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What Is and What Should Never Be

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Chapter One: And So It Begins

As Steve walked briskly to Tony’s lab he kept thinking about the comatose bodies of people popping up all over the east coast. He had just finished watching the most recent news reports on the subject and the latest information was disconcerting. He had been keeping track of those various news reports that talk about these particular cases. The number of cases had increased by the dozens in such a short amount of time. It had been about two and a half weeks since the first case sprang up and already fifty two more cases had been reported. The media is starting to talk about a possible epidemic. Each case that pops up makes Steve more and more nervous.

Being a legendary super soldier has its perks as if you didn’t know. In His profound military and martial arts training, experience in extreme battle conditions and on the brutal front lines, Steve has developed the innate ability to perceive the dangerous nefarious intentions of men of the villainous nature. In short he gets a hunch when bad people are doing bad things. And in the altered cliché phrasing of a web slinging ally “His baddie sense is tingling.” Steve firmly believes that someone is behind the unexplainable cases; someone with heinous intentions. Thus his brisk walk to Tony’s lab where he knows the genius is hiding in which Steve hopes of finding a good set of ears to voice his concerns to.

It wasn’t until quite recently that Steve was even able trust the others with his innermost thoughts and concerns. Let alone to the snarky Tony Stark. But that had changed radically on a mission about ten months back. Captain America and Iron Man had gotten trapped in a collapsed subway tunnel. With one severely injured and the other waxing and waning out of consciousness they had nothing better to do than to quarrel with each other only to find that the reasons why they clashed and fought so much were all based on false assumptions and terrible first impressions. With a bit of heart to heart bonding, that can only happen being trapped in close proximity to each other for over five hours; they came upon an understanding and perhaps even the start of a profound budding relationship.

After a fairly epic and daring rescue that involved a god, a man with breath taking anger management issues, and a couple of master assassins, Captain America and Iron Man got out of the tunnel relatively in one piece which eventually led to a magnificent phase of stunning, wholesome team bonding. Most important though was Steve and Tony’s relationship.

When they got along and cooperated with each other the team as a whole functioned on a higher more efficient level. Missions became a breeze. Or at least as much as a breeze as evil super villains can be. Which eventually lead to Tony actually trusting the team with something incredibly important to him, his true self. Well at least a little bit of it anyway. (No one was ready for full on all natural Tony Stark.) They were a family of sorts now, even going as far to live together in the Avengers Tower.

Over the past few months, surprisingly and yet not so surprisingly, Steve became the person Tony started to trust most, at times even more than Pepper and that’s saying something. After the Subway tunnel collapse, they had started to spend copious amounts of time together. Usually Steve would be in Tony’s lab when he was working on upgrades to the suit or just threatening to donate Dumm-E to some sort of educational establishment if he continued to break things. At times they would talk about a random assortment subjects or if Tony was focused on a certain piece of equipment, Steve would just sit nearby and draw. Just being near each other was at times enough.

Tony’s trust in Steve had to, in a since, increase drastically because of one drunken night. Tony and Pepper had mutually ended their relationship on that particular day through business and friendship reasons. Though mutual and for the best the situation was still overwhelming enough for Tony to get completely and utterly wasted. Steve had ended up stumbling upon the totally plastered billionaire in that condition.

As the Super Soldier ushered the babbling drunken man to his room, the crazy genius started to utter some of his most profound secrets that not even Rhodey or Pepper knew. Needless to say he had to completely trust Steve to keep his secrets safe. Somehow, though, he found that it really wasn’t all that difficult to do so.

So back to the point, where was I? Ah, yes...

Shortly enough Steve was opening the door to Tony’s work shop. As soon as he did, a blasting wave of AC\DC music impacted his eardrums with an intense force. Too anxious to care Steve pressed on.

Discussing his concerns with Tony will perhaps shed some light on the situation. He hopes that Tony’s opinion on the matter will possibly help alleviate his anxiety. If his gut feeling is right, then at the very least they should prepare for the likelihood that a terrible mission will be underway.

“JARVIS! Music!” Steve shouted over the incredibly loud guitar chords of Tony’s Music.

JARVIS muted the music as Steve entered in to the shop further to find Tony hunched over one of his work tables tinkering with some piece of tech. The loss of music threw Tony into an obvious annoyance.

“Nope, bad move. Don’t mess with my music...” Tony said irritatedly as he looked up at the intruder of his sanctuary.

“This had better be good Cap. I was in the zone.” Tony stated flashing Steve with an obnoxious grin.

Steve sighed; Tony’s in one of those moods. Then the genius snapped his fingers as if in an epiphany; a seemingly brilliant idea crossing his mind.

“On second thought I’m glad you’re here. I may or may not have broken the coffee pot down here about 3 hours ago, so I need you to get me some coffee. Some glorious liquid heaven, yeah?” Tony looked at Steve in anticipation all the while still smirking.

Steve looked at Tony incredulously. He folded his arms across his chest clearly not amused with Tony’s demand. Steve then proceeded to stare at Tony with a look that screamed ‘Shut the fuck up! I am here for a far more important reason than to get you coffee!’ Of course our fine Captain would not say that out loud, however that look is usually sufficient enough. This time is no different. It took Tony only 2.5 seconds to get the point. This, by the way, is a decent improvement. The genius is getting better and better at recognizing his team mates ‘faces’. It only took misinterpretating one of Natasha’s bitch faces to become very skilled at the art of perceiving them. But that’s a story for another time.

Tony put his tinkering tools down and gave Steve his semi undivided attention.

“OK, Cap, what’s up? Don’t tell me we have a mission from shield. I’m still recovering from the last mission we had. Remember, a wayward missile blasted a dent in an unfortunate place on my armor. I nearly lost my di-“

“No Tony!” Steve groaned out.

Tony had already gone on and on for days about that incident and how the bruise around his left testicle was never going to go away. The Captain did not need him to start that up again.

“No, at least not yet.” Steve scratched the back of his head thinking of the best way to introduce the subject.

“Have you been paying attention to the news as of late? Adverse cases have been popping up for the past two weeks, they’re very troubling.” Steve finally stated looking a bit perturbed.

The Captain’s concern bled through his usual stoic leader face. Tony noticed the look and transitioned into serious mode.

“Yeah, I am assuming you are talking about the exponential increase of unexplained coma cases?” Tony confirmed recalling the upsetting news that had in fact caught his attention.

Steve nodded solemnly in comprehension. If Tony’s keeping track of the cases then something really is wrong.

Tony got up from the work table and motioned Steve to follow. He walked to his main computer and pointed out the various stats that were shown on the screen.

“I have JARVIS keeping me updated on the cases. Since I think around the eighth reported case I’ve been keeping track. Only now is the media making the connection to pretty much all of the recent coma cases on the east coast. People dropping in Main then Georgia, Florida and Virginia. All with the same symptoms.” He said as he pulled up news reports and patient confidential information (leave it to Tony to illegally have confidential patient information).

Steve looked at the screen in fascination and horror. Tony continued.

“There have been thirty-eight in the past two days alone, the doctors are perplexed. What the news doesn’t say is that most of the people that succumbed to this mysterious ailment were perfectly healthy; the doctors cannot explain why these seemingly robust people are dropping into comas left and right. Also brain activity is absolutely normal as if these people are fully awake and functioning.” Tony stated as he skimmed through the patient information.

He was about to continue until he looked up and saw the look on Steve’s face. The Captain looked like he was about to throw up. Steve always took these kinds of things really seriously; as if each unfortunate victim or casualty was his own personal failure.

He started to become more apprehensive. If he’s reading the patient reports right then there is absolutely nothing physically or even psychologically wrong with these people. Even the specialists are vexed. There is something terribly fishy going on and the good Captain is dreading the eventual confrontation of the fiend that has the power to do this to people.

“I don’t like this Tony. What could possibly cause something like this? Is it a new super virus? Is it unregistered technology? Could it be the works of an alien or mutant or or…”

“Steve!” Tony shouted out to stop the near hyperventilating soldier.

He readjusted himself to directly face The Captain. Steve was on the verge of a panic attack and Tony could only guess why. Waking up in the 21st century was overwhelming enough but to learn about the horrors of modern pathogens and the complex innovative technology would be enough to scare the shit out of anyone waking up 70 year away from their time. Then to top it all off there’s the progressive mutated humans and advanced races of aliens from distant galaxies, so I say the ‘out of time’ Super soldier is allowed a panic attack every so often.

“Steve listen.” Tony spoke a bit louder and enunciated his syllables.

He snapped his fingers and made sure he had Steve’s undivided attention.

“Ok, you with me now?”

Steve nodded.

“Ok, good. Listen ok. It is definitely not a piece of technology doing this. I know. Ok.” Tony stated reassuringly while maintaining eye contact.

“I know how technology works; it would have left traceable physical evidence. And as for a super virus, it may be, however highly unlikely.” Tony construed.

The fact of the matter is a super virus would also leave physical evidence. There is no physical evidence of any kind that could be found in the patients that pointed to either of those possibilities. Not to mention the sporadic randomness of the cases.

Hearing Tony’s viewpoint on the issue was helping Steve to calm down tremendously. Tony pulled up other schematics on the computer.

“Listen, I’ve had JARVIS running a background check on all of the ‘victims’. He is searching for whatever could possibly link any of these people together. So far we have zilch.” The genius looked up expectantly at the Captain in anticipation of a calm reply.

Tony was relieved to see that Steve had his leader face back on.

“So likely an alien or a mutant is behind these cases?” Steve said slowly as if tasting each word.

He’s running the idea over in his mind. At least mutants and aliens are tangible things with faces that he can shove his fist into, unlike a super pathogen or some sort of machinery that he knew absolutely nothing about.

Tony nodded slowly, ideas, probabilities and possible solutions quickly forming in his own brain.

“Given the information that you have compiled, Tony, I have no doubts now that SHIELD will intervene at some point soon. Which means we should prepare for the inevitable.”

The Captain declared becoming somewhat excited, his brilliant tactile brain already formulating startlingly amazing strategies.

“Ok here’s what we can do: You contact Thor with your, uh, ‘space phone’, he and Asgard has abundant knowledge of other alien races. If there is an alien behind all of this then the Asgardians would likely know. We should also get Dr. Banner in on this, you need to send him the information that you have gathered and have him look at the patient files and see if the ‘specialist’ missed something as well as get his general opinion on the situation.” Tony perked up at the Captains commanding tone.

“Aye, Aye Captain! Now there’s the Capsicle we all know and love.” The billionaire smirked and turned back to his computer.

To Steve’s utter annoyance Tony still calls him that infernal nick name. “I’ll get right on that. JARVIS?”

“Sir?” The AI’s voice resounded from seemingly everywhere.

“Where is Dr. Banner right now?” Tony said while initiating the start up program for his ‘space phone’ as the Captain called it.

“Dr. Banner is on floor eight sub level three, sir.” JARVIS replied.

“Ok, inform him about the situation and send him all of the case files and other information I have gathered. Have him get back to me a.s.a.p.”

“Already underway, sir.”

“That’s why I love you JARVIS. Keep me posted.” Tony smiled and turned his attention back to Steve.

“Ok what’s next oh fearless leader…” His smile turning into a sly smirk.

“Just so you know I will never let you live this down, Cap. You were so tripping out. You my friend lost your cool.” At his final declaration Tony started to chuckle which only served to piss off our dear Captain.

Steve started to give Tony ‘the look’ again. The billionaire with every intention of getting under the Soldiers skin started to obnoxiously full on laugh out loud.

Glaring Steve started to shout. “Do you honestly think this is a game, some sort of joke? People are in danger and you’re laughing!” Tony started to laugh even harder at Steve’s reaction.

Despite the overwhelming urge to punch Tony in his exceedingly insufferable smug face, the good Captain willed himself to calm down. He had to remind himself that the bad jokes and crude humor were Tony’s way of coping with incredibly serious situations.

It took months of epic shouting matches, intense stand offs, inappropriate pranks and in Tony’s case a well deserved punch in the face for Steve to realize that the crazy genius just functions that way. Thinking back on Tony’s swollen purple face after that particular punch made the Captain calm down immensely and go back into leader mode.

“Are you done?” Steve sighed.

One needed the patients of a saint to deal with Tony at times. How on earth was Pepper ever able to do it for so many years? No one may ever know. Tony’s laughs started to die down some.

“Yeah I’m good.” Tony chuckled out as he let out a few more snickers.

Steve eyed him exasperatedly; it’s time to get back down to business.

“Now we need to contact Thor. How long will it be before your ‘space phone’ is up and running?” Tony perked at the mention of his ‘space phone’. He’s overly proud and exceedingly fond of that particular invention.

“The ‘Trans Cosmic Tele Communication Device’ will be fully operational within four hours, and we will be talking to Asgardians that are millions of light years away.” Tony said almost giddily.

The device is partially powered by and directly connected to the Tesseract that is located on Asgard. Tony figured out how to sync Earthen technology with the grand ancient technology of the gods.

Mystifyingly he did it without blowing something up. It was a surprise to everyone, and perhaps a disappointment to others. Although Eric Selvig and the Asgardians did help him significantly. Still there is no denying that Tony’s genius is responsible for the miraculous capability to communicate through galactic matter and light years of distance.

Steve looked on as Tony’s head started to noticeably inflate. Due to the considerable expansion of his head new ideas, formulas and schematics started popping up in his mind. The crazy genius then started to wander off to execute some of these innovative ideas.

As Tony walked off to do god knows what, Steve was running all of the collective information is his head. Even though he feels better knowing he has a slight grip on the situation, the whole thing is still scary as hell. The Captain started to think in terms of odds, how likely it would be for them to win.

Just when he was going to go ask Tony his opinion of the odds, Steve heard a reverberating CRASH resonate though out the shop. The good Captain, concerned for the genius’s wellbeing, darted toward Tony’s general direction he wander off in only to hear him start to shout.

“Dumm-E! What the hell?! I installed highly advanced sensors and cams in you specifically so you wouldn’t do this! I swear to God one more time and you getting donated to that dance studio on 5th!”

Steve arrived to see the horrible disaster the poor clumsy robot made of Tony’s main work station. It bowed its robotic arm in shame as its fuming creator continued to scold it.

“And another thing, what were you doing carrying that crap anyway?” As Tony was about to go on yet another livid rant Steve decided to intervene.

“Tony…” He said in a slight reprimanding tone.

The creator of clumsy machines stopped just as his mouth was about to formulate a particularly nasty curse. He waved Dumm-E away and gave his partial attention to the Captain once more.

“Was up Cap?” Tony said as he was assessing the disaster of his work station.

“What is the likelihood of us fixing this? …Coming out on top?” Steve asked uncertain about so many things.

Tony considered him for a moment. The Captain is an extraordinary man that generally cares about the well being of, well, everyone.

The inventor found during the time they spent together that Steve is in every sense a ‘Good Man’. Through the tragic events and unbelievable experiences that led Captain America to this time, Tony was lucky enough to find the ‘man’ underneath the legend. He discovered that despite being born in 1918 and being the most mature and responsible of all of them Steve was by far the youngest, technically he was only 30. To carry so much on his shoulders at such a young age is such a profound burden. At times it is hard for the genius to even fathom the horrors Steve must face daily. Thus his constant awful wit towards the Good Captain.

Before Tony could answer Steve’s question JARVIS interrupted.

“Sir, Dr. Banner has finished his analysis of the cases and is now approaching the lab.”

Tony looked at Steve, anticipating perhaps more insight on the cases. Steve eagerly awaited Bruce's arrival also in hopes of receiving new information.

Behind them Dumm-E started to clean off the work station. Bruce entered the shop hastily and called out.

“Tony!?”

“Back here Bruce!” Tony shouted back.

Bruce weaved through the machines and found Steve and Tony at the main work station that appeared to be in a poor state of disarray.

“Dr. Banner.” Steve nodded to the good doctor and Bruce nodded back.

“So what do you think?” Tony asked.

“Well you are right Tony. Something very weird is happening here. From the current visuals, vitals and specs JARVIS supplied me…” Bruce eyed Tony knowing the genius came by the information through very illegal means.

He continued,”All of this, (gesturing to the printed information in his hands) should not be physically possible. From what I can tell this thing is definitely not a virus. I’m assuming it does not have a technical origin either.” He stated. A slight questioning tone directed at Tony.

“Nope, definitely not a piece of tech.” Tony said in absolution.

Bruce nodded and continued, “These people have normal brain activity, there is no feasible reason they should be in this condition. Since you sent me the information, one more case has popped up in the same exact condition as the others and is currently located at Mercy’s General Hospital in Hoppsville, New Jersey.”

“What!?” Tony and Steve howled in unison.

At hearing that there had been yet another case just in the last hour, the billionaire sprang to the nearest computer and pulled up the stats. Steve followed close behind him. The computer showed that there had indeed been another case which now makes 54. Bruce approached at the back of them.

“You want my professional opinion? I say this is the work of an alien or mutant. In which case, contacting Thor is our best bet with an alien foe. If this is the effect of a mutant then we should consider contacting Professor Charles Xavier and Dr. Hank McCoy. If there is anyone out there who knows anything about the abilities of mutants then they would be your best bet.” At the doctor’s admission, Tony and Steve looked at each other. Their thoughts were on the same wavelength.

“You’re likely right Dr. Banner. That is what Tony and I were thinking.” Steve replied admittedly.

He was thinking about the extent of the abilities of their foe. To be able to put people in those types of comas, did it take extreme effort or was it as simple as breathing? There was no way to know for sure until more information surfaced or until they met the thing face to face. At the very least they are getting closer to figuring out what ever this is.

Probably, the thing about this that is the most frightening is the fact that this is not looking like usual bad guy behavior. Where is the demand? Where’s the order for the obscene amount of money, or control over the world? This soon to be mission is already a headache underway. Tony, with his head ever so slightly still inflated quickly added the part about his ‘space phone’.

“Yep, the contacting Thor part of the plan is already in motion. I had already initiated the start up program for the ‘Trans Cosmic Tele Communication Device’ about 40 or so minutes ago, so in a few short hours we should be in contact with Asgard. In the mean time how do you think we should get in touch with Professor Iron Sides?”

Bruce smirked and Steve looked at Tony confusedly obviously missing yet another reference.

Just as they were about to brainstorm a solution JARVIS chimed in with a phone call they were all anticipating and dreading since the beginning.

“Sir, Director Fury is on the line.” They all looked at each other and thought the same thing. ‘Oh no. Here we go.’

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Do You Know Your Enemy?

They were right in presuming why Fury was calling. It was definitely about the crazy coma cases. People were starting to get scared; they were saying ‘An epidemic is spreading!’

At this point over 70 people up and down the east coast have fallen into a coma with the exact same strange symptoms. However, there is no visible pattern. One person would drop in Main and then the next would be in Georgia then Florida and Virginia. Different locations hundreds of miles away.

The Avengers are now officially on the case. They pooled their information and resources. SHIELD had only a little bit more information than Tony.  The genius acquired most of his information by hacking into shields mainframe anyway. 

Right now they are all on the helicarrier coming up with viable plans to better handle the situation.

Natasha and Clint had provided very detailed back grounds on most of the victims. With the added information, Tony inputted it into a special algorithm he developed to find any type of pattern or connection to the victims. He currently had JARVIS operating it searching out clues to this ominous mystery.

Unfortunately, on a side note, due to a Dumm-E related incident, the ‘Space Phone’ had needed special repairs that took Tony till now to finish. The team is going to meet up in a specialized meeting room along with an important special guest. While Tony was working on the ‘Space Phone’, Bruce along with SHIELD had contacted Professor Charles Xavier. They requested that he helped oversee the case as an honored consultant. This means he is also aboard the helicarrier.

Apparently the strange cases had also caught the attention of the esteemed Professor. He, as much as the others, wants to solve these odd and frightening cases a.s.a.p.

Steve had awaited eagerly the arrival of the special guest. He had been pacing restlessly in his assigned quarters for hours. He ‘was’ pacing restlessly in Tony’s designated temporary work shop aboard the helicarrier before the poor Captain paced his way onto The billionaires last nerve and got himself booted from the workshop. There may have been threats having to do with repulsers and burnt asses but who’s really paying attention at a time like this. Steve sought out Bruce in an attempt to continue his idle pacing however Bruce knowing the Captain so well stopped him before he could start and directed him elsewhere.

Steve, on his mindless journey to find solace, happened upon yet another familiar face. Natasha, ever observant as she is, knew what Steve’s intent was and gave him a glare that could make any man’s balls twist away in fear and agony at just a glance. Luckily, Captain America wasn’t any man. The glare did have an effect mind you but not to the horrifying neutering extent. Message read loud and clear, Steve b-lined down a different corridor in hopes of at least seeking out Clint only to discover that the crazy bird was nowhere to be found.

Soon enough Steve ended up in his own quarters pacing all by his lonesome. Then the call came that the special guest had arrived and the all-important meeting would soon be underway which served to alleviate Steve’s anxiety, at least for now.

The meeting room was located deep within the helicarrier. It was triple reinforced and was very stronghold like. In a few short minutes that particular room will hold nine very important people. People that, in their own personal special way, were responsible for saving the world at least twice. 

The Professor and Fury were the first to enter the room. They were quietly discussing key points they hoped to cover in the meeting and in Fury’s case giving Xavier a bit of a warning about some of the members of the Avengers (*cough* Tony Stark *cough*).

“You needn’t worry Director. I handle wayward and unique individuals for a living.” Xavier smiled kindly at the director.

“Right, of course.” Fury replied amendingly.

He looked about the large meeting room for a moment as the Professor was en route towards the head of the meeting table.

“I’m going to go check on Agent Hill. She is currently gathering the case reports.” He nodded at the Professor as he strides out of the room leaving the Professor alone with his thoughts… and the thoughts of nearby agents. 

‘Fascinating people… The worry and chaos… hmm’ the Professor was gathering information using his own methods. He was getting an overall feel of every one on the ship and the general tone and atmosphere of the situation.

Then he started to hear the thoughts of a very strong mind approaching the area. The destination of this particular mind seems to be that very room. Xavier decided to concentrate on that mind. It was laced with genuine worry. Not for himself like most of the occupants of the ship but for the victims and his teammates. There was absolutely no concern for his own wellbeing at all. His very aura exuded selflessness and purity. ‘Truly fascinating! What a mind. If only all men thought this way.’  

Steve was on his way to the meeting room. Tony told him that he’d meet him on the way. Finally they were going to pool their minds and resources together to figure out a plan to fix the situation. They needed to figure out some sort of cure for the victims or the identity of the mysterious foe along with how to defeat it. He couldn’t bear it if any more people got hurt not to mention his own team mates. They were his family. He’d hate himself forever if he could not protect one of his friends...like before…

The Captain entered the specialized meeting room and realized there was only one other occupant. Recognizing the identity of the other person he was quick to introduce himself.   

“Hello Sir,” Steve greeted respectfully, quickly offering his hand and continuing “I am Captain Steven Rogers and it is an absolute honor to meet you.” Steve finished shaking the Professors hand excitedly.

Xavier smiled. This was the man of whose mind he was listening to.

“Likewise Captain Rogers.”

He was feeling excited about being able to work with such a fine young man…Uh, fine old man. ‘Hmm… It seems this man is really ninety some odd years of age. Simply fascinating. No wonder he holds such old fashioned ideals.’

“I am so thankful that you are here Professor, we could really use your help on this.” The Captain added in.

He was actually very thankful.  With what Bruce told him, Professor Xavier was capable of seriously amazing things, and those things could very well help them out tremendously in their current predicament.

“It is my intention to help in any way possible. The world needs us most of all right now.” Xavier said lightly, however with a very heavy meaning.

Steve nodded understanding the Professor completely.

Probing the Captains mind again the telepath couldn’t help but to marvel at how righteous the man standing in front of him is.

“’My, your mind is like an open book. The very aura of your mind…truly outstanding. It is hard to find a man with such a humble nature and pure intent in these current times.’” Xavier spoke to Steve within his mind.

The Soldier’s initial reaction was shock then it quickly turned to excitement and amazement. To experience the professors special power first hand was exhilarating. Steve began to smile.

Xavier was glad he hadn’t scared the good Captain by talking to him in ‘that’ way.

Then all of a sudden the Professors consciousness was assaulted by a massive amount of noise. Many many thoughts were impaling him all at once. It seemed like a huge crowd of people were heading this way. Funny thing was they all had the same voice. It took a moment for the renound telepath to realize that the assault of many thoughts was coming from one person. The closer this person got the more fragmented thoughts he could clearly make out. ‘Donating Dumm-E – Fury is a Douche Bag – Boring Meeting – Repulser upgrade – More crotch Room in case of arousal…again – Annoying worry wart Capcicle – My awesome sexiness –‘ Were just some of the thoughts that assaulted his mind. His attention diverted back to Steve when the Captain had the overwhelming urge to voice his gratitude.

“Ah, Thank you, Sir-“

“Carful Captain, he can read your mind just as easy as it is for us to breath. Now that I think of it he might already know about that one site you went on.” Tony paused for a moment to let that comment sink in.

The look on Steve’s face went from annoyance to horror so fast one wouldn’t have a chance to blink.

Before Steve could stop him Tony continued.

“What was it?” The annoying genius drawled out mockingly. “Oh yeah aggressive_cocks.com.” He finished with a triumphant smirk.

Steve was beside himself with horror and humiliation.

“Mr. Stark! Our guest does not want to hear your quip so early in the day!” Fury reprimanded fervently as he entered the room behind Tony.

Steve was as red as a tomato thinking back on that incident that lead to such mortification; it was all Clint’s fault.

“Actually, scratch that. Fury should be the one to worry; he’s got the deadly secrets.” Tony said in all his snarky glory.

Fury was going to retort however Xavier started to chuckle.

“Don’t fret Director, Mr. Stark here is holding nothing back in light of the fact that he knows he can hide nothing from my gifts.” Xavier assured gently.

Tony then decided to pipe up yet again.

“That is until I create a device that will negate your abilities.” The crazy genius said 40% jokingly and 60% seriously.

“That may be so; however until then your mind is my open book. On that same note, Captain Rogers, it may please you to know that whilst you stumbled upon that particular site by a misunderstanding, Mr. Stark here ‘stumbles’ upon that specific site often of his own accord.”

At the Professors revelation Steve stared at Tony disbelievingly for a few moments before he started to outright laugh hard and deep. Charles joined him with gentle chuckles while Tony started snickering in an attempt to hold back his laughter.

Steve felt lighter. Just a few laughs is just what he needed to alleviate the stress. Despite being a super soldier, stressing out over the past week still took its toll. He was willing to bet the Professor knew what he was going through, he could read his mind after all, he also knew just what he needed. Steve was willing to bet Tony did too.

“What can I say? It’s a guilty pleasure.” Stark said and finally joined in the laughter. 

Charles smiled at them; he saw them as the troublesome kids they were at heart. Fury stared at them incredulously; he was just as lost as the others that had just started to file in.

“I don’t get what’s so funny.” Clint said as he eyed the people in the room. He was starting to feel a bit scandalized by apparently being left out of something funny.

Natasha, right beside Clint, quickly assessed the situation and swiftly concluded that the occupants in the room were having a moment. She smiled knowingly on the inside and said nothing.

Bruce, used to the oddities that always seemed to involve the various members of his team which included the notorious Tony Stark, ignored the said man and went straight to Professor Xavier for introductions.

“Hello, Professor Xavier. We spoke via video phone.” Bruce introduced himself and offered his hand to the Professor.

“Yes, hello Doctor, it is a pleasure.” Charles greeted the good Doctor as he shook his hand.

Bruce looked about the room. Clint and Natasha were talking in hushed voices near their seats. Tony was teasing Steve about something. The poor Captain was getting that look on his face. Fury was at the front of the room developing a sever eye twitch as he watched the occupants of the room. Coulson had just walked in and looked like he wanted to develop the same eye twitch as Fury. Looks like there was only one person left to arrive.

“Once every one arrives we should be getting started.” Bruce concluded as looked about the room once more.

Maria Hill soon arrived with copious amounts of files in her arms. She stood at the front of the meeting room while handing Fury a particular document. She set the rest at the end of the table near where she stood. Fury looked over the file handed to him. He felt it time to start this long overdue meeting.

“Okay, people! The meeting room will now come to order. Please, everyone be seated.” Fury announced while half glaring at everyone with his one eye.

He wasn’t going to take shit from anyone at this point, especially the troublesome ones…*cough*Clint*cough*Tony*cough*Coulson*cough*. What? The later couldn’t stay dead. Gotta watch out for those guys.

Steve obeyed dutifully taking his seat quickly, whilst Tony took his sweet ass time to find his seat next to the Captain. The Professor remained where he was near the head of the table. Beside him were Steve then Tony and Coulson.

On the other side next to Maria were Bruce, Natasha then Clint. The Director was at the relative front walking about as he continued.

“As of this moment 73 victims have been reported. The media is calling it a viral epidemic however we know that is not the case.”

Everyone inwardly cringed at the number of victims and the current media level status.

“Tony, where are you on your ‘T.C.T.C.D.’ repairs?” Tony dramatically rolled his eyes showing his distain at being handled so ‘officially.’

“Repairs are complete and we should be in contact with Asgaurd in a few short hours.” He said in a snarky tone.

Fury looked as if he wanted to shoot Tony.

“Keep on that Mr. Stark.” Fury replied willing himself not to pull out one of the various weapons concealed on his person.

“Dr. Banner please summarize the victims’ conditions.” The Director ordered still slightly irritated by Tony’s snarkyness.

It’s far too early in the morning to deal with Tony.

The Dr. stood up and began to apprehensively deliver his synopsis.

“All 73 patients have the same symptoms. All are in a coma like state; however they exude beta waves as if they are fully awake and active. They cannot be awakened by conventional means… or otherwise.”

He looked about the room hoping everyone got the double meaning from that. Seeing that everyone had knowing faces on he continued.

“No common physician or scientist has ever encountered the likes before and have concluded a new possible strain. Our people, however, know different. Thus this meeting.” Bruce concluded and took his seat.

“Thank you Dr. Banner.” Fury said as he motioned for Agent Hill to distribute the files.

“The folders that are going around contain all of the patients’ records medical and supplementary in every minuscule detail possible. Somewhere in these documents, there is a connection that links everything together. It is all of our jobs to find it.”

Some of the people in the room were looking through the documents and some, Tony, didn’t move. Steve looked sideways at Tony about to rip him a new one because he wasn’t participating only to realize when he got a glance at the genius’s phone that Tony was doing exactly that.

Tony already had all of the information in those folders seeing as he had gathered a lot of that info himself. The crazy genius already had a connection algorithm running using the information. He was also monitoring the ‘space phone’ connectivity.

The Captain smiled knowing that no matter how much an attitude Tony possesses, the man’s heart is still in the right place… most of the time. Tony caught his look just before Steve turned away just as Fury started to speak again.

“Now let’s continue, come on people we are here for a reason. From what we have gathered what are the possible causes? Professor Xavier, what is your opinion?” The Director asked Charles, his unspoken question if a mutant is behind this crazy chaos lingered in the air unsaid.  

“Firstly Director, I want to make it clear that hiding your thoughts from me is futile. That goes for everyone in this room and on this ship. The fear and concern on this ship is over whelming.” He paused to make Eye contact with everyone.

Making sure everyone understood what he was saying and implying.

He also made sure he had everyone’s attention as he was now going to continue.

“Most assuredly this is not the work of a mutant.” He stopped yet again to ensure that his words sunk in completely.

“After Dr. Banner contacted me I had taken it upon myself to seek out the potential suspect using Cerebro. Had the suspect been a mutant I would have seen it.” The professor concluded.  

Tony nodded along and Steve noticed the movement. He looked to the others and saw that they had easily accepted Xavier’s answer and was in no way confused.

Unfortunately, our dear Super Soldier did not understand how the Professor was so absolutely sure that the suspect was not a mutant or what this ‘Cerebro’ thing was but seeing as how everyone else seem to know he kept his questions and concerns to himself.

“Cerebro focuses and enhances my natural abilities. With it I could potentially find anyone in the world, see him, hear him, and feel him.” He spoke directing his response to Steve. “With Cerebro I could sense all mutants with the capacity to manipulate another physical being resulting with the effect corresponding with the victims.  There are five total in the entire world with the capacity to do something even remotely like this.” He said gesturing to the various reports scattered around the table.

“During the fall of the 66th, 67th, and 68th, victims none of those five mutants were even using their abilities.”  Steve was in awe. Mutants were frightening but at the same time really cool like the Professor.

“Wow… So by being able to sense the other mutants you were able to tell that they had nothing to do with the victims?”  The Captain blurted out truly fascinated by the Professor’s ability.

Tony started to snicker at Steve’s awe. The Soldier didn’t even notice and posed yet another question.

“With your, uh, ‘devise’ did you sense what was happening, did you see who or what did do it?” Steve asked excitedly filled with hope. Could there troubles be over? But before Xavier could answer Fury butted in.

“Captain Rogers! Stop pestering our guest with—“ Fury was cut off by Tony.

“Actualy I’d Like to know. Professor, were you able to in fact see who or what did take out victims 66, 67, and 68?” The genius inquired with pronounced attitude.

Xavier smiled. The others stared at Tony appallingly. They assumed that Tony's attitude was directed at the Professor.

“Mr. Stark! I will have you forcibly removed if you continue to—“

“Director.” Fury was cut off yet again but this time by somebody Director Fury could not sass.

“Mr. Stark and Captain Rogers are of no bother to me. Please allow them to continue.” Xavier stated in absolute authority yet somewhat gently as if talking to a child.

Fury’s expression changed from indignant irritation to god forsaken horror for a fraction of a second before he took on a stoic face.  Nobody but Steve caught it. The Soldier concluded that Xavier must have told Fury something in his mind, some sort of threat likely.

Xavier is constantly reading everyone’s minds. He knows that Tony's lashing out was not caused by the professors information but by Fury reprimanding Steve for asking fair questions. It was his right to ask them.

“Okay then, Professor? Did you see what happened to the victims?” Tony asked more kindly. He was a bit more at ease knowing Xavier had Fury whipped. Shamelessly, this made him happy.

“Quite possibly.”

Everyone perked up at that statement and stared gapingly at the Professor. Is this it? Everyone was now on the edge of their seats.

Xavier continued,

“It was the strangest feeling. I sensed a… force of sorts that penetrated the minds of the victims. At first it felt somewhat similar to how I pick up on thoughts. However that is where the similarities end. Whoever it was penetrated the victims mind with a force that I never felt before. It was in no way human or mutant. The energy exuded was definitely not terrestrial. Thus, we are likely dealing with an extraterrestrial entity.” Xavier finished his explanation with elegance.

Everyone looked around at another with concern at The Professors stunning revelation. So, an alien is behind this?!  Most of the occupants of the room inwardly cringed. The last alien they dealt with leveled half of New York and nearly succeeded in taking over the world.

Loki was an incredible opponent and a very skillful magician. The things that he was capable of on a normal day were frightening enough but with the added power of his freaky deaky staff, the tesseract and a Chitori army, he was nearly unstoppable. Now they were going to deal with yet another alien foe? Oh, how fun. Well at least they still have the Hulk, yep that’ll work.

“Professor, are you absolutely sure that an extraterrestrial is behind this?” Director Fury asked seeking confirmation.

“Is it at all possible that you are wrong?” Agent Hill added.

This case is making every one edgy. The lack of information is driving everyone mad. They need this. Something solid, something they can be sure of. Not knowing anything is a horrifying feeling.

“Most assuredly, I would bet my very existence.” Xavier stated with resolve and absolute assurance.

Everyone looked at the professor disbelievingly. They were silent for a moment while the news sunk in. Clint was the first to break the silence.

“Well damn, if the professor is sure then we gotta go hunting for an alien jack ass who is in sore need of an arrow shot through his face!” He blurted excitedly already salivating over the chance to try out his new archery equipment Tony fashioned for him.

“I agree, it’ll be fun.” Natasha declared using her dangerous dark voice and expressions.

She smiled deviously. Clint had the urge to edge away from her however doing so would result in him getting stabbed so he refrained. She was in one of those moods, itching for an epic fight.

Bruce inwardly groaned; anything that could possibly bring the Hulk out was no bueno!

Tony was still on his phone but he was also running probabilities in his head. If he could get the professor to describe exactly the way the energy wavelength felt then he could possibly create a desynthasization devise that could potentially reverse whatever it is that is going on.

Steve was beginning to worry, like usual. They barely won against Loki last time. The terrestrial villains on earth never could compare up to Loki's power. Loki, an alien, set that bar and no human or mutant has ever been able to surpass it since.

Now a new alien is starting to stir up trouble and only god knows why. Could this new foe be even stronger than Loki? Perhaps they would know more once they talk to Thor.

Agent Hill and Fury were hoping something extreme wouldn’t happen like in New York. If the douch bag council butted in again it could only end horribly.

Coulson was hoping that he wouldn’t have to almost die again. It was very painful. In fact he did die on the table four times. Recovery took virtually six months.

Xavier listened to everyone as they all traveled down their own thought processes. Until Steve broke everyone’s reverie.

“Tony…?” The Captain looked to his right at Tony who was still fiddling with his phone.

The billionaire paused what he was doing and looked up at Steve.

“Hmm, what’s up Cap?” They stared at each other for a moment.

“What do you think about all of this?” At Steve’s question everyone looked up to Tony to hear his reply.

The genius, as obnoxious as he is, is in fact still a genius. That being said everyone trusts his knowledge seriously.

“Stark, I do hope that whatever you are doing on your phone is important.” Fury drawled out, everyone ignored him focusing on Tony.

“Hmmm…” Tony looked at everyone’s expectant faces.

“That sounds about right. If it was terrestrial it would follow terrestrial norms.” Tony then focused his attention in Xavier.

“If I could sit down with you professor and have you describe to me with as much accuracy and detail as possible the energy wavelengths then I could create a devise that could reverse the effects and I would even conceivably be able to track E.T.” He said smoothly looking back down at his phone.

“Of course, perhaps when you are ready we will reconvene in the technical room.”  He told Tony.

The genius knew how complicated the algorithm would be to alter the energy exchange but hopefully with the professors description and If he could personally study one of the patients then maybe he could develop it enough to get close.

Steve started to feel a bit of relief as much as one can in this situation.

They were finally getting somewhere. The others were also starting to feel a modicum of hope in this hectic mystery.

“Alright!” Everyone kind of jumped at Fury’s sudden bark.

“If that is all anyone is going to contribute then we will proceed. Barton and Romanov, you two will be on standby—“

“Yes Sir” they replied in unison.

“Banner, you will assist Professor Xavier and Stark with whatever they require--“

“Of Course”

“And Rogers!” Steve straightened up awaiting his orders as Fury eyed him oddly.

“Stop wearin’ holes in my floors. Take a day or something… You’re also on standby.”

“Yes Sir” Steve replied as he scratched the back of his head sheepishly.

Tony winked at him on his right and he caught it with the corner of his eye. Yep that man was infuriating.

Clint and Natasha started to discuss what there were going to be doing. Director Nick Fury looked around the table of unruly misfits; they’ll figure it all out. Xavier smiled and agreed with Fury’s thoughts. If anyone had the capability of figuring all of this out it was them.

“You all have your orders, meeting aj—“

“BEEP!” “BEEP!” “BEEP!

Fury was cut off by Tony’s phone that started to beep alarmingly at an increasingly louder faster rate. Then Tony started to look awfully stricken. Everyone’s attention was on Tony now.

Just when Fury was about to ask what was happening his own concealed devise, a tablet, started to emit its own alarm. The Professor was deeply pensive trying to concentrate on the probable cause of this new chaos. Everyone else was waiting with baited breath. Waiting for an explanation.

Just as Fury looked at his devise Xavier emitted a soft, “My God…” At that moment the helicarrier's red alert alarms started to howl.

Tony outwardly groaned, Steve stiffened and subtly reached for his gun, Natasha and Clint took battle ready positions, and Bruce was trying to ignore the Hulk scratching at his consciousness resulting in the cause of the drastic mood change.

Agent Hill and Coulson cocked their guns. An agent flew into the room out of breath with a pained expression. Fury looked at the agent exasperated already knowing what had happen. So he started to fill in the rest of the class.

“Apparently victims 74 and 75 have been discovered…”

Everyone looked at him. Surly that alone wouldn’t cause for such alarm. Sure enough;

“Here on the helicarier.” Everyone turned cold.

So much for hope and relief.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Something Wicked

Everyone ran to the sick bay were the victims were located for analysis and treatment. As they arrived the leading physician met up with Fury to brief him.

Tony and Bruce went straight to the machines that were monitoring and tracking the patient’s heart and brain activities along with various other vitals. Natasha and Clint were talking to potential witnesses. Xavier was also gathering information in his own way. Steve stood out of the way surveying the room, looking out for anything or anyone out of place.

Dr. Hank McCoy, who arrived with the Professor, proceeded to assist Tony and Bruce in perceiving and assessing the visuals.

The billionaire had Jarvis access the sick bay computers and download all patient information for analysis.

Fury was beside himself with, well, fury. As he watched everyone hustle about the room his eyes fell upon the seemingly lifeless victims lying upon gurneys, whilst wires hooked them to copious machines that monitored, calculated, and beeped. Those victims were his agents and he is responsible for them. They were definitely showing the same symptoms as the other 73.

The fallen agents were aboard the helicarrier doing their jobs, and then suddenly they fainted. Only when they arrived at the sick bay did the physicians figure out what they were dealing with. That it was in fact the mysterious illness that was plaguing over seventy people.

Here’s the kicker, if they became ill here on the helicarrier, then they were dealing with the frightening possibility that the foe causing it all was here on the helicarrier also. The red alert ensues.

Fury started to bark out orders. He was about to issue a lock down order in hopes of entrapping whatever it was that was causing this nightmare, however Xavier intervened.

“Director, it would be of no use to issue that order. Not only will the panic spread like wild fire but you also must understand that if it came here undetected it could leave just as stealthily.” The Professor explained promptly.

He had just finished his own investigation of the incident. 

Fury wanted so deeply to tell Xavier to ‘Fuck Off’ instead he regained his composer and remembered his position. The Director nodded reluctantly and shouted out the last of his orders to the flustered and frantic agents. They scurried away to carry out their commands. The Director sighed and found that he had the overwhelming urge to shoot something.

Steve continued so stand back quietly. He observed his surroundings taking everything in all the while keeping his guard up ready for anything. He especially watched Dr. McCoy, Bruce and Tony as they were rushing about between the patients analyzing all of the stats.

Then all of the sudden The Captain noticed a shift in the room. The trio fussing over the patients went from discussing very complicated things to arguing.

Natasha, after her inquiries with the witnesses, was going through the security footages looking for anything that would explain what happen to the victims. Clint was beside her acting like a back seat driver trying to dictate where they should be looking which made her threaten to stab him. The animosity seemed to spread.

Soon everyone was arguing, yelling and threatening.  The acrimony in the air reeked so much Steve wanted to choke.

How did it come to this? The Super Soldier started to look around the room in horror.

‘How…? Just a few minutes ago we all seemed to be functioning fine.’

The scene laid out before Steve seemed to be so familiar like déjà vu… Damn it’s the Loki incident all over again.

Tony was starting become overly big headed and snarky. Bruce started to look a little green and the Beast was growling. Fury was fuming with his hand on his firearm. Coulson was also looking twitchy with his hand on his own gun. Natasha had a neutering glint in her eye. Clint was seeing targets and even Professor Xavier was starting to look as if he was going to pull something drastic.

Steve had enough. He pushed off the wall with an incredible force that left dents on the surface. He made his way to the middle of the room with absolute abandon and authority. He took one last look around the room full of chaos before,

“EVERYONE! Shut the FUCK up!!” He bellowed, his voice low and commanding with a boom that penetrated everybody’s mind like a grenade. 

Everyone stopped cold and stared at the Captain in absolute shock. After the occupants of the room gathered their bearings most were thinking the same thing. Did he just drop an F-bomb!?

Tony almost wanted to smile proudly and voice his swelling pride yet given the situation he wisely remained silent knowing the Captain would likely just shoot his ass.

“Excuse my language, please, but it was necessary. Don’t you see what is happening? This is starting to be just like what happened with Loki.” He paused as he gave them all reprimanding looks.

Everyone knew they were about to go down a bad road.  Remembering what happen that day; it was Loki’s intention to drive everyone apart and right now it was about to happen again.

“Don’t you see? This is likely what the enemy wants; to fragment us. All the while keeping us occupied so that it could make its escape.”

“That’s why we should have ordered a lock down! We could have trapped it here making it nearly impossible to escape.” Fury retorted, he wanted to get this thing a.s.a.p.

He gave Xavier a sideways glace, indicating his distain at the Professor’s warning against a full scale lock down. However he did refrain from openly glaring at the Mind Reader, reminding himself not to show such childish behavior.

Steve, the perfect tactician knew better, a full scale lock down was surly a bad idea.

“No if we trapped it here there would be no telling how it would end up attacking people. Like what Professor Xavier said before, this thing would create havoc among the crew making them easy prey.” He paused for a moment Fury was about to interject but Steve continued.

“This thing that we now presume to be an alien, a creature that out of anything and everything in this entire world, we know the least about. An Alien that, of course, we know nothing about could very well be completely impervious to anything and everything we dish out to it. It is undetected by our best technology. How would we fight it?” The Captain paused for a moment to allow the weight of his words to pierce through everybody’s minds.

He looked to Fury to see if he was going to interpose. The Director looked stricken and nodded to the Soldier to continue.

“The best possible thing we could do now is to find a way to help the victims. Perhaps we could find a clue as to why or how this creature chooses its targets. If we know that we may be able to predict where it will strike next and be better prepared. But first we need to remain calm and collected until we connect with Asgard for assistance.”

Everyone was stunned to silence, mulling over what the Captain was telling them. He was absolutely right, about it all! They had almost lost control.

Even though they were so close to the thing that was causing all of this chaos, letting it go no matter how painful of a decision was the best option, especially with so little information.  Was it worth the possibility of everyone aboard the ship sub coming to the comas or worse, dying to entrap it? No, it wasn’t.

Tony had the irresistible urge to clap after that epic brilliant speech, though he was sure he might get lynched… Oh fuck it!

*CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAP* *CLAP*

“Holy hell, Cap! That was amazing! And I agree 100%.” Tony piped up walking toward Steve.

He looked around at everyone with a grin on his face.

“Right people?” he added.

The Avengers and X-men in the room snapped out of their daze.

‘Holy shit…’ most thought. They all nodded in agreement to Tony's question. Fury was pissed that he had actually let his emotions get in the way of making the proper decisions of a leader. He felt shitty, he couldn’t even blame it of Loki’s evil glow stick of death this time…Or could he... Nope, Nope, Nope. This was all him. They were so lucky to have Captain America looking out for them. They might end up utterly fucked if he wasn’t.

Natasha and Clint were beside themselves with shame. They had allowed themselves to act so childish in such a serious situation. They were professionals damn it!

Steve was usually the most clearheaded and mature one. He kept them all in line and it was a hard responsibly especially when working with someone like Tony.  The Captain was a saint.

Bruce felt the Hulk back away the moment he heard Steve’s voice. There was something in it that made even the Hulk retreat. Bruce had always felt clam when interacting with Steve, we was always so respectful, patient and wise. It was always a pleasure to have a sophisticated discussion with him. Even from a man out of time there were always concepts that were timeless.

Coulson was about to explode from awe and giddiness.   There was nothing like watching his all-time hero step up and take control. If Steve commanded him to jump off the helicarrier sans parachute he would without a second thought because most assuredly The Captain would turn around and save him.

Charles and Hank looked at the ‘Out of Time’ young man in awe. The Dr. could definitely see why this man was the leader, the Captain of their group.

Xavier was in a state of exhilaration. He was sure that if Steve had not stepped in when he did, he was going to do ‘that thing.’ He was getting too angry and frustrated it would not have ended well. The Professor is usually so patient but at that moment he was feeling not only his stress, anxiety and fear, but everyone else’s too.

The extreme severity of the situation was starting to call for dangerous measures. Then this miraculous young man stepped up and took control simply and completely.  Truly with this man they could overcome…

Steve looked at everybody. He had all of their attention now and it seems that the mayhem had been diverted… at least for now. He smiled inside. ‘At least I was useful in some way’ he thought to himself.

Everyone started to mumble their apologies and one by one started to get back to work with Steve’s words strong in their minds and heavy in their hearts. This time they all were working more fluidly together like a well-oiled machine instead of fragmented like before.

Tony grabbed his shoulder and smiled at him.

“You did great Cap. I’m sure we’d all kill each other without you, you know?”

“Thanks Tony, that means a lot.” He smiled back genuinely at Tony.

The Crazy genius almost backed away from the beautiful intensity of Steve’s smile. Is it wrong to admit how horribly turned on the billionaire is right now?  Probably. ‘Hmmm…I wonder how he would react if I told him so.’ Tony thought mischievously. Well as they say curiosity killed the cat, good thing Tony is not a cat.

“You know Cap; the way you took control like that was totally sexy. I might be little turned on right now.” Tony smirked wickedly at Steve as he winked at the poor the Captain.

The Super Soldiers expression changed so fast that it would have been extremely comical except the look that ended up on his face screamed ‘If you don’t walk away from me now I will make you wish another wayward missile hit you in the nuts again.’ Tony felt that it would be the absolute best opportunity to go see how Bruce and Hank were faring.  So he backed away slowly and b-lined toward the doctors. When he arrived Bruce couldn’t help but to ask…

“Tony? What did you say to him?” he inquired with a bemused manner. Tony’s face was contorted somewhere between horror and amusement.

“Uh, Let’s get back to that later… or never… *cough* So? Where are we?” Tony replied quickly looking rapidly between each doctor.

Bruce sighed knowing full well that Tony deserve whatever he is going to get. Entertained at the idea he turned back to work with a slight smile on his face which irritated Tony and baffled Hank.  

Steve, still a bit frazzled from Tony’s comment, kept his face schooled as he made his way back to lean against the wall to keep watch over every one as they carry on their duties.

Amazingly they were able to work together effectively. Perhaps if everyone can keep going like this they may actually get somewhere.

 -0-

It had been about three hours since 74 and 75 were discovered. Bruce and Dr. Hank had confirmed that the victims’ conditions were in fact exactly the same as the others. In a coma, yet fully awake, yet completely unresponsive to external stimuli. However they had found no new information. Other than that the incredible team of super heroes had pretty much come up with zilch and were losing moral pretty quick, that is until about ten minutes ago.

Maria flew in in a frenzy practically screaming that she had found something. This particular piece if information might be the most crucial piece of info they had at present.

It turns out that 74 and 75 were related. They were siblings that had been separated after a family tragedy.

Could this piece of information be the shifting tide they were searching for?

Tony logged it into his search algorithm the more dots the better the connection. He had Jarvis searching through all of the patient archives for anything connecting them to the siblings. While Jarvis was digging Fury had Maria, Tony, Steve, Clint, Natasha and the Professor reconvene in the Super Duper meeting room. Hank, Bruce and Coulson stayed with the victims.  

Tony did some digging, everyone waited with baited breath eager to know what he found. Which leads us to where we are now.

“Ah ha… Okay… Yeah…” The genius drawled out as he read the content displayed on his devise.

The Professor looked at Tony with disdain.  However his derision was not directed at the eccentric billionaire but at the matters of his reading. Others noticed Tony’s and Xavier’s new demeanor and began to worry.

“Stark! What have you got!?” Director Fury bellowed as he was growing impatient.

“Oh yeah, just a sec.” He said easily.

Steve and the others became worried. No snarky reply? Not good. Whatever info Tony has it must be very serious.

“Well, their story is kind of tragic.” He looked at everyone gauging there reaction.

There were looks from disheartening to skeptical. ‘That seems about right.’

“Ok well, our victims here Gloria Smith number 74 and Jimmy Smith number 75 grew up in Shore Springs Alabama were they spent most of their child hood until their mother Bethany Rose Smith drowned in the bath tub. She left behind her husband George Smith and two kids a thirteen-year-old Gloria and an eight-year-old Jimmy. 

"After, they moved one town over to Carver Alabama. Subsequently various news reels, articles and polices reports tell a few different stories all seemingly contradictory in a way but I did a bit more digging and this is what I found: Soon after Bethany died George drank himself into a maddening rage.” Tony paused for a second hesitating to reveal the next part.

Maria knew some of it and kept her face stone like. She was about to ask Tony if he wanted her to take over but Tony continued,

“ He started to sexually assault Gloria, many times in front of Jimmy. There’s, uh, a more detailed account that I’m sure Maria can provide later about the kids testimony and medical analysis, Anyway when the boy tried to intervene George beat him good. The bastard was able to talk his way out of the accusations and the abuse only stopped when George mysteriously drove off of a bridge.

George didn’t drive.

Afterwards Gloria had gotten into lots of trouble and ended up in a youth correctional facility till she was twenty-one. Jimmy ended up with his aunt in Alaska. Bethany’s older sister, Laura Mae Wiltkins, graciously allowed him into her life after the death of the douche bag.”

“Stark!” The Director reprimanded.

“What!? Everyone’s thinking it!

"Allow me to continue.

Ahem, He stayed in Alaska to study criminal justice before he entered the military.

Gloria, when she got out at twenty-one, got the help she needed and with the assistance of various charitable organizations and a lot of hard work she got into Stanford where she also studied criminal justice. Because of her outstanding test skills she was eventually recruited by SHIELD and because of Jimmy’s experience on the front lines and back ground in criminal justice he was also recruited by SHIELD which led them both here.” The Crazy genius finished almost mournfully.

Of everything they went through up till now, at the present they are here, prey to this unknown thing like icing on the accursed cake of their lives.

Though many hid it well, everyone was appalled by the contents of the story. Some retained stoic faces yet others could not hide their revolted reactions to the life story of Gloria and Jimmy. Clint being one,

“Well… Wasn’t that just a lovely cup of sunshine?… The kind of fucked up shit that happens out there.” Being the kind of agents he and Natasha are would make them, on occasion, stumble upon and even experience such predicaments of the like, that would definitely make one question humanity.

The Captain nodded idly, he was at a complete loss for words. A father is supposed to protect his children! But to do such heinous things… despicable! 

“Yeah, I know. My childhood wasn’t sunshine and rainbows either and I may have hated to go home, but at least I wasn’t afraid to. And I do know what its like to be afraid to go to sleep at night but not because some one is going to rape me.” Tony commented after Clint’s response.

He trailed off though knowing he may have said a bit too much. There was a big difference between being afraid to go home because no one would be there to greet you and being afraid because someone was…

Did they know?

Did Gloria and Jimmy know they were on board together? There was no record of them ever interacting. Was it a coincident that the creature chose them both or was there a reason both of them and the rest of the victims were chosen?  Was that reason connected to their awful past? Was it all random? They needed answers to theses questions and fast. Perhaps the information that Natasha and Clint had gathered would answer at least one.

“What have you got Romanov, Barton?” Director Fury asked breaking everyone from his or her morbid and disturbed thoughts.

“Well, it may be nothing or … everything.” Clint replied. He activated the monitor in the room it showed security video footage. Before he could continue there was an alert that stated Bruce banner was to enter the room.

“Let him in.” Fury Stated giving a voice command.

“That would be my queue to leave.” Professor Xavier stated knowing his presence was needed elsewhere.

Bruce entered the room and watched as Xavier left. He nodded to the others to continue as he made his way to stand next to The Captain.

Natasha continued taking the lead.
“First Gloria fainted here.” Natasha pointed out on the screen.

“And if we go back a little over a minute… Look here in the far corner. This woman, I don’t recognize her.” She was indicating a woman with long raven hair tied back in a braid.

“She never looked toward any camera so at best we have this partial of her face. She avoided surveillance skillfully.” Natasha stated. She stopped to allow the others to get a good look at her.

“We have been working with the best facial recognition technology we have. Absolutely no hits.” Clint added.

“So what exactly does that mean?” Maria asked.

Natasha and Clint shared a look between each other.

“Well let’s continue watching.” Clint retorted.

Maria nodded and everyone else perked up and started to pay even closer attention. Something was up. Natasha reset the video on the computer and pressed play.

“Here” She pointed to the screen.

It depicted Gloria talking to another agent identified as Special Agent Martha Hadley. Natasha had interviewed her earlier; her story matches what they know.

“We see Gloria making eye contact with the mysterious woman. It was subtle and I almost didn’t catch it. Now watch.” Natasha paused.

Everyone watched the screen with bated breath, waiting for anything to happen. Gloria was still conversing with Martha but it looked as if they were ending their conversation.

“Ok, Here.” Just as the agents had said their farewells, Gloria was about to walk away however she stopped and simply fell over, completely unconscious.

“From the moment she made eye contact with the mysterious woman to the moment she stopped was exactly 69 seconds."

The woman was gone by the time anybody could suspect anything. Everyone was wondering this significance of it. What was the point to that number?

“It gets better.” Clint cut in knowing what the others were thinking.

He switched the video footage to Jimmy and pushed play. It depicted Jimmy talking to a group of agents. He was cracking jokes and the others laughed. Then something caught his attention for a moment.

“See here, he looked away for a moment before continuing on with the group. And… 66, 67, 68, 69 Bam he hits the floor.” They all watched in fascination, at exactly 69 seconds later Jimmy fell as well.  After something caught his attention he collapsed exactly 69 seconds later.

“Holy shit.” Tony so eloquently responded.

Steve looked at him; ironically he was thinking the same thing.

“It gets better!” Clint could hardly contain his smile.

He set the video right at the point Jimmy looked at something (someone). He then pointed to a spot on the screen. Everybody gasped.

“Well fuck me running backwards!” Tony responded much more elegantly this time…

Nobody paid him any mind knowing that they would have responded the same if the crazy genius hadn’t first.

On a reflective surface, a broken monitor of all things, was the reflection of the mysterious woman!

“Oh Fuck! I am on this shit!” Tony replied so beautifully yet again. He inputted the woman’s face into his algorithm.

“Yep, the monitor gave us a relatively clear view of her face. As you can see he looked right at her and then 69 seconds later…BAM, lights out.” Clint finished victoriously.

He was after all the one who noticed the woman’s face in the reflection. This is a huge breakthrough.

“Fantastic work Barton!” Fury commended.  

“We now have a face. We need to know what the 69 seconds means. And we need to know if this woman was present around the time the others fell.” He continued.

“On it!” Tony was on his phone working with Jarvis.

He was having a good feeling about the whole situation knowing a majority of the victims were found in public places.

Ah, modern technology: security cameras, video cameras, cell phones, and Wi-Fi, yep, if that woman’s face appears on any of them, well, then let the man hunt begin.

Steve studied the woman’s face on the screen. He started to develop one of his famous gut feelings. It was starting to tell him something that he certainly did not want to listen to…

“Sir?” Natasha interjected. “We checked all ship wide records. Based on all of the comings and goings of all crew, staff, and agents there is no way she could have gotten on this vessel without some modicum of detection. It is my opinion, Sir, that she had very well appeared here out of thin air.” Fury deliberated for a moment.

“Could it be possible that our detection sensors had been tampered with?” The Director inquired.

“We have a completely alternate OS whose primary purpose is detecting any altercation, invasion, or tamperment. It has detected and kept a full record of the last thirty six times Stark hacked in to our secure main frame and servers.”   Natasha answered shifting her sight on Tony.

The others followed her gaze.

“Yep that sounds about right.” The billionaire indicated off handedly still focused on his device.

“Really Tony? Thirty six times?”  The Captain inquired incredulously.

Tony just shrugged.

“Just in the last 72 hours.” Natasha added.

The genius received many stares of awe and disbelief.

“Stark!... Never mind, Thank you Agent Romanov. Considering that we currently believe that this woman is an of Alien origin, I have no doubts at this point that she very well had appeared here seemingly “out of thin air” as Romanov has stated. We all know Loki had similar capabilities.”  Fury stated.

Most nodded their heads in agreement.

“All right! Here’s what we are going to do—“ Director Fury began to order but was cut off by a shrill ring.

“¡BEEEEEEP-BEEEEEP-BEEEEP-BEEEP-BEEP!”

Tony’s phone was shrieking at him.

“Oh God What Now!!” Clint shouted. ‘This is so not cool’.

“Stark!?” Fury, along with everyone else was waiting for an explanation.

All eyes were on him.

“Tony?” Steve looked as if he was the most concern of all of them. ‘Had another person…’

Then all of a sudden Tony looked up from his phone. He observed the others who were all anxiously waiting for his explanation. He grinned almost maniacally.

“Everyone’s here ‘Big Guy’ you have the floor!” Tony transmitted the visual from his phone to the monitor in the room.

“Thank You ‘Man of Iron.’ My friends Tis good to see you all!” The handsome golden haired man exclaimed as soon as he appeared on the screen.

“THOR!” The Avengers said in unison happy was hell to see him.

“We are now connected to Asgard.” Tony declared proudly as Thor laughed mirthfully.

“The ‘cavalry’ has arrived.” Steve stated with glee.

They all smiled.

Finally with fresh information and contact with Asgard; a new shinning hope is born.

A hope that they will prevail over this new threat.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: The Kids Are Alright

The Avengers immediately went to a retelling of the insane predicament that they had found themselves in.  Ending with the conclusion that the assailant must be alien in origin. 

Thor considered everything they had told him for a moment.  So much was going on, 75 humans have seemingly randomly been struck down with this ailment.  The last two on the helicarrier right under their noses.  Somehow that does seem familiar to the Asgardian.  The various members of the Avengers looked expectantly at Thor as he rubbed his chin in consideration.

“Well, my friends this is quite a problem you have.  You are absolutely sure you have ruled out everything else?”  The Asgardian asked still thinking.

“Yep, we all are pretty much 99% sure we are dealing with an alien.”  Stated Tony. 

He then went on explaining how they ruled everything else out.  Thor went on thinking a bit more.

“And the fallen, they remain uninjured and perfectly healthy?”  He asked obviously connecting only dots he would know in his head.

Steve spoke this time, “Yes that is why this case is so troubling. They are in fact perfectly healthy.”

“As far as we can tell their brains and bodies are functioning perfectly as if they are awake and well.”  Added Fury.

“Hmmm.” Was Thor’s reply as he continued to mull over the mass of new information. 

Suddenly there was an alert.  Hank popped up on the screen next to Thor.

“Sorry for the interruption, there has been a development.  As I was analyzing some of the blood work of our patients and going back over some of the other patients’ stats, there seems to be an intriguing anomaly.  All of them seemed to be exuding incredibly high levels of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin.

“What does that mean?”  Thor’s voice reverberated through the room. 

Everyone else was slightly confused about the revelation.  They know what it means but not so much what it really has to do with the situation.

Hank paused for a moment confused at the new voice but continued, “Well, to put it simply, the patients are happy.  Really, really happy.  I have no idea what is going on in their noggins but whatever is happening they are extremely happy about it.”

After that admission Thor went back into deep thinking. 

Being ever perceptive Clint posed a question, “So if stuff is going on in their heads, can’t the Professor read their minds and tell us what’s going on in there?”

Everyone nodded absently thinking the same thing.

“If only such were ever that simple. There seems to be a block or barrier the moment they are touched by that strange force. Their minds are beyond even the Professor’s abilities.”  Hank supplied forlornly.

Well that idea was shot out the window.  The energy of the room fell rapidly.  This is becoming ridiculous. 

Despair was thick in the room until the Asgardian prince spoke up once more, “Do not despair my friends,”

The heroes of the room perked up at the positive tone Thor’s voice,

“This whole thing seems very familiar to me.  Like an old legend my father told me so very long ago.  Give me time to dig into the archives I’m certain I will find something useful.  But let me leave you with this warning if this is in fact related to the legends of old that I am referring then there is likely no cure for the fallen.” 

Before any could reply or demand an explanation the screen went dark and Thor was gone.  They stood in deafening silence.  So Thor may know what is happening but if he’s right then there would be no way to help the victims?  No, it cannot end like that.

“And that was…  Useful.”  Supplied Fury as no one spoke up. 

“Mr. Stark, I assume you will be using your own methods to search out anything on this woman?” 

Tony nodded solemnly, for once at a loss for words, which only served to make Fury a thousand times more uncomfortable with the situation. 

Fury went on to order Clint and Natasha to continue their own digging, then turned to Bruce and ordered him to aid Professor Xavier and Hank with anything they may need.  He told Maria that they will have a more thorough discussion later. 

Then he turned to Steve and eyed him warily knowing that the next few hours for that man are going to be hell. 

“And Captain Rogers,” he said pointedly getting the attention of the obviously distraught captain. 

“You’re on standby, should any require assistance…”  Steve nodded with a small smile catching the meaning.  Help where he could but stay out of the way. 

“If that is all then this meeting is adjourned till tomorrow at 0900 hours sharp.  In the meantime I’d really like to know how all of this has happened on my helicarrier, damn it!” 

With that Fury abruptly left the room leaving everyone else to follow through with their orders.

Everyone left the room one by one.  Steve stood still solemnly for a moment going over Thor’s last words over and over in his head.  No cure.  That would mean 75 people forever bound being…  It felt almost hopeless.  The thing they could do now is to do everything in their power to prevent that number from increasing any higher.

“Hey Cap, you just going to stand there all day?” 

Steve looked at Tony, shocked out of his pensive.

“Sorry.”  He replied solemnly as he truly looked like a kicked puppy.

“OK, come on Cap, follow me.”  Tony ordered walking out of the room.

Steve nodded absently following obediently.  Tony led them to his temporary workshop.  Realizing where he was, Steve began to object.

“No, no. You have work to do, I should go.”  The soldiers said gesturing to the door.

“Nah Uh, you are going to sit. Right. Here.”  Tony countered as he directed Steve to a chair by his work table. 

Before Steve could protest any further Tony continued,

“I just have to make a few adjustments to the program beyond that there is nothing more I can really do at this point.  That and eventually talk to Xavier are about a desynthesization device.  But then again, if the big guy said there’s no cure then…”  Tony trailed off. 

Steve could visibly see where his mind was going.

“Tony.”  He said gently, the genius looked up at him expectantly.  “If anybody can find a potential cure you can.  We do things differently here on earth.  With whatever information Thor has to provide I’m sure if we all work together we’ll find a way.”  Steve smiled reassuringly at Tony.

Deep, deep down Tony loves Steve’s reassuring speeches but of course would be damned to allow anyone to know.  So he immediately pretended to fall asleep and start snoring as Steve was finishing up his speech.

“*Snore*OK, enough of this wonderful touchy feely stuff.  Here.” 

Steve watched Tony with a glare as he dragged open a drawer and pulled out a pad of sketch paper used for schematics and drafting and handed it to The Soldier.

“Draw stuff from your past or something.  It’ll keep you occupied while I do some work.”  Tony said while quickly flashing his billion dollar smile before turning to the work table to converse with Jarvis about his various programs. 

And so it was that an uneasy calm fell over the helicarrier. 

Steve smiled knowingly at Tony who now had his back turned to the captain.  With a warm feeling building his chest he absently started to sketch a scene almost long forgotten.

 -0-

Twas nearly two hours later, Tony finished the altercations to his programs and was seeking out a decent cup of liquid gold. 

After contemplating upgrading the pre-installed coffee maker to brew faster he found himself back at the worktable carrying two mugs of brew looking at the soldier as he briskly striked against the page as he put the finishing touches on his drawing.  Tony smiled warmly as he approached to see what the Man out of Time was drawing.

“Here, it’s not the coffee from “Perky” (the semi sentient coffee maker in the common room of the tower) but it’ll do the job.”  He handed one to Steve who nodded in thanks then proceeded to take a test sip. 

He shrugged in compromise and looked back to his drawing. 

“Is that like where your grandmother lived there something?”

Steve’s eyes widened and stared at Tony alarmingly watching as he was taking in the fine details of his work. 

The drawing depicted a sunny day illuminating an old country house with a large oak tree that had an old fashioned rope swing with a plank of wood as its seat.  It had a large yard, large enough for children and pets to play freely.  The land was bordered with a white picket fence that had various rosebushes lining its path.  It was a picture of the age old vision of the American dream, truly picturesque. 

Steve looked rapidly between Tony and his drawing trying to figure out how to avoid answering or explaining what it is.  Tony started to look at him expectantly.  Uh oh, oh well.

“Uh, no not really.  It was a house in Heartland, Massachusetts where my grandmother lived.  I would walk past it on the way to the market.  It was the long way there, but I avoided the other kids that way.  I had always stopped to admire the house, it looked so…  Peaceful and warm I guess.”  The captain trailed off when it seemed Tony was looking a bit dazed. 

The genius snapped out of it shortly enough.

“So you just stop to admire it?  What? Did you just stand there and wish you were one of the kids playing in the yard?”  Tony asked as he smirked at the captain with that twinkle in his eye.

“No it wasn’t like that, well I first maybe, but as time went on I did think that it would be a great place to raise kids, you know…  Like my kids one day…”  Steve said the last part quietly as he trailed off waiting for Tony to start poking fun at him.

“Yeah I’ve done that.  I’d spend my summers with my aunt in Montana of all places, before my father thought I’d be a better idea to send me to boarding school instead. 

There was this one house that I’d ride my bike by.  It was a small and cozy looking cottage and the kids always ran around looking too happy. 

I hated them. 

How were they so god damned happy living in such a tiny house?  They didn’t even really have toys or bikes and their parents didn’t even have a car.  Didn’t make sense to me at the time. 

Then one day I guess they got tired of me just standing there staring, so they invited me to play.  I agreed only to get to the bottom of that mystery, why the hell they were so damn happy all the time.  They had introduced me to their mother, she was so kind and sweet I thought she was trying to trick me or something.  I kind of made a game of it.  She made homemade cookies and fresh squeezed lemonade and then there was pie day…”   Tony paused for a moment obviously reminiscing about that lady’s pie. 

Steve smiled at him and waited patiently for Tony to get back to the story. 

“Ehem, yeah, and we just played some of the old fashioned outdoor games.  Tag was the most popular, and hiding’n go seek tag was a nice twists I introduced to them.  Then the dad came home from work via carpool.  I expected them to get quiet, to become well behaved and respectful.  But when they realized his arrival they screamed so jovially and excitedly I thought there was a fire or something. 

They screamed daddy daddy over again until they both ended up tackling him to the ground.  And he just laughed heartedly while the mom watched laughing at the doorway.  They then got excited again and said that they made a new friend and gestured to me.  I shook his hand and he said that I was welcome there any time.  It was definitely the best summer I ever had.”  Tony stopped for a moment smiling wistfully at the memory. 

Then he regarded Steve,

“See at first I thought that they were crazy or something was wrong. They were so happy and wonderful it was unreal, but I quickly came to the conclusion that they were just that way. 

Of course my first thought was if only I had a family like one of those kids.  But I knew better than to do that to myself.  I knew I would never have that.

At the time I thought that if I had kids I could possibly do something like that for them, you know make them happy…  I dunno I might be drunk.”  He laughed as he finished his story scratching the back of his head. 

He knew he’d given up too much of himself right then, but Steve seemed to always have that affect on him.  He’s gotta stop hanging out with the Patriotic man or one of these days he’s going to know a little too much about the crazy genius…  Wait he already does.  Damn it.

“It’s okay Tony; I guess a lot of us are like that.  Wanting it to be better for our kids than what we had it."  

They looked at each other for a moment before Tony had to break the mood.

“Yeah OK. That is enough for the touchy feely walk down memory lane stuff for one day or year.  Whatever, I’m going to check on my program.”  Tony walked off to go check on the various programs running. 

Steve smiled as the genius walked off.  The Captain sipped at his coffee before simply chugging it down. 

He started thinking about those times almost 100 years ago.  So much was so cut and dry, so black and white back then.  Or at least it seemed that way. 

After everything that has happened so far not just to Steve but in the world in general, it’s mind blowing.  Steve remembered a time when black people were treated subhuman.  Now they hold powerful positions like Fury, like even the presidency. 

Though he had known this his whole life; women have much more value and equality that is recognized.

One of the most surprising changes is the world’s tolerance for homosexuality.  Sure there is still much prejudice in the world concerning these subjects, but there is far more tolerance and acceptance now then there ever was back then. 

He stared at the drawing before him, remembering those times of old.  Truly, so much has changed over the last several decades.  Once, a man would fear he be bludgeoned to death in a dirty alley if one even thought that he fancied other men.  Now…  Now most anyone really has to worry about nowadays are crazy aliens coming in an invasion or unexplainable coma cases.  Definitely a different world. He couldn’t imagine Tony getting drug into a back alley and getting beat to death. 

That one night when Tony got super wasted Steve didn’t even consider that one of the genius’s deepest darkest secrets was that he might very well fancy the same sex more over the opposite.  The good Captain still didn’t know how to feel about that. 

Tony has always been the same person no matter what and he doesn’t in the slightest have the urge to drag his ass into a dark corner and beat the life out of him over it. But there is something… when he thinks of Tony’s preference, it does stir up some modicum of feelings that he doesn’t recognize. 

Maybe deep down he really does… 

Shaking his head rapidly trying to rid himself of those dangerous thoughts, he flipped his drawing over and started to seek out Tony only to find the asinine genius staring intently at him.  The moment they made eye contact Tony gave him the most obnoxious smile he could muster.

“Welcome back to reality Cap, I was wondering if we were going to lose you.”  He smiled as he rearranged various objects on the work table.

Steve looked away red in the face.  Oh boy does he hate when Tony does that.  “It has been one heck of a day Cap; I think it is high time to turn in.  There’s not much we can do at this point aside from getting in the way.”  Tony gestured to the door.

“I highly doubt I’d be able to even sleep a wink tonight.”  Steve stated realizing the time of night it was. 

“Yeah, I figured as much. Come on, follow me. I wanna show you something.”  Tony replied waggling eyebrows. 

Steve shrugged to himself and followed Tony as he meandered through the various halls of the helicarrier until they reached the room that overlooked the brilliant starry sky from all angles.

“Wow, Tony this place is beautiful.”  Steve stated his eyes never leaving the sky.

“Yeah it’s something.”  Tony stated nonchalantly as he managed to find a bar and pour himself and the Captain a scotch. 

“Here.”  He said as he handed the drink to Steve.  “It’ll calm the nerves.”  He stated with a smirk.

Steve was quick to reply, “Whose nerves?  Yours or mine?  ‘Cause you know very well this won’t do a thing for me.” 

Steve thought back to an unfortunate or at least unfortunate day for Tony as the genius couldn’t help but challenge the Captain to a drinkathon.  Needless to say it did not end up well for Tony.

“My nerves. Obviously.”  He said with a smirk as he took a hearty swig of his drink. 

They had both sat down on the seats available that were adjustable to achieve the best view. 

“I tell you what Cap. When we finish this case, all in one piece of course, we are all going on vacation. Everyone will have their choice on where they wanna go; all on me.”  Tony stated with absolution staring up at the sky. 

When he gets those kinds of thoughts in his head there’s no deterring them. 

Before Steve can even consider where he would spend his vacation Tony added an amendium. 

“On second thought you’re with me, I’m going to make sure you learn to have a good time.  I am not going to let you waste your vacation on SHIELD work or training.  No way.” 

Steve just nodded along knowing if Tony was serious enough there would be no way he could say no.  Somehow though he didn’t mind.

Becoming very pensive, the Captain couldn’t help to think that a vacation after this case would be absolutely wonderful.  If only they could in fact solve the case.

“Tony this circumstance is getting pretty hairy. Are you up for the challenge?”

“Hells Yeah, who the hell do you think you are talking to. Hopefully Thor will be able to dig up more information.”  Tony stated with his own patented brand of snark.

“What if it is what he suspects, then there is no cure.  Would we just let those people live like that or would we let them die.  I mean, neither I feel comfortable with at all.”  Steve admitted. 

Tony with his infinite wisdom felt it the best time to insert a bit of bad humor.

“Well if we do keep them alive in the comas, at least they’d remain very happy about it.”  Though spoken two help lighten the mood, it only served to put a look of uttered dismay on the Captain’s face.

“Tony, don’t joke like that. That is no way to live.”

“I know, I know.”  He could only imagine how Steve must feel about being stuck in such a state forever.  He was almost stuck in the ice forever…

They sat in fragile silence for a bit, staring at the sky. The stars shining like precious diamonds. 

Soon enough due to the extreme stress of the day; they both fell into a light sleep.  Of course such peace can only last so long. 

Just as dawn was on the horizon, Jarvis alerted Tony on his phone.  Steve shook wake alert and ready for battle.  As soon as he realized what was happening he looked at Tony expectantly.  Tony sluggishly pulled his phone out and looked at the screen.

“Sir, it appears that there is, in fact, events connecting all of the victims together, minuscule as they may be.”  Tony and Steve look at each other wide eyed.

“Well, it looks like none of us are getting any more sleep tonight, Jarvis, alert the others.  We’ve got work to do.” 

Well it’s something, damn; everyone is going to be as cranky as hell today.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: When the Levee Breaks

Everyone had reconvened in the super duper meeting room after Jarvis’s alert.  It was only 6:30am at that point and still several hours before the next meeting was supposed to start.  Many had yet to even sleep a wink.  This was going to be one stressful day.

“Well, it seems that we are all here.”  Fury stated as he looked upon the worry worn and very jaded members of the superhero team before him. 

“Mr. Stark what have you got?”  He stared at him with a look that screamed ‘Whatever you have got had better be good or I will murder you in front of everybody here, so help me God!’  Obviously he was one of the ones that hadn’t gotten any sleep.

“OK, I had received an alert from Jarvis about an hour ago stating that my connective algorithm worked.  Jarvis found something connecting all of the victims together.  I went through all the files and discovered why it had taken so long to find a connection.  To understand that you all must know what the connection is.”  Tony paused for dramatic effect looking up on the various faces of his teammates. 

As he saw nothing but murder and a promise for obscene violence in their eyes he thought it to be a very wise decision to quickly continue.  Cranky much? 

“They all had incredibly tragic pasts.”  Before the various members of his team could indeed start with the carnage, Tony went on to elaborate. 

“What I mean is like almost hellish.  Like the fact that they had indeed truly survived was a miracle in that of itself.  I mean from what I’ve gathered from a lot of these cases Jimmy and Gloria’s past were like sunshine and rainbows.  And it only served to take so long to find these connections because many of these people did as much work as they possibly could, did everything in their power to make it like it never existed.  They went through several different channels some legit and some not so legit to erase their past.  

"And in some cases from what it looks like there have been outside parties doing their best to cover shit up and to make sure some of this never came to light.”  Tony explained, trying to get all these tired ass people to understand what he had discovered.  Some were just not getting it.

“So, what? That’s just the connection they all had shitty childhoods?  Every single person in this room has shit for a past.”  Clint stated oh so elegantly. 

Yet another person who did not get a wink of sleep, obviously.

Before anybody else could interject, Tony countered,

“Yeah it seems a little farfetched Clint, however if it were just a few people it wouldn’t even be an issue, but in this case every single person had extremely tragic backgrounds all 75. Every single one.  There is no denying that that has something to do with all of this.”

To sooth the uproar he knew was coming, Professor Xavier cut in,

“I believe Mr. Stark is onto something.  At this point in time we cannot afford to quickly rule anything out.  To me it makes sense that a penetrator of minds such as this alien foe would choose minds that have had havoc, chaos and true evil thrust upon them.  Such minds would be much more susceptible to such an assault.  In the meantime, I think it would be a wise idea to find out what exactly is going on in their heads.  If I may, Director,” Xavier motioned to Fury silently asking for permission to continue. 

“I would have Mr. Stark assist Hank in creating a device that would be able to see into the patients’ minds.  At this point in time my own abilities are beyond such an endeavor, but Hank has come up with a few ideas that with the help of Mr. Stark may be able to penetrate the minds of these people at least for a moment to glimpse and to see what’s happening.  If we know what’s going on in their minds we may be able to understand what this alien foe’s true intention is upon our people.” He waited a moment, letting his words sink in.

“And of course Mr. Stark, we shall sit down together so we can discuss thoroughly the force energy and presence I felt when encountering this foe myself through the minds of these patients.” 

Tony was glad the Professor had brought such ideas to the table.  It had been eating away at him after contacting Thor that he would be of little use in this situation.  But working on creating a piece of machinery that can help aid them in any way even if he has to do it with someone else is exactly where he wants to be on this case. 

Some of the other occupants of the room had started to calm down now that they’re was an honest to god plan in the works. Along with Mr. Stark and the various agents of SHIELD, they’re still trying to track the face of the mysterious woman they had captured on the helicarrier.  Now they have something connecting all the victims together and a plan to, if not fix the problem, at least get a glimpse inside the minds of the victims to get as close as they can to figuring out why all this is happening.  OK, so the cranky level of the room is starting to wane.

“Yeah of course Professor, obviously you know I was hoping we could do that.”  Tony stated slightly lamely. 

He was still kind of getting used to having someone know his every thought.  He’s gonna have to figure out how Magneto acquired such an awesome helmet that repels telepathic abilities. He’s sure if he tried hard enough he could definitely create something to do the same.  But that’s a project for another time.

Director Fury, being as exhausted as he was didn’t really mind others swaying the meeting every which way.  He was just happy that they were seeing results. As minuscule as they were, it was still something. 

He was thinking about ending the meeting right there on a positive note while everybody was in a slightly better mood and they had a plan of action under way. Let’s face it the sooner the meeting ended the sooner he could go find some peace and quiet meaning some shut eye.  But Natasha, one of the only other agents beside Steve and Tony to actually get a bit of sleep, had thought of a wicked realization.  With a head more clear than most she had quickly thought of something a horrible and shocking, something that seemed to escape the others.

Seeing as the Director was about to adjourn a meeting; she had to interject mournfully before he had a chance to.  “Director, there is something serious that we all must consider here.  It came to me when Clint was pitching a fit.  If this alien is picking people with horrifically tragic backgrounds, what stopping it from picking any one of us.  If it can come and go as it pleases…  You said yesterday Steve that we knew absolutely nothing about its capabilities that anything and everything we can do to stop it would be useless.  Loki by himself was nearly impossible to overcome what if this thing can easily take any one of us down regardless of any of his or her special abilities.”  She stopped obviously getting her point across by looking in everybody’s stricken faces in the room.

“Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, so you’re saying anyone of us could be next?”  Clint inquired trying to subdue his own panic.

“Seriously though, it makes sense right?  If this thing prefers targeting people with tragic upbringings, we would be perfect subjects especially now that it surely knows we’re looking for it.  We must now be on its radar.”  Bruce added not sugarcoating it in the least.

“So what you suppose we do now?  Give up?  Pile ourselves on top of the Avengers Tower and present ourselves to this thing with cherries on top?”  Clint replied obviously not panicking in the slightest.

“I’m not saying we don’t do anything.  All I’m saying is we must prepare for the fact that any one of us could be next.”  Bruce retorted. 

Is it just me or is his skin taking on a slight greenish hue.

“Hey, this is no time to panic.  We are the ones responsible for dealing with this issue.”  Director Fury shouted out in an authoritative manner.  It seemed to do little good.

Steve and Tony watched the scene unfold before them tormented.  The Professor tried to get a hold of everyone’s minds trying to sooth them.  But it was incredibly difficult with the extreme amounts anxiety in stress permeating the air and the fact that the Professor got less than an hour of sleep wasn’t helping matters any.

“Hey now, Director Fury is right we should not be letting this get to us.  The more destructive we allow our minds to get, the easier it would be for the alien to in fact control our minds.  Wouldn’t you agree Professor?”  Summarized Coulson, looking to the professor for affirmation.

“Indeed, I would say Agent Coulson is right.  We need to keep our minds calm and our thoughts clear.  We need to balance ourselves with serenity.”  Professor Xavier soothed putting an emphasis on serenity as he projected such feelings telepathically.

“I’m sorry but it’s just not that easy for me to accept.  You heard what Thor said yesterday, no cure.  No cure.  If one of us gets caught, that’s it, kaput.”  Stated a distraught Clint. 

Yep he’s definitely got this panicking thing down.

“I’m sorry, but you’re making it sound like we don’t risk our lives for living.  It’s not like you’re a super secret special agent or nothing, Huh bird boy?”  Tony came in with his brand of snark. 

Hawkeyes persistent whining was starting to really get to him.

“Oh I’m sorry Iron Ass, that the rest of us can’t shrug off reality like you do. There’s a difference between dying in action and getting caught by this thing with your pants down! Why don’t you make something useful to stop this thing!”  Clint countered obviously losing it.

“Whoa there bird boy who’s pretty little panties do you have tight up your ass.”  Tony countered back. 

This is starting to go downhill very quickly.

“Hey hey, I will not be tolerating this kind of behavior in my meeting room!”  Shouted Director Fury in an attempt to negate the rising conflict.

“Well hey, you are supposed to be the genius here right,” he then pointed at Hank, “the both of you right?  Why don’t you two figure out how to kill this thing?”  Clint was well and truly freaking out now. 

One can almost see him practically foaming at the mouth.

Hank looked to the Professor for guidance.  He was not completely sure how to handle the situation but then he figured maybe a sedation dart would do the trick.  The when Hank truly did look at the Professor he found that he was in absolute deep concentration straining with all his might to achieve something. 

Steve knew that one of the only ways to calm the situation was to knock out agent Barton.  He was about to make a move to do so before he saw Natasha inching closer to do the very same.  So he backed off allowing her to handle it. 

Soon most of the occupants of the room realized what agent Romanov was about to do to quell Clint’s panicked rant.  That is until the Professor let out a moan of agony.  Everyone shocked to silence as their attention was drawn to Professor in horror.  They didn’t know what ailed him.  He looked stricken and exhausted and in pain.  But before any could inquire about his condition the reason made itself blatantly an unmistakably known by a deafening roar.

Fury Realizing with horror what was happening ordered everybody out of the room as quickly as possible.  They made sure the Professor was able to get out first followed by Hank, Maria, Coulson, then Tony and Steve. 

Poor Agent Barton, panic stricken, flooded with anxiety, and wretchedly sleep-deprived didn’t quite realize what was happening until it was too late.  He was whacked against the wall and out like a light too fast to know better.  Natasha quickly dodging the second Hulk attack quickly flipped Barton over her shoulder and fled the room followed quickly by Fury who put the room on absolute lock down.  Good thing the room is triple reinforced right?

All of the previous occupants of the room stood outside the hall for a minute basking in the shock of the situation. They could hear the great screams and roars emanating from the room despite how thick the walls were. They all flinched as the angry green monster pounded the poor walls mercilessly sending shockwaves resonating through the halls.  Bruce Banner had just hulked out again.  I guess Bruce was one of the ones who didn’t get sleep either.  Oh man Betty is going to give them an earful later.  They all inwardly cringed.

“Well that’s one way to end a meeting, right Fury?”  Tony asked trying to alleviate the tension.

Director Fury thought for a moment.  Clint’s fears were in a small, tiny, way justifiable.  They had only served to escalate to that point due to the fact that not only was everyone on edge already but everyone also was experiencing a significant lack of sleep.  It was not just last night that many had not slept.  It had been the buildup of the many nights since this case first became official that had gotten everybody so beat down. 

“My order for right now is that everybody needs to go get some shut eye.  I don’t care how you do it, I don’t care if you have to drug yourself. Each and every one of you are gonna figure out how to sleep somehow.  Because Professor Xavier is right, we need to strengthen our minds. In order to do that we need to give our minds exactly what it needs which is rest and recuperation.  I want you all to get at least five hours of sleep.  That is not negotiable.  And as soon as you are all recuperated you will follow these orders…”  He preceded to order Natasha, Steve, Bruce and Clint on standby until further notice.  He ordered Coulson to be the one to inform Bruce and Clint of their orders when they come to.  He told Maria she knows what to do.  He then ordered Tony, Hank and the Professor to reconvene with their plan after the resting period.  “Okay if everybody’s got that, get the hell out of here.”

With that, and after giving each other all sideways glances, they had all separated to go their own ways to their designated sleeping quarters.  We’ll just have to see what five hours bring.

 -0-

The five hours had come and gone much quicker than any had anticipated.  Even though just a few hours wasn’t all that much time it was just enough to clear the mind. 

Xavier was feeling much better after trying to control the inevitable temper tantrum of the Hulk.  He had vastly underestimated how much the big guy wanted out.  Of course it didn’t help how exhausted he was to begin with.  Clint eventually woke up in time and was currently nursing a glorious black eye and busted lip. He was feeling quite admonished after his fit.  Later, still jaded from his temper tantrum Bruce woke up and decided despite being on standby he would help and aid Hank and Tony with whatever they could come up with. 

Steve was still full of shock after everything that had transpired that morning.  He was of little use and he hated it.  He dug up a sketchbook and made his way to the lab in which Tony, Hank and Bruce were working.  Tony along with Hank had already sat down with the Professor to go over the energy force Xavier had felt before.  With a few great ideas in mind the two eventually joined by Bruce began working together on analyzing all of the information gathered thus far.

Steve wanted to be right there with them.  He wanted to be able at a moment’s notice be of use if they need him to be.  He watched as they worked going over various diagrams and schematics.  It was at times amusing to watch because all three of them had very different methods of working.  But they kept it professional and they clearly kept in their minds what they were working together for. 

The Professor was also there giving them input when needed, just in case if anything needed clarification.  Some modicum of peace was achieved during that time.  When Steve felt comfortable that nobody was going to kill each other, he started to sketch in his sketch pad.  Before he even realized it he had started sketching that farmhouse of old once more.  He began by working out the wispy clouds of the sunny day, getting the hard lines of the old house just right, and shading in the big oak tree to bring out the roughness of the bark.  He made sure that a few roses on the rosebushes were just about ready to bloom.  It was coming out even better than before.  He smiled solemnly at it, for it was a long forgotten dream.

“Hey Cap, what cha drawing?”  The obnoxious genius asked arching his back as if he was trying to stretch out his very bones.  He then peeked down at the sketch pad in the Captains hands. “Really that scene again?”  He asked almost seemingly offended.

“I don’t know I just started drawing and this is what came out.”  He retorted a little annoyed with Tony’s attitude about the subject. The crazy genius then walked off to fiddle with his phone. 

Then all of a sudden Steve heard another’s voice in his head asking him why the scene was so important to him yet somehow already knowing the answer.  He looked over that at the Professor and smiled.   He thought to himself, ‘Perhaps it is because I have been thinking about those horrible ‘what ifs’ as of late.  What if aliens didn’t know about us?  What if this case never happened?  What if I never became an Avenger?  What if I was never found?  What if I was never frozen?  What if I wasn’t late for that dance?  What if…?’ Then he heard Xavier in his head again;

“‘You mustn’t dwell too hard on the ‘what ifs.’  There has been much in your life that had been taken from you.  And though it is healthy to remember them and give them the respect in time to mourn the loss you should not dwell and yearn for them.  True it is easier said than done and there have been many times when I myself have dwelled and yearned for the ‘what ifs.’ 

'But as time goes on you come to realize that all things happen for a reason. Just as things had been taken from you, many more have been given at the same time.  Back then you lost your friends and mission all at once and nearly your life.  But in this time you have gained your life back, you have made new friends and have a new mission.  There will be a time in your life when you’ll remember these words and understand them completely and utterly and hold them close to your very soul.’”

Steve looked upon the professor and realized that this man has lived a long and full life and that he currently understands the world in more ways than he can possibly imagine.  He smiled at him and gave him a silent think you.  He mulled over the words the Professor had given to him, understanding exactly what Professor Xavier was telling him but, true to the Professors words, not fully understanding the depth of what the words truly mean. 

He looked upon the sketch in his lap knowing that this is one of the ‘what ifs’ he was constantly plagued by.  ‘What if we had gotten married, what if we had settled down in that old farmhouse, what if we had kids and a dog, what if… I were happy?’  He knew he would have to eventually let it go.  That he would move on because there is no possible way to have that kind of dream now.  But he just couldn’t.  It felt like to give that piece up would be giving up a big piece of himself and he was just not ready to do that. 

