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A Flying Car, by Stark Industries

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In 1661 my teeth were rattling hard.

TEETH. They forgot. Chewing. Nothing to chew when the lightning went behind the eyes. Everything rattling.

I thought the directive said 1661. I was in the past but I wasn't.

When they put me in the plane I realised. No planes in 1661.

Such a dummy. 1991 upside down. Still the future again.

The future was always cold. I thought it was the nuclear winter. мы выиграли войну.

But I've seen two summers in Bucharest and the Soviets are not here.

1991 makes my teeth jangle like their keys.

Concentra. концентрат.

*The mission called me Sergeant Barnes.* SOLDAT. Longing.

There was blood on the knuckles. I wanted it gone but it's not allowed.

миссия

Her voice rings in my ears. Howard.

Tearful enemy of the people. Meine Zähne tun weh
Mach, dass es aufhört. QUIET.

 

Tony reads the entry over and over as he drinks down two or three glasses of whiskey and tries to figure out what to feel.

It's only the first notebook he's had a technician in need of a grant in the Berlin facility digitise and send over to him. More are on the way. There were six in total in the backpack retrieved from the Winter Soldier, now in lock up pending deep examination. All this stuff will go through the official wash soon enough, state secret by state secret, but he wants to see it first, unedited, raw.

He's a mess, sitting in the dark, chewing on his lip as the entry floats in the air before him, but he knows it and he's fine with it. At least acknowledging it makes it kind of okay, Tony supposes, and it's not like anyone's coming by the Tower to check on him anytime soon. He can drink until he passes out, it doesn't matter.

So far this page is the only reference to 1991 he's found. Morbid curiosity will keep him up late, reading the mess of thoughts and scattered memories for any more clues about that night.

It doesn't matter that he saw it all unfold on a shitty VCR in Siberia, mind filling in the blanks in real time. His mind is going round in circles, looking for more information, or just some way to understand why this all happened.

Hurting hurts too much, so Tony is contented to stay angry for now. That at least feels purposeful. The justified rage of betrayal, it's so righteous and heady.

He killed my mom.

I DON'T CARE.
He killed my mom.

'Friday, search for "Mom".'

 

 I think I had a mom. Warm mom. Flowers, always that smell on her hands. I see a blanket she made for me when I close my eyes. It was patchwork. Frayed corners.

Can't see her face anymore. I hope S remembers her.

She wouldn't know me now.

они разрушили меня

I think she was kind. S will remember her.

 

It's raining outside the tower. Hard rain, with the odd rumble of thunder in the distance. It makes Tony think about Thor. There's a certain dark humour that overtakes him with the thought of what he would say if he could see them all now. It makes him knock back his third whiskey and chuckle to himself.

His reflection in the glass has tear tracks seered into his face, but Tony's fairly sure it's just the rain.

He has a fuzzy memory of Thor telling him a story of a funeral on Asgard. His mother, yes, his mother was dead. They gave her a burial at sea, a warrior sent to rest, flames guiding her towards the next life and stars taking her home. Tony recalls the conversation with a shudder because, honestly, he missed some parts of it because he was too uncomfortable to listen all that hard. Just, well, awkward really.

Pepper handled that one for him. She always had a way of-,

He's mostly just flipping through the holographic representation of the pages idly, entering search words in as they come to him, seeing what appears. The journal is the product of a very messed up mind, that much was predictable. The scrawl changes from tight to loose, big to small, scratchy to thick. There are unlinings and highlights that mean nothing and pages are marked for no apparent reason. There's at least seven languages scattered in use.

The logical thing to do would be to read it from the start. But his mind is no more orderly than the journal, not right now. He started off telling himself he was merely searching for additional information about that cold December night in 1991, to find out who gave the order, to search for someone else to pin under his iron boots and squeeze the life out of until he felt better.

He'd thought about killing Zemo, when he found him tied up and left at the entrance to the Siberian base where it all went to shit. The only problem was that Zemo wanted him to and, well, that animal need to tear someone apart didn't want it to be made easy like that. He didn't want the Panther leaving half dead treats at his feet to make him feel better.

