any humour behind it, “Alright, alright. You're going to mother hen me, I get it.”
Steve opened his mouth to argue that, but Tony pressed a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth before he pulled away and moved into the incredibly spacious and modern kitchen (honestly, Steve thought it looked like something straight out of science-fiction). He picked up the phone and quickly dialled, speaking rapidly into the mouthpiece.
Honestly, Steve thought, the entire thing was almost dizzying. He'd never seen anyone move around with so much energy before and Tony was nearly blinding with all of his.
How did he, Steve Rogers, come to deserve this man?
That was a question to be pondered on further later, when there weren't more pressing matters to attend to. Like getting to know Tony a little better. Steve felt a little bit like they were going at this a bit backwards; first kiss before first date, sharing a bed before they actually knew that much about each other.
Well, there were always whirlwind courtships. Those he remembered from the War, when there was always that chance that any day could be a soldier's last, especially up against Hydra.
Steve decided not to think on it too much. He'd take what he could and not complain, he hadn't thought that he'd ever have this. That hole in his chest that he'd believed would always remain empty was gone, filled up by Tony's mere presence. Anything was enough.
He slid into one of the bar stools at the counter, leaning forward on his elbows as he watched Tony talk on the phone. It made him smile, just watching Tony talk and enjoying the sound of his voice.
The conversation didn't last much longer, Tony hung up after a couple more seconds. There was still a bit of a guarded expression in his eyes, but his smile was genuine. He propped himself up on his hands and leaned over the counter towards Steve.
“I pretty much ordered everything so I hope you're hungry and it should be here in about forty-five minutes. There anything you wanna do while we wait?”
“Could we... just talk?” Steve rocked forward a little nervously in his seat, glancing at Tony from under his eyelashes. “I want to know more about you.”
Tony shrugged, “There's not much to say; I'm guessing you've heard it all by now.”
“Not really. SHIELD doesn't–”
“SHIELD found you?”
“That's what they said,” Steve blinked, a little taken back by the sudden change of topic. “I wasn't actually... awake until a few weeks ago. They, um, had to defrost me; they actually didn't think that I was alive at first.”
“Well, you don't exactly expect a man to be alive when you pull him out of the ice, do you? Apparently it was quite the shock.” Steve smiled a little, “Apparently it's got something to do with the serum; a 'system of regeneration.' My body didn't die it just... went to sleep, is the best word for it, I guess.”
“Did you dream?” Tony was leaning towards Steve, eyes wide and an unreadable emotion in their depths.
“Not really,” Steve replied softly. “It was just... darkness. There was nothing. I guess I was alive but it didn't feel like it. It feels like I closed my eyes in the '40s and I wake up in a completely different century – everything has changed... everyone I knew is dead.”
They don't really feel dead to me, Steve thought. Not yet anyway.
Silence hung in the air after that for several long, tense minutes. Tony, eventually, broke it and when he did, his voice was rough and almost strangled with pain, “My... father. You knew him?”
Steve froze and Bucky flashed before his eyes, falling into the river and to his death; how he couldn't – Howard must have been... “I did. We weren't... weren't close.”
“Right, well.” Tony seemed to struggle with words for a couple of seconds. To Steve, it seemed like he was fighting with himself over something. The lines in his face and the pain in his eyes spoke wonders; Steve felt shards of ice stab into his heart, he was most likely responsible for much of that pain.
“I'm sorry,” Steve said softly. He reached out and grabbed one of Tony's hands in his, which was clenched tightly around the edge of the counter, and gave it a squeeze. “I should've been here sooner. For you.”
Tony snorted, but turned his hand to entwine their fingers, “You were too busy fighting and nearly dying for your country; you showed up eventually, even if you were kind of late about getting here.”
“I guess being frozen isn't a great excuse?”
“No, but it'll do.”
Until someone rang up that what Tony had ordered had arrived, the two of them stayed like that, engaged in soft conversation. The conversation was an exchange; Tony asked a couple of questions and then Steve. By an unspoken agreement, neither of them spoke of Howard.
Dinner was also a quiet affair. Steve tried everything and ate most of it, which made Tony laugh and Steve blush.
“How do you eat that much and keep that figure?”
“High metabolism,” Steve replied. “It burns four times faster than the average man.”
There was a dull ache in his chest from speaking those same words that Peggy had said to him. He could still remember her; beautiful and strong, the promise of a future that he'd thought he would never have. And here he was now, alive and he had a soul-mate – it was something of a bittersweet ending. He didn't have the future he'd dreamed of during the War; he had one that he'd believed he'd never had.
And, when he looked at Tony, he thought that maybe everything he'd been through was worth it. He would gladly endure it all again if it meant he could be there right in that moment.
Almost absently, Steve reached out and brushed away a spot of sauce from the corner of Tony's mouth.
“You look dead on your feet,” he remarked.
“Yeah, well, been busy lately with making sure that the Expo didn't explode. You don't have any crazed geniuses who might come after you for revenge or whatever, do you? Because I'm done with dealing with them.”
Steve hummed thoughtfully, “Not that I'm aware of. Though, pretty sure that they'd probably either be dead by now or too old to really be a threat.”
Tony pointed a finger at him accusingly as he dumped their dishes into the sink, “Don't judge a genius by their age – we're very capable of figuring out a way to kick your ass without actually having to be physically involved.”
“You're not old, Tony.”
“Older than you.”
“Hm, technically speaking, I'm older – if we're talking numbers of years since I was born, I'm ninety-three.”
Tony stared at him, “You know what? This is going to be really entertaining if anyone starts asking about who's the cradle-robber in this relationship.”
Tony waved that off, but he was moving down the hall. Steve hopped off the stool to follow him, grabbing his bag from the floor as he did.
“Pepper's harmless – well, unless she threatens you with one of her Louboutins then you should probably run. It's Rhodey that you've got to watch out for.”
“I think I can handle it.” Steve actually doubted that this Rhodey would be as intimidating as Miss Potts was, unless Rhodey was an attractive woman. Despite everything, Steve still got just a little tongue-tied around women.
“Oh sure, you tell yourself that but I'm going to be saying I-told-you-so when Rhodey's threatening to bring down the airforce on you if you do something he doesn't like. I don't even know why he'd try to defend my 'honour' or whatever it is that people do in this situation. S'not like it's going to stop me.”
The bedroom was huge and full of sleek, modern furniture; all dark wood and sharp edges. An entire wall of windows overlooked the city and Steve could see the cityscape of New York spread out and lit up. It was all so impressive and new; Steve wasn't sure he'd ever be used to that view. It was just so different from how he remembered it and it was difficult to reconcile that. This was his hometown but, at the same time, it wasn't.
Tony distracted him from the view by flopping down face first onto the bed and mumbling into the pillow, “M'not moving.”
Shaking his head, Steve walked over and grabbed Tony's ankles and pulling his shoes off, “You really shouldn't sleep with your shoes on. And get under the covers or you might catch cold.”
Even though it hadn't been that long, Tony was already falling asleep and he mumbled out something that sounded vaguely like an agreement. Steve just shook his head with a fond smile tugging at his lips before he changed out of his clothes and into his pajamas.
Steve was used to sharing a bed with others, though not romantically. During the War, they were lucky to get a bed and often times the Howling Commandos had to double up when they did. Steve hadn't minded then and he didn't so much mind now but the situation was just so didn't. Sharing a bed with Tony was a lot different than sharing one with a fellow soldier; this was his soul-mate.
For several long minutes of internal conflict, Steve just stood at the side of the bed and watched as Tony slept.
Eventually, his word won out. He had promised Tony that he would share a bed with him. It seemed so important to Tony and Steve couldn't bring himself to disappoint him; especially not when Tony had spent his entire life with the promise of Steve's name on his wrist.
He hadn't been able to keep that promise. Until now. He'd do whatever it took to make that up to Tony. There were scars there that Steve didn't know the cause of, but he knew they were there.
Steve climbed into the bed, pulling the covers up around the both of them. He lay on his side and watched as Tony slept, letting the soft, steady sound of his breathing lull him to sleep. They could talk more in the morning.
Gah, I feel bad now. I originally intended to have a chapter posted each week, but class got in the way of things – midterm and an assignment due the same week oh joy. But I'll try harder to keep up a chapter a week.
your heart's been touched and changed forever
you can't hide
– Lily Lily Burning Night!, English lyrics by кran
Sunlight filtered through the tinted windows of the bedroom, throwing a warm glow over everything. Steve woke up when the sun hit his face, but he drifted for a few minutes. He couldn't remember ever having slept so peacefully; there was a lingering feeling of contentment in his veins that he didn't want to lose.
When he finally opened his eyes, it took a half a second for his surroundings to reassert themselves. It was all still so hard to believe...
Tony was asleep next to him, their faces nearly pressed up against each other. At rest, he looked much younger. His breathing was deep and even, although he made a soft snuffling sound every now and again. Underneath that, Steve could just make out a faint mechanical whir.
He just lay there, watching Tony sleep, for what felt like a small eternity. The gradual spread of light throughout the room told him that it was more like a few hours, but Steve could have stayed like that forever.
Gently, Steve reached out and brushed the backs of his fingers along Tony's cheekbone. He smiled when Tony's face scrunched up for second before it relaxed again and he mumbled something quietly but he didn't wake. Tony was a deep sleeper. But if that meant that those dark circles under Tony's eyes disappeared, then Steve was fine with that.
Steve lay there for several more minutes and was just about to drift back to sleep when he heard a noise.
It was the quiet click of metal on wood. Steve automatically zeroed in on it; that first click was followed by another and then another. Footsteps.
Carefully, Steve slipped out of the bed. He'd left his shield leaning against the foot of the bed, never quite feeling safe without it nearby. He hadn't thought that he'd need it again so soon, even after the events of the night before.
He crept to the doorway of the bedroom, readying his shield and taking a deep steadying breath. The footsteps were getting closer, louder, and were accompanied by the soft whir of mechanical joints. Was it another one of those drones from the night before? If so, Steve would have to be careful – he had no previous intel on them and was flying blind.
Steve steadied himself with another deep breath. He didn't need to destroy the drone, he only needed to stop it or disable it long enough for Tony to get away. That was all he needed to do.
He took another breath as the door to the bedroom creaked open, a plan of action settling into his mind. He knew what he had to do.
The next couple of seconds were all a blur.
There was the sharp bell-like clang when Steve slammed his shield into the head of the drone, which sent it flying backwards into the main room of the penthouse. Then Steve was ducking under a fist, swinging the shield up in an arc and deflecting the arm upwards. He used the chest of the drone as a springboard, driving it further away from the bedroom door and the one escape route from the penthouse.
