Chapter 1: This Is Steve.
In which Coulson tries to boost Steve's self-esteem before his first re-entry into reality.
This school was going to be a brand new opportunity for Steve Rogers. Things hadn't been quite right since his little volunteer program with the US Military, and now he was kept under close surveillance of his only "family" left--Uncle Coulson.
But school would be different. Here, he was going to be himself, whoever that was now, and try his best to give society his all once again.
That was what his only goal was, for now. To fit in. And that was going to be difficult in itself.
For now, Steve was only going to focus on the motorcycle in his garage. As he lay under the motorcycle's uplifted body, Coulson stuck his head into the garage.
"Tomorrow's a big day! Are you ready?"
Steve pushed himself up, smudging motor oil on his face. "I'm not sure 'ready' is the right term. Nervous? Yeah. Scared for my life? More than anything."
Coulson shook his head. "I think you're over exaggerating. High school shouldn't be that bad."
"Look at me," Steve shouted, panic arising in his voice, "I haven't gone to school since this!" He motioned to his entire body. "Do you know how hard it is to go from a scrawny twig to this bulk?"
"I'll admit," Coulson held up his hands, "I don't. But," he walked over to Steve and put his hands on his shoulders, "I know you'll adapt fine. With a body like that, in a school like this..."
Steve pushed him off jokingly. "Nah. You know I can't talk to girls."
Coulson laughed and walked off. "I'll be placing bets on how long it takes you to get a date."
Steve laughed and shook his head, turning the bike's ignition. It came to life with a satisfactory roar.
Chapter 2: First Day
In which Steve acts like a fool on his first day, and is slightly reassured that it may end up being ok. Maybe.
The classic 1940s Harley motorcycle glided into the parking lot of the high school, Steve fashioning a leather bomber jacket from the World War II era over a slightly undone plaid button-up shirt.
Because Steve, was, well, Steve, he failed to notice all of the heads he was turning.
But, for now, that wasn't important. It was a new school, and the only thing on Steve's mid was figuring out where the hell he was headed for each of his classes.
"Holy shit," Steve heard a prideful voice mutter, "who is that guy?"
"Not sure," was the response, "but you could top that bike, if that's what you're worried about."
"Nah," the prideful voice responded, "that bike is vintage. No way I could top that."
Steve grinned, and picked up his pace. In his new, US-Military-enhanced body, though, fast was fast. And walking fast meant that he ran into someone, both of them dropping their books like complete klutzes in the middle of the hall.
"Oh my god," Steve dropped to the floor, "I am so sorry! I-"
"Hey, it's not an issue," a voice like silk responded. Steve threw his head back up to see a red-headed girl in skin tight jeans and a leather jacket.
"I-I-I-" He was speechless, and turning red. He shoved his head back down again, resorting to collecting his books.
The girl stood up at the same time Steve did, pushing her hand out in front of him. "I'm Natasha Romanov. Don't think I've seen you around before-I know everyone here."
"I'm, uh, Steve Rogers," Steve murmured. "Thanks for, uh, helping me with the-y'know-books."
"It's not a problem, really," she responded. "Let me walk you to class." Just as she said that, a spiky-haired guy in a t-shirt, jeans, and converse came up from behind her and wrapped his arm around her waist, kissing her head.
"Hey baby," he breathed into her hair.
"Hey, Clint," she responded, kissing the guy on the cheek.
"Oh, this is Steve Rogers," Natasha responded, "he's new."
"Hey," Steve tried to flash a clever grin, holding out his hand.
Clint smiled right back, shaking Steve's hand with a firm grip. "Where you headed, Rogers?"
Steve flinched at the use of his last name to address him, his memories of the US Military volunteer program fresh in his mind. "Please, call me Steve. I'm on my way to a chemistry class."
"I know where that is," Clint said. "Follow me!"
Halfway through the school and around a corner, Steve said good bye to Natasha and Clint and walked into the class.
It was all full, aside from one lab bench in the back that was completely empty. As Steve made a beeline for the open seat, the teacher stopped him.
"Class, this is..." the teacher paused, hoping for Steve to say his name.
"Steve Rogers," he finished, pulling at his collar on his shirt (which, though unbuttoned, felt like it was choking him), and headed to the back of the classroom to sit down.
Right in front of him was that prideful voice again. "He's the motorcycle kid! The one from the parking lot!"
His friend sitting next to him, the same guy as at the parking lot, nodded. "Yeah, it is. Hey, be friendly! Turn around!"
The prideful voice turned around. Well-kept and goateed, the kid looked like he belonged in a college class. "Hey, kid," he started, "I'm Tony Stark. Nice to meet you."
Steve grinned at Tony, acknowledging that he heard him. "Hey, Tony, I'm Steve." Of course, Steve knew that he would have to put as much effort as possible into learning the material he had missed-since it wasn't the beginning of the school year-and fast, but once the lecture started, he knew that would almost be impossible.
Tony continually glanced back, checking to see the reaction on Steve's face at the long and confusing lecture on how various chemicals balanced out others, and other random chemistry facts. When Steve got too confused, Tony slyly got up and shifted to the empty seat at Steve's lab table.
"Y'know," he muttered to Steve, "I'm not a huge chemist, either. I'm much more into physics. But I can try to help you."
Steve gave Tony a thumbs-up on the table. "Thanks. I started thinking I shouldn't be in this class, but I guess if I have a willing tutor..."
Just then, the bell rang. And Tony Stark stopped his original lab partner to talk to him, with Steve at his side.
"Oh, hey, by the way," Tony motioned to his friend, "this is Bruce Banner. He's a total medical science nerd, so..."
"If you really need help in chemistry," Bruce interrupted, "I'm your guy. Not this idiot," he pushed tony back jokingly, "who thinks he knows everything."
"Well, no one knows everything," Steve mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck.
As they started walking out into the hall, Stark grinned. "Correction. Not everyone knows everything. I'm one of the few exceptions."
"Right, I forgot," Bruce punched Tony in the arm, "you're Mr. Perfect."
Tony pushed back his hair and grinned. "Yes I am."
Chapter 3: Gym Class
In which Steve gets his first re-realisation of what actual society defines as a gym class.
It didn’t help that the dynamic duo of Bruce Banner and Tony Stark weren’t in any of the rest of Steve’s classes. The time allotted to pass from class to class was the only highlight, where Steve could greet Natasha and Clint and maybe, if he was walking through the science hall, see Tony and Bruce.
The very last hour of the day, Steve regrettably swallowed hard and walked into the gymnasium, decked out in too-tight shorts and a t-shirt from some random university. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw both Natasha and Clint waiting eagerly to see him walk through the door.
“Alright, kids,” the gym teacher boomed, “we have a new student. Everyone say hi to Mr. Steve Rogers.”
There was a drone of mumbles from the majority of the class, and two clear whoops and hollers from Natasha and Clint.
“You’re lucky, Rogers,” the gym teacher said, making Steve flinch again, “today is one of those few days where you get to wander around and do whatever you feel like. We’ve got... let’s see...” he started to count off on his fingers. “Dodgeball in the little gym over that way,” he pointed to a door, “archery over on that side of the gym, the rock climbing wall is open, and then you can go out and jog on the track. Also got some weights in the weightlifting room if you’re feeling strong.”
Steve shook his head in a terse nod and ran over to greet Natasha and Clint.
“Looking good in those shorts, hot stuff,” Natasha laughed, slapping Steve on the ass.
“Hey, easy, it’s his first day,” Clint responded, punching Steve on the arm. “C’mon, I’m going over to the archery station. You can watch or you can learn, but I think it’s the best.”
“Whatever,” Natasha said as she started to walk toward the rock climbing wall, “I’ll be over here doing something useful.”
After she was out of earshot, Clint looked back at Natasha and mumbled to Steve, “She scales that wall like a spider on a web, I swear. It’s ridiculous.”
“So...” Steve started, trying to avoid an awkward conversation about Clint’s girlfriend, “you said you wanted to show me your moves?”
“Oh yeah, here.” Clint put his phone in Steve’s hand and ran over to the most complicated looking bow available for archery. He donned a quiver of foam-tipped arrows, and looked at Steve with something of a craze in his eyes. “Come at me.”
So, Steve tucked the phone into the single pocket on his shorts and closed his eyes, taking in a huge breath. He only had to channel a little bit of energy into his super soldier self. When he re-awoke, he was a raging fire. He lunged at Clint, who immediately rolled out his way, over about 10 feet, and skillfully launched an arrow right at Steve’s head. In response, Steve grabbed the piece of fiberglass that was holding the bow and arrows Clint now had, holding it up like a shield.
“Hey, you two! Quit it! Bows and arrows are only for the targets!” The gym teacher shouted.
“You aren’t going to grab a bow?” Clint was gasping for air, laughing at the same time.
Steve shook his head. “You have no idea that I got training from the US Military, do you? I don’t need a bow. I’ve got a shield,” he held up his piece of fiberglass, “and raw strength.”
“Huh,” Clint breathed, sounding impressed. He turned, launching 5 arrows into the bullseye of the furthest target within thirty seconds, and nodded. “I guess it’s time to go give Natasha some attention, yeah?”
Steve was just kind of staring off, realising how natural it felt to let out his inner soldier. It never felt that--good before...
Clint snapped his fingers in front of Steve’s face. “Hey, captain drift-off, mind giving me the holder for this bow? Isn’t exactly mine, y’know.”
Steve laughed. “Yeah, sorry. Here you go.” He gave Clint the fiberglass, and turned his head toward Natasha. “Holy--!”
“She’s pretty impressive, huh?” Clint’s face was smug as he watched Natasha scale the rock wall--it looked effortless, like she was just floating up the wall.
“She must have some practice,” Steve guessed. “I’m pretty sure she grew up in Russia--they have good mountain climbing there, right?” Clint sounded clueless, probably because he couldn’t take his eyes off of Natasha’s rising ass.
“Wait, she’s Russian?” Steve asked, shocked. “I couldn’t even tell if she had an accent! How does that work?”
“You’re asking the wrong person,” Clint responded, laughing, “I just fall in love with her every single time she speaks Russian fluently. I could care less if her English has an accent."
Soon, the class ended, and Steve headed home, his motorcycle, Bells, being his private escape from the crazy world he just launched himself into.
Chapter 4: Parental Paranoia
In which Coulson makes sure to know what's going on in Steve's exploration of the real world.
The minute Steve walked in the door, he was bombarded by questions from Uncle Coulson.
"So, did you make any new friends?"
"Well," Steve rubbed the back of his neck, "there's this girl named Natasha Romanov, and-"
"A girl," Coulson interrupted, "good."
"No, no," Steve laughed, "not like that. She has a boyfriend, Clint Barton. He's pretty cool. And man, can he use a bow and arrow!"
"How did you figure that out?"
"Gym. With him and Natasha. She's like a freaking spider on the rock wall, it's kinda crazy," Steve ranted on, getting over-excited.
"Anyone else?" Coulson continued to ask.
"There's Bruce Banner. He's kind of a science nerd. He's in chemistry with me and Tony Stark," Steve continued. "It's kind of a different class with them-"
Coulson cut him off, a look of what seemed to be shock on his face. "Wait, who is in your chemistry class?"
"Bruce Banner," Steve replied.
"No, no," Coulson made a forward spinning motion with his hand, shaking his head, "the other one."
"Oh," Steve grinned, "Tony Stark. He said he'd help me with science, and with decking out Bells, and-"
"I know his dad," Coulson muttered.
"Howard Stark. I used to work with him. He works with the weapons development with SH-erm, with my company. He also worked with the government, with the military. Helped develop, well, you."
Steve sat in awe. "So, I'm working on chemistry homework with the son of... you mean to say that Tony's dad came up with this serum? The one that's coursing through my veins? But he said he sucks at chemistry!"
"I've heard that Tony is a child prodigy in physics. You know, robotics. Mechanical engineering. That sort of thing," Coulson noted.
Steve relaxed a little bit. "Well," mid-sentence, Steve let out a long, drawn-out yawn, "I think I'm going to call this a day. Good night, Uncle. Thanks for dealing with my new school shock syndrome."
Coulson nodded. "No worries, kid. Sweet dreams."
As Steve wandered up to bed, Coulson pulled out his laptop, and started up his video conference. A few seconds after it started up, the face of Nick Fury came into view. Coulson immediately saluted.
"Sir," he began the conversation.
"At ease, soldier," Fury's powerful voice said gently. "How is Rogers?"
"The good news is that he is befriending all the right people. There is this kid, Clint Barton, that's affiliated with Romanov, and then there's Bruce Banner. But I'm guessing they're good influences. Tony Stark and Natasha Romanov wouldn't be affiliated with them otherwise. They have-well, Romanov has-a good subconscious and first impressions of people."
"Coulson, I'm the principal of the school. Clint Barton is an ultimate archery protégé that happens to be one of the best in the nation, and also the deadliest. Bruce Banner isn't quite much of anything yet, but he's a genius. Top ranked in his class, number one in the running for his class' valedictorian, scholar, being given scholarships from every top engineering school in the country. Both of them are fine to have around Rogers," Fury assured him.
Coulson was still a bit on edge. "You've got to remember, Steve is one of Howard Stark's experiments, if you will. We have to be careful. God knows how many people out there want a sample of his blood."
"That's actually why I decided to contact you tonight. I have some news that should keep us a bit on the edge of our seats for the next few months," Fury replied, remaining in all his seriousness. "I've only heard conspiracies, but there are plans to either come into your house or come into the school and take him. Or part of him. Anything that has Steve's DNA is almost guaranteed to have the genetic code to the serum, so we have to be careful."
"That's exactly what I've been afraid of. Question:" Coulson continued.
"I probably have an answer," replied Fury.
"If Steve has these classes with all of these protégés and descendants of supergeniuses, don't you think you should have someone in the backdrop kind of looking over them?"
"I do," Fury said, his smile almost indiscernible. "The gym teacher, though he's like all the other high school gym teachers, is actually a highly trained hand-to-hand combat assassin. The chemistry teacher has been working in the chemical engineering department of SHIELD for over ten years now, helping in weapons development alongside Stark, so he knows how important Rogers is to keep safe."
"And, everyone else? Those are the only classes I've heard he has with the other supergeniuses and protégés. What about when he's not in chemistry or gym?"
The screen showed Fury moving his hand from the top to the bottom, telling Coulson to calm down. "The minute you said you would be sending Rogers to this school, I started preparing. Each of the security guards that roams the halls keeps the small prototypes of the ray guns that Stark tried to develop. Each one has been tested, they work well enough to stun someone. So, if the enemy gets past the other guards at the entrances--also skilled at hand-to-hand combat--we can stun him and bring him into custody to see what company he is affiliated with."
"I'm feeling like a bit of an idiot that I doubted Steve would be safe now," Coulson admitted sheepishly.
Fury somewhat chuckled, or maybe it was a small burp from dinner, Coulson couldn't quite tell which. "This school is the safest in the district. It's SHIELD run. If anyone was allowed to know that, we'd have to expand from how many requests we'd be getting for admission. Go to bed, Coulson. Sleep soundly; your 'nephew' is safe. I promise."
The laptop screen went blank, and Coulson shut it, putting it back in his briefcase and going up to his bedroom.
Steve was safe, for now. And for Coulson, that's what mattered.
Chapter 5: Experiment
In which Bruce, Tony, and Steve attempt to gain extra credit in chemistry... And things may or may not go as planned.
The next few weeks for Steve flew by.
Especially in chemistry, he and Stark and Bruce were all becoming better friends by the minute, even by just adopting Steve into labs that were only designed for two people.
Every time there was a lab they were supposed to be working on, Steve would put on his protective goggles like he knew what he was doing and set off to work, eventually messing up the entire lab and forcing a do-over. Tony never quite really got mad at Steve for that, though. He more just gave him an extremely affectionate look, a pat on the back, and it even looked like Tony longed to kiss Steve on the cheek. But maybe Steve was just hallucinating.
“Move over, ‘captain’,” Tony would say mockingly. He was trying to make a point that, even if he wanted to be in charge, Steve only knew how to be in charge of people, and not how to be a chemistry genius.
In Steve’s, Clint’s and Natasha’s gym class, it was still the same thing. Steve would pretend like he knew what he was doing when it came to flag football or basketball or even capture the flag, but he would end up tripping, or completely missing the basket, or throwing the ball to empty air.
“Nice going, Captain!” Clint would shout, mocking Steve’s US Military training. Steve kept having this feeling that Tony and Clint must meet up and tell each other about his chronic problem of messing up in what he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
But, now that Steve had been a student at this school for more than a month, it finally felt like things were falling into place, particularly when he started a big extra credit project with Bruce and Tony.
“Hey, Cap!” Tony shouted Steve’s new nickname down the hall just before chemistry.
“What’s going on, Tony?”
