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Red Skull's Glorious Return

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Johann Schmidt had never been described as a patient man.

But he could be when the time called for it. Oh yes, he could be. And now his patience was to be rewarded. After 75 long years, now he, Red Skull, would take his place as the rightful ruler of Earth.

“Approaching Earth,” the ship computer intoned.

“Perfect!” Johann said, adjusting the space vessel’s navigation console and grinning in manic delight at the thought of crushing Earth’s meager governments beneath the mighty power of HYDRA. “Notify the nearest HYDRA station that I, Red Skull, have returned!”

Red Skull could hear what sounded like a phone ringing over the intercom. So Earth still used phones, how primitive.

“Hello?” a voice said.

“Ah, yes, is this HYDRA?” Red Skull said.

“Yes! Are you interested in the new recruit program?” the voice said excited. “The deadline is soon, November 1st! If you join today you’ll get upgraded gear and a MH3 plasma rifle.”

“I am not interested in being a recruit,” Red Skull said stiffly.

“I’ll throw in a deluxe gas mask and a bunk in the officer's level!” the voice said.

“What? No,” Red Skull said firmly.

“Come on, man, I’ve got a quota,” the voice groaned.

“Nevermind your quota,” Red Skull said testily. “It is I, Red Skull!”

“Is this… a prank call?” the voice asked hesitantly.

“No! Get me Zola, I need to speak to him!” Red Skull said.

“Ah… Zola’s dead? Twice actually. Once with cancer. And once with a literal computer crash. As in a bomb crashed the computer to pieces. Speaking of dead, aren’t you supposed to be—”

“Get me Baron Strucker then!” Red Skull said impatiently.

“Dead. Psycho robot.”

“Werner Reinhardt?”

“Dead.”

“Anyone who isn’t dead?” Red Skull said.

“Uh… Rollins! I can transfer you to Rollins!” the voice said. “Uh… please hold.”

Fire and ice. This love is like fire and ice,” the phone sang. “This love is like rain and blue skies. This love is like sun on the rise.”

“Computer explain, why is the phone singing?” Red Skull said in confusion.

“It has become Earth custom to play either music or advertisements while a call is on hold,” the computer explained.

This made no sense to Red Skull until 20 minutes later and he was still on hold. Perhaps they played music to try to distract you from making death threats over the line in the hopes someone will just answer the phone?

“Still falling for you, still falling for you,” Red Skull sang to himself in time to the music.

“Hello?” a voice said.

“Is this Rollins?” the Red Skull demanded. “Are you the new Head of HYDRA? I have come to relieve you of your burden! It is I, Red Skull. Prepare to celebrate my awaited return! I shall land at your location in the next two minutes.”

“What? Red Skull…? Wait, is that your spaceship?” the voice, supposedly Rollins, said.

“No doubt the spaceship was now in view.

“It is not mine, but a loan from Thanos,” Red Skull said proudly. “I have made a bargain to enter Earth into the glorious kingdom of Thanos with I as the sovereign ruler of Earth.”

“Who’s Thanos?” Rollins said confused. No matter. Red Skull decided an explanation could wait till his ship has finished landing. Rollins and the rest of HYDRA would soon understand.

The return celebration was not what Red Skull had expected. He had, in the privacy of his own mind, expected a cheering throng to flood the streets, women weeping at his feet and a 20 piece orchestra. In turned out instead to be about twenty people gaping on a lawn outside an old rusty warehouse.

“I am here for the final victory for HYDRA,” Red Skull said gravely to the man named Rollins after he finished waving to the small crowd. Rollins was dressed in black tactical gear and gave Red Skull the hairy eyeball.

“How exactly is it you’re not dead?” Rollins asked.

“Did you think Zola did not know the Tesseract's true nature?” Red Skull said. “It is not simply a source of unparalleled energy, it is a portal that can be used to travel between worlds!”

“We know,” Rollins said. “There was this megalomaniac named Loki—”

“How do you think Loki knew where to find the Tesseract?” Red Skull interrupted. “I told Thanos, and Thanos told Loki.” Rollins paused, clearly not expecting this information.