The noise of the fight woke Tony. Steve was aware of him in his peripherals and made sure to keep himself between Tony and the drone's line of fire.
Now that he was close up to it, Steve noticed a couple of details. Mostly that this drone – if it really was a drone – didn't look like the ones that he remembered from the expo. This one looked more like the suit that Tony wore, minus the bright gold and red paint job. That and the fact that this suit was kitted out with what looked like a small armoury.
The glowing red eyes and stern lines of the armour – because that's what this was, Steve thought now – gave it a much more malevolent air than Tony's.
He was distracted when Tony tackled him around the waist. The force wasn't enough to actually take Steve down, but it surprised him enough to distract him.
Steve had to duck under one of the armour's arms, stumbling just a little from Tony's added weight and then they were both going down. He had enough presence of mind to turn, protecting Tony from any shots and catching himself on one arm before he could crush him.
Tony cut him off before he could say anything. “You are not pulling some self-sacrificing bullshit for me. And Rhodey,” he raised his voice, “You need to stop trying to defend my virtue or whatever the fuck it is that you're here to do.”
Steve opened his mouth to say something about how he wasn't doing anything 'self-sacrificing' but just trying to protect Tony when he was cut off again.
“Pepper called me last night,” the suit replied, helmet sliding up to reveal a man's face. “Saying something about how you hooked up last night with someone claiming to have your name on their wrist.”
“Okay, Steve? Let me up. I need to punch my best friend in the face.” Tony shoved at Steve's shoulders, pushing him so that Tony could sit up. He did, though, smile when Steve pushed himself to his feet and reached down to help Tony to his feet.
“You're not punching anyone in the face,” Steve said softly. Even though it wasn't a threat, Steve still kept a wary stance just a little in front of Tony with his shield at the ready.
“Oh yes I am,” Tony snapped. “Because you, Rhodey, do not storm your way into my home and threaten my soul-mate over my virtue or whatever the hell it is you came here to do.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes, “Tony, I'm not here to defend your virtue – that's laughable. I want to make sure that you're safe and no one's trying to take advantage of you.”
“You really think that Captain America is going to take advantage of me?”
That made Steve flush. He knew that after the whirlwind of USO shows and everything else that he'd gone through meant that he, as Captain America, was pretty famous. There'd been all sorts of memorabilia made during the War and possibly more after. And after seventy years, Steve wasn't sure if he could live up to whatever legends had been made up about him.
Rhodey stared, “You're kidding.”
“What? The shield didn't tip you off enough?” Tony managed to grab Steve's arm, tilting it so that the shield was on full display. “If you don't believe me, I've got pictures to prove it.”
Steve felt a little bit like a third wheel; he wasn't sure what to say or what to do, so he stayed quiet and watched.
“Where the hell did you get pictures?” Rhodey asked. “Captain America was just a myth, Tony. Someone the Army dreamed up to sell war bonds and be patriotic – he was never real. The shield doesn't prove anything.”
“It held up against the armour, didn't it? I designed that armour and I know exactly what it can take and what it can easily take out. Whatever that shield is made of – and you have to let me look at it because I wanna study it just a little, promise I won't break it or something – is tough enough to take a crack at the armour without damage.”
Tony held up both his hands, “Now hang on, I'll be right back because I've got some stuff to prove it.”
Steve watched Tony dash over to the armour, which was still in a pile near the kitchen, and rustle around it for a second before he pulled something out. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rhodey cross his arms and a look of decidedly fond exasperation cross his face. They might have gotten off on the wrong foot, but Steve did like him.
“Here.” Tony held out an old picture, one that Steve recognized.
He remembered Howard taking that picture; it had just been after they'd returned from ambushing a Hydra supply train. Bucky had been grinning and cracking a joke and Steve had laughed and then Howard had taken the picture before throwing an arm around Bucky's shoulder and kissing his cheek.
Tony kept chattering to Rhodey, who had leaned in to get a good look, “I found it after the accident among some of my dad's old stuff. There was a bunch of old Captain America stuff too and that's how I knew.”
Rhodey looked between the photo and Steve, clearly seeing that they were exactly the same. “When was this taken?”
“January 1944,” Steve replied instantly. “We ambushed one of Hydra's supply lines; Howard took this when we returned.”
Both Tony and Rhodey stared at him. Steve stared back.
Tony blinked, “That's when this was taken?”
“Yes.” There was more that Steve could have said; that he wasn't the focus, that Howard always took pictures of Bucky when he returned from missions just to keep track of them. But the wound was still so raw and there was a sharp look of pain in Tony's eyes whenever Howard came up in conversation.
Rhodey looked just a little skeptical, but there was a dawning comprehension in his eyes. “You're really the man in that picture, cause if not that is a really creepy family resemblance.”
“I don't think I have any relatives left alive,” Steve said softly. “My... dad had a brother, but he died in the Great War and my mother was – as far as I know – an only child.”
Everyone else he'd known during his life was dead. Seventy years was a long time to be asleep and now Steve had to move on and adjust. But, he thought as he looked at Tony, he wasn't alone anymore.
Tony was cradling the photo of him and Bucky close to his chest. The frame was damaged and a little dirty in places but otherwise very well cared for. And Tony held it close, like it was something infinitely precious to him. If that was all Tony had of Steve, he could understand why it would be so important.
“I can look into the military database and check and see if that's true,” Rhodey said slowly. “That you really were on a mission in January 1944.”
Steve nodded, “I don't know how much of it isn't classified, but there should be a record of my enlistment and assignment.”
The helmet clicked closed and the lights of the eyes of the suit clicked on. There was silence except for the quiet whir of the armour and their breathing. The minutes stretched out and it felt like a small eternity while they waited; Tony slipped his hand into Steve's and squeezed it tightly.
Eventually the visor slid up, revealing Rhodey's face. His expression was surprised and maybe a little bit wary as he looked at Steve.
“We've got a record of a Captain Steven Grant Rogers who enlisted in 1942 and was reported MIA in November 1944.” Rhodey paused before he continued, “The photos from his records match up but almost everything else is sealed up and classified.”
Steve gave a little shrug, “I figured that would be the case.”
“There an explanation for that? I'm guessing it's why you're here.” Rhodey crossed his arms again; his entire bearing just radiating military training. Steve straightened his posture a little in response.
“I don't know all of the details about how this happened, but the scientists at SHIELD said that it has something to do with Erskine's serum. My body goes into a state of suspended animation when exposed to extremely cold temperatures. The serum creates a... system of continuous regeneration which is how I was able to survive.”
Rhodey stared at Steve like he'd grown a second head. “Serum?”
“Super-soldier serum; it was discontinued after the war,” Tony supplied. When Rhodey turned to him for an explanation, Tony shrugged, “I may or may not have hacked SHIELD's databases to find out more. You know those incidents at Culver and in Harlem from a week ago? Turns out those were results of the military trying to replicate the results.”
“So you're saying–”
Tony grinned, “You're looking at the world's only successful super-soldier.”
“Who also happens to be Captain America.”
“The name kind of stuck,” Steve admitted. “After my USO shows, it sort of... boosted morale, I guess, and besides, I got kind of attached to the uniform.”
“Do you still have it?” Tony asked, grin turning mischievous.
“What? The uniform? No, it kind of got ruined after spending seventy years frozen in the Arctic. Though... I wouldn't mind a new one – even if it's a bit old-fashioned.”
Tony looked positively gleeful at that admission. “I think I can come up with something better.”
“Okay, okay, break it up you two,” Rhodey ordered. “Look, captain, I can't really deny that – however this happened – you're here, but I'll trust that you're not just messing with Tony if you undertake a couple of tests to definitively prove that you're Tony's soul-mate.”
Steve didn't even have to think about that, “Sure.”
“No. No way.”
Steve looked at Tony, “Why not?”
“I don't need those tests to prove to me that we're soul-mates; you don't have to prove anything to me.” He pointed an accusing finger at Rhodey, “And you, you should trust me to be able to make my own decisions.”
Rhodey looked a little hurt, but his eyes were determined, “Tony, I've watched you drink yourself nearly to death; I've picked you up after fights gone wrong and brought you home from one-night stands where you didn't even know your own name. I just want to be sure.”
Steve felt something heavy drop into his stomach as Rhodey spoke. There was so much that Rhodey had said and even more that he implied. What had his long absence from Tony's life done to him? All of those years with a name on his wrist of a man who never came and who was probably dead.
“I don't want to hear it,” Tony snapped. “It's my life and for once I know that this is good and I'm certain of this. I don't need anyone or anything telling me that this is my soul-mate.”
He knew Tony was angry and that he probably wasn't listening to a word Steve said, but he had to try. “I know that this situation is unusual and that there's going to be a lot of questions. I just... I don't want there to be any doubt in anyone's mind that I belong to you.”
Steve would've sworn that Tony's eyes looked brighter than usual at that admission, but it was gone in the blink of an eye. Tony looked downright furious and maybe a touch hurt.
“You don't have to prove anything to me. I don't care what anyone else thinks either – I've never given a shit about what they think of me and you're damn well the best thing that's ever happened to me. And I think you're being an ass about this – whatever it is that you want to prove, I don't care.”
He let go of Steve's hand and turned on Rhodey, “And you, I thought you'd be happy that I'd finally found him but you've just gotta be sure and fine, I understand that, but I'm still pissed off at you.”
Tony shot them both a dark glare before he stormed away towards a small spiral staircase set against one wall. He waved them off before either of them could ask any questions, “I'm going to be in the lab; I've gotta integrate JARVIS to the systems here and start in on some repairs. I don't want to be disturbed.”
There was an ache in Steve's chest as he watched Tony go. He could only hope that Tony would forgive him for this, but it was just something that he needed to do. Steve remembered the press and the media from his time in the USO and the precautions that had been taken to make sure that no one knew he was a Blank; he could only imagine how much worse it could have gotten in seventy years.
“Can I see your wrist?” Rhodey asked quietly. He seemed a little bit subdued.
“Uh, yeah, sure.” Steve held it out, not once tearing his eyes away from where Tony had disappeared down the stairs. There must have been some kind of lab or workshop downstairs.
Rhodey examined the mark closely, “Don't worry about Tony too much; he gets like this sometimes, you know? He's got a bit of an issue with people getting hurt on his account. Give him time, he'll come round eventually.”
“I just... worry. It's all just so new and I don't want to mess it up,” Steve said, he pulled his wrist back when Rhodey was finished. “How long will these tests take?”
“I'll call Pepper; she can get a specialist to come down and do them tomorrow.” Rhodey sighed, “I've actually gotta go; I only stopped in to check on Tony.”
Steve smiled, “Go. I'll make sure Tony's okay – even if he's still mad at me.”
