“Tony – we’ve got to get – Tony. Yeah, alright, but we’ve got to leave in –”
Tony tries to cut Steve off again with the simple yet amazingly efficient tactic of pressing their mouths together, cutting off his words with a kiss. Unfortunately, Steve has been sleeping with Tony for long enough to know when he’s playing dirty, and stops his attempts to void the conversation by planting his palm on Tony’s forehead and pushing him back.
“That’s cheating,” Tony says matter-of-factly from his position lying prone on top of Steve, grabbing Steve’s wrist and pulling it aside.
“You’re cheating,” Steve replies with a roll of his eyes, and unceremoniously pushes Tony off of him and onto the mattress. He sits up and stretches, sheets pooling around his lap, and as Tony rights himself and watches him he reminds himself just how damn lucky he is to be sleeping with Steve Rogers. He reaches out absent-mindedly and runs his fingers down Steve’s spine, relaxing back against the pillows and wishing Steve didn’t care about the SHIELD briefing they’ve been asked to attend.
“Come on,” Tony says lazily, smoothing his palm over Steve’s back. “We don’t have to leave yet, therefore you can stay in bed.”
Steve sends Tony an exasperated look over his shoulder, which is completely undermined by the way he leans back down to kiss Tony slowly and unhurriedly as if he’s suddenly got all the time in the world.
These are Tony’s favourite moments, when it’s just the two of them together in his bed, pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist. It took them long enough to get here, after months of bickering, fighting and bruised egos. He was lucky that the arguing resulted in angry sex rather than physical violence, really. More so considering the angry sex led to mildly annoyed sex led to sex led to something almost resembling dating. And now here they are; no longer angry, still having sex, not exactly dating but having everyone who knows them act like they’re a couple despite the fact they’ve never told anyone that anything is going on between them.
“That’s the spirit,” Tony murmurs against Steve’s mouth, and Steve hums in the back of his throat-
And then plants a smacking kiss against Tony’s mouth and pulls away. “Nice try,” he says, and climbs out of the bed, walking through to the bathroom completely naked.
Tony manages an indignant noise, propping himself up on an elbow. “Cheater,” he yells across the room, huffing and throwing himself back against the pillows. “You’re no fun.”
“I’ll be fun later,” Steve calls back. “We’re expected at SHIELD in an hour.”
“You go,” Tony yawns, nuzzling down into the pillows. “You can report back. I need to sleep. I only had a couple of hours.”
“And whose fault is that?” Steve replies, appearing in the doorway with his toothbrush in hand, still completely naked. Yep, morning routine with Steve Rogers is definitely Tony’s favourite part of the day.
“Yours,” Tony answers immediately, closing his eyes now he’s had his fill of eyeing up Steve. “I came to bed at a sensible time and you were the one who insisted on hours of hot, sweaty sex. I would have been asleep at two if it wasn’t for your dick.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Steve says, pushing off the doorframe and disappearing back into the bathroom. “Next time I won’t bother.”
“Like you could resist, Mr Super-Soldier-Sex-Drive,” Tony calls, and he hears Steve laugh even as the shower is turned on, the sound of rushing water soothing in its familiarity.
Tony throws an arm over his eyes and grins to himself, and he doesn’t often say it out loud but he’s not going to deny that ending up in a relationship with Captain America has actually turned out pretty well, considering Steve’s attachment issues and Tony’s previous pathological fear of commitment –
A banging at the door makes Tony sit bolt upright, and Steve darts back into the doorway, toothbrush hanging out of his mouth and towel clutched around his waist, brow furrowed and tense.
Tony glances at him, and then back to the door, raising his voice to shout at whoever it is. “What?”
“Get dressed,” Bucky’s voice shouts back, and Steve visibly relaxes, reaching up to take the toothbrush out of his mouth. “There’s been a situation. Tell Steve as well.”
“He’s not here,” Tony yells, because he’s a bastard like that and will never pass up a chance to hear Bucky say he expects Steve to be with Tony. It’s an easy enough urge to understand, and it’s probably not emotionally healthy or whatever, but he can’t really bring himself to care
“Yeah, and I’m the Crown Prince of Denmark,” Bucky calls back irritably. “Get up before I drag you both out, and I don’t want to see your junk.”
“What’s up?” Steve calls, and Tony pulls a face at Steve. He mouths ‘ruining the fun,’ and Steve very pointedly gives him the finger. Tony rolls over and laughs into the pillow because that’s another thing that he loves, how Steve can be as proper as the damn president when he’s suited up and being the Captain, but here with Tony he reverts to being Steve Rogers, Brooklyn orphan and army grunt.
“Reed Richards,” Bucky shouts back, and Tony groans. “Got a message from another dimension apparently, an S.O.S.”
“Right,” Steve says, and Tony is climbing out of bed and heading to the bathroom because yeah he’s flippant about SHIELD and responsibility but he knows when he needs to be serious, and this sounds deadly.
