Steve didn't want to wake up, not just yet. He rarely had a good long nights sleep since he'd woken up from the ice, and he appreciated every bit of it when he got some. Especially after frustrating days, or weeks even. Actually, everyday had been frustrating since the Loki incident, or more like since he had met Tony Stark. They started their, 'acquaintance', all on the wrong foot. It was a disaster from the beginning. Steve who was always kind, tolerant and friendly, acted like a total jerk when Tony was around, and Tony, who was rarely polite to people that were not his absolutely the closest and the most important people, or those who he wanted to fuck, seemed to answer to his attitude reflexively. He didn't even have to think of what to do or say. It all just floated out of his mouth as soon as he opened them and lasted until he closed them. Plain and simple. Just when the two of them happened to be in the same place in the same time they would gravitate toward each other like magnets and engage into a quarrel that always morphed into a fight. They were both used to it by now.
But the last night was somehow worse than others. Tony said some things and Steve said some things but it seemed like that last straw, the one that broke the camel's back… Normally Stark always was the one to have the last word. With his wit, intelligence, bold sense of humor and; just everything, he was outsmarting Steve most of times, but not this time. This time he didn't talk back. He stayed silent and just left.
Steve always wanted to win one of their banters, see Stark lost and humiliated but somehow he just didn't feel triumphant when it happened. He felt bad. It almost seemed like he really touched something very sensitive in Stark's cold heart… Or maybe it was just a coincidence? Maybe the billionaire just woke up on the wrong side of his huge bed and wasn't in the mood for a quarrel with Steve…
Whatever it was, it was a reason for another troublesome night for poor Captain. He tossed and turned until wee hours of the morning and just couldn't get a restful sleep. So, he really didn't want to get up just yet. He was tired and still felt bad about what had happened last night. Getting up would probably mean meeting others in the kitchen and they would ask about their 'fight'. Or he would meet Tony and that would be even worse. Steve was afraid that Tony would still be mad. Normally he wasn't the type to give silent treatment, since that would be more of a punishment for Stark himself, than others, but Steve was afraid that this one time he might not want to talk to Steve. Then again, normally Steve would call it a blessing if Stark shut up for a moment, but this time… It just didn't feel right. He didn't want their fights to go that far. Weird. Maybe he should get some more sleep, to clear his mind…
But this damn sun was shining so brightly.
"JARVIS, shades please-"
Nothing happened. Steve pushed his face deeper between the pillows but somehow they felt, different. Like they've lost some of their fluffiness and softness, and they smelled different too. Smelled… wrong.
He heard some noises but no answer from Stark's favorite AI. He raised his head and blinked few times to let his eyes adjust to the intense light.
And he couldn't believe what he saw.
"What the hell is going on here?!..."
The glass panel windows were replaced with small hatches, curved smooth walls for angular yellowing ones.
It was like waking up from the ice all those months ago. Everything looked exactly like it was back in the forties.
"Is this some kind of a joke? I didn't fall for this back then and I won't fall for it now, Tony! This isn't funny! Tony!"
Ok, maybe he said something to Stark that hurt his non-existing feelings but to move him while he was asleep and trying to pull this on him again… it was just low.
Finally a nurse arrived, just like that time- She looked a bit different, but she was perfectly styled and dressed, Steve would give them that.
"Good afternoon, Captain Rogers."
"Good afternoon, madam. Now, you can tell Tony that his joke is childish and absolutely not funny."
The girl was clearly thinking, hard. She was probably wondering if she should drop the act since it was disclosed already, or play her role just because Tony had told her to.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I have no idea who Tony is…?"
"Of course you don't." Steve sighed and got up. "I've had enough of this. I'm going to strangle him."
"Captain Rogers, you shouldn't…"
He tuned the girl's protests out and left the room, expecting to see the inside of the Tower but instead of modern high class condo he saw a long hall with old oil painting on the dirty walls, countless nurses, soldiers, wheelchairs and people... Ok, that was something more than the last time, as it seems. That was not just a room that looked like from his times, this was… the whole hospital.
He ignored the staff that tried to stop him and forced his way outside.