So he did the right thing and took the quinjet left behind for him, delivering Zemo to Ross. He'd questioned hiim about how to control the Winter Soldier, of course; learned of another journal, not written by the man, but about him. But Zemo claimed it was now lost to them all, whatever that meant. Tony expected the story of his unsanctioned jaunt to Siberia to be traded to Ross in exchange for an easy sentence by Zemo, but the man had said nothing at all. He wore the smirk of a victor all the same so Tony guessed he got why.

So the Winter Soldier book, with all its answers and truths was out of reach. That left only the rambling spider scribbles of the man that monster apparently incubated inside.

There's something voyeuristic and dark that keeps him flipping back and forth, reading through thoughts that he has no right to read. The fragmented parts are one thing, but it's the stories that capture him, putting him in a drunken halfway consciousness where he can almost see it all unfolding in his mind's eye.

 

I had a dream about a little boy last night. He can't have been more than three or four maybe? He was a little blonde cherub with bright red cheeks and a snot nose. I don't know where or what year this was. I don't even know his name.

I murdered his parents in their sleep, quietly like a dream. No mess.

The little boy was in the doorway when I turned. He was watching me. Skinny thing in pyjamas, with a teddy bear dangling from one hand. These big eyes were watching me like they were seeing a monster and I almost turned around to look too until I realised.

I was supposed to murder him as well. I can't remember.

Next thing I know I was running. I was carrying this crying little kid under my arm, running through snow, past black coloured trees that looked like corpse hands. Mission reset. I don't know what I was doing but I think I wanted him to live. I didn't want to complete the mission.

I don't know how long I ran with him. I must have found a cabin or outpost somewhere and holled up. He cried and cried for days. The cold made him sick.

I didn't say a word. Didn't feed him either I guess. I couldn't understand what he needed. I spent the whole time watching for them, waiting for them to come for me.

I tried so hard to keep the kid alive but I didn't do anything I should have done. I knew he needed something but I couldn't make myself think what, like I was staring into a blank. Did I even remember how to eat, myself? I don't know. Poor fucking kid.

Of course in time they found me and I pulled the little boy close to me. I didn't want them to have him. I somehow knew what they would do. The metal hand, it covered his face until he was gone. I tried so hard to make it painless and the cold had mostly taken him by then anyway. I don't think he felt anything.

They put hooks through my ankles and tore strips of skin off me for punishment. They let me watch him rot but I didn't mind. He was safer dead than in the nuclear winter with traitor parents.

Except, I didn't believe that. Not really. I remember thinking, this is wrong. This is all wrong. This is wrong.

The electricity took him away from me. I forgot feeling it was wrong too.

 

Most of it feels detached to Tony. A lot of it is the same story over and over; cold, a painful unfreezing, electricity, death, a return to to the cold. A mess of memories triggered by a smell, or a taste, or most often, a nightmare. Misery wrapped in small attempts at the pretence of living.

What he hates most of all are the hints, dotted in all across the pages, abstract and strange, of the one thing he hadn't ever considered; the one thing that tells him that, no, he and Steve were never really friends. Not in the ways that it counted.

This, well, this was the personal stuff. Looking back, Cap cut a lonely figure, even in amongst the crowd he'd provided. He'd always sought out the comraderie of soldiers, like Thor and Sam Wilson, over anything more fun and more personal. He'd never really been comfortable with the gifts Tony had bestowed in his programme of little gestures of friendship that usually had a far better success rate.

Tony had assumed too many things about the man he once called friend, he supposed.

 

FURNACE.

I went to war but I always thought I'd come home. I remember the certainty. Stupid cocky kid thinking he'd be walking outta those trenches, straight back to Brooklyn, and S was meant to be home. Not waiting, exactly. Couldn't be sure of that. But he had to be safe at least.

Always thought it was just a thing to be endured for a little bit of time. Not this.

LONGING.