He almost felt an urge to shed a tear, but swallowed it back as much as humanly possible in fear of Tony giving him a hard time.  He did not need Tony pestering him about his deepest innermost thoughts right now.  Nobody, but the Professor, seem to notice his inner turmoil.  Soon enough he was back to watching Tony, Hank and Bruce flit around trying to combine their ideas into something innovative.

Tony sensed something off with Steve but he did not wish to aggravate the poor Captain anymore than he had to.  He could tell looking between the Professor and the man out of time that Xavier was helping Steve through whatever it was that was going on in his head.

-0-

A few hours had passed and Tony had insisted on trying out a preliminary simulation on the computer.  After watching a simulated victims head explode in a dismal blaze of utter catastrophe they thought it would be a good idea to take a break and get something to eat.  Although it would have been rather difficult to stomach something after that grotesque display.

“Come on Cap I think it’s time for us to go grab a little bit of grubb.”  Tony suggested grabbing Steve’s long forgotten sketch pad off of his lap and setting it aside.  Instead of arguing like he wanted to, after all that last simulation was pretty nightmare inducing, he followed along obediently. There was just something about the look on Tony’s face.

When Tony and Steve were no longer near anybody else Tony had a complete and utter breakdown. 

They had relocated themselves into a small common room where Tony was now destroying everything in sight.  Steve just let him go.  Letting him get it all off of his chest.  Most of his screams and shouts were incoherent.  But from what Steve could make out Tony was profoundly upset about how the simulation went.  There was a lot of garbage about a lot of the little stuff in his life here and there but Steve could make out what was really bothering him.  Tony was doing his best with a lot of pressure on him and it just wasn’t enough.  He kind of knows how that feels. 

After Tony threw the final chair against the wall, he slipped down the opposite wall and put his head in his hands and began to weep.  Steve gingerly approached him and just sat down next to him.  The super soldier just sat and watched as his friend and teammate cried like he never has before.  To be honest Steve doesn’t think he had actually ever seen Tony cry in all the time that he has known him.  He almost had an overwhelming urge to cry along with him but knew he had to be the rock in this situation.  As he started to contemplate this particular situation more thoroughly he had registered big brown eyes staring up at him.

“I swear to god if you tell anybody about this, at all, I’m gonna sick Dumm-E on you.”  Tony stated completely and utterly serious. 

Steve could not help but to think that he would come out of that bout completely unscathed. He wanted to laugh.  It felt like he was getting to know the crazy genius all over again.

“Don’t sweat it Tony.  I swear I won’t tell a soul, scout’s honor.”  

Tony looked relatively unconvinced but accepted it anyway.

“And hey, when Thor comes with more information I’m sure the simulations will be far less… explosive.”  Tony ground into his hands. 

He knew the Captain was trying to lighten the mood with a joke, but it was downright horrible.  So he then proceeded to tell him so.

“That was a shit joke Cap, even for you.”  He smiled anguishly. 

Tony wouldn’t admit it but he does feel a thousand times better especially with Steve next to him. 

“Well now that I have less than no dignity left I think it’s high time to get back to work.”

“Not without getting at least a little bit to eat, you haven’t eaten anything all day I’m pretty damn sure.”  Steve said as he pulled Tony up to stand. 

He directed them to the next room over where they found at least a bowl of fresh fruit and a coffee pot.  Making sure Tony had eaten at least one apple and had a steaming mug of coffee in his hand Steve led them back to the lab.  When they arrived Tony almost immediately went back to work. 

It was a bit of a slower pace than before but all were still working fluidly together.  The Captain would almost think it to be close to a comfortable peace until both Hank’s and Xavier’s mobile phones went off at the same time.  Hank answered his first.  Both Hank's and the Professor's expressions changed from perked curiosity to downright morbid horror.

Whilst Hank was still on the phone Xavier addressed Tony,

“Tell Director Fury that Hank and I must make haste back to New York,” he paused for a moment nearly unable to get the last of his sentence out. 

Bruce Tony and Steve looked between each other apprehensively.  Tony does as he was told and put an alert out for Fury.  In a shaky breath Professor Xavier continued on,

“The alien has attacked the school.” 

Just when you think it couldn't get any worse the universe takes euphoric joy in proving you wrong. 

Will this nightmare ever end?

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: Fell For You

For a while Bruce, Tony and Steve stood there in pregnant silence. 

What?  The alien attacked the ‘School for Gifted Youngsters?’  But most of the occupants were just kids. 

Steve watched with bated breath as Hank finished up that conversation on the phone.  He felt absolutely wretched.  That school was full of kids, children for god’s sake.  How many were taken down?  He didn’t know. 

As soon as Hank stowed his phone away into his pocket every one stared intently at him looking for answers but still too shocked to voice their inquiries.  Hank, recognizing the desperation on everyone’s face, quickly dove into an explanation.

“It seems our foe found some new targets.”  Beast stated with despair. 

“From what Scott told me witnesses stated seeing a raven haired woman walk the halls of the school.  After talking to two of the students they had collapsed almost a minute later.  Logan had witnessed the second child collapse and had rushed in to attack the intruder recklessly.”  Hank stopped for a moment visibly aged by the predicament. 

Fury had barged in at this point.  It seemed Xavier was getting him up to speed mentally.  Steve listened intently hoping that perhaps with Logan’s attack he would be able to find out if the alien foe was susceptible to any physical attacks.  Tony was also thinking on a similar wavelength. 

After director fury was up to speed and was listening earnestly Hank continued, “He managed to claw her straight through her abdomen.  Unfortunately she apparently remained unaffected by it.  Soon after that Logan fell as well.  As soon as the hit the floor this strange woman had already disappeared.”  Hank finished solemnly. 

This was so messed up upon so many levels.

“As you must know by now director, we need to return to New York to address this new development.”  Professor Xavier stated as he motioned for everyone to follow him. 

They had ended up in the shipping bay.  Hank went straight to the X-jet to get ready to head back to New York. 

In all honesty, Fury wanted to stop them and keep them on the helicarrier to continue working.  But they were neither his agents nor his employees.  They were just his honored guests and invaluable consultants.  Therefore at this point in time he had no right to keep them. 

“As soon as we get things at the school under control we will return and continue to assist you in this case.  For the sooner we solve this case together the sooner my students will be free from this fate.  Until then I bid you all fare well.” 

Tony, Bruce and Fury all took turns shaking his hand.  Then came the time for Steve to do the same.  As soon as Steve grabbed the Professors hand he heard a familiar voice in his head. 

“‘Remember what I told you Captain Rogers, do not linger on the ‘what ifs.’  Let go of the past and embrace your present.’”  Steve nodded as he let the Professors hand go.

“Be well Professor, I hope to see you back on my ship soon.”  Fury said as Xavier boarded the X-jet. 

They watched in solemn silence as the X-jet flew swiftly beyond the shipping bay doors and out of sight.

“I really don’t know what to say… It’s one thing figuring all this out for strange adults but now it’s mutant kids on the line.  I just don’t know anymore…”  Bruce was torn up about it. 

This situation was almost unreal.

Tony and Steve were still speechless; any words that could be said in this situation have already been said.

“Mr. Stark, Dr. Banner I assume that despite the absence of Professor Xavier and Dr. McCoy you two will be able to continue your work.”  Fury eyed them intently with his one eye. 

They needed to keep moving forward.  Fury knew that the alien foe likely chose the school on purpose to distract them.  Bruce was right this thing must certainly know now that they were on to it. 

“Yeah, we'll get right to it.”  Tony said as he looked at Bruce, verifying that they can continue with just the two of them alone.

“Well then get to it.”  Commanded Fury in a haste. 

He then rapidly left the room to alert everyone else of the departure of the X-Men.

Tony turned to head back to the lab where they were working before.  Steve followed slowly behind them. He was debating whether or not to go back to the lab with them or to simply go back to his own quarters.  He had a lot of thinking to do. 

Just before they reached the hall that would lead back to the lab Steve stopped and informed Tony that he would leave them for a little while to go get some air or something of that ilk.

“It’s OK Cap, I get it.  Just don’t be too hard on yourself.  Remember none of this is at all in any way you’re fault so don’t be going off to blame yourself.”  Tony stated with a soft smile.

It stirred up a feeling deep inside Steve that he couldn’t quite describe.  Tony gripped the captain’s shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze, then continued, “I mean it. We gotta keep our heads on straight for this.” He ended with a smirk.

Steve, still full of doubts and insecurities plus many thoughts that he still needed to mull over, just nodded in response after a moment of looking at Tony with such a soft smile on his face. He gave him a curt nod and decidedly started a brisk walk down the corridor.  Leaving Tony to enter the lab and continuing to work with Bruce on their simulations.

Steve walked around for awhile with no destination in mind.  He was just thinking, and started wandering from hall to hall with nothing particular in mind.  He thought he would go to his quarters but had decided that they were much too small to contain his anxiety, recalling how not so long ago he was pacing, awaiting the arrival of their special guest who had unfortunately left so abruptly. 

Pacing in his quarters that day felt like such a long time ago.  When really it was only yesterday.  He had thought of finding a common room of sorts but quickly dismissed it not wanting to interact with other agents. 

Soon enough, though, he had found himself in the room that overlooked the sky.  The one he and Tony had fallen asleep in not so long ago.  He stared up that the sky and simply marveled at how it was turning brilliant hues of orange and yellows and that the more the sun began to set more purple was becoming visible.  He began to think deeply about everything.  He thought of how he ended up to this point.  He thought of his childhood and everything that led him to the army.  He thought of Dr. Erskine and how he chose Steve for the experiment.  He thought of his time in the army making movies.  He thought of Peggy. He thought of his team the Howling Commandos and of Bucky.  He thought of the Red Skull and the Tesseract and how he ended up in the ice.  He thought of waking up in a time that was worlds apart from the one that he left behind.

Now he’s here in this time facing things he thought could only exist in science fiction.  Now there is this alien running around attacking people putting them in comas for a reason nobody yet knows.  This thing is choosing people with horrific tragic backgrounds.  The victims have already gone to hell and back and now they have to go through this.  Then to add to the misery Thor said that there is likely no cure.  Then to top it all off the alien had attacked kids.  This is nothing but a hellish nightmare.  The good Captain desperately wished he could be more useful in this situation. 

With all of these thoughts swirling around in his head he sat and watched as the sky changed colors as the sun was setting.  He continued to watch as the first of the glimmerings stars appeared in the heavens.  By the time the sky was as black as ebony two thoughts kept circling around and around in Steve’s mind like a mantra: no cure, they were just kids, no cure, they were just kids.

Tony found him sometime later.  The Soldier was still in the same position as he had been the last several hours, staring up at the sky.  Tony approached him slowly not wanting to shock him out of his pensive. 

“Hey” He said softly. 

He watched as Steve slowly turned his head to his direction. 

“I thought this is where you would be.”  He stated with a wink.

Steve chuckled softly to himself and replied,

“Yes, because that is what Jarvis told you.”  Smirking at the genius knowing he was right.

Knowing he had been caught Tony quickly copped to it. 

“Yeah, well I had to find you fast.  Something has come up and we all have to go to the super duper meeting room.  Or what’s left of it any way.  So come on Cap, we gotta go.”  Tony stated while grabbing Steve’s hand and pulling him off his seat.

“Why, what happened, Tony?  Did the simulations work?”  The Captain inquired to the genius. 

Tony shook his head looking rather perturbed.

“No, no the simulations are still…  They’re…  Just shut up and follow me.  Everything will be explained when we get there.”  Tony replied with shoddily veiled anxiety. 

Steve went along with him certainly not in the mood to get into it with the distraught billionaire.

They made their way to the super duper meeting room.  Though the walls were horribly dented with Hulk fist shaped dents every which way and the ceiling was cracked and the floor wasn’t much better, the main components of the room still worked. The chairs and desk had already been replaced, so had the external computer equipment.  The rest of the Avengers looked about the room in stunned silence with a tang of horror, knowing full well that if the Hulk was angry enough it could’ve been much more worse.

“Okay people, this is obviously becoming horribly redundant, Mr. Stark what if you got?”  Fury stated with tired resignation.  It has definitely been a long couple of days.

“OK, I know that the only thing anybody really wants to do right now is to get a little bit of shut eye after everything that has happened.  But we gotta keep on truckin’.” He paused for a deep breath, steeling himself for a lengthy explanation. 

“Shortly after Professor Xavier and Hank arrived back at the school in New York they had gathered as much information as possible about what had occurred there.  They sent that information to us to analyze in hopes of aiding with the case in their absence.  What they had was even clearer footages of the strange alien woman that is likely behind all this.  I had Jarvis utilize Shield Security Software. Using the new footages I had Jarvis scour the Internet, looking through pictures, security cameras, cell phone cameras, any media footage that were present during the fall of any of the victims.  And we got hits lots and lots of hits.”  He stopped, looking at everybody who now held a look of perked interest. 

He continued,

“I had Jarvis search everything he could so that we may know that we’re dealing with the possibility of just one alien.  Since the cases were so random and so far away from each other at times I was afraid we might have been dealing with a few of them all working together. 

"But what I found was out of all 75, well 78 now, victims there were 47 present at the same time as some sort of media recording device.  Of that 47, I searched back from 69 seconds after their fall around the surrounding area and found that of the 47, 39 of them had that very woman hidden somewhere in the background.  I know it’s not much to go on but according to the timeline of when and where the various victims fell it is highly likely that it is just this one working alone.”  Of course this is where Clint would have to interject.

“OK, I think that it would be a bit of wishful thinking to assume we’re dealing with just one alien.  That is a lot of ground to cover in such a small amount of time and for all we know this particular alien race, or whatever, can all look alike or have the capacity to make themselves look alike.”  Clint argued Tony’s point.

“Either point could be true, it could be one alien easily with the capability of covering large distances in such a small amount of time or could very well be multiple aliens doing this. It is too early to rule anything out.  But if anything, I do hope Tony is right on this one.”  Stated Bruce looking between the two hoping a bitter squabble won’t be started yet again.

“I agree with Bruce it is too early to assume anything at this point, but I imagine that is not all there is to tell is there Mr. Stark?”  Fury acknowledged. 

He made sure to give Clint a hard look, warning him not to start any trouble.  However Clint was highly unlikely to do so at this point still gingerly touching at his swollen eye every so often.  A constant reminder to keep his head on straight.

“Yeah, that’s the thing though. Whether it is one or many we’ll eventually know. What I’m trying to say now is that we have a face to look out for.  As I have found her appearing in the various media forms that I had searched for, I will also be able, using Jarvis and Shield software, to find her any time she appears anywhere in the world again.”  The genius explained clearly happy with himself. 

However Natasha, also seemingly with Coulson and Maria, was a bit unhappy with Tony’s response.  Everyone had been working tirelessly to find this woman and all the sudden Tony had come up with the information they been working so hard on.  She interjected.

“I don’t understand.  We have been searching for this woman this entire time how is it you are able to find her where we couldn’t.”  She questioned with a hiss in her voice.  Before Tony could respond Steve stepped up to defend the genius and help alleviate the tension.

“Natasha, it’s fine is in it? It doesn’t really matter how he did it as long as it is done.  We can now track this person and figure out potentially who might be next.”  Steve retorted. 

However, instead of negating the tension, it only served to add fuel to the flame.

“I get that! I really do, but this is insane!  We have the best security and facial recognition software anywhere in the world yet he surpassed it, how?” She faced Tony.

“What did you do that was so different?!”  She nearly bellowed. 

That was her primary job in this case, to find the woman.  But Tony took that from her. She knows deep down that she is overreacting and that she should expect Tony capable of such things. But she just can’t get over it. She had searched all of these media avenues before and came up with zilch.  But Tony came in and researched them and found the woman despite her efforts.  She wasn’t necessarily angry with Tony she was more angry with herself and the situation.  She cannot understand how she had managed to miss what was clearly right in front of her. 

As Tony explained his findings he had displayed the various photos and video footages of the victims on the newly replace monitors showing them where she was within the 69 seconds of the fall of these victims.  Natasha had searched these footages a thousand times and still cannot believe that they are in front of her now with the woman clearly visible to them.

Tony slightly offended at her outburst but all the while understanding perhaps what she was thinking quickly went into an explanation. 

“I had figured that she might have been concealing herself in some way.  A thought had occurred to me when Xavier was explaining that as soon as she used her powers, he felt the force of her intrusion and that the victims and the alien itself was beyond even his own mental capabilities.  I thought that maybe that is why it was so difficult to find her before, that not only could she conceal herself from our abilities but from our technology as well.  Using what the Professor told me about her energy and her force we started developing a desynthesization program.  Although according to the simulations we were far from using it successfully on the victims.  But I thought of, instead, using the program to desynthesize her energy from the footages and eventually the program worked and when the rendering was done her face started popping up everywhere.  And then I called everyone here. The end.”  Tony finished with unconcealed attitude. 

He still couldn’t understand why people just didn’t take his word for it, that he still had to explain the process of how he got there.  Why couldn’t people just take his word for it and move on?

Natasha accepted the answer gracefully.  She nodded in response looking slightly apologetic before putting her usual stoic face back on.  At this Fury responded.

“Well done Mr. Stark.  Excellent thinking.  The fact that your programmed worked and was able to render her face to us unveiled gives me profound hope that it is only a matter of time before you’re capable of undoing her work completely and pulling everybody out of there comas.”  Tony still wasn’t satisfied.

“It is still nowhere near perfect.  Though her face clearly pops up it is still obvious from the blurriness that it needs major work.  And this is with the Professor getting into my head and making me relive the experience of physically encountering the force of her energy myself.  Oh god I need a drink.”  Tony stated with an extreme air of exhaustion. 

This whole thing was really starting to take its toll on Tony.

Steve couldn’t help but to look at Tony with such awe and admiration.  It was amazing to Steve how Tony figured out that there was in fact a problem trying to find the woman in the media and quickly found the solution to it all in one day.  Hell, he was pretty sure it was just in the last couple of hours.  The crazy genius was just special like that.

He looked at Tony’s exhausted face knowing the kind of mental energy it took just to make all this happen.  Steve grabbed the tired genius’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze making sure he understood how proud of him he was at this very moment.  Tony looked up at him with a weary smile.  Despite his extreme exhaustion he was actually incredibly happy with Steve’s proverbial pat on the back.  The genius leaned into the Captains touch ever so slightly.  Absorbing the warmth he had to offer.

“You did great Tony.  I know you want nothing more than to keep working but after this meeting I really hope you would stop and rest.”  Steve commented looking at Tony with a look that screamed no argument. 

His statement also had an underlining tone to it.  Tony has heard it before and understands it as being ‘if you don’t do what I say I will drug you and make you go to sleep.’  There may have been a timer two in which this has actually occurred.

“Mr. Stark if you’ll hand the reins over to Natasha and Clint on this matter that would be swell.  I would rather have you focusing on helping the victims as they are now.”  Fury commanded knowing full well that

Tony does not need to be the one trying to do everything.  He is just one man after all and they are a team.

“Yeah, think I can do that.”  Tony responded so civilly.  Many expected him to pitch a fit  at the idea of someone else handle in his program. 

He must be more haggard then he’s leading on.  He then proceeded to pull out his phone and alert Jarvis. 

“Jarvis, send everything I have on locating the woman to Shield servers under the Orange Accounts: Agents Romanov and Barton; subquest A-P-18428.”   Tony requested appalling some of the occupants of the room.

“Mr. Stark!  How in the fuck do you know that information?  That is classified beyond your clearance.  Wait, no never mind I don’t wanna know.  But let me tell you, this isn’t over.  I will find out about it.  But now was not the time.”  Fury stated reprimandingly. 

He can literally feel that eye twitch from before start to develop again.  He shook his head.  That man is by far one of the most aggravating person he has had the unfortunate of meeting.

Steve, Coulson, and Bruce both gave Tony their own brand of reprimanding looks.  All with the hidden promise of digging the information out of him later.  Tony just shrugged it off and smirked at them. 

Really, they should all know what he is capable of by now.  He really doesn’t understand why they’re surprised.  They all of them should’ve expected as much.

“Well, if that’s it, then this meeting is over.  And because I don’t want a repeat of what happened this morning,” He paused looking pointedly at Bruce and Clint, “I am ordering you all to get an appropriate amount of sleep.  I will not tolerate another outburst again.  Okay, that said, everyone go on, get out of here.”  With that Fury abruptly left the room, Maria and Coulson hot on his heels.

“I’m heading to the lab just to finish up a few things.”  Bruce told the whole room. 

Though more of his statement was meant for Tony.  He then turned his attention fully to Tony,

“I can manage the rest on my own for now.  You should really turn in Tony.  I’ve got this.”  He turned to Steve and nodded knowing that the captain would be able to make the asinine genius obey.

“We are going to look at that program before we turn in.” Stated Natasha, pulling Clint along to go to their favorite work station.  Everyone left the room leaving just Steve and Tony by themselves.

They stood there an awkward silence for a moment just sort of sizing each other up in a way.  Until Tony spoke up,

“I may be exhausted and all, but my mind is racing too much to even try to sleep.  Now before you can object and try to drug me,” He amended quickly after Steve looked ready to object.  

“I’m sure you can agree that eating just that one apple today is not all that healthy, why don’t we find someplace where we can have an honest to god dinner?”  With that Steve looked relatively appeased.  A nice hot meal would do them all good.

“OK, I believe that is a wonderful idea. I think we will definitely feel better after a nice hot meal.”  Steve smiled at Tony appraisingly.

“That was my thought; I mean getting out of the helicarrier for a few hours will probably do is some good.”

Steve eyes widened and Tony continued,

“I mean we’re only just a few miles off of the coast of Virginia all high in the sky.  I’m sure I could book us a restaurant, what are you in the mood for?”  Tony pulled out his phone looking for restaurants.

“Whoa, whoa. Whoa.  Tony we can’t leave the helicarrier.  How do you suppose we would get there?  I’m pretty sure Fury would not allow us to use one of his jets or in any other aircraft.”  Steve pointed out all concerned.  What was Tony thinking?

“Oh come on Cap, he didn’t order us to stay here.  He didn’t say we couldn’t leave.”  Tony smirked, “And I have my suit with me remember?”

“Is there room for two in your suit?”  Steve inquired not knowing what Tony was thinking.

“No, I’d just carry you.  Come on it’ll be fun.  Oo or you could borrow my spare suit.”  Tony suggested.  Steve couldn’t even begin to wonder how he could manage fitting into one of Tony suits being that he’s almost twice as big as the genius is.  Even if he could miraculously fit he wouldn’t know the first thing about operating it.  Recognizing where Steve minds was, Tony amended. 

“Okay maybe not that last suggestion but it wouldn’t be all that hard to carry you.  Come on I know you’re hungry and I know you wouldn’t mind getting out for a little while.  What are you in the mood for?  French? Italian? Polish?”  Tony asked 100% serious.

“Come on Tony, you really wanna do this?”  All the genius did was look up and smile at him.

Knowing this was a losing battle he relented. 

“American.”

“What?”  Tony asked for clarification.

“You asked where I wanted to eat, and I want to eat good old fashioned American Food.  Just find a place nearest here that makes the best bacon cheeseburger and we will go.”  Steve stated resolutely.

“Yes!  That is what I’m talking about!” He exclaimed, poking at his phone. 

After a few seconds,

“Alright got it.  You should go get changed, it’s a bit nippy out there, especially if you’re riding with me.”  Tony winked at him obnoxiously.

Steve rolled his eyes. 

“Okay fine. I’ll meet you at the bay doors in a half an hour.”  He stated as he was walking out the door.

“Hells yeah! It’s a date then.” Tony stated excitedly as he started walking the other direction. 

Steve knows that it’s only an expression but for some reason Tony’s words somehow made his heart start to race.  He quickly squashed down the fleeting thought that somehow deep down he may have actually wanted this to be a real date.  The soldier certainly did not want to think too deeply about the thoughts he was so desperately trying to squish.  This is in no way at all, nowhere near to being an actual date.  This is merely an outing between friends, that’s it.  That is all he wants it to be. 

And yet…  No no, not going there.  With those thoughts constantly going back and forth inside his head Steve made his way to his assigned quarters to change into something that will help him survive Tony flinging him about in the night air on their way to whatever restaurant the crazy genius had found.

-0-

In a half an hour later Steve, with his shield strapped to his back, found himself standing by the bay doors next to Ironman.  Tony did a little jig as they waited for the bay doors to open.  Steve looked at him, shaking his head. He had no idea how the genius still had so much energy after such a full day of excitement.

“You ready Cap?”  Tony asked as the wind started to whip around them. 

His voice now held a robotic quality to it as he spoke through the suit.

“As ready as I’ll ever be I suppose.”  The Captain stated staring out at the darkness beyond the bay doors.

“Good.”  Tony’s suited body began to approach him from behind.  Sensing a shift in the air Steve felt something was off. 

The Captain whipped around to face Ironman, sensing what he was thinking.

“Don’t you dare Tony!  I swear to god if you push me off-“

Unfortunately, Steve couldn’t finish for he was in fact pushed off the helicarrier by Tony.  The genius began to laugh as he raced to catch up and catch Steve.  The bay doors closing behind him. 

Tony caught up to Steve in no time.  Of course the Captain was as cool as a cucumber just diving through the air as if he was made for it.  Tony flew down below Steve so the Captain could land on his back.  As soon as Steve was secure on Ironman’s back he whacked Tony on the back of his head with his shield.

“Ow!  Hey man I’m driving here.”  Tony shouted still laughing.

“That wasn’t funny!  If you do that again I’m going to murder you in your sleep!”  Steve shouted back with a hint of laughter and his own voice.

“Yeah? That’s what you said last time but here I am.” Tony retorted still laughing.

-0-

They made it safely to the restaurant without any further incident.  They had landed in the back alley to be careful not to be spotted readily. 

Tony called ahead to make arrangements of sorts.  They went into the back door and were lead to a secluded booth.  There were very little people in the restaurant which was fine.  Tony stepped out of the suit and had it slide into the booth before he did.  Steve was really digging the restaurant. 

It had a homey rustic vibe to it, but what would one expect from a barbecue steakhouse.  Within minutes a waiter came by with a set of menus.  He quickly went into the specials, obviously trying his damnedest to suppress his excitement over the identity of his guests.  He bounced on his toes happily as he looked between Steve, the shield, the suit, and Tony and then around again as he waited for them to decide what to order.

“I think I’m going to be overly cliché here and order the prime rib, medium rare, with a loaded baked potato and a beer.”  Tony stated flashing the waiter a grin.

“Excellent choice sir, truly.”  The waiter stated as he penciled in Tony’s order.

“And for you sir?”  He questioned as he turned his attention to Steve eagerly waiting his answer.

Happy to see a burger section of the menu, Steve was quick to reply, I will definitely be having this bacon western cheeseburger with the home-style onion rings.  And I would also like a prickly pear lemonade with that.”  The Captain smiled as he handed the waiter his menu.

“Very good sir, I will take care of your orders immediately.”  The waiter confirmed enthusiastically as he took Tony’s menu.  He bid them adieu and leapt to do his job.

All the sudden Tony was staring at Steve intently with a bemused look on a face.

“What?”  Steve asked looking at Tony face.

“What the fuck is a prickly pear lemonade and why are you ordering it?”  Tony questioned the look on his face becoming more intense.

“Oh, well Natasha it made me swear that if I ever saw a prickly pear lemonade on the menu that I would order it because if I didn’t apparently I would regret it for the rest of my life.  Or something like that.”  He stated with a smile looking up at Tony.

Tony smiled fondly at Steve starting to laugh a little.  Of course if Natasha was dead serious about some like that you better listen up.  “Okay.” He chuckled. “I'll let you slide on this one.”

Within just a few minutes, their drinks had finally arrived.  The waiter had set down the house beer in front of Tony and then had proceeded to set down a large glass of purple and yellow lemonade.  Tony eyed the glass with wide fascinated eyes.

“Holy shit it’s purple.  When you said prickly pear I was imagining something green or brown but that is a bright ass purple.”  Tony stated in awe.

“I know right?  It looks almost familiar somehow, can’t quite put my finger on it.”  Steve said as he also viewed his glass in wonder. 

The top layer of the beverage was the pale yellow lemonade immersed in the crystal like ice cubes and the bottom layer was this gorgeous almost fluorescent like purple liquid.  They both stared at the glass transfixed for a little longer before Steve slowly put the straw to his lips. 

This action then served to attract billionaire’s attention further.  Almost immediately the Captain’s eyes lit up. 

“Oh my gosh, Tony, this is delicious.”  Delighted in surprised at the wonderful flavor Steve began to suck on the straw more vigorously. 

The genius watched him in absorption. His attention was on Steve 100%.  He began to shift uncomfortably in his seat.  His pants may have started to become a bit tight.  Swiftly Tony realized Steve staring at him.

“Yes?”  He flashed Steve a grin trying to distract him from his discomfort.

“Would you like to try it?”  He asked, still with a satisfied cheerful smile on his face.

“Oh, what the hell?”  Tony grabbed his glass and took a tentative sip.  It was followed by an even larger gulp.  Steve had to quickly grab his glass back before Tony drank it all. 

“Damn, that was good, I really wasn’t expecting that.  I’m gonna have to order me one now.”  However, not one to waste a good beer Tony quickly chugged it down.

Soon enough the waiter had arrived with their orders of food.  “Prime rib for you.” He stated as he set a plate in front of Tony. 

“And the western cheeseburger for you.”  He stated as he set a plate in front of Steve. 

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”  He asked looking between the two. 

Tony was quick to reply.

“Actually, yes, I would like one of those lemonades also.”  He said as he gestured to Steve drink.

“Right away sir.”  The waiter replied as he fled quickly to fulfill the order.

With that they began to dig in.

-0-

Dinner was absolutely divine.  They ate their fill of incredibly delicious food and managed to drink about six lemonades between them.  They each shook the waiters hand and carried out his and the cooks request for an autograph.  The owner even came by for a piece of the action.  And they had the most delightful of conversations. 

Now they were sitting in comfortable silence slowly savoring their chocolaty dessert.  Tony couldn’t help but to get entrance by the good Captain once more.  He couldn’t help but think of how beautiful Steve’s stormy grey eyes were.  The genius had always marveled at the many ways the Captain’s eyes seemed to change color.  There were days where Steve would overlook the city with thinly veiled sorrow; his eyes appeared to be a pale blue almost like the sky on a cloudy day.  Then there were days, Tony realized, if he unknowingly pestered the Captain into a rage his eyes would turn a pale jade.  He had even noticed that in the heat of battle his eyes turned to cold steel. 

But in his opinion, the genius found that he liked times like this the best, when the captain was at his most calm and happiest.  His eyes were a deep and warm stormy grey, the only kind of storm he would gladly become lost in. 

His attention suddenly diverted from Steve’s eyes to his pink tongue.  The Captain had started to lick the fudge off of his spoon in a very provocative manner.  Tony was practically scandalized.  His pants had become quite uncomfortable yet again.  In an effort to distract himself from his erotic thoughts the genius started to quickly consume the last of his sundae. 

After attaining a painfully visible brain freeze that sent the both of them into a howling laughter they bid the various remaining people which mostly consisted of the staff a hearty fare well.  Tony paid the bill after Steve relented his insisting that he could pay his fair share, the genius wasn’t hearing any of it.  Tony suited up and they escaped out the back door from once they came.

As they shot through the sky back to the helicarrier, Steve marveled at how wonderful the cool fresh air felt against his skin and in his lungs.  Sooner than either of them wanted, they made it back to the helicarrier.  Tony had Jarvis open the bay doors and they flew right in.

“Now that was fun.” Tony stated as he stepped out of his suit.  He told Jarvis to take care of ‘it’ then the suit began to walk away on its own.

“Yeah it was.”  Agreed Steve as he, along with Tony, started walking toward their assigned quarters.

Tony yawned deeply. 

“Well, with that I believe I will sleep well.”  He smiled as he had tired written all over his face.

Steve nodded in silence trying to stifle his own yawn as they were getting closer to the quarters.  Tired and exhausted were written on Steve face also.

They came upon Steve’s quarters first.  Tony stopped and smirked at Steve as the Captain open the door intending to go inside. 

“You know Cap; it is customary to end the night with a goodbye kiss after a successful date.”  Tony’s smirk widened at the Captain’s shocked expression. 

Steve stared at Tony for a few moments mulling over the geniuses arbitrary words.

“No.  Goodnight Tony, stay out of trouble.”  Steve said as he smiled wickedly and Tony. 

He shut the door on the genius, making a statement.  Tony stood there for a moment trying to grasp at what happened.  He was trying hard but failing at trying to understand the situation.  Steve did not deny that this was a date.  He did not become all flustered and demand that they were most certainly not on a date.  All he said was no.  Did that mean simply no to the kiss, or did he mean no to the entire statement or…  Tony was at a loss.  He shook his head vigorously and started to walk away.  He will just have to mull it over some other time.  He smiled to himself as he made his way to his own quarters.

Steve pressed his forehead against the cool door trying to get a grip over his warring emotions. Tears started to roll down his face without permission. He was shaking almost violently. 

No matter how hard he was desperately trying to deny it, a very large part of himself actually did want to kiss Tony.  Wanting the genius’s words that were likely a joke to be very serious.  For the longest time he had been trying to deny that these feelings stirring inside him were nothing but a figment of his imagination.  But after experiencing the incredibly strong desire to kiss his best friend he could no longer ignore what was happening. 

He was falling for Tony Stark.  And that thought alone scared him more profoundly then anything ever has in his entire life.  He shuffled slowly to his bed removing the various protective garments along the way.  He plopped down onto the bed with dismal abandon.  Face planting into his pillow.  He let out a tortured groan that reverberated through his entire being and allowed his thoughts to take over. 

So much for sleeping soundly tonight. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: "Restless Heart Syndrome"

It had been a long and difficult night for Steve.  He tried to shake his thoughts but to no avail.  He had desperately tried to continue to deny his feelings for Tony.  He tried to simply categorize it as merely admiration and respect for a friend that he cares so deeply about.  He tried to convince himself that his pull to Tony was merely platonic.  Like the way he had always thought of Bucky as his best friend and brother.  But then again he never ever had the urge to kiss Bucky the way he wanted to kiss Tony. 

Oh to kiss him was not the only thing he discovered he wanted to do with Tony.  He had always had the desire to pull Tony close into a deep and warm embrace. To hold him as close as he could to his own body.

At the time he couldn’t figure out why that desire was so strong and so prominent, but he had always chalked it up to being overly concerned and wanting to give comfort. 

Looking back he realized that he never did have the desire to do that for anyone else but Tony.  But now he knew.  No matter how hard he tried he knew he could not lie to himself anymore.  But he tried anyway, and thus his night was spent as such, going back and forth between knowing and realizing the truth to trying to make excuses and denying it.  And that is how the morning found our poor Captain in such a state.

He had warred against himself on deciding whether or not to get up that morning.  As he slowly peeled himself out of bed he had decided that he would carry on throughout the day as normal as possible.  At the very least for duty sake if nothing else.  He took a shower and put on fresh clothes.  He looked at himself in the mirror trying to concentrate to suppress his thoughts.  He put his game face on and walked out the door to head to the nearest common room.

Breakfast had been relatively uneventful.  He had a couple of pieces of fruit and a glass of orange juice. 

His first instinct was to go check on Tony and see how he was doing.  But then everything that had happened the night before came rushing back to him.  He had to think it over for a moment.  He couldn’t simply avoid the genius the way he wanted to because surely someone would notice.  He knew he would have to act as if nothing had changed, as if he didn’t have this incredible realization about himself.  He had decided to make it a personal mission, to make sure nobody realized that something was different about him.  His mission would be put into action soon enough as he spotted Natasha waltzing up to him with an air of determination.

“Good morning Agent Romanov.  What brings you my way?”  Steve greeted.

Natasha regarded him momentarily before getting to the point.

“Morning Captain.  I am here on official business from Fury.  We have a mission.”  Natasha answered not skipping a beat. 

“We are to speak with Fury immediately.”  Steve was almost thankful for whatever it is that’s likely happening. 

This is probably going to be the distraction he was looking for.  He hates that it unfortunately comes about by something wrong that he has to take care of. 

Steve with Natasha leading the way hurriedly walked to wherever it was Fury was located. 

They had eventually arrived into an ordinary meeting room.  Fury, Maria, Coulson and Clint were already in the room.  As soon as the Director realized that Steve and Natasha had arrived he wasted no time in briefing them of their mission.

“An issue has come up.”  Fury stated as he activated footages on the meeting room monitor. 

“Five Doom Bots have been wreaking havoc on the outskirts of Goodlettsville Tennessee at a secure research facility.  Sue Storm has informed me that she and the rest of her team are unavailable due to confidential reasons. Your mission is to wipe them out. Stop them from hurting anyone else by any means necessary.  And above all stop them from finding whatever is they’re trying to find.  You have your orders.”  He stated with supreme authority.

“Alright you heard the man, suit up and get to the Quin Jet ASAP.”  Steve commanded taking over.  

Realizing that Tony and Bruce were not on this mission; the Captain felt relieved.  Fury probably felt it prudent that they remain working in the lab.  Which for once was fine with Steve being as he didn’t really wanna be near the genius right now anyway, even though deep down that’s all he wanted.  Damn these conflicting emotions.

-0-

The flight to Tennessee was made in relative silence at least on Steve’s part anyway.  Natasha and Clint were chatting a bit obviously happy to get off of the helicarrier despite heading towards what might be the hairy mission.

“So Captain,” Natasha eyed Steve slyly perking Clint’s interest.

The Soldier could tell where this was heading. He sighed heavily.  

“Where did you go last night?”

“I went out with Tony last night.”  Steve winced internally realizing how that sounds. 

But instead of making a big deal about his word usage he remained silent.  Steve learned from past experiences that to get worked up and defend his words only served to make the situation more amusing for those involved.  Especially with Natasha and Clint.  They would tease him relentlessly.  So this time he chose to keep silent.

“Oh?  Is that all you are going to say on the subject?  You know if you don’t give us details we are just going to assume all the good stuff that must’ve happened.”  Clint winked at him. 

Steve wanted to punch him.  Seriously, why do they have to assume anything happened?  Even if he wanted something to happen…  Nope!  Not thinking about it.

“Oh come on.  You can tell us.  Did he at least give you a goodnight kiss?”  Natasha laughed. 

This was just torture.  However thinking back, they had always seemed to tease him this way.  Always insinuating that he and Tony had done something together.  He merely rolled his eyes in response and remained silent.  Natasha and Clint were a little put out that the Captain was not giving in to their taunts.

Soon enough they had arrived at the research facility.  Three of the Doom Bots were still wreaking havoc outside.  The other two must have infiltrated the building.

“All right here's the plan.”  Steve began.  “I will head in to the facility first and draw out the remaining two.  You two stay out here and take out these three bots by any means necessary all according to Fury’s orders.  I shall alert you should I need assistance.”  They nodded in affirmation.

Natasha maneuvered the jet over the bots that were throwing various vehicles around.  She opened the bay doors and Steve jumped out. 

Steve dove through the air head first with his shield that is front.  He managed to slice through the arm of one of the bots.  The appendage fell to the ground beside the robot becoming completely useless.  As the bot seemed to look down upon its arm seemingly in horror the Captain whipped around and flung his shield severing its robotic head.  As soon as Steve caught the shield he darted off into the facility, leaving Natasha and Clint to deal with the remaining two outside.

The facility appeared to pretty much be evacuated.  Captain America listened intently for any sounds of chaos emitted from the building.  He crept down various halls and corridors in search of the two remaining robots.  As he found himself deeper into the laboratories, robot shaped holes started appearing in the ceilings and floors and walls.  He began to navigate them to the best of his abilities.  It eventually led him to what appeared to be the power station of the laboratory. 

As he approached closer he recognized one of the bots amongst the darkness using his shield he swiftly dismantled it with his own style and flair.  That leaves one more.  He gingerly made his way downstairs on high alert.  Surely the final bot had heard the commotion. 

When he reached the bottom of the stairs he found yet another robot shaped hole in the four.  After following it he found himself in an isolated room that was obviously meant to be secretly secured.  He quickly found the bot as it was trying to remove some type of power core, no doubt the product of whatever they were secretly researching in this facility.  Before he could approach the intelligent machinery, Natasha’s voice rang out of his earpiece informing him that they have the outside secured and that the bots were taken care of.  He smiled to himself, good just this last one.  He called out to it.

“Hey you!”  He shouted at it successfully diverting its attention away from trying to remove the power core. 

He smirked reveling at how easy it was to confuse these things. 

“You seem to be a different model from the others” Captain America observed noticing its different shapes and curvatures.  

“You ready to tango?”  Not wanting to find out the difference of what this one was capable of, Steve flew into action first.

-0-

Meanwhile, on the Quin jet Natasha and Clint were receiving some very interesting information from Fury regarding their strange alien case.  They looked at each other and smiled at the information it was certainly good news.  Now all they had to do is wait for Steve to secure the facility.

-0-

Steve quickly threw his shield at the robot intending to sever its head from its body.  But instead of slicing right through like it would with the other bots it bounced off.  Realizing quickly that he was gonna have to get creative Steve backed off to plot. 

Tony taught him enough about machines and robotics that he was sure that he would be able to take this one down.  Steve began to attack what would be the robots natural weak points but found that they were protected.  The robot itself moved somewhat sluggishly at least in comparison to the quick footed Captain.  But damn when the Doom Bot landed a hit he sure felt it.  This thing was a power driver.

Captain America tried other avenues of combatting this robot that Tony taught him but it appears that Victor Von Doom was a couple steps the head of the technologically ignorant Captain. He figured that his best chance now was to lure it out and fight out in the open with Black Widow and Hawk Eye as back up. They have weapons that could put a dent in this thing in ways he could not. The Captain pulled out a flash bomb, he needed the bot to keep its focus on himself rather than going back to finish its mission. He threw it, lighting the room up with sheer radiance.

The bot lost control of its visual sensory receptors for a short time only navigating its way using sonar and by the ruckus Captain America was deliberately making. It started regaining control of its sensors. It spotted the Captain in mere moments and with speed and accuracy, that Steve was certainly not expecting, clutched his arm in a vice. The grip started to tighten more and more to the point where Steve could feel his radius bone start to crack.

He realized with horror that the bot was playing games with him. He had managed to lure it half way out of the building. The Soldier needed to get him and the bot outside. With his shield in hand he wacked the bot at a knee joint not enough to do any real damage but enough to yank the bot off balance at the exact right time. He flung it as hard as he could against the wall.

The bot loosed its grip on Steve’s arm just enough to for the Captain to break free of it. As soon as he was free he managed to hit the bot in the head again with his shield.

As soon as he was sure he had the bots full attention he darted back down another hall way with the bot hot on his heels. He did his best to avoid the incoming assaults that were starting to become more rapid.

Just as soon as he was about to turn a corner that led to the last stretch of hall way that led to the exit, the bot managed to get it’s revenge by brutally plowing Steve into the adjoining wall. He met the wall with such force that he broke right through it. 

Steve lied stunned upon the rubble for a moment, his vision blurry and his breathing labored. He was sure that he had cracked if not broken a few ribs. Before he could even gather his bearings properly, the bot had grabbed his leg up in a vice. It had started to bear down with a crushing force. Right when Steve felt the bone start to crack the bot lifted the Captain into the air and drove him back into the floor. He emitted an anguished scream as he felt his body try to crumble with the force. If his ribs weren’t broke before they were now seeing as he started to cough up bits of blood. One of his ribs must have punctured a lung.

Quickly wiping the blood from his lips he gripped his shield tight and bashed it into the bot as hard as he could, stopping it from beginning another assault. He quickly whipped around and jabbed the shield’s edge into the elbow joint of the bot successfully forcing the bot to release his leg. Steve shot up off of the floor diving between the bots legs and sprinted for the exit.

-0-

In the meantime, Clint and Natasha were waiting for Steve to emerge. They were starting to get worried. They had heard a lot of commotion going on in the facility and were hoping that the Captain had things under control.

That is until they heard him scream. They felt there blood run cold in unison. Steve said that he would contact them if he needed assistance. But what if he was unable to. They were about to storm the facility when a pretty banged up Captain America barreled through the exit with a different looking  Doom Bot following close behind him. As soon as the Captain maneuvered a sharp left out of the way they opened fire.

Steve rested on the ground for a moment taking stock of his injuries. His right arm was fractured, he was sure at least three ribs were broken and two others cracked. His left leg was pretty sore and likely sported a miner fracture as well. He’d have to be mindful on how to move until they healed. He began to watch the battle between the Doom Bot and his team mates.

Instantly he realized that there was in fact a battle still going on. He flinched slightly as the ground shook harshly after Clint shot an explosive arrow at the bot. Steve began to realize with trepidation that perhaps they all were not a match for this particular Doom machine.  He watched as Hawkeye shot another arrow at the bot only for the machine to catch it midair and shoot it back to the Quin jet.

Natasha barely had time to eject before the aircraft was engulfed in explosive flame. It crashed into the ground with a resounding blast that sent shock waves miles away. The Doom bot was ready to engage its opponents once more and had locked on to Natasha who was still trying to recover from the blast.

Steve saw everything before him in slow motion. His mind working in overdrive. He finally regained his bearings and made a petrifying realization. He alerted Black Widow at once.

“Natasha! The Doom Bot is Adapting!! Disengage!” Steve shouted.

However she could not flee easily, she was stranded amongst hot rubble and debris. Clint was too far to reach her in time.

The Captain forced his body into action. He watched as she tried to hurriedly navigate the chaos of shredded metal. He thrust himself upon the Doom bot with as much power as he could muster right be for it was about to grasp her by the neck.

He felt the impact resonate throughout his entire body, but was happy to be successful in knocking the bot away from Natasha. Steve hit the ground with a deplorable thud causing him to go into a coughing fit laced with blood.

Natasha had reunited with Clint as soon as she was free. She had planned to regroup and come up with a solution only to turn around and realize that Steve was not with her but convulsing on the ground with the doom bot just above him. There was nothing either of them could do.

Steve looked upon the bot with dismay still coughing blood. He realized the bot was about to deliver a driving punch. He placed his shield between himself and the bot. The impact was like nothing he ever felt before, even with his vibranium shield that the Doom bot had successfully struck away from him.

Steve was sure that his fractured arm was broken now. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get out of this one. All he knew was that he had to get away from this thing and fast.

He struggled to rise off of the ground before the bot could deliver another attack. He was too late. The bot had adapted to be much quicker than the Captain and now securely has Steve’s neck in its death grip.  It rose its mechanical arm up slowly until Steve’s feet were barely dangling above the ground. 

The bots grip was becoming tighter. Slowly but surely tighter and tighter.

Blood was pouring down the Captains chin and dripping on to the robots claw like hand. He could feel his blood pulsate in his head. His air was becoming steadily more constricted as the bot began to crush his wind pipe.

Steve could vaguely hear Natasha and Clint shout for him, they sounded so far away. He couldn’t clearly see his foe any longer, his vision becoming dark. Darker and darker. He thought he might lose consciousness or worse any moment.

For some reason he couldn’t help but to think of Tony at this time. Wishing he was there with him.

He was yanked out of his thoughts, however, by the shrieking sound of metal tearing apart. Immediately after he felt the air return to his lungs and with it his other senses.

The pressure was off his neck but metal hands now grabbed his broken torso he almost thought the bot was going in to finish the job. He struggled as he moaned miserably before he heard a familiar voice that made him calm instantly and smiled broadly despite himself. 

“You came.” Steve was finally able to look upon Ironman, his vision clearing.

“Of course I did! You know no mission ever goes right without me right Cap?” He said with a hint of a smirk in his voice.

Tony shifted Steve in his arms so that he was carrying him bridal style. The Captain groaned painfully at the movement.

“Hey, hey, hey, it’s ok. I'm taking you back to the helicarrier myself.” Steve’s eyes widened significantly at this revelation.

He started to protest.

“No, Natasha and Clint are down there. What about the Doom bot?!” His outburst cause another bout of coughing.

His blood splattered on the cold metal of Tony’s armor. It was almost unnoticeable against the deep red hue of the Ironman armor.

“Hey, hey it’s ok. It’s all taken care of trust me. You just relax, please.” Oh shit, Tony just said please.

This is serious.

But Steve couldn’t help to worry about his team. If they were in danger, it was because he brought the bot right to them. The Captain needed to go back down there to protect them.  

He was going to ask about them again when he saw a brilliant flash of light followed by an all-consuming clap of thunder. Steve realized why Tony seemed so calm. He finally relaxed and let Tony carry him to the helicarrier.

“Thor’s here.” Steve smiled a smile that reached his eyes. That damned ridiculous robot didn’t stand a chance. 

“Yep! I told you not to worry. You should just think about taking care of yourself right now, you look like shit.” Tony observed

“Yeah ... I feel like shit.” He said groggily.

His body obviously coming off of the adrenaline high. He looked up into Ironman’s face plate knowing Tony’s face is just beyond that. The genius looked back down at the solder in his arms.

“Its ok Steve, I’ve got you.” He said soothingly.

'Heh, he said my name... why does it sound so fucking good coming from him?' was The Captains last thought as he fully relaxed and allowed himself to fall into nothingness.

-0-

Steve woke up some time later, his body incredibly sore. He felt like he went ten rounds with Joe Luise… Yep … Nope. It was definitely a Doom bot.

Steve tried to sit up only to have big, strong hands gently push him back down to the bed…bed?

“Stay still my friend, you are greatly injured.” Told him in a deep soothing voice. Steve looked up at his alien friend for a moment. Alien friend, now there’s a thought. Thor was smiling openly at him, apparently happy Steve was going to be ok.

“Thor, what about Natasha and Clint? Are they ok!?” Before the golden alien could respond another voice appeared.

“We are fine Steve, thanks to you. You should really rest now.” Natasha stated from her seat next to Steve.

The Captain flinched at the sound of her voice, completely oblivious to her presence… Oh yes he was definitely out of it. She smiled warmly at him and stood up.

“I am going to go alert the others that you are awake. I know a certain genius that has been completely insufferable since you got here.” She winked at him.

Steve smiled in response and Thor started chuckling.

“I believe in this case insufferable is a total understatement.” Clint corrected from the door way.

His head was bound in a bandage and it appeared he had a splint over three of his fingers. He caught Steve staring at him mournfully and was quick to explain.

“Don’t be worrying about this Cap,” he gestured to his bound head.

"It’s nothing. I was just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time when this crazy Alien came in and viciously exploded a Doom bot with enough power to take out a leviathan! Bits of Doom bot went flying everywhere even managing to hit me in the head!” Clint recited with slight irritation, staring pointedly at Thor.

The Alien prince stared at Clint with a look of mock hurt. He gave Clint a wicked smirk in response

“Well forgive me I had completely forgotten that humans will just stand still and gawk at all the pretty lights even if it kills them, faerie.”

Clint’s eyes widened comically.

“What!? Hey! Come here and say that to my- wo! ow, ow, ow, Nat!”

Natasha had successfully pinched her fingers onto Clint’s left ear and proceeded to drag him out of the room.  

Steve watched amusedly at the antics of his team. He was happy they were all right. But if Clint manages to get into it with Thor, well, he’ll just have to ask Clint later what kind of flowers he’d like at his funeral.

He looked to Thor again.

“Welcome back by the way.”

Thor turned to him and smiled softly his previous mischievous countenance completely gone. Leading Steve to believe that ‘that’ was the continuation of a previous encounter. He wondered how that went.

“Thank you Steven, It is good to be back.”

“How long have I been out for?” Steve asked, hoping it wasn’t days.

“Hmm, just a little over three hours.” The Captain relaxed a little.

“You most certainly had us all worried. I did not know one little robot had the capacity to do that to you.” He stated with concern.

“I didn’t either. But from what I could tell the Doom bot was adaptive. The more we attacked it the more stronger and quicker it became. Obviously it didn’t have time to adapt to your overwhelming power according to Clint.” The Captain gave Thor a sideways smirk.

“Haha Yes, It stood no chance after witnessing the power of the gods.” Thor agreed with a hint of pride. 

He was happy to be from a lineage that had that power to help those he cared for when they needed him.

They conversed merrily for a time. Just catching up.

Sometime ago they had realized that they had found solace in each other’s company. Coping with a world they could not quite understand and getting to know it together. Soon though their conversation was cut short by the dramatic entrance of non-other than that of Tony Stark.

“Cap! I am glad to see you finally awake. It just wouldn’t due to see such a fine military man such as yourself sleep the day away. Right Jarvis?” He stated looking gleeful.

“As it would seem sir.” Jarvis’s voice affirmed out of seemingly everywhere? Of course Tony had infiltrated Shields mainframe again…

“Tony.” Steve said in greeting.

Amazed at how at easy and happy he felt at the geniuses entrance. He winced internally, wasn’t he supposed to be on a mission to act normally?

“Man of Iron, have you finished your temper tantrum?” Thor looked at him completely serious.

“I’ll have you know grown men do not have temper tantrums.” Tony stated matter of factly.

He was trying not to react to have been outed in such a manner.

“However, Sir, At this point in time I am sure Director Fury would readily disagree with you.” Jarvis stated flatly, Confirming Thor’s question.

Tony had a look of utter betrayal on his face. He was completely shocked to learn that his A.I. had adopted his cheeky attitude and used it against him. He was about to admonish Jarvis before he heard the sound of someone desperately trying to suppress a laugh.

The genius turned to Steve to find the Captain with a look of pure mirth and elation on his face despite his injuries.

“Tony, what did you do?” Steve chuckled.

He looked upon the genius with such fondness. So much for his personal mission.

Tony was lost in Steve’s warm expression for a bit. Realizing almost too late that he was asked a direct question.

“Uh, I simply gave Fury a piece of my mind. He sent you guys in there ill prepared. It is his job to know the details of a mission and he couldn’t even do that right.”

Steve could imagine how that conversation went down. Tony knows how to push people’s buttons like nothing else.

He kinda felt sorry for Fury. It wasn’t entirely the Directors fault, he felt. If only he had realized sooner that the Doom bot was adaptive. If he had disengaged sooner and came up with an alternative plan things would have been different.  

Before Steve could respond with his misgivings; a doctor quickly bounded into the room with a chart of different medical stats in hand. She nodded at Thor and smiled at Steve glad to see that he was awake then turned to Tony. She gave him a hard and reproachful look before delivering on to him her onslaught.

“You are lucky he’s awake or I would have you forcibly removed again.” She stated with no room for argument. 

Steve looked to Thor then to Tony for and explanation. Both gave him worrying glances. Thor leaned in and whispered to the Captain that he would fill him in later. He abruptly sat back straight as a pin when the doctor glanced his way.

Steve figured she must be a fiery woman to keep those two at bay.  He found out later that it was because of Tony’s constant fusing and intent on trying to take over that got him forcibly removed from the room. 

“Hello Captain Rogers, I am Dr. Lillie Davidson and I am the physician attending you this day.” Dr. Davidson greeted.  

“Hello Doctor.” Steve responded.

“Ok, let see what we’ve got here. You have a fractured left tibia that seems to be healing quite rapidly. Your right radius is broken in three places but has been perfectly set and is also healing quickly.” She paused looking at the charts more intently then proceeded,

“And a punctured lung with four broken ribs accompanying it. They have been set and are also in the mend. Only five others are bruised. That was quite the attack Captain.” She stated with a sorry smile.

Having read his medical history the Captain seemed to get out of most skirmishes with nothing but a few inconsequential flesh wounds. Never since coming out of the ice was he ever treated for broken bones, this was serious.

“With your advanced healing rate you should be right as rain in just three short weeks.”

“Hey that is better that most humans! Most certainly.” Thor all but cheered.

He had been rather appalled at the slow rate of healing that most humans underwent for serious injuries. He had been completely unhappy to learn how long it took for ‘His’ Jane’s broken wrist to heal.  Things were just different in other galaxies.

“Yes it is. If you have any questions or need anything I am but a button push away.”

She gestured to the remote upon the bedside table. She smiled gently at her patient.

"Now I should be off, there are many others to look after.”

“Good bye Doctor. Be well.” Steve nodded his farewell.

“Ta-ta then.” She waved as she started to head for the door.

She stopped for a moment and looked at Tony.

“I’m watching you! You had better behave yourself, you got me? Or else you’re out of here.” She eyed him intently.

Tony just nodded in response and she turned abruptly striding out of the door.  

“What a fire cracker! I can see why her husband is such a jumpy fellow.” Tony said mostly to himself.

He remained looking at the door for a moment contemplating the fiery doctor before looking towards Steve and Thor only to find them looking at him strangely.

“…What?” He asked confused by their behavior.

Thor only chucked as he rose bidding Tony and Steve a farewell.

“I must be on my way. I am gladdened that you will make a full recovery my friend.” He said to Steve.

“But there is somewhere I must be.” He finished with a hidden smirk.

He began his walk to the door only to be stopped by Tony’s annoying mocking voice.

“Hey Sparky, tell Jane I said hello.” Tony stated with a wink.

He started laughing as Thor went a bit red in the face. Thor immediately turned and clomped out of the room leaving a very annoying genius and an unfortunately lost Captain behind.

“What was that Tony?” The Captain asked completely lost and confused.

Surely such a statement shouldn’t lead to such embarrassment.

Still laughing the crazy genius looked upon Steve with such a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

“Nothing Cap, You kinda just had to be there earlier.”

Tony then went and took Thor’s old seat next to the Captain.

“Now that Thor’s here we should all be getting back to the case.” Stated Steve trying to adjust himself in his bed.

“Yeah that’ll happened when everyone is up to it, including you.”

Tony looked upon the Captain with an unreadable expression.

“Pretty much everyone is on standby until further notice. Fury’s orders. Blah blah blah. I do believe tomorrow bright and early is when we are all going to hold a meeting and see what information Thor had brought for us.”

“Tomorrow… I think I can take that.” Steve could not keep the exhaustion out of his voice.

“Yep, But what you need to do right now is sleep.” Tony told Steve softly.

“That might be a good idea.” He agreed before going silent.

“Of course it is.” The genius whispered.

He watched soundlessly as Steve drifted off once more.

After a few more moments he added,

“Rest well… Steve.”

-0-

“All right people this meeting room will now come to order.” Shouted Fury over the various voices mingling together in the Super Duper Meeting room.

It was a new day. A day that was supposed to be bright and sunny; and despite the overwhelming situation an ally was amongst them with useful information. Things were supposed to be looking up.

However a dark cloud still lingered over the group. Three members were injured, Von Doom created a new super robot and to top it all off not two hours ago there was confirmation of an 86th victim. Making eight new cases since the mysterious alien hit the school. Why can’t they catch a break?

“As you all may know an 86th victim had been discovered.” Fury stated regretfully looking at all of the occupants of the room.

None were happy.  Clint, still with a bandaged head, and Natasha were sitting next to each other. They appeared to be absorbing the comfort of being so near one another. 

Bruce stood by Coulson and Maria, all had clear looks of vexation on their faces. Tony, Steve and Thor were sitting at the other side of the table from Natasha and Clint. Steve was holding on to his crutch like a vice. Tony was scowling at his phone and Thor was quite pensive.

“Mr. Stark, have you confirmed the presence of our foe?” Fury eyed Tony.

“Just a sec. Here.” Tony announced.

He displayed the contents of his phone onto the large monitor of the room. It flashed on and showed the image of the woman in the vicinity of six of the eight victims. Obviously Tony’s filter doing its job.

“Thor you have been thoroughly briefed on this matter, what do make of this?” Fury questioned turning his attention to Thor.

As he did he gasped. The Directors reaction caused everyone else to stop and focus on Thor. What they found sent chills down every one else’s spine. 

Thor sat petrified. He stared upon the screen with an obscene amount of terror on his stricken face. His eyes open wide as they bore into the screen. Tony turned off the monitor eager to take the image from Thor’s sight.

They all sat in silence for a moment none moving. Almost at once Thor literally shook himself from his nightmare. He groaned deeply reaching for his sack that he brought with him. His slowly pulled out and incredibly ancient looking scroll.

“After you all had first contacted me, I did some digging.” Thor stated as he untied the leather binding of the scroll.

“I ask the historians and archivalist of my world what they thought of the matter.” He set the little leather strap aside.

“I even sought the council of the historians of other galaxies.” He began to unravel the parchment.

“I went as far to listen to all of the folk tales of old.” He paused.

“I… I came up with three plausible possibilities.” He flattened out the curled pages before him.

“Of those three, there was one that I desperately hoped would not be the foe you seek.” He shuffled though the paged till he stopped at one.

“Alas my hopes were for not.” He spoke at almost a whisper.

He held the paper up for all to see. There staring back at them was the woman from the video. Clearly visible upon the intricate ancient etching.

“It shall end in Calamity.” 

Well that's foreboding. 

Chapter Text

A/N: Yes, Yes, I know that I am a horrible person. If you really want to know why there was such a delay, you are welcome to ask. However I thought it best to just get this show on the road! Hellz Yeah! All general declaimers apply.

Chapter Eight: Knowledge

Thor’s ominous statement pounded through every one like a drum.

“It shall end in calamity.”

That seemingly simple statement pierced through everyone’s mind and soul like an a-bomb. The end of days, the end of everything...

Calamity.

It was not an easy pill to swallow, jagged as it was. A grand swirl of complex and wretched emotions permeated the air.

“What does that mean? Elaborate.” Fury demanded almost silently.

His mind is trying to come to terms with this revelation. Surely Thor must be mistaken. Surely they can overcome. But then again…

Everyone stared at Thor with desperate anticipation. All hoping beyond hope that this situation isn’t as desolate as that simple little statement suggests.

“What I am saying my friends, is that there is very little hope for you, your race and your planet. We know next to nothing about this being except that the few times it has appeared throughout the millennia it has brought nothing but chaos and ruin to all the peoples of its chosen planet. Nothing had ever been able to stop it, to even touch it.” He stopped and looked at his team’s forlorn faces.

“What… What exactly is going to happen?” Clint questioned morosely, his voice barely above a whisper.

The others watched on, shaken.

“It starts just as you see. People falling into an eternal sleep. They never wake up no matter what science or magic is executed.

"First they fall a few at a time then the rate increases exponentially. Hundreds upon thousands will soon fall all at once. Soon the ones untouched by this calamitous enchantment will drive themselves mad with fear and sorrow and the unknown until they completely and utterly destroy themselves.” Thor spoke with nearly a tremor in his voice at the end.

He looked about his friends with almost a cringe.

“So this is basically global? Every single person is at risk?” Bruce queried, all the while trying to ignore the hulk thumping in the back of his mind.

“Yes this calamity will involve everyone.” Thor confirmed to Bruce.

“Is there nothing we can do?” It was Steve who spoke this time.

He was subconsciously leaning just a little bit more toward Tony, achingly seeking comfort. His eyes were despairingly pale. His crutch started to shake do to his desperate grip upon it.

“What about… a mass evacuation? A worldwide evacuation… it’s possible right?” Rushed Clint anxiously.

Many looked at him slack jawed; his proposition quite extreme.

“Whoa, hold on there bird brain, that is a bit overkill don’t you think?” Tony questioned snidely looking at Clint almost bewildered.

Before anyone says anything, in Tony’s mind he already knows that such an endeavor is next to impossible.

But before Clint could even retort Bruce cut in,

“How would that even be accomplished? There is no time to build a spaceship or even a series of spaceships for that kind of capacity. Regardless such a sentiment seems a bit much.”

“Do you have no idea the kind of mass hysteria that would cause? On a global scale no less… Even if we somehow could do it, to afford it, to build it in a timely fashion… It can not be done.” The Director stated almost hotly.

The thing is it wasn’t so much a terrible idea, it is actually considerably a good one. However, in regards to their tiny little planet who is only now finally catching up technologically with other advanced races in the universe still doesn’t have quite the grasp on some kind of global escape plan.

Clint was thinking of a different method entirely.

“Well what if the Asgardians help somehow? How many could fit through the Bifrost? There are ways Asgardians have to evacuate a plant aren’t there?"

Everyone freezes for a moment considering this alternate method.

“Could it work?” All eyes on Thor.

“My friends, though my people have ways to evacuate a planet, the task of that magnitude does not come without profound risks and extreme consequences. As such laws have been put into place that if the conditions are met we could perform such a task.

"Unfortunately for you, this Calamity does not meet the laws of that task. Regardless a planet wide evacuation would not help you in the least.”

Now more confusion has set in.

Steve was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the situation as time went on. It really seems like everything is getting worse and worse by the minute. Even more so knowing that no matter how much information they gain, how many answers they receive, a thousand more questions pop up.

Before anyone asks him to, Thor began to elaborate, “This being will follow every living Midgardian soul to the ends of the universe itself.

"According to my father, several thousand years ago when last this thing appeared, Asgard tried to save the last few remaining alive on the planet, none survived.”

They all sat still for a moment taking it all in. Trying to come to terms with what Thor had revealed to them. Each going down their own little train of thought trying to process the fact they, may be, very well doomed… to say the least.

Some were fighting with themselves in denial. Others where desperately trying not to let go of the barest of hope, for if they knew they lost all hope then the entire world would have lost all hope.

Steve not one to give up so readily took it for what it was, a terrible situation. A situation that, dire as it is, has the capacity for solution. Not a solution that is all sunshine and rainbows with a hero riding off into the sunset with an all’s well that ends well sentiment. A solution that is simply more less better than essentially giving up.

Escape is not an option. Well if they cannot flee or hide from this thing then they were just going to have to face it head on. And that is exactly what our fine Captain was thinking.

“Then so be it.” Steve stated calmly, his voice resolute.

At the sound of Steve’s voice everyone paused and took a deep and long and cleansing breath. A wave of tranquility washed over them for a moment. They felt something percolating deep within the core of their souls. Something akin to relief, perhaps acceptance, and maybe just maybe even a little spark of hope still smoldering within their hearts. It is incredibly amazing that such peace had been achieved under such a woeful circumstance.

All because of Steve Rogers, the man out of time. At only the very sound of his voice and his adamant resolve he was able to restore faith.

“We cannot run away or escape this. Fine. We shall stay and fight this thing, all of us to our last breath. We will do everything it takes to gather as much information as possible.” He paused making eye contact with each and every person in the room.

“If it isn’t enough, which I won’t lie to you, may very well be the case, but if it isn’t enough we can at least give the next race of people it targets a running chance.” Steve stated with absolute conviction.

The Avengers rose and stood steadfast to their true nature. Something truly heroic stirring in all of them at the Captains admission. They were all in fact superheroes after all.

After taking the stand they encircled each other looking one another squarely in the eye, daring anybody to back down from the silent declaration of duty, honour and heroism.

This is the biggest case yet. Not only does this "Calamity" have the capacity to affect their own little planet in its entirety but also has the capacity to attack any of the life bearing planets in the entire universe. All of them.

They all knew, each and every one of them, that coming out of this current plight unscathed was surely impossible. However they then and there swore to each other that they were all in it together, to the end.

Director Nick Fury looked at his team. Really looked at them. If this was truly the end, he couldn’t think of a finer bunch of people you would rather share the end with.

“Well if this isn’t the finest soldiers I have ever had the pleasure of serving with.” Stated Fury with an air of reverence.

Tony practically balked at being called a soldier but added his own amendum.

“Earth’s mightiest heroes.” He said earning wry amusement from varying Avengers.

Steve continued, “This is it every one, are you all with me?” Almost redundant to ask.

By the look on everyone’s faces they all had most assuredly chosen to stay and go down fighting with everything they have.

“No worries Cap, I’m with you all the way.” Tony smiled as he clasped the Captain on the shoulder.

“There is no way in hell I’m going down without a fight, I’ve got people counting on me!” Clint stated firmly his thoughts straying for a sliver of a moment to his beautiful little family.

Natasha gave a sideways glance at Clint. She’d do anything she can to protect him and his family also. As it was they were her family too.

“Wouldn’t wanna be any where else.” She added.

Everyone else nodded in agreement that all sharing the same sentiment.

“All right, let’s gather as much information as we can about this thing.” Steve smiled mournfully to himself.

This may very well be the last significant mission with his team. But that’s fine, it’ll be a good one. He looked over to the Asgardian prince.

“Thor, you said that it followed the survivors across the galaxy’s the last time it had appeared?” Steve inquired.

“Yes, according to my father Asgard managed to rescue a little over 600 individuals from the Calamity upon the planet Körga. They were safely relocated to varying parts of the universe in many different realms. They all fell within a month. Each one, one by one.” Thor stated attempting to remain stoic.

Bruce had a thought, “So the etching of this being was from that time?”

Many turned to Thor expectantly.

Thor shook his head and replied, “It was from a time long past. Eons ago my people had discovered a planet of ruin during my grandfather’s time. Not a single soul was found. But artifacts unearthed suggests that a race once existed that could have been as advanced as our own race at the time. Among the artifacts was this etching.” Thor held the drawing up once more.

“Here in writing,” gesturing to indiscernible runes. “It is loosely translated by our scholars to say ‘It Shall End in Calamity.’ With it weathered documentation of the last of this people.

"What our scholars could decipher was that people fell asleep and never woke up. That’s all we were really able to come up with the entry referenced to this person. Soon after, Asgard went on a search for other worlds of similar fate. There had been five others as far as we know. But in the end that is truly all we know.”

“Were any of those worlds war torn at the time?” Asked Bruce.

“Why do you ask?”

“If we now know that this being chooses people based on being touched by evil perhaps that is how the planets are chosen. Worlds that are torn apart by war and madness? Just a thought.” He replied.

“Perhaps it is so… there may have been records of destruction before the Calamity. But I still wouldn’t know, there is true evil in the universe that would have been a better target should that be the case but perhaps it is still worth really looking in to.”

“I believe so. Anything is better than nothing right now. It’s just as Captain Rogers said. If we are doomed to die we can at least gather everything we can about this calamity so that someday someone could stop it from happening again.” Fury stated.

“I will go again and gather everything our scholars have on the state of affairs of the planet’s before the Calamity. Hopefully with an obscene amount of luck we have something useful.”

Everyone nodded in agreement too emotionally haggard to respond vocally.

Fury then proceeded to distribute orders. Tony and Bruce were to continue their work with the desynthization simulations. Clint and Natasha were going to look for the face of Calamity and keep track of her wherever she may appear and try to find everywhere she’s been. If there is a pattern in her movements then perhaps there is a way to predict what she will do next.

Thor of course will return to Asgard to find out more about the planet’s history before their demise. And of course our poor Captain has once again been put on standby. That did not sit well with him.

“Please, if I can help anywhere else? I can’t just sit around and wait for something to happen.” Steve pleaded.

“Don’t worry Cap, I’ll find things for you to do that I’ll keep you occupied.” Tony said with waggling eyebrows.

Immediately Steve felt blood rush to his face. He knew how terrible of an idea that was.

“No.” Was his quick and simple response.

Thor and probably the rest of the room, to be honest, could sense Steve’s distress and calmly came up with an alternative.

“Perhaps our Captain can come with me. I may need assistance, there will be many books and scrolls to sift through.” Thor stated pensively.

“Very well.” Fury sighed heavily.

“Rogers, you will go and assist Thor.”

Steve nodded in affirmation. He was incredibly thankful to be of use even as a potential pack rat, but at the same time wholy concerned about traveling to a distinct galaxy to do so. It is truly incredible, the thought.

Fury continued, “And remember to document everything. Even that which you deem insignificant, it could be useful.” Fury stopped and looked at his phone.

He paused for a moment and listened into his earpiece, “Apparently Professor Xavier and the other X-men are heading our way, hopefully with them we can hash out more of a contingency plan.”

Steve was very relieved to know that Xavier was coming back, he felt much better knowing more help was coming in. That man in particular seems to have the capacity to put Steve’s mind at ease and for that he was glad of it.

And if what Thor said is true every life in the entire world is at stake, they’re going to need all the help they could get. The X-men are definitely not going to like the news though.

Steve vaguely registered Fury dismissing them. Thor clasped Steve on the shoulder leading him out. Tony gave them a sidelong look before turning with Bruce to continue working on the simulations. Thor caught the odd look in Tony’s eyes before directing Steve away to plan out what they were going to do.

-0-

It has been almost two hours since the Avengers learned about the doom bringing Calamity. Thor had discussed with Steve what to expect regarding their journey to Asgard. He explained briefly how the Bifrost works and how to conduct himself accordingly to whom ever they were speaking with.

When Xavier and the others arrived they had been briefed with the harrowing news and had jumped right into brainstorming ideas after being sworn in to secrecy. They had even began to assist Tony and Bruce with the simulations in addition to aiding Natasha and Clint in detecting a pattern.

Tony found Steve pacing yet again in his quarters.

“You know Cap those holes you’re wearing into the floor are gonna come out of your paycheck.” Tony smirked as he let himself in.

“Tony what are you doing here? I thought you were working on simulations.” Steve stopped mid pace genuinely surprised at Tony’s presence.

“Well you know this really annoying guy a told me I should really try to be more aware of my health needs and eat more.” Tony said waving his apple about for emphasis.

“Sounds like a really smart guy, are you sure he’s all that annoying?” Steve replied without missing a beat.

“You’d be a surprised.” Tony smirked.

Steve chuckled, “That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here.” Steve smiled.

“Oh come on Cap, you are going to go to Asgard. That’s kind of nuts and awesome you know. I just wanted to see how you are doing.” Tony replied excitedly.

“Obviously I am little nervous.” Steve smiled abashedly.

“Obviously.” Tony retorted with an eye roll.

“Do you think you’ll need anything?” Tony and asked as he approached Steve and grabbed his shoulder.

He also looked sideways at Steve’s
abandoned crutch lying on his bed.

Steve followed this look and shrugged. “Not that I can think of.” Steve replied.

“Looks like I am not the only one who tends to ignore his own health needs.” Tony said nodding to the crutch.

“What can I say, it was cramping my style.” Steve smirked.

“Oh? You are going to be like that today?” Tony smirked back.

“But seriously Cap, will you be OK?” He asked with true concern and his eyes.

“Yeah, from what Thor told me it’s pretty straightforward. I shouldn’t be doing anything overly strenuous.” He smiled despite himself.

“Just book work.”

Tony nodded. “Just promise me you’ll take care of yourself. Just…” Tony trailed off thinking.

“Just be careful Steve.” He finished awkwardly.

He was rewarded, however, by a brilliantly stunning smile.

“Yeah, of course, Tony. Of course.”

-0-

After everyone was thoroughly engrossed in their work, Thor led Steve to the closest and safest location to summon the Bifrost. As much as Steve hates to admit it, flying with Tony is way better than flying with Thor. Even when Tony likes to fling him around like a rag doll, Thor was pretty damn brutal. They’ve landed pretty safely in a clearing far from civilization.

“It can be a bit of a rush your first time, so brace yourself, my friend.” He paused before looking up to the heavens.

“Heimdall open the Bifrost!” He shouted to the sky.

All of the sudden Steve fell like he was hit by a wave of energy unlike anything he’s ever felt before. Then abruptly he felt pulled apart and squeezed together all at once. He felt like he was being torn to pieces atom by atom and then stitched back together by pure energy made out of rainbows and dental floss. Though the concept sounds ridiculously painful it was all surprisingly and mercifully painless. Then it all stopped at once.

The universe was spinning or was that him? Steve did not know.

Suddenly there was a tight grip on his wrist. The Captain soon recaptured his bearings and followed the source of the grip to Thor’s strained face. He was staring ahead with a look of consternation. He followed the look until he spotted a Kingly figure with an army behind him.

“Father, what is the meaning of this!?” Thor shouted.

A King and an army greeting them? Steve can only hope the reason was not to stop them.

What on Asgard is going on?

Chapter Text

A/N: So Here it is. Enjoy!

Chapter Nine: Red Sky At Morning

Everyone stood there in pregnant silence, staring at each other. It felt almost like an eternity before someone spoke up.

“My Son, forgive this kind of greeting, but if Calamity came with you, I did not wish to be found unprepared. Even if our efforts would be futile.”

Thor nodded in understanding.

Steve frowned. He was immensely uncomfortable at finding himself in such unfamiliar territory, completely unsure of how to proceed. So he stood there in silence until the King acknowledged his presence.

“I see you have brought yet another Midgardian with you.” He looked Steve up and down.

The Captain could feel the profound disapproval, but shook it off as Thor introduced him.

“Father, this is my friend, Steve Rogers.” He gestured to Steve.

The Captain fought the urge to offer his hand and instead bowed.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Sir.” He said.

“I know who you are. I will allow you here for a short time, only just. Calamity’s interest in your world makes you a liability here. However, if the aid you seek enables you to stopped her, then so be it.” The King said dismissively as he waved Steve off.

“Thank you, Father.” Thor replied with a scowl. He somehow managed to make it look respectful, considering.

Everyone stood in an awkward silence for a moment before the King addressed Heimdall.

“What do your eyes see?”

“She still remains on earth. But your absence has not gone unnoticed.” Heimdall replied with an air of foreboding.

“Very well then, fall back!” Odin addressed his troops.

“Come my Son, let us head to the records hall.” Thor nodded as he gestured for Steve to follow.

Steve was still utterly perplexed by the entire situation. But at the end of it all he couldn’t help but to be glad that they weren’t in too much trouble, especially showing up face to face, relatively uninvited, with an army like that. Things very well could have ended up much worse. At least they were on the path to finding answers.

-0-

Several hours later found our dear Captain with a headache to rival the one Thor surely has at the moment. They were heading back to the Bifrost intending to return to Earth with heaps of old scrolls and tomes in their position.

Most of the last few hours consisted of Thor arguing with the scholars and archivalists about removing the ancient texts from their proper stores. They went back and forth and rounds and rounds in a nightmarish dance of wits, logic and pettiness. It was enough to make one sick from the insane banter. In the end, though, the King came to intervene.

At last the texts were in their possession. And so it was Captain America and Thor were on their way back to Earth.

“I am sorry my friend, today has been a trying day.” Thor said apologetically as they began their trek over the rainbow bridge.

“No it’s fine, I just hope the key to all this is hidden somewhere in well… all this.” Steve replied gesturing to all of the books in his arms.

Steve was also pleased to note that the added weight he was carrying was not stressing out his injuries too much.

“Indeed, if we were not in such a hurry I would have suggested we have a pint.” Thor stated wistfully.

“Gosh, that sounded like a wonderful idea! Too bad.” Steve agreed mournfully.

It is such a shame, Asgardian alcohol is the one thing he’d absolutely let kicked his ass right now. And really, in terms of alcohol, it’s probably the only thing they can.

‘Priorities Steve.’ He thought to himself. Not a very good idea to get drunk under the circumstances anyway. Tony has proven the stupidity of that idea on numerous occasions.

“Probably best if we didn’t anyway. With the entire planet counting on us and all.” Steve smirked sideways at Thor.

“Ah, you’re quite right my friend.” He grinned back. “But it still does not stop my imagination from seeking such solace. Ah…” Thor replied with a faraway look.

Steve chuckled at his friend, “I know that look, you’re thinking of Jane now aren’t you?”

“Ah, you have caught me again Captain.” Thor smiled longingly.

But then he suddenly stopped, deep in thought. “Is it selfish to think that I want to try my hardest to fight Calamity in order to save Jane? There is no place a Midgardian could hide now that Calamity has set her sights on Midgard.” Thor spoke roughly.

Steve hadn’t thought of that perspective before. Now things are truly starting to make sense. The Asgardian King’s reluctance to help, Despite Asgard being protectors, if they draw too much attention to themselves Calamity could choose them next. The King, knowing his own son, is aware that Thor would wage a war for Jane who is currently doomed to Calamity’s whim.

Steve can’t imagine the kind of position Thor is then. The love of his life is doomed for all intents and purposes, and he is not a part of that equation, yet. He is on the outside looking in on the possible end of an entire race of people. Depending on how involved he becomes in all of this he could gain the attention of Calamity to the point of dooming all of his own people to this fate.

Steve does not envy Thor’s position in the slightest. Everybody Steve loves is native to the planet, there is something of a morbid relief in that. Steve sighed to himself. He thought if the situation were reversed he probably would do anything for Tony. Hell, he would have probably done anything for Bucky and the rest of his team. Then and now. He looked into Thor’s expect face.

“Ha, yeah a bit. But in all fairness, though, I’d do the same.”

Thor smiled in relief. “Well then, we are a bunch of foolish, selfish idiots.” Thor retorted.

“Yep, sounds about right.” Steve laughed. “Well, let’s get these documents back to Earth and see if we can’t give Calamity a little bit of hell!” The Captain gave Thor a toothy grin.

Thor brightened at that. “You, my friend, have the best ideas!” He shouted.

Heimdall gave them a knowing smirk and opened the Bifrost. Back to Earth they go.

-0-

Upon their arrival they were immediately debriefed and they got straight to work. They started going through all of the documents. Most of them were being scanned into the computer and translated by a translation formula Asgard also provided. Then the documents were put through an algorithm that Tony set up, now it’s the waiting game. Steve hated to wait.

-0-

Steve needed a break. Seriously like right now. He had been staring at a computer screen for the last several hours nonstop. His body viciously reminding him that his aching, healing body needs to eat.

He couldn’t help recall that the last time he ate a real, full proper meal was when he was on his outing/ date with Tony. He sighed in defeat, dropping his head heavily on to the cool surface of the table. The resounding thud was almost shocking.

This situation is beyond fucked up. Sorting through his feelings for Tony on top of everything that is happening with Calamity is almost too much to bear. Honestly, he shouldn’t even be letting his thoughts linger on the Tony situation. The world really needs him to focus right now. And if they all fail, in the end his feelings for Tony are going to be a non issue anyway. Yet here he is, still thinking about it.

White flag.

He surrenders.

He shakes his head and begins his search for the nearest common room. He started preparing himself a few sandwiches and can’t help but to berate himself a bit. The world may very well come to an end and he’s getting himself worked up over a crash. ‘Come on! Pull yourself together Rogers.’ He thought to himself as he licks his fingers clean of a bit of mayo that got on them. Little did he know he had company.

“You know Cap, that’s a very sexy technique you got there. Though I’m sure I could give you a few pointers.”

Steve’s heart nearly bursts out of his chest at the sound of Tony’s voice. He then flushed head to toe once his brain caught up and realized what Tony was talking about.

“T-Tony.” He stuttered out. He winced, his embarrassment clear as day. ‘Why!? Why now of all times?’ He cleared his thoughts.

“What are you doing here?” ‘Yes!’ He thought as he managed to ask clearly without muttering or stuttering.

“Well, as I’ve said before I have this annoying guy that insists I consume more than coffee on a regular basis.” He smirked.

“Since I saw said annoying guy come this way I thought I might as well find something proper to eat before I get my head chewed off again.” Tony replied with a twinkle in his eye. Luckily Tony responded without a hint of bad attitude or Steve might have taken offense to that.

“Well, you are in luck. I might have absentmindedly made too many sandwiches.” He said looking down at the stack of them. Huh… He kinda did. The Captain got lost in the repetition of making the sandwiches whilest deep in thought. Although he could eat all seven of them he probably shouldn’t.

“Here,” he handed Tony two of them, “by all means eat up.” Steve smiled at him.

He liked the idea of Tony eating something he made. He wasn’t even going to stop his treacherous domestic thoughts, white flag remember.

“Sure thing Cap.” Tony smiled.

He grabbed the sandwiches and they sat down at the table together. They ate in comfortable silence. Steve ate a bit faster than Tony, being as ravenous as he was. As Steve was focused on eating he didn’t catch Tony watching him with a look of adoration. Before the Captain could catch him he started a conversation.

“So Cap, how was Asgard?”

Steve stopped mid bite on his fourth sandwich.

“It was spectacular beyond imagination. I admit I’ve been itching to paint it, but I seriously don’t have the time.” Steve replied looking stricken.

He couldn’t bring himself to really get into a new piece of work when the whole world was on the line. Thankfully Tony understood.

“Yeah, not much time for anything knowing the world is ending. I’m pretty sure my tamagotchi is dead.” Tony smirked. Steve eyed him a shook his head.

“Your tamagotchi has been dead since 1994.” Steve retorted.

“Ha! So you were listening! Half the time I think I’m talking to myself.” The genius said ponderingly.

“That’s because you are Tony, I just happened to be there.” Steve retorted giving him a sly grin.

“Well how dare you eavesdrop on a conversation with myself! I’m going to tell Jarvis on you.”

“When has that ever worked out for you?” Steve teased.

“Tsk, I forgot that traitor takes your side.” Tony stated with a deep frown that morphed into a pout that the Captain could not help but to laugh at. In moments they were both laughing.

There.

How does Tony to do that? He just knows just what the Captain needs.

After the laughter dies down they just look at each other smiling.

“Tony?” Steve starts.

“Yeah?” Tony replied quickly, almost expectantly.

“Just… Thank you.” Steve said almost shyly. “Really, thank you.”

Tony gave him a gentle smile, “Always.”

-0-

After finishing up their dinner they headed their separate ways back to work. If they lingered in the hall a little too long reluctant to part of each other’s company, well, no one said a word. That, however, did not stop a select few from giving annoying knowing glances at Steve as he parked himself back in front of the monitor. The Captain had resolutely decided to ignore them anyway.

-0-

Hours turned to days and the number of victims has grown exponentially. The number is deep into the hundreds and the media is in a frenzy. Tony had made little progress in his desinthysisaion simulations. At the very least the simulated patience aren’t blowing up, imploding or turning into goo anymore, that’s something at least.

The other Avengers with the help of the X-Men had made equally little progress. They had combed through the documents. They went back and forth between interpreting vague passages and trying to fit the one new piece of information they found somewhere in the mess of data they already have.

Most of the documents pretty much repeat and clarify everything Thor had already uncovered. The one new piece of information they discovered was an old etching similar to the portrait referencing a keystone of sorts. They had discussed whether or not it referred to a literal keystone or similar object or if it was meant to convey a more figurative message. Either way it was something.

As far as they can tell Calamity needs this keystone in order to gain complete control over every living soul on a planet. The keystone allows her to imprint on every single person simultaneously. They figured that’s how she managed to get a hold of her past targets even though they had been successfully scattered across the universe.

“So we make sure she doesn’t get a hold of this keystone.” Clint said adamantly.

“‘Tis not that simple, we know not what the keystone is or what form it takes.” Thor retorted.

“And not to mention we don’t even know if she already has it or has even used it.” Natasha added.

“If she does have it I doubt she’s used it yet.” Stated Tony.

“It says something in this passage, here, about ‘a stage of silence after the day of darkness.’ Day of darkness could mean an eclipse of sorts, artificial or real doesn’t matter. However the records indicate here…” Tony gestured to a different passage.

“That there was a time in which no one fell ill. The calm before the storm, if you will, before people started to fall by the thousands. ‘And the city’s fell one by one. Every soul lost to the abyss.’ Well, people are still dropping left and right but not cities at a time, not yet anyway.” Tony concluded.

“Yeah but most of that is still open for interpretation.” Bruce retorted. “Most of the Asgardian scholars could not even agree.” He continued gesturing to the scrolls, notes and journals.

“Be that as it may, I believe we would have noticed something, a shift or a wave of energy similar to how she takes minds individually.” Tony shot back getting that snide tone in his voice again.

Steve just sat and watched as the varying Avengers just went back and forth with the same arguments. He doesn’t even have the energy to participate. Steve actually was the one to initially find the keystone passage after hours upon hours more in front of the screen.

Soon after a few meager hours of sleep they had all convened into the Super Duper meeting room to brainstorm and compile everything they have together under one heavy subject, “Calamity.” Everything to who, what, when, where, how, and why… At least as best as they can, which has unfortunately been going on for days now.

Even though he knows all the reasons why he should take a break and get some proper rest, he just simply can’t get past the guilt of it. He can’t just take it easy knowing that the entire world is on the line, even more so now that it feels like they are running out of time. Now that they know that the keystone plays an important role, when once it happens, there’s no going back.

Steve noticed that the same argument was about to be revived once more. Really!? He had to put a stop to it.

“Enough!” Steve shouted. Wow, he didn’t actually think he was going to.

“It’s useless to follow conjecture. We need to focus on what we know for certain, the things we can do. There’s no sense in trying to interpret something that people have been arguing about for centuries.” The captain eyed them one by one. He was about to continue before a voice cut in.

“I completely agree with you! I mean no one has figured it out yet and they have had centuries to do it. Unfortunately, you only have weeks at the most.”

They all froze. Everyone was shocked at the sound of the voice. No one recognized it. It reverberated about the room with a hint of vast power.

The kicker? It definitely came from within the room, the sealed Super Duper meeting room, where there had only been eight individuals for the last four hours. Now there are nine.

They all turned to the ninth occupant of the room hastily and realized with absolute horror that it was “Calamity”. Everyone nearly reacted all at once but the Captain stopped them.

“Be still! All of you!” He shouted quickly, steeling himself, ready for an attack.

Surely the most foolish move they could make at that very moment would be to strike. Steve approached Calamity carefully and faced her.

“Who are you and why are you here?”

She grinned long and feral. It’s surprisingly reached her sharp steely eyes.

“I came to say Hello.” She stated and began a deep throaty laugh.

They all felt it, deep to the core of their bones… There was no possibility… They did not stand the chance in hell. It was a red sky morning.

This was truly “Calamity.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: I Was There

The Avengers all stood stock still has her laughter died down. No one dared to move.

“Ah, I haven’t felt such amusement in what has to be eons!” She mused as she’s moved a lock of Raven hair back.

“Look at you!” She said looking around the room.

“I must say this must be the furthest anyone has gotten to figuring things out! Most splendid!” She stated delightedly.

“Do you wish us to figure it out?” Natasha ventured.

Steve shifted instinctively to place himself in between Natasha and Calamity. But Calamity remained where she was.

“Very good question my Dear, in a matter… Certainly not the way you understand it, however.” She replied pointedly.

“Oh come on now! You are all standing so stiffly. Please sit, I am not here to hurt to you or stop you.” She drawled.

Still nobody moved. She sighed.

“Come now.” She grabbed Steve’s wrist and led him back to his seat.

Steve was unable to resist, his body obeyed her dutifully. The others watched in frozen terror unable to comprehend what was happening. They can see the tense look on Steve’s face.

After she placed him back in his seat and removed her hand they noticed that his wrist was black and purple.

When Steve saw his team’s shocked realization he quickly commanded them.

“Stand down! Do not engage. Please just sit back down.” The last part came out forceful and strained.

Everyone complied but Tony. He remained frozen staring at the captain’s wrist. Steve could see were Tony’s mind was heading.

“Tony!” Steve shouted in the best authoritative voice he could muster then.

“Sit down.”

Tony nodded silently, blinking rapidly. Steve knew if Tony engaged, he would have died right then and there.

“Excellent!” Calamity exclaimed in delight.

“Tell us,” Xavier started, “If you are going to be so forthcoming why are you doing what you’re doing?”

“Ah, right to the point! Wonderful! I like that mind reader.” She said boisterously.

She moved behind the Captain and put her hands on his shoulders.

Steve stiffened noticeably at that. He shook his head subtly at Tony who was seething and looked ready to pounce.

“Unfortunately, I have so many agendas happening all at once, none could ever hope to understand my motives.” She stated as she began to run her hands up and down the Captain’s arms.

“How about I give you a little hint?” She mused.

“Tell me Asgardian, how many great branches of Yggdrasil are there?”

Everyone’s subtly and slowly looked at Thor.

“Nine.” Thor answered simply.

“Indeed. How many of those realms have you discovered that I have, let’s say, visited a world?" She asked.

Her hands moved to cradle Steve’s neck.

“Five, you have been to one world in five different realms.” Thor stated slowly a realization dawning.

Calamity was leading them to a pattern.

“Gah, your information is incomplete.” She sighed and moved away from Steve minutely.

Many, especially Tony, visually relaxed just a little.