He was shocked. There was no cars, billboards, traffic jams and every day city noise. No crowds in a morning rush, no skyscrapers, no Stark Tower and no hot-dog stand on the corner… nothing! There were brick buildings, olds mobiles, a lot of soldiers in uniforms from the forties. How much did this stupid prank had to cost? And was that a Beaufighter flying over his head?!
Then three more nurses caught him by his arms and started to pull him back into the building, explaining that he should just sit down for a moment and talk to them, so he did. Somehow he was starting to become a bit curious about the rest of this, show. Since Stark even rented planes to fool him then probably the least Steve could do to humour him was playing along. It was interesting and kind of… nostalgic. Since it was Saturday and he had no work scheduled for the day, he would gladly pretend to be in his old days for a moment. After all, those were the good days, the best time of his life!
"Captain, how do you feel?"
"I'm fine, thank yo-"
The words died on his lips when he looked up and saw something that no matter what, just couldn't be fabricated.
She runs to him with tears of happiness falling all over her cheeks. He could only stare. It was Peggy Carter. Even Tony couldn't dress someone up for her. It was unmistakably Peggy.
"Where's Tony…?" He had no idea why this of all things was the first thing he said. It was ridiculous, really, but whatever.
"Who's Tony?" Now Peggy looked worried. Why? He was fine, he just… asked about Tony…
One of the nurses tried to explain. "That's one of the names that the Captain had been saying after he woke up: Tony Stark… But Mr Stark's first name is Howard… The other one was… Jarvis…. I suppose…"
"Steve, who's Tony?"
He felt panic engulfing him like the cold water when his plane with the Tessaract buried him in the depths of the ocean. It was paralyzing, suffocating.
"Steve, are you alright?"
He wasn't alright. It was the woman who was supposed to be dead by now and the world around looked like the one he had left behind seventy years ago. He wasn't alright.
When he woke up again the light was dimmed, and something was resting on his chest. It was a hand.
"Steve, please, don't get up."
It was her.
"Where am I?" He needed to know.
"You're in a hospital. Your plane went down and you were in a coma for over two months… seventy days. You only woke up this morning. I was so worried about you, Steve-"
"I… …? …in a coma?"
There was knocking on the door, and in the dim light Steve saw a mop of wavy black hair in the doorway.
The man who entered the room was not Tony…
"Steve? It's me, Howard. They said you were calling Tony Stark… They asked me if I knew him, but I've never heard of anyone in our family with this name. Who's Tony?"
Steve was silent. He was looking at Howard and couldn't believe. He didn't know what to think or feel. What the hell was going on in here?
"What year is it?"
"1943… Why?" Howard sat down on the chest of drawers that stood beside the bed and Steve couldn't help but notice how similar to Tony he was acting.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Even when he was uncomfortable he acted like his son.
"It's just that… you act like Tony."
"Who's Tony?" Peggy was getting impatient. She frowned, Steve didn't like what it did to her face.
"Tony Stark is…" He wanted to say friend but stopped himself. It wasn't true. "He's Iron Man, an Avenger, He- he's Howard's son."
"I don't have a son!"
That was pretty funny. Steve would laugh at Howard's face at the moment if he wasn't too freaked out to even laugh. He needed to explain that, somehow, just yesterday he was in the future.
"It's alright, Steve. Just… explain." Peggy's tone was kind of edgy.
"Alright… I… I woke up in 2012. Soon after the Tessaract had awakened and the Earth was in danger. Then SHIELD gathered together a few people who were supposed to save the day… "
"Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division."
"What are you talking about? How do you know about that?" Stark's eyes were huge. "It was just an idea, No one should know about hat…"
"SHIELD found me in the Ocean. They took me out from the ice where I was stuck for over seventy years."
Howard was looking at Steve critically. At first he'd assumed that Steve just hit his head, but now he said something that no one could know about. It was his idea. An idea that existed only in his own head, up until now. How did Steve know about it? His curious mind was looking for answers.
"And how was it? The future, I mean! How was the future?"
"Everything was moving thousand times faster. It was still always way too slow for Tony thoug, no matter what…"
For hours Steve sat there with Howard telling him things he had seen in the future. He answered every question as best as he could, often adding that this or that only Tony could explain. Peggy was listening to all that patiently for few hours but left, unnoticed, at some point. When she got back they were still talking about flying suits, green monsters and robots. And Tony.
