“What the hell is that?” Bucky said. He had his rifle out and pointed at something on the other side of the metal railing.
Steve took one last look around the lab and stepped up beside Bucky. The lab was circular, and the railing divided the upper level from a pit in the center. Something that looked like spinning shards of glass hung inside the pit. It shimmered, like light reflecting off a broken mirror.
Steve put out a hand to keep Bucky from stepping any closer though Bucky hadn’t made any move to do so. “Another HYDRA experiment?” Steve said as he studied the strange phenomenon.
Bucky stepped away and Steve made himself drop his hand. Bucky circled around the thing from the upper level. “It’s just hanging there,” he said when he reached the other side of the room. “Do you think it’s a weapon?”
The shards did look sharp, and if they exploded outward they could cause a lot of damage. “Maybe.” Steve took a cautious step away from the railing and the, the thing in the pit, afraid to turn his back on it, and glanced around the lab. The base was empty when they found it, but their computers had been left behind, intact, as if they’d had to leave quickly. “If they were researching it, there’s probably notes on these computers.”
“Yeah,” Bucky said distractedly. “Good idea.”
A warning tingle crawled up Steve’s spine. He turned back to Bucky and noticed that Bucky had picked up a pen off one of the lab tables. “Bucky, what are you . . . ?”
“Heads up,” Bucky said. He threw the pen at the thing and quickly brought up his rifle.
Steve instinctively raised his shield. His jaw dropped when the pen passed right through the shards and disappeared from sight. “Where did it go?”
“I don’t know.” Bucky circled around behind the thing, just as confused.
“Try something bigger,” Steve said. He moved to stand closer to Bucky so he could cover them both with the shield, if need be.
Bucky chose a stapler and threw it at the thing as if he was playing stickball in the streets of Brooklyn. The stapler came shooting back out and bounced harmlessly off the shield, though they both instinctively ducked.
“What the . . . ?” Bucky said.
“Someone’s on the other side!”
Just then a small creature stepped through the shards of glass. At the same time an alarm went off. Bucky grabbed Steve by the back of his uniform and yanked him backwards just before a force field sprang up over the pit.
“Is that . . . ?” Steve had to swallow before he could continue. “Is that a dinosaur? Did you just make a dinosaur?”
“I didn’t mean to!” Bucky said, his rifle pointing ineffectually at the small creature.
“How the hell do we put it back?” Steve said, just as what had to be the creature’s mother stepped out of the thing.
“I see it,” Steve said gravely. He hoped those things couldn’t climb, and if they could, that the force field held.
“Do you think they’re the weapon?” Bucky said.
“You think HYDRA, what, cloned dinosaurs?”
“They did in that movie Clint made us watch.”
“Point taken,” Steve said. “We need to go through their research, figure out what they were working on here.”
“The rest of the base is clear,” Sam said as he entered the lab. “Looks like everybody left in a hu– What the hell is that?”
“A coupla dinosaurs,” Bucky said, as if he and Steve hadn’t just been freaking out.
“Why are there dinosaurs?”
“Bucky pissed ‘em off.”
“Of course he did,” Sam said.
“Hey! You told me to throw the stapler!”
Steve’s lips twitched despite their current circumstances.
“Punk,” Bucky said.
“Can we not do this when we’re in the same room with a couple of dinosaurs?” Sam said resignedly.
“Do what?” Bucky said.
Before Bucky could wind Sam up too much, Steve said, “First thing we should do is try to send them back.”
“Back?” Sam said.
“Yeah, back through the, the thing.” Steve waved his arm towards where the shards hung in the air down in the pit.
“The spinning shards of glass thing!” Steve said.
“What, Bucky?” Steve said, exasperated. He looked where Bucky was pointing. “Oh, shit.”
“Language,” Sam said reflexively, then, “What’s wrong?”
“The thing’s gone,” Bucky said. “It started to shrink and then it just . . .” Bucky made a gesture that meant ‘poof!’
“On the bright side,” Steve said, “no more dinosaurs can come through it.”
“More dinosaurs?” Sam said, his voice going a little high-pitched. “There are more dinosaurs now? Wait, what’s the downside?”
Steve and Bucky looked at Sam, and then at the two dinosaurs trapped inside the pit.
Sam swallowed hard. “How long do you think that force field is gonna hold?”
Steve looked at the half dozen computers sitting around the lab and the metal cabinets lining the wall. “We’re going to need help figuring out what’s going on.”
Bucky gritted his teeth and put on his game face. “You call Tony, I’ll start checking the cabinets.”
Steve watched after Bucky. Before he could say anything Sam said, “What do you want me to do?”
“For now, while Bucky and I are both distracted, keep an eye on the force field to make sure it doesn’t fail.”
“What do you expect me to do if it does fail?”
“Yell,” Steve said. He moved away from the others and called Tony.
Sam muttered, “First aliens, now dinosaurs?” as he kept watch.
“Hey, Capsicle,” Tony greeted Steve without looking away from whatever he was working on. “You aren’t due to check in until tomorrow.” Tony raised his head. “What’s up?”