“Bruce and I have this great idea. We don’t really need it, but the teacher is offering extra credit to people who develop, and perform, their own experiment. We--”
“We’re thinking of using the lab equipment at Tony’s dad’s mansion,” Bruce cut him off. “I’m going to be the coordinator of the experiment, Cap, so this time it’s me that gets to give the commands.”
“Tony’s dad has a mansion?” Steve asked, confused and in awe.
“Yeah,” Tony responded, gleaming with pride. “It’s mostly different lab areas.”
“The one I’m looking at in particular,” Bruce continued, “is pretty close to both physics and medical science. For a while now, I’ve wanted to see the impact of Gamma radiation on living organisms. Because, I mean, we use X-Rays on people to get a good look on bones, and UV radiation to dry nails faster, and everything else, so why not Gamma?”
“Uh,” interjected Tony, “because it’s fucking dangerous ?”
“That’s just what we think ,” responded Bruce as they walked into the classroom. “But if we try it out on a few of Mr. Stark’s leftover lab rats--quite literally, rats he hasn’t used in experiments yet--just to see what happens, what could go wrong?”
“Haven’t you guys thought that maybe it could affect us?” Steve asked. “I mean, if this thing goes horribly wrong...”
“Do you doubt the strength of the safe-rooms in Stark Industries?” Tony asked, pretending to be insulted. “My dad has these rooms with radiation exactly like Gamma for specific reasons, so he’s had them radiation-proof, shatter-proof, basically break-in proof. It’s like military-grade steel turned glass. Pretty cool stuff.”
“That’s why I think we should start working on it tonight,” Bruce said, and Tony gave him a look of exasperation. “What? It’s a Friday night, I know for a fact that none of us have anything going on,” Tony was still giving him the look, “yes, even you, Mr. Perfect. We have the entire weekend to observe results, and the lab, whatever we try, is due on Monday.”
“But--but--” Tony was so frustrated it was almost comical.
Steve tried to stifle a laugh. “It sounds like a plan. I’ll drive Bells over later, around 5-ish, and I’ll bring food. Then we can start.”
After that, the day couldn’t go fast enough. Steve, for some reason, couldn’t help but be excited about working in the same room as Tony Stark. After all, Tony was the kid that decided to say “hi” to Steve on his first day of school just for the hell of it, the kid that was kind enough to try to help him in chemistry the first day. And now he and Bruce Banner and Tony Stark were spending an entire weekend together. Granted, they were going to be studying something Steve found totally unnecessary and hard to get a grasp on, but it was Banner and Stark. Nothing could possibly ruin this weekend.
Finally, the end of the day rolled around. Steve sped home on Bells. He emptied his backpack of everything but chemistry books and the necessary rations: cans of coke, chips, popcorn... He was set.
But nothing could have prepared him for when he pulled up to the Stark Mansion.
The hedges look professionally trimmed, the gravel driveway perfectly evened. Steve would place bets on hired help, but, knowing the Starks, it was probably the work of robotics. Despite how old the building probably was, the bricks and windows appeared to gleam, making the mansion look like a modern palace.
Just then, Tony and Bruce came out of the front door.
“Where are your cars? I thought I was the only one here,” Steve said, hopping off his bike and taking off his aviators.
“Around the back,” Tony replied.
“Apparently they don’t like flaunting the fact that they have guests,” Bruce joked.
“I’m gonna just,” Steve started dragging the motorcycle across the drive, “keep my baby here. That ok?”
Tony shrugged, coming over to help move the bike. “I guess, yeah. It’ll make a nice lawn ornament.”
Steve punched Tony in the arm. Hard. “That’s my pride and joy you’re talking about, Stark.”
Tony flinched back, rubbing his arm. “Oh,” he muttered to himself, “so he likes it rough . Ok then.” He came up behind Steve, and whispered, “I was kidding ,” inches away from his ear, ready to tackle him to the ground.
“Easy girls,” Bruce said, pushing them apart, “Steve, Tony was joking. Tony, Steve didn’t mean to hit you that hard. Now, let’s go. We still need to set up the final parts of the experiment.”
Before he turned for the door, Tony winked at Steve. “We’ll settle this later,” he mouthed.
Steve followed a bit of a ways back, Bruce and Tony leading him from the majestic foyer to a chamber of stairs. Down the stairs, they weaved through a maze of high-tech, modern-looking labs. The group passed a few labs littered with excess parts of robotics projects before they finally came to their lab.
The main room, where the radiation was going to be, was a large room surrounded by the “military-grade steel” glass. There was a single, chrome metal lab table in the middle, a huge ray mechanism pointed at it from across the room.
“That,” Bruce pointed, “is where the gamma is going to come out of. The rats are going to be on the table.”
“I hope they explode,” Tony said, rubbing his hands together, bouncing up and down like an overexcited school girl.
“Let’s hope not,” Steve muttered.
“Why, Captain? Afraid of a little blood and guts?” Tony asked, smirking at Steve.
“Not sure that you’d call an exploded rat just blood and gore.”
“Are you seriously going to sit here and talk about what does and doesn’t constitute as blood and guts,” Bruce asked, getting annoyed, “or can we actually do this?”
“Well...” Tony smirked.
Bruce rolled his eyes. “OK. You know what? Both of you go into the control safe-room, before you break something, or before I kill you.”
He opened the door, shoving both Steve and Tony in the control room. “You two stay put. I’m gonna go get the... erm, specimens , and bring them into the radiation room.” He eyed both of them like they were children about to cause chaos. “ Don’t do anything stupid. I mean you, Stark.”
Tony mocked a salute. “Yes, sir .”
Bruce slammed the door shut.
“So,” Steve asked, throwing himself into the spinning desk chair and rolling to the end of the control panel, “what exactly are we doing?”
Tony grabbed the backrest of Steve’s chair and rolled him to the center of the panel, where they could overlook the entire lab room through a single pane of glass.
“These,” Tony said in a hushed voice, close to Steve’s ear, “aren’t quite as important right now.”
Steve stood up, his legs pushing the chair out from between them, standing at Tony’s eye level. He spun around to lock eyes with him.
Despite what Steve thought, Tony really wasn’t all that close.
“I--” Steve started, but he heard a click of the door to the lab room. Bruce walked to the table, putting the cage of rats on it, completely oblivious to Steve and Tony in the control room.
When Steve turned his head back around, Tony was nearly on top of him, pinning him against the control panel. He could feel Tony’s breath on his neck as Tony muttered, “I don’t quite get Banner’s experiment, either. I think we should have one of our own .”
“Uh,” Steve stuttered, trying to find a way out of this situation, “I--”
Tony slid his hand onto Steve’s thigh.
“Tony!” Steve gasped, stumbling backwards, balancing himself by hitting the control panel with both hands.
Suddenly, the little red lights all over the control room went off.
“Oh, god--” Steve turned around and Tony rushed to his side to see the control panel.
It read: COMMENCING RADIATION.
“Oh, shit! ” Tony shouted.
“ Bruce is still in there, ” Steve hollered, “we have to get him out!”
Steve and Tony ran out to the entrance to the lab room, Tony shoving his key into the lock.
“Damnit!” Tony pounded his fist on the door. “It seals once whatever is happening starts .”
“Get back,” Steve commanded, grabbing the nearest fire extinguisher. He started hitting the door, over and over again.
“It’s no use,” Tony said, and he and Steve both looked into the room, only to see Bruce’s horrified face. Steve hit the door one more time. The wake of the force of the super soldier’s impact ruptured a pipe, releasing a cloudy gas into the entire lab room. It was almost impossible to see anything.
The two ran into the control room, staring at the panel.
“How do we shut it off?” Steve asked, panicked.
“How should I know?” Tony shouted back.
“This is your dad’s mansion, isn’t it?”
“That is irrelevant,” Tony responded, scanning the panel, “Bruce set the entire thing up. All I could think about was... Never mind, that’s not important. We need to figure this thing out.”
Tony pressed the red button that had started this entire thing in the first place, to no avail.
THE RADIATION HAS ALREADY BEGUN , the computer’s voice responded. So, Tony kept flipping various switches. “There has to be something, there just has to be-- damnit! Where the hell is it?”
“Where is what?” Steve asked. He sucked with technology, so he felt helpless just standing there.
“There’s always a cancellation switch. Some sort of way to end something just in case of emergency. A button underneath a case, perhaps, so that it doesn’t accidentally get pressed.”
“I would have expected the radiation button to have been under a case, too. My guess is there isn’t one for a stop button if there wasn’t a case for a start button on a radioactive experiment ,” Steve replied. “We gotta find a solution. Stark, our friend is in there.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Tony turned to face Steve quickly, and Steve could see tears welling up in his eyes. “Fuck it,” he went out of the room quickly, and grabbed the fire extinguisher, ramming it into the control panel. After a few final beeps, the control panel lights blinked back to green, and the now shattered screen read: STAND BY.
“Good,” Steve said, gasping for air.
But he spoke too soon.
Just as the final beeps stopped, a large thud sounded from the clouded lab room.
Chapter 6: Monster
In which Tony and Steve have a bit of a big problem on their hands.
The only thing that could be even slightly made out from the cloudy room on the other side of the glass was a huge figure, standing almost ten feet tall, its body heaving with heavy breathing.
“What the fuck is that?” Tony shouted.
“How should I know?” Steve asked, running out into the corridor to look through the bigger glass pane. It didn’t help; the cloud was too thick.
There was nothing. Nothing but the big shape, towering ominously over what seemed like a small lab now.
Tony ran out with Steve, rammed his key into the lock, and twisted the door open.
The gas that streamed out was just cooled oxygen, so that was a plus. No noxious gasses to knock out Bruce. Both of them cautiously wandered into the room, keeping their eyes on the massive, heaving shape in the middle of the room, completely silent. Steve almost tripped over a random object on the ground: it was Bruce’s pair of wire-framed glasses, a crack running through both of the lenses, the frame bent out of proportion.
The gas had hardly gone out of the room by the time the door clicked shut and the figure moved, disturbed by the noise. And it headed right towards Steve.
“Tony! Tony, it looks like--” Steve started to say, but the thing, a green, almost-human monster from what he could tell, sent him sailing across the room. He landed right by the lab table, which had also been sent across the room. Steve guessed that’s what made the thud.
He grabbed the table, and, with the advantage of the activated super soldier serum coursing through his veins, turned the legs in, making it a shield.
“Tony!” He shouted again, still not completely able to see him. “Tony!”
“I’m here,” Tony responded. Steve couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but it was something. With the shield always facing the monster, Steve ran for the door, trying to open it.
“Damnit! I almost forgot that the door locks on the inside, too. Tony! Come over here, with your key!
But instead of hearing Tony’s voice, Steve heard what could be only described as a subhuman roar. Tony landed at Steve’s feet.
“Steve, it’s Bruce...” Tony barely said, the air knocked out of him.
“You found him?” Steve asked excitedly.
“No, you idiot. He is the thing! That horrifying green thing... it looks like him, sort of.”
“You do realise this entire room is a vacuum? We’re only going to get rid of this gas if we open the door,” Steve said, trying to be tactical and ignoring Tony’s insane rant. “Where’s your key? If we clear out the room, we can get a better look at whatever this thing is.”
Tony tried to fumble around in his pocket with what energy he had left from being launched around the room.
“Sometimes, I forget that I’m the only super soldier around,” Steve mumbled to himself, and forced his hand into Tony’s pocket. “You gotta realise, Stark: We’re in a large lab room, but the thing , whatever it is, that we’re dealing with here is big, too. We don’t exactly have a lot of wiggle room.” He pulled out the key, shoved it into the lock, and pried the door open with Tony.
“Stay put. Keep this door open. I need the visibility to take down whatever this thing is.”
“Yeah, Cap,” Tony breathed, “I got it. But you aren’t hearing me: I’m almost positive that it’s Bruce!”
“I think you hit your head harder than you think you did,” Steve let out a small, nervous laugh, and headed back into the thinning cloud.
Tony heard the same roar that preceded his launching across the room, and heard a bang similar to that of metal on metal. Steve returned with a huge fist imprint on the little lab table wrapped around his right wrist.
“Right then,” Steve gasped for air. “Let’s let the rest of the cloud go away before we try to take this guy down again.”
“Yeah,” Tony replied breathlessly, making room for Steve next to him by the door, “I’m pretty sure we can rule ‘guy’ out as a possible explanation, don’t you think?”
Steve put his shield down as a small fortress in front of him and Tony, resting his head on Tony’s shoulder. “Well, I can give him one thing.”
“And what would that be, Captain?” Stark asked, resting his head on top of Steve’s.
“He can pack one hell of a punch.” Steve glanced at the punched in table, and let out a nervous laugh. Tony kept quiet.
“What if I’m wrong, and Bruce really is gone?” Tony asked, his voice shaking.
“What if you’re right , and he’s the big green thing we saw, that threw you across the room and--” Steve cut off suddenly. “The room is basically clear,” he whispered, “and look.”
The beast that they had been fighting sat in the corner directly across from them, wrapped around the original gamma ray mechanism. The beast towered over the lab room, its body filling up the entire corner it was in and then some. Steve’s first-look impression was right by two details: it certainly was green, and it was more humanoid than what was expected. Hell, it looked like it was just a large, green bodybuilder wearing shorts.
When it looked up, Tony and Steve gave it direct eye contact, and immediately its breathing quickened, the entire body of the monster tensing up like it was about to attack. “Hey, Cap, you still think I’m crazy?” Tony asked. “Look. Look at the face, the eyes.”
When he did, Steve saw what Tony meant. The face of the beast, though it was much squarer, harsher, and, well, greener , had what looked like the features of Bruce. That was one thing.
But the eyes . They may have been green, and they may have been becoming savage with rage toward the two people he probably didn’t want to see right now, but Stark was right. It was Bruce.
Slowly, Steve got to his feet. “...Bruce?”
Tony struggled to his feet shortly after. “Steve, let me. I’ve known him for so long, we’re basically brothers.” As they both got up, the door clicked, and the rage in the monster’s--well, Bruce’s --eyes skyrocketed. Nonetheless, Tony kept walking towards it-- him .
“Bruce. It’s me, Tony. Your buddy since, what, the third grade? Damn, could it really have been that long?” Steve could hear his voice get choked up. It couldn’t be easy to see your best friend of over seven years in the form of a giant green rage monster, about to leap on you and attack you.
But, whatever Tony was doing must have been right. Because for just a split second, Steve saw more Bruce than monster in the eyes of the big green hulk.
“Right. Just calm down, and we’ll get this entire thing fi--” Mid-sentence, Tony was launched through the air, hitting the glass paneling and falling down in a fetal position, out cold.
“ HULK NO CALM DOWN FOR SMALL MAN. ” Steve could hear a deep, almost human chuckle arise from the chest of the monster.
“Bruce!” Steve shouted, as though scolding a child. “Tony was trying to help you! You do realise, that--”
“ LEAVE. ME. ALONE. ” The monster growled. Bruce’s eyes gleamed with sorrow behind the green, enraged eyes. Only for a second, Steve felt like he should listen to Bruce’s monster, but his soldier subconscious decided otherwise.
He held up his mauled shield proudly, marching toward the huge green hulk like he was going to be a hero. He stopped about ten feet away, and proudly declared, “Listen, Hulk. I know Bruce is in there somewhere. So, let him back out. You just smacked your best friend across this entire lab room, and now he’s lying over there, completely unconscious. I will avenge him, right now, while you are in this state and Bruce has no power. I--”
The Hulk began to throw a huge, green fist at Steve, but he blocked it with the shield. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t done yet.”
“ HULK DONE LISTENING. ” And he smacked Steve across the room to the same spot that Tony landed. Steve cracked the glass in the same spot, and landed chest-down with his arm sprawled across Tony’s chest.
Before completely fading out, Steve saw the Hulk sit back down in his corner, the breathing slowing, and his eyes closing gently.
That’s the last thing Steve remembered of that night.
Chapter 7: Consolation
The very first thing Steve woke up to was the groans of a sore Tony Stark, laying in the exact same position he had been left in by the Hulk.
Steve took a moment to appreciate the fact that he was still sprawled across Tony.
“Mmm,” Tony said as he stretched, his eyes only half-opened. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Steve said, grimacing. He was wondering how long it would take before Tony realised what happened to his lab...
“Holy shit!” Tony quickly sat upright, spinning his head in all directions. The entire wall of “military-grade steel” glass behind them was shattered, but not broken. And the door was left hanging open, by a single hinge. The window between the lab and the control room was completely caved in. It was only after Tony finished panicking about the state of his lab when he realised what was really wrong about this scene: Bruce was quivering in a tight fetal position in the darkest corner of the room, almost completely naked.
“Hey, Cap,” Tony whispered, tapping him on the shoulder, “look.”
With much effort, thanks to a lot of bruises from Bruce’s Hulk, Steve sat up, rubbing his eyes. But he was fully awake when he saw the state that Banner was in. “Should we...?” Steve motioned at him and Tony and then over to Bruce.