Rhodey looked at Steve once more with that stern look of his before he sighed and nodded, heading for the elevator. Just before he left, he gave Steve a hard glare, “Don't you dare hurt him, captain. He's been through enough.”
The doors closed with a whoosh and a soft ping, leaving Steve standing by himself in the middle of the penthouse. Steve took a deep breath and let out a humourless laugh, “I know.”
Once that was done, Steve picked up his shield and set it down near the couch and wandered around just a little. There was an emergency exit that probably led out to a very long flight of stairs tucked away at the end of the hall that led towards three guest rooms – each of which had their own bathroom – and an office. Each room had an amazing view of the city and Steve spent quite a bit of time just looking out at the city and noting where it had changed and where it had stayed the same.
Everything about the city was just new. It wasn't as impressive to look at during the day as it was at night when the city was lit up, but it was still an impressive sight to Steve. There were columns of glass and steel rising up and reaching towards the sky.
The view hadn't quite lost its grip on Steve, but it was nearing lunch and he was hungry. He wandered back into the kitchen to make something to eat.
Tony still hadn't come up from wherever it was he'd disappeared to and Steve had doubts that he'd come out until he was ready. Or until he got over his anger and forgave Steve.
With a sigh, Steve set about making lunch for two. Even if Tony was mad at him, that didn't mean that he couldn't make sure he ate.
Steve left his own lunch out on the counter and took a bottle of water and a plate of food over to the staircase. It spiralled down to the floor below and bright lights illuminated the polished floor. As Steve descended the stairs, he was confronted with a wall of windows and a glass door with a keypad next to it. He wasn't getting into the workshop anytime soon.
There was a small table set along the wall at the bottom of the stairs across from the door. Steve set the plate and bottle down on the table and glanced through the windows just before he returned upstairs.
Tony was sitting on the floor with his back to the windows, messing around with something that Steve couldn't see. For several long seconds, Steve just took in the curve of Tony's spine as he bent over whatever it was he was working on and how focused he was. Then he let out a heavy breath and returned to the main floor of the penthouse.
Steve ate his lunch almost absently and afterwards washed the dishes in the sink and put them away. There wasn't much personality to the penthouse and it was practically devoid of anything personal. It looked like it had just been decorated and left alone.
Wandering into the living room area – the entire place was rather open in terms of floor plans – Steve sat down on the couch. He recognized that the sleek, black thing mounted to the wall was a television since he'd seen a couple of them at the SHIELD base and Clint had explained how they worked.
The remote lay on a a glass table in front of the couch and, luckily, all of the buttons were labelled.
Well, it was certainly one way to become better versed with this new world Steve found himself in. And it was also a way to distract himself until Tony decided that he wasn't giving him the cold shoulder any longer.
Of course, that was easier said than done.
There were more channels than Steve knew what to do with and all of them were in full, vibrant, true to life colour. It was just all so new. Steve flicked through the channels, pausing on a few that caught his attention. He found news coverage of the expo from the night before.
“… CEO Justin Hammer has been arrested and charged although there are still many unanswered questions about what caused the incident at this year's Stark Expo. Unsubstantiated sources claim that the man identified in the attack in Monaco – Ivan Vanko – was working for Hammer Industries and is responsible for what happened.”
Footage played of what Steve could only assume was the previously mentioned attack before it panned back out into a corner, leaving the reporter standing in front of the entrance to the expo grounds.
“Hammer Industries hasn't yet released a statement over the arrest of their CEO, but Stark Industries has released a statement–”
The speakers shorted out for a minute before they came back online which startled Steve. He nearly jumped out of his seat and was reaching for his shield when a distinctly male voice came from... somewhere.
“Good afternoon, Captain Rogers. It's a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Steve looked around, senses on high alert as he tried to locate the source of the voice. “Who–”
“Forgive me if I startled you; my name is JARVIS. I have only just come online as Anthony has neglected to integrate me into the building's systems until now.”
“Where...?” Steve relaxed just a little. Whoever JARVIS was, he didn't seem to be a threat and Steve couldn't locate him anyway. Of course, none of that cleared up his confusion.
“I'm an artificial intelligence program created by Anthony Stark,” JARVIS said, voice coming from somewhere overhead or all around – Steve wasn't sure. “If you have any questions or requests, I will do my best to fulfill them.”
“Oh.” It was like something out of a science-fiction novel. Steve looked up at the ceiling, “Well, um, it's a pleasure to meet you, JARVIS.”
Steve hesitated for a second before asking, “JARVIS, can you do me a favour?”
“Of course, captain.”
Maybe that streak of self-destructive behaviour hadn't been such a good idea. If he hadn't, then maybe Pepper and Rhodey would have more faith in him and his ability to make his own decisions but there was the fact that he'd pulled out of that dive to consider.
Oh, who was he kidding? He knew he was being stupid and immature about this but he didn't really care.
There was stuff that he needed to get done and it was better that he got it done now if he had any plans to spend a significant amount of time in New York. He'd have to haul in some new equipment and possibly change the layout a bit but everything else was laid out according to his specifications. The armour's repairs were important, but didn't need to get done immediately.
Still, it was better to take out his irritation and aggression about the entire mess of a situation he'd found himself in down here rather than go upstairs and take it out on Steve because Steve hadn't technically done anything to deserve it except be kind of stupidly sweet about proving all of this.
That was the crux of the problem, ultimately. Because Steve was stupidly sweet and considerate and handsome and Captain America to top it all off.
And what had Tony done to deserve that? Nothing.
Steve could say that Tony was what he wanted and Steve would be the perfect soul-mate – of that he didn't have any doubts because anyone would be extremely lucky to have someone like Steve – but that didn't mean that Tony believed any of it. It was still so hard to just believe that this was real.
He'd started yesterday with a name on his wrist that belonged to a long dead war hero and he'd ended the day with finding out that the hero wasn't so dead after all. And then his best friend had proven that yes he was kind of freakishly over-protective and – maybe he did have a point and the tests were a good idea but Tony thought it was stupid because he would know that Steve was his soul-mate – just wanted to make sure that Tony was safe and that he didn't have to worry.
Still, facing Steve right then wasn't a good idea even if it would help him blow off some steam to just argue with him; hell, Steve deserved to know that Tony wasn't exactly an easy person to get along with.
Tony sighed and grumbled to himself about stupid, patriotic super-soldiers who were too nice for their own good and started in on the blue-prints and design guidelines for a new costume for Steve.
“It's not an apology and please accept me back into your good graces,” Tony grumbled to himself.
“Sir, I'm quite sure that Captain Rogers doesn't require you to offer him something to accept an apology,” JARVIS said. “As well, I thought that I should alert you that it is currently 2:30 AM and that the captain is currently sleeping on the couch.”
Tony frowned, “Huh, I thought it was earlier than that.”
“And that, sir, is why Miss Potts insisted that you be reminded hourly of when your meetings were scheduled.”
“You're saying I should go up there and apologize?”
“I doubt that Captain Rogers is expecting an apology; he is more concerned with your well-being. However, I am not an expert on relationships but I believe that it would be best to go and join him at the very least.”
“Yeah, yeah, give me a minute.” Tony made one last alteration to the design before he set them aside and stood up, grumbling, “I can't believe that I'm getting relationship advice from you...”
“I fear that no one else would have the patience to do so,” JARVIS replied lightly.
Tony rolled his eyes but paused in the doorway to the lab, “JARVIS, give me a heads-up about whenever that specialist is supposed to arrive tomorrow. I want to actually be awake when they're here.”
“Of course, sir. Although, may I add that you might want to be awake for Captain Rogers' sake as well as giving Miss Potts and the specialist one of your pouting fits for arranging this without your express permission.”
“Remind me to fire her in the morning.”
“I'm afraid that Stark Industries would grind to a halt without her capable abilities as CEO. Let me remind you that it was your decision to appoint her to that position and that you did so only a week ago; to fire her now would not reflect well upon yourself or Stark Industries.”
“You know I wasn't being serious there, right?”
“Of course, sir. Your wit is as sharp as ever.”
Tony rolled his eyes and left the lab, taking the stairs up into the penthouse two at a time.
Everything was almost exactly as he remembered it being, with the exception of the kitchen looking a little more lived in and that Steve was lying stretched out on the couch.
But that wasn't exactly it, Tony realized as he crept closer; Steve was curled up a little on his side, eyes closed and breathing coming out evenly. If it wasn't for the shivers and the extremely tense set of his shoulders, Tony would've thought that he was sleeping peacefully.
There was a throw blanket over the back of one of the armchairs. Tony grabbed it and unfolded it, throwing it over Steve's shoulders and tucking it in around him. It wasn't big enough to fully cover him but it was the best that Tony could do, given the circumstances. He'd have gone and grabbed the comforter from the bedroom, but Steve stopped shivering so much and relaxed just a little under the throw blanket.
Tony's relief was short-lived because when he moved to pull away, Steve started shivering again and murmured something softly. His voice sounded pained when he spoke even though Tony couldn't quite make out what he was saying.
Gently, Tony reached out and took one of Steve's hands in his, giving it a tight squeeze.
The mumbling and shivers stopped and Steve curled up just a little more, moving towards Tony. It made Tony smile and he shifted so that he could sit on the floor, his back to the couch.
He draped Steve's hand over his shoulder, holding onto it tightly as he leaned back against the couch. Tilting his head back, he watched Steve's expression smooth out from the worried and pinch-pained look it had before. It made Tony's stomach flutter with something and a smile tugged at his lips.
There was obviously something that they'd have to talk about, but it could wait. Tony was, more or less, content with the way things were. He'd gotten more than he'd ever hoped or dreamed that he would.
This took me far too long too finish and I'm not 100% happy with it, but there'll be more next chapter, I promise. Also, expect a rating jump in the next part or so because there will be porn.
but thanks for today, and tomorrow, for everything ahead
just like always, i'll still be here
if anything happens, come ask, and i'll sing
as many times as it takes
be it a new “hello,” or maybe, a “long time no see”
– 39, English lyrics by vgperson
“Good morning, captain. It's currently 10:15 and you have forty-five minutes until the specialist arrives with Miss Potts and Lieutenant-Colonel Rhodes,” JARVIS said, startling Steve who'd been drifting in a state of not-quite consciousness for a while.
Usually Steve was up at the crack of dawn, but he'd slept far too peacefully that night. That and the fact that Tony was awkwardly curled up half on the couch and half on the floor beside him. Steve smiled and reached out and ruffled Tony's hair. His hand came away with a fair bit of grease, which made him smile and shake his head, but he didn't mind.
Tony grunted, blinking his eyes and yawning. He stretched, arms reaching up towards the ceiling, “Thanks, JARVIS.”