“I was most fortunate, after I touched the Tesseract on the plane, it placed me on a planet owned by the powerful being Thanos,” Red Skull continued. “At first I exchanged the location of the Tesseract for a minor position of power. But after Loki’s failed attempt to bring Earth to heel, I told Thanos of the secret work Zola had been working on for HYDRA. Thanos was most interested, and gave me this space vessel in exchange for HYDRA’s cooperation to fold Earth into the Dark Lord’s domain. After 75 years, no doubt Zola has created a vast and unstoppable army by now. He had this plan he called The Winter Soldier Project… I am most fascinated to learn if he succeeded in creating one. But first things first. Now, where is my army?”

Rollins waved an arm to encompass the twenty people still staring in stunned silence at the ship.

“Your army,” Rollins said sarcastically, then added in a mutter, “I cannot believe I escaped prison for this.”

“As a servant of HYDRA, you would do better to be more supportive of your superiors,” Red Skull said haughtily. He looked around with a frown. “This is it?”

“Afraid so, all that’s left,” Rollins said bitterly.

Hmmm, this might be more difficult than Johann had first thought.

 


 

“What do you mean the Sokovia fortress is gone?” Red Skull shouted.

“The Avengers, sir,” the unfortunate HYDRA scientist assigned to brief Red Skull said.

“Whoever these Avengers are, I shall make them pay,” Red Skull said through gritted teeth. “What of the mysterious and powerful artifacts Reinhardt collected?”

“Gone,” the scientist squeaked.

“What of the Winter Soldier Project?” Red Skull said, voice rising. “Zola assured me—”

“Yes, yes! Ah, the Winter Soldier,” the scientist said and a nearby translucent computer screen flickered to life and played a video of a man in a black mask with a cybernetic arm. The masked man was brutal. He fought with furious rage and beautiful precision, and had the type of strength that could only come from the serum. He looked terrifying, the perfect mascot of HYDRA.

“Perfect! Where is he? He shall lead my army,” Red Skull said. With such a loyal and unstoppable soldier, who needed an army of thousands to conquer the world?

“Not really, um, possible,” the scientist said.

“What? Is his training not complete?” Red Skull asked in disbelief. Did Zola not do even one thing right?

“The project was completed!” the HYDRA scientist hurried to assure him. “It’s just, well, Captain America, he wasn’t actually dead. The serum increases molecular healing so there was no degradation or aging in the ice he was frozen in after the plane crash, absolutely fascinating if you think about it… which wasn’t what you asked about! Right! So, uh, well…”

Another computer screen flicked on to show Captain America and the Winter Soldier fighting near a highway bridge. Damn the Winter Soldier had some impressive knife fighting skills.

“What he’s trying to say,” a female HYDRA soldier with hard eyes said, “is that both were sent to fight each other. SHIELD sent Captain America. HYDRA sent the Winter Soldier. It was supposed to be a bloody duel to the death, the first public victory for HYDRA in nearly 70 years. But, the results of the actual fight were not what we hoped for.”

Captain America and the Winter Soldier grappled with each other on the computer screen, their impressive strength matched equally by the other.

“You’re telling me Captain America won?” Red Skull said furiously. “I gave you clear instructions on how to train the Winter Soldier. I gave you the best in brainwashing technology! He was a loyal servant enhanced by the serum and he lost?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say he lost, more… um…” the scientist said. “Things took a bit of an unexpected turn, it couldn’t have been predicted! Captain America and the Winter Soldier… well…”

“They eloped,” the woman said bluntly.

“They what?” Red Skull said. “Who did they elope with?”

The woman looked at him like he was dense. “With. Each. Other,” she said slowly, like she was explaining something to an idiot.

Red Skull looked from the computer monitor with the Winter Soldier tearing through a metal door with his cybernetic arm with a murderous look in his eyes to the computer monitor where the Winter Soldier missed a punch aimed for Captain America’s head and instead cracked the concrete beneath him.

“That’s not even legal!” Red Skull spluttered.

“Actually, same-sex marriage is legal in over 25 nations now,” the scientist said helpfully.

Red Skull silently watched Captain America and the Winter Soldier do their best to kill each other on the monitor.

“So they fought each other and then eloped?” Red Skull asked perplexed.