She knew that Steve had an accident, probably hit his head and then he had a dream while he was in a coma, but… Why was he dreaming about Stark's son? Why not about her?
"So… you befriended Howard's son in your dream?"
"NO! No- we- we don't like each other very much. Actually we fight all the time. He is insufferable! Arrogant and just… He drives me crazy! No matter how hard I try to stay calm we always end up fighting. I mean… I respect him. Maybe even admire, because he's brilliant and I know that he acts like a total jerk only to keep people at the safe distance, but… I don't know, we just, can't get along."
Howard was listening to that only mildly interested. He didn't care about that 'Tony'. He was more interested in gamma radiation.
"What about Dr. Banner? Did you get along with him? Was he calm enough to work with others?"
"Yes, he's very calm. Not that Tony isn't calm, but yeah, Tony isn't calm. But he is always nice to Bruce. It's weird, like he only dislikes me. Then it probably looks like I dislike him too, but it's not like that. I do like him… I mean I don't…"
Howard pulled on his own hair in frustration.
"But Dr. Banner worked with the team when he was a monster?"
"Yes. I mean at first he didn't but Tony believed he would. And he was right. Hulk likes Tony a lot. Tony was said to be unable to work with others too, so maybe that's why…"
Howard was bemused. No matter what he asked about the answer was somehow always about Tony. The visions from Steve's dream were mesmerizing, fascinating and unexpectedly possible! It was brilliant! But why did it have to involve his unborn son? And why was Steve constantly blabbering about him? He tried to make it sound like he didn't like that Tony person, but it was obvious that he was obsessed with him. Now Stark was starting to wonder what it was all about. If he didn't know any better he would think that Steve is trying to suppress something… something like a crush on Howard. That would be awkward. But it made sense. Steve's pure and righteous mind offered him the vision of another Stark, who was very much like the Stark he had a crush on- No! These thoughts were too bizarre. Howard needed to concentrate and ask Steve all his questions while the dream was still fresh in his memory.
"So, about the arc reactor: Does it really produce so much power?"
"Yes, since Tony miniaturized it and replaced the core with vibranium it works perfectly as a power source."
"Vibranium? Isn't every bit of it in your shield?"
"Well, yes, but Tony can create it. I think that they want to give him Nobel prize for that one but he, he jokes that he doesn't like to be handed things but, I don't know. I think he doesn't care about prizes and things like that."
Peggy stood up.
"I think it's enough for today, Steve. You need to rest."
"Why? JARVIS, what time is it?"
Steve flushed, realizing that JARVIS wasn't there. Peggy and Howard exchanged weird looks but Steve couldn't blame them. He was probably acting pretty strange.
"I think I'll go and take a shower."
Steve left. When he got into the shower stall he still asked JARVIS for hot water. When there was no answer he simply used the tap. The water was cold at first and only after a moment it warmed up. Maybe the Stark Tower was ugly but definitely very comfortable and accommodating.
"JARVIS, soap… damn it…"
They moved him to the military quarters. It was small but comfortable. Not very cosy but he would work on that.
Days passed. Getting used to that new-old life was harder than he could ever have imagined. He realized that he had missed his cell phone, the very thing he though he hated the most. So many things could be done so much better and faster, if only everyone had a mobile phone.
Another thing that used to scared him and now he was sorely missing was internet. Every time Howard, who was now like his shadow always beside him asking difficult questions, was not satisfied with his answers, he wanted to check it on the web… But couldn't since there was no internet and no Google.
Cars were slow, weapons weak, and when he needed to be somewhere fast he couldn't. When he needed a lift to a plane or somewhere high there was no Iron Man to give him a lift faster than he could blink. He was getting frustrated and angry. There was no Tony to yell at. There was no one with who he could, just take the weight of the world off of his shoulders. It only happened around Tony and that's it. With everyone else, for everyone else, he was always only Captain America. At the mere thought of Tony, Steve's guts twisted. Damn it.
He wanted to punch something.