“Of course, sir. If there's anything else either of you require, please let me know.”
Something of an awkward silence fell after that. Steve sat up on the couch, making room for Tony who sat dow beside him; their thighs brushed as they sat, waiting for the other to speak.
“I didn't mean to upset you,” Steve said. “And I'm sorry that I did. It's just–”
“No, you don't have to apologize; I get it. You're the self-sacrificing type, I've known that for a long time. It's not you I'm pissed off at.”
“It took me a long time to find you,” Steve said softly. “Maybe that's worked out for the best in the end, but it doesn't change the fact that I just showed up one day out of nowhere. If this is what it takes to prove to you and anyone else that I belong to you as much as you belong to me, then I'll do it.”
Steve grinned just a little, “Besides, I've been through worse.”
“That's completely beside the point!” Tony snapped, but there wasn't any real heat to it. “I don't need any more confirmation about this that I don't already have and you know what? I don't really care what anyone else thinks because they're going to think what they think and I don't give a damn about that.”
“I want to do this right. You deserve it and so much more; I've got a lot that I need to make up for.”
Tony sighed and slumped back into the couch and glared at Steve, “You're a stubborn jackass and I hope you know that.”
“Yeah, I know.” Steve paused and bit his lip, “Will you be there?”
Blinking, Tony looked over at Steve with wide, confused hazel eyes, “Of course I'm going to be there! I'm not going to just up and ditch you.”
That made Steve smile and the tight ball of worry in the pit of his stomach dissipated. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome.” Tony looked down at his hands which were still streaked with grease and said after a few minutes, “I should probably take a shower before Pepper gets here and starts giving me hell about being presentable and clean and how I need to stop showing up in public when I'm grimy and look like I had a fight with a bottle of motor oil.”
Feeling his cheeks warm up, Steve dropped his gaze. He thought that Tony looked good dishevelled and with just a little bit of grease on his skin. The black grease streaked across his forehead and cheek drew attention to the warm tan of his skin and the arc of his cheekbones. Steve thought he was beautiful, and he was a little embarrassed to admit that he might have been just a little bit turned on.
It was probably for the best if he didn't say anything about that. Even if it was the truth, Steve wasn't sure where it would lead and he wanted to take this slow. Plus, he wasn't sure if he wanted to end up on Pepper Potts's bad side for encouraging Tony's behaviour.
“You wanna join me?” Tony was grinning almost lasciviously and leaning into Steve's personal space, balancing with a hand on Steve's thigh.
“What?” Steve asked, jerked out of his thoughts about how attractive Tony looked after spending hours in the workshop.
Tony rolled his eyes, but he was still grinning. “I was asking if you wanted to join me in the shower, captain.”
Steve turned bright red and he was acutely aware that his ears were burning. “Tony, I – um – I don't think that's appropriate.”
“We'd be saving water and we'd be getting to know each other better,” Tony waggled his eyebrows suggestively, grin turning into a lewd smirk. “And that's always a good thing.”
“I, um, could we – could we maybe wait a little longer for that?” Steve didn't want to say anything wrong, but that was just moving a little too quickly and he honestly had no idea about how to proceed. It wasn't that he hadn't showered with men before, the army didn't really allow for much privacy, but this was Tony; he wanted it to be perfect.
“Are you shy? You don't have to be shy – I mean, sure maybe there's not naked videos of you on the internet but there's nothing to be ashamed of.”
Steve blinked, Naked videos? “I'm just not... not ready for that yet. Besides, I already showered.”
Luckily, Tony didn't seem too disappointed about that. He pouted but pecked Steve on the cheek before he got off the couch, “Point taken. I'll just go take a shower. By myself. Without you.”
Shaking his head, Steve rolled his eyes, “Go and shower, Tony. I'll make breakfast.”
Tony stuck his tongue out at Steve, but he retreated to the master bedroom and its giant bathroom, leaving Steve to make breakfast. With an almost wistful smile, Steve got up off the couch and made his way into the kitchen; he could almost get used to this.
As he settled into the comfortable routine of cooking, Steve let himself think. The fact that they'd settled into something of a rhythm was reassuring; Steve hadn't had something like that since Before. There were some rough patches, but those he was fine with. If they argued and teased, that was fine. They could work out their problems, they had time.
“... I'm not dying anymore.”
His hand tightened so suddenly that he wound up leaving the imprint of his fingers in the handle of the knife he was holding. Steve stared at it for several moments stupidly before letting out a heavy sigh and throwing the now ruined knife into the garbage.
There was still a lot that they needed to talk about.
But the words kept echoing around inside of his head and he couldn't quite shake that feeling of dread blossoming deep in his chest. He didn't – couldn't – lose Tony now, not when he'd just found him. Steve had spent twenty-six years believing that there was no one for him and now he'd found that there was and Tony had waited for him.
There was time now. Steve just had to figure out a way to bring the topic up and stick to it without Tony blowing it off like it was nothing. He'd noticed that Tony tended to do that a lot.
Breakfast only took a little while longer to finish. By the time that Steve was plating it out, Tony was out of the shower and sitting in one of the bar stools at the counter.
The two of them ate in a comfortable silence while Steve tried to find the words to best say what he was thinking.
He was saved from that when Tony poked him in the arm with his fork, “Something on your mind?”
“Before, when we first met,” Steve started, cleared his throat and then continued. “You said that you were dying but you... aren't anymore. What was that about?”
Tony was quiet for a painfully long time. Then, he shifted in his seat, bit his lip and almost nervously met Steve's eyes, “Guess I kind of owe you an explanation for that, huh?”
“I want to know that I'm not going to lose you; I just found you. You... you don't know what that would do to me.”
“Well it's kind of a long story.”
Steve smiled, “I don't have anywhere else to be.”
The smile Tony gave him in response was a little wan before it fell into something more thoughtful. He started talking, a little slowly at first but it quickly sped up. He tapped the glowing circle at the centre of his chest; it made a muted metallic sound.
“This little thing is what keeps me alive. It's an arc reactor and I made the first one months ago and it ran on an element called palladium and it was kind of poisoning me so the thing that was keeping me alive was slowly killing me. But then I kind of got a little head-start from dear old dad and I managed to make a different element and it runs the arc reactor and it cured the palladium poisoning; there's still a couple of effects but they should be gone in a few weeks. I'm fine you don't have to worry about it everyone's happy.”
Steve stared for several long moments at the glowing circle; he'd thought it was the shirt, maybe, or a trick of the light. That it was just some aspect of the times that he didn't understand. He'd never thought that it was that important.
He swallowed, “Why... do you need it?”
There was a shuddered look to Tony's eyes and his voice took on a distant quality when he replied, “There's... shrapnel in my blood more or less and the arc reactor powers an electro-magnet which keeps the shrapnel away from my heart and killing me.”
Steve felt his heart jerk to a stop. He hadn't – this was almost too much. That little circle of softly glowing blue light was all that was keeping Tony alive. He wanted to reach out, to touch it, to know that it was solid and real and keeping Tony alive, but there was something else that Tony wasn't saying so he hesitated.
Shaking, he held out his hand and asked softly, “May I?”
“I–” Tony hesitated and there was a dark and fearful look in his eyes and that made Steve's resolve crumble.
“If it makes you uncomfortable, then you don't have to let me.” Steve dropped his hand, a stab of guilt deep in his chest. “I'm sorry, I just–”
“No, it's... it's fine. I just...” Tony reached out and took Steve's hand in both of his and carefully pressed it over the arc reactor.
Under his hand, Steve could feel the hard edges of the arc reactor, but he could also feel the way that Tony was trembling.
“Are you alright?” Steve asked.
The shivers slowly stopped and Tony took several deep breaths, hands tightening around Steve's as he held it tightly over the arc reactor, “Yeah, yeah I'm fine just – it's nothing I just don't want you to be afraid of it or anything but it's sort of a long story but someone took it once and left me–”
“Damn, Tony, I–” Steve swallowed, feeling the anger and bile racing up his throat. There was a dark possessiveness rearing its ugly head inside of him that wanted nothing more than to tear apart each and every person who had hurt Tony Stark. “I'm sorry, Tony. I'm so sorry.”
Tony shrugged, hands tightening, “It's fine; I'm not over it but it's you and that's okay because I don't have to worry about you doing that because you're Captain America.”
“That's... that's a lot of trust, I don't know what to say,” Steve murmured quietly. “I'd rather you trust me because I'm Steve Rogers – because I'm your soul-mate. But... I'll keep this safe; I'll keep you safe. I promise.”
Tony smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. “I'll hold you to that.”
“Does this hurt?”
“Not really,” Tony replied. “There's a bit of pressure on my heart and my lungs, but my body's adjusted surprisingly well to it and it beats the alternative by a lot. I'm just not used to people touching it or liking it – do you like it? I'll totally understand if you don't.”
Steve smiled, leaned forward and kissed Tony lightly but firmly. “I think that it's a brilliant piece of technology that only you could make. It keeps you alive and that's what's most important about it to me.”
Sliding a hand behind Steve's neck, Tony pulled him down and kissed him hard. When they broke apart, Tony met Steve's eyes and said, “You are really too perfect. It's ridiculous.”
“Thanks.” Steve wasn't sure if that was supposed to be a compliment or not, but he'd been getting that quite a lot since he'd woken up. First Clint and then Tony. For now, he'd just let it slide.
JARVIS broke the comfortable yet slightly odd silence that they had fallen into, “Sir, Miss Potts is here with the specialist. Shall I tell them that you're decent?”
“I am completely and totally decent!” Tony replied. “And yeah, send them up. Rhodey with them? I'm still mad at him.”
“He is currently en route and will arrive in a few minutes. Miss Potts and the specialist will be here in less than a minute.”
“Thank you, JARVIS.” Steve got up and gathered up their dirty plates, scraping them into the trash and placing them in the sink to wash later.
There was a tangle of nerves deep in his stomach. He took a deep breath and tried to soothe them; the tests had to have gotten better, less painful, in the seventy years that he'd been asleep. But then, it wasn't so much the pain that Steve was worried about, he hadn't been lying when he said he'd been through worse; nothing could compare to the pain of your own body growing and changing in a matter of minutes.
While Steve was lost in his thoughts, Tony had slipped up behind him and wrapped his arms around Steve's waist.
“Worried? Scared? It's not supposed to hurt but I can punch the specialist if it does. Would that make you feel better?”
Steve looked over his shoulder, just a little bit horrified, “That would not actually make me feel better; having you here with me is enough.”
“You know what, if it wasn't for the fact that I find it endearing, your ability to be extremely sweet and at the same time completely sincere might be sickening. You should do that around Pepper; it'll make her jealous and probably win her over if you keep at it for long enough.”