“Not immediately,” the woman said, exasperated. “We’re not sure of the exact timeline or who seduced who. We do know both were sent to fight each other on a helicarrier, then the Winter Soldier defected from HYDRA and Captain America was rushed to the hospital by SHIELD. It is unclear if the injuries Captain America sustained were a result of the battle, or other activities.”

“Other activities?” Red Skull said blankly.

“If Captain America had seduced the Winter Soldier, both having the enhanced strength from the serum, it is possible for one or both to sustain massive injuries during sex,” the woman said.

“Right! No, enough!” Red Skull said.

“And, we did our best to track the Winter Soldier,” the scientist said, “but he remained off our radar for two years until he was captured by the Joint Counter Terrorist Center. It is unclear if the Winter Soldier and Captain America had any contact during those two years, but considering the Winter Soldier broke out of the cell mere hours later with Captain America and the Falcon, it is likely. It would take quite an attachment for Captain America to commit such an act of treason.”

“Or maybe the sex was just that good,” the woman muttered to herself.

“Then both Captain America and the Winter Soldier disappeared without a trace,” the scientist continued, “until another two years later when they were pardoned by the UN Security Council and married in Wakanda.”

Another computer screen turned on. There was a photo of a newspaper. The lead article had a large photo of Captain America and the Winter Soldier wearing wedding bands and tightly embracing while kissing… in front of a man wearing a panther suit? The headline said, “Captain America Elopes With Lover; King T’Challa Officiates.”

Earth has gotten weird in the time he’s been gone.

But he knew without the Winter Soldier he had no chance of taking over Earth. And anyways, who would want to remain married to goody-two-shoes Captain Rogers? There was only one thing to do…

 


 

“Isn’t this, like, an invasion of privacy?” a young man with disheveled hair and thick rimmed glasses asked.

“And who are you?” Red Skull said.

“He’s our intern,” Rollins said.

It must be an unpaid position. That explained why the young man couldn’t afford pants without holes or paint splatters on them.

“Here, you take the controls,” Red Skull said, pushing the hand-held remote into the intern's hands. Petty work such as operating a stealth camera was beneath a genius such as himself.

“So, you’ve got a plan?” Rollins asked, doubtfully.

Of course Red Skull had a plan, a brilliant plan.

Captain America and the Winter Soldier cannot be outright attacked. Even Red Skull’s magnificent strength would not be enough to fight ALL the superheroes. According to Rollins, Captain America and the Winter Soldier live in the same fortress as the Black Panther, Widow, Scarlet Witch, Eagle AND what’s-his-name. The red robot that looked like a person.

So there’s only one thing to do: infiltrate the fortress with an undetectable camera. Thanos gave Red Skull many wondrous devices for his promise to conquer Earth, including a camera shaped like the Creeping Xenupi, an insect from the plant Ori-Pl.

“No doubt there is trouble in paradise,” Red Skull said. “Do you really think Captain America and a soldier of HYDRA could be anything but enemies? The marriage is a mistake, all I have to do is prove it to my wayward servant and he will come running home.” And to do that, HYDRA needed to find out the unholy union’s weak spots by observing them.

“Well… except wow, Captain America, talk about hot like burning. You’d be crazy to leave that,” the intern said.

Red Skull leaned closer to the screen, which displayed a rather ordinary looking living room. All in all, it reminded Johann with a pang of nostalgia of his own living room before he became Red Skull and decided a fortified HYDRA bunker was more his style. He could see a floor radio between two tall windows that looked out over the Wakandan jungle. There was a chest-high bookshelf with a gramophone sitting next to a stack of National Geographic magazines with aged peeling spines.

The camera creeped forward, the camera swaying with the motion of the moving mechanical replica of the Xenupi insect.

There was a man sitting on a couch, no doubt the Winter Soldier. Red Skull recognized the hair from the computer footage. The Winter Soldier was wearing sweats too big for him, his hair messy and slightly greasy.

Actually, now that Red Skull thought about it, the Soldier’s face looked familiar too. Wait… that annoying sniper. Roger’s friend. Well, that explained some things. No doubt Rogers married him out of pity, a way to convince his friend to leave HYDRA.

Absolutely perfect. The Winter Soldier was eating on the sofa, getting crumbs both on himself and the sofa. There was a disassembled semi-automatic on the coffee table, parts strewn everywhere and a jar of gun grease without a lid. He was currently working on a crossword puzzle. Red Skull could see an uncapped pen on the sofa that had left ink marks on the fabric.

