"Please," he heard a soft voice say. It was a girl's voice - Rhodes - and she was crying. "Why aren't you working? What did I do wrong?"
Steve didn't want to come back. He didn't want to start again.
"Please work! I can't..."
Steve would have sighed if he had the breath. He couldn't just leave a girl crying either. He looked through the data, looking for any means to help. When he found nothing there, he tried to focus on a body. Kor'la'vin had said he was intuitive when it came to technology, so maybe if he just...
Steve gasped in surprise (was that even real? How did breathing work?) as his body formed. He was standing in a poorly lit room that was an amalgamation of technology. He thought he recognized bits of the Skrull machines, but the rest was completely foreign. It was a hidden base owned by the Stark-Rogers family for generations, and that had been forgotten by everyone but JARVIS for at least a century. The machines had been cobbled together by Rhodes in an effort that had probably taken months to get right. He couldn't have said how he knew this, but he did.
Steve turned around, noticing the weight on his arm. His shield. It rested on his forearm, and he realized he was also wearing his old uniform. He knew it wasn't real, but the familiar weight of it comforted him more than he could say.
Rhodes (Susan Rhodes, though he couldn't have said how he knew her given name either) was standing there, looking a lot worse for the wear. There was a dark bruise on her cheek and a cut on her forehead, along with numerous cuts in her clothes. Her arm was in a sling, but it didn't look broken.
"Are you alright?" he asked, taking an automatic step towards her.
"I'm really sorry," she repeated again. "You said not to wake you up again, but they took down JARVIS and I can't-"
"Easy," he said, reaching up to touch her shoulder where the least amount of cuts were. He remembered just a second too late that he was a hologram, but his hand didn't go through her. He must be substantial again. "Slow down. Tell me what happened." He used a hint of his command voice as he spoke, hoping it would soothe her.
Susan took a deep breath and he was reminded of how painfully young she was. She was trembling, but she didn't fall apart. She bit down on her lip, and he winced internally at the blood he saw, but she still didn't break. She seemed awfully close though. "I can't... I'm not like Kes. Kes could fix him, but I don't know enough about JARVIS's codes. So I had to shut him down before the virus took over completely."
There her voice wavered, and Steve squeezed her shoulder gently in support. "You did the right thing," he said calmly, already missing JARVIS's calm voice. "Who's Kes?"
"Kestrel Stark-Rogers," Susan replied, looking down. "They took her and Leon. They're twins. My best friends. And Kes should be the one in the suit, 'cause it's hers. But I can't find where they've been taken."
Kestrel and Leon Stark-Rogers (the surname lasted for so long? Steve was surprised. They must have kept it for some reason or another), age seventeen. Kestrel was a genius at mechanics and robotics with long dark hair that ran in waves down her back with dark green eyes. She was definitely part of the Stark line with that chin. Leon had dark brown hair and a goofy grin. He was... the current Captain America. Steve's throat went dry at that. There was still someone out there, taking care of the shield and protecting people. From the records, Leon was young, but very kind.
Steve couldn't say how he knew all of that, other than that there was something more in that data packet than his life details. If he was instinctively reading it, he didn't know how. He still couldn't imagine raising a family with Tony, more than something in the far distance that he knew he wanted at some point. But here was their legacy, their family. Steve hadn't given his genes, but they kept his name. Stark-Rogers. Still together for over five hundred years...
"So the Skrulls have them?" Steve asked, feeling cold. He didn't like the thought of anyone else in Kor'la'vin's hands. He could see the answer in the files, but he wanted her to deny it.
"Yeah," she said, looking down.
"But what about-" Steve stopped as the information came flooding in. Susan's parents were dead, and recently too. During the same time that Kestrel and Leon were captured. She couldn't go back to the Stark-Rogers family because the Skrulls had framed Susan for the murders. She was wanted all across the galaxy (and wasn't that something, across the galaxy). To ask about her parents and the Stark-Rogers family would be cruel. And she'd been dealing with all of this alone since before she rescued him.
"I didn't do it," Susan said, her eyes filling with tears. She misinterpreted his question, but it didn't matter much right now. "I know the articles say I did, but I didn't kill my parents and take Kes and Leo. And no one else can get Kes and Leo back! The police won't even look, not in the right places, and-"
"Easy," he said again, pulling her into a tight hug. "I believe you. It'll be okay." He couldn't have said why he believed her. She was right. The articles weren't tampered with and had some pretty compelling evidence. But JARVIS had been with her, and Steve trusted his instincts. If he'd been paying attention, he'd have known something was off at the hospital long before he figured it out. Now they were telling him to trust her.
She cried against him, leaving Steve to wonder how long she had been holding this in and pushing herself to keep going. Fifteen-years-old and driving past the limits of how far she should have been able to go. With her parents and JARVIS gone, she needed some kind of guidance. Steve wasn't sure he'd be much help, but he could at least help her find some new clothes and food. He could help her survive, train her so she had a better chance at winning.