“I'm... sorry?” Steve blinked, confusion written all over his face.
“No, no, don't be sorry – just keeping being...” Tony pulled away and gestured at Steve.
“You just gestured to all of me.”
“Just keep being you, is what I'm trying to say,” Tony explained. “Because seriously, if you keep that up you'll win everyone over. There's just something ridiculously endearing about the whole boy-scout, wholesome all-American thing you've got going on it's really attractive.”
Steve just blinked, “Thanks. I think.”
They were interrupted from any other conversation when the elevator doors binged open and Pepper Potts's voice broke the silence, “You can set your equipment up in the living room; we'll be right with you.”
Pepper strode into the kitchen with a stern look to her face and the squared set of her shoulders was all business. This was clearly not a woman whose bad side Steve wanted to be on. She cast Steve one careful, appreciating eye before turning her full attention to Tony.
“I thought I'd have to wake you up,” Pepper said. “And you're presentable too; this is all good.”
“Yeah, um, who did you bring?” Tony was already moving to look over into the living room. “Are they one of ours? You didn't bring someone in from somewhere else did you? I dunno if Fury wants to let his genie out of the bottle just yet.”
Pepper rolled her eyes, “Yes, they're one of ours. And you mean Director Fury? Of SHIELD?”
“SHIELD was who found me in the Arctic,” Steve said.
Tony glanced at him, “Yeah, apparently SHIELD picked him up in the Arctic and he was chilling with them while he was defrosted from that little stint he had in the ice. Fury's been keeping him locked up cause he's a prince out to rescue his princess or something, right?”
“Tony,” Pepper gave him a stern look. Then she turned to Steve, “We're ready whenever you are.”
“Let's do this.” Steve managed a smile.
An array of strange equipment had been spread out on the coffee table in front of the couch. Standing next to it was a dark-haired woman dressed in a pair of sharp-looking trousers and carefully pressed shirt. She gave Steve a surprisingly warm smile when she saw him, “Hello, sir. My name is Erika. I'll be running your tests today. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to ask.”
Pepper sat down in one of the arm chairs beside the couch and Tony had pulled a tablet out of... somewhere and was busily tapping away at it. Tony only looked up for a few seconds to look at Erika, “Last name's Kurosawa?”
“Yes, sir,” Erika replied. She gestured at the couch. “If you could sit down, we can begin immediately.”
“Uh, yeah, okay.” Steve sat up and rubbed Tony's name on his wrist nervously. The last time he'd been in this situation, he'd been in a sterile medical facility facing down an unpleasant looking doctor and the results had been rather painful. But, then again, the last time he hadn't been the one undergoing those tests.
Tony was flicking through something on the tablet, which when Steve looked over appeared to be Erika's entire background. It was dismissed quickly when Tony noticed Steve was looking; he set the tablet aside and smiled at Steve, taking his right hand in both of his and squeezing.
“May I see your wrist, please?” Erika asked, pulling on a pair of purple medical gloves.
Steve offered her up his wrist and she peeled open a paper packet, the burning scent of alcohol met his nose and Steve inhaled sharply. That wasn't a smell he ever wanted to smell again if he could help it.
Erika sat down on a small stool that she'd pulled from somewhere and quickly wiped Steve's wrist. She tilted her head to the side a little as she discarded the swab into a small waste bucket sitting on the table. “It looks legitimate.”
“You can tell?” Pepper leaned forward.
Erika nodded, leaning a little closer to Steve and edging around the name with her pinky, “With fakes, you can usually tell – there's a slight raised edge to them from the surrounding skin. Depending on the age of the fake, there are other signs. With the real thing, it's simply a part of the skin. Plus, if this was just a press on, it would have smeared with the alcohol.”
Steve bit his lip, “But?”
“It's not one-hundred percent. We'll know for certain with a tissue sample.”
Reaching behind her, Steve fully expected that Erika would pull out a small scalpel. He was bracing himself for the pain when she turned around with a short but thick needle in hand.
She popped the protective casing off of it and looked at Steve, “This will just be a small prick but it might hurt.”
Steve nodded and she pricked the skin of his mark with the needle. It burned but she was pulling the needle back within a few seconds, leaving behind a tiny little hole from which blood bubbled up. Before Erika could wipe it away, Tony had taken the piece of cotton from her and wiped it away with a quick pass of his fingers before he pressed it down on the cut.
Steve smiled at him in gratitude, “Thanks. That... wasn't what I expected.”
“What were the tests like in your day? Must have been torture.” Tony pulled the cotton swab away; it was stained with a bit of blood but the cut had stopped bleeding. He tossed the rejected swab into the waste bucket on the coffee table.
Bucky... “They weren't pleasant.”
There must have been something in the way that Steve spoke that tipped Tony off that there was more that he wasn't saying, but with Erika there Tony didn't ask. Steve knew he wasn't going to get out of this that easily.
Erika turned her back to them and deposited the tissue sample into a small device that she'd brought with her. She hit a couple of buttons and the machine whirred for several seconds before emitting a series of beeps. Something flashed up on the screen, Erika frowned at it before she turned and looked at all of them.
“It's real. He is Mister Stark's soul-mate.”
“I was right, you were wrong,” Tony said. “I told you I was right and you doubted me; I hope you've learned your lesson. When's Rhodey going to be here?”
“He's in the lobby at this moment, sir, and will be present shortly,” JARVIS answered smoothly. “Shall I inform him of the happy news?”
“Sure, why not.”
Erika was peeling her gloves off and tossing them into the waste bucket and had begun packing up her equipment, “If that's all you need me for, I'll be taking my leave now, Miss Potts.”
Pepper sighed and massaged her temple with one hand, “Yes, thank you for coming on such short notice, Erika. I really appreciate it.”
“It's not a problem,” Erika smiled and packed her things up back into their little suitcase. “I'll see myself out.”
She strode to the elevators and hit the call button. Rhodey and her exchanged quick pleasantries when he arrived, she took the elevator he'd taken up back down. The doors slid shut behind her and Rhodey came over, a stern look on his face that Steve was starting to suspect was his default expression.
“I told you he was the real deal,” Tony said immediately, before Rhodey could say a thing. “And you doubted me! Have you learned your lesson yet? You should never doubt me.”
Rhodey just raised his eyebrows, “I'm sorry for not believing you, captain. I did a little more research and your story more or less checks out with the records I could access.”
“Wait, you're telling me that he really is from the '40s?” Pepper asked. “And he really was frozen for seventy years?”
“Super-soldier!” Tony interjected helpfully. Steve was almost hoping that the floor would open up and swallow him at this point.
“A Captain Steven Rogers was reported as having enlisted in '42 and was reported missing in action in '44,” Rhodey replied. “Almost everything else is still classified.”
“He's Captain America, Rhodey, you forgot to mention that.”
Pepper stared at Steve for several long moments and then looked at Tony, “Are you kidding? Please tell me you're joking.”
Steve's ears were bright red at that point, but he managed to say, “It's true. It was sort of... a propaganda thing at first – selling war bonds and the like. It was the only thing I could do; it was that or be stuck in a lab. After I got out on the front lines, the name kind of stuck.”
“I have pictures to prove it if you still don't believe him,” Tony added. “My dad kept a bunch of stuff related to Captain America; there's a bunch of pictures of him too.”
“Most of those pictures aren't of me,” Steve said quietly.
Tony was looking at him and Steve knew he should have thought about that more before he said it. There was no way that he was going to get out of this now, but he owed Tony an explanation and an apology. Tony deserved to know.
“Wait, so that guy in all the pictures with you – he was the focus?”
Pepper and Rhodey were quiet, just staring at the two of them – more specifically, staring at Steve – with expectant looks on their faces. He'd been right, this was a minefield of a topic. Whatever had happened after Bucky had died, after Steve had gone down with his plane, with Howard had clearly left its mark on Tony. Steve couldn't imagine what would happen; knowing your soul-mate only to have them ripped from you so soon. That had to have left scars. Scars that others would have to deal with.
“Yes,” Steve continued quietly. “That was... that was Bucky. He was my best friend and Howard's soul-mate.”
There was a long, awkward silence. Steve felt everyone's eyes on him.
After several long moments, Tony broke the silence, “Bullshit, my father was a Blank.”
Steve shook his head, “No, he and Bucky – James Barnes – were soul-mates. Bucky... Bucky died in the Alps on a mission to capture Hydra's Doctor Zola. I couldn't reach him in time and he fell. I'm sorry.”
There was more silence. Steve felt awkward and said, “Are you–”
“No I'm not fine – my dad lied to me not that that's anything new. But – fuck don't you dare blame yourself for any of this because he certainly didn't and I don't either.”
Surprisingly, Rhodey had something to add, “It was war. You did what you had to do and so did he. Sometimes... sometimes there are sacrifices that have to be made and someone has to make them. You just have to respect their decision to make them.”
There was a hard set to Rhodey's shoulders and his lips were set in a tight, thin line. The distant, pained look in his eyes cemented that this was something he was all too familiar with.
Pepper looked a little horrified an Tony still looked angry. Tony poked him hard in the centre of the chest, “You want my forgiveness? You can have it because I don't care – you can't change the past. If you want something to make up for whatever bullshit it is you think you did wrong, I don't want to hear about it – I want to know that you're doing this and you're here for me as selfish as that might be. I want you to be happy; that's what's most important to me.”
“I want you to be happy,” Steve said quietly, but his voice was hard. “I just... I just don't like knowing that–”
“You did not hurt me and if you know what's good for you, you'll shut up about it.”
“Tony's got a remarkable streak of luck for getting himself into trouble,” Pepper said dryly. There was a bit of pain in her voice too. “But he also has a talent for finding a way to get himself out of trouble too.”
“He's probably better off with you here anyway,” Rhodey added. “You try to keep him from doing all the stupid stuff he does.”
Tony frowned, “I do not–”
“You do.” Pepper and Rhodey said it in perfect synchronization with the exact same fondly exasperated tone of voice.
“Hey! That's not fair; you can't gang up on me like that.” Tony pouted and crossed his arms, sinking into the couch as he glared at them. “And besides, you've got your answers now – he's my soul-mate, you've got your proof. You can go now. I want to show him my appreciation in private.”
Pepper rolled her eyes as she pushed herself to her feet, “I have a company to run and a lot of damage control to do – which, might I add, a lot of is your fault. I'm going to need a statement to release to the press.”
“Say whatever you want,” Tony said, waving his hand. “You're better at making it sound nicer than it is than I am; I'd probably screw it up. Again.”