Tony shook his head. “Give me a second.” He slowly got up and moved to the control room, grabbing his cell phone and putting it to his ear.
Hello? The other end responded.
“Hey, Clint? It’s Tony,” Tony muttered in a hushed tone into his phone.
Damnit, Tony, don’t you know how early it is? It’s a Saturday, and you’re calling me at 5 in the morning. Clint sounded pissed.
“I didn’t realise... If you knew the kind of night had...”
Wild one, huh? I’ve had those before...
“No, no, no,” Tony responded, shaking his head and grimacing as he did so. “Not in the way you’d really expect. Look, I need your help.”
Sure, shoot. I’m up now, so looks like I won’t be getting back to bed any time soon.
“Bruce had a sort of, well, meltdown, if you will, last night. And I need more than me and Captain New-Guy here to give me a boost of his esteem. I can try to explain the rest of it to you when you get here.”
I’m sure I’ll understand, Clint replied, there’s not much I don’t believe nowadays, what with Mr. Under-Age US Soldier and my girlfriend the secret Russian pro-rock-climber...
“I’ll bet you ten bucks,” Tony said. “See you in a few.”
Yeah, ok. You’re on, Clint responded, and Tony hung up the phone.
“Ok,” Tony muttered to Steve, “here’s the plan. I just called Clint. He’ll be over in a little. Us childhood friends of Bruce’s will try to console his pain, and you can try to come up with a story about what happened that doesn’t involve, you know, me...”
Steve held out his hand in opposition. “Yeah, yeah, I got it. You don’t have to tell me all the details.”
In their time waiting for Clint to show up, Tony ran upstairs and took a shower. Steve sat in the busted lab room, twiddling his thumbs and thinking of what he was going to tell Bruce when asked what the hell happened.
He knew that he couldn’t just come up to Bruce and say, “so, after you put me and Tony in the control room, Tony made on a move on me, so I flinched and pressed the red button, locking you in the room with the gamma radiation and turning you into a giant green Hulk monster.” Not only would that end Steve’s own friendship with Bruce, but it would also jeopardize Tony’s long-term friendship with Bruce as well.
No. He would think of another thing to say. Just not now.
After Tony came downstairs, they sat in the lab room, hoping for some time to think, when they heard the click of the door down to the labs.
“Hey guys, I’m here. What’s--” Clint started, running down the stairs and sliding to a halt in the open control room. He cut himself off when he saw the state of the lab room.
“Holy Shit, what the hell did you guys do last night? How many girls were involved?”
Natasha, who had followed him silently down to the lab, punched him hard on the arm. “You idiot, it’s a lab room. If they had girls involved, it would have been the pool, or the bedroom.”
Tony chuckled nervously, trying to quiet them down. “No. No girls involved. Just me, Cap and Bruce.”
“Sounds like a party--” Clint was going to start laughing, but he pointed to something out-of-the ordinary in the other corner across from Bruce. “...the hell is that?”
Tony walked over to the smear on the wall, and started rubbing the back of his neck. “Oh, hey. Looks like the rats did explode. Cool.”
“What the fuck were you doing in here?!” Clint shouted, and Bruce turned around, slightly coming out of his fetal position.
“...an experiment,” he mumbled into his legs.
Clint’s arms dropped his arms, melting. “What did you guys do to him?” He mumbled, monotone, running over to Bruce. He put an arm around him, taking off his jacket and putting it over Bruce’s shoulder.
Tony came over and sat on the other side of Bruce. “We were working with gamma radiation, trying to see its impact on living organisms. Bruce walked into the lab room to prepare everything, and...”
“And I tripped over the chair in the control room, and slammed on the button,” Steve finished Tony’s sentence, looking down at his feet. Nothing could have satisfied his inner soldier more than taking the blame for himself.
“We tried knocking down the door to the room, but we ruptured a pipe instead, and we couldn’t see what happened,” Tony continued.
“I guess the gamma must’ve...” Steve was trying to describe what they saw, but he simply couldn’t.
“You want to know what happened?” Bruce whimpered, tears welling up in his eyes. “Those two... those two idiots turned me into a monster. A big, green, out-of-control monster!” He started to shake, and looked up at Steve.
Bruce still had his soft, brown eyes, but they were gleaming with green around the edge.
“Bruce, buddy,” Tony started, rubbing his back in a back-and-forth motion, “calm down. This lab can’t take another beating.”
“You think,” Bruce started breathing heavily, “that I can control this... this thing?”
Clint came into the conversation. “It’s not that we think you can as much as it is that...” he started backing away, taking his jacket with you, “that we know you need to try.”
“I’m not that strong,” Bruce said, his voice mutilated. His skin was starting to turn an eerie green. “I... can’t...”
That was the breaking point. Bruce dropped to the ground, grunting in both his voice and the Hulk’s, heaving up and down. His muscles rippled, his entire body increasing in size.
“Uh, guys,” Natasha began, “I haven’t seen this thing yet, but my guess is that we need to figure out a way to get out of the line of fire. This isn’t going to be pretty.”
In the midst of getting away from the heaving Bruce, Clint pulled out his wallet and slipped a ten-dollar bill into Tony’s pocket.
The two were next to Steve and Natasha now. “You do see how busted this lab is, right? There’s no way it can take another beating from him,” Tony realised.
It could only have been luck that Howard Stark stormed into the lab area just then, panic in his eyes. “Anthony Stark! What the hell are you doing?”
“Dad, what I’m doing isn’t the problem. Bruce is becoming a green rage monster, and fast. We need to get a tranq in him.”
“What?” Howard screamed, looking at Tony like he had two heads. “You think that I’m going to believe that I should tranquilize an innocent teenager? What should make me believe that Bruce is becoming...” he ran his hand through his hair, panicking, “becoming a...”
“...a green rage monster,” Natasha finished.
Howard flashed an angry glare towards her. “Whatever is happening, I don’t believe it. That is completely im--”
“You think it’s so impossible,” Steve said, “then turn around and look in that lab, and tell me that doesn’t look absolutely impossible right before your eyes.”
Howard turned, and his eyes grew as wide as saucers. “Holy--” he paused, and thought for a second, “Ok. I have something for this kind of thing,” he ran to the neighbouring lab control room, pulling out a nasty looking gun. “This is a military-grade Stark Tranquilizer. It--”
“Hurry, damnit!” Clint screamed. He grabbed the gun from Howard, ran into the lab room, and shot it, right before Bruce’s hulk completely burst out.
The tranquiliser embedded itself in Bruce’s skin, thankfully, and the big, green Hulk fell to the floor, surprisingly serene.
“What the...” Howard looked more confused than anyone had been about the entire situation. “Now that that... thing is down, for now, can someone please tell me what is going on?”
“Didn’t he notice the thudding of our bodies being thrown across the room last night?” Steve muttered to Tony as they walked out of the lab room and up to the living room of the mansion.
“You do realise how far underground those labs are, right?” Was the only way Tony could respond.
After the entire description of the lab that went horribly wrong, the four went into the kitchen to get breakfast.
“So, does anyone have any ideas as to how we’re going to be getting the Hulk somewhere safe? I mean, if Bruce decided to go all mean and green again, don’t we want him someplace where he won’t kill anyone?” Natasha asked.
Clint shrugged, and looked at Tony, who looked at Steve.
“Why do you immediately look at me for a solution?” Steve asked, throwing his hands in the air defensively.
“Well, you are the one who caused this entire thing,” Clint mumbled, almost inaudibly.
Natasha rolled her eyes. “Or does someone want to tell me what really happened?”
“Ok, ok,” Tony sat up, putting his hands on his lap. “You can’t tell Bruce this, or at least not until he gets his inner Hulk under a bit of control. When Steve and I were in the control room, I got bored and...”
“...And he hit on me!” Steve interjected, yelling. He immediately quieted his voice. “He pinned me against the panel, moved his hand up my thigh, and I overreacted and slammed my hands against the control panel. It just so happens that I accidentally pressed the red button in the process.”
“So, the blame is actually to be split across the two of you,” Natasha analysed, stifling a laugh. “I’m sure that Bruce will be excited once he hears that.”
“Yeah...” Steve said, rubbing the back of his neck, face turning red, “I hope he never does.”
“Oh, come on,” Tony said in a hushed tone to Steve, “don’t pretend like you didn’t like it.” He winked.
“I’m going to go drag Bruce into a new lab. I’d appreciate some help, but you know... While you guys decide what you’re going to do, I’m gonna get my archery equipment out of my trunk just in case,” Clint said, getting up from his cushiony chair.
Everyone gave him a look that basically said, “you have your archery equipment in your car?”
“What? Don’t look at me like that,” Clint glared right back at them, “I was planning on going to practice a bit at the range later.” He left, returning through the front door with a large bow and a quiver of high-quality arrows already on his back. He swung the lab door open and bolted down the stairs.
“I’ll go help him,” Steve sighed, pushing himself up and following Clint down to the labs.
Both of them, later accompanied by Tony and Natasha, stared at the shattered glass wall and the broken door.
“Well, I can tell you one thing,” Tony said, “we aren’t getting the Hulk through that door.”
“Easy solution,” Clint grinned as he pulled out an arrow from his quiver. He loaded his bow, took aim at the already shattered glass, and fired.
It collapsed like the Berlin wall.
“Well,” Natasha clasped her hands together, and stepped through the gaping hole, “let’s get going.”
Steve and Tony grabbed the feet of the Hulk, and Natasha and Clint grabbed the shoulders, bringing him out to the corridor.
“There’s,” Tony grunted, “a lab further down that-a-way that has a pretty big door, like a garage door almost. Designed for big robotics projects.”
“Sounds like a good idea until Bruce decided to human down again,” Clint chuckled. The team dragged Bruce’s unconscious Hulk body down to the oversized lab, and lay him down in a napping position.
“There. Now all we have to do is wait,” Steve said, brushing his hands off.
So that’s exactly what they did: they waited.
Chapter 8: Board Games
In which the group plays board games, helps Bruce, and Howard finally meets Steve.
Just outside the new lab, Tony, Steve, Clint and Natasha had built a makeshift fort of all the board games available in the entirety of the Stark mansion.
But currently, everything had been shoved out of the way for a large mat covered with blue, green, yellow and red dots, Clint wedged off to one side of the fort with a spinning board.
“Left foot on yellow,” he hollered.
Natasha stretched out her leg skillfully to the row of yellow blotches, but Steve and Tony were a different story.
“Ow! Damnit, Stark, that was my leg!”
“Hey, not my fault that your leg is so irresistible,” Tony said, and chuckled.
“Well, don’t do it again. I’ll have to take care of you later,” Steve threatened.
Clint rolled his eyes, and spun the board again. “Right hand red,” he muttered.
What followed next was a satisfyingly loud smack.
“Damnit!” Steve hollered.
Tony’s face was a bright red. “Your ass was there, I smacked it. Oh well.”
Natasha just fell to the ground from the almost impossible position she was in. “I swear, you two just need to make out and get over your sexual tensions.”
“Well,” Tony smirked, just standing up and brushing himself off, “I don’t think that’d be an issue.”
Steve just turned red and fell to the ground. “Sometimes I wonder if all those girls you get caught kissing in the janitor’s closet are just an act...”
Tony crouched down right next to Steve’s ear. “I guess we’ll find out, eh, Cap?” He whispered, winking at Tony.
“Well, hey,” Clint interrupted, coming over to help Natasha roll up the Twister mat, “why don’t we play something else? Like Monopoly?”
“Everyone knows Tony will win at that. We’re in his house right now, what do you think that says about his luck with money?” Natasha chuckled.
“How about...” Steve started, “well, crap. I guess we can’t really win at anything when we play with Tony Stark, huh?”
“Clue’s always an option,” Clint said, and smirked, “just because Tony’s a spoiled rich kid doesn’t mean his intellect is that great when it comes to solving crimes.”
Steve started to laugh, along with everyone else but Tony, when they heard a groan. They all turned their attention to the oversized lab room for the first time since they dragged the Hulk in there, to see Bruce on his side, completely naked.
“Look, maybe I should take care of this myself,” Tony said. Clint waved his hand in a sweeping motion towards the door, inviting him to give it a shot.
Tony grabbed a nearby blanket, stuck his key in the lock, turned the door open, and quietly strut into the lab room.
“Hey, Bruce,” he started softly, “how are you feeling?” He took the blanket off of his shoulder and wrapped it around Bruce.
“Well,” Bruce forced an apathetic chuckle, “I just became an insane green monster twice in less than 24 hours... I’m pretty sure I’ve been better.”
“You know that I’m not a chemistry expert--I mean, that’s why you developed this entire experiment in the first place--but I can tell you this one thing: that much Gamma radiation should’ve killed you. I mean, dude, you should have seen the rat from the cage. I’m sure you don’t want the details now, but...”
“So,” Bruce tried to push himself up, failing and falling back down to the ground, “what are you trying to tell me?”
Tony rubbed the back of his head. “I’m not completely sure. All I know is that you’re alive. And I’m pretty fucking grateful for that. I can’t go losing my best friend and my chemistry grade all in the same weekend. Maybe later you can die, but not yet.”
Bruce tried to push himself up again, succeeding and wrapping the blanket more around his entire body. “Well, I’m sure the Hu--the other guy--probably won’t let me die any time soon. I’m pretty nervous to see what happens at even the slightest change in my surrounding environment at the moment.”
“You’re one of the smartest kids around,” Tony said, patting Bruce on the back, “I’m sure that your intellect is strong enough to help you figure it out. Oh--” Tony stopped himself, reaching into his pocket, “I had these fixed for you.” He pulled out the glasses that he and Steve found on the floor of lab number one.
“Well, that’s one thing we can check off the list,” Bruce almost laughed as he took the glasses from Tony’s hand and put them on. “Thanks.” He reached over and gave Tony a big, Hulk-sized hug.
“Aw,” Clint cooed, walking into the room, “you two are adorable.”
Tony glared at Clint. “Shut up, birdbrain.”
“What?” Clint asked, offended, coming and sitting down on the opposite side of Bruce. “I’m only saying...”
“Yeah, yeah...” Tony stood up, waving his hand to brush away Clint’s comments, and walked over to Steve’s side outside the lab.
Steve greeted Tony, putting a hand on his shoulder. “So,” he said, glancing at Tony and then back at the scene in the lab.
“So,” Tony said, making it awkward. The awkwardness just escalated when Howard came and leaned against the wall behind Steve and Tony, watching Clint and Bruce.
“I have a question,” Tony started a new conversation.
“I probably have an answer,” Steve said, shrugging. “Shoot.”
“When we were fighting Bruce’s rage monster, you looked like you completely knew what you were doing, like it was all just the same to you. You looked so... at peace with yourself, which is probably completely the wrong word to use.”
“Well, I guess you could say I have some training from the US Military,” Steve replied, rubbing the back of his neck and turning red.
Tony was pretty sure Steve couldn’t get any sexier than he was now, so he kept pushing. “Training... from the US Military?”
“Uh, yeah,” Steve looked at Tony with a completely straight face, but Tony knew he was lying. If Steve went into a poker game, he’d be out before the game even started.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Tony asked. What was funny was that he could tell his dad was listening in now. He wasn’t completely sure why his dad would want to know why Steve was involved in the military, but Tony wasn’t going to object.
“It’s really nothing,” Steve muttered, turning a deeper shade of red.
Tony decided that if they were alone, he would probably have already started making out with Steve by now; the redder he got, the sexier and more adorable he got. But he resisted temptation. “Come on, you’ve gotta tell me sooner or later.”
“It was this specialised, top-secret experiment program thing. They needed a volunteer and my parents and I weren’t exactly well-off, along with the fact that my dad actually used to be in the military and, well, let’s just say he’s not around anymore...”
Howard couldn’t help but interject, just as Tony was about to put his arm around Steve to console him. “Way to cockblock, dad,” Tony muttered. No one heard him.
“An experiment program? You’ve got to tell me more about it,” Howard almost screamed, coming directly in front of Steve.
“Really, it was nothing. Just some random thing they had me hang around for. And then they gave me training. I suppose they’re just waiting for me to become of age for the military, and then they’re gonna make me a Captain of a certain part of the army, or something... I don’t really know...” Steve started turning around to go somewhere else, but Howard grabbed him by the shoulders.
Tony really wanted to shout, “Hey! He’s mine!” ...but he decided against it.
“No, no,” Howard said, shaking his head and then looking directly at Steve, “you don’t understand. I help develop weapons for the military. I was told about an experimental program. I need you to clarify if this is the one I was told about it.”
“It wasn’t anything, really!” Steve screamed, pushing back from Howard. Coulson told me not to tell anyone, he thought. He wasn’t planning on reneging on Coulson any time soon; he was his only family left.
