Steve is not having a good day.
First, Fury comes to him admitting that they’d lost the Tesseract— the very thing that he’d dived into the Arctic to get rid of— and then asks him to somehow lead a group of heroes in order to get it back.
Never mind that Steve hasn’t even been out of the ice for a month yet and apparently the person who stole the Tesseract is an alien…
Despite all this, the team of unlikely heroes manages to pull together and fight off the alien army from space and capture Loki, who is apparently the adopted brother of Thor — another alien (god?)— Who can also do magic—
Steve lets out a breath and steps away as SHIELD agents rush in to claim Loki’s staff.
“I’m going to work on coordinating search and rescue,” he says and Loki copies him, literally, turning into him with a shimmer of magic and repeating Steve’s words in a mocking tone.
Ookay, he thinks as he leaves the rest of the Avengers and starts jogging down the stairs. This day keeps getting weirder and weirder. A roar echoes down the steps and he speeds up. Apparently, the Hulk is taking the stairs too, and he doesn’t seem too happy about it.
Steve pulls himself up and over the railing and jumps down several flights of steps. He reaches a landing with a door labeled ‘14’ in bold black letters and wrenches it open, hoping to be able to find a different set of stairs than the ones that the Hulk is currently stomping down.
Instead, he finds something else.
Seriously this day.
He’s not exactly sure how Loki managed to escape, but here he is, dressed like him and everything, holding the scepter.
“I have eyes on Loki,” he says carefully into his earpiece. “Fourteenth floor.” He doesn’t get anything in reply except some vague shouting and he desperately hopes that Loki hadn’t killed everyone the moment he’d turned his back.
“I’m not Loki,” the fake him says slowly, setting down the scepter’s case. “And I don’t want to hurt you.”
Yeah right, Steve thinks before launching himself at the impostor.
Surprisingly, Loki seems to be able to fight just as comfortably with a shield as with a staff, and he matches Steve move for move. It had taken Steve days of constant training to be able to achieve that kind of control.
Gods. Right, he thinks as he kicks Loki away. They probably do this sort of thing for fun.
“I can do this all day,” he warns the trickster as he tries to think of some way to contain the god. Obviously, Thor’s cuffs don’t work.
“Yeah I know,” Loki says, sounding strangely exasperated. “I know,” he repeats, before throwing his shield, and it sure is weird watching that move from the outside.
Steve throws his own shield and knocks both of them out of play before continuing to wrestle with Loki. Nobody has responded to his comm call and he’s beginning to wonder if maybe he hasn’t yet figured out how to use the thing properly when the staff gets kicked through the glass siding of the walkway and falls to the floor below.
Alright, fine, he thinks and trips them both. Except now, they’re falling the whole fourteen floors and he’s definitely going to be bruised after this.
Dazed and panting, he’s about to launch himself up and continue the fight when he sees his compass sitting open on the floor, Peggy’s picture staring at him. He snatches it up and stumbles to his feet, his other hand pressing onto his belt where he can feel another compass pressing through the fabric.
Fake-Steve makes it to his feet as well and Steve stares at him, clutching the other compass in front of him accusingly. “Where did you get this?” He growls.
Loki doesn’t answer and instead makes a dash for the scepter, but Steve is so done with this day and he wastes no time in wrestling Loki into a chokehold. He’s busy wondering how long it takes for a god to pass out when Loki gasps out three impossible words.
“Bucky… Is… alive.”
Without thinking, his arms loosen from around the other’s neck. “What?” He breathes, his mind going still with shock.
And then Loki punches him in the face and knocks him out with the scepter.
Steve wakes up to a hand on his shoulder and he reacts on instinct, his own hand snapping onto the stranger’s wrist as he lurches and scrambles to get his feet under him.
“Woah, woah. Cap it’s me.”