He heard knocking on the door. He knew it was agent Carter. He'd promised her a date. When he was in 2012 he missed her so badly, and wanted nothing more than to go on that date they had planned. Now every time he looked at her he was trying to find what it was back then that he found so attractive. She was different then he remembered. She wasn't perfect. Her eyes were, asymmetric. How could he not see it before? Now it was the first thing he saw while he talked to her and it was distracting. And he remembered them as much bigger than they actually were. Her lips were also different, too red, and they stuck out too much, her lipstick was too… too… It was not what he remembered… In 2012 he drew her portraits in his sketchbook dozens of times but only now he realized that they were idealized, doctored and warped.
He took her to the restaurant for dinner. They talked. They laughed but for Steve it was a bit forced, stiff. He went to the bathroom. He moved his hands under the faucet waiting for the water to flow. It didn't so he used the tap. Of course- the tap, what else would there be in 1943? It’s been a week since he had woken up from the coma. How many times did he hit the glass door because he was sure they would open automatically? How many times did he tap on screens forgetting that they would not react to touch? How many times did he wake up at night thinking of going to Tony's workshop just to… tease him about his habits, make fun of his tousled hair and grease on his face… and to try to convince him to get some sleep because he would be useless on missions if he didn't rest properly. How many times more would it take?
Tony wasn't there. Was this really just a dream? It felt so real.
He got back to Peggy. She seemed so happy…
She talked about how worried she was when his plane went down. This conversation didn't sit well with him. He knew where this was heading. She mentioned their kiss, he felt nervous. Luckily she saw it and slightly changed the subject. For a moment there Steve felt hopeful but then realized that the change was not in a good direction. From the frying pan into the fire! She talked about future. Wasn't that a bit fast? He was twenty two! He was too young to marry someone and have kids.
He thought he was ready before but now, it was different now, things were different now. Back then he was sure that Peggy was the one and now he didn't even know if he wanted her at all. It was so incredibly awkward…
And then there was Howard.
He did a lot of small things that reminded Steve of Tony. It irritated Steve because he felt like Howard was doing everything wrong, like he was an imperfect version of Tony and - Not that Tony was perfect, far from it! He was, everything but perfect! But, let's take the eyes for example.
Howard's eyes were, they were not as expressive as Tony's and they looked much more plain. The moustache Howard was sporting was ridiculous. Of course, they we in fashion in forties but, it still looked weird, while Tony's very originally trimmed beard looked… cool. Howard's face was too round and… well…. It was not easy to admit but Tony was much more handsome than Howard. And even though many of Tony's quirks Steve could see in Howard's behaviour they were still too different, and it somehow bothered him.
He was constantly talking about Tony and the rest of the team like they were real. He knew that Peggy, Howard and all other people thought this was weird, but… He was sure that all of them would be born soon, or not so soon. Maybe he would see little Tony Stark when he is born, that thought twisted his gut.
Days passed one by one and he didn't feel any better.
Actually it was worse with every passing day. Getting used to this life was taking too long. He couldn't fit in. Why? If he could find his place in the future why couldn't he find it again in his own time? What was wrong? Something in here was different and scary. Something was wrong, something was missing and he was afraid to discover what because he had this creepy feeling that it was something he had left behind, in 2012, and couldn't get it back. And he was absolutely sure he needed it. Whatever 'it' was, he missed it too much. Somehow he felt that if he actually knew what it was he wouldn't be able to stand this loss.
Another mission, another strategy meeting and another dose of awkward slips of tongue, like maybe Tony could- Or let's sent Burton with- et cetera. They all had enough of this. Steve should be fine by now, or at least better, but he wasn't. His condition didn't change. He still believed his dream was somehow real and talked to some mysterious JARVIS from time to time. And he seemed depressed, but when Howard tried to ask him about it he snapped. Then he realized that this Stark was not his, was not that Stark. He wasn't Tony. He shouldn't yell at Howard. He apologized and Howard suggested that maybe Steve should get some help; they had good psychiatrists in the army. At first Steve aggressively refused but with every sleepless night he was getting closer and closer to actually trying it out. He needed help, that much was obvious.
"Are you serious? You'll see the shrink?" Howard was relieved.
"I really do need help, but I also know that a psychiatrist won't be able to provide it."
"Oh, come on, Steve. Give them a chance."
"I don't need meds or a shoulder to cry. I need to go back. I want to go home!"
"You are home, Steve! Damn it! You've never been in 2012! It was just a dream. You've never met any Tony Stark! There is no Tony Stark and NEVER will be!"