“We’ve cleared another HYDRA base,” Steve said, “but they left something behind and we could use some help figuring out what’s going on.”
“Another experimental weapon?” Tony said.
Steve bit his lip on an automatic defense of Bucky and turned the phone so Tony could see down into the pit.
“What the he-heck?” Tony said, reflexively correcting himself as a jab at Steve.
“Dinosaurs,” Steve said.
“I can see that, O Captain! My Captain! Are they real? A hologram? Mechanical?”
Steve turned the phone back around. “I didn’t get close enough to touch them, but they seem to be very real.”
“Can I keep them?”
Steve frowned. “We all watched ‘Jurassic Park’, Tony. Do I need to tell you why that’s a bad idea?”
“Is that a no?” Tony waited just long enough for Steve to work up a head of steam, then cut him off. “What do you need from me?”
“We could use some help going through their computers so we can figure out what HYDRA was doing here.”
“JARVIS,” Tony said. “Could you spare a little brainpower for Cap?”
“I’d be happy to help, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS said. “Do you still have the memory stick I gave you?”
Steve reached into a hidden pocket on the inside of his utility belt and withdrew the memory stick. “Yes.”
“Please insert it into one of the computers, and I’ll do the rest.”
Steve inserted the memory stick into the nearest computer. “Done.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“No, thank you, JARVIS.”
“Are you done kissing up to my AI now?” Tony said.
Steve ignored Tony’s comment. “JARVIS, our most immediate concern is the force field. Can you find the controls and let us know if it starts to fail?”
“Of course, Captain. I have found the force field controls. The energy levels appear constant and the force field fully powered. I’ll let you know if there are any changes.”
“We’ve got a problem,” Sam said.
“What is it?” Steve said, already turning.
“Mama is not happy.”
Bucky had pulled his weapon forward and assumed a fighting stance, but he wasn’t aiming the rifle at the dinosaur, which had become restless in the confinement of the force field. She prowled the area, sniffing at the walls and floor of the pit, then raising her head to study the energy crackling in the air above her.
“She’s going to get hurt,” Bucky said as the dinosaur charged the wall.
Steve felt the vibrations of the impact in the lab floor beneath his feet.
“She’s going to get hurt?” Sam said.
“Let me see, let me see!” Tony yelled.
Steve raised the phone he’d dropped to his side at the same time JARVIS said, “I’ve accessed the computer cameras.”
“Thank you, JARVIS. Holy crap,” Tony breathed. “She’s magnificent.”
“She’s pants-wettingly terrifying,” Sam said.
“Something’s happening,” Bucky warned.
“Yeah, she’s pissed off and getting ready to eat us,” Sam said.
“She is an Albertosaurus,” JARVIS said, “an herbivore from the Late Cretaceous Period. She will probably kill you to protect her young, but she won’t eat you.”
“What a relief,” Sam said.
“Guys!” Bucky said. “The thing’s opening up again!”
“Crap,” Steve said.
“What thing?” Tony said.
“That’s the thing?” Sam said when the spinning shards of glass reappeared.
“Do you think any more will come through?” Bucky said.
“More?” Tony said.
“Maybe she’ll go back through,” Sam said hopefully, just as another young Albertosaurus stepped through the shards of glass.
The mother looked both relieved and anxious to see her other young one, if you could assign human emotions to a dinosaur. She quickly herded the two young together, looking frantic when a third popped through, and pointed them back towards the thing. A moment later all four were gone.
Steve stood staring at the shards of glass, his shield raised. He jumped when the force field dropped.
“Um . . . ,” Sam said.
“JARVIS, I’d feel better if that force field stayed up in case something else comes through,” Steve said. “Maybe something with wings.”
“Hard second,” Sam said.
The corners of Bucky’s jaw worked. He flipped the rifle around to his back and returned to the cabinet he’d been going through.
“There are alarms that activate the force field should anything come through,” JARVIS said, “but I can easily bypass them.”
“Thank you,” Sam said, relieved.
“Why do you suppose they don’t leave the force field up all the time?” Steve said.
“Too much of a drain on power?” Sam suggested.
Bucky had turned and once more stared at the shards of glass.
“Do you think they sent people through there?”
Steve hadn’t thought about it, but now he could do nothing else. It sounded like exactly the kind of thing HYDRA would do. “Probably,” he said. They wouldn’t have been able to resist exploring the other side, looking over there for a weapon they could use back here.
Steve and Sam joined Bucky opening the cabinets while JARVIS dug into the computers. There were tranquilizer guns and enough tranquilizer to down an entire zoo stored in the cabinets scattered all around the lab. Sam kept peering over his shoulder to make sure the force field still shimmered in the air between them and the spinning shards of glass. Steve didn’t tease Sam, because if he kept an eye on it Steve didn’t have to.
“Captain Rogers,” JARVIS said.
