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The emergency alarm blared through the tower, ripping Steve from a fitful sleep as he sat up in bed. His muscles were tense as he looked around the bedroom wide-eyed, breathing heavily as his heart thudded in his chest.
“W-wha-“ he slurred, blinking away the deep from his eyes as the emergency alarm continued to blare around him.
Even after a month of living there again, the place still somehow felt foreign. His bedroom was set up the same way it always had been; tan-colored walls, a large window with a thick curtain keeping the New York City lights out, his drafting desk in the corner, covered in paintbrushes and charcoal, folders of finished drawing and stacks of unused paper.
It was undeniably his, but…
The tower hadn’t been the same since he and the others got back.
Steve and the ‘Rogues’ as the media had called them had received pardons when they came back to the States, so long as they agreed to abide by the amended Sokovia Accords. As much as Steve had hated it, had wanted to fan the flames of another upheaval at the mere thought of the government putting a stop to him trying to protect people, there wasn’t much he could do.
T’Challa had a kingdom to run, he’d said so himself- he couldn’t babysit the rogues and perform his duties as king at the same time. The man had even signed the accords himself, urging the super soldier to take the deal while it was still on the table.
So he had. He may have been bitter about it, but it was better to be bitter and not a fugitive than the alternative.
The only saving grace he had bee table to count on was the fact that Bucky had also been pardoned, both from the things he’d been accused of at the UN meeting and of the charges brought up against the Winter Soldier….provide he goes to therapy and stays off the active roster until his therapist cleared him.
Steve wasn’t sure who had managed to strike up that deal, but he still needed to thank them- that, or he had some kind of a guardian angel looking over him, who had also somehow managed to convince Ton- Stark to allow them back into Avenger’s tower.
Sure, they all- they being himself, Clint, Sam, Bucky, Wanda, and Natasha- lived on one floor now, a level beneath the penthouse where the billionaire himself lived, but it wasn’t like the place didn’t have all the necessities. It was Avengers Tower, after all.
Still, Stark has avoided them like the plague. They weren’t allowed up in the penthouse, and he never joined them for team-building exercises or workouts. They only ever saw him during missions, and even then he was distant.
A part of Steve wanted to tell the man that he was being ridiculous, ignoring them all like that- that he was acting like a child and he should just grow up already- but another part of him just want everything to go back to the way it used to be before any of this ever happened.
When they still considered one another family.
“Jarvis-“ he paused, shaking his head. No- no, Jarvis was gone, right… Stark had a new AI running the tower, Friday, he was pretty sure her name was. “Uh- F-Friday, what’s goin’ on?” He asked, glancing up at the ceiling out of habit. When the AI gave no response, Steve found himself clambering out of bed and pulling on some sweatpants.
He left his room and ran down the hall, only to come face to face with Clint, Wanda, and Natasha.
“What’s going on?” Clint asked, glancing between the two.
“No idea- did Stark blow up his lab or something?” Steve asked, only for Bruce and Thor to make it to the living room with bleary eyes and tangled hair, stepping out of the private elevator that led to the penthouse.
Right…the two still lived in the penthouse.
“What’s happening?” Bruce asked as he fixed his glasses. “Friday won’t respond to me, ” the scientist said anxiously.
“Last to the party it looks like- anyone figure out what the alarm’s for?” Sam asked as he and Bucky came from around the corner, suited up and ready for action.
Steve was cut off by the flatscreen in the living room turning on, sparking to life and illuminating the somewhat dark room. The Avengers shared a look before heading towards it cautiously. Things didn’t really tend to work out for them when the technology they surrounded themselves with started doing things on its own.
The screen filled with static before clearing up to reveal a dark room with a solitary chair in the center. In that chair, bound in thick corded cables, was Tony. The Avengers tensed, hands curling into fists at the sight. “What is this-“ Natasha started to say, only for the camera to pan to the right and reveal another figure.
“Avengers…” the nasally voice said, the sound reverberating through the room and causing the heroes to groan inwardly.
“MODOK…” Sam muttered with a roll of the eyes as the telepath grinned wider.
“How pleasant it is to have such a captive audience! You all know our star,” the man (if he could even be called that anymore) cackled, gesturing with a misshapen arm to the unconscious form of their resident billionaire genius. “I’d say you’re rather familiar with him, in fact,” he said with a wicked grin.