“Alright, fine,” Howard said, walking away, Steve walking in the other direction.
When he was far enough away from him, Howard pulled a fragile test tube out of his coat pocket. “Hey, Rogers!” He hollered, Steve picking up his head automatically like a good-old-fashioned soldier would at his name. “Think fast!” Howard launched the test tube in Steve’s direction, but about five feet off.
Steve rolled into a somersault, landing on his knees and catching the undamaged test tube perfectly in his hands.
“Mother of God...” Howard muttered, putting his hands to his mouth. He almost fell over. “It really is... it really is you! The super-soldier! My super-soldier!”
Tony glanced at Steve (his Steve), and his dad, and dropped his jaw. “...the fuck?”
Howard looked at his son, and put a proud hand on Tony’s shoulder. “This man in front of you,” Howard said proudly, “is the result of my first chemical weapon. SHIELD had me develop a man who could be a part of the army without completely standing out. I developed the super-soldier. Steve Rogers is my super-soldier.”
“...but he’s my property to fuck around with,” Tony muttered under his breath.
“Sorry?” Steve asked, not sure where he quite fit into this current conversation.
“Nothing,” Tony muttered, and winked at Steve.
In the middle of Tony’s flirting, the doorbell rang, and Howard sighed. “I suppose I can get that.” And he marched, like a kid being sent to his room, up to the foyer to let their guest in.
The next person to come down the stairs to the labs was a very anxious Coulson, all dressed up in a suit.
“Steven Rogers,” he scolded, and Steve immediately looked down at the ground, his body ramrod straight like the good soldier he was.
“Yes, sir,” Steve responded in a weak and submissive voice.
“You were supposed to be home last night by midnight, and no later. And no one was answering the phone here,” Coulson gave a pointed look at Howard, who had followed him down, “so I came over myself.”
“Wait, you’re Steve’s uncle, right?” Tony asked.
“Yes, I am. You’re Howard’s son, if I’m not mistaken,” Coulson replied, shaking his hand.
“Yeah, but that’s not the point,” Tony continued, “how do you know my dad?”
“I’m one of the agents for SHIELD, the company that your father used to work for. But my question is,” Coulson turned from his conversations about work to Steve, “why weren’t you at home by curfew last night, young man?”
Steve looked up and stared right into Coulson’s eyes. “Our... experiment went wrong.”
Coulson raised an eyebrow. “It went wrong? How so?” All Steve had to do was make a motion in the destroyed lab’s direction.
“Didn’t you see what was wrong when you walked past that?”
“I assumed Howard had gone and failed another of his robotics projects again,” replied Coulson, shrugging.
“Nope,” Steve held his head high, and then made a sweeping motion towards what could be seen of Bruce and Clint. “We had a bit of a mishap with the radiation.”
“Oh, for the love of--” Coulson put his thumb and index finger on the bridge of his nose, looking down. “Care to explain exactly what that means?”
“I’m pretty sure, you don’t want to know, sir,” Steve said, “it’s not exactly a pretty sight. You can tell by the state Bruce is in now. He was the victim.”
“I just realised,” Tony interjected, “that we still have no results. Because for all we know, that exploded rat could have been the work of... y’know...”
“I dunno, Tony, I mean, do you really want to give that a shot?” Steve asked, but Tony’s answer was cut off.
“No, he’s right,” Bruce’s voice came from the doorway. He was wearing his very stretched out pair of... shorts now, with Clint’s jacket draped over the top of him again, “we need to do it again. I won’t be involved. But we have to do it again... at least, you do.”
“But not today,” Steve said warningly, glancing at Tony. “We can’t exactly afford another problem today.”
“But the lab’s due tomorrow,” Bruce whined.
“Doesn’t matter,” Steve replied immediately. “Look at the state you’re in! Do you really think you’re in any condition to do a lab?”
“Well...” Bruce started.
“Look at us,” Steve motioned to himself and Tony, “D’you think that after all that we’ve been through in the past night, we’re able to work with one of the most dangerous types of radiation out there? Being this tired and beat up?”
“Cap’s got a point,” Tony said, hanging his head.
“Before you kids get any further in your decisions,” Coulson said, turning to the entire group, his hands on his hips, “I’d really like to know what is really going on here.”
Bruce thought about replying, but didn’t.
Tony rubbed the back of his neck, but remained silent.
Steve sighed. “In our experiment, Bruce went into the lab room to set up the rats for the gamma radiation and... I tripped over a chair in the control room and started the radiation while he was in there.”
“The gamma radiation turned him into a...” Tony faded off, making sure he didn’t set Bruce off again.
“A Hulk,” Bruce finished, finally able to use the term. “I became a big green rage monster, as Tony calls it. And I’m ashamed to say that the lab back there was my doing. I threw them both against the glass, and smashed around a bit before I finally became... human again.”
Tony put his hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “I’m glad you’re coming to terms,” he muttered.
All Coulson could do was sort of stand there, extremely confused. “...human again?” He murmured.
Tony nodded. “Yeah, human again. I’m not sure about you, Mr. Coulson, but I don’t exactly consider a Hulk to be human.”
Coulson shook his head free of confusion. He walked in front of Steve, his hands behind his back patiently, “Steve, we need to get going.”
“Yes sir,” Steve glanced at Coulson. He turned over to Tony and Bruce and gave them each a hug. When he released Tony, he winked at Steve in return.
“Sir,” Steve shook his head in a terse nod towards Howard, and headed for the door, Coulson on his heels.
Chapter 9: Clarification
In which Coulson tries to do some digging into the situation at the Stark mansion.
“So,” Coulson said, sitting down on the couch in his and Steve’s living room. “Care to tell me what actually happened in the lab down there?”
“I’m pretty sure I told you everything,” Steve said, sitting in the armchair across from him. As soon as Coulson had started talking, Steve flinched at every word he said, picking at his nails and rubbing the back of his neck.
“No, I want to know everything,” Coulson said, patiently pressing his hands to his lips.
“Howard Stark found out,” Steve spat out.
Coulson dropped the teacup that he had been holding in his hand (he was very fond of his evening tea). “What? Howard Stark found out that you were his experiment?”
“Well,” Steve rubbed the back of his neck, “yeah. Tony complimented me on my strengths against the Hu--erm, Bruce, and I mentioned the US Army. Nothing other than that, and a special program. Howard’s pretty brilliant; I’m not surprised that he figured it out on his own.”
“The only problem is how many people Howard Stark knows,” Coulson said, looking his nephew right in the eye. “We don’t know how loyal or disloyal he is with secrets. For all we know, we could have someone on your trail at the school now.”
“I seriously doubt that,” Steve said, laughing. He really didn’t think that was possible, though, for a bomber to access him at his school. He doubted that someone would even think to look in a high school setting for a super soldier.
Coulson, however, had a serious air about him. “You have no idea how precious your DNA is, Steven. One lock of your hair, one portion of dead skin cells, and the enemy has the option to create another you.”
“...the enemy?” Steve asked, confused.
“It’s not completely your business,” Coulson muttered, waving his hand as though shooing away an insect.
“It involves me, I’m sure that means it’s a part of my business,” Steve retorted, getting upset at the fact that something involving also didn’t involve him.
“The enemy, being another opponent of SHEILD, in chemical warfare. You may be a super soldier, but you are a chemical weapon. There’s a specialised chemical serum coursing through your veins. You’re stronger than other men. Do you know how many other,” he paused to think over his wording, “forces there are out there that would want a man like you on their side? To fight you?”
Steve shrugged. “I guess I never really considered that. I just always thought you guys would protect me from whatever I needed to be protected from.”
Coulson gave Steve a look like a father would to a son. “You’re only going to be here for another year and a half. I need to make sure you can fend for yourself in high-stress situations.”
Steve stood up, slamming his fists on the arms of the chair. “You don’t think that fighting a Hulk is enough to show that I can react well in ‘high-stress situations’? Are you crazy? I’ve never been in a worse situation than that one, and I got complimented on the way I handled it.”
Coulson held up his hands defensively. “You know what, kid? You’re right. I think I am misjudging you when it comes to this kind of thing. Why do you think you reacted so well?”
“I’m not sure,” Steve shrugged, sitting back down, “maybe it’s the serum. Maybe it’s when I’m in high-stress situations that my body flips over to the mindset of a soldier, and I start thinking and acting like one. That’s what it felt like in the lab. I had tactics running through my head.”
“That’s why it’s so important to keep you safe,” Coulson replied, pointing to Steve for what he just said. “If the enemy can get men they hardly even have to train, they could get even more powerful even faster than before.”
“I think I get it. But why is Howard so controversial? I mean, he worked for--wait, what is it again?”
“SHIELD. Yes, Howard did work for SHIELD, but that doesn’t mean we can all trust him. Howard Stark does what is best for Howard Stark, so we don’t know if he will keep the secret all on his own. I’ll get our director to see what he can do about your security,” Coulson finished with a terse nod. But then he remembered another topic he wanted to cover.
“So, with Bruce just recently dealing with his... what did you call it?”
“His green rage monster?” Steve finished.
“Right. How long is he going to be out of school?” Coulson asked.
“Probably a month, tops.”
“Good,” Coulson said, and clasped his hands together. He then pushed himself up from the couch. “It’s late. You’ve had a long weekend. Go the fuck to sleep.”
“Alright, grouchy,” Steve laughed, and gave Coulson a hug. Then he saluted and walked upstairs.
Chapter 10: Romantics
In which things get a little heated while making up time for Bruce's incident...
“This class just feels... empty without Banner here now,” whined Tony, sitting down next to Steve in their usual back-of-the-classroom lab table.
“It’s not that bad,” Steve said. After all, this was only the first day. And they could only get used to it from here. Bruce decided to take a three-week hiatus from school to meditate on his inner Hulk and try to understand what it meant to keep the big guy down.
“But all our smarts are gone! How will we suffice? How will our grades stay up?”
“We do have you,” Steve mentioned, and Tony blushed. “But,” Steve quickly changed the subject, “we do have to go talk to the teacher--”
“Mr. Erlenmeyer,” Tony corrected. Steve hadn’t really noticed that as the teacher’s name since the beginning of his time here.
“Ok, whatever. Either way, we have to go as Mr. Erlenmeyer what we should do for the experiment. Tell him it failed, or we figured out we didn’t have the right equipment, or something. You get to cover for us this time.”
All Tony could do was let out a small moan and a whimper.
“Oh, come on,” Steve rolled his eyes, “I had to take responsibility for transforming our friend into a Hulk. The least you can do is cover for a science project. Plus, you’re the science genius here. I’m just an art nerd.”
“Whatever,” Tony moaned, and then dragged his feet to the front of the room, Steve following close behind.
“Um, Mr. Erlenmeyer?” Steve asked first, to get the teacher’s attention.
The teacher spun around, his white lab coat spinning, and pushed up his half moon glasses. “Yes, Mr. Rogers,” he responded.
“Tony and I and, well, Bruce (despite his absence) have a question about the project you offered extra credit for.”
“I’m all ears,” Mr. Erlenmeyer replied. Steve quietly chuckled at this; he had never noticed before, but the teacher’s ears were rather big. So, if he wanted to be technical, yes. He was all ears.
“We need to get an extension on the lab,” Steve said quickly. He hated trying to bend the rules: it was something he legitimately could not do.
“Hmmm...” Mr. Erlenmeyer scratched his chin, “any particular reason why?”
“We really screwed up our lab,” Tony said, “but we couldn’t just redo it. And for some reason, today Bruce got really sick, so we won’t be able to do it for a few weeks.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” the teacher looked off for a second, going into deep thought. “I’m going to need your lab within the next month,” he said.
“I guess that might work,” Steve said, scratching his head.
“I’m also going to require some manual labor though,” Mr. Erlenmeyer chuckled as Tony moaned. “No, no, nothing too serious. I have mountains of papers that need grading. You can help me with that.”
“When?” Steve asked.
“This afternoon,” Mr. Erlenmeyer replied, “but you two are going to be the only ones in my office. I have a meeting. But no crazy parties!”
“We promise,” Tony winked at Steve, “no wild parties.”
As both of them headed back to his seat, Steve kept wondering what Tony was thinking. It couldn’t have possibly been anything good.
But the idea of spending an hour together with Tony Stark seemed to excite Steve, because the day couldn’t have passed any slower. Even gym with Clint seemed to drag on, and it was a free day with archery again. Clint tried to show Steve how to use a bow and arrow, but Steve preferred his fists and his shield, or whatever he could get his hands on.
“Hey, Captain,” Clint said, lowering his bow and looking toward the gym entrance, “Stark hasn’t been in our class before, right?”
Steve looked in the same direction as Clint and dropped his jaw. “What the-- Stark, what the hell are you doing here?”
Tony Stark walked confidently over to Steve and Clint in a pair of tight spandex shorts and a gym shirt. “I needed the gym credits. What’s up? What’re we doing?”
“Well, I was trying to teach Captain shield here my skills at archery,” Clint motioned to his bow and arrow, “while Nat over there is scaling the rock climbing wall, like always.
“Awesome,” Tony said, picking up another bow and a quiver of arrows. “Let me give it a shot.” He held up his bow, fumbled around with an arrow, launching it at the target. The arrow soared past the target, and hit another student square in the forehead, the suction cup tip sticking to his head.
Tony burst out laughing, followed by Clint. “Wow. What do you call that trick?” Clint asked.
“I’m not sure,” Steve replied for Tony, “but now we know never to give him a projectile weapon, ever.”
Clint chuckled, and sent another arrow flying into the bullseye, and then put his weapon down.
By the time the class (and with it, the school day) had ended, Steve had gotten a healthy dose of entertainment from watching Tony attempt to work a bow and arrow, and Clint had enjoyed showing off his abilities.
But what mattered now was that Steve was going to be trapped in an empty teachers’ office with Tony Stark for an entire hour. And he had no idea what that exactly meant for either his own sanity or Tony’s.
In the office, Steve couldn’t help but laugh at how much of an understatement “mountains of papers to grade” was. He tucked himself into a corner with the more advanced papers and started to grade, using one of the teachers’ nice red pens to grade with a clean hand.
Across the room from him, Tony sat stuck with the freshmen papers, trying his hardest to concentrate, but to no avail. Tony’s knee was constantly bouncing up and down, his pen tapping on the desk in small levels of agitation.
“Hey, Stark,” Steve started, “you ok? Want me to come help?”
Tony pushed himself back from the desk and came behind Steve, putting his hands on Steve’s strong shoulders. “No, I think I’m just gonna sit right here and watch you work,” he breathed into Steve’s ear.
Steve stuttered an inaudible murmur, turning bright red. Tony kept moving his head closer to Steve’s, and Steve could feel Tony’s breath down his neck. “No one else is here, so why are we working if we aren’t being monitored?”
“I--” Steve started, but kept frozen as his face turned a deeper red. “Um...”
Tony kept leaning in, pushing his body further over the back of Steve’s office chair. “You know, Captain, Bruce is only going to be staying away from school for so long...” he continued to breathe down Steve’s neck and shirt, and all Steve could do was sit there, wide-eyed and blushing, frozen into one position.
It was only after Tony had leaned in as close as he could without touching Steve that anything happened: Steve turned his head. He didn’t even mean to; it was probably subconscious, but he did.
And Tony leaned in for the kiss.
It’s not that Steve was expecting it--because he wasn’t--but what he received was a pleasant surprise. Tony’s kiss was gentle, well, at first. But then Steve spun the chair around and he and Tony became one whole being for a few moments.
Steve caressed Tony’s face, not to push him away, but to embrace him. To Steve’s surprise, he actually was enjoying this. He didn’t want it to stop. And neither did his inner soldier that Howard Stark had so kindly created inside him.
Almost hoisting Tony up onto his lap, Steve spun the chair around, the two still interlocked with each other. Steve sat up from the chair, and pushed Tony against the edge of the desk.
“Wow,” Tony breathed, his voice ragged and rough. “You certainly know how to take control.” He stared into Steve’s crystal blue eyes and Steve stared back into Tony’s deep and endless eyes.
Steve smirked. “Well...”
But he couldn’t finish his sentence. Tony had already weaved his fingers through Steve’s perfect blond hair, stealing his words into another kiss.
Just before Steve closed his eyes to embrace it, he saw the door click open out of the corner of his eye, and watched Mr. Erlenmeyer walk in. Before anything could be done, Mr. Erlenmeyer’s eyes widened to the size of saucers, and he slowly backed out of the room, quiet as anything.
The door silently clicked shut. And Steve’s eyes slid closed.
He wasn’t sure how much longer this warm embrace could last, but he knew it couldn’t be forever. Despite that, he intended on making it last for forever.
“C’mere,” Steve muttered through the kiss, and pulled Tony closer. They entwined with one another, passionate for once about one thing and one thing only: the only other person in the room with them.