Steve closed the cabinet and glanced up at the ceiling even though JARVIS wasn’t even technically in the building. Steve noticed what he thought was a retractable roof. It made sense, they’d need some way of getting the dinosaurs out of the pit after they’d tranq’d them in order to experiment on them. “What have you found, JARVIS?”
“There is still a lot of information to search through, but I’ve gathered enough information to give you an idea of what was going on at this base.”
“They, HYDRA, called it The Doorway. It was discovered in 1999. HYDRA built this base around it so they could study it. You are correct that they were trying to find a way to weaponize the dinosaurs, but their efforts failed because they couldn’t figure out how to control them.”
Steve glanced over at Bucky, who stood listening with his metal hand clenched into a fist.
“When HYDRA couldn’t control the dinosaurs, they turned their attention to The Doorway itself, looking for a way to create their own doorways.”
“Jesus,” Sam breathed.
“Language,” Tony said, but there wasn’t much delight in it.
“Why would HYDRA want their own doorways back to the Cretaceous if they couldn’t control the dinosaurs?” Sam said.
“Maybe they didn’t want to go back that far,” Bucky said.
“If HYDRA was able to move through time,” Steve said.
“They could go back and win the war,” Bucky finished the thought.
“Or make sure Project Insight succeeded,” Tony said.
“All they’d have to do is kill one man,” Sam said.
“Who?” Steve said.
Bucky and Sam looked at Steve with varying degrees of dismay.
“Without you I don’t get saved from Zola,” Bucky said. “We don’t take down all those HYDRA bases.”
Not that it did any good, Steve thought. Out loud he said, “If not me, someone else would’ve done it.”
“Not many people would’ve defied orders to take on a suicide mission to save a bunch of captured soldiers even if their BFF was one of the men,” Tony said. “Not to mention creating a strike force to go after HYDRA bases and dumping a plane full of nukes in the ice.”
“But they’ve abandoned this facility,” Steve said.
“Doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned the research,” Sam said.
Tony abruptly clapped his hands, interrupting their discussion. “Alright, team. Wrap it up and head back.”
“What?” Steve said. “Tony, we’re not done here.”
“JARVIS has everything we need.”
“What about the Doorway?” Bucky said. “Should we leave it unguarded?”
“I’m with Tony,” Sam said. “I don’t want to be here when another dinosaur comes through. The next one might not be so nice.”
“We’re not arguing about this,” Tony said.
Steve ignored the look Bucky gave him, but before he could tell Tony the grown-up version of ‘you’re not the boss of me,’ Tony continued.
“Pepper wants everyone here for dinner, and what Pepper wants, Pepper gets, so get your asses to the Quinjet.”
“Damn it,” Steve said, recognizing the code phrase. He glanced into the pit where the Doorway shimmered.
“It’s Pepper,” Sam said.
“Fine,” Steve said. “But we need to get a team here. We can’t leave this thing unguarded.”
It was a sixty second jog to where they’d left the cloaked Quinjet. As soon as they were inside with the ramp closed, the screen flickered to life.
“What’s going on, Tony?” Steve said.
“HYDRA was watching and listening to everything you were doing and saying,” Tony said.
“What?” Steve said. “How?”
“The same way we were,” Tony said. “Through the computer cameras. I think the more important question is, why?”
“Maybe they were keeping an eye on the Doorway,” Steve said.
“Best way to do that would’ve been to remain in the base,” Sam said.
“Alright, well maybe they wanted to make sure no one else found the Doorway,” Steve said.
“Best way to do that would’ve been to take the computers and the information they contained, and drop the entire base into that pit. If they can’t close the Doorway, cover it up so it can’t be used,” Bucky said.
“Given what JARVIS has found, I think they wanted to make sure the information on the computers and the Doorway were discovered.”
“Care to share with the rest of the class?” Sam said.
“This isn’t the only Doorway they’ve found,” Tony said. “But it’s the one they wanted you to find.”
“Why?” Steve said.
“We discover that they’re trying to go back in time and change the past, what’s the first thing you’re gonna do?” Tony said.
“Try to stop them!” Steve said.
“Exactly,” Tony said.
“And when we get there, they’ll be waiting for us,” Sam said.
“It’s a trap to get Steve there,” Bucky said.
“Or both of you,” Tony said.
“What am I, chopped liver?” Sam said, then, “Wait, what am I saying? In this case I want to be chopped liver.”
“So the whole time travel thing, is that a set-up or something they’re actually working on?”
“I’m sure they’re working on it,” Tony said. “It seems like the kind of thing HYDRA would love to throw their resources at. JARVIS is checking to see if the research looks cobbled together, but there’s no reason they wouldn’t still want to capture you two even if they do figure out how to go back and win the war.”
“So what do we do?” Steve said. “We can’t let them continue their research.”
“Since HYDRA turned on the cameras remotely, JARVIS was able to get into their network,” Tony said.
“So we’ve got eyes in their base?” Steve said.
“Then we can surprise them!”
“Cool your jets, Captain Kangaroo,” Tony said. “I’m sending you back-up.”
“Who?” Steve said.