The Avengers furrowed their collective brow in confusion, causing the telepath to cackle with mad glee.
“We all have our masks, Avengers- the face we put on to hide part of ourselves from the world. Some of us…” he said pointedly, glancing towards Tony. “…have more than others.”
“Great, now we gotta save Stark,” Clint growled, eyes narrowed at the man on the screen.
“This doesn’t seem like your M.O….kidnapping people like a common criminal, now?” Natasha asked with a smirk. The telepath was easy to upset- and despite his great intelligence, he tended to give up details when he started ranting.
“I am no common criminal, Black Widow!” Modok shrieked, his eyes wide and angry as he stared at the redhead. “Red Skull has personally requested my help with this…endeavor of his. The chance to torture Tony Stark and tear the Avengers apart from the inside out once more? How is that something I could refuse?” He asked with a maniacal grin.
Tony shifted in his sleep, wincing before stilling once more.
“What mockery is this? He thinks we can be so easily swayed to turn against one another?” Thor asked, brow furrowed in a mixture of confusion and insult. “Your capture of my shield brother shall only strengthen our bond, Modok,” the Asgardian continued, thrusting a hand out to summon his hammer.
Right, Thor and Bruce had been off-world when the whole ‘Civil War’ fiasco had happened. Steve wondered just how much Tony had told them about the event….he wondered how much he left out.
The rogues couldn’t help but glance towards Thor as he stood defiantly against Modok’s words, Bruce staring up at him determinedly beside the god.
Maybe they didn’t know as much as he thought.
“He’s working with Red Skull,” Bucky muttered, Natasha catching his eye and steeling her gaze. “They have something up their sleeve, I can feel it,” he breathed, staring the woman in the eyes.
Modok cackled again, weird shrunken legs kicking in glee before his expression darkened. “As I said before, we all have our masks. The weak cling to the strong- it is in their nature. But what good is a hero that is so very fragile?” He asked, eyes wide as he stared at them through the screen.
No one answered- no one dared to even move.
“Secrets…they can cause so much pain, can’t they, Captain?” Modok asked in a sing-song voice, grin on his face as Steve’s hand curled into a fist. “Ooh, the tension is palpable with you all! You’re already on the verge of fracturing again- this is going to be easy!”
Bruce furrowed his brow, glancing towards the Captain in confusion. He opened his mouth to speak, only to collapse to the ground as his eyes rolled back into his head. Thor was quick to follow, then Natasha, Wanda, Sam, Clint- Steve glanced towards Bucky, watching the man collapse to his knees before blacking out on the floor.
“Nighty night, Avengers~,” Modok said with a grin as Steve blacked out himself.
- - -
When he awoke, it was to the sound of groans. Steve blinked open his eyes, squinting at the vast expanse of endless white in his field of view. He winced, sitting up slowly, and glanced around as the Avengers slowly came to and did the same.
"Where the hell are we...?" Sam asked, brow furrowed in confusion as he glanced around.
"A void of some kind by the looks of it," Bruce replied, clambering up off the floor and picking his glasses up in the process, dusting his hands off on his pants and putting his glasses back on.
"And...how did we end up in a void...?" Clint asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Modok's a telepath, remember? We're probably unconscious right now," Natasha said, eyes scanning the area around them. "Unless Tony decided to install some reflecting room in the tower in the dead of night without anyone's knowledge," she continued, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Nay- Mjolnir's voice is distant...as if she were in another realm. We must be unconscious- though to share dreams with your kinfolk is worthy of praise; it is symbolic of strong ties," Thor said with a grin, glancing around the group. He paused when the others avoided his eyes, glancing back at Bruce in confusion.
The god was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a screen in the void, floating in the air and glowing a soft blue color. The group went on the defensive, narrowed eyes staring up at the image with mistrust. It flickered to life, warping and stretching before the image of what looked like a nursery appeared before them.
"What...the...?" Steve breathed, brow furrowed in confusion.
The room was pentagonal in shape, with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf lining the largest wall and a tall lamp standing guard at the doorway. The desk pushed up against another wall was covered in papers and maps, numbers and messy notes scrawled onto their surfaces as red ink hashed large X's all over the map.