“My dear Midgardians, your Earth is the seventh. Of course the quicker I find my keystone the less evidence of my presence gets left behind.”

Everyone silently waited for her to continue, becoming ever more petrified.

“Admittedly my first world that I took was for something as petty as fury, but I discovered so much about myself, so much about my gifts given to me by our great mother and my true purpose. I regret handling the first so brutally but alas it is what it is… The way it should be.” She admitted with a far off look.

“Which world was that?” Clint piped up surprisingly.

“Ah, the archer, he speaks.” She looked at Clint surprised. He now held her complete attention and wanted nothing more than to shit his pants.

“Did you know that archery is timeless? It exists in every realm and beyond. Every life form that has developed a form of weapons technology has archery as a foundation. Oh, there is so much I could teach you, but so very little time.” She looked truly mournful.

“To answer your question, it was a world from another time near the beginning of everything. Before history books were written and before time itself held any meaning. In a time where life forms had barely begun to become aware of their own existence.” She answered.

“After I learned about the value of my existence during that time I knew what I had to do. I took the planet Xiréth in the Vanaheim. Next I took Ödeskar of the Jotunheim, then Pläkktakienvín of the Niflheim, Körga of the Muspelheim and lastly Trëyía of the Alfheim." She smiled watching Thor as she spoke.

Thor looked visibly shocked at her mentioning Trëyía.

“But the Miigs destroyed Trëyía!”

“The planet itself perhaps but not its people. I took the people, their souls. The Miigs merely encountered an uninhabited planet and plundered it for all it’s worth.”

Thor sat stone still mulling over what she said.

She gracefully strode over to Thor and ran a hand down his cheek.

“My dear, I can only imagine what this information does to you. To learn that one of your father’s first valiant conquests of his youth was misguided and based purely on conjecture.” Thor shifted uncomfortably.

“To think that the full wrath of Asgard was unleashed upon the Miigs, who were wholly undeserving of such a fate… What a pity.” She sighed.

“And what is your endgame? What is your purpose?” This time Steve asked.

“My Dear Captain, I had hoped you would address me again.” She smiled and came back to stand behind Steve once more. She also ran her fingers down his cheek, tracing his jaw.

“As I said before there is no time to explain everything but I will tell you this; I want access to all the souls, every single one in the entire universe.” Everyone stiffened at her admission.

“But in order to achieve this, I need to leave my mark and collect souls from each and every realm.” She said matter of factly.

“How do you choose? What made you deem earth worthy enough of the cut?” Tony spat out, his displeasure at the situation holy on concealed.

Calamity’s response to that was to run her hands along Steve’s clavicle and down his strong chest. Tony’s ire did not go unnoticed by anyone.

“Ah you, the walking contradiction. I was wondering when you would finally speak to me.” She smirked wickedly at him. Her look was the very embodiment of a cunning fox bearing its teeth.

“My Dear, I do wish I could say that I choose randomly but alas everything is not without a purpose. I do not wish to give you too much information, I do have goals to meet after all. However I will give you this. I choose worlds that, yes, are indeed plagued by war, violence, chaos, and true evil in of itself. However, I also choose worlds in which all these horrors were brought about by a significant influence from an infinity stone. And as it happens your tiny planet that you call Earth has been tainted and influenced by three of the six. I could not have asked for a better circumstance.” She replied giddily.

“Why?” Steve asked quietly, all the while vastly uncomfortable with Calamity’s wandering hands.

“Why what Dear?” She began to run her fingers through his hair lovingly.

“Why do you want all the souls?” Steve clarified.

“Why does anyone want anything?” She mused.

“Unfortunately I cannot tell you, it would be like giving away the ending to a long and wonderful story.” She replied wistfully.

“Then what are you waiting for? What is this keystone that you need?” Fury demanded.

“Oh finally! A more relevant question.”

She walked around the room lightly touching our hero’s shoulders as she went. She lingers on Clint for a moment, grazing her hands over the bandage still present over the assassins forehead making him flinch almost violently causing Calamity to smirk. She also lingered on Tony for a moment, tracing his left ear gently before moving on. She finally came upon Fury.

“Oh Nicholas, so much fear and rage.” She sighed. “A very dangerous combination that is.”

“Now you want to know what the keystone is? As the names suggest it is a very special significant piece to this the vast and complex puzzle."

She began to trace patterns upon Fury’s smooth cranium.

“I need the keystone to complete the circle, or perhaps more accurate, the cherry on top so to speak.” She said as she tapped their very top of Fury’s head gently.

“I won’t tell you what the keystone is, that will be a surprise.” She stated as she made her way back to Steve.

"Besides you couldn’t hope to stop me even if you’d did figure it out.”

“Bullshit! I’m close!” Shouted Tony, rising from his seat.

“Oh my Dear Anthony. What you think you have isn’t close to being accurate. The algorithms and data you have of my supposed abilities are incomplete at best.” Tony visibly gulped.

“Here,” she said as she produced a thumb drive out of a pocket of her jeans.

“This is by far more accurate than what you have managed to conceive so far.” She tossed the drive to Tony.

“It is merely a fragment but it will have its use in time.”

“How is it we were able to find you then? The data I used found you in the video footages we have.” Tony replied looking at the drive in his hands skeptically.

“You are only seeing what I am allowing you to see. It is true that a piece of the data you have is accurate enough to perceive me, only because I allow it.” She stressed making eye contact with Tony.

“I only hid my visage from your world at first to create a proper foothold before risking detection. After you made the connection to my chosen ones there was no sense in hiding any longer. But I couldn’t make it too easy on you either.” She winked.

“Is it safe to assume everything we have regarding you is irrelevant?” Natasha inquired.

“Not completely,” she sighed. “Like I said before you cannot hope to begin to comprehend the things I have set in motion. However you must understand this: if I wanted you out of the way you would be dead. If I wanted you to utterly fail, I would not have shown myself to you nor would I have left such blatant clues behind these past millennia.” She stated ruefully.

Steve swallowed his fear and stood suddenly to face her.

“Why go through all of this trouble? Why involve us like this?!” He demanded frustrated beyond anything he’s ever felt before.

She only smiled sadly at him.

“Is this the test!?” Steve finally uttered.

Calamity’s face lit up joyfully in exhilaration and appeared almost relieved.

“Oh! My dearest Steven this is most certainly a test!” She laughed.

She began to fade and become almost translucent like an apparition.

“And I have something very special in store for you, Love.” She said mysteriously as she’d reached up and planted a kiss on Steve’s forehead before completely and utterly disappearing.

Everyone stood completely still. No one dared to move or even breathe. Once a little over a minute past Tony broke the silence first.

“Oh Thank God!!” He shouted hysterically and nearly started to hyperventilate.

This caught Steve’s attention immediately.

“What is it Tony!?” He asked hastily making his way quickly to Tony.

The genius’s outburst had shocked everyone so much they all were about to have their own meltdowns.

Steve grabbed Tony’s face to make him focus.

“What is it?” Steve asked softer, looking Tony in the eye.

“You’re not dead…” Tony replied quietly, his voice barely above a whisper.

Steve raised his eyebrows at that.

“She kissed you and said…” He exhaled and inhaled rapidly, “She said she has something special in store for you.” He gulped trying to regain control.

“I thought for sure you’d be next.” He finished.

Before Tony could go back into hysterics Steve enveloped Tony close to his body. He could feel Tony relax immediately.

“WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!” Clint shouted out erratically. There he goes.

Bruce was shaking violently while Natasha tearfully was trying to keep Bruce calm. Xavier and Thor were both stone silent and Fury promptly fainted.

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry!” Clint shouted again. “I’m sorry.” He said a little calmer now.

All of a sudden Tony’s phone starts to go off alarmingly.

“Oh God what now?! What now?!” Clint became hysterical again.

Tony took out his phone and looked at it, then groaned as if his very life force was draining away. Everyone still coherent stared at Tony expectantly.

Every person’s nerves were a delicate thread pulled tight ready to snap.

Tony replied, “It seems that my algorithm found Calamity. Apparently she was here in this room.” He all but squeaked out.

And then that thread snapped.

“NO FUCKING SHIIIIITT!!!” Clinton bellowed insanely, his eyes wild.

Like a shockwave the Hulk suddenly the appeared with a roar of anguish.

Steve quickly pushed Tony to the door. Tony grabbed Clint by the collar and dragged him away with him. Thor grabbed Xavier, chair and all and followed Tony. Steve hauled an unconscious Fury over his shoulder and followed Thor, glancing back to see Natasha hot on his heels.

They made it out and shut the door behind them in the nick of time. They can hear the Hulk’s echoing snarl as he tears up the Super Duper meeting room once more.

They remained on the floor panting. Finding themselves in yet another terrifying silence. This time Clint was the first to speak.

“Well.” He said. “If you will all excuse me, I’m going to go change my pants.”

He stood abruptly and walked away.

No one stopped him.

Steve eyed Fury in his arms hoping that he is merely passed out and not comatose.

“Do not worry Captain, I can read his mind even now.” Xavier reassured.

“Best take him to sick bay regardless.” Steve nodded.

“Or better yet, we should just leave him on the floor.” Tony piped up.

“Heh, as tempting is that would be Tony I have to make sure everyone in my team is OK. I am in command now.” Steve stated as he looked down at the unconscious Director.

He stood carefully, with Fury still limp in his arms and started to head to sick bay.

“Professor? If you could, please brief the others about what just happened. Leave nothing out.”

“Of course Captain.” Xavier replied as he melded into a look of concentration and started to head to the labs.

“Nat, how are you?”

“I’ll manage.” She replied exhausted.

“Get cleaned up and rested up, after that take care of Banner.” She nodded and left.

“Thor, will you go check on Clint and make sure he is stable? Remind him why we are here.” Thor nodded.

“And if they don’t already know, make sure your people know what has happened here today.”

“Heimdall would have surely seen what has transpired but I will ensure it!”

Steve nodded and watched as Thor made his way to go find Clint.

“And what will you have me do, My Lord?” Tony piped up.

Steve smiled.

“Try to eat whatever you can stomach, not alcohol or coffee please.” Steve sighed as Tony laughed.

“And get as much rest as possible.” Steve said as he walked through the sick bay doors where he was met with Physicians and a gurney.

Tony grabbed Steve’s arm after Fury had been safely handed off.

“Only if you join me?” Tony said in a way that was as close as pleading as he could get.

“Alright.” Steve smiled tiredly.

“Lead the way.”
-0-
Their meal together was light and silent. They shared a few pieces of fruit and watched the stars twinkle in the sky from Tony’s assigned quarters. After they ate they retired to Tony’s bed together, neither of them wanting to be alone.

It was completely unspoken, neither of them brought it up to stay together, they just did.

Steve wrapped his arms around Tony without thinking and fell asleep instantaneously to the slight illumination of his ark reactor. Tony was mildly shocked at first by Steve’s absent minded forwardness but settled in and listened to Steve’s strong and steady heart beat. Like the most enchanting the lullaby Tony fell asleep quickly enough.
Both slept completely through the night and most of the morning for once. Their slumber may not have been entirely restful, considering, but sleep they did.
-0-
The following day had been the most dismal by far. Everybody had moved languidly throughout the entire morning. It wasn’t until Steve and Tony made a reappearance did anyone consider to even eat. Steve made sure they did.

Fury was still unconscious and Bruce was cradling his head in his hands speaking softly to Natasha what sounded like a slew of apologies. She kept reassuring him that it wasn’t his fault. Clint was the only one remotely lively, pacing back and forth near the window of the common room they were currently occupying.

Thor left earlier that morning back to Asgard. That meeting with his father isn’t going to be a fun one. Xavier and his X-Men are in the sick bay discussing what happened yesterday.

Tony was fiddling with the thumb drive in his hand. He was debating with himself what he should do with it. Steve was absent mindedly watching him.

“OK, OK. I can’t take it anymore!”

Clint stopped his pacing suddenly and faced everyone.

“Can I just say, WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE!?” He demanded feverishly.

“Because, really, I don’t have a clue.” He began again.

All eyes were on him.

“Because hey! We are dealing with an old ass alien who is hell bent on, no, not world domination, but universal domination! Yet! Yet she doesn’t want to stop us from stopping her!” He shouted at an unusually high octave.

“Crazy! Crazy she is! Not to mention THIS!” He screamed as he pointed to his forehead. No bandage, no wound.

“She got you too?” Steve asked slowly unperturbed. Clint blinked at him.

“What the fuck do you mean you too?!!” Clint ran to Steve and grabbed his shoulders.

“Don’t be playing with me man.” He said lowly as he looked Steve in the eye.

Steve moved Clint away from him as he lifted his shirt. All they saw all was pure milky skin. None of the bruising from the doom bot attack remained.

“She healed everything.” Steve stated his voice cracking.

“Everything meaning arms and legs too.” He added as he stood and stretched his muscles and popped his joints. “Not a lick of pain.”

He thought for a moment.

“Not even this bruise on my wrists hurts.”

They looked at the bruising around the Captain’s wrist where Calamity had first grabbed him.

“Are you sure? That looks pretty nasty.” Asked Bruce.

“I don’t feel it.” He said as he poked at it.

“You two aren’t the only ones.” Tony replied.

“What you mean Tony?” Asked Steve.

“Well let’s just say I won’t need this anymore.” He replied as he placed a tiny device on the table it couldn’t be any bigger than a pinky nail.

Steve stared at it astonished.

“Is that…?” He looked at Tony questioningly.

“My hearing aid.” Tony said matter of factly.

“You have a hearing aid?” Clint asked incredulously. Clearly miffed at not knowing such an important piece of information about a supposed friend.

“Well it’s not like I broadcast it! That kinda shit happens if you get blown up enough!” Tony retorted rubbing his ears.

“She touched everyone… I wonder what she did to everyone else?” Natasha asked to no one in particular. Only Clint and Bruce recognized the far off look in her eyes as she subtly rubbed her belly.

“See!” Clint shouted. “This is what I’m talking about! What the hell is going on!!?”

Steve merely shook his head equally lost. At first he was immensely uncomfortable with Calamity being incredibly touchy feely with him. He knew he could do nothing to stop her. Any attempt to do so could have led to his death or the death of any of his team. He would not allow that.

So he let her.

Then he felt a world of shock and confusion when he realized her menstrations were actually healing him. Trust and believe he was vastly more vexed than Clint was at the moment. He just had to keep himself in check for the sake of his team. He would stay the cool and collected rock so that his team doesn’t have to.

“Well if we’re going to make any sense of this at all then we gotta start somewhere.” Steve said clapping his hands together partly to gain everyone’s attention and partly to keep his mind focused.

“OK, this is what we are going to do,” He started adamantly.

“Let’s gather everything we have and use the meeting room closest to sick bay. It’s not much, but will serve its purpose. It also has a nice view.” The Captain proposed.

“And Tony, bring that drive with you. We are going to decide together what to do with it.” Tony only nodded, not even putting up a fight.
-0-
They had compiled everything they have together. Everything they were working on the past few days were in folders, stacks of books, photocopies, and hard drives that were now, more or less, organized upon the surface of the table.

“Where do we start?” Asked Bruce as he looked at all of the information, becoming overwhelmed.

“We will start by deciding what to do with a drive she gave us.” Steve commanded.

“Well, I think we should destroy it.” Clint suggested quickly. “It might be a virus!”

“I don’t think so.” Said Bruce. “If she wanted to slow us down there would have been easier ways for her to do it.”

“I agree.” Said Natasha. “I got the impression that she pretty much has the capacity to do nearly anything. If she wanted to destroy any information we already have, all she would have to do a snap her fingers.”

“But what if it does something else like leak all of our secret’s all over the Internet or something?” Clint retorted.

“Well, connecting it to a device that isn’t connected to the Avengers or Shield servers and doesn’t have Internet access would solve that problem.” Tony supplied.

“What do you think we should do with it Tony? She gave it to you.” Steve asked.

“I do want to look at it. But like Clint said there’s no telling if what ever is on it is safe to view.” Tony sighed.

“Well, she did say that she had no intention of hurting us or stopping us.” Steve started.

“Assuming everything she told us it’s the truth, all that drive contains is a more accurate data code to the one Tony had been working on. We won’t know to what value it could be to us if we don’t plug it in. She may have handed as the trump card and is waiting to see if we use it or throw it away. She did say that this is a test.” Steve concluded.

“What if she’s lying about everything and only said she wouldn’t hurt us and healed us to prove that point only to get us off guard? This could all be a twisted game to her and she’s only screwing with us?” Clint rebuttaled.

“That’s true, what if she told Tony he was wrong because he actually is close to finding an answer?” This response came from Maria that just came through the door with Jane in tow.

Steve stood to greet them.

“I figured we could use all the help we can get.” Maria said as she gestured to Jane. Steve shook her hand.

“Good morning Jane, you’re most welcome here any time. But if I had my way I wouldn’t involve any more people after yesterday. However, considering all we’ve gathered so far I will not begrudge anybody of their right to fight for this world.” Steve said as he pulled out the seat next to Natasha for Jane to sit. The others nodded in agreement.

“Have you been fully briefed?”

“Oh yeah I have, and if you don’t mind Eric and Darcy are in sick bay with the X-Men.”

“Oh dear Lord you brought that menacing woman with you?!” Tony demanded snidely.

“If it’s really the end of the world, she didn’t wanna miss it.” Jane replied as Tony rolled his eyes.

“You have no idea what I caught her doing in my lab last time! She – “

“Tony!” Steve cut in. “It’s fine.”

Tony grumbled in response while wiggling in his chair.

“I also brought Betty with me, she’s looking over the patients now.” Maria added.

The others nodded and Bruce groaned resting his head in his hands. Natasha patted him on the back reassuringly.

“So what now?” Jane spoke.

“We were just discussing what to do with the drive Calamity gave us.” Clint replied, Jane nodded.

“And I believe we should destroy it, Maria just did bring up a valid point.”

“You all bring up fair points and I do agree with you to some extent however let me put it this way.” Steve paused and swallowed thickly.

“For those of you present yesterday, what did it feel like when she appeared suddenly?” He asked.

“Like I wanted to shit my pants.” Reply Clint immediately.

“Like all the breath left my lungs and I was drowning.” Replied Natasha.

“Like time froze.” Bruce said.

“Silence. Outside and in.” Tony replied pointing to his head. Steve nodded.

“Was that simply from the shock of her sudden appearance?” He asked.

“Or was it because you felt how massive her presence was, how it seemed like her laughter could tear every atom in our very bodies apart?” Steve illustrated with a violet shiver. Everyone shuddered.

“You have no idea what I felt when she grabbed my wrist.” He continued, his fingers lightly touching the black markings on his left wrist.

“I… I can’t even describe it.” He whispered. “She spoke of eons and millennia, she’s a powerful and ancient being.” Steve breathed. “And I believe it.”

“We can’t think of her as a normal villain. Hell she isn’t a villain at all but something else entirely.” Clint wanted to protest the Steve continued.

“I feel it deep down. We are but dust in the wind compared to her. This isn’t about stopping her anymore, this isn’t about our world anymore but the entire universe. Regardless of whether or not she can be trusted is irrelevant now. Considering what we know she is capable of, if she wants to play a game, then so be it, we will play along.”

“I agree with you Steve.” Tony said quietly. Steve’s heart nearly leapt out of his chest when he heard Tony say his name, despite the terrible mood. ‘Wow, I am a horrible person.’ He thought with a sigh.

Tony pulled a tablet out of his satchel and readied himself to plug the device in.

“Any last minute objections?” Tony asked.

“It could be a bomb.” Clint said.

“Like I haven’t been blown up before,” he laughed.

“Well if it is, see you all on the other side.” Tony grinned as he plugged the thumb drive into the tablet.

After a moment nothing happened. The drive didn’t blow up the world didn’t end.

Tony touched the screen a few times before he wailed.

“AAWWWW!”
Everyone froze ready for the worst.

“What is it Tony?” Steve managed to croak out through his tense muscles.

“It’s encrypted. It’s going to take a while to hack, it’s pretty complex.” Tony replied dryly. They all deflated dramatically.

“Don’t you fucking do that!” Clint shouted before socking Tony and the arm.

“Ow! What the fuck? Are you ten or something?” He whined as the rubbed his arm.

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose in irritation. How is this his life? He’s just a kid from Brooklyn but here he is, in this time, with these people, in this insane situation. He could not help but to wish Bucky was there with him. He read somewhere that wishes were eternal, whatever.

“Enough!” Steve shouted before Clint and Tony could get into it further.

He took a deep breath a little calmer now, he addressed Tony.

"Just focus on decrypting that drive and let us know about any developments."

He then turned to Jane. “All this here,” he gestured to the heaps of data on the table, “is everything we have managed to gather about this whole mess.” He sighed.

“You and all our Allies are welcome to it.” She nodded and began to thumb through some of the files.

“Perhaps fresh eyes may shed a bit more light on this.” Steve smiled gently at Jane.

She smiled back and continued to look through the files while Natasha and Clint began to explain to her exactly what happened yesterday.

Steve moved to go look outside the window. He stared at the sky and the clouds and wondered when it was all going to end.
-0-
A little while later the X-Men followed by a conscious Fury along with Darcy, Eric and Betty joined the Avengers to brainstorm.

Steve was staring out the window still when Tony came up behind him and placed his hand gently on the Captains shoulder.

“How are you holding up there Cap?”

“Pretty well, considering.” Steve replied while absently rubbing his darkened wrist.

“Aren’t we all?” Tony shrugged.

“Anyway I have an approximate ETA on the decryption.”

Steve finally tore his eyes away from the sky.

“Okay?” Was all he said.

Tony wasn’t going to bring it up but he was definitely afraid for Steve.

“The code is pretty gnarly so it’ll probably take a week maybe two at the most.”

Steve only nodded his eyes a somber blue gray.

“Are you sure you are okay?” Tony asked.

“I was just thinking, if you knew it was going to be a losing battle weeks ago, would you still choose to fight or would you sit it out and let the world fall away?” Steve asked.

“Honestly?”

Steve nodded.

“I’d still want the chance to fight. Even if the world still ends. I wouldn’t want the end to come and think well maybe just maybe if I had done more… I’d rather think that if I did everything I could and the world still ends, I’d somehow be okay with that you know?”

Steve smiled.

“Yeah, I know.” He did know, he felt the same way. “I’m just a bit torn, I’d like to involve as few people as possible in this. To impose this impossible burden on them would be so unfair and cruel. Yet, I know I can’t simply take away their right to choose if they want to be a part of this.” Steve uttered through his warring thoughts.

“What are you thinking Cap?” The genius questioned.

“What if we pulled more people in? It would be cruel but I’d want to know and I’d want the chance to fight.” He replied firmly.

“I know a few people that would possibly want to join us.”

“Well being the end of the world and all we might as well get all the help we can get. I’ve might know a guy or two that would appreciate the opportunity.”

Steve smiled at that.

“My apologies, but we could not help but to overhear,” Xavier rolled up to them. “But if we are going to be adding members to this ragtag group of ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’, then we know a few others that have the right to join us.”

Steve looked at Xavier and to the others and realized everyone was watching them. He made eye contact with Tony and smiled.

He turned back to Xavier and nodded.

“Yeah.” He said.

“Let’s bring them in.”

Chapter Text

A/N: So chapter 10 and 11 were once one massive chapter. I thought it would be a good idea to split it up. So without any further ado here’s the rest of chapter 10 disguised as chapter 11.

Chapter Eleven: Lost Inside Your Memory

Over the next three days for all intents and purposes the Avengers grew. Fury was on radio silence from the government. The last thing he told them was that they had yet to make any real progress. They do not need those people with their petty disputes and wayward agendas holding the reins on this case. This was no longer in an issue of National Security or even global security. This now involves the entire universe essentially.

If and when Earth fails Calamity will move on to the next planet. Like part of their age old original plan they intend on gathering as much information together to hand off to the next world. They ended up disconnecting the helicarrier from Shield and are using it as a sky base.

Xavier had gathered a special team of mutants together and are going back and forth between the Avengers compound (home base), the sky base and back to the school to compile the rest of the data and to include anybody else interested in joining.

Steve ended up recruiting Sam Wilson, a talented soldier from a para-rescue unit, code name Falcon. Through Sam they ended up recruiting an electrical engineer with a record. Scott Lang apparently was in possession of unregistered Pym-Tech technology with fascinating capabilities with the code name Ant-Man.

Tony brought in Rhodey, of course, and made him swear confidentiality against the government. Rhodey was ready to disagree vehemently. However, after a thorough briefing of the Calamity case, he reluctantly agreed.

Tony had also recruited Spider-Man much to Steve’s dismay. The Captain frowned deeply when he heard what Tony had done to convince Peter to join. Though he can’t deny that their web-slinging friend had been a big help on numerous occasions, Steve was immensely uncomfortable with how young Peter is. Regardless the kid made his choice.

Natasha brought in Agent 13, Sharon Carter. Steve was shocked to learn that his old next door neighbor was not only an agent but Peggy’s great niece. His mind was certainly blown. No one blamed him for shooting daggers at Fury all through that day.

Fury decided that the Fantastic Four needed to be brought in on this also. Their arrival was strained at best. The Fantastic Four operated independently of the government and the Avengers bringing them in meant assimilating them into their group. After their briefing they weren’t quite as reluctant. They adapted well getting to know all of the other members.

Steve and Johnny, however, still could not stand each other. Upon their first meeting their similarities in appearance did not go unnoticed, by anyone. After a few ridiculously inappropriate jokes made by Clint and Tony, Johnny responded with attitude and wit that could rival them both. Throwing Steve in the middle of it had been a terrible mistake. It somehow ended up in a battle of doppelgangers. Though Johnny had proven to be fantastically fast and hot against Captain America’s cool composure, a well planted patriotic fist in his face put him in his place. Their relationship had been touch and go ever since. Sue adores Steve, however, go figure.

Thor had returned shortly after and regretted to inform them of no new information. After he had discussed the fate of the planet Trëyía with his father, they were rather forlorn to admit that if there had been any evidence or clues of Calamity on Trëyía it was destroyed during Asgard’s invasion against the Miigs. That is of course if the Miigs hadn’t destroyed the evidence themselves in their pursuit of plundering the planet’s riches. All in all it was really such a shame, the whole situation.

And so it was that humans, mutants and aliens alike for the first time stood together under one incredible banner, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers.

-0-

It was on the night of the fifth day when things finally started to settle down. Tony expanded the dining room into something of a banquet hall. A lot of people had huge appetites and Tony was downright astonished over the most recent food bill. Steve only laughed.

“Come on Tony, you know how much Thor and I eat daily and how much Bruce eats after he hulks out. Surely your genius mind had done the math before you graciously decided to house all of us.” Steve smirked at Tony as the genius was still clearly reveling in the mystery of it.

“I did Cap! I really did! I did it based on yours and Thor’s intake with a thirty percent error margin.” He said shaking his head.

“Thirty percent should have covered it.” He added astonishingly.

“Don’t worry about it Tony, how much you spend won’t mean a thing when the world ends. But it means everything now, to all of us.” Steve replied reassuringly.

“I don’t know how to take that.” Tony said flatly.

“Just say ‘thank you Steve’ and move on.” Steve laughed.

“Hmmf, thank you Steve, you dick.” Replied Tony.

They both started laughing boisterously, earning them odd looks, neither noticed.

“You did a good job here Captain.” Fury came up to Tony and Steve and sat down.

“You accomplished in days with took me decades.”

“Well a greater cause always brings the misfits together.” Steve replied.

“Indeed, good work Captain.” Fury smiled… Smiled?... And patted Steve on the back before leaving to seek out Coulson.

“Wow, how much do you want to bet he’s wasted?” Tony asked close to Steve’s ear.

Tony’s close proximity and breath on his neck sent violent shivers crashing through out Steve’s body. He turned rapidly in his seat to face Tony who was sporting a wicked grin.

“You need to back up.” Steve uttered lowly.

“Or you’ll do what?” Replied the brazen genius.

Steve shuddered pleasantly, they were so close. All he would have to do was lean in two inches and claim him. Steve took a deep breath and calmed himself. Instead he leaned forward and gently tapped his forehead against Tony’s. The genius backed up a little shocked while Steve smirked at him. He didn’t do it hard enough to hurt, just enough to make Tony back away. It was only a warning.

Little did they know people were watching them intently.

“Fifty bucks.” Steve declared suddenly.

Tony blinked a moment a little lost.

“On whether or not Fury is hammered.” Steve clarified as his eyes twinkled.

Tony grinned,

“You’re on! Fifty says he’s totally plastered!”

“I have faith that he’s sober.” Replied Steve.

“Oh come on! Did you not see that… Smile? He’s so tanked.” Tony argued.

“Maybe he’s an actual human being who’s happy for once.” Countered Steve.

“We shall see.” Tony replied conspiratorially.

For the next hour they subtly watched Fury as he went about the room talking to people pleasantly. Tony said that that in of itself was suspicious. He did not consume any alcohol in the time that they were watching him but that didn’t really mean anything.

Natasha, having figured out what Steve and Tony were up to, told them all they needed to do was ask Jarvis.

Steve laughed as Tony tried to come up with an excuse as to why he hadn’t thought of it before. In the end Steve owed Tony fifty bucks. There was just no way that Nick Fury was that much of a pleasant social butterfly without a bit of hooch.

Leave it to Tony to come up with a new wily idea.

“Say Cap, how bout instead of fifty dollars, you give me a kiss?” Suggested Tony, waggling his eyebrows.

Steve’s mind froze solid at the genius’s unexpected suggestion then shot out a thousand different ways at once.

‘That horrible menace!’ The Captain thought. He really did not even wanna go there.

He glanced around the room searching for a way out. Instead he found an answer as he spotted Thor in the corner of the room giving Jane a kiss on her cheek. In the end all it was is to kiss Tony or fork over fifty bucks. Duh.

“Deal.”

Steve turned to Tony suddenly. Before the genius could comprehend what was happening he felt a warm feather light pressure on his forehead right where the Captain got him earlier. A wave of euphoria flowed over him like a cascade.

“There you go.” Steve said as he pulled away.

Before Tony could respond Steve had gotten pulled into a conversation by Peter. The genius began to thoroughly regret bringing their spidey friend in on this.

Steve was thankful for the distraction that Peter presented. He did not know how he was going to handle Tony after that. He relaxed a bit more when he realized that Rhodey now held Tony’s attention. The Colonel lead Tony away to the bar where they began a deep conversation with Pepper and Happy.

Steve smiled inwardly at the sight. He was happy Tony was reconnecting with his family.

“So did you get those photos I sent you?” Asked Peter.

“The cityscapes at twilight?”

Peter nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah what did you think of them??”

“They were breathtaking!” Steve gushed as Peter blushed a bit.

“The way you captured Coney Island also, there aren’t words.” Steve said distantly.

“And that point of view is spectacular. I could not help myself but I started painting that scene right before this whole mess started.” He said bashful.

“Really!? Can I see?” Peter replied excitedly.

“I mean, if you want to show it, I-I- mean you don’t have to.” He said tripping over himself.

Steve laughed, “Of course I'll show you. Mind you it’s not much yet.” Steve said standing from his seat.

He finished off the last of his tea before it gesturing for Peter to follow him. He led him through the compound until they came to a room that was Steve’s art studio. The Captain let the young man in and let him scope of place out. As Peter was going through some work he hadn’t seen yet Steve allowed himself to get lost in thought.

Talking about Coney Island and the photos led Steve to remember why he had wanted, no, needed to paint that scene. Bucky was always on the edge of his thoughts. For the longest time it was just the two of them vs. the world, always together, till the end of the line. But Bucky’s end had been met in the dead of winter falling to his death into an icy river.

It’s only Steve now.

Some of his best and favorite memories took place at none other than Coney Island and Rockaway Beach. They had scrimped and saved for months to make sure they could make it out to the amusement park at least once every summer. There had never been a time he laughed harder during those long summer days. Probably the only time he would wholly welcome an asthma attack. To die laughing, he decided, wouldn’t be a bad way to go. Bucky did not find that idea very amusing.

Steve was so lost in thought he barely caught Peter asking him a question.

“What? Sorry I was inside my head.”

“Is this it?" Peter asked as she gestured to the in progress painting on the table easel. The photo was in a frame just next to it. 

Steve nodded.

“I can tell it’s going to be good.” Peter said.

“I really enjoy looking at in progress work, I love watching the pieces go from the early stages to the finished masterpieces.” Peter laughed.

“I agree, Tony set it up where Jarvis can track my work from start to finish. The videos are fun to watch. I learned a lot about myself and the way I work.” Steve smiled.

“I can show you those some time.”

“Yeah?! That would be awesome!” Peter beamed.

Steve smiled as he led them back out. Most of our heroes were beginning to retire for the night, passing them in the halls as they headed to their new rooms. The Captain bid Peter a good night and started to head to his own room.

Just as he reached his intended floor, a laughing Tony and an irritated Rhodey stumbled out of the elevator.

“Goodnight Tony.” Rhodey said briskly before returning to the elevator.

Steve wasn’t one hundred percent sure but he couldn’t help but to think that he saw Colonel Rhodes flip Tony the bird before the elevator door closed. He must of considering Tony is now on the floor laughing as asks off.

‘Great.’ Steve thought, ‘Now Tony’s drunk.’

Steve sighed deeply.

“Come on Tony let’s get you to bed.”

“Ooh yes! Excellent idea Cap!” Tony continued to laugh.

“Take me to bed!” He bellowed between fits of laughter.

Steve rolled his eyes.

‘Oh yes! I get to deal with this Tony again.’ He thought sarcastically. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t get handsy.

“Come on.” He sighed exasperated as he grabbed Tony’s wrist and hauled him up to his feet.

“Oooh so strong!” The drunk genius’s shouted as he started running his hands over the Captains strong biceps.

Steve shook his head. ‘Ah, there’s the hands.’

He started to lead Tony to his room. Steve practically tossed Tony onto his bed before moving about to make sure the genius has water and aspirin for the morning. Tony was having fits of giggles on the bed, Steve could hear Tony say something about liking it rough. The poor Captain surely does not want to get into what all that means.

“Come on Tony let’s get you out of those clothes.” Steve said as he sat next to Tony and started to unbutton his suit vest.

“Yes sir!” Tony saluted.

Steve really should have learned by now how Tony was when intoxicated. Something as innocent to Steve like removing Tony’s clothes to make him more comfortable as he slept meant something entirely different to the horny genius. He remembered almost too late as he felt Tony’s hand slip beneath his shirt. As much as every fiber of his being wanted Tony to continue he put a stop to it right away.

He grabbed the genius’s face and made him focus.

“Remember what happened last time?” Steve questioned.

It took a moment for Tony’s eyes to blink in comprehension.

“Now behave yourself.”

“Aww, but that’s no fun!” Tony slurred dramatically as he collapsed back on the bed.

Steve sighed yet again.

“Come on let’s get you tucked in.” Steve said tiredly as he yanked the blankets out from under Tony flopping him into the floor.

“Ouch!” Tony yelped as he collided with a floor.

“Aww Cap! You’re so mean meee!” He whined from his place on the floor.

Steve gave him no sympathy and nodded in agreement.

Tony went strangely silent for a while as he watched Steve prepare his bed. Steve grew concerned over Tony’s silence and wondered if he had passed out. He looked down to find the genius staring at him. He found the intensity unnerving. He gulped thickly.

“The beds ready.” Steve said simply, wondering what asinine thing was going to come out of the genius’s mouth this time.

Tony nodded and crawled into the bed never taking his eyes off of Steve.

“Your eyes are a pale blue.” Was all he said.

‘What??’

“Excuse me?” Steve was thrown through a loop, he was expecting Tony to utter something far more explicit.

“Your eyes are a pale blue right now, like the skies during the rainy day.” Tony said lucidly.

Steve only blinked, unable to understand where Tony’s head is right now.

“You were thinking about something deep and heartbreaking from your past.” Tony uttered softly. Steve blinked again shocked this time.

“How…” He began.

“Your eyes always turn a pale blue when you get that far off look as you think about your past, the time before the ice.” Tony stated tenderly.

Steve was beside himself. He had absolutely no idea Tony had noticed such an odd and unique detail about himself. Tony is naturally a bit more on the selfish side and Steve was truly shocked to learn that the genius had taken the time to notice something so… intimate…

Bucky told him once a long time ago that the reason he was able to read him so easily was because ‘it all showed in his eyes.’ How long had Tony been observing him to realize such a personal detail?

“What were you thinking about?” Tony asked unabashedly.

Steve realized this was one of the first times Tony had ever asked him about his past directly.

‘Just this once.’ He thought. He would humor Tony just this once.

“Earlier I was showing Peter my paintings. I told him one of his photos inspired one and he wanted to see it.” Steve paused and took a deep breath.

“It was a photo of Coney Island.” He smiled sadly.

“Some of my best memories of Bucky are there.” He said as he willed himself not to tear up.

“Can you tell me one?” Tony asked delicately.

Steve thought about it for a moment. He still didn’t know if he was ready to talk about Bucky, but Tony was looking at him so genuinely and eagerly.

Perhaps just one story.

“I… Well this one time that jerk talked me into riding the cyclone with him.” He smiled wistfully.

“I threw up everywhere and was sick for days after that.” He laughed and Tony smiled.

“I really wouldn’t have usually, I had successfully avoided going on it for years but Bucky had been rejected by a dame earlier that day, first time in a long time too, got slapped in the face and everything.” He laughed and continued,

“He was so bummed I could not possibly say no after that.”

Tony beamed.

“How close were you? I mean I know what the history books say and what my father told me, but there’s very little about you two before ‘Captain America.’” Tony asked.

Steve sighed deeply, thinking back on it all, all the way back to when they were children. And everything after that.

“He was my brother. He may not have been blood but there was a good chunk of time where he was my entire world, my only family.” Steve’s smile was bittersweet.

“Yeah, I get that.” He replied as he thought about how Rhodey was his rock after his parents died.

“I can’t imagine it Steve. If I lost Rhodey I… I couldn’t… Or even Pepper or Happy or you, I…” He trailed off simply unable to conceive the world without these people that he cherishes most.

“How did you do it? How did you survive after he…”

“I had a mission of Tony, and he would kick my ass if he found out I gave up.” Steve smiled.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s hard every day. I think of all of them. Before I knew it I lost all of them at once.” Steve whispered miserably.

Tony’s eyes widened in horror. That awful and painful realization hitting him finally. He knew logically what it meant for Steve to awaken in this time 70 years from his own time. But it wasn’t until that very moment that Tony truly understood everything Steve lost that day.

“Oh my god! How did I not see it before?! You… You lost everything! I mean I knew but –“

Steve shook his head.

“It’s okay Tony, if you recall when we first met you weren’t all that fond of me. Certainly not enough to care”

Tony winced.

“By the time we became close enough to understand each other I made a home here, made new friends and found a new mission. So my past wasn’t… Relevant.”

“But it is! I should have realize sooner. I don’t know what I would do in your place.”

Tony looked away ashamed of himself. Steve was one of his most important friends and it took until now to truly understand this very important part of Steve, the pain he must be facing daily.

“I’m sorry-“ Tony started.
Steve stopped him by grabbing his face with both hands and placing his forehead upon Tony’s. Tony let out a shuddering breath.

“It’s okay Tony. That was then, I’m here now.” Steve said almost breathlessly.

Tony nodded mutely.

They stared into each other’s eyes for a moment and Tony found that Steve’s eyes began to change color once more. The tips of the Captain’s fingers began to gently rub and play with the hair on the nape of the genius’s neck. They slowly began to move closer simultaneously, their lips were a mere inch apart now.

“Sir, Miss Romanov is at the door looking for Captain Rogers, shall I let her in?”

Tony groaned, cursing the world and his entire existence.

“Oh! I had forgotten I was meant to give her something!” Steve cried abruptly, panic stricken.

“Sorry Tony I gotta go!” He shot up.

“Uh. Please go to sleep.” He added. He leaned down quickly and gently kissed Tony’s forehead, before darting out the door to meet with Natasha.

Tony threw his head back on the pillow, grabbed the other pillow and screamed into it.

“Jarvis!?”

“Sir?”

The next time Steve and I are in an intimate position do not interrupt us for any reason!

“Will do Sir.”

Tony sighed and picked up the pillow to scream into yet again.

-0-

“Hey Nat!” Steve said as he rushed out the door nearly running into her.

“Whoa there Steve, no hurry.” She smiled.

“Sorry I was just… Making sure Tony got to bed safely.” He said his face completely flushed.

“Yes, I’m sure that’s what you were doing.” She replied suggestively.

“You know I could come back if I was interrupting anything.” She said with a wink.

With that Steve’s face darkened the men silly. He began to stutter,

“N-No we were doing anything!” He replied nervously.

He swallowed thickly.

“Oh. My. God!” She gushed astonished.

“You really were doing something!! Spill Rogers!” She demanded excitedly.

Steve pressed his lips together. His face now rivaled the color of the tomato. He shook his head rapidly and turned on his heel intending to go back to his quarters.

“Nah ah!” She grabbed his arm firmly

“You’re coming with me!”

She started to drag him the opposite direction to her own quarters. The Captain, relatively pliant do to mortification, had no choice but to obey. By the time they made it to her room Steve gathered his wits enough to realize he needed to make an escape.

“Oh no you don’t!” Countered Natasha as she clamped her fingers onto Steve’s left ear pulling him all the way in.

She drug him to the nearest couch and shoved and down on it.

“No escaping.” She said as she produced a knife out of nowhere.

“Now spill!” She pointed the knife at him.

“Nothing happened!” Steve tried.

“Though something most certainly happened, it’s written all over your face.” She said gesturing to his flushed guilty face.

“Come on you can trust me.” She said gently.

“It’s not a matter of trust, it’s personal.” Steve replied.

“Ah ha! So something did happen!”

“No! Nothing happen!” Steve was adamant.

“Okayyy, so something almost happened?” Natasha’s teasing smile turned into a feral grin when she saw Steve redden and fidget.

Steve looked at her in new he was utterly fucked. But he remained resolute. He shook his head.

“OK, you two almost had sex?” She questioned.

“What!? No!”

“Blow job? Hand job?... Fisting??” She asked with a straight face.

Steve was mortified.

“No No No! None of that!! We just nearly kissed!” Steve quickly put his hands to his lips shocked that actually telling her.

He looked at her in dismal fear, what would she think of him? He knows logically that she wouldn’t care, but what if she did? To thank Steve Rogers nearly kissed another man?!

She just looked at him with this blank look on her face. He cannot read her at all. The silence was deafening, making him near panicking.

“You ‘nearly’ kissed?” She asked hoping for clarification.

Steve barely nodded. His hands still plastered to his mouth.

“As in you haven’t kissed each other before?”

Steve shook his head.

“Never ever?”

He shook his head.

“Not even a peck on the lips?” Her voice was starting to rise an octave.

He shook his head again, the panic starting to set in a little.

“DAMN IT!!” She wailed followed by a long suffering sigh.

Now Steve was utterly lost.

“I don’t get it, what’s happening?” Steve ventured bravely.

She emitted another long sigh and plopped down on the couch next to Steve.

“I owe Barton a thousand dollars.”

Steve’s eyes widened marginally.

“What!? Why?” Steve exclaimed still reeling that he has yet to meet condemnation.

She looked up at him apologetically.

“Well, we were betting on whether or not you and Tony were secretly dating and how far you guys were in your relationship.” She stated matter of factly.

“What!?” Was Steve’s shrill response.

“Why in God’s name would you think that!?”

“Really? You two make goo goo eyes at each other so often I just assumed, obviously I was wrong. Clint hit the nail on the head though.” She explained.

“What did Clint say?”

Steve didn’t know whether or not to be angry that they were gambling on his personal life or utterly relieved that they were so nonchalant about the fact that he and Tony could very well be in a homosexual relationship.

“He said that you two were still utterly hopeless pining for each other.”

Steve blinked at this.

“You two are insane, goodbye.”

Steve meant to leave but stopped as a knife whizzed by his head and embedded itself in the door. He turned slowly to frown at her completely unamused.

“We’re not done here Captain.” She smirked at him.

“What do you wanna know?”

“Ahh. Exactly what I wanted to hear.” She patted the cushion next to her indicating for Steve to sit back down. He reluctantly obeyed.

“I know this is big and personal for you. I’ve known Tony for a while now and considering everything, I have a lot of respect for the guy as you can imagine.” She said.

Steve nodded, he did know.

The man was hard to swallow unless you knew how he operates… God he was so glad he did not say that out loud. Anyway, though Tony was a difficult person, he was full of heart artificial or not.

“No matter how much you think it, I don’t want to torture you more. So I’m just going to cut to the chase and ask you just one more question, OK? But you gotta swear you’ll answer me honestly.”

“Scout’s honor.” Anything to end this.

“I love the both of you dearly, and I just want the both of you to be happy.”

Steve smiled.

“Thank you, Nat.” He replied as he pulled her in for a hug.

“Okay, what do you wanna know?” He asked as he pulled away from her still smiling fondly.

She returned his smile.

“Do you Love him?”

Steve sighed, well that is the only question that really matters, isn’t it?

Steve took a deep breath.

“Yes, I do.”

-0-

Steve had been lying in bed for the last two hours wide awake. Natasha and Steve had spent nearly an hour just talking and bonding. She reassured Steve that it was okay to feel the way he felt and that if anybody had a problem with it… Well… He was talking to the Black Widow after all. Gruesome details aside he was extremely grateful for her support.

That light feeling faded however after snuggling into his bed to sleep. After showing Peter his painting in talking to Tony it’s like the floodgates opened, like picking a scab off a healing wound.

He could not for the life of him stop thinking about Bucky. It was awful. He thought he had moved on to an extent. To him it had been only a few years since his death. He thought the loss of his mother was painful, but losing Bucky had been unbearable. For most of his life Bucky had been the one absolute constant, through the good times and the bad.

Bucky had always been big and strong to Steve, he had been his teacher, protector and provider. He had been his voice of reason and his reality check. Bucky had also been his greatest supporter and would be right behind him if he wanted to reach for the stars. He was nurturing, when Steve was sick Bucky would remain diligently, ever faithfully by his side. Bucky was his confidant, his best friend, his brother.

After Steve’s mother passed Bucky was the only family he had in the entire world. And when their roles were reversed and Steve became the strong one, the rock, the glue Bucky took it in strides and Steve failed him.

Yet despite all the strength in his enhanced body, all his sharp reflexes and superior instincts; he let Bucky, his entire world, slip right through his fingers. He let his brother die.

And that was something he would never forgive himself for. If only, if only…

And so Steve fell into a restless sleep thinking about all of the ‘if onlys’ and ‘what ifs.’ If only he were faster. If only he had been stronger. What if he had realized sooner the danger had not passed? What if he was the man Bucky needed him to be? What if Bucky had lived?

He dreamed of that hellish day in the dead of winter back in 1945. He dreamed of Bucky falling over and over again. And never did he once reach him in time.

A/N: Have no fear this is definitely going to be Steve/Tony! I’m shamelessly using Bucky to put Steve through a bit more torment before his run in with the 1950s.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: What I Have Endured

Morning came sooner than what Steve was ready for. To think he spent the night thinking of Bucky when hundreds of people were now in an incurable coma that the ancient alien Calamity had put on them. Calamity was planning on taking every soul, not just Earth, but from the entire universe. Great, now he hates himself just a little bit more today.

Before he got out of bed he asked Jarvis for the current standing.

“Five hundred and twenty now reported, Sir.”

“Thank you Jarvis.” Steve whispered.

He ran his hands down his face forlornly. This sucks, plain and simple.

‘Well, things aren’t going to change just lying here.’ He thought.

He heaved himself out of bed and began his morning routine. Just as he began to dry off after a refreshing shower an alarm started to wail. Steve sighed. Someone somewhere was causing a ruckus. Ugg, today was going to be a painfully long day.

“Hey Cap, we need to high tail it to-“

Tony barged into the room to find Steve still fully naked and a little wet. Tony froze on the spot. Steve sighed in frustration, a long and painful day indeed.

He pinched the bridge of his nose in misery and quickly dried off and slipped into his sweats.

The moment he was properly covered Tony blinked back to life and took a shuddering breath.

“Jealous?” Steve poked.

He hoped some quick wit would hide how much he just wants to crawl into a hole right now and never come back out. He had no idea what Tony was thinking.

“Jealous!? Yeah!” He practically squealed as he turned around to leave.

“Yup, yep, hmmhmm. Sure…” Tony said in a trancelike state as he left.

Steve shook his head as he continued to get dressed. That was not the first time that has happened.

Nor the second.

-0-

A little over a half hour later found our dear Captain in the middle of a briefing of a new case. A new case on top of everything else.

Steve decided then and there, that if they all make it somehow against all odds, he was definitely taking Tony up on that vacation offer. Seriously, the genius wouldn’t have to bribe him or trick him. Nope he’d be ready with bells on.

So Steve stood there amongst everybody trying to pay attention. Clint was the one to discover what was going on through a night patrol. He’s the one now giving the briefing.

At first Steve could not decide (and from the looks on other people’s faces he’s not the only one) whether or not Clint was trying to prank them. However, having worked with him the last several years he found that Hawkeye was being completely serious right now. It’s just the things he was saying were… Silly?... Ridiculous? Steve was far too exhausted for this.

“Okay, repeat that one more time, please! I don’t think I heard you right. I mean, you’re doing great up there and-and I can hear you but I just want to make sure I was hearing you right!” Peter spoke up with his hand in the air.

Others nodded in agreement, and Clint’s eye twitched before he rolled them and groaned.

“Yes, you heard me right. There is an infestation of electrical fur ball thingies at the harbor!”

“What do you mean by thingies??” Johnny piped up smirking.

“I don’t know what the fuck they are! They are roughly the size of a basketball, furry, and they produce enough voltage to shock the shit out of you. If exposed to a normal person long enough, it could kill them.”

Now this caught Steve’s attention.

“Did you engage them?” Natasha asked grinning.

“Nooo… How do you think I discovered their shocking abilities!?” Clint snapped sarcastically.

From where Steve was leaning on the wall he thought he could make out electrical burns on Clint’s arm and neck. The Captain just assumed he got them from Natasha, again. Before things could get further out of control Fury took over.

“Okay Barton, good work! Mr. Stark? Do we have a visual?”

“Yes, here’s Mathis Bay, Road Island.” Tony pulled up footages on the halo-screen.

And there they were, thousands of little fluff balls of death floating around the city. Everyone stared at the screen slack jawed for a moment. Honestly after everything you would think that things would stop surprising them. Obviously not.

“We need a team.” Said Fury.

“Captain? You up for the challenge?”

Steve nodded.

“Alright.” Steve stood from the wall putting his game face on.

“Who’s actually itching for a fight?” Steve asked as he took lead.

Of course Johnny was one of the first to volunteer. Steve nodded in assent. In his head he thought this was most certainly going to be a very long day. He groaned on the inside.

“Well if the brat is going I gotta make sure he doesn’t kill anyone.” Ben replied.

Steve smiled and nodded. Captain America and the Thing shared similar sentiments about one Johnny Storm.

“Oh hell might as well, I’m pretty useless here anyway!” Clint said.

“If you’re going, I’m going.” Said Natasha.

“I’ll be happy to assist you Captain.” Ororo Munroe also known as Storm approached Steve with a respectful nod.

“Count me in, I also don’t have anywhere else to be.” Said Peter.

“You know me, I go where you go!” Said Sam.

“Alright!” Steve said as he looked around at his current team.

“Suit up!” The Captain commanded.

-0-

To say the flight to Rhode Island was awkward was the understatement of the year. One X-Man, half of the Fantastic Four, and a ragtag crew of the Avengers were all together under Steve’s command.

They did combat simulations the first couple days at the compound to get used to each other and to get a feel for how they all operate and function as a team. The first few hours were pretty gnarly. However Professor X laid out a pretty inspiring and eye opening speech. It was a brutal slap in the face but no less true. Even the most petty and cynical of the group put their differences aside to play nice.

Those were merely simulations however, now they are on an actual mission. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

“Oh my God!” Hawkeye spoke out over the silence.

They all looked out the window to see what had warranted the assassin’s response. There were thousands upon thousands more fuzz balls floating around than what they had viewed earlier.

Fury’s voice came up over the com’s.

“Maria has confirmed that the evac was successful. However, just in case keep a lookout for stragglers. I’ve alerted the officials that we have this covered. They are not entirely convinced let’s prove them wrong. You have two hours, if they don’t see significant improvement, they’re coming in with the big guns.” With that the line went silent.

“Alright you heard him. From what Hawkeye had managed to gather they’re easy to destroy. However they seem to be multiplying rapidly we need to find their source.”

Steve looked at everyone making sure they were all on the same page.

“I want the flyers in the sky. Take out as many as possible look for clusters and find the source. Torch, keep a perimeter don’t let them spread any further.”

Johnny nodded.

“Storm, locate high levels of electrical fields and diffuse them. Those critters appear to be feeding off of them, take away their food they can’t replicate.”

She nodded.

“SpiderMan you take middle range herd them together and take them out.” Peter nodded rapidly.

“Falcon you will help Torch hold a parameter and give them hell.”

Sam smirked.

“Will do Cap.”

“Widow, stay with the jet annihilate what you can, also look for heat signatures of anyone left behind.”

“Yes sir.” She smiled murderously.

“Hawkeye, find a nest, scope them out. Relay movement patterns and thin them out.”

“Sure thing!”

“Thing, you and I will hit the streets and see what we can see and take out what we can.”

“Yes sir!” Ben saluted.

Steve nodded then a sly thought came to him and he rolled his eyes to himself. He could not pass up the opportunity.

“One last thing, whoever kills the most fuzzy things wins and gets to be named the undisputed master assassin of the Furry Zap Balls.” Steve announced with a grin peeking everyone’s interests considerably.

“You’re on!” Shouted Johnny before leaping from the jet.

“And there he goes.” Steve said exasperated.

The Thing developed a severe eye twitch that was actually quite auditable.

“Well don’t let him have all the fun, you have your orders, go get them!” Steve commanded.

With a curt nod they all bailed.

“You sure you’re up for this Cap?” Natasha questioned. “You seem a bit weary worn.” She said genuinely a little concerned.

“Ha! Don’t worry, I got this!” He shouted as he dove out of the Quin Jet.

-0-

He so does not got this! What the fuck was he thinking!? Yeah of those freaky little creatures were easy to destroy but damn, Clint was not joking, those little bastards packed quite a punch. The first one that zapped him nearly knocked him on his ass. They were vastly superior to Natasha’s electrifying talents. He shivered thinking about it.

Although, at first he was morbidly satisfied to hear that he was not the only one to get zapped by these things. He hated to think that way but after a few more zaps he found it harder to care. That was until the electromagnetic fields created by these critters interfered too much with the main com line. Steve found that he could only communicate directly to one team member at a time after that.

He couldn’t help but to think how comical this must be for Tony and the others who must be watching. Only the Thing and Black Widow remain unscathed.

They found out early on that attacking the fuzz balls with any form of electricity made them multiply tenfold. Storm got very creative and changed the atmosphere around them so that the ions remain separated and could not hold a charge. That slowed the puff balls down considerably.

The plan seemed to be working swimmingly until it wasn’t. After Steve, with the help of the Thing, manage to usher a few civilians they found out of the perimeter zone a new wave of puff balls emerged out of a factory to the west.

Well now at least they knew where they were all coming from. The problem was they could not get there. The little bastards were as thick as a cloud in that area. Definitely way too thick to get there.

Johnny had proven himself invaluable but can’t keep going like that forever. Same for Ben. Not only that but they were running out of time before the higher up’s got involved.

Steve shook his head. See, long and painful ass day.

He had to think of something quick. He continued to dart through the alleyways still keeping on alert. He thought he heard something as he rounded the corner and made his way to an older section of the city, residential.

“Widow! North east of my location. Do you see anything!?”

“Possibly, it’s hard to tell, a lot of the basements made during the time this part of this city was being constructed were built like bomb shelters.

Can’t see much from here.” She said regretfully.

That means Steve was going to have to rely on his sharp senses. He slowed down a bit and tried to focus.

“There!”

There was the sound again. He bounded up to a house and took out the fluff balls crowding the way with his shield. He was sure the sound was coming from this house. He entered stealthily taking out fluff balls as he went. He swiftly located the basement to find the door locked. He took a deep breath before forcing the door open. It’s lock flimsy against the Captain’s strength.

As soon as the door was open the hidden occupants of the little room began screaming. He emerged promptly to reveal himself hoping his presence and identity would alleviate their fear. He was not disappointed as three children stopped immediately and gaped at him in awe.

“Captain America!!” They exclaimed.

Steve quickly assessed the situation and found that there were five children total. They were all under the age of twelve as far as he could tell. There was even an infant being cared for by the eldest.

“Are they still out there? The zappers?” Asked what Steve assumed was the second eldest.

“Yes unfortunately.” Captain America had to figure out how to get them to safety. More puff balls were heading that way according to Clint.

“What are your names?” Steve asked hoping to gain the children’s trust enough to move them.

“I’m Maggie,” the eldest replied. “And this is Eli.” She gestured to the infant in her arms.

“He’s my brother.”

The Captain nodded.

“Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Kevin and this little guy is my younger brother Tommy.”

Kevin was the second oldest maybe nine are ten. Tommy looked seven.

Tommy shyly held out his hand to the little girl and she took it immediately.

“This is Becka.” Tommy said quietly.

Kevin added, “She don’t talk.”

Steve nodded in understanding.

“Pleased to meet all of you.” Steve greeted soothingly.

“Are you here to save us?” Tommy asked quickly behind his brother.

That move threw Steve for a moment. It was like he could be looking in a mirror, an antique one, and Kevin could look up and there would be Bucky’s eyes looking at him. He could also glance back at Tommy and see himself.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts.

The coms crackled, the bomb shelter basement making the signal go in and out. From what he could make out there was a new wave of the fur balls coming in and Ben was trying to barrel his way into the source. A new wave means that no place was safe, he needed to get these kids outside the perimeter to safety.

“Yes I am, but I gotta figure out how without letting someone get hurt.” Steve replied. The coms sparked again and this time it was a jumbled mess.

“Stay here.” Steve ordered.

He needed to get back up the stairs for a moment to hear what was happening. When he reached the top of the steps his blood turned cold. He could see out the window that there were thousands of the zappers roaming outside. There were a few floating around inside the house. Steve watched as a couple managed to squeeze through the little nook and crannies along the doors and windows and pop up the other side.

There was no safe place in the entire city as long as there was at least one of these things floating around. The coms signal came back again and he didn’t even know his blood could run colder.

Clint had been trying to reach him, the fuzzys swarmed the jet and took down Natasha. She’s fine but down and out, only just barely able to hold a perimeter over a major highway. Johnny appeared to be slowing down but still active. Ben was making slow progress to the source factory. Clint and Peter were herding the fuzzys into large groups while Ms. Munroe created pockets of anti electrical fields to dispel them.

Steve copied and stood there for a moment to gather his wits. Everyone was making slow progress to the source factory, on the completely other side of the city. Steve had to figure out how to get the kids out of this city safely by himself.

He was about to curse himself before he felt a brush of sensation on his right hand. He looked down to see little Becka grabbed his large hand with her tiny one. She looked up at him with eyes full of hope. He smiled tenderly at her and realized the other children were just behind her also immensely hopeful despite their fear.

‘Come on Rogers! Think!’

He recalled a storage bin in the basement that the children were hiding behind labeled winter clothes.

‘Maybe, just maybe.’

“Go on.” He gestured for the children to head back to the basement. He swiftly picked up Becka and followed.

He tore open the bin and began to pull out clothes. When he hit the bottom he cheered. There they were, rubber rain coats.
He removed four of them, two adult coats and two children coats. He draped the largest one over Maggie.

He gave the second largest to Kevin.

“Aww it’s a girls coat!”

Thank all of the gods above and below for giving Steve the serenity and patience to deal with this child right now.

“Kevin, it doesn’t matter. They will protect you from the zappers. Right now this is the only way to get you kids out of here as safe as I possibly can.” Steve replied holding the child’s shoulders and looking him in the eye.

“Can’t IronMan fly us out of here?” Tommy asked shyly.

“No, IronMan cannot get through those clouds of zappers. There are too many of them.”

Not to mention Tony is back at the compound working hard with Jarvis on decrypting that code.

“Well what about Thor?” Kevin asked as he helped Tommy into the jacket Captain America handed them.

Steve shook his head sadly.

“Sorry, it’s just me kid. Don’t worry I’ll get you out but you have to do everything I tell you okay? You can’t complain or talk back, I’m a Captain remember!” He ordered firmly with a hint of a smile.

They nodded and saluted him, well as much of the salute as young children can manage.

He helped Becka into the other child coat. He looked around the boxes before finding the boots that accompany the coats.

“Those are way too big for me!” Maggie protested.

She looked apologetic knowing she just broke Captain America’s first rule.

“I’ll trip.” She added gesturing to the baby in her arms. That definitely was not a good idea.

“Here!” Steve grabbed a stack of old newspapers from a pile by the door. “Trust me this will work!” He smiled as he started to ball up the pages and stuff them into the toe of the large waders.

“I used to receive large hand-me-downs when I was younger. I’d do just this so I wouldn’t trip.”
He stuffed paper into all of the boots seeing as they were all a bit big for the small children. They looked odd but the rubber should protect them.

He took another look around and saw an umbrella. He ripped the rubber off and made sure none of the metal components remained on it before swaddling the infant with it.

“Okay.” He swallowed thickly. “Remember this is very important.” He looked at them, “Do exactly what I tell you to do. Do not question me, got that?”

They nodded.

“Okay.” He hugged each one hoping that would at least reassure them.

“Okay, let’s go.”

He moved back up the stairs and just as he was about to reach for the door, three zappers squeezed through the cracks. They emitted a pretty yellow and blue glow as electricity hummed through the fur on their bodies.

“Whatever you do, do not let them touch you!” The Captain ordered as he quickly destroyed them with his shield.

“There will be more outside the door. Stay behind me.”

Steve felt around his person for a moment, he grabbed two devices.

“Kevin, come here please.”

The child obeyed and got close to Steve. The Captain strapped one of the devices around the child’s hand.

“Okay, this is a very special tool that IronMan made, okay?”

Kevin nodded enthusiastically.

“If we get separated this emits a sound wave for three minutes. It will destroy all of the zappers in your path. It works up to nearly three hundred feet if you aim good.” Steve showed him.

“All you have to do is push this button and it will do the rest. Got it?”

Kevin nodded quickly.

“Will we be separated??” Maggie questioned fearfully.

“I hope not but we have to be ready for anything okay?”

They nodded solemnly.

“One more thing, I’ll be using my shield a lot. So when I say ‘duck,’ duck immediately, do not hesitate. Okay?”

“Okay!” They all replied.

Steve paused for a moment to think. They were about three miles from the nearest perimeter line. He could do it. He had to.

He held up the second device.

“Okay, this will work very similarly to that one but only for a moment.” He held out what looked like a tiny ball.

“Stay back.”

Steve opened the door quickly and pushed a discreet button on the ball and rolled it into the kitchen. He shut the door promptly. Just that quick glance told him that there were swarms of the fuzz balls in the house.

He held the shield against the door. In a moment what sounded like an explosion went off. The percussion of the device shattered the windows and blew back any loose furniture.

“Omm. Ritchie’s parents are going to be mad.” Tommy said after Steve opened the door and saw the damage.

“We’ll good thing I have a friend that’ll fix all this.” He replied as they walked through the house.

“Okay, let’s move.”

He left out the back door. He noted that the coms were back on.

“Cap! Cap! Can you read me?” Hawkeyes voice was urgent.

“Yes! What is it?”

“Spiderman is down. He’s with Natasha on the outskirts. I talked to Tony, a second team is heading our way!”

Thank god! They needed this.

“Thing made it to the factory but he’s still swamped, Storm is heading there now. Torch is still on perimeter but he’s fading fast. When he falls the fur balls will break containment.”

Steve gulped, not good.

“Hawkeye, I’m heading to the perimeter on the southeast side, I’ve got five kids with me.”

“Kids!?? Oh man!”

“Torch, do you read me?”

“What up Cap?” He sounded out of breath.

“I’m heading to the south east side with some kids, I needed to focus on that area.”

“Shit! Kids? Will do boss!”

Steve looked down and saw the children staring up at him in awe.

“Come on, we gotta get out before the next wave comes. Keep your hoods up.”

He began to maneuver through the streets, picking paths that had a thinner number of zappers.

The com line crackled again, “Cap! Another wave is coming.”

Crap!

They made it nearly two miles before they came across a massive wall of zappers. They were near the perimeter. These were the ones that couldn’t get through the Human Torch without being burnt to a crisp. He looked behind him and he can literally see the new wave coming like a cloud. He realized that part of it was a super electric shock wave making the ones present replicate.

Crap, no wonder they couldn’t get a foothold. Storm would change the air but whatever this source was would just produce the electro-magnetic waves in such a way that it undid her work.

He watched as a few strays here and there all the sudden popped into five different zappers. They were coming closer too.

“Duck!” He shouted and flung his shield in such a way that he took out most of the closest ones. But they were still gaining.

“Look out!” Maggie hollered.

Steve had just tossed his shield and turned just in time to get zapped by a fluff ball. He screamed out scaring the children. He punched it and made it ‘poof’ out of existence.

His shield was now yards away but now they were surrounded.

“Johnny, we are about a mile from the perimeter, can you get to us?”

“Sorry Cap! The cloud is too thick, I can get through!”

Steve flinched. He knew what he had to do. He couldn’t go back for the shield. That would leave the children unguarded. They were still too far away to use Kevin’s device.

Steve would have to be their shield.

“Okay, here’s the plan. We are going to keep moving forward. When we get close enough Kevin will use the sonic pulse. Okay? I know you’re scared, but I need you guys to be brave. Okay?”

They all nodded teary eyed. The baby was crying.

“Okay, I can destroy them but it’s going to hurt and it’s going to be scary. Okay? There are others on the way that are going to help us but we need to get out of the city.”

They nodded crying even more. Steve sighed, he’s the one that felt like crying.

“Okay, he took a deep breath. You kids ready?”

They began to move forward and Steve punched out the first one in the way. It hurt like hell but he had to stay strong for the kids. They kept moving forward and Captain America punched out one after another after another. His hands and arms felt like they were on fire. He was in excruciating pain but they had to keep moving.

They were getting close to the point where Kevin can use the sonic pulse. Just a little further. Six of the zappers all of a sudden swarmed Steve and they got him in the chest and back before he could disable them.

He screamed in agony and fell to his knees. Just a few hundred more feet to go.

‘Come on I can do this!’

The children were full blown crying now and the baby was wailing miserably.

“Keep going!” Steve shouted.

He forced himself to stand up. He huffed deeply in so much pain. He kept going.

He continued to punch them out once they got too close to their little group. Steve began to wonder why he felt the pain every time, why his hands weren’t going numb. He scoffed as the answer came to him.

‘Ah, to be a super soldier.’ His nerves regenerated faster than it took to fry them.

‘Beautiful!’ He thought spitefully.

He thought he was going to vomit from the pain but pressed on.

All of a sudden millions of zappers started to gush out of the streets behind them.

“Run!” Steve screamed as they came down upon them. The children bolted.

“Forward!” Steve bellowed trying to urge them on. He stayed behind them to shield them from the tsunami of zappers.

Eventually the fuzz balls caught up.

They enveloped the Captain and the pain was nothing like he had ever felt before. He could barely see the children, they had stopped and were screaming for him. He wanted to assure them, to urge them on but nothing would come out. He couldn’t scream, he couldn’t breathe. He was drowning in an ocean of pain. He thought he was going to pass out any time, his consciousness was blurring.

His thoughts trailed back to his team, to Tony. He did not want to fail here. Then his mind flashed to Bucky for a moment. He was back on the train and his brother had slipped through his fingers again. His final scream echoing in his mind. The screaming kept going longer and longer than it ever had before. He paused, that was not a man’s scream.

‘The kids!!’

He could not fail them. He would not let them die the way he let Bucky die. He mustered all the strength he could, focusing his mind until it seemed like time froze. He pulled everything he had into his legs and broke out of the swarm gunning for the kids.
They were huddled together tightly, completely surrounded. He barreled through the swarm and roared,

“Hold on tight!” Before he scooped up the group of children in his arms and kept running. The zappers grazed his exposed face and arms, he still felt the pain immensely but kept pushing on. Nothing was going to stop him.

“Now Kevin!”

The child twisted around in Steve’s arms and aimed the sonic pulse at the immense wall of zappers. The pulse shoots out and immediately the zappers start to disintegrate. Realizing with a thrill what he was capable of Kevin wiped his tears and started to wave the pulse around madly destroying all the zappers he could. He started screaming and laughing and crying all at once. It was vastly cathartic to the child but immensely unsettling to the others.

Steve just kept going, running like he never did before. Eventually they saw the end in sight. Just a few more yards and they would be through the wall. He could just make out the glow of the Human Torch as he flew about securing the perimeter.

Unfortunately the pulse stopped. Steve realized with horror as they still had a few feet to go. He clutched the children closer to his body and bulldozed his way through, hunching over as he ran using his head, shoulders and arms as a shield. In moments they finally broke through to the other side.

Johnny saw them and quickly made to cover them in their escape. Steve didn’t stop running until he was sure they were a good distance away. When he stopped his heart leapt for joy as he looked at the sky. His back up team was just arriving, IronMan and War Machine were up in the air taking over for Johnny. The X-jet flew over head with reinforcements heading to the factory.

The children cheered until one wailed in horror. Steve turned quickly to see Becka limp in Tommy’s arms.

‘No!!’ His mind screamed.

He rushed to the child. He barely registered Johnny face planting into the ground just a couple yards from them. He, as gently as he could, moved the panicking children away from Becka. He looked her over quickly, removing the borrowed raincoat and boots. He saw a small seared marking on her leg and realized that a zapper must have grazed her at some point.

He checked for a pulse. When he found none he checked for a heartbeat, pressing his ear to her unmoving chest.

The other children were starting to really lose it and Steve couldn’t hold them off.

Johnny slunk to them.

“What’s wrong?” He saw the still child and his face fell.

“Hold them back!” Steve ordered.

Johnny merely nodded and pulled all the kids to him. And he never loosened his hold even when they struggled and fought.

Steve grew stricken when he couldn’t detect a heartbeat. He began CPR. He did gentle but firm chest compressions and made sure to give small breaths her tiny lungs. Tears were streaming down his face now. He began to chant “Please don’t die.” over and over and over.

Johnny could barely watch the scene before him. Hot prickly tears started to flow down his face also.

Just when Steve was going to give up and write off the poor little Becka as a lost cause, his last life giving breath into her spurred a fantastic coughing fit. She spittled a whole number of things into his mouth but he didn’t care. She was alive and that was all that mattered.

Now Steve was really crying, this time however, they were tears of utter joy. He cradled her small convulsing form close to his own shaking body. The other children cheered, Johnny let them go and they swarmed Steve and Becka.

It wasn’t until he felt tiny hands touch his sensitive flesh and tears roll down his skin did he realize most of his suit was gone. It had been torn to shreds during their escape. There were but a few wisps of material covering his torso. At least his pants remained mostly intact or else the situation would have been crazy awkward. He realized that his helmet was also missing and when the children calmed enough they hungrily took in his appearance.

They stared at him in awe. No doubt noticing his most striking features they couldn’t see before. Like the sharp angle of his nose, the kind shape of his brow line and his golden hair.

Becka’s hands found their way to his hair. Her near death experience forgotten in favor of Steve’s golden tresses. Steve smiled kindly at her.
Johnny let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. That caught the kids’ attention and they gasped in realization that this strange new man had a striking resemblance to Captain America. Before they could respond Steve interjected.

“He’s my brother.” Steve said looking into Johnny’s eyes and grabbing his shoulder.

Johnny’s eyebrows shot up in surprise but didn’t protest. The children found that exciting an awesome.

“But it’s a secret okay! You can’t tell anybody.”

The children nodded eagerly.

“Cross your heart and hope to die?”

They gestured crossing their hearts. Steve smiled

“Good.”

He found a tree not far off and went to sit under it. He still held Becka in his arms. Johnny followed and sat next to him. The children followed and latched onto them both.

Maggie was rocking Eli whose wails had died down after the mood shifted back to a positive note. He was still a little fussy but was now falling asleep. The poor baby must be hungry by now. They all probably were.

“What’s gonna happen now?” Kevin asked with a hiccup.

“We let the others take over.” Steve replied.

“And hope for the best.” Johnny added.

“What about us?” Maggie asked in a whisper.

“When we can we will get you back to your parents.” Steve took a deep breath.

“If I could I’d try to find them now but I just can’t.” Steve said haggardly.

He had no idea how he was even talking right now. The kids slowly nodded then turned to Johnny hopefully.

“Hey don’t look me kids, I’m done, kaput.” He said, “I don’t have any fire left in the right now.”

“Not even a spark?” Steve quipped smirking at him.

Johnny held up a shaking hand and snapped his fingers a couple of times. There was only one little spark but nothing else.

“Ha! There’s at least a spark, but definitely no fire.”

“Such a shame.” Steve retorted.

Johnny chuckled.

Soon enough a delicate calm had enveloped them as they sat there peacefully under that tree. The kids had fallen asleep shortly after, every one of them.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad.” He thought. But it had definitely been a long and painful day. Shortly after he fell into a light sleep completely and utterly unable to stay awake.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirteen: Drenched In My Pain Again

Steve was about to fall into a deeper sleep until Johnny nudged him.  Steve looked up at him and realized he was staring off to the city.

“Something’s happening.”  He whispered.

Steve tried to focus.  Something was happening.  The puff balls were disappearing.  They’d dissipated like a puff of smoke.

“Did they do it?”  Johnny asked astonished.  Steve was about to reply that he hopes so before a great surge of energy exploded into the sky in a straight column.

‘That’s not good.’

Now that the puff balls were gone all the coms reconnected.

What they heard would become a truly hellish nightmare they would never forget.  Their team was screaming in anguish.  All of them.  Hot tears sprang to his eyes when he recognized Tony’s voice through the torrent of screams.

Johnny stiffened beside him and uttered “Sue” under his breath.  His sister must be there.  Steve squeezed his eyes shut.  He swallowed thickly.

“Johnny.  Stay with the kids.”  Steve breathed out.

He gently lifted Becka off of his chest and handed her to Johnny.

“What are you going to do?”  He demanded nervously. 

Steve scooted Kevin next to Tommy and crawled away to get up.  He almost didn’t make it to a stand.  His legs were so wobbly and his head woozy.

“Come on man, you can hardly stand what could you possibly do to help?”

“I can try.”  Replied Steve facing the city.

“You’ll only get in the way or end up dead!”

Steve turned to Johnny slowly with a sad smile.

“If I find out I could have done something and didn’t and they die I will never forgive myself.  I won’t know I would be any help till I get there.  I’ve got to try!”  He said solemnly.

Johnny nodded dejectedly.  He knew there was nothing he could say or do to stop him.  One, he was physically incapable and two, he couldn’t really argue with that.  Especially knowing if he was capable he would tag along, for Sue.

“Steve?”

Steve turn back to him.

“Save them, all of them.”

“Of course.”

-0-

Steve made his way back into the city the way he came.  He was still horribly out of breath.  His muscles screamed in agony and he was still shaking.  Maybe Johnny had a point.  But he wasn’t going to sit back and continue to let whatever was happening happen.

His progress was slow going.  He stumbled and tripped many times before he had to rest against a wall.  He could still feel the rough texture of the brick wall beneath his hands despite the buzzing feeling zinging through his fingertips.

It was oddly reminiscent of the many times, back in the day, when he had been thrown against a back alley wall.  He shook his head.  Now was most certainly not the time to allow his thoughts to go down that road.  As he pushed himself off the wall rather forcefully he roughly shoved that the fleeting thought of laughing blue eyes back to the depths of his mind.

The screaming that echoed over the coms gave him the energy to press on.  As horrifying as the situation was there was a modicum of reassurance in the agonizing screams of his team.  If they had the capacity to scream they were still alive.  So at least there was that.

Somehow with the greatest stroke of luck, Steve had stumbled upon, quite literally, his shield.  He stopped for a moment and thanked God for small mercies.  He lifted the shield took a deep breath and continued on.

-0-

It took a little over an hour to finally reached the factory.  The screams of his team had died down but from what he could tell they were still alive.  He hoped.

As he approached he could feel pulsating energy coming from within.  He just had to find a way in.  He did a perimeter check and found that all ground level entrances were all shockingly welded shut.  He had no idea what was going on in there.

He made out windows on the seventh floor of the factory that remained open.  That was probably his best shot at getting in.  It looks like all the fire escapes had been blasted off.

‘Great.’  He thought.

He looked around and thought a moment.  There was a five story building next to the one facing the open window.  Maybe just maybe he could jump from there.  He could do it easily at full strength, but in the condition he was in now?  He couldn’t help but to think he could barely clear a puddle at this point.  But he had to try nonetheless.  For his team, his family, for Tony.

“Okay.” He clapped his hands together to focus.

He found a way into the second factory by a broken out window on the ground floor.  He quickly found the place non-operational.  So that means no elevators.  He had to take the stairs. He looked up the staircase and experienced that odd phenomenon where the stairs seemed to keep going on and on, forever growing.

“Come on Rogers!”  He urged to himself.

“It’s just five stories.”

And so he began to climb.  For a moment he wondered if only he had flying abilities like Thor and Tony or even Sam.  That’d be nice right about now.  Then he wouldn’t have to take the stairs.  He couldn’t help but feel utterly useless if something as stupid as stairs could get in between him and his team.  Ridiculous.

Just as he made his way onto the fourth floor landing panting heavily, Johnny alerted him that the army had began to set up a perimeter.

“I’m trying to tell them to wait before they begin infiltration.  To give our team more time, they don’t plan on waiting long however.”  He said dismally.

Steve started huffing up to the fifth floor.

“How…  Are…  The kids?”  He grunted out.

“Man, they’re fine.  They refuse to leave me. They are worried about you.”

‘I bet.’  Steve thought.

“I also contacted headquarters.”  He said. “They’ve sent a third team, but they’re still an hour away.  We’re on our own till then.”

“Copy that.”  Steve replied.

He busted out of a window to hit the fire escape that leads to the roof.  Once he was up there he could see flashes of light in the next factory over.  Pulses of electricity no doubt.  He could feel it from there.

He looked at the open window and gauged the distance.  The more he stared the blurrier it got.  He felt woozy and lightheaded.  He shook his head and took a deep breath.  There was a chill in the air now and the slight breeze tickled the hairs on his body that were standing on end from the electrical charge.  Night was falling.

He backed up against the far wall of the roof.  He breathed deeply and set his sights on the seventh story window and broke into a sprint.  He pushed his sore aching body passed its limits. He put every last bit of energy into his legs willing them to move faster and faster until he made it to the end.  He sprang off of the ledge with a force that was excruciating.  He felt his legs burn miserably as his muscles tore and tendons popped.

He just barely grabbed the ledge of the window.  He nearly slipped as darkness obscured his vision.  He was barely hanging on with his right hand.  He tried to haul himself over the window but every time he used his legs to assist him he howled in agony.

It took an obscene amount of concentration, pain and effort to finally heave himself through the window.  He lied on the floor in a heap for a moment trying to will the haze away.  He also took that time to steel his nerves knowing that in order to continue he would need the use of his legs.  The pain was going to be so intense, he knew that there was a possibility that he wasn’t going to make it. 

But he had to.

If the army got involved there would be no one left to save by the time the third team finally arrived.  It was now or never.  He braced himself and struggled to his feet.  He groaned and gritted his teeth, each step was a slice of hell but he continued.

He followed the flashing light until he came into the main processing room.  He could see every floor from where he was.  He could also see a gigantic fuzzy zapper suspended with long gnarly barbed tentacles in the middle of the entire structure.

His eyes widened in horror as he can see each and every member of his unit and the second unit bound by one of those barbaric tentacles.  He had to think fast.  He had punched out enough of those things to know they had tiny cores that once broke dissipated the charge.  but he doubted he could damage the core if none of the others manage to.

He was so god damned out of it he barely registered someone up in the rafters.  He was talking.  Steve assumed he was addressing the group.  He had to get closer.  He kept to the shadows holding his breath determined not to make a sound.  He managed to make his way up the rafters.  The closer he got the more he could hear this strange man speak.

“…  Garbage.”  He laughed. “You silly little IronMan, you fail to realize that it is a part of my consciousness.”  He sneered as he tapped a device on his temple.

“You…  Won’t…  Win…”  Tony shuddered out.

Only Tony, Ben and Sam seemed to remain conscious.

“My plan is perfect.”  He scoffed at Tony.  “Looks like it’s time for another dose, hmm?”

He reached up to the device on his temple.  Suddenly everyone was engulfed by a fierce electrical charge.  Tony’s screams were yet another thing he doubted he could ever erase from his nightmares.

Steve swallowed thickly, he had to remain calm.  He began to edge closer to the man.  The guy began to laugh sinisterly.

“No one can save you!  The troops will be infiltrating the city shortly.  Aren’t they in for a surprise?”  He grinned slyly.

Steve was nearly behind the guy now.  The man was too busy gloating, he did not realize the Captains presence.  Before the deranged man could continue his tirade, Steve swiftly came up behind the guy and rammed a shield into the back of his head.  He was out with a light.  He dropped limply to the grated floor of the rafters.

“Steve!”  Tony shouted in alarm.

The giant zapper was becoming unstable now that the crazy guy was no longer controlling it.  If a blew up it could take out the whole city.

‘Great…  I really did not think that went through.’  He thought regretfully.

He had to destroy the core.  Unfortunately the only dumb ass move he could think of was to try to destroy it head on.  Or at the very least try to.

The others were still bound and he was pretty sure he would not be able to free them.  The troops were coming and if crazy guy was to be believed any involvement from them would lead to disaster.  Help was still a long ways away.  It’s the best idea he’s got.

‘This is beyond stupid.’  He thought.

Steve climbed up onto the railing of the rafter.

“What…  Are…  You…  Doing?”  Tony huff out.

“Something stupid!”  Steve replied followed by a nervous laugh.

His mind flashed back to that fateful day at the expo all those years ago.

Don’t do anything stupid till I get back.

How can I?  You’re taking all the stupid with you!

Steve smiled wistfully, he definitely kept some of that stupid.

“Steve, no!”  Tony shouted.

Steve ignored him.  He was sure he could reach the core.  If anyone could it would be him at this point.  Hell, he’s gotten electrocuted so much by these things today, what’s little more?

He took one last deep breath before he dove.  The first contact with the gargantuan zapper was a thousand times worse than he imagined.  Before he let the darkness take him he held on to the mantra, “destroy the core!” 

He encountered something hard and struck out at it with all his might.  Over and over until he vaguely felt something give.  The intensity of his pain grew to nearly impossible Heights.  Everything went an immaculate white.

‘Steve…’

Barely he could hear something in the distance.  He felt something akin to indifference before the white turned to black and he felt no more.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: Something I’m Forgetting…

Steve woke up with a feeling of all consuming numbness.  It took him a while to realize that he was in fact awake and…  Well…  Alive for that matter.  He looked no better either.  He had prominent dark circles under his eyes and his face was a little sunken in.  He spaced out watching his heartbeat on the monitor.

“Oh!  You’re awake!”  A voice rang out somewhere to Steve’s left.

He slowly turned his head, immensely reluctant to stop viewing the heart monitor, to find Dr. Hank McCoy with a relieved expression on his face, standing in the doorway.  He came all the way in to check the monitors.

“It was very touch and go there for a while.”  Hank said as he adjusted some of the settings.

He smiled kindly at Steve.  The Captain could only blink.  He heard what Hank was saying but it just wasn’t sinking in.  Hank analyzed Steve’s reaction.

“Hmm, I figured you may have a condition like this.  As far as I can tell it’s temporary.”  Hank said pensive, more to himself.

Dr. Jean Grey walked in suddenly.

“Professor said he was awake?”  Jean stated as she stood next to Hank.

“Yes but he’s not quite responsive.”  He said.

“So I see,” she paused.  “Do you need my assistance?”

“That is not necessary, at least for now.  The fact that he had acknowledged my presence is a good sign.”  He said.  “I just have to make some adjustments to his treatment.”

She nodded.

Steve watched the exchange like it was happening miles from there.  He was vaguely aware that they were talking about him.  However, he was still unable to be fully present.  He felt so lost.  He watched as Jean and Hank finished their conversation.  He turned back to the beeping monitor as Dr. Grey left the room.

There was something itching at the back of his mind.  He resolutely ignored Hank in favor of focusing on that inch.  There was something important…  Yes…  Important.  He did not know what.

The monitor kept beeping.

He blinked at it.  There was something important he was doing.

Yes!  That’s right!

He was doing something important.  He blinked again only to discover more people in the room.  Director Fury was talking to Hank and Charles.  When did they arrive?

“Yes, he’s been awake for three hours now.”  Fury nodded with a pinched look on his face.

Huh, three hours?  Steve could have sworn it had only been minutes…  He turned his attention back to the monitor.

Fury’s presence means something.  He knows who Fury really is but he can’t seem to remember why that’s important. 

Important…  He was trying to figure out what he was doing that was important!  He did not have time to identify Fury’s significance.  But what was important?  He did not know.

He was doing something.  What was it?

“Destroy the core.”

What?  Destroy the core?  Was that what he was doing?  Yes!  It was important to destroy the core. 

But why?

He could feel it, destroying the core was incredibly important. 

What was the core anyhow?  Destroying it was important…  Because…  It was dangerous…  And painful.

No!  Lots of pain!  It caused so much pain!

Why did he go near something so painful?  That’s just stupid…  Stupid?

“Something stupid!”

“How can I?  You’re taking all the stupid with you!”

What?  He knew it was stupid but did it anyway. 

Why?  What was so important to destroy the core that had caused so much pain?  Something had to be worth it.

Yes that’s it!  Something else so important that he had to feel the pain and break the core.

But what was so important?

“It’s been ten hours since he has awakened.”  He heard Hank speak again.  Someone else spoke but he could not hear their response.

“No!  You shouldn’t see him yet.  He’s conscious but unresponsive.  We fear any over stimulus could make his condition worse.”

The person spoke again but Steve could not hear his words.

“Don’t worry I will alert you immediately of any changes, I promise.”

Steve turned just in time to see a silhouette leave the doorway as Hank closed the door.  Steve could have sworn he saw a flash of soft blue light.  It was somehow incredibly soothing.  Like all the sudden all his questions have been answered.

His questions?  He looked back at the monitor.  But his questions weren’t answered.

Why was it so important to destroy the core?  That blue light…

What was so special about that blue light?  What was it about that light that made it important to destroy that core?

He stared at the heart monitor as it continued to beep that constant rhythm. Beep…beep…beep… His heart… A heart… It was a heart! The blue light was a heart.

Who does it belong to?

Someone special? Yes! There was someone special!

What did it have to do with destroying the core? The core of a devise that could cause so much pain…

Did this devise hurt that special person?  He would destroy the core to protect someone.  Someone with an artificial heart…  Heart…  He holds his heart.

“Do you love him?” 

“Yes, I do.”

Who does he love?  The man with the artificial heart.  Artificial…  Artificial…  He has an artificial body…  No not body, armor.  Iron armor, not actual iron but called iron…  Armor…  Iron something…  Iron suit?  No…  Iron person?...  No…  Iron Man?  Iron Man yes!!  It was Iron Man!

Iron Man, whom he loves, was in danger so he destroyed the core!  Ah ha!  It felt so good to finally come to that conclusion.  Steve’s elation was short lived however.  There was something else even more important.

What was it?

It was fine right?  He destroyed the core so that everyone could get free…

Everyone?

Free?

His team!  His family!  The Avengers!  And,

“Tony!”  He shouted out suddenly.

They were hurt, they could have been dying!  Where are they?  Are they safe?  Steve’s mind finally clicked back together after eighteen hours of regaining consciousness. 

The Captain took in his surroundings.  He found that he was in an infirmary room in the compound.  He looked at the monitor that had held his attention since his awakening.

“Oh!  I thought I had heard something?”  Hank came rushing into the room.

Steve nearly startled at his sudden appearance.  He swiftly turned to him.

“Where is Tony?  And Natasha and Clint and Johnny and everyone?  Did they make it?  Is everyone okay?”

Steve was ready to leap out of the bed just to shake the answers out of Hank.  The Beast stared at him wide eye for a moment in complete stunned silence.

“Well?!”  Steve uttered brokenly, mistaking Hanks silence for a reluctance to deliver bad news.

What he hadn’t realized of course was that Hank was merely shocked after the fact that the Captain was now lucid, after spending nearly eighteen hours staring blankly at his heart monitor.  Hank shook off his surprise quickly in order to alleviate the anxiety attack that was now building in our dear Captain.

“They’re fine!”  He assured quickly.

He was at Steve’s side in moments, checking him over while reassuring him.

“Don’t worry Captain.  They are all fine.”  He said soothingly while rubbing Steve’s back.  “They all made it out safely because of you.”  He said.

“All of them?”  His eyes were pleading.

“Yes, you by far brought us the most concern.”  Hank replied.

Steve was immediately relieved.  His shoulders sagged and his breathing slowed.  Before Steve could ask more questions, preferably about the children, the door to the room was slammed open suddenly.

The first thing that Steve noticed was the gentle glow of the arc reactor.

“Tony!”  He breathed.

He could not stop himself nor think of any of the implications, he needed to touch Tony. 

Right now. 

He was so weak, he realized, he definitely could not move out of the bed.  Instead he held his arms out the best he could.  Immediately his arms were full of asinine genius.  He breathed in Tony’s scent as he held him as close as he could to his weak body.  He ran his hands up and down Tony’s back and tangled his fingers into his hair.  Tony was shaking slightly trying desperately to hold back sobs.

“I was so worried!”  Tony spoke, his words muffled in Steve’s neck.

Steve only nodded.  He pressed a kiss into Tony’s hair.  Tony leaned up to look Steve in the eye.

“You are so stupid!”  Tony nearly wailed.  He grabbed each side of Steve’s face putting a grip on his ears.

“You nearly died you idiot!”  He could no longer contain the tears that now spilled from his eyes. “Do you know how horrible it was to watch you dive into…” He inhaled sharply. “I nearly lost you!”  He said finally in a whisper.

“I’m so sorry Tony. But I couldn’t let you die. I couldn’t.”  He choked down a sob. Tears were trailing down his own cheeks now.

“You’re Stupid! So fucking stupid!” Tony repeated in hysterics.

Just as Steve was going to go into yet another round of apologies, Tony successfully shut him up by quickly and desperately pressing his lips onto Steve’s.  The Captain responded immediately, cupping Tony’s face in one hand and pulling him closer with the other. Steve felt like he was on fire.

During their exchange they had not realized that Hank had excused himself quietly. 

Steve thought he could kiss Tony forever.  Somehow this was the most at peace his heart has felt in well…  Nearly a century. 

But before he could completely lose himself to Tony, someone in the doorway cleared their throat.  Tony jumped away so quickly Steve felt like someone had just slapped him.

Clint and Natasha were standing at the door with bemused looks on their faces.  Tony’s ire did not go unnoticed by any of them.

“Jarvis!?  A little warning that have been nice.”  Tony grumped at the AI.

“Indeed Sir, however you had commanded not to bother you in the event that you and Captain Rogers were-“

“Yes Jarvis, I recall.”  Tony snipped.

Meanwhile Clint and Natasha had approached Steve’s bed.  Nat had leaned in for a hug first.

“Oh, I am so glad you’re okay.”  She said as her expression became a bit wet.

“You’re crazy son of a bitch!”  Clint uttered in relief as he leaned in for a hug after Natasha moved aside. 

He smiled at them gratefully.