Blinking, he halts in a semi-crouched position, looking up to see a SHIELD agent standing over him. “Agent Rumlow?” He says, trying to place the guy among the dozens of other agents he’d met. Rumlow had shown him around the Helicarrier hadn’t he?
“Hey Cap,” Rumlow says, his hand still on Steve’s shoulder. “What happened?”
“Loki,” Steve says, glancing around. “He tried to steal the scepter—” He cuts himself off because the scepter is still there, sitting on the floor amid the legs of several other SHIELD agents. “Or, at least, I thought…?” He trails off in confusion.
“We got a call from Mister Secretary,” another agent pipes up, Agent Sitwell…? “He said that Loki got away with the Tesseract.”
“What?!” Steve gasps and tries to lurch to his feet. “Did he hurt anyone?”
“Woah, Cap,” Rumlow says, keeping a steadying hand on his shoulder as the world tilts slightly and he sways on his feet. “You look like you need to go to medical.”
“The scepter…” He tries, eyeing the thing as it is once again placed in its case.
“Don’t worry Captain,” Sitwell says, and then he winks. “We’ll get it to where it needs to go.”
What? Steve thinks bewildered, but he doesn’t have time to question the odd behavior because Rumlow and Sitwell both speed off with the scepter, and a different agent – he doesn’t know his name this time – leads him off to the medical suite of Stark tower.
Apparently, he’s not the only one having a bad day because Stark is there too, looking exhausted and slightly exasperated as he’s fussed over by doctors.
“It’s fine!” He hears Tony gripe as he walks in. “Seriously, I know more about this thing than you do, so you can keep your tests and scans away from me, thank you very much.”
“What happened?” He asks, as he’s ushered in to sit on the medical bed next to Tony.
Tony rolls his eyes. “Secretary Pierce cornered us in the lobby and started making noise about reclaiming the Tesseract,” he says. “As if I’m just going to just give it back to SHIELD for their weapons program, uh uh, no deal.” He shifts as he waves off another doctor. “And then,” he continues, tapping on the arc reactor in his chest. “This thing decides to give out on me for no good reason.”
“What?” Steve says in shock, twitching away and pulling off his helmet for the doctor trying to shine a light in his eyes. “Are you okay?”
Tony waves his hand dismissively. “Thor fixed it no problem,” he says, and Steve isn’t sure if he’s telling the truth or not. “But,” he continues, “of course, while I was busy doing the jig on the floor, Loki managed to sneak off with the Tesseract, so, there’s that.”
“Right,” Steve nods as his doctor huffs and walks off to the other side of the room. “I ran into Loki with the scepter too, or at least… I thought I did, it was still there when I woke up.”
“You’re saying he just left it there?” Tony asks in confusion, pushing himself up on the bed.
“Actually Sir,” a cool British voice calls out from nowhere, causing Steve’s heartrate to spike as he jerks his head around, trying to find the source. “I have some surveillance footage that you might be interested in.”
Tony snaps his fingers and swings his feet off his bed. “Excellent J, bring it up.”
“What…?” Steve asks, feeling out of the loop for the millionth time that day.
“Oh right,” Tony says, looking over at him. “I guess you haven’t met JARVIS.” He waves at the ceiling. “J, introduce yourself.”
“Certainly,” the voice says. “My name is JARVIS, Captain; I am Sir’s personal AI.”
“AI?” He asks tiredly, his shoulders slumping slightly.
“Artificial Intelligence,” Tony cuts in. “Super advanced computer. You know what those are right? JARVIS is like them, but he can think for himself.”
“So… he’s a computer in the tower…” Steve says slowly.
“Sure, whatever,” Tony says with a hand wave. “He basically runs the place. Anyway, what do ya have for us J?”
“I feel this footage is best viewed in a more private setting,” JARVIS replies. “Perhaps you and the Captain could move to one of the labs?”
Tony doesn’t even blink at the odd request. “Alrighty then,” he says, rubbing his hands together and pushing himself off the bed before looking over at Steve, a mischievous look on his face. “Let’s get outta here.”