Red Skull thought of his own father, a military man like Captain Rogers. Johann remembered his father had always insisted on tidiness and discipline to an oppressive degree. And here the Winter Soldier was making a mess, looking sloppy and wasting his time on trivial things. No doubt Rogers would be apocalyptic when he saw this. And when Rogers started to lecture him? Well, Johann can tell you from firsthand experience how annoying those type of lectures become. And he doubted the Winter Soldier has much patience for self-righteous pricks.

A few minutes later, Red Skull could see Captain America walk into the living room. Perfect.

“Hey,” Captain America said warmly. “Whatcha doin’?”

Captain America flopped down onto the sofa next to the disheveled, messy, undisciplined Winter Soldier and started to cuddle up next to him.

“Nothin’,” the Winter Soldier said with a warm smile. He put his arms around Captain America, burying his nose against Captain America’s neck. Captain America turned his head then kissed the Winter Soldier on the mouth, and the Winter Soldier made a happy humming sound.

Captain America leaned his head against the Winter Soldier’s chest, right over his heart, and settled in. He picked up a dorito from the Winter Soldier’s plate and bit into it with a crunch, adding more crumbs to the mess. Fine, so they were both slobs.

The Winter Soldier kissed Captain America on the crown of his head. And the two of them just laid there, not doing much, just snuggling together and working on the crossword puzzle. Apparently they are both disgustingly domestic. Red Skull was disappointed both would choose this over the battlefield.

 


 

Red Skull watched Captain America and the Winter Soldier cook dinner together. Captain America kneaded a lump of homemade dough while the Winter Soldier peeled potatoes with a combat knife. Red Skull has been watching them for some hours.

The thing is, he cannot figure out why Captain America should have decided to marry the Winter Soldier. As much as he loathed to admit it, Captain America was a man of considerable social stature. Captain America has fans, powerful allies, and monuments built in his name.

Captain America should have no problem attracting women. They should be flocking to him. He should have the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife, and so Red Skull tried to puzzle out why the Winter Soldier of all people.

He watched the Winter Soldier start to cut the potatoes into wedges. When Captain America looked over, the Soldier waggled his eyebrows and started to do some fancy knife work.

The Soldier flipped his knife in the air and caught it in a graceful arc and whack! He split a potato in two. Then he spun the flat side of the knife and the handle on the back of his hand. Once he made sure he had Captain America’s full attention, he gathered several potatoes and got an additional knife so he had two. He twirled both knives, then thwack! A couple more potatoes felt the bite of his blade. The Soldier grinned at Captain America in delight.

Captain America smiled back and swooped over to tug the Winter Soldier over by his hips so the two of them were chest-to-chest. The Winter Soldier let the knives fall to the counter with a clatter and looped his arms loosely around Captain America’s waist. They grinned at each, faces so close together they looked like they were about to kiss. When they separated, there were two flour handprints on the Winter Soldier’s hips.

Red Skull wondered if it was some sort of political match. The Winter Soldier would have valuable information on HYDRA operations, perhaps it was a way to secure an enemy combatant as an ally?

The Winter Soldier finished seasoning the potato wedges. As he bent to put them in the oven, Red Skull saw there was now a flour handprint on the Soldier’s ass.

Red Skull watched Captain America roll the dough into the shape of a pizza crust, and the Soldier helped him put toppings on the pizza, the two of them laughing. It was a mess of tomato sauce, pepperoni, olives and god knows what else. At one point the Soldier plucked a small amount of shredded cheese from the bag and Captain America playfully opened his mouth as the Soldier fed him the mozzarella.

Perhaps King T’Challa arranged the marriage? A way to collect both of history’s greatest soldiers and force them into a permanent partnership.

Red Skull watched them through dinner. It was a disgrace. They spent as much time talking as eating, leaning towards each other and staring in each other’s eyes. The Winter Soldier kept licking his lips and slowly hand-feeding Captain America, who took his sweet precious time eating each food morsel put into his mouth, closing his lips around the Winter Soldier’s fingers.