“On the way,” Steve shouts to Bucky, one hand brushing over Tony’s shoulder as Tony passes by him and slips into the bathroom. Steve follows him in, tossing his toothbrush aside and dropping his towel to the floor.
“If I let you in with me, do you promise to keep your hands to yourself?” he asks, nodding towards the shower.
“Scouts honour,” Tony replies promptly. “You know me, Cap. S.O.S from another dimension always takes priority over sex.”
“Good to know,” Steve says dryly, and pushes Tony into the shower, hands on his hips. “Hurry, this sounds like it might be more than a regular briefing.”
“Sir, yes, Sir,” Tony salutes, and even though it does sound serious he still can’t not spare a moment to laugh at the exasperated face Steve pulls.
Just how serious the situation is quickly becomes apparent when they arrive at the Baxter building. Not only are the Fantastic Four all there and looking grave (except Johnny, but that says nothing about the situation considering that the moron spends ninety percent of his time acting like a giant twelve year old) but a good chunk of the Avengers as well as SHIELD personnel are also there. Tony’s not too worried though; Nick Fury hasn’t deigned to show up and there’s no delegates from the WSC so he assumes the world isn’t in mortal peril this time around.
Tony stands at the back next to Steve, close enough so their shoulders brush. His eyes flick from where Sue Storm is arguing emphatically with Reed, to where Coulson is engrossed in conversation with Bruce, and finally to where Jonny is listening to Clint and Bucky and is obviously trying not to stare at Natasha’s ass.
“Look at Storm,” Tony mutters to Steve. “Deathwish?”
“Who do you think would do him more damage, Clint or Bucky?” Steve replies in an undertone.
“Natasha,” Tony replies without hesitating, and Steve snorts with laughter. Tony looks up and notices that Coulson is watching him and Steve, expression neutral but obviously interested in what’s going on. He feels a slight urge to shift close to Steve, just to see if Coulson would react at all, but he ignores it.
“Listen up,” Reed calls, sounding tense. Next to Tony, Steve straightens up and goes into Captain mode, expression intent. Tony doesn’t call him on it, because this is a moment where they need Steve to be in Captain mode.
“We’ve been looking at inter-dimensional portals for some time now,” Reed tells them. “Working out time scales, energy yields and polarity-”
“The non-geek version, please,” Clint calls, and Reed sends him a dirty look.
“The point is, we – I haven’t opened any portals from our dimension as it was deemed too risky. However, someone from another dimension has opened a non-temporal loop portal and managed to communicate with us.”
“Where is the contact point?” Tony asks.
“Here,” Reed admits. “In the chamber.”
Tony raises an eyebrow. “Coincidence, or down to the fact you were probably trying to open a portal without anyone noticing?”
Reed scowls at Tony. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “The point is we’ve had a message from a Steve Rogers from another dimension, calling for help.”
Steve stiffens next to Tony, and all heads in the room turn to look at him. Tony looks about, and then holds up his hands. “Whoa, he didn’t send the damn message,” he says. “Stop staring, this is our Steve Rogers who doesn’t even know what non-temporal loop means. Come on, he’s still confused by the DVR.”
“A version of me sent an SOS?” Steve asks, choosing to ignore Tony. “In what form?”
“An audio recording,” Reed says.
“Play it,” Steve says, to general agreement from the others.
Reed looks at Steve for a moment. “I think he’s dead,” he says bluntly. “The other Steve Rogers. The message is a request for help, a summary of the situation, and then there’s the sound of close range shots and nothing more.”
Tony sucks in a breath, feeling his stomach twist and clench, because the thought of Steve – any Steve – being hurt makes him want to lash out and kill whoever was involved. He feels Steve shift next to him, folding his arms across his chest, and knows the motion is deliberate in the way Steve’s elbow brushes against his arm.
“Play it,” Steve replies evenly, and everyone goes quiet. Reed nods and stretches an arm out across the room, pressing a button on a console just behind Bucky. There’s the hiss of static and then Steve’s voice rings out, calm but strained, and Tony shifts on the balls of his feet, wanting to hold Steve’s hand in his own, clench it tightly to reassure them both that they’re still here and well.
“…contact has been compromised. I repeat, this is Commander Rogers from Earth Five Nine Four. The US has been under sustained attack from Hydra – the last eighteen months. We have infiltrated a Hydra base …” there’s the sound of explosions and static roars again. “We have – shit – we have infiltrated a Hydra base and have been cut off from our support. We are requesting help from any parallel teams who receive this message-” There’s the sound of another blast and smashing glass, and the feed goes even more crackly. “-civilian casualties high – worldwide – we have discovered – samples – Hydra attempting to replicate – Hawkeye, get down! I repeat, we suspect there are – in the vicinity we need evac- priority on finding and evacuating – must – please - to find him and get him out-”
And then there’s the horrible sound of gunshots and the message cuts out.