Steve casts a quick glance to the white-coated doctors at the back of the room and hurriedly pushes himself off his own bed before following Tony to the door.
“Okay, we’re going. Bye!” Tony says with a jaunty wave and they dart out of the room, the automatic door cutting off the rising protests behind them.
Tony grins at him as they make their way down the hall and Steve can’t help but crack a smile in return, although he does hope that Tony’s reactor really is fine, and he doesn’t need to stay in under observation.
Tony leads them to an elevator at the end of the hall and addresses JARVIS again once they’re inside. “Alright JARVIS, is Lab 1 still in one piece?”
“Yes Sir, it is,” JARVIS replies from somewhere in the ceiling.
“Good, alright. Take us there.”
JARVIS doesn’t respond but the elevator starts moving. As they start going down, Steve gives a start as he realises that in all the confusion, he’s managed to hang onto his helmet but not his shield.
“JARVIS?” He ventures tentatively, instinctively looking up at the ceiling.
“Yes Captain,” JARVIS replies evenly.
Steve glances at Tony who seems to be watching him intently, before continuing. “Do you happen to know where my shield fell? I lost it in my fight with Loki.”
“Indeed,” JARVIS says. “Your shield is currently on floor 8, near the west side windows.”
“Oh, thanks,” he replies.
“Okay then,” Tony bursts in, drumming his hands on his legs. “We’ll get someone to fetch it for you.”
“What? No, you don’t need to do that–” Steve protests but Tony waves it away.
“It’s no big deal,” he reassures before directing his voice to JARVIS. “JARVIS? Make sure someone gets Cap’s shield and returns it to him.”
Steve gives a tiny sigh before he notices that Tony seems to be watching him again. “Is there a problem?” He asks, raising an eyebrow and squaring his shoulders defensively.
Tony’s eyes seem to scan him for a second before he gets a calculating look on his face. “So… do you just carry your shield around on your arm all day? ‘Coz that sounds tedious.”
Steve huffs out a sigh and looks away. “Well, it used to strap to my back, but with this new suit…”
“It’s a piece of garbage,” Tony decides with a flippant hand wave. “Typical of SHIELD really— J, put ‘Give Cap an Actual Suit’ on my to do list.”
“You don’t have to do that—” Steve tries, but he’s cut off by the elevator doors as they open.
“Alright,” Tony says easily, breezing past Steve. “Welcome to the lab, try not to break anything. JARVIS, what do ya have?”
Steve steps into the lab and has his breath taken away. Despite all he’s seen with SHIELD and the Tesseract, the level of advanced science that seems to live in every corner of Tony’s tower still leaves him in awe.
Bucky would love this place. He winces at the thought and thinks back to what Loki had said during their fight. Skipping over the question of how on earth Loki even knows about Bucky, he would have thought that Loki had said what he did in order to distract him and steal the scepter. Except he hadn’t. He’d left the scepter there. And that didn’t make any sense.
Tony’s already made his way into the middle of the lab and JARVIS pulls up several holographic screens. Still completely enraptured by the tech around him, Steve drifts forward, placing his helmet on a workbench by the screens.
“The security cameras in the tower picked up some interesting footage,” JARVIS explains as he pulls up several images on the screens. “The footage leads me to believe that Loki may not have been the one to attack Captain Rogers.”
“How is that possible?” Steve questions. “He looked exactly like me.”
“Indeed Captain,” JARVIS responds as Tony throws him a surprised look. “However, I believe it best to simply watch the whole altercation from the beginning.”
“Okay then,” Tony says, folding his arms across his chest. “Play it back.”
Instead of playing Steve’s fight as he was expecting, JARVIS starts a video that shows all the Avengers together at the top of the tower, right when they cuff Loki. “If we zoom into the top right-hand corner,” he says, and the image suddenly expands to show only a portion of the room. “I think you’ll find something rather interesting.”