“JARVIS is sending you the coordinates,” Tony said. “We’ll talk more when you get there.”
“Tony,” Steve said. “Tony!” No matter which button he pushed the computer screen remained dark.
“I’m just gonna sit back here,” Sam said.
“Want me to pilot?” Bucky said.
Steve glared at Bucky.
“Sooner we get there, the sooner we get answers,” Bucky said reasonably.
Steve took a couple of deep breaths and nodded jerkily. He really wanted to hit something, but he’d get his chance later. Steve removed the shield and stowed it away. He gave Bucky an apology kiss as he passed him on the way to the pilot seat. “Thanks for talking me down.”
Bucky took the co-pilot seat and shrugged. He watched Steve go through the pre-flight check list. “I’ve got your back.”
Steve glanced at Bucky. “I know you do.”
A minute later they were in the air and Steve punched in the coordinates JARVIS has sent. An hour and sixteen minutes after that the Quinjet landed in a hangar bay. Clint and Natasha waited for them when Sam lowered the ramp. Steve shook both their hands and stood back so Sam and Bucky could also greet them.
“Tony said he was sending back-up, but he didn’t say who,” Steve said. “It’s good to see you guys.
“It’s good to see you guys, too,” Natasha said. (Steve ignored the look she gave Sam.) “But we’re not your only back-up.”
Before Steve could ask, Clint said, “This is one of Fury’s secret bases.”
“Nick’s here?” Steve said. As far as Steve knew, the five of them (plus Maria) were the only people who knew that Nick hadn’t died at the hands of HYDRA.
“No,” Clint said, his voice tight. “Fury put someone else in charge.”
“In charge of what?” Steve said.
“In charge of rebuilding SHIELD,” Phil Coulson said.
Steve’s jaw dropped. “Agent Coulson?”
“It’s good to see you again, Captain Rogers,” Coulson said. He looked to Bucky. “And a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant Barnes.”
“Just Bucky,” Bucky said quickly. “I’m not him anymore.”
Coulson inclined his head in agreement. “Bucky. Few of us are who we used to be,” he said before turning to Sam. “Airman Wilson.”
“Just Sam is fine,” Sam said. “Why are you so surprised to see this guy?” he asked Steve.
“Because he was dead. At least that’s what Fury said.”
“I was dead,” Coulson assured Steve. “And it appears I’m in good company.” He indicated Steve and Bucky.
“You knew about this?” Steve said to Clint and Natasha.
“We only recently became aware,” Natasha said.
Steve recalled Natasha assuring him that she and Clint would be available if he needed them, but that they had their own threads to pull after she’d dumped all of SHIELD/HYDRA’s files onto the internet.
“It’s kind of a long story,” Coulson said. “I’ll tell you all about it, if you want, but perhaps it can wait until we take out this HYDRA base Stark was telling us about.”
Steve wanted to demand answers, but Coulson was right. His resurrection, and that of SHIELD, could wait until they’d completed their mission. Still, it rankled that Fury’s assurances that Steve was giving the orders now, and his tacit agreement to taking down SHIELD with HYDRA, had all been a sham. Given this secret base and Coulson’s assignment, Fury had always planned to rebuild SHIELD from the ashes.
Coulson said, “Follow me,” and exited the hangar bay.
Natasha gave Steve a look, and she and Clint followed Coulson. Steve glanced at Bucky and Sam before trailing after them. Coulson led them to a command center. One large screen showed a live stream of the Doorway. Steve stared at it a moment before turning his attention to the second screen, which was filled with Tony’s face.
“Hey, Cap!” Tony said. “I was just filling FitzSimmons in on the Doorway.”
“It’s amazing!” a woman said. She waved at Steve. “Hello. I’m Agent Jemma Simmons. And this is . . .”
The man beside her raised a hand. “Agent Leopold Fitz.”
“This is Skye,” Coulson said, “our resident computer geek. And Agent Melinda May.”
“Hi!” Skye said. She looked like she was having difficulty containing her excitement.
Agent May gave a nearly imperceptible nod. She looked like she was annoyed with the world. At least, Steve hoped it wasn’t him personally that had her looking like she wanted to skewer someone.
“Alright, Stark,” Coulson said. “What have you got?”
The view of the Doorway was replaced with the security feeds from the second base. “JARVIS has access to their security cameras, as well as all the computer cameras if we need those.”
Steve studied the layout Tony put up and listened to the headcount and weapons inventory. When Tony was finished there was a moment of silence.
Coulson said, “Captain Rogers, this is your mission.”
Steve nodded and stepped towards the screen still showing the layout. “Sam, Bucky and I will go in through the front. They’re expecting us. Coulson’s team will go in the backdoor here.” Steve pointed to the escape hatch. “You’ll come up behind the agents while we keep them occupied from the front.”
Steve raised his face to the ceiling as if he was talking to an actual entity, something he’d have to stop doing because he figured it looked kind of ridiculous. “JARVIS, is there a retractable roof in the lab like there was at the other base?”
“There is,” JARVIS said.