After dinner, the radio sung “Stars fading but I linger on dear, Still craving your kiss, I'm longing to linger till dawn dear, Just saying this,” while the two soldiers slow danced in the living room. The only light was from the fireplace—a warm light that flickered across the room—and the Winter Soldier and Captain America danced so close together that it was a wonder they managed not to step on each other’s toes. Captain America slowly stroked the Winter Soldier’s hair and cheek from time-to-time as they danced, and they spoke to each other in whispers too soft for Red Skull to hear.

Yes, Red Skull thought, it was probably a forced political marriage.

 


 

What Red Skull had truly been waiting for was an argument. That’s all he needed, some indication of where the stress points were in this marriage. After all, with that information it would be easy enough to arrange the right kind of external pressures to ratchet up the tension, create some fractures.

He got what he was waiting for just two days later.

Captain America stormed into the living room in view of the hidden camera. The Winter Soldier was not far behind, voice raised in anger.

“—this isn’t your fight!” the Winter Soldier shouted.

“The team will be ready in ten minutes,” Captain America said. “Look, Bucky, I’ve got to do this. Everett Ross helped clear your name at the trial, I owe him. AND I’m the reason Zemo wants revenge.”

“No!” the Winter Soldier said. “Ultron is! He’s the one responsible for Sokovia. You honestly can’t tell me you feel like it’s your fault you couldn’t save all of Ultron's victims. That’s not on you, without you there—”

“Zemo blames me and the Avengers,” Captain America said in a stubborn voice. “And now that he’s escaped the Berlin cell, he’ll take his anger out on anyone he can. Natasha and I go in and rescue Ross, T’Challa and Wanda recapture Zemo.”

“I should at least—” the Winter Soldier said.

“No, he knows too much about your programming,” Captain America said. “Even with the codes gone, he might have some other information he can use against you. And Bucky, I can’t, please—”

“Promise me,” the Winter Soldier said savagely, “you’ll stay safe. Without me there to watch your back, promise me Steve.”

“Yes I promise, I’ll be safe, I’ll come home to you… I’ll…” and then the two of them were kissing. Captain America’s hands gently bracketed the Winter Soldier’s face, and the Winter Soldier had his hands on Captain America’s shoulders, pulling him closer as they kissed.

When they gently disengaged, the Winter Soldier said, “Not everything is your fault, Steve. You need to stop blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong. I know you still blame yourself for what happened to me, but that’s not true. You saved me. You…” and he bowed his forehead to rest against Steve’s and the two just quietly breathed each other in.

This was infuriating. This wasn’t the kind of argument Red Skull needed at all. Where were the petty squabbles, the put downs, the physical fights?

Back to square one.

 


 

Captain America’s mission took 37 hours. Thirty-seven boring hours of just watching the Winter Soldier pace and sulk and demand updates from the team.

But no matter, because Red Skull had the most brilliant idea. He couldn’t believe he didn’t think of it before. Captain America and the Winter Soldier may not be prone to arguments, but Red Skull knows what else they wouldn’t be prone to. The… ehem… physical intimacy between husband and wife. After all, this is Captain America.

Red Skull permits that perhaps they… well, soldiers are known to give each other a helping hand, so to speak… anyways, it wouldn’t be the same as with a woman, right? And while Captain America might be crazy enough to remain faithful in a strange marriage such as this, the Winter Soldier would be a different matter. No doubt the Soldier has a woman on the side, or is chafing under failed marital intimacy expectations or something.

Red Skull is gloating over his own epiphany when Captain America returned home. There’s no “Honey, I’m home” or any sort of rational greeting, Captain America just slammed open the front door.

“Steve!” the Winter Soldier said, jumping up from the couch. “You’re back! You’re alright?”

“Yeah, the mission went great, Bucky,” Captain America said in a rush. “No injuries, just like I promised.”

The two of them silently watched each other a moment, drinking up the sight of each other.

“I’ve missed you so much,” Captain America said. The Winter Soldier made a soft sound, a mixture of relief and happiness.

Captain America kicked the front door shut and pushed the Winter Soldier up against the wall, desperately kissing him. The Winter Soldier hooked one leg around Captain America and they both moaned, hands roaming over each other. After a few minutes, the Winter Soldier moved down to kiss and suck at Captain America’s neck, and Captain America’s face turned red as he shoved one of his hands down the front of the Winter Soldier’s pants.