The question was, did he want to? He wasn't even real, and he'd only be able to interact with a set amount in this world. To start over again... He had the notes on the life they took from him, but there was still a raw wound. Maybe it would be different if he had those memories, but now it was just a bitter platitude that didn't change the fact that he had lost everything a second time. Christ, he'd only just started getting over Peggy and the others. He'd just gotten Bucky back, and him, Tony and the other Avengers...
"I'm sorry," Susan repeated again. Susan Rhodes, Iron Woman, searching for the Stark-Rogers twins. She said she still needed Captain America. Even after five hundred years, people still believed in Captain America. Could Steve Rogers really say no?
As much as he desperately wanted to say yes, he could turn away from it again, Steve knew the truth as the weight settled on his shoulders. He couldn't just leave this alone. Couldn't leave Susan alone.
Just until she can get JARVIS back, he promised himself. "You'll get them back," he murmured softly to her as he rubbed her back. "You've been brave so far. You'll do it."
"I don't feel very brave," Susan said, her breath hitching.
He pulled back a little, wiping away her tears. The motion felt so natural that he wondered if he'd ever done this with his daughter. Some instinct told him he had, just like he'd known losing Tony meant more than losing Peggy, who he'd lost before they could start their relationship. Margaret Virginia. With a name like that, he and Tony must have had a hell of a fight. "Just because you don't feel like it, doesn't mean that you aren't," he said. "And you haven't let them beat you yet."
"I wish I could sometimes," Susan admitted quietly, practically voicing Steve's own thoughts. "Because everything's gone wrong and I can't fix it, not the way Kes or Leo could. But I can't... Kes is my best friend, and Leo is..." There was a slight color to her cheeks as she sped up her speech. Steve dutifully refrained from commenting as she went on. "I can't leave them with the Skrulls. And JARVIS said some of the coding they did to you was hers, so they've got to be hurting them if she went along with it."
"And that's why you're brave," Steve said, feeling the ache himself. He wondered how hypocritical he was if he didn't quite believe his own words. He was just so tired. "So stow that talk, Avenger. There's no quitting," he said, almost more to himself than to her.
"I'm not good enough to be an Avenger," Susan said, looking down.
"You're good enough for me. I think I've got a pretty big say, don't you?" he asked, swallowing down his own feelings. He couldn't let her see that. Dr. Erskine flitted across his memory, pointing at Steve's chest solemnly. He smiled at the memory, feeling old. Well, he was over six hundred years. That was plenty old. "Someone once told me I shouldn't be the perfect soldier," he said. "He wanted me to remember what it was like to be the little guy. You know what I learned as the little guy? It's that I don't have to be perfect or win every fight. You just gotta keep fighting."
"Does that mean you'll...?" she asked, looking up at him briefly, then down again. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked you after what you said on the Skrull base, but I don't know what else to..."
"You made a good call," Steve said. "I don't know how much help I can give you since I'm not a computer wiz like Tony or JARVIS, but you're right. We can't just give up, can we?" Because even Steve Rogers needed to hear that every so often too.
He hugged her again, careful of her bad arm, before letting her pull away. She still wouldn't meet his eyes. "I tried... I'm not smart enough-"
"You were smart enough to make it this far," Steve said firmly, eying her shoulder now that she was calmer. "And that's pretty smart from what I've seen of your files."
"I can't undo the lock on your memories though," she said, biting her lip. "JARVIS had started a little before... And Kes could do it easy, but I'm not..."
Steve felt his breath freeze in his lungs, like they had been all those years in the ice. "It's not permanent?" He had assumed that JARVIS would just be able to fix it, but if it would take a while...
"It-It shouldn't be," Susan said, looking uncertain. "JARVIS said they were just locked, not deleted, so you should be able to get them back. The lock was complicated though, and he didn't want to tamper with it without a thorough scan for fear they'd be erased completely."
That didn't exactly make things easier, but it was enough to bolster his spirits. Time was a great healer. With his memories returned, the ache would still hurt, he was under no illusion of that. But his older self would have more experience in dealing with it. He'd have all those memories he'd been robbed of to comfort himself with. Memories he'd never had the chance to have with Peggy. It would help some of the pain of missing that with Tony too.
Steve opened his eyes and let out the breath he'd been holding. He hadn't realized he'd done either. "It's okay," he said, meaning it for maybe the first time since this mess had started. "If they can... If there's a chance my memories can be restored, then I can wait for it. Right now we have to get your friends back."
Susan looked up, her brown eyes still wet. He smiled at her crookedly, something he hadn't been able to do since he found himself in this new time. "I..."
"We can do this," Steve said, keeping the eye contact. He wanted to say 'you' instead of 'we,' but he had the feeling she would appreciate the plural more. "It's just gonna take some work. Don't stop thinking that we can. If things go wrong, we keep trying."
Susan hesitated a moment longer before nodding. He might not be the real Steve Rogers, but he could be what she needed him to be. "I... thank you," she said, sounding close to tears again. "I know I'm not-"
"You are," Steve said firmly. "I meant it when I said to stow that talk. No matter what doubts you have, you made it this far when no one else has. That makes you the right person for the job."
"And we'll make it the rest of the way?"
"We'll make it," Steve reassured her. He could do that much for her, right?
"Thank you." She bit her lip again, but didn't let the tears fall as she turned back around and rummaged through a small bag with her good hand. She came up with a very familiar-looking crystal.
"Is that the crystal with my memories?" Steve asked, confused. He'd thought it had to be plugged in, since there was too much complex data on the crystals for a normal computer to keep going by itself, if even the Skrulls had kept it hooked up.
But Susan shook her head. "This one was with yours on the Skrull base. It's dangerous though. Everyone always says it is, and JARVIS said not to touch it before I had to take him off-line."
"But you think it will help?" Steve said, seeing why she brought it up.
"Well, you said you're not very good at computers," she said, looking down. "I mean, not that you won't be a big help and I already feel better, but you-"
"It's alright," Steve said as a small smile flitted across his face. "I know it's not my strongest point. But those are someone else's memories, right? Who could be that dangerous?" Steve wished he knew more about computers. He could get by on them, and Tony had taught him how to put one together once, but code was something he hadn't needed to know too much about. His current instincts on how to interact with data probably wouldn't be enough to keep an evil mastermind from taking over the system and shutting things down. Even when Ultron popped up, Steve mostly left the tech things to those who could do it quickly while he directed and smashed robots. He could probably learn, but without actual notes on the subject, he could only do so much. They might not have time for him to figure it out, either.
Whoever he'd been expecting, it wasn't what came out of Susan's mouth. "Anthony Stark," she said as Steve gaped. "The original one. You know, from your time."
"Tony..." Steve said, feeling like the ground was falling out from under him. Tony was in that crystal? Tony's data had been stolen along side his, constantly in Steve's orbit even when he hadn't known it. All this time Tony had been... "Wait, Tony's dangerous?"
"He nearly blew up the whole facility once when Stark Industries tried to access the information," Susan said, taking a step forward. Her hand had been raised, like she meant to comfort him, but she pulled it away after a moment's hesitation. "He was also apparently accessed by the Skrulls before they tried you. I don't think that one ended well either."
It rankled a little to know they had considered Steve less dangerous than Tony. But at the same time, he could see why Tony would be the better threat as a computer. He also hoped Tony had managed a lot of damage before the Skrulls shut him down.
"Well," Steve said, almost unwilling to give up the crystal. He handed it over in the end, looking at the computer in longing. It was dangerous, but... "It's probably our best chance."
"But what if he tries to shut us down?" Susan asked.
"He wouldn't shut me down, not without making sure I wasn't who I said I was," Steve said confidently. Even if they had messed with Tony's memories like they had Steve's, Tony would think twice before shutting down Captain America. "Not right away. We have a chance to convince him before he tries anything. It should work."
"That's a big should," Susan said, looking at the crystal in trepidation. "If he takes out this place, I don't know..."
It was a terrible risk. And maybe it was a little selfish for Steve to insist on putting the crystal in. But while he did have a certain affinity for the computers and code now than he had before, he still couldn't do half the things Tony or JARVIS would be able to, and they very frankly needed those skills and needed them badly. This wasn't just for him. This was their best chance.
"The longer the Stark-Rogers twins are in the Skrulls' hands, the worse it will get, right?" Steve asked.
Susan bit her lip and nodded. "JARVIS said some of the coding for you had to have been done by Kes. I don't know how they made her do it, because she wouldn't, I swear, but-"
"I know," Steve said soothingly. "I know some of the Skrulls' methods. I don't blame her for what happened. She may have actually helped, because there has to be a reason for me being able to tell the difference between data that was false and things that were true."
Susan looked down. "She still won't forgive herself."
Steve sighed. He supposed some things were hereditary. "We'll tell her not to blame herself when we get her back," Steve said with a small smile. "But that means we don't have time for me to try to learn my way around the systems, not when I could accidentally give us away if I make a mistake. We need Tony for that. He might be able to fix JARVIS too."
She stared at the crystal. It was both danger and a possible savior, and it was a hard choice for someone so young. Steve couldn't take this choice from her, no matter how much he wanted to see Tony again. It was her life in the balance here. Her choice.
"I trust him," Steve said. "He should still trust me, no matter how damaged the data is. It's our best chance, but it is dangerous. You're right, he could just lash out before we have a chance to talk. It's up to you if you want to put it in."
"Rhodeses are supposed to be the sensible ones. We're not supposed to be reckless," Susan said, sounding like she was quoting someone on autopilot.
"You're wearing the Iron Man suit," Steve said with a grin. "Iron Man was never known for being sensible."
"What the hell. It's not like my life can get any worse," Susan said, taking a deep breath.
"You know when you say things like that, they usually get worse," Steve said with a touch of reproach.
"Didn't ask your opinion," she muttered as she walked over to the console.
She was a spitfire, this Susan. She was scared and alone, but she could do this. Colonel Rhodes would have liked her. "Wasn't that why you turned me back on?" Steve asked.
"Hush," she said. She looked a lot better for having decided on a course of action. She was still trembling, but the fact that she was talking back meant she'd pull through. Steve felt pride growing in his chest. He may not have known her that long, but Susan Rhodes was strong. She'd make a good pilot of the armor with a little training, because she certainly had the heart for it.
Steve held his breath as she plugged the crystal in next to the one with Steve's name. She typed into the panel in front of her, then closed her eyes. "I hope you're right," she said, her voice only trembling a little as she brought her hand down one more time.
Steve jumped back as a man appeared next to him. It was Tony, but he was older. Much older. There was more silver in his hair than before, and a few more wrinkles around his mouth and eyes. There was a scar just above his eyebrow, and his goatee was a little different. He wore a suit that Steve definitely approved of, well fitted with a dark red shirt underneath that he kind of wanted to see more of.
But Tony didn't remain that way for long. The image shimmered, leaving Tony younger than Steve had ever seen him, a tank top and jeans replacing the suit, and the arc reactor shining from his chest. Figures that even though he'd got rid of it, it was still part of him. Steve also noted that there was still a ring around Tony's finger, and he didn't know what to make of that.
Brown eyes snapped open, and there was blind fury in them that Steve probably should have expected. "So you want to try again?" Tony spat, his voice washing over Steve like a balm.
"No," Susan said, shaking her head. "That's not-"
"Bad move," Tony said, cutting her off as the lights flickered. "I'll-"
"Tony," Steve said, his voice breaking on the two syllables. It was no more than a whisper, but Tony's head snapped around to him. Anger left his shoulders for a moment, his face softening. "You're..." Tony said. Then he turned back around to Susan, rage that would have made Bruce proud in his voice. "Is that the kind of game you're playing now? That's not just a bad move. That's catastrophic."
"Tony, just listen," Steve said. "You-"
"This ends now," Tony said, his eyes going distant as the lights flickered again.
This was not going according to plan. "Captain!" Susan said, the panic in her voice rising.
"Were you going to tell me you were recording our memories?" Steve asked, going out on a limb. Because he certainly never would have agreed to it, but here they were, memories recorded for the Skrulls to use as they wished.
Tony was startled back to the present, his eyes wide and with just a hint of guilt. "That's... I was going to explain."
"You were going to..." Now Steve was angry. Sometimes he hated being right. "So you were just going to record everything without our permission, without thinking of how dangerous that information could be in the wrong hands!"
Steve took a step towards Tony, who now looked panicked and dismayed. "It was protected!" Tony protested.
"Not protected enough!" Steve yelled back.
"It lasted at least five hundred years," Tony said sullenly, looking down. Then he spoke softer, "And it sounded like a good idea at the time."
"A good idea! For a genius, you are an idiot. Do you have any idea what they-" Steve had been moving forward to take Tony by the shoulders and shake him, but his hands went right through him like a ghost. Steve stepped back again, surprised. "What?"
He couldn't touch Tony? After all this time and he couldn't... He could interact with the real world and give Susan a hug, but he couldn't touch Tony? Steve took another step back, fighting to keep the grief off his face as he turned to look at Susan. "Susan? What's wrong? Why can't I...?"
"I... I don't know," she said, looking like she was close to tears again. She raced over to the panel, looking through lines of code. "Maybe the Skrulls didn't give him Kes's code?"
Tony looked back and forth between the two of them, confusion warring with suspicion. "What's going on here?"
"Are you going to listen this time?" Steve said, sending Tony a glare and motioning to Susan, who was now noticeably shaken.
Tony, at least, had the decency to look sheepish. "Look, you can't exactly blame me. The last four times they plugged me in, they were trying to rewrite my code to make me into a subservient AI."
That explained why Tony's code was thought of as dangerous. "I can blame you for creating this mess in the first place."
Tony winced. "Touché."
Steve nodded to Susan to speak. This was her story to tell, after all.
"I... um," she said, looking back and forth between Tony and Steve with something like awe in her eyes. "Sorry. I'm not used to meeting people who are in the history books. I'm Susan Rhodes. My family... They've taken Kes and Leo, Sir. Your descendants. Well, the Skrulls have. And I'm trying to get them back, but I don't... It's only me now, since they took down JARVIS."
Susan looked down, and Steve picked up the story to give her a moment to compose herself. "I'm pretty sure you've met the Skrulls who did it. When they decided you were too difficult to get the access codes from, they tried me. They..." Steve swallowed, taking a deep breath. "They messed with the code and blocked my memories. Apparently no one ever took out my voice print and access codes to the armor, so they tried to manipulate me into telling them the shut-down codes."
"A minor fault. Going to be fixed in all future codes," Tony said, looking furious. "Did you know they tried this crap on you at least thirty-five times? And that was after they tried to do what they attempted with me, just trying to force you to be obedient. Did they even read the history books about what you're like?"
"How are you...?" Steve asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer. Thirty-five times?
"Looking through your code to see-"
"Tony, there's a thing called privacy," Steve snapped, feeling violated. "You can't just go looking through that!"
"Relax, Honey Bee. I'm not looking through your thoughts or anything. I had to make sure you were real. I've only looked at the changes they've made to your source code to see how much damage they did and if it's fixable," Tony said, a bit of hurt creeping into his tone. "Even I wouldn't do that..." he said under his breath.
Okay, maybe he'd made a misstep with that. Tony was working with many more years of trust than Steve was. Before he could apologize, Susan spoke up. "You can fix the mind block?"
"I can do more than that," Tony replied. "I've isolated the code that makes him tangible, so I can apply it to me as well. Beautiful piece of work, that one. Seriously, this code is sexier than the kinky triplets in '01, and they were mind-blowingly hot."
"It's Kes's code. I don't know what they've done to her, but she wouldn't do it willingly," Susan said. Her head was up and she was making eye-contact, daring either of them to contradict her.
"Yeah, that was obvious. She wouldn't have slipped in Cap's ability to tell when data was fake otherwise. There's a whole slew of things in here meant to keep him from falling for the act," Tony said absently.
"You mean..." Susan said, her eyes going wide.
Tony shot her a wide grin. "She's fighting back, kiddo. And she's brilliant. She's left clues all over the place for those who know where to look."
"So we can get her back?" Susan asked, looking to Steve.
He moved to stand beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder. He nodded as she bit her lip, smiling encouragingly at her. "We'll get her back," he said.
"Her and your boyfriend," Tony added.
"He's not my boyfriend," Susan insisted, turning a little pink. "He's Kes's brother and..."
"And he's hot. Good catch," Tony said with a smirk, bringing up a holographic screen with a bunch of code that he scrolled through. Then he brought a second screen up with more code, switching between the two with speed that Steve could barely follow.
"Is he always like this?" Susan demanded.
Steve laughed, feeling lighter than he had since he had fallen asleep beside Tony watching the movie. "You get used to him."
"Heads up, Cap," Tony said, not looking up from the screens. "Giving you back your memories. This may tingle."
Steve's breath caught. He hadn't expected to get his memories back this soon. If it'd take JARVIS a while to undo it, shouldn't it take Tony the same time? He wouldn't be reckless with Steve's code, that was for sure. It was Susan's turn to smile hesitantly up at him, a pale imitation of the smile in her file, but still beautiful. "That'll make things better, won't it?"
"I hope so," Steve said.
"Fair warning, he gets cranky in his old age," Tony said with a smirk.
Before Steve could reply, the memories rushed back. It felt like a punch to the gut, and Steve fell to his knees as the breath left him. He heard Susan call out to him, but he was too overwhelmed by the information that flooded him to respond.
-Tony's face as Steve confronted him about the ring, since Steve had been worried sick when Tony had been injured. The utter panic as Tony babbled out excuses, only silenced when Steve kissed him tenderly. "You gonna ask me properly, or do I have to do something drastic?"
-Clint's whoop as they announced the wedding, slinging an arm around both of them and proclaiming the bachelor party was on him.
-Tony fumbling the ring up on the altar, staring up at Steve in wonder as he laughed, catching the ring in mid-air. The look of outrage Tony had when Steve went back on his promise and shoved the cake in Tony's face.
-Knocking on Sam's door after their first big fight after the marriage. Steve didn't know if he could keep the relationship up, not if Tony could condone... Sam had taken one look at him and pulled him inside. He'd listened as Steve talked about the fight, then he pulled Steve into a tight hug. "Steve, you're one of my best friends. And you've got a lot of good reasons to be angry with him. But you know, it takes two to start an argument."
-Pepper's surprise when they asked her to become the surrogate mother. "Tony Stark, if you push parenting on me like you leave me the paper work, I will turn into a super villain and ruin you."
-Natasha laughing as Tony held James for the first time, stiff and awkward, terrified that he would drop the baby. She came up behind him, holding both Tony and the baby steady until his husband relaxed. Clint gave them both a thumbs up, then asked if he could steal James for a second. "You're gonna be spoiled rotten, kid," he'd said. "And Uncle Clint will make sure of it."
-Standing at Clint's funeral, hugging Natasha as she cried and Tony held James, standing in the back with a blank expression that Steve knew hid guilt as he looked at the grave. Clint had been brave, so brave, but God, why him?
-Bucky and Rhodey babysitting James in Clint's place for date night, Tony hovering and not wanting to leave. Bucky poked James's chubby cheeks with his metal hand just to freak Tony out more. "He's named after me," he said, still a little blank, but with enough of the old Bucky underneath that it made Steve smile.
"In your dreams, Barnes," Rhodey replied, shoving Steve and Tony out the door. "He's totally named after me."
-Bruce's fond exasperation as Steve paced the floor. Tony was in Tokyo for business and James had a cold. Steve was terrified with every little sneeze, and Bruce's tea failed to calm him down. "Steve, he's fine. He'll be over it in a day or two, healthy as ever. Now sit down before I let the Hulk out to sit on you."
-Thor throwing little Margret in the air with a hearty laugh, ignoring Steve and Tony's panicked cries. "Aye, she will be a fine warrior with eyes like these. I look forward to teaching her how to hunt!"
Sam shrugged as Steve looked over to him for help in the sanity. He was helping James build legos in the corner, away from the madness. "Hey, man. You chose your friends, not me."
-James's first day of school, and Steve was watching as he bounced off to the car. What if he was bullied? He was five and had a big mouth, and God, was this how his mother felt when Steve had come home with bruises? "Relax, Apple Pie," Tony said, wrapping his arms around Steve's neck and kissing him. "You still have one munchkin in the nest. James will be fine."
-Margaret taking her first step, tumbling into Steve's arms after she got two feet on her own. He held her tightly, laughing as he kissed her forehead. "That's my girl," he said, calling for Bruce and Thor who were nearby to come watch.
-Knocking on James's door after he had locked himself in his room after school. Steve went in anyway after telling the parental authority codes to JARVIS, wiping away his tears and telling him it was okay. "I'll help you practice for the next spelling bee," Steve said, smiling. "And even though you didn't win, you shook the winner's hand. I'm so proud of you for that, son."
-Steve walking his fingers up Tony's naked chest, grinning as Tony shivered. Tony's face as he came, beautiful and perfect, and looking up at Steve as he came down from his high with open love and adoration that always reminded Steve of their wedding day. Whether it was fast and rough, or slow and tender, Tony always looked like that after he came and Steve vowed to cherish it anew every time.
-Tony looked across the carpet at him as he got out of the car. He was wearing Steve's favorite suit, and a tie that Steve already had at least five different strategies for using later tonight. Tony's whole face lit up bright as a star as he threaded through the crowds to get to Steve, taking Steve's arm and whispering into his ear, "Hello, gorgeous. You weren't supposed to be back until tomorrow!"
"I came back early," Steve replied, tracing the tie with his fingers and flattening it down. He could never stay out of Tony's orbit for long. "Did you miss me?"
"Yes," Tony said, tilting his head just slightly to kiss Steve chastely. "What are you going to do about it, soldier?"
"Show you how much I missed you," Steve said, lightly touching Tony's cheek.
I missed this.
"Captain!" That was Susan's voice. Steve pushed most of the memories away for later, feeling whole again. The piece of him that had been missing was returned. He felt both older and more invigorated.
"Steve?" Tony asked, his voice still half-way across the room with a note of uncertainty in his voice, because only Tony would be married for over fifteen years and still be uncertain of his welcome.
"That was not tingly," Steve said, standing up with Susan's help. He patted her hand to let her know he was okay, then strode across the room to a wide-eyed Tony.
Tony's lips were soft, not chapped like he remembered them, but the rest was all very familiar ground. He pushed Tony until he was against the wall, never relinquishing his claim on Tony's mouth. He was glad Tony had put in the code to make him tangible before giving Steve memories, because he wasn't waiting any longer for this.
Steve wrapped himself in Tony's smell - How do computers smell? Is it just a memory? - his cologne that he wore to big parties and a hint of staying too long in the work shop that was as tantalizing as Steve remembered it to be. Tony, for his part, knew better than to press his luck when Steve got like this. He melted into Steve's arms, pliant as he only ever was when he thought Steve would feel better in complete control - usually when he knew he was in trouble and needed to apologize.
Steve was perfectly amenable to taking control. He pushed into Tony's mouth, letting Tony suck on his tongue as his hands roamed that which he thought had been lost to him. They were both a little out of breath when Steve broke the kiss. "You," he said, punctuating each word with a kiss along Tony's neck, "Are. In. So. Much. Trouble."
"I can deal with that," Tony said, his voice a little higher than normal as Steve's hands reached his backside. "I can so deal with that. I can... Steve! Oh... Computer sex. Was not a kink before, but I can totally make-"
"Um..." Susan said, a little more loudly than necessary. "Can computer sex wait until I'm out of the room? Because I can't tell if this is more disturbing than walking in on my grandparents or if it's hot."
"Hot," Tony replied, wiggling in Steve's arms as Steve reluctantly pulled away. "Let's face it, anyone would want to tap this."
Steve mock-glared, only just holding back a (mostly) teasing growl. "Not that anyone can," Tony quickly amended. "Only Cap's allowed to do that now. And I expect lots and lots of tapping."
He raised an eyebrow at Tony's antics, but rewarded the answer with a chaste kiss. Then he stepped away, letting an amused Tony move towards Susan.
"Are you two always like this?" she asked with a hint of dismay.
"Regretting waking us up already?" Tony said with a smirk. Then the smile softened, and he ruffled her hair. "Don't worry, kiddo. We'll help you get your friends back."
"Thank you," Susan said, looking down. "I'm not smart enough to-"
"Whoa," Tony said, striding over back to the computer as he glanced back at Steve. "Did she just say she's not smart enough?"
"That seems to be what she said," Steve agreed, a small smile on his face.
"You," Tony said, spinning back to face her. "Have kept up the repairs on a very sophisticated armor by yourself, while under constant fire from the government. You've cobbled together the Skrull and Stark tech to get the holograms working to get the help you need. Plus you've been piloting the suit without JARVIS's help. If you were stupid, you'd be caught or dead months ago. If that's not smart, I don't know what is. Trust me, I'm a genius."
"But..." Susan said, biting her lip. "Kes is much smarter than I am. She could have understood the code to help Captain Rogers."
"A, just because you are not a genius does not mean you aren't smart. Everyone is an idiot compared to me, but that doesn't make Cap stupid." Steve snorted at Tony's words and started to plan ways to reduce Tony to a level of incoherency not even his 'genius' could break through tonight after Susan was asleep. He wasn't entirely sure how sex as a hologram would work, but it couldn't be too difficult as long as they were both corporeal. God, how had he not remembered how good this all was? He wanted to map Tony's body, make sure he wasn't still forgetting anything. Mentally, he sighed, thinking back to James and Peggy with a pang of longing. Not in front of the kids.
"B," Tony continued, "you got things up and running, setting up everything in this place including the Skrull tech you had to steal from their base which was extremely dangerous, so that you could get the help you needed. That's pretty smart, knowing how to get help."
"Smarter than Tony," Steve said, deciding it had been far too long since he'd held Tony, especially when he now had memories of his children to miss. He moved behind his husband, pulling him into a tight hug. He got a look of exasperation, but Tony didn't move away. It was nice, watching Tony deal with Susan. Steve had always known Tony would make a great father, even before they'd gotten married. He wished he could have watched Tony with Peggy when she got older. He'd have been so good with her.
"Haha, Captain Sassy. But see, he agrees. Finally, C, you've done all of this by yourself, and that's a pretty big accomplishment on its own. Maybe you can't read code, but this? This is pretty damn fine engineering. Seriously, this is beautiful. It's down-right sexy how you've reverse engineered a lot of the Skrull tech. This is art."
"Tony," Steve reminded gently as his husband got off track. Susan was blushing faintly, smiling shyly.
"Right. Anyway, no more selling yourself short. You're a Rhodey, which means you can't be lame, understand?" Tony finished.
"Rhodey?" Susan asked, a look of confusion on her face. "And what does lame mean?"
Tony muttered something about updating his slang next time he got online, then pointed at her. "You take on an impossible task to find Starks and don't give up. That makes you a Rhodey," Tony said simply. Steve kissed his temple, knowing how much the original Rhodey had meant to him.
"Is this a good thing?" Susan asked.
"Nothing better," Tony said as he grinned at her. "That settled, let's get down to finding the twins. That is if Cuddle-Cap Octopus will let me go."
"Mm. I think you can do a lot right here," he replied. Steve traced Tony's hand, pausing over the gold band that rested on his fingers.
Steve realized with a start that he wasn't wearing a matching ring.
"Steve?" Tony asked as Steve tightened his grip. "Hey, Sugar Patch. Sweet Pea, what's wrong?"
"I don't..." Steve said, feeling lost. He looked down at his empty fingers. "The ring."
Tony's eyes lit up in understanding as Susan looked worried. "Honey, it's okay. Easy fix, I promise. You were just rebooted without those memories. Look." Tony pulled up one of his holographic screens and typed in a few commands. "There. Now just think of whatever clothes you want."
Steve wasn't convinced, but he thought of the ring. The rest he wasn't as concerned about, but he thought of the blue button up Tony used to say matched his eyes. It was only fair, considering Tony had changed out of Steve's favorite suit in favor of the tank top and jeans.
Steve didn't feel anything change, but when he looked down, he was in civilian clothes and the ring was snugly fit on his left hand.
"Better?" Tony asked. "It's not the real one, but-"
"That's okay," Steve said. The real ones were probably buried together, where they belonged. It just hadn't felt right, not having even the image of it. It was so much a part of Tony that he appeared with it on, and for Steve to be without... "Thank you."
"So if you can fix the Captain's code, can you fix JARVIS?" Susan asked. She looked hopeful, and Steve didn't blame her. She needed some good news right now.
At this, Tony looked longingly at the computer, a look of genuine grief flashing though his eyes. "I've glanced at it, but I don't think I could go further without getting infected myself. The virus they made is pretty vicious, and definitely not Stark-made."
"Oh," Susan said, looking near to tears again.
"But you did good shutting him down when you did. We can get him back," Tony said, staring grimly at the screen. "And in the mean time, I can interface with the suit like JARVIS does for you."
"And I'll be here to help you plan your attack," Steve said encouragingly.
She looked at the two of them. Steve still hadn't let go of Tony, who was backed against Steve's chest with a contentment that Steve would have never thought possible if he'd still been without his memories. Steve himself was no longer in the dark place he had woken up to, but somewhere he was needed. He wasn't alone. He still missed his family and friends, but they had all lived good lives, and later he could sit down with Tony and look through the information on the family they had started. He still had someone, and that someone was one of the most important people in his life. And maybe the others weren't as lost to him as he thought, with Tony's memory recording device.
"We'll find them?" Susan asked, hope in her voice that she was scared to acknowledge.
"We'll find them," Steve replied, hugging Tony tighter with the promise. "And we'll clear your name too." He couldn't really fight as a hologram anymore, but being a guardian didn't sound so bad.
"Well," Tony said, grinning madly as he pulled up five more screens. "Time to get to work. Cap, you're up. Go train Rhodey."
"Train?" Susan asked.
"To help you fight better, so you can get your friends back safely," Steve said, reluctantly letting go. This was a fight worth fighting, and he wasn't in a habit of backing down from fights. He closed his eyes and thought of the shield, delighted when it appeared on his arms. "Think you can go a few rounds with an old man?"
When Susan smiled again, Steve knew this was one fight they were going to win.
Mem: Okay, so the full disclosure for those who need it: All of the Avengers have been dead for over 500 years and you get some brief details in the story about how they died. Bruce is the one who commits suicide. Steve is a hologram made from the recorded memories of Steven G. Rogers. If you're wondering about the suicide thing, at one point he asks them to turn him off and not turn him back on again. But he does find Holo-Tony at the end, and there's a potential that the other Avengers could also be brought back eventually. JARVIS is also taken out for the count at the ending, but Tony says he's fixable and he won't give up on getting JARVIS back as soon as possible. Yeah, I think that about sums everything up.
Anyway, that is the fic. There's probably more to the story, but the Steve/Tony part wraps up nicely and that's what matters. I might be talked into writing more, but only if people actually want it, since the rest of it focuses a lot on the OCs. It will probably take more than the five people who actually read this to convince me. XD If I don't write more, Steve knows it will work out. Therefore it will. Also, Susan will be BAMF. Because the writer says so. XD
Here's the original prompt for those who were wondering:
"One day, Steve wakes up to hear he'd jumped another 70 or so years into the future. To 'make sure he didn't suffer any permanent damage', the people overseeing his awakening quiz him about his old teammates, what they did, how they did it... how their armor and equipment worked. Soon enough, Steve overhears a strange (suspicious) conversation, and figures out that these people aren't who they claim to be, are in fact pumping him for information about his friends, particularly the Iron Man armor... Hopefully he hasn't actually been whisked away into the future again, when he was just starting to find his way in the present.
Happy reunions at the end would be much appreciated, thank you."
So I kind of messed with the happy reunions and twisted the plot a little to suit my own needs. It's not my fault I read that prompt then thought of Babylon 5's episode "Deconstruction of Falling Stars" and decided to hell with it. Holograms for everyone! Also, I added a heck of a lot of random references to B5 just for kicks, everything down to Susan and Michael's names to the medical equipment. Also, I'm aware there's a character named "Rhodey" the 616 comics who is Tony's granddaughter, but I haven't read them and my Susan is therefore probably a completely different character.
But basically, that's the fic. I hope you enjoyed it! If you're interested, you can find me on tumblr here.
Quote of the chapter:
"Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of a joy you must have someone to divide it with."