“Can you gain access to it?”
“Yes, Captain Rogers.”
Steve returned his attention back to those gathered around him. “Natasha and Clint will enter the lab through the roof. JARVIS, do you have everything you need from the computers?”
“I do,” JARVIS said.
“We’re going to destroy them,” Steve told Natasha and Clint. “HYDRA might have back-ups somewhere, but I don’t want anyone else gaining access to that information. There’s no telling what they’d do with it.”
Steve waited until he got both Natasha’s and Clint’s nods of agreement. He looked to Coulson. “Do you have anything else to add, sir?”
“Not at this time,” Coulson said. “That may change when we arrive, of course. Speaking of, Captain Rogers, when did you want to leave?”
Steve glanced at Bucky and Sam, who both indicated their readiness. They could probably use some downtime, but they’d get that after they took down this base. “Now,” Steve said. “Before they realize we didn’t head back to New York.”
Coulson nodded and ordered, “Agent May, assemble a team.”
“I suppose you’ll be staying behind, Director?” Agent May said dryly.
“You suppose incorrectly, Agent May,” Coulson said.
May snorted her displeasure and gestured to Skye. The two agents left the command center together.
Steve stared at Coulson – Director? What was that about? – but was distracted when Agent Simmons spoke.
“Excuse me,” Agent Simmons said. “After we clear the base, what do we do with these Doorways?”
“We’re working on that,” Steve said.
They spent the next few minutes fine-tuning their plan. Agent May and Skye returned shortly, both suited up. May nodded to Coulson.
“Alright, then,” Coulson said. “We’ll take the Bus. You can hitch a ride,” he directed to Steve.
Steve had no idea what Coulson was talking about, but he gave Bucky and Sam a look and followed behind when the entire group, including two agents he hadn’t yet been introduced to, headed back to the hangar bay. In moments the Bus, with Agent May at the controls, was lifting out of the hangar’s retractable roof. Steve and Bucky followed in the Quinjet and docked with the Bus once they were in the air.
Sam was waiting for them when they exited the hatch. “Oh my god, you should see this plane! It’s huge! They used to live on here for months at a time before . . . you know, D.C.”
Bucky didn’t say anything and Steve spared him a glance, risking losing his footing on the ladder. Steve never knew what would send Bucky spiraling into guilt, but he didn’t appear to be paying attention this time.
“Bucky, what’s wrong?”
Bucky shook his head. “Just thinking about the dinosaurs. HYDRA wants to turn them into a weapon, and they just want to be left alone to live their lives.”
Steve reached out a hand when Bucky reached the landing and squeezed his shoulder. Steve didn’t say anything about Bucky’s experiences with HYDRA and as the Winter Soldier because he’d already said it all. Instead he said, “We’ll stop them, and then the dinosaurs will be safe.”
Bucky gave Steve a look, as if he knew Steve wasn’t talking about just the dinosaurs, but he didn’t call Steve on it. They continued down the stairs and met back up with Sam – who’d quickly left them alone when it appeared things might get personal – at the bottom.
Sam led them past the glass-enclosed command center to the lounge and threw his hands out. “Look at this place!”
Steve had to admit it was something. There was even a bar.
“I wanted a fish tank, but Fury put the kibosh on that,” Coulson said. “Welcome aboard, Captain Rogers, Bucky.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’ll be in my office if anyone needs anything. Agent May will let us know when we’re five minutes out.”
Coulson left with a frowning and determined Clint on his heels.
Steve shared a look with Natasha, but didn’t come away any wiser as to what was going on with the two men.
“I’d be happy to give you a tour of the Bus,” Skye said. “Our little home away from home.”
Steve wanted to go over the mission plan again, but that wouldn’t take the entire flight so he agreed to the tour. Skye started with the area in which they stood, pointing out the lounge and the bar. She took them back the way they’d come, calling attention to the command center as they passed it, and showed them the crew quarters and the galley beyond.
“Cockpit and head are through there.”
As they returned to the lounge, once more passing the stairs he and Bucky had descended when they’d entered the plane, Skye said, “And of course you passed DC’s office on the way in. I’d show it to you, but he’s kind of busy right now.”
“DC?” Steve said, ignoring any implication as to what Coulson and Clint might be up to.
“Coulson,” Skye said. “Used to be AC, now he’s DC. Literally,” she added, snorting at her own joke.
“I still don’t get it,” Sam said.
Steve was glad it wasn’t just him, especially given how much he still didn’t know about this future. Bucky remained silent, eyes taking in every corner of the plane.
“It’s a nickname. First Agent Coulson, now Director Coulson,” Skye said.
“May called him that before,” Steve said. “What does it mean?”
Skye gave him a strange look. “That he’s the Director of SHIELD,” she said slowly, as if talking to someone who had trouble understanding.
Steve tried to keep his face blank, but he was obviously unsuccessful.
“You have a problem with that?” Skye said, all traces of the star-struck girl gone.