“I knew you'd say that, I just wanted your permission.” Pepper glanced at her phone, tapping a few buttons. “Now, if you'll both excuse me I have business that needs seeing to. Tony, don't do anything stupid or else. Steve? Look after Tony and if you hurt him I won't hesitate to bring the pain.”
She smiled at the both of them before she walked over to the elevators and hit the call button. The elevator arrived a few seconds later and she stepped inside, pausing to hold the door.
“Are you coming, Rhodey?” she asked. “Or are you staying?”
“I'm coming; I've got to be back on base to finish my report,” Rhodey replied. He sighed and looked at the both of them. “Don't do anything stupid – either of you. I'm done cleaning up your messes, Tony. As for you, captain, remember what I said yesterday. I'll see you both later.”
With that, Rhodey went to join Pepper in the elevator. The doors closed and they were gone, leaving Tony and Steve alone.
“Well, that went well,” Tony said.
They'd settled in on the couch to watch TV. Tony had a remarkable talent at picking out what channels would be good and he was fine with explaining anything that Steve didn't understand. It was all very educational and Tony was practically a well of information – whether or not it was relevant was unimportant.
They were interrupted in the late afternoon by a phone call from one Director Fury of SHIELD.
“Hello, you've reached Tony Stark, I can't come to the phone right now but–”
“Cut the bullshit, Stark. I've got a question for you and it's important.”
“You know, I thought I was the one who was usually asking you questions; you've got all the answers after all.”
Fury sounded annoyed, “Stark, I want a straight answer: Is Captain Rogers there?”
“Why do you think that he'd be here?” Tony replied, smirking. He was leaning over Steve, one hand pressing down on his thigh. “I'm not privy to all your secret meetings and stuff; you know, I'm not a secret agent like Agent Romanoff or taser happy like Coulson.”
“I'm here, sir,” Steve replied, cutting off Tony before he could say something that might get him into trouble with Fury.
“Always the last place I think to look...” Fury sighed. “Do you want to be there, captain? Or is Stark keeping you against your will?”
“I went looking for him on my own,” Steve replied. “I told Clint where I was going, I didn't think that I needed to report in or anything.”
“So long as we know where you are, it's fine. And so long as Stark doesn't do anything too damn stupid again, it's alright. Stark? Don't do anything stupid or I'll have your ass locked up so fast it'll make your head spin.”
“You certainly know the way to a man's heart,” Tony quipped. “Do you practice in front of the mirror just for me?”
“You would be so lucky. You've got a meeting with me tomorrow at 5, Stark. Don't be late.” Fury hung up with a sharp click, leaving behind a dial tone. Tony grinned as he hit the end call button.
“Well, at least he knows where you are now. I don't have to worry about him showing up and catching me in the nude – or you. I'd rather he didn't see you naked.”
Steve blushed, cheeks going bright pink, “I'd rather that he not see you naked either.”
“Oh good, glad to see we're in agreement then. But you don't mind if you see me naked, right? It's a legitimate question, don't give me that look!”
Whoa, I'm so sorry that it took me so long to finish and post this part. I just sort of... lost my drive for writing for a while and then classes started up and I had to focus on those and assignments and tests. I'm not 100% satisfied with how this chapter turned out, but if I didn't post it now than I don't think I ever would.
Oh, and the rating is going to be going up in the next chapter or so, just so you're all aware...
the time we've lost and the future ahead
we grabbed the boundary
i only want to see you smile
– View Finder, english lyrics by Hikarin
It took Steve some effort not to focus on any of that and focus on what Tony was saying instead. “You want me to come? What's it for?”
Tony was grinning, “Oh you know, just saving a whole bunch of people and putting a stop to a murderous rampage at the expo – you know, the usual. And yes, I want you to be there. If you want to. I'm not going to force you if you don't want to although I don't think I could force you even if you did say no. I'd probably need the armour to even stand half a chance against you.”
“I'd love to come,” Steve smiled.
“Great, I'll call Pepper because she'll have to find something for you to wear because I don't think they'd let you in dressed like that,” Tony said, gesturing to what Steve was wearing. “Not that you don't look good, but she'd be on my case if I let you out in public like that – something about it being bad PR or something else. Ask her next time you see her.”
Tony strolled over and kissed Steve's cheek, then walked back to the bedroom as though nothing had happened to get dressed. He left the door open too. Steve was positive that his ears were bright red at that moment, he could certainly feel the way his cheeks were flushing.
Two days later, Pepper showed up with two plastic garment bags slung over her arm. The first one she handed off to Tony.
“And may I remind you that I'm not your personal assistant anymore; I've got a company that needs my attention. I can't always be running around taking care of every little thing,” Pepper said. “Although, I don't know what you'd do without me.”
Tony gave her something that might have been a dirty look if there wasn't a spark of fondness to it. He took the bag a little grudgingly but didn't say anything.
Pepper handed the other one to Steve, “Someone at SHIELD sent this to me. They said that it was yours and that you might want it back.”
“Thanks.” Steve took the bag and turned it over for a closer look. He was confused, but when he turned it over he sucked in a sharp breath of recognition.
It was his old dress uniform.
Steve smiled, “I didn't think it would still be around.”
Tony was peeking over his shoulder, “What is it? Oh, your old uniform?”
“Yeah.” Steve pulled off the plastic, keeping hold of the hanger as he did so. He held it out for inspection, pleasantly surprised to note that it was entirely spotless and in the exact condition that he'd left it in. There were no mothballs and a couple little tears he remembered being there before had been fixed. It didn't have that musty smell of old clothing either, for which he was glad.
“This came as well,” Pepper said, holding out a small box with a knowing smile on her face. “I'll have to have a talk with Phil about–”
“Who's Phil?” Tony interrupted.
That earned him a sharp look from Pepper, “Phil is Coulson's first name.”
Steve recognized the name, but Tony clearly knew him.
“Phil? His first name is agent.”
Pepper simply rolled her eyes, “Yes, Tony, he does have a first name. Now, I have a few things that I want to talk to you about in regards to the company and your place in it before you leave.”
Tony pouted but shrugged, “Alright, fine, let's get that over with. You okay, Steve?”
“I'll be fine.” Steve accepted the box from Pepper, laying his uniform over his arm. He retreated to the bedroom to let Tony and Pepper have their conversation in privacy and to pack up his uniform carefully.
He laid out his uniform on the bed and cracked open the box. For several long moments, Steve just stared at the medals lying innocently in the box. Each of them looked meticulously cared for and maintained. He stared at them for a few more moments before he closed the box with a sigh and set it aside.
Packing up his uniform didn't take long, but Steve hesitated before he set the medals on top and closed the case.
Tony came in a couple of minutes later, absently throwing the suit that Pepper had given him on the bed before he flopped down on it. He let out a sigh but didn't say anything for several moments.
Then, “What was in the box Pepper gave you? Was it from a secret admirer? Tell it wasn't from some creepy secret admirer at SHIELD.”
“No, it was just my uniform and, uh, medals.”
Tony rolled over, crawling over to Steve with wide eyes, “Can I see?”
Several minutes later and Steve was standing at the foot of the bed in uniform, medals pinned to his breast, feeling more than just a little self-conscious under Tony's scrutiny. He felt a little bit like he was facing a judge, waiting for the verdict to be read; he wasn't sure why, but it mattered so much more to have Tony's approval than anyone else's.
A feeling of relief stole through him when Tony grinned, crooking his finger and gesturing for Steve to come closer.
“Never thought I'd have a thing for a man in uniform,” Tony's voice sent shivers down Steve's spine and made his cheeks flush just a little. He reached out and hooked his fingers into Steve's belt loops, pulling him closer as Tony rose onto his knees. “But I do prefer blonds.”
Tony's grin turned into a smirk and he pressed his lips against Steve's, nipping at his bottom lip and slipping his tongue past Steve's slightly parted lips.
With more confidence than he'd ever thought he'd have when he'd first woken up, Steve returned the kiss. He slid his hands up, cupping Tony's face as his thumbs fanned out over Tony's cheekbones; he'd never get tired of this.
Time seemed to slip by slowly until they pulled apart, Tony breathing much harder than Steve, who smiled. The pout that Tony was sporting – and he would deny that it was a pout if Steve said anything – was adorable.
“Okay, that's totally not fair.”
Steve was still smiling as he replied, “Super-soldier.”
Tony hit him with a pillow for that.
They had a few more minutes to themselves before Happy turned up at the door to the room to hurry them along if they wanted to make it to the ceremony on time. With a little bit of effort and with Steve carrying everything, they managed to leave the building and make it into the car without being hassled by the many reporters and photographers that had swarmed around it.
Once they were in the car, Tony managed to curl up and take up most of the backseat, leaning against Steve. His lips were tugged down in a frown.
“I wanted to drive. This is Pepper's doing, isn't it?”
Steve smoothed a hand through Tony's hair, “It doesn't really matter, does it? We'll get there anyway.”
Despite the fact that he didn't seem too happy about it, Tony settled down after that. He didn't say anything, but Steve knew that while he might seem grumpy, Tony wouldn't hold it against Pepper or Happy. They were too important to him. He wasn't so sure about himself; Steve still felt like he was walking across a minefield sometimes when it came to Tony.
Tony drifted off to sleep shortly into their trip, leaving Steve alone to his thoughts. There was the soft sound of music in the background and the familiar sounds of Tony's breathing and the almost inaudible whir of the arc reactor that Steve had come to know so well.
Leaning his head against the cool glass of the window, Steve let his eyes drift closed.
He knew all too well that just because things were going well now that they wouldn't always go so smoothly. His parents had been a sterling example of how a relationship could fail regardless of the connection that they had shared. Was this relationship just as doomed as their had been? Steve didn't know.
Just then, Tony shifted in his sleep, arm coming around Steve's waist as he mumbled something that not even Steve's hearing could quite make out.
Warmth blossomed deep in Steve's chest, swelling outwards in waves until it felt as though his chest would burst. He gently ran his fingers through Tony's hair, lips tugging up in a smile as Tony snuggled closer.
There had been rough patches so far, but they'd worked through them and Steve believed that they were stronger for them. Maybe... maybe it wouldn't be perfect like it was in fiction, but it would always be more than enough for him. He'd never thought he would ever have something like this. No matter what happened, he wanted this to work; he wanted Tony to be happy.
That would be enough.
The scenery outside was rushing by in a blur as Steve continued to gently run his fingers through Tony's hair and, eventually, he drifted off. Steve wasn't a heavy sleeper so he didn't really fall asleep since the bumps of the road kept him in a state of not-quite wakefulness. At his side, Tony was a warm, comfortable weight.
When they arrived in Washington, Steve was already awake again, but Tony was still sleeping curled up against Steve's side. Steve woke him with a smile and a quick kiss, smoothing down the ruffled hair.