Across the room sat a crib, beside the radiator under the window, just out of reach from the desk against the wall. It was filled with dark red fabric, the silk cloth bathing the wooden crib in velvet hues as something squirmed inside it.
Smoke wafted through the air, trailing from a cigar held between the fingers of a man in suspenders and a pencil mustache. He paced back and forth through the room, a rotary phone held in the hand with the cigar as the man held the body of the phone with his free hand.
"Howard..." Steve breathed, eyes wide as he stared up at a man whose face he hadn't seen in ages.
"Yes, no I understand, Peg," Howard said, continuing to pace through the room and waving distractedly at the smoke floating in the air around him as he spoke. "It couldn't be helped- Maria was giving birth and insisted I be there. Thankfully the baby was a boy," he said, glancing towards the crib in the corner.
"He's a week old, why?"
The man pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment, wincing in pain before putting it back.
"Yeah, yeah, you can see him eventually- but first we focus on Cap. The data from those new airplanes has got to yield something, I'm sure of it," Howard said, brow furrowed in thought as he stomped his way over towards the desk covered in clutter, setting the body off the phone down and rifling through the papers.
"No- she's fine, just tired," he paused, standing up straight and glancing at the crib one more time before shaking his head and continuing to sort through the paperwork with his free hand. "His name's Anthony. Anthony Edward Stark- no, Edward is Maria's father's name. Anthony's my middle name," he said, furrowing his brow and letting out a huff.
He rolled his eyes and shifted the phone to his other hand, setting the cigar down in a tray and using his now free hand to search another stack of papers. "Yes, yes, he's healthy- you can meet him later, Peggy, Hell, Cap can meet him later if this pans out for us. Can we focus now?" he asked with a twinge of annoyance in his voice.
The baby, Anthony, shifted in the crib, a soft whine escaping him and causing Howard to glance towards the infant. The baby started whining louder, causing Howard to huff and turn his attention back towards his desk with a shake of his head.
"Found it!" the man said triumphantly, holding a piece of paper aloft with a grin on his face. "Don't go anywhere, peg, I'm bringing the raw data to you right now," he said before hanging up the phone and grabbing his discarded cigar.
The baby in the crib moved on from whining and started crying, his toothless mouth open as wails erupted from his mouth. Howard groaned, looking annoyed by the sound before ringing a bell that was attached to the wall by a long cable that disappeared into the ceiling.
A few moments later a chestnut-haired man appeared in the doorway, dressed in a suit and poking his head into the office. "You rang for me, sir?" he asked, his voice warm as he spoke.
"Take care of Anthony- I have to get these papers to Agent Carter," Howard said as he tugged on the jacket that had been discarded over the back of the office chair. "Make him stop doing-" he gestured vaguely towards the crib, in which the baby was still crying. "-that."
"Y-yes sir," the man replied, his expression slightly confused as he glanced between the crib and the millionaire. Howard took off, leaving the British man to turn his attention fully towards the baby. He scooped the child up and help him close, bouncing as he hushed the boy.
"Shh, it's alright, Anthony, it's alright. Let's get you some milk, hm? You're probably famished..." the man said as he left the office, turning off the light and closing the door behind him.
The void was silent for a moment before Clint cleared his throat obnoxiously. "So what the fuck was that?" he asked, glancing around the group for some kind of explanation.
Steve shook his head, still too shocked to say anything. That had been Howard- and judging by the salt and pepper hairs invading his temples, he was in his 30's or 40's. It warmed his heart to think that the man had spent so much time looking for him, even if it had been a lost cause at the time.
"That was Howard Stark," Bucky said, his voice soft and distant. "So that baby was probably... Tony Stark..." he muttered.
The group turned their attention towards the former assassin before glancing back up towards the screen. "So, what, that was like, one of Stark's memories or something?" Clint asked, crossing his arms over his chest. "Great- just great! Somehow, this entire situation becomes about him, again," he said bitterly.
"Are you really surprised?" Wanda asked with an unimpressed raise of the eyebrow.
Bruce and Thor furrowed their brows in confusion, glancing towards one another before looking back towards the others.
Just what were they missing?
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