“I’ve managed to locate the source of the message,” Reed says, as if they’ve not just listened to the last moments of a Steve Rogers from another dimension. “And the chamber is stable. If we want, we can send a team through.”
“Fuck that,” Johnny says vehemently. “Did you not hear that?”
“Do we know anything else?” Steve asks.
“No,” Reed says.
“So we could go through and end up in the middle of a full-out war?” Tony summarises, rubbing his brow with his fingertips. “Right.”
“It’s possible,” Reed agrees.
“I’ll go,” Bucky says, and of course he does.
“Not on your own you won’t,” Steve glowers, and Bucky scowls right back.
“I’m the only armoured division at this party,” Tony offers.
“Great,” Johnny says. “So we’re definitely going?”
“Yes,” Steve and Tony say simultaneously. “You were listening,” Tony continues. “There was someone there he was desperate to evacuate.”
“Desperate enough to leave himself in a vulnerable position whilst he sent out the message,” Steve says slowly, and then looks up. “Who’s coming?”
Tony raises his hand. As does Bucky, Clint, Natasha, Thor and then after a moment’s pause, so does Johnny.
“Alright,” Steve says with a nod. “Reed and Bruce, you are to manage it from this end. Phil, can you notify SHIELD and let them know we’re going? And the X-Men as well, if this many of us are going?”
Phil nods and turns away, phone already at his ear. Bruce moves over to the computer consoles next to Reed, and Steve looks around at everyone else. “If you’re coming, suit up. Get what you need. Back here in thirty minutes or we’re going without you.”
Everyone moves at his word, going to grab equipment and suits, the atmosphere purposeful but tense. Tony doesn’t move, he just stays exactly where he is at Steve’s side.
“You need to suit up,” Steve says to him.
“It’ll take me ten minutes,” Tony shrugs. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Steve says, and turns to face Tony, blue eyes bright. “I should be asking you.”
Tony nods, and then laughs, a depreciating huff of sound. “Not gonna lie. Hearing your voice like that wasn’t exactly pleasant,” he admits, and Steve’s arm moves as if he wants to reach out for Tony, and Tony suddenly wonders why they’re still going along with their unspoken agreement to not show they’re together in front of other people. Everyone already obviously knows, so why are they bothering?
“Wasn’t me,” Steve says simply, and his expression is so understanding that Tony just can’t.
“Three second warning, Cap,” he says simply, and Steve raises an eyebrow but doesn’t move and then Tony leans in and presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Steve doesn’t kiss him back, but he turns his face slightly towards Tony’s and into the kiss, accepting.
“Suit up,” he repeats, and his eyes are on Tony’s and Tony knows the rest of the room are probably watching, but he doesn’t care. All he’s done is confirm what they already knew. “I need you with me on this one,” Steve says, and Tony nods, stepping away and moving towards the door.
“See you in fifteen,” he says, and Steve nods and Tony can feel his eyes on him as he leaves the room.
“Well. This all looks delightful.”
“Cut the chatter,” Steve instructs, and Clint obediently shuts his mouth, bow in hand, arrow nocked and ready to fly. The trip through the portal that Reed managed to stabilise was less than fun – Bucky had puked the moment his feet hit solid ground, but no-one is daft enough to mention it – however the journey is the last thing on their minds as they survey the scene in front of them.
They’re in an abandoned building that looks somewhere between a research facility and a warehouse, and it’s eerily silent. The only noise they can hear is their own breathing, and it’s disconcerting considering what they heard on the message not an hour ago. Steve hates silence like this; he much prefers jumping into a fight where he can just get on with it and knock some heads together. He’d never cut it as a spy, as Tony is too fond of reminding him whenever he shouts or breaks something.
He scans their surroundings. It’s functional and modern inside, with smooth concrete floors and walls. Above their heads there’s a metal walkway running the length of the building, tucked along the side of the room underneath a row of large glass windows. Four of the windows are smashed, the glass scattered over the floor underneath their feet. There are a few large metal containers stacked against the walls, and a cluster of desks complete with computer terminals at the far end. At either end are a set of heavy metal doors, and a body slumped beside the ones on the right, face down.
It looks worryingly like they got here too late.
“Iron Man, Widow - computers,” Steve instructs. “Find out what we’re looking at here. Hawkeye, Barnes, go check the perimeter, use the left exit. Thor, outside surveillance, tell us what you can see from the air. Storm, with me.”
Everyone nods and moves off without argument or causing a fuss. Steve doesn’t really want to let Tony out of his sight, but he knows that he cannot for a second let his personal feelings get in the way of a mission again. Hell, he’d almost caused the collapse of the damn government when dealing with Bucky as the Winter Soldier, and he wasn’t even sleeping with Bucky.
“Iron Man, do you copy?” Steve asks as he heads towards the doors, in the opposite direction to Tony.