Steve felt like someone slapped him in the face. Those words, were the last words he had said to Tony. When Tony didn't answer him and just left. Steve said it without thinking and a moment later didn't even remember what it was all about, but that was IT. He said to Tony that it would be better for him to never wake up in 2012 because then he would've never met Tony.
His chest ached. How could he say something like that?
He fell on his knees and sobbed.
"I didn't mean it."
Howard didn't know what to do. He wasn't good with things like that. What is the procedure when Captain America sobs in front of you? He patted Steve's back.
"Come on buddy, it's alright."
"It's not alright! It's horrible! I said that it would be better if I never met him, and it happened, and now I will never see him again."
"So what? You have us; we're real, what was so great about him anyway, you didn't even like him, right?"
Steve looked up at Howard. His image was lacking in everything. Why couldn't he be more like Tony? It would ease Steve's longing even if just the slightest bit.
"Seriously, Steve, what was so great about him?" It irritated Howard that Steve never used the past tense while talking about his dream.
"He- He is- irritating and arrogant. He makes fun of me and jokes, but he never actually laughs. He just smirks. He is careful; He doesn't let anyone close to him, and always tries to scare people away. He acts like a jerk most of times but he doesn't when it matters or when he thinks no one will see it or know about it. When you look into his eyes you see so many things, he has huge and amazing eyes, and when you meet them you can see everything. You can see that he will crush you and anyone else if you even think about hurting people he holds dear. He pretends to be spoiled and vain but never fails to help others. He's so brilliant it's scary to even think about how his mind works. He works a lot; He spends nights and days improving our equipment, making the world a better place, safer place. When I woke up there – in 2012 – I was as lost and depressed as I am now. Everything was different and I couldn't fit in, but everybody was telling me that it's alright, that it's fine. They tried to protect me and treated me like their hero. Everyone except Tony. Only he treated me normally. He teased me pushing me to learn new things, to use new equipment, to do some effort to fit in and not be dependent on others. Thanks to him I learned how to live again. He gave me home even though he didn't like me. He took us all in."
"Maybe he was just lonely himself?"
"No, He only likes to spend time with his robots. They're safe. They won't betray him like people do. That's why he likes them more than people, but I would never betray him, I would never try to kill him… I would- God. I don't know what to do. When I was there I only wanted to go back and now that I'm here I can't stand it. I… I feel trapped… I don't want to be here. What is wrong with me?"
Howard sighed and patted Steve's shoulder again.
"You need help, Steve. It was just a dream. THIS is reality. I don't have a son. I'm the only Starks there is. You must stop thinking about some man that exists only in your head and concentrate on a woman, a real woman who cares about you and tries to make you see her. You've made her pretty desperate recently, Steve. Think about her."
"You mean agent Carter…"
"Why do you sound so depressed? You used to like her. What happened?"
"I don't know…"
"Is it…?" Howard blushed and stopped talking. He didn't know how to ask about it.
"Is it what?" He knew Steve would push.
"You… Is it because you nearly died and realized that life is short and... you know, that you want to make most of it. Follow your true needs."
Steve frowned, clearly very confused. "What needs?"
"Come on, Steve, you constantly talk about this man…"
"…W-what man?" Steve blushed. He knew what man and he felt incredibly stupid now. "I don't talk about Tony constantly, only sometimes when you ask about him…"
"I NEVER ask about him. No one does! And no matter what I ask about you talk about HIM anyway! It's not normal, Steve! Especially that he doesn't exist!"
"That's not true!"
"And you know what, if I ever have a son I will not name him Tony, no matter what!"
"Get yourself together, Steve! Go to Peggy and apologize, maybe she will forgive you. It's not too late, but you need to stop acting like a lunatic!"
"I'm not crazy."
"No, you're perfectly fine 22 years old soldier playing Alice in Wonderland! Wake up, Steve! You need to wake up. You're Captain America. You're a hero. You're brilliant! While you were sleeping your mind created amazing visions, absolutely revolutionary! And very possible! Your mind can do amazing things, so please, don't let yourself to lose it now, and WAKE UP!"
Steve felt dizzy.
The world was spinning and he felt like he was drowning again.