Unlike Hank, Tony’s departure was noticed.  Steve felt every single step he walked away.  His heart shuddered in agony the moment Tony was no longer in the room.  Natasha and Clint were successful in recapturing his attention as they began to tell him in excruciating detail everything that happened that day.

As they spoke there was still a part of Steve’s consciousness that was hyper aware of Tony’s absence.  But he still listened as intently as possible.

Apparently Steve had actually been unconscious for three days and was in a trancelike state for eighteen hours.  The Captains immensely stupid and idiotic idea worked beautifully, however.  From what they were able to analyze from various sources Steve’s quick thinking and sacrifice saved thousands upon thousands of people. 

The giant zapper was designed to go off like a nuke.  The crazy dude they identified as Kumin Tankar had intended to set it off like a suicide bomb the moment the army infiltrated.  Tankar also had it set up to where if anybody had tried to disable it, like knocking him out the way Steve did, it would have automatically went off.

Steve had winced at that.  He knew it was a possibility but he was rather impulsive at the time.  They also told him that the properties of his vibranium shield neutralized the core when he fractured it.  Apparently that had been the absolute best course of action in that scenario.  All other alternatives would have led to significant collateral damage.

Steve’s way ended up discharging the excessive power in a shockwave.  Though quite powerful and damaging with the capacity of knocking all of the Avengers through a loop, it was nowhere near the annihilating force it was meant to be.  Despite the absolute terror of the entire circumstances the only reported fatalities were mostly birds.  All in all not bad.

“What about the children?”  Steve asked desperate to find out what happened to them.  Though finding that there were no fatalities had been an extreme relief.

“They’re fine.”  Natasha smiled. “Johnny made sure each one had been reunited with their parents.  All of them were in perfect health, even Becka.”  Natasha verified.

Steve smiled impossibly wide.

“Thank goodness!”  He exclaimed utterly relieved.  All of his worries have been put to rest.  Now that he knew everyone was safe and sound exhaustion took over.  Before he knew it he slipped back into a deep sleep.  Before he was out completely, however, he heard the faint muffled sound of his teammate’s voices.

“You can give me my grand back Barton.”

“Che, I didn’t even have a chance to enjoy it yet…”

~-0-~

Meanwhile…

Deep in the heart of a frozen wasteland, inside of a long forgotten facility, a short rotund silhouette paced idly in the dusty halls.

“Boss!  I found it!”  A voice sounded off as a second silhouette joined the first.

“Excellent!  Give it here.”  The fat silhouette demanded.

The second more slender silhouette handed over a worn leather bound book.  The first man snatched it away greedily.  He began to eagerly thumb through the book.  His expression morphed from giddy excitement to sour crossness.

“What is it Boss?  Is it not the right one?”

“Idiot!  How would I know?!  It’s not written in English you fool!  Get me a translator!”  He screeched.

“Yes Boss!  Right away Boss!”  The second man scurried away quickly.

“Moron.”  The large one said as he began pacing once more.

~-0-~

The next few days have been vastly grating on Steve’s nerves.  He had been receiving a variety of responses from his team.  Everything from elated gratitude to indignant concern.  His primary team had been relieved and accommodating, however, some of the newer members had questioned the soundness of his mind seeing as his idiotic stunt had been thoroughly suicidal.

Professor Xavier had managed to snuff out that flame to some extent, however, there were some that remained wholly unconvinced.  And to add icing to this immensely, infuriatingly, ludicrous cake, Tony had been stubbornly avoiding him.

It’s bad enough that Steve already feels vastly inadequate, that if only he had more useful abilities, things would not have gotten so out of hand as it did.  But now he had been barred from participating in any and all incoming missions, completely banned from active duty.  That, to him, was a revoltingly low blow. 

The only modicum of consideration they allowed him was that he got to be present for Tankar’s interrogation.  He couldn’t participate mind you, but they allowed him to be there nonetheless. 

Crazy guy squealed like a stuck pig anyway.  Apparently, Tankar was hired by a man simply known as Harker.  Harker was working on something big, so he had hired Tankar to be a significant distraction.  Something to keep the Avengers and the world busy as he executed his plans. 

Tankar swears up and down that he has no idea what Harker was planning.  He did not care to ask as long as Harker generously funded his research and development of his Fuzz Buzz dolls.

Really?  That’s what they were called?

Anyway, that’s all they were able to get out of him.  He said that he had met with Harker’s representative, Graham Rhododendron, once and that $100,000 ended up in his account every month after he signed the contract.  Of course the funds were untraceable even with Shield and Tony’s technology. 

Go figure.

Speaking of dead ends, there had been relatively no new developments in the Calamity case, even with everyone pooling their resources.  Despite all of the information Calamity provided it was all still useless.  It’s like she knew no matter how much she revealed, none could hope to stop her anyway.  Tony had yet to completely decipher the encryption but kept assuring everybody that he was close.

~-0-~

Meanwhile…

Deep in the heart of a frozen wasteland a slender figure dashed through the halls with a new visitor in tow.

“Boss!  Boss!  I found a translator!”  The slender figure said dragging a frightened man behind him.

“Excellent!  Bring him here.”  The slender man yanked the frightened one in front of the Boss man.

“Now, you’re gonna listen good.  I need you to read this book to me and tell me what I need to know.”  Commanded the rotund one.

The translator nodded desperately and began to glance through the book.  If it were even possible he became even more terrified.

“What kind of monster do you mean to unleash?!”  He demanded in a shrill voice.

The fat man pulled out a gun and held it to the temple of the translator.

“Like I said, you will read this book to me and tell me what I need to know.  Or I will blow your disgusting brains out you ungrateful twit!”  He bellowed spitting and foaming at the mouth.

The translator began to tremble almost violently but nodded weakly in submission.

“We’ll get started!”

~-0-~

It wasn’t until almost an entire week after the Fuzz Buzz incident did Steve finely get a reprieve from the constant stifling and anxious atmosphere that seemed to follow him around while he was in the presence of everybody else.  And it came in the form of Johnny Storm of all people.

Steve was in his studio slowly adding color to his Coney Island painting.  Even though this scene would usually inspire profound reminiscent feelings that usually consisted of guilt and grief, the Captains mind was blank, completely lost in the process of adding and mixing colors.  He was so deep in his activity he did not realize he was no longer alone or that Jarvis had in fact announced the arrival of his new guest.  He was completely shocked out of his reverie by the sound of Johnny’s voice.

“Wow, the others said you were good but I had no idea.”

Steve looked over his shoulder to see Johnny looking at his work around the room in different stages of completion.

“Oh!  Johnny, what are you doing here?”

Really, Johnny was one of the last people he thought would come in here to seek him out like this.

“I actually have a surprise for you.”  He said excitedly, his grin not unlike his own.  “I hope you don’t mind me bringing them here, they just couldn’t wait to see you.”  He stated still excited.

“Who’s here?”  Steve questioned.

Johnny, seeing that Steve was genuinely curious and not at all upset at having his privacy invaded, continued back to the door.

“Come on in.”  He said to someone outside.

Steve’s confusion melted to shock then to equal excitement as four children bounded into his studio.

“Steve!!”  They all shouted excitedly.  Steve opened his arms wide for the kids.  They were wrapped in his big safe arms in moments, snuggling happily into his warm body.  Behind the kids three sets of parents walked in.  They all were staring at Steve like he was pure gold.  Like he was the most wonderful thing in the world.

Steve stood with all of the children still latched on to him to greet the parents.  The children were delighted.  He held out his hand best he could before they all had bypassed his hand and tearfully joined their children in hugging Captain America.

“Thank you so much!”  Maggie and Eli’s mother said to him with watery eyes.  She was holding Eli close to her desperately.

“We thought the worst when we could not find them!”  Kevin and Tommy’s father said to him.  His wife began to weep as she patted Tommy and Kevin’s hair.

“She’s my whole world.”  Becka’s mother said to Steve.

He could only nod, his bottom lip quivering as he began to get caught up in all of the emotion.

“We heard you had gotten hurt badly that day, we wanted to see you in the hospital but no one was allowed in.”  Maggie’s father said sadly.

“The children explained to us what happened.”  Becka’s mother explained.

“You…  Went through so much to protect them.” Kevin’s mother said between sobs.

“I also elaborated on a few things.”  Johnny added.

Steve nodded.

“Thank you so much for stopping by.  I had been wondering if the kids were all right.”  He said softly.

“Look at you thanking us.  We came to thank you.”  Kevin’s father said ironically.

“Please if there is anything at all we can do for you name it.” Maggie’s father said.

“Oh no, I don’t want anything.  Just for these kids to grow up happy and healthy.”  He said with an awkward smile.

“Because of you they will.”  Said Becka’s mother.

Steve smiled.  He needed this in more ways than anybody could possibly understand.

For the next two hours Johnny, Steve, the kids, and their parents spent some quality time together.  Steve dug out some blank canvases and let the children have at it.  It was fun and messy. 

After they had all promised to meet up again, perhaps for a picnic, Steve and Johnny walked them out to their vehicles.  The children were incredibly reluctant to part from Steve but he promised they would see each other again.

Instead of parting ways after the departure of the kids Steve and Johnny had ended up in the kitchen.  After a lengthy discussion on the best picnic foods, they both had agreed that it had been ages since either of them had a legit and homemade from scratch apple pie.  And after Steve admitted that he knew how to bake, Johnny laid on the charm.

Johnny told Steve about pies long passed from their mother and how Sue could never bake a proper pie, like he could get any closer anyway.

Surprisingly, Steve found himself talking about Bucky and how he loved Steve’s pies and anything he cooked really.

They fell into a comfortable silence as Johnny prepared the apples and Steve beat the dough into submission.  That was until,

“Steve?”  Johnny uttered quietly.

“Yeah?”  He answered pausing his discipline over the dough.

“I…  Never mind! It’s stupid…”  He said agitated.

“Hey, it’s okay, what is it?”  Steve asked genuinely concerned.

“I can’t…”  He thought for a moment.  “It’s just I can’t stop thinking about what you said to the kids.”  He said finally.

“What did I say when?”  Steve asked needing clarification.

“You told them we were brothers…  And I wondered if that could be true one day.”  He went red in the face, the apple slice in his hand sizzling a little. 

Steve removed his hands from the dough and wiped them on his apron.  He grabbed Johnny shoulder and looked him in the eye.

“We already are.”  He smiled kindly at him.

“Yeah?  ‘cause we didn’t have the best start.”  He laughed nervously. 

Steve thought about it for a moment.

“I tend to not have the best start with a lot of people.”  He laughed as he thought about his miserable and deplorable first meetings with Bucky and Tony.

“I guess I just rub people the wrong way.”  He shrugged with a laugh as he scratched the back of his head.

Johnny smile that that.

“Come on let’s make these pies to die for!”  Steve smiled wickedly.

Johnny laughed ready to comply.

Steve had decidedly thought it to be a good idea to make twenty seven pies.  Good thing too, once the scent of apple pies baking wafted around the compound, many people emerged from their niches and followed the smell.  One by one people had wandered into the kitchen to figure out the source of that divined smell. 

Once it had been established that pies were happening, most waited patiently in the dining area.  Natasha had a brilliant idea and went out to get vanilla ice cream.  Once the pies were done some sort of odd domestic peace and tranquility fell over the compound.

Even Tony came out of hiding for a short time.  The temptation of fresh homemade pie too great to pass up.  Sue teased Johnny over his involvement in the pie making process, suggesting that the pies might have been poisoned.

Not one crumb of pie was left.  With full bellies, sated appetites and a warm atmosphere, Steve felt at peace amongst them after days of what felt like constant animosity.  His calm was short lived however, just when he was about to talk to Tony the genius had abruptly dismissed himself.

Steve was not gonna lie.  It hurt, it hurt like hell.  And that’s saying a lot considering everything he’s been through the last couple weeks.  As the others conversed amiably together, Steve silently and stealthily left to go back to his studio.

He needed to get lost again.

Steve sat at his desk staring at his blank sketch pad.  He let his thoughts run all over the place before he could no longer decipher them.  He absent mindedly put his pencil to the paper and began to sketch. 

Before he even began to realize it he had drawn that farmhouse of old once more.  As soon as he realized what he had produced he sighed.

“If only.”

He squeezed the bridge of his nose forcing his emotions back.  Despite having a better day than he’s had in awhile his heart was still so raw after everything.  He just didn’t know any more.  He felt like coming out of the ice all over again and he hated it.

He slowly tidied up his studio before retiring to his room.  His dismal thoughts weaved around the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what could have beens’ before falling into a mercifully dreamless sleep. 

Little did he know there was a storm on the horizon.  A wicked torrent that would surely consume him and tear his life apart. 

Winter was coming early.

~-0-~

Meanwhile…

Deep in the heart of a frozen wasteland the fat man stepped over the lifeless body of the translator and entered a secret chamber deep within the long forgotten facility.  He looked around the room at the treasures abandoned that he claimed for himself.  He stopped and smiled salivating at one of six treasures.

“Boss?  Are you sure you want that one?”  The slender man asked.

“You fool!  This is the only one we have any hope of controlling!”  The fat one seethed.  “Well? What are you waiting for?  Thaw him out!”

“Yes Boss!”

-0-

“Boss!  He’s waking up!”

“Good, good.”  He opened the red leather bound book to the proper page.

“Boss!?”

“Hush you fool!  He belongs to us now!”  The fat man turned his attention back to the book.

“Zhelaniye…”

 

End of Chapter Fourteen.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Fifteen: For This Moment To Come

There was a chill in the air Steve noted as he made his way out the door for his morning run.  He was the first one awake that morning as far as he could tell.  He was thankful, he did not have the nerve to face anybody right now.

It was monumentally refreshing.  The wind in his hair and the increase of his heart rate was exhilarating.  He had been on a type of house arrest the last week while he healed.  It was horrible.  But now there was nothing between him and the open road.  Well maybe a bunch of cars and people and stuff but the point was he was outside and no one could say otherwise.

He ran mindlessly.  He just kept running and running.  Eventually he stopped at a park.  The birds were singing and the sun was shining.  He took his phone out of his pocket and was shocked to discover that he had been running for nearly four hours straight.  He had a missed call from Sam and Natasha.  It was midmorning now.  He decided that he should be returning to the compound soon.

Before he even took one step in the direction back to the others a strange sensation overtook him.  His back went ramrod straight and the hair on his body stood on end.  Something in the air shifted and Steve knew even before it happened there was a bad vibe in the air.

All of the sudden there was a screech of tires on asphalt, horns blaring and a reverberating crash.  He ran to the scene.  It happened not three hundred feet from him.  As he approached the mess of broken vehicles he got a glimpse of something on the rooftop of a building overlooking the road.  He shrugged it off in favor of aiding the people involved in the accident.

-0-

That headache was back more fierce than ever.  Because of his enhanced metabolism taking painkillers has become literally a thing of the past.  Seriously, a normal dose would do diddley squat and three hundred more doses on top of that would barely scratch the surface. 

So in time Steve had been forced to learn more natural methods of taking care of things like headaches and muscle aches and such.  Meditation and aromatherapy were not even going to cut it this time, however.  Steve was this close to finding himself a pharmacy and consuming everything on site. 

That was if it wasn’t for the source of his ire in the first place.

After the accident yesterday it came to the attention of the Avengers via Shield that it was in fact the assassination of Senator Wolfram.

No, no, that wasn’t the irksome part. 

The irksome part was the fact that the assassination happened so close to Steve and involving him so dangerously only days after his suicidal near death experience, landed him back on house arrest (for his own safety of course.) In addition to that it was Tony’s idea.

After days of adamantly avoiding Steve, he had the audacity to look Steve in the eye and tell him it was for his own good.  It took everything he had not that pop him one.

God damn it!  He loves Tony to death but that damn jerk!

He gave Tony his space to work through whatever he was going through.  Steve had made up his mind not to over think it, that Tony was being Tony and he would eventually come around.  Steve did not know in the slightest what that would mean for their relationship. But now however, it was like he was seventeen again and getting punched in the gut by the local hooligan.

Tony knows how much he hates to be controlled and confined.  And he especially hated when people hid things from him and lied to his face.  Which he now realized, that was exactly what everybody was doing.  Something was going on and they weren’t telling him about it, “for his own good.”

He expected that kind of bull shit from Shield and various other people.  But not from his own team.  He thought they were way past that kind of crap.  But he can see it clearly now.  It hurts, it hurts like you wouldn’t believe.  Especially from Natasha and Tony.

Two years ago, sure, they did shit like that all the time but he had hoped that they all had an understanding by now. “Don’t keep stuff from Steve, it’s just all bad.”

Now it feels almost like a betrayal of sorts.  He knows somewhere deep down that his friends really are keeping his best interests at heart.  But damn, they just had to choose one of the worst ways to do it.

He sighed.  ‘Great.’  Now he was developing an eye twitch on top of the headache, just flipping fantastic.

After a grueling debriefing, where he found out what he witnessed was an assassination, they pestered him nonstop about what he saw on the roof.  He couldn’t remember much, just a flash of movement.  The best he could come up with was a dark figure and something shiny that flashed before it was gone.

It didn’t help that when Steve asked Fury and Natasha about the pinched looks on their faces they said it was nothing.

‘Nothing my ass.’  He thought.

Now he was brooding alone in his studio.  Mulling over everything.  As it was Xavier took his X-Men on a mission.  They left sometime yesterday after the assassination to follow a lead on Calamity, leaving the Avengers to deal with Shield responsibilities.  Despite being on radio silence there were some cases they just could not ignore.  But Fury was still casting a smokescreen over the Calamity case.

Speaking of, Calamity has now claimed 894 people.  The media was going nuts.  The CDC just keeps shaking their heads.  Steve just sighed.  It’s not a disease people.  It’s something far worse. 

That’s something that also had been weighing heavily on him.  He thought it was bad when the numbers where merely in the seventies all those weeks ago.  Now it’s nearly nine hundred.  Nine hundred innocent souls lost to this thing that was happening that they can’t even begin to understand.

And now he doesn’t have Tony to lean on.  Everything seems to be slipping away, right through his fingers like fine sand.  It’s near the end of the world and he’s sitting there alone brooding. 

‘Wonderful.’  He mentally berated himself.

It’s the end of the world and he’s sitting alone when he could be trying to make peace with Tony.

‘Idiot.’  He thought.

He got up and took a deep breath.  Now or never.  He subconsciously adjusted his blue shirt and wipes nonexistent dirt off his jeans as he made his way to Tony’s lab with resolution.

The moment he got to the door however he hesitated.  He did not even know what he was going to say. He did not know if Tony would even speak to him.  He groaned as he began to pace nervously in front of the door.  He tried to get his thoughts and order but they were a jumbled mess.

Just as he was about to give up and leave, the door opened abruptly.  Tony stood there with an air of impatience that served to put a deep scowl on the Captain’s face that morphed into a full on glare when Tony rolled his eyes.

“Come on then.”  Tony sighed as he gestured for Steve to follow him back into the lab.  His snarky brand of attitude was ever present.

As Steve followed Tony deeper into his lab he had to remind himself over and over again in his head that Tony was just that way.  That he is a kind, wonderful and caring person under all that attitude.  And that Steve loves him no matter what.

“Okay, I know you’re angry.”

‘Angry?!’

Angry doesn’t even cover everything Steve was feeling.

“Really?  What gave you back clue??”  Steve asked incredulously.

Tony sighed deeply.

“Come on Cap, I’m trying to meet you halfway here.”

Steve said nothing.

“Look, you’ve got to trust me here okay?”  Tony made eye contact with Steve.  “I really am trying to help.”

“Then why does it feel like everyone is suddenly against me?”  Steve snapped.  “I know you all are keeping something from me.  Why?!  Do you think I am too weak to take it?”

“No!  It’s not like that!”  Tony shouted.  “I…  I can’t tell you, there’s nothing you could do anyway.”  He added slightly calmer.

“So there is something.  What is it!?”  Steve was getting angrier now.

“I told you I can’t tell you!”

“Why not!?  What is so damn important that my entire team is keeping secrets from me now?!”

“You!  You idiot!  I’m trying to protect you!”  Tony shot back.

“What do I need protection from?  What’s going on Tony?” Steve demanded.  His patience was wearing awfully thin.

“I. Can’t.  Tell.  You.” Tony enunciated slowly.

They stared at each other unyielding, Steve wanted answers and Tony wouldn’t give any.

“Tony what is going on?”  He finally asked lowly and desperately.

Tony only looked at him sadly and shook his head.  Now that he was finally face to face with Tony since he woke up in recovery, he could see now how haggard the genius was.  He looked like he has lost a few pounds and had even fewer nights of sleep.  Whatever was happening was bad. 

Steve submitted.

“I do trust you Tony, but you know how much I hate being out of the loop on top of being locked away like a caged animal.  You know!”  Steve stressed.

“It’s the only way I know I can protect you.”  He replied softly but firmly.

“That’s no way to live, Tony.”

“But at least you’d be alive.”  Tony replied.

He reached out and touched the Captain’s left cheek gently.  Steve relaxed into his touch, they haven’t communicated properly in days.  Yet another thing he hates.

Steve pressed his hand over Tony’s as he cupped his face.  They began to leaned in closer to each other.  Steve came alive at the thought of being able to kiss Tony again, even though he was still mad as hell at the man.  Just as their lips barely brushed, Tony got an alert.

The genius jerked away almost violently.  That reaction by far did not go unnoticed by Steve.  He did not know how to feel about that or even where to start analyzing it.  All he does know is that it hurt.

“Sir, Director Fury has issued an alert.”  Jarvis informed.

The Directors voice came on after Jarvis.

“Mr. Stark and Captain Rogers come to my quarters now, it is urgent.”  The audio feed cut off suddenly.

“Oh god what now!?”  Tony groaned.  He looked over at Steve.  “Promise me whatever this new thing is you won’t get involved.”

“How can I?  I’m on house arrest.”  Steve replied.

“Like you wouldn’t figure out a way out of it.”  Tony quipped.

“Hn. Come on, let’s go see what Fury wants.”

-0-

When they entered Fury’s quarters Clint, Natasha and Maria were already there.  Steve barely noticed their presence on the account that Fury looked like he’d went a few rounds with Bruce on a bad day.  Before anybody could ask,

“Car accident.  I think I look pretty damn good considering.  I asked you five here specifically because I need people who I can trust.”

“What exactly happened, you’ve been shot?”  Tony asked.

He nodded, “Soviet made, no rifling and completely untraceable.”  He looked over to Natasha with an odd expression.

“Nat show them.”  The Director said.

Natasha pulled up the video footages of Fury’s insane car accident.  Apparently someone was trying to assassinate him.

“As far as they know they succeeded.  Soon you will be receiving reports that I’m dead.  I expect you at my funeral.”

“Who is after you?”  Steve asked.

Fury and Natasha shared a look again.  Then he nodded.

“Here.”  She freeze framed a part of the video they have of the whole crazy ordeal.  “This is the only shot we have of him.”

It’s blurry and obscured but it appears to be a dark figure holding a rifle of some sort.  He also appeared to have a metal arm.  Whether it’s armor or prostatic was indiscernible.

“That’s what I saw on the roof.”  Steve stated in realization.  “What are we dealing with here?”

“He is known as the Winter Soldier.  He is credited with over two dozen assassinations in the last 50 years.”  Their eyes widened significantly.

50 years?

“So a ghost story then?”

“Sounds something like you Cap.”  Tony poked.

“Even scarier and a thousand times more deadly.”  Clint dead panned.

“Most of the intelligence community doesn’t believe he exists.  Several years ago I was escorting a nuclear engineer out of Iran, somebody shot out my tires near Odessa.  We lost control, went straight over a cliff.  I pulled us out, but the Winter Soldier was there.  I was covering my engineer.  So he shot him straight through me.”  She lifted her shirt enough to show a nasty looking scar on her abdomen.

“A Soviet slug, no rifling.  Bye bye bikinis.”  She smirked.

“Yeah?  Bet you look terrible in them.”  Tony ribbed.  Steve looked sideways at Tony thinking the same exact thing.

“Going after him is a dead end.  I know, I’ve tried.  Like you said he’s a ghost story.”

“So what does the ghost want?”  Steve asked.

“Me out of the way, obviously.  But why?  That’s the real question.”

Steve sighed it’s just one thing after another.

“Stark, I know we have most of our resources trying to keep track of Calamity but seeing as she can control her visibility to us we need to prioritize now and search for this soldier.”  Fury commanded.

“For once I agree with you.”  Tony sighed.  “I’m still nowhere near decrypting the information Calamity gave us.  Our tracking efforts are useless until I do, so we might as well keep a lookout for this guy.”  Tony said taking out his phone to make the adjustments.

“Jarvis, alert me immediately if you find this guy.”  Tony ordered.

“Will do Sir.”

“How you holding up their buddy?”  Tony addressed Clint. 

He shrugged.

“Could be better, could be worse…  I’m not exactly sure how it could be worse, but I gotta keep on trucking.”

‘Very true.’  Steve thought.

“So in regards to your funeral, I think we should decide now about the burial flowers.  Do you like roses?”  Tony asked with a smirk.

“Carnations.  Roses are overdone.”  Fury replied not missing a beat.

Steve kinda gawked at them, rather surprised at the levity.  On the other hand it’s probably the best way to handle the situation.

“Sir?”  Jarvis sounded off.

“Yeah Jarvis?”

“I’ve located the Winter Soldier.”

“Huh, that was quick.”  Tony blinked.  He turned swiftly to Steve.  “You stay out of it!”  He told him which earned him a glare from our fine Captain.

“Where is he Jarvis?”

BANG!!

BANG!!

BANG!!

Before Jarvis could even reply, a series of explosions sounded off outside the compound.  The entire building shook.  Steve could feel it resonate in his bones.

“Two hundred yards North West outside the compound, Sir.”

“Ya think?!”

“Tony, be careful!  You have no idea what he’s capable of.”  Fury stressed.

Tony had already ran out to the common rooms activating his suit.  Steve was hot on his heels.

“I told you to stay out of it, Cap!”  Tony snapped as the Iron Man suit enveloped his body.

“You can’t do it alone Tony!”  Steve shouted.

“Don’t worry, he won’t be.”  Natasha said as she ran into the room fully suited up followed by Clint and Bruce.

“I can’t get involved with whatever is happening.”  Bruce said quickly.  “There are innocent people here and I’m too much of a liability. I can feel him pounding, I don’t have much time.”  Bruce said straining to keep control.

“I’ll initiate that protocol then.”  Tony replied quickly. I’ll let you know what’s happening after.

Bruce nodded and fled deeper into the compound.

“Jarvis initiate the ‘tough nut’ protocol and the lockdown protocol.”  Tony shouted. “We need to protect the compound.”

“Tony I can’t just sit this out!”  Steve was shaking with fury.  Not when it’s all happening just outside.

Another explosion sounded.  The blasts were enough to distract Steve long enough to be knocked out from behind.  He cursed himself as darkness over to him.

-0-

Steve woke up to the sound of gunfire and combat.  He swiftly remembered what was going down.  The Winter Soldier was attacking the compound.  He was lying on the couch in the common room.  He couldn’t help but to think that at least they didn’t leave him lying on the floor. 

He quickly sprang from the couch and effectively stumbled nearly all the way to his quarters.  He came to the conclusion that Natasha was likely the one who knocked him out based on his disorientation.

He didn’t have time to properly suit up so he grabbed his shield and made his way to the nearest exit only to find he was barricaded in by Jarvis.

“The compound is on lock down.”  Jarvis stated.

“In addition to that you, Captain Rogers, are not allowed to leave.”

This nearly threw Steve into a fit of rage.

“Override code 389-2468 Jam Jars.”

“Mr. Stark has disabled your override code over the house arrest.  It is invalid.  Do you wish to override lock down protocol?”

Steve paused.  He could get out if lock down was lifted, however that would put the compound at risk.  He couldn’t do that.  But he did have an idea.

“Jarvis, do I have access to Tony’s lab?”

“Yes.”

“Good, let me in then.”  Steve made his way to Tony’s lab.

“Come on where is it?”  Steve was looking around at all of Tony’s hidden compartments.  He had spent enough time in his lab to know how the genius operates.

“Here!”  He opened the compartment he was looking for.

“Jarvis activate the aid bots.  Verification number 879756 pedestal.”

“Activating!  Standby for launch.”

Steve shoved himself into a small closet sized compartment with one of the three aid bots.

“You are not authorized in the compartmental zone.”

“Override code 389-2468 Jam Jars.”

“Override accepted.”

Steve sighed to himself.  Tony was going to strip him of all access after this.  Oh well.  Well not ‘oh well’ it was gonna suck.  They would probably chain him to the walls after this.  But he is not gonna sit back when there might be something he could do to help.

“Launching.” 

He felt the machines vibrate beneath his fingertips as the thrusters activated.  He held on tight as the aid bot launched through the tunnel to the outside.

When his eyes adjusted he looked upon the lands surrounding the compound in horror.  They looked very much like a battlefield.  Steve broke down in a cold sweat over the horrifyingly familiar sight. 

The aid bots were already complying to their operating program.  He saw one bot head to an unconscious Natasha.  The other went to Clint who was sporting a few bleeding lacerations but seemed to be in good health overall.  

Of course the attack had to happen when the compound was mostly empty.  The X-Men were on a mission about a Calamity lead, the Fantastic Four had been called out to stop Von Dooms latest scheme earlier that day in addition to three different units distributed to do Shield work.  There’s something oddly fishy about that.  It’s funny that things seem to be happening at their weakest.

The Captain spotted Tony flying sluggishly around what appears to be the Winter Soldier.  His suit was heavily damaged.  He thought Tony was just enough out of the range of the soldier until he saw the dark figure jump impossibly high and nabbed Tony right out of the sky.  The soldier pinned Iron Man to the ground and Steve watched in horror as he forcefully clutched Tony’s ark reactor through the suit intending to crush it and rip it out.

Steve let go of the aid bot and dove.

“No!  Get off of him!”  Steve bellowed as he plowed his shield into the soldiers head. 

He let Tony go instantly before turning his attention fully on the Captain.  Now that Steve was face to face with him he could see that his arm was a full mechanical prostatic and powerful.  He was wearing black bulletproof body armor and his dark hair was long and wild.  A black mask covered his face.

And now, that metal arm was rapidly heading to his face.  He lifted his shield just in time to block and was shocked at how powerful that punch was. 

The aid bot was dragging Tony away from the fray.  Steve hoped he was okay.  That moment of distraction cost him as the dark figure swiped his feet out from under him. 

Steve had to get serious fast. 

He swiftly rolled to the left and used the momentum to fling himself up and simultaneously strike with his shield.  The soldier had anticipated his move and blocked the shield with his arm while at the same time punching Steve in the face with his right hand.  That one may not have been metal but it still felt like a battering ram. 

He had to stay focused and move faster. 

He ended up in a brutal hand to hand combat with the deadly assassin.  The dark figure was a super soldier just like him.  The Captain did not know how but he could sense it. 

Blow after blow sent Steve reeling.  There was something else about this character that unsettled him.  He could not put a finger on it. 

Steve recoiled as the soldier punched him in the gut with his left arm.  He hadn’t felt that awful sensation in years. It was infinitely more harsh than the what the doom bot had unleashed upon him.  The soldier took the opportunity to kick the Captain in the face sending him flying back.  The soldier was on him pummeling his face in before he could recover.  Steve managed to throw him and reversed their positions using his shield to beat at his face.  The impact fractured the lens of the mask. 

Steve started to get that unsettling feeling again as he felt the body of this person move beneath him.  The way his movements pulsed sent Steve’s world off kilter enough for the soldier to disarm him.  He used his metal arm to take Steve’s shield and toss it away.  Using that movement he threw Steve off of himself and backed off enough to remove the broken dark vision wear off of his mask.  Steve was shocked to his core as the strangers piercing blue eyes settled on him.  Before Steve could process what was happening a helicopter flew over head.

“All right!  That’s enough!”  A voice came over a loudspeaker.

The soldier disengaged.  A rope ladder came down from the helicopter.  The soldier gripped a rung with his left arm.  The helicopter made its escape with no resistance.  Steve was exhausted and thoroughly beat up.  Even if he had the energy to try and keep the chopper from making a getaway he simply couldn’t. 

He was frozen on the spot. 

He was beyond unsettled at this point.  Something was very, very wrong with that soldier.  Steve couldn’t quite put his finger on it.  Somewhere very deep down the answer was screaming at him.  Deep down in his soul something shattered and his whole world came crashing down.  Even if his soul knew what his mind could not, would not, know there was something he was very aware of.

‘I knew that man.’  He thought.

Steve knew from the way his soul cried out in agony that the truth might very well kill him. 

Isn’t it tragic that you would be surprised at what you can live through?

End Chapter Fifteen

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen: The Season of Misery

The next two days were an all new level of emotionally fractured chaos.  Steve had to sit through hours of Tony and the rest of his team reprimanding him for getting involved. 

But really now, what was he supposed to do?  Let the Winter Soldier rip out Tony’s arc reactor?  Let the others die?  If he hadn’t activated the aid bots when he did his team would have died.  If he had not stopped and engaged the Winter Soldier, Tony would have died!  How could he not have? 

As it was Natasha was out of commission due to a minor concussion and a bullet wound in the shoulder.  It went through and through and missed anything vital but it was going to hurt for awhile.  Clint came out of it the least scathed.  His various cuts and bruises already well treated and on the mend.  Maria had a broken arm from a particularly nasty run in with the Soldier’s metal arm.

Steve found out real fast that it was a futile to argue with them.  They absolutely refused to see his side of it, not to mention that it was a thousand times more infuriating because they were all still hiding something and it definitely had to do with why they kept insisting on putting him on house arrest “for his own good.”

Soon after Tony went back into thoroughly ignoring Steve which only served to irk him further. 

This was a complete nightmare. 

Eventually various teams began to return from their missions and the news of Fury’s death was utterly morale busting.  Of course they weren’t allowed to know the truth yet, just in case there were double agents at work.  Xavier remained vigil at keeping a look out just in case.

An entire service was being planned out and Steve could not even bring himself to really participate.  All he did was tell them that he would paint a portrait for the funeral and proceeded to lock himself in his studio.  He didn’t know what he was going to do.  He had no desire to paint Fury’s face considering the man was still alive and completely all for the whole “leave Steve in the dark and on house arrest” thing.

He feels horrible, he really does, that Fury almost died and that someone was after him, but damn he was incredibly angry about the whole thing.  He was at least happy that Fury let them know that he was still alive, because if he found out later that his survival was another thing they were keeping from him he was going to lose it.  He was going to give them the best impression of the Hulk any of them had ever seen. 

Steve sighed heavily as he slowly moved the Coney Island portrait off of the easel.  He allowed himself a moment to get lost in his emotions, his sorrow before carefully setting the painting aside.  He placed the blank canvas he just made on the easel and proceeded to stare at it.  He was like that for nearly half an hour before Jarvis brought him out of his thoughts by alerting him of a visitor.

“Captain Rogers, Professor Xavier is at the door.”

Steve blinked barely registering what he was being told.

“Yeah, let him in.”  Steve turned in the stool he was seated in to face the doorway.  Charles wheeled himself in slowly admiring the various works, finished and unfinished, distributed throughout the studio.

“Steven.”  The Professor greeted with a smile.

“Hello Professor.”  Steve returned, “What brings you here today?”

“I wanted to see if you were all right.”  He replied almost sadly.  “So much is happening all at once and I fear isolating yourself like this is not in your best interests.”

“Yeah well I did not feel like mingling with the others while they mourn and prepare for a funeral of…  Never mind!”  Steve voiced harshly as he turned abruptly back to the canvas.  He began to rummage through his paint box before choosing a crimson red and a coal black paint tube and had began to pour the colors onto his palette.

“I know of the Directors true fate.  You wish you could tell the rest of your team that all’s well.”

“My team!?  You mean the people perfectly comfortable keeping me locked away without telling me why!?”  He frowned as he brushed heavy streaks of red against the canvas.

“Oh Steven, they are not comfortable with it at all, but do it to protect you.”  The Professor expressed softly.

This made Steve even angrier.  He shoved the entire surface of the palette against the canvas where it stuck and threw the brush across the room.

“FROM WHAT!?”  He snapped furiously, unable to control his unstable emotions.  “What are they protected me from?!  No one will tell me!”

The Professor watched him intently.

Steve continued dejectedly, “Everyone is treating me differently, like I’m fragile.  Everyone.  My team won’t look me in the eye and Tony flat out refuses to acknowledge my presence.  It hurts, all of it!  I just wish someone could explain it to me.”  The Captain spoke barely above a whisper. 

“Why?”  He uttered despondently looking into Xavier’s stricken face.  Steve’s eyes were a sorrowful blue.

“Steven, listen to me, much like how you are unable to tell the others about the condition of the Director, the others cannot tell you what is happening.  I cannot tell you either, but at the very least I may be able to try and explain why.”  Charles smiled dismally at him.

Steve nodded for him to continue.

“Steven, what is currently happening is much bigger than you suspect.  I can’t say much more about it but it doesn’t all have to do with you.”

The Captain nodded slowly, absorbing the Professors words.  Steve spent days upon days yearning for answers, he was most certainly not going to interrupt.

“After what happened your friends decided unanimously that it was in your best interest to keep it from you because if you knew you could die.”

“Die how?”  Steve spoke rattled, distressed at the new level of complexity this whole nightmare had taken on.

“I cannot say.  Please understand, the less you know the better.  Trust me.”

“But how?  How would me knowing make me die?”  Steve looked at Charles apprehensively.  “If I knew would someone try to kill me?  Would I simply kill over? Would my head explode?  How?”  He tried to project his desperation through his thoughts, hoping the telepath would understand why he needed this.

“I’m so sorry, I cannot say.” 

Steve groaned despairingly. He slouched over with his head and his hands and his elbows on his knees getting lost in his thoughts.  He gets it, he really does, the importance of keeping certain secrets for the greater good.  That was part of his freakin’ job after all.  But this was something else, he can feel it.  It wasn’t only about Tony’s infuriating behavior either.  It was a huge part of it for sure, but not all of it in the least.  It’s not even just the way everyone was keeping secrets and keeping him locked up.  There was an unbearable undertone to it all; something slithering by just beneath the surface. 

It wasn’t the deceit of it either.  He’s handled so many covert cases to know.  He had been in the loop and out of the loop enough to understand that this whole thing wasn’t because of how dangerous the information was. 

It was because they couldn’t trust him. 

That revelation in of itself felt more wretched than words can describe.  Whatever was happening, his team, his friends, Tony could not trust him with the information.  Whatever it was.  Like a slap in the face it stung on so many levels.

Steve was half expecting for the Professor to weigh in on his new revelation.  When he remained silent, completely silent, the Captain looked up at him.  The professor was just sitting there ever patient, odd…  He was expecting him to intervene within his thoughts and say something like “It is not you they do not trust it is this dangerous matter.”

“Listen Steven, you know better than anyone that some secrets are best to be kept for the greater good.”  He told the Captain calmly.

Steve paused, ‘Yeah I know I just thought that.’  He thought.

Okay, weird, the Professor was someone who does not waste words.

“It’s simply too dangerous for you to know this sensitive information.  It must unsettle you profoundly, the unknown.”

Steve froze, ‘That’s not it at all!  Had he not been reading my mind?’

Steve watched him.  The Professor remained calm and patient.  He had to be sure, Steve started an assault of all the most ghastly and rude things that he could think of from horrible and scathing insults to the scarring things he saw on the website Clint tricked him into viewing.

Still the Professor remained calm, all the while searching Steve’s features as if trying…  As if trying to figure out what his thoughts were…

‘It can be…’ 

He had one megaton watt idea left in his arsenal.  He opened the floodgates and let loose all of the horrors he’s been subjected to since he joined the army all that time ago.  The cruel and heinous things he saw that the Red Skull and Hydra were capable of.  He especially unleashed his sorrow, guilt and misery over Bucky’s death at the Professor with wretched abandon.  Xavier didn’t even flinch, not even a twitch of muscle.

“You can’t hear me.”  Steve declared finally with grim absolution.

Charles’ expression morphed from mild concern to wholly stricken.

“I cannot.”  He admitted. 

They were both completely silent for a time.  The palette upon the canvases surface made a slow descent down before completely sliding off and clattering onto the floor.  The sound shocked both of them.

“Is it because of what happened?  Whatever it is that I am not meant to know about?”  Steve asked tiredly not expecting a straight answer and was entirely shocked when he received one.

“Yes.  After what happened your mind has been hopelessly out of my reach.”  He answered, his stricken expression never leaving his face.

“Thank you for telling me that at least.”  The Captain said with gratitude.

“You are welcome.  I’m sorry I could not help you like I hoped.  Sometimes I feel I can be rather useless without my abilities.”  The Professor admitted forlornly.

Steve gave him a broken smile, “Aren’t we all.”  The Captain sighed.  “It’s just that’s how I feel, useless.  I was useless my whole life before the serum, even after…”  His mind flashed back as he watched uselessly as his brother fell to his death. 

He shook his head.

“I just wish I knew what was happening.  I feel like if I knew I could be more useful somehow.”

The Professor sighed softly, “The best and most useful thing you could do right now, Captain, is to stay out of it.  Trust your team, your loved ones to handle it.”

Steve only nodded defeated.

-0-

Several hours had passed and Steve had fixed the canvas up a bit and worked the paint into a more suitable background.  His thoughts had landed everywhere.  Mostly, this time, they kept circling around Tony. 

He marveled at how much that jerk could inspire some of the most extreme emotions in him without even trying.  One minute Tony could make him incredibly happy, the next terribly annoyed.  He can go from utterly confused to deeply enraged in 2.5 seconds because of Tony.  And now, somehow, that bastard has accomplished to make Steve feel all of them at once and so much more. 

The Captain was truly beginning to understand why falling in love drives people crazy.  He thought the beginning of their relationship was rough when they hated each other.  But now it’s so much more complex.  He loves Tony.  That, he definitely knows for certain.  What he doesn’t know is exactly where Tony’s head is at.  Sure, Tony had kissed him, or did he kiss Tony?  He couldn’t remember, it was amazing though, but it was also right after he woke up after the zapper incident and emotions were high.

Tony flirts with him but he’s been known to flirt with a lot of people.  He knows that the genius cares about him, enough to put him through this mess of a house arrest and keeping him in the dark.  God he is so lost and confused.

He does truly understand why Tony and the others are doing it.  He hates it.  He hates getting left in the dark only to be blindsided later on.  Tony knows how he hates that.  Yet he’s doing it. 

Which now that he’s had more time to think on it and calmed down a little he can see that if his team is going out of their way to completely and utterly go against his wishes then whatever is happening is beyond serious.  He sighed, thinking he probably should go apologize…  Later…  He was still rather bitter.

“Captain Rogers,” Jarvis alerted suddenly, shocking Steve out of his thoughts.

He touched his left wrist absently, the markings still as prominent as ever.

“Mr. Stark request permission to enter.”

“Let him in.”  Steve answered immediately without thinking. 

It’s amazing that Tony sought him out first but he has no idea what kind of mood Tony is in. 

Well crap.

Tony walked in with that superior cocky air about him that usually pisses people off immediately.  However, Steve knows he does that to stay confident and in control when he’s unsure of himself or nervous.  He finds it ironic that Tony’s approach, meant to put people off, only served to make Steve more relieved.  He’s glad to know Tony was just as uncomfortable as he was.

Tony came up to the Captain and regarded his painting.

“Well, you’ve captured Fury’s personality with those colors but I was expecting something a little more visage-esk.”

“What do you want Tony?”  He asked setting his palette aside and dropping the brush into the water jar.

“Look, I know that the Professor talked to you earlier, and I just wanted to know how you were doing.”  Tony replied as he stood stiffly.  He knew this was likely not going to go the way he wants.

‘Good then!’  Steve thought almost a viciously.

Honestly, the genius has the worst timing. If he had come an hour later Steve might have been cooled off enough.

“Now you wanna know how I’m doing!?  I haven’t heard from you in days Tony, and we’d live together!”

Tony flinched at that.

“I couldn’t!  This is hard for me too Cap.”  Tony visibly deflated.  “Look, I know this is horrible for you but I’m trying to keep…”  He broke off to take a deep breath and force the tension out of his muscles.  “I’m trying to keep you alive.”

“I know that Tony!  I don’t get why you left me to accept this by myself!”

“You’re the one isolating yourself!”  Tony snapped.

“From them!  Not from you.”  Steve shot back.  “You are the one isolating yourself from me.”

Tony rolled his eyes as he tossed his head back in frustration, groaning.

“I can’t be near you!”  He related finally.

Well that hurts.

“Why?”  He asked almost brokenly.

“I don’t know how to be around you without fucking up somehow.  Either I’m going to give in and tell you or something worse.”  He admitted clearly distraught.

Steve stopped himself from applying with something scathing.  Instead he looked Tony over while trying to calmly absorb what the genius was telling him.  He had to remind himself that Tony was trying to keep him safe, that he should trust him.  Even if his teammates could not trust him in return.

‘No, don’t think that way.’  He thought trying to push the pessimism away.

Upon his inspection he noted that Tony had a new bruise on his face.  A fresh one.  Steve’s features softened in concern. He slowly reached his hand up to Tony’s face.

“What happened?”  He asked softly as he gently caressed Tony’s darkening skin.

The genius flinched slightly but did not move to stop him.

“Ah, nothing, it’s nothing.”  He replied swallowing thickly. 

Steve wasn’t buying it.

“Tony, I can tell someone hit you, who hurt you?”  Steve demanded severely. 

Tony shook his head and almost wanted to laugh.

“Natasha decked me, okay.”  He eventually answered.

“Oh God Tony, what did you do this time?”  His mind flashed back to a time when he found Tony locked in a closet with severe contusions and lacerations.

“Nothing!  I did nothing to that demented woman!”

Steve merely rose an eyebrow, unconvinced.

“Okay!  I was being a jerk and she called me out on it.  Happy?”

“Yes very.”  Steve replied sarcastically.  “You should really know better than to cross her.”

“Hey, in my defense I was not aware that I was being as she put it “a total dick face” and that if I didn’t shape up I was going to be “wearing my ass for a hat,” like literally.”  The genius alleged with a shiver.

“Tsk, idiot.”  Was Steve’s only response before he dipped down and pressed a feather light kiss on to Tony’s swollen cheek. 

The genius’s eyes fluttered shut at the sensation.  The Captain ran his fingertips down Tony’s face and along his jaw slightly tracing the outline of the genius’s stylized beard.  Tony emitted a shuddering breath and opened his eyes as Steve lifted his face away to look at him.  They stared into each other’s eyes longingly. 

Tony was shocked to find an all new color to Steve’s eyes presented to him right then.  It was that warm stormy grey with a more charcoal definition, something that reminded him of the deepest depths of the ocean.  This color was his new favorite he found.

Steve savored the times he could hold Tony’s gaze like this.  He was usually so guarded he never held eye contact for long.  Steve soaked up what he could greedily.  Tony’s wide chocolate eyes were always so expressive.  The Captain could see so much in them.  He could see how deep Tony’s complexity ran.  It is truly no wonder why no one has any idea who Tony Stark really is.  Just yet another reason why he loves this truly infuriating person in his arms so much.

Steve slowly slid his left hand into Tony’s soft, dark hair still cupping his face as he moved his right hand to the small of the genius’s back to pull him closer.  Tony brought his hands up to rest on Steve’s waist.  Their bodies were pressed together almost intimately and still neither broke eye contact.  Both almost wanted to moan at the profoundly personal exchange of body heat.

They held their gaze as Steve began to lean closer, their noses touching softly.  Both were hoping to convey everything they were feeling through this deeply tender contact.  Just as Steve was about to take that final leap and press his full lips onto Tony’s firm ones, he froze momentarily before whipping around abruptly, quickly pulling Tony behind him, shielding the genius from their new visitor.

“Oh come now, don’t stop on my account.”  Calamity chuckled from where she was standing, rifling through some of Steve’s paintings. 

Tony stiffened considerably at the sound of her voice.

“What are you doing here, Calamity?”  Steve asked roughly, his thoughts and hormones in such disarray.

“What a fascinating question!  I could answer in so many different ways.”  She pondered for a moment.  “I have two reasons why I am here.”  She laughed.

“Firstly, I wanted to check in and see how everyone was doing personally.  And I wanted to talk to you face to face again.”  She smiled.

Tony was openly glaring at her from behind Steve shoulder.

“My dear Anthony, no matter how much you wish it, your foul looks cannot kill me.”  She sighed exasperatedly.

“Can anything?”  Tony shot quickly.

“Nothing here on Earth, I assure you.”  She smirked.  “I will tell you there are ways.  I’m not impervious to the laws of the universe our great Mother had created, I can die.  But the ways are vastly beyond your reach.”  She stated matter of factly.

“Of course they are.”  Tony retorted with an eye roll.

“Although, that one X-Men friend of yours made one hell of a go at it.”  She remarked as she lifted her shirt to show her abdomen.  There were three dark red marks were Logan’s claws penetrated her flesh.

“You can be wounded?”  Steve asked a bit flabbergasted along with another feeling he was not going to identify.

“Not in the conventional sense.  This body is merely a vessel.”  She commented nonchalantly.

“A vessel!?  You’re possessing someone?”  Tony nearly raged as he tried to step out from behind Steve.  The Captain would not let him.  However, Steve was utterly stricken at the thought.

“Possess?  Oh dear no!  You silly creature why would I need to take a body when I can make my own?  All the ingredients of an average human body are relatively easy to acquire.  Most I simply dug right out of the earth.  This way I can make me fit my true visage as close as possible while blending in with your race.”  She stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Tony wanted to reach out and choke her and Steve sighed in relief.

“How’s the search for your keystone?”  Asked Steve.

Tony visibly flinched behind him.  The Captain reached back and grabbed Tony’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.  Tony clutched back almost painfully.

“The “search” for my keystone?  That’s funny.”  She mused.  “Oh love, I have already found my keystone.  It’s…  How do I put this…  Not ready to use.”  She confessed with a sly smirk.

Tony gave him another painful squeeze.

“How is it not ready?”  Steve asked attempting to milk her for as much information as possible.

She smiled, her eyes shining, “This conversation amuses me!  Does it not amuse you Anthony?”  She laughed.

Tony shook his head slightly, she laughed again.

“My dear Steven, my keystone has not met the proper conditions to work.  It is as simple as that.”

“How long before that happens?”

“That is rather indeterminant but I’d say within a month, give or take.”  She replied.

“Is it possible stop you?”

“From attaining and he using the keystone?  No.”  

Tony gave another hard squeeze and when Steve glanced back Tony looked devastated. 

Calamity continued, “From stopping me from claiming your world all at once?  Yes there is a possibility.”

Tony took a sharp breath and Steve began to use his thumb to caress soothing circles over the genius’s tight grip.  Before the Captain could ask his next question Tony beat him to it.

“It’s in the code is in it?  The way to stop you.”  Tony asked, his voice strained.

“Indeed.  How do you like my encryption?  It’s a bit complicated.”  She grinned triumphantly when Tony looked away distressed.  Steve frowned at Tony’s reaction.

“If we do stop you, what will happen to the people that have already fallen?”

“Ah, that’s the question isn’t it?  Can you save everyone from me?”  She smiled easily reading Steve.  “If you stop me they wake up and all will be as it was before, as if I were never here.  She answered.

Then her easy smile morphed into a sneer, her expression becoming feral.

“Of course that is under the condition that I get to keep my keystone.”

Tony brutally jerked behind the Captain but he dared not look away from her not this time.

Steve nodded and began to contemplate everything Calamity had told him especially the fact that she was telling him anything at all.  Why do that?

‘Is this the test?’

‘My dear Steven, this is most certainly a test.’

She said that last time, then it hit him.

“You want us to succeed.  Don’t you? Why?”  Steve asked as Tony looked at him shocked.

This alien was hell bent on universal domination why would she want them to stop her?

“Ah, my dearest love, there is some truth in that.  But I cannot tell you why.  What I can tell you is that there is a 0.5% chance that you can stop me.  Only if the right conditions are met.  And before you ask, I cannot tell you what those conditions are you must figure that out on your own.”  She smiled softly at them.

Steve nodded dismally in understanding.

“Why did you heal us?”  Steve asked

Her soft smile twisted into a wicked and feral grin.  “I did it to keep you guessing.  Your archer was quite right in assuming that I wanted it to rile you up.  But you, my love, managed to quell the hysteria up before it could even start.  You ruined my fun.”  She admitted with a pout.

“I have a knack for doing that.”  Steve remarked with a smirk despite himself.

Calamity is eyes lit up and delight.

“Oh my dear, you amuse me so.”  She laughed.  “Which is why I feel the profound need to apologize to you.”  She declared earnestly.

“What for, exactly?”  Steve questioned suspiciously.

“Well partially of course for your involvement in my work.  In addition to that things are going to get worse from here on out.”

Steve nodded hesitantly.

Calamity looked far off before laughing too herself.

“Look at me!  Apologizing.  It’s extraordinary.”  She cried merrily.

Steve only watched her trying not to lose his nerve.  It didn’t help that he could feel that Tony was incredibly close to losing it.

“My dear Steven.” She approached him steadily and Tony’s grip on his hand tightened with no sign of relenting, his fingers digging in.

Calamity gently ran her fingers down the Captains left cheek and across his jaw.  She lightly ran her thumb over Steve’s bottom lip.

“Unfortunately, I must also apologize for the second reason I am here today.”  She conveyed at last, backing away solemnly.  “I’m afraid I have been distracting you.  It was an impressive and valiant idea to bring in your Allies and rally against me.  It was certainly the best course of action to take, considering.”

Steve and Tony were terrified now.  There was a behemoth of a ‘but’ coming and both had a very good guess as to what it was.

“But, in doing so you created a grand beacon for me to follow and I can ignore it no longer.”  Her brow furrowed in dismay and her entire tone expressed ominous regret.

“No…  No…  Please tell me you didn’t…”  Steve pleaded.

Tony quickly took out his phone.  “I…  I have no connection.”  He uttered in desperation.  “Jarvis?!”  He shouted desperately.

There was no answer.  They both turned to her shocked and in desolation.

“It is true, my dears.  I am so sorry…” She smiled sadly.  “I have taken your kin.”  She confirmed mournfully as she began to fade.

“No!  Please don’t!”  Steve begged reaching for her.  Just as he finally reached her his hands caught air and she was gone.

End Chapter Sixteen.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seventeen: Trouble Follows Me Like a Mystery

They both stood there for a moment utterly devastated.  Steve dropped to his knees in despair.

“No…  Tony she took our team, our family.”  He whispered desolately with an undeniable quiver.

“Come on Cap!”  Tony said firmly pulling Steve to his feet, “We need to go see…”  He swallowed thickly. “…Who she took.”

Steve nodded slowly before quickly darting to the door.  He threw it open nearly ripping it off.  He sprinted to the common room to find everyone right where he left them several hours ago, planning Fury’s funeral services.

They all looked up in shock at his sudden appearance and panic stricken features.  Tony ran right smack into him a moment later.

“Whoa man, wears the fire?”  Clint inquired unnerved putting a notebook down.

Sam stood from where he was sitting and was instantly at Steve’s side.  “Hey, what happened?”

Steve shook his head unable to explain.

“Jarvis?!”  Tony shouted sheet white.

“Sir?”

“Where is everyone?  The whole ‘party’?”  Tony demanded urgently.

“All members are in the compound.  All accounted for, Sir.”  Jarvis replied.

“Man, what is going on?  It looks like you’ve seen a ghost.”  Clint asked getting even more worried.

“It was Calamity!  She was here!”  Steve uttered panicked and breathlessly.

Everyone went slack jawed. 

Johnny approached them, “She was here?!  What did she say?”

“She said she took them…”  Steve replied.

“Our team.”  Tony clarified as he was rapidly going through information on his phone.  “Jarvis says everyone is still in good health.”

“Did she specify who she took?”  It was Scott Summers who asked this time.  He had just entered the room.

“No, she just said she took our kin.”  Tony replied.

“But everybody is here and fine.”  Bruce said from behind a stack of papers.

“See!  She was probably just fucking with you!”  Clint reassured.

Steve shook his head unconvinced.  Tony grabbed him and made and look him in the eye.

“I just went through everybody’s vitals.”  He said.  It’s passed sixty nine seconds. Everyone is fine.”

Just as Steve was about to relax and accept the explanation Clint and Tony offered, there was a bone chilling scream.

“Aaahhgh!  Someone HELP!!”

“That’s Sue!”  Johnny cried as she ran to the source.

Steve rounded on Tony.  Suddenly the red alert flashed and Jarvis’s voice rang out.

“Sir, I detect a Calamity coma.”

Tony’s eyes widened, “Who?”

“Reed Richards, Sir.”  Jarvis answered simply.

They quickly followed after Johnny.  They arrived to the kitchen to see Sue hunched over Reed’s still body, crying hysterically.

“He was just ‘hic’ talking to me!”  She cried.

Steve stood back a ways.  Johnny was trying desperately to calm her.  Then the worst happened.  Just as she was about to go into another fit of hysterics she stopped suddenly and collapsed over Reed’s body.

Steve’s eyes widened as he realized what just happened.  Jarvis issued another alert.

“Another coma has been detected.”

“NO!!”  Johnny wailed.  “Sue!  Sue!  Wake up, wake up!”  He cried desperately, clutching her prone body in his arms.

Steve wanted to vomit.

Another scream sounded somewhere in the compound and chaos ensued.  Over the next hour Steve witnessed many of their Allies fall to Calamity’s whim.  The red alerts were blaring and Steve had traveled room to room, floor to floor, almost in a trance attracted by the frightened and panic stricken only to arrive and watched helplessly as more members of their team dropped completely unconscious.

Steve felt hopeless and broken.  It hurt.  It cut him deep.  This was his home and his family, his friends and Allies.  He was utterly useless, unable to stop this from happening.  He slid down the walled nearest him and slumped on the floor in a catatonic state.  He did not know where he was, what room or what floor. All he knew was that this was all his fault somehow. 

He could vaguely hear the alarms and screams in the background.  To him they were significantly muted, however.  There was a large part of him that needed to cry but was completely unable to. He felt numb, vastly unable to process everything that has happened, that was happening.

One by one his teammates were falling and he couldn’t stop bit.  He did not know how long he was on the floor for, or how long the quiet had settled in.  He did not realize it but the screaming had stopped and the alarms went silent.  He halfway wondered if he was the last.

Though a grand and profound part of him yelled and screamed at him to get up and to find his primary team, begged and pleaded for him to find Tony; he could not move.  He was too devastated to the point of non function.  He was broken into so many pieces he did not know where to start to piece himself back together.

Luckily there were still enough miracles in the world and he did not have to do it alone.

“Steve!  Oh my God I found him!”  Natasha’s voice rang out like the most beautiful melody. 

Steve felt the clouds of his misery part just enough for the smallest ray of hope to shine down and slap him in the face…

Nope… wait… that was Natasha slapping him.  Apparently she had been screaming his name trying to get his attention.

“Steve!  Steve!  God damn it!  Look at me!”  She shouted as she shook him violently.

He finally snapped out of his catatonic state and took a deep breath and finely met her gaze.

The moment Natasha realized she held Steve’s attention she began to weep.  She face planted into the Captains chest and started to sob uncontrollably.

“You’re here!  You’re still here!”  Was her broken mantra. 

Despite all of the devastatingly horrible things that has happened that day, somehow seeing Natasha in that state was the most frightening of all.  He slowly brought his hand up to run through her soft crimson hair.  That action only served to make her cry harder.

Before he knew it his face was forcefully pulled up.  His pale grey eyes met Tony’s stricken brown ones.

“Oh Steve, thank God for small mercies.”  Tony whispered as he planted his face into the crook of Steve’s neck holding onto him fiercely.

Steve brought his other arm up to wrap around Tony.  He was desperately holding on.  He held them both as tightly as he could, very much well aware of the reality that he could lose them any time now, any moment could be their last.  That hurt in ways he cannot even describe.

-0-

After another hour of waiting with baited breath they tentatively came to the conclusion that no one else was going to fall, for now anyways.  After the dismal head count only eighteen of the fifty eight Avengers and Allies remained.  They had lost 69% of their group of hero misfits.  So much for “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”

They had reconvened in the common room after making sure their fallen comrades were comfortable.  Steve did not know what to do.  He was beside himself.  He wanted to lose himself to his misery all over again. 

The X-Men had gotten hit the hardest. Of all of Xavier’s crew there were only four remaining.  Charles, Hank, Scott and Ororo were the only ones left.  And with gut wrenching horror and a wretchedly jagged pill to swallow they had discovered that Calamity had claimed the entire school, every single member, just before her arrival to the Avengers Compound.  Their own misery was rolling off of them in waves.

After them the Fantastic 4 lost half of their group, Sue and Reed fell leaving Ben and Johnny utterly devastated.  Johnny had isolated himself to the window, staring outside completely unconcerned for anything else.  Steve wished desperately that he could join him, to check out and watch idly as the clouds rolled by. 

However, Steve had to take the lead point.  There was still a deadly assassin on the loose on top of everything so Fury was still underground.  The Captain had to put his selfish desires aside and lead what’s left of their team.  No unit came out unscathed and Steve had to rally what’s left of their broken numbers.  As it was they lost Bruce, Betty and Eric. 

Natasha was still tearing up every so often while Clint tried to comfort her.  She had fallen for the good Doctor and Steve’s heart broke for her.  If Tony fell he did not know if he could summon the strength to continue.  He almost could not go on after Bucky died but his fury over Hydra’s existence was enough fuel to keep going.  And back then he had Peggy too, an unspoken promise between them of a bright future together.  Bucky would’ve wanted that for him.  Even if it didn’t work out that way at least there was a future to look forward to.  Now?  This was the end of the line.  Perhaps that is how Natasha found the strength to be here now.  She had likely accepted the fact that all this was going to happen anyway.

Eighteen, that was all that was left of them.  For the last few weeks there had been fifty eight people in and out of the compound, now they were less than twenty. 

Steve swallowed thickly.

“Tony?  Do you have the final count for today?”  The Captain asked his voice low.

“She-e” His voice cracked, Tony took a deep breath and started again.  “She has been very busy the last few days.  According to Jarvis the n-number is now 1,039 from all over the world.”

No one really reacted to that.  It kind of figured.

“As some of you know Calamity spoke to Tony and I before…  b-before…  Well she told us there is a way to stop her.  That there is a small chance to do it.”  He looked at Tony for confirmation.

Tony nodded slowly, “Yeah, a .5% chance.  She said it’s in the code.”  The genius stated despondently.

Some of the others slowly looked at Tony paying attention fully.

“She said we have more or less a month to figure it out.”

“That’s good right?  You said you would have the code decrypted around now anyway right?”  Natasha asked hope filling her.

“It’s not that simple, the code is much more complicated than I originally thought and at the same time there’s no telling how quickly I would be able to utilize the information.”  Tony replied all to tensely.

“But what about the keystone thing?  What if we stopped her from using it?”  Darcy asked.  Many visibly flinched at her question.  “I mean, if we could figure out what or where it is…”  She added.

“Already working on it.”  Natasha replied sending a nervous glance to Tony who looked ready to be sick.

“That doesn’t matter anymore,” Steve spoke.  “There is no way to stop her from using the keystone.”  Steve stated matter of factly which served to confuse the hell out of him when many displayed an all new level of misery in horror.

“No…  No…  No…”  Was Natasha’s whispered mantra into Clint’s shoulder as she began to sob once more. 

Even Johnny glanced back worry stricken. 

Sam got up and started pacing, “It’s fine right?  I mean if there is anyone in the world capable of finding out what’s on that drive and figuring out how to use it Tony Stark can.”  He stated reassuringly trying to keep it together.

Johnny ripped his attention from the window and directed it to the group.

“What does it matter if we can’t save the people who are already gone?”  He shouted angrily. 

If there was one person in the entire world he truly loved it was his sister. Now she was gone.

“Actually, Calamity said that if we stopped her everyone would wake up.”

Now the occupants of the room perked up at that.  They stared at Tony full of hope.  It was in the code after all.  However, Tony was shaking.

“T-there’s a c-condition though.”  He whispered, not willing to meet anybody’s gaze.

“Yeah, she said as long as she got to keep the keystone everyone else would be fine.”  Steve clarified.

The room became eerily quiet.  Everyone slowly looked at Tony for confirmation.  The genius had placed his hands over his face and began to sob.

“Oh my god!”  Natasha cried as she darted out of the room, Clint hot on her heels his face twisted in agony.

Steve turned to Tony quickly utterly concerned.  He had only seen the genius cry once and he could feel that this was a thousand times worse than that.  He placed a hand on Tony’s back as he began to cry harder.

Xavier spoke up, “Come.”  He gestured to the other members.  “Let’s give them a moment.”

Darcy and Scott Lang were utterly confused but shakingly complied quick enough.  Thor held Jane close as he ushered her away, she shook her head sadly.  Rhodey and Sam lingered for a moment wholly troubled before continuing on after Xavier’s gentle probing.  Ben trudged out slowly waiting for Johnny who had also lingered for a time. 

Johnny made eye contact with Steve trying to convey so much in one look.  There were tones of anger, regret, sorrow, pain, resignation and something akin to acceptance.  Steve could not figure out what all that meant.  He had no idea what was going on.  Xavier gave him a regretful nod before exiting with the last of his team leaving only Steve and Tony alone.

Steve wound his arms around Tony’s shaking frame.  It truly shook him to the core.  Not just Tony’s reaction but everyone else’s.  There was definitely something he was missing.  Something was off.  It felt like he was missing a very significant piece of the puzzle.  If he had the energy or was even in the right state of mind he would have been adamant about finding the answer, but as he was now?  All he could think to do was to give comfort to his friend, the man he loved.  He hoped that if it was the end he could spend the rest of it just like this with Tony safe in his arms.

~-0-~

In a highly secure underground compound deep in the heart of a restless city a slender figure flitted through the halls urgently.

“Boss!  Boss!  I have them!”

“Ah excellent!  You have returned in one piece I see.”

“Always, Boss.”

“Well, where are they?”

“Oh yes!  Come here you two, Boss wants to talk.”

Two youthful figures approached from the shadows.  A woman and a man.

“These them?  They look a bit scrawny to me.”

All the sudden the man disappeared and reappeared behind the big Boss.

“Scrawny or not I promise you Tony Stark’s head on a platter.”  Said the man.

The woman smirked now holding the gun that was once in the Boss’s holster.

“Excellent!  Mwahahahaha absolutely wonderful!”

“Graham!  Introduce them to the asset!  I have built the perfect team to combat the Avengers!”

~-0-~

Sometime after Tony had passed out in his arms Steve carried him to his room and tucked him in.  He proceded to track down the remaining members of his team to see how they were doing.  He made sure each and every one of them were in a more or less sound state of mind, at least as much as possible in these grisly circumstances.  He tried his best to give comfort where he could hoping none were too eager to give up just yet.

As soon as he was convinced none of them were about to do something drastic like commit suicide or murder, he found himself on the roof looking at the vast cityscape.  The sunset was giving it an ethereal glow.  He only tore his eyes away from the horizon after the sun had completely set.  With the last of the visible light he looked out at the surrounding land of the compound.  It was still noticeably scarred from the battle with the Winter Soldier. 

He sighed heavily. 

He was going to have to figure out how to keep his team alive.  At least if they stop Calamity’s whims the others would wake up.  However, if the deadly soldier got to them first, that’s it, dead.  This was beyond nightmarish. 

He sighed again.

“You sigh like the world’s ending.”

Steve was shocked out of his thoughts at the newcomers voice. 

He smirked, “Well it kind of is.”  He glanced to his left as Johnny came to stand next to him.  “Couldn’t sleep?”  He asked.

Johnny regarded Steve for a moment before answering.  “Not a chance in hell.”

“I hear ya.”  Agreed the Captain. 

They stood in companionable silence for a time watching the last of the light fade away.  Both of them very well aware that there won’t be too many of these moments left for either of them.

“Steve?”

“Yeah?”  Steve turned to face Johnny giving him his undivided attention.

“I got something that I need to tell you.”  He said finally, his voice hoarse.

Steve nodded waiting patiently.

“I’d been fighting with myself for days now on whether or not I should.  I wanted…  No, needed to know I was doing it for the right reasons.”

Steve remained ever patient, watching him intently.

“I nearly did earlier, after everything happened.  Back then it would have been the wrong time and I was so angry it wouldn’t have been right and even now I…”  He trailed off.

“What is it?  You can tell me anything.”  Steve urged softly.

Johnny nodded weakly.

“It’s just you deserve to know, you know?  Everyone wanted to keep it a secret from you an I was against it from the start, but Tony made very valid points and it wasn’t my place…”

This got Steve’s attention immediately.  He realized with a start that Johnny was going to tell him what had gotten his team so tight lipped the last couple weeks.

“Johnny, what is it?”  He almost demanded.

Johnny looked at Steve’s expectant desperate face and caved.

“Remember when we were on the mission against those stupid zappers?”

Steve nodded in affirmation.

“After you disabled the core of the super zapper and-and were unconscious, Calamity showed up and healed you.  It was bad, man.  Look I-I know she mostly wanted to play games with Tony but…”

“Johnny, what did she say?”  If Steve were sitting down he would literally be on the edge of his seat.

“She said that you were her Keystone, Steve.”  Johnny answered remorsefully.

There.

That was the missing piece.

This was just fucking fantastic.

 

End Chapter Seventeen

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen: I Just Want To See The Light

 

Steve could have swore that his heart stopped.

“I’m the keystone?”

Johnny only nodded.

So many things made so much sense now.

“Who knew?”

“Mostly those who were present on that mission.”

Steve nodded.

“Why keep it from me?”

“It was Tony’s idea, I get why he did it, I do. But you should hear it all from him. I’ve said far too much already.” He sighed. “I figured if this ship is going down you should know why.” Johnny clasped Steve’s right shoulder and gave him a gentle squeeze.

Steve’s smile was strained but managed to reply.

“Thank you for telling me, really.” He whispered as he gave him a quick hug. “I… I need time to think.”

Johnny nodded in understanding. “You know where I’ll be if you need me.”

Steve nodded.

And so it was the Captain stood alone on the roof once more. He had the biggest bone to pick with Tony but he was going to wait till he could get his head wrapped around this new piece of information. He was the keystone. The one thing Calamity needed to take over the world.

His first thought was if he could somehow kill himself it might stop her. He laughed at the thought however. She would probably find a way to stop him or revive him. Besides there was no telling if she would just choose someone else if he did manage to off himself. He would absolutely not put that burden on anyone else.

So she needed him to complete the circle, to be the cherry on top.

What was she waiting for then?

The proper conditions.

Steve wondered idly what those were. Well if they had anything to do with the reason Tony was adamant on keeping him on house arrest, then he was going to punch that bastard in the face.

‘Make sense.’ He paused.

She said it was for certain. There was something oddly refreshing knowing that. For once he was working with a sure thing. He shook his head at the morbidness of it.

‘Why did she choose me?’

Now that was the million dollar question, wasn’t it?

Steve spent the next few hours thinking about the whole horrible thing until he drove himself into a righteous anger. He stomped back into the compound intending on giving Tony a real solid piece of his mind. He was going over all the delightfully evil ways he could wake the bastard only to find the genius already awake waiting for him. Steve deflated instantly at the look of pure misery on Tony’s face. He was certain the look on his own face, however, was still thunderous.

“Look, I know you are upset.” Tony started.

“Really!? How on earth did you come up that conclusion?!” Tony flinched at the Captains tone.

“I did what I had to to keep you alive! I needed you to trust me!” He urged.

“How does keeping the fact that I am the keystone from me keep me alive!? Hmm? She’s going to claim me one way or another!” Steve argued.

“I did not know that then!” Tony countered.

“How would keeping me in the dark about this help!?”

“You weren’t there! After you stupidly dove into the giant zapper and destroyed it you were going to die! You were dying in my arms, Steve.” His voice wavered. “Your body was so broken and your skin was ripped apart.” Tony choked. “There was so much blood…”

“I-we were going to lose you because of your stupid suicidal self-sacrificing nature!”

Steve watched him stonefaced.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m getting there!” He snapped. “Just as- as I was sure we were going to lose you, Calamity showed up.” He swallowed thickly. “I could see it in her eyes, she was coming for you. She removed me from your side like a rag doll. I couldn’t stop her. But then you were whole again. She healed you.” He stopped and squeezed his eyes shut before taking a deep breath.

“I- I did not comprehend what was happening. She looked oddly perturbed. She- she kissed you before saying that she was unable to claim you yet. I demanded to know what she meant and she came out and told me you were the keystone and could not claim you yet because you have not experienced enough pain. You needed to know more pain before you were ready.”

“Again, why keep that from me?!”

“Because you’re a self-sacrificing jackass that’s why!” Tony retorted quickly.

Steve was ready to object.

“And before you can protest, wasn’t one of your first thoughts maybe if you killed yourself she could not have you?! Admit it!”

“What of it? If it was me or everyone else it would better that I die in their place!”

“See! I had to keep it from you before you went and did something stupid again! I can’t lose you like that.”

“Even if I did think that, Tony, it wasn’t your choice to make! Besides it wouldn’t work anyway. If she wanted me bad enough, she’d just keep me alive. And even if I could off myself she could easily choose someone else. There’s no telling if she has that capacity and I’m not about to dump this on the next person.” He shifted. “Why put me on house arrest? Why keep me locked up?”

“She needed you to be in pain. I thought it would be best to keep you from missions so you couldn’t get hurt.”

“Why was that your decision?”

“We all decided that! We all agreed that in the end it would be for the best. So we kept it all from you. That way we could protect you for as long as we could.”

“You can’t keep me in the dark like that! Tony, that was not your call to make! You should have told me straight up from the start and trusted me to make that decision on my own.”

“You’re reckless Steve. Do you honestly believe you would have been fine just sitting on the sidelines without us forcing you!?”

“This is internment! It’s no way to live!”

“But you’re alive!”

“Not for long.”

Tony flinched. Okay, Steve winced, that was a low blow.

“Steve, think about Natasha, Clint, Bruce, Coulson, Maria, Fury and me. We can’t lose you! We had to do what we could, we had to try! Don’t you get that? I know it seems stupid and ridiculous now knowing that there’s no stopping her from taking you, but back then we thought we still had a chance you know?!” Tony tried to explain, the desperation evident in his voice.

Steve thought for a moment. There was a good chance that if the situation were reversed with any of the others, there was a good chance he would do the same. If Tony were in his place there was definitely a chance he would try to keep the genius locked away to protect him.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner? After we found out Calamity would take me for sure, why did I have to hear it Johnny?”

“I didn’t know how, part of me wanted to keep it from you for as long as possible. To keep you from the pain that is supposed to take you away from us.” He said sadly.

“You know how pretentious that is? You cannot keep me from her. She could blow up the compound, or send a few nukes our way. Hell, she could probably beat me up herself.” He said as he fought the urge to touch the prominent black bruising still very visible on his wrist.

“I know that! But I- we had to try. We couldn’t risk doing nothing if the smallest chance we could save you still existed.” He replied forlornly.

Steve sighed deeply. “I know Tony. I don’t mean to make things difficult for anyone but-“

“I know because you’re very polite person.” Tony replied frustrated.

“You know how I feel about this kind of thing Tony, you know!”

Tony only nodded. He said everything he needed to say.

“Tony look at me.”

It took every ounce of strength for him to be able to.

“Listen, she said I had a month at most, right?”

The genius nodded solemnly.

“I need you to do everything in your power to figure out that code. Okay?” Tony wanted to protest the Steve continued. “Please, for me. I’m a gonner regardless. Tony, you have the capacity to save everyone. I know you can do it, okay. There’s still a chance.”

“How can I if it means she gets to keep you!? You don’t know exactly what she means by that! She may make you her slave! Or worse!”

“But she would free the others. Please Tony, with this we can save Bruce and the others. Please all I am asking for is your best. I know you can, you’re the only one that can, please.”

The genius only nodded.

They stared at each other for a time. Their gaze was full of sorrow and misery. There was so much that was left unsaid especially on Steve’s part. He felt like there was a wall between them now. Something had shifted. No matter how much he wanted to tell the genius all the things he felt, he could not bring himself to do it. He couldn’t take that step and bury himself in Tony’s arms and spill his heart out knowing that in a matter of days it all wasn’t going to matter anyway.

He frowned in dismay, his desires didn’t matter anymore. He couldn’t open that door with Tony knowing the end was near. He could not do that to him.

Tony started to approach him, perhaps to touch him or embrace him, he did not know. He did know that if he allowed it he would not stop. He was so scared of so many things. Steve backed away coldly and shook his head. The look of shock and pain on Tony’s face was almost too much to bear. But he had to do it this way.

He quickly left the room. As he made his exit he bumped into Natasha and Clint who were clearly eavesdropping. He said nothing as he sidestepped them and continued to leave the compound. He was happy to learn that his imprisonment had been lifted. He needed air and miles to run. He did not have a destination in mind, not in the least. All we wanted was to feel free.

~-0-~

Meanwhile…

In a highly secure underground compound deep in the heart of a restless city a young woman meandered through out empty, dusty halls. She was going over the plan on how to defect from that disgusting fat man in charge. After they took down Stark, of course.

She passed by the room holding the asset. She glanced at his prone form briefly before moving on. She cringed thinking about the first time she laid eyes on the fat man’s deadliest weapon. She had never felt more fear then when she stepped into the presence of that thing strapped to that contraption. The fat man said it was to keep it under control. She felt sick. The kind of monster it must be to go through such lengths to keep it “controlled.”

It doesn’t matter.

Soon they will be free and Stark will be dead.

~-0-~

As dawn broke turning the sky all sorts of enchanting colors, Steve knelt down on the side of the road to pick up a wildflower. He gently turned it over between his fingers before giving it a tentative sniff. He was delighted to discover a gentle and sweet aroma hidden beneath its lilac petals. He smiled serenely before turning his attention to the sky to admire its miraculous hues.

He smiled a bittersweet smile.

Soon there would be no more of this. In a matter of days there was a good chance he was going to cease to exist. A few hours ago that thought scared the living shit out of him. However, since then he’s come to find a modicum of peace with. He was sure Tony was going to figure out how to use the code. He was happy that the others could be saved, even if he could not. He found peace and that knowledge.

With the tiniest bit of solace, he promised himself that he was going to spend the rest of whatever time he had left helping where he could. Just because Calamity is taking over the world doesn’t mean the other villains are going to stop making a racket and hurting people. He would stop them while he could. No one was going to stop him from doing that, not even Tony.

He found a tree not far from the road and sat under it. He didn’t really think of anything in particular. He just sat and watched the world live. We watched the clouds move in the sky which was still changing colors. He noted that it was turning from gorgeous golden hues to the brilliant illustrious blue. A small breeze formed and gently caressed his skin and lightly played with his golden hair. The zephyr also pranced through the field of wildflowers, making all of the beautiful splashes of color dance and sway to a tender melody.

He also heard a delicate bird song overhead and began to watch the birds flit about merrily. They suddenly sprang into the sky with mirth and elation. There were many birds gliding and diving all the while singing their little hearts out. They flew, Steve noted, like they enjoyed it.

He continued to watch the world move around him for a time before he spotted incoming company upon the horizon. Falcon landed a few feet from him, disturbing the flora and fauna from their graceful dance.

Steve looked up at him slowly.

“Hey.” Sam greeted.

“Hey.” Steve greeted in return.

“I’m sorry man, I didn’t want to keep it from you-“

“But you had your orders.” Steve replied tiredly.

“Yeah, how are you holding up?” He asked truly concerned.

Steve smiled graciously and held his hand out. Sam took it and hauled him to his feet.

“Better than you’d expect. I think I’m more upset over being kept in the dark than actually be the keystone.” He replied with a bitter twinge.

“I hear you, man. But really, Steve, are you okay?”

“As long as the others survive, I will be.” He answered almost darkly. “What brings you all the way out here anyway?” Steve eyed him suspiciously.

“A mission. Something has come up and we need everyone on this.”

Steve nodded.

“Hold on tight, Cap.”

Doesn’t he always?

-0-

“So, Von Doom has started attacking the Silicon Valley in California earlier this morning. He seems to be focusing on various factories in San Jose. We believe he searching for a specific piece of experimental technology. He has dozens of those advanced adaptable doom bots with him.” Clint said as he displayed images taken just minutes ago.

Mother fucking Von Doom again.

After Sam and Steve arrived, Clint got right into briefing them on their newest mission. Steve was beyond irritated that it was Von Doom and his doom bots that they were meant to stop.

Wonderful!

“What do you think, Cap?”

After weeks of sitting on the bench he was excited to get back into the game.

“We got this for sure.” The thought about the remaining members of his team and how vulnerable they would be in this situation.

“Johnny and Ben? Ready to take on Victor again?”

“Am I ever!? I am going to punch him in his puny face!” Bellowed the Thing.

Johnny nodded with fire in his eyes.

“I’ll also need Tony and Thor. You both would be the most lethal to those doom bots.” He hates to pull Tony away from the lab when he could be working on deciphering the code but knows how much smoother this mission would go with him.

“Lang? You up for the challenge?”

Scott definitely looked profoundly nervous but nodded vigorously anyway.

“Okay, I want Natasha, Clint, Sam, Rhodey and Ms. Munroe on the backup team.” They nodded in affirmation.

“Professor, you, Hank and Scott will remain here and protect our fallen comrades. It would be the perfect time for someone else to strike now that we are so vulnerable.”

“Most certainly Captain.” Charles replied.

“All right everyone, the world’s not ending yet. Suit up!”

~-0-~

Meanwhile…

In a highly secure underground compound deep in the heart of a restless city a slender figure ran frantically into the main control room.

“Boss! The Avengers are on the move!”

“Where!?”

“Von Doom.”

“Excellent! Make the proper preparations!”

“Yes sir!”

~-0-~

This flight was a thousand times more awkward than the last one. Everyone was desperately trying to avoid whole keystone elephant in the room thing. It frustrated Steve to no end.

After a few short hours of travel they made it to California. Luckily or unluckily whichever way you want to see it, Von Doom was still wreaking havoc, searching for whatever it was he was looking for.

The situation was looking pretty hairy. Von Doom had created a nearly impenetrable barrier using his new doom bots. Steve quickly assessed the situation.

“Thor, you’re up. Iron Man you back him. Torch and Thing, make your way to Dr. Doom. The rest of us will hold ground control and protect the people.”

After Thor and Iron Man successfully broke through Dooms perimeter, Steve safely landed the Quin jet on a rooftop and the others bailed to do their job. Captain America began to usher in the people through the perimeter opening. The National Guard showed up and began aiding the civilians as they passed through.

Antman and Iron Man made sure the doom bots stayed clear of the evac zone. Thor attempted to thin them out as quickly as possible. Tony had informed them that the bots were all likely linked together. He said that it was a possibility that when one fell the others learn from their fallen comrade and adapted. They had to do this quickly and carefully.

Steve worked his way deeper into the city trying to get everyone he could out of the biggest danger zones. Soon enough the Captain heard some good news over the coms.

The Thing and Torch had successfully stopped Von Dooms rampaging. As far as he could tell they were standing at a stalemate. Victor was yakking away reveling in his master plan while Johnny and Ben did their best to keep him talking to stall for time.

Steve felt it was the best time to bring in team two to take over the mass evacuation while he pulled Iron Man, Antman and Thor to surround Dr. Doom. He took cover in an alleyway to give orders.

“Unit two, do you copy?” He spoke out.

“Unit two here, what’s the sitch?” Copied Black Widow.

“Dr. Doom has been engaged, the bots are thinned, I need to pull my unit for a ring formation. I want unit two to take over evac.”

“Copy that! We are on our way.”

“Tony, unit two is coming in. Pull back and begin ring formation.”

“Yeah I’ll get right on that!” Was his snarky reply. Obviously he had his hands full.

Steve hoped he was okay.

“Thor, ring formation!”

“Yes Captain!”

“Lang, ring formation!”

“On my way!”

Steve took a deep breath to brace himself. Anybody smart enough to understand basic combat knows that one of the most effective ways to win is to take out the leader. Once Dr. Doom spots him, the Captain will be one of his first targets.

“Gotta keep it together!” He told himself as he began his trek to Von Dooms location.

~-0-~

Meanwhile…

In a highly secure underground compound deep in the heart of a restless city the oily fat man began to squirm restlessly with excitement.

“It’s nearly time! Victor has come close to finding us!” The rotund man shouted from his perch upon a velvet seat. “Graham! Prepare the twins, bring the asset to me!”

“Yes Boss!”

“Kukuku Iron Man and Captain America are finally going to get what’s coming to them.” The fat man sneered as he gently stroked the binding of a well-worn red leather bound journal.

“Times up…”

~-0-~

Captain America and the other Avengers were perfectly in position. From what Steve gathered, Johnny got Dr. Doom talking and apparently the evil Doctor was looking for the base of Harker, the leader of an underground crime syndicate that usually delved in drug trafficking but had recently changed course and had been dealing in arms and unregistered technology. Victor Von Doom was enraged to discover that Harker hacked into his personal server and stole important data, which is why he was now on the warpath.

The Captain inwardly cringed. Harker was the guy that had control of the Winter Soldier. If Von Doom was looking for Harker’s base here in San Jose, then there was a good chance that the Winter Soldier was also here in San Jose.

Well shit…

Warning bells were going off in Steve’s head. It’s just one disaster after another. Somehow he couldn’t help but to think that Calamity may have been pulling some of the strings on this one.

He needed to feel more pain right?

Just throw a bunch of random villains at him all at once. That’ll do the trick. Well, if he stayed out of sight for as long as he could maybe he’d put that off for a little bit longer.

“Captain Rogers! I know you are leading this unit. You should face me like a man!” Dr. Doom called out.

Sure, he was totally going to come out of hiding just to have the shit electrocuted out of him, again. He had enough of that on the last mission thank you very much. He did not fall for Victor’s taunts. The Captain was usually as cool as a cucumber when dealing with his enemies. Only Tony knew how to get a rise out of him.

“I do not know why you always insist on playing this game with me.” Von Doom continued exasperated. “I already know where you are.”

Steve sighed. Of course he did. Captain America braced himself for the fireworks. Sure enough the air-conditioning unit he was hiding behind exploded in a brilliant blaze of debris. He stood amongst the shattered remanence of the air conditioner upon a rooftop that overlooked Von Dooms location.

“You are a pathetic nuisance.” Dr. Doom called out.

“Funny you should say tha-ahh” His quip was cut off as a Von Doom engaged him.

Before he could perform evasive maneuvers he was hit by Dr. Dooms attack. His shield thankfully took most of it, but not all of it.

‘Why!? Why is it always electricity!?’ The Captain shouted in his head.

“Cap, are you okay!?” Tony’s voice rang out.

“Yeah I’m fine!” He replied hastily as he began dodging the next attack.

Just as the Captain regain his balance after the second attack he was about to round on Von Doom and engage. He turned swiftly to face Dr. Doom and order is team to attack only to be faced with something that turned his blood to ice.

Calamity was approaching Victor from behind. The Captain watched it all happen as if in slow motion. His team noticed it too. Steve could hear them calling out to him trying to get his attention but his eyes were glued to that infernal woman who had staked claim on his life, his soul.

He watched absently as Dr. Doom turned on her instantly and attacked her with one of his most destructive abilities at his disposal. Calamity only laughed. Steve could feel himself start to shake. Victor was about to gear up and attacked her with everything he had before he altogether stopped and fell to the streets beneath him. He landed with a sickening thud. And with that he moved no more. The doom bots still remaining soon followed their master and shutdown operation.

Suddenly Tony landed in front of him, blocking Steve from Calamity. He knew it was futile but tried anyway.

“Hello my Dears. My apologies for arriving a bit late but I had to take care of a cretin that had a knack for breaking the fourth wall.”

What??

“Ah, never mind, just a little side job, anyway I am so happy that I haven’t missed the main event!” She gushed happily.

All of a sudden the Captain was surrounded by his team. Thor was on his right, Johnny on his left, Ben at his six and Scott crawled up on his left shoulder.

“That is so sweet! Look at you all hopelessly trying to protect your Captain.” She laughed merrily. “What do you think of my surprise Steven? I chose you as my Keystone! Isn’t that wonderful!?” She exclaimed brightly as she began to float gracefully to them.

She landed smoothly about twenty feet in front of them. Tony backed flush against the Captain. He reached back and intertwined his left hand with Steve’s. That simple action did not escape Calamity attention. She smirked at them. Steve tightened his grip.

“Depends on what you define as wonderful.” Captain America retorted.

Calamity visibly deflated.

“Oh come now, just because you cannot comprehend its significance does not make it any less wonderful.” She replied. “Goodness gracious! You all have this morbid disposition about you. I’m not here to claim you. Not just yet.” She said appalled at everyone’s dismay.

“Why don’t you just take me like you did the others? Why wait?” Steve demanded.

The Captain can just feel Tony seething.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to taunt her Steve.” Scott whispered in his ear.

“Because you are not ready. One does not simply pick a fruit before it is at its sweetest nor a flower before it is at its loveliest if one is seeking perfection, the absolute best out of something.” She explained with an air of reverence.

“Then why claim Von Doom!? Surely he could have caused enough pain!” Steve countered.

“Come on man, do you really think it’s a good idea to talk to her??” Scott whispered apprehensively.

Calamity’s response was to laugh out loud.

“Oh my dear child, you are most amusing! Victor could not in the least make you bloom the way I desire.” She laughed again. “Oh my dear Steven, Victor was merely the opening act, the main event shall soon begin!” She proclaimed proudly.

“Well, until the next time Love, my beautiful Keystone!” With that she promptly disappeared.

Steve had a pretty good idea what the main event was that she was referring to. And if it was going to be anything like the last encounter, pain was a guarantee.

 

End Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen: There Will Be Blood

Everyone stood in utter silence for a while after Calamity’s sudden departure. None dared to breathe. Steve broke the silence by taking a shuddering breath. With that most of his team fell to their knees.

“Does anybody have the need to shit themselves or is it just me?” Scott shuddered from his place on Steve’s shoulder.

Only Captain America and Iron Man remained on their feet. Steve realized with a start that this was the first time encountering Calamity face-to-face for most of his team.

“I do not know how you do it Captain,” Thor started still kneeling on the ground trying to catch his bearings. “To address her face to face like that, all I see when I look upon her face is my very death.” The prince said with a shaky breath. “Every time.”

Steve subtly reached for his left wrist where the marking was still very prominent but all he saw when he looked down was that Tony still had a firm grip on his hand.

“What’s next Captain?” Ben asked standing unsteadily.

“Harker and the Winter Soldier.” Steve replied without missing a beat.

Tony withdrew his hand and turned to face him.

“You need to sit this one out Cap!” The genius insisted.

“I can’t Tony, there is something very fishy going on. I know Calamity is pulling the strings on this but there is something about that soldier. I have to figure it out.”

“This is what she wants Steve!”

“I know! But there is no avoiding it.”

“But we can put it off. It doesn’t have to happen so soon. We have time!”

“Why put off the inevitable? Ever since I fought that assassin there has been something scratching at the edge of my mind. Like a word just at the tip of your tongue.”

“That’s exactly the way she wants you to feel. Just so that you can’t help to get involved!”

“I agree with him, Steve. If you already know the crazy lady set this up, you should avoid it.” Scott said tapping his ear.

Steve grabs him off his shoulder and set him down where he sprang up to normal size.

“You all give valid points, but this is my choice. If I’m going down I’m going down my way.” He said.

Tony groaned loudly. If Steve could see his face he’d bet the genius was rolling his eyes with every bit of attitude he could muster. He shook his head sadly.

“Come on, let’s get ready. They could show up anytime.”

Before any could respond they heard a shrill cry from down below.

“What the hell!”