“Since I put my life, and the lives of a lot of good people, on the line to burn SHIELD to the ground with HYDRA, I don’t know what to think about Fury lying to me – again, so I really shouldn’t be surprised – and resurrecting SHIELD in secret.”
Skye’s eyes were wide when Steve finished his rant. “Ohh-kay,” she said. “But you don’t have anything against Coulson?”
“No!” Steve said. “I mean, I don’t know him that well, but he was a good agent as far as I’m aware. He gave up his life to stop Loki.”
“Oh, good,” Skye said. “Come on, there’s more to see.”
“More?” Sam said.
Skye led them down another spiral staircase.
“Oh, we came in this way,” Sam said, disappointed.
Steve found himself in the cargo bay. There was a workout area, a glass-enclosed lab from inside of which Simmons and Fitz waved, as well as an SUV and a cherry red convertible Corvette parked on the cargo ramp. Steve whistled. “Nice car.”
“Lola,” Skye said. “She’s Coulson’s. And she flies.”
“Bucky!” Steve said. “A flying car!”
Skye stopped Steve before he could run a hand over Lola. “Nobody touches Lola. DC might make an exception for one of his heroes – oh my god, don’t go into his office! The amount of Captain America memorabilia he has is ridiculous – but better not to chance it.”
Steve ignored Bucky’s snort and said, “Of course.”
“You know,” Skye said when they reached the lounge again. “I’d think you’d be more favorably disposed towards an agency that was named in your honor.”
“Excuse me?” Steve said.
“SHIELD,” Skye said. “Strategic Homeland Intervention and Logistics Division? Come on. Someone really wanted our initials to spell out ‘shield’.”
“Steve was sweet on one of the people who founded SHIELD,” Bucky teased.
“Howard Stark?” Skye said.
Bucky barked out a laugh. He looked almost as surprised to hear it as Steve was.
Steve smiled. “Not Howard. Though he was a good looking fella.”
Sam choked. “Dare you to tell Tony that.”
“I’m just gonna . . .” Steve indicated the command center.
Steve followed Bucky into the fish bowl room and Sam went over to the lounge to sit with Natasha. The two agents Steve hadn’t gotten the names of sat at the consoles, monitoring the screens. There was an overhead view of the base, which meant that they’d rerouted a satellite.
“How’d you get this image?” Steve said, leaning in to look at it.
“Director’s got a contact with the password,” the male agent said, then ,”Ow!” when the female agent kicked him in the ankle.
He’d expected them to confirm that Tony had gotten it through his own contact. What was the likelihood that both Tony and Coulson had different contacts with the necessary pass codes, especially given that Hill used to be the Assistant Director of SHIELD? “Maria Hill?” Steve said.
The two agents exchanged a look.
Steve sighed. How many other people knew that Coulson was alive and tasked with rebuilding SHIELD? He thought about going back down to the cargo bay to use the punching bag set up there, but he didn’t have time for that. Steve indicated the screen. “Any activity?”
The two agents looked relieved that Steve wasn’t pushing it. “None,” the female agent said.
“We weren’t introduced earlier,” Steve said. He extended his hand to her. “I’m Steve Rogers.”
“Of course, Captain Rogers, sir,” she said. “I’m Agent Laurel Piper, and this is Agent Max Davis. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“You, too,” Steve said, shaking both of their hands. “What’s been going on here?” Steve indicated the screen.
“It’s been quiet,” Davis said. “No one in or out.”
“Could they be trying to make it look as abandoned as the other base?” It would fit with the trap theory.
“Maybe,” Piper said. “Or they’re just locked down waiting for your arrival.”
That was just as likely. “How do I get a hold of Tony?” Steve said.
A screen flickered to life. “I’m right here,” Tony said. “Just been waiting for you to finish your tour. So, my dad?”
Bucky made a sound like he was dying and ducked out of sight. Steve’s cheeks went hot even though what Tony was insinuating wasn’t remotely true.
“Wow,” Tony said. “I didn’t know you could turn that color. And I can still see you, Elsa,” he told Bucky.
Steve quickly changed the subject. “What’s going on inside the base?”
“They’ve been on some level of alert since you guys found the other base, but I think that’s just to cover all their, uh, bases. I don’t think they’re expecting you, yet.”
“Good,” Steve said.
Steve sat in the command center with Bucky and Agents Piper and Davis until Agent May announced that they were five minutes out. A moment later Coulson appeared with Clint at his side, then Natasha, Sam and Skye joined them. Steve’s gaze moved from Coulson, who didn’t look the slightest bit rumpled despite the swollen lips and red mark on his neck that hadn’t been there before, to Clint, who always looked rumpled, but more so right now, to Natasha, whose smirk dared him to say something.
Luckily Coulson said, “Captain Rogers,” and gave Steve the floor.
They went over the plan (which hadn’t changed since HYDRA still appeared to be unaware of their approach), one more time. They left the monitoring to Tony when May landed the Bus a mile out from the base. Everyone except Agents Simmons and Fitz crowded onto the cloaked Quinjet for the flight to the base.