After that, the two of them enjoyed the awkward situation of having to change in the back of the car. Steve didn't have too many problems with it since he was used to cramped quarters, but Tony was still a little bit slow from sleep. Eventually, Steve batted his hands away gently to fix his tie.
“You look great,” Tony was rambling again. “Did I tell you that already? Because really, you look great and I don't think you really understand just how good you look. I'm probably going to have to beat people off with a stick.”
Steve could feel his ears flushing, but he grinned, “You don't look so bad yourself.”
To hide the fact that his eyes were a little bloodshot from the lack of sleep. He'd been spending a lot of time down in the workshop repairing the suit after what had happened at the Expo; Steve was doing his best to try and get Tony to sleep just a little more, but there was only so much that he could do.
Happy opened the car door once they were presentable and Steve stepped out, unconsciously holding out his hand to help Tony out. He smiled a little sheepishly at Tony when he got a sharp look in return but then Tony took it and let Steve help him out of the car.
Everyone was already there and the ceremony was set to start in a few minutes, so they broke apart. Tony strode up, confident and just a little bit cocky, and took his place beside Rhodey. Steve found a place in the back beside several well-dressed ladies and reporters with Happy. He couldn't help the smile on his face as pride surged up inside of him.
The ceremony hadn't changed much from the ones that Steve remembered, although he'd only been in attendance at a single one during his entire military career. But he stood back and watched, ignoring the handful of curious looks that he got. This wasn't about him, this was about Tony and recognizing that he was the hero that Steve believed him to be.
Rhodey was the ever-professional soldier, only cracking a smile at the end for the photos. Tony was himself. That is, grabbing the attention of everyone present with a charismatic smile.
There was a rush of reporters afterwards, each of them shouting questions and shoving to get the best picture. Steve watched them with a small smile; some things never really changed. He carefully kept his distance, though, not really wanting to get mixed up in all of it.
– – –
He had a soul-mate. He hardly recognized the world that he found himself in. Everyone he knew was gone.
Tony was cuddled up next to Steve one night, several weeks after they'd first met, as they watched the news. He was flicking through something on a tablet that he wouldn't tell Steve about; he'd been working on something for quite a while now that he was rather secretive about.
Both of them were comfortable and Steve didn't really want to move.
“You know, you've taken all of this in pretty well,” Tony said. He hadn't looked away from the tablet. “I keep thinking that you're going to have some sort of freak-out or meltdown and Fury keeps sending me messages about whether or not you're alright and saying that I better not do anything stupid. Or corrupt you – he was pretty adamant about the not corrupting you part.”
Steve shrugged, “I figure... I might as well look forward. There isn't anything I can do to change what's already happened.”
He didn't want to talk about the nightmares that sometimes crept up or that sometimes he felt out of place and questioned whether or not it was a good thing that he'd woken up now. The nightmares were the worst, but Tony only had to smile at him or look at him and Steve felt those doubts of his melt away.
“Hm, you're smarter than you look.”
“Okay, that came out wrong because that wasn't what I meant to say,” Tony said, rambling. “And I should probably shut up now.”
Steve kissed him, smiling, “I know what you meant. You're the master of the back-handed compliment.”
“If you say so.” But Tony was smiling as he turned back to his tablet, fingers flying across it and Steve could just make out the lines of some kind of technical drawing.
When he leaned towards Tony to get a better view, Tony shot him a glare and turned the screen off.
“No peeking, it's a surprise.”
Tony had a glint in his eyes that Steve wasn't quite sure what to make of, but he didn't say anything and turned back to the news, letting Tony get back to work. Whatever the surprise was, he was certain that it would be good.
– – –
“Captain, Director Fury of SHIELD is here to see you. Shall I let him in? He says that it's important.”
Steve was fiddling around with the tablet that Tony had showed him how to use. He set it aside and turned his head towards the ceiling, “Alright, let him in, JARVIS.”
Tony always made fun of him for always looking at the ceiling whenever he spoke with JARVIS, but it was all in good fun. For the most part anyway. Steve was still adjusting and Tony seemed to understand that, especially since this world of his was so much different than any that Steve could have ever dreamed of. It was sort of like stepping into one of those old science-fiction novels he'd read as a child.
The elevator dinged a few minutes later and the director of SHIELD stepped out. He looked just as intimidating and in control as Steve remembered him being. Briefcase in hand, Fury strode into the penthouse and towards Steve, looking him over with a singular focus.
“Looks like Stark wasn't lying, good to see you again, captain,” Fury said.
Steve had stood up when Fury entered and tried not to snap to attention. He managed something of a smile, “No, Tony's been great. I'm starting to feel a little more like I belong.”
Fury nodded, “Good to hear although that's not the reason I'm here.”
“Something like that, yes,” Fury replied. He strode over to the kitchen counter, setting his briefcase on it and gesturing for Steve to sit down. “I have a few things I want to talk to you about, captain. And that includes possibly getting you back out into the world.”
For a few seconds, Steve just stared at Fury before he walked over. “I don't know how much help I could possibly be.”
He thought about the Iron Man suit and Rhodey's, which Tony said had the codename War Machine. He couldn't possibly see how a soldier like him could possibly be useful in a world where such things existed.
“We'll see about that, captain. You've got some skills that are rather unique,” Fury set the briefcase down on the counter and popped it open. He pulled open several rather full files, each stamped with the SHIELD emblem and marked with the words 'Avengers Initiative.' These he handed over to Steve, who took them with a slightly puzzled expression.
There was a spark of something that Steve would have called amusement in Fury's eyes as he explained, “We're putting together a team. And we'd like you to lead it, captain. That is, if you're interested.”
Steve took the files from Fury and turned them towards himself; he could see that they were personnel reviews and evaluations along with combat reports. It was a lot of information to go through and Steve caught his name on one of them.
“You think I'd be good fit for that?”
Fury's eyebrow quirked up just a little, “You've already proven yourself a capable military commander and led a diverse force during the Second World War – one that was highly effective and almost single-handedly took out Hydra. That's quite an accomplishment. We believe you would be a good fit for team leader.”
Each of the folders had a different name attached to them and Steve recognized his name and Tony's on two of the folders. The last two folders barely had anything in them, but Steve saw Clint's name on one of them. He hadn't thought that Clint was being considered.
Curiosity getting the better of him, and a yearning to get back out in the world and prove that he could be useful, Steve spread the folders out on the counter and looked at them. They each looked identical, with the only difference being that the name on each was different: Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff, Thor.
Steve stared at the last name for a very long time. He'd seen the name somewhere before and it was the only one that didn't belong.
Fury crossed his arms, mouth tugged down into a frown, “That was the second matter that I wanted to talk to you about, captain. As of one month ago, we learned that we're not alone.”
“I'm sorry I don't understand.”
It was official. His life was officially turning into a science-fiction novel.
Steve stared at Fury for several long moments, not quite sure if Fury was simply pulling his leg or was completely serious. But eventually it sank in that yes, the director of SHIELD was quite serious with that pronouncement of his.
Reaching over, Fury tapped his fingers against the file with the name Thor on it. “Our sources tell us that Thor is not a hostile and that, if the need arises, he will fight with us. For now, though, he's out of the picture for the time being, but there might come a time where we'll have to initiate diplomatic ties with his people. And that's where you come in, captain.”
“You want me to be some kind of ambassador?” Steve asked. “Aren't there other people who would probably be more qualified than me?”
“Right now, Thor has been our only real contact,” Fury said. “Since he's being included on the Initiative, we think that you – as team leader – would be the best to meet with him. Alongside the agent he met previously.”
It was certainly a lot to take in. And Steve had no idea whether or not he was up for the task. It was one thing to fight in a war, with clear objectives and knowing who the enemy was. Back then, he'd been fighting to stop Hydra and put an end to Schmidt's insane plans for world domination. That was it. He'd simply been at the right place at the right time.
Now, things were different. He already had a fair idea of what the Iron Man suit could do, what the War Machine armour could do, and as he flipped open the other files to have a look, he realized just how out of place he really was. Here he was, a veteran and soldier of a war that had ended over sixty years before. And what was he going to do? March right back into the thick of it.
Well, it could have been worse, Steve thought. Maybe... maybe it was different and he wasn't the same, but at least in this time, in this place, he'd be able to have Tony at his back. They could protect each other. That was more than he could have ever asked for.
He already knew what his answer was going to be, but this was really something he should think over... right?
Fury seemed to already know what his answer would be, because there was just the tiniest bit of a smirk on his face as he spoke, “I know it's a lot to take in at once and it's also a lot to ask of you. I'll give you some time to think it all over; you can get back to me once you've made your decision.”
Before he turned to leave, Fury gave Steve a mock salute before he began walking towards the elevator. He interrupted Steve before he could say anything, “Don't worry about me, captain. I can see myself out.”
Steve watched as Fury left, staring after him for several long minutes before he turned his attention back to the folders that he'd been left with. Well, he had a lot of reading to do; he'd might as well get it over with. He pulled the first folder towards himself and opened it.
Reading through the files, Steve noticed a couple of things. For the most part, both Clint and Natasha's files had very little contained in them. Most of their personal details were marked as classified and there was only a rudimentary assessment of their skills and an evaluation of how suited they were to the Initiative. Clint had points as being an experienced and deadly marksman and assassin who had served in the military; beyond that there wasn't anything.
Natasha, on the other hand, was a stealth operative. If she was indeed the Natasha that Clint had mentioned, then Steve knew she had to be good. Her picture was of an attractive redhead with a calm expression on her face; her evaluation stated that she was 'incredibly dedicated to the Avengers Initiative.'
Setting aside his own file – Steve wasn't quite sure he was ready to face what might be in there – he turned his attention to Tony's instead. It felt a little bit... wrong to be looking at it without Tony there, but Tony had been rather adamant about not being disturbed unless it was an emergency. Or Steve had food. Those were the only two exceptions to him being disturbed.
There was quite a bit of information on the Iron Man armour and its capabilities. Much of that, Steve glossed over since a lot of it was technological babble that he didn't really understand and Tony would have to explain to him if he really wanted to know. A couple of news articles and SHIELD reports were included – several of which regarded an incident in Afghanistan and having to do with someone named Obediah Stane.
However, the most recent addition to the file was an assessment for Tony's candidacy in regards to the Avengers.
Skimming that, Steve noticed that Tony himself was rejected for the Initiative. Steve had to read that over. Twice.
He frowned and glanced down a little further, noting that Iron Man had been given the go ahead for the Avengers which... didn't make a lot of sense. Tony and Iron Man were the same – Iron Man was nothing without Tony Stark, so why? It didn't make any sense and Steve made a mental note to talk to Fury about that when he saw him next.
Once he was done, Steve set Tony's file aside alongside Clint and Natasha's. He turned his attention to the last two files; Thor's had relatively little in it aside from a brief evaluation on his combat abilities and some observations. Steve guessed that quite a bit of it was actually classified, never to see the light of day. It didn't really surprise him.
The last one, belonging to Bruce Banner, was of interest to Steve. When he flipped it open, what jumped out to him were the words super-soldier serum, followed closely by gamma radiation. He didn't understand much of the scientific details, but what he did understand was that Banner had been involved in an attempt to recreate the serum used on him.
As he looked over the damage reports and records, it didn't look like it had gone so well for him.
These were the people that SHIELD was considering for the Avengers Initiative – including him. And they wanted him to lead them. He was just a soldier – not a god, not a genius. Could he do it?
He didn't know for sure, but he was going to damn well try.
– – –
“Steve! Get your star-spangled ass down here!”
Steve stopped to dry his hands on a dish towel before making his way towards the spiral staircase that led down towards Tony's lab, “What is it?”
The lab was full of all sorts of equipment that had arrived over several weeks and looked far more lived in and used than it had before. The armour was sitting in one corner, hooked up to a spider's web of wires and computers; Tony had said he was working on some upgrades for it and ironing out a few bugs he'd noticed.
“Some suit's on the phone for you, says it's urgent,” Tony said. He was hunched over a computer beside the armour, several transparent screens hovering around him with several diagrams and numbers on them that Steve couldn't make heads or tails of. “I told them that I gave you a phone and the number, but they insist on calling me to harass me – I think they're worried they'll get a phone sex line.”
Steve felt his ears go red, but he smiled, “I'm sure you wouldn't do something like that.”
“Don't tempt me, I'm seriously considering it,” Tony replied, turning back to his work, although Steve was quite sure that he was going to be listening closely to the conversation.
Steve picked up the phone, “Hello?”
“Captain,” Fury's voice greeted him. “You're up.”
“Agent Coulson is on his way over; he'll explain further when he arrives.”
The phone clicked off as Fury hung up, leaving Steve to stare at it for a few seconds before he hung up as well. He hadn't expected that. He had his suspicions about what it was about, but he couldn't be completely sure.
“What was that about?” Tony asked, setting aside the computer he had on his lap and pushing the hovering screens of light away from him. He was looking at Steve with a confused, if not a bit wary, expression on his face.
“I don't know,” Steve replied. “We'll have to wait until Agent Coulson arrives to–”
“Wait, why is he coming here? I thought he was done being my nanny.”
“He's here for me, Tony. I've got a mission.”
There was a crease in Tony's brow and he was frowning and agitated, more so than usual anyway. “Fury's got you working on something, doesn't he?”
It was a split-second decision, one he might regret later, but Steve didn't like that sliver of hurt he could see in Tony's eyes and that he could hear in his voice. “Yes, he does. Do you want to come with me?”
An awkward silence fell following that declaration. Neither of them said anything until JARVIS interrupted it.
“Sir, Agent Coulson is here to see Captain Rogers. He's waiting upstairs, shall I tell him to wait for you?”
“Uh, yes, tell me I'll be up soon,” Steve replied with a glance up at the ceiling.
Tony was still staring at him with an expression of shock and what might have been just a little bit of suspicion. It made Steve's heart fall just a little. He thought they'd been working through all of this.
With a soft snort, Tony turned back to whatever it was he was working on. “I don't have clearance for that; Fury benched me cause I'm not much of a 'team player'. And in any case, I didn't qualify for his Avengers Initiative.”
“I know, I saw that,” Steve replied. He stepped up, placing his hands on the table and looked at Tony as though he could will him to look at him. And Tony did look up at him, with a rather dirty look on his face. “It was in the reports that Director Fury brought me; I got them on all of the other candidates – he wants me as team leader.”
“Good for you,” Tony replied, turning back to his work.
“Director Fury has agreed to put you on a probationary period,” Steve said, keeping his voice even. “I looked over your file; I disagreed with the evaluation. So, Director Fury agreed to put you on a probationary period for a reevaluation of your place on the Initiative.”
That was enough to get Tony's attention. He was staring at Steve with a look of wide-eyed shock on his face and that was something that didn't happen very often. Steve locked it away since he was certain he wouldn't get to see it very often.
“You're fucking kidding me.”
Steve blinked, “I'm not.”
A small glaring contest ensued, just to see who would look away first. Eventually, Tony broke the silence and when he did, his voice sounded a little choked with emotion, “I'm going to wisely assume that you have something to do with this.”
Steve grinned, but didn't say anything. Instead, he asked again, “Do you want to come with me?”
“We'll see,” Tony replied. But he stepped away from his work and came around the table, rocking up onto the balls of his feet to brush a quick kiss against Steve's cheek. “I wanna see what it is that they've got lined up for you.”
Steve smiled, leading the way back upstairs, “I'm sure that it's not nearly as interesting as what you're working on.”
Agent Coulson was a man in his mid-thirties, Steve guessed, and dressed in an impeccable suit with a tablet tucked under his arm. He was leaning just a little against the couch, but he jumped up when Steve and Tony entered the room. He looked at Tony and gave him a nod of greeting before turning his attention to Steve; his hands were shaking just a little and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“Agent Coulson?” Steve asked, offering his hand.
“Captain Rogers, it's a pleasure to meet you. Really.” His words came out a little fast. Steve smiled, though, and his hand was firm if a bit sweaty as he took Steve's hand and shook it. “Er, yes, I'm Coulson – Phil Coulson.”
The name was familiar, but it took Steve a few seconds to realize just where he'd heard it before, “Oh, Clint mentioned you.”
Tony was looking at the two of them like they'd lost their minds. Though he was giving Coulson what amounted to a dirty if not slightly fond look. There was probably a history there that Steve didn't know about; he'd ask Tony about it later.
Coulson seemed a little surprised about this, but he covered it up quickly, “He did, did he... well, Clint's downstairs but that's not why I'm here today.”
Bouncing on his feet, Tony was clearly tired of being ignored and jumped into the conversation, “This has got to do with the Avengers Initiative doesn't it? Cause I know Fury's got you in on that cause of your frightening efficiency I bet.”
“It does have to do with the Initiative,” Coulson acknowledged. He looked at Steve, who nodded, and continued, “We have something of a situation involving an energy surge in New Mexico. Director Fury would like you to act as our... ambassador, Captain.”
He handed the tablet over to Steve, who took it with a frown and keyed into the screen. There were a number of reports on the nature of the energy surge that he ignored – he didn't understand much of the technical jargon anyway – and found the briefing that Fury had sent. He read through it, frown deepening as he did. Well, it had taken only three months, but it seemed that Thor had found a way back to Earth.
“He wants me to... represent Earth?” Steve ignored the fact that Tony was leaning over his arm to read the briefing and then outright took the tablet out of Steve's hands and flicked through it for himself. He'd understand the technical reports much better than Steve would.
“Essentially yes, that's what we're asking you to do, captain,” Coulson replied. “I've previously encountered Thor before so I'll be accompanying you on this particular mission. We're not sure exactly why Thor has returned or what he's here to accomplish, but intelligence and previous encounters tell us that he's not a threat.”
“There's a potential threat evaluation here,” Tony remarked, absorbed in the tablet. “Do you file all of those on potential allies? That's rather scary.”
Coulson ignored the barb, “Standard procedure, Stark. You're not supposed to be looking at any of that.”
Despite saying that, Coulson made no move to take the tablet away from Stark. Instead, he stood at relative ease, though he kept nervously glancing at Steve. Tony, for his part, was more interested in what was on the tablet than anything else.
“Well, I hope I'm the right man for the job,” Steve said. He felt more than a little uncomfortable with, more or less, being mankind's representative to an advanced alien race. And that was still so hard to believe, though he had definitely seen his fair share of strange in his time.
“Oh, you are,” Coulson replied without delay.
That was when Tony glanced up, a knowing glint in his eyes and a smirk playing about his lips, “Why, Steve, I do think that he's got something of a crush on you.”
Coulson looked utterly mortified and said, not entirely convincingly, “That's... entirely not true, Stark.”
“Oh no, I'm certain you've got some large collection of Captain America memorabilia tucked away somewhere,” Tony said, smirking and with mirth in his eyes. He was clearly enjoying himself a little too much. “Which is funny, because I didn't really peg you as a Captain fanboy.”
“Tony,” Steve said in that tone that meant that Tony was being exasperating again. He sighed, “I'm sorry. And, um, I really don't know what to say to any of that. I mean...”
“You don't have to say anything, captain,” Coulson said. There was a small smile on his lips as he gathered himself, though he seemed a little more comfortable than he'd been before. “In any case, we should be leaving if you're interested.”
“Right.” Steve looked to Tony, “Do you–”
“You're not going anywhere dressed like that,” Tony said. He shoved the tablet into Steve's hands, “Hold onto that for me; I'll be right back.”
Tony disappeared into the lab, coming up a few minutes later with a smooth black case in one hand and another silver-red case in the other. He quickly passed the black case to Steve and took back the tablet. He was grinning, “I thought you'd appreciate it.”
Cracking open the case, Steve was speechless for a few minutes. Then, “You made this?”
“I've been working on it for the past few weeks, on and off mostly because I've been making some upgrades to the armour, but I thought you'd appreciate it since you seemed so attached to it.”
Steve smiled, wide and bright and sincere.”Thank you.”
He wasn't imagining the blush that lightly dusted Tony's cheeks or the fact that he looked truly pleased with himself.
Coulson's eyebrows were in his hairline, but he said, “Well, it's appropriate. If you want to change, captain, we can wait.”
“If that's alright, I'll be quick,” Steve said.
Changing only took a few minutes for Steve and he emerged from the bedroom in full Captain America uniform, holding the helm in his hands. He was a little surprised that it was considerably lighter than the one he remembered – not to mention much more flexible. But he was certain that Tony had not skimped on the flexibility, mobility, and protection of the suit.
When he walked out, he was well aware that both Tony and Coulson were staring at him. He smiled at Tony, “Thanks again for this.”
Really, he'd have to thank Tony for this later. He already had an idea of how he was going to do that – he'd been planning it for months.
Tony, for his part, was obviously looking Steve over from head to toe. His grin made no secret of just how much he was appreciating the view and it made Steve blush just a little, but he kept silent. Tony just said, “You look good. I had to guess a little at your measurements, but most of them were in your file and have I told you that you look really good in blue?”
“You've said so before,” Steve replied. He turned to Coulson, who looked more than a little starstruck. “Well, shall we go? I don't think Norse gods are all that used to waiting.”