Title: A Stark Reaction
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Relationships: Jake Jensen/Carlos “Cougar” Alvarez, pre-Clint Barton/Laura Howlett, pre-Tony Stark/Bruce Banner, pre-Steve Rogers/Sam Wilson
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Character Bashing, Dark Themes, Death-Minor Character, Discussion – Murder, Discussion – Rape, Discussion – Torture, Kidnapping, Violence-Canon-Level
Word Count: 13, 131
Summary: When SHIELDra decided it was a fine idea to arrest Steve Rogers for treason live on national television, there was only one thing they were ever going to get. A Stark Reaction.
“Sir,” JARVIS called for his attention.
Tony rubbed a hand over his eyes and looked away from the latest Suit schematic. “Yeah, J?”
“Something has come to my attention that I believe to be relevant to your interests.”
“Let’s have it,” he ordered.
A small holographic screen popped into place in the air beside him. Tony blinked and made the hologram bigger, then he restarted the clip of film JARVIS had captured for him. It was Cap, fighting a dude, with a metal arm, in the middle of the street. The news banner indicated it was going down in Washington, DC. As he watched, Cap threw the guy’s full body using just a grip on his neck.
They turned to face each other and Cap froze. He just stared at the guy, lost a good thirty seconds of opening to ogle the weirdo while Weirdo pulled a gun on him but didn’t shoot. He didn’t press his advantage at all.
Then another guy flew into frame on the wings of an EXO-7 Falcon harness and gave Weirdo a two-legged Sparta kick to the back.
Weirdo got back up and again pointed his gun again at Cap who did absolutely nothing about it again until a grenade flew over his shoulder and he flinched. Weirdo disappeared in the smoke from the resultant explosion.
A small fleet of black vehicles in three different sizes, surrounded Cap, Wing Dude, and Romanoff. They were all handcuffed and shoved into the biggest of the trucks, an armored prisoner transport. Tony was pretty sure the arresters were being led by that asshole Brock Something that had collected Loki’s scepter after the Invasion but claimed he had never heard of Pokémon, the great big liar… But that meant SHIELD had just arrested Captain fucking America.
“Assemble,” was all he could say to that—because fucking what?
It didn’t take long for Bruce and Clint, the only two Avengers currently living in the Tower, to come to his lab. Only today the part of Clint Barton was being played by his lovely assistant Laura Howlett.
“Uh, what are you doing here?” Tony asked as he completed Clint’s preferred high five-handshake-snap maneuver with the woman.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Clint’s down at the Triskelion getting some work done on his shoulder. He told me he told you I was covering Tower security while it happened.”
“He did,” Tony admitted. “I didn’t realize that was today.”
She shot him a friendly kind of smirk. “Yesterday through tomorrow. We’re going to have to pick him up and drag him home.”
“Two months downtime,” he supplied just to prove he had, in fact, listened.
“And you have to put up with me the entire time.”
“Not exactly a hardship,” he gave her a bit of a leer and she laughed.
“What’s going on, Tony?” Bruce asked.
“J, play the video.”
JARVIS did as requested and Tony watched them watch it. He did not need to see someone that was supposed to be on his side pointing an automatic rifle at Cap’s head again. What the fuck was going on with SHIELD?
“JARVIS, what are the charges?” Bruce asked.
“Captain Rogers has been arrested for suspicion of murder and treason.”
That was…ridiculous. Captain America? Treason? “Who’s his supposed victim?” Tony couldn’t help but ask. Not that Cap couldn’t or hadn’t killed people in the past, but pre-meditated murder was just not in the guy’s wheelhouse.
“Director Fury, Sir.”
Now he knew something fucked up was happening.
“What are we going to do?” Laura asked, focusing on Tony entirely.
“J is going to hack everyone. I want to know what’s going on. Everything you can get me as soon as you can get it to me.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“I’m going to call around, see what I can find. Laura, you work on an exit strategy. We’re getting Cap back; I would prefer to do it legally to best prolong his freedom but we need to be prepared for some stupid shit with SHIELD involved. Bruce, finish the Big Guy’s new pants and check over the Quinjet, we might need it.”
Bruce looked a little not-Hulk green at the thought of having to supersize, but he didn’t argue. “If they are in DC, Clint’s down there. If whoever is after Avengers…” Bruce trailed off.
“Right.” Tony looked at Laura. “Medical extraction?”
She shook her head. “I’ll cover all the angles, Tony. That’s why I’m here.” She jerked her head at Bruce and they both left the room.
Once they were gone, he pulled a new holographic interface out of the air. “Who’s running SHIELD right now, J?”
“Former-Secretary of State Alexander Pierce appears to be filling in for Director Fury, Sir.” JARVIS provided a picture to jog Tony’s memory
“Ugh,” was Tony’s articulate response. Peirce was yet another one of those assholes he’d met during the Invasion, thoroughly investigated, and done everything he could to avoid being around. There was something very Stane-ish about Pierce. Stane with a dash of Raza, though he’d hidden it better than the asshole that had kidnapped Tony and kept him in a fucking cave. “Alright, give him a call.”
“Calling,” JARVIS confirmed.
They called most of the afternoon and no one answered. No one useful anyway. Not Peirce, not at either SHIELD or the State Department. Not Hill. Not Nat—which, she was arrested so that wasn’t a surprise except for how it kind of was. If any of them could have weaseled out of the arrest and charges, it was her.
He even tried Fury’s phone in a fit of legitimate lunacy, just to check. Someone answered, breathed at him, and hung up. Which was not only gross but creepy.
The Chief of DC police took his call and promised to put his best people on the case. As did the Director of the FBI and several of his deputies. He even called a few Senators and, for a bunch of oversight busybodies, they were especially useless.
“Call Ellis,” Tony sighed with his hands buried deep in his hair.
“Calling President Ellis, Sir.”
“Tony?” the former Senator from California answered his phone with a confused tone. The guy had volunteered to be Tony’s new godfather at Stane’s fucking funeral. Tony hadn’t been down for it at the time but his policies were pretty in line with Tony’s own beliefs, so he’d contributed to the family campaign fund anyway and now it was the time for the chickens to come home to roost.
“Hey, Uncle Matt.”
“What can I do for you, son?”
“Did you see this nonsense on the news this afternoon? Captain America arrested for treason?” Tony saw no need to beat around the bush about this but then, he rarely saw the point of shrubbery abuse.
“No,” Matthew Ellis dragged out the word into at least nine syllables. “Give me a second.”
Matt put him on speaker rather than hold so Tony listened as the man demanded answers from his assistant and was promptly provided the video.
“What. The fuck,” was Matt’s verdict.
“Yeah,” Tony drawled. “I’ve gotten it confirmed from outside sources that those are SHIELD operatives that performed the arrest and held Cap at gunpoint on national television but I can’t get anyone over there to answer the damn phone. I don’t care what he’s accused of—and he is only accused, there has been no proof provided—Cap has the right to a lawyer.”
“And a phone call,” Matt agreed. “I’ll call you right back,” and he hung up.
About twenty minutes later, JARVIS announced, “Sir, President Ellis is on the line for you.”
“Put him through.” There was a beep. “Uncle Matt?”
“Tony,” Ellis greeted. “I called Pierce directly. I reminded him that civil rights exist and will be honored for all three of his latest detainees. I also reminded him that SHIELD is empowered to detain, not arrest. In the event of violent actions—like that mess in DC earlier today—they are allowed to hold perpetrators for twenty-four hours in order to contain the situation and protect the innocent but beyond that the participants in said violence must be turned over to the FBI for charges and imprisonment.”
Tony…hadn’t known that. “Sounds like someone over there got a bit big for their britches.”
“Rogers and Romanoff are just being held, Tony,” Matt assured him. “They aren’t even being questioned. They’ll have room and board for a day and then go on their way.”
“Are you sure about that?” he asked. “I mean, they basically announced the charges on the news.”
“The news is not part of our legal system,” Ellis reminded him. Like they both didn’t know that trials that could destroy lives went on in the court of public opinion all the time. “But I will take them to task for the lapse.”
“Matt, why is SHIELD publicly detaining people that are actively working for SHIELD like that? Shouldn’t they have just all gone home together? Shouldn’t they have tried to arrest the guy with the arm that was actively attacking people? The one that killed people? Even if Rogers and company had gone off the rails and were facing internal review, SHIELD’s response was inappropriate.”
“You’re about to stick your foot in it,” Ellis guessed.
“Of course, I am.”
“Alright,” the President was quiet for a few moments. “I’ll assign someone to officially poke their nose in it tomorrow. Keep me in the loop with what you find. For now, you have an appointment to talk to Pierce himself tomorrow afternoon at one at the Triskelion.”
“Good. I’m bringing personal security and a lawyer.”
“That’s fine but this is a friendly meeting, Tony. Leave the Suit at home.”
Tony made a face at that but he’d have Laura and she’d serve Peirce up as sushi before she let anything happen to him. She took her promises to Clint very seriously and had no fucks to give about what anyone thought about it. And he had the Gauntlet Watch prototype. “Fine. But if they start anything, I’m going to finish it.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
“Breathe, Tony,” Laura ran a hand up and down his arm to calm him.
He nodded and tried to do the deep breathing stuff Bruce had taught him to manage his anxiety attacks. It worked better when Bruce was around, but he still tried.
They were going to be fucking late.
The plan had been to show up obnoxiously early and be dramatic until Peirce gave him what he wanted just to get him to go away. Now they were going to be actually-late because traffic. Tony could see the Triskelion across the Potomac from him but he couldn’t get there. He couldn’t get across the river to the teammates that needed him because he had left the Suit behind as his not-a-godfather had asked.
He was never leaving the Suit behind again. Fuck whoever asked.
“Would it be an overreaction to call Bruce and get a Quinjet Ferry from here to there?”
Laura snorted. “Yes. It is not advantageous to give away the extent of our resources yet. A traffic jam is a forgivable reason for being late and not something to be concerned about.”
He…didn’t agree but he didn’t say anything. He just focused out the window and tried to breath on pattern.
“Sir?” JARVIS called his attention. “There has been a broadcast to SHIELD agents within the Triskelion that requires your attention.”
God, what now? He looked at Laura who just nodded. “Go for replay, J.”
It started with, “Attention all SHIELD agents, this is Steve Rogers,” and continued in a noble, foolish, sanctimonious bout of either inspiration or inflammation that Tony could barely process.
Wow. Rogers had found the pedestal Howard had always put the man on and apparently proceeded to weld his own ass to it.
The important bits around the rhetoric and the posturing were that: A.) Hydra had taken over SHIELD, which explained quite a lot, actually. B.) Alexander Pierce was their leader. C.) STRIKE and Insight crews were Hydra—which, fuck if Insight wasn’t the project name for the Helicarrier engines he’d redesigned for Fury. D.) Hydra shot Nick Fury… but Steve didn’t specify that they killed him, which was interesting. E.) Hydra was going to use his Helicarriers to take over the world.
“J, disable the Helicarrier engines.”
As he watched, the Potomac started to… dance. “The fuck?”
“What is that?” Laura demanded and left the car to get a better look. Tony followed her.
Metal plates rose to just below the surface of the water, segmented, and rolled to either side like the world’s most extra garage doors, revealing caverns underneath. No, not caverns, hangars. Hangars that the three Insight Helicarriers began to lift themselves out of as they watched.
On the one hand, he was pleased to see the engines he’d designed working optimally, lifting their burdens up gracefully with neither stutter nor strain. On the other, he wished he hadn’t done such a good job. He’d built so many redundancies into the engines that hacking them was damn near impossible. He hadn’t wanted to leave an opening for someone to do what Hawkeye had done during the Chitauri Incident and turn off any of the engines with an arrow-riding mini-bot. Now, that paranoia was going to be a problem.
“Sir, I am getting a data breach from SHIELD,” JARVIS cut in. “Someone is attempting to release all of their classified files on to WikiLeaks.”
Fuck. “Stop them, J.”
J was struggling. JARVIS was struggling with the workload. “Fuck the Helicarriers, get the data.”
“Tony,” Laura objected.
“Hacking the Helicarriers was a bad job anyway,” he admitted. Then he pulled out his phone. He manually tapped in the order for his suit to come to him then called the Quinjet. “Bruce?”
“Get the Quinjet here, we need weapons and prepare for Code Green.”
“Jesus,” Bruce breathed. “Any sign of Clint?”
The Big Guy was partial to Clint because Clint wasn’t afraid of him. Because Cint joked with him and never tried to send him away. The Hulk was one of Clint’s strays, Tony had realized not long ago, just like Romanoff and Laura.
“Not yet, buddy,” he admitted.
Bruce was quiet for several beats. “We’re on our way.”
The Helicarriers started firing.
Either the Air Force had misplaced two of his wing suits or Wing Dude had escaped custody and was back in the saddle. Considering that all but one of the suits he’d sold them had supposedly been destroyed, it was probably Cap’s winged sidekick playing chicken with guns bigger than most cars that shot bullets at least the size of his head.
Tony’s phone rang. “Stark.”
“What the hell are you doing, Stark?” Maria Hill demanded without so much as a hello.
“Preventing a hack at SHIELD headquarters and watching Hydra try to take over the world? What are you doing?”
“Stopping Hydra from taking over the world. That data dump is us, Stark.”
“No, it’s treason,” he corrected. “For real treason, not made for TV treason. The fuck are you thinking?”
Hill huffed at him. “Following Captain’s orders.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit. Fury runs the show at SHIELD. He would never in a million years give a dancing monkey like Steve Rogers that kind of access. No one would.”
“Fine,” she almost growled. “Do your little thing but stay off the Helicarriers. We got this.”
“What you’ve got is a single man in a bird suit that’s going to get pasted,” Tony argued. “Don’t tell me that’s your plan to save the world.”
“Rogers is there too,” and that was not comforting. “We’re planting targeting chips that will turn them on each other. Leave it, Stark.”
“Jesus Christ,” he hung up. Then he crawled back in the car where it was quieter and made a call of his own.
“This is Ellis.”
“Matt!” Tony pulled off his tie and tossed it onto Laura’s seat.
“Tony? The fuck is going on? Are those gunshots? Is that an explosion? Are you at SHIELD HQ?”
“More than gunshots, sir,” he ran a hand through his hair and thought about what he wanted to say. “And, yes, there has been at least one explosion. I found out what’s going on with SHIELD.”
“You don’t say!”
“Current intel is that Hydra infiltrated SHIELD and they are trying to use SHIELD’s Helicarriers to, you know—”
“Kill everyone?” Matt said with some amusement.
Tony thought about it. “Yeah, basically. So, Steve Rogers, Maria Hill and fuckall knows who else are dealing with the Helicarriers. I’m dealing with the data leak? Because the solution to destroying Hydra is to give away thousands of US military secrets and endanger millions of people?”
“Christ,” the President whispered.
“Yeah,” he drawled.
“Tony!” Laura shouted, knocking on the window.
Tony jumped out of the car. The Insight Helicarriers were firing on each other. Right before his eyes, IN-02 crashed into IN-03. The 03 broke in half, throwing flaming debris in every direction while the 02 hit the river near its hangars face first and belly flopped into the hangars themselves, wailing like a banshee. The IN-01 crashed into the Triskelion itself, staggered against it like a drunkard and stumbled towards them, south along the river.
“Is that—,” Laura pointed, “Captain America?”
Tony double-tapped his glasses for magnification just in time to see Cap’s shield bail from the Helicarrier fast and hard and alone. Then Cap fell in a shower of glass and steel. He landed in the river and Tony turned his attention back to the Helicarrier. There was a man—the man from the street, Weirdo McMetalArm—hanging from an exposed girder by said metal arm. As he watched as the guy let go and dived in after Rogers to finish the job.
He didn’t know exactly how deep the Potomac River was in this area but there was no movement for him to see. No way of telling what was going on down there.
Bruce brought the Quinjet in for a landing on the bank not far from them. Tony vaulted the highway guard rail and slid down the rocky slope to him. He ignored Laura’s muttering as she followed him down but was glad of her company when she kept him from getting his face grated like cheese on the rocks.
They were there when the ramp lowered and Tony took his Science Bro by his shoulders. “Can you swim? Can the Hulk swim?”
“Tony, what?” Bruce gave him a look Tony couldn’t identify.
Then his eyes drifted over Tony’s shoulder and he went pale. Tony whipped around to see Weirdo McMurderArm dragging Steve out of the water by one of the harness straps on his old wartime uniform. The guy just stood there, staring at Steve and shaking. He was wet, he had to be cold and… Tony recognized him, actually. From his dad’s old pictures and movies and war stories.
He was Bucky fucking Barnes or Tony would eat Clint’s nasty gym shorts.
“Sergeant Barnes?” he called out.
The dude jerked like he’d been shot and looked up at him. He took a step back like he was going to bolt and Tony threw his hands up to show that he meant no harm.
“Sergeant Barnes, are you okay?”
Barnes just stared.
“We’re friends of Steve’s,” Tony tried, “we’re here to help.”
“Steve,” the man said with wonder and looked down at Rogers. Rogers, showing his eternally perfect timing, coughed up water and tried to turn on his side before giving up and collapsing back on his back.
“We can help you, too,” he offered. And then because he couldn’t help it, “where have you been?”
That got him a second shot of the wide eyes. “Hydra.”
“Hydra’s had you,” Tony took a deep breath. “We’ll let’s get you and Steve somewhere safe.”
“No,” Barnes started shaking his head and just kept on shaking it. “It’s not— Safe— I—”
“You’re not safe or we’re not safe with you?”
Barnes froze like a deer in the headlights. “Both.”
“And if I can make it safe? Without hurting anyone?” Tony asked.
Well, since he’d gotten a good look at the guys abilities in that fight on the street, “her name is Veronica.”
“Her?” Barnes frowned.
“Just stay still, alright? Maybe take a few steps back from Steve but this won’t hurt, I promise.”
The guy stared at him for several moments before taking two hesitant steps backward and going disturbingly still.
“Veronica has been deployed, Sir,” JARVIS informed him.
“Status on the data?”
“Retrieved, transferred, and encrypted.” There was a pause. “We were not the only interested parties accessing SHIELD at the time, however. I am attempting to retrieve the data now, Sir.”
“Destroy the physical media it’s on if you can. After you take the data, preferably. Don’t wanna lose anything.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Tony, what are you doing?” Laura asked.
“You wanna help Banner get Steve on the jet?” he sidestepped the question. It would be really obvious what he was doing really soon. “He’ll need medical ASAP.”
“I’ll help,” a new voice offered.
Tony spun around to see Winged Sidekick on the other side of the jet with his massively battered wingsuit in hand. He did a visual check on Barnes. Dude was still there and still looking flighty but he didn’t react when Laura got close to Steve, so he figured it was good enough.
Besides, in a fight between a POW from World War II and the Wolverine’s only daughter, his money was on Wolverine’s daughter. Every time.
Tony nodded to Wings, “Go on.”
Dude threw his wingsuit down on the ramp and joined Laura at Steve’s body.
“Sir, Veronica is on station.”
“Deploy delta-level containment. Go easy on him, J, it’s his first time.”
“Of course, Sir.”
Four of Veronica’s containment columns landed very gently, for her, around Barnes. For Alpha- through Charlie-level containment, the columns would bury themselves in the ground in various numbers. The columns for Alpha-containment were electrified on top of everything else. For every level of containment, the columns each reached out to each other, forming a cage. The top and bottom filled in and then the bars spread out turning the cage into a capsule. Veronica’s thrusters fired and she hovered above the ground, waiting for instructions.
“Hulk Rumpus Room, please. Full security, V. Inside and out.”
“Yes, Dr. Stark,” and the whole thing blasted its way north to the Tower.
He turned to find Laura, Bruce, and New Guy had Cap stretched out and strapped down to the floor of the Quinjet. New Guy had the big med kit out and was using it with obvious competence.
“You’re good at that,” he observed.
“Should be,” New Guy smiled at him. “Former pararescue. First aid’s part of the job—but he’s gonna need a doctor. I’m Sam Wilson.”
“Tony Stark,” he gestured at himself and New Guy rolled his eyes. Yeah, he’d never actually needed to introduce himself but it still amused him to do so. “You know Bruce Banner and Laura Howlett?”
“We’ve met briefly.” Sam stood and removed his right glove to do a full round of handshakes.
He leaned over a bit closer to Bruce. “We could have used you up there.”
“I was on my way,” Bruce admitted. “But you had it handled.”
Sam smiled and gave Bruce a nod before pulling out another glove and getting back to work.
“Tony, you need to report that third Helicarrier to the President,” Laura interjected.
Tony stepped back down the ramp and looked south to see the last Insight Helicarrier still limping south along the river. By his estimate it was just passing Arlington Memorial Bridge. “J?”
“Thanks to Captain Rogers and Sergeant Wilson, the targeting systems on the carrier are disabled. I have disabled the ship’s cloaking device and I will keep it inactive. Every tracking and location device I have found onboard has also been activated. We will not lose track of that ship, Sir.”
“Good job, J. Call Uncle Matt. They’ll need helicopters to get on the deck. Navy guys, if they wanna try with jets.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Clint?” Bruce asked.
“I’ll go,” Laura volunteered, then she pointed at Tony, “if you swear, you’re going back to the Tower, no detours, and you will stay at the Tower until I return.”
“I’m fully capable of protecting myself,” he protested.
She shot him a doubtful look but didn’t argue. Not about that at least. “I made a promise to Clint.”
“We’ll watch him for you,” Sam promised, and Bruce nodded his agreement.
“Alright,” she turned and walked down the ramp. She disappeared into the dust and the haze before he could even decide to willfully keep track of her.
Tony sighed and hit the ramp’s manual close. “Let’s go home.”
“Captain Rogers has several broken ribs,” Dr. Arlotti informed both him and Steve’s friend Sam that they had brought home with them from what was being dubbed the Battle of the Potomac. “Several bullet wounds that are starting to close—three of those still have bullets in them but are closing regardless. We need to perform surgery immediately or his body rejecting them after the wounds are closed is going to cause him a great deal of unnecessary pain.”
“Do you know if Rogers has anyone listed as his next of kin?” he asked Sam even as his pulled the tablet from behind his back.
One of the ways they had secured SHIELD’s data was to put it on a server farm separate from everything else and give it its own AI to guard it. There were currently two terminals that people were allowed to interact with JOCASTA at: the tablet in his hand and an actual desktop in his personal secure lab.
No one was allowed to directly interface with the data directly. Everyone had to go through the terminals and JOCASTA, even him.
“I didn’t even know he was friends with you,” Wilson admitted, looking tired.
“Yeah, I’m starting to re-evaluate our friendship status. It’s terrible because I already let DUM-E braid us matching bracelets.”
“Your bot will be heartbroken,” Sam agreed wryly.
JOCASTA popped Cap’s SHIELD personnel file to the top of his screen with minimal prompting. “Rogers has no one listed as his Next of Kin so I’ll make the call.” He showed the file to the doctor and she nodded. “Do the surgery.”
“Of course, Dr. Stark.”
“Check with Dr. Banner about anesthetic options and monitor his pain levels the entire time. The last thing we need is for him to come up fighting.”
She rested a hand on his forearm. “We can do this, Tony. We haven’t been in place long but I took your mandate for Avengers’ care seriously during the hiring process. Trust us.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he waved her off but still felt better knowing he had been listened to. “Get on with it.”
“You need me to stick with you?” Wilson asked as Dr. Arlotti walked away.
Tony raised an eyebrow.
“Look, scary sister at the river would absolutely break me in half if I let something happen to you so I’m not taking any chances with something happen to you,” Wilson explained. “Do you need me with you?”
Tony laughed. “She totally would but no, I’m not going anywhere but my secure lab. If that changes, JARVIS will let you know.”
“I surely will, Sir,” JARVIS agreed. “I do hate to get blood in the hallways.”
Sam laughed but then looked unsure if he should have or not. “I’ll check in with Barnes,” he offered. “I have training and experience to council for PTSD so I’ll give him what support I can but he’s going to need more help than I can provide. I don’t know what they did to him, exactly, but they made him forget not just Steve but his own name. And he’s physically aged, what, a year? In seventy? That’s heavy stuff.”
“I’ll see what I can hire,” Tony promised. “I can’t believe Bucky Barnes would voluntarily serve Hydra, so I’ll look for the details in the captured data. J, look around, will you? Prepare a list of doctors that deal with PTSD, Stockholm, maybe brainwashing? Hydra’s a cult, right?”
“Pretty much,” Wilson agreed and together they went to the executive elevator. “Thank you, Dr. Stark,” he offered as he got off on Hulk’s floor.
“Tony,” he corrected.
The guy returned the favor, “Sam.”
Tony smiled, gave him a nod as the doors closed, and started mentally designing the next generation of Falcon’s wing harness. Complete with body armor. And maybe a nice, helpful flying robot or two of Sam’s own. He’d been thrilled to meet U and Dum-E, Tony felt he could trust the guy with a bot.
“Sir, you have a call coming through from President Ellis,” JARVIS announced on the ride up.
“Tony?” Matthew Ellis asked.
“Hey, Matt. Let me get into the lab so we’re secure.”
The elevator dinged and he stepped directly into his lab. “JARVIS?”
“Privacy is assured, Sir.”
“Thanks, J,” Tony took a deep breath. “Uncle Matt?”
“We’ve secured the third Insight Helicarrier. It was removed from populated areas and put down at sea by a pair of agents, Mitra Hunter and Omar Velasquez. We are holding the two of them for questioning now. I would appreciate it if you would verify whether they are Hydra or not. Their goal has been reported to me as reducing and preventing civilian casualties which inclines me to trust them, but that trust could be their true goal.”
“I’ll check the data,” Tony promised. “See if there is a Hydra roll or at least a target list somewhere in there.”
“Thank you, son. I have a SEAL Team 3 keeping the Helicarrier secure and in the water. Not sure anyone wants to see it in a port right now.”
“Probably a good call,” Tony agreed. “If you’re willing to sell it to the Defenders Initiative, we’ll buy a not-gently used Helicarrier and then we can park it on one of my properties that I’ll dedicate to the Initiative.”
“What’s the Defenders Initiative?” Matt sounded dubious.
“It’s the Avengers rebranded and put under international oversight.” When Matt didn’t say anything, Tony continued, “Fury had a good idea with the Avengers Initiative. The Chitauri Invasion and now the SHIELDra Civil War show the team is necessary. But that Civil War also shows that we can’t just plant the Avengers under one nation’s government. We need broader oversight than that. Broader membership and broader jurisdiction. Under SHIELD, we only had permission to act in so many places and while I think we both know that that wouldn’t have stopped Fury from going beyond his reach, such a thing could have caused huge problems for the US internationally.”
“You…have a point. I hate it but you do. Many patriots act like we have the right to be the world’s police when the fact of the matter is, we don’t.”
“Right, so, with your permission, I’ll reach out to the UN to get the ball rolling there. I already have a team of lawyers working on the Defenders Resolution.”
“I’d like to read it when it’s done.”
“Alright, get it going. I do think the world needs something like SHIELD, not just the US. Placing that under the…Defenders might be a solution we can all live with. Speaking of SHIELD.”
Tony rolled his eyes and smirked, smooth transition. “Yes, sir?”
“Any word on Fury?”
“JARVIS and Sam Wilson have independently verified his survival—at least up to the point where he shot Alexander Pierce twice in the chest and then personally flew the helicopter to put Wilson down on the river bank not far from where I was dealing with Barnes and Rogers. After that, I have no idea. Hill and Romanoff went with him, wherever he’s gone.”
“And the data leak?”
“Wilson confirmed it was Cap’s idea and that Cap forced the issue with Fury—but I’m not sure of that because he also confirmed that Romanoff never gave Steve five minutes by himself and I can personally testify that that woman can make you think all sorts of crazy was actually your idea if she’s given the time to do so. The bottom line is that Fury and Peirce were the ones that released the data. Romanoff had a gun on Pierce, and I can see how that forced the issue with him, but Cap was dealing with the Helicarriers. There’s no single way he was able to force Fury to comply if Fury didn’t want the data dump to happen.”
“Not even Captain America can be in two places at once,” Ellis agreed. “You think they manipulated him into taking responsibility for the dump?”
“And then faked their deaths to leave him holding the bag,” Tony nodded even though Matt couldn’t see it. “There’s no way Steve has any idea what they really did. Even Wilson didn’t get all the ramifications until we were talking it over in the jet on the way home and he’s a modern man that served in the modern military. The scope of what SHIELD was protecting is just beyond most people’s understanding.”
“Why? Why would they dump it?”
“Revenge?” Tony guessed. “To shoot the world the bird? To give them another shot at Hydra? Who guards against dead people?”
Matt sighed. “I have to have this officially investigated, Tony. You know that.”
“FBI?” Tony wrinkled his nose.
“FBI,” Matt confirmed.
“Can you at least send Aaron Hotchner and his team? Aaron was great during the whole stalker-turned-serial killer thing and I know his team aren’t complete assholes. If anyone can see through all the spy bullshit, it’s a room full of profilers.”
“Alright,” Matt agreed. “I’ll personally order him there. In the meantime, I don’t want Hill, Romanoff, or Fury anywhere near that data.”
“No one’s getting near this data,” Tony promised. “It’s triple encrypted and isolated on a private server farm in an undisclosed location with its own AI running security. And only Hill knows for sure I have it. She might tell the other two but if I had to guess, I’d say she won’t. She didn’t seem thrilled that it was being done and only put up a token protest when I interfered.”
“She was an officer in the US Navy for fifteen years,” Ellis said with some amusement. “Most of that was in Naval Intelligence. She damn well better know the meaning of classified.”
“If she gets cleared of this mess, the Defenders could use someone like her. Her file makes it clear she was a badass when she was in the service. How she got turned into Fury’s personal lapdog is beyond me.”
“I’m sure Hotch will figure it out when he talks to her.”
Tony cleared his throat and dived face first into the next part. “You should know that there were other parties sniffing at SHIELD’s doors when Fury and Peirce opened them. I may or may not have set one of my AI’s FRIDAY on retrieving the data if at all possible.”
“And I may or may not be grateful for that,” Ellis admitted. “Any idea who it was?”
“Rising Tide, obviously, if you watch the news. The hacktivist group is already working the media into a feeding frenzy over the Battle of the Potomac.” Ellis groaned but Tony continued. “And they are using the H-word which could have only come from so many places.”
“Alright,” Ellis sighed. “The current cover story we’re going to go with it is that you, Captain America, Falcon, and Hulk worked together to avert this malicious attack against the United States. You and Dr. Banner covered the technological breach while Captain Rogers and Sergeant Wilson addressed the physical threat. We’re still investigating the true nature of the attack, but Hydra is suspected to be involved.”
There was a ding at one of the consoles Tony had set up so that he could interact securely with FRIDAY. JOCASTA had her own separate terminal. “Brock Rumlow has been secured from the rubble of the Triskelion and we know he’s Hydra. Pin it all on him?”
“I’ll talk to Hotch. Do you have a list of confirmed Hydra agents?”
“From within SHIELD or beyond it? Because there are Senators, a few Congress people, and two Supreme Court Judges that are either Hydra themselves or are in Hydra’s pocket.”
Ellis blew out a breath. “Stern?”
“Now it’s even more important no one knows you have that data. Your troublesome relationship with Stern would cast doubt on the whole damn thing.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “I mean, that’s fine and all but I’m not letting this information go, either. Its more secure in my hands than the Pentagon’s is in the government’s.”
“Yes, well…” Matt huffed. “If the Defenders Initiative replaces SHIELD that’s your data anyway.”
“Several foreign interests got the data too,” Tony said to get them back on subject. “Or, at least, FRIDAY tracked them back to foreign locations but that’s no guarantee of who actually did the work at this point.”
“You’ll find out.”
“Of course, this is what FRIDAY was made for.”
“Alright, stick to the cover story. I mean it, Tony, even with Potts.”
“Unlike some other people, I know what classified means,” Tony promised. “Let me know when Hotch and his team are on the way?”
“I’ll have my people call your people,” the President promised and they both laughed.
“Sir,” JARVIS’s raised voice pulled him out of his not-quite-asleep haze.
Tony pushed to a sitting position on the couch in his lab. “Status of Hotchner’s team?”
“They have returned to the Tower for the day and are currently entrenched in the secure offices we provided for their use—but that is not my current concern, Sir.”
“What’s going on, J?”
“Someone is attempting to breach our server defenses.”
“Shut him down,” Tony frowned into JARVIS’s closest camera. Attempted breaches were everyday fare at Stark Industries. Why was this even being called to his attention?
“He is quite adept, Sir,” JARVIS explained, “but he is not hiding himself in any of the expected ways. I believe you may wish to confront him personally.”
Instead of answering this time, J provided him a live feed. It was Cap… with a laptop and a beard, wearing a T-shirt with a pair of AT-AT’s mating on the front of it. As an added bonus, there was a baby sat on his knee.
“Location on Rogers?”
“The main surgical theatre, Sir. Yesterday Dr. Arlotti fixed the ribs compromising his left lung and it re-inflated in the night. This morning she removed the bullet from between his seventh and ninth ribs and used Stark Bio-glue to secure his eighth rib into place until his natural healing factor can repair the bone. The lacerations in his liver are already closing.”
So, despite appearances, that was not Cap. “Alright. Tell Wilson we’ve got a field trip to make.”
“Of course, Sir.”
It took more effort than Tony wanted to admit to wait while Sam inconspicuously took a table at the cafe just outside of Stark Tower and ordered a coffee from the waitress. Sam had wanted to evaluate the guy before Tony went in.
He watched as Sam picked up the tablet he had given him and tapped out a message.
Bring the Suit showed up on Tony’s own tablet in the deep gold he’d picked for Sam since the man was a literal ray of sunshine.
He almost laughed when he read it.
“Take us down, J,” he ordered and the elevator he was in finished last floor of their trip down. He walked directly out of the Tower and up to the Hacker’s table. He set his Suit Case on the table in front of him, casually kept a hand on it, and focused on the newest player in this—quite huge, actually—debacle.
“So,” Tony drawled, “who are you?”
The guy shot him an amused look. “We should have that conversation in private, Dr. Stark.”
“Can you tell me why you’re hacking my mainframe?” Because that was kind of important. And he wasn’t going to invite an obvious threat to the SHIELD data into his home. His AIs were there. And Bruce. And Cap was still actively in surgery.
Yeah, that wasn’t just going to happen without some serious inducement.
Serious blue eyes finally looked away and stayed away from their laptop screen. After a considering pause, Not-Cap answered, “Two hours ago, someone kidnapped my sister. Luckily, I was home on medical leave and got my niece out, but I need to get my sister back. Very bad things could happen if I don’t.”
“Can you tell me why?”
“We should have that conversation in private, too.”
“Look, I know Bruce Banner is here—I saw it on the news—have him in the room. Hell, he can hold my niece while we talk. I’m not here to be violent, I’m here to get the information I need to get my sister back before my CO has to report me AWOL.”
“Alright. I’ll go set up a secure conference room in the Tower. You’ll get an IM from JARVIS when I’m ready for you. Got a name for the front desk? You’ll need an ID to go with it.”
The man relaxed and gave him a bright smile. “Jake Jensen, and I have my driver’s license with me.”
“Good,” Tony stood.
“Should your security come with me?” Jensen flicked a glance over to Sam. “Or should I pretend I didn’t see him?”
“He’s not my security,” Tony corrected. “That’s an Avenger, codename Falcon.”
“He’s a guy in my unit’s brother in-law. Last I knew he was in DC getting trolled the hell out of by Captain America.”
Sam groaned and looked at them, giving up the act, “Seriously, who expects to take a morning run with Captain America?”
“Pooch was a total fanboy about it after Jolene told him,” Jensen just laughed. “He’ll probably stop pretending to hate your life choices if you can get them in the same room at the same time at some point.”
“We’re trying to get Sam’s sister to take a job here in the Tower,” Tony admitted. “If she takes it, the chances are good.”
Jensen just nodded.
“Give me a few,” Tony ordered and walked away.
Sam got up from his table and joined Not-Cap for a chat. “You’re Pooch’s hacker friend?”
“Yeah, only been with the unit…” and Tony was out of hearing range.
“What do we know about him, J?” Tony asked as he leaned against the back wall of his private elevator.
“Recently promoted Captain Jacob Jerome Jensen, United States Army, twenty-eight years old. He has one sister, Jessica Jacqueline Jensen, thirty-two years old, and one niece, Bethany Renee Jensen, three years old.”
“Someone’s parents had a fucked-up sense of humor.”
“There are no parents listed in his file, Sir.”
That…wasn’t a surprise. Dude looked like an exact copy of Cap—just a few years younger. What were the chances that the guy was a literal copy?
“He has several degrees from Florida State, MIT, and Northwestern starting at the age of fourteen. His highest degree is his doctorate in Computer Engineering, which he received from MIT. He enlisted in the Army at twenty, was a Green Beret by twenty-one, and an officer by twenty-three. As stated, he is currently a Captain and a member of the special action team known as the Losers. He is their communications and technological expert. As a team, the Losers appear to be making a career out of successfully completing and surviving one-way missions.”
“Sounds like a good team to add to the Defenders Initiative.”
“Create a wish list for the Initiative and remind me to talk to Uncle Matt about it.”
“Of course, Sir.”
Brucie was hovering outside the door to the secure conference room up on eighty-two by the time Tony got there. “J told you?”
“Yes,” Bruce nodded.
Tony stopped to look at him. “You good for this?”
“Do you think he’s offspring?” Bruce hesitated, “or a clone?”
“Either way I’d say the reason for recovering his sibling who can clearly reproduce is a priority. Can you imagine what Hydra would do with a Super Soldier Serum enhanced womb? That is…”
“Pretty obviously a problem,” Bruce agreed. “If Hydra managed to acquire viable sperm from Barnes…”
Tony let himself acknowledge the horror of that. Hydra breeding super soldiers. As many super soldiers as one woman with Cap’s healing factor could put out in a lifetime… that was a nightmare he didn’t need. And it could only be worse for her child and her brother. “J, send U down with the secure StarkPad in my Lab, you know the one, and go ahead and IM Jensen.”
“Of course, Sir.”
Tony tapped the table in front of him thoughtfully. “I didn’t think we could alter clones yet.”
“As far as I’m aware, the concept of an altered clone is still theoretical,” Bruce admitted. “It would take a level of computing power that still doesn’t exist to run those kinds of simulations on human DNA. The only other option would consist of more trial and error than I want to contemplate. The results of the failed attempts would be horrifying. As would whomever made them having to dispose of those attempts over and over and over.”
“A lot of dead…” Kids. Babies, he didn’t want to say.
Sweet Baby Tesla, he really hoped this new crazy was by Hydra. The idea that there were two completely psycho evil organizations out there, one completely unknown, gave him heartburn.
“How did they come up with that much genetic material?” Tony asked. “As far as I know, Rogers only gave twelve vials of blood for experimentation after Erskine died. If the government lost more than one of those, I’d be shocked.”
“Unless it was our government that did it,” Bruce gave him a serious look.
Tony hated that idea. “Nah, he’s in the Army. He’s on medical leave like a regular soldier. The US government would never treat him like a regular soldier if they had made him in a cloning experiment.”
A knock on the door interrupted Bruce’s response.
Sam and Captain Jensen complied together. They even held the door for U as she rolled on in.
“Thanks, sweetheart,” Tony patted her central strut and took the StarkPad she was carrying. He woke the screen and checked the background to make sure it was the right one. It was. “You wanna stay here or go back to the lab?”
She beeped at him a few times and headed back toward the door. Sam, proving yet again that he was made of actual sunshine, held the door for her one more time.
“Well, Captain Jensen?” Tony asked when the door was closed again.
True to his word, Jensen walked up to Bruce Banner and placed his niece right in the guy’s arms. Bruce’s face post-deposit was confused and more than a little awestruck.
“She’s half-Super Soldier,” Jensen cut off Bruce’s protests. “She’ll be fine.”
Bruce swallowed hard and leaned back in his chair with the baby on his chest. The very image was stupidly cute.
Jensen walked to the opposite side of the table from Bruce and started pulling off weapons. He started with his laptop bag. That was quickly joined by two guns, three knives, a garrote, a cell phone, and what may or may not have been a road flare.
He then continued down the table and sat across from Tony, keeping his hands spread on the table and in plain sight.
He wasn’t sure if Jensen’s little show was supposed to be a threat display or what, but Tony actually felt better that the guy wasn’t trying to downplay the real physical danger he represented, unlike certain Russian defectors Tony could name. The fact that Sam propped up the wall behind Jensen with a discreetly palmed taser probably helped, too.
“Clone or offspring?” Tony asked. No reason to fuck around with a woman in danger.
“Clone,” Jensen gave him a what can you do face. “I was designation 107. My sister was 103. I don’t know Alexander Peirce’s designation.”
“Alexander Pierce was a clone of Steve Rogers?” Tony asked.
“Born and raised by Hydra,” Jake nodded. “The first functional copy. As far I know, they harvested the DNA to make the rest of us from him. The 1-0 series were modified copies. Jess was the reproduction unit. We had another sister, the acquisition unit, that had enhanced dexterity, but she was sent off for individual training before we were rescued—and I’ve never been able to find her.”
“Me?” Jensen gave him the big innocent blue eyes that Tony didn’t believe for a hot second. “I was supposed to be Hydra’s you.”
“Yeah. I’m about ten years younger than you but even as a child you were exceptional, and your father loved to brag, so they pumped up my intelligence probably more than they should have and put me in front of a computer in the hope that that was all it would take.”
That was…not comfortable. On multiple levels. Tony got up and grabbed a glass of water from the refreshment stand off to one side. “But?”
“You obviously have something I don’t—and I don’t know what that is but that’s fine with me,” Jensen shrugged. “Peggy Carter rescued Jess and I when I was thirteen. She was very concerned with me forming my own identity, free of Hydra or you or anyone else for that matter. So, I did and I’m not going to give it up. While many of our interests overlap, so do the interests of literally millions of other people’s.”
“So, you were Hydra,” Bruce offered.
“I was created by Hydra,” Jensen corrected. “No kid asks to be born, Dr. Banner. Nobody gets to pick their progenitors either, but I knew nothing else until Peggy Carter. We stayed with her for a few years, after. We had a lot to learn about—you know, humanity.”
“Peggy Carter is a font of humanity,” Tony murmured.
“Yeah,” Jensen agreed then shook his head. “It’s too bad what Hydra’s done to her.”
Tony spit his water. “What?”
“What, what?” Jensen gave him wide eyes.
Tony glared at the guy. “Hydra, what, gave Peggy Carter dementia?”
“They have at least one biological agent that could do it,” Jensen admitted, averting his eyes in a way that tasted like a confession. “And she had proof Hydra was around once she rescued me and Jess, but she wouldn’t have drawn their attention to herself until we were secure. She hadn’t been able to find us for a year when suddenly she was diagnosed with dementia.”
“I can’t think of a better way to discredit any accusations coming from her,” Bruce offered.
“All killing her would have done was just given her accusations credit,” Tony agreed and sank a hand into his hair. “Can you cure her?”
“Maybe?” Jensen offered. “The human brain is just a different form of computer but—” he blew out a breath. “What if I wiped her hard drive?”
“Why don’t you get me what you know, Tony will get us blood samples, and we’ll work on it together?” Bruce said to Jensen then looked at Tony.
Tony nodded his agreement; they could totally do that.
“Why are you coming out of the clone closet, now?” Bruce asked.
“Not like I was given a choice,” Jensen snorted. “My original took that from me two days ago and I would like to punch him in the face for it, given the chance. Preferably with a chair. He can endanger me—that’s fine, I can take care of that. Endangering my niece was un-fucking-acceptable.”
“And yet you trust her with me,” Bruce gave her a look.
“You’re only dangerous when provoked, Dr. Banner,” Jensen countered. “And even then, you do everything in your power to avoid innocent casualties if at all possible. I saw the Invasion footage… and that foolishness in Harlem.”
“Your sister,” Tony redirected. “What do you wanna do there?”
“Find her, get her back,” Jensen tilted his head to one side. “After that, I’m torn between finding the other clones and keeping them safe or taking my family and disappearing.”
Tony took a moment to review the data on his Pad, mostly Jensen’s service record for now while instructing JOCASTA to search for information about clones in Director Carter’s personal files. “You’ve got to be a better than average hacker to have kept the Army from noticing your genetic similarities to Rogers while on active duty inside the Army.”
Jensen just shrugged.
“Alright, new plan. I’ll get you copies of all the SHIELD data on the project that created you. You will find all the other clones—if there are any other clones—and bring them here to be sheltered under the Defenders Initiative. You’ll also look for your sister. I’ll redirect my AI currently hunting down the data breaches to find who else accessed that info, that will give you somewhere to start at least.”
“What about my team?”
“What about them?”
“Well, if you’re starting a new not-SHIELD you could probably use a few intelligence analysts/commandos/jack of all trades types. We fit the bill.”
“I’ll think about it…and talk to the President about how to keep you from being reported AWOL in the way least likely to bring undo attention onto our situation.”
“I can start my resignation paperwork,” Jensen offered. “That way, if we do garner more attention than we’d prefer, at least the US Army won’t have legal standing to join the pile. Last thing we need is another reason to have General Ross looking at the Tower.”
“Yeah,” Bruce agreed and ran a hand over his face. “What about Clint? Have we heard from Laura?”
“Ms. Howlett has not checked in at this time but her active tracker shows her to be on a southerly path that has taken her down several major highways. Shall I initiate contact?”
“Someone kidnapped Hawkeye?” Jensen asked.
“He disappeared out of Medical at the Triskelion not long before the Battle of the Potomac,” Bruce confirmed.
“My team’s in Georgia,” he offered. “Fort Benning, if she needs back up.”
Tony sighed. Signs pointed to him getting the Losers for Christmas. “I’ll call the President.”
And Steve woke up.
It was the last thing he expected—and it was close to the last thing he wanted, as well. He was warm and dry, comfortable, in a bed big enough to fit him. There was music playing softly. Actual music, not that sensory assault most people called music in The Future.
Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked around. He was in a hospital gown—again one that fit him—and he had a number of leads and tubes in various places he probably didn’t want to identify. The music was coming from a phone on a stand that was on the table to his left. Sam was sitting on his right reading and something inside of Steve settled.
He was definitely not in enemy territory, not if they let Sam sit with him. And Sam wasn’t obviously injured outside of a cut not far from his eyebrow.
“On your left,” he called out softly and watched Sam look up at him through his eyelashes. Sam’s smile was close-lipped and smaller than anything he’d given him before, even when he was being a jerk to him on their run that first day.
Still, Sam stood and walked away. Steve watched his back as he poured a cup of water and brought it to him. Now, Steve hadn’t been hospitalized since waking up in The Future until now but he’d visited injured agents often enough…and that cup was wrong. It was thick and heavy, not even plastic, it was glass. Not Styrofoam. The lid was rubber and the straw was flexible aluminum. “Where are we?”
“Stark Tower,” Sam answered easily and Steve felt it like a stab to the kidney. “Tony Stark showed up and saved our bacon, Steve. I didn’t even know you, you know, knew him knew him.”
Steve didn’t say anything. He couldn’t.
“Why didn’t you call him to deal with the Helicarriers? He was pretty much the best person alive to deal with them. If those repulsor engines were not his design, I’ll eat my coat.”
“Stark’s not trustworthy,” he finally forced out. “He’s unreliable and refuses to follow orders.”
Sam frowned at him and took a step back. An actual, physical step back. The guy that had no problem or hesitation on fighting with him against SHIELD and Hydra combined, stepped away from him the moment he spoke against Tony Stark.
“According to who?” Sam asked after several moments of silent evaluation.
“My Adaptation Coordinator? Agent Sit—” And he stopped.
“Agent Sitwell?” Sam finished for him, knowing full well the only way Steve could finish that sentence after the briefing he and Nat had given him. “The guy you let Romanoff kick off of a roof because he was Hydra? They guy I let you let Romanoff kick off a roof because he was Hydra? Do you think, maybe, Hydra lied to you? They obviously wanted you isolated. It was the only way they could control you; how could they better do that than to set you against your biggest ally? You know you were found by a Stark Arctic Expedition, right?”
Steve silently shook his head.
“Howard Stark started running them, trying to get you back after the War. Hell, he might have started them during the war, I don’t know, and Tony continued it in his father’s honor. Fury stole you and hid you from people that actually cared for you, from the people that actually wanted to help you, and surrounded you with Hydra assholes. I’ll give it to him that he probably didn’t know they were Hydra assholes—but are you going to let him get away with that?”
“No,” Steve shook his head, this time with purpose.
“Then, what are you going to do?”
Steve blew out a breath, “I’m going to apologize to Tony.”
“Become the best damn friend he’s ever had. And find Bucky. And personally, kick Fury’s ass the next time I see him.”
Steve blinked. “What about her?”
“You realize she’s been a raging asshole to Tony—and from Tony’s stories she’s been Fury’s little lapdog this entire time, right? Jumping when he said, biting when he said. Biting Tony when Fury said. I wouldn’t be surprised if he assigned her to honeytrap you, either.”
He had no idea what that was supposed to mean. Well, no. That wasn’t true. He had an idea what a honey trap was because he could, in fact, read. But he didn’t want to think that Nat had gotten close to him on someone’s order to do so. Though, even if she had, his friendship to her had been real and the only solution there was, was to ask her, face to face, next time he saw her exactly how it was.
“I guess we can check the data,” was what he said out loud. “It’s all out on the internet for everyone to see, we can find out everything Fury’s done to all of us.”
Sam shifted and Steve looked up at him, “What?”
“It’s not on the internet.”
“What?” He felt a straight shot of betrayal. “Did Nat not—?”
“Oh, she did.” Sam held up a cautioning hand. “But, like I said, Tony came to help. He had his AI’s catch as much of it as they could. They’re still trying to wipe bits of it off the internet—it’s been a week and they’re still trying—but they caught a lot.”
“Steve, do you realize what we did with that? We maliciously attacked the United States government. We committed treason. People have been hurt, killed, and kidnapped all because of what we did. Tony stopping the transfer is the only reason we aren’t in jail right now.”
No, that can’t be right. Nat had been so sure it was the best way to protect people, how would people get hurt— “What?”
“You need to see it,” Sam pointed at him. “Let me get the nurse. And the doctor. They’ll get you discharged and we can go see. Can you wait an hour to make up your mind?”
“Yeah, Sam. I can do that.” He could do anything for Sam.
The man had taken a spot similar to Bucky’s in his heart from that “oh, come on!” when they were running that day. Not the same spot as Bucky’s, never the same spot as Bucky, but— Steve didn’t want to think about it right now.
He closed his eyes and listened as Sam opened the door and called out, “Jolene?”
“At this point, sir, our investigation into the Battle of the Potomac is at a standstill until we can speak with Steve Rogers, Nick Fury, Natasha Romanoff, or Maria Hill,” Agent Hotchner reported as they stood side by side, teleconferencing with Matt in the fucking White House.
“Any news on that, Tony?” The President asked.
“The Stark Tower medical team finished their last surgery on Steve Rogers five hours ago. Once Dr. Arlotti is confident in his recovery, they’ll back off the meds and allow him to wake up naturally. Current estimate is tomorrow or Sunday.”
“And our three fugitives from SHIELD?”
Tony shot the question to Hotch with a look.
“No word yet, sir,” the Unit Chief answered. “We’d like to announce our interest in them through the media. If we expose the truth of their survival, we believe they’ll come to us.”
“It’ll ruin whatever they’re trying to do,” Tony offered when Matt glanced over at him. “Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know.”
“Whatever they’re doing, they don’t have the permission or the empowerment to do it and that makes it vigilante action. And I’m not inclined to tolerate any more vigilante action from Team Fury at this time.” Matt focused on Hotch. “Has SHIELD indulged in any vigilante action outside of the Battle of the Potomac?”
“That would depend on how you define vigilante action,” Hotchner hedged. “Were you aware, sir, that SHIELD has a private detention center they call the Fridge?”
Tony blinked; he hadn’t known that.
“Yes, of course,” Uncle Matt answered. “They needed a place to hold enhanced threats be they people or objects. They are only allowed to hold people twenty-four hours, however.”
“Then are you aware that they have been detaining people in this facility? In many cases for multiple years?”
“No,” Matt drawled, sharing a surprised look with Tony.
“Three years ago, Sue and Johnny Storm, Reed Richards, Victor von Doom, and Benjamin Grimm conducted a successful space mission and due to unforeseen circumstances, returned to Earth altered.”
“No, they died,” Tony frowned at the agent. “I remember reading Reed’s obit. There was a huge NASA-sponsored memorial service. I renamed my Green Energy subsidiary in his honor, the Reed Richards Foundation.”
“SHIELD covered up their landing and faked their deaths because they refused to put themselves and their new abilities at SHIELD’s sole disposal,” Hotch explained. “They have been in the Fridge ever since. With no trial and no due process.”
“Jesus,” Matt muttered and ran a hand over his face. “You have a go for the press conference. Bring those assholes in.
“In the meantime, I want you to find every shady thing SHIELD did during Fury’s tenure. If he didn’t know about them, he damn well should have. That was his job as the director. And I want a complete list of every single person they’ve held for longer than twenty-four hours, no matter the facility used or the circumstances, without turning over to the proper authorities on my desk by Monday.”
“Yes, sir,” Hotch nodded.
“Status on Barnes?”
“Bad news? We were forced to remove his arm below the elbow,” Tony admitted. “JARVIS detected the activation of an explosive inside it. Someone had remotely set the power source, a mini-reactor, to overload and it would have taken out several blocks of Manhattan if an empty Iron Man suit hadn’t flown it high enough to be the world’s most awkward firework display.
“I had Dr. Stephen Strange, the best surgeon in New York other than Dr. Arlotti, remove the rest of his arm. Apparently, it was pumping him full of all manner of chemicals from steroids to tranquilizers, memory suppressants. According to Strange, the only reason the guy didn’t stroke out was because he’s a super soldier. The withdrawal’s been fun. Bruce is the only one we can risk going in there at all at this stage. Arlotti and Strange think he’s probably over it at this point but they want to give it ‘til Monday before they test that theory.
“Good news? He managed to take a shower by himself without being ordered to do it this morning.”
“You’re going to need a psychologist,” Hotch interjected.
“Yeah, that’s proving difficult,” Tony scratched the back of his head. “The person most qualified for it isn’t willing to leave his current practice no matter how much I offer. He’s willing to consult, but there’s really no one he can refer us to. We’re still looking.”
“Would a Presidential Order help?” Matt offered.
“I mean, I’m sure he’d hang it on his wall? But he’s an Indian citizen living in New Delhi.”
Uncle Matt huffed a small laugh and rolled his eyes.
“Perhaps a team?” Hotch offered. “I can check with my people. I believe Dr. Reid has connections with a man at Harvard that works on cult deprogramming. Combine that with a specialist in PTSD and/or a specialist in Stockholm Syndrome and we might have a solution.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Matt agreed. “Make sure you charge all of your expenses in this endeavor to the Department of Damage Control, Tony. And keep your receipts.”
Tony rolled his eyes but nodded. Like Pepper would let him skip any opportunity for a tax deduction.
“Keep me posted, boys,” Matt leaned back in his chair. “Same time Monday, unless something blows up this weekend.”
The holographic screen in front of them disappeared and Tony slumped. Hotch didn’t leave but he didn’t say anything either until Tony looked up at him.
“It’s lunch time,” Hotch said. “You’ve been going full-bore for five days. Why don’t you take the rest of the day and relax?”
“You’re a good boss, Hotch, but you aren’t actually my boss.”
Hotch smiled at that, it was beautiful and terrible. “Would you like me to call Ms. Potts?”
“That’s dirty pool,” Tony laughed.
“As that may be,” Hotch tipped his head toward the elevator, “all I require is for it to be effective.”
Tony held up his hands in surrender and walked to the elevator that JARVIS opened as he got there, “Alright, I’ll go.”
They rode in silence together until they got to the level the BAU team was occupying. Then, Hotch got off and Tony rode back up to the Penthouse.
“Come on, Dr. Banner,” he could hear Jake Jensen say coaxingly the moment the elevator opened. “Who doesn’t like to dance? I’ll even let you lead!”
Tony rounded the corner to find Bruce looking amused but reluctant as Jake wiggled around the kitchen to…he was pretty sure it was Meghan Trainor. “Come on, Brucie,” Tony joined in. “He’ll even let you lead!”
Bruce laughed and rolled his eyes. Then he stood, put Bethany in Tony’s arms, and approached her uncle.
“Restart the song, J!” Tony ordered.
“Yes!” Jake fist-pumped. Then he straightened and pretended to be dignified as Bruce went completely over to top and bowed to him as he offered his hand.
Yeah, his Science Bro was the best.
Sam’s smile lit up his face as the elevator door opened. There was what Steve thought was a Salsa-style song playing at a decent volume and Sam made a display of hip-oriented agility on his way out of the elevator ahead of him that was one of the most distracting things Steve had ever seen.
And he’d worked with honest-to-God showgirls!
When he made it to Tony’s big, open kitchen, Steve saw Tony bouncing a tiny blue-eyed girl child in a mimicry of dance while Bruce Banