He'd told himself not to look. It was obvious—don't look, because looking was a terrible idea, the worst idea, a snatching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory level bad idea. He was a lucky guy, lucky like a country song played in reverse: he'd gotten his life back, his wife back, his daughter back. He'd even gotten his dead friends back, not to mention that they'd saved everyone in the universe and fixed the past, duct-taping it all together. And so they'd won themselves a future, which was a beautiful thing: spooling out endlessly in front of them like a car cruising down an endless, scenic highway, full speed ahead. Every moment full of surprises. Don't look.
Pandora's goddamned box, and he'd opened it. Death by Google News.
February 14, 2005: Natalie Carter, former operations officer of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) dies at 86. And then a month and a half later, in April, 2005: Michael Carter, deputy director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) from 1952 to 1975, is dead at 88.
But the one that had got him, the notice he'd known not to look for except some perverse, insatiable curiosity had made him look anyway: S. G. Carter, husband of Margaret Carter, the first and longest-running Director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), died at home Thursday of complications from pneumonia.
So okay: it was bad enough to imagine Natasha dying (again), and despite everything, it brought him no pleasure to imagine Barnes finally biting it and being buried under another man's name—lovesick bastard hadn't even made it two months. But Steve...now that was just fucking intolerable , because the thing was that at least Natasha got a decent obituary honoring her long career, the fact that she'd been the first female S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to be awarded the Career Intelligence Medal, blah blah. Barnes had also gotten a good write-up, though of course almost everything in it was a lie. Peggy’s brother's early life had been grafted onto Barnes's career at S.H.I.E.L.D. , so not only was there nothing about him being a Howling Commando or, you know, murdering dozens of people, but now he'd also apparently gone to Cambridge and been recruited for special ops by the British army. How the fuck had nobody noticed that Peggy Carter's brother didn't have an English accent? Maybe they figured that he was a master of disguise—or hell, maybe they thought that Peggy's accent was a put-on: who knows? Anyway there were a couple of polite column inches noting that Michael Carter had been his sister's loyal protector for years, which was fair enough.
But Steve...S.G. Carter got only a four-line squib at the back of the paper, simply noting that he'd fought in the war and had chosen to pursue a reclusive life thereafter—which aside from really not being true made it sound like he had been damaged or something, which maybe even was true. He'd been survived by his wife, three children, and four grandchildren, private services to be held at St. Paul's Chapel. And that was it, all there was…except by some unbelievably cruel cosmic irony, those meagre couple of lines had been published on November 25, 2008—a date that was so ingrained on Tony Stark's psyche that he thought at first he must be hallucinating it in some kind of self-centered fugue state. But no—Tony looked up the late edition of the paper and saw that the headline was the one he remembered: "I AM IRON MAN," in huge black type. Cap's death had been announced on the same day as the press conference that was Iron's Man's coming out.
Services to be held at St. Paul's Chapel... Thing was, Tony didn't do funerals, did not as a matter of principle do funerals, had had quite enough of funerals by the time he was 21, thanks for nothing, Bucky Barnes. And subjecting himself to this particular funeral was doubly stupid, considering that he was planning to hang out with the guy this coming weekend, which he and his family were planning to spend in 1962. Still, having learned about Steve's funeral, he felt it like an itch, almost a compulsion—made all the worse for being the kind of problem that wouldn't go away by itself. It wasn't like he could just somehow accidentally-on-purpose miss it.
He had a time machine. Or maybe, Tony thought, looking down at where his scarred hand had fused with the Infinity Gauntlet, it was more accurate to say that he was a time machine.