“What the…?” Tony says, leaning forward in confusion as a shadowy figure comes into view.
“That’s…” Steve glances between Tony and the screen. “That’s you isn’t it?”
“JARVIS, run facial recognition,” Tony says intently, his eyes fixed on the screen.
“Already done Sir,” JARVIS replies. “The scan brings up a 99% match with one, Anthony Stark.”
Tony curses softly as they watch the Other-Tony follow the proceedings from the sidelines of the room before flicking something off his sleeve and jumping away, the familiar colours of the Iron Man suit appearing right before he falls out of view.
“JARVIS, what did he flick?” Steve questions, his arms folding across his chest defensively. Seriously. What is up with the future? Loki had been in cuffs by then and under the eyes of dozens of people, so the Other-Tony couldn’t be him, right?
JARVIS zooms in and slows down the video and they watch as a tiny figure speeds across the room and lands near the Tesseract before crawling up Tony’s arm.
“Is that…” Steve gapes. “Is that a person?”
Tony darts forward and pulls his finger across the screen, rewinding the footage. “JARVIS is there audio for this?”
“Indeed, there is Sir,” JARVIS replies and the video begins to replay, this time with sound.
“Ooh, alright. You’re up little buddy.” They hear the Other-Tony say. “There’s our stone.”
“He’s after the stone?” Steve asks in confusion and Tony shivers and rubs his arms next to him.
“What happened next, J?” Tony demands and the video screen changes to when the Avengers exit the elevator and arrive in the lobby. A small screen pops up and shows the Other-Tony as he sneaks in onto the ground floor dressed as a SHIELD agent.
“It seems your doppelganger left via his suit and came back in here,” JARVIS provides. “Then Secretary Pierce attempted to take back the Tesseract.” The lobby video plays, complete with audio, and Steve watches as a blond older man confronts both Thor and Tony before several agents physically try to reclaim the Tesseract.
“He seems to want it very badly,” he murmurs.
“Indeed Captain,” JARVIS replies. “However, I believe you will find the actions of Sir’s impostor quite interesting.”
The video rewinds a bit and zooms in on the Other-Tony who seems to be mumbling into an earpiece and trying not to draw attention to himself. “Alright, move it Stuart Little, things are getting dicey out here, let’s go.”
They can’t hear the response of the Other-Tony’s tiny companion, but Tony rubs his arms again. “I can’t believe that guy was on me,” he grumbles under his breath.
“You’re only giving me a mild cardiac disreptnia,” Other-Tony mutters and Tony jerks, his eyes wide. In the background of the video, agents are trying to physically tear the Tesseract away from Tony and both sides are becoming more and more agitated. “Do it Lang! The window is closing, pull my pin.”
Steve opens his mouth in shock and then the video pulls out, showing the real Tony freeze and drop the case as his arc reactor begins flickering.
“Medic! Guy needs help,” Other-Tony calls and suddenly the case is spinning across the floor, straight into his hands. Other-Tony scoops it up and begins marching away, heading for the stairs. “Good job, meet me in the alley I’m going to grab a quick slice-” They hear him say, before he’s cut off by an angry Hulk.
“NO! STAIRS!” Hulk screams and Other-Tony goes flying. The case spins away and pops open, both of them watching in slow motion as the Tesseract tumbles out and lands next to Loki’s feet.
Loki’s eyes widen and in an instant, he swoops down, grabs it, and disappears in a cloud of blue smoke.
“Oh, we blew it.” They hear Other-Tony say as Thor stabilizes Tony and notices Loki’s absence. The video cuts off and they stand in silence.
“What was that!” Tony snaps, staring at the screen.
“That couldn’t have been Loki,” Steve says. “Right? I mean,” he gestures to the screen. “He was right there the whole time; he couldn’t have been the other-you too.”