They looked down the building to see what the commotion was. A very fat man was looking over Von Dooms prone body. He looked up to where the Avengers were grouped together.

“I didn’t know you bastards were that ruthless, sons of bitches!” He shouted at them before looking back down at Victor. He began to kick the doctors body around and then spat on him.

He looked just as disgusting as his attitude. He was short and fat with a plump oily face and even oilier orange hair. He had oozing and scabby blemishes on what flesh was visible through his neon pink zoot suit.

“What the ever loving fuck is that?!” Johnny questioned utterly repulsed.

Steve’s face contorted in revulsion.

‘Well I have never…’ The Captain thought.

After everything that has happened up till now, he found it oddly comforting that there are still things in the world that can still surprise him.

“That’s Harker! Jarvis just confirmed it.” Tony alerted them.

Steve nodded.

‘Well if Harker is down there, then where…?’

“Get Down!” Captain America shouted as a shot rang out a second later. They all dove down immediately. Steve’s right cheek was on fire. He could feel the blood begin to drip down his face.

“Mother Fucker!” Johnny shouted as he jumped off of the roof and dove for Harker. Ben quickly jumped after him.

Steve bolted, jumping roof to roof trying to stay moving. Tony and Thor flew to the air searching for the Winter Soldier. The Captain saw a glimpse of that arm a few buildings away. He also noted Calamity sitting on a water tower on a high building watching them.

Let the show begin then.

Just as Johnny was about to deliver a smoldering punch into that vile man’s face he stopped midair only a few feet away. Steve watched with horror as a woman came out of the shadows. She was controlling Ben and Johnny making them just float there. She approached them steadily and when she touched their faces they were out old.

“Damn it!”

Another shot rang out and a bullet glanced off of his shield. Eek! He was supposed to keep moving! He had to get off the roofs.

Just as he landed on the street something or someone punched him in the gut, hard. He hit the ground with a roll. He could not see anybody. Suddenly he heard another shot ring out. The pavement next to his face exploded with dust and asphalt particles.

Dammit, he had to keep moving!

“Guys!? Something invisible just hit me!” Scott called out.

The next thing Steve knew he saw Antman fly off of the roof he was on and land on the street out cold. Shit! Half of his team was down. He needed to concentrate. He took a deep breath and centered himself. He can hear a clap of thunder and Tony’s repulsers. They must have engaged the soldier.

He felt it before anything. Someone came up on him rapidly and made to trip him. He thrusted his shield out as fast as he could. He wanted to grin in triumph, he had just barely managed to nick the guy. He realized then that the man wasn’t invisible, he was fast.

The man stopped in front of him and glared. There was a small red mark on his shoulder. Well, we made him bleed. Just as he was about to reengage the fast man Thor landed behind him.

“He’s fast be careful.”

Thor nodded.

He created a containment field of lightning giving Steve the opportunity to head for Harker. Before Steve could even get close to the nauseating man, he was stopped by the woman. They faced each other unmoving.

“Why is your mind harder to read?” She asked with a scowl.

“You read minds?”

“Yes, yours is different.”

“I’ve had an alien in my head recently, that might be it.” Steve retorted, resisting the urge to look in Calamity’s direction. “Why do you need to read my mind? You know who I am.” The Captain ventured.

“You say you fight for good but you call that monster an ally.” She gestured to Tony who was making evasive maneuvers from the soldier’s arsenal.

“He’s my friend.” ‘The man I love.’ He responded.

“Then you are a monster just like him!” She screamed as she made to attack him.

The Captain flinched back and held up his shield, not sure what to expect from her. Especially after watching her easily take out Johnny and Ben. Steve peeked around his shield when nothing happened. He saw a look of disbelief on the woman’s face. Apparently whatever she meant to do to him didn’t work.

He knew whatever it was that happened or didn’t happen was because of Calamity. He kind of felt sick thinking that she might have interfered just then.

“How did you do that?” She demanded.

Steve resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

“Look, there’s a lot happening right now they don’t understand.” The Captain replied.

He thought about all Calamity case in its entirety. Hell, he doesn’t even understand it.

“What is the Calamity??” She asked worried.

“Thought you couldn’t read my mind?”

“I can it’s just difficult. It feels like you have a fence or wall blocking me.”

Steve paused for a moment wondering just what this young woman is or can be capable of. Professor Xavier is the leading telepath in the world, but even he couldn’t get passed Calamity’s mind barrier.

“So you really want to know what’s happening?” He asked darkly.

She backed away nervously as he approached her.

“I don’t know what this Harker guy had been telling you but you have no idea who Tony really is, who we really are or what we are fighting for. You have no idea what our purpose is!” He began to shout. His utter frustration over everything bleeding through his usual stoic mask.

She flinched at his tone unable to move, his deep voice freezing her in place.

“You want to read my mind? Then read it! All of it!” He grabbed her face and made her look him in the eye. He pushed everything to the forefront of his mind where she could see it. He forced it passed that barrier that Calamity’s touch created.

He gave it all to her. The good times and the bad times. He gave her his entire childhood, everything from losing his parents, dealing with his laundry list of illnesses to his profound bond with Bucky. He showed her what he went through joining the Army and the hell that was the serum infusion procedure and his rocky start as Captain America. He showed her the perdition that was the war Hydra created, and the terrifying face of that horrible organization, the Red Skull.

He showed her the hope of a future with Peggy Carter and his exhilaration of having his best friend fight by his side. He showed her what it felt like having his heart ripped out as he watched helplessly as Bucky fell to his death. He made sure to leave not a single detail out. He showed her what it was like when he made the decision to make the ultimate sacrifice. How he was ready to give everything to ensure millions could live in his place when he brought the Valkyrie down.

She began screaming, the intensity and weight of his experiences were too much to bear. But he didn’t stop. He wanted her to know, to feel everything. He pressed on.

He showed what it felt like to wake up in a world vastly different than the one he left behind. He was so lost and afraid and his hell became worse when he found himself completely and utterly alone. He showed her what it was like to finally have a new mission, a new team and a new family. He showed her all of the horrible things he’s had to witness in these modern times including everything that was happening with Calamity. He shared with her his deep sorrow over learning he was the keystone and everything that represents.

He also showed her all of the wonderful things too. He showed her life with his new family, the Avengers. He showed her all of his teams oddities and eccentricities and he also showed her Tony, the real Tony. He showed the beautiful man he found beneath the money, fame and bad attitude. He showed her the man he fell in love with, the profound and compassionate and generous person hid away from everyone.

Yes, he was deeply flawed. No doubt. But Steve loved him regardless. He loved all of his family past and present and that was the last parting thought to her as he slowly let her go.

She was crying hard; tears were running freely down her face. The moment he broke contact with her she lost consciousness and fell limp. Steve caught her just before she hit the ground. He gently placed her unconscious form down before turning his attention to Harker. He put as much disdain into his glare as he could possibly muster. The fat man visibly blanched and started to sweat. Steve rose slowly to face him.

“Boss! I’ll protect you!” A tall skinny man ran in front of Harker and was adamant about shielding him.

The ugly fat man began to laugh and sneer from behind the newcomer who was sporting hot pink aviators and pink bunny ears.

Steve stopped himself from groaning in misery. What the hell was up with these people??!

“Ah, my Rhododendron! Take care of him for me!” Harker shouted.

The man in the bunny ears took on a very Hollywood martial arts pose.

That did it.

Steve groaned at the utter abhorrence of the situation. He quickly threw the shield and knocked the Rhododendron out.

Now Harker looked really scared. He turned around and started to run. He was this fat pink waddling mess and Steve could not help but to think how immensely humorous it was if he wasn’t so God damn angry.

“What the hell are you doing you useless piece of shit. You’re supposed to stop him!” The nasty fat man screamed out.

Everything seemed to happen at once after that. He heard Tony cry out so he whipped around just in time to see Iron Man make a collision course with Thor. The containment zone broke and the fast man appeared next to him suddenly. Next thing he knew he was on his ass as he watched the fast man pick up the unconscious woman and disappear. Steve thought he might have heard him call her sister.

“W-what are you doing?! Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch come back and finish the job you pathetic ingrates!”

Steve ignored him and was by Tony’s side in an instant.

“Tony!? What happened?” He said, gently knocking on his face plate.

“The suit sustained heavy damage, I can’t move.” He replied with a groan.

Before the Captain could respond bullets began to rain down upon them. Captain America and Thor tried blocking them as best they could.

Crap!

“HaHa! I don’t need those filthy twins! The asset is all I really need!” You Harker screamed as the Winter Soldier continued to shoot at them.

“Thor, I need you to get Tony out of here!”

“No! Not without you!” Tony’s response resounded through him like a lightning bolt.

His mind instantly took him back to a Hydra factory self-destructing, flames everywhere and a distraught Bucky refusing to leave without him.

He shook his head.

“No! Thor take him and the others, that’s an order!” Steve commanded.

“No! Don’t be stupid, you can’t fight him!”

The bullets continued to rain down and Harker continued to cackle.

“This is not open for discussion! Thor, take him now!”

Thor looked torn but did as he was commanded. Tony continued to protest angrily but Steve could no longer hear him after Thor jumped into the sky. He landed swiftly a few blocks away and grabbed Antman and Johnny before hastily flying out of sight toward the evac zone. The Captain wasn’t too worried about Ben, he was rather bulletproof, he’d survive.

He took a deep breath and gave Harker yet another well-deserved glare at the same time wondering if he could catch the fat man before the Winter Soldier caught him. Unfortunately, his question was answered as a dense body collided with his own.

The Winter Soldier dove from the roof and tackled Steve to the pavement. That knocked the wind out of him but he quickly scrambled up to his feet and tried to keep his footing. He tried to steady himself but the soldier was on him re-engaging quickly.

That’s okay.

This is what he wanted, to fight this guy again.

He could not stop thinking about the soldier for the life of him. If Calamity was going to claim him soon he at least wanted this mystery solved. There was something utterly devastating about him. The way he moved, his very presence is familiar somehow.

They continued their deadly dance.

Step back.

Dodge right.

Throw left hook.

Block elbow.

Thrust shield.

Knock back.

Move the fuck away from that metal arm.

Over and over, they danced on.

This man was his equal. It was almost exhilarating. Steve was slightly faster as the soldier was slightly stronger. Even under these severe conditions Steve found something beautiful in the way they moved. He kept trying to gain eye contact. That was where the familiarity originated. If he can only sustain a glance but the soldier moved too fast, he quickly pulled out a knife and was trying to kill him.

Priorities! Gotta stay alive.

First he had to figure out how to disarm him. If he could strike with his shield against his hand at the right moment... That plan went out the window, however, when the soldier in turn disarmed our Captain.

Steve watched in total dismay as his shield sailed a good fifty yards away from them. The soldier used that distraction to cut up Steve’s right arm. The Captain cried out in pain, there was a flash of hesitation from the soldier and Steve took that opportunity to kick the knife out of the soldier’s grip. His reward was a well-placed punch in the face from the deadly assassin’s metal arm.

Holy fuck that hurt!

He hit the ground hard and tried his best to roll away from the rapidly advancing soldier. During his re-acquaintance with the pavement the Captain lost his helmet. He picked himself up shakingly. He saw stars after that hit. Blood was now pouring down his face in delicate red ribbons. The soldier stopped and regarded him.

“What? Tired already? I can do this all day!” Steve managed to taunt as he took a battle ready position.

The soldier froze. He stared at Steve with an undiscernible expression.

“What the hell are you doing standing there you piece of shit! Kill him!” Harker bellowed.

The soldier shook himself out of whatever thought he was in and made to re-engage.

Steve however, was in an entirely different universe. While the soldier was inside his head Steve finally got a fleeting glance at his eyes. It felt like someone had thrust their fist into his chest began to squeeze his heart.

‘I knew it!’

He knew the man standing before him attacking him now with unrelenting fists. His demeanor however was no longer cold and calculating. It was now white-hot with fury. The soldier’s movements were now sloppy and disjointed. Something had cracked in him. This new behavior made Steve all the more alarmed.

That imaginary fist in his chest tightening ever more.

This person before him, the way he stands, the way he moves, even the small snippets of his voice were all familiar to him. He had felt that before when they first fought and he got a glimpse of those haunting blue eyes and again just now. They were devastatingly familiar eyes. Eyes he could not forget in a million years…

The soldier’s movements were so fragmented Steve was able to gain the upper hand. He managed to knee him in the gut and punch him in the face before the soldier could block. Steve used the force of that momentum to sweep the soldier’s legs out from underneath him. He hit the ground hard but flipped back up to his feet instantly.

Harker started to look a bit green around the gills.

That imaginary fist in his chest turned into a jagged knife when his opponent pinned him with a glare, a glare that he had been on the receiving end before. So long ago…

“Who the hell are you!?” Steve roared, his heart racing, his body breaking out into a cold sweat.

His entire being was screaming at him that he knew the answer, that he knew the answer weeks ago. But he refused to listen to himself, desperately trying to remain in blissful ignorance. Because, if it was true… No it can’t be!

“I am no one.” The soldier answered brutally broken, almost questioning it.

‘That voice!’

Though it was greatly muffled and distorted from the mask, it still sent the most wretched shivers down the Captain’s spine.

‘It can’t be! It can’t.’

It had to be a trick, a cruel joke. Maybe he was hallucinating. He did not know.

What he did know was he had to see under that mask. He charged the soldier belligerently.

“That’s not good enough!” He bellowed.

Now his own movements were disjointed and sloppy. But the Winter Soldier was no better. Only half of his attacks seem to land. Steve was growing careless. He began dropping his guard before he stopped blocking altogether. He regretted it after the soldier landed a solid hit to his rib cage with his metal arm.

Holy Fuck!

Well there goes his ribs again. They began to cough up blood and started to wheeze. That punch took out a lung as well. The soldier hesitated. Before our Captain could properly recover however, the dark assailant produced yet another knife.

‘Where the hell is he stashing those!?’

Steve jumped back to avoid the first swipe of the knife but missed the second as the Winter Soldier had successfully drove it into his abdomen. The soldier flinched and seemed confused for a moment. Steve used that opportunity to pin the hand with the knife behind the man’s back trying to force him to drop it.

“Drop it!” He urged. “Let it go!” Steve commanded him.

The soldier was having none of it and tried punching the Captain with his left hand. He forced his face away and twisted his arm back until he heard a snap, successfully breaking it and making him drop the knife. The soldier wailed in pain and Steve use that opportunity to take the man to the ground. They both hit the pavement hard.

Steve could barely process anything that was happening. He was shaking uncontrollably, the truth was just behind a piece of steel and leather. The soldiers scream had nearly unhinged him. Steve has heard that scream in his nightmares for years.

He had the soldier pinned to the asphalt. He was putting up one hell of a storm of a struggle, but Steve was adamant to see what was behind the mask. He knew once he found out there was no going back. That the answer he sought would surely destroy him. However, he decided that not knowing was infinitely worse. He wasn’t going to let this soldier slipped through his fingers, not this time.

The Captain began his onslaught fists in an attempt to subdue his dark assailant. The soldier tried to buck him off but Steve was unyielding, tightening his knees around the soldier’s ribs. The Captain gave the deadly assassin a jarring headbutt that resounded with a sickening crack. Steve saw flashes but wasn’t going to stop for the life of him. The soldier stopped his assault just long enough for Steve to grab the edges of the mask and rip it off.

Just when he thought his heart could not break anymore than it already has that imaginary knife buried deep within his chest had been given another twist as he looked down at the face of none other than James Buchanan Barnes. The face of his best friend that he has known his whole life. His brother that he thought was dead.

“Bucky!?”

He wanted to scream. His very heart in soul was in a horrendous a desolation.

He knew it!

He knew it from the start that this was Bucky. Of all the times to be right about something. He realized in wretched horror that the only way Bucky could be here now was that he had survived his fall and Steve had left him behind for Zola to find. His whole world had been turned upside down and inside out. It felt like everything till now had been some stupid joke at his own expense. He was wrenched out of his self loathing thoughts by the soldier’s, no, Bucky’s response.

“Who the hell is Bucky?” His question came out soft but his expression was thunderous.

Steve absently thought how marvelous it was to be looking into the face of his brother and to hear his voice after believing without a shadow of a doubt that he would never see him again. That was until the shock of Bucky’s response finally sunk in. To think of everything Bucky must have gone through till now made Steve sick all over again.

He suddenly felt a sharp, wrenching, twisting, and unbearable pain in his gut. Steve was so destroyed over this new revelation that it took him a moment to realize that the new sensation of painful agony was not emotional but physical. He slowly looked down to see that Bucky had impaled his metal arm into Steve abdomen. They both watched with shocked expressions and morbid fascination as crimson blood began to run down the polished steel plates like gorgeous streams priceless liquid garnets.

“What the fuck are you waiting for!? Finish him! Kill that son of a bitch!” Harker’s squealing voice rang out.

That shocked Bucky out his reverie and his expression turned violent as he finally flipped their positions. Steve was mildly fascinated that he could still feel the rough texture of the asphalt under his right cheek being that it was still swollen and bleeding from the bullet wound and the constant abuse.

He was pulled from his wayward thoughts as a wretched scream ripped through his own throat after Bucky wrenched his hand out of the Captain’s abdomen. Steve stared up at his long-lost friends face unmoving as Bucky used his blood soaked arm to punch him in the face.

“Fight back!” Bucky cried. “Fight me!” His voice was hysterical.

“I-I’m not going to fight you Buck.” Steve replied brokenly. “You’re my friend.”

“Kill him!” Harker screeched.

Bucky shook his head, an obvious war happening inside his mind. His frightened eyes looking around wildly before settling on the Captain.

“You’re my mission.” He declared before punching Steve in the face once more.

Something broke in his mind as tears began to spill. He began his onslaught again and again screaming brokenly, “You’re! My! Mission!” His metal hand making contact on each word for emphasis.

“Then finish it. ‘Cause I’m with you pal, till the end of the line.” Steve uttered his voice cracking.

Steve thought how fitting it would be to go like this. He thought of all the ways he would likely die since finding out he was the keystone. He thought of meeting his end by his own hand, by Calamity, or by attempting to save the world. Somehow Bucky taking his life felt the most comforting. If this was the end he’d be happy and honored that it would be by the hand of his best friend and brother.

We watched weekly as Bucky stopped cold at his response, staring at him horrified. He just uttered the one thing he could to get through to him. If there was anything he could say to get through to Bucky “his Bucky” if there was a part of him that existed, that was it. Bucky had always said that to him to remind him that he was never alone. When he had nothing he had Bucky. In a nutshell that one unassuming line was their way of saying “I love you, no matter what.”

“You useless piece of shit!! You are mine! You belong to me! Kill him already!” Harker screamed out desperately as he threw a gun to Bucky.

It skidded over the pavement and gently bumped against the soldiers left leg. If Steve had the strength he could have made a grab for it. But as it was he had lost too much blood and was fading fast. Bucky picked up the gun, shaking violently. Steve could hear the gears and mechanisms in his arm whir and buzz out of control.

“Kill him!”

Bucky looked down at Steve once more. The Captain could see it in his eyes, the war had been settled as clarity blossomed over his features and his shaking stopped. The soldier rapidly took aim and fired.

-0-

Meanwhile…

Just outside the evac zone there was a hurricane of angry genius.

“He told you to stay here! You’ll be breaking a direct order!” Black Widow warned.

“No, he said for Thor to take me away. He said nothing about not coming back!” Tony shouted as he tossed away the soldering iron after making the last of his improvisional repairs.

He was this close to stabbing and going ape shit on everybody. Oh was he ever going to give that stupid stupid suicidal idiot a piece of his mind. He was so mad right now. At every one!

First Cap had Thor manhandle him and make him leave him to fight the Winter Soldier alone. Then Rhodey would not let him have his suit. Then someone came out of nowhere bitching at him for stealing an electrical circuit repair kit. Who the fuck cares at a time like this?!

“He’ll be mad at you.” She warned halfheartedly. She knew it was futile.

“Fine! At least he’ll be alive to do it!” He shouted as he blasted into the sky.

The repair job was wonky but holding. His suit’s performance was subpar but at least it was enough to get Steve out of there… He hoped.

-0-

The sound of the gun impacted his broken body like a shock wave. He glanced as much as his fading body could muster to see the fat man fall to his knees slowly. The look of utter shock was still written on his dead face and the bullet hole between his eyes gushed blood before he face planted into the pavement with a sickening gurgle.

It’s over, Harker was dead.

Steve sighed in relief despite the overwhelming fucked up situation and the fact he was pretty much dying right now.

Bucky was panting heavily. He looked at the gun in shock before tossing it aside.

All that pain, physical and nonphysical, started to recede and become numb. That was until the pain in Steve’s abdomen reared its ugly head again making him cry out suddenly, causing a massive coughing fit. The pressure receded for a moment before becoming more forceful. Steve saw Bucky’s hands on his abdomen where he was bleeding out. At first he thought Bucky meant to finish the job before realizing his palms were flat against his chest applying pressure to stave off the bleeding.

‘He’s trying to save me!’

They stared at each other. How many times have they been in this position before? Bucky looming over him putting pressure on the wound while giving him that reprimanding look that always screamed, “Dumbass! Why do you gotta be so damn reckless?!”

Steve smiled bitterly. Oh how far they have come.

Bucky was watching him intently.

“Your eyes…” He had a severe frown on his face.

Steve matched his frown, desperately wanting to know his thoughts.

“They’re pale blue.” Bucky had said finally with air despair and conclusiveness.

Steve’s eyes widened at his admission. The significance of that statement transcended time itself.

Before Steve could respond however Bucky’s weight was off of him in an instant and all he could see was a red and gold blur.

‘Tony!’

He felt himself being pulled close to cold armor. He glanced to the side using every last ounce of his strength to locate Bucky. He was lying on the street unconscious a few yards away.

“Steve! Oh my God, Steve!” Tony’s voice barely registered in his mind.

He put everything he had into reaching for his brother. He watched in desperation as he started moving further and further away as Tony lifted off into the air. He saw a silvery flash as Quicksilver suddenly appeared over Bucky’s prone body briefly before they both disappeared.

“No!!” He cried.

‘I just got you back! Don’t leave!’ His mind and heart screamed.

It felt like he had watched him fall all over again. He could hear Tony talking to him but none of his words sank in. All he could hear was the sound of his heart tearing apart once more.

‘Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!’ Was his broken mantra.

The last thing the saw clearly was Calamity’s smirking face from upon her perch on the water tower just beyond Iron Man’s crimson shoulder plate. Then the darkness took him once more.

End Chapter Nineteen

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty: This Brutal Love

Steve woke up with a start. He opened his eyes and immediately regretted it. His head was pounding and all he could see were bright white walls. His whole body felt like he somehow survived an encounter with a meat grinder. He groaned.

“On your left.”

Steve smiled, it came out more like a grimace but the feeling was there. He turned his head slowly to see Sam sitting in the seat next to him.

“How long?” His voice came out as a broken whisper.

“Two days.” Sam said as he gently lifted a cup to Steve’s lips. “You are a crazy lucky man.” He said as Steve took a small tentative sip of the cool water.

“If Tony hadn’t found you when he did… Not to mention your gut wound wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Talk about a near evisceration.”

Steve stared at him lost.

Evisceration???

Then it all came back to him at once, like a piano falling from a third story window. That vibrant image of his blood pouring down shiny steel plates of a metal arm made his throat close painfully. A metal arm that belonged to…

“Bucky!!” He called out suddenly as he struggled to lift himself from the bed.

“Woah man! Put the brakes on!” Sam tried to keep Steve down.

“No! I have to find him!”

Sam was finding it harder and harder to keep the Captain down.

“Steve!” Natasha called out as she ran into the room. “Stand down!”

“No! I have to fin-“ He cut off as Natasha rammed her fist into the side of his head, he promptly passed out.

-0-

Steve woke up sometime later with a raging headache. He glanced around him to find the room empty. He made to get up only to find he had been thoroughly restrained.

‘Perfect.’ He thought sarcastically.

Wow, Natasha can be ridiculously brutal. His head was swimming. It wasn’t only Natasha though. Bucky crash landing back into his life stirred up a hornets nest in his head and in his heart.

How on earth was he going to find him? There was no telling where he could be at this point in time. The others sure as hell weren’t going to simply let Steve go gallivanting off to find him. To be perfectly honest he was sure they would force another kind of house arrest on him.

He sighed.

They should know him well enough to know that he wasn’t going to stop looking for Bucky, that nothing was going to stop him from looking. Now all he had to do was figure out an escape.

“My friend! You are awake!” Thor exclaimed from the doorway.

Steve smiled at him. “Hey.”

“How do you feel?”

“Probably as good as I look.” Steve replied earning him a smile.

“You are lucky to be alive my friend.” Thor stated earnestly.

“Right, couldn’t lose another leader.” Steve responded with a bit of cheek.

“Haven’t lost them all yet.” Fury replied from the doorway.

“Oh, are you alive again?” Steve glared at him.

“Seeing as the main threat had been neutralized, I came back for the time being.”

“I was very surprised to learn of the Directors good health.” Thor stated with an air of bewilderment.

“I bet.” Steve replied sullenly before fixing Fury with another seething glare.

The tension in the air was acrid. Thor shifted on his feet uncomfortably. Steve and Fury stared each other down before the Captain finally broke the silence.

“Did you know?” His question scathing.

“Look, I did not know about Barnes.” Fury responded almost exasperated.

“If you had, would you have told me?” Steve replied sharply.

Fury did not respond. Steve stared straight ahead refusing to acknowledge his presence any longer.

“I am glad you are well my friend, I am going to go check on something.” Thor said suddenly, wanting nothing more than to get out of that firestorm while he could.

Steve regarded him before he exited the room.

“Listen, I am sure you are aware by now that things are going to get very difficult for you from now on.” Fury started.

Steve steadfast ignored him.

“There was a unanimous decision to put you under another house arrest, or your own safety. You just got one hell of a shock and all of us believe you are incapable of making rational decisions. You will be kept under constant surveillance and confined to your newly assigned living space until the time you are fit for duty.” Director Fury ordered officially.

Steve knew it was coming but every word felt like a punch in the gut, like his gut needed any more abuse.

“And when will that be? Huh?! Calamity will claim me before that happens! Am I meant to spend literally the rest of my life locked away!?”

“I’m sorry Captain, but that’s how it is. Just be grateful you won’t be constantly confined to a gurney as you are now, or placed in a straitjacket. I personally wouldn’t mind either way.”

Steve leered at him turning away to stare at the pale bluish gray walls. He frowned deeply. Weren’t the walls all white earlier??

“Where am I?” Steve demanded coldly.

“Avengers Tower, top floor, where you will remain for the foreseeable future.”

Steve scowled deeply. The irony that he was locked away in a tower did not escape him.

“Leave me.” He commanded as cool as ice.

Director Fury rubbed his forehead and sighed. He left without a second glance.

Steve felt bile rise to his throat. They were going to keep him confined like an animal. In a tower! He absently thought if a prince would come rescue him. Only, the “prince” he was thinking of, no doubt, was the one that locked him in here in the first place.

The very top floors of the tower belonged to Tony. He wondered how that was going to work. Speak of the devil, Tony was standing in the doorway in a fancy suit and everything.

Steve pinned him with a fierce glare intending to speak volumes about his displeasure without uttering a single word. He didn’t trust himself not to say the most vile things he could think of.

“Okay, I know you are beyond pissed right now, but this really is for your own good.”

Steve intensified his glare, biting his tongue.

“And hey, you would have the top three floors of the tower all to yourself, mostly. I’ll still be here.”

Well that question was answered. His glare did not alleviate.

“If it’s any consolation, I have Jarvis keeping me informed of any and all sightings of Barnes. If he shows up anywhere we will know about it.” He sighed frustrated.

Steve was now really biting his tongue.

“Come on, I’m trying here. I just want to keep you alive. Just talk to me.”

“What is there for me to say, Tony!? I have days to live and I’m going to spend them doing what? Sitting on my ass? I could be out there doing something important. It should be me to find him.”

“Why can’t you trust us to find him!? You don’t have to keep risking what’s left of your life needlessly.”

“He’s unstable and confused, I’m the only one least likely to die trying.”

“You’re the most likely one!”

Steve glared again.

“Why can’t you just settle and use your time to do the things you enjoy? Just sit and paint or spend time with us!?” Tony pleaded this time.

“I can’t knowing he’s out there. You know what he means to me!” He said wetly.

Tony looked like he had been struck.

“I’m sorry I’m not a good enough reason for you to want to stay!” Said Tony before turning on his heel and leaving abruptly.

‘Dammit!’ He cursed himself.

Of course his friends would want to spend time with him before Calamity claimed him. He would love to spend time with them, especially Tony. But how could he knowing Bucky was out there somewhere with no telling the kind of hell that’s happening in his head? How could he justify happily spending time with his friends when it’s his fault his brother was out there somewhere falling apart?

Regardless, he knew he would have to apologize to Tony. Hopefully he would get a chance to explain that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to spend the last of his life with him, because that’s all he wants, but he couldn’t live with the guilt of it all.

Here goes nothing.

“Jarvis?” He was half expecting no reply.

“Sir?”

Well…

“Tell Tony to come back.”

“Mr. Stark does not wish to be disturbed.”

Dammit! Freaking jerk!

“Okay, tell him when you can that I want to talk to him and that I promise to behave. It’s important.”

“Will do, Sir.”

“Thank you, Jarvis.”

Now all he had to do was wait.

Nope, he was not going to wait.

He began to assess his restraints. The one time he wished he was small again, he could weasel out of almost anything back then.

“Well, let’s see what I can do about it now.”

-0-

About an hour later we find our Captain finally releasing his left hand out of a restraint. He had finally developed a rhythm of gentle tugging and twisting to slowly inch his hand free. After losing patience with that, in a fit he dislocated his thumb and yanked his hand free. He reset it with a sickening pop after releasing his other hand.

Voila! He was free.

He looked down at his left wrist in dismay. Calamity’s black mark was still there. It had been weeks. Her fingerprints remain very prominent. He shook his head.

He needed to go find Tony. He looked down at what he was wearing. Only a hospital gown. Pants first, then Tony.

He gingerly slipped out of the bed. He felt tight pulling all over his abdomen. He lifted the gown and saw all of the lines of gnarly stitches. Wow, he could see why most of his team was surprised he was still alive. There was also a long jagged stitched up cut on his right arm and on his face.

Ouch.

He slowly poked around the room until he found a pair of sweatpants. It’ll do. He made it to the door, limping slowly. He wondered if Scott, Johnny and Ben were okay. They had a run in with those odd siblings. He did not know the extent of their abilities. He hoped they were fine.

“Jarvis?” He whispered after peaking around the corner.

“Sir?”

“Where are Scott, Johnny and Ben?”

“In a specialized recovery center in Los Angeles.”

Oh, that did not sound good.

“What are their conditions?”

“Stable. They are scheduled for release by noon tomorrow.”

Oh thank God.

“Thank you Jarvis.”

“Sir, I must say that leaving your room in your condition is ill-advised. You should rest.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Mr. Stark will not be happy to find out you removed your restraints.”

‘Good.’ He thought bitterly.

He tried to shake those thoughts out of his mind. He was making his escape to apologize. But he did think about it and yeah Tony was going to be pissed. If the situation were reversed, he would blow a gasket. He made his way out into the hall anyway.

“Jarvis, does Tony still not want to be disturbed?”

“Indeed, Sir.”

Okay then. He was just going to have to find him one way or another.

He began to meander through out the halls, mostly lost in thought. He wondered where his relationship with Tony would be right now if he hadn’t been chosen as the keystone, if he didn’t have but days left to live. Would they… Could they really have been together?

He found his way to all of Tony’s usual haunts without a sign of him. He was glad he hadn’t encountered any of the others. He was on the trek to his next destination, Tony’s room, when he heard a female voice. He quickly hid behind a large house plant of all things. He rolled his eyes at the ridiculousness of it.

He watched as Pepper exited Tony’s room smiling a sad smile gently to herself.

Steve was not in the process of analyzing her expression. He was taking in the more disconcerting details like the messiness of her copper hair and the disheveled state of her clothing. How her blouse was miss buttoned and she was padding away barefoot carrying her pumps.

In the past, he had seen her leave Tony’s living quarters in such a state of disarray, back when she and Tony were in a relationship together. He was not so naïve or deluded to not know what had transpired between Pepper and Tony this evening.

He backed away slowly. He worked his way back to his medical room. No, not his. Nothing here was really “his.” This was a prison.

He sat back down on the edge of the bed. The buckle of one of the useless restraints was digging into his thigh. He did not notice however because he was desperately trying to piece together his broken heart. He was so utterly confused. He thought… He actually thought he and Tony had something.

Maybe?

Was Steve not the one that came to the conclusion not days ago that nothing could, should happen between them?

He did not know whether or not to be enraged or bitterly happy to know Tony had Pepper again. He was so lost and confused and in so much pain.

He thought with venom, ‘Well at least Tony has someone to go to after I’m gone.’

He really did not know how a heart could endure so much pain and still keep beating. The last few weeks alone were horrible enough and then add all that to his entire life?

Why!?

Why was he meant to endure so much pain? He just got his heart ripped up all over again not two days ago. Wasn’t just one enough? Why did it have to happen so many more times?

He swallowed thickly and he laughed bitterly to himself.

It’s not like he and Tony could have ever been together anyway even if Calamity didn’t happen. Tony was just too fickle. Just because Steve love Tony didn’t mean Tony felt the same.

God, he felt so foolish.

Tony probably saw him as a bit of fun in the sack, nothing more. Sure he cared for him, but the genius cared for all their friends.

He idly thought back to one of his last encounters with Calamity, she said it was only going to get worse. Fury had said something similar.

No Fucking shit!

He has days, weeks at the most before his life, his soul was no longer his own. And there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

He felt like his life had been brutally ripped apart and crudely stitched back together wrong. Everything felt wrong. There was one thing he was absolutely sure of, however. He could not stay here. He wouldn’t. He felt like he didn’t belong any more. He was a stranger amongst them. He found it ironic that not moments ago he was going to apologize to his friends and make an effort to trust them with the last days of his life. They could not even begin to understand what he was going through.

This was his life!

Not theirs!

He knew exactly how he would like to spend it. This wasn’t a fairytale with a happy ending or some cheesy romantic comedy. He knew realistically what he could or couldn’t have. A romantic relationship with Tony was just not in the cards. Just like a quiet life with Peggy wasn’t either.

What he wanted to do was exactly the perfect thing to do with the last of his life. He was going to save Bucky. He could not save him seventy years ago but he was definitely going to save him now. If it was the last thing he was going to do… Literally.

He swore to himself then and there in absolution that he was going to do anything and everything he could to escape and find Bucky. This was his life, his choice.

“How did you get out of your restraints!?” Tony admonished from the doorway.

Steve’s first instinct was to give him a scathing reply. However, he refrained. He had to start playing this real delicately now. He could not let anyone know what he was planning, especially Tony. So he merely shrugged in response. He did not miss the fact that Tony was no longer wearing his fancy suit.

“Jarvis said you wanted to talk, said you would behave?” Tony drawled.

Oh yeah, he did say that didn’t he? That was before he just got his heart ripped out and smashed to pieces but you know, whatever.

Steve resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He had to play nice. He had to make sure none of them caught onto his plans.

“Yeah,” he swallowed back his pride. This was for Bucky. “I wanted to apologize.” He did at first after all.

Tony came up to him and started to look him over. Steve flinched. All he wanted to do was hurl the genius across the room and keep him from touching him. Especially knowing what Tony had just been doing.

“Go on.” He smirked.

Again the Captain resisted the urge to punch him in face.

“You were right.” God he wanted to throw up.

Tony raised his eyebrows in surprise and squinted in suspicion.

“Oh? Am I?” Tony questioned as he sat next to Steve on the bed grabbing at the gown to look over his torso.

“Ah, quit, the stitches are fine.” Steve nearly squealed, pushing Tony’s hands away. “Yes,” he said continuing. “You are right about ‘some’ things.”

Tony watched him expectantly.

“I-I have little time left and I should want to be spending it with my family, and I do!” He did, twenty minutes ago. “But I don’t think I can get over the guilt of just leaving Bucky out there somewhere. Here, I am safe and surrounded by people who care about me and he’s out there alone in a hostile environment.”

Tony looked at him sadly.

“You need to trust us Steve. We’re out there looking for him. We will bring him in.” Tony managed to sound reassuring.

Yeah, bring him in and what? Lock him away too? He did not say that though. No matter how much he wanted to argue that lovely point. Instead he thought of another possible argument.

“But he’s my responsibility, it should be me that brings him in.” He tried to sound as depressed and broken as he could in order to sway Tony into not lashing out. He found it wasn’t all that hard to do. And as a plus totally worked. Instead of becoming indignant and snarky, Tony’s eyes softened.

“Hey, look at me.” The genius grabbed his face tenderly and made Steve look him in the eye.

Oh, how he wanted to headbutt him right now.

“You can trust me.” He said softly caressing Steve’s face. “I will find him, I promise.”

This is so ridiculous! He still fills all this love, devotion and adoration for the man before him. He’s utterly torn. He desperately wants to wrench himself away from Tony and yet, he also wants to pull him closer and never let go. Instead he nods, a tear began rolling down his face without permission. He does not know what to do. He almost was going to give in and trust Tony but then he remembered all the reasons why he can’t.

Steve was about to pull away before Tony leaned in and kissed that treacherous tear away. The sensation made him gasp. He still wanted Tony, make no mistake but this is all sorts of wrong. Tony pulled back searching his eyes.

Crap!

What if he can decipher what he was thinking for even planning? He figured out how to read his eyes like Bucky did.

Tony’s expression became worrying but didn’t morph into horrible realization.

“I know it’s difficult for you to trust anybody with something so important to you, please…” He whispered as he leaned in and gently pressed a chaste kiss on Steve’s lips.

Steve really, really did not know how to respond, at all. Tony pulled away slightly.

“Please trust me.” His voice was soft and his eyes were pleading.

All Steve could do was nod stiffly. He sure as hell could not trust his voice right now.

Tony leaned in again and pressed a firmer more tender kiss to his lips. Steve was in perfect anguish. How long had he wanted this? To have a tender moment alone with Tony without any interruptions? To finally kiss him freely? Here he was finally in this moment and it was despairingly tainted. He could not help himself though, he knew he would desperately regret it later but he began to kiss Tony back anyway. He still loved him regardless of every stupid thing that has happened so far. How can something hurt so much yet alternately feel so damn good at the same time?

Tony began to deepen the kiss. Steve wondered how could he feel numb and on fire all at once as his tongue slid languidly against the genius’s? The knowledge of just where Tony’s mouth had just been not long ago made this all the more acrimonious. He slid his hand through Tony’s dark hair and clutched the back of his head to deepen the kiss further. This action elicited a desperate moan from the genius.

He could feel the heat rising.

He had to put a stop to this before it went any further. He was not going to put himself through this, not with only days left to live. It’s so stupid that thirty minutes ago he would have tried to take this as far as it would go. He thought he could almost hear his heart rip more at the thought that Tony would have come here to do this after being with Pepper and that thirty minutes ago he would have been none the wiser!

What if he hadn’t slipped from his restraints? What if he hadn’t learned what Tony was up to? That grievous thought gave him enough strength to pull away.

“We… Can’t.” He started, desperately hoping that he was keeping the venom out of his voice.

Tony stared at him apprehensively.

Steve frantically searched for a proper excuse besides, ‘I Fucking hate you right now.’

“I-I don’t want to pop any stitches.”

Tony looked unconvinced.

“You were so concerned and you went through so much trouble to keep me from over exerting myself.” He said gesturing to the restraints. “I’d hate for you to fail your mission now.” Steve forced the smirk.

Tony began to pout. He groaned leaning back.

Before he could reply however Steve continued, “besides, shouldn’t I be getting adequate rest. I mean I did just nearly get my heart ripped out.” He said gesturing to his abdomen.

He knew his statement was rather stiff, he hoped Tony would take is as exhaustion.

“Fine! You’re right, dick.” Before Tony got up he leaned in and claimed another kiss. “I’m glad you’re okay.” He whispered standing up.

“Do you promise to be good and stay in bed so I don’t have to restrain you?” Tony asked exasperated.

Steve shrugged, “Like the restraints work anyway.”

Tony glared at him.

“Okay! I’ll behave.”

“Good.” The genius swooped down and stole another kiss before heading to the door. He turned slightly, “Good night Steve.” He said lovingly.

“Good night Tony.” Steve replied despairingly.

And then the genius was gone.

Steve was attempting to subdue the incoming wave of misery that was threatening to spill over by the way of unwelcome tears. How long had he wanted Tony to drop the stupid nicknames and just address him as Steve? With so much reverence laced within its utterance no less.

What kind of game was that bastard playing? Was he doing all this to put another notch in his bedpost or was he trying to manipulate him into being okay with his imprisonment?

Both scenarios made him sick as fuck. The tears began to spill unrelentingly. How is this is life? His next thought was by far the most sickening and wretched. He thought with forlorn hope that he couldn’t wait for Calamity to take him. He laid back down and stared at the ceiling.

No, he could wait. He had to save Bucky first. Then she could take him.

I have no idea what is going on in their noggins but whatever is happening they are extremely happy about it.

Well if we do keep them alive in the comas, at least they’d remain very happy about it.

Would he be?

 

End Chapter Twenty.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One: Point of No Return

Over the next few days Steve meandered throughout the top two floors of the tower looking for anything he could use to make his escape. He had decided eventually that it really was the best thing his friends could have come up with in regards of containing him. He was high up enough that simply jumping out of a window would either be lethal or immensely painful and crippling. Also being so high up meant even if he could trick his way past his team he’d have to find his way through security on over a hundred different floors.

This wasn’t like the compound. Avengers tower was infinitely more secure because this was where Tony housed a lot of his developing projects. Not just anyone could walk or hack their way through here. This was Tony’s domain; he’d have to get extra crafty if he wanted to find a way out of there. Tony even revoked all of Steve’s clearances and overrides.

Dick.

As he was looking for escape routes, he carried his sketchbook around sketching out the cityscapes. As he looked out the windows down and around for anything he could use, he sketched interesting details of various things in his site. He was pleased to note that his misleading tactics were more or less working. Natasha, he was sure, suspected something, but the others were none the wiser. He was going to red herring the fuck out of this.

He saw how they would sneak glances at him of varying levels of relief. Relieved that he was being so complacent. Natasha still eyed him warily. That’s okay, he wasn’t too worried.

Scott, Johnny and Ben made a complete recovery and the only thing they had to report was funny dreams about prancing pink bunny and unicorn hybrids that liked to eat people. Other than that they were perfectly healthy.

He hadn’t seen Tony much the last few days. The genius was working on a whole shit ton of things at once. He was still deciphering the code among other things. Tony did manage to find time for Pepper, however, when she came to visit. One of the hardest things he has ever done was to plaster a kind smile to his face and accept her well wishes.

A well-wisher’s lament, pah! He would have rather blown the place skyhigh. Each time she entered Tony’s personal quarters and left he felt a piece of his already broken heart chip away and die. It just made him want to carry on with his plan all the more.

He made sure to spend time with each of the remaining members of the Avengers. He roped Johnny, Scott and Sam into making desserts with him. He forced everyone into a movie night and somehow a game of Pictionary charades. They were quite gung-ho about doing things he wanted. He almost felt bad about deceiving them, almost.

It paid off however, when he finally came up with a plan. Very stupid plan, but a plan nonetheless. He was 90% sure it was going to work. Good enough. The only thing was he needed to execute the plan at just the right time. He also needed the right conditions.

Firstly, there were too many people in the tower and if any realized what his movements equated to they would stop him instantly and it would be game over. He has to play this real carefully now. One mistake could lead him to being strapped into the steel straitjacket that Fury was happy to fashion for him.

Horrifyingly enough the opportunity had arisen later that afternoon. It was breaking news over every channel, network and station. The vice president had been assassinated along with his entire family. The shooter had been identified as the very same assassin that took out Senator Wolfram and Colonel Nick Fury Director of Shield, the Winter Soldier.

Well fan-fucking-tastic!

No! Bucky wouldn’t! Unless he was made to forget again… No! He could see it; he was becoming himself again.

Dammit!

They weren’t going to let him live after that. He knew exactly what everyone’s orders were going to be.

“Shoot on sight.”

He had to find him first! He just had to. Steve was just about to go into panic mode, but he could sense everybody getting ready to take him down. He saw the glint in a Natasha’s eyes. He had to remain calm and come up with a plan.

Before he knew it Tony was grabbing his face.

“Hey, hey look at me!”

He did.

“You’re going to trust me right?! Steve, please trust me. I will bring him back.” Tony pleaded with him. “Please, just stay here please.”

God why does this hurt so much? Tony placed his forehead against Steve’s.

“Only if you bring him back alive.” Steve whispered. “I promise I’ll behave if you bring him back alive.” He said a little more firmly.

“I promise. I swear I will!”

Steve nodded forlornly.

“I trust you Tony.” He lied.

He could see his team relax significantly in the corner of his eye. Even Natasha was standing down. His full attention was brought back to Tony as the genius began to kiss him, in front of everyone!!

Wait! Perfect!

Whatever perverse game Tony was playing was just about to backfire. Steve kissed him back fervently hoping to convince everyone of his supposedly complacency once more.

Fury cleared his throat, they pulled away quickly.

“If you want to keep that promise Mr. Stark I suggest getting a move on.”

“Right, yeah!” He croaked out as he bolted out of the room.

Steve excused himself swiftly. He resolutely avoided his team’s shocked faces and desperately pretended not to notice Clint fork over a large wad of cash to Natasha.

-0-

For the next hour Steve mentally prepared himself for what he had to do. Most of his team left on the mission to capture the Winter Soldier.

The only people left on the top two floors with him were Jane, Darcy, Coulson, Scott and Natasha. Nat was going to be the hardest by far. If Jarvis realized the connection between his movements, then hello steel jacket.

Over the last few days he had gotten to know the ins and outs of the top two floors thoroughly, using the activities with his team to do so.

He had gathered a few paint bottles and a water bucket and set them on the window seal of his chosen room. He set up his easel and a blank canvas. He quickly painted a rough blue background. Jane and Darcy had always been fascinated and drawn to this painting. This time was no different. They slowly approached him to see what he was working on. He smiled gently at them.

“The next part is always the hardest. Where to start after the basic background is layered on.” He sighed.

“Hell, I don’t even know where to start period.” Darcy replied.

“Well, I’m going to take a tea break to think it over. You want to join me?” Steve asked to them both.

“Only if you make that raspberry herbal one, I can never do it the way you do.” Jane replied.

Darcy nodded vigorously in agreement.

“Of course.”

Hook, line and sinker.

He knew they would agree, anything to make sure he was “okay.”

He put the teakettle on the stove to bring to a boil. Little did they know he had slipped in a few sleeping capsules into the water. They were rather tasteless, they tricked Tony enough when he had to drugged him, so he wasn’t too worried. He prepared the tea pods while the water boiled. He participated in idle chitchat with them while he prepared the tea.

Apparently Jane was rather annoyed with Darcy because she had created a very provocative and popular fansite online centered around Thor. Darcy, as usual, was rather unrepentant.

Steve smiled and nodded along. He silently begged for their forgiveness as he watched them sip eagerly at the tea.

“Oh, I almost forgot!” He pulled out a small batch of tea cookies and set it before them.

“Oh, you’re so sweet!” Jane gushed.

“Yeah, it’s too bad you’re banging Tony now, and here I still thought I had a shot.” Darcy replied mournfully.

Steve nearly choked on his own tea at Darcy’s vulgar statement.

“It’s not like that, really.” Steve coughed.

“You know I lost a hundred bucks today?”

“Well that happens when you bet on yourself.” Jane smirked.

“Yeah, well a girl can dream.” She replied wistfully.

“How many people were betting on that?” Steve wondered shocked.

His attention was brought back to the girls fully when Jane began to yawn. Darcy followed soon after.

“Oh, I’m so sorry Steve, I think I’m going to lie down for a little.”

Darcy merely nodded absently in agreement.

“No, it’s fine. It’s been a long crazy day.” He said softly.

She smiled apologetically at him. Steve watched with mounting tension as they left. Now that the two non-fighters were out of the way he could get this party started.

He did another sweep making sure everything was in its proper place.

Scott and Coulson were in the rec room in a deep discussion about a movie series he hadn’t seen yet. He quickly knocked out Scott first. If he had time to get into his suit and shrink he’d never catch him. Coulson drew his gun quickly but paused when he realized the threat was Steve. The Captain used his confusion to his advantage and knocked out Coulson. He grabbed Coulson’s shield radio to tune into any updates on the team going after Bucky. Jarvis sent out an alert. He quickly meandered through the halls and grabbed his shield from the specific place he left it and took his emergency backpack and headed back to the room that he set up his easel.

Natasha was back near the window looking at his painting that he started.

“You know,” she started. “Tony believed that you really intended on behaving.”

“And what do you believe?”

“I knew you were planning something.” She turned to him. “If you go through with it, you’ll lose him.” She uttered just above a whisper.

“I already have.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.” She said evenly.

“It’s my choice.”

“Why don’t you have faith in us to help you!? You can trust us!”

Suddenly the radio in Steve’s hand crackled with an update. It was in code.

26-Bellum-TennerChief-Subquest-B-Viacom-2474

Steve slowly looked from the little radio in his hand up to Natasha’s shocked expression.

“No, it won’t be that way! Think it through!” She whispered pleadingly.

His glare turned to ice.

“I have…” His response was laced with cold venom. “I can’t trust any of you!” He roared.

He crushed the device in his hand before throwing it to the floor and watching in bitter satisfaction as it shattered into thousands of tiny pieces. It must be what his heart looks like.

Without any warning he grabbed Natasha and threw her against the wall opposite of the window. He pinned her with his shield.

“Please don’t do this.” She had tears in her eyes.

It felt the same way the first time he saw her cry. It was almost enough to sway him. But he thought back to why he was doing this. He shook his head.

“I am not your pet, I am not a toy to be manipulated! I will not spend the rest of my life getting my heart ripped out over and over again. This is my life! My choice, and I choose to save my brother!” He shouted at her as he yanked a concealed device out of his pocket and pressed the button.

The paint bottles he had placed by the window exploded in a dazzling blaze of color. He made sure to shield Natasha from the blast the best he could by using his shield already pinning her to the wall and his own body.

Perfect. The blast shattered the windows just enough for him to barrel through them. He had to move fast. The whole building would be on alert now.

“Steve, please… You’ll break… His heart.” She huffed disoriented.

“I doubt it.” He replied coldly before breaking through the glass and diving out of the window.

He could barely make out Natasha screaming his name as the wind raced past him. He angled his dive to hug close to a major support beam. The only one remotely accessible from his descent from the top floor and the odd shape of the building. He had to time it perfectly or lights out.

As he got closer to the ground below he pressed his legs to the side of the support beam and launched himself away from the towering structure in something like a horizontal jump. It altered his trajectory enough to reduce his agonizing impact with the asphalt. He landed nearly clear into the street. People around him started screaming.

Wow, ouch, that hurt a lot more than he thought it would. He shook it off quickly. He knew security would be coming to catch him shortly. He had to keep moving.

He almost screamed getting up off the ground. He popped a few stitches.

Crap!

After a very idiotic crossing of the street, he made it to the other side and began darting through alleyways and sidestreets. He had to get as far away as he could from the tower.

When he felt far enough away he hid behind a dumpster and he pulled out a ball cap, hoodie and a pair of aviators out of his pack. He also pulled out a blanket and set it aside. He put on the hat, shirt and glasses before wrapping his shield in the blanket. He squared off the edges making it look like it was neatly folded up, then he strapped the shield to his pack, it rested right against his back. He walked past an old shop window and was glad to note that he looked like an ordinary transient. Easily overlooked. He did not know exactly where he was going to go next but he definitely knew he had to get out of the city.

God he hated himself so bad right now for destroying that radio. It was a significant piece of his plan. Now he could not use it to know what Shield was up to.

Dumb ass!

Then again they probably would have found a way to track him using it. He was probably better off, but now he had no idea how he was supposed to find Bucky or keep track of how close the others were to. Whatever, he had to keep moving.

-0-

About four hours later he made it out of the city south towards the coast. He navigated his way through Brooklyn getting lost in nostalgia along the way. Despite the long years since he had traveled those streets some things never changed.

When he hit the coast he quickly found an abandoned factory to lay low in. It was old and constructed out of bricks. Most of the windows were shattered and graffiti covered many of the walls. But it was empty and secluded.

Night had fallen and the cold was starting to set in. Now that he had settled down between a few wooden crates he had time to really think. His ideas were impulsive and mostly irrational. He ran the last several days over in his mind. He shuddered thinking how close Natasha had been to dissuading him. She probably would have succeeded if he hadn’t received that transmission. He cringed at the thought. He had to get his head in order.

The vice president was in Texas during the assassination. Shield and other special forces units were on a trail heading east.

But what about the siblings?

The report said a solitary gunman. As far as he knew, Harker was in control of the siblings and Bucky. But he’s dead now. The Rhododendron was his right-hand man. But from what he had managed to glean the last several days the crazy dude in the bunny suit had escaped sometime during his rescue. He was sure Quicksilver didn’t pick him up too… Wait…

Bucky was with the siblings. If they were no longer under anybody’s command he was sure they would not let Bucky assassinate anyone. Those kids weren’t wicked inherently, just misguided. Especially if he was with that mind reader. She had the power to stop him.

How positive of an ID did the authorities provide? How was it that they were so sure it was the Winter Soldier when it took till now to even recognize that he even existed?

Something’s not right. The footages from the newscast were hardly discernible. What if Bucky was being framed to pull him out of hiding? The assassination of the vice president and his entire family would definitely turn a lot of powerful heads. Now here’s the question, who wants him found? And why?

Why is it this on top of everything!?

Oh hello headache, welcome back.

Steve sighed.

If Bucky was being framed, then he was likely not in East Texas. At least there’s that. That means the others were nowhere close to finding him. That also means he could be anywhere in the world. Steve groaned in dismal abandoned.

‘Great!’

How on earth was he supposed to find him now before anybody else does?

He laid back dramatically over his little makeshift nest and look at the moon in the sky through a broken window. He wished he had someone else with him so he wouldn’t have to do all this alone. His stupid masochistic mind thought that Tony would be the perfect partner in his asinine self-appointed mission. But no, he had to be against him in this.

He could not help but think that things would be significantly different if he weren’t the Keystone. Hell, a lot would be different if Calamity hadn’t shown up at all.

“Uh oh.” ‘Oh no… No no no…’ Steve thought pleadingly.

He had just come up with the most insane and stupidest idea by far. Seriously, he should get an award for coming up with the stupidest solutions possible in any given situation. He must be half crazy or delirious considering he began to agree with the others that he should have remained locked up. Why did they not do a better job?!

He sighed. He tried to will the idea away but now that he had thought of it the more he realized that this was the next best course of action. He hated himself so much right now. But if it got him closer to Bucky before the others, well, then whatever.

He stood up and began to pace around the crates trying to build up the nerve to execute his utterly idiotic plan. Finally, he took a deep breath and thought, ‘Here goes nothing.’

“Calamity? If you can hear me, please, come to me. I need your help!” He shouted out loud berating his foolishness every step of the way.

He got the impression that she was the all-knowing and all-seeing type. So he hoped uttering his plea once was enough. He absently rubbed the markings on his wrist. He looked around but he was still alone. He turned to head back to his nest only to find it already occupied. Calamity sat upon his blanket examining his shield.

“It is fascinating, is it not? The properties of this particular metal.” She said turning it over in her hands. “You could not have received a better weapon, nor a better symbol.” She mused.

“You came.” He did not know whether or not to cheer or berate himself more.

“Indeed. You are the first Keystone to call upon me for genuine assistance.”

He stood stiffly not knowing how to proceed.

“Come, sit next to me. Relax my love.” She told him as she set his shield aside.

He nodded mutely as he made his way to sit next to her.

“It pleases me profoundly that you have requested my assistance. To be perfectly honest, it surprised me. That truly does not happen often.” She admitted staring at the moon.

“Honestly, I surprised myself.” He replied.

“Indeed.” She laughed.

“Yeah well, I somehow have found myself in this really stupid situation and I need information.”

“Ah, information. One of the most valuable of paragons.”

“Yeah,” he cleared his throat. “Do you know where Bucky is?” He asked finally.

“Ah yes, James Buchanan Barnes. That one is quite the beacon. I do know where he is.”

“Will you tell me where?” Steve asked quickly.

“I will not.” She said firmly.

Steve groaned and dropped his head back against the crates. She laughed.

“So dramatic, love. I will not tell you because you already know.”

He perked up at that and gave her a questioning look.

“How?”

“Love, it is all right here.” She pointed to his heart.

Steve still looked at her questioningly.

“Come, let us figure it out together.”

He nodded eagerly.

“Tell me, if you had just been accused of a heinous crime and the entire world is looking for you, what would you do? Where would you go? You have two mutant kids with you, who cannot control their abilities properly. What then? Where do you go? The kids are foreign, they know nothing of these lands. Where do you hide?” She asked, re-creating the scenario. “You’re scared, you have no idea who to trust… Think my love, put yourself in his shoes.”

So Steve did. He thought about how he would find a way to ensure the safety of the kids. He would have to find someone who he could trust. Being targeted by the government made him a huge liability. He would want to ditch the kids but they are foreign here. But they had extremely useful abilities. He’d be able to avoid detection with them by his side. So he could travel nearly anywhere almost unseen. But where would he go?

Then the answer came to him.

The realization shot through his body like electricity.

“Yes, that is it.” Calamity encouraged.

“He’d come for me!” He nearly shouted. “But how would he find me? How would I find him? It’s not like they can walk up to the tower and ask for me. It’s probably all over the news that I had abandoned ship anyway.”

“My dear Steven, you know this answer also.” She said softly.

He closed his eyes to concentrate. “It’s been almost a week since San Jose. That’s plenty of time for them to reach New York. They’d have to lay low but where? Where? What would Bucky deemed safe but obvious enough for me alone to find?”

And then it hit him.

“The Concustodio Catholic Church on Arbor Street!”

Calamity smiled.

“That’s only about two hours away on foot from here!” He shouted. “Could it really be that simple?”

“Only one way to find out.” She replied mysteriously.

Calamity moved to sit on the crates as Steve began to pack his things swiftly. After he heaved the pack onto his back he turned to her.

“Thank you for helping me. I know you didn’t have to, at all.”

“No, I did not. However, I wanted to. You are by far my favorite, love.” She smiled as she caressed his face. “Which is why I will leave you with this warning. Anthony is furious. And a furious Anthony Edward Stark is a very resourceful one. He will find you. He is utterly hell-bent on it. You do not have much time, love. The end is nigh.” She uttered with an air of foreboding.

“You mean…?” He cannot finish his statement.

“Yes, my love, that time is nearly upon us. Go now, find your brother while you still can.”

He nodded shakily. He quickly left the factory behind in the dead of night heading straight to that church on Arbor Street.

-0-

He approached the church timidly. He was happy to see that it was the very same one and still standing proudly. He inhaled deeply then exhaled sharply as he reached for the crystal doorknob. He turned it and his heart nearly leapt through his throat when it clicked open. He slowly entered not wanting to disturb any inhabitants seeking solace so late at night.

He walked along a hallway that led to the main mass chamber and followed the gentle glow of light. When he finally walked into the massive room he found that it was illuminated by hundreds of candles along the walls. He looked around the room trying to see what he could see.

There were at least twenty people scattered about within the pews. Now all he had to do was find Bucky. Oh man, he was so close to finding him. He could feel it. He was definitely here.

Steve took a deep breath and centered himself. He took another look around the room this time focusing on each individual. Then he spotted what appeared to be a male and female duo in the middle left pews. His heart shook and shuddered the longer he stared at the male figure.

‘Bucky.’ He thought. But if that was the girl with him, then where was…

“Don’t speak, move slowly.” A voice whispered behind him.

‘Ah, there he is.’

The brother nudged him forward and led him to the duo. Steve thought his heart was going to beat right out of his chest with every step he took closer. By the time he reached the proper row he was sure everyone could hear his heart beating like mad. The brother nudged him again to enter the row. He counted the distance as he approached.

Twenty feet…

Fifteen feet…

Ten feet…

Five feet…

Four…

Three…

He stopped. The closer he got the more he was able to make out the fine details of his long-lost best friend. Like the way he was hunched over staring at his clasped hands in his lap. Steve could see the strain on his face but was happy to note that he was stable and in one piece.

Steve watched as Bucky took a deep breath and slowly turned his attention to him. The moment they finally made eye contact felt like an enormous weight had been lifted and that he could breathe again. They stared like that for some time before Bucky broke their silence.

“You couldn’t get here sooner?” He said with a smirk.

Steve broke out into an impossibly wide smile. That freaking jerk. Steve shook his head and plopped down next to him on the pew. He promptly wrapped his arms around Bucky and was delighted to feel him return the hug.

“You’re a freaking jerk.” Steve whispered.

Bucky chuckled.

“And you’re a whiny punk.” He replied instantly.

It took everything Steve had not to start laughing like a lunatic. Never in a thousand years would he thought he would ever have his brother back. Now all he had to do was figure out how to keep him alive.

Easy right?

Hopefully he could figure it out before Tony finds him or before Calamity claims him. Which could happen any time now…

Yep, easy as pie…

End Chapter Twenty-One

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two: Last Night On Earth

 

They sat embracing each other for a time relishing in the fact that they could feel each other’s heartbeat indicating that they were both indeed alive.

Bucky pulled away slowly, his earlier cocky countenance gone.

“Listen Steve, I wasn’t in Texas… It wasn’t me, I don’t-“

“I know.” Steve cut him off. He looked him square in the eye. “But the people who think you did are looking for you now. And they’re not planning on taking you alive.”

“Heh, that’s smart, good strategy.” He looked sideways at the siblings worryingly. They looked back equally concerned.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to do my best not to let that happen. But first we gotta move. I’ve got people looking for me too.” Steve urged.

Bucky and the siblings gave him a questioning look.

“I’ll explain later but we gotta keep moving.”

-0-

Steve led them south east toward the coast once more. He found another abandoned factory and it was mercifully empty save for a family of alley cats prowling about. It was a small single floor one room structure. They checked all the entry points and found a nice corner that provided a blind spot for any surveillance probes and was in clear view of all possible points of entry. They were safe, for now.

During their trek to the factory Steve learned that the siblings were actually twins. Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. They were Hydra experiments like Bucky. In any case their abilities were incredibly useful and made it easier to elude detection. So for now, he was glad they were there.

Once they had settled down into their little corner, Steve addressed them.

“Are you hungry? It’s not much but I have a few things with me.” He began to fish through his pack pulling out granola bars and such.

“Thank you.” Wanda said, graciously accepting the food given to her.

Her brother nodded in agreement. Bucky almost made to decline Steve’s offer before the Captain shot him a look that screamed, ‘If you do not eat now I will personally shove it down your throat.’

Bucky sighed and relented.

They ate peacefully for a time. Wanda leaned in closer to her brother and Steve smiled at them. When he was finished Steve scooted back against a crate and sighed heavily. Bucky watched his movements intently.

“So, what did you do?”

Steve looked up at him questioningly.

“You’re obviously on the run too.” He said gesturing to his emergency pack. “What did you do?” He asked again.

“Something stupid.” Steve replied. He almost wanted to laugh. It’s almost like a running joke now.

“Heh, I figured that much. You always thought of the dumbest ways to do things.” Bucky sighed.

Steve scowled that his response.

“Hey, don’t get me wrong, your ideas were brilliant. Just often times stupid and suicidal.”

Steve’s scowl morphed into a pout.

“Hey! I’m not that bad!” Steve protested.

“Oh? What about that time you hid that frog in Freddy’s jacket?”

“Well that-“ Steve tried.

“Or, that time you pretended to be my mother and sent that very convincing letter to my teacher?”

“Well you-“

“Or, that time you convinced that Mark guy that you were an alien.” Bucky lifted a brow.

“Hey! He stopped bullying us!” Steve defended.

The twins were watching the exchange incredibly amused.

“Or, that time you helped me cheat on a test.”

“I’m not proud of that.”

“Or, that time you knocked out Franklin with a stale baguette.”

“How was I supposed to know that would happen?!”

“Or, that provocative painting you did to get to art school.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Steve blushed red.

“Uh huh, sure.” Bucky drawled. Steve was fooling no one. “Or, how about the countless times you picked a fight with someone three times bigger than you?”

“Hey! I didn’t start-“

“Or, how about joining the Army?”

“Hey, you did too!”

Bucky ignored him and continued on, “Or, agreeing to go through the serum infusion procedure.”

“Well-“

“Or, becoming Captain America.”

“Okay-“

“Or, how about storming a Hydra weapons manufacturing facility all by yourself?”

“You and the others were-“

“Stevie, Stevie I can go on. There were many, many of them in the two years we served together.” He said smirking.

“Sometimes it was the only option.” Steve defended firmly.

“Yeah, that one option that was simply better than giving up, right?” Bucky looked at him.

“Yeah.” Steve replied as he shifted.

“Yeah? Then I hear you crash a plane into the Arctic? Only to miraculously survive and end up seventy years out of time. That one was pretty stupid Steve.” Bucky pointed out sharply.

“It worked. Nobody died.”

“You did. For decades you are as good as dead.” He retorted in a hard whisper. “It irritates me how selflessly suicidal you are.” Bucky sighed.

“I know. You’re not the only one.” Steve replied with a hint of a pout. Tony said something like that not too long ago.

“You should tell him about all of the latest ones.” Wanda interjected.

Oh yeah… He gave her all of his memories… Well there’s that one right there.

Bucky turned to him slowly.

“Yeah, and how about that one? Giving a complete stranger complete access to your mind?!”

Steve winced guiltily.

“You’re such an idiot.” Bucky groaned.

“Yeah!? You’re no better!” Steve countered.

“I didn’t say I was. I was just making it perfectly clear that you were stupid.” He replied with a cocky grin.

“Yes! I know this already!”

“So, back to my first question, what did you do?” He asked coyly.

Steve sighed heavily as he ran his hands over his face and through his hair.

“I don’t even know where to start.” Steve moaned miserably.

“Perhaps you should start with falling for a Stark.” Pietro suggested with false innocence.

“You’re not helping!!” He shouted red in the face.

Oh man, he did not even know how he was going to explain that one to Bucky. Thanks a fucking lot Maximoff.

Bucky turned to him swiftly.

“You’re in love with the Stark!?”

“W-well I-I…” Steve stuttered.

“You are! I only know of the one, are there more?”

Steve clamped his mouth shut.

“No there isn’t.” Wanda smiled up at her brother.

Bucky slowly turned back to Steve.

“You’re in love with Tony Stark?” He asked slowly as if tasting each word.

God, Steve was so mortified right now. If there was one person in the entire world whose opinion mattered most, it was Bucky’s. If Bucky rejected him because he was in love with another man he didn’t think he would survive. Steve pressed his lips together refusing to confirm or deny. Bucky knows him all too well however.

“You are! How the fuck did that happen?”

“Language!” Steve snapped without thinking, a very old habit suddenly emerging.

“Really? You’re going to call language on me right now?” Bucky replied incredulously. “Well how about fuck you! Fuck, fuck fuckitie fuck you fucking punk!” He cursed, challenging Steve. His cocky smirk widened significantly.

“You’re a freaking jerk! It just slipped out.” Steve replied with a bittersweet smile. He could recall dozens of times where they had that exact same conversation.

“Now, tell me how the fuck you ended up in love with Tony fucking Stark?” He prodded again.

“I don’t know! If I did maybe I wouldn’t be in this mess.” Steve was exasperated. He really didn’t know. “It just happened. I didn’t even see it coming. The realization just hit me several weeks ago.”

“So you’ve only been dating for a short time then?”

“What? No, were not dating.” Steve replied slowly.

“So you just fucking then?” Bucky asked with a straight face.

“No! Why!? You sound like Nat! No, we’ve only kissed so far.” Steve replied getting riled up.

“So what’s up? Does he think he’s too good for you?” He demanded with a hint of venom.

“No, it’s not like that, it’s… It’s beyond complicated.” Steve sighed again. Beyond complicated was a massive understatement.

“Then explain it. Because I really want to understand.” He said softly yet unrelenting.

Bucky’s tender expression made Steve want to melt in relief. His look was full of concern and comfort. It was in no way condemning or disgusted. He could tell just by looking into his crystal blue eyes that if Bucky had any issue with Steve loving Tony it wasn’t because the genius was a man, it was because Tony had a very negative reputation in certain aspects. But alas, he had to be sure.

“Hold on, just to be clear, you don’t care that I’m in love with another man?” He asked with trepidation.

Bucky gave him an indiscernible look.

“No, I mean it’s kinda shocking, you know? My best pal fancies men. Because I did not see that coming and yeah, back in 1945 I would have been creeped out a bit but after everything that has happened in the last seventy years? I really don’t care.” He replied running a hand through his hair pulling it out of his face.

“Thanks, I think.” Regardless, Steve felt a hundred times better.

“What I do care about is whether or not he’s treating you right. Which I don’t think Tony Stark is capable of.” He said pointedly.

Oh God, if he only knew. He probably tried to kill Tony… Again.

“So, tell me what’s going on with you two. Why are you on the run and who’s after you?”

Why does this have to be so damn complicated!?

“Okay, like I said, it’s complicated. Really complicated.” Steve started.

Bucky nodded. The twins shifted closer and made themselves more comfortable sensing a long story. The Captain wanted to roll his eyes but refrained.

“Well, as it so happens Tony and the other avengers are after me.”

They stared at him in shock.

“What did you do Steve??” Bucky was in disbelief.

“Like I said, something stupid.” Steve replied sharply.

“Oh I’ve got to hear this. Why are they after you?”

“Oh God, okay, I escaped confinement.”

“Why were you confined?” Wanda asked.

“To keep me from doing something stupid and suicidal.” Steve replied sheepishly and winced.

“Really!? Are you fucking serious right now?”

“Yes Buck, I am.”

“Oh God, why did you escape? And you better not say to do something stupid.”

“Well, I escaped to find you before anybody else could.”

“Why did it have to be you? I know you are not in the best shape right now. Steve, I know what I did to you! Why isn’t any of your team helping you?” Bucky demanded with a growl.

“I couldn’t trust them. My team that was sent to find you had direct orders from the president to kill you on site. To seek and destroy was their exact order.” Steve thought back to the transmission he heard on the Shield radio he borrowed from Coulson. It was that very order that cemented his decision to defect. “I was banned from active duty and not allowed to participate in that mission. I knew they were wrong, that you didn’t do what they said you did. No one was going to listen to me based on a hunch.”

“Steve, that was crazy, reckless and impulsive! You could have just destroyed your life doing that! If they don’t kill you on site along with me they will lock you away for good, American hero or not. I’m not worth that!”

“You are to me. I know what you’re thinking, what you did all those years? That wasn’t you.”

Bucky looked at him like he had been struck. He hated having Steve twist it back at him.

“But I did it.” He whispered. “I can only keep running for so long, Steve. Even if you could prove I didn’t kill the vice president I still have to answer for the others.” He replied defeated.

Steve just shook his head. He can figure something out, he just had to.

“No, it won’t be that way.”

“It will and you threw the rest of your life away for nothing!”

“Tell him Captain, he needs to know.” Wanda suggested from her brothers arms.

Bucky jerked. “Tell me what?” He demanded.

“Bucky, it was my choice. I wanted to spend what time I had left making sure you’re going to be okay. I wanted to save you like I-“ He swallowed thickly. “Like I couldn’t before.” He said finally choking back to sob.

“What are you saying!? What do you mean ‘what time you have left??’” He demanded almost shrilly, grabbing onto Steve’s shoulders. It took so much effort not to shake the answer out of him.

“I told you, it’s beyond complicated.” He sighed. “I have days at the most.”

“Y-you’re dying??”

“Sort of? Not really, it’s complicated.”

“Then explain it!”

Steve sighed deeply and grabbed Bucky’s hands off of his shoulders. He held them in his own hands and noted the difference in temperature. He looked back up to his brother’s face intending to engrave every detail into his memory. Steve looked deep into his eyes and was truly thankful to have him here with him this very moment. Bucky’s gaze was searching. He desperately wanted answers but allowed Steve to take time to gather his thoughts.

“Well, it’s like this…” He began to describe, in as much detail as possible, the Calamity case.

He began with how, at first, cases kept popping up all the while the numbers increasing exponentially. They had narrowed down the source to be otherworldly. He explained how they planned to learn everything they possibly could to stop her. Then he described how she made an appearance and had given them the information needed to stop her but it was heavily encrypted.

He paused his narration to gather the strength to tell the next part.

“So as of right now, the fate of the entire world is depending on Tony Stark?” Bucky asked.

Steve breathed in deeply.

“Pretty much.” He replied. The irony had not escaped him.

“God, I’m glad I didn’t kill him then.”

“Me too.” Wanda agreed.

“So do you know exactly what the code does?”

“We assume that if Tony cracks the code it will allow him to create a device that will wake everyone up or stop her somehow. We don’t know for sure. All we know is that the way to stop her is in the code.” He explained. “The catch is there is a .5% chance the absolute right conditions could be met. And…” He hesitated for the next part.

“And what!?” Bucky demanded apprehensively.

“She said she would release everybody and make it like she was never here as long… As long as she got to keep her Keystone.”

“Okay, Tony cracks the code under the right conditions and she keeps the Keystone and that’s it, the world saved?”

Steve nodded solemnly. Suddenly Bucky thought of something. Steve can see the gears turning in his head.

“Steve?” He paused. “What is the Keystone?” He asked finally with ill-concealed trepidation.

“I am the Keystone.” Steve uttered almost inaudible.

Bucky’s expression twisted in pain and horror.

“No! I just got you back! Is not fair!” He shouted breaking down.

“I know.” He did know.

“Do… Do you know when?”

“Any time now. Like I said, I have days at the most.”

Bucky nodded despondently. He quickly pulled Steve close to him and held him tight. The twins watched with sad expressions.

“Whatever happens, I’m with you pal, till the end of the line.” He whispered into Steve’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Buck.” He took a shuddering breath trying to hold the tears back. “I don’t want to be alone in this.” Steve said as he held Bucky tighter.

“You’re an idiot. You chose me over your friends, you could have stayed. Why? You could be safe with your team.”

“I couldn’t knowing you’re out there somewhere.” He sighed knowing he was going to have to explain the other side of this complicated mess. “I was angry with them, I had literally days left and they wanted to keep me locked away. You know how I hate that.”

Bucky nodded, “I do know, probably the stupidest thing they could have done to you.”

“It wasn’t just that one time, they did it several times.”

He began to tell him about the friction he had with his team after the fuzz buzz incident and everything after that. He ended with his great escape but left out a few of the Tony bits, however.

“Wow…” Was all he could really say at that point. That whole account had completely cemented the fact that his best friend definitely made the stupidest decisions ever. But at the same time he did know why he had to escape. He really did.

Growing up Steve spent most of his childhood and a good chunk of his adulthood confined in a hospital or in his sickbed. Barred from going anywhere or doing anything. He spent days on end lying in a bed and that’s how art, books and Bucky became his greatest escapes.

Bucky would spend days cooped up along with Steve, reciting wild and epic tall tales, coming up with weird verbal games and even producing a small collection of baseball cards to play with. Once Bucky realized Steve had a real knack for reproducing the likeness of the players on the cards he left for him, he did everything he could to dig up things Steve could draw with.

Being confined to a bed could not, would not stop him from drawing on newspapers, grocery bags, and other scraps of paper Bucky managed to scrounge up for him.

Bucky had also become very acquainted with the local library, borrowing books left and right for Steve to read while he was at school or doing chores. But no matter how many distractions Bucky managed to provide he knew the one thing Steve wanted desperately was to just go outside and be free. Free to run around and just soak up the sun and get dirty.

When Steve finally was well enough to be out and about Bucky made sure to take him everywhere to experience as many new and different things they could think of. He was fully aware of the horrible reality that the next time Steve got sick could be his last. So Bucky knew truly better than anybody else that locking Steve way, limiting his movements was one of the cruelest things his team could do to him. Even more so now.

Back then there was a level of acceptance on Steve’s part because being so sick he couldn’t really physically do anything anyway. Now? He had one of the healthiest and strongest bodies in the world, a bit damaged perhaps, but he could feasibly do anything he desired but couldn’t because he was being restricted by the very people who he was meant to trust the most.

Bucky found that whole situation sickening. On the other hand, he knew Steve. He knew that despite his absolute displeasure at being imprisoned in such a way he wouldn’t have went through such deceitful and underhanded lengths to escape. Something else happened that forced his hand. He had a pretty good hunch of what or who that was too.

“Steve, you do realize everything you just told me only serves to prove my earlier point, right?” He smirked down at him.

Steve looked up with an un-amused pout.

“I know.”

“And do you also know that despite everything and I mean ‘everything’ that has happened so far I can still read you like a book?”

Steve shifted a little in his arms.

“Listen Steve, despite your internment something else pushed you over the edge. I’m sure it wasn’t the vice president assassination.” Bucky pressed the Captain closer. “What happened Steve? What aren’t you telling me?”

Steve groaned. He did not want to talk about what happened with Tony. At all. Bucky already had a negative perception of the genius and he really did not feel like getting into it in front of the twins.

“It’s co-“

“I swear to God if you say it’s complicated one more time I’m going to beat the fuck out of you!” He threatened as he shifted to wrap Steve in a headlock.

“Okay! God, you’re such a jerk!” Steve said as Bucky released him.

“It was Tony okay.”

“Figures.” He sighed. “What happened?”

Steve grimaced, he knew he was going to have to bite the bullet. Just because he didn’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean he wanted to keep it from him. On the contrary, he wants Bucky to know everything. It’s just he doesn’t want to open that door back up and have to truly acknowledge his broken heart.

“He ripped my heart out.” He could see the twins listening intently now.

Bucky’s face went from concerned to scowling. But he did not interrupt. Steve could feel his desire for more information, however. So he began to tell him all about his complicated relationship with Tony Stark. He started at the beginning when he learned his good friend Howard Stark had a son that had become something of a hero in his own right and he had absently wondered if he would ever end up getting a chance to meet him. Surely if he was anything like Howard they’d probably get along swimmingly.

Oh how wrong he was.

Their first meeting was a disaster at best. He hadn’t realized it then but Tony had ignited something in him that day. After coming out of the ice he was numb. He could barely feel anything but the cold, hopeless darkness of his dismal life. Then that enigmatic man walked into his life with the cocky strut and made him feel alive again. Yeah, it was because Tony enraged him beyond comprehension.

But it was something.

Then only a few weeks later they had been thrown into their first mission together, to stop Loki. He tried to be kind but that bastard made it so damn hard. He did not know how but Tony had the gift to just look at him and say the worst thing he could possibly say at any given time and piss him off like no one could ever hope to. Just when he was sure that Tony was going to wake up dead by his own hands they got stuck in a subway tunnel together. Isolated together for hours.

After that they just worked.

They grew together, bonded and connected. They told things to each other they would never have told anybody else. They spent endless hours together and Steve tried to get to know Tony as best as he could.

Bucky nodded and smiled fondly as Steve recounted everything was so much passion and reverence.

Oh yeah.

Steve was definitely head over heels gone for this guy.

As Steve continued to describe some of the more significant encounters with the genius he came to a few conclusions. One, he was definitely in love with Tony long before he even came close to his realization. And two, he could see exactly why Natasha and Clint came to the conclusion that he and Tony must have been secretly dating.

No fucking wonder.

Steve eventually got up to the Calamity case and talked about his “date” with Tony that led to his stunning revelation and then everything he went through after that. He stuttered his way through the first kiss he shared with Tony after he woke up from his run in with the giant zapper. He went into how lost and confused he was over Tony’s behavior after that and what it felt like coming to the realization that they could never be together after learning he was the keystone and everything that meant for them. He stopped just before waking up in the tower.

“Wow, you’ve got it bad, pal.” Bucky commented softly.

“Yeah, I know.” Steve replied miserably.

“You have no idea.” Wanda commented wryly. “I have it all right here.” She tapped her temple.

Steve blushed like a tomato.

“Oh... Yeah…” He squeaked out.

“I hope you did not show my sister any strange fantasies.” Pietro teased with mock anger.

“Stevie?! You showed this innocent young lady your kinky perverse fantasies??”

Steve somehow blushed even deeper.

“N-no it’s not- I don’t…” He groaned into his hands in mortification.

“It’s okay Stevie, it’s okay.” Bucky said through Snickers while trying to pat his shoulders.

“Get off!” Steve smacked his hands away.

When the levity died down they got serious again. The next part of the story was not going to be easy on any of them. It’ll be hard to hear and hard to say.

In the short amount of time the twins have known Steve Rogers they had developed a great amount of respect for him. Especially to Wanda. The more Steve spoke the more she understood the chaotic mess of thoughts and memories he had forced upon her. There was a part of her that did not want to hear how things between the Captain and Tony went south in just under a week knowing she felt they were in the right place when last they met.

“So what happened? Where did it go wrong?” Bucky asked with care. “I mean, you don’t have to say, I-I know there are things that I sure as hell do not want to talk about. I just… If I can help in any way…” He trailed off.

“Thank you. It’s true I don’t want to talk about it but I have to. I need to.” Steve replied not breaking eye contact.

“Okay.” Bucky nodded.

Steve took a deep breath and continued from the moment he woke up in the tower. He pressed on in explicate detail. He recited word for word his conversation with Fury when he told him that he was literally going to be locked up in the tower on house arrest and barred from duty and under constant surveillance. ‘For his own safety.’

“Okay, for the record Steve, you are incapable of making a rational decision on a normal day, let alone after the crazy shit that happened in San Jose.” Bucky drawled.

Steve looked at him betrayed.

“I can go through the list again. Hell, I can add more. Like the time you-“

“Like you’re any better!” Steve snapped.

“He isn’t.” Pietro interjected. “You should have seen the shit storm he tried to create. We almost could not stop him.”

“I saw it in his mind, he would have gotten us killed.” Wanda added.

“Pot calls the kettle black.” Steve replied leering at Bucky.

“Hey, I never said I was any better!”

Steve sighed, “Any way…” He continued.

He went into his first conversation with Tony. He explained how the genius had brought up a valid point in his annoying passive aggressive way that Steve should chill and spend time with his team being that he only had days left. But Tony only wanted to spend time with him. Steve explained how he came to the realization that it was something he genuinely wanted, to literally spend the rest of his life with Tony.

And he did.

Even now a big part of him wanted to despite what happened.

Steve began to speak slower and softer now. He tried to maintain control of his emotions. Despite his efforts he knew by the end he would be in tears. It’s one thing to internalize it all and another to say it out loud.

He began to recount how he came to the conclusion that he needed to apologize and that when he tried to have Jarvis tell Tony to come back Tony had already issued a do not disturb protocol. He commented how he didn’t think anything of it then and proceeded to remove himself from his restraints. He described in painful detail how he hobbled about searching for the genius only to find Ms. Potts leaving his room utterly disheveled. Like the way she used to…

“Oh Steve, God, I’m so sorry.”

“I know it’s stupid and is not like we were together and a part of me is actually glad that he’ll have someone after- after I…” He stopped as his voice was beginning to break.

“I’m sorry.” Bucky whispered.

Steve laughed bitterly.

“I’m not done.”

Bucky frowned deeply. The twins set up in attention, concerned over the next part.

“I went back to the medical room…” He continued in despair.

His voice cracked over every other word. He could barely utter the details out loud. He described how he came to the decision to spend the rest of his life finding the brother he could not save seventy years ago. Bucky flinched at his admission but said nothing. Tears started to spill, he knows exactly how Steve feels.

Steve began to describe how Tony came in a short time later. He went to wretched details on the kiss they shared and how Steve had come to the conclusion that Tony was trying to manipulate him. Just as he predicted tears began to roll down his face without his permission.

Bucky was shaking with fury.

“You don’t deserve this! You don’t deserve any of this!” He roared.

The internal mechanisms in his left arm began whirring frantically and was the only warning Steve got before Bucky leapt up suddenly.

“I’m going to kill him!” He shouted.

Before he took a step however, he was enveloped in Crimson, his eyes fluttered shut before he was out cold. Steve watched in horror and amazement as scarlet which put him to sleep easily. He caught Bucky’s limp body and held him close.

“Oh Sister, very good, you did that much faster this time.”

“He was more himself.” She replied.

Steve looked at her worryingly.

“Do not worry Captain, he sleeps.”

Steve repositioned him in their little area in an attempt to ensure he was comfortable. The twins moved to get comfortable also.

“I’ll take watch.” Pietro said. “You sleep.” He said to Steve.

The Captain wanted to protest, however, after everything he was too tired to go on. He was emotionally and physically drained. He needed this time to lick his wounds and rest up. He nodded reluctantly and made himself comfortable next to Bucky. He watched his sleeping face for a moment letting his mind go back to the last night they spent together before their tragic mission to catch Zola’s train.

They had fought over a blanket of all things. It was the softest one. Bucky had tricked him and claimed his prize leaving Steve with the scratchy one. Steve smiled at the memory. In the end Bucky had shared with them. It was the dead of winter and one of the few times they had slept so close together as adults.

The longer he looked upon his face the more sure he was that this was their last night together. He did not know then that it was going to be his last, but he knew this time. It was all going to end one way or another tomorrow.

And so he fell asleep taking comfort in the fact that he got to spend his last night on earth with his brother safe in his arms, one last time.

End Chapter Twenty-Two

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three: Sending All My Love to You

 

When he woke he noted how the air was crisp and fresh and smelt of the sea. He yawned deeply and began to stretch only to regret it instantly. He felt many of his stitches tugging agonizingly in protest. He felt his already tender flesh tear open again where he popped the stitches yesterday after his impact with the pavement after his great escape.

He groaned as he gently unwrapped himself from Bucky to inspect the damage. He found as he sat up that Wanda was already awake. He supposed she was on second watch seeing as her brother was passed out next to her. He nodded and whispered “good morning.” She smiled shyly and replied in kind.

Steve gently lifted the layers of clothing off of his stomach. He winced as the fabric peeled off of his skin painfully. He bled through yesterday and it had plastered his undershirt to his abdomen.

“Let me help.” Wanda was by his side gently lifting his shirt.

He nodded. She helped him remove all the layers to fully assess the damage. Once she got a clear view she gasped. Gnarly was an understatement. There were three major roads of stitches on his stomach that branched out like a crude peace sign. There was also a long jagged one on his right arm. Nearly all of them on his arm were torn or clearly on the verge of tearing.

The ones on his abdomen were most concerning, however. Fresh blood was beginning to ooze from the splits. There were sections that were starting to open. There was severe bruising everywhere and his ribs didn’t sit right.

“My God…” She whispered as she slowly turned her gaze to stare at Bucky’s prone form next to them realizing he was the source of this nasty wound.

She frowned.

“This… This needs to be redone.” She sighed concerned.

It had been close to a week since the incident in San Jose but the wound looks as if he had received it not hours ago. It’s not healing. Which is even more concerning considering Steve’s super soldier status.

“It needs to be redone, but I do not know how.” She whispered regretfully.

“It’s fine.” Steve tried to sound reassuring.

He had realized some time ago that he wasn’t healing right. He could see it in her eyes now, the realization. Steve felt that if he thought back far enough he could possibly pinpoint the point in time in which his body was not responding the way it should. It must have been after the fuzz buzz incident, after Calamity healed him and inadvertently created his mind barrier. At that time it must have done much more than he had initially anticipated.

Under normal circumstances his condition would be most concerning, however, he did not see any point in worrying over it. It was all going to be over soon enough anyway.

Steve was shocked out of his thoughts as Bucky cried out waking up suddenly in a fit. He sat up rapidly looking around wildly before his eyes settled on Steve. He huffed in relief for a moment, realizing finally where he was. His respite was short-lived however when he got a good look at Steve’s torso.

“Oh my God! What did you do?! What did I do!?”

In seconds he was in front of Steve looking him over.

“I’m so sorry.” He whispered.

“It’s fine Bucky. You did not by any means come out of that unscathed either.” He said lightly tracing the faint bruising still visible on his friends face. It did not go unnoticed to Steve how Bucky also babied his right arm. He did recall with a wince breaking it.

Bucky shook his head remorselessly. “Not like this.”

Suddenly his eyes brightened with an idea and squinted at Steve’s pack just feet away from him.

“Buck, I’ll be fine.” Steve tried weekly.

Bucky had already grabbed the pack and began rifling through it.

“Ah Hah! I knew it!” He gushed in triumph as he pulled out a military standard first aid kit. He opened it and began to remove the tools needed for stitches.

“It’s not necessary Bucky, it’s not going to matter.”

Bucky paused in his task and looked up slowly.

“I know.” He admitted, looking Steve in the eye conveying without saying word that he knew what was coming, he felt it too. “But it matters to me.” He stated finally, giving Steve no room to argue.

He wasn’t going to anyway. He knew how Bucky needed this, he’d be damned if he took that away from him. So he nodded and let his friend get work. Wanda had backed off a bit giving them space and went to sit with her brother who was still blissfully asleep.

Bucky cleaned the wounds the best he could with the little supplies they had but it was good enough. Steve watched him entranced. He gaped at his brother’s concentrated process. He had allowed himself to fall into a strange world of nostalgia. Bucky took care of him just like this most of his life. He always had that air of reverence, care and conviction. Steve marveled at how his eyes were just the same as they always had been, filled with tenderness and determination. To have come full circle and end up back in this position with his brother caring for his broken body was truly a bittersweet miracle.

He watched captivated as Bucky prepared the needle and began his work of stitching Steve back together. There was a wondrous transcendent, simultaneous symbolism in the act. With every stitch Bucky completed something somewhere deep down was made whole again. Steve then fully realized that they both needed this on so many levels. Yeah, in the end stitching his body was a useless act but this was so much more than that. He found in this intimate moment between them, there were far more important things getting stitched back together than just his broken flesh.

He winced a little as Bucky went over the worst parts of his abdomen. He had to really pinch some sections back together a bit harder to ensure a proper stitch. He stared at the blood now on Bucky’s steel hand. It was oddly mesmerizing.

“Remember when you used to throw up at the sight of blood?” Bucky suddenly spoke up.

“Yeah, remember when we were kids and Lloyd threw that rock and hit me in the head?”

“Yeah, and you started bleeding and threw up on his dog?” He laughed at the memory. “Thought you were going to pass out.”

“No, I was worried about you. I thought for sure you were going to get mauled by Lloyd’s dog after you beat the crap out of him.”

“Luckily he was too busy licking up your puke.” He smirked.

And with that they both began to laugh. Steve’s laugh morphed into a grown as his newly stitched wounds became agitated.

“Ah! You’re a jerk, don’t make me laugh!”

“Hey! I’m not making you do anything!” He smirked again with a wicked glint in his eye.

“Hey! Don’t you dare do whatever it is you are thinking about doing!” Steve warned.

“I wasn’t going to, geez.” He sighed.

Then his smile faded and his expression became serious.

“Come on, we gotta burn these.” He said picking up the bloodied material.

Steve eyed him quizzically.

“You don’t gotta burn it.” He said thinking it a bit overkill.

“Yes we do! Your soldiers blood is on these, we cannot leave a trace of it for the enemy to find.” He replied sharply.

Whoa… Okay, that’s something else. It dawned on Steve that Bucky’s response was something Hydra forced him to do.

“Bucky!” He started in his deep authoritative voice. Bucky froze and stared at him. “No we don’t.” He stated firmly.

Bucky took a shuddering breath.

“I’m sorry Steve… Everything’s still in here.” He admitted softly.

“It’s my fault, Buck. I should have come for you. I should have looked for you!” Steve uttered remorsefully.

It was Bucky’s turn to look at Steve in disbelief.

