By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers movie-verse, nor do I make any claim to. Also, I may have stolen a lot of things from Babylon 5, but absolutely no knowledge about B5 is necessary to read this. I just made a heck of a lot of references since I'm kind of half-stealing a plot thread from it.
Characters: Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, OFCs, OMCs
Warnings: Kind of, sort major character death that doesn't quite get better but isn't quite dead either? Yeah, it's complicated (as in huge spoilers), but complicated with a happy ending. Just realize there are some (non-overly gory) descriptions of death in here. There's also some kind of assisted suicide that doesn't take and one case of briefly mentioned actual suicide. Seriously, just go with it. Check the spoilers at the end if you need to, but I don't recommend it.
Rating: PG 13
Summary: The last thing Steve Rogers wanted was to wake up to find he'd lost not seventy years, but 235 years this time. Just when he was getting his life together, he has to start over again.
Or does he?
Thanks: Many thanks as always to narwhale_callin, even if I did kill her with one part of the angst, and then again with one part of the fluff. Also thanks to Cameron_McKell for giving me a plot to twist to my own purposes.
Notes: Hi. So like, absolutely no one is actually going to read this since it's Steve Rogers surrounded in a sea of OCs, but hey. One can dream, right?
This was written for a prompt on the cap-im: Fifty Years of Captain America and Iron Man meme. It does not quite follow the prompt, because I'm worse than a genie with twisting prompts to suit my own purposes. Basically, I read the prompt, then had a Babylon 5 epiphany, and ran with it. Let me repeat, you do not need to know anything about B5 for this. I just stole a plot line because it worked so extremely well. I've linked the prompt at the end, since it is spoiler-y in nature, even if not entirely truthful to where I've taken the fic.
Also, there are OCs. The nature of the story kind of requires them, since Steve wakes up by his lonesome 235 years in the future. And if anyone is still reading who hasn't been scared off by the letters 'OC' then hopefully you will enjoy them.
Finally, if you won't take my word on the fact that it has a happy ending of 5k of unredeemable fluff, you can find complete spoilers in the end notes. I (or rather, my Beta, who emphatically said I should try not to ruin anything) do not recommend this as it completely spoils the story, but it's there if you need it. If possible, I'd suggest getting a friend to read it and tell you if you'd like it.
Part Two Part Three
Steve Rogers felt like he was floating. No, not quite floating. This was more like he lacked a body entirely. Which was odd, because he remembered having a body. A very nice one too, after the serum had done its job. It was still a little hard to believe when he looked into the mirror sometimes, but the serum gave him the look of a movie star, as the USO girls had liked to tell him.
Tony would be very put out if Steve no longer had a body. They'd been taking things slow between them, and Tony had been perfectly willing to wait, even stopping things himself a few times. But Steve wasn't oblivious and he saw the look of hunger that sometimes crossed Tony's face when he thought Steve wasn't looking. Tony liked Steve's body. And Steve knew that Tony wasn't chasing after him just for that, but it was nice that Steve could feel like he was worth looking at now. He knew better than to ever mention that thought to Tony again, because the last time had resulted in a two hour long Power Point of pictures of his pre-serum self and Tony going over exactly how hot and bothered he'd be if he'd met Steve back then.
No one could say Tony wasn't thorough.
There also wasn't much Steve could do without a body. Sure, he was good at strategy, but Steve's greatest strengths in a fight still relied on his body. He'd be kind of useless without one. Even before the serum he'd at least had a body.
He tried to remember what had happened. Had there been a fight? The last thing he remembered was watching a movie with Tony, who had fallen asleep curled up to his shoulder with a bit of chocolate cake stuck in his goatee that Steve had been too charmed to tell the genius about. He could almost feel the impression of Tony's body against him. He wondered if he'd even be able to feel that again, and part of him ached for the feeling to return.
Suddenly, Steve had a body again, weighted and complete. His lungs filled with air slowly, not like they'd been empty and desperate for breath. There were sounds too, the soft sounds of muffled crowds from a nearby window or door. There were also some voices nearby that were pretty faint, but Steve could make them out.
"-to be working. It's hard to tell exactly where the memories will start with that last fiasco, but it should be easy enough to figure out."
"So it will work this time?"
"No doubt, Sir. We've learned a lot from previous tries. He should be waking up now."
Well, no point in pretending any longer. Steve opened his eyes, peering up at the ceiling. It was white and nondescript. He turned his head to the side and was granted a view of several machines. They looked a little like the machines Steve saw whenever he ended up at the hospital, but they were too different. They were more sophisticated in the design, but also more complex than Steve remembered them to be.
Steve jolted up, only to find himself trapped under something that went over his chest. "Easy, Captain Rogers," the second voice said as he felt hands on his shoulders pushing him back down. "You're safe here."
"Then why-" Steve started, looking at the contraption that didn't quite lay on his chest but spanned the bed he was lying on. It had blinking lights, panels, and buttons, none of which looked familiar.
"Just to monitor your vitals and help in case things went wrong and you went into cardiac arrest," the voice said. Steve tore his gaze away from the machinery to look at the man. He was of medium height with a receding hairline and thick glasses. He had a bland smile that set Steve on guard for no reason he could discern. A doctor, from the clothes.
There was also a woman with dark brown hair with a tablet and freckles who helped the doctor move the machine that had restricted his movement off to a table near by. She had a round face and blue eyes hidden under her bangs. She didn't seem as threatening as the first man, but he didn't discount her as a threat yet.
While they were moving the machine, Steve got a better look at the room. The machinery really wasn't anything he recognized. It was obviously a hospital and there was some kind of tube in the back that looked ominous, but he couldn't make out anything else. There were no windows, no markings on the wall that could tell him what was going on. It screamed of wrongness. "Where am I?" he asked, watching the two of them carefully.
"Captain Rogers, you're-" the woman started, excitement in her eyes.
"Dr. McDonnell, please calm yourself," the older man replied.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said, not meeting either of their eyes.
"I'd like an answer to my question," Steve growled. He wasn't in the mood to be ignored, and he was more than willing to fight first and ask questions later if need be.
"Of course, Captain," the man said, holding his hands up in a pacifying motion. "There's a few things I'd like to ask first, and then I promise I will answer all of your questions. You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
Steve toned down his suspicious glare at that, letting them say their piece. Lulling them into thinking he was going along with them might end up being helpful, and coming on too strong right now would work against that. "Alright," Steve replied warily.
"Good," the man answered, making a note on the tablet Dr. McDonnell gave him. "Now, what's the last thing you remember?"
Steve felt his gut drop at the question, knowing nothing good came from things like that. "Going to bed. I'd been watching a movie with the Avengers," Steve answered neutrally. He and Tony weren't public yet, so he wouldn't single Tony out. Not when someone could try to use that against him.
"And what was the date?" the man asked with forced casualness.
Steve felt the air push out of his lungs and he closed his eyes. "April 23rd, 2014," he said, every word ripping through him. There was only one reason they'd be asking him that. He opened his eyes that were clear of tears, though he desperately wanted to cry. No point in waiting to know. "What's the date now?"
The woman looked down, starting to type into the tablet, but Steve focused on the man. His brown eyes softened, regret entering his voice. "I'm terribly sorry for your loss, Captain. It's currently September 8th, 2249."
Steve nodded, packing away the grief as he calculated how long he'd been asleep this time. Too long. Far too long. There wouldn't even be a link to his past alive this time. He pushed the number aside once he knew, because he couldn't afford to deal with that right now. That would explain the machines looking unfamiliar, no matter how much a part of him wanted to deny what the man was saying. All the things that had screamed 'wrong' to him made more sense. "What happened?" he asked, keeping his voice firm.
"You really don't remember anything about...?" the man asked. When Steve didn't respond, he shook his head. "There was an attack on April 24th. It was a Hydra uprising led by a man who went by the name of Baron Zemo. Records say you were wounded in the battle, but the helicopter that they loaded you on never made it back to the hospital."
Steve didn't remember any of that. His first impulse was to deny it, but Tony had gotten a knock to the head once and only remembered vague details about the fight afterward. But even then, wouldn't this feel at least a little familiar?
How had he managed to miss over 200 years? He couldn't... Steve couldn't lose his world like that. Not again.
"Dr. McDonnell, if you would...?" the man asked, gesturing to the wall.
"Oh, of course," Dr. McDonnell said, flicking at her tablet. The wall came to life in front of Steve, showing articles from 235 years ago. The newspapers looked blindingly comforting and familiar, and he had to wonder if any of them still existed now. Steve looked away, but his nearly eidetic memory had already seen enough. Captain America Missing In Battle. Gravely Wounded. America Mourns.
Even the technology used to show the articles was painfully familiar, obviously based on Tony's designs. Tony had always meant for a lot of the conveniences Steve had come to take for granted at the Tower to go public one day, and Dr. McDonnell's movements echoed Tony's so closely that Steve could almost see him there. This looked updated and better than the things Tony had had. "So I was hurt, then captured," Steve said, trying to process only what he needed to right now. "Then what?"
"As far as we can tell, Hydra was the one who captured you. Unfortunately, your wounds were too much for the medicine of the time to handle, so they cryogenically froze you, presumably to be able to harvest the serum at a later date," the man replied.
And wasn't that just like Hydra, to hide what they couldn't have? It made Steve sick. Once again, he lost everything to Hydra. He would laugh, if the stabbing pain in his chest reminding him exactly of how much he'd lost didn't hurt so much.
"Stark Industries finally found you a month ago," Dr. McDonnell said, her voice excited. There was hero worship in her eyes, like he was some thrice damned war hero returned from the grave. He'd seen that look in Coulson's eyes the first time he woke up, but surely he'd have been forgotten in 235 years. Who would care about some washed-up super hero from the past?
Couldn't they just leave him alone to die properly this time? Hadn't he earned it?
Steve closed his eyes, telling himself that kind of talk would get him no where. He was alive, and he had to deal with what he'd been given.
"Of course, we have the technology from Stark Industries to revive you now," Dr. McDonnell continued, oblivious to Steve's thoughts. "It was touch and go for a while, but we managed to keep you under until you made a complete recovery. It's really a big honor to meet-"
"Are there many more tests you want to do?" Steve asked, resolutely not thinking of Stark Industries. "I'd like to be alone for a while."
The man nodded, smiling blandly. This time it didn't set off any warning signals, just loneliness. "Of course, Captain. Just a few more tests and questions, then you can have some time to think things over."
Steve nodded, going through the doctor's instructions on autopilot. The man - Dr. Conrad - didn't push for more than monosyllabic responses most of the time, and he left a tablet as he ushered Dr. McDonnell out of the room, saying it had information on the things he had missed. There was an AI installed on it that would answer any of Steve's questions if he had problems operating the tablet, and the sharp pang that went through him as he missed JARVIS went unremarked upon if either of the doctors noticed.
Steve didn't reach for the tablet, lying back on the bed once he was alone and staring at the ceiling without seeing it. At least this time they hadn't made a mockery of him, trying to fool him into thinking it was still the past. How many more times would this happen, waking up to discover the world had moved on without him?
Steve closed his eyes, silent tears escaping now that he was alone. No doubt they were monitoring him still, but at the moment he didn't care. The Avengers, all of his friends - his family - were gone again. He was once again a relic, set adrift just as he had found an anchor.
He wanted to go home.
* * *
Steve knew better than to pick at the food he'd been given. The serum sped up his metabolism, and he needed to eat. He hated wasting food as well, old habits from the Depression never quite leaving him. So he ate the meal, but he didn't taste it. He could have been putting sand in his mouth for all he knew. He tried to remember how long it had taken to adjust to living in the twenty-first century, but it didn't help the fact that he felt like he was right back where he started.
Worse, when he was walking through the halls back to his room, he caught a glimpse of a familiar dark hair. "Tony?" he asked, pulling on the man's arm.
When he saw the man fully though, he realized his mistake. The man looked nothing like Tony. Nothing at all. "Sorry," he said, letting go immediately and retreating to his room.
It was a full day after that before he finally reached for the tablet. The original Avengers were apparently somewhat of a legend in this time, stories that were still passed down to children before they went to sleep. He'd lived through this before, but if possible, the legend had almost grown more than it had after 70 years.
Natasha had lived the longest, the only one of them who died of natural causes. She lived a full life, never marrying, though she did have a daughter.
Clint had died young, staying behind and locking the others out as he contained a melt down at a nuclear power plant. He'd physically knocked Tony out to keep him from staying behind to do it, according to the reports.
Thor disappeared some time after Natasha's death, and no one had heard from him since. Steve wondered if he was still alive somewhere, ruling Asgard. But Thor was currently just as out of reach as the others now, and Steve could only feel empty as he read the words.
Bruce shot himself, finally finding a way to subdue the Hulk long enough for him to end things after the Hulk destroyed a primary school. It hadn't been the Hulk's fault, but without Tony to talk him down, Natasha and Thor had been too late.
And Tony... Steve forced himself to read Tony's file, no matter how empty it left him. Tony held the line against aliens called the Kree. He held even after everyone else had fallen or been taken off the battlefield due to injuries. He held long enough for a sympathetic Kree general and a woman named Carol Danvers to shut down the intelligence that governed the Kree Empire. He died alone.
Steve knew he should be proud of the others' accomplishments. There was information that was missing, he knew. He couldn't say how he knew, but the missing pieces didn't quite add up. Considering how Fury treated him after he'd been de-frosted, Steve supposed that they were withholding things they thought would upset him more. It left a bitter taste in his mouth, but he was used to that.
He wasn't used to the void anymore. He'd fallen in the first time, but with the Battle of New York and the Avengers, he'd been grabbed before he'd fallen too far. He knew he should be feeling pride for the lives they all lived, but every line, every detail pushed him further into the void. Tony shouldn't have died alone. Steve knew how much that would have terrified him, how the emptiness of space haunted Tony's dreams. He should have been there, should have had Tony's back. It felt wrong in a way that Steve couldn't explain that Tony fought alone.
And Tony... God, Tony never stopped looking for him. The information didn't have a lot in it (It felt like most of Tony's file had been redacted, even if there weren't black lines over it. They had to be hiding something from him. Were they afraid of what would happen if he'd found out Tony had moved on? Had their relationship come out after all?), but Dr. Conrad said he'd been found by Stark Industries. 235 years, and there was still someone out looking for him. Like father, like son, and Tony would have hated that, to find one more way he was like his father. Now he was just another person Steve had left behind.
Steve traced the picture of Tony on the screen. There was silver in his hair, more than Steve had ever seen. It touched the sides of his temples, giving him a distinguished look. He was in a suit with a dark red shirt and tie, just the kind that Steve had always liked. Steve caught himself staring, daydreaming of ways he could use that tie to take Tony apart. There were crows feet around Tony's eyes that Steve didn't recognize, and laugh lines that Steve hadn't had a hand in putting there.
Tony looked happy. Happier than Steve had ever seen him. There was a wedding band around his finger, half-hidden by his jacket in the picture, and that was enough confirmation for Steve about the redacted parts of Tony's file. He wondered who had made Tony that happy. Who had taken Steve's place.
Steve blinked back fresh tears. Tony had the right to be happy, even when it wasn't Steve who made him that way. It had been the same with Peggy, but for some reason this felt like a worse treason. It didn't make sense, because he'd loved both of them as fully as he could, and he hadn't gotten very far with either of them, but for some reason it didn't feel right for Tony to be with someone else. And he hated that, hated that he couldn't even be happy for Tony, because he should be.
He stood suddenly, throwing the tablet against the wall as hard as he could. Dr. McDonnell squeaked, dropping the tray she had been holding as she stood in the doorway, staring at him with wide eyes.
Steve took a deep breath, calming his nerves as he leaned down to help her clean up. He couldn't allow them to see him breaking down. He was still... He wasn't really Captain America anymore, but they still looked up to him for some reason. He couldn't let them see how he was being ripped apart at the seams. He glanced at the clock -surprisingly analog, like all the other clocks in the building - and saw it was time for the tests they liked taking to make sure the treatments had worked.
There was a lot of glass on the floor, probably for blood samples. "Sorry for startling you," he said, carefully picking up the broken glass.
"I should have knocked," Dr. McDonnell said.
She reached for the glass as well, but her hands were shaking. He reached out and caught them, holding them steady. "Be careful. Why don't you get a broom to clean up the smaller pieces?"
"A broom?" Dr. McDonnell asked, blushing slightly as she looked down at their joined hands. "Oh, you mean a cleaning bot. Yes, of course."
A cleaning bot. They were so far in the future that even brooms were obsolete. What was the point of waking up when he was probably just as much of a relic? They couldn't have use for him here.
His tablet fared far better than the tubes. Steve was torn between wishing he had destroyed it and glad that he hadn't been wasteful of something that wasn't even his. He would have to get a job of some sort here eventually. Steve wasn't quite ready to think that far ahead.
But when he picked it up to check the screen, Steve froze when he saw the picture of Tony beaming up at him, looking at something just outside of the picture's range. Just that one picture was able to disarm him. "Who did he marry?" Steve asked quietly.
"Pardon?" Dr. McDonnell said.
"Tony Stark," Steve replied, his eyes never leaving that smile. He wondered if he hadn't been frozen again, if Steve could have been the one to put that smile there. Or maybe it could have only been whoever Tony saw outside of the frame and he'd been better off without Steve. "In this picture, he's wearing a wedding ring."
"Oh, um, I don't think-" Dr. McDonnell started.
"Please," Steve pleaded. "I'd appreciate knowing. You don't have to hide it from me."
"I don't think I'm allowed to tell you," Dr. McDonnell blurted out.
Steve looked away. He debated pressing her for answers, but she seemed about as likely to get too flustered to answer (or worse, burst into tears) as to give him a proper response. Besides, he wasn't about to bully the information out of her. He could try talking to Dr. Conrad, since he seemed to be in charge. "Can you at least tell me why I'm not allowed to know?"
"Well, they didn't want you to be too upset, and there were always rumors about how you and he were... Oh, I shouldn't!"
Rumors. They must have started after his capture. Tony would have been driven to find him. He wondered how long it had taken for the others to convince him to move on.
Steve didn't want to think about it.
"Oh my God. They were true?" Dr. McDonnell asked. "Then you were... I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. He met her after you - I mean, I shouldn't-"
"It's okay," Steve said, cutting her off before her chatter drove him insane. "It's... It's good he moved on." And it was, no matter what his gut was telling him. Tony had to have known with the injuries Steve had sustained that he'd be bringing home a corpse. It was good that Tony stopped being stubborn for once in his life, no matter how much the thought of losing him to someone else, just like he'd lost Peggy, only opened the gaping wound further.
"Then you will help! If you cared about Mr. Stark, you'll want to help, right? You're the only one who can!" Dr. McDonnell said. "You have to. Someone has to stop-"
Steve started at the seemingly random topic change. She cut herself off this time, just when she started saying something interesting. "I doubt I'll be much help to anyone," he said, testing the waters. "But who needs to be stopped and what does this have to do with Tony?"
Dr. McDonnell bit her lip. "They didn't say I couldn't... He's just - He's killed so many people!"
"Dr. McDonnell," Steve said, using a hint of his command voice. "What's going on?"
"He's gone bad," Dr. McDonnell said, looking flustered. "One of the Starks. Tony Stark's descendent. He's got the armor and he's leveled cities."
Descendent. The word hit him like a punch to the gut, but Steve pushed the feeling aside, ignoring the screaming that said he should have been part of Tony's family. "Show me," he demanded.
The woman hesitated, reaching for the tablet but pausing. "Please," he said.
She nodded, typing a few things in on the tablet. A news article appeared on the screen with a picture of a blue and gold version of the Iron Man armor. It looked sleek and deadly, but the face plate was propped up to reveal an extremely familiar smile that made Steve's heart ache. There were obvious differences - the hair was a little blond, the eyes were green, and the nose a bit smaller, but this Iron Man was enough like his Tony that the similarities were painful. He quickly looked down from the mischievous grin and keen eyes to the text.
The article gave a brief description of Michael G. Stark, a humanitarian with a kind heart that worked in slums and poverty-stricken areas when he wasn't fighting as Iron Man. He didn't sound like the type of man who would destroy cities, but the article detailed a slow descent according to those who knew him: he'd become more withdrawn and angry, until finally the City of San Diego was leveled to the ground with a new weapon from Stark Industries.
Steve had visited southern California while he'd been on tour with the USO. San Diego had a lot of sailors, and some of them had been willing to sit and chat with him, despite the gaudy outfit. They'd given him news of the Pacific, making Steve yearn to do more. The people there had been warm. Friendly.
Now both it and Boston were nuclear wastelands. Millions of people dead in an instant. A camera had caught a picture before it fizzled to static - an image of blue and gold armor standing over the desolation, cold and menacing.
Steve felt a horrified chill settle over him. WMDs were still a new concept for him, and the fact that America had dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese had been a hard pill to swallow when he first woke up. Steve had met the Vice President once or twice, and he'd been a good man. Steve couldn't fathom how a good man could order something so terrible, no matter who the enemy had been. And the sad thing was, Steve almost couldn't tell if Harry Truman had been wrong.
And Michael had dropped two bombs for no reason at all. Steve looked back up at the photo on his tablet, of Tony's smile. He knew Howard had been a terrible father despite a similar smile, but he'd never had the sheer kindness that Tony and Michael shared. Steve swallowed hard, mind racing through the possibilities. Kidnapping? Someone else piloting the suit while they had some kind of leverage on him? Mind control? There was always the possibility that something had happened, that like Howard, this man Michael Stark had changed, but the article had no concrete reasons for that. They were just as baffled as he was.
"How long has this been going on?" he asked, not seeing a date on the article.
"It was three months ago that San Diego and Boston..." Dr. McDonnell said, trailing off tearfully.
"Did you know anyone there?" Steve asked.
"No," she said, looking down and biting her lip. "It's just..."
Steve nodded. He hadn't known anyone at Pearl Harbor, but he and Bucky had felt the same kind of numb shock. Three months and it would still be hard to process. Especially that big of a city. Steve was still having a hard time wrapping his mind around it himself, and he'd seen plenty of slaughter during the war.
"You have to help," Dr. McDonnell pleaded. "You're Captain America, so you-"
"I don't see how much help I could be," Steve replied, staring at the armor. He could beat Tony in the armor, once he knew Tony's fighting style and had some kind of plan. He'd done it plenty of times. There were also times Tony had beaten him though, because Tony was nothing if not inventive. Not to mention the armor really did pack a punch if Steve managed to be caught off guard. Sure, he could come up with strategies, but he was so far out of date that he'd need time to catch up on current battle threats. "The armor Michael Stark is wearing is beyond anything Tony made," Steve continued. "Even with my shield, I'm sure there are people better equipped to take him on."
"You may have more chance than the rest of us." Steve jumped, spinning around to see Dr. Conrad looking at Dr. McDonnell with a stern look of disapproval. "And you were told he wasn't ready for current events, Erica. Captain Rogers needs more time to adjust before we can even think of asking for his help."
"I'm sorry, sir," Dr. McDonnell said, her shoulders slumping.
"What do you mean?" Steve asked sharply. Surely with the technology in the future, a shield and a super-soldier weren't going to be much help? But if there was something he could do, he would do it. Tony hated having... Tony would have hated knowing his tech was being used to hurt people. Steve had seen the nightmares from when Tony fell asleep against his shoulder while they watched a movie late at night. Steve remembered the one time Tony had trembled in his arms, the memory of the soldiers who were protecting him being taken out one by one with Stark Tech still so fresh. Tony had hidden in his workshop the next day, not even letting Steve or Pepper in.
Dr. Conrad sighed. "You won't give up on asking, will you?"
"No," Steve replied, setting his shoulders back. If there was something he could do to help, he would do it.
"Part of the reason finding you was so fortunate was that we believe there's code from the original Iron Man that has been kept through all of the armors," Dr. Conrad said. "It was part of the base code, so archaic that no one realized it was there. Tony Stark probably left it in out of sentimentality, and it's never been corrected."
"Code?" If they wanted code, they were way off base asking Steve. He'd learned a little, looking through some of JARVIS's subroutines when Tony had been explaining it, but he couldn't break Tony's code. That had been beyond him.
But Dr. Conrad was nodding as if Steve had programmed JARVIS himself. "Just so. Your access codes were never revoked, Captain Rogers. Your voice print and the codes are all we need to shut Iron Man down."
The emergency codes. Steve had been appalled when Tony gave them to him. Being able to get data from the armor when Tony was hurt or missing was one thing, but the way Tony described it... 'You may need to stop me one day, Cap. My security is good, but anything can be hacked. If that happens, you take me out. Doesn't matter what's going on or if I could get hurt - you take it offline. Promise me, Steve. Use the code.'
And Tony had never taken that code out. For all that the others must have convinced him to move on, he'd never taken out the obsolete code or stopped looking. Steve wondered what Tony's new lover and family had thought about that, if they even knew. God, Tony would never become like Howard, right? He looked too happy in that picture, and Steve couldn't bear the thought of turning Tony into something he hated. His disappearance already hurt the Starks enough.
"All we need is your voice," Dr. Conrad said. "A recording of you saying the code. It should be enough to bring down the armor, since the technology has improved since the 21st century."
Those words snapped Steve out of his reverie. All they needed was his voice and the codes? A recording? He couldn't explain why, but it set off alarms, and his gut instinct was to pull back and reassess.
"What would happen to Michael if you caught him?" Steve asked, trying to pinpoint what was wrong.
Dr. Conrad looked startled at the question. "Why, if he survives, he would be brought to trial, I suppose. There's no death penalty anymore, but they would repress his memories and personality and lock him away. He's too dangerous to be released, even for community service."
"And if it wasn't his fault?" Steve pressed, knowing he was on the right track. "If he's being controlled, or if someone else is in the armor, what then?"
"There's no evidence to suggest-"
"Would it be a fair trial?" Steve asked. "If it wasn't his fault, would he be proven innocent, or are you going to scape goat him and hang him out to dry?"
"I'm sure he'd get a fair trial," Dr. McDonnell reassured far too quickly and without any anger at the destruction of two cities Steve would have expected. It was too fast for that sort of forgiveness.
"You promise?" Steve asked.
"Of course. We'll make sure of it," Dr. Conrad replied.
Because doctors could really promise on behalf of the country's judiciary system. Steve didn't think they were just trying to placate him either.
Something was wrong here. This was too easy, and the information they wanted too confidential. It was something that could cripple Tony, or whoever wore the armor if all of this was true.
If it was true at all.
Steve carefully hid the hope that flared up, mentally cataloging the technology he'd seen since waking up. Sure, some of it looked completely different, but a lot of it was technology Tony used. The rest could have been props, fakes just to throw him off the scent.
"I'd like to see him for myself," Steve said finally.
"That would be difficult, Captain," Dr. Conrad said. At Steve's expression, the man held up his hands. "You said it yourself, Captain. You wouldn't be much help against the current technology."
Steve was more than willing to mulishly ignore what he'd said not five minutes ago. "I'd like to see him myself," Steve replied.
"That still won't be easy to arrange," Dr. Conrad said dryly. "It's not like we can just invite him to tea."
"Make it happen," Steve said, feeling confident on calling this bluff. "You're working for some sort of bigwig government, or you wouldn't be working on my case. Get them to track him. Or leak information that I'm here. That should call him out." Steve was pretty sure that whoever they were really working for wasn't one of the good guys, and definitely sure that they shouldn't have the access codes. But he needed them to think he wasn't completely suspicious yet, to give him some time and room to maneuver.
Dr. Conrad sighed. "I'll see what I can do," he said, rubbing his temples.
"But you have to help!" Dr. McDonnell said, taking Steve's sleeve in her hand. "More people will die if you don't!"
Steve closed his eyes. If they were telling the truth, more people would suffer for his mistrust. But he couldn't take the chance when all of this felt so wrong.
"You're supposed to be a hero!" Dr. McDonnell yelled. "You're supposed to help-"
"Erica, that's enough," Dr. Conrad said, his tone brooking no argument.
Dr. McDonnell went quiet, and Steve felt guilty. Which may very well have been the point, if they were trying to manipulate him. Steve hated this kind of manipulation. He was just tired of it all.
"He's had a lot to take in," Dr. Conrad murmured to her. "This is why we weren't going to tell him for a while yet."
"Drop it," Dr. Conrad said. Steve closed his eyes, hoping Dr. Conrad would take that as a sign of Steve being overwhelmed by it all. "I believe you have some other duties to attend to, Dr. McDonnell," the man continued.
"Yes, sir," she said, leaving in a huff.
"You'll have to forgive Erica. She's young," Dr. Conrad said, making her earlier reassurance about a fair trial stand out even more.
"I'd like to be alone to think, if you don't mind," Steve said truthfully.
"Of course," Dr. Conrad said. "I'll send a nurse around later to finish the tests."
The tests... That was another thing he needed to plan for. If these people really were manipulating him to get information on Iron Man, they probably weren't the type of people who should have samples of his blood.
Steve waited for Dr. Conrad to leave before looking down at the familiar smile of Michael Stark. He had a lot to think about.
* * *
Steve stared up at the ceiling as he lay on the bed they had given him, tallying up what he had learned. He divided it into two lists. First, what they wanted him to believe. Steve had woken up 235 years in the future. Michael Stark was terrorizing the world in his Iron Man armor. They needed his help to take Michael down by giving them the codes.
But from what he'd seen walking around the hospital, the future didn't look all that different from the past. When he'd been thrown into the 21st century, styles and aesthetics had changed several times while he'd been sleeping. Even the language had changed. The technology here looked fancy at first glance, but it wasn't impossible that some of them were fabricated.
As for Michael Stark, that story didn't add up either. Howard had changed a lot, sure, but he hadn't turned around and started fighting for the Nazis. No matter how embittered and cold Howard had become, he wasn't that sort of monster. Steve was having a hard time believing that the 180 personality shift was all on Michael.
If there was a Michael at all. The pictures looked real and the details had been well thought out, but it could have been falsified. He'd seen some of that technology when Clint was messing around on the Internet, randomly pairing the others on some kind of site that showed what people's babies would look like. The police also had some kind of technology to guess at what an abducted child might look like after so many years, so some combination of the two could produce something realistic.
The problem was that their information felt real. He couldn't explain why, but the gut feeling said there was truth to it. But if that were true, then Tony...
No. If this really was a trap, then he wasn't going to give up on Tony still being alive. He refused to give up on the fact that the access codes being a forgotten part of the source code was less likely than trying to shut down Tony himself. That made sense, no matter what his gut said this time.
There was another problem though - what was missing from the information. There were no dates, no sense of time. Not the articles on the Avengers, or even the ones on Michael. He hadn't noticed it at first, but every date he had gotten had been oral, like Dr. Conrad telling him how long he'd been asleep or Dr. McDonnell telling him San Diego and Boston had been destroyed three months ago. Even the clocks were all analog, not digital. He considered that it might be a cultural thing, but it seemed highly unlikely. If that were the case, surely the articles from the past would have had dates on them still.
No one mentioned his shield. Steve had been too deep in his depression to notice and certainly didn't have the will to ask on his own, but not once did anyone say what happened to his shield. The one time he'd tried to ask, he'd been told by the nurse on duty that she didn't know.
There was no doubt about it. Something was fishy around here, and it wasn't the salmon he had for lunch.
Steve sighed, glancing at the hands of the clock, a little annoyed that something so familiar had turned sinister. He wasn't going to be able to find out what it was by just sitting here. He went over the building again in his mind, marking all the places he had spotted CCTV cameras. Thirty minutes to go before the quietest time at the hospital. He just had to wait a little longer, then he could sneak out and hopefully find the truth.
Because he wasn't going to find it here, that was for certain. He'd been stupid and complacent in his depression, easily manipulated like last time when Fury had been stringing him along. He couldn't afford another mistake like that, not when Tony could still be out there.
Tony. Steve could close his eyes and practically feel Tony sleeping against his shoulder like in his last memory. He could see Tony's smiles - the half-asleep one he gave his coffee in the morning. The PR one that Steve both hated and loved, because it usually meant Tony was protecting them or swaying the crowd to their favor, no matter how much Steve hated that it was necessary. The smile when he saw one of the Avengers, a soft but brilliant one of someone who had people to belong to. Tony had a special smile for Pepper and Rhodey, and a bright, sunny smile for JARVIS and the bots when he thought no one was watching or when he had an idea that would revolutionize the world... or sometimes just revolutionize the TV in the rec room.
Then there were the smiles that Steve hoped were just for him. The quiet wonder and open love that Steve could catch in fleeting moments. He'd wanted to see more of those smiles, make them so they weren't rare and exotic, but something he could see every day. But they could never be made ordinary, into something Steve would take for granted, no matter how many times he saw them.
The feel of those lips against his, sometimes with a slight smile, other times with a shocking tenderness or a passion that engulfed Steve whole...
Steve felt an ache settle in his chest. He closed his eyes for a moment, calming himself down. He couldn't think about this now. He rolled over to his side, glancing at the clock again. Twenty-five more minutes.
The wait was long, but Steve was used to stake-outs. Finally, the clock hit 3:00. Steve slipped out of bed, pulling on the blue long-sleeved shirt they had given him. Tony would have laughed, because it was a normal shirt that offered no protection, just like the other five different colored ones that were in there. But the blue was comfort, something familiar he could hold on to.
Getting out of his room was easy. The hospital staff was used to seeing Steve wandering around late at night. There were a few places he'd been told not to go, but he'd had no desire to question that order. Now he had the will, and there was one place in particular he wanted to go: outside.
Come to think of it, keeping him contained in the hospital was probably part of the plan. Yet another mistake he'd made by being complacent.
The cameras were easy to see, and there was enough of a blind spot for him to walk the halls undetected. If they were really keeping an eye on him, then his disappearance would raise the alarm sooner than he liked. But Steve was counting on a laxer security, considering his apathy for the past week and a half. Still, he stayed on camera as long as possible without giving away the direction he was headed.
Finally, he got to the doors. There was a street outside that he could see through the windows. It was usually filled with strange-looking cars that Steve had glanced at a few times and then ignored. Tony had loved his cars... Tony still loved his cars, Steve told himself firmly. There was a chance. Steve wasn't going to think about the odds. He had to keep going.
Right now the street was dark. No cars passing by, which meant they weren't near a busy part of a city. He'd probably have a trek in front of him. He reached for the door, twisting the knob as he pushed outwards.
His hand started to dissolve.
Steve bit back a yelp, not wanting to alert anyone. He pulled back immediately, relief washing through him as his hand reappeared. "What the..." he said, staring down at his hand as he touched it with the other. Still there, still firm under his other hand.
Steve looked at the door, shivering at the cold tingle that went through him. He couldn't leave. He didn't know how he knew that, but it wasn't some kind of illusion on the other side. The door had stopped moving, partially open where the momentum had stopped, and Steve couldn't even reach out to close it.
He stared at his hand for a moment longer before curling it into a fist. That didn't mean he wouldn't try. He looked out at the world outside and took a deep breath, stepping through and ignoring his fear.
Steve gasped awake, sitting up with a start. He was in the same room he'd first woken up in, and according to the clock, not even a minute after he passed through the door. It was still night - and the hospital was quiet.
Strangest of all, he was no longer wearing the dark blue sweater. He was in the same clothes that he had woken up in - a plain white shirt and a pair of brown trousers. Steve looked himself over, making sure everything was in place. Nothing out of the ordinary aside from the fact that he was in the wrong clothes and at least 400 yards from where he'd been a second ago.
Steve knew then he'd been right. Whatever was going on here, he couldn't leave, at least not by conventional methods. He got up and eyed the window in the hall wearily. As he walked over to open it, he stuck his hand out and watched as it started to disappear.
He cursed mentally. There was no getting out that way.
He snuck back to his room, avoiding both people and cameras so he wouldn't have to explain his change of clothes. There was definitely something wrong here, but he was no closer to figuring it out than he was before. When he got to his room, Steve changed and laid down on the bed, once again staring up at the ceiling.
What the hell was going on here?