Steve dropped off Coulson’s team near the rear of the base so they could make their way to the escape hatch, and then Natasha and Clint on the roof. According to Tony, no alarms went off. Steve set the Quinjet down so that the ramp was facing away from the base. He raised the ramp after he, Bucky, and Sam disembarked, and locked it down.
The three of them hid behind some conveniently parked vehicles and scouted the building. Bucky frowned in concentration as he studied the front door.
“They don’t know you’re there, yet,” Tony said.
“Alright, let’s go,” Steve said, and led the run across the open ground to the front door.
“They know you’re there now!” Tony crowed.
The lock clicked thanks to JARVIS’s help, and the door swished open.
“No one’s coming to greet you,” Tony said. “It appears that they’re waiting in the wings until you get far enough inside that they can surround you.”
Steve stepped into the well-lit staging area. As Tony had said, it remained empty. From the layout Tony had provided, Steve recalled the halls on either side of the base that fed into this front room. They were probably filling up now, once-bored agents on high alert.
“The others?” Steve said.
“JARVIS opened the roof and the escape hatch. So far no one knows they’ve got more company than you three. But that won’t last long.”
Which was Steve’s cue to get moving. He moved to the middle of the room while Bucky climbed a ladder to get to a high spot and Sam used his wings to get out of sight among the rafters. Steve wished he could hear what was going on with the others, but he needed to concentrate on his part of the mission, which was the agents that soon surrounded him. Steve raised his hands when ordered to do so.
Someone stepped to the front of the agents. “Where’s the asset?”
He was going to be the first one Steve took out. Steve obligingly pointed above them and almost every set of eyes looked upwards. Steve reached back for the shield and threw it at the man who’d spoken so cavalierly of Bucky. Bucky shot three men in quick succession, before they’d figured out what was going on, and Sam swooped in to take out two others.
Steve dove behind an SUV when the HYDRA agents returned fire. He came out the other end and threw the shield again, taking out a few more agents. Bucky’s and Sam’s weapons continued to fire.
“They’re retreating,” Tony announced.
Someone must’ve reminded them that they needed Steve and Bucky, at least, alive.
“Oops!” Tony said. “They just tried to gas you, but it appears that the system is off-line.”
“Thanks, Tony,” Steve said.
A moment later Steve heard more gunfire, and the agents ran back into the room. That was Coulson’s team, split up into three smaller teams, driving the agents out of their hiding place. The fire fight lasted two minutes, but it seemed longer. Finally most of the HYDRA agents were dead or injured, and the few remaining dropped their guns and raised their hands.
Steve hated the idea of letting any of them live after what HYDRA had done to Bucky, but they needed information, and they needed Steve’s team to not be seen as vigilantes out for revenge rather than justice, according to Maria and Tony, and anyone who wasn’t Steve or Sam or Natasha. Bucky only cared because he didn’t like to see a stain on Steve’s soul, but Steve figured it was too late to worry about that now.
The higher-ups who’d given the orders were surprised to find someone waiting for them when they attempted to use the escape hatch. Now that the fight was over here, the rest of Coulson’s team retreated to serve as back-up there.
According to Tony the lab was secure, but Natasha wanted them to get up there. Sam remained behind to guard the prisoners while Steve and Bucky jogged to the lab. They found Natasha and Clint looking down into the pit where a baby dinosaur (Camelotia, according to JARVIS) had just hatched from an egg. While they watched, a second egg cracked.
“Can we get them back home?” Clint said.
Steve shook his head. “Not until the Doorway opens.” He wondered if the mother had laid her eggs and then abandoned them, or if HYDRA had forced her to leave them behind. What would happen to the young if they were sent back now?
Now that the fight was over, they were left with the question of who got the prisoners. Eventually Steve decided to let Coulson have them, since they didn’t have room on the Quinjet for them, and it appeared that there was an interrogation room slash holding cell that Skye had left off their tour of the Bus.
“I’m sure you’ll pass on any intel regarding other HYDRA bases through Hill,” Steve said.
“Of course,” Coulson agreed, his tone not giving anything away.
“You’re not going to use these Doorways, though,” Steve said.
“The last thing we need to deal with is dinosaurs on top of everything else,” Coulson said. “Doesn’t anyone watch ‘Jurassic Park’?”
Steve tasked JARVIS with deleting everything off the computers and loading a virus in case HYDRA tried to access them again. He made sure the dinosaurs were fed (apparently they were herbivores, and HYDRA had stocked a storage room full of plants from the Early Jurassic just for them) and made comfortable before leaving and locking the base up behind them.
Steve dropped the others off at the Bus. Natasha decided to catch a ride back to New York with them, leaving Clint to talk some more with Coulson.
“Is that what they were doing?” Sam said.
Steve pretended to study the Quinjet’s controls so he could pretend he hadn’t heard.
“Now that we’re alone,” Tony said.
Steve raised his head and took a deep breath. “Did you know?” he said.
“About Coulson? Who do you think found those threads that Natasha and Clint were pulling on? But I didn’t know-know until I contacted them and they told me where they were. About SHIELD? I had no fucking clue.”