The museum told the story of a hero but nowhere did it say anything about his skin. The way it burned in the sun once, between the shoulderblades, in a heart shape. How it was soft everywhere 'cept for his knuckles. The creeping flush, hinted under his sleeves and collar like a ankle flashed by one of those sad broads on the street corners. I remember that warmth on my lips. I think it was my only memory of heat for decades.

LONGING. FURNACE.

God I've been itching with rage all night. I want to tear this arm off. Cold, always fucking cold, just like them.

 

He feels derisive in his drunken state. 'Hey Friday, who do you think "S" is?'

'I would surmise it's shorthand for "Steve",' his computerised assistant responds, sounding eerily human in her hesitancy to reply to her deranged maker.

'Yep. So they were fucking fucking, who would have guessed,' he snorts to Friday and then immediately feels bone tired. He can hear Pepper's voice in the well of his ears, telling him it's none of his business and he has no right to know what Cap never told him himself.

Cap. He should stop calling him that, now that the shield his father made is home with him, hidden away in his lockbox and still streaked with the blood from his almost-broken nose, that title stripped from Steve Rogers by all the popular news entertainment channels. The fall of an American icon, live on primetime news.

'I should have known,' he says to himself alone. In hindsight, it was all too obvious that he'd asked a man to choose between his trust in Tony Stark to steer the team in the face of an unavoidable situation, with all the logic in the world behind him, and something engraved onto his bones. He should have known he was asking for the impossible.

Oh he'd heard the stories, time and time again, told by his father direct to him when he was so young he was a different person. Captain America, Howard Stark's true pride and joy, his invisible older brother, the pinnacle of his father's work from the way he told his stories, oh and that young Sergeant Barnes who asked him for a flying car and always made Steve laugh and flush up like no one else. One flaw the serum never fixed, that Irish flush..

His father didn't say much to Tony over the years; never told him he loved him, or that he was proud, but he had apparenly had told him that Cap was screwing around with his long time pal, without really saying it. So that was okay then.

One day he could maybe laugh about it, Tony thought as he smashed his $600 crystal tumbler against the wall and decided to just drink from the goddamned bottle.

He's getting heartburn and he makes a mental note to complain to the whiskey people first thing in the morning. Nothing this smooth should hurt so much. Not at that price.

God he's a fool.

'Friday, search term "Steve". Is it in there?'

'One entry found.'

 


They stole me away.

They put me in the cold and the dark.

They held me down.

They took my body,

Made it do things.

They made me believe

I wanted it.

Now all I have is the sick feeling

And the guilt.

I am bad. I am bad. I am bad.

 

Steve, forgive me.

I'll die if you see me

Like this.


The worst part of all of this mess is, Tony knows what he needs to do. He's known it since he started reading the journal, maybe even before that too.

'Send a note to MIT. "Sorry about the BARF. Tech just won't fly, gotta recall it. Working on a flying car instead." '

It's not like he doesn't know where Steve is now. Zemo's already spilled those particular beans just by being caught so neatly and left for him in Siberia, practically with a bow practically stuck on his ass. The King of Wakanda had been there in the shadows the whole time, and he wasn't there when Tony finally broke his way to the surface.

Nor were Steve and the man he wanted to kill. Just Zemo. Fucking Zemo.

He's on the edge of conscious now. There's no way to read anymore. Much like the whiskey, he's losing the taste for it anyway.

Tomorrow, he'll send a package of his own to the King and call it a return gift of a kind. A $611 million gift, which should mean something. It won't change anything but he's all out of fliphones and he can't make the tear tracks in his reflection go away whenever the night rolls in and he's home alone.

Or maybe it will. Maybe it'll give something back to a couple of guys who've lost more than he'd ever expected. Maybe it's enough, for now.

'Also, Friday, drop a line to my tech guy in Berlin. Tell him to burn those fucking journals. Give him whatever he wants,' he says, before hitting the floor, 'And remind me to call Pepper in the morning.'

For the first time in the weeks since returning from that freezing cold vault in the Siberian mountains, he starts to feel a little warm again.