“Steve, what happened was in no way your fault.” He assured adamantly.

The Captain looked away with profound guilt.

“No! Look at me.”

Steve did.

“I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if you knew you’d come for me and not let a damn thing stop you. I don’t blame you at all, Steve. When I knew nothing else, I knew that.”

“I still should have went back and searched for your body, tried harder to bring you home.” He whispered.

“You and I both know they would not have let you done that. I was a lost cause and you had a mission.”

Steve shook his head.

“Steve, you crashed the Valkyrie into the Arctic and saved the world only weeks after I fell. There was nothing you could do.”

“I could have saved you.”

“No, you couldn’t. I know because you did everything you could.”

Steve shook his head, “If I have realized sooner-“

“No! Don’t do that to yourself. You could not have known. Look at me!” Bucky grabbed Steve’s space and looked him dead in the eye.

“None of it was your fault. Not a single thing. I chose to follow you. I chose to fight by your side knowing I could die. I chose to get on that train with you because there was no place I wanted to be more. I chose to die for you because you are my best pal, my brother and there was no better way to go.” Bucky assured with conviction.

Tears began to roll down Steve’s face freely. Bucky swallowed thickly and continued.

“And yeah, it sucks that… That I didn’t die like I should have and became…” His voice broke as he minutely gestured to his metal arm. “But look at us now! The world’s ending and you’re being forced to play a significant role in that and because of everything that has happened I get to be here now when you need me the most.”

Suddenly, Steve laughed through his tears. Bucky continued.

“ ‘Cause I’m with you pal, till the end of the line.” He finished with a wet cheeky smirk.

Steve didn’t know if he was crying or laughing, he guessed it was a horrible mess of both.

“You’re a stupid jerk!” He huffed with a tearful laugh as he pulled his brother into a deep embrace.

“And you’re a sulky punk.” He mumbled into Steve’s neck.

Steve sighed. All that bitter anguish finally slipping away.

“I know...” He smiled. “I know.”

-0-

After cleaning up and establishing that they did not need a bonfire to do so, they had distributed what was left of Steve’s supply for a light breakfast. Pietro had woken up sometime after Steve and Bucky’s emotional exchange and moaned about how he was glad he didn’t have to witness it.

It had been a little over an hour since Bucky had stitched him back up and Steve had planted himself in front of the dirty window with his sketchbook in hand and lightly traced what he could make out of the sunrise over the horizon.

“It happens today doesn’t it?” Wanda asked softly, approaching Steve slowly.

“I get the feeling one way or another it’ll happen.” He said distantly staring out the window watching the sky wake up with spectacular hues of vibrant gold, iridescent reds and oranges. Dawn was Steve’s most absolute favorite time of the day.

“You should write him a letter.” Wanda said without preamble.

“What?” He turns to her lost.

“You should write Stark a letter. Tell him everything.” She clarified.

Steve frowned at her, questioning the soundness of that idea.

“Listen, I’ve been in your head. I know what he means to you, even now.” She grimaced, her own opinion of Tony cringe worthy. “Do you really mean to leave it all the way it is? To have so much remain unsaid?”

He considered her point.

“You have a gift many do not receive, to know when you have reached the end. You have the chance to say that things you could not before.”

She smiled sadly as she patted his cheek fondly. She walked away to join her brother. Steve watched her go absently. He watched as she smoothed over a growing disagreement between Bucky and Pietro. He grinned briefly before turning his attention to his sketchbook. He had a few blank pages left, just enough for a letter. He went over Wanda’s words to him again.

Say things he couldn’t say before.

He chuckled bitterly to himself. Oh boy, does he have a whole truck load of things he wants to say to Tony Stark. He seethed for a moment, thinking of all the nasty and venomous insults he wanted to throw at him.

But then he stopped and his train of thought traveled down another path.

To say the things he couldn’t before…

He had finally gotten that chance with Bucky. Though there is still much unsettled between them the most important ones had been addressed. He knew what it meant for both of them. He then thought about how there was so much he wanted to tell Peggy but never got the chance. There was so much left unsaid that it festered in his heart for years.

He sighed deeply.

He leisurely turned the pages of his sketchbook. There were a few scenes from his past: a tank, a rough silhouette of his unit and one of Peggy. Most of the other sketches after were random: skyscrapers, trees, flowers and such. Some were scenes from the city. A woman walking her dog, a man on a bicycle and one of a homeless man on a park bench.

After that the others were of his current team. He had one of Natasha laughing at a pouty Clint during a movie night and one of Bruce sipping his morning tea while reading a newspaper. He smiled brokenly at these long forgotten domestic scenes. He turned the page again to find Thor amid epic gesture as he told of grand tales from his world. Next was a comic of Fury pointing directly at the viewer stating “I’ve got my eye on you.” With Maria and Colson in the background making silly faces behind his back. Steve stared bemused at that one for a moment recalling the hectic day that had inspired that drawing.

He hesitated to turn the page once more knowing what was on the other side. Finally, he turned the page with solemn reverence. On the other side was Tony making adjustments to a test piece he intended to use for an upgrade. He remembered that day clearly. Not only did the upgrade test not work, he blew up the entire workstation.

Steve smiled fondly before turning the page again to show Tony standing before the aftermath, his clothing still smoldering in places and Dumm-E waving an extinguisher around madly. The next one was Tony staring blankly at a diagram before he had his first cup of coffee. The next one made his heart skip a beat. It was Tony asleep on his lap. He had put so much care and detail into Tony’s relaxed face. He stared at his sketch transfixed for a time.

Oh, how he loved this man.

He recalled how he stared at Tony almost the entire time he was asleep engraving his visage into memory. Later after the genius woke up and went back to work Steve re-created the scene with tender passion.

How on earth had he not seen it before? He was a goner even then. When had his sketches transitioned from Peggy and other elements from the 40s to his new team and Tony? He flipped through more pages to see his teammates faces pop up again. He noted Tony showing up with increased frequency until that’s all there was. The last one before his sketch from earlier was a very provocative scene where pieces of his Ironman armor were coming off to show his unclothed skin underneath. His body was posed in a tantalizingly erotic manner.

The Captain blushed profusely at his work. He had drawn that a little after his trip to Asgard. He sighed, it felt like so long ago now. Almost like it could have been years.

He turned the pages until he hit the first blank one. He stared at it desperately wishing he knew what to write. Only moments ago he had half a mind to write the meanest, angriest letter he could forge. But… After looking at all of his sketches something else twisted around inside of him. This sketchbook had become something of an album. It held so many wonderful and seemingly insignificant moments for him. Just the simple every day memories with his team. He frowned.

Now that he knew Bucky was safe he finally took a moment to really think about what he did to his team. He was definitely the one that was wrong on a lot of points. Though his team locked him away against his wishes they did do it with his best interests at heart. And yeah, Fury was right, he could definitely not make proper rational decisions. Especially in the state he was in.

His team did not deserve the way he bailed on them. He winced thinking back on the lengths he went through to escape. He drugged Jane and Darcy. That was bad. He knocked out Scott and Colson. Probably the two people least deserving of his attack. And Natasha… Now that he has had a moment to breathe he recalled that conversation with her all those weeks ago.

~

“I know this is big and personal for you.  I’ve known Tony for a while now and considering everything, I have a lot of respect for the guy as you can imagine.”  She said. 

Steve nodded, he did know. 

The man was hard to swallow unless you knew how he operates…  God he was so glad he did not say that out loud.  Anyway, though Tony was a difficult person, he was full of heart artificial or not.

“No matter how much you think it, I don’t want to torture you more.  So I’m just going to cut to the chase and ask you just one more question, okay?  But you gotta swear you’ll answer me honestly.” 

“Scout’s honor.”  Anything to end this.

“I love the both of you dearly, and I just want the both of you to be happy.”

Steve smiled.

“Thank you, Nat.”  He replied as he pulled her in for a hug.

“Okay, what do you wanna know?”  He asked as he pulled away from her still smiling fondly.

She returned his smile.

“Do you Love him?”

Steve sighed, well that is the only question that really matters, isn’t it?

Steve took a deep breath.

“Yes, I do.”

~

Did she know Tony was two timing him? She mustn’t have. She knew how he felt about Tony. She wouldn’t have let it get that far if she knew about Pepper.

He began to write out his letter starting with sorely needed apologies. He didn’t want to go in too deep. He had but a few pages left and he knew the moment he opened up to leave is message for Tony he could write a novel. He didn’t have room for a novel, so he had to make every word count.

After he finished his message for his team he looked out the window again. The sun was now sitting completely on top of the water making the glassy surface shimmer wondrously. Steve looked back over to his new little makeshift team to find them doing a parameter check. Good.

It took a moment to really think about what he wanted to say to Tony. He went back through the pages of his sketchbook that depicted the genius and all those mundane everyday moments. He paid extra close attention to the way he re-created Tony’s smile, everything to the way his eyes shine and his lips curved.

“This is so ridiculous!” His heart screamed.

The man in these drawings wouldn’t have done those things to him, would not have manipulated him that way. Yeah, he was egotistical and fickle but not like that. It’s not like they were together and he would want Tony to move on after he was gone, to find peace and solace and live a long and happy life. But did he have to seek that solace even before Steve was out of the picture?! Did he have to go back and forth like that.

So stupid.

That was always one of the things that fascinated him most about Tony Stark, he never knew what was going on in his head. Just when Steve thought he had him figured out Tony, without fail, would pull a 180 on him and he’d have to start all over again. Sometimes he didn’t mind. He loved how Tony was a complicated puzzle like that.

With that thought a whole floodgate opened up and he thought of all the ways he loved Tony Stark. Everything from his easy points to love to the worst ones that were so enraging he wished extreme violence upon him. He loved them all. He loved Tony Stark inside and out, through and through.

Steve smiled sadly one last time at his sketch and turned back to his letter and began writing once more. If today was really the end, then he was going to send all his love to him. He was going to let that beautiful man know how much his existence impacted his life and how much he really meant to him. He hoped that of all the time they spent together he had a positive impact on Tony’s life to.

He ended the letter encouraging Tony to find the answer in the code. He believed in him, that if Steve could surprise Calamity then Tony was fully capable of doing the same.

As soon as he finished signing his name he looked up to find Bucky staring at him not two feet away. He flinched back in shock not expecting him to be so close. Bucky smirked widely at him, deeply satisfied at having surprised his brother so. Before Steve could even recover properly however he was thrown into another shock when he discovered his hands empty. Bucky had taken his sketchbook and began reading his letter. Dread spread through his body.

“Give it back!” He squealed in panic, reaching to nab it back.

“No! I want to read it! I want to see what you told that rat bastard!” He said easily slipping away from Steve’s reach.

“No! It’s private!” Steve shouted lunging to make a grab for it again only to end up face planting with Bucky’s hand. His flesh one thank goodness. “Give it!” He shouted again as he reached for the book in his new position. Bucky held the book just enough out of reach so he could read it.

Steve switched tactics and moved to place Bucky in a headlock.

“Drop it!”

“No!”

In minutes they were rolling around on the dirty floor of the old factory fighting over the sketchbook, to the utter amusement of the twins, squabbling like the brothers they were.

Bucky had successfully pinned Steve underneath him as he continued to read. His expression morphed from mischief to utter disappointment.

“Aww! What the hell man? It’s a love letter! You seriously wrote a love letter?!”

“If you hated so much stop reading it!” Steve retorted trying to unpin himself and failing miserably.

Bucky didn’t answer but kept reading. His face took on a more serious expression as he began to read more intently. At that point Steve gave up and dropped his head back on the cement in dismay.

“Oh my God Steve, this is beautiful.” He said slowly lowering the book to look at his friend. “I knew you were mad for this guy but this is…” He trailed off overwhelmed. He got off the Steve quickly helping him up. “Come on we gotta find a way to get these mailed off proper.” He stated with a wink.

Steve breathed in deeply.

“Thank you Buck, we should be heading out anyway we gotta stay on the move.”

Bucky nodded.

The Captain turned to the twins. “You guys ready?”

“Always, Captain” Wanda said with a grin.

-0-

The nearest post office was an hour away from their location on foot. They weaved through the back streets avoiding heavy traffic areas. All it would take was one surveillance video, one cell phone to capture their image and Tony and Shield would instantly know where they were. They were dressed inconspicuously and Wanda had the capacity to alter perception to an extent. But she couldn’t alter technology, however. Pietro was good at spotting cameras and quickly altering their viewpoint before they could capture the rest of the group on film. Steve knew once he hit the post office he would not be able to hide from all of the surveillance considering it was a federal building but he had to send the package right to ensure it got to the tower properly. It was a risk worth taking.

They were at a coffee shop across the street going over the plan.

“I can’t let you go Steve.” Bucky interjected. “Once you’re spotted they’ll be on us immediately.”

Steve began to protest before Bucky began again.

“Let me go instead. Tell me what I need to know and I’ll do it.” The soldier insisted.

“It’s too risky.” Steve countered.

“It’s even riskier with you going.” Bucky argued.

“I agree with James.” Pietro spoke up.

“You could be recognized by not only surveillance but the people also. His face is all but unknown to them. He has a better chance of getting in and out undetected.” Wanda added.

Steve paused. That was true, no one would recognize Bucky easily. But Tony would. He did not want to put him at risk like that.

“Trust me Steve, it’ll be better this way.”

The Captain sighed deeply in defeat.

“Okay, fine.”

Bucky smirked in victory.

“Here’s what you need to know about getting that package to the power unhindered…”

-0-

to say he was nervous was an understatement. The moment he walked through the doors it felt like world was watching him. Mercifully being so early in the morning it was most empty save for the staff and early birds taking care of business.

Bucky was relieved when Steve finally agreed to let him go instead. One of the twins probably would have been an even safer option, however, they knew that there was something that he needed to take care of and this was the best time to do it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t really come out with it and tell Steve what he was planning. He hates keeping something so important from his friend but Steve already has such a massive load on his plate, he does not need yet another thing to worry about on the eve of… well... his end.

Bucky skillfully avoided security as he attained an envelope and a priority box. He mused bitterly how his accursed skill set Hydra “taught” him was very useful now. He quickly wrote down the appropriate information on the box that Steve told to him. He gently folded Steve’s letter and placed it in the envelope. He then placed the envelope and the sketchbook in the box.

He took a deep breath.

Before he sealed the box he had one more item to place. Under his shirt he pulled out a worn red leather bound journal. He traced the black star on the cover with disdain. This was essentially his instruction manual. He loathed its existence. He had originally planned on destroying it, however, there were far more secrets in that book than just how to operate a winter soldier.

After thinking it over he came to the conclusion that Steve’s hands were the absolutes safest for it. Then he learned his brother doesn’t have much time. After reading the letter Steve ment to send to his team he decided that it would best be in their hands. Despite his reservation about various members, he trusts his brothers judgment. He left a note on a piece of paper trying his best to quickly explain such a sentiment. He placed the Journal and notes in the box and sealed it. He proceeded to follow Steve’s instructions and prayed to God that he did not make the stupidest mistake of the century.

“See Steve, I’m no better than you.” He thought with pride. Then he felt utterly stupid for taking pride in such a thing. He groaned to himself still mindful of security as he made his way back out of the building.

As Bucky walked out into the bright sunlight he took a quick sweep of the area, swiftly identifying all possible ways he could be compromised. He did his best to avoid those avenues and proceeded to work his way to the predetermined rendezvous point. He did not know how the rest of this day was going to go down, but he could feel it deep in his gut that it was not going to end well. At least at this point he was not being rapidly swarmed by the government or the Avengers. Which means he hadn’t been discovered yet. That means they had time.

How much?

He did not know. All he did know was that he was going to spend the last of it with his brother because he knew it was the end of the line and there was no place on heaven, hell and earth he’d rather be.

-0-

Steve melted in utter relief when he spotted Bucky bound up to them. They were waiting up for him in a random park away from prying eyes near a duck pond. The Captain nearly launched himself off of the bench to greet his friends eager to reassure himself that he had returned to him safely. He stayed put however to ensure that he did not attract any unnecessary attention with rapid movement.

“Hey, how did it go?” Steve inquired when Bucky finally reached them.

“Mission success.” He responded with a cocky smirk. “I don’t think I was spotted considering I made it back here in one piece.”

“That’s really good Buck but we need to keep moving, I’ve got a plan.” The Captain replied standing up.

“Is this going to be one of your suicidal idiotic plans?” Bucky sighed.

“Definitely.” Steve replied with a smirk matching Bucky’s as he slapped his friend on the back. “You coming?”

“God…” He muttered. “Always.”

 

End Chapter 23

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four: All Hell Breaks Loose

 

As they had gotten settled down by their new hiding spot by the river, Steve pulled out a small travel map and got down to business.

“Okay, I know I don’t have much time left but I’m going to use what I can of it to make sure you guys are safe.”

“Steve, I’m pretty sure we’re just as fucked as you are. You should really just spend the time you got left doing something fun. Go relax on the beach or something.” Bucky drawled out.

“You know I can’t do that Bucky.”

“Yeah, I know.” He sighed. “I thought I’d try anyway.”

“I don’t mind, we had a good run didn’t we brother? I was sure we would have perished sooner than this.” Wanda voiced wistfully.

“That is true sister, we have tempted fate far too long now.” He turned to Steve. “Are you sure you want to waste your time helping us?” Pietro said as he rose an eyebrow expectantly.

“I’m sure.” The Captain stated adamantly.

“Hey, remember the last time you were real sick?” Bucky spoke up. Steve nodded expectantly. “Remember how you made me promise that I’d take you to see the ocean one last time before you died?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“You should let me.”

“I did this morning.”

“That was a crap view and you know it.”

“Works for me.”

Bucky sighed deeply. “You’re incorrigible, I tried.” He threw his hands up in surrender.

“I know how you feel Buck, but this is something I need to do. You all are my friends and if I have the capacity to save you then I’m going to try.”

“Ah fine, what’s the plan?”

“It really won’t be suicidal will it?” Pietro asked concerned.

“Borderline.” Wanda replied.

“Okay.” Steve opened the map. “Here’s what I have, we are here.” He pointed to their location on the map. “What I want to do is get us to this area here.”

Bucky looked at Steve’s intended location. “That’s just a bunch of factories and warehouses over there.” He remarked.

“Why, is it better hiding?” Asked Pietro.

Steve shook his head.

“One of those warehouses belongs to Shield. And it so happens to contain an early model E–409 series Quin Jet. One of the first to receive advanced stealth technology.”

They stared at him shocked.

“So you want to steal it?!” Bucky demanded incredulously.

“Yes.”

“They’re going to have it thoroughly secured! It’s not like they left it in a random warehouse where the local delinquent could wander in and take it for a joy ride.” Bucky snapped.

“I concur, we can’t just walk in undetected.” Pietro agreed.

“The thing is, we can.”

The others looked at the Captain disbelievingly.

“Listen, there is a sub floor that opens. The warehouse itself is a front. I know the code to get in, there are…” Steve paused taking out a rough schematic of the building he drew up. “Only five security cameras. Two here and three here. We can definitely bypass these three easily. However, these two will be tougher.”

“If we get caught they’ll be on us instantly. They will know the moment we step into the building.”

“True, but they have a delayed protocol for the motion sensors. They have to thoroughly check the cameras before they are allowed to engage. Kids and transients find a way in all the time. They can’t dispatch agents for every little cat or rat that scurries by. It’s a broken system, they are banking on the fact that no one really knows of nor desires its contents. No one has yet.”

“Why even have it there?” Pietro inquired suspicious.

“Shield has storage facilities everywhere. That particular jet had been stored there for an inspection that had been put on the back burner. New and better models came out thanks to Tony’s funding and this unit was mostly forgotten about.”

“They would stop us before we even got off the ground.” Pietro countered.

“Not if we time it right.”

“They would come after us.” Wanda countered.

“Not with the stealth activated, it would be impossible to find you.”

“You don’t plan on coming with us.” Bucky prodded accusingly.

“I can’t risk Calamity taking you out to get to me.”

“I’m not leaving without you.” The Soldier declared adamantly.

“You have to. Listen Buck, I need you to go with them and make sure they make it out of here alive.” He retorted firmly.

“No, not without you.” He uttered barely above a whisper.

“Yes, this is it for me. The end of the line.” Steve replied mournfully.

“I know and I want to be there for it.”

“Bucky, if I can get you and them out of here safely then that’s what I’m going to do. Please, let me have this. This is what I want. Go with them.”

Bucky almost winced at the deeply earnest expression on Steve’s face and the desperation in his voice. He cannot for the life of him deny his best friend his last wishes.

“Fuck, okay fine! I’ll go.” He scowled. “But I don’t like it one bit. In order for her to take you you need to feel more pain right? I don’t want you to be alone for that.”

“Whatever happens I can take it.” He tried to sound reassuring.

“No, whatever pain she has in store for you isn’t the kind you can just shrug off, it’s the kind that will rip you apart, the kind you can’t come back from.” Bucky tried to convey desperately.

Steve sighed deeply. “I know, Bucky, I know.”

Steve may have been good at fooling other people there was no fooling James Buchanan Barnes. Bucky can see it clear as day in his pale blue eyes. Steve was scared.

“Are you really sure you don’t want me there with you?”

Steve shook his head. Deep down that’s all he wanted. If he were truly selfish he’d never let Bucky leave his side ever again but he knew whatever his end was it would take out everybody near him. He absolutely was not going to let Bucky or the twins get caught in that crossfire. No matter how much he did not want to meet his end alone.

“I’m sure.” He replied still clutching desperately to his convictions.

Bucky new that was utter horseshit but nodded anyway. He knew there was no arguing with him. However, he was most certainly not getting on that jet no matter what that punk says. He knows his place is right next to Steve. Wanda gave him a knowing look; she knew what he was planning.

He smiled to himself, ‘Honestly, I’ve got nothing better to do. I like the idea of going out the right way this time.’

Bucky regarded Steve again, “Okay, you know you’re a miserable punk right?”

“Absolutely.” He smirked.

“So how are we going to pull this off?” Wanda asked getting everyone back on track.

“Okay, here’s how we’re going to do it…”

The Captain began to explain in full detail how he intended to infiltrate the warehouse. He also explained how to access the jet and he briefly went over how to operate it. A lot of it rode on Bucky’s potential piloting skills. Steve was confident he could get them out of there safely. They just needed to time at all precisely. They also needed a hell of a lot of luck. Desperately hoping that no one else was coming for them. Considering that possibility he also went over what exactly they should do regarding whoever they may encounter. He told them what they should do if Shield should show up and he went over what they should do depending on which Avenger should show. The most basic plan for each was run like the wind.

“If things go south, which I’m not going to lie is an extreme possibility, you take her and run.” Steve implored to Pietro. “Don’t look back, just run.”

Quicksilver nodded resolutely. He would protect his sister at all costs.

“All right, does everybody understand what we’re doing?”

They all nodded.

“All right team, let’s do this.”

They began their trek to a part of the city that was an old industrial district. It was even harder to move unseen this time. It was midday now and the city was wide awake. Thousands upon thousands of people hustling about busy living their lives. With so many people milling about Steve knew it would be a matter of time before Jarvis and in those regards Tony found them. All it would take was one well snapped selfie from an un-aware civilian with the Captain in the background.

Tony would have him instantly.

That is if he already hadn’t figured out that they were still in the area due to Bucky’s appearance at the post office. It was truly a matter of time now.

He couldn’t help to wonder how he ended up in this absurd situation. How every seemingly un-noteworthy decision he made lead him to this point. The closer they got to the old industrial district the more Steve could feel fate closing in. It was both euphoric and at the same time hauntingly terrifying.

The more they moved the more his muscles tensed. He could feel goosebumps emerge as he began to break out in a cold sweat. Bucky looked at him concerned. All Steve could do was give him a look that he hoped convey that he was fine but stay alert. He could not trust his voice; he was sure if he dared to utter a single word it would have come out as a panicked squeak.

The tension was mounting. They were still several blocks away from their destination. Suddenly an intense feeling of dread and something else he could not identify cascaded over Steve’s psyche. In that moment Steve knew with absolute certitude that they were not going to make it.

Wanda must have felt it too when she stopped short in the middle of the road and began to look around cautiously. Steve tried to take deep breaths to calm his turbulent nerves. The others took battle ready positions. Their Captain’s anxious countenance did not go unnoticed.

Bucky pulled closer to Steve and whispered, “It’s happening now isn’t it?”

Steve’s only response was a worrisome shaking nod. His instincts were a live wire. His gut feelings were usually frighteningly accurate. Natasha once joked that he could probably be able to predict the future with them. Now was no different.

Steve’s instincts weren’t the only things dialed up past ten. His other senses were insanely remarkable also. He could sense the way his small team subtly moved and twitched as they struggled to stay focused and aware of their surroundings. He could see the little movements of their surroundings, a stray cat here, a pile of garbage there. He could taste the salt in the air, the industrial district being so close to the docks. He could smell the odor of rusting iron, crumbling firebrick, exhaust fumes and the unmistakable scent of sweat coming from his team in the anticipation of the looming battle.

He could hear their jagged intake of air as they prepared themselves for the inevitable. He could hear Bucky’s arm click and whir as he clenched and unclenched his fist in an effort to stay in control despite the overwhelming almost suffocating atmosphere. He could hear his own heartbeat speed up and slow down with every ragged breath he took, in every haggard fleeting thought.

Suddenly the quiet enveloped them and everything fell motionless, immediately casting a foreboding shadow. They stood stock still in the middle of the street waiting. Mercifully the roads were empty of civilians awesomely adding to the ominous dead silent atmosphere.

Steve looked Bucky in the eye, silently communicating with him attempting to convey his most broken and desolate thoughts. It felt like they were standing in that deserted street for hours when it was only mere seconds.

Then the Captain’s heightened senses which were dialed up further than they had ever been before finally picked up on it. He desperately tried to suppress his erratic breathing to give his enhanced hearing a chance to hone in on the sound he’d recognize anywhere. A sound that at one time used to bring other relief during such tumultuous and dire circumstances. Only now inspires uneasy trepidation. He could hear the pulsing sound of the repulser technology of Stark Industries flight stabilizers.

To Steve the source was unmistakable.

They had seconds at the most because he was coming in fast and hot. The Captain turned swiftly to the twins.

“Pietro RUN!” Steve commanded with the deep bellow.

He didn’t even have time to utter a sigh in relief when he saw the twins disappear before he was suddenly reacquainted brutally with the asphalt of the road. He wanted to curse himself for being right yet again as his mind processed a red and gold blur as his face met the pavement. He rapidly forced himself back on his feet and desperately tried to get a handle on the situation.

He winced in agony as his stitches protested his movements vehemently. When he was able to focus again Iron Man was trying to stabilize himself.

“Do not engage!” Steve shouted at Bucky as he was rapidly gaining on them.

The absolute last thing he needed right now was for Tony and Bucky to try and kill each other. Steve had no idea what to say or do in this situation but he knew he had to neutralize the conflict and fast. The Captain held his hands up in an attempt to defuse the tension.

“Look, I know you’re angry and you have every right to be…” He began.

Iron Man’s face plate snapped open to reveal Tony’s face. Looking at his thunderous expression Steve was sure he had never seen him so furious. This was so not how he wanted the last of his life to go. He knew from experience that an angry Tony did not listen to reason. But he had to try.

“Listen, I don’t have much time but someone has framed…”

Tony’s expression morphed into a severe glare as the helmet snapped shut and he lunged.

“You think I CARE!??” He yelled cutting Steve off as he connected a right hook to Steve’s face.

It was enough to force the Captain back several feet. He dodged to the left avoiding another attack swiftly removing his pack to detach his shield from where he strapped it. He tossed the blanket he had wrapped it in at Iron Man for a distraction to give himself a moment to gather his wits.

That punch that had connected threw him for a loop. Even when they were fighting like cats and dogs in the beginning never had he been on the receiving end of such fury from Tony. He knew this was a very probable possibility yet he was still surprised by how much it hurt. Both physically and emotionally.

He had to keep it together.

The blanket was turned to ash instantaneously and Iron Man was closing in on him rapidly. Steve lunged to the left and targeted a flight stabilizer on the armors right dorsal area. He’d have to slow Tony down piece by piece if he had to. Unfortunately, Tony was expecting it or Jarvis saw through his movements. Iron Man grabbed his shield and yanked it away tossing it aside.

Tony moved to retaliate attempting a swift kick. Steve brought his arms up to guard waiting for the driving impact. Instead the reverberating sound of metal striking metal rang out like an awful hell song. Bucky had placed himself in front of Steve and used his arm as a shield to Tony’s attack.

The Winter Soldier engaged Iron Man in brutal a clash.

“No stop!!” Steve screamed but it was futile now.

Neither could hear him. He watched with horror as his brother and the love of his life began that deadly dance of combat. It was sickening to watch, neither of them were holding back. Steve couldn’t take it, there was no way in hell he would let them kill each other. He quickly plunged into the fray. Just as Iron Man and Bucky dove for each other both intending on delivering a devastating punch Steve threw himself in the middle of them. He successfully kicked Bucky’s legs out from under him forcing him to hit the ground and roll away. Using his sweeping movements Steve caught Iron Man’s fist and swung him to the ground hard.

“ENOUGH!!” He roared.

His chest was heaving deeply from the exertion, his vision was blurry and his face was wet. He felt the tears roll down his cheeks and realized with gut wrenching horror that he was crying.

“Please Tony-“ He choked back a sob. “Please stop.”

Iron Man slowly got up to his feet and face the Captain. Steve felt Bucky come up behind him and at a quick glance saw that he was in possession of his shield.

“Listen,” he swallowed thickly trying to rein in his emotions. “I know about the chief code.”

Iron Man regarded him. “What of it?” He spat but did not reengage.

“We’ll surrender quietly, just please, don’t let him die.” Steve pleaded fresh tears ran down his face despite his best efforts at keeping them at bay.

“This is stupid Steve, I’m not worth all this.” Bucky whispered harshly behind him.

Steve only shook his head.

“You should have just let me handle it from the start.” Tony replied coldly, the robotic overlay on his voice from the suit making him sound all the more icy.

Steve ignored his heart breaking all over again in favor of ensuring Bucky lives.

“Please.” He repeated again. “Don’t let him die.” He uttered brokenly, his voice barely above a whisper.

This is what he set out to do after all. To save his brother, that’s what he chose to do with the rest of his life. He can feel Bucky wanting to protest but he stayed silent despite that.

“Fine.” Was Iron Man’s clipped reply.

Steve shuttered in relief. That modicum of solace was short-lived however when the marking on his left wrist started to burn. He lifted his sleeve with a yelp to see it glowing iridescently. All three of them stared at it in horror. All of them realizing what it meant. Steve slowly looked up in agony.

‘No, not now!’ He thought helplessly.

He began to reach for Tony hoping for some sort of respite from the torrent of emotions whirling inside of him. He had never been so afraid. Something very bad was going to come to pass. Before he could even reach Tony it began.

The only warning he got that all hell was breaking loose was the sound of his shield hitting the rough asphalt. He turned around immediately at the sound of ringing vibranium only to have the sight that greeted him make his heart drop. Bucky was staring shocked at the many tranquilizer darts sticking out of his right arm and shoulder. Several Shield agents were closing in from designated locations. Before he could address the new threat he instantly found himself reacquainted with the pavement yet again. Tony plowed him into the road. He looked up in time to see War Machine land not a few yards away, weapons ready.

“No!” The Captain screamed.

He tried to get up but Iron Man’s full weight was pressing him down on the ground painfully. The excruciating impact with the road ripped his stitches again and the way Iron Man was sitting on him was hellish. Steve could barely breathe and the pain was paralyzing.

Bucky regarded the new threat, he ripped the darts from his flesh and made to engage War Machine. He could hear Tony speaking but none of the words were sinking in. His torment only intensified when he saw the agents get closer with a number of devices designed to subdue him. He had been on the receiving end of many of them before. Steve tried to buck Tony off but Iron Man held him down firmly. One of his hands roughly grabbing around the jagged cut on his arm making him scream out in misery.

“Stop!!” He tried again.

He does not know who he was addressing at this point all he knew was everybody needed to stop. It didn’t have to go down like this.

Bucky effectively dodged the agents in favor of facing off with War Machine. He successfully disarmed three of the agents and kept two of their electrifying weapons. Steve watched in terrifying trepidation as Bucky successfully sidestepped and avoided most of War Machine’s brutal annihilating attacks. The Winter Soldier whipped around fast jabbing one of the Shield weapons into a weak spot in the armor. War Machine went down hard on his knees and some of the more fainthearted agents backed off in complete terror.

Six of them continued to close in, however, with a heavy spray of bullets from their guns. Bucky avoided the onslaught seemingly easily and swiftly disarmed two of the six. He reengaged them firing the guns he had just acquired.

Steve in his distraught haze realized with a modicum of reassurance that Bucky was aiming to maim and not kill. That and as long as he didn’t kill any of them means he still had a chance.

That moment was lost however when War Machine reengaged delivering another round of heavy artillery. Three bullets hit their mark at Bucky’s right shoulder and arm and Steve screamed in desperation. Despite his weak broken body, the Captain tried yet again to unpin himself from Iron Man’s unrelenting grasp. His efforts were futile and only served to make Tony hold him down tighter and harder. He moaned in agony he could feel blood starting to leak from the torn stitches again.

“Please! I have to help him!” He groaned out. His wrist burning ever more, the pain increasing in intensity.

“Stay down!” Tony shouted at him, his legs squeezing around the Captain’s broken torso.

Steve could feel his ribs fracture all over again at the pressure. A new wave of agony and hysteria overcoming him. He continued to watch his brother battle his pursuers unable to do anything to help him. His heart was an absolute anguish.

Then things started to go even more South.

One of the agents managed to loop an electric subjugation wire around Bucky’s neck as he made to dodge another War Machine attack. The wire stopped him in his tracks and he screamed out with wretched abandon. The scream ripped through Steve’s heart like a lightning bolt made of demonic fury. The Captain was in such excruciating pain and despite that he began to struggle again.

He had to get free.

He wrenched his right arm out of Iron Man’s grasp painfully, intending to twist around and bash his elbow into a weak joint in the armor. Tony saw it coming, however, and grabbed Steve’s wrist and pulled out and twisted brutally, successfully dislocating the Captain’s arm and breaking his wrist while crushing his hand. Steve wailed in perdition. He could feel the force of it tear minutely at his vocal cords.

He did not know how much he would come to regret that scream.

When Bucky heard him cry out he rounded on the Shield agents closing in on him using his left arm to utterly devastate them without remorse. With yet another weapon in his possession he whipped around with fiery intensity gripping the powerful firearm tight in his left.

Steve’s breath caught in his throat as he realized with true terror his brother’s intended target was Tony! With that weapon he could do it. Steve froze in trepidation unable to fully comprehend everything that was happening. He saw the ferocity in his friend’s eyes and took in his entire nightmarish appearance, his right arm limp at his side dripping blood at an alarming rate and his frightening left arm glittering in the sunlight with false hope holding a weapon that could kill his love.

“No! STOP!” He finally choked out tears running down his face. Steve could see the look in Bucky’s eye. He was going to comply; he was going to stop. That was until his left arm exploded in a brilliant array of fine metal pieces.

“NO!” The Captain screamed uselessly.

Iron Man shifted and forced his face down to the pavement.

He can’t let this happen, he can’t!

Bucky fell to his knees and stared in horror at his missing arm. The agents came in fast with their electrical weapons. Bucky wasn’t fast enough to get away this time. They surrounded him and began to subdue him with the electricity. The scream that tore from Bucky’s throat was even more excruciating than the first. Steve was in such desolate pain. There was nothing he can do but beg.

“Please Stop! He’s innocent!” But his plea fell on deaf ears as they continue to torture his brother.

“HE’S INNOCENT!!” He screamed again in desperation the electric noose was once again wound around Bucky’s neck and they managed to keep him pinned on his knees. The Soldier stopped struggling.

“No! Bucky! Please!” His voice cracked at the abuse as he sobbed and pleaded. Bucky slowly looked up and made eye contact with Steve desperately trying to convey a message. It was a reassuring look meant to calm him. Even in this situation Bucky tried to make the whole terrible mountain of a thing look like a molehill. All with one almost cocky look.

How!? In this desperate situation? The next look that flashed in his eyes was one of acceptance and Steve knew then that Bucky intended to die.

“No!”

With every ounce of strength, he tried to force his broken body to get to his brother even with Iron Man pinning him he managed to force the both of them closer nearly two feet. He could feel his flesh tear and his bones crack at the exertion. He desperately tried to reach for him.

Bucky despite himself fought his captors to reach for Steve in return. His right arm broken and useless lifted minutely, painfully reaching out. The agents tried to force him back but he was unmoving only continuing to reach. Steve could feel Iron Man grab the back of his neck in an attempt to subdue him. The raging torrent of utter desolate pain was unbelievable but he pressed on. His mind losing focus on everything but his brother.

“Stevie.” Bucky grunted out trying desperately to reach further.

That little utterance of an age old nickname from childhood threw Steve into an all new hurricane of loathsome despairing all-consuming horror. He was about to lose his brother all over again.

No! He had to reach him.

There was screaming and shouting happening all around him but he could hear none of it. His mind was so utterly focused on Bucky he didn’t even sense Iron Man make a move. He was so focused he could not process anything else but Bucky’s visage. The way his gaze shifted around a moment in fear before his right arm fell limply at his side and many expressions flitted across his features. He looked Steve in the eye and held that contact adamantly. He silently conveyed remorse, gratitude and acceptance.

Steve subtly shook his head in denial. ‘No please no.’

Bucky smiled that cocky smile once more before silently mouthing “’Till the end...”

Before Steve could even comprehend the sentiment behind the gesture an all-consuming thunderous percussion of a gunshot ring out and Bucky’s chest blew out in a rain of crimson blood. The scream of anguish that ripped through the Captain’s throat tore his vocal cords apart after a drop of blood landed on his cheek. It froze everyone on the spot and subsequently made them back away in terror.

Steve’s mind and heart shattered the moment Bucky’s prone form hit the pavement slowly turning the asphalt a lusciously hideous hue of scarlet. He could no longer process the world around him. All there was was the all-encompassing pain. The pain in his heart as the pieces became sharp and jagged, the pain in his body as he struggled against his own captor. His muscles began ripping themselves apart as he, on pure raging instinct, overpowered Iron Man with a strength never reached in all his life. His bones fracturing at the sheer intensity of his raging movements, his body was not built to withstand such brutal exertions.

Before he could twist around and fully face Tony, Iron Man’s fist drove hard into the junction of his neck and cranium sending wretchedly agonizing pulses of electricity through the brutal contact. The very same used in those accursed weapons. His vision blurred intensely and the raging inferno that was his very soul quieted. Before he toppled over into the darkness of oblivion one last tempest of a thought passed through his shattered mind and came out as a disgustingly broken whisper.

“You promised.”

Just as the woeful utterance escaped his bloodied lips the soft soothing hands of sweet nothingness embraced Steve, tenderly pulling him into the wonderful darkness of unconsciousness.

End Chapter Twenty-Four

 

 

Chapter Text

Pain.

If there was one thing he knew with absolute certitude, it was pain. That was all he knew. His body, his mind, his heart and his soul were all in an intense excruciating pain. He did not know why and he did not want to know why.

Unfortunately, fate had other plans for Steven Grant Rogers.

All he wanted to do was remain in the vastly sweet oblivion, completely ignorant to everything that was happening. But the harder he tried to remain in the dark the closer the light came. The moment he opened his eyes more pain enveloped him. In that awful moment everything came back to him. He truly wished that he had remained unaware of the events that had transpired that day.

He numbly recalled Bucky warning him…
“No, whatever pain she has in store for you isn’t the kind you can just shrug off, it’s the kind that will rip you apart, the kind you can’t come back from.”

If only he had truly taken heed… Then perhaps…

No, this was all going to happen anyway. Calamity would have ensured it.

He absently became aware of the fact that he was in a cell. A super max design for enhanced individuals. He was bound in chains and with bitter irony realized he was strapped into that steel straitjacket that Fury threatened him with all those days ago.

He shifted in a miserable and futile attempt to alleviate the biting pressure of his restraints. He was in shackles. He noted his ankles bound along with his neck. Now he truly felt like a caged animal, collar and all.

He also noted that his wounds remained untreated. His arm had not been relocated, his hand and wrist were throbbing painfully even more intensely because they were twisted and bound so brutally within the confining jacket. His ribs remained unset, making it incredibly difficult to breathe regardless of the restraints. The stitches were still torn, he could feel his blood still leak minutely. On top of the other torn muscles and fractured bones caused by his efforts to escape the marking on his wrist till burned like fire.

Still, none of that compared to the state of his heart. He was sure if it could have a physical manifestation it would be utterly unrecognizable. The sight of his brother’s graphic death was set on constant replay in his mind.

Over and over.

The shot.

The splashes of red.

Then death.

Over and over.

He would never be able to un-see the way Bucky’s face contorted or the way the puddle of his blood glistened in the sunlight as it steadily grew in size. But even more disgusting was the fact that he was unable to reach him yet again. He was forever doomed to fail.

Completely useless.

And even more twisted and vile was Tony’s involvement in the whole disgusting thing. He could still feel Iron Man’s vicious grip on his neck under the cold steel of the restraining collar. Tony held him down and prevented him from reaching Bucky and… and… then…

He couldn’t think of it anymore! It was too painful to bear. Fresh tears spilled over.

How had it all come to this?

Just as he was going to go through another round of instant replay in his head a shadow loomed over the thick glass panel of his cell.
Steve flinched as Tony’s voice rang out.

“Fitting isn’t it?” He said with unconcealed bite.

The Captain wished that his nightmare with just end.

“Honestly, this should have been done from the start. Would have saved a lot of trouble.”
Steve swallowed thickly at the edge in Tony’s voice, the collar digging into his flesh.

“You know, you had me convinced, Cap.”

Steve turned his head slowly to face Tony. He winced minutely at the effort. From what he was able to see from his painful position, Tony was furious. His brow was pinched in anger and his mouth was caught somewhere between a sneer and a grimace.

“You had us all fooled.” He stated bitterly.

Steve said nothing. What could he say? What’s done is done. That still did not stop trepidation from washing over him like a tidal wave. He knew Tony was just getting started.

“What? Got nothing to say?”

Steve swallowed again. He knew from the burning sensation deep in his throat any attempt to utter a sound would be perdition.

“You drugged Jane and Darcy. You knocked Scott and Colson unconscious and blew up my tower. Not to mention the state I found Natasha in.” He began yelling halfway through. “And you have nothing to say!?”

Steve could feel the rage and desperation rolling off of Tony in waves. He licked his dry chapped lips and tried to make amends.

“S-sorry.” He barely managed out, his voice broken and torn.

“Bullshit!” Tony shouted making Steve flinch yet again.
“You betrayed us and for what!? A fugitive, a murderer.”

“H-he’s my f-friend.” Steve rasped.

“So was I!” Tony countered roughly.

The genius took a deep breath and sighed heavily.

‘Here it comes.’ Steve thought.

“You know what? I’m done. You are so utterly useless! I don’t even know why we even tried.”

What little jagged pieces were left of Steve’s heart began to crumble.

Tony shook his head.

“She was right. You’re not worth it.” The genius turned abruptly intending to leave. Instead he paused for a moment’s turning slightly. “God, I wish they hadn’t dug you out of the ice. You should have been left there.” He stated finally before walking away leaving our dear Captain completely and utterly devastated.

Tony had just single-handedly delivered the finishing blow to Steve’s already broken heart. Of all the things he could have said in that moment Tony had uttered the very things that had always plagued and haunted his soul since he could remember. That he would be useless, worthless, expendable and unwanted to those who he cared about most.

A burden.

His deepest and most profound fears had come to pass.

Were once his pain had been excruciating and unbearable now receded to numbness. He could not feel his body nor his emotions. He could not feel anything at all. Somewhere he knew he should be afraid of the numbing sensation but he could not be made to care.

He had become unfeeling.

Even the burning of his wrist where Calamity’s mark had been prominent had begun to recede. That too he could feel no more. He almost eagerly awaited his return to oblivion. He was most the way there any way.

“My dear, dear Steven. Look at what they have done to you.” Calamity’s soft voice flitted across his consciousness like a soothing balm.

He could not see her but he could feel her fingers traced down his face. Her touch felt like fire against his sensationless being. He leaned in almost as if he was desperate to feel again.

“The time has come, my love, are you ready?”

Steve thought for a moment. A small spark in his soul, utterly resilient that refused to be extinguished, begged for a modicum of reprieve.

“I w-want f-freedom.” He whispered.

“Where do you wish to be freed to?”

“Ocean…h-home…” He whispered, and age old desire from his childhood resurfacing. “T-the sun…rise…”

“For you, my love, I can do that.”

Steve noticed that his restraints were being removed by her invisible hands. She swiftly unshackled, unchained, and unbound his various restraints. She lifted him easily in her arms, as if he were a small child. Steve could hear his blood to drip onto the steel floor.

“Do not worry, my love, you will be free of your burdens soon enough.”

Just as she finished speaking a red alert started blaring.

“Oh my, that was quick.” She said with a hint of amusement. “Well, my love, we must not dally any longer.”

His surroundings changed from his prison to the vast freedom of the night starry sky. The stars twinkled brilliantly and the crisp cool air filled his lungs soothing the crushing tension in his chest. He relaxed in her hold and watched as the dark scenery passed them by. They were up high, way way up. The ocean was a vast void on the horizon. Buildings, no, cities were mere specs below them.

It was incredible.

He absently wondered how he was even capable of still feeling such emotions of grandeur even after everything. Calamity became visible once more and laughed lightly.

“Love, with sights so grand even a stone would quiver.” She mused.

Before he even knew it, Rockaway Beach manifested into view. The sandy shore was illuminated by the somber light of the moon.

From their viewpoint, the moon’s reflection on the surface of the water was breathtaking. Steve also saw the soft glow of dawn’s early light just on the edge of the water over the horizon turning the sky a brilliant array of oranges and violets.

They descended steadily and gracefully. As soon as Calamity landed smoothly on the shore she gently sat Steve down on the cool sand. He sat silently watching the warm colors bloom across the sky banishing the darkness away from yet another day. It was at this time that his mind began to wander. And because he was a hopeless and tragic fool his mind settled on Tony. He desperately wished that things had turned out differently.

Not just because of the things that have transpired the last several hours or the last several weeks or even months. He just wished… Well, he didn’t really know what he wished anymore. Everything was just so messed up it’s difficult to make heads or tails of anything.

Steve thought back to a day when they were at their most peaceful. Before the Calamity case had even started. If Steve thought back far enough it must have been his favorite day with Tony. The day was fair and cool with a slight breeze. There were plenty of those big white puffy clouds in the sky and Steve had amused himself by taking photos and seeking out hidden images within their round curves. It was one of those rare days where everybody had some precious time to themselves where they can unwind and breathe freely.

As Steve was engrossed in the movement of the clouds Tony bounded up to him in excitement.

“Cap! Cap, you gotta see this!”

Steve was shocked out of his daydream at the sound of Tony’s voice.

“Geez Tony, how many cups of coffee had you had today?” Steve asked amused at Tony’s childlike excitement.

“Uh, I don’t know, however many three pots is? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. You gotta come see this!” Tony could barely contain his excitement as he grabbed Steve’s hands and hauled him to his feet and began to drag him to his personal lab.

As they crossed over the threshold Tony initiated a startup program. “Jarvis! Start her up!” He turned to Steve abruptly, “Okay! Stay right there.”

Steve smiled warmly as he watched Tony prepare whatever it was he was excited to show. He watched as Tony cleared off the platform that had various devices located at what he assumed were key points. He noticed Dumm-E in the corner of the room with a fire extinguisher handy. Steve learned a long time ago that he should be mildly concerned when Dumm-E was on fire control.

“Okay, just watch.” Tony said as he put on a funny looking pair of glasses that had strange wires that curled around his head.
Tony stood off to the side as the lights dimmed. The specially located devices Steve learned were holographic projectors as they began to project a display. He couldn’t quite tell what it was at first but the image started to become clearer. He could see Tony off to the side making adjustments on his handheld device. Soon enough the holographic display began to depict a lovely golden haired woman playing a piano. Steve realized with awe that he could hear the woman play and recognized the tune as Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

Steve looked over at Tony questioningly but the genius gestured for him to continue to watch. The Captain looked back at the display thoroughly intrigued.

There was something familiar about the woman that Steve couldn’t quite put his finger on. But she seemed kind and humble. Suddenly she stopped playing and looked over to her right.

“Anthony, come here darling.” She said gently in sing song voice.

A small child manifested into view and hobbled onto the piano bench next to the woman. Steve realized with a start that the small child was Tony.

“Come darling, play something for your mother.” She smiled down at him.

Then the small child Tony began to play Moonlight Sonata. The whole thing was so shocking and beautiful it nearly brought our Captain to tears.

“Tony? What is this?” Steve whispered lowly.

The display disappeared and the lights came on.

“A memory. That was one of my favorite memories of my mother, Sarah Maria Stark.” Tony replied quietly.

“Did this… Is this all coming from your mind??” Steve inquired gesturing to the odd glasses on his face.
“Yep, it’s bi-neuraly augmented retro framing. By hijacking the hippocampus I have access to a variety of stored memories. This is still very much in the beginning stages and this is the first time that I’ve really had an honest to God breakthrough with it. What I’m hoping in the future I’ll be able to use it to potentially clear traumatic memories.” He explained almost with a hint of uncertainty.

“You’re going to change memories with this?” Steve asked hoping for some clarification.

“Well I won’t be able to actually change the memories themselves but with this,” he gestured to his makeshift stage with the holographic devices. “I’ll be able to tweak the memories and have them play out differently for therapeutic purposes.”

“Wow Tony! That’s amazing. This could help so many people.” Steve almost gushed.

Tony’s expression perked up. “Yeah?” His tone almost hopeful.

“Yeah, definitely Tony.”

After that Tony decided that it was time for a well-deserved break. He said that it was still a major drawback because of the electromagnetic headache the device caused. He was definitely going to look into that a bit more later.

So, as they settled down into a well-worn and immensely comfortable leather couch in Tony’s lab the genius put on the third film of the original Star Wars trilogy insisting on rectifying Steve’s pop-culture ignorance. Ten minutes into the film Tony was out like a light leaning heavily on Steve shoulder. Twenty minutes in and Tony had found his way onto Steve lap and the Captain didn’t have the heart to move him.

Steve found a peace he hadn’t felt in nearly a century as he watched Tony’s sleeping form. The couch was close to a window so he could still see as the clouds lazily drifted by. But despite the epic sci-fi action film and the enchanted clouds out the window Tony held Steve’s focus completely.

Steve really should have known then…

The moment the sun broke over the edge of the water in a spectacular and dazzling burst of light Steve took a shuddering breath. The numbness was receding as the overwhelming shock of everything that has happened in the last few weeks began to ebb away. All of the pain began to return in sharp constricting tendrils. Despite everything, Steve managed to deeply enjoy the glorious and magnificent sunrise. It was even more heavenly than the one he witnessed yesterday morning through the dirty window of the lonely forgotten warehouse. Only after the sun was seated upon the glassy surface of the sea did he finally speak.

“W-what’s going… to h-happen now?” He asked softly in a strained whisper, his eyes never leaving the sky.

Calamity regarded him as he continued.

“I’m s-still in one p-piece,” His voice broke painfully. “I k-kinda expected you …to d-drop a building… on me …or s-something.” He croaked out of breath still desperately trying to breathe.

“Or tear you limb from limb?” She supplied.
The Captain nodded subtly and Calamity gave a light chuckle.

“My dear Steven, ‘tis true that I needed you to experience more pain but you must have realized by now,” She looked down sideways at him with a smirk. “Not all pain is that the physical kind.”

Steve finally looked up at her.

“I needed you to reach your breaking point so that I could have full access to your soul.”

He nodded. This whole time he assumed that she intended to tear his body apart. They all kind of assumed that. He and his team had been so frayed and on edge that they hadn’t considered the alternative. And because of that they had all played into her hand beautifully. He had a feeling that Bucky knew exactly what she really meant, however. He tried to warn Steve but our dear Captain wouldn’t listen.

“S-so, uh… how is this… g-going to go? A-are you… g-going to p-put… me… in a c-coma or… or…” He couldn’t finish his thought.

He did not know how this whole thing worked but knew there was a possibility that he needed to die for her to achieve her goals.

“If that is what you desire, I could put you into a sleep like the others. However, as I said before, I have something extra special planned for you. Yet, I would not begrudge you your right to choose.”

“What s-special plan?”

“Considering all that has transpired I came up with something I think you will appreciate.”

He looked at her face expectantly, wholly unconvinced.

“Now, now do not give me that suspicious look, love. I have decided to give you the most precious of paragons.”

“What… is it?” He asked hesitantly all too ready to get this over with.

“Time, love. Or in this case to give you back the time you lost when you were frozen for seventy years.”

Steve’s got twisted painfully. Urgency suddenly bubbling up to the surface.

“What do you m-mean?” He whispered harshly. His first thought was that she was going to turn back time. But that wasn’t possible, was it?

Could it?

He had no idea what Calamity was truly capable of.

Could she really do it?

That would mean… Peggy.

No!

What was he thinking? That ship had sailed…

Had it?

“I can take you back to a time that was once lost to you. Or I can simply put you to sleep as I did the others. The decision is yours.”

Steve was so confused.

But what does it all mean? He was the keystone. Why send him back? It made no sense. The confusion was rolling off of him in waves and Calamity sighed.

“Make no mistake my dear, as my keystone your purpose in my plans has already come to fruition. I felt it imperative to at the very least give you a modicum of peace while I fulfill my purpose of laying claim of every soul on your little planet.” Calamity’s demeanor shifted to dead serious. She approached Steve and grabbed his chin making him look her in the eye.

“Believe me, offering you such a gift is merciful beyond comprehension. You do not want to be aware of the harvest, love.” She said never breaking eye contact. “Your role as keystone is a brutal one. I suggest you take my offer.”

“H-how… does s-sending me… back… aid you? I don’t… understand.”

“You are not meant to understand, love. Time... Is fluid, you will not be beyond my reach.”

“And those are my only two options? To be put… to sleep or to be sent back?” He asked, his voice surprisingly steady despite the profound damage. Steve tried to his hardest to comprehend the situation.

“Yes. Those are your only two options.”
Steve thought for a moment.

“When Tony succeeds in s-stopping you I still belong to you? Will I remain where I c-choose to be or do you have other p-plans for me after that?”

Calamity’s face contorted into a feral grin.

“You are a sharp one, insolent even, despite being in such a desolate state of existence!” She laughed. “You never cease to amaze me! I am immensely happy to have chosen you.” She took a deep breath. “That my dear, Steven, is for me to know and you to discover later. Now choose.” She demanded.

Her words pierced through Steve like a bullet. He hated everything about this situation. How was he meant to choose? Of course he’d choose to go back but it feels like an awful trick somehow. His mind and heart were in shambles. He could not think straight. It was hard enough to even remotely function through the excruciating pain that was his very existence.

But before the hysteria could grow within him he picked up on a very familiar sound in the distance. He stood up quickly and flinched harshly as his body protested his effort. The sound of the flight stabilizers of Stark Industry repulser technology grew faintly louder as Iron Man came closer.

“Tony’s coming.” Steve groaned out miserably.

“Choose!” Calamity shouted, her eyes honing in on Iron Man in the distance.

Steve’s mind came to a grinding halt before slowly starting back up. Tony was here to take him back.

Back to be chained up.

Back to being imprisoned.

Back to all the pain.

Back to a place where Bucky was dead all over again.

Back to where he failed and betrayed his team and back to a place where Tony hates him.

How was the answer not simple before?

He turned to Calamity quickly.

“Send me back!” He rasped out violently the best he could through his torn voice.

Calamity’s face lit up in delight.

“Finally! Oh my dearest love, I wish you all the luck in the world!” She said before grabbing Steve’s face and pressed a kiss to his lips.

The moment Calamity’s lips came in contact with his own the entire world shifted. He felt Iron Man’s cold armor wrap around him before an impression similar to traveling through the Bifrost overcame him. This time, however, it was not painless. He could vaguely hear Tony’s voice. Steve could not understand what was said, he only recognized the sound.

Suddenly he could no longer feel or hear anything like he was floating in a dark and eternal void. The last thing he could feel before he completely fell into the welcoming piece of unconsciousness was the all-too-familiar sensation of ice then he was gone.

*~0~*

The first thing Steve became aware of was the warmth of the sun on his face. He did not want to wake up. He was too comfortable.

The second thing he was aware of was the scent of freshly cut grass and the sensation of the individual blades brushing his skin. When he finally opened his eyes he saw the leaves of the large maple tree dancing merrily in the light breeze. He smiled wistfully at the sight.

The tree was large and he noted a rope swing with a rough plank of wood swaying gently with the wind on the other side. Upon the next breath he took he detected the sweet scent of roses. There must be a blush nearby.

He sat up slowly. He noted that he felt oddly sore but nothing too terrible.

“Steve!” He turned swiftly to the familiar voice. He got a glimpse of Peggy’s smiling face before he got an arm full energetic child.

“Daddy!!” The little girl in his arms squealed merrily.

“What???” He looked up at Peggy who was still smiling widely.

“The doctor said everything is perfect. Just one more month my love.” She said happily as she wrapped her arms around her middle.

Her very large, round protruding middle…

Oh!

Oh…

“Isn’t it wonderful, Daddy? I’m going to be a big sister!!” She exclaimed excitedly.

“Eleanor, darling, Daddy is right in front of you. You do not need to shout.” Peggy admonished the child.

Steve was so utterly lost and confused. The last thing he remembered was…

Was…

Why couldn’t he remember? It felt like it was just right there.

He thought harder, the last thing he definitely remembered was… Crashing the Valkyrie into the water.

He made it??

“Steve darling, are you all right?” Peggy asked concerned.

Steve couldn’t help but to think that he probably looks like a lost puppy.

“I don’t… Know?”

He really didn’t.

At the very least, he mused, he must of had that dance.

End Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Text

Tony Stark has been known by many titles. Some given to him through esteemed achievement: visionary, genius, American patriot (gag). Some self-proclaimed: billionaire, Playboy, philanthropist. Others attained through assessment: compulsive, self-destructive, narcissistic. And some acquired through the fear, anger and desolation his work had wrought: monster, terrorist, dangerous. However, his most important titles to date were born of his infernal captivity and his desperation to live and to claw his way to freedom: hero, Avenger, Iron Man.

As he walked at a brisk case to his workshop in the tower he scoffed at them all. His Iron Man persona was not the only thing created during his wretched imprisonment, he had also created something incredibly vital, his arc reactor. This little device served many purposes, the most important obviously was keeping his heart beating. Not only did it serve to keep the deadly shrapnel from entering his heart, it also served to supply the weak and damaged organ with just enough energy to keep going. On the plus, he used it to operate his Iron Man armor.

Despite all of its virtues it was an obvious weakness, a glowing beacon screaming “Hey over here! Aim here to kill!” You’d think someone with the title of genius would be smart enough to hide such an obvious vulnerability.

Tony scoffed again as he sat down dramatically on a work stool. It’s funny really, many people were completely and utterly convinced that he had no heart despite the glowing evidence to the contrary. A heartless selfish bastard, always operating according to his own agendas. Tony stared at his scarred worn hands as they clinched and unclenched into fists. He chuckled bitterly at how wrong those ignorant misguided people were. He did have a heart and it was shattered.

He tried so hard… He tried to do things right and everything went so so wrong. Tears threatened to spill even after he had promised himself that he wouldn’t shed a single tear over this.

Of all of the things his arc reactor was capable of it could not stop his heart from falling to pieces. He doubted he could ever create something that could. He hadn’t felt this utterly helpless since his parents died. There was no puzzle to solve, no mission to accomplish, no villain to fight, no plan to escape and no foe to outsmart. It was just him, his fragmented team, his broken life and his shattered heart.

How had it all come to this?

Maybe if he hadn’t allowed himself to fall so hard for Steve all this wouldn’t have happened.

He clenched his hands tightly.

Steve…

That fucking bastard!

Tony should have known better than to get in so deep. Fuck! So stupid! Please, let’s add that to the list also.

Iron Man, the stupid dumb ass.

That has a nice ring to it. Because that’s what he is, a stupid dumb ass for giving his heart away, for actually letting someone get so damn close, closer than anyone has ever been.

This was so stupid! Everything was just so messed up! Why did it have to be this way? Why couldn’t Steve trust him? Why couldn’t he choose Tony for once? No, he chose the abomination, Hydra’s lapdog, and it stung.

Logically, Tony knew how unreasonable he was being. That if the situation were reversed and it was Rhodey or Pepper out there on the line that he would be just as irrational and reckless… More so than usual.

But the thing is Steve manipulated them. Tony really did not see that one coming. He didn’t even think Steve was even capable of it. It’s like… it’s Steve Rogers were talking about here. The poster boy for that all-American good guy, the symbol of virtue and chivalry. He still cringes when someone uses vulgar language. That man had planned in secret and deceived them, had used him…

God, just when Tony had finally, finally given in and let himself really feel for the Captain and hope and yearn for something… More… He truly felt they were building on something. But it was all an act. It was nothing!

Tony ran his worn hands through his dark messy hair trying to calm himself. He promised himself he wasn’t going to get emotional over this, that he wasn’t going to give that conniving bastard the satisfaction…

Tony laughed bitterly as he began to weep.

Who’s getting satisfaction?!

Steve’s gone! Calamity took him away not two hours ago. This was so stupid. The whole time Tony had been desperately trying to hold on to his rage and anger at Steve so that he didn’t have to face the whole nasty truth of it all.

He had failed.

He had forgotten who the real enemy was. Calamity’s triumphant sneer as she watched him beg and plead for her to return Steve to him will forever mock and haunt him. He had realized then and there what Calamity truly meant when she said Steve needed to feel more pain. They all had been foolish enough to play right into her hand. He will never forget the things that had transpired by the docks.

Never.

He will never forgive himself for the part he played in Steve’s misery that day, including, the horrible things he told him in the cell just before Calamity took him away. Tony was so hurt and angry that he failed to realize his mistake. The red alert went off and he knew instantly he fucked up. Learning his lesson after Steve escaped the first time he put a marker on Steve just as a precaution and followed him only to arrive too late.

Tony knew he well and truly fucked up somewhere along the line when just before it happened Steve looked up at him with such a multitude of horrible emotions written across his face. He could see it all in his pale eyes, Steve was petrified. The Captain was standing next to the greatest villain the Earth has ever known and he was even more terrified of Tony. It tore him in ways Tony did not know he could be torn.

Thus the source of his inner turmoil. Tony desperately tried to hold on to his anger and blame Steve for everything because he knew the moment he relented and faced the reality of the situation he’d have to accept the fact that he single-handedly hurt the one he loved most and brought him to his breaking point. That was unforgivable.

“Sir, Miss Romanov is requesting entry. Shall I let her in?” Jarvis’s voice pierced through Tony’s mind suddenly.

He thought for a moment. His first instinct was to turn her away but after everything that has happened he didn’t have a heart to deny her anything.

“Yeah, let her in.” He replied in almost a whisper.

He watched disheartened as she approached him sullenly. Her eyes were red and her cheeks were still wet. She looked all sorts of wrong. She was supposed to be the epitope of strength and a master of her emotions. To see everything written clearly upon her face was nearly unbelievable and just as unbearable. He regarded her for a moment letting her have the chance to speak first. She took a deep breath and wiped her face on a dark sleeve.

“I told them, the others.” She said simply.

Tony nodded.

After his awful encounter with Calamity, Natasha was the first person he come across upon his return to the tower. He briefly explained his meeting with Calamity and broke the news that Steve had been taken. After setting up a few protocols and a grueling trip to the infirmary, Tony had sulked a way to his lab leaving Natasha to inform the others. He knew it was a dick move but he just couldn’t face them.

“What happened Tony?” She questioned, her voice a steady as a rock.

Tony sighed heavily, he really did not want to go over it again.

“I told you Nat-“

“No! Not that, I mean what happened between you two? You and Steve?” She demanded cutting him off. Her face was contorted painfully.

“I don’t…” He started confused.

What does she mean? If she’s asking where it all went wrong then he would definitely like to know that himself. Because he certainly does not know what the fuck happened.

“I mean, how when he escaped the tower he told me that he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life getting his heart ripped out or to be manipulated.” She pinned him with a fierce glare. “That he had already lost you…” Her mouth was set in a grim line.

He stared at her shocked. He had no idea what she was talking about. He shook his head. He tried to think back. He couldn’t think of where Steve had come to that conclusion unless Calamity had tricked him somehow.

He hadn’t even reviewed the footage of the escape yet. He knew he’d only make himself sick doing so. Jarvis sent him an alert when he was halfway to Texas and he had immediately turned around and headed back to the tower. When he had finally arrived he found Natasha distraught and the tower in shambles. He found Colson and Scott knocked out and then became utterly enraged to discover that Jane and Darcy’s blissful sleep was drug-induced. He was beside himself. He was so furious. He had Jarvis search every media outlet possible looking for any sign of the wayward captain. He hacked security cameras and cell phones like. He was so angry he hunkered down and focused solely on finding that treacherous bastard. He didn’t have the mind to review the footage leading up to his escape.

“Jarvis! Show me the footages of Steve’s escape.” Tony shouted in a rush.

“Will do, Sir.” Was Jarvis’s reply as a holographic display of the security entry feed lit up the room.

It started off just after the breaking news report. Tony skimmed through the footages until Steve began to set up his easel by the window and watched as he began to make unassuming preparations. Tony wasn’t quite sure exactly when he drugged the girls but he was sure it was during their tea break. The genius balked at Darcy’s commentary about the Thor’s website and then again at her insinuation of his and Steve’s relationship.

Tony watched as Steve quickly took out Scott and Colson who, by the way, were both totally wrong about the Back to the Future trilogy. He watched as Steve proceeded to gather his shield and pack as he made it back to the room to confront Natasha. Here is where Tony paid extra close attention. He listened intently to the conversation and absolutely could not understand where Steve was getting his impression.

Okay, he definitely sees why he feels caged but Tony absolutely does not understand Steve’s animosity to the genius. They were fine not an hour before, weren’t they? Of course Tony had assumed Steve may had been faking at that point anyway. He was likely faking the whole time, Tony thought.

He watched Steve destroy the radio after receiving the executive kill order. Okay, yeah that definitely looked bad.

He rolled his eyes and scoffed.

“Nat, I hate to break it to you but he was faking it all along.” Tony spat with bitter abandon.

She gaped at him disbelievingly for a moment before swiftly socking him in the face.

“I don’t know what you think was going on but that man loved you! He was hurting!” She shouted harshly as fresh tears fell from her face. “I know this whole thing is messy and you’re hurt and angry right now, but you need to pull your head out of your ass for one God damn second and figure this out!”

He flinched back at her tone all the while cradling his rapidly swelling face. She huffed sharply then turned on her heel and stomped out of the lab.

This situation was all too familiar. Didn’t she deck him not a week or so ago her being an insensitive jerk?

So stupid. Fuck!

He groaned despairingly into his hands when he was alone. He took several deep breaths to calm himself. When he felt he had a sufficient amount of oxygen he began to replay the footages. This time, however, he watched the with absolute focus.

He paid attention to the way Steve moved, to his micro-expressions, the influx of his voice and to the color of his eyes. Everything from the way he blinked to the way he breathed. He replayed the footages over and over until he was convinced that there was a modicum of truth and what Natasha was saying. He was in pain and not just physically. Tony loathed to admit it but he was sure it was somehow his own fault.

What did he do?! He has no idea where it all went wrong! Panic began to bubble beneath the surface of his consciousness. He was desperately trying to squash down the notion that everything that had happened so far was definitely his fault somehow.

But how?!

He could not think of anything he did awfully wrong. Was it because he kissed Steve in front of their entire team? No, that seems to childish and petty for it to simply be that. If Steve had a problem with it he would have liked the genius know instantly right then and there…

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD HE KISSED STEVE INFRONT OF EVERYBODY!!??!!??

How the fuck did that happen!? Nobody was supposed to know!! Rhodey and Pepper don’t even know! What the ever-loving Fuck!? Fuck!

Fuck!

Fuck!

Fuck!

Fuck!

Fuck!

Fuck!

He quickly went to the start of his feed and watched the moment the kiss happened. He desperately watched everyone’s reactions and realized with wretched relief that though many displayed shock none were looks of disgust. He felt a twinge of irritation as Barton passed over a wad of cash to Romanov.

“I knew it!” He shouted to himself as he watched their exchange.

He had a hunch that for some time they have been gambling on him. Soon his irritation melted into cold nausea. Here he was freaking out over what his team thought about whether or not he was gay and he was supposed to be trying to figure out what happened to Steve.

“You’re such a sick man Stark, a real sick bastard” He told himself.

He groaned pathetically into his hands once more. Why is this so fucked up!?

-0-

Tony woke up well into the next evening after becoming thoroughly acquainted with an expensive bottle of scotch.

Damn.

He pressed his hands into his head and winced.

“Jarvis, I need more scotch.”

Anything to stop the pain, both in his head and in his heart.

After getting over the denial of his involvement in Steve’s odd behavior he broke out the good stuff and tried to rack his brain for clues as to what he did to set Steve off and make him bail like that. At first he thought receiving the executive chief code might have done it, but Steve was well into his escape plan before that transmission had even went through.

He tried to think of anything that he said that could be misinterpreted. He was on his best behavior, however, and again if he said anything stupid Steve would have called him out on it. He eventually came to the conclusion that Calamity must have interfered somehow. For the life of him Tony could not figure out when the shift happens. There was a moment when the team was gearing up that Steve sat quietly by himself in his room but he seemed to do that often.

Before Tony could look any further the alcohol had consumed him and he had passed out. Now he sat by himself regretting his entire existence.

“Sir, Mr. Barton is requesting entry. Shall I inform him you are indisposed?” Jarvis’s voice rang out making Tony flinch impresses hands tighter to his skull.

Fuck Barton!

That’s what he really wanted to say but the strain on his brain was too much. And in any case he knew Barton would find a more inventive way in if he didn’t allow him access now.

“Let him in.” He managed to groaned out.

He knew he was going to regret it as soon as Clint’s voice impacted his brain.

“Well aren’t you a sorry sack of shit?”

Tony groaned again and ran his hands through his hair.

“What do you want Barton?” He managed to croak out.

“Oh I don’t know,” He started sarcastically. “How about checking to see if you were working on a way to fix this whole mess or if you were wallowing in self misery! Because people are freaking out out there and you’re in here… What? Getting plastered?!” He shouted kicking the empty scotch bottle across the room. Tony winced at his tone not expecting claim to be so harsh.

“You’re the only one who can figure out how to save these people Tony! How to save Bruce and Sue and …”

“But not Steve!” Tony shouted, his deep-seated turmoil rising to the surface. “But not Steve…” He whispered in despair.

Clint looked upon Tony with sympathy.

“We knew that was going to happen Tony she told us.”

Tony shook his head in denial. Clint continued.

“He made his choice, Tony. Now it’s up to you to figure out how to stop her.” Clint tried to reason with him.

Tony growled in frustration.

“Do you know how small of a window .5% is?! If and only if the right conditions are met? We don’t even know what those conditions are if we missed those windows yet!” Tony argued. Barton made to retort but Tony continued. “How can I possibly decipher this code and figure out how to use the data if I can’t even figure out why Steve left.”

It took everything in Clint’s willpower not to roll his eyes instead he took a deep breath and replied.

“Jesus Tony, you’re such a whiny drama queen! Newsflash, we all lost somebody we love to Calamity! All of us did! And the only reason I’m not choking you out right now is because you’re the only one who can save them!” Clint grabbed Tony up by the collar of his shirt to yank him up to eye level. “So you don’t get to bitch about Steve and if you really did want to know why he left then you would be asking the one person on this entire planet who would know!”

Fury flashed in Tony’s eyes as he pushed Barton away.

“I am never going back there!” He bellowed as his anguish washed over him like a tidal wave.

“Then forget about Steve and crack that code!” Barton shouted back. He turned abruptly and began to stomp to the door with purpose. Before he exited he left Tony with a warning. “Don’t… don’t make me come back here. I’m warning you Tony. We all have people on the line here.” And with that he was gone.

Tony stared gaping at the door for a moment before screaming out in despair and began to tear his lab apart. He truly believed at this point that he was incapable of saving anyone. Everything about the last few days was a huge disgusting mess, it was acrimonious enough to retch. And retch he did. Several times. In which he is now doing once more as his A.I.s looked on helplessly.

*~0~*

On the other side…

Steve seriously wanted to vomit. Peggy led him into the old country house and tried to reassure him that everything was fine. She bid Eleanor to go to her room and amuse herself with her dolls. Despite being so overwhelmed Steve was sad to see her go.

Peggy sat him at the dining room table with the chair facing out as she dropped a cool damp cloth over his neck.

“What do you remember.” She asked softly.

“I don’t know.”

He sure as hell did not remember getting married or having a child.

Married with a child.

Married to Peggy with a little golden haired little princess… Oh, yes there’s the sour taste in the back of his throat.

He continued, “I remember the Valkyrie for sure.”

“Hmm.” She became pensive, “I was afraid that.” She sighed heavily. “What you have is a form of shell shock, Steve. It’s a side effect of the extreme conditions you were in then subsequently nearly freezing to death.”

“Freezing to death?” Something sounded awfully familiar about that.

“You were literally frozen solid for nearly 6 months before Howard found you. It was dreadful when we pulled you out of the ice, we assumed the worst. Because of Erskine’s formula you lived. However, the combination of the trauma when freezing then thawing left you with damage that… Well, is taking a very long while to heal properly, leaving you with unfortunate episodes of amnesia.” She explained gently.

Steve nodded.

“How long do these episodes usually last?”

“Each one has been vastly different from the last, we just have to wait out the storm. One day you will just wake up and it will all be back. All of the doctors say to simply have patience, my darling.” She replied matter-of-factly.

She leaned in and gave him a kiss before positioning herself behind him to rub his back.

Before he could fully melt into the sensation he lept up suddenly.

“Whoa, No! What am I doing?” He turned to face her quickly. “I should be doing this for you!”

He made to pick her up before she leveled him with a glare that sliced into his very soul. It reminded him of… He did not know but he was sure he had been on the receiving end of a glare that promised castration. Perhaps he was remembering Peggy’s but could not shake the notion of piercing green eyes and fiery red hair.

“No. I know you don’t remember this but there will be no babying me you got that? You handle me with kid gloves and I hurt you.” She eyed him pointedly, lovely glowing features threatening to morph into a deep scowl.

Steve only broke out into a wide grin. He knew she probably is the only person in the world that could take him down and likely knew each and every one of his weaknesses. But he couldn’t help it. She was so desperately beautiful, he’d expect nothing less from her fiery personality.

“Please then at least sit down. You have been on your feet all day.” He guessed.

She was about to frown and protest but he continued.

“Please, trust me I know you are fully capable of continuing on. Hell, I’m sure you would still out March the commandos any day of the week baby and all.” She smirked. “But you don’t have to. Let me take care of my best gal.” He said with the best winning smile he could muster. “You’re so strong Peg. I doubt I could ever do what you do.” He sighed wistfully.

She perked up at that.

“You’re damn right! And don’t you ever forget it!” She winked.

She led him to the living room and let him ease her down into her armchair. He noted the lovely floral pattern and placed the matching ottoman in front of her after she was seated comfortably. He knelt in front of her.

“May I?” He gestured to her feet.

“Please do.” She sighed comfortably.

He gently removed her sandals and began to rub her swollen feet. They were silent for some time. Peggy was starting to doze and Steve got lost in thought. He would be convinced he was dreaming if it weren’t for the fact that everything was just so vivid. And he noted how sore his body was especially his right arm and abdomen. It wasn’t painful, more like an uncomfortable twinge. He had been awake for nearly an hour now the serum should have healed whatever ailed him. He guessed it must have been another side effect of his condition. A condition that made him forget the last several years of his life. Made him forget that he was married with a daughter and another child on the way.

This was too much! Way too much to absorb. It was taking everything he had not to drown in panic, instead he focused his concern on Peggy and making sure she was comfortable.

He looked up at her and noticed her eyes were closed but he was not foolish enough to believe she was fully asleep. Then he focused on her round middle. She was heavily pregnant and glowing radiantly.

He swallowed thickly.

She was so swollen with his child… His child…

God, he could not wrap his mind around any of it. She had her hands draped over her stomach lovingly. The ring on her left hand caught his attention. It was his grandmother’s wedding band. It was one of the few possessions of his mother he had left. Now Peggy wears it.

Her large belly and the ring on her finger was truly a sight to behold. She was his wife and she carried his child. And then there was Eleanor. By God that child was beautiful.

How did all of this happen? He was just a scrawny kid from Brooklyn who was too dumb to run away from a fight. Yet here he is married to the girl of his dreams with one beautiful child and another on the way.

He has so many questions but does not know where to start. He does not want to bug Peggy with a multitude of questioning when perhaps in just a few days he would remember everything he needed to remember. Like the doctors said he just needed patients.

 Steve was shocked out of his thoughts by the voice of an angel.

“Daddy, Daddy look!” Little Eleanor bounded up to him excitedly.

She proudly held up a drawing she did their little family. Steve stared at the drawing shocked. The skill level displayed in the drawing was that of a 12-year-old or at least Steve thought that’s around where his skill level was when he was 12. Eleanor couldn’t have been more than seven years old. Already she was an artistic protégé. It depicted Steve holding onto Peggy with Eleanor delightfully wedged between them as she grinned widely while embracing Peggy’s round middle.

He smiled brightly at her and she giggled shyly hiding herself behind the drawing. Steve found himself almost equally as shy to respond to her. He immediately cursed himself for acting so nervous around his own daughter.

“Oh, Ellie! This is so beautiful. Are you trying to hug your little brother or sister?” He smiled at her.

“Yes, I can’t wait to meet them.” She replied shyly again.

Steve smiled at her again and held out his arms. He felt immensely awkward doing so but the awkwardness melted away instantly the moment the child was wrapped deeply in his arms. Her face was buried in the junction of his neck and shoulders.

“I love you, Daddy.” She whispered.

Steve couldn’t explain it but he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he deeply loved this child also.

“I love you too Ellie, so so much.” He said back as he buried his right hand into her beautiful golden curls.

Steve could feel Peggy watching them silently. He glanced over at her to find her smiling wistfully with the misty expression. He smiled back at her.

“Eleanor, darling, why don’t you go show Daddy your other drawings while I get dinner started.” She suggested with a wink.

Eleanor looked up excited at Peggy then at Steve.

“Okay!” She shouted before flinging herself off of Steve and began running for the stairs.

“Eleanor! Walk don’t run.” Peggy admonished.

“Sorry, Mama.” She replied looking perfectly chastised. Then she turned to Steve. “Are you coming Daddy?”

“Yeah, Sweetie I’m coming.” He said standing up.

He turned to Peggy mildly concerned. “Are you sure you don’t need my help with anything?”

She laughed, “You keeping that child occupied while I prepared dinner is help enough. Now go on, go spend time with her.”

“Okay, if you need anything…”

“I’ll call for you, now go.” She smiled.

Steve followed the happy child upstairs to her room. When he walked through the door he was shocked to discover that her room was not styled the way he’d expect a girl her age to have her room. The most notable feature was that her room was red, white and blue themed. It was themed after Captain America. Steve felt astonished and flattered. There was a replica of his shield right over her bed and what appeared to be an army of dolls in all shapes and sizes on the shelves next to it.

She led him to her writing desk where a number of art tools were strewn about and a few stray drawings that she had been working on were visible.

“Wow, Ellie you are incredibly talented.” He said as he began viewing a few landscapes she had pinned to the wall.

“I’m… I’m still nowhere as good as you.” She said as if she were disappointed in herself.

“Ellie, Sweetie you are way ahead of where I was when I was your age. It took me until my mid-20s to get is good as I am.” He thought for a moment. “How old are you.”

She looked at him strangely for a moment.

“I am seven years old.” She thought for a moment before asking, “Daddy, are you sick again?”

Steve was mildly shocked at her response. He did not know how to answer her. He did not know how much he was supposed to be telling her about anything.

“How do you mean, Sweetie?”

“You always forget things when you get sick. Mama said you were getting better and that you haven’t been sick for a while. I… I was hoping you were really better.” She said sadly.

Steve really did not know how to respond to that. He was just coming to terms with his weird condition himself. He thought long and hard on how to give her a proper answer.

“Ellie, Sweetie? Do you know why I get sick?”

She nodded sadly and turned to look at the shield over her bed.

“You got hurt saving the world.”

“Yes I did. But you know what? It was all worth it. Do you know why?” He asked looking her in the eye. Peggy’s eyes he noted.

She shook her head.

“Because if I didn’t you, your Mother, your baby sibling and millions of innocent people would not be here right now. I’d rather have you here with me and have my brain be like Swiss cheese then the scary alternative where you don’t exist. Do you understand me?”

“Yeah, I understand. It’s just, I don’t like when you forget about me.” She said finally.

“Yeah, that does suck doesn’t it. And let me tell you I hate not knowing about you. But, we can look at it this way. We get to learn about each other all over again, wouldn’t that be fun?” Steve said trying to find a suitable way to give comfort and reassure his daughter.

“Yeah, okay!” She said smiling brightly.

“Okay! Why don’t we start by you showing me your most favorite drawings?” Steve suggested.

Steve watched and studied her face intently as she began to dig through her various folders picking out her favorites. Steve tried as hard as he could to commit every detail into memory. He desperately hoped the next time he was meant to lose his memory that there would be no way in hell he could forget her.

End Chapter Twenty-Six

 

Chapter Text

 

Tony watched idly as his bots worked slowly but meticulously to clean up his thoroughly trashed workshop. He sat upon a wobbly stool that was missing a leg. He teetered back and forth on its uneven legs watching his bots with a blank expression, completely drained. Dumm-E was picking up fine machine parts and separating salvageable bits from the shattered remanence of glass. Butterfingers was manning the more heavy lifting, up righting tables and various other equipment. There were other smaller maid bots vacuuming debris and other particulates.

He sighed deeply as he took in the hopeless state of his lab. He had just gotten it back in order after he blew it up a little over a week ago. He had gotten distracted and left some volatile components unattended. He really should have known better than to start that particular project while his mind was so frayed after everything that happened in San Jose and after. It really didn’t help when Pepper showed up to do her “I am really worried about you and I’m going to nag the shit out of you to show you” thing in addition to the “You made a shit storm on the media again and now I have to put out your PR fire, so I’m going to bitch at you and hope you don’t do it again” thing. He really liked that one the best, he thought sarcastically.

Just when Tony was in the middle of another deep and long-suffering sigh, one of the remaining legs of the rickety stool he sat upon suddenly gave out and threw the genius onto the floor. He groaned pathetically and began to laugh miserably at his deplorable and ridiculous predicament. It truly felt like hitting rock bottom as he lay unmoving upon the hard cold floor that was still littered with jagged shards of glass.

Beautiful! Absolutely perfect.

He sighed again.

“I need scotch.” He whined aloud.

In moments, a little maid bot made its way to him carrying a bottle and a glass.

“Wonderful.”

He took up the glass and poured himself a hefty amount.

“Cheers.” He saluted to the sensors above him as he pulled a deep swig.

“Yep, this is the life.” He bemoaned as he wrapped his arms around himself. “Great fucking life.”

*~0~*

On the other side…

Steve couldn’t help to think what a great life this was. He had just eaten a delicious meal prepared by his beautiful wife and now he was listening to his lovely daughter chat about some of the exciting things she was learning in school.

All too soon it was bedtime for little Eleanor. Steve carried her up the stairs and made sure she accomplished her nightly routine. He found, however, that she was quite self-sufficient in that area. With clean teeth, brushed hair and donning her favorite nightgown she practically drove into bed. Steve laughed merrily at her antics.

“Read me a story, Daddy!” She squealed after being thoroughly tucked in.

He looked up to Peggy questioningly. She was leaning in the doorway smiling contentedly, rubbing her belly. She gave him a gentle nod of ascent.

He turned back to the girl.

“Which do you wish me to read?”

“Aesop’s fables!” She cried out instantly.

“Eleanor, darling, Daddy is right in front of you.” She gestured for the child to lower her volume.

“Oops!” She uttered placing her hands over her mouth quickly.

Steve meandered to the shelf of books that were housed right under Eleanor’s army of dolls.

“Here we go!” Steve said as he lifted the book from the shelf and made his way back to Ellie’s bed.

“This was one of my favorite books to read as a child. It always made me think and I would always get into heated arguments with-“ He paused.

He tried so hard not to think of Bucky today. But his friend was so permeated into his life that he was constantly there. In his own mind, as he was, it had only been two weeks. He looked upon Eleanor as she watched him expectantly, patiently waiting for him to finish his thoughts. As much as it would hurt to talk about Bucky, Steve realized that there was no way in hell he wanted to keep any part of his lost brother from Ellie.

So, he chuckled sadly and continued, “Your uncle Bucky and I could never agree on any of them.”

She grinned.

“Do you want a specific one or shall I turn to a page at random?”

“Random! If it’s a new one I want to figure out the moral.” She said excitedly.

Steve winked at her and turn to a random page and began to read her “The One-Eyed Doe.”

“A Doe blind in one eye was accustom to graze as near to the edge of the cliff as she possibly could, in the hope of securing her greater safety. She turned her sound eye towards the land that she might get the earliest tidings of the approach of hunter or hound, and her injured eye towards the sea, from whence she entertained no anticipation of danger. Some boatmen sailing by saw her, and taking a successful aim, mortally wounded her. Yielding up her last breath, she gasped forth this lament: ‘O wretched creature that I am! To take such precaution against the land, and after all to find this seashore, to which I had come for safety, so much more perilous.’” Steve finished with a sigh.

He had forgotten that some of them got pretty tragic. He looked upon Eleanor to find her pensive.

“Well…” She started. “The deer was attacked from an unexpected place. She was sure she was safe but turned out to be wrong.” Steve nodded for her to continue. “So, the moral of the story is bad things can happen when you least expect.” She concluded.

“Very good, Ellie! Trouble comes from the least expected direction. So, what do you get from that?” He asked.

“Hmm, I know! It’s like you always say, to be prepared for anything and to stay aware of my surroundings!” She smiled.

“Very good, sweetie! You have a good head on your shoulders.” He praised.

“Daddy?”

“Yes sweetie?” He replied while tucking a lock of her hair out of her face behind her ear.

“What did uncle Bucky think it meant?”

Steve nearly recoiled at her question. He thought back. It had been so long. Bucky always had a different answer for all of them. Eventually Steve realized Bucky came up with alternatives just to mess with him and keep him occupied. Steve smiled.

“I believe he said, ‘It’s all about the food Stevie, to keep your eyes peeled because dinner comes from unexpected places, especially for the fishermen who searched the waters for fish yet saw upon the land the opportunity for bountiful venison.’” He laughed at the memory.

“I never saw it that way! So, if you’re willing to see an alternative way of seeing things then good things may come out of unexpected places too!”

Steve stared at her gushing form and found he had never appreciated Bucky’s point of view more. He may have been a jerk about it at the time but Bucky had been equally right. He smiled and nodded.

“Uncle Bucky must have been really smart too.” She laughed.

Steve thought for a moment.

“Yeah, he was Ellie. He was very smart.”

After he kissed the child good night, Peggy turned out the light and led him to their bedroom. Their shared bedroom, where there was their shared bed… Well this was awkward.

“Come now darling, you must have realized by now.” She smirked at him delighted in the fact that was practically a blushing virgin again.

“I know, I know this logically but…” He eyed the bed with apprehension.

“Quit being such a baby and come here.” She held out her arms to him.

He took her into his arms and sucked in a deep breath.

“Listen, it’s just sleeping. You can handle that, I’m sure.” She smiled into his chest. “Trust me, there will be no hanky-panky for a while yet, darling.” She gestured to her belly. Peggy smiled deeply at the way he visibly reddened everywhere.

“Come on, get ready for bed.”

After an embarrassing disaster of changing into bedclothes and a few awkward attempts at position changes, Steve and Peggy were finally settled down peacefully. He could sense her fall asleep quickly but for Steve sleep would not come. There was just way too much to absorb. His wildest dreams had become a reality.

Save one: Bucky wasn’t here to see it.

Oh, how he wished his brother was here to see this. He would have been the greatest damn uncle on Earth. Maybe at this point he would have been one hell of a father too…

Steve rolled over in a huff and tried to banish such dangerous thoughts from his mind. He realized he faced Peggy now. He gently placed his hand on her belly and was nearly brought to tears at the fluttering movements of his unborn child. With the incredible feeling of blossoming life beneath his palm he finally drifted off to sleep.

*~0~*

Back on the other side…

Tony was still laying on the floor nursing his drink when Pepper found him nearly an hour later. She strided right up to him and looked down on him with a fierce frown. He looked up at her and tried not to wince, she was furious.

“Hey Pep, what have you come to badger me with today? Or did you just want to give me a nice view of that lacy number?” He said gesturing up her skirt.

He immediately realized that was the absolute stupidest thing to say when one of her shiny black Christian Louboutin pumps collided with his rib cage brutally.

“I don’t believe you, Tony!” She nearly screamed.

“Yep.” He groaned curling into himself in the fetal position. “I don’t believe me either…”

“What is wrong with you! You’re supposed to be figuring out how to stop Calamity!”

He put his drink aside in favor of wrapping his arms around his head.

“Oh no! You do not get to shut me out!” She shouted, grabbing his wrists and making him look up at her. He moaned pathetically.

“Tony, you are the only hope this world has left. Do you know how many people are looking to the company to fix this? And how many people I have the look in the eye and say I don’t know!?”

His eyes flashed. “I’m sorry my personal crisis is making your life so fucking difficult!” He spat out.

Pepper remained unfazed. “It’s not my life that’s difficult. It’s the people who aren’t waking up and the others who have to watch helplessly, Tony! This isn’t about you or me. It’s the whole world that needs you to get a grip!” She let go of him and he flopped back down to the floor painfully.

“Ugh, you are so infuriating!” She walked a few steps away before turning again.

“This came for you by the way. The post man just delivered it.” She said.

He looked up at her to see a box in her hands. She resisted the urge to throw it at his head, instead tossed it next to him. She sighed.

“I know what he meant to you, Tony. Even if you felt you couldn’t tell me, I knew. I’m sorry everything happened the way it did but you gotta pull yourself together. A lot of people are counting on you.” She sighed again before leaving him alone.

He wallowed in self misery for another half hour or so. He couldn’t help it. He indulged himself in his own pity party. It’s just... It’s just he thought he really was doing something right for the first time. He truly loved Steve. And he thought maybe just maybe the Captain felt the same way. At least it felt like it anyway.

Maybe?

He did not know. Obviously he was wrong. Steve couldn’t trust him and it hurt so much.

The moment Jarvis alerted him of Steve’s escape he thought he could literally feel his heartbreak. He had just gotten done convincing Rhodey to ignore the executive kill order when the alert came through. He was so devastated and angry. He tried hard to keep it together. That was until he had returned to the tower only to find his team in such a sad state of affairs. He buckled down immediately searching every avenue he could to find Steve. To find him so he could shove his fist into his face and demand why.

Why!?

Why did he leave?

Why did he not trust him?

Why was he not good enough?

Why was he not worthy enough to have somebody choose him for once?

Why did every god damn person Tony cared about eventually leave!?

Why!?

This was why he could never trust anybody with his true self. Nobody.

Now, however, there was a whole new level of complexity to the circumstances that he did not understand. After what Natasha told him and the footages he viewed, he knew something else entirely was wrong. But, for the life of him he could not figure it out. Steve left for a specific reason, whether it was because of Tony or another reason entirely, he needed answers.