“Fury likes his secrets,” Natasha said.
There was a lot to process, but Steve didn’t want to think about it right now. He changed the subject. “What are we going to do about those Doorways?” he said.
“Actually,” Tony said, drawing out the word, “I may have found something. JARVIS may have found something,” he corrected. “We can build a device to close the Doorways. Well, technically, rebuild.”
“How were you able to come up with that so quickly?” Steve said.
Tony explained that JARVIS had done a deep dive into the internet and found some interesting sightings of dinosaurs in the United Kingdom that had been denied by the government. Additional searching had brought to light an organization in London called the Anomaly Research Center that apparently knew about these Doorways (which they called Anomalies), and had been dealing with them for several years.
“I stole the specs,” Tony admitted.
“How did you get access to their computers?” Steve said.
“I sent their resident geek an invitation to a local scifi convention. The moment he opened it JARVIS gained access.”
Steve tamped down on the urge to question Tony’s methods. They needed the information and Steve resigned himself to Tony’s short cuts. “How long will it take you to build this device?”
“Two days, if I have all the components, which I think I do,” Tony said.
Two days, Steve thought. Who knew how many dinosaurs could come through in the meantime. “Will this close it for good?”
“Unknown,” Tony said. “Apparently they have a device from the future that will open or close an anomaly, uh, doorway, whatever.”
Steve swore. They didn’t need HYDRA getting a hold of that information. “We keep this to ourselves,” he said. Steve turned in his seat and looked right at Natasha. “We don’t know how well Coulson has vetted his agents, and we know how well that worked out last time.”
“Agreed,” Natasha said. Natasha easily saw through Steve’s mask that tried to cover his surprise. “Hey, I wanted SHIELD burned to the ground, too.”
Steve nodded. “Alright, let’s get back to New York. I could use a shower and a couple nights in my own bed.”
“Me, too,” Bucky said.
There was no innuendo in it, but Steve’s cheeks heated just the same.
“You never used to blush this much, Rogers,” Natasha said.
“You just gotta know which buttons to push,” Bucky said, sounding pretty satisfied.
“And you’ve always known that, haven’t you, Buck?”
“Sure have, punk.”
“Oh, god,” Sam said. “They’re starting that again. I’m leaving. Close this door behind me!” he called back to Steve.
Chuckling softly, Natasha followed Sam, leaving Steve and Bucky alone in the cockpit.
“Looking forward to that big bed, huh?” Bucky said.
“And the shower.”
“Close the damn door!” Sam yelled.
Two days later Steve, Bucky and Natasha stood just inside the Doorway to the Jurassic. Sam had chosen to remain on the other side, “just in case the Doorway looks like it’s gonna close.” They’d already closed the Doorway in the first base, and now they’d returned the small Camelotia to their own time.
“Not many people can say they’ve been to the Jurassic,” Natasha said. “And I thought you were a fossil before.”
“Funny,” Steve said.
“Enough talking!” Sam said. “Get your white asses back here!”
“No, no!” Tony said. “Take some more video!”
“Damn it, Stark . . .”
Steve tuned out Sam and Tony. “Do you think they’ll be okay?”
“Sure,” Natasha said.
Steve sighed. “You’re a spy, Natasha. You should be able to lie more convincingly than that.”
“They’ll be fine,” Bucky said. “Because they’re where they’re supposed to be now.”
Steve caught Bucky’s gaze and couldn’t look away.
“What? What was that?” Sam said.
“They’re just getting sappy again,” Natasha said.
“I’m so glad I stayed back here.”
“Yeah, that’s why,” Natasha said.
Steve ignored Sam and Natasha and stepped closer to Bucky. “I’ve never kissed anyone in the Jurassic before.”
“You should probably remedy that.”
Steve kissed Bucky, then kissed him again. They kissed until something roared in the distance.
“What the hell was that?” Sam said.
“Our invitation to leave,” Natasha said cooly.
Steve and Bucky joined Natasha at the Doorway. She went through first. Bucky took Steve’s hand. With one last look at the young dinosaurs they’d returned, Steve and Bucky stepped back through the Doorway and into the base.
Steve felt a pang of regret when he closed the Doorway for the final time. He shook it off. “Okay, we’ve got one more base to close down . . .” JARVIS had uncovered a third Doorway location after sorting through all the information on the computers. “. . . and then we’ll head to London to go check out this ARC, make sure HYDRA hasn’t infiltrated them.”
“Maybe we can also check out some of our old haunts,” Bucky said as he climbed out of the pit. His tone didn’t give anything away, but Steve still sensed the insinuation.
Apparently so did Sam, because he groaned. “Can’t you two give it a rest for one day?”
“Nope,” Bucky said and grinned at Steve.
Steve grinned back. He bumped his shoulder into Bucky’s as they headed out of the base and back to the Quinjet. Sometimes they were constantly reminded that their lives weren’t all sunshine and roses. Other times, like this moment, it was easy to forget.