Tony draws his lips into a thin line. “We’ll have to ask Thor about Loki’s powers, but I doubt even he would know how to give me a mild cardiac disreptnia.”
Not to mention the Iron Man suit that he had, Steve thinks uneasily, the suit hadn’t looked like the ones that Tony used.
Tony rubs at the arc reactor in his chest. “JARVIS, who was that little guy?”
Steve’s head perks up. “The other-you called him Stuart Little, didn’t he?” He asks before JARVIS can reply and Tony stares at him for a second.
“Indeed, Captain,” JARVIS responds. “However, Stuart Little is most likely a reference to a children’s book published in the year 1945.”
“Oh.” His chest tightens and he ducks his head slightly, his cheeks heating. “Never mind then.”
“It is of no consequence Captain,” JARVIS says. “If you like, I can pull up a copy of the book for you later. As for the identity of our tiny companion, I believe Sir’s double calls him by the name of Lang; however, there is no record of such an individual in my database.”
“Wow. Shocker,” Tony drawls sarcastically, rolling his eyes. “We don’t have record of Honey-I-Shrunk-The-Kids on hand? Amazing.”
“How did he even get so small?” Steve asks, ignoring the reference and hoping that shrinking is not some sort of common thing they do now in the future.
“Who knows,” Tony says, waving his hand dismissively. “There’s all sorts of crazy stuff in New York...” He pauses for a second, before clapping his hands together. “Okay! So, crazy-double and tiny-man, both trying to get the Tesseract… and Loki got it and then tried to go for the scepter?”
“I don’t believe so Sir,” JARVIS responds and pulls up more images on the screen. “You see, Captain Rogers’s fight was happening at the same time as the Tesseract incident.”
“Let’s see,” Tony says, narrowing his eyes and folding his arms again. “This is some Doctor Who craziness.” Steve hears him mumble under his breath.
JARVIS starts the video and shows Steve’s double make his way into the tower and climb up several flights of stairs before stopping in front of an elevator. He has an earpiece in, and they hear his one-sided conversation as he pushes the lift’s button. “On it. Head to the lobby.”
JARVIS then pulls up the lobby surveillance and lets it play silently in the background, showing the Avengers and a very surrounded Loki. Meanwhile, he cuts to a camera in the elevator where the STRIKE stands with the scepter and Agent Sitwell is on the phone. “Evidence secure,” he says. “We’re on route to Doctor List.”
The doors open as he says something about a secretary and Other-Steve gets into the elevator, all the agents eyeing him apprehensively.
“Cap,” Sitwell says. “I thought you were coordinating search and rescue.”
“Change of plans,” Other-Steve says, and even through the screen, Steve can sense the tension in the elevator.
“Hey Cap.” He hears Rumlow say and the man seems to give his doppelganger a calculating look.
Other-Steve nods stiffly. “Rumlow,” he says before shifting and looking around him. “I just got a call from the Secretary… I’m going to be running point on the scepter.”
Tony raises an eyebrow at that and glances back at the lobby scene where Secretary Pierce is just now confronting the Avengers. Back inside the elevator, the SHIELD agents don’t seem too happy with Other-Steve’s claim.
“Sir, I don’t understand,” Sitwell stutters, sounding nervous.
“We got word that there may be an attempt to steal it,” Other-Steve reasons.
“Sorry Cap,” Rumlow says, shaking his head. “We can’t give you the scepter.”
Steve’s eyebrows scrunch together in confusion because while he knows that Other-Steve isn’t the real one, Rumlow doesn’t know that, and therefore has no reason not to trust him.
“I’m going to have to call the director,” Sitwell states, almost looking smug.
“That’s okay,” Other-Steve says confidently. “Trust me.” H then leans in close to Sitwell’s ear, but not too close as to not be heard by everyone else in the room. “Hail Hydra.”
“What?!” Steve bursts out and spins away from the screen, his heart pounding.