“Loud and clear,” Tony replies. “Cap, this is recent. The whole place is hot. Four or five degrees above the temperature outside.”
“Sure it’s not Storm?” Steve asks, watching as Johnny steps forwards and rolls over the body near the doors. The guy is dead, eyes blank and staring at nothing. Johnny blows out a breath, shakes his head and reaches out to gently close the man’s eyes. Steve doesn’t know if the body belongs to a friend or an enemy, but he’s glad the eyes are closed either way.
“No,” Tony replies. “Definitely not, he couldn’t heat up a whole place like this unless he fully lit up.”
“It’s not me,” Johnny confirms to Steve, voice low. “Man, this place is creeping me out.”
“Pussy,” Bucky’s voice says casually.
“Chatter,” Steve says pointedly before Johnny can retort, but he can still hear Clint sniggering over the comm lines. Once again he vows to never send Bucky and Clint off together when on missions; they just seem to egg each other on to act like idiots.
Steve pushes at the metal doors at the end and they swing open with the squeal of tight metal hinges. Cautiously, he steps through, Johnny following just behind.
“Where the hell is everyone?” Johnny asks in an undertone as they step into the dark corridor beyond. “It’s too still.”
Steve nods in agreement with the assessment. “I have no idea. Light?” he asks, and Johnny obliges, his fingers immediately lighting up with bright yellow flame and throwing their surroundings into relief. It glints brightly off the surface of the shield, and Steve flexes his fingers in the straps, securing his grip. The corridor is much like the room they just left, with smooth grey walls and floor, the ceiling covered in strip lighting and white tiles. The lights are all broken or off, and the flickering quality of the light from Johnny’s fingers isn’t helping soothe Steve’s nerves. They walk on towards the set of double doors at the end of the corridor, pushing through and finding themselves in a stairwell.
“So, going down?” Johnny says casually as he steps up to the railings and looks over, down the stairwell. He whistles through his teeth. “Cap, this goes down – twenty floors at least.”
“Schematics are showing eighteen subterranean levels,” Natasha supplies over the comms. “It’s a research facility, Cap. Definitely looks like Hydra.”
“Just what I always wanted,” Steve grouches. “Barnes, anything?”
“Lots and lots of dead people,” Bucky replies slowly. “Gunshots, blunt trauma. Looks like there was a hell of a fistfight. Barton, anything up there?”
“Giant pile of fuck all. A great view of all the death though.”
“Succinct as always, Hawkeye,” Tony’s voice says dryly. “Thermal scanners are all out of whack because of the temperature fluctuations, Cap. I can’t tell if anything is alive.”
Steve walks up to Johnny, looking down the stairwell. “Alright, keep me posted,” he says, leaning over the railings and looking down the drop. “Storm, let’s go-”
A weak groan cuts through the silence and Steve immediately goes tense, holding out a hand to stop Johnny. They both stay still, listening hard and then there it is again, a weak groan and a cough.
Steve signals Johnny to stay put and slowly walks down the stairs. He gets half way down and beckons Johnny to follow, and as Johnny pads softly down the stairs the light from the flames on his fingers reveals a woman in SHIELD gear slumped against the wall.
“Hey,” Steve says, walking over and dropping to his knees, setting his shield aside on the floor next to him. He reaches for the woman, tipping her chin up and he sees a wound on her stomach, uniform soaked through with blood from hips to chest. Damn.
"Team, I've got a survivor, SHIELD agent, wounded," Steve says, reaching up to touch the comm unit with his free hand. "Patching you through on speakers so you can hear, channel four."
The woman looks up, blinking dazedly, and there’s blood on the corner of her mouth. “Commander?”
Steve shakes his head. “Captain,” he says, and she takes a moment and then in seems to sink in. She looks Steve over, and then lifts weary eyes back to his.
“You got his message then,” she says dully. “I think he’s dead.”
“What happened here?” Steve asks. “Can you tell us?”
She breathes in and out hard through her nose, her body shivering, probably with shock considering how warm the whole place is. Johnny crouches down next to them and Steve feels the searing warmth as he cranks his body heat up, and nods to him in thanks.
“The last stand,” she finally says depreciatingly, eyes fluttering shut. “We were the last ones left. A SHIELD cell, Commander Rogers and Hawkeye.”
“So, who had money on me being the last man standing?” Clint's voice says. “I certainly didn’t.”
“Chatter,” Steve says forcefully, at the same time that Tony tells him to shut the fuck up. Clint doesn’t say anything more so Steve turns his attention back to the agent in front of him.
“What about everyone else?” Johnny asks. “Lady, what happened to everyone else?”
“Working with Hydra, lost or dead,” she says. “God. We lost Iron Man a week ago, thought we’d have one last crack at them. Didn’t go so well.”
“Why? What was here?” Steve asks. Her chin dips again and he nudges it up gently with his fingers.
“They were trying to,” she says, exhausted. She swallows thickly, forcing the words out with obvious and painful effort. “Copy. They were making soldiers.”
Steve swears softly, and hears Bucky do the same. God damn it, will Hydra never get bored of trying to recreate him? Not for the first time he silently curses the serum; it seems that sometimes people desperate to breed super-soldiers of their own cause more destruction than he can ever hope to prevent.
“Where-” Steve begins, but Tony’s voice cuts through, urgent and serious.
“Movement,” he says. “Lower levels. Nine. There’s someone or something down there.”
“Right. Barnes, Hawkeye, is there any way of getting down from your end?” Steve asks.
“Jumping down an elevator shaft as we speak,” Clint replies. “Race you.”
Steve hears the zing of taut wire and the slither as Bucky and Clint presumably rappel down a line to the lower levels. There’s a clang and a muffled thump and the sound of screeching metal, and he assumes it’s Bucky prising open a doorway with his hand.
“Thor, what have you got?”
“Naught but destruction for miles upon miles,” Thor replies. “It is a wasteland. A single road leads to the facility, but I fear the world around us has long been burned.”
“Alright, come back in,” Steve instructs, and looks back to the woman. “Where-” he begins, but stops. Her eyes have closed and her chest is still. She’s gone. He didn’t even ask her for her name.
“Fuck,” Johnny says unhappily, and lets his temperature drift back to somewhere closer to his usual range, leaving Steve’s side feeling oddly cold.
Steve doesn’t say anything. He looks at the agent for a moment longer and then gets to his feet, picking up his shield and slipping it back onto his arm. Johnny stands up too, looking uncomfortable, and Steve opens to his mouth to tell him to move on-
A deafening boom rocks through the facility. Steve and Johnny are thrown off their feet into the wall, and the floor beneath them rocks, dust drifting down from the ceiling. There’s a distant roar that sounds like flames, and a series of rumbling crashes.
Steve grabs Johnny’s elbow, keeping him upright. “Status!” he yells, one hand going up to the unit in his ear. “Everyone, report!”
“We’re fine,” Tony replies immediately. “That came from lower levels.”
“We’re good!” Bucky yells, and Steve can hear Clint swearing in the background, his comm unit not delivering directly. “Cap, where are you?”
“Stairwell,” Steve replies. “Tony, are you still getting movement?”
“Yeah, a single source,” Tony replies. “Steve, get out of there.”
There’s another distant boom and the whole stairwell shudders again, concrete creaking and groaning ominously. “Barnes, do you have visual on whatever’s moving? What’s down there?”
“Negative,” Bucky pants. “We found you – the other you. He’s dead.”
“Steve, this place runs on nuclear energy, if it blows it will take half the fucking country with it!” Tony yells again, sounding furious. “Leave it!”
“Not a chance,” Steve replies, and runs for the stairwell. “Come on, let’s go-”
“I got this, Cap.” Johnny doesn’t hesitate; he clambers up over the railing of the stairwell and flings himself off into empty air, and Steve hears the yell of ‘flame on!’ and the stairwell lights up briefly and brightly as Johnny streaks away. Steve makes to follow him but another explosion rocks the stairwell, and this time a chunk of the ceiling cracks free and drops, hitting the floor a metre away from his feet and ripping half the stairwell with it. Raising his shield above his head, Steve staggers, tries to go on, but the floor beneath his feet gives way and fuck, it’s too risky, Tony and Bucky will both kill him if he gets himself hurt-
“Storm, I’m cut off,” Steve shouts, but there’s no reply, and great, Johnny must have fried another comm unit and wasn’t Reed meant to be making him one that he couldn’t incinerate? “Barnes, where are you-”
The floor beneath his feet shifts again and Steve curses and legs it back up the stairwell, dodging a falling chunk of metal and feeling a surge of guilt as he runs past the dead SHIELD agent. The roaring is getting louder and he can only hear odd words coming through the comms; Tony’s urgent voice and Natasha swearing at Bucky and Thor shouting-
Something hard and heavy falls from above and clips the edge of the shield and then his shoulder, sending him crashing to the floor in agony. He gasps, curling in on himself as he waits for the blinding pain to subside, and when it does he’s left with a sharp, angry throbbing in his shoulder, the wet warmth of blood soaking through his uniform.
“Fuck,” he breathes out, keeping the shield above his head. “I’m hit,” he says, keeping his voice level and calm. “Falling debris, think I’ve dislocated my shoulder-”
More pieces of ceiling tumble down, scattering over him like hailstones, clinking off the surface of the shield. He pushes himself up onto his knees and swears as he sees the doors are blocked by a huge slab of concrete. He can’t hear anyone else, just crackles and an occasional aborted rush of sound in his ear-
And then Tony’s voice is shouting in his ear, suddenly and wonderfully loud. “Fuck you, Rogers, why is it always you? I’m on the way.”
“Fall back,” Steve insists, relief coursing through him. “I’ll find-”
“Fuck you,” Tony repeats tersely. “I’m on the way.”
“Found a live one!” Clint shouts, comm flaring back to life. “Cap, we got him, shit, Bucky, grab him quick-”
“Civilian,” Bucky says breathlessly. “Holy fuck-”
The feed crackles and cuts out and Steve swears again, forcing himself to his feet. Oh god, definitely dislocated, and he grits his teeth and wonders how the fuck he’s going to get out-
And over the rumbling and creaking he hears the whine of repulsors, and he lifts the shield with his good arm to cover his face just as the slab of concrete blocking the door is blasted into pieces. Red and gold armour appears, smashing through the remaining concrete with a well-placed knee.
“You fucking jerk,” Tony says matter-of-factly, and walks over and hauls Steve up, an arm around his waist. “The amount of shit you give us for getting hurt.”
“Thanks for the sympathy,” Steve grunts, biting the inside of his cheek as he steps forwards with Tony, shoulder jarring painfully. “Son of a bitch.”
Tony doesn’t reply; he just hauls Steve along the corridor and back into the main warehouse, and as they shove through the doors Thor and Natasha are there, hands reaching out for them.
“Portal ready to be activated in thirty seconds,” Natasha says. “Where’s Storm?”
“I don’t know,” Steve pants. “Bucky-”
“Here!” a voice yells, and Johnny bursts through the door that Clint and Bucky used earlier, swooping down over their heads, extinguishing his flames and hitting the ground running. Bucky and Clint are moments behind, crashing through the door and sprinting over, covered in dust and ash and both bleeding from various places, and Clint is carrying something, a large wrapped up blanket that he’s clutching to his body with both arms, one low and one high in an oddly protective stance.
“Call Reed, let’s get the fuck out of here!” Bucky shouts as they skid up, and glares at Steve. “What the fuck happened to you?”
“What the fuck is that?” Tony responds, jerking his head at the bundle Clint has in his arms, and Thor steps forwards and gently pulls the blanket back, revealing short blond hair and a small pale face. Steve stares in disbelief; it’s a child. They’re in a fucking Hydra research facility, why the hell would there be a kid anywhere near the place?
“We found him,” Clint pants, looking down at the kid in his arms. The kid’s face is white, smears of dirt across his forehead, eyes closed and mouth lax, clearly asleep or unconscious. Clint shifts, hitching the kid higher against his chest. “He’s what was moving. He tried to leg it and Bucky grabbed him and he just sort of collapsed-”
“So you brought him with you?” Natasha asks, looking at the kid’s face intently.
“What the fuck was I meant to do? It’s a kid! Stark said this whole place could fucking blow!”
“Argue later, let’s go!” Johnny shouts as the floor beneath their feet begins to shudder and shake. “Widow, hit the signal!”
Natasha grabs hold of Bucky’s elbow, Bucky grabs hold of Clint and Steve, and Johnny and Thor both take hold of Tony’s shoulders. Natasha pulls a device off of her belt and flicks a switch on the top and then they’re wrenched backwards in a horrible twist of energy and light, and Steve can only hold onto Tony, shut his eyes and will down the urge to throw up.
Steve’s knees give out the moment their feet hit the floor of the portal chamber back on their Earth. He mentally kicks himself, grabbing hold of Tony and pulling himself to his feet, but luckily for his ego, no-one says anything.
“Everyone okay?” he asks roughly.
“Yep,” Bucky says, and then doubles over and throws up.
Johnny gags, his hand coming up to cover his nose and mouth, and Natasha is out of the chamber quicker than anyone else can blink. Tony and Clint both swear in disgust at exactly the same moment and Thor simply wrinkles his nose and steps back.
“Inter-dimensional travel suits you ill, my friend,” he says to Bucky, who wipes his mouth on the back of his hand.
“Jesus, Barnes, stop puking in enclosed spaces,” Tony snaps, tightening his arm around Steve’s middle and hustling him towards the door.
“Fuck you,” Bucky replies, breathing hard. “How’s the kid?”
“Breathing,” Clint replies, glancing down. “Still KO. He’s freezing cold, too.”
“Where the hell did you find him?” Steve asks, twisting his head to try and look, but Clint has pulled the blanket back up over the kid, his palm resting on the back of his head. Clint is like a damn magpie on missions, always bringing crap back with him, and is this weirder than the time he brought back a velociraptor skull from their trip to the Savage Lands? Steve isn’t sure, but he is sure that he’s possibly going a little bit light-headed from blood loss and pain.
“In the lab,” Clint replies. “There were a bunch of dead technicians-”
“Can we discuss this outside of the puke chamber?” Tony interrupts, pulling Steve forwards and jolting his arm. “Barton, move.”
Clint hitches the kid up again and edges out of the chamber, Johnny following just behind. Tony nods at Thor and Bucky and they leave next, giving Tony space to negotiate the door, which isn’t really wide enough for an armoured suit to pass through whilst carrying a soldier who has the world’s widest shoulders.
“Is this weirder than the time he brought back the velociraptor skull?”
The look Tony gives him is clearly torn between patient and exasperated. “Stop talking,” he advises him. “Did you hit your head?”
“No, I just - son of a whore,” Steve bites out as Tony eases him though the doorway and his elbow clips the edge, jarring his shoulder. He comes face to face with Sue Storm and feels his face colour. He knows it shouldn’t matter, but swearing in front of a woman still makes him feel oddly guilty. It’s like he expects his mother to be behind him, ready to remind him that he should always treat the ladies with respect.
“Oh, please,” she says, looking faintly amused. “Sit down before you fall down.”
Natasha comes up with a chair in hand, setting it down next to Steve. He slides gratefully into it, blowing out a breath. He looks up and sees Reed, Bruce, Coulson, Thor and Johnny all crowded around Clint and the kid, voices and expressions ranging from shocked to astounded to worried. Bucky is stood over by the window with a cigarette in hand and a towel clamped to a cut on the side of his head, eyes fixed on Clint.
“What happened?” Sue asks, looking confused. “What-”
“A Hydra facility. The whole place was destroyed,” Natasha says calmly, and she gives Tony a nod and slowly moves to stand in front of Steve. Great, shoulder setting a la Natasha, must be Steve’s lucky day. She reaches out for his wrist and gently takes hold. “The only survivor was the kid, so Clint obviously felt he couldn’t leave him.”
“The only survivor?” Sue asks, sounding shocked. “In a Hydra facility? Why was he even there?”
“No idea,” Natasha says, but she always has an idea, her saying she doesn’t just means she doesn’t want to share it. “Steve, try not to tense up.”
There’s a dull clunk and the hiss of machinery, then Steve feels Tony’s bare hand slide onto his head, fingers carding through his hair. Sue’s eyes flick from Steve to Tony and a small smile pulls at the corner of her mouth.
“So, you two are over insulting our intelligence by hoping that none of us would notice?”
Tony shrugs, and Steve just lists sideways and rests his temple against the metal of Tony’s hip as Natasha carefully extends his arm in front of him, one hand on his wrist and the other on his elbow. He hisses out a breath, trying to keep relaxed.
“We thought you’d all insist on talking about it and we couldn’t be bothered,” Tony says easily, holding Steve’s head to his hip with his arm curled around his head, palm on his forehead. “Taking it like a champ there, Steve.”
“That’s what he said,” Natasha says, perfectly straight faced, and Tony chokes on laughter and Steve realises the innuendo just as Natasha lifts his arm straight up in one smooth movement, and there’s the horrible lurching jolt of bone and muscle, a blinding stab and swell of pain accompanied by a horrid, dull, squishy popping noise, and then relief, the pain transformed into a soft ache that feels no worse than a bad bruising.
“Wow,” Tony says, patting the top of Steve’s head. “No swearing. Well done. Mama Rogers would be proud.”
“Mama Rogers would be despairing that I got hurt in the first place,” Steve grumbles, and then Bruce is walking over, looking concerned. He stands up, gingerly moving his shoulder.
“What’s up, Brucie-Bear?” Tony asks.
“We’re taking the kid to medical at the tower,” he says. “He needs checking over, and Clint doesn’t want to leave him with Reed.”
“Understandable,” Tony concedes, and Steve elbows him with his good arm. Tony scowls at him, jabbing him back with armoured fingers. “Take this one with you too, that shoulder needs strapping up.”
“Shut up Rogers, you have no say in this,” Tony says warningly. “Being a super-soldier just means that you get strapped up for three hours, not three days.”
“Listen to the man, Steve,” Bruce says with a hitched smile. “Come on.”
Steve steps up to Bruce with a bad grace. He hates medical. He’d rather just go feel sorry for himself in his room and eat his own bodyweight in junk food. He glances over at Tony, who is apparently done with hassling Steve and is now heading over to Reed, asking something about nontemporal spatial boundaries and sensitive dependency. Clint and Bucky have already gone, and Coulson is nowhere to be seen either.
Steve breathes out and now he’s not in agony he can actually compute what’s happened here today, it hitting him with a bit of a jolt. “We just rescued a kid from certain death in a Hydra facility in an alternative dimension, didn’t we?”
Natasha pats his elbow comfortingly. “At least it wasn’t aliens,” she offers, and Steve sighs, rubbing at his forehead.
“Somehow I get the feeling aliens would be simpler,” he says, and Natasha quite pointedly doesn’t say anything as they leave the Baxter building and head home.
“So what’s gonna happen to the kid, do you reckon?”
Bucky looks up at Steve’s question, tilting his head back and draining the last of his can of soda. He sets the can aside and belches loudly, reaching for another slice of pizza. They’ve been back for a couple of hours and are on their fourth pizza between the two of them, sitting on the floor of the rec room with the boxes spread out haphazardly on the carpet. The television is on in the background and the quiet noise and masses of food are going a long way in helping Steve feel human again.
“I dunno. Put him up for adoption? Foster care?” he shrugs, leaning back against the sofa.
“Even if he’s from another dimension?” Steve asks, trying to separate two slices of pizza single-handedly, already frustrated with having his shoulder strapped up against his chest. He huffs, looks around to check Tony hasn’t snuck in whilst he’s been distracted by pizza, and then drops the slice, reaching up to rip the Velcro straps of the support open, pulling it off and tossing it away. He uses both hands to pull a piece of pizza free, folding it over and taking a large bite.
Bucky doesn’t comment, just tosses over a can of coke, which Steve grabs out of the air without a problem. Yeah, it aches a little, but that’s to be expected seeing as a block of roof fell on him. He snaps the can open and takes a deep swallow, making a satisfied noise in his throat as he does. He drains over half the can and then sets it aside, breathing out deeply and leaning his head back against the sofa behind him.
“You know Jarvis tells on you,” a voice from the doorway says, and Steve twists around to see Tony walking over, freshly showered, wearing sweats and a white t-shirt.
“Apologies, Captain,” Jarvis says. “Sir did request I let him know if you attempted to remove your sling.”
“You can’t eat pizza properly with one hand,” Steve says defensively. “You try it.”
“I’d rather not,” Tony hums, and walks over, crouching down and snagging a slice. “Nice of you two to think of your own stomachs before everyone else’s.”
“Super-soldier metabolisms,” Bucky says. “Eat or be eaten.”
“You’re only half a super-soldier,” Tony retorts, moving to sit cross legged next to Steve.
“Which is why Steve has eaten twice as much as me,” Bucky says, saluting Tony with his slice before biting the end off, grinning cockily.
“How’s the kid?” Steve asks Tony. “Is there a plan? Who’s gonna take him?”
Tony doesn’t answer. He finishes his slice and wipes his fingers absently on his knee, brow furrowed and contemplative.
Tony blinks, breathes out. “I don’t want to say anything to you until we know for definite,” he says carefully, and Steve is immediately on guard. “We’ve been running bloodwork. Tests.”
“Is the kid alright? He ain’t dying or anything, is he?” Bucky asks, sounding alarmed.
“No, he’s alright. Physically fine, as far as we can tell when he's KO'd. In shock, though, so he’s sedated. Bruce is trying to find out everything he can.”
“Which is what, so far?”
“For definite? That he’s a he, that he’s six years old, give or take a month,” Tony says frankly. “The rest is…unconfirmed.”
“What is the rest?” Steve presses, and the look Tony gives him is foreboding in its hesitance and concern, full of something that looks bizarrely like sympathy-
“Sir, there is a situation in the medical wing,” Jarvis’s voice interrupts before Steve can press Tony for answers. “The child has woken and has managed to gain access to the ventilation system.”
Tony scrambles to his feet. “He’s done what?” he asks, astounded. “He’s in the vents?”
“Yes. Agent Barton has gone in after him,” Jarvis informs him. “Doctor Banner is requesting that you and Captain Rogers come down to the lab immediately.”
“Goddamn it,” Tony curses and heads to the elevator. Steve and Bucky exchange a glance and then both drop their pizza, getting up and dashing after Tony.
“I thought you said he was sedated,” Bucky says as they pile into the elevator and Steve slaps at the button to close the doors, Jarvis automatically taking them down the two floors to the medical wing.
“He was!” Tony insists, and he bites his lip, running his hands through his hair. “Shit.”
“What?” Steve demands. “Why are you looking like that? Come on, you’d normally be finding something like this hilarious.”
“Yeah, Clint Barton trying to extract a six year old from the vents is probably internet gold,” Tony says, and Steve recognises evasion when he hears it. The doors open and Tony steps out, and he makes it four strides before Steve catches his elbow, just outside the door to the medical lab. Bucky hangs back by the elevator, eyes narrowed and fixed on Tony, looking as suspicious as Steve feels.
“Tony,” Steve insists. “Tell me.”
Tony presses his fingertips to his mouth, lowers them. “Early tests seem to be showing his genetic data matches yours,” he finally says, and Steve goes very, very still. “He’s showing indicators of the super-serum. Burning through sedatives, raised core-temperature, higher than average unconscious reflexes.”
Steve feels his mind go blank. He stares at Tony without words, unable to comprehend what he’s hearing.
“This is why I didn’t want to say anything until we knew for definite,” Tony says, meeting Steve’s eyes and that empathetic, compassionate look is back again. “Steve, when we were in their systems, we found all their lab records. They were trying to create a better super-soldier, and they used that other Steve Rogers’ genes to do it. It’s looking pretty much like the kid is biologically his.”
Tony takes a breath. “And by the default of the multiverse,” he says awkwardly, “that means he’s also biologically yours.”