“I love you,” the Winter Soldier panted. “I love you so much… Steve!”

This isn’t how this is supposed to go at all.

Before long there was a trail of clothes to the bedroom. The camera was still in the living room watching the now empty room. Red Skull stared blankly at the screen in shock.

“Oh! Yes!” Captain America shouted from the bedroom. “Yes, Bucky, hmm... harder!!”

“Maybe we should move the camera to the bedroom—” the female HYDRA soldier said breathlessly, reaching for the controls and eyes fixed on the screen.

“Ohhh!” Captain America moaned.

“Turn it off! Turn it off!” Red Skull said.

 


 

Later that day, Red Skull was forced to give up the spying completely. Strangely enough, his camera ran into a small insect-sized man while scurrying about in the cavity between walls. Rollins explained to him the insect-sized superhero was called Ant-Man.

“Hello?” Ant-Man said to the camera, peering closely at it from his perch on top the ant he was riding like a horse. Thankfully the camera was built to look like the Xenupi insect and not what it really is, a tool for spying. The mechanical Creeping Xenupi tilted its head as Red Skull tried to position the camera to see around Ant-Man.

“Awww, you look just like an itty-bitty green puppy!” Ant-Man said.

The Creeping Xenupi did not look like a puppy. It was green! It had four legs, a tail, two drooping ears, a snout… hmm, maybe it does look like an insect-sized puppy.

And then the ant reared up and bit the camera lens. The screen turned to static and displayed “signal lost.” Red Skull fumed. What was he to do now?

It was the intern who came up with a solution. “So, I’ve been reading our files on the Winter Soldier,” the intern said.

“Yes, and?” Red Skull demanded.

“So, we already know how to erase at least part of his memory,” the intern said, shuffling through some old files rescued from Sokovia before the Avengers took out the fortress. “The Chair used precise electrical stimulation to induce neural seizures.”

“Yes, yes,” Red Skull said impatiently. So what? Captain America already destroyed all of the Winter Soldier Chairs and there wasn’t time to build a new Chair. Besides, how would they even manage to kidnap the Soldier long enough to put him in one?

“Well, you can approximate The Chair’s function with bilateral nodes and intense volts of sinusoidal waves,” the intern said. “It’s not as exact, but it should at least wipe the most recent years of memory. All you need to do is erase his memories of independence after HYDRA, and the codes should start working again. And, best of all, all it takes is the right power source and a conduit; it would be entirely portable.”

Rollins and Red Skull stared at the intern.

“You mean, we could build a weapon, sort of like a taser, but that’s actually a weaker, less precise version of The Chair?” Rollins said slowly. Rollins and Red Skull looked at each other.

 


 

“Help me with this!” Red Skull demanded.

“I sort of… assumed… by portable… it would be smaller and not so heavy,” Rollins grunted as he lugged the power source for the Bilateral-Sinusoid Gun up the stairs behind Red Skull.

He held the big, clunky cylinder that housed both the electrical power source and the transformer. On the side of the cylinder were the gun’s acronym, B.S., painted in large yellow letters.

A cable ran from the power source to the taser-like device in Red Skull’s hands. The device was designed to shoot two adhesive electrodes that conducted a powerful electrical current to the victim’s head, thus inducing a neural convulsion and memory loss. Because of the amount of electricity used, the victim could only be a super soldier, or otherwise instead of inducing memory loss it just induced death.

“Hurry!” Red Skull demanded. “The effect from the EMP will only last a few more seconds.”

Thanos had helpfully provided Red Skull with an EMP Bomb that released a burst of plasma and a magnetic field. It was enough to scramble the Wakandan Fortress’s electronic defenses, opening magnetic locks and silencing alarms and disabling automatic breach containment procedures. This fortress may have been well-equipped to deal with Earth weapons, but a weapon from space was a different matter. But the electronic disruption would only last a few minutes, so they had to move fast to the Winter Soldier’s quarters within the fortress.

Red Skull and Rollins burst through the last door into the apartment they had been spying on.

“What the hell?” the Winter Soldier said. He was standing in the part of the hallway that opened up to the living room. Captain America ran in from the kitchen with a clatter of dropped dishes at the sound of the intruders.