After finally swallowing back his emotions curiosity got the better of him and he grabbed the box to inspect it. His heart nearly leapt out of his throat when he read the sender information. It was a code name: Stan Marvel. It was one of a few set up for his team in case something needed to be sent undetected. It was Steve’s code name!

He had sent something!

When!?

Does it fucking matter?

He tore open the box and three items dropped out. Steve’s sketchbook he recognized instantly, an envelope addressed to him and the team, and a red leather Journal he had never seen before. He thumbed through some of the pages of the journal and realized with a start what the heinous object in his hands really was. He dropped it like it had burned him and it landed on a page that described an explicit detail one of many horrific procedures designed to instill absolute obedience into the asset.

Tony shut the journal instantly. He had his suspicions but to read it in such detail... He tried to shake it off and instead focus on the white unassuming envelope.

He slowly opened it, dreading what may lie upon those pages. He swallowed thickly and removed the letter. He immediately recognized Steve’s handwriting. He skimmed over the first page realizing with guilt that they were sincere apologies to the team, specifically those he hurt directly in his escape.

Tony hesitated to turn the page. He had no idea what Steve had in store for him. Probably going into detail about how much he thinks Tony is the scum of the Earth. At least maybe he would finally know what he did wrong. Perhaps, Steve wrote why he left. Full of trepidation Tony turned the page and found that the rest was indeed addressed to him. He winced at how long his part of the letter was. Steve really had something to say.

He took a deep breath and began to read. He did not know how right he was in assuming the contents of the letter. What he truly was not prepared for, however, was the fact that it was a love letter.

A fucking love letter!

FUCK!

Tony’s eyes widened almost comically and read Steve’s words with a hunger he’d never known before. He was a broken man dying of thirst receiving the elixir of life. Tears spilled from his eyes as he began to weep openly. He took in each line desperately, sometimes even rereading a part just to make sure he got it right.

Steve truly loved him. He turned the page quickly desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery. It said nothing about why he left, however. If Steve truly loved him as he said, then why did he leave? Why go to such lengths to betray him if this was truly how he felt? Tony tried to think back, try to think of anything that could have led to all this. As he thought back he did come to realize one sickening point.

Tony never did let Steve know how he truly felt. He never got the chance to.

He began to cry miserably and couldn’t bring himself to finish the rest of the letter. He couldn’t bear the words of encouragement that will surely there.

Steve was gone. Tony had him, the Captain had felt the same way… But he lost him.

They… They could have been together. Tony could have been sharing his love with Steve but instead he managed to completely and utterly drive him away.

Looking back on all the things said and done, Tony felt utterly disgusted with himself. He single-handedly brought Steve to his knees and broke him. Oh, God, the awful things he said to him as he lay suffering in his cell. The look of absolute terror Steve gave him before Calamity took him away. It all could have been avoided if he hadn’t been such a coward and hid himself away all that time. If he had only told him how he truly felt when he had the chance.

God why!? Why was he so stupid!? He couldn’t even reassure Steve that he had eyes for him only.

But then... What if the whole letter was a ruse? A way to trick him into letting his guard down or to placate him into giving up the search so that Steve and the abomination could run away together. No! No, that was too low even for Steve. No, he had to think positive. He absolutely would not let those thoughts consume him not yet, not yet.

A hopeful flame was lit anew. He had to figure this out. He reread the letter with renewed vigor in hopes of finding out what happened. He scoffed at Steve’s hopeful encouraging words at the end. He filed those away for later, instead focus on the fact that he desperately needed answers. He began pacing maniacally trying to find a solution.

“Sir, Mr. Barton is requesting entry.” Jarvis’s voice rang out.

Barton, of course!

His conversation with Clint a few hours ago flashed into his mind.

“… and if you really did want to know why he left then you would be asking the one person on this entire planet who would know!”

“Don’t let him in. I’m going out!” Tony replied.

The genius looked down at the mess of papers on the floor and his eyes landed on the creepy journal. He shook off the feeling of dread and gathered all of the contents of the package and stuffed them in a satchel he pulled out of a compartment.

Yeah, he told himself he was never going back to that place but after reading the letter he decided it was worth the risk. He felt mildly better as the armor enveloped his body.

“If anybody asks Jarvis, I’m going to the Raft for some answers.” He commanded as he blasted off through a tunnel into the sky.

As he flew alone in the open air he began to recite the contents of the letter to himself, already having committed most of Steve’s words to memory. He cursed himself for letting everything get so out of control. Nat was right. Steve really was hurting. He desperately tried to stave off the wave of misery that threatened to consume him when he realized that even if he did get his answer he would never be able to set the record straight. He would never be able to make it up to Steve. He would never get to explain himself and he would never have the chance to tell Steve that he truly loved him just as much if not more. He took a deep breath to calm himself.

Answers first, then he’d wallow in self misery till the end of the world. God, that sounded horrible. Clint and Pepper were right, he needed to pull himself together.

In no time, he arrived at the Raft. It was a super max prison located in the middle of the ocean designed to house dangerous enhanced individuals. The Avengers, as a team, had put most of the prisoners there themselves. He loathed to go there for anything other than business and even more so recently to avoid being anywhere near a certain prisoner. Unfortunately, said prisoner was the very reason he had to come. That prisoner was the only person in the world that could tell him what he needed to know.

“Jarvis, request entry into the Raft.” Tony commanded as he hovered over the surface of the water.

“Already underway, Sir.”

Tony took a deep. He really, really did not want to be here. He could already feel himself get agitated knowing he was going to have to interact with this prisoner and it likely wasn’t going to go his way. Luckily, he reminded himself, that he may have brought along an ace card.

“Sir, access is granted. Entry through portal B – 03 is advised. Safe swim.” Jarvis informed.

“Thank you Jarvis, here we go then.” Tony took one last then dove into the sea.

He made his way to the indicated portal and let himself in. As he entered the pressurized equalization chamber he removed the suit according to procedures and in minutes was met with a couple of officials.

“Mr. Stark! This is a sudden surprise.” Official number one held out his hand to shake.

Tony winced. “Play nice” he told himself. He put on a strained smile and shook the man’s hand begrudgingly. He realized almost too late what he must look like when they continued to stare.

“Are you all right, Sir?” Official number two asked suspiciously.

Tony had to up his game.

“I’m fine, just a little mishap in the lab earlier.” He put on his winning smile best he could. “Listen, I need to talk to prisoner 86. It’s imperative. Some concerning information has popped up regarding Captain Rogers’s breakdown and prisoner 86 is the may be the only one that can verify this.” He regarded the officials as politely as he could muster without getting an attitude with them.

They looked at him suspiciously.

“86 won’t say a word to anybody since brought here by you.” Said official number one.

“The prisoner still needs a psychological evaluation.” Added official number two. “And Everett Ross still hasn’t had his interrogation, yet. If we let you in, there would be hell to pay.”

Tony resisted the urge to roll his eyes. These people seriously did not know the severity of the situation.

“But,” official number one started, looking sideways at official number two. “If you really think you could get out of 86 what happened to Captain Rogers then I think we can work something out.”

Finally! Someone who listens to reason.

Tony smirked, “Lead the way.”

A few elevators and corridors later, Tony found himself approaching the glass wall of the cell that housed prisoner 86. In all the time it took to get to this point Tony still did not know what to say. His hyperverbal countenance gone in the presence of this person.

As he gazed at the lone figure in the cell he felt a chill run down his spine. They were bound to a gurney in the middle of the cell not unlike Steve was… Copious amounts of medical equipment weaved around the prisoners many restraints. Tony took and the various medical stats the machines displayed. Tony realized with a start that the prisoner was conscious and staring at the ceiling. The only indication the prisoner made that Tony’s presence was acknowledged was a swiftly deepening frown.

Tony hated this. He had no idea how to proceed.

“What the fuck do you want, Fuckhead?” Prisoner 86 growled out.

Okay, pity party over. Tony did not like this attitude. He finally got a hold of himself and remembered why he was here.

Answers.

He tore the letter out of the satchel and slammed it against the glass.

“Just shut up and tell me what the fuck this is!” Tony shouted.

The figure chuckled darkly.

“How can I shut up and answer you?”

Tony nearly lost his shit. He pressed his forehead against the glass to calm himself.

“Just tell me what this is.” He demanded lowly on the edge of the fit.

The prisoner swallowed thickly fighting against the restraints.

“It’s a piece of paper. But I’m guessing you are referring to what’s on the paper.” The prisoner smirked.

Tony gaped at the prisoner shocked that they still had the balls to be so damn insolent despite there obviously craptacular confinement.

Tony snapped, “Stop FUCKING with me Barnes and answer my question! What is this!?” He demanded with a bellow, his entire heart was on the line.

Bucky Barnes slowly turned his head best he could despite the restraints and injuries. His expression was dark and serious.

“What the Fuck does it look like, Shithead!?” Tony winced at his tone. “It’s a love letter from Steve, Dumbass! One that your sickass Son of a Bitch doesn’t deserve!!” He roared.

From the promise of obscene murder in the Soldiers eyes, Tony was sure that Steve’s words were true. He glanced down at the letter in his hands. Now all he needed to know was how much Barnes knew about what happened to Steve. Judging from his thunderous, murderous expression he knew exactly what Tony came here for.

Steve’s Letter to Tony:

Tony,

I know that this letter won’t reach you in time to really make a difference but for what it’s worth I’m truly sorry for the unforgivable measures I took to escape the way I did. I never really wanted to leave you or the others, Tony. Not like that. I hope one day you could forgive me.

I’ve had time to think things over at this point. It’s funny, you are by far the most infuriating, egotistical, neurotic asshole I have ever met and yet I find myself so deeply and stupidly in love with you.

I love you so much Tony.

I know I must be insane even after everything, I still love you. I can’t even remember when it happened. But I’m willing to bet it started the first time we met as unbelievable as that is. Do you remember? That day you were such a pompous jerk, you made me so angry. It may seem stupid and insignificant but I was so numb before that, like a part of me was still frozen. Then you came along with your fancy suit, cocky strut, and superior attitude and made me feel again. Made me come alive again and made me feel like fire after so much ice.

I hated you.

There is a part of me that still hates you. And that’s exactly what makes me crazy about you. I love how much I hate you. I love how angry you make me. I love how complicated you are. How you keep me on my toes, I never know what to expect out of you. You are such an infuriating puzzle. A puzzle in which I am desperate to solve.

You are insanely hardheaded but know when to yield. You are so self-absorbed yet so hopelessly self-sacrificing. You are deeply selfish yet entirely generous. You are brash yet kind. You are hilarious yet your sense of humor is crap. You must be the world’s most beautiful walking contradiction and I desperately love you for it.

You are so deeply flawed yet it makes you so beautiful. Everything from your scars and your idiosyncrasies to the way you smile and light up when a project goes right or when you speak so passionately about the things you create. So many people are so quick to believe the worst about you and I loath to admit that I used to but I have never been so happy to have been so wrong. You are so amazing and I admire you so profoundly. I look up to you, Tony. You are so strong willed and your perseverance is so stunning, God, I love you.

You try so hard to make the world a better place. You’ve made my world a better place. I wish things could have turned out differently for us. Maybe we were never meant to be. For what it’s worth I’ve enjoyed having you in my life. I cherish all the time we spent together and mourn the fact we couldn’t have more. I feel honored to have gotten to truly know you in ways nobody ever could. I only hope that I’ve managed to impact your life in a profound meaningful way also. I really did want to spend the rest of my life with you, Tony. I’m sorry we couldn’t have that.

It’s going to happen soon, Tony, and I already know that our next meeting isn’t going to be pretty. I just want you to know that no matter how our encounter plays out, I’ll still love you, no matter what. And that despite everything that has happened and will happen I forgive you for everything.

Tony please, no matter what happens please don’t stop looking for the way to stop Calamity. I am 100% confident you can stop her as long as you keep trying. I know it seems hopeless. I know a 0.5% is a tiny window but if I am capable of surprising her then you, the most hardheaded and unpredictable person I know, definitely can too. You will beat her, Tony, I know it! Please don’t give up.

I love you Tony. Always. My biggest regret is that I never got to tell you face-to-face and kiss you once more.

Yours Forever,

Steven Grant Rogers

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight: I Think I’m Going To Like It Here

The Other Side~

Steve woke up with the start. For one terrifying moment he had absolutely no idea where or when he was. His mind was a jumbled mess. He took in his surroundings and realized he was in his room with Peggy next to him. The events of the previous day came back to him suddenly and he smiled. He turned so that he could take in Peggy’s sleeping form. His eyes trailed down her beautiful frame and landed on her swollen tummy. His smile widened into a grin.

This was just incredible.

Steve was brought out of his reverie by a squeaky floorboard. Moments after, the bedroom door creaked open. His grin became impossibly wider when a head of unruly golden curls peeked through.

This was his life. This was his beautiful family. When the child realized Steve was awake she bounded to him merrily.

“Daddy!” He whispered brightly, still mindful of her mother’s slumber.

He held his arms out to her and she dove into them immediately.

“Good morning, Babydoll. Did you sleep well?” He whispered into her hair as he pulled her all the way into the bed with him.

“Ah Huh.” She giggled in affirmation.

“That’s good.” He whispered, kissing her forehead gently.

“I had an amazing dream, Daddy!” She declared excitedly, her volume rising a tad.

“Shh, Babydoll, Mommy’s asleep. Why don’t you tell me all about it while you help me make breakfast for Mommy?”

She nodded exuberantly as he lifted her from the bed and situated her on his hip as he stealthily left the room. He remained mindful of the squeaky floor boards as he descended the stairs to the kitchen.

“Okay, Babydoll,” He said placing her on the counter. “Lay it on me.” He said as he began gathering all the ingredients he could find to make pancakes.

“I dreamt that you got me a flying pony!” She squealed happily.

“A flying pony!?” He asked in childlike bewilderment as he began measuring out flower and sifting it into a mixing bowl.

“Ah huh! He was gorgeous and magnificent. His wings had seven different colors!” She began to describe.

“Wow, seven colors!? What were they?” He asked astonished as he began cracking eggs.

“There was purple and orange and blue and pink and yellow and white and gold.” She listed.

“Really, even gold?!” He exclaimed as he prepared the eggs and milk in a separate bowl.

“Yep! He was so beautiful and he flew up so high in the clouds! Did you know the clouds are actually made of cotton candy!?”

He stopped stirring for a moment and turned to her and mock disbelief.

“No!”

“Yep! It’s true!”

“Wow!” He replied astonished. “Okay, Babydoll, you want to help add the flour to the milk and eggs in this bowl?”

“Sure!”

He kept stirring the liquid mixture as she began to steadily poor the sifted flour into the other mixing bowl.

“That’s good, excellent job Sweetie!”

She laughed merrily as she helped add the other ingredients also. She began to go into detail about the grand adventures that she and her pony, Rocky, went on. Steve listened adeptly as he began to cook up some pancakes.

This was how Peggy found them later. Eleanor gesculating wildly as she got into the climax of her adventure and Steve listening engrossed as he tried not to burn their breakfast. Both somehow had gotten flour all over them.

“What kind of mischief are you two getting into now?” Peggy expressed in playful exasperation from the doorway.

Steve flinched slightly as he turned to face her.

“Hi! Good morning!” He greeted a bit awkwardly.

“Mommy!” Ellie shouted as she launched off of the counter into her mother’s waiting arms.

Steve turned back to the stove and turned the burners off. He plated up the last of the pancakes and headed to the table. Peggy already had Ellie setting out the plates. After setting the pancakes down Steve pulled Peggy into a hug then pulled out her chair for her. He kissed her temple as she sat down. As they began eating their breakfast Ellie began a retelling of her grand adventure with Rocky, her flying pony, to her mother. Steve smiled wistfully as he realized she repeated the story almost verbatim.

Soon enough they had completely consumed their meal joyfully.

“Steve, darling, I believe you outdid yourself this morning.” Peggy said as she handed Steve her plate as he began to clean the table.

“Well,” he smiled, “I did have the best little helper in the world.” He said as he tickled Ellie’s ear before taking up her plate. She giggled delightfully.

“Eleanor, darling, go wash up. It’s going to be a lovely day today.” Peggy smiled as Steve began to prepare the sink to wash the dishes.

“Okay!” She squealed as she bounded up the stairs.

Peggy turned to Steve and frowned slightly.

“Oh! Darling, let me get those. You did the cooking this morning.” She said as she heaved herself on to her feet.

Steve turned to her, matching her frown. He really did not want her to exert herself. He knew she could handle it but it’s the principle of the thing. What would his mother say, God rest her soul, if she found out he let his heavily pregnant wife stand there and wash the dishes when he was perfectly capable and she could be resting and taking it easy? His mother would box his ears she would. He shuddered at the thought. What was equally frightening was the fact that if he made even one little protest Peggy would ream him.

But, he had an idea.

“Ah, Peg, you don’t gotta,” She crossed her arms. “I mean you know how much I just love doing the dishes. You would be doing me a favor by letting me wash them.”

She raised one perfect eyebrow at his response.

“Okay Rogers, if that’s how you want to play it, then fine, you may do the dishes. And,” She smirked. “Since you suddenly love doing them so much you should really do them after every meal.” Uh oh… “What kind of wife would I be if I begrudged my dear husband of something he ‘loves’ so dearly?” She smiled wickedly as she patted his cheeks.

Oh boy did that idea backfire. He detested doing the dishes and logically she probably knows that. He smiled wistfully to himself however, at least she’s not standing there doing them.

“I’m going to go get ready. I have some errands to run.” She said as she began to waddle away. “Oh!” She turned back to him. “Howard and his new fiancé will be stopping by later today for a late lunch.”

This made Steve jolt in surprise.

“Howard?? Engaged?!” He nearly shouted in bafflement.

Peggy smirked at him before heading up the stairs to get ready.

Howard Stark engage. Imagine that.

He turned to the dishes in a stupor. Of all the things to throw him through a loop after waking up in this time, Howard Stark’s engagement truly takes the cake for being the most unbelievable. He couldn’t keep the wry smile from forming on his face as he scrubbed at a plate.

‘Well... Good for him!’ He thought.

To be honest he was definitely looking forward to meeting the woman that made Howard want to settle.

-0-

After washing the dishes and cleaning the rest of the kitchen and dining area for good measure, Steve headed upstairs to check on Ellie. Peggy had already left an hour ago to run errands which consisted of groceries and a brunch/tea with Angie.

Steve smiled as he began to ascend the stairs and hear Eleanor singing to herself. As he got closer he recognized the song as “You Are My Sunshine.” His chest tightened as he listened. Her voice was so melodic and clear, it was enchantingly beautiful.

He walked into her room and was saddened when she stopped singing the moment she realized his presence. His sadness was short-lived, however, when her expression beamed and she squealed in delight as she launched herself at him.

“Daddy!” She giggled as Steve caught her midair.

He pressed her close to his body, smiling deeply when she began to nuzzle his neck. He laughed as he gently set her down. She was wearing a baby blue sundress that made her golden curls stand out beautifully. She straightened out her dress and began to talk animatedly about what she was up to.

“I was trying to draw Rocky!” She proclaimed proudly.

She went back to her little worktable and swept her colored pencils aside and began showing him a few different versions of Rocky she made. Her skill was incredible. She was going to be a very talented artist if she continued to indulge in this hobby.

“This is amazing, Babydoll! Wow, Rocky is rather muscular.” Steve noted the pony had been portrayed very masculine. It had very prominent bulging muscles. He did not know what to make of that.

“Ah huh, he is very strong. But I couldn’t make his gold feathers stand out right.” She said with a pout.

Steve chuckled as he knelt to assess her work. At the very least he could tell which feathers were meant to be gold and not simply yellow without her pointing them out. That’s a plus. But he could tell what she meant. They still didn’t quite read “gold.” Steve almost wanted to tell her that it was fine the way it was. For a seven-year-old the drawing was excellent. However, he also knows the value of constructive criticism. Ellie wasn’t fishing for compliments right now, she needed guidance.

“Well,” Steve began, grabbing a deep midnight shade pencil. “For a gold, which is metallic, you want to bring out its shadows and make them bolder. Light catches on metals differently than other materials.” He began explaining. He showed her the way the light bounced off of his gold wedding band. “May I?” He gestured to her drawing, asking permission to alter her work.

“Mmhm.” She nodded enthusiastically.

He began to deepen the shadows on the gold feathers making them really pop. He was proud that she had gotten as far as she did on her own. The color of the gold itself was almost perfect. It was the bright Royal gold that looked freshly polished. She watched him work completely absorbed in his movements.

“Do you see why I deepened the shadow here?” He asked making a few more markings.

“Is it because of the way the light shines from here?” She pointed at the paper.

“Very good Babydoll. It is. And also because of this shape here.” he explained pointing to another element on the page.

“Oh, I get it!” She exclaimed excitedly.

Steve smiled broadly, his heart melting into a warm fluffy pile of goo.

“Okay now,” He began. He set the midnight blue down and grabbed the white and a pale rose pink. “I imagine Rocky is definitely the kind of pony who always keeps his golden feathers polished and shiny. So, let’s give him some highlights on his feathers here…” He said as he started to create white lines to bring out the shine of the gold. “… And here.”

“Oh! I see it, I get it!” She exclaimed astonished.

He smiled and nodded. Then he began to add small touches of the pink to bring out the light.

“Wow, Daddy, I wish I were this good.” She sighed almost forlornly.

“Oh, Ellie Sweetie, you will be better than me one day. I’m certain of it.” He said pulling her into a hug. “I don’t know if I ever told you but for most of my life I couldn’t even see colors right. It wasn’t until after the procedure that I could even see reds and greens.”

“That must have been awful.” Ellie commented sadly.

“Yeah. It was one of the reasons I couldn’t go any further in art school. I could only really do charcoal and ink drawings. No teacher back then wanted to deal with a colorblind kid. They thought I was a joke. What business did someone who couldn’t even see colors properly have with painting and art.” He said with lament. He was not quite sure why he was even telling her all this.

“I’m sorry Daddy, but your eyes are all better now right? You can see all the colors!” She smiled.

“Yes, I can Ellie. Heck, I could probably paint anything I wanted now.”

For a fraction of a moment the image of a half painted portrait of Coney Island came to him. It left as quickly as it came but he was sure he had seen his own hands work the paint. He shook his head. He could have very well have painted something like that recently and just not remember it.

Oh well.

He’ll figure it out eventually.

“Yeah! You should draw with me Daddy!” She exclaimed. “I’m going to draw Rocky again and do it the way you taught me!”

She began pulling out more blank pages and the rest of her colors. She handed him the paper with a grin.

“Thank you, Babydoll. What should I draw?” He asked.

He would draw damn near anything she desired in a heartbeat.

“Draw your dream too!” She replied instantly.

His eyebrows rose. He wasn’t even sure he dreamt of anything at all. All he knew was that it wasn’t a nightmare.

Good thing too.

As Ellie got back into drawing Rocky, Steve thought about what he dreamt. Now that he was really thinking about it he did dream of something. The longer he thought the more of the dream came back to him. When he got a clearer picture in his head he couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of it.

Ellie looked up from her drawing, her tongue still was sticking out from concentration, and looked up at Steve questioningly.

“What is it, Daddy?” Her curiosity piqued.

“Oh Ellie, this is silly but I think I dreamt of a flying suit of armor.” He said shaking his head.

“Like a knight?”

He chuckled again. “More like some science fiction spacesuit.” He replied.

“Like something Mr. Stark would make?” She asked wonderingly.

Steve doesn’t know why her question sent such a jolt through his system. That statement was utterly accurate, he felt like. But not in the way she meant it. He shook his head again.

“Well, how about you be the judge of that after I draw it.” He suggested with a smirk.

“Okay!”

They got down to working. Ellie looked up every so often getting distracted as he began a rough sketch of the armor in his dreams. Soon enough he descended into the zone. He was completely immersed in the work. The more he drew the more the image became clearer and clearer. It was intoxicating, the kind of mindset he was in. Just the essence of creating and infusing a piece of himself into the page.

As he worked an odd sense of euphoric nostalgia overcame him. It’s like his hands knew exactly how to draw the armor. Every curve of the platings were so familiar. Almost like he had drawn this image hundreds of times before. It was coming out more defined and detailed on the page then it ever hoped to be in his own mind. He couldn’t understand how that was even possible but he kept working.

Eventually he began to add color, grabbing the reds and yellows then filling in shadows and highlights. He paid extra close attention to the strange light in the chest plate. He made sure to be certain it was the correct hue of blue.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he placed the last little flick of highlight on the face plate. He was finished.

He looked up to find Ellie staring at him wide-eyed and slack-jawed. After she realized she now held his attention she took a deep breath and squealed, “That was amazing!!” At the other top of her lungs.

Steve flinched back not expecting that kind of response.

“Babydoll, inside voice.” He admonished.

“Oops!” She said as she smacked her hands over her mouth.

“It’s all right, Sweetie.” He chuckled. “How did Rocky turn out?” He looked over at her work.

The pony seemed to be half drawn at that point.

“Oh!” She exclaimed suddenly. “I-I forgot!” She said turning back to her work abruptly.

She began drawing again. “I got distracted...” She muttered embarrassed.

Her face began to redden a little.

Steve couldn’t help but to think that that was the most adorable thing ever. He began to watch her intently as she worked much like the way she had watched him. He delighted in watching her process. He also analyzed her movements and saw how she worked very similarly to how he did. He even got a kick out of the way she differed from him also.

Even as she predominantly held his attention as she worked extra hard on the pony’s feathers, his eyes kept flickering down to his own drawing of the odd suit of armor from his dreams. The more he tried to understand and identify the torrent of emotions he felt upon viewing the image the more it all became foggy and slipped through his fingers like fine sand. But there was one thing that he somehow knew for sure.

It was important.

 

End Chapter Twenty-Eight

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Shine a Light Into The Wreckage

Tony stared at Barnes steadily and challengingly, not breaking eye contact considering if the other man had the opportunity Bucky would snap Tony’s neck without hesitation.

Wonderful.

Bucky opened his mouth, no doubt to deliver another litany of awful insults, but Tony beat him to the punch.

“Nah ah, me first.”

Bucky glared at him but surprisingly complied. Tony paused searching for the right words. He stared at the jagged remains of Bucky’s left arm. Despite the deplorable condition his torso is surely in, Tony’s willing to bet the soldiers arm is by far the center of most of his pain.

He gulped.

“After everything that has happened,” He started. “You can imagine how surprised I was to receive this.” He waved the letter about.

Bucky scoffed but did not interrupt.

“Even more surprising was the contents of the letter.”

Bucky stared at him, his glare deepening.

“Listen, I just want to know if he really meant what he said in the letter. And if he did, then why did he go through such lengths to leave?” Tony asked trying to keep his features schooled. That was the million-dollar question, right? How did it all come to this?

Bucky looked pensive for a moment. Tony thought for a moment that he was going to cooperate before,

“Fuck You!” He shouted.

“Come on!” Tony hit the glass. “Why did Steve leave!?” He demanded again.

“Don’t you mean escape?” Bucky corrected with an edge to his voice.

Tony winced. He never wanted it to be that way.

“Why won’t you tell me!? Please, I need to know!”

“Oh, this is rich, you really don’t know do you?” He sneered.

“If I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t be here!” Tony retorted.

“I’ve got a question for you. Why don’t you ask him yourself!?” Bucky locked eyes on him challengingly, his gaze was cutting.

He already knew why.

“Say it. Say why you can’t ask him yourself. I’d really like to know.” He provoked, his tone deadly sharp.

Tony broke a little more inside. “She took him.” He whispered.

“I’m sorry, what was that? I couldn’t hear you.” Bucky needled.

“She took him!” Tony shouted deafeningly.

“And who’s fault is that?” Barnes almost whispered, his tone complete ice.

Tony knew what he was gunning for. Under any other circumstance in the world he would just walk away and wouldn’t give him the time of day. But he needed to know what happened with Steve, so he submitted.

“Mine.” Tony admitted finally.

“That’s right. So why would I tell you anything!?”

Tony groaned.

“Please, just tell me what happened.” He tried again.

“Fuck Off!” Bucky responded.

“Fuck You!” Tony snapped.

He turned around abruptly in an attempt to get his head on straight. He could feel this escalating into a ridiculous insult match.

Okay, Barnes was not cooperating just like he thought. He’d feel like the scum of the earth, even more so than he does now, but he could threaten him with the journal. It could also backfire spectacularly. He could also try and figure out how to use the journal, however, he was sure Steve would never forgive him for that. No matter where he was.

He had to try something.

“Look at this.” Tony said turning back around. As he did he pulled out the journal.

Bucky’s eyes widened marginally. He knew exactly the kind of power Tony held over him.

“Oh God, I knew sending it was a horrible mistake.”

“You sent this?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Yes.” He said looking back at the ceiling. “What are you waiting for? Use it! ‘Cause I ain’t saying shit!” He shouted.

Tony had no intention of using it.

Ever.

He could see how Bucky’s demeanor had changed. When moments ago he was cocky and defiant, now he could see how frightened he truly was. The trauma and terror was bone deep. Tony could visibly see his composure crack. It was utterly revolting. Yet, despite knowing what the contents of the journal has in store for him he refused to talk. Of course, he wouldn’t say anything. He viewed Tony as the enemy and the reason for his capture and imprisonment. Tony was the guy that hurt his best friend. He was completely loyal to the bitter end.

Tony sighed. Suddenly a loose paper fluttered to the floor. Bucky watched it miserably.

Tony bent to pick it up. It was another handwritten note. Not Steve’s handwriting, however. Tony looked up, suddenly realizing it was from the man in the cell before him. The genius read it over, his eyes widening at its contents.

“You never meant to live through that day.” Tony stated.

Bucky looked back up to the ceiling.

“No.” Was all he said.

“I’m not going to use this. You trusted Steve’s judgment of us, of me, when you sent this.” He announced contemplatively as he placed the journal back into his satchel.

“You read this right?” Tony began after a moment of silence, gesturing to Steve’s letter. “Do you believe what he wrote in this?” He held up the letter once more.

“I believe he believed what he wrote.” Bucky spat.

“Listen, has Steve ever been wrong in his judgment of character?”

Bucky looked at him skeptically.

“Because the Steve I know is an excellent judge of character. He’s rarely wrong.” He swallowed his emotions back. “Listen, the kind of man he describes in this letter… I never believed that I could be that kind of man before I met him. I didn’t know he was paying enough attention to even realize these things about me… To put the pieces of who I am into words like this and claim to love them-me all the more for it…I-” He licked his lips clutching the letter close to his chest. The glow of the arc reactor illuminated the pages, making Steve’s words shine through the paper.

Bucky watched him intently.

“I love Steve… More than anything. But for the life of me I can’t figure out what happened! How it all came to this. It all feels like horrible joke to me. People don’t feel for me the way he claims to.”

“Oh, boohoo Princess, you’re so full of shit!”

Tony seriously has had it up to here with this guy.

“Fuck You! Everything I said is true! Steve is everything to me. If I could take his place I would. I begged on my hands and knees for that crazy bitch to take me instead.” He really did.

“Bullshit! You say you love him but you couldn’t protect him from her. You’re the whole reason she got what she wanted in the first place.” The Soldier accused.

“I was wrong okay!? I thought he betrayed us! Betrayed me… Clearly something else happened that I’m not aware of!”

“Yeah, something else all right.” Bucky scoffed.

“What happened, Barnes? Why did he leave?” Tony demanded again. “Please.”

“Please?! You don’t get to come here acting like the innocent victim when Steve’s the one that took the hit.” He shouted.

“I know that! God, I know that, okay? I’m a pathetic piece of shit, I get that! Obviously, I’m the one that drove Steve away somehow. I just want to know why!”

Oh, God he was crying now.

Great.

The last thing he wanted was to start crying in front of this guy. He furiously wiped at his face.

“Of course, it was you, dumbass! You were fucking the Kettle behind his back!” Bucky bellowed in revelation.

Tony stared at him frozen in confusion.

What??

“I’m sorry run that by me again? I was fucking a kettle??”

“No stupid, the woman called Kettle!”

Tony blinked, still nothing. “What?”

“Fiery red hair? Runs your company?”

Realization dawned.

“Oh! Potts!”

“Her!” Bucky confirmed.

Tony nodded. In that moment, the absurd conversation had finally caught up to our poor genius.

‘Wait WHAT??!’

“What the Fuck!? I was not Fucking Pepper behind Steve’s back!!” He would never!

Never!

Yeah there was a time in his life when he was a chronic playboy but never ever has he cheated!

“Not how he told it.” Bucky replied, wholly unconvinced.

“What exactly did he tell you!? ‘Cause I haven’t been with Pepper since we broke up a year ago.”

Bucky laughed bitterly. “He said he watched her leave your room like she used to. Like she had been thoroughly fucked.” He bit. There was something like a hint of doubt underneath his malice, however.

Tony gaped at him. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He didn’t!

Steve had consumed him completely, mind, body and soul. No one could ever take his place in his heart. Surely Steve must know that he wouldn’t, couldn’t be capable of straying.

But!

But then, he thought, Steve didn’t know how he felt! He didn’t know there could never be anybody else as long as he lived. Not like this.

“When did this happen? When did he witness this!?”

Tony was on the verge of panicking. Bucky watched him, doubt filling his features.

“After San Jose. He said he got out of his restraints and went to go find you only to find her leaving your room instead.”

“No! That wasn’t…” He paused. He quickly took out his phone. “Jarvis! Did Steve leave the infirmary on the fifth?”

“Indeed, Sir. I advised Captain Rogers against it considering the state of his injuries.”

“Why was I not informed?!”

“You had initiated your ‘Do not disturb’ protocol, Sir.”

Bucky gave him a doubtful look.

Oh boy, that did not sound good.

“Show me.” He activated the phone’s holographic projector and displayed it in front of them to see it more clearly. He also supposed he needed Barnes to see it too.

It showed Steve asking for Tony then subsequently weaseling out of his restraints when he heard Tony was unavailable. The genius fast forwarded to Steve leaving the room and wandering the halls. Eventually, he made it to Tony’s personal quarters. He watched as Steve hid behind a house plant (Really? How fucking cliché is that?) as Pepper exited his room looking like…huh… She kind of did look that way.

Shit!

A do not disturb protocol? And a disheveled Pepper? Crap that didn’t look good at all!

Tony continued watching as Steve hobbled back to his medical room. Tony showed up sometime later a tad disheveled himself now sporting casual wear.

Oh God! That really really did not look good.

“Why didn’t he confront me!? Why let it get so far?” Tony almost wailed pausing the footage.

“Because of me. Think dumbass, if you really were two timing him and he called you out on it, it would have been harder for him to find a way to get to me.” Bucky sighed relentingly. “He told me he couldn’t stay after that. If his days were truly numbered then he’d do anything he could to… To save me… The stupid punk.” Bucky turned his face away from the glass but Tony could recognize that gesture anywhere. The soldier was on the verge of crying.

After taking a moment to gather himself, Bucky continued. “He blames himself for what happened to me. The idiot.”

Tony could sympathize. He knew Steve was like that. It still hurt though despite it all. Steve still chose Bucky over Tony even if it was in the face of a terrible misunderstanding. It still happened.

Bucky looked back at him.

“Those videos still make you look bad. How do I know it is it all with Steve thought?”

It was a fair question. Tony sighed.

“Jarvis, you heard him. Show him what I was doing…”

The scene changed and Tony’s lab came into view. A few seconds in the genius strode in distraught, grabbed the nearest liftable object and threw it across the room. It appeared to be a toolkit.

Tony scoffed at himself, he really could be a drama queen sometimes.

He did not really know why he was still here humoring this guy and showing him something deeply personal no less. He got what he came for… Yet… In the end, Steve risked everything for this man. He matters.

Tony sighed watching himself. That day was a real turning point for him. Steve had no idea that it was in those next moments Tony had decided to take the plunge and go down with the ship that was there on touching go relationship.

It was so ingrained he didn’t even have to watch it to know exactly what would happen moment by moment…

~Flashback~

Tony had just returned from having to deal with a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense. Though they managed to snuff out the chaos in San Jose with minimal casualties (Seriously Pep, nobody died. Yay us!) The media was still on the frenzy. The PR fire was a nightmare. Von Doom was in the freaky coma and the villain Harker ended up dead, (Okay he ended up dead but he was the bad guy.) And his underling disappeared without a trace. Not good.

Not to mention the condition Steve ended up in. Tony scowled.

Steve... Calamity could take Steve any time now and all Tony wanted to do was spend time with him.

But…

But Bucky Barnes had apparently returned from the dead and that’s all Steve could think about. After being the center of attention for so long it’s hard to swallow being placed on the back burner. He deserves it, he supposed.

Tony didn’t even take the time to change out of his fancy suit before he issued his do not disturb protocol and began a project that had been nagging at the back of his brain for some time now. He could sense Dumm-E behind him retrieving the toolkits. He rolled his eyes before starting to draw up schematics for his experiment.

-0-

Twenty minutes later Tony was putting the finishing touches on a weapon prototype he was developing for a suit that he was hoping would have the capacity to safely go into outer space. The lack of atmosphere and gravity are some of the more difficult aspects to overcome.

Before he could make the final adjustments, Pepper burst through the door. Oh boy, she was not happy. He sighed, he did not want to deal with whatever she came to bitch about. He just wanted to tinker with his stuff and wallow in self misery for a little while was that too much to ask?

“You do realize you said that out loud, right?”

He looked up at her suddenly.

“Shit! Look I’m sorry Pep. I’ve had a bad couple of days- weeks whatever and I just want to be alone.” He tried to smile apologetically but probably looked more like he was a little constipated… Maybe he was a little of that too but whatever.

“Tony, you’re hiding.” She stated simply.

He squinted at her before rolling his eyes.

“Just because I’m working-”

“Just because you locked herself in here by yourself, with a ‘do not disturb’ order that took me ten minutes to get passed by the way,” She looked at him pointedly. “You’re hiding, Tony, and I’m willing to bet why.”

“I doubt that…”

“I’ve been keeping tabs on you for weeks now, Tony. I know there’s something up with you and it doesn’t have to all do with this case.”

“Lucky guess, you can go now!”

She pinned him with the glare.

“I’m not done.” She said.

Tony sighed.

“Tony, I’ve known you for nearly fifteen years now. We’ve lived together and we were even in an honest to God relationship. I know you, Tony.” She pulled up a stool and sat next to him. She gently grabbed his face. “I’m not going to pry you for details but Tony, I can see it as clear as day. You’re in love with someone.” She smiled sadly at him.

He snapped his head up in attention, ready to deny.

“Don’t try, it’s written on your face and all over your behavior. Whatever you feel for this person is strong. This person means the world to you and you have no idea what to do about it. You hide yourself away trying to avoid the whole mess in front of you. You’re so full of self-doubt and self-loathing you’re afraid of messing it up, afraid that they would eventually realize they made a mistake and afraid to put yourself out there on the line to expose yourself only to get burned. So, you hide, hoping that they decide you’re not worth the effort and leave. Just so you can sit back and say ‘See it wouldn’t have ever worked out anyway.’” She sighed when Tony became visibly distraught.

She definitely hit the nail on the head with that one. Sometimes he really hated how well she could read him.

“It must be shocking to you that they haven’t left yet. They’re still out there and the possibilities are just on the tips of your fingers, Tony.” She grabbed his hands. “Look at me, no matter what anybody says you’re worth the wait, Tony. You deserve to be happy. You deserve somebody who can appreciate you for you and I know you found that person.”

Tony shook his head. “It’s not that easy, Pep. Things are complicated! I’m running out of time. I don’t… I don’t believe they are going to be around much longer…”

She thought for a moment. “Is that factor out of their control?” She inquired gently.

He nodded.

“Then you should hop to it. You should be out there spending time with this person. If this person truly matters to you then you should let them know. If your positions were reversed would you want to know you are loved and cherished before you were forced to leave?”

He stared at her for a moment tears falling.

Oh God, she was so right. Steve is going to be forced to be a pawn in Calamity’s scheme and he was here being a selfish neurotic nut.

“Tony?” Pepper asked suddenly alarmed. “Is that supposed to be smoking?”

He turned his attention rapidly back to the piece he was working on.

“Oh shit!” So not good!

Just as the words left his mouth an alarm started to go off. He quickly leapt up and pulled Pepper off of her seat and barely managed to get them both behind a blast shield before the device he was working on exploded.

As she un-curled herself off of the floor she choked back a sob.

“What was that you idiot!?” She wailed as he punched him five times in the arm to emphasize each word.

“Ow. Ow. Ow. Stop!” He grabbed her hands so she couldn’t hit him anymore. “You’re the one who distracted me.”

She stared at him incredulously.

“So, it’s my fault?”

“What? No! Come on, Pep, we’re okay!” He said quickly. “It wasn’t that bad. It was mostly percussive. Hardly any flame at all.”

Just as he said that Dumm-E rolled by with the fire extinguisher and made sure to thoroughly douse Tony with flame retardant before moving on. Tony emitted a long-suffering sigh and Pepper laughed despite herself.

“Come on, Tony. Let’s get cleaned up.”

They made their way to Tony’s personal bathroom connected to his bedroom.

“Oh, hon, you need a shower.” She mused as she looked Tony’s dripping form up and down.

He had managed to wipe most of the foam off of himself before they headed up, but yeah, a shower would be great.

“You can go first if you want.” He suggested.

She eyed him for a moment. There was a time he wouldn’t have hesitated to suggest that they could share a shower together. Now, however… She smiled. She could tell that he really did have it bad for this person. (Let’s be honest, she knew who it was but wanted Tony to at least have this to himself… For now.)

“Nah, I’ll just use your mirror to straighten up as best I can. If I can… I look like a disaster!” She exclaimed looking into said mirror.

Her phone went off not moments later. She took it out to look at it.

“Ugh, I’ll have to go soon, the vultures are flying.” She shook her head.

“I’ll make it quick then.” He said as he took a pile of clean clothes into the bathroom with him.

Ten minutes later he reemerged clean and comfortable. Pepper looked better but still a bit disheveled. She had spent most of that ten minute window on the phone trying her hardest not to make death threats. She sighed deeply when Tony sided up to her.

“You’ll remember what I said?” She asked grabbing his chin.

“Yes! Now go clean up my PR mess.” She smirked.

“One of these days, Tony.” She sighed. “Come here.” She pulled him into a hug. “Really, Tony, think about it.” She whispered.

He nodded reluctantly.

She smiled sadly at him as she picked up her shoes and walked out the door.

Tony sighed he already had made up his mind to go talk to Steve.

“Jarvis, remove the ‘do not disturb’ protocol.”

“Very good, Sir.” Jarvis replied. “Captain Rogers wishes to speak to you immediately. He has assured me that he will, as he puts it, ‘behave.’”

“Thank you, Jarvis.”

Huh?

How about that?

Good, because he really needed to see Steve anyway. Like yesterday.

After everything that has happened he needs Steve to understand that Tony is on his side. And maybe Pepper is a little right, maybe. He really would like to throw caution into the wind and just give in to his most deepest and most sacred desires. His desire to love and be loved in return. He was so exhausted from hiding away all the time. And Pepper was definitely right about one thing. There wasn’t much time left and at the very least Steve deserved to know that he was loved. Even if, in the end, Tony would end up… well... broken and alone.

He shook his head. He couldn’t think that way. This was for Steve. Plain and simple.

Tony took a few minutes to center himself. He ran a hand through his hair in a futile attempt to tame it. He took a deep breath before leaving his quarters to go to Steve’s medical room. He had no idea how he was going to go about showing Steve what he meant to Tony. He would just have to figure it out along the way.

When he finally made it to the doorway he was thrown through a loop.

“How did you get out of your restraints!?” Tony demanded chastising.

Seriously!? Steve was meant to be restrained so he wouldn’t aggravate his wounds. Their specialists said that his injuries might not be healing right, so they were taking precautions.

Steve only shrugged. He had an odd look about him. The Captain looked him up and down, the tension was tight.

“Jarvis said you wanted to talk, said you would behave?” Tony drawled.

‘This does not look like behaving.’ He thought with exasperation.

“Yeah, I wanted to apologize.” Steve said tightly.

Tony cheered on the inside.

Finally!

The genius made his way over to Steve to give him a once over. He hoped however Steve managed to weasel out of the restraints he didn’t strain or hurt himself.

“Go on.” He smirked. Oh, he was going to enjoy this.

“You were right.” Steve said stiffly.

Tony’s eyebrows shot up.

Really?

Really.

He squinted at Steve making sure he wasn’t a pod person.

“Oh? Am I?” He asked as he sat down next to Steve.

He lifted Steve’s gown to half look over the injury and make sure he didn’t strain his stitches and half to find pod evidence.

“Ah, quit, the stitches are fine.” He said pushing Tony’s hands away. “Yes, you are right about ‘some’ things.” He put a strong emphasis on some.

Okay, not a pod person. He couldn’t just let him be completely right for one minute. Such a nice person. Tony waited for him to elaborate.

“I-I have little time left and I should want to be spending it with my family, and I do! But I don’t think I can get over the guilt of just leaving Bucky out there somewhere. Here, I am safe and surrounded by people who care about me and he’s out there alone in a hostile environment.” Steve said stricken.

Tony frowned. He really did feel for him. He couldn’t even begin to understand what Steve must be going through.

“You need to trust us, Steve. We’re out there looking for him. We will bring him in.” And he meant it.

When Jarvis confirmed the identity of their masked assailant as the long-lost James Buchanan Barnes, he knew Steve likely would stop at nothing to find him. Broken body and all. So, Tony has Jarvis keeping a lookout for him.

Steve sighed. “But he’s my responsibility, it should be me that brings him in.” He whispered brokenly.

Wow, that’s hard to watch. God, why is he so beautiful? The way he cares so damn much.

“Hey, look at me.” Tony said as he gently grabbed Steve’s face. “You can trust me.” He said softly caressing his face. “I will find him, I promise.”

Tony watched him nod slowly. He could see a tumultuous array of strong emotions flit across Steve’s features. He watched as a lone tear spilled over and rolled down his beautiful broken face. Before he could even think about what he was doing he leaned in and kissed the tear away.

Tony leaned back to look him in the eye. Steve’s eyes were perfectly between gray and blue with icy undercuts. Stunning, yet Tony knew he was in desolate turmoil. If Steve had his way, he would be running the streets this very moment trying to find Barnes.

“I know it’s difficult for you to trust anybody with something so important to you, please…” He whispered not willing to shattered the moment. He leaned in and pressed a tender kiss to his lips as if to seal his promise. He pulled away slightly. “Please trust me.” His voice was near a whisper.

Steve nodded slowly and Tony couldn’t help it. He leaned in to claim Steve’s lips again. The genius held back moaning in relief when Steve began to kiss him back. The kiss was phenomenal. Tony just wanted to melt in ecstasy. He shifted and began to deepen the kiss further and the moment his tongue touched Steve’s he became like a live wire.

‘Finally!’ His heart screamed.

For months, this was what he had been aching for! Suddenly, Steve slid his hand through Tony’s dark hair and clutched the back of his head to deepen the kiss. He moaned desperately into the Captain’s mouth.

Fuck! This was getting hot. Almost too hot. God, this was fucking amazing! Just when Tony was about to go down on his knees and put his mouth to better use, Steve pulled away.

“We… Can’t.” He groaned. Steve looked almost pained.

The genius waited for him to continue a little concerned.

“I-I don’t want to pop any stitches.”

Tony was sure that wasn’t the whole reason, he could see it in his eyes. The genius didn’t want to press, however. If Steve wasn’t ready for anything more than he was fine with that.

“You were so concerned and you went through so much trouble to keep me from over exerting myself.” He said gesturing to the restraints. “I’d hate for you to fail your mission now.” He smirked.

Tony pouted. Steve was just making fun of him now, he groaned.

“Besides, shouldn’t I be getting adequate rest. I mean I did just nearly get my heart ripped out.” He said gesturing to his abdomen.

Tony was certain Steve made him all hot on purpose just to pull away to smirk at him and remind him they had to take it easy. Fucking tease.

“Fine! You’re right, dick.” Before Tony got up he leaned in and claimed another kiss. “I’m glad you’re okay.” He whispered standing up. He thought for a moment. “Do you promise to be good and stay in bed so I don’t have to restrain you?” Tony asked exasperated.

He really did not need Steve up and wandering about with those wounds.

Steve shrugged, “Like the restraints work anyway.”

Tony glared at him. That cheeky bastard!

“Okay! I’ll behave.” Steve threw his hands placatingly.

“Good.” He said as he swooped down and stole one more kiss before heading to the door.

God, he was so fucking happy!

“Good night Steve.”

It took everything he had not to drop the L-Bomb. He berated himself because that was kind of supposed to be the goal of the evening. But he didn’t want to unload all of that on Steve. Not just yet. Steve still has recovering to do and they still had some time. Not much, he knew, but some.

“Good night Tony.” He replied tensely.

Tony smiled and left. As he walked down the corridor door to his lab he frowned slightly. He thought about how Steve was likely in a lot of pain right now and they couldn’t do anything about it because his body metabolized drugs too damn fast. He had to do something about that. He put a pin in that idea for later. Right now, there’s one thing thousand times more important to focus on. If there was even the slightest possibility that he could figure out a way to save Steve from Calamity’s clutches, then that’s exactly what he was going to do. She said she couldn’t be stopped but what if that was because she was sorely underestimating Tony Stark? If the possibility existed, then he needed to find it asap. A good place to start was to figure out what was exactly in that code…

~End Flashback~

Tony sighed miserably as he turned off the projection and slid his phone back into his pocket. He looked over at Barnes to gauge his reaction. What he found was utterly blank look on his face. It was vastly irksome. Tony almost wondered how he was able to school his emotions so completely. That was until he remembered the journal and with it the thought of everything that man must have gone through.

It was scary.

Natasha scary.

He was shaken out of his thoughts when the soldier took a deep breath that subsequently led to a coughing fit. The small trickle of blood on the corner of his mouth did not go unnoticed.

Tony winced.

Here he was pestering this guy and Barnes was laying there strapped to copious amounts of medical equipment with an impressive bullet hole in his chest. Even more vexing, Tony thought, is when in the hell did he begin to care.

Tony shook his head. The answer was simple but no less troubling. Steve cared, therefore so did he. Although his newfound empathy was melting away rapidly as Tony realized Bucky was laughing.

That fucking bastard!

“Oh God, you’ve got the shittiest luck ever!” He guffawed.

“Yeah? This coming from the guy who was Hydra’s brainwashed murder slave for seventy odd years? Who got free only to be framed for the greatest American massacre of the century and subsequently get shot by a crazy guy in a pink bunny suit? Then only to end up in this floating ocean pokey strapped to a gurney? How’s that shit luck!?” Tony retorted.

 “Yeah, that comin’ from me.” He smirked.

Tony was seething from this guys cocky attitude.

Bucky’s face fell after he thought for a moment. “Did I really get shot by the guy in the pink bunny suit? I was really hoping I imagined that…” He said miserably, staring back up at the ceiling.

“We were all hoping we imagined that. It’s even worse that the guy got away.” Tony groaned.

Seriously, that whole fiasco was just ridiculous.

“You’re not tracking him?” Bucky asked.

“We don’t even know who this guy is. No one got a decent visual.” Tony sighed.

Yet another thing people were expecting him to figure out.

“His name is Graham Rhododendron and he calls himself, wait for it, the Rhododendron. Go figure. He was Harker’s number one lackey.” Bucky informed still staring at the ceiling.

Tony stared at him blinkingly.

What the fuck!?

Tony almost wanted to demand why he did not say anything before. Then he remembered where he was and all the shift that happened since.

… Right…

“You got that, Jarvis?” Tony said instead, pulling his phone out again. “Put Graham on the tracking algorithm.”

“Already on it, Sir.”

Okay, one last thing to worry about. Perfect…

When Tony looked up again, Bucky was openly glaring at him.

“Oh God, what did I do now?”

Seriously, this guy has like two settings: murderous and cheeky asshole.

“You didn’t kill me.” He stated simply.

“This troubles you?” Tony shot back with his snark.

“You defied a direct order from the president himself. An executive order.” He stated.

Tony rolled his eyes. “Yeah and I promised Steve I’d bring you back alive.”

“You’d risk all that for him?” He questioned.

Tony sighed. “I’d risk everything for him.”

“But you didn’t…” Bucky replied sharply.

He didn’t need him to finish that sentiment. Tony knew what he was talking about. If only he had pulled his head out of his ass long enough. In the end Tony didn’t risk his heart. Not really. He could make excuse after excuse as to why he put it off. But in the end he was still too much of a coward.

He knew that.

And because of that Steve ended up broken, believing he existed in a world where Tony didn’t want him, in a world where the Captain could have very well believed Tony even hated him. There were so many things he could have done differently.

“You’re right.” Tony frowned.

No matter how much effort or risk he had taken to keep Steve and Barnes alive when the strike unit closed in on them, it didn’t matter in the end when he couldn’t put his heart on the line for the Captain. In the end after everything it was Tony unwilling to trust Steve. How could he expect the Captain to trust him when really he was the one who couldn’t trust Steve? This whole mess was Tony’s fault, plain and simple.

“Despite everything I did to keep you two alive it didn’t matter…”

“God, you’re a self-deprecating idiot. It did matter!” Bucky shouted at him suddenly. “You kept both of us alive, something I wasn’t sure even I was capable of. Maybe this was the best way for things to turn out-”

Tony was about to protest.

“No! Listen. Nobody died. Yeah, it’s horrible that it all had to play out this way. But think about it. If you two worked it out and Steve was able to resist her, then she would have had to resort to even bloodier methods to break him. No doubt ensuring mine and your death. Then where would we be? Steve gone and no one to figure out the code. The entire world would be doomed with no hope.” He said.

Tony gaped at him disbelievingly.

“Are you trying to be reassuring?” He asked, because this guy is clearly full of surprises.

“No! Go to hell!” Was Bucky’s instant response.

Tony smiled despite himself. As he watched Bucky’s prickly obtuseness all of the new information he had gathered these last few hours became a raging storm of knowledge swirling around in a nightmarish typhoon inside his brain. The only way to stay afloat and not let his oppressive and pessimistic thoughts take over was to focus on Steve.

The Captain was his anchor.

He began to put his thoughts in order, using Steve as his center.

They loved each other.

But Calamity took him.

It was Tony’s fault.

The world is ending.

Tony is the only one who can stop it.

Steve truly believes Tony can save the world.

After everything Tony can’t let him down.

0.5% is a tiny window.

If he gives up now, however, those odds become zero.

0.5% is definitely better than nothing.

Calamity isn’t the only one causing trouble.

There are plenty of villains out there still creating chaos.

The world may be ending but only the avengers truly know how close to annihilation they truly are.

Okay.

He has apologies to make and a code to break. He needs to right some wrongs at least the best he could and prepare his team for the next threat.

Tony took a deep breath pulling himself out of his thoughts. He had a pretty good idea where to start.

“Did you just check out?” Bucky demanded, staring at Tony incredulously.

“I was coming up with some ideas.” He smirked.

“Oh no, oh God, you have that look about you. Like the one Steve got when he came up with a really stupid and suicidal plan.” Bucky commented almost exasperated.

“Yeah, we have that in common.” He replied.

Although Tony was willing to bet his own plans definitely were a tad more suicidal.

“Tell me, how functional are you?” Tony asked suddenly.

Bucky eyed him, lost.

“I mean if you weren’t strapped down to that gurney, how good would you be at, you know, fighting and running considering the extent of your injuries?”

“Oh God, tell me you’re not planning-”

“A jailbreak.” He said matter-of-factly.

Bucky stared at him as if he grew another head and ten more arms.

“Come on, it’ll be fun.” Tony said as he started entering commands into his phone.

“God, this is so stupid.” Bucky said, but relented. “Fine! What the hell?”

At the very least this was going to be entertaining.

 

End Chapter 29

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty: It’s Not Over Before It’s Too Late

Entertaining was one way to describe the chaos that descended upon the Raft when Tony Stark decided that it would be a good idea to break James Buchanan Barnes, prisoner 86, out of prison.

Tony began by having Jarvis infiltrate the security system. The AI had cleared a path of escape for them by releasing a few of the less threatening prisoners on the opposite end of the facility. When most of the agents, officials and guards were occupied, Jarvis manufactured a loop that continued to play Tony and Bucky conversing while, in reality, he lifted the glass panel so Tony could release the soldier.

Tony studied the medical stats thoroughly before proceeding.

“Sir, the restraints are bound to an alternate system with an intermediate recovery OP.”

“Well, stay on it, Jar.” Tony said as he continued to analyze the medical equipment.

“What does that mean?” Bucky asked apprehensively.

“There’s a different program that is connected to your restraints that Jarvis hasn’t infiltrated yet. If it senses the removal of your restraints without the authorization code the alarm will sound.” Tony replied as he continued to examine the stats.

“Great.” He finally said after a moment. “You have advanced healing like Steve. You’ll survive the flight back to the tower without all this.” He said gesturing to the equipment.

“Sir, the restraints OS is disabled.” Jarvis alerted.

“Perfect! You ready? Once we get you out of this we will have like a 10 minute window before they realize I’m pulling a fast one on them.”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” He grunted.

Tony quickly but deftly began to remove the restraints. After the soldier was thoroughly unbound, Tony began to remove the medical equipment carefully. They were mostly monitoring systems but there were a few IVs that Tony felt reluctant to remove.

They both knew the risk, however.

The fact that Bucky could survive after everything to this point despite, well, everything he could go a few hours without those IVs.

“Ready to sit up?” Tony asked.

Bucky nodded. He shakingly held up his right hand for Tony to take. The genius eased him up slowly but firmly.

“Okay, take a deep breath.” Tony said helping the soldier swing his legs over the gurney.

Bucky held back his groan in pain when the stress on his mutilated chest protested vehemently. He took several deep breaths before nodding to Tony to continue.

Tony threw his arm over his shoulder and heaved him to his feet. Bucky gritted his teeth trying to hold in his scream in agony. Tony watched the muscles in his jaw strain. His pain was excruciating. He had to make this quick.

“This doesn’t change anything.” The soldier growled out suddenly. “I still hate you.”

Tony sighed. “The feelings mutual, Buddy, just promise not to kill me and we will work out the rest.” Tony huffed as he began to lead them out of the cell.

Bucky chuckled painfully but nodded in ascent, agreeing with those terms. They hobbled to the door.

“Okay, official number one and number two are probably still behind this door.” The genius warned. “Can you stand by yourself?”

The soldier nodded, bracing himself. It was a painful and wobbly stance but he held firm trying to control his breathing. Tony got close to the door activating a setting on his wrist watch. He nodded at Bucky as the soldier limped to obscure his presence at the wall by the door.

Tony knocked on the door to alert anybody on the other side that he wanted out.

Official number one opened the door and Tony stepped out. He saw official number two just outside the door and when he had a clear shot he used his wristwatch to stun the two officials with electricity. They instantly fell to the floor knocked out.

“Okay, time to go. The moment one of them comes to they will be on us.”

The soldier slid out of the doorway stealthily. All of his ingrained instincts were coming to the surface. Tony became immensely uncomfortable with the soldiers blank look and quiet movements.

‘Please don’t kill me. Please don’t tell me.’ He chanted to himself.

Tony nicked the badges from the officials and the to began to make their way through the corridor. Jarvis continued to cover their tracks by looping the security footages. Tony activated the elevator using the badges.

As the elevator made its way up, Tony looked over to Bucky. He was hard to read, surely he was still in severe pain but he showed no hint of it. He could tell that he began to bleed through in a few spots. Tony suspected that he probably already tore some stitches.

“You ready? There are three more corridor doors and two more elevators before we reach the exit point.” Tony supplied.

The soldier merely glanced at him.

“Okay, this is not awkward or frightening at all.” Tony said to himself.

“Stop whining, Princess, just get us out of here alive.” Bucky replied sharply, leering at him.

“Oh, thank God. I thought you had reverted back to your more cold and murdery persona.”

“I’ll show you how murdery this persona is if you don’t shut the fuck up.” He threatened through gritted teeth.

“Noted.” Tony replied offering him a mock salute which earned him a sharp glare.

The elevator slowed to a stop and with a ding the doors opened.

*~0~*

On the other side…

The front door shut.

“Steve?” Peggy called.

Steve and Ellie looked up at the same time and grinned at each other.

After completing a satisfactory drawing of Rocky they decided to try their hand at illustrating their favorite fairy tales. Steve put down the pink colored pencil he was using to color in a princess dress and spoke to Ellie.

“Come on, let’s go see if your mommy needs help.”

“Okay!”

He stood up and took Ellie’s hand and they made their way down the stairs to help unload the groceries.

“Peggy.” He greeted when he saw her.

God damn she was beautiful! He pull her in close and kissed her deeply.

“Oh my,” she said breathlessly as she pulled away. “I guess I don’t need to ask if you missed me.” She grinned.

“Just a little.” He smirked.

He was a bit surprised at himself. He didn’t expect to be so forward. It’s just so ridiculously amazing that he could do something like that, freely and on a whim even. Without so much as a repercussion like a slap in the face or an air of revulsion. It was just instincts, something pure yet passionate. He loved her so much.

“My turn!” Ellie whined up at Peggy reaching her arms out.

Steve pulled away and let Peggy bend down and scooped up Ellie and her arms. She began to kiss Eleanor all over her face making the child giggle and squealed in delight. Steve was so lost in the moment watching them that he nearly forgot what he was doing.

“Oh! I’m going to go get the groceries.” He announced as he made his way out the front door.

-0-

Steve closed the trunk of the car with a heavy thunk and hauled the last of the grocery bags into the house. Peggy, ever efficient as she is, had already stored the food away and began to prepare lunch. Ellie was helping by washing vegetables. Steve put the last of the items away and proceeded to steal a kiss from both of his girls. Steve began to run his fingers through Ellie’s lovely golden curls. If he remembered back from old photos he could swear that his own mother had hair like this once. Maybe even when he was still a child. It was so long ago, however. He shook his head.

“Ellie, darling, why don’t you tell me what you and your father got up to today?” Peggy asked from her place by the counter.

She was peeling and cutting the vegetables Ellie washed.

“It was amazing, Mommy!” Ellie explained as she began to re-account there drawing adventures.

Steve smiled and nodded along. Soon enough lunch was nearly ready and Peggy turned to him with a critical eye.

“My dear, you need to get ready! Howard and his fiancé will be here in an hour.”

Steve looked down at himself and realized that he was still pretty much in his pajamas.

Well…

“Oh! Yeah, I should probably do that.” He replied mildly embarrassed.

He’s usually not this out of it. But considering the circumstances, he feels he should get a pass. He kissed Peggy and Ellie before heading upstairs.

*~0~*

Back on the other side…

Three officials were standing in the doorway unaware of the occupants of the elevator until they looked up utterly shocked.

“Prisoner 86!” Official number three shouted out.

But before any of them could react further, Bucky launched out of the elevator swiftly and efficiently knocking all three of them out without warning. Tony stared at the scene dumbly. All three officials hit the ground even before he could raise his hand with the wristwatch to stun them. Tony walked out of the elevator, awkwardly stepping over the men. Bucky took a deep breath before teetering sharply and bracing himself against the wall.

“You all right there?” Tony asked uncomfortably.

Bucky shook his head. “That was sloppy.” He muttered. Before Tony could reply the soldier continued. “My arm throws me off balance.” He said gesturing to the missing one.

“You call that sloppy!?” Tony demanded astonished, looking at the men take in out with such efficiency he barely had time to blink.

“I did not stop them in time, the pale one activated a silent alert and the short one will come to in a few minutes.” He replied in a huff, struggling to regain balance against the wall.

“Better than what I could manage.” Tony commented not too alarmed. “Jarvis, you got that?”

“Indeed, Sir. The alarm went through but I managed to relocate the source to sub level 9, Sir. However, I won’t be able to continue much longer. They have a talented hacker that has realized my presence. It won’t be long before I am completely booted from the system.”

“Thank you, Jarvis.” The genius turned to the soldier. “You heard him, let’s get a move on.”

Bucky nodded, taking a deep breath as he pushed himself off of the wall painfully. They continued down the corridor before encountering a fork.

“Okay, talk to me Jar.”

“The corridors are clear, however the elevator in question has two occupants.”

“Okay.”

They turn to the left toward the elevator.

“Sir, six agents will be approaching you from behind in two minutes.”

“ETA on the elevator?”

“Two minutes.”

“That’s fantastic.” Tony growled sarcastically.

They position themselves by the elevator in hopes of taking the occupants by surprise. Tony watched dismally as a deep crimson stain began to spread over the soldiers thin clothing. He was starting to bleed more.

“Stop staring! You’re making me uncomfortable.” He whispered harshly.

Tony huffed and rolled his eyes. “I’m making sure you’re not going to die on me.” He said pointing to the blood. “Things like that become good indicators.”

The soldier looked down and sighed. “I’m fine, twat. Just worry about yourself.” He muttered.

Tony resisted the urge to say anything more knowing he’d probably get his neck snapped. Instead he returned his attention to the elevator frowning. They had to time this perfectly.

“Jar, any way to slow the agents or speed the elevator?”

“Negative, Sir.”

“Wonderful.” He groaned.

Tony watched the elevator’s descent and heard the chatter of the agents that were about to around the corner. The elevator dinged and he made eye contact briefly with Bucky. The soldier nodded indicating that he was ready.

The doors opened.

Tony used his watch armor to stun the first occupant he had visual on. Bucky simultaneously and swiftly slid low against the floor and quickly took out the second occupant by sweeping his legs out from under him then twisting around painfully to punch the guy in the face knocking him out.

Tony was by Bucky’s side instantly. He grabbed him before he could hit the floor and helped him up to his feet. He positioned the soldier against the wall of the elevator to study him.

“Jar, take us up!” Tony shouted.

“I’m afraid I can’t, Sir. I am out of the system.”

“Get back in!” He commanded urgently.

Tony turned around quickly to manually control the elevator. He pushed the appropriate floor button and began to rapidly press the close elevator door button, cursing the ridiculously slow response of the machine. Just as he was about to breathe a sigh of relief as the doors began to shut a hand reached out from the other side to stop the doors.

“Well, look at what we have here.” Smirked the rather large agent from the other side.

“Rumlow.” Tony breathed out and Rumlow’s smirk widened to a feral grin as he pointed a gun at them. Both raised their arms slowly.

Well shit.

“I figured you would pull something like this the moment you came here today.” He sneered.

The other five agents behind him nodded smugly.

“Congratulations, you actually came to the right conclusion for once. I’m so proud of you.” Tony replied sarcastically. In his mind he was trying to come up with a good solution. Because, honestly, running into that monkey’s Strike unit had pretty much been worst-case scenario. And in that scenario, he hadn’t quite thought of a good way past yet.

Yet.

He wished he could glance back at Bucky to see if he was planning anything but the moment he took his eyes off of Rumlow it would be over.

Instead, he subtly twisted his wrist and flicked his fingers unassumingly altering the settings on his watch armor. By the time Rumlow registered Tony’s movements it was too late. A shockwave him and the other agents away from the door.

“Come on, Jar. ETA on system reentry?” Tony demanded as he began pushing buttons on the panel again.

“Possibly three minutes.”

“Great!” He shouted sarcastically.

“That isn’t going to work anymore!” Rumlow shouted as he struggled to let himself off of the floor. “This entire level is on lockdown.” He grinned despite his struggling form.

Tony groaned as he tapped his head against the control panel.

“I’ll distract them.” Bucky suddenly whispered in his ear.

Tony almost jumped right out of his skin. Before he could even respond the soldier had already exited the elevator. Tony flinched when he heard gunshots go off but relaxed a bit when he heard the agents scream and groan in pain. Tony took out his phone and used it to commandeer the control panel. He had to do what he could to help Jarvis get back in the system.

~Meanwhile…

As soon as Bucky barreled out of the elevator an agent opened fired on him. He did not have his left arm to block incoming bullets so he had to stay evasive. He drove his right hand into the side of the agents head and took his gun.

He was putting too much stress on his already broken abdomen. The pain was nearly unbearable, yet he managed to ignore it, finding sickening comfort an old instincts. He cleared his mind and assessed the situation, he could almost trick himself into believing pain did not exist when he had a mission.

The other agents were barely getting back on their feet. He could not leave any of them conscious. He took a breath and centered his body and lunged to the right, shooting one agent in the leg then following up the attack with a brutal impact of the butt of the gun to the man’s temple.

Two down four to go.

The other agents opened fire on him again. He winced to himself, they were aiming to kill. A bullet grazed his cheek as he went down low tackling the third agent down and elbowing him hard breaking his nose and claiming another KO.

Bucky sprang up, quickly evading another round of bullets. He needed to be quicker. The moment one of them realized Stark was truly the worst threat it was over. He needed them to stay absolutely focused on him. He dodged low to the left and took careful aim and shot agent number 4 three times, one in each shoulder and one in the left leg. The man went down fast screaming. He should have lost the use of his arms so he was down and out as he was writhing on the floor in pain.

Bucky leapt to the man and snagged a cinch wire he spotted and whirled around on the fifth agent, wrapping the wire around his neck as he simultaneously used him as a shield against Rumlow.

During his movements, as he went about taking out the agents, he strategically moved Rumlow away from the elevator. Now Bucky stood between Tony and Brock. Bucky dropped the now unconscious agent at his feet and faced the sixth agent head on.

“I’ve been waiting for this!” Brock exclaimed in a heated rush. Bucky only stared. “You made me look like a fool when we infiltrated that fucking church and you weren’t where you were supposed to be!” Rumlow growled.

Bucky only blinked. Steve found them and got them to safety that night. He idly wondered what would have happened if his brother arrived any later or not at all.

Rumlow apparently didn’t like his utter lack of response because in seconds he was charging Bucky with an enraged roar. His fists were raised ready for combat. Bucky dodged right, sidestepping slightly. Rumlow’s punch missed his face by mere millimeters. He felt the air displacement flutter over his bullet grazed cheek.

Brock turned to Bucky, livid. Bucky knew it was a bad idea to fuck with the guy. He could feel that he was a talented fighter but he also knew the guy was a hothead with an ego. If Bucky can keep him riled up then it would give Stark time to get them out of there.

Rumlow charged him again. He was quick and cutthroat. Suddenly, the Strike soldier landed a solid punch to Bucky’s ribs. Our soldier coughed up blood immediately. His damaged lung tearing anew from the impact. He tried to remain evasive. This guy knew his stuff. He hardly felt any openings in his guard. Bucky couldn’t find a clear shot.

All of the sudden, his vision blurred and he lurched violently to the right. Luckily the sudden shift made Rumlow miss his next attack. Bucky shook his head while sprinting away clear it. He didn’t have much stamina left. He was losing blood much more rapidly, now. He could actually feel it begin to drip down his legs. Bucky knew he was going to have to take a hit in order to incapacitate this guy. He just needed the right opening.

“Looks like you are about to kill over, man, you should submit.”

Bucky only stared.

Then, unexpectedly, a shrill alarm sounded and Rumlow got distracted. Bucky sprang for him. Brock gathered himself enough to retaliate. He gave our soldier a nasty uppercut to his wounded abdomen. However, Rumlow was too late to realize that it was Bucky’s intention to take the hit in order to get past his guard as our soldiers knee collided brutally into Brock’s stomach. The impact landed perfectly in the soft spot just below his rib cage, thrusting upward excruciatingly. Brock hit the floor hard on his knees and began to vomit and choke all at once. The impact was so intense it sent his internal organs on the fritz, his stomach trying to expel everything it could and his lungs spasming, completely unable to retain air.

Tony watched the final exchange from the elevator. He had activated the alarm just after regaining access to the system to hopefully give Barnes an opening. They needed to get going ASAP. Jarvis was right, however, the Rafts hacker was incredibly talented and Tony knew he couldn’t remain in the system for long.

Tony watched as Barnes stood as the victor holding his chest. The genius felt so fucking lucky the soldier was on his side albeit a tad reluctantly. He swallowed the bile down as he took in the state of the agents, especially Rumlow. God, that was brutal. He suppressed a shiver as he called out.

“Hey! Get your ass back here so we can go!”

Bucky turned abruptly and began to limp back to the elevator as fast as his broken body would allow. That was until he heard a whole cluster fuck of shouting.

Tony looked out of the elevator to see what the commotion was only to have the sight that greeted him make him pale in trepidation. What had to be fifteen agents and guards started charging through the corridor coming from the direction the Strike unit came from.

“Fuck!” Tony shouted. “Come on!” He urged Bucky on.

Our soldier huffed in misery before taking a deep breath as best he could and sprinting to the elevator all the while evading rapid gunfire. The doors started closing before Bucky could even reach the elevator. His eyes widened when he realized there was a good chance he wasn’t going to make it. He forced his body to lunge the last several feet and managed to rapidly squeeze through the gap just before the doors closed completely, almost catching a few wisps of his hair. He collided hard with the wall of the elevator as it began to ascend. The impact had nearly knocked the air out of him. When he caught his breath enough he turned to Tony instantly.

“What the fucking hell was that!? You were going to leave me behind, you stupid prick!” He shouted as he grabbed Tony by the neck pinning him to the wall.

“I can explain!” He tried to swallow. “I timed it perfectly!” He managed to squeak out through the tightening grip on his throat.

Bucky eyed him skeptically but released him.

“Listen,” Tony said rubbing his throat. “The doors lag. I couldn’t have them corner us like Rumlow did.” He explained. Bucky glared. “Look, I knew you’d make it! Okay? I timed it perfectly.”

“I almost didn’t, you ass hat!” Bucky roared.

“You did.” Tony replied almost too smugly.

His reward was for Bucky to give him a stare that promised extreme pain. It wasn’t even a glare or a scowl. It was just a fucking stare and Tony could feel the painful promise it held deep in his bones. This guy was fucking scary!

Jesus Christ, Tony was terrified, he just wanted to scream and run impossibly wet himself a little. The terror must have shown on his face because the stare relented and the bastard had the audacity to smirk at him.

“You fucking bastard!” Tony exclaimed shrilly.

His response only served to widen the soldiers smirk.

Tony huffed dramatically and turned away from Bucky. He grumbled to himself as he monitored the system access. Anytime now they could get booted from the system again.

“Jar, what does our pathway look like?”

“Clear. Once you reach the appropriate level the halls are free to travel, however, despite my efforts, many officials are gathering to bar your escape from portal B – 03, Sir.”

Tony sighed. He knew this would be a longshot, but damn. He is definitely sorely missing the presence of his team right now. He really wished he had the foresight to think these things through.

It’s too late now. Even if he alerted them now they would never get to the Raft in time. He was on his own. Tony was pulled from his thoughts at the sound of a sharp intake of air as Bucky hit the floor. The genius turned around quickly to find the soldier slumped against the wall.

“Shit.” Tony uttered as he hurriedly knelt in front of the soldier to examine him.

He grasped the edge of the bloodsoaked garment and lifted it gingerly. He gasped shocked at what he saw.

Okay, so that was a minor (major) miscalculation on his part. Tony assumed that they had stitched or stapled or at least bandaged Bucky’s wound, but no. They didn’t do a damn thing! This guy has been walking around and fighting with a fucking hole in his chest. What the fucking fuck!?

“Oh my fucking God! What the hell! They didn’t even treat you!” Tony gaped at the wound.

He could tell at the very least that it had been thoroughly cleaned, but damn. Then all too suddenly the disturbing conclusion came to him. Whoever authorized this wanted to see exactly how well the Winter Soldier would heal without aid. It was an experiment. Tony saw red. He didn’t bring the prisoners here to be experimented on.

“Jarvis? Do me a favor?”

“Sir?”

“I want a Sentinel backup. As much as you can while we’re here.”

“Will do, Sir.”

Fuck! They needed to get out of the prison as soon as possible and get Bucky treated. Tony tried to think. He quickly took off his shirt leaving him in his under tank. He wadded up his T-shirt and pressed it to the wound the best he could and dug out duct tape out of his satchel and bound Bucky’s wound with his shirt and tape. After Tony was sure the makeshift binding would hold until he got back to the tower, he looked up to see Barnes staring queerly at his arc reactor. Bucky grabbed the edge of the tank at the top and pulled down, exposing it completely.

“Wow, that thing is actually in you.” He whispered roughly in awe as he gently pulled away.

“Yep, and I’ll tell you all about the gruesome details later.” He said as the elevator came to a stop. “But right now, we gotta get out of here.” He finished.

“Excellent plan.” Bucky groaned as Tony helped him to his feet. He felt a bit lightheaded but functional.

Tony took a deep breath, “Okay, you ready?”

Bucky nodded wearily.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan.” The genius said as the doors opened.

They made their way through the corridor door undisturbed like Jarvis said. The agents and workers of the raft were mostly dealing with the chaos unleashed everywhere else and following false leads. Those who could be spared were likely lying in wait in an attempt to keep Tony from getting to his suit. The others were stuck on a lower sub level with no working elevator to aid them thanks to Jarvis.

Soon enough, they reached the end of the corridor door that led to portal B – 03.

“Stay behind me.” Tony whispered before opening the door.

*~0~*

On the otherside…

Steve closed the bathroom door behind himself and set down his clean clothes on the countertop. He opened the curtain to the shower and turned on the stream. He stood back for a moment and took in his surroundings. The bathroom was beautiful, the toilet, sink and tub were genuine porcelain and the fixtures were a lovely brass. There was a large mirror over the medicine cabinets over the sink. There was an elegant shelf that held an assortment of fluffy towels and wash cloths. He ran his fingers over the fabric of the towels and was delighted to find that they were incredibly soft.

All of this was a thousand times nicer than anything he had in his entire life. He smiled to himself. He was immensely happy that his wife and children did not need to struggle the way he did all of his life. He undressed slowly as he watched his reflection in the mirror. He really took the time to look over himself. Mirrors were something of a luxury in the Army. Even the fractured, corroded piece he left behind in Brooklyn was more than he ever really saw overseas. They had small hand mirrors, sure, but not something he could use to examine himself so thoroughly. If they were ever staying in a place that may have had one he never did have the time to use it anyway. For whatever he needed he had always trusted Bucky to look him over and deem him healthy and or presentable. He took the time to look now however.

He ran his hands over his arms and chest, thoroughly mapping out his muscles. His face was definitely his own but his body was almost foreign to him despite the fact he could definitely feel the difference. There was so little downtime overseas and during the tour to really have the time inspect himself so intimately. In the beginning, to be honest, he was kind of afraid to. He began to run his hands over his arms and chest again.

It was odd. He felt the soreness over his right arm and abdomen. It felt like there may have been a serious injury there but all he saw was smooth and blemish free skin. He ran his hands over his stomach and flinched a bit when he pressed harder and felt a twinge of pain. Maybe he’ll ask Peggy about it later. Maybe he was hurt recently and he just can’t remember it. Maybe his serum just doesn’t work the way it used to. He decided on holding off discussing it with Peggy. If it was normal he’ll know when he remembers again. Likewise, if it was something concerning he’d rather wait to remember and have all the information. No point in alarming her. Not just yet. If it gets worse he’ll say something. He nodded resolutely to himself. He stepped into the water and relaxed immediately. For once in a very long while he let his mind go blank.

*~0~*

Back on the otherside…

The moment the door swung open fifty guns were trained on them.

Oh boy.

“Hey guys! How’s it hanging?” The genius spoke up. Nobody said a word. “No small talk then? It’s fine, I prefer getting down to business anyway, Jarvis?”

“Sir?”

“Show them I mean business.”

Some of the officials glanced at each other worryingly. After a minute of nothing happening someone spoke up.

“Mr. Stark, cut the game and surrender.”

“Oh? This is a game? Good because I usually win at games.” He smirked.

“Mr. Stark, I won’t ask you again. Surrender now!”

“Oh, thank God. You promise? As you know I’m starting to develop a thing about people ‘asking’ me to surrender.” He quipped. He smirked when he could visibly see their agitation grow.

“Mr. Stark!” The first guy began again.

“Now!” Tony shouted.

Suddenly, Tony’s suit burst through the portal bay doors and disassembled into a bunch of parts effectively zooming around knocking each one of the officials out cold before enveloping Tony completely.

Bucky sided up to him after a moment.

“Good plan.” He said simply.

“I try.”

“How do we get out now? We’re under water.” Bucky observed.

“How long do you think you can hold your breath?”

“We’re several thousand feet under the surface! I don’t think even I could survive that kind of pressure! Dumb ass!” Bucky retorted.

“Give me a moment! Jarvis, any suggestions?”

“There should be a deep sea diving suit in the compartment to your left.” Jarvis replied.

“See, no problem.” Tony assured. Bucky stared at him. “Stop doing that!” Tony shouted as he made his way to the compartment Jarvis indicated. “Seriously, it freaks me out.” He said pulling out the suit.

It’ll have to do.

“All right, let’s get you into this.”

Bucky eyed the suit skeptically but nodded in assent.

After a wonderfully fun adventure of figuring out how to get a traumatized, one armed, bleeding Winter Soldier into a maybe too small diving suit they were in the pressure chamber ready to bail.

“Jarvis, you’ll lock the door behind us, won’t you?” Tony requested as if he were merely heading out to the grocery store.

“Of course, Sir.”

Tony knocked on Bucky’s helmet. “Ready?”

The soldier nodded.

Soon enough the chamber filled with water entirely and the portal was opened.

*~0~*

On the other side…

Steve closed the door behind him as he emerged clean and dressed. He meandered down the stairs and helped Peggy finish the lunch and set it out. Ellie was playing on the rope swing outside. He could see her clearly from the kitchen window.

“So… Howard is engaged?” Steve asked still a little befuddled.

To be honest, out of everything that had happened the last two days the news of Howard’s upcoming nuptials was by far the hardest to believe.

Peggy laughed. “Yeah, I’m still having trouble believing it and I’ve known about the engagement for a few months now.”

“Well, you have known him longer.” Steve replied shaking his head. “So, what do you know about the lucky lady?”

Peggy shrugged. “Hardly anything, I’m afraid. Howard has been very tightlipped about the whole thing.” She answered pensively.

Steve’s eyebrows rose dramatically. “Really? He must be damn serious about this woman.”

Peggy nodded still deep in thought. “If she were anybody else, you know Howard, he would have divulged every crude detail by now.” She commented.

Steve nodded in agreement. Just as he set the last dish down there was a knock at the door.

Howard and his fiancée were right on time. After Steve closed the door behind them Peggy led their friend and his lady to the living room after calling Eleanor back into the house. Once everyone was present Howard finally spoke up.

“Thank you for having us today.” He smiled. “Peggy, Steve this is Sarah Maria Collins, my fiancé.” His smile became almost shy. It looked utterly out of place on Howard’s usually confident face. “Maria honey, these two are my oldest friends Steve and Peggy.” He introduced.

“How do you do?” She greeted softly, shaking hands with Peggy and then Steve.

“And this gorgeous Princess is Eleanor.” Howard introduced Ellie.

Sarah Maria curtsied Ellie with a smile and Ellie giggled and curtsied back.

“It’s so wonderful to meet you Sarah, anybody that can make Howard think seriously about settling down is a hero in my book.” Peggy said to Sarah Maria.

“Oh, thank you, Howard is such a sensational man, I can hardly believe it myself.” She laughed. “Oh, please call me Maria.”

“All right Maria.” Peggy smiled warmly. “Come on everybody, let’s have lunch now shall we? I am rather peckish.”

“Wonderful idea Peg!” Howard hollered joyously as he made his way to the kitchen.

Lunch was a hit. The conversation flowed easily between them all and even Ellie was a large participant. Howard was sorry to hear that Steve was in the middle of another episode but assured him that it will pass.

The three old friends began reminiscing about a few of their more hairy missions, weaving intricate details of action, mystery and mayhem. Both Ellie and Maria were hooked.

During a lull in the conversation Steve took the time to study the lovely almost delicate woman in front of him. She was young, very young. Perhaps eighteen. Her pale skin was flawless and her hair was a pale blonde. Her cheekbones were sharp like her eyes but the pale green hue softened her features. Yet, there was something remarkably familiar about her. He was sure they had never met before. It feels like he could have met perhaps an older relative at some point. Who knows? With his Swiss cheese brain anything is possible.

She turned and gave Ellie a proud and wistful smile when the child began to discuss her Rocky drawings and suddenly for a moment he could clearly picture her playing the piano with a small brown haired boy.

“You play the piano.” He blurted suddenly. ‘Real smooth.’ He winced to himself.

She startled slightly, turning to him. “I do.” She replied astonished. “How did you know?”

Now all eyes were on him.

‘Way to be a weirdo, Rogers.’ He chided himself. “I, uh, just had a feeling.” Not a lie. “Must have been the calluses on your hands, my mother had them also.” Also not a lie, perfect save. He congratulated himself.

Howard cut in. “She is incredibly talented, you must let her play for you some time.” He gushed.

“I’m sure we will.” Peggy replied watching as Ellie now had something else to discuss with Maria.

Steve observed how excited Ellie got over the prospect of hearing someone play the piano for her. He could not help the warm fuzzy feeling he got learning that his baby doll loves art and music. So much like him and her grandmother.

-0-

Steve closed the front door after seeing Howard and Maria to their car. He sighed heavily. The lunch went spectacularly but Howard could be the biggest pill to swallow sometimes. Maria was wonderful, a tad shy though. All in all, not bad.

“Oh, mother, I don’t wanna!”

Steve heard Ellie whine from the kitchen.

“I don’t care if you don’t want to, it’s your nap time.” Peggy replied firmly.

Steve almost wanted to smirk when he entered the kitchen to find Peggy with her arms crossed. She tried to look serious and threatening but was almost all lost due to her chubby face and large protruding belly. Her eyes remained deadly sharp, however, and Steve knew she meant business.

“Oh look, here’s your father now.” Peggy looked up at him. “Tell Eleanor she needs to go take a nap.”

He looked down at the child only to be met with the most extraordinarily devious puppy dog face in the history of ever. And that’s saying something considering that he had seen the business end of the Incredible Puppy PoutTM of none other than Bucky Barnes.

Steve could almost feel the tears began to well up in his eyes as he stared down at her deeply pouty face. Her bottom lip was jutted out and had begun to quiver. Her eyes were open impossibly wide and were on the verge of alligator tears. He could just make out the faintest whimper.

“Be strong Steve. Don’t fall for it.” He heard Peggy say beside him. She might as well have been 2000 light years away.

He continued to stare down at the child. Oh, she was good. Definitely a force to reckon with. He swallowed thickly and took a deep breath. He chanted ‘don’t cave, don’t cave’ to himself over and over until he had the strength to finally look away.

“Y-you heard your mother, Babydoll, naptime.” He announced firmly. At least he hoped it was firmly.

“Aww, please, daddy pleeeease?” She pleaded softly.

He looked down again. Aaaand that was a huge, massive mistake. Somehow, she had intensified the look. How did she do that??

“Be strong, honey.” Peggy urged again.

He wanted to laugh. This little girl right here had the big and strong Captain America utterly wrapped around her tiny finger. Did he ever have any power against her? He doubted it.

No, no he could do this.

“Eleanor, naptime.” He repeated firmly. Yes! It was definitely for this time.

Then the tears fell.

Oh God! He was a monster. He was the scum of the earth. He made his baby girl cry! He was deeply disturbed. Suddenly he was slapped in the back of the head.

Peggy was not amused.

“Eleanor, go. You heard him.” She ordered.

Ellie walked slowly and dejectedly to the stairs.

“Darling, if you go take your nap now like a good little girl, when you wake up perhaps Daddy will take you out to get ice cream.”

The child’s demeanor changed instantaneously.

“Okay!” She squealed excitedly as she ran up the stairs.

Steve watched on in disbelief. He had been bamboozled. He knew it all along, but still.

He turned to Peggy with a frown.

She sighed heartily. “You’re weak.” She stated pointedly.

“I am.” He admitted. There was absolutely no sense in denying it.

“I love you anyway.” She smiled and kissed him.

“Come on, let’s get this kitchen cleaned up. And since you love doing the dishes so much, I’ll let you do them.” She smirked.

He sighed. Between Ellie and Peggy there was no way to win. He could feel his own pout coming on. Peggy only laughed.

-0-

After Peggy came back from checking on the child making sure she really was asleep they made idle chitchat for a time.

“So, what did you think about Maria?” Steve asked casually.

“A bit young I think, but they really do seem to love each other. It’s such a shame though… I could see the way she looked at Ellie. She really loves children, it’s so unfortunate that she won’t be able to have children of her own.” She replied conversationally.

That made Steve stopped short, his heart must have skipped a beat.

“Why won’t she?” He inquired suddenly. Something was gnawing at him.

“Oh, I’m sorry you don’t remember two but years ago, Howard was in a nasty accident when one of his experiments went awry. It’s terrible, but he is sterile now.”

What??

No.

“H-Howard can never have children?” He demanded urgently. He does not know why he was acting this way.

“I’m afraid not, love.” She answered unaware of Steve’s inner turmoil.

Steve on the other hand felt like the rug had been ripped out from under him.

The sky was falling.

*~0~*

Back on the other side…

Tony grabbed Barnes and exited the Raft with impressive force. As he ascended in the waters he realized he was being tailed.

“Shit!”

“What is it?” Bucky asked through the comms.

“Uh, no it’s fine. We’re just being followed.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, not much of anything except out run them.” Tony put everything into his thrusters.

Once he was able to break the surface he would have the capacity to lose them lickety-split. The tails were gaining faster than Tony had anticipated, however.

‘Crap!’ His suit wasn’t built for underwater combat. He had to make it to the surface. Then, unfortunately, Tony noticed a spike in Bucky’s vitals.

“Hey, how are you doing!?” Tony asked concerned.

“N-not… g-good.” Came Bucky’s grunted reply.

“Just hang in there. We are almost to the surface.”

‘Shit!’ They may be close to the surface but are still a very considerable distance away from the tower!

Suddenly a pressure bomb went off next to him. It blew them several hundred feet off their trajectory. It also separated Tony from Bucky.

“No!” Tony shouted.

One of their tails, a very versatile minisub, was closing in on Bucky’s prone form. It extended a claw intending to nab him. Iron Man quickly closed the gap but another pressure bomb went off knocking him back more. Another sub unit had caught up with them. The claw clasped around Bucky’s left leg and started to pull him in. Tony tried again to reach the soldier as he was becoming more and more concerned as Barnes’ vitals kept spiking.

Sub unit number two launched another pressure bomb but Tony was ready and maneuvered himself to the other side of the detonation using the momentum to cast him to Bucky’s direction.

“Sir, three more sub units are approaching.” Jarvis warned.

“Shit!” God this was the stupidest idea ever, a prison break from one of the most secure prisons in the world. Real smart!

Uh oh… Tony was 30 feet away from reaching Bucky before he realized sub unit number one was getting ready to launch another pressure bomb. He wasn’t going to make it. Dammit!

As soon as the bomb launched Bucky suddenly lurched into its path. He knocked it just right to send it on a new trajectory to the second unit sub. It detonated and sent the sub spiraling away. Tony cheered as he made the rest of the distance. Sub number one was about to retaliate when an actual explosive detonated near the little unit and sent it careening sharply.

The claw unlatched from the soldiers leg and Tony swooped in and grabbed Bucky instantly and proceeded to shoot to the surface. As soon as he broke through the surface of the water his warning systems blared and alerted him that there were missiles launched from the subs in pursuit heading right for him. Tony made evasive maneuvers before deploying flares. The missiles explosion rocketed them into the sky further but the percussion was jarring.

“What the f-fuck…are you d-doing!?” Bucky huffed.

Jesus Christ the guy did not sound good.

“Just shut up!” Tony replied sharply.

Another alarm blared and he felt his blood run cold. Remember how it was mentioned that the mini subs were versatile? Well now the three that were in pursuit just broke the surface of the water and were now in flight heading right for them.