There was something in Steve’s heart that he could not put a finger on, but it made him want to leap for joy. He finally found something to make all the stress of having created Bruces’ monster to simply melt away, and the good news was that that something was always going to be around for him.
Eventually, Tony pulled away. Steve gazed at him with eyes that demanded he continue the kissing, but Tony shrugged his shoulders.
“We still got some work to do,” he laughed, “if you want to get credit for that lab.”
Steve couldn’t help but smile at the disheveled Tony’s comment. “I guess you’re right. Our brainiac is missing. So we need all the help we can get.” But all of the effort put to finishing the papers that Mr. Erlenmeyer had given them was futile: there was far too much of a distraction between the two of them for any productivity.
It was shortly afterwards that Mr. Erlenmeyer came in and excused them, and they headed for the parking lot.
“Well,” Steve said, blushing as he bid Tony farewell for the day.
Tony boldly came up to him and kissed him on the cheek before heading toward his car. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Cap. I’ll be sure to text Bruce tonight, ok?”
“Ok,” Steve muttered, waving a hand absentmindedly toward Tony.
It could be said now: Tony Stark had officially stolen the heart of Steve Rogers.
Chapter 11: Thunder
In which Steve Rogers and Uncle Coulson have a new visitor from... not on Earth, he supposes.
After his, well, eventful day at school, Steve took to his front porch to cleanse his mind and take a moment to reflect.
It only helped that the weather decided to start storming.
Steve sighed in contentment as a gentle breeze rattled the leaves of the surrounding aspen trees, creating an ambience that was simply relaxing. He closed his eyes, and crossed his legs under him, putting his hands on his lap and focusing on the sounds of nature. It almost felt like he had transported to a forest and was sitting next to a stream.
He sighed again, trying to embrace all of his surroundings, when a crack of thunder made him jump. Granted, he may have been the super soldier of the century, but the thunder did indeed make him jolt. His eyes flew open to witness the dark thunderclouds rushing in to crowd in his perfect blue sky. Yet Steve couldn’t be more grateful.
A bright flash of lightning lit the distant sky. And the thunder boomed.
The temperature dropped, the wind picked up, the clouds moved faster. The lightning flashed. The thunder cracked. The only thing that could make this reflection time better for Steve would be...
“Ahh, finally,” Steve breathed, and closed his eyes again to inhale the scent of the fresh rain on the earth. The rain started to pitter-patter on the sidewalk, gently falling off of the leaves of the trees.
But that couldn’t have possibly lasted to be that gentle; no, there was a wall of grey clouds following behind the first lightning strike. More had to follow.
And Steve wasn’t wrong. The pitter-patter turned into a shower, like when the knob is first turned in the bathtub to heat up the water type of shower. And then into a downpour. All he could do was sit and bask in the majesty of such a powerful rainstorm. The lighting was purple now, beaming across the sky in branches like a tree planted into the sky by the gods.
Or, well, in Steve’s case, by God Himself. Thunderstorms were the one time that Steve felt he could escape and actually connect with his faith. He knew that the storms meant that there was something bigger out there than just science and mystery.
“Wow...” and then the thunder stole Steve’s breath again.
These were the perfect conditions for Steve to find his center. As the wind picked up and the trees started to bend over from all the wind force, the rain started coming down diagonally, in sheets and buckets. Steve could barely see past the first two aspen trees, and then there was total darkness. It was funny to think that only a few minutes ago he could see across the street and into the depths of the blue sky. Now there was an eerie darkness, like a fog had settled over a silvery grey backdrop of dew.
Yet suddenly, in a split second, a strike of lightning struck not ten metres away from where Steve was sitting. The thunder following was monstrous, seeming like it was so much longer than it should have been.
It was like rage and fury and determination were all combined into one sound.
It sounded like the most powerful strike of a hammer against the strongest metal to ever be struck.
After calming his heart rate to a relatively normal pace, Steve opened his eyes, and stared out into the thick cloud of rain and fog again.
For some reason, though, this time it wasn’t quite as therapeutic as before, like something was actually out there. He squinted his eyes. He knew something wasn’t quite right, but he couldn’t exactly put his finger on it.
Steve had this gut feeling that, just maybe, there was an extra figure that wasn’t there before. Something--
Only one way to find out.
“H--” Steve flinched back for a second, silently telling himself how stupid this was. “Hello? Is anyone--”
But he couldn’t finish. The figure he knew was there stirred, and grunted a muffled tone.
“Hello?” Steve asked again.
The figure pushed through the sheet of rain to the porch, coming underneath the cover. Steve could see now that it was a man. But not like any guy he’d seen before: he was wearing clothes that belonged elsewhere. Not here. Not in the twenty-first century.
“Tell me,” the man boomed, looking at Steve and grabbing him by his collar, “where am I, small Midgardian?” His voice was deep, and heavily laden with something much older than the average British accent. It was... ancient almost. Like out of a mythology book.
“I--” Steve started, struggling to get down from the man’s grip. “I have no idea what you mean... Brooklyn? Just outside of it?”
The man held his gaze, and his grip.
“Look, buddy,” Steve said, finally catching his breath as he worked his way out of the man’s grip, “I don’t know who you are, or where you came from. But you’re in Brooklyn. New York. America. Earth.”
For some reason, actually saying the name of the planet made the man drop his jaw. Now that Steve could back away from him, he could see almost every detail.
“Midgard...” the stranger muttered to himself, but Steve was still trying to grasp what was happening. His new houseguest was donning something that looked like armour for a king. His chest piece was made of a platinum type of metal, discs adorning it like jewels. The sleeves were like chainmail, but somehow more intricate: each piece was a tiny rhombus that interlocked down to his wrists. The rest from the hips down was a simple leather set of pants and boots suited for a warrior.
The kicker, though, was that the stranger was wearing a red cape that started at his shoulders and flowed down to his heels. And on his head, he donned a silver helmet that had what looked like the wings sculpted into the side. The helmet wrapped around the stranger’s head perfectly.
“Who the hell are you?” Steve said, his breath taken away.
“I am Thor,” The man said, his hands dropping to his side as he stepped forward, “King of Asgard.” In his right hand, Thor held an ornate hammer, with a handle intricately weaved with small strips of leather.
“Right then,” Steve ran his hand through his hair, “Thor, what’s Asgard?”
Thor turned, and pointed his hammer to the sky.
“So... the sky. You came from...” Steve took a second, closed his eyes, breathed. “The sky.”
“Not only the sky, small Midgardian,” Thor responded, turning back around to Steve. “I come from a realm far beyond yours, by way of the bifrost.”
“Riiight.” Steve made a small, sarcastic salute in the way of the ‘God of Asgard.’ “Anything else I should be aware of? Like, why did you just show up in a strike of lightning and a roll of thunder?”
“I am the God of Thunder,” Thor said, holding up his hammer like a trophy. “This is Mjolnir, my hammer that brings upon you the power which I hold.” He placed it on the ground, handle-side up.
“Let he who holds this hammer, if he be worthy, possess the power of Thor,” he murmured as he invited Steve to pick it up with a nod.
So Steve did. And he couldn’t lift it. “Right,” Steve closed his eyes and let the serum take over. His muscles were rippling by the time he had readied himself to lift the hammer again.
Steve sighed and looked at “Thor” directly in the eyes. “Is this some sort of joke to you?”
Thor chuckled a deep and regal snicker as he lifted the hammer as though it were a paperclip. “No, no, small Midgardian, not a joke.”Steve lifted one of his eyebrows and crossed his arms.
“‘Tis proof of the gods. I can lift my hammer,” he swung it around, creating a burst of wind and another lightning strike, “but you cannot.”
“This must be some sort of party trick,” Steve said, and grabbed the now hanging hammer. Thor dropped it, and it smashed down on Steve’s fingers. He hollered in pain until Thor picked up the hammer again.
“I do not understand... a party trick?” Thor looked confused.
“It’s nothing... really.” Steve stood for a moment, dumbfounded, until he realised that Thor, whoever he was, had fallen from the sky. And he was drenched. “C’mon,
Thor, I should get you inside. You look like you’re chilled to the bone.”
“My bones are quite warm--” Thor started.
“No, it’s an expression. Come on,” Steve grabbed Thor’s wrist and dragged him inside. He hollered for Coulson, and as soon as he showed his face from upstairs, Coulson’s jaw dropped.
“Steve,” Coulson managed to squeak out as he grasped the handrail and walked himself down the stairs, “what the fuck is this?”
“Well...” Steve rubbed the back of his neck.
But before he could continue on with his sentence, Thor strode past him, pushing Steve to the side. He held out his massive hand that wasn’t holding the hammer.
“Hello,” he boomed, “I am Thor, son of Odin, of Asgard.”
Coulson stood for a second, mouth hanging slightly open. He quickly snapped his jaw shut, shook himself to attention, and held out his hand in return. “My name is Phil Coulson. I’m Steve’s, well, uncle, if you will.”
“‘Tis good to meet you, Son of Coul,” Thor replied, smiling widely as he shook Coulson’s hand. “I am very sorry to intrude on you at this hour of the night...”
Steve glanced down at his watch and muttered, “It’s only, like, five, but ok...”
Coulson shot Steve a look that said “we have a (random and unexpected) guest (from god-only-knows where), so shut up.” He turned to Thor and returned the smile.
“It’s nothing, really. We can provide you with a room for the night, if you’ll be needing it...”
Thor humbly took his hand from Coulson’s and looked down, holding his hammer with both hands. “I’m afraid,” he began, muttering down to the floor, “that I will be here on Midgard for quite some time longer than the night, Son of Coul. I was sent down here by the great Odin,” he looked up, suddenly empowered, “to protect the fragile mortal lives that inhabit Midgard.”
“Fragile?” Steve almost shouted, snapping into a defensive position. Coulson ran over to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You gotta remember, kid,” Coulson muttered into Steve’s ear, “that he probably doesn’t know about super soldiers or hulks.”
“Right,” Steve whispered back.
“So,” Coulson started again, addressing Thor, “you’ll be needing to stay longer than just a night, I take it?”
Thor shook his head in a terse nod. “Aye, Son of Coul. I--”
“Please,” Coulson interrupted, holding up one hand and smiling, “call me Coulson.”
“Aye, Sir Coulson. I will be needing shelter for longer than just a night.”
“Right,” Coulson clasped his hands together. “I’ll have Steve help set up a room for you.”
“Awesome,” Steve muttered sarcastically, and started up the stairs. Thor followed closely behind like a golden retriever. Steve could have sworn that if Thor had a tail, it would have been wagging.
Chapter 12: Still Believing
In which Coulson holds firm that heroes really could save the day. Even if it took some training.
While the two escaped upstairs and the hours slipped into the late night, Coulson escaped downstairs. He slipped on his bluetooth headset and turned on his laptop.\
As soon as everything was set up, Nick Fury’s face filled the screen.
“Agent,” he nodded to the screen.
Coulson stood upright and saluted, looking past the screen at the blank wall across from him. “Evening, Director.”
“At ease, soldier,” Fury almost started to chuckle, but then he remembered the purpose of the call. “You said you had something... interesting to tell me?”
“Yes sir,” Coulson began as he sat in front of the computer, “and things got even more interesting just now.”
Fury pressed the tips of his clasped hands to his mouth. “Go on.”
“You said that I was crazy for believing in heroes created by man and by accident,” Coulson said, holding up his hands in a slightly defensive, slightly submissive way.
“Yes,” Fury said, “and I still think you’re crazy. But what are you getting at?”
“One of Steve’s... friends, Bruce Banner--” Coulson started.
“Banner... Banner...” Fury’s thinking cut him off, “I have heard that name before. Top ranked in all of the science classes, earned most of the science awards each year, offered scholarships from MIT, what about him?”
“Well, he and Steve and Tony Stark--” Coulson started again.
“Tony Stark... his father is Howard Stark,” Fury cut him off again, “who is one of the most famous inventors. MIT is offering him a scholarship, too, for his excellence in robotics and physics.”
“Well, as I was saying,” Coulson began again, indirectly telling Fury to shut the fuck up.
Fury held out his hands submissively, allowing Coulson to continue.
“The three, Banner, Steve, and Tony, all had an extra credit assignment for their chemistry class. Bruce Banner had an idea to analyse the effects of Gamma radiation on a living organism, and so they were prepping a lab in Howard Stark’s lab area. When Bruce was in the room for the radiation setting up the test specimen, Steve, what with his new body and all, apparently tripped, and started the radiation while Bruce was trapped in there.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Fury commented, putting his thumb and index finger on the bridge of his nose, massaging his head.
“All Tony and Steve could see was this mass... So Steve was the first one to break down the door and go into the room,” Coulson said, beaming with pride, “obviously after the radiation stopped.”
“Agent,” Fury fumed, glaring into the camera, “is this story going to have a punchline?”
“The Gamma radiation that Bruce endured,” Coulson stared Fury in the eye, “it should have killed him, right?”
“I’ve tried it myself,” Fury spat, getting more and more frustrated. “Yes, it should have killed him. What are you trying to say, Agent?”
“It didn’t kill him. Bruce Banner became a Hulk.”
Fury’s jaw dropped a small ways. He snapped it shut. “A what?”
“As Tony puts it,” Coulson put visual quotation marks up, “Bruce Banner became an ‘enormous green rage monster’ because of the Gamma.”
“So, Bruce Banner survived,” Fury noted. “And what triggers this--”
“This Hulk,” Coulson finished for Fury, “is triggered by stress or excessive anger that elevates the heart rate beyond control. I’ve helped Howard observe it as we have had Bruce under lockdown for a few days.”
“So we don’t even know if this thing is safe.” Fury said, rubbing his head again. “You started off by telling me that you still believe in heroes. Any idea why you thought to say that? You thinking that this Hulk is gonna be some sort of hero?”
Coulson shrugged his shoulders. “It’s anyone’s guess. It’s kinda hard to tell right now, mostly because Tony, who’s just human, and Steve, the super soldier, were heroes in this situation, but...”
“Ok,” Fury said, and Coulson could see him look down at his watch. “Not to sound like I don’t care about this at the moment, but I’m out of time to listen to this.”
“But I--Sir,” Coulson tried to interject.
“Not now, Coulson,” Fury calmly barked at the screen. “You know as well as I do that SHIELD needs heroes. Desperately. God only knows what fate will be bringing us later. But I’m not seeing any SHIELD-worthy heroes in your story other than maybe Steve. But even so, none of them are even legal yet. So why should I even consider them?”
“Well...” Coulson started.
“Rhetorical question,” Fury ended his sentence before it could even form logic. “I’ve got to go. Call me when you have more than plenty of information.”
“Wait!” Coulson shouted at the screen. Fury paused and glared at the camera.
“You have two minutes,” he growled. “Go.”
“Steve was outside watching the storm come in when there was a flash of lightning right outside our door, and a man appeared.”
This time, Fury looked interested. “Go on.”
“I didn’t see him land, but Steve dragged him inside and told me what happened. The strange guy from the sky calls himself ‘Thor Odinson’. Any ideas?”
“I’ve heard legends,” Fury said, looking genuinely interested now. “Odin is kind of the top of the totem pole when it comes to Norse mythology. According to myth, Thor Odinson is his legitimate son, the heir to the throne of Asgard.”
“Yeah, he kept calling Steve a ‘small Midgardian’, telling Steve he should respect him because he was ‘of Asgard’. What exactly are Asgard and Midgard?”
Fury looked pleased that he was able to provide so much information. “Asgard is the home to the gods, according to Norse mythology. Midgard is the name they’ve given to us. To Earth.”
“So...” Coulson pressed his hands to his mouth, trying to comprehend this new information. “Are you trying to tell me that I have a Norse god in my guest room?”
“I’m not saying that,” Fury corrected, “but if you describe your, well, guest to me--”
“Tall. Strong. Long blond hair. Armour with big silver discs. A red cape. A silver, winged helmet. And a hammer.”
Fury started laughing, a joyful disposition seen even in his eyepatch. “Sounds like you’ve got a god of thunder on your hands.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Coulson responded.
“Not that it’s truly a disadvantage. The only problem is how he will adapt to our, well, Midgardian technology,” Fury responded. He was followed by a large thump from upstairs.
“You’re right about that,” Coulson said, rubbing his temples. “It’s gonna take more focus than raising a teenager.”
“That’s right, I almost forgot that you’re Rogers’ guardian. How is he?” Fury asked. This seemed to be the first time he had ever shown any genuine interest in Steve’s safety.
“Oh, you know,” Coulson replied, “the usual teenage boy stuff.”
“But no extra gamma radiation experiments or girls or sex, right?” The words seemed to roll off of Fury’s tongue.
Coulson was almost insulted. “Steve is a good kid, sir. I’d expect you, of all people, to have a higher expectation for him.”
“You’re getting attached, Agent,” Fury commented, and then glanced down at a timepiece. “It’s late. Go to bed. I will speak with you at a later date about all of this hero and Hulk nonsense, yes?”