“Red Skull,” Captain America said low and menacingly, putting himself between Red Skull and the Winter Soldier, shielding his husband with his body.

“Captain,” Red Skull said in greeting. “I have come to reclaim my soldier. Now, if you don’t mind, prepare to feel the awesome power of the B.S. gun!”

Rollins grimaced.

“Perhaps you should consider a different name for—” Rollins began.

“Silence!” Red Skull commanded. He powered up the gun, trying to figure out how to shoot the Winter Soldier with Captain America blocking the way. One of the windows in the living room shattered as the winged superhero Eagle flew in through the broken window.

“So you have called for help?” Red Skull sneered. “Not even Eagle can save you now!”

“Uh… you know I’m Falcon, right?” Eagle said, his mechanical wings adjusting from flight mode to the shape of a shield. “I have a jetpack literally named EXO-7 Falcon.”

The fortress’s defenses came back online. There was a warning klaxon and a voice over the PA system announced, “Sir, there are two intruders in the Rogers quarters.” A wall caved in with a blast and a flash of light, and a red and gold metal man flew into the room.

“Hold it right there! You want to get to them, you have to go through me,” the flying metal man said.

“Who are you?” the Red Skull asked. The flying thing removed it’s red and gold helmet. Beneath it was a man with dark hair and a goatee. There was something familiar about him.

“Tony!” Captain America said. Nope, not a familiar name.

“Look, Jack Skellington—” Tony said to Johann.

“Red Skull!” Johann corrected.

“Really? Never would have guessed, what with that stellar complexion you have. See these two bozos?” Tony said pointing at Captain America and Eagle. “They’re Avengers.”

So these are the Avengers. Figures. Of course Captain America was part of the group that took out the Sokovia Fortress.

“The Avengers are like a family,” Tony said heartfelt. “And Steve is like a brother to me. You know, that really annoying older brother—”

“Uh, you sure this is the right speech?” Eagle said, crossing his arms.

“—who sometimes does really stupid things,” Tony said. “And, yes, he and I have had our differences. Should he have listened to me? Yes! Did he choose a rogue before a bro? Absolutely!”

“Stark!” Captain America said disapprovingly.

And it clicked into place, Stark. Take away the goatee and the flying suit, and yes, Johann could see the resemblance to Howard Stark. Actually, add the flying suit back into the equation; Howard would have totally worn a flying robot suit like a fashion statement if he could have.

“But if there’s one thing about family I learned,” Tony continues, “it’s that no one is allowed to hurt my stupid metaphorical brother but me.” Captain America looked like he couldn’t decide if he was touched by Tony’s words or not.

“So peacefully surrender yourself before I’m forced to bring out the big guns,” Stark said.

“You know, you’re a lot like you’re father,” Red Skull mused. Howard too had a tendency to stick his nose in business he shouldn’t.

Stark abruptly stopped talking. He hit Red Skull with a repulsor blast.

 


 

Red Skull blinked awake. His head was killing him. He was in his spaceship gifted from Thanos, and Rollins was standing over him. How did he get here?

“You just had to go after the Avengers,” Rollins said. “You couldn’t just make a plan for quietly infiltrating some world governments like Zola had. Oh no, you’ve got to go after the team of literally superpowered superheroes.”

“What happened?” Red Skulls asked.

“Thankfully Frank had an actual plan and drove your spaceship over to the fight,” Rollins said. “Surrounded by Captain America, the Winter Soldier, Falcon and Iron Man, I made the executive decision to get the hell out of there. I jumped out the window Falcon had smashed and hitched a ride on the spaceship. I dragged your unconscious body with me; you’re welcome.”

“Who’s Frank?” Red Skull said bewildered.

Your intern,” Rollins gritted out.

Well, the was only one thing to do then.

“We need resources if we are to defeat them,” Red Skull said. “Retrieving the Winter Soldier has proved more difficult than I thought.”

“Not again,” Rollins said. “Not gonna happen.”

“If we return to Thanos—” Red Skull said.

“So we retreat?” Rollins said.

“It’s not a retreat! It’s… a strategic regroup,” Red Skull said. “And if we explain to Thanos our difficulties perhaps he will lend us an army.”

“Uh huh,” Rollins said, unconvinced.

“We must leave at once! It will take some time to return to Thano’s mighty throne, it is on a planet far from here,” Red Skull said.