When he opened his eyes he saw Tony. He looked terrible. Or more like terrified and half of his face was covered with blood.
"What happened?" Steve tried to sit up and only then he realized he was naked, on the bathroom floor. Dr. Banner was standing behind Tony, he looked worried. He was wearing pajamas. Tony was dressed in very dirty jeans, no top, no shoes, no socks. Steve looked down and saw that someone threw a towel over his private parts.
"Fuck…" Tony's hands were shaking so Bruce patted his shoulder to calm him down. Tony Tried to wipe the blood from his face.
"What happened?" Steve repeated looking up at Bruce.
"It looks like you have fallen asleep in Jacuzzi. JARVIS recognized the change in your breathing pattern and started an alarm. Tony got here first…"
"Don't worry, there was no mouth to mouth."
Tony shrugged trying to act indifferently. He stood up and walked toward the door.
"Tony wait…" Tony stopped but seemed wrapped up in trying to stop the bleeding from his forehead.
"Don't fall asleep in the bath, Capsicle! Fuck, do you always have to fall asleep when you're in water?"
"I…" Steve stood up and secured the towel around his waist. "Thank you…"
Tony looked taken aback. He looked curiously at Steve like he suspected that it's some kind of a trick. He was pressing a towel to his temple. His hair was tousled and wet from blood.
"No problem. Just don't do it again. I may be asleep one of these days and if you die here they will blame me!"
With those words he left the bathroom.
Bruce was trying to smile at Steve. "Are you alright now?"
"Yea, I… I'm sorry for waking you up. And for… what happened to Tony?"
"I don't know… He probably run and hit something in a hurry… He'll be fine. I'm more worried about you. You almost drowned."
"I… I guess I fell asleep and… God, I hand awful dream…"
"I… I woke up back in 1943, and there was Howard and Peggy, She wanted to marry me."
"And what happened?" Bruce was genuinely curious.
"Nothing, I was there, And I was never here. They said I was unconscious for 70 days and, I had to live there…"
Bruce frowned. "Isn't that what you dream about? I mean, Isn't that what you wish for? To be back in your times, with the woman you've left behind?"
For a long moment Steve didn't answer. He didn't know what to say.
It was just a bad dream, It wasn't a good one. It was a nightmare. Only then he realized that he didn't want that life back. He had a new life now and he couldn't go back, he didn't even want to. He excused himself and went to his room. It was so good to be back… to be home.
He took his sketchbook and looked through it concentrating on pictures of Peggy Carter. They were idealized. When he thought about it, Peggy really had asymmetric eyes, her neck was certainly not that long and slender and her mouth not that pretty. He cultivated his long lost past ignoring his perfectly good present. How could he be so stupid? Life wasn't perfect then, just as it wasn't perfect now. If someone asked him yesterday which life he wants, he would choose the past right away. Only this weird dream opened his eyes to what he really wanted, what he preferred. At the realization that his meeting with Howard and Peggy was just a bad dream something in his soul calmed, but something else in his stomach started to move nervously. This weird feeling worsened every time he thought about his saviour, Tony.
In his dream he, he was talking about Tony a lot. But he talked about everyone, wasn't he? About Bruce and Fury. He was sure he did. I he talked more about Tony then only because he gave them all his home to share and saved them all when the government tried to blow them up with a freaking missile! And he really was brilliant, And, Steve felt hot. He was comparing Howard's and Tony's looks.
He fell onto his bed and buried his face into the pillow. He was afraid to fall asleep again. What if he wakes up and there will be 1943 again? He tossed and turned. He wanted to assure himself he really was in 2012.
"What can I do for you, Captain Rogers?" It was nice to hear JAVIS' voice.
"Is Tony sleeping?"
"No sir, I believe he is in his workshop trying to put his head back together."
"How did he hurt his head?"
"He tried to run through the glass door that opened too slowly."
Steve's heart clenched.
"Everything is always too slow for him, isn't it, JARVIS?
"It seems so, sir. But thanks to people like him the world moves forward."
"Yea…He's pretty amazing, isn't he?"
"Absolutely, sir. He created me after all… Although, I'm not sure if he should know I've said that."
Steve laughed. He got off the bed and put some clothes on. He needed to see Tony.