“JARVIS, pause.” He hears Tony say in the background as he stumbles against a workbench.
What was that? He thinks frantically, his chest squeezing painfully. Hydra? It can’t be, Hydra’s gone. It has to be. I. Killed. It.
“Hey, hey Cap. Cap, you with me? Steve, hey.”
Steve blinks and looks up to see Tony in front of him, his hands out, but not touching. “You good?” He asks him carefully, his gaze strangely intense.
Steve shudders out a breath and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand before glancing back at the frozen image on the screen. “I thought Hydra was gone,” he rasps.
“Ditto,” Tony replies quickly. “I’m just as lost as you are right now, alright?” He scans Steve for a second. “You gonna be okay?”
Steve huffs out a laugh and gives his head a shake. “I’ll have to be,” he responds grimly as he straightens and eyes the screens in front of him. “Is there still more footage?” He asks.
“Looks like it,” Tony says, eyeing him carefully before he too turns back to the screen.
Steve swallows and nods. “Alright, let’s go.”
JARVIS restarts the video and Steve watches as the SHIELD agents look shocked at the Other-Steve’s announcement, but not shocked-confused, as in ‘why is Captain America talking about Hydra’ or shocked-angry, as in ‘Hydra is bad and I don’t like it’ but more like, shocked-awed, as in ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me right now.’
Something sick curls up in his stomach and he grits his teeth as the agents make no protest when Other-Steve takes the scepter and leaves the elevator.
“Wait,” Tony says suddenly and the video pauses. “JARVIS, zoom in on his face.”
JARVIS complies and the camera zooms in on the Other-Steve’s face. He’s smirking.
“Son of a…” Tony trails off with a glance at Steve that he doesn’t quite understand before grinning and shifting back. “Whoever this is,” he says, tapping the screen. “I’m guessing he’s not actually Hydra. Not with that face.”
“You think?” Steve asks, his eyes scanning his impostor.
“Yeah, I mean, look at him.” Tony waves his hand absently. “He looks like he just pulled the wool right over the eyes of all of them.”
Steve relaxes slightly. “It does look like that,” he agrees before frowning. “But that would have to mean… that would mean that all those agents are actually Hydra.”
Tony swallows. “Right. Yeah. That too.”
Steve presses his lips into a thin line. “Keep playing please, JARVIS.”
The video resumes as Other-Steve marches out of the elevator. “Tony what’s going on?” He says into his earpiece, looking concerned. “Tell me you found that cube.”
Meanwhile, the lobby video silently shows Other-Tony on the floor next to a rampaging Hulk.
Other-Steve sighs and swears when he looks up to see the real Steve, and once again Tony casts a glance at him that he can’t quite read, although this one looks mostly amused.
“This is weird,” Tony mumbles, as they watch the fight between Steve and Other-Steve.
“No kidding,” Steve replies and winces slightly as they both tumble off the walkway and JARVIS has to cut to a new camera while they fall.
“Holy—!” Tony jerks and turns to stare at Steve. “Are you alright? How many floors was that?!”
“Yeah I’m fine,” he replies dismissively, ignoring the twinge of the newly forming bruises on his shoulders.
“Captain Rogers fell approximately 14 floors,” JARVIS says at the same time.
Tony sputters at that for a second before turning away grumbling, his hands shoved in his pockets. Meanwhile, on screen, Steve confronts Other-Steve with the compass, his voice hard.
“What’s so special about the compass?” Tony asks curiously and Steve glances away.
“It’s mine,” he says finally. “I always carry it, and I couldn’t understand how Loki would even know about it, let alone have one.” His fingers press onto his belt again. “Especially since I still had mine the whole time.”
Tony’s brow furls in confusion and they both watch as the two Steve’s wrestle and fall into a headlock.
“Bucky… is… alive.” Other-Steve rasps and Steve shivers.
“This guy’s looking less and less like Loki,” Tony says quietly.