“When you say far…?” Rollins said.

“It will take us three years,” Red Skull said.

Three years!”

“Well, what did you expect? It’s a spaceship not the Tesseract.”

 



Three Years Later


“At last, we have arrived!” Red Skull announced, stepping off the spaceship onto Thanos’s planet. He took a moment to breathe in the sulphur-tinged air, and gazed at the beautiful blood red sky.

He had fond memories of this planet. The prisoners he got to torture, the loyalty training and brain reprogramming, hanging out with Thanos’s mad scientists at the local spaceship refuelling hub. Fun times. Red Skull turned to the nearest inhabitant, a strange-looking alien who sort of… kind of… resembled a tree with a face.

“Take me to Thanos!” Red Skull demanded of the alien.

“I am Groot,” the alien said. Fine, fine, so maybe introductions were in order.

“And I am Red Skull,” Red Skull announced loudly. “Now, take me to Thanos!”

“I am Groot,” the alien said again. The alien’s black eyes blinked.

“Yes, we already—” Red Skull said.

“I am Groot.”

“I know!” Red Skull shouted.

“Hey numbskull,” a voice said out of thin air.

“Red Skull!” Johann corrected, looking around for whoever spoke but he doesn't see anyone. Now that he looked around he realized the planet looked a little different from the last time he was here. The guard towers were on the edge of crumbling and there were black scorch marks on the walls and ground. Rollins finally exited the spaceship and immediately screwed up his nose at the smell.

“Down here,” the voice said and someone kicked his leg. Red Skull looked down to see a raccoon. Interesting.

“Hello small insignificant creature,” Red Skull said. The raccoon scowled at him.

“Are you talking to the tree or the racoon?” Rollins whispered at Red Skull. “Actually, wait, why are you talking to—”

“That’s all he says, idiot,” the raccoon said. “You actually need something, or are you just wasting space?”

“I need to see Thanos,” Red Skull said. “I have welcomed news of a proposed invasion of Earth!”

“Oh, you’re one of Thanos’s buddies,” the raccoon said, powering up his gun. “Thanos got deposed. Too bad, so sad, that’s what happen when you try to take over the galaxy. You get vaporized by The Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“The what?” Red Skull said.

“Uh, woah, we helped too,” Eagle said.

WHAT? Red Skull looked up to see Eagle, a blonde man in a red cape carrying a large silver hammer, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier come into view.

“And friends,” the raccoon amended.

“That’s—” Captain America said with a shout, pointing right at Red Skull.

“Uh oh,” Rollins said right as a stun gun fired twice. It hit both Rollins and Red Skull, and they slumped to the ground. A green woman sauntersed over, a stun gun in each hand and smirked at them.

“Meet the Guardians of the Galaxy,” she said as she handcuffed them both. Red Skull looked around wildly as Captain America and his friends came over to help her.

“How did—” Red Skull spluttered at Captain America and the Winter Soldier, “how did you even get here?” He left them behind on Earth! Three years ago!

The blonde man with the large hammer held up the Tesseract.

“I hate you,” Rollins hissed at Red Skull.

“It wasn’t my fault,” Red Skull protested as the green woman dragged him to his feet by his handcuffed arms.

“I’m so sorry, Bucky. This wasn’t exactly what I had planned for our anniversary,” Captain America said to the Winter Soldier. “I had reservations at that new restaurant; I had candles for later and roses I wanted to give to you, but then the Guardians needed help tracking down the last of Thanos’s guards and now this.” Captain America nodded in the direction of Red Skull.

“But I wanted you to know… I love you, Bucky,” Captain America said. “And I’m grateful I get to spend the rest of my life with you. The best day of my life was the day I married you.”

“Steve,” the Winter Soldier said very seriously, “as long as I’m with you, it’s the best anniversary I could ever want. Happy anniversary, Steve.” And the Winter Soldier swept Captain America up in a kiss.

“Is it too much to ask that you get a room?” the raccoon said irritably.

“Let me bring both of you back to your home,” the blonde man with the hammer said to Captain America and the Winter Soldier, “so you may enjoy the rest of your celebration of your joining in peace.”

And the Tesseract began to glow, taking Steve and Bucky Rogers home.