“Oh fucking shit!” Iron Man exclaimed, turning quickly trying to outmaneuver them.

“You fucking idiot… w-we ain’t going to make it!” Bucky shouted.

“Watch me!” Tony retorted.

Suddenly, the three air subs in pursuit were shot out of the sky by an invisible aircraft. The subs plummeted back into the ocean with a terrible kerplunk. Tony turned his attention back to the approximate location of the aircraft. As he kept watching the bay doors of the jet opened.

*~0~*

On the other side…

Steve slammed the bathroom door shut behind him after excusing himself swiftly. He splashed water on his face trying to get his emotions under control. He does not even know why that information was so tragic to him. He’s been in war. He’s watched people he’s cared about lose a lot more, lose everything. Yet, somewhere deep in his soul the fact that Howard cannot have kids is the most devastating thing he’s ever heard.

It’s almost blasphemous.

It can’t be.

It can’t be!

Why is he reacting this way? It’s like watching Bucky fall all over again but somehow worse!

He pressed his hands against the phantom pain in his torso, trying desperately to ground himself. This was foolish. There was absolutely no reason he should be feeling like this. It’s fine, everything is fine.

Gotta keep it together.

Gotta keep it together.

Everything was fine.

He pressed his hands deeper into the phantom pain until it screamed back sharply for a moment. The flying suit of armor from his dreams flashed into his mind. Somehow, despite everything it was oddly comforting.

Everything was fine.

Gotta keep it together…

*~0~*

Back on the other side…

Tony swore up and fucking down that he had never been so god damn happy to see Nick Fury’s face.

He put everything he had into his armor and thrust them into the Quin-Jet. The bay doors closed and because of the jets advanced stealth technology they were invisible to all pursuers. Long story short they were fucking safe. After all that, they were “safe”. God, he could just pass out right now. Except Bucky’s vitals were spiking again.

Shit!

“Hey, hey are you okay!?”

Suddenly the soldier began flailing. “Get it off! Get it off!” He began almost clawing at the helmet.

“Shit, okay, I got you.” Tony tried to reassure.

He removed his own Iron Man helmet before reaching to unlatched Bucky’s. As soon as the helmet was off Barnes began to gulp air greedily. As soon as the identity of the man in the diving suit was revealed the various members of the Avengers gasped in shock.

“Jesus fucking Christ Tony! You really did stage a prison break!” Clint shouted disbelievingly from his perch in the pilot seat.

“And we just aided him.” Sam commented dryly.

“Guys, that’s like a major felony.” Scott added.

“Yeah, okay that’s all bad except, oh yeah, the world ending. Did you forget?” Tony replied helping Bucky out of the rest of the suit.

“That doesn’t explain why you broke him out of prison.” Clint retorted.

“He’s useful. It be stupid to leave him there.” Tony shot.

“And you couldn’t wait to go through the proper channels because?” Fury inquired, his eye twitch very prominent.

“Because he’s an impulsive nutcase.” Bucky piped up with a pained smirk.

Tony glared at him.

“Now that I believe.” Sam agreed.

“No, you don’t all get to gang up on me when I’m trying to save the world.” Tony whined.

“Really!? What finally knocked some sense into your sorry ass?” Clint demanded skeptically.

Tony sighed. He removed the armor and had it go stand a ways away before removing the letter from his satchel. “Here. The first part is for you guys.” Tony handed the letter to Sam.

Fury, Scott and Clint crowded him and began reading the letter.

“You didn’t give the letter to your team yet?” Bucky asked incredulously.

Tony turned his attention to him sharply.

“I needed you to tell me if what he wrote was true! Immediately after reading the letter I headed straight to the Raft.” The genius replied defensively.

“Yeah, don’t leave the part meant for them behind. Not like they’re as lost and confused as you were.” Barnes muttered sarcastically.

Tony was about to retort when he felt the intense stare of three and a half sets of eyes. He turned to see his team staring at him slack-jawed.

“Tony, man, what the hell happened?” Sam asked.

“You’ll have to be more specific.” Tony’s said uncomfortably.

“Come on, Tony. How is it that if Steve felt like this, did it all go to hell? What did you do?” Clint supplied.

Tony sighed heavily. That was the whole god damn purpose of this entire fiasco. The very thing Tony spent the last two days trying to figure out.

“Stop looking at me like that! It’s not my fault.”

“It kind of is.” Bucky countered.

“But out of it Barnes!” He shouted rolling his eyes. “It was all just a really ridiculous stupid misunderstanding.” He finally answered.

“Why don’t you enlighten us been.” Fury ordered.

“Yes, dumb ass why don’t you tell them exactly what happened.” Bucky provoked.

“You’re not helping!” Tony almost hissed.

Tony rolled his neck and shrugged his shoulders before recounting exactly what had transpired the last week or so since the events of San Jose in a spectacular display of word vomit. By the end of it he was sure his team probably only got about half of that.

“Okay, so let me get this straight.” Clint began. “It is your fault.” He said.

Tony groaned and Bucky snickered.

“And now you think a prison break is a good idea?” Fury added.

“After everything I learned I couldn’t leave him there.” Tony retorted.

“Again, proper channels.” Fury drawled.

“That would have never worked!” The genius bellowed. “They would have never released him to us because they were experimenting on him.”

That shocked them. Fury groaned into his hands.

“I’ll do what I can to take care of this, Stark. You just stirred up one hell of a hornet’s nest.” He sighed. “Barton, get us back to the tower ASAP. This soldier needs medical attention.” Fury commanded.

Clint nodded and returned to his seat.

“And make sure med bay meets us with a gurney. We are taking no chances with this one.”

“On it.” Clint replied.

Tony backed out of the way as Scott and Sam made their way to Barnes to patch him a tad better than a T-shirt and duck tape.

See? This was a mission, something to focus on. Tony was afraid to return to the tower, to his workshop all by himself and alone with his thoughts. After everything, he knows how it would be so easy to slip into an episode of self-loathing mania.

As he watched Sam’s horrible attempt at first aid after realizing the extent of Barnes’ injuries, Tony came up with a few productive ways to spend that time. He had already promised himself that he was going to fight for this world. He had to crack that code.

End Chapter 30

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-One: Lullaby Under The Stars And Stripes

It was sometime later when Steve heard a soft knock on the bathroom door.  He had no idea how much time had passed. At some point, he had backed himself against the door and had slid down to the floor. He held his head in his hands as he kept trying to reassure himself that everything was okay.

“Steve, darling, are you all right?” Peggy called to him concerned as she knocked softly again.

“Yeah!” He replied, swallowing thickly. “I’m fine, I just-“  He sighed. He did not know what to say. “It must be the shell shock.” He replied finally. “I’m fine.” He tried to reassure again.

He picked himself off of the floor and gave himself a once over in the mirror. After he deemed himself presentable he opened the door to find Peggy on the other side looking worried. He scratched the back of his head sheepishly, feeling a bit guilty for worrying her.

She grabbed his face and looked him in the eye. “Are you sure you are all right?” She asked gently.

He took a shuttering breath, “Yeah, I’m fine. I really don’t know what came over me.” He tried to sound reassuring. “I just had a moment I guess.”

She continued to study him for a moment before she relented. “If you are sure…” She said trailing off.

“I’m sure.” He smiled sincerely.

“Well, Ellie will be waking up soon. Don’t forget your promise to take her out for ice cream.” She laughed.

He nodded. Just thinking about spending time with his Babydoll made him feel thousand times better. He could just imagine it, Ellie’s Golden curls bouncing as she laughed heartily around a spoonful of ice cream. He couldn’t wait.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “That’ll be swell.”

He pulled Peggy close to him relaxing immensely as he absorbed her warmth and comfort. He adjusted her slightly so he could wrap his arms around her wide middle. He concentrated on the fluttering movements of his baby for a moment.

“Are you sure you are all right, darling?” She asked with a chuckle.

His response was to nuzzle her cheek before planting his face into her hair.

“Never better.” He hummed into her dark locks.

She laughed again when he began to rub his hands all over her round belly.

Steve couldn’t get enough of his beautiful wife or his unborn child. They just stood there for a time getting lost in the embrace. Soon, much to Steve’s delight, he felt the arms of his golden haired Princess wrap around them as she joined the embrace. Both Peggy and Steve chuckled as they shifted to position Ellie between them. They remain that way for a moment before Ellie broke the silence.

“Are we going to get ice cream?” She asked looking up at Steve pleadingly.

The Captain chuckled as he stooped to pick her up. He tossed her in the air and caught her easily as she laughed excitedly.

“Of course, Babydoll, I did promise didn’t I?” He answered as he kissed her cheek.

Suddenly a thought occurred to him.

“Uh, Peg? Where would this ice cream shop be?” He asked sheepishly.

Peggy fought the urge to roll her eyes and instead smiled affectionately. “Don’t worry, I’ll write it down for you.” She said as she began to make her way downstairs.

Steve and Ellie followed her into the kitchen. Peggy wrote down the directions on a piece of paper.

“Don’t worry, once you make it into town you can’t miss it.” She smiled as she handed the slip of paper to Steve.

“Well, all right then.” He said grabbing the paper. He turned to Ellie, “Go get your shoes on, we are going to go get ice cream!” He explained.

“Yay!” Ellie squealed as she ran upstairs.

Peggy turned to have handing him the car keys. “Now, you be careful with Mary Anne.” She said.

“What?” He asked confused. ‘Mary Anne?’

“The car Steve. She is my baby and I won’t be having you dinging her up.” She said warningly.

“Oh! You’re not coming with us?”

“No, darling, this is yours and Ellie’s thing. Besides I have plenty to do around here and I don’t need you two distracting me.” She winked.

Steve laughed. “You sure?”

“Absolutely.” She smirked and stood up on her toes to kiss him.

Moments later Ellie bounded down the stairs having donned a little pair of Mary Janes.

“You ready to go, Babydoll?”

“Yep!”

Steve and Ellie kissed Peggy goodbye, then off they went.

-0-

The drive into town went much more smoothly than he originally anticipated. That was mostly because once he left the house and was outside he finally got a proper look at his surroundings and realized with a start that he knew exactly where he was. In fact, his grandmother used to live not three blocks away. This was the old country house in Heartland, Massachusetts that he always wanted.

He stared agape taking it all in. He actually did it. He not only got his dream family but he had gotten his dream home to!

Extraordinary!

When he first had woken up in this time he didn’t really get a chance to fully understand where he was before Peggy pulled him into the house and explain what was happening to him. He took his time to really appreciate what he had for a time before loading his Princess up into the car and driving off.

A lot had changed over time. It must have been well over 20 years since he was last here. Things do tend to change in that kind of time. There were new buildings here and there and even some missing, he noted. The same can also be said for varying businesses. As much as things had changed there were just as many things still the same. The ice cream shop was one of them.

He gently parked Mary Anne in front. The massive sign above the large storefront window read “Harold’s Ice Cream Parlor” in the same flowing cursive as it had two decades before. Steve sighed in relief, there was something oddly refreshing that the sign was exactly as he remembered it.

“Well, Babydoll, we are here.” He said opening the door for her.

She giggled as he took her hand, ever the gentleman, and led her into the parlor. The vendor greeted them merrily, and with familiarity, indicating that Steve and Ellie were likely regulars. Steve couldn’t wait till he could remember the townspeople again. Some people came up to him and greeted him so warmly and by name he felt ridiculously guilty at not knowing there’s in return. Ellie helped a lot, however.

Eventually, Steve and Ellie ordered a large sundae to split, with extra sprinkles of course. She giggled happily as they took a window seat and sat down to wait on the ice cream. He couldn’t help but to stare at her, taking in her features again.

How on earth did he get so lucky?

Her smile was radiant and her laughter was to.

“Daddy!” Steve was startled out of his thoughts. “My friend Patty Jo said she once found a sprinkle the size of a peanut before!” Ellie nearly exclaimed.

“Wow, Babydoll, that must have been amazing. Did she say how it tasted?” He asked playing along.

“She said it was the most delicious one she ever had!” She exclaimed.

Steve laughed. ‘Children and their stories.’ He thought.

“But!” She began again. She put her hands over her mouth and began to whisper. Steve leaned in closer to hear. “Between you and me, Daddy, I bet she was fibbing. I bet it was a tall tale.”

“No!” Steve exaggerated in disbelief.

“Yep!” She exclaimed.

They both began laughing and giggling together. At that moment, the waitress brought them their sundae.

“Why, if it isn’t my precious Jellybean.” She set the sundae down and pinched Ellie’s cheek. Ellie giggled.

The waitress had bright red hair pinned up in thick pin curls, even redder lips, and was wearing a black polkadot dress with an apron. Her name tag read Beth.

“Finally got your Pa out of that old barn did you?” She winked.

Steve was utterly lost, but didn’t let it show. He nodded politely. Ellie’s attention was already fixated on the sundae.

“Well, I’ll leave you two to it.” She winked again then turned away. “If you need anything, sugar, don’t be afraid to holler.” She smiled and turned to greet another customer.

Steve barely heard her as he watched Ellie salivate over the ice cream. He smirked as she looked up at him with a pleading expression, begging to dig in.

“All right, Babydoll, go for it.”

She squealed in delight as she dug her spoon into the ice cream and scooped up a large goopy mound and shoveled it into her mouth. The subsequent look of heaven on her face made Steve bark out a laugh. He would swear up and down that she was likely hearing the Halleluiah chorus.

Her heavenly expression morphed into a glare at Steve’s sudden outburst. He held his hands up placatingly in surrender, still unable to suppress his snickers.

He grabbed his spoon and dug in as well. As soon as the cold and creamy flavors exploded in his mouth he immediately fully understood Ellie’s euphoria.

Cue the Halleluiah chorus, please.

Steve realized his own face must have matched the one Ellie wore not a moment ago considering the smug look of satisfaction she now displayed.

‘Well,’ Steve mused. ‘I’m sure one sundae is certainly not going to be enough.’

-0-

After finishing a second Sunday together, Steve and Ellie began walking hand in hand down the street to the drugstore. There was a kiddy pony ride just out front that Ellie wanted to play on before heading back to the house.

“Look Daddy! There it is!” She tugged his hand excitedly as she tried to drag him faster to the little colorful unit.

To say Steve was a bit surprised by her strength was an understatement. Sure, he’s had fleeting thoughts about the extent of her potential due to his own enhanced state. How much of his own abilities had been passed to her? He had gotten a good taste of it just now. That tug was easily the strength of a fully grown adult. As he watched her golden curls bounce along with her excitement, as she led him to the pony ride, he idly wondered exactly what she was capable of.

“Look!” She exclaimed as they arrived. “Isn’t she gorgeous?” Ellie spoke in reverent awe.

As she lightly traced the delicate and colorful paint job, Steve chuckled lightheartedly at her now calm and appreciative demeanor.

“Okay, Babydoll,” he picked her up and placed her on the saddle. “Let’s not dawdle too much longer.” He poked her side and made her giggle. “We don’t want mommy to start worrying now do we?” He winked as he fished coins out of his pocket and inserted them into the machine.

The pony whirred to life and began its up and down rocking motion.

“Yay! Look, Daddy, I’m in a race!”

She threw on a look of utter intense concentration as she posed herself like a jockey. Steve laughed and began to announce for her.

“And here’s Ellie Rogers and Rocky coming up on the left passing GallantFox on the outside just past the third quarter pole. SeaBiscuit still in the lead but Rocky gaining fast.”

Ellie began laughing heartily.

“Rocky still on the outside passes Ms. Lady on the outside and is coming up neck to neck! The crowd is going wild! They are coming up on the finish line now, and Rocky and Ellie finish first by a nose! Yeah!”

The machine came to a halt and Ellie cheered and waved to her adoring fans as she dismounted gracefully.

“You did it, Ellie!” Steve exclaimed as he picked her up and twirled her around.

Two old biddies walked by and tutted at their behavior before walking into the drugstore. Steve and Ellie simultaneously mimicked them then turned to each other and laughed.

“Oh, come on, baby doll, time to go home.” He laughed.

He set her up on his shoulders as he began to walk back to the car. Ellie began to marvel at all the things she could see from her new vantage point. It was kind of funny how he truly understood her awe.

The car ride back home was quiet but comfortable. Ellie was busy counting the trees as they drove by them and Steve took that time to reflect on the last couple days. Even more so on the events of that day in particular. It was, to be Frank, a lot of information to absorb. He could not even begin to understand his outburst from earlier in regards to the unfortunate condition his friend was in.

He shook his head. Now was not the time to dwell on that bit. But there was something else that niggled at him. Something that the waitress earlier.

“Hey, Babydoll?”

“Hmm?” She turned to him.

“What did the lady, uh Beth, mean earlier when she said you finally got me out of that old barn?”

“Oh, you spend a lot of time in there.” She said matter of factly.

“Why do I spend a lot of time in there?”

He can’t really imagine working on anything mechanical in there. To be honest anything that has to do with mechanics and technology was most certainly not his strong suit. He usually left those kind of things to Howard and… Bucky. He shook himself.

“It’s your studio.” She replied. “It’s where you have all your paintings and things like that.”

“Oh, I guess that makes sense.” He chuckled.

“Yeah, you used to spend mighty long hours in there. Not so much anymore though.” She stated simply.

“Hmm.” Steve frowned.

As he was now, he cannot comprehend spending more time by himself with his work rather than his family. Then again, he knew exactly how it was to lose track of time when lost in the art. He made a note to himself to set up an alarm clock or something of that nature to ensure he does not lose himself to his work any more than necessary. He would absolutely hate it if so much time slipped past his fingers, precious time that he’d rather spend with his family. It would be absolutely awful to wake up one day and realize so many years had gone by and they had been wasted.

Growing up, he had been told time and time again that he had so little of it, that each and every day could be his last. Peggy, Ellie and his unborn child are so much more important than that. Suddenly, it hit him just how awful his “condition” was. The fact he couldn’t remember so much of his life, it’s like all that had been taken from him. He felt anger begin to boil just thinking of his dismal situation.

“Daddy!” Ellie shouted, poking him painfully in the ribs. “You missed the turn.”

“Eh? Sorry Babydoll, I was distracted.” He laughed despite himself.

He turned Mary Anne around and began going the right way. He forcefully shook himself out of his funk.

‘It’s fine.’ He thought. ‘The amnesia is temporary.’ He reminded himself. ‘What’s important is what to do with my time now.’ He sighed.

“You sigh like the world’s ending.” Ellie voiced.

That jolted Steve right through the core.

“W-what did you say?” He asked breathlessly.

Images of a vast cityscape with an ethereal glow from a sunset swam across his vision. A man very similar in his own appearance uttered those very words. They echoed around his brain unrelentingly.

“I said you sigh like the world’s ending.” Ellie replied confused. “Mother says the same thing all the time.” She added un-sure if perhaps it was a line not meant to be repeated.

Steve shook his head. As quickly as the images came they disappeared.

“Nevermind, Babydoll, I thought I remembered something but it’s gone now.” He said solemnly.

Ellie looked up at him concerned. Steve looked down and saw the frown on her face.

“Aww, I’m fine, Babydoll.” He smiled and ran his hand through her curls. She giggled and looked up at him adoringly. He felt immediate relief from their interaction. He held on to her the rest of the way back to the farmhouse.

-0-

After supper that night while Ellie was working on her chores and beginning her nightly routine, Steve had decided to take a walk around the property before the last of the daylight faded away. Apparently, he was being clingy and smothering. He smiled wistfully to himself. As he stepped out on the back porch, he knew he probably was but he couldn’t help it. Peggy was just so damn strong and beautiful he just wanted to make sure she was comfortable. He realized all his fussing probably didn’t help any but made a point to try harder the future.

He began to wind around the front of the house. There he could clearly view the place the way he had all those years ago. It’s nearly the same as it had been before. He walked out to the street to get a better view.

‘Ah yes, there it is.’

The white wash picket fence was lined with a variety of roses. The big oak still had the tree swing hanging from one of its massive gnarly branches. The maple he found himself under not days ago was on the other side opposite the driveway. There were a few more American flags on display then he remembered, however, that is no surprise considering who he is.

He chuckled at the thought.

He spotted the barn near the back of the property. When he was a kid he thought about going the whole nine yards owning all the typical barn animals he could. Everything from chickens, to goats, cows and horses. But the older he got the more he realized how stupidly stressful that would be. He and Bucky couldn’t even take care of the pigeon they had caught together properly. And he wanted an entire barnyard of animals?

Yeah right.

He shook his head as he began walking to the barn. After what Ellie told him earlier he was curious as to what kind of paintings and drawings he had created since the war. He had little to no time to really make anything when he was on the road taking out Hydra bases. Perhaps, he made a doodle or comic book here and there, just to keep the story going, but overall nothing to elaborate.

Steve found he liked the idea of the barn as his studio rather than to house unruly animals. That pigeon was a nightmare. The barn itself was unassuming, very ordinary and typical looking and painted red. Steve walked up to the doors and lifted the latch.

Upon entry, he noted how relatively barren the structure was. Really? What was he expecting?

In the corner, closest to the door, were three bicycles; one for each of them. In the middle of the barn was a motorcycle amongst an array of parts. It was a similar model to the one he used overseas. Though, he was sure, far less battle ready. He traced his fingers along the handlebars before continuing his inspection.

There were a few more odd ended things stored along the left side and storage containers in the rafters.

Finally, in the far right back corner of the barn where once a stable resided, was his makeshift studio. He b-lined for it, taking in a woodworking station just off to the side. It was likely where he created the canvases. He walked into the area and observed several canvases covered in cloth. There were maybe ten or twelve of them. He gently uncovered the work he created with great care and took in their visage with a critical eye.

He found the works and even technique completely unfamiliar to him. They were utterly stale and without feeling.

This is what he spent so much time on? They were so... Cold. Even the portraits of his family were almost clinical and academic. He was floored. Even his ridiculous doodles he made overseas were better than this. Hell, his drawings he made with Ellie earlier this morning were thousand times more passionate than anything else in this entire room. It was like the Steve that painted these was a completely different Steve Rogers altogether. He frowned deeply.

“Steve!?” Peggy called out suddenly. “Are you there?”

“Yeah! Be there in a minute.” He answered.

He took one last look at his dismal work and turned on his heel and left the barn. The paintings and drawings were all but forgotten about for the rest of the night as he spent the last of his evening in domestic bliss with his adoring family. Nothing was more important.

End Chapter 31

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Two: Torn and Frayed So Let It Bleed

 

Tony groaned audibly in his hands. Seriously, this whole fucking thing was an absolute nightmare. It had been three days since he had the brilliantly stupid idea to break James Buchanan Barnes out of the strongest super max prison in the world and five days since Calamity took Steve.

Really now?

Surely, his life could not get any worse.

The repercussions of breaking Barnes out has already descended upon them like a horrendous hellfire. Fury, along with Pepper, were handling the negotiations so wickedly professionally and effectively Tony wanted to cry. It was all they could do to ensure the Army didn’t go bursting through the front doors and forcibly take Barnes back. It was all one huge ass political and bureaucratic mess.

Funny enough, Fury wanted it that way. The more everybody had gotten all tangled up in the “talk” the more time they had to figure out how not to let the world fall to pieces.

Easy as pie.

‘Right!?’ Tony thought sarcastically.

At the absolute least, Tony had finally managed to decrypt the thumb drive. It was gnarly and difficult but it finally happened.

 Yay! Score one for the Avengers!

Downside?

The coding was an utter mess. It looked like someone had chewed up the patchwork code then vomited it all over the fucking place. Tony had Jarvis running the best pattern recognition algorithms in the world in an attempt to figure out how to stitch back together terabytes of ones and zeros the way it was meant to be. Calamity really, truly, knew how to fuck with him, she really did. As soon as he felt like he has made significant progress she somehow makes everything thousand times more difficult. It’s like every time he takes one solid step forward she painfully knocks him ten spaces back.

See? Nightmare.

Not to mention they’ve had a huge setback with Barnes. No, his injuries were feeling fine and have almost completely disappeared. The problem was his fragile mental state.

Apparently, Barnes had been reprogrammed by one of those brats that got away. The Professor said her power was incredible and quite possibly greater than his own. At this point in time the only thing Xavier could do is soothe the soldier’s mind, to keep reminding him there is still hope. That there is still a reason to fight.

Hydras programming was heinous and ruthless. Even after studying the Journal there was not much they could do. Natasha had developed a strange obsession with the Journal and the man it pertains to. She had been key in deciphering a lot of it. But without the help of those kids, Barnes might be completely useless and the whole trouble with the prison break an utter waste of time.

‘Not completely.’ Tony thought.

He did it for Steve too. It just wouldn’t have been right to leave him there knowing what he knew.

Right now, Tony was working on prototypes of a few projects he had in mind to keep himself busy. Though, he figured, if they couldn’t get Barnes lucid, half of them were useless.

“Tony!” Tony nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden exclamation.

“Jesus, Pepper! A little warning next time?”

“I had been trying to get your attention for nearly five minutes now. Stop being a baby.” She replied smoothly. “Well, I’ll get right to it. The Army isn’t going to break down your doors yet. But now they are going after the company. It’s only a matter of time Tony.”

He groaned into his hands again. “Awesome.” He muttered.

“Do you, by chance, have an ETA on putting together the coding?” She asked ignoring his distress.

“Yeah, actually, I might,” he began. But before Pepper could utter a sigh of relief Tony continued, “when hell freezes over or when pigs fly, you know, which ever comes first.” He finished deadpan.

Pepper merely rolled her eyes. She really should have anticipated this.

“Tony, can you please be serious for one-“

“I am being serious, Pepper. This is not child’s play. This is by far the most complex piece of code I have ever encountered in my entire life. Look.”

He brought up what appeared to be a holographic nervous system on display, a neurological representation, if you will.

“The most complex coding on earth right now is Jarvis. That is Jarvis.” He pointed to the display. “He is currently just over 100 TB and growing.” He began to adjust the display. “This?” He holds up the thumb drive Calamity gave him. “Is this.”

He displayed the chaos of data clusters over the hologram. Jarvis’s mind looked like a small ball against the gnarly chaotic coding. It branched and weaved and twisted around, encompassing the entire lab.

“It looks like a tree.” Pepper stated awestruck.

“Yeah, and it’s easily petabytes of coding.” Tony stated forlornly.

“How is that possible?” Pepper inquired shocked.

“This is how.”

Tony pried the plastic casing of the thumb drive a part to reveal a black iridescent crystal, crudely wired to a USB port.

“It’s alien technology, Pepper. The encryption was just a taste. This thing? It’s beyond me.” He stated with melancholy. “Yeah, maybe if I had more time. With weeks, months or years I could do it, I could figure it out.” He took a deep breath. “We don’t have time.”

“What did Thor say about this?” She asked with trepidation.

“He said it is a really ancient form of data storage, lost in time from an extinct race from millennia ago. As in, it’s stupidly rare and no one knows how to work it. Thor left for Asgard this morning to inquire about.”

“I’m sorry, Tony.” She sighed heavily. “I will try my hardest to get as much time as possible on my end. Just don’t give up, okay?” She said grabbing his hands and making him look her in the eye. “Please, just keep going.”

He nodded. She gave him a quick, tight hug and with that she left.

Tony sighed then proceeded to bang his head on the table dramatically. He turned his head to the side and stared at the crystal. There were petabytes of information on that thing. The way to create a program, a device to undo her work, to save everyone, is on it. If only he could read it.

He picked himself up heavily. He gently encased the crystal in the plastic again and carefully set it aside. Honestly, considering it was not a substance known to Earth, he did not want to find out the hard way if it was nuclear when broken. He gave it one last lingering glance before continuing to tinker with his current projects once more.

-0-

Tony woke up sometime later in the dead of night with a start. He picked his head off of the table slowly, not wanting to strain his neck the process. He was dismayed to find a small screwdriver stuck to his face. He idly wondered what woke him so suddenly.

“It’s a good look for you, dumbass.” A voice rang out from across the room.

“Ah, that’s why…”

Tony groaned pathetically as he began thumping his head on the table again.

“If you are trying to remove the screwdriver, I believe pealing it off with your hand would work better.”

Tony’s head snapped up abruptly then he yanked the little tool off his face with a bit more force than necessary. Barnes only smirked at him.

“What the hell do you want, bastard?” Tony barked annoyed.

“You’re the one who told me that when my head was clear enough to remember my ABCs and 123s I should come to you, or did you forget, dumbass?”

… Right…

“You’re lucid?”

“As good as it’s going to get for now.” He replied sharply.

“All right.”

Seriously, any interactions he’s had with this guy the last three days have not been pretty at all. Watching Barnes have psychotic break after psychotic break made Tony want to vomit. The kind of depraved things Hydra has done to this man is beyond words. And somewhere way deep, deep down, Tony may have developed some modicum of respect for the guy. When he was lucid and coherent enough to understand his surroundings and what was happening to him, he legitimately wanted to help any way he could. Despite every fucking horrible thing that had happened to him, that has been done “to” him. Tony doubted he himself could be that way. Of the very few times Steve had ever opened up and talked about Barnes, he had nothing but fond and admirable things to say. In a lot of ways Bucky Barnes was Steve’s hero. No matter how much Tony loathed to admit it, he was beginning to discover some of the reasons why.

“How would you like to be my guinea pig?” Tony asked fully aware of the dreadful implications regarding who he was talking to.

Yep, he was going to hell.

Bucky squinted at him. “Is that supposed to be a joke? You do know who you are talking to, right?”

“Yes, I am aware, and I have been told numerous times that my humor is shit. But listen,” he said as he picked up a small device off of the table. “I need you to try this out.”

Barnes looked at the device skeptically. “What is it?”

“This thing is pretty much a super soldier pain reliever.” Tony replied. Bucky stared at him. “Stop doing that! Look, it will work like best fucking aspirin you’ve ever taken. Since you can’t actually take medicinal pain relievers because of your metabolism this device will block the pain receptors in your brain on a neurological level by manipulating the electricity in your neurons.”

“You want to experiment on my head? Mine?! You’ve got to be fucking joking! I can’t tell whether your stupidly insane or insanely stupid!” He raged. “Did you so suddenly forget what happened yesterday?!”

“See, it’s because of yesterday that I’ve come up with a way to do this. Follow me.”

Tony led our soldier to a station the genius had set up. Though completely outraged, Bucky followed on gesture. The station had seven different monitors placed in front of an exam chair. Though infinitely more humane than any set up Bucky had encountered before, (there weren’t even restraints attached) he was remiss to continue.

“No.” Was his resounding reply.

“Just let me explain.” Tony started, putting his hands up placatingly. “After what happened yesterday it became obvious that we needed to get creative about finding a way to at the very least examine you without triggering a homicidal breakdown.”

Seriously, yesterday was the pentacle hell. We don’t talk about yesterday.

If you must know, there was a need for an MRI for the soldier, Barnes snapped.

End of discussion. No one was hurt, thank God (Thor).

Moving on.

“And this is your solution?” He demanded very cynically.

“Yes, let me show you.”

Bucky took a step back.

Tony rolled his eyes. “You don’t have to get in it, look.”

Tony got into the chair himself and began to explain.

“You have these monitors in front of you. The one in the middle here is your control panel. Here you control the cameras placed around the station and their feed appears on the other six screens.” Tony adjusted the displays and began to elaborate. “As you can see, the cameras are showing live at multiple angles around the chair. You can see exactly what I would be doing at any given point. If you see something you don’t like or understand tell me to stop and I will stop and I will try to make it right. You with me so far?” Tony said looking up at Barnes expectantly.

Bucky nodded slowly taking in what he was saying and what Tony was saying.

“You willing to try it out?” Tony asked.

“Honestly, I’d rather beat you with the chair than even sit in it.” He sighed heavily. “But that isn’t going to help save the world is it?”

“That might actually be up for debate depending on who you talk to. But I’m going to go with a definitely not.” Tony smirked hopping out of the chair.

Bucky glared at him before unceremoniously plopping down in the seat. He let out a shuddering breath of relief when nothing unexpected happened.

“Okay! As you can see I am behind you out of direct view but very visible on the cameras.”

“I see that.” Bucky remarked.

“Now, you can change the camera angles and zoom in and out with those controls there.” Tony indicated.

The genius waited a moment for the soldier to fiddle with and adjust the controls to his liking.

“See? You are totally in control. Now, after what happened yesterday and skimming through the journal-“

Bucky turned around and openly glared at him.

“Yes, I know! Exactly the point I’m making. After all that, it got me thinking that all of this is very invasive and still takes away what little stability and control you finally and painstakingly regained. You’re still so utterly vulnerable that you would instinctively fight tooth and nail to keep that control. So, I’ve come up with a deal for you.” Tony said as he started checking himself out in the monitors.

“You’re an idiot.” Bucky responded instantly.

“So I’ve been told.” Tony rose an eyebrow looking at Barnes expectantly.

“I’m listening.” Bucky said finally after a long awkward pause.

“Great! Since you are so vulnerable and essentially at my mercy, how about I even the score a bit.” He said as he began removing his over shirt. Now he was standing before the soldier in his under tank with his arc reactor clearly in view. “You know this.” He pointed to his arc reactor. “It is one of my biggest vulnerabilities, for many reasons, as you found out yesterday…” Yeah yesterday, moving on. “It’s exposed to you as you are to me.”

Bucky nodded letting that sink in and fully understanding the significance of that gesture.

“In since your mind is just as vulnerable you will have access to mine.” Tony touched an icon on the screen. “With this, you have access to everything. All of my personnel files, my projects, the company, my money. Everything.” He said.

Bucky’s eyes widened comically. Tony wasn’t just handing him an olive branch he was trying to throw him the entire fucking tree, roots and all.

“You are crazy! This information could destroy you. What if I learn all your dirty secrets then suddenly I’m captured by Hydra again? You’re dead.”

“Yep, which makes me desperately vulnerable to you right now.” Tony stated seriously.

“You are stupid and insane. I don’t even know why you are so hell-bent on jumping through so many God damn hoops for me. I sure as hell am not worth it.” He uttered despondently.

“You’re worth it to Steve, so you’re worth it to me. It’s-“ he took a shuddering breath. “It’s what he would have wanted.” Tony swallowed thickly and continued. “Look, the end of the world is upon us and there is a 0.5% chance I can stop it, if I haven’t failed already. If it’s all on me to do it, then I’m going to do it my way. Even if it makes absolutely no sense anybody else. You are more useful than you know. I’m sure Steve thought so too.”

Bucky nodded then shook his head. Steve said something similar to him not long ago.

“So! Are you going to let me attach this to the back of your neck and calibrate it?”

“I don’t get why you don’t just use it yourself.” The soldier demanded suddenly when Tony began to approach him with the device.

“Because it won’t work on normal humans. If I tried to adjust it on myself I could fry my brain.” Tony stated bluntly.

“And you want to try it on me!?” Bucky responded incredulously.

“You are built like Steve, you would feel mild buzzing at most. I have it calibrated as close as possible to him but I need to adjust it to you since you are the one that’s going to use it.” Tony replied getting snarky.

“I can get on fine without it.” Bucky replied sharply.

“Not if I’m going to replace your arm, you’re not!” He huffed. Bucky’s eyes widened. “I had consulted with the leading most neuro-surgeon in the world. He told me a procedure like that would be excruciating, torture even, without some sort of analgesic to alleviate the pain of rebinding your nerves to the cybernetics. But wait, oh yeah, you can’t have painkillers because of your metabolism. Ergo this doohickey here.” Tony rebuttaled.

Bucky stared at him in shock and awe. “You want to replace my arm?” He glanced down at the jagged remains of what was once his cybernetic arm, a special gift from Hydra. Fuckers. He remembered every moment of that accursed procedure. Every moment of their cruelty and depravity. Every single second of that white-hot searing pain. “And that’s…” He nodded to the little device and Tony’s hand.

“And this is so you feel little to no pain during the procedure.” Tony supplemented.

“I-I don’t… Thank you.” The soldier uttered just above a whisper. “Dumbass.”

“There’s the spirit!” Tony exclaimed. “Now, while you’re still with me, you are still with me right? Not going to nut up on me are you?”

“Stupid! Not yet.”

“Good, can we get started now?”

Bucky sighed heavily and turned back around in the chair and began to rifle through some of Tony’s personal files.

“Okay, I’m going to attach this to the back of your neck now.” Tony slowly approached the soldier. Bucky made a few more adjustments to the cameras as Tony slowly moved the soldiers dark hair out of the way to expose his neck. “It may be a little cold.” He said and gently stuck the device on his neck. “Okay, step one done. How do you feel?”

“You were arrested in times square in 2005 new years eve for indecent exposure??” He asked utterly bemused instead.

Shit.

“Oh look! There’s a video!”

Tony groaned miserably.

“What were you doing buck-ass nude in the middle of Times Square? Is that hot sauce?”

“I may or may not have chased a slippery nipple with a Jaeger bomb. Then subsequently had taken six shots of whatever was handed to me at this raging hot party and never mind, asshole, laugh it up!” Tony almost squealed indignantly.

Bucky only chuckled harder. “Dumbass.”

“We’ve established this already! Now how do you feel?”

“Fine. This is nothing compared to-“

“That’s what I was going for.” Tony finished.

Bucky began going through more archives and chuckling here and there. No doubt getting a huge kick out of Tony’s numerous public transgressions.

Tony continued and gently placed monitoring nodes at the soldiers temples, talking out each step.

“Okay, now I am going to turn the device on and start calibrating it to you specifically.”

Bucky nodded slightly to indicate he heard him.

Tony held his breath and turned it on. He watched on a holographic display as the small electric pulses emanated from the device and penetrated Barnes’s brain and spinal cord. Bucky froze and grabbed the arm of the chair. Tony backed up to give him space. He watched as the soldier struggled to stay in control.

“I-it’s w-warm.” He shuddered.

“Okay.” Tony replied simply. He waited a few more minutes before continuing. “Are you okay to continue?”

“Y-yeah.” He answered as he began going through Tony’s files again.

“Okay. You may have already noticed your current pain muted somewhat.” Bucky nodded slightly in affirmation.

“Okay, now this should tone it down more.” He made an adjustment to the device.

Bucky suddenly sucked in a jagged breath. He began tearing up a little. “It’s receding.” He whispered.

Tony could only imagine what he was going through. The moment he saw the shattered cybernetics back at the Raft he knew he was in constant excruciating pain. Just by looking at it he could tell some of the work was crude and amateurish. Indicating that even when the arm was whole this man was always in pain. Now, after everything, to finally have that pain recede? What that man was experiencing now was utterly priceless.

“Okay, any burning on or around the contact area?” Tony gently touched the flesh around the device.

“No.” He answered. His voice was gravelly from his torrent of emotions.

“Good.” He said softly. “I’m going to make another adjustment.” He warned as he began to adjust some of the settings. “How does this feel?” He asked.

The effect was instantaneous. Bucky sat up ramrod straight and screamed. Tony scrambled away swiftly but continued to watch the soldier like a hawk. Just as quickly as he sprang up, Bucky melted down into the chair with dismal abandon. He groaned deeply then began to breathe heavily. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks now. Tony approached cautiously.

“Hey there? How does that feel?” He asked timidly, taking care not to startle him.

“It’s gone.” Bucky replied breathlessly. “The pain is all gone.” And with that he wept.

Tony was gobsmacked. He absolutely did not know how to proceed. Watching this deadly assassin, Hydra’s dog, their slave, cry so. It tore at him. I mean, sure, he knew that Barnes’s reaction was a feasible possibility but Tony was not expecting his own cascade of odd emotions upon witnessing it. He really felt sorry for the guy.

“Please.” The soldier whispered pleadingly.

“Hmm?”

“Please, make it stop.”

Tony stared at him confused.

“Make what stop?” He asked.

Bucky somehow managed to curl in on himself making his hulking form seem so small and broken.

“Please, just give it back.” He pleaded.

Now Tony was even more lost. “Give what back?”

“The pain!” He shouted. “I don’t deserve this! This-this relief. I deserve to suffer!” He wailed wretchedly.

The entire realization hit Tony all at once. “No you don’t.” Tony tried to counter.

“Yes I do. Please give it back. I deserve to suffer! All those people. Oh God, there were so many.” He shouted becoming increasingly agitated. “I killed them all, innocent people, all of them, dead!” He launched from the chair and began to pace madly. “You shouldn’t be helping me! You should be the last person to help me! Give it back!”

He began to develop nervous, involuntary tics. He kept jerking his head side to side and began pulling at his hair. He was losing it. Tony could only look on helplessly. Jarvis had already alerted the others for assistance.

“I don’t deserve this!” He shouted again. “He was my friend! And I killed him! He was my friend, please!” He pleaded again. “He was my friend and he was your father!”

Tony froze solid. “What?”

“I killed him and his wife. I don’t deserve this!” He shouted once more before ripping the device off of the back of his neck.

Tony could swear the soldier’s subsequence screams in agony at the sudden vile resurgence of pain matched the screams that erupted from his very own soul. He barely registered as Natasha grabbed his face trying to get his attention. Xavier, Wilson, Barton and Fury closed in around Barnes in an attempt to subdue him.

A few hours ago Tony thought his life could not get any worse. The universe once again failed to disappoint and could not help but prove him wrong. The Winter Soldier, Barnes, Steve’s best friend, killed his parents.

“I stand corrected.”

Fuck you, universe.

Fuck You.

End Chapter Thirty-Two

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Three: Scream Out My Memories

 

It had been two days since Barnes’s shocking revelation. Two days since Tony’s universe had been turned inside out and upside down once again. Tony knew, having hacked and scoured SHIELD’s archives, that Hydra was likely behind his parent’s "accident." He knew his father was into some deep secretive shit as evidence of his affiliation with SHIELD. But this was a whole new acrimonious level of ‘what the fucking shit’ kind of shock.

Seriously, you can’t write this shit; because apparently the best friend of the man he was in love with murdered his parents.

Really?!

Yes, really.

And Tony put his life and company on the line to help this guy, to aid him, to save him. It turns out this was the filthy monster who killed his parents. Killed his Mom. Unforgivable.

So here Tony was, wallowing in self-misery yet again. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately. He took a sip of his expensive scotch and hummed in derision. The others have been taking turns posting guard over the soldiers assigned quarters.

If Tony had his way he’d either have him dead or locked away. He had half a mind to send him right back to the Raft.

But no, Fury and Pepper won’t let him considering all the trouble they had gone through to keep him. Coincidentally, Fury said something about how it was incredibly fishy concerning the soldier’s existence. Considering all his recent targets, there may be a possibility that the infamous Harker may have been a puppet all along. And if so, they had to consider the possibility that SHIELD was compromised.

Great! Fucking great!

Tony handed over the Sentinel backup he procured while escaping the Raft. There were likely clues in the files, considering the way they had the soldier contained.

Like Tony cared anyway.

He should have just let him rot in there. The only reason he hasn’t tried to kill the guy himself, yet, was because Nat threatened to put a bullet in his head if he tried. Honestly, he was maybe 60% sure she was bluffing but decided he did not want to find out the hard way.

Tony seriously did not get it. Natasha has some sort of weird obsession with the guy and Tony can’t quite figure it out. What was worse was she had the audacity to bring Steve in on it. She pointed out that if Steve were here he would not want Tony to harm Barnes. The more he thought about it the angrier he got. He was sure in another universe he would fight Steve through bloody hell over this. Despite being the monster that killed his parents, Steve would only see his best friend and take his side and protect him just like he did back at the docks.

Fuck you universe!

Tony took an angry swig of his drink before chucking it across the room. He got little satisfaction watching it shatter on the wall opposite him. He sighed heavily as he ran his hands through his hair. This was just so stupid! He groaned audibly as he began to repeatedly bang his head on the table. Fuck you universe, fuck you.

-0-

This is where Natasha found him sometime later with his head on his desk groaning aloud, almost whimpering.

“You are acting like a pathetic child. It’s such a shame that the fate of the universe is in the hands of a sniveling whiny brat.”

“You know what Romanov-“

“No! It’s time you shut up and listen to me!” She cut him off sharply. Tony gulped audibly. “The universe is in trouble, Tony! The UNIVERSE!” She shouted causing Tony to flinch. “I know this whole situation is shit, I really do. But hating on S-Barnes is helping no one right now.”

“Nat, he killed my parents! My mother.”

“And he’s killed dozens of other innocent people indiscriminately. He killed these people because he was told to, because he was forced to.” She gave pause, hoping it was sinking in. “You know, he nearly killed me.” She added stone like. “He nearly killed Fury and Steve, but he didn’t.” Tony opened his mouth to reply but Natasha continued. “Do you know how easy it would have been for him to finish us off if he was truly the monster do you claim him to be? When I was in Odessa he could have easily but didn’t. It would have been easier, in the long run, no witnesses. But here I am.”

“But he killed them, Nat.” Tony murmured.

“How many people have died because of the weapons you created, Tony? Innocent people?”

“No! You do not get to go there!” He shouted.

“How many, Tony?” She continued unfazed. “How many innocent people died when you created more and more weapons unfazed? How many gallons of blood spilt when you turned a blind eye to the chaos and carnage they wrought? Hmm? How many people, Tony!? How many people have every right to call you a monster?”

“I didn’t know! I didn’t know it was happening. I put a stop to it the first moment I could!” He defended.

“And you think he wouldn’t have stopped it if he could? Tony, you chose to stop. You had a choice, the whole time. You could have stopped manufacturing any time but you didn’t. You could have figured it out sooner but you didn’t. You chose to ignore the signs. That’s the difference between you and him. You always had the choice, he didn’t. He never had the choice.” Her words cut deep as her voice cracked.

Tony shook his head, desperately trying to cling on to the denial. Trying to reject the reality of responsibility.

“You read through the journal, Tony. Did you forget? You know the kind of horrors that man has been through. Why do you think they had to go through such disturbing, atrocious and extensive lengths to take control of him and maintain control of him?” She demanded as her voice went deadly low.

Of course Tony knew. Reading and understanding the things in that journal is what made him want to aid the bastard in the first place. Hydra went through such extents to control him because if Barnes really had the choice he would either kill the whole lot of them or himself over being ordered to kill an innocent person. Deep down Tony knew this. Barnes was absolutely loyal to someone like Captain America after all. Hydra knew they could not compete with that.

Natasha took his silence as pensive reflection and resignation.

“You should ask Clint what it was like.” Tony cringed. “To have that kind of control taken from him, his free will stripped away? You can’t even imagine what it’s like to be responsible for killing your friends and comrades. Clint and Barnes are not like you and me, Tony. We had the choice. They didn’t. Go talk to him.”

And with that she left, leaving the genius alone to ruminate on her sharp words. She knew exactly how to cut him deep. It was one of the many things that continuously ate at him. Knowing the weapons he created to aid American soldiers and allies alike were the very weapons being used against them. In addition to the grotesque misuse of his weapons against his own nation, those awful people used his creations to kill, subjugate and oppress innocent people around the world. And that was unforgivable.

In time, it was Steve that made him begin to truly believe that Tony wasn’t all to blame for the misery his weapons caused. Steve had to remind him on numerous occasions that it was Obadiah double dealing. It was Obadiah that went to incredible lengths to keep Tony from the truth. Be that as it may, Nat was right. He could have figured it out sooner. There were many discrepancies that Tony chose to overlook, that he turned a blind eye to because he trusted Obadiah. That was on him. Tony knew he would never forgive himself for that.

Tony sighed heavily, wishing desperately he hadn’t chucked his drink across the room earlier. God, he wished Steve were there. Tony really needed his advice, he needed to hear the situation from the Captain’s point of view. Yeah, this whole circumstance was incredibly complicated.

Not to mention all of this was happening on top of everything else he was trying to do to save the world. He was constantly working to figure out how to read and analyze that dense data load Calamity gave to him on the freaky alien crystal. He could wallow in self-misery and simultaneously work on a solution to save the universe. He was very proficient in multitasking.

It’s just… It’s just, perhaps, he lacked clarity. Perhaps, if he were in a different state of mind and regarding his current situation from an alternate point of view, then he would be analyzing the data differently too. Maybe in a way that led them to the answer they needed. Maybe he would go talk to Clint after all.

Working with the archer so closely the last few years Tony does have some modicum of a notion as to what Clint really went through on a very personal level when Loki brainwashed him. Even without Natasha pointing it out. So, with a heavy heart, he left the refuge of his workshop to seek out Barton.

“Jarvis? Can you tell me where Barton is?”

“Mr. Barton is on the range, Sir.”

“Thought so, thank you, Jar.”

Tony made his way down to the shooting range all the while resolutely avoiding the curious glances of his teammates he had passed along the way.

Tony walked into the range and spotted Clint immediately. He was using the little birdie bots that Tony created to fly around the room as moving targets. Barton never missed. He darted around the obstacle course and hit every single one with insane accuracy. It was jarring and breathtaking all at once. Tony approached closer and Clint spotted him instantly.

“Look at what the cat drug in.” He drawled as he aimed his arrow at the final remaining birdie bot, his eyes never left Tony’s visage. “What do you want?” He demanded as he released the arrow hitting the birdie bot dead on, eyes still focused on Tony. Absolutely remarkable.

“I need to talk to you about something important.” Tony began knowing Barton was going to make this conversation unbearable.

Clint merely yawned. “You’ll have to get back to me with that. It’s naptime.”

Tony screamed on the inside. He would rather not have to talk to him at all but Steve is gone and Nat was probably watching him to make sure he did.

“Please, it’s important.” Tony pleaded.

It was definitely yet another blow to his already thoroughly bruised ego. Clint squinted at him in disbelief.

“Please? The high and mighty Tony Stark saying please? I didn’t think it was in your vocabulary. Learn something new every day, huh?” The archer teased.

“Come on. Quit dicking around and help me, this is serious.”

“It must be.” Clint raised an eyebrow at him expectantly.

Tony sighed.

“We’re definitely going to want to talk privately.” The genius suggested as he began to move to head back to his lab.

“Oh, it’s one of those kinds of talks.” Clint waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“Idiot.” Tony muttered, rolling his eyes.

-0-

They were seated in a lounging area in Tony’s workshop equipped with various refreshments upon Clint’s request.

“Okay,” He spoke over a mouthful of jelly donut. “What is so God damned important?” He asked feigning irritation as he subsequently gulped down a full glass of milk.

‘Eww.’ Tony thought. ‘Definitely raised in a barn.’

“It’s a heavy and sensitive subject, and out of everything that has happened the last few days, it seems I am in need of some real… Perspective.” Tony began.

“Did Nat tell you to talk to me?” Clint asked matter of factly.

“More like threatened…” Tony muttered under his breath. Clint rose an eyebrow and gave him a knowing look. “Yeah okay. It seems that after what happened with Barnes, I need some enlightening. So, enlighten me.” He was not quite sure how to proceed without broaching the subject like an insensitive ignorant nutcase.

“You want to know how it affected me when Loki was in my head?” Clint observed seemingly emotionless.

Tony stared at him astonished. “In a nutshell.” The genius replied. “After what happened, knowing that he is the one who-“ He sighed heavily. “I just need perspective.” He attempted to articulate.

“You want to know if Barnes is worth saving?”

“That, and so much more.” He nodded.

“Okay, here it is.” He took a deep breath. “It was hell, plain and simple. You have no idea what I would have rather gone through instead of watch, front row seat, as I killed my friends. As I did innumerable things to ensure Loki had his way. Consciously, I questioned nothing. If Loki commanded it, it was done. Simple as that. If he told me to knife myself in the heart I would have done it instantaneously, without hesitation.” He bit his lips and wiped stray sugar, the corner of his mouth. He looked Tony right in the eye and continued.

“Subconsciously, I was screaming. My soul, my entire being was screaming for him to stop, was screaming for me to stop. Desperately begging and pleading to let me die instead. I watched myself murder innocent people. Watched the light leave their eyes by my own hand. Because I was not in control, someone else was. But I was there and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop him or myself. Nothing. I was absolutely powerless. Is not something I can easily describe or have someone understand.”

He broke eye contact and began to blink at the ceiling.

“I was going to kill Nat. That’s what I was aiming to do.” He whispered. “If she hadn’t knocked me out…” He cut himself off.

There was no need to continue, Tony knew the sentiment that was to come next.

“When I came to and was me again, all I could think about was the people that died by my hands. Nat kept telling me that it wasn’t my fault, that I shouldn’t think that way. But Jesus fucking Christ, man, it’s really hard not to when it was me who did it, you know?”

He looked back to Tony.

“It was my hands, my bow that did them in. I know, I know logically that it’s not my fault, that there was absolutely nothing I could do but it was still me. I will never forgive myself for that, not really.”

He grabbed a small cupcake and stuffed it in his mouth in an attempt to distract himself from his emotions.

Tony let it all sink in. He imagined for a moment, just a moment, what it would be like to go do something like that. He knew how easy it can be. He runs around in a robotic suit for living.

Horrifically, his suit had been commandeered before. Rhodey was piloting the suit at the time, but it still happened and was still entirely conceivable that it could happen again if a hacker was talented enough. Tony could create as many safeguards and firewalls he desired but if some alien came along with technology like Calamity’s they could easily take control of his armor. With Tony inside no less.

The genius has had many nightmares revolving around his loss of control over his own technology. He can’t predict and guard against everything, but he was damn well going to try.

Tony looked at Clint a long while. Loki tried to take control of him the same way he did Clint. Somehow his arc reactor shielded him, an artificial heart not so easily swayed. In that moment Tony was truly afraid. All of the weapons he had access to, his suits, his life’s work could have been completely at Loki’s disposal. Everything he painstakingly built to protect people with could have easily been used to destroy them.

He then applied those feelings to Barnes. Keeping in mind everything Clint conveyed to him and all his own morbid conditions of what could have been, he put together and regarded Barnes’s situation. All too suddenly the feelings he got after reading through what he could of the Journal came crashing back to him. In the end, he really felt sorry for the guy.

Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes is a war hero. He served diligently and loyally by Captain America’s side. He fought hard with valor in the war against Hydra and ultimately lost his life to the cause. Only, he didn’t really die. Hydra found his broken body and manipulated him to their own nefarious purposes. They mutilated his body and warped and fractured his mind. And yet somewhere, someway, somehow, his very soul remained intact. Now a man with a broken body and even more broken mind, still feels regret, sorrow and guilt despite the last seventy odd years of purdition. In the end, he was a good man, no matter how hard they tried, Hydra could not break him of that.

Tony sighed heavily and rolled his neck before addressing Clint once more.

“I understand. I- thank you. I needed the perspective.” He admitted.

“What do you plan on doing now?” Barton asked, his curiosity perked.

“You know, Steve told me I was the most surprising and unpredictable person he knew.” Tony replied. “I’m not about to prove him wrong.”

Clint nodded vigorously in agreement.

“I guess it’s good that I can get back on track but what I still don’t get is why Nat got so bent out of shape over this. You know she threatened to put a bullet in my head? Like three times.” Tony whined.

Clint began laughing like a madman. “Yeah? Figures. I do like how she pretty much had you folded up like a pretzel yesterday.”

“I do not find that funny. I just don’t understand what her obsession with this guy is. She’s suddenly insanely protective of him.”

“Oh, that’s an easy one.” Clint replied suddenly as he stuffed a sandwich into his mouth.

“And?” Tony replied impatiently.

Clint held up a finger as he chewed. He swallowed obnoxiously then took a deep breath.

“Jackass, it’s because Barnes is Sasha.”

All of Tony’s thoughts came to a screeching halt.

‘What?’

“Sasha as in ‘the’ Sasha?? As in the guy who…”

“The very one in the same.” Clint replied smug.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Barton! Were you ever going to tell me or were you just going to let me be a potential threat to this guy and watch as Natasha brutally murders me in cold blood!?”

“Come on, man, we knew you’d come around. It’s what Steve would have wanted. There’s no way you were going to let any real harm come to Barnes as long as you knew Steve would never forgive you otherwise.”

Tony glared at him madly. “No, you know what? You can go now. Get lost and stop eating my food!”

“Good! Is serious time over now? I’d like to go hit the hay!” Clint grinned.

“Yeah, get lost, I’m done looking at your face.” Tony replied with a smirk.

“Not as done as I am!” He called back striding out the door.

Tony looked down at the mess of dishes.

‘That bastard ate everything! Fuck Barton! And fuck everybody else to!’

*~0~*

On the other side…

“Daddy! You’re painting the suit of armor again!” Ellie squealed excitedly as she bounded up to Steve.

He was working on another painting of the odd futuristic armor that had been plaguing his dreams. He was utilizing his art studio in the barn and had begun making significant headway in replacing the stale work he had before. The strange suit of armor had quickly become one of his favorite subjects. He worked on his paintings and drawings to give himself something to do while Ellie was at school and Peggy out with Angie.

“Yeah, Babydoll, the armor was doing some very fascinating things in my dreams last night. I had to get it down.”

“Wow! Is it fighting an alien?”

“I believe so.” He laughed.

“Do you suppose uncle Howard could make something like that? Like, if you showed him the drawings he could make it?”

Steve did not know why but the thought of it made him incredibly distressed. That sinking, awful, helpless feeling he had all those days ago threatened to rise to the surface. He forcefully pushed them down. Howard can never know about this.

“No, Babydoll, this is just a fantasy between us okay?” He stressed softly.

“Oh, okay.” She looked sad for a moment.

Her somber was alleviated soon enough as she came up with a new idea.

“Daddy, I want to paint Rocky a girlfriend!”

Steve laughed. “Sure thing, Babydoll, here,” he grabbed a freshly made canvas. “I made this just a little earlier. Give Rocky the most radiant girlfriend in all the lands.” He chuckled, handing it over.

“Okay!” She exclaimed as she began to prepare her paint palette.

Steve desperately enjoyed spending his afternoons just like this, painting with his baby girl. Peggy too when she gets back. She always made the loveliest watercolor flowers.

This was the life.

He took a deep breath and continued to paint the mysterious red and gold flying suit of armor.

End chapter Thirty-Three.

 

Chapter Text

Tony Stark bit his lips typing swiftly as he inputted the last of the digits to an algorithm he created in an attempt to figure out the Rubik’s cube like mess that was the data mass Calamity handed to him. He waited with baited breath for the results, hoping desperately for a break. Alas, it was a failed attempt, yet again, as the negative readings flashed across the screen. He groaned miserably and ran his hands through his dark messy hair for the umpteenth time. He sucked in a deep breath and began tapping out the beat to the Led Zeppelin song currently playing before coming up with yet another possibility. He released his breath before he began typing away once more.

It had been twelve days since Calamity had taken Steve, ten since Tony broke Barnes out of the Raft and one full week since the shocking revelation that Barnes had murdered his parents. Tony has yet to have any contact with the soldier since then. Even if there was a tiny, itty-bitty part of him that has made some kind of peace with it, he still could not bring himself to face him. Even then Barnes’s lucid state of mind had become few and far between, they were losing him.

Tony paused typing for a moment and sighed heavily. He was doing a real bang up job saving the world and helping his friends. God, Steve would be so disappointed in him.

He groaned as he looked at the time. It was nearly three in the afternoon. A good chunk of his team had been deployed about an hour ago to take care of a group of enhanced individuals causing trouble smack in the middle of downtown Baltimore, Maryland. According to the sightings the Rhododendron was amongst them.

Just great.

Tony wanted to go but it was the consensus that he should stay put, on standby, and hold down the fort so to speak and continue working on the code. The only recompense, if you can call it that, was that there had been no new reporting’s of Calamity’s coma since Steve was taken nearly two weeks ago. The number of known cases plateaued at 1,039.

Yay for no new cases!

However, that also meant that they were that much more closer to oblivion. Will this nightmare ever end?

Before Tony could continue working he received an alert.

“Sir, miss Romanov has issued in SOS. You are needed at once.”

“On it, Jar!”

Tony sprang from his seat, darting to the launching platform. As soon as he stepped out one of his many suits enveloped him. Even before the last of the mechanisms were in place he blasted off into the sky, heading straight for Baltimore.

-0-

Upon arrival Tony wanted to vomit. Dead citizens lined the streets. There were more than fifty innocent people dead and hundreds more injured from the look of it.

Johnny and Ben were desperately trying to herd people out of the chaos. Natasha was leading the evac but people were still getting slaughtered. Sam and Rhodey were grounded and Peter and Clint seems to be the only ones desperately trying to hold the perpetrators at bay.

“Barton, what’s the sitch?” Iron Man voiced over the com line.

“It’s brutal man, they’re small fry but we can hardly make any headway on them. They keep evading us and gunning down civilians. I don’t know how but they got some crazy tech on them. They already took out the Quin Jet, Falcon and War Machine. Their suits are dead. Be careful, man!” Hawkeye warned.

Tony watched as he darted rooftop to rooftop trying to get ahead of these guys. Tony analyzed the situation. He needed to shield the people from Rhododendron and his lackeys.

“All right, Jarvis, time to initiate the air net protocol.”

“Will do, Sir.”

Tony began flying around the perimeter of the battlefield. He began launching tiny devices and landing them in strategic locations. When the last one was in place a containment field was activated.

“There.” He said in mild relief.

That containment field should last fifteen minutes in a state of constant assault. After the fuzz buzz incident, he created this particular containment field to help aid them should something like that happen again. This seems the perfect time to try it out.

“Hey kid? How you hanging in there?” Tony called out over the coms to Spiderman.

“Uhh, good sort of? You?”

“I need you to protect those projection pods and keep the containment field intact. When that thing goes down the Rhododendron will have access to the civilians again.”

“Will do, Mr. Stark!” He responded.

Now that the Rhododendron and his lackeys were separated from civilians it was time to party. Tony began to unleash his arsenal as he flew over the group. Every single one of his attacks missed.

“What the hell?” Now he was livid. “Jarvis, what gives??”

“It seems, Sir, they have jamming technology that is overwriting homing capabilities.” Jarvis answered.

“Fuck! Okay, we will have to do this the old-fashioned way.” Tony growled as he began to take careful aim at the villainous group.

This time he was a bit more successful but it wasn’t perfect. They scattered quickly and began to return fire. Tony spotted Clint take aim at the Rhododendron from an obscure rooftop. Tony watched in dismal horror as the arrow landed harmlessly five feet away.

Impossible!

Clint never misses.

If Clint had any ordinary arrows he had probably use them by now. All he could do was use the high-tech ones he had left. That machine they had, however, seem to jam and scramble anything technical they had.

No wonder his team went down so easily. As it was, Jarvis couldn’t even hack it. Where in the hell did they get this piece of tech? Visually speaking it looked like a souped up radar gun. But Tony knew it was much more sinister. If it can take down Falcon, War Machine and the Quin Jet so easily, he knew they were in trouble.

He had installed the safeguards himself specifically so no one could do this. It was only a matter of time now before they were able to take his own suit down, judging by how easily they were able to deflect his assault.

“Sir, the suits primary system has been compromised. I have severed the link to the tower but I can’t hold it off much longer.”

Shit!

“Just keep going, Jar!”

Just as he issued the command the flight stabilizers ceased and Iron Man went down. The impact with the Earth was jarring without the help of the stabilizers.

“Jarvis, issue a command override and switch to manual!” He ordered quickly.

He wouldn’t be able to use weapons but at least he wouldn’t have to sit there in a dead suit. Iron Man stood up shakingly.

“How does it feel, Stark?! To have your life’s work your technology proven useless!” Rhododendron called out. His lackeys snickered ruefully.

“At least I’m not the one wearing a pink bunny suit!” Tony rebuttaled, scanning desperately for an opening.

Hawkeye was nearly out of arrows. Peter remained absolutely resolute in protecting the containment field. As far as he could tell, from the last transmissions he had gotten from the coms, the rest of his team were dismally scattered. Widow was still handling the evac and Rhodey had finally removed the dead suit. He and Sam were trying to aid the first responders in recovering the dead and wounded, pulling them off the streets and hopefully out of harm’s way.

There was no way they could call for backup either. Thor was in Asgard, the last of the X-Men and trusted SHIELD Agents were either on another mission or specifically ordered to protect the helicarrier and the tower. Tony and his team were on their own.

As hard as he tried, Tony could not rally his team. Almost each member had their own self-appointed task and had even began to try and out order each other. Tony technically was meant to be in command but he could not conceivably maintain control of his team, fight the Rhododendron and his lackeys in hand-to-hand combat in a failing suit and simultaneously figure out how to negate the strange technology they possessed.

The genius raged internally. It was instances like this where Steve was invaluable. As a master of strategy and combat he could figure out how to stop these guys easily. Yet another reason on top of so many as to why he desperately missed the man he loved and wished for nothing more than to have him by his side. No one could lead this team the way Captain America could. Iron Man could sometimes in a pinch, but in a situation like this? It was painfully obvious that Tony could not possibly measure up. His mind, and as incredible and possibly unequaled as it is, was not built for this. As he had stated on numerous occasions, he was not soldier.

“Stark!” Clint exclaimed. “I’m out, I have to take cover.”

“Got it.” He replied as he quickly dodged an incoming attack from one of the goons.

Iron Man swung around quickly and knocked the guy out with a percussion grenade. One down four to go.

“You should give it up, Stark! I have you right where I want you!”

Tony rolled his eyes. It was nearly impossible to take this guy seriously dress like a fucking bunny rabbit. If it wasn’t for the dead civilians and the strange technology he held, he’d write off the guy completely.

“It’s such a shame though, that Captain America met with such an untimely fate. You’ll be next though, I promise!” The Rhododendron shouted.

That gave Tony pause. No one knew about that. Only their team did. How did this guy figure it out?! Then the horrible realization dawned on him. Perhaps his weapon’s capabilities weren’t so mysterious after all? Not if his system was compromised. That would be the only way he could know about Steve and have the capability to use such devastating technology. If SHIELD had truly been compromised like Fury thought then in all likelihood his own systems could have very well been compromised as well.

Just as Tony was able to knock out the second guy shit hit the fan. Bad guy number three took out Spiderman with an electric net shot from something like a grenade launcher. Before Iron Man could stop bad guy number three and bad guy number four from attacking the projection pods, Tony’s suit froze.

“No!” Tony shouted.

“Sir, the syste-“ And Jarvis was gone.

“No, no, no, shit!” Tony uttered frantically.

“Look at how the tides have turned!” The Rhododendron sneered. “Take them out boys!” He commanded.

The last two members of the nasty group began their brutal assault upon the projection pods. In minutes the containment field will be down and there was nothing Tony could do.

Our genius began to mutter every override code possible. Still the suit was dead. Jarvis had been booted from the system. He could not figure it out. He was on manual, the suit was still on, he should be able to regain control. His override code should be working. Suddenly, the full morbid reality had presented itself when his arms began to move… without his consent.

Cold chills ran down Tony’s spine as he realized the Rhododendron now had control of him. At the very least he assumed so considering the man’s unsettling uncontrollable laughter. All of the grotesque possibilities ran through his head lightning fast. All he could see was Armageddon. The things they could make him in his suit do alone were utterly unthinkable. Not to mention the places he could feasibly have access to because of the presence of the suit.

“Tony!”

He could barely hear Clint shout for him. The archer must have realized by now the situation.

“I’m compromised, Barton! I’m not in control! Stay back!”

The look of worry and shock intensified tenfold.

“Tony!” This time Rhodey called out to him.

He was just on the other side of the containment field, sans suit. Tony could barely make out what he was saying but it seemed to be something of a warning about what the Rhododendron is capable of. Too late now.

Tony muttered a few more overrides to no avail.

“Look at you, Tony Stark, completely at my mercy.” Rhododendron said as he began moving the suit around. In minutes he had figured out how to operate the flight stabilizers. He began flying Iron Man around the area like a toy.

Sam had joined Rhodey just beyond the containment field. He, Rhodey and Clint could do nothing but watch on in horror.

The Rhododendron and his goons laughed cruelly as they began making Tony do tricks in the sky, even going as far to take turns maneuvering him about. In the sky Tony had gotten a whole new level perspective. He felt utterly violated in ways he knew he could never be able to express.

From his vantage point, as they swirled him higher and higher into the sky, he could see so much of the damage and chaos they created. Buildings were destroyed and on fire, bodies still lined the streets and if he was not mistaken, the Army was closing in.

The other half of his team continued on adamantly and admiringly. Black widow still evacuating the streets and buildings and the Thing and Torch pulling people out of the rubble. And here he was, literally trapped in his own suit, forced to be this disgusting man’s toy, his puppet. All the while, the other half of his team watched on.

He could not believe the twists and turns the last month had taken. It did not escape him how he had premonitions of this very scenario not three days ago. How this was the very thing he feared most after everything that had happened with Barnes. Unfortunately, this living nightmare was about to get infinitely worse.

The Rhododendron had figured out how to use the suits weapons system. His first target? The containment field.

Tony watched on in horror as his body was forcefully moved into position to target the projection pods, his mind was screaming. He rapidly muttered override code after override code. By the time the last projection pod was destroyed he was screaming the codes. Alas none worked.

All of the sudden Tony heard scuffling and groaning. When his body was moved to face the Rhododendron and his goons he saw that one had been taken out. When his body stopped moving he realized the source. Clint was out of hiding and using his bow to launch rocks and rubble at the group. He had successfully knocked out one of them while they were distracted watching their new toy.

But now the element of surprise was gone and the Rhododendron was lined up to retaliate. Tony knew this because now his weapons were aimed at Clint.

“Shit, move Dumbass!” Tony shouted at Hawkeye.

He got the point quick enough and bailed. Tony’s weapons missed, thank God, but now he was aiming for Rhodey and Sam! They don’t have their weapons or armor on, they are sitting ducks.

“Rhodey, move!” Tony bellowed.

Both sprinted off but weren’t so lucky. The explosives blew them back several feet.

“How does it feel, Stark?! Bwahaha!” Rhododendron called out. “To attack your own team? What would the good Captain think of you now?” He laughed and sneered.

Tony forced the bile down and had to remind himself that Steve would know better. But the awful thought alone was alarming. He couldn’t think straight, the panic was rising. He futilely uttered a few more overrides that had failed, before addressing the Rhododendron.

“Cut the shit and stop playing games!” He huffed out the best he could. “You want something, what is it? Money? You can have all of it if you want, just shut the fuck up!” Tony shouted back at him. Despite his abhorrent situation his usual snark remained ever present.

On the inside, however, he was screaming. Silently begging that godforsaken rabbit to take the offer so he would just let him go and leave this place.

“As tempting as that would be, Stark, why would I give up the best prize yet? You under my complete control for a bit of cash. Hmm?” He licked his greasy lips. “Oh, how I wish Captain America were here to be a part of my glorious victory. It would be absolutely perfect to have you kill him.”

Tony’s blood ran cold. “Why go through all this?”

“Vengeance, Stark! When is it anything but vengeance?? The Captain killed Harker and making you kill him in return is nothing but poetic.” He sneered again.

Tony blanched and grimaced. As much as he would love to throw Barnes under the bus as he was the one that killed Harker, he could not, would not do that to him.

“So, instead you can kill your friends! Then we can go find the Captain together!!” He laughed.

Tony’s suit began to engage the others once more. He watched with horror as his sights locked on to Clint yet again. His friend was savvy enough to use the right evasive maneuvers in regards to his suits weaponry. Thank God for those training exercises they did all those weeks ago. But it would only be a matter of time before the Rhododendron figured out how to use his more sophisticated weapons. When that happened his team was dead, plain and simple.

Tony cursed madly, in his desperation he began to mutter more overrides some not even linked to the suit at all. He was sure some codes were for the microwave, coffee maker and showerhead.

“Give it up Stark! Your suit and system functions are mine! None of your verbal overrides will work! And you, stuck in that suit, can’t very well type your way out of this!” He began to laugh maniacally once more.

The bastards laughter was drowned out, however, by Iron Man’s weapons fracturing the earth beneath them as Hawkeye barely managed to escape another onslaught.

Sam and Rhodey were holding their own in hand-to-hand combat with the last goon. Tony’s attention was yanked away as the Rhododendron forced the suit pursue Hawkeye. It was only a matter of time now.

Fuck time!

Everything was a matter of time. There was no time left. Either he waited and let Rhododendron figure out his suit and kill everyone in front of him then go on and do unspeakable things or destroy the suit now subsequently killing himself. Rhododendron said it was a shame if he couldn’t type.

But what if he could?

This was his absolute last resort. He could blow the suit up from the inside. The only thing that gave him pause at this point was if he went through with this there would be no one to stop Calamity. But then again there would be nobody left to save from Calamity if the Rhododendron killed them all.

That bastard rabbit could do it with his suit and all the things the suit had access to. The look of fear on his friends faces, as the suit closed in on them, further cemented his decision. There was no other option. He had created safeguards, firewalls and protocols alike to ensure this could not happen. Yet, they all failed like a horrible nightmare come true. All because of that ridiculous radar gun on steroids.

This was his last resort he built into the suit just in case all else failed, assuming he’d be alive to use it.

“Hey buddy, it’s last call.” Tony uttered as loud as he could over his pounding heart and constricting lungs.

Clint faced him, stricken, shaking his head.

“Time to clean up.” Tony said finally.

Tony gave him his last warning in code. Clint knew it to mean ‘get the hell out, I’m going to blow skyhigh.’

There were pressure sensors in the fingertips of his armor. When pressed in the proper sequence, it activated self-destruct. It was a long and complicated code as it would be bad if the code was accidentally pressed during battle but Tony was incredibly swift at typing. He’d have it blown up before Rhododendron figured out how homing worked. The pressure buttons where completely manual, like turning a key or shifting a mechanism into gear. To put it simply it was a part of the core mechanisms of the suit. Each correct variable in the sequence was like a lock sliding into place. It was something the Rhododendron absolutely could not stop.

The verdict was in, he was infinitely more suicidal than Steve.

He may not have been in control of his suit but he was in control of this. He refused to be trapped any longer and do this nut cases bidding. He refused to be the reason that more innocent people died. He refused to watch as his own hands killed his friends.

“You have the choice, Tony, he didn’t.”

The memory of Natasha’s sharp words suddenly flashed through his mind. Tony felt bile rise to his throat and tears finally spilled from his eyes. He has so much to answer for. He silently begged everyone for forgiveness then bid everyone goodbye. He could hear his team shouting for him but he would not stop. There were only five more units of the sequence before the fireworks.

‘Hmm fireworks…’ He idly wondered how Steve would feel about this. ‘Definitely pissed off.’ He mused just as he was about to click the last mechanism into place.

All of a sudden, an incredible force descended down upon him and he instantly froze, completely unable to move, unable to breathe and thus completely unable to press the last key.

“No!” His mind screamed. “Please! No!”

Before he could descend into mental hysterics a voice rang out in his mind.

“Not today, Stark.” The heavily accented voice whispered.

It was somehow oddly soothing. Then a warm scarlet aura enveloped him and turned him to face the Rhododendron. The look of shock and fear on his pink face was almost worth it all.

A silvery flash appeared and struck down the last goon like nothing. It just past the Rhododendron disappearing the infernal radar gun from his hands all before you can blink.

‘What the?’

Suddenly, a silver haired boy appeared several yards away. He was now holding the radar gun. All at once Tony realized who these people were. It was the kids they fought in San Jose. The very one spotted with Steve and Barnes before he found them at the docks. But whose side where they on?

“Boy! Give that back, you know not what you are doing!” The Rhododendron bellowed at Quicksilver.

“I don’t? What happens if I press this button here?” He said as he pressed the button.

“No! You little prick, give it back!”

Quicksilver only ignored him and began pressing more buttons before snapping the device in half.

Finally, Tony heard the voice of an Angel.

“Sir, you are about to activate the self-destruct feature, are you sure you wish to proceed?” Jarvis asked seemingly concerned.

Tony had never been so happy to hear his AI in all his life. He was now fully in control of his suit again. When the scarlet aura lifted Tony quickly canceled the self-destruct sequence.

He quickly tested his mobility then proceeded to rocket himself to the Rhododendron. The villainous bunny emitted a piercing scream until Iron Man plowed him into the earth. Tony stood up shakingly and slowly, lifting off of the Rhododendron’s unconscious form. He bailed out of the suit and fell to the ground again on his hands and knees then began to vomit.

“Too much excitement, old man?” Quicksilver said, suddenly next to Tony.

The genius glared up at him best he could through bouts of gagging and coughing. Suddenly, Clint, Sam and Rhodey were coming up on him. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see the girl, Scarlet Witch, helping Peter to his feet.

‘Good, the kid is fine.’ He thought in relief.

His team watched the twins wearily.

“They’re fine. If Steve thought they were fine, then they’re good.” Tony managed to groan out before the world began to spin and he promptly passed out.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirty-Five: Scared to Death to Live

Tony woke with a start. Nightmares had been plaguing him relentlessly since that God awful mission four days ago. After his team had brought him back to the tower safely, he had isolated himself in his lab not long after regaining consciousness. When he wasn’t trying to drown out his nightmares with dangerous amounts of coffee and alcohol, he was restlessly trying to solve the mystery of the nauseatingly complex puzzle that is the dense data code Calamity gave to him.

It was an utter nightmare. Nightmares at all hours of the day, it seems. Life was just fantastic wasn’t it?

There were many times Tony had seriously considered completely and utterly giving up.

Really now?

Their chances of survival were so low to begin with, why bother? But then he pictured all of the disappointed faces of his team and he just couldn’t do it. He imagined what Steve’s sad puppy dog disappointed face would be like if he had given up on the world. It wasn’t pretty. Tony thought back to Steve’s encouraging words in the letter and knew he couldn’t let that insufferable bastard down.

Now, here he was, basking in yet another failed attempt to at least get more than an hour of sleep in. He was soaked in sweat and panting heavily as he desperately tried to stave off the anxiety attack that threatened to consume him. This particular nightmare, though similar to the others, was vastly more overwhelming. Ever since fighting against the Rhododendron his nightmares had consisted of nearly every presentation of his Iron Man persona losing control and killing his team. Everything from his suits being taking control of to his very mind becoming altered or brainwashed.

Tonight, however, he had an entirely different theme altogether. To get straight to the point, grotesque and heinous details aside, Tony, in his nightmare, had raped and murdered Steve in one of the worst and most depraved ways possible. It was disgustingly awful. There was no other way around it.

It felt so real…

The genius coughed and hiccuped as he desperately tried to pull it together. His constant consumption of coffee and alcohol combined with his desperate lack of sleep made the nightmares all the more hideous, and as time went on made them incomprehensibly worse. He was truly afraid he was going to lose it, that he is losing it. He was afraid that after everything was all said and done he was not going to be functional anymore, that he wasn’t going to be ‘Tony’ anymore.

Maybe he would take Wanda up on her offer to sooth his mind. But the thought of her manipulating his mind in any way made him want to vomit. He suddenly remembered all the reasons why he could never let the likes of Xavier or Wanda near his head before. His mind was utterly off-limits.

As far as Tony knew the twins had been getting along fine with the remainder of the Avengers. Tony had locked himself away shortly after coming to and had little to no interactions with them, but from what Jarvis told him they were fitting in well enough.

Tony rolled over and vomited the meager contents of his stomach onto the floor.

‘Right…’ He thought.

It didn’t help one bit that he hadn’t been eating either. He groaned miserably as he rolled back over and began to wrap himself up in his blankets making himself into a Tony burrito. He concentrated on his breathing until it resembled something moderately akin to steady. He sighed restlessly when he realized there was no chance in hell he was getting back to sleep. He wiggled his way to the other side of the bed and begrudgingly hauled himself to his feet, blankets and all, and began to make his way to his workshop.

He stood there a moment not quite sure what he was doing. He looked around his workshop and felt… empty. In the past, when Tony had become this restless, Steve was somehow always there to keep him company, sitting on his stool in his little corner of the shop sketching away. Tony had grown so used to Steve’s presence that his absence was absolutely devastating at best.

Tony knew without a shadow of a doubt that things wouldn’t have become as bad as they had if Steve were there. Steve was their leader for a reason. The Captain was one of the best friends he’s ever had for a reason. But now, the genius stood in his workshop utterly alone, restless, manic and distraught, all because he had to go and fuck things up as per usual. All because he thoroughly underestimated Calamity and let her manipulate him into believing Steve had betrayed them.

He stared at Steve’s empty stool for a while, he felt his face get heated and his eyes become wet. He wrenched his gaze away in disgust and anguish before suddenly dropping his blankets and bolting out the door. He ran mindlessly through the halls with no conscious destination in mind. He just needed to get out of there. He needed solace. He did not know where he could possibly find it, if it were even at all possible to find.

His feet, however, had somehow led him to the last place in the world he would ever think to look for it. He found himself planted outside Barnes’s assigned quarters.

“Well, fuck me.” He sighed.

It had been eleven days since the soldier’s shocking confession and Tony had put off this long overdue meeting for far too long, well, considering the end of the world is nigh and all.

He did not even know what state of mind the man was in right now. Before what happened happened, Tony had it set up where if Barnes was feeling up to it he could see Tony freely. Now, however, there was no way in hell the soldier would come to the genius willingly. So, it stands to reason that it was Tony that needed to be the one to step forward and begin the process of hashing things out.

Tony stared at the soldier’s door uncertain on how to proceed.

“Jarvis? Is he asleep?” He asked hoping that if the soldier was asleep he could just leave and no one would have to know. He could just come back later when he actually had a clue as to what he would say.

“Mr. Barnes is awake, Sir.” Jarvis replied.

“Shit.” He muttered. “Is he lucid?” Tony asked apprehensive. Maybe if he was having an episode Tony could just leave him alone.

“It is difficult to say, Sir, more lucid than not I suspect, however.” Jarvis replied.

“Damn.”

Here goes nothing. He steeled himself as he opened the door. The room was as basic as they came. It had a bed tucked away in one corner with a desk and a dresser on the other side. Two closed doors lined the wall opposite the entryway. One led to the bathroom, the other to the closet. Tony spotted Barnes quickly enough, he was huddled down on the floor wedged between the desk and the dresser.

“I was wondering when you would come for me.” The dark figure on the floor spoke slowly and clearly. He slowly lifted his face off of his knees to look at Tony sharply only for his stoic features to morph into shock and confusion.

Tony, now also confused, spoke up. “Expecting someone else?” He rose an eyebrow.

Considering everything, he really should not be the least bit surprised if that were the case.

“You’ve come to kill me, haven’t you? Why are you unarmed?” Barnes demanded bewildered.

‘Ah!’ Tony looked down at himself and realized he was barefoot in nothing but his pajama pants and indeed utterly unarmed.

‘Well…’

“Yes, well, I guess we can rule out that I’m here to kill you.” Tony shrugged, just now realizing how unkept and deranged he must look.

Yes, Tony, this was the perfect idea. Go barge in on a mentally unstable super assassin at 3 AM in his own room completely unarmed in addition to a significant lack of clothing. Good job!

Tony cursed himself madly at his utter lack of self-control. His biggest vulnerability was proudly on display. He can see the soldier taking in the mess of scar tissue radiating out from the reactor socket wall. Tony had become all too aware that Barnes could kill him now, quickly, efficiently and easily and no one or nothing could hope to stop him. This only served to further cement the decision Tony made regarding the soldier. Tony watched as Barnes began to shrink in on himself further. He had absolutely no intention of harming Tony and our genius knew this, could see it in the Soldiers eyes. Tony knew he could kill, however, easily.

He sighed deeply, ‘Here goes nothing.’

“So, hey, how about we have a talk?” He began as casually as he could muster given the awkwardness of the situation.

Barnes gawked at him in disbelief.

“Now? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“We’ve already established that I am an impulsive nutcase.” Tony shot back instantly. “This should not be a surprise.”

“Yet, here we are.” The soldier muttered. “Why are you here then?”

“I still have not quite figured that out. But I do know we should have a talk.” He admitted.

“I have nothing to say.” Was Barnes’s clipped response.

“Fine, just listen then.” Wow, he was actually doing this. “I’m not going to lie, the last couple of weeks have been a special kind of hell. And somehow you seem to be centered in a lot of it.” Tony stated pointedly. He was floored when the soldier turned away contrite. “Yeah, so any way, no hard feelings.” The genius said finally.

Barnes stood up quickly to face Tony. He remained close to the wall, however. He was in a near state of shock.

“Are you insane? After everything it’s ‘No hard feelings?’ I killed your parents!” He shouted furious.

“Hydra killed my parents. You are no more than the gun they use to pull the trigger.” He stated bluntly. “At first, it’s true, I wanted you dead, wanted you to pay, to suffer. But instead I got a sickening dose of reality, a new perspective so to speak.” He paused, Bucky listened openly, utterly stricken. “There is no one on this planet that will make you suffer more than yourself. Look at you, you are so destroyed over the things Hydra forced you to do you can’t even function right. You barely go a few hours lucid before you completely breakdown because the memories of the horrible things that has been done to you and the horrible things they force you to do to others are too much to bear.” Tony painfully observed.

Barnes bit his lip, desperately trying to force back is wretched emotions.

Tony continued, “Do you know why it hurts so much? Why you will never willingly be able to forget a single detail or why you will never be able to forgive yourself as long as you live?”

Bucky stared wide-eyed expectantly he shook his head ever so slightly.

“It’s because you are a good man, plain and simple.” Tony stated resolutely. “Of the few times Steve had ever opened up about you he had nothing but fond and admirable things to say. I can tell, you were his hero. Imagine that, Captain America’s hero. Not to mention the stories I’ve heard Natasha tell.”

Bucky shook his head, tears rolling down his face. “No! I am no hero.” He insisted painfully.

“Well, it’s true, you leave much to be desired now, but that doesn’t mean you are really anything less than a hero. As it had been painfully pointed out to me recently, if you had the choice, truly had the choice, you absolutely would not have let those things happen. Right?”

Bucky kept shaking his head.

“Tell me! If you had an honest to God choice, would you have killed my parents? Would you have killed Howard and Sarah Maria Stark!?”

“No! Howard was my friend.”

“Then it's settled. Steve trusted you. Went to stupidly insane lengths to make sure you were okay, to make sure you were safe. He’s rarely wrong right? Come on, if Steve, Captain fucking America says you’re good, you’re good.”

“Captain fucking America would also cringe at your fucking language.” Bucky smirked painfully through his tears, then grimaced.

Tony mused regretfully. Steve would indeed, if he were here…

Sensing Tony’s line of thought Barnes took several deep breaths to calm himself.

“Look at the two of us. Two pitiful walking disasters, cursing the wretched path life paved for us, all the while regretting each step we take. We make quite a pair, don’t we?” Bucky mused, his voice thick as gravel.

Tony hummed in agreement. ‘Yeah, paved path.’ He thought sarcastically. “More like haunted treacherous volcano cliff of doom.” He muttered.

Bucky barely caught it and suppressed a chuckle. This night had become something neither of them expected.

“So, what? That’s it? Everything all hunky-dory now?” The soldier voiced.

“Oh, not by a long shot.” Tony quickly replied. “But it’s a start.”

Bucky nodded solemnly. There was still much work ahead of them before anything can truly be anything close to “hunky-dory.”

“Well, before this night gets any weirder than it already has, I’m going to go find something… ‘Productive’ to do.” He emphasized with air quotes. He turned suddenly intending to leave then paused. “Oh, you should get some rest. We will pick up where we left off tomorrow, sometime afternoon.”

“Wait, hey! Who’s to say I’m even gonna be remotely lucid tomorrow? It’s taking everything I have just to keep it together now, what if I don’t even want to participate in your little experiment anymore?” The soldier pointed out sharply, almost angrily.

“Because, it’s the end of the world. There’s no way in hell you are going to let yourself take a backseat for that. Look,” Tony sighed heavily and turned around. “I know getting experimented on is like the last thing you want to even experience again. Trust me, I know.” He could not stress enough how he really knew. “But, I desperately need your help.” He stated finally.

That one statement was probably the most open and painfully genuine thing he’s ever said to anybody. Bucky was taken aback by Tony’s sincerity and unconcealed vulnerability.

“We had a mission a few days ago. It went sideways and we- I- barely made it out of there alive. If it wasn’t for those kids showing up… The world would have been doomed one way or another. And I can’t…” He broke off suddenly as he choked back a sob. All the emotions he had fiercely attempted to smother the last few days had come stampeding back with a vengeance.

“I can’t save the world by myself. With Steve gone I can’t lead the team, fight the bad guys, and find a way to stop Calamity.” He admitted. “I know I-I talk big and I am generally full of myself, I know this but I just can’t you know?” He confided, Bucky stood stock still a Stoic mask in place, letting Tony vent. He gave the barest nod indicating he was listening and should continue.

“The twins’s presence is invaluable, we have so few people left to fight. And I’m- I’m not Steve. I can’t lead these people, not like he can. As made excruciatingly apparent the other day, Calamity isn’t the only threat out there. We need someone who can really lead us.” He stressed in a whisper.

“What the fuck are you saying? You want me to lead you?? You are insane! How can you even fathom I could be a leader?” He demanded. “Idiot! Someone from your team should lead! Not… Me.” He added stricken.

“This is why I broke you out. It has to be you. Don’t you see? Steve has his talents, some natural and some enhanced from the serum. But all inspired by you! It was because of you that he aimed to be the kind of man he is. You inspired him to achieve greatness. Many of the great things he had managed to accomplish through his life was because of you! As much as it seriously pains me to admit it you are more capable of leading this team than I am.” Tony declared through gritted his teeth.

“I am in no condition to lead!” Bucky retorted harshly.

“And if we work together we can help you with that. The girl, Wanda, was able to help you before, right? Come on, I’m desperate here, I seriously don’t want the world to end. I need all the help I can get. Please, I need your skills, I need you to fight the fight in Steve’s place, you’re the only person in the world with that capacity.” Tony pleaded, very much out of character.

Bucky shook his head vigorously. “No! Get someone else, anyone else. I can’t.” He replied severely.

Bucky rubbed his face harshly then ran his hand through his hair before gripping it tight. He whimpered audibly before sliding down the wall and huddled in on himself once more. He began rocking in an attempt to calm himself.

“No, please just leave, I can’t. I can’t.” He chanted in a mantra.

Tony watched him sadly. The kicker was he knew exactly how the man felt. He couldn’t help but wonder what Steve would say to him. Steve could probably figure out just the right thing to say that would break through to Barnes and somehow make him really understand his true value. He sighed heavily. And there he goes, wishing Steve were there again. When did he become so God damned dependent on him?

He groaned internally before kneeling down to the floor.

“You meant the world to him you know. Honestly, he would probably kick my ass for coming up with such a stupid plan.” He sighed again. “But I think you and I both know he would still go along with it being that it is the end of the world after all. We can’t give up now.” He said softly.

The soldier paused in his rocking.

Tony continued, “People are counting on us. The way I see it we can wallow in self misery after we save the world. We can deal with our demons when everything is all said and done. And hey, if the world ends none of that shit will matter anyway.” Tony finished.

He was really terrible at this kind of thing.

“Please, just leave.” The soldier uttered just barely above a whisper.

Tony moaned in derision inwardly. He stood unsteadily and headed to the door.

‘At least..’ He thought. ‘I tried.’

It was the best he could do under the circumstances.

“The offer still stands if you change your mind. You know where to find me.” And with that he left the soldier alone and made his way back to his workshop.

At the very least in his attempt to motivate Barnes he had somehow inspired himself. Like he told Bucky, he couldn’t give up now, he could deal with his demons later, now was the time to get to work.

-0-

Hours had passed in a flash. When Tony had gotten back to his lab he had gone straight to work. He created program after program an attempt to solve the puzzle, but to no avail. It was digital complexity at his finest. There was no way he was going to solve it without the proper key. It was a massive digital mess. Petabytes of ones and zeros and without the right key or program to read it there was no way to figure out how to actually use it to create a device to reverse Calamity’s effects.

Only if that is what is in fact on this device. It has occurred to Tony time and time again that Calamity could be using it as a diversion. Forcing Tony to focus on it instead of leading his team the way he was meant to in Steve’s absence. Unfortunately, ignoring the drive was a risk that he absolutely could not take. Too many civilian lives were at stake. If he could not s