“Yes, sir,” Coulson said, and saluted before the screen went blank.
It wasn’t as if he was crazy for believing in heroes. Steve tried to save Bruce’s life before they realised that the Hulk was Bruce. That was one thing. And, though he was a Stark, Tony had tried to help save Bruce’s life. Maybe Coulson was wrong about one thing; maybe heroes don’t have to come with powers.
But it couldn’t hurt.
Chapter 13: The Razor's Edge
Bruce is reaching normalcy. And Tony and Steve are on good terms. But when the three get together, chaos erupts. Again.
Steve hadn’t expected Thor to become so popular at the school. And he really hadn’t expected him to become the star of the theatre department. But, that’s just how things go. Not as Steve expects.
He did, however, expect that Tony wouldn’t stop bothering him about their experience in their teacher’s office. It had been almost a month now, which meant that Bruce would be returning shortly, but it didn’t mean that Tony was going to give up. Especially not outside of school.
After a relatively normal day, Tony stopped Steve in the parking lot just before the super soldier and his motorcycle left the parking lot. “Hold up, Cap,” He said.
Steve rolled his eyes. “What could you possibly need now, Tony?”
“Oh, you know,” Tony replied, winking at Steve, “the usual. Bruce is supposed to be getting better at controlling his great rage monster, and said we could pay more visits to him.”
Tony drove ahead of Steve in his new shiny red convertible, as Steve followed him closely behind with his motorcycle. Stark may have had the fancy new technology on his side, but having something as sturdy and as well built as Bells made it hard for Tony to compete with Steve.
They finally reached the mansion and, after arguing as to whether Bells was still only qualifiable as a lawn ornament, slowly descended the stairs to the labs. After even a month, it seemed like Steve hadn’t seen these halls in decades; Coulson had forbid him to return to the Stark mansion until the Hulk had been taken care of. For safety reasons.
But now that Bruce had promised total control over his “big guy,” as he called him, it only made sense that Steve and Tony could pay him a visit.
Tony dragged Steve down to Bruce’s “room” now. The lab that had once been too torn up to even see that it once had to do with science now resembled a small Indian home: Bruce had taken the liberty of decorating the walls with colourful streams of fabric, adding unique, hand-woven rugs to the ground and putting meditation pillows on the floor. When they opened the door, Steve and Tony were interrupted by a strong waft of sandalwood incense and the sound of a recorded sitar in the distant background.
“Hi guys,” Bruce said, pushing his way through a makeshift doorway made by two draped pieces of orange fabric.
“Namaste,” Tony said sarcastically, pressing his hands together above his hands and making small circles with his hips.
Steve almost knocked him to the ground, but thought a small shove would be better. “Be nice,” he muttered, and then turned to Bruce. “So, what all is this,” he grabbed a piece of silk purple fabric and rubbed it between his fingers, “exactly?”
Bruce shrugged. “The environment is perfect for meditating. With that, I’ve been able to focus on the big guy. I mean, sure, I’ve probably gone all Hulk a few times while I’ve meditated, but it’s basically perfect. It helps me find my center. Figure out what I need to do to keep him in and keep me in control.”
“So,” Tony was over by the incense and sitting on a meditation pillow, “Hindu or hippie?”
“Neither,” Bruce responded. “I’m simply taking in the environment provided by a Hindu setting. That does not mean I believe in polytheism.”
“Even I gotta give him something,” Steve shrugged, making a point since everyone else knew how religious he was, “I would use this environment every day if I could.”
“Well,” Bruce clasped his hands together, “I promised Mr. Stark that I’d help him with something in a lab quite a ways down the hall. Feel free to make yourselves comfortable--I’m pretty sure there’s some chai or something in that teapot there.” He pushed his way out of his Indian fortress, and the next sound Steve and Tony heard was the click of the lab door closing.
“This place is pretty cool, you gotta give Bruce some credit,” Steve said again, sitting down next to Tony.
“Yep,” Tony replied, scooting his cushion closer to Steve so that he could put his arm around him. “It makes quite the romantic environment.” He put his head on Steve’s shoulder and sighed a long and heavy sigh.
Steve felt his natural defenses shut down, his body relaxing with Tony’s sigh. He turned his head and gave Tony a kiss on the cheek.
Not surprisingly to Steve, Tony grabbed Steve’s head where it was, and planted one right on Steve’s lips. Steve weaved his fingers through Tony’s hair, getting a hold as both of them shifted from sitting to lying down next to each other across the cushions.
Tony pulled away for a moment, breathing jagged. “You know,” he said, smiling, “I never could get quite used to this, but I love every moment of it.”
“Don’t we both,” Steve said, and kissed him again. He closed his eyes to embrace the smell of Tony--a musky, clean smell--as he felt Tony’s hands on his side. This was what Steve hoped heaven would be like. He knew it was cheesy, but Tony Stark provided just that for him-- a bit of heaven.
And then the lab door clicked. Steve could care less, and Tony was too busy with his super soldier to hear it, but Bruce’s reaction was priceless.
There was no opposition, but he did shout. “What the hell are you doing in my fortress?”
Tony shoved Steve off of him, and Steve pushed himself up from Tony’s chest. Both of them, hair messed, their breath lost, sat on top of the meditation cushions, looking like kicked puppies.
Just then, Howard Stark walked into the room, pushing his way through the fabric. “Is there anything I can get you guys? I know it’s been quite some time since you saw each other, so if you need me to bring some snacks, or set up the projection screen for a movie...”
“Dad, dad.” Tony cut him off, giving him a look that could have killed. “We don’t need anything. Really. Just leave us alone.”
Steve gave Tony a look that was exasperated for how he just treated his father. “Thank you, Mr. Stark, but I don’t really think we’re going to need--” he stopped, his eyes flickering to the back of the room. Something in the back of his brain, something in his inner soldier, told him something was wrong.
And then he heard the click of a pin and the sound of a heavy, explosive something hit the floor.
“Everybody, get down!” Steve screamed, trying to grab Bruce and Tony and bring them next to him. The only problem was that, in a high-stress situation, Steve knew Bruce didn’t do well, and Tony responded by fleeing.
Directly in the wrong direction.
Howard ran towards Tony, grabbing his son by the wrist, but Tony pushed him off and ran further in the wrong direction.
And then the grenade exploded.
The pieces of fabric near the grenade flew out towards Steve, and he grabbed one of the small nearby tables and shielded himself from the explosion just in time. Bruce, however, wasn’t protected.
But Steve wasn’t worried about that; even if the Hulk took over, Bruce was nearly indestructible. What he was worried about was the fact that, as the grenade exploded, Tony Stark’s body was flung back with such force that he landed closer to the door than Steve. And Howard had been tossed against the side wall directly next to the door.
“Oh my god,” Steve muttered to himself, and then started shouting. “Tony! Tony! You’ve got to wake up, bud. You just have to--”
Steve was cut off by a large amount of grunting coming from Bruce’s direction. Bruce was on his knees, his body curled around itself, facing the floor, his body heaving up and down.
“...Bruce...” Steve said cautiously, bringing himself closer to Tony’s unconscious body. The good news was that Howard was already waking up. If only Steve could get a little closer to Tony...
Perfect. Steve grabbed the unconscious Tony, hoisted him over his shoulders, and signaled to Howard to come with him. Howard struggled to his feet, casting a frightened look at Bruce’s current state, and high-tailed it out of the room, right behind Steve.
Just as they cleared the room, they heard the Hulk smash a few things around. Odd as it may have sounded, the raging Hulk was almost a sign of normalcy. It may not have been for other people, but given the circumstances... it made Steve feel like he was home.
“What’s the damage?” Steve asked Howard, streaking up the stairs.
“I’m not sure,” Howard replied in staggered breathing as he ran up the stairs, “but we should bring him to the infirmary. Hang a right at the top.”
Howard continued to direct Steve around until they reached the infirmary. The room was lined with standard grade hospital beds, each with an empty IV rack and a heart monitor that was plugged into nothing. “You’re kidding me,” Steve said as he gently laid Tony’s unconscious body down on the closest bed. “You have a hospital in your house?”
Howard shrugged his shoulders. “You’ve seen what the labs can do when we’re experimenting. It’s good to have one close by.”
Steve couldn’t argue with that logic. So instead, he directed his attention to Tony, who was barely breathing. “Again, I ask: What’s the damage?”
Howard busied himself around the bed, strapping the heart monitor to his son’s now bare chest and examining the wounds from the shrapnel. “Oh, god...” He murmured.
“What? What is it?” Steve was trying his hardest to prevent panic from rising in his voice, but his efforts were futile. Seeing Tony like this was something that even years of training in the military could not prepare him for.
“I...” Howard drifted off to a mutter, “I can’t quite...”
“Come on, Mr. Stark,” Steve said, the panic now much more eminent, “you are a genius. You’ve got to do something! Please!”
“I’m working on it,” Howard snapped back. Steve could see panic behind his eyes. But there was more urgency than anything else. “It looks like there’s a lot of shrapnel near his heart. The good news is that the shrapnel is polarised, so if we got some sort of magnet, particularly an electromagnet, to push it away from his heart...”
“Do whatever you need to do,” Steve said, “but all we need to focus on is saving Tony.”
“There’s rubble from the explosion near his heart,” Howard started mumbling as he ran around Tony to set everything up, “and the only way I can save him from even running the risk of dying because of it is the insertion of a powerful magnet powered by electricity into his body.”
“That’s not possible though, is it?” Steve was starting to see less hope.
It was almost as though Howard had tuned everything out. He set to work, first running to the garage and then to the labs. Just before Howard returned to the infirmary, Steve gently pushed Tony’s hair back and kissed him on the forehead. “Don’t you dare leave me, Stark,” he whispered.
Once Howard was back in the infirmary, he started working gingerly on his son’s body. “I need... no, wait. I need to do this by myself.”
So Steve left the room, and sat on the couch, his head in his hands.
And he started to weigh his options.
He had Bruce Banner downstairs, or, well... he had the Hulk downstairs. And now, aside from all of that green madness, he had a dying Tony Stark lying helplessly on an infirmary cot, his own father slaving away over him. Steve could take away from the way Howard reacted that this work was not for his son, but rather it seemed as though he was mostly working for an heir to the company. Stark Industries couldn’t just fade out of the Stark family. No, that would be too, well, not Stark.
All Steve could do was hope.
Hope that Tony would pull through. As Tony usually does.
Chapter 14: Heartbeats
Tony is healing. At least, as close to healing as he could hope. But he still needs Steve's help. Or he claims that he does.
Light filled Steve’s heavy eyes as he saw the first bit of movement from Tony Stark since the explosion.
It had almost been twelve hours now, since Steve was finally able to be parked at Tony’s bedside. Not that Howard was at all opposed to the idea; he needed to get back to a few things for running the company, so having a lookout for Tony was helpful.
Steve knew that he would be the first thing Tony would see, after his eyes fluttered open and he adjusted to the bright white lights of the infirmary.
The smile on Tony’s face was priceless. “I’m glad to see you’re right here, Cap.”
All Steve could do was blush and put his head down, a big goofy grin spread widely across his face. “You’re--” he started, and then decided to finish his sentence, “you’re alive.”
Tony was confused. Or maybe it was just the excess amount of painkillers he was on. “Of course I’m ali--” he stopped mid-sentence, looking down at his body.
The makeshift solution Howard had designed was a large, circular piece of metal, inserted into a chrome-plated cylinder that was now a part of Tony’s chest. The hunk of metal was clipped to a Stark Industries car battery, giving off enough power to keep the small pieces of shrapnel away from his heart. For now.
“What the fuck--” Tony shouted, jumping up in his bed. In the process, he just about ripped the cords off from the car battery to the electromagnet.
Steve reached forward and grabbed his shoulders, somehow throwing his entire body on top of Tony’s. “You’ve got to keep calm. We don’t know how much pressure this thing can take.”
Tony breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. “As long as you stay right where you are,” he stole a kiss from Steve, since he was just in the vicinity, “I should be fine.”
“Ah, but there’s the problem,” Steve started pushing himself up, “I can’t just stay here forever.”
Tony pulled him back by the collar of Steve’s usual plaid shirt. “Who says?”
Just then a throat cleared in the doorway. Howard stood there, with a tray of tea ready to bring to both the sleepy attendant and the recently awoken patient. “Tony, nice to see you awake,” he said casually around the couple.
Steve jumped off of Tony. Tony made grabby hands at him, and Steve made a mental note to satisfy that need for him later. But now, caffeine was pretty high on the priority list.
“So,” Steve started after Howard left the room, “I expect that you already have an idea of how to get rid of the car battery?”
Tony nodded tersely, and slowly raised himself to a sitting position, learning from the previous time. “I created this thing... well, I helped my dad create this thing... ok, my dad created this thing called an arc reactor.”
Steve’s blank look gave Tony no promise.
“It’s this thing, that is made from overheated palladium. And just a little bit of it should help me develop something enough to fit...” Rather than admit his problem aloud, Tony just sort of motioned to where his heart was.
“Right. What do I need to do?” Steve asked.
“I need my dad’s toolkit, I need to get down to the labs. And I need you to get my dad to give me a small sample of palladium. That’s it.” Tony started to turn his feet off of the cot, grabbed the car battery, and stood up.
And immediately started to fall to the ground.
Steve ran to Tony’s side, acting as his human crutch. “You’ve got no strength to start walking now. I’ll go get a wheelchair. Sit down.”
“No, no, Cap,” Tony said, holding onto his strong shoulders, “you’re going to walk me down. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that you’ll get me into a wheelchair.”
“But, in hell, a snowball would--” Steve was taking a bit too long to get Tony’s joke.
“It was a joke, Cap. C’mon, don’t want your brain to fry over. Let’s get to the lab, alright?”
“I suppose, but I still don’t get--” Steve started, still stuck on the joke.
To stop him from thinking too much, Tony somehow craned his neck around Steve’s arm and planted a kiss on him. “Shh. Come on. You’re my crutch, remember?”
Steve shook his head, to recover from the surprise kiss. “Yeah. Yeah. I know.”
Once they were in the lab, Tony got situated in a rolling chair so that he could just drag his battery around with him in his lap, and he reminded Steve of his sciencey grocery list.
“Remember, I need my dad’s toolkit. And a sample of palladium. And something hot enough to melt it.”
Steve nodded tersely, and disappeared upstairs.
Tony leaned back in his chair, and sighed. “I really gotta call Barton and get him over here.”
“Shall I dial his number for you?” A British voice asked from the walls.
“Holy sh--” Tony jumped from his chair, almost making the battery short out, when he sat back down and took a deep breath. “Fuck, JARVIS. You keep doing that, just starting to work whenever you feel like it?”
“Sir, I’m almost positive you’ve told me to ‘shut up’ on multiple occasions. I was simply following orders. Shall I call Mr. Barton?”
“Fucking sarcastic AI,” Tony muttered under his breath. Then he threw his hands in the air and shouted, “why the hell not. Call up Barton. Tell him to get down from his nest at the archery range and give me some comfort because I’ve been traumatised.”
“Yes, sir. Shall I tell him those exact words?” JARVIS asked, a sarcastic bite to his computerised voice.
“What the hell,” Tony said, swinging himself around the lab in his chair, “why not?”
Just then, Steve came back into the room, his arms full of supplies. “I’ve got the... let’s see...” he dropped the huge toolkit on his toe. “Fu--” he cut himself off.
“Serum not doing you any favours today, Cap?” Tony asked sarcastically, spinning himself over to grab the smaller stuff out of his hands. He was particularly cautious about handling the small petri dish that held the precious Palladium. That was staying within Tony’s reach.
“Shut up, Stark. That piece of sh--” Steve took a deep breath, “that toolkit is much heavier than it looks.” Now that his hands were relatively empty, Steve grabbed the kit again, hoisting it up to his chest. “Where should I put it?”
Tony deliberately took his time. "well, you could put it over there on that table..." So Steve started to head the direction he pointed.
"No, wait. Put it..." Tony mumbled, twisting his finger in midair. Steve was struggling to keep himself up.
"Damnit, Tony!" Steve shouted, and dropped the toolkit on the floor, making a loud thud. "I am not your dancing monkey, and I am not your lab-maid. Where do you want the toolkit?”
Tony’s eyes filled with regret. “I’m sorry, Cap.” He secured the car battery to his lap and spun over to a vacated desk, patting the empty counter space. “I need everything here. And then I’m going to need some favours... I’m not exactly able-bodied at the moment.”
“Understood,” Steve nodded as he brought the toolkit over. Tony started to arrange the tools in a specific way, having the blow torch at one end of the desk and a small, round cup sitting right next to it.
As Tony settled stuff out, he seemed to start muttering to himself, as geniuses at work normally do. But one question was definitely aimed at Steve. “Any chance we could get an electric scale over here?”
Steve helped Tony look through the toolkit and realised that, sure enough, that was probably the one most important thing Howard overlooked. He ran back to the other genius Stark and returned with a scale. By then, Tony’s desk looked like a full blown science lab. Every square inch was strategically covered in science gear, ready to be put to use.
“Use that scale,” Tony said, pausing to hoist the battery into a more secure place on the desk, “to measure out some palladium. I need 1.6 grams, at least. Can you do that for me?”
“I, uh--” Steve rubbed the back of his neck. If this was for saving Tony’s life, he knew that he definitely shouldn’t try to take the reins here. “You’ve seen me in chemistry, Tony.”
“Jeeze, you’re right!” Tony grabbed the palladium in a mockingly protective way and snatched the scale out of Steve’s hands. “Can’t have a clumsy Cap handling my life-or-death situation, now can we?”
Steve nervously laughed and pulled up a chair next to Tony, sitting there only in case of excessive need. Oh, and to watch Tony work. Because, to be honest, it was sexy.
Meanwhile, Tony was setting his mind to work. He was quickly and efficiently moving his hands around the table, grabbing one piece of equipment that somehow flawlessly segued into the next step in the process of... well, Steve couldn’t quite tell what. But he was flawlessly doing whatever it was. The only time he looked at Steve was after a small cup of Palladium had been sitting under the hot blue flame of the blow torch, and now the molten metal was glowing a bright azure--so bright, in fact, that Steve wasn’t even sure it was from any sort of natural element. But then again, what did he know about chemistry?
“You have steady hands, right?” Tony asked, grabbing Steve’s hands and holding them lightly in his own. Steve could tell that Tony’s hands were shaking more than normal, probably because of the weak state of his heart. “Yep,” Tony confirmed, taking Steve’s hands and opening them near the molten metal. He placed a sturdy pair of gloves in one of his hands, and a pair of light but somehow heavy-duty clamps in the other.
“You’re going to be pouring this metal into what’s going to keep my heart pumping,” Tony joked, and patted Steve’s shoulder, “nothing too big to worry about, right?”
Steve flashed a sarcastic smile at Tony as he donned the bulky gloves and grabbed the small clamps. “Yeah,” he laughed sheepishly, “no pressure.”
“Good,” Tony nodded, and started telling (and showing) Steve how to pour the metal. “Grab the little cup with those grabby things,” he started.
Steve gave Tony a look that was followed by an obvious sentence. “I’m not five, you know. I know they’re called clamps.”
“Yeah, well,” Tony shrugged, “put you in a chemistry lab and...”
Steve punched Tony in the arm.
“Ow! Ok, ok. Grasp the metal cup with the clamps. Make sure your gloves are on.” Steve carefully did so, and looked up at Tony, eager for more instruction.
“This circular object here,” Tony held up a small yet intricate piece of metal, “is what is your target. Get the Palladium in here,” he traced a small moat in the structure that was lined with glass. Inside, there were small black squares spaced evenly around the circle, each covered with copper wire.
Steve took a deep breath, closed his eyes, opened them, and let the breath out. Carefully, very carefully, he moved the cup of molten Palladium over the reactor’s frame and tilted. An eerily beautiful stream of the light blue liquid gently wrapped itself around the nooks and crannies of the small metal. It seemed almost too soon by the time the cup was empty and the arc reactor was full.
“It’s...” Steve stood in awe for a few moments, “it’s beautiful.”
Somehow, Tony managed to get his arm around Steve, and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,” he whispered in his ear, and then pushed himself back. “But the hardest work isn’t done. I need you to wheel me over to that chair over there...” Tony motioned in a general direction.
“You mean that one that looks like a dentist’s chair?” Steve said, putting the cup down and taking the gloves off.
“Yes, sadly. I--” Tony began, but Steve cut him off.
“I thought the ‘Great Tony Stark’ didn’t get wheeled around,” he said mockingly.
“Yeah, well...” Tony rolled his eyes and waved Steve over. “My arms are tired. And I’ll make an exception for you.”
Steve rolled his eyes in return, and pushed Tony over to the chair. He hoisted Tony’s body and battery up into the chair, positioned Tony just so, and then walked back over to the desk.
“Right... now what?”
“You may notice that while you were busy mocking me, I put a back on the Palladium mechanism that you just poured. So grab it,” Tony started, and Steve simply put a strong, super-soldier hand over it, “lightly!!” Tony screamed, and Steve almost dropped it.
Tony’s arms were feeling well enough to bring his hand to his head. “If we have to re-do this because you drop it, I’m going to consider committing murder. Just for you.”
“Right,” Steve said, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand.
“Bring that over here. Oh, and how big are your hands?”
Steve looked confused, and after he put the arc reactor in Tony’s hands, he held out his own.
“Huh. Surprisingly small for such a big guy. Don’t take it offensively, I need your small hands right about now.”
Steve’s eyes shifted around the room, not sure what Tony was planning. “O... Kay....”
“I need you to help me pull out this dinosaur of a contraption that my dad has in here right now,” Tony started fiddling around with the bulky electromagnet, “and then I’m gonna go into cardiac arrest.”
Steve simply stared at Tony, his eyes wider than they had been in a while. Well, since the grenade explosion.
“Don’t worry,” Tony said, holding out his free hand, “I’m not gonna die. My body’s just gonna freak out on me for a sec. My dad did say that I have a piece of shrapnel trying to get into my heart, right? Well, now it’s relying on this,” he tapped the electromagnet, “to keep it out. Losing that assistance is going to scare it for a moment. Like a little kid losing his mom in a grocery store. This,” he pointed to the arc reactor, “this is going to be like Natasha coming over and sweeping the kid up, taking him over to this lovely place and giving him a life supply of ice cream.”
“So...” Steve said, closing his eyes and moving his hands in a pattern that wasn’t really a pattern at all. “This new blue one is supposed to be the super version of what’s in there right now. And I need to do it.”
Tony nodded with a terse nod and a “yep.”
So Steve set to work. He lifted up the now loose electromagnet and bravely stuck his hand down the metal tube that was now a part of Tony’s chest. He swallowed back the bile that came up his throat as he touched... whatever the hell that was in the metal tube, and finally reached the bottom.
“Good,” Tony said, grabbing the arms of the chair for stability and huffing and puffing, his face twisted into a painful grimace. Steve couldn’t stand the fact that he was putting Tony through anything of this caliber. Tony sucked it up and let out a deep breath. “You need to pull out the base of that electromagnet. The copper wire. The copper wire!”
So Steve pulled. Followed by a not-so-good-sounding snap. And Tony’s grunting got worse as Steve lifted out a small washer wrapped in copper wire.
“Damnit,” Tony shouted, his teeth grinding together.
“Oh, god,” Steve was flailing his hands around, confused about what was happening. “What did I do?”
“Oh, it’s not that big of a deal,” Tony said, teeth still grinding, yet still being as sarcastic as ever. “You just pulled that washer out of my chest. And now I’m going into real cardiac arrest.”
Steve continued to panic.
“No, no,” Tony grimaced, attempting to keep calm. “Just take the blue one out of my hand and plug it back into that little area at the bottom of the tube. Quickly, just... do it!”
Luckily for Tony, Steve’s soldier side already had working quickly in high-stress situations down. He swiftly grabbed the arc reactor out of Tony’s tense hand, grabbed the plug end, and gently lowered it into the cavity that was Tony’s chest.
There was a pop, and Tony lowered his back onto the chair, taking slow, relaxed breaths. “Thanks, Cap.” He raised himself up to push the car battery off his lap (which landed with a large thud), but Steve gently placed a heavy hand on Tony’s new arc reactor and smiling.
Tony’s grin was one of epic proportions.
And then they both laughed. Not from comedy, but rather from relief. And as they laughed, Steve just kind of looked at Tony. Just stared at him, with Tony staring right back. Both of them were communicating, just silently.
Tony made the first bit of motion, grabbing Steve’s shirt and pulling him down, tracing Steve’s ear with his mouth, and Steve leaned into it, breathing a sigh of relief before his breath was taken away by a meaningful kiss.
Chapter 15: The Past and the Pending
When Clint walks into the Stark Mansion to be of aid to the "traumatised" Tony, he runs into a bit of Trauma himself. And havoc ensues among the rest of the group.
During the lab work that Tony had immersed himself in, JARVIS had indeed done his one job. He had called Clint Barton, and, unwillingly, Clint had gotten himself out of the archery range and driven to the Stark mansion.
But Clint never quite made it into the labs. Instead, he had parked his small, black, convertible Mercedes-Benz just outside the door on the pristine gravel parking lot, walked into the foyer, and ran into a surprise.
Not one he was expecting, though, and most certainly not something Stark would purposely have waiting for him as a “hey, welcome back to my house” present.
A man was standing, leaning against the couch in the sitting room, wearing something Clint would never have wanted to see on another man, even from the back.
A long leather jacket of sorts that was adorned by flaps of green fabric covered over a set of leather pants and boots, all black. The sleeve Clint could see sported a highly decorated, armoured cuff that spread for the entire forearm. From where Clint was standing, he could tell that there was gold glinting along the collar of the jacket, as though from a necklace. The most prominent feature, however, was the helmet. A grandiose crown embraced the man’s head, and spiralled off in two directions to create something that looked like horns, spanning another foot higher. He must have been compensating for something.
“Hey, buddy, uh,” Clint started, guessing that if he made himself known there would be a lesser chance of getting the “reindeer in the headlights” sort of look “You looking for someone?”
The man spun around on the heels of his leather boots, the jacket whipping around him, to face Clint. Immediately, Clint knew that getting his attention was a bad idea. He was wearing some sort of leather armour vest under the jacket, again adorned with green. Along with that, the new stranger was holding a menacing-looking scepter in his other hand, the hand Clint couldn’t see previously.
“Indeed I am,” the man responded proudly, strutting towards Clint like some sort of supermodel. “I am looking for Howard Stark, the head of Stark Industries. I do believe this is where he resides.” His accent almost sounded British. So Clint decided to ask.
“No offense, buddy,” Clint said, rubbing the back of his neck and trying to avoid staring at the scepter, “but where’re you from?”
“Me?” The man asked, as though it were a joke, placing his free hand on his chest. “I, I am Loki. Of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose.”
“Uh, huh,” Clint said, now not so sure of the man’s--Loki’s--sanity, “and this ‘glorious purpose’,” he said, making imaginary quotation marks with his fingers, “is what exactly?”
Loki shifted the scepter from his one hand to the other, and pointed it at Clint. “My purpose,” he responded, “is to make a world free.”
“Free from what?” Howard Stark asked, stepping out of his study, rubbing his hands together. His reading glasses were perched on the end of his nose, and he was disgruntled from having stared at a computer screen for so long.
Loki spun again on his heels, facing Howard. In one swift movement he had thrust the sharp end of the spear-like head into Howard’s chest. “Free from freedom, Mr. Stark.” He ripped the scepter away from the pierced chest.
Howard staggered backwards, his back hitting the wall. He fell into something of a fetal position, clutching his chest. “Why--how could you--I HAVE A SON!”
Clint stared wide-eyed at Howard’s wounded body, and turned on his heels, running for the labs. He needed to warn Steve and Tony--
“Clint!” Steve greeted him at the top of the stairs after a head-on collision with him. “I heard a loud thud, thought I could come up and be of assistance. Tony’s still sort of recuperating, or well, tinkering, down in the labs, so I told him to--”
“Steve, look. We’ve got a bit of a bigger problem on our hands right now,” Clint said with an air of urgency, cutting Steve off.
Rather than looking, Steve grabbed Clint on the shoulders shouting “get down!” just as a beam of blue light flew past them. “You go get your archery stuff out of your car,” Steve muttered into Clint’s ear as he reached for the end table next to them for a shield. “I’ll hold whoever this guy is off until you get back.”
Clint gave a terse nod and bolted for the doorway, almost getting hit by another blast of blue light.
“Hey,” Steve shouted to get Loki’s attention, and it worked. Loki aimed the tip of his scepter at Steve and let it jolt out yet another blue beam. Steve let the fine mahogany end table soak up the energy before he saw Howard Stark’s limp body.
“No...” he muttered to himself, and quickly and carefully ran to his side. “Mr. Stark, Howard?” He shouted to the closed eyes. “Please, you have to answer me! You’ve got to--”
Howard’s eyes barely opened, but his mouth turned upwards into a faint smile. “I’m glad I get to tell one person this. Take care of Tony,” he grabbed Steve’s hand with a meaningful stare into his eyes, “please. He’s important for everything. Everything, Steven. Promise me.”
Steve choked back a few tears. “I... I promise, sir. You can certainly count on me to keep your son safe.”
Howard’s eyes closed, and he breathed a final breath, his neck relaxing and his head leaning back on the wall behind him.
The younger Stark came barrelling through the door to the labs, a cord coming out of his arc reactor and attaching to some strange mechanism on his hand. “I heard a--” Tony started, a comically confused look on his face.
But then he saw Steve. And he saw his father.
“Oh my god...” Tony ran over to his dad and grabbed his shoulders. “Dad, dad. Oh my god, no. Dad, you have to--”
“Isn’t this sad,” Loki spat at Tony. “The young protegé doesn’t get to say any final words to his father that he loved ever so much.”
“No, no. He’s not dead, right? My dad’s like a fucking superhero, he could never die,” Tony said, trying to ignore Loki’s taunts. “He’s not dead.”
“I’m afraid your pathetic attempts won’t be any good,” Loki continued to chide, “your father most certainly is--” He was cut off by an arrow with some sort of electrocuting mechanism at the end hit his chest.
“I’m pretty sure that’s enough from you, Reindeer Games,” Clint said as he lowered his bow. He had just returned to the main doorway of the Stark mansion.
Tony took this chance to stand up. But, because he was still getting used to the arc reactor and with the fact that he was already using the energy for extra equipment, his balance faltered. And Steve was right there to catch him.
Wrapping his free arm around Tony’s hip, Steve whispered into his ear, “I thought I told you to stay downstairs.”
Tony did not hear him. After regaining his balance, Tony walked up to Loki’s face, pulled the scepter out of his hand, and threw it to the ground. “You, whoever you are,” Tony spat in Loki’s face, “killed my father.”
He raised up the contraption to Loki’s chest and opened his hand so that his palm was facing Loki. Inside, there was a small disc that glowed the same blue as his arc reactor, and was charging to fire some sort of energy blast, from what Steve could tell.
Tony pulled Clint’s arrow from Loki’s chest and, through clenched teeth, said, “you have ten seconds to either get out of my sight or say any final words you’d like.”
Loki laughed a deep and sinister chuckle, wriggled out of Tony’s way, grabbed his scepter, and went out the door. “This isn’t over, Anthony Stark! And I plan to see you again soon, Steven Rogers!”
After Loki had cleared his line of vision, Tony collapsed at his father’s body, sobbing and pounding the floor with his fist. “Why?” He wailed, “why did that... that...”
Steve came over and put his hand on Tony’s back. “Tony, it’s not your fault. Loki, he--”
Tony pushed Steve’s hand off of his back and glared at him. “You were the one that told me to stay downstairs. I could have fucking saved him. I could have heard his last words. But you told me to stay downstairs. You’re just lucky I’m too impatient to wait for long.” He got up, and grabbed Steve’s shoulders, which were at least three inches higher than his own. “I didn’t get to hear my father’s last words, because you decided to take control.”
Steve’s reaction was nothing but hurt. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t even look Tony in the eye as he threw insults at him. “No, you didn’t. But his last words were about you,” Steve muttered.
Tony huffed. “I barely believe it.” He didn’t take his hands off of Steve’s shoulders.
Steve still averted his eyes. “‘Take care of Tony,’ is what he told me. ‘He’s important for everything.’ You still don’t believe me?”
Tony took his hands off of Steve’s shoulders and turned around toward the labs. “I’ll be working on... this,” he motioned with his repulsor-clad hand, “in the labs. If you need me.”
Steve shared a glance with Clint, and Clint shrugged. “Probably a good idea to at least go sit down there with him. Make sure he doesn’t blow anything up.”
Steve nodded, and both of them started down towards the labs, when Tony, without his repulsor on his hand, stormed past them, heading upstairs again. Steve said nothing, but simply watched Tony go over to his father’s body, pick it up, and place it on the long couch in the sitting room, as though Howard were only sleeping.
Nodding, Tony ran back down to the lab. Once Clint and Steve finally caught up with him, he was sitting in a relaxed position, tinkering with the repulsor, which was now sitting on a holder on the desk in front of him. The skeleton surrounding it had a glove look to it.
“Hey, Stark,” Clint asked, “what are you planning to do with that thing?”
Tony just kind of looked back, noticed that Steve was with Clint, and narrowed his eyes, not responding.
Steve shrugged, and went over to go look through the piles of scrap metal that Tony had laying around. Next to the pile of metal, Steve noticed a table that had multiple military-grade shields sitting on it.
“Tony, what is this?” Steve asked.
Tony just turned around and glared. “I was thinking of helping you. Earlier. Ask Clint.”
Clint shrugged, but then said, “I remember him saying something about you always using shields. Like that end table, and apparently like that metal lab table when Bruce went all Hulk on your guys’ asses.”
“Heh, oh yeah...” Steve replied, turning red and rubbing the back of his neck.
“Apparently these are all tricked out. We’ve got one that apparently has like electric nodes that shock whoever touches the outside when you press a button on the inside, and...”
Steve wasn’t listening. Instead, a round, chrome-plated piece that was laying under the table caught his eye. “And what’s this?” he held it up, observing that there were two leather arm straps on the back of it.
Clint’s jaw dropped. “I’m--uh, I’m not sure. Hey, Mr. Grumpy Pants,” he shouted over to Tony, “care to answer one question for us? What’s this?”
Tony looked up from moping and tinkering to glance at the shield. He turned his head back down. “Hell if I know,” he muttered. “I think--” he couldn’t bring himself to mention his father, “I think he told me it was vibranium. Stronger than steel, a third the weight. Oh, completely vibration absorbent. Super rare, only that much on earth...” Tony sort of faded out.
Steve strapped on the shield to his arm, and held it up to Clint.
Clint gave him a thumbs up. “Looks good.”
Steve turned to Tony and held it up, but Tony didn’t see. “What d’you think?”
Tony turned around, and Steve saw that he had the repulsor strapped to his hand now, with more metal around it (it looked more like a metal glove now). He lifted up the repulsor-equipped hand up, and all Steve heard was a high-pitched charging sound before he held up the shield to protect him from a series of energy blasts.
“Yes,” Tony nodded as Steve lowered the shield to reveal his wide-eyed panic. “I think it works.”
Chapter 16: Hold On
After all that had happened to Tony, Steve knew that he had to console him somehow. Now he just had to know what to do.
Bruce had come into Tony’s lab not long after the shield incident, and asked what happened upstairs.
“I... It’s kind of...” Tony tried to say, but Steve knew how difficult it would be to say something about his father.
“This... Loki guy,” Steve started to say, but Clint cut him off.
“There was this guy dressed like a KISS reject in the foyer, I asked him what the hell he wanted, he said he wanted a world ‘free from freedom,’ so Cap and I started a fight, but before that he sorta...”
“Howard Stark is dead,” Steve said blatantly.
Bruce’s slowly raised his hand to cover his mouth. This amount of shocking news couldn’t have possibly been good for his hulk issue, but he seemed to be coping pretty well. “Oh my god, Tony, I’m so--”
“Sorry?” Tony cut him off, standing up and pushing his chair out of the way. He started gathering all of his tools in a rush as he spat, “Yeah, you and everyone else in this fucking universe that’s full of people that kill your parents and apologise without knowing what it feels like.” Once he had all of his tinkering tools in hand, he stormed out of the lab and up the stairs.
“Oh, shit,” Bruce said, cursing for the first time since his original experiment, “that was my fault. Maybe I should--”
“No, no,” Steve said, putting a large, gentle hand on Bruce’s shoulder, “Tony’s just really touchy right now. Here, I’ll go up and get things settled. Don’t worry about it.”
Steve walked out of the lab in a calmer fashion than Tony had, and made his way up the stairs. Now he and Tony had something to talk about. He knew that Coulson wasn’t his actual father, and he knew that somehow he was by himself, too. He knew that, at this moment, Tony had him, Steve Rogers. And Steve had Tony Stark.
He intended on reminding Tony of that fact.
It didn’t take long, once Steve was upstairs, to find Tony’s room. It had too many signs warning to “keep out” and to “never enter” or to “enter at own risk”. Steve would take the chance.
He knocked first, and then pushed open the door, only to see the tools strewn across the wide floor and Tony curled up on his bed, facing the only window in the room. Quiet sobs accompanied the odd sight of a still Tony Stark.
“...Tony?” Steve said gently, coming over and sitting down on the vacant spot of the bed. He put his hand on Tony’s shoulder and tried to roll him over.
All Tony did was mumble something along the lines of “I didn’t even get to say good bye, Steve. He was gone before--” Another couple of soft sobs interrupted him.
Steve rolled him over with as gentle of strength as possible, and looked at his face. When Tony opened his eyes, they were red and puffy, the almost omnipresent smirk completely absent from his face.
He couldn’t help but lean down and give Tony a kiss on the cheek. This time, there was no hand on his hip to keep him down, no begging motion from Tony’s arms. The only thing semi-normal for Tony was him turning his head to get Steve’s mouth on his, rather than only a kiss on the cheek.
Without moving back to his sitting position, Steve whispered, “I swear, everything will be ok. I promised your dad I’d be there for you, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
Tony stole another kiss from Steve, unwrapping his body from the fetal position it was in to be more adaptive to Steve’s body.
Steve could feel Tony’s fingers lacing through his hair, pulling him closer into a much more (was comfortable the right word?) comfortable position. He swung his legs up onto the bed and grabbed Tony’s head, being sure to be cautious.
But it was obvious that Tony could care less about cautious.
“Feeling better?” Steve asked between kisses.
Tony felt that actions spoke louder than words, and he pressed his mouth roughly against Steve’s.
It isn’t like Steve was going to object. Even if he didn’t want to be in this position right now, he figured it was probably theraputic for Tony to have his mind off of his father’s death. For now.
After quite some time, Steve pulled away--just slightly--and simply laid on Tony’s bed, looking around his bedroom. The size of the room shouldn’t have shocked Steve, but, with him being, well, Steve, he couldn’t help but marvel over the sheer enormity of the room. That, and there was art all over the walls, a combination of modern art, Picassos, and rock band posters. One piece caught Steve’s eye in particular.
“Hey, Tony,” Steve said, poking Tony in the side and making him jump, “who did that piece of art over there?”
“Hm?” Tony rolled over and sprawled his arm over Steve’s chest as he gazed at the art that caught his eye. “Oh, that’s some old present that Coulson got for... um...”
Steve nodded. “Got it. So who made it?”
The piece was circular, with a band of red around half of the circle and blue around the other half, and then some, on the inside. Inside the partial band of blue was half of a star, on the same side as the red band. It was beautiful. At least Steve thought it was.
“No idea,” Tony said, trying to get Steve to come back into his caress.
Instead, Steve got up and walked toward the art, putting his hand up to it. “It looks sorta like a... shield.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah... can we get back to...”
Steve then took the opportunity to check his watch. “Oh my god, Tony, I have to get home. I have to talk to Coulson... I’m sorry. I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?”
“But Steeeeeeve,” Tony sounded like a spoiled child. All he was doing was whining. But, Steve supposed, he was at least a little bit justified. After all, the guy’s dad had just died. So he had a bit of an excuse. He walked back over to the bed and sat next to Tony.
“I just have to go see my uncle. Tell him I’m ok. I stayed here all last night, you know.”
“I know,” Tony leaned up to give Steve another kiss.
“If you want me to, I could come back...” Steve trailed off.
“Yes,” Tony replied immediately, almost cutting him off.
Steve chuckled. “Alright then, I’ll be back. Only if Coulson lets me off the hook, though.”
Tony sat up in his bed. “Don’t be too long.”
As Steve left the room and walked downstairs, he saw that Bruce was sitting next on the armchair facing Howard’s body.
“Oh, jeeze, Bruce...” Steve started, but Bruce gently cut Steve off.
“It’s ok, Steve. I’ve been working on this stress thing for a while. I’ve learned a trick.”
“Oh?” Steve asked.
“Yeah,” Bruce smirked, “but I couldn’t tell you, because it’s an ancient Chinese secret.” He laughed, something that Steve needed to hear right now what with all the drama surrounding him.
“You’re going to have to tell me eventually,” Steve said, but then started for the door. “I have to go check up with my uncle. Because, you know, I haven’t been home in two days or so.”
Bruce nodded knowingly. “I haven’t been home for a while.”
“Aren’t you thinking your parents might be missing you?” Steve asked, taking his time to talk to an old friend.
Bruce shrugged. “It’s not like they’d worry. I mainly live with my grandparents anyways, and they love my friends. And they know Tony’s family... well, Tony has great accommodations. So I told them I was staying here for a while. They were pretty OK with it.”
“No parents?” Steve asked again.
“Nah,” Bruce shook his head, pushing himself up from the armchair. “Not sure where they went. Grandparents were always there. So, how’s Tony?” He asked, changing subjects.
Steve never realised how much he could connect with Bruce in that certain aspect. Having both parents just... disappear like that, not exactly something happens very often.
“Tony? He’s...” Steve blushed, “he’s better. That’s for sure. If you don’t mind, I sorta have to...” he motioned toward the door, and Bruce almost acted like he was in the way.
“Oh, no no no. Please,” he smiled, and ended the conversation smoothly.
“Thanks,” Steve responded, and ran out to his motorcycle. He couldn’t be sure if Uncle Coulson would be angry or relieved. Well, Steve supposed he would find out soon enough.
Chapter 17: Wait It Out
Coulson reveals news to Director Nick Fury, and Steve passes along an invitation.
As Steve walked in the door, he heard a worried, “Oh, God, I think he just walked in the door. Thank you for your time anyway.”
“...Uncle Coulson?” Steve asked cautiously, putting his jacket on the hook by the front door.
Coulson ran through the front entryway, not far from Steve, and wrapped his arms around the huge teenager. “Thank God you’re safe,” he murmured into Steve’s shoulder.
“You knew I was at Tony’s,” Steve said holding Coulson out by his shoulders and smiling. “But I’m actually touched that you were that worried about me. Who was that on the phone?”
“It was Direc--erm, it was principal Fury. I was calling to see if he had any background as to where you would be, because the Starks didn’t answer their phone.”
“Oh, yeah...” Steve replied, rubbing the back of his neck. “We had a bit of a holdup at the Stark mansion. More so than a grenade going off and blowing Tony halfway across the room.”
Only one of Coulson’s eyebrows shot upward. “Oh?”
Steve tried his hardest to be as solemn as possible. “We had a sort of... intruder, if you will... And he attacked Clint...”
“Clint Barton?” Coulson asked, shocked, but lowered the interest in his voice. “I’ve heard incredible things about his athletic skill with a bow and arrow.”
“Yeah. He had his stuff there. But Clint had the first run in with this intruder guy, and then How--erm, Mr. Stark came up to see what was going on, and apparently the intruder was after him.”
Coulson donned a face of severe worry. “How do you mean, the intruder was after Howard Stark?”
“He stabbed him, Uncle. Howard Stark is dead. I got up there just in time to hear his dying breaths... and he passed before Tony could even get upstairs.”
Coulson’s reaction was much like Bruce’s. Aside from the fact that he picked up his phone that he had only recently picked up, and redialed the same number he had been speaking to before.
“Director,” he muttered into the phone, getting a confused look from Steve, “we have an issue here.”
What is it, Agent? Steve thought he heard the other end of the receiver answer.
“I’ve just received some rather disconcerting news by way of Rogers about the Stark Mansion.”
There was a long pause.
Coulson took a deep breath, “Sir, Howard Stark is dead.”
Another long pause.
Are you meaning to tell me, Fury’s voice had taken a different tone all of a sudden, that we just lost one of the most important pieces in our project?
Coulson simply nodded, as though Fury could see him directly. After glancing up at Steve, he took a deep breath and muttered into the phone. “Yes, sir.”
There was a click. No more of Fury’s voice, just a dead phone line.
Coulson took a moment to compose himself, and then stared Steve in the eye. “I’m pretty sure your friend needs you right now.”
Steve nodded. “Right, but you have to realise... There’s no one there but us now. An unstable science nerd ready to hulk out at any moment, a guy with a new electromagnetic heart assist and daddy issues, and me.”
Coulson nodded slowly. “I see. You want me to...?” The question did not need finishing.
“Yes, you should come with me,” Steve responded, a somber grin on his face.
“I’ll meet you over there,” Coulson replied, putting his stuff together. “Having that many irresponsible teenagers around sounds like a bad idea.”
“Yeah, you’re telling me,” Steve forced a chuckle.
“That, and Howard Stark and I were very good friends. He would have done the same for me, so I’m going to give him one last favour now...” he faded off, reminiscing about his lost friend.
Steve figured that now would be the best time to go. “So, I’ll see you over there, Uncle.”
Coulson simply waved a hand good-bye.
Chapter 18: Fix You
Steve discusses Tony with Bruce and discusses Tony with Tony.
Back at the Stark mansion, Bruce had been abandoned upstairs to greet Steve by the time he had returned.
“Thank god you’re here,” he calmly said as he flipped through the latest edition of Science Mag, “Tony’s locked himself in his lab... again.”
Steve was tempted to roll his eyes, but considering the circumstance... “What is he doing down there?”
Bruce did not lift his eyes from his magazine. “Who knows,” he licked his finger and flipped another page, “but there’s a reason I’m not down there--the big guy may not like it if Tony exploded something again.”
Steve sat across from Bruce. “I suppose that makes sense...” For a moment, he analysed the room. “Hey, Bruce...”
He looked up from his magazine.
“Where’s...” Steve cleared his throat; he wasn’t sure if he would ever ask this, “what did they do with Howard?”
Bruce dropped his magazine and his eyes widened in panic. Steve shot up out of his chair.
“Bruce...” Steve said, a pathetic attempt to calm him down.
Steve could tell that Bruce’s mind started to race, searching desperately for an answer. “I--” Bruce took a deep breath, and then a wave of realisation--and relief--washed over him. “Oh yeahhh... the SHIELD (I think that’s right...) agents came and took him away in a heli--carrier?--not too long before you showed up.”
“Oh,” Steve sat down in relief, “that explains it. I think my uncle works for them--it--whatever you want to call SHIELD.
Just then, they heard the purr of Coulson’s SHIELD-grade car coming up the driveway, and the engine shut off. Bruce resumed his reading, and Steve ran to the door to care for his uncle.
“So, turns out that your company--SHIELD, right?--came over and took Howard’s body. I guess they’re going to prep it or something,” Steve reported to Coulson as he stepped into the foyer.
“That’s... odd,” Coulson replied, though he silently smirked to himself about how wonderful a person Director Fury really could be.
“Yeah,” Steve responded, moving back to the sitting area and expecting Coulson to follow. “I guess, since Howard was involved with your company... maybe they have a funeral going for him or something?”
“You’re probably right,” Coulson muttered, distracted with the elegance of the mansion, “not that I’ve known SHIELD for providing life insurance benefits before. Where’s Tony?”
“Lab,” Bruce responded before Steve could.
“God knows what he’s doing down there,” Steve added. Coulson just shrugged and sat down.
“You know,” Bruce sat up, putting his magazine down and sitting up properly, “you should probably get him out of his lab and into the real world again.”
Coulson and Steve both looked at Bruce in slight confusion.
“Come on,” Bruce put his serious face on, “think of all the shit that he’s had to deal with in the past two days. He got blown up--I hulked out, but come on, that’s not as big of a deal--and some random guy dressed in leather and a cape stabbed his father.”
Steve looked down and wove his fingers together behind his back. “What do you suggest?”
“Shakespeare!” Bruce threw his hands in the air excitedly.
“...Shakespeare?” Steve looked confused.
“There’s a Shakespeare production going on at the school on Friday this week. Tony could do with some classic literature.”
Steve laughed. “I don’t know if he can understand classic literature.”
“You’d be surprised,” Bruce said, and stuck his nose back in the magazine, laying back down on the couch.
After exchanging a glance with Coulson, Steve headed to the labs. He was positive Tony would have already heard him coming, what with the door clicking behind him, but as he came around the corner, Tony was still hard at work.
“Hey, Tony?” Steve asked, knocking on the lab’s door as he entered.
“Look,” Steve said, as though speaking to a brick wall, “I know everything recently has been really hard, but I was thinking, maybe later this week...”
“No, you don’t know.” Tony got up from his chair slowly, turned around, and faced Steve. His tired eyes were difficult for Steve to look directly into. “You don’t know what it’s like to lose a father. You don’t know what it’s like to have to pray and hope every day that a little blue circle of light doesn’t give out, because it’s the only thing keeping you alive. No,” he took a moment, and sat back down in his chair, “you don’t know, Steve. You. Just. Don’t.”
Steve looked down dejectedly. “Actually, I do. No parents, remember? None. Both were in the most recent war--the army’s how they fell in love. They both died in the battlefield. So Coulson took me in. It’s simple, but I have no parents.”
Tony’s face was blank, detached, and unfeeling.
“I see,” Steve muttered to himself, and turned. “I hope you know,” he started, “that we are going to see the school’s Shakespeare on Friday. Be ready for that.”
Tony sat at his desk again, tinkering away, as Steve went upstairs. He looked at his little calendar and carefully circled Friday in a red pen.