“Yeah,” Steve says shortly. But what does that mean? He wonders uneasily. If that’s not Loki, then who is it?
Other-Steve knocks him out with the scepter and takes it, and the extra compass, before walking off with one last parting quip. Steve sighs. “After that, I woke up with Rumlow standing over me and the scepter still there.”
“Indeed, Captain,” JARVIS says. “I suggest you keep watching.” He pulls up another screen and it shows Other-Steve sneaking into Stark Tower, this time carrying the scepter.
“What…?” Tony chokes out as they watch the new Other-Steve watch Steve’s fight from the shadows, darting out just as the Other-Steve leaves and replacing the scepter near Steve’s unconscious body. He then glances up and looks directly into camera before giving a very deliberate salute.
He’s gone just as quickly and Rumlow and Sitwell rush in not long after.
“Don’t worry Captain,” Sitwell says with a wink. “We’ll get this to where it needs to go.”
Steve gives a start and curses. “If they’re really Hydra…”
“Then they just got their hands on the scepter again,” Tony says grimly.
“Are they actually Hydra though?” He questions a little desperately, gesturing at the screen and swallowing against the tight feeling in his throat.
“Excellent question, Captain,” JARVIS says. “I believe there is another clip that may answer your question.” The screen clears and a new box pops up, showing Other-Tony once again. They’re back at the top of the tower and audio comes on just as Sitwell and Rumlow rush into the room.
Steve can hear their muted conversation with Natasha and Clint, but he focuses in on Other-Tony, and now that he’s looking for it, he can see the infamous ‘Lang’, a tiny bump, on Other-Tony’s shoulder.
“They were SHIELD,” Other-Tony mumbles as he watches the scepter being exchanged. “Well, actually Hydra, but, we didn’t know that yet.” Steve’s stomach drops and he barely hears Other-Tony’s parting words to his friend before the tiny figure is once again flicked across the room.
“JARVIS pause.” Tony says stiffly before pacing away and running his hand through his hair agitatedly. “Okay,” he says tightly. “Okay, who are these guys?” He swipes his hand in the direction of the screen. “We didn’t know that yet?” He repeats in frustration. “What are they, time travelers?”
“Actually, Sir,” JARVIS cuts in and Tony freezes, slowly turning to face the screens again.
“What, is it,” he says quietly and Steve’s eyes dart back and forth between him and the screen. Time travel wasn’t— they couldn’t do that now, right?
JARVIS pulls up a simplified image of both Other-Tony and Other-Steve and they rotate on screen as he talks. “According to my scans, both of your counterparts appear to be at least a decade older than the both of you,” he explains. “Additionally, you will notice that Tony’s impostor no longer has an arc reactor embedded in his chest.”
Tony opens his mouth but doesn’t say anything, simply staring at the screen.
“He removed it?” Steve asks, glancing at Tony. “Is that possible?”
“I don’t know,” Tony replies dazedly. “It wasn’t a few years ago.”
“Indeed, Sir,” JARVIS says. “That, coupled with the multiple versions of Captain Rogers, and the new design for your counterpart’s Iron Man suit, leads me to believe that time travel might not be too far out of the realms of possibility.”
“Wait a second,” Steve says suddenly. “JARVIS, pull up the part where the Other-Steve returns the scepter.”
“Certainly, Captain,” JARVIS complies, and the video starts to replay on another screen.
“There. Look,” Steve says, pointing to the screen. “He’s wearing a different suit.”
Tony blinks and seems to focus in on the screen. “…Are you sure you don’t have a clone sitting around somewhere?” He asks slowly.
“A what?” Steve questions, completely lost.
“Never mind,” Tony says, waving his hand. “Just so we’re covering all our bases here, we’re sure this isn’t Loki?”
Steve shrugs and folds his arms. “How would Loki know about Hydra?” He asks. “And even if he did, how would he know that Rumlow is Hydra? How did he know about my compass? And why did he care enough about it to grab it when he left?” He gestures at Tony. “How did he know about your arc reactor thing? And why make illusions that are ten years older? Most of all, why bring the scepter back?”
“Okay, okay,” Tony says, raising his hands in mock surrender. “Fine, but time travel? Why?”
Steve shifts and glances away, unconsciously falling into planning-mode, like he had so many times with the Commandos. “Let’s take a look at what we have,” he says, his hands itching to pull up various images on the screens but not feeling confident enough to do so.
Instead, he relaxes for probably the first time since he’d come into the lab and begins calculating. “We know that both of them were working together,” he says. “Other-Steve talked to Other-Tony over the comms. and presumably told him to head to the lobby.”
“Okay sure,” Tony says, folding his arms and gesturing with one hand. “So, both of them were after the Tesseract and Loki’s staff.”
Steve purses his lips. “Other-you called the Tesseract a stone… and we already know that the Tesseract is a power source…”
“So, Loki’s staff has a stone too, probably a power source as well,” Tony cuts in.
“Exactly,” Steve says. “And they both…” He trails off and spins to stare blankly at the screens. “Okay,” He says after a second. “Let’s assume that they’re both telling the truth right now and all those agents are actually Hydra.”
“Okay…” Tony says, his brow beginning to furl.
Steve starts pacing, his mind racing. “Other-Steve said he got a call from the Secretary.” He spins around to face Tony. “And Sitwell said something about a secretary on the phone too.”
Tony’s mouth drops open. “My friends call me Mister Secretary,” he recites in shock. “Wait. So you’re saying Alexander Pierce is Hydra?”
Steve starts pacing again. “It makes sense doesn’t it?” He says, waving his arm. “Because what was he doing right at that moment? Trying to get the Tesseract from you.” He plants his feet and looks at Tony. “Maybe they were trying to get the staff and cube away from Hydra.”
“…maybe,” Tony concedes. “Other-me certainly didn’t seem happy when Loki got the cube…” He blinks. “Wait, but why bring the scepter back then?” He gestures exasperatedly to the screen showing Other-Steve returning the scepter.
Steve opens his mouth and then closes it. “I… don’t… know,” he says finally. It’s a fair question, because while Other-Steve had taken the staff from Rumlow in the elevator, bringing it back had only let the staff fall back into Hydra’s hands. He think’s back to the salute Other-Steve had given JARVIS. “Maybe they couldn’t actually keep it?” He ventures. “Maybe they could only warn us?”
“Yeah, well, now Loki has the Tesseract,” Tony grumbles, moving to the screen and pulling up an image of Loki vanishing. “So I’m not sure just how helpful they were.”
“Maybe they needed it for something,” Steve says. “If they can… if they can time travel, it wouldn’t matter how long they had it for right?”
JARVIS chooses that moment to pipe up. “It does appear that the staff that Captain Rogers’ double returned is slightly different than the one he took.”
“What?” Tony snaps, his hands flying about the screen. “How so?”
JARVIS pulls up an image of both staffs and they look the same to Steve.
Tony too, apparently, because after a second he asks, “What am I looking at, J?”
“My scans indicate that the second staff seems to be made of newer material,” JARVIS says, enlarging the image of the second staff. “However, the power source of both seems to be the same.”
Tony relaxes. “Okay, so the stone is the same, it’s just the staff that’s… newer.” He drops his hands and mutters a few distinctive phrases about time travel under his breath.
Steve can’t help feeling the same way, because, honestly, aliens are one thing… but time travel?
“Okay, wait a minute,” Tony says suddenly, his hand waving in front of his face. “We’re focusing on the wrong thing here. It doesn’t matter where, or why, or what, or how they were here,” He runs his hands through his hair agitatedly. “We have a serious problem.”
Steve blinks. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Tony says, looking over at him. “If they’re right, and it’s looking like they are… then this place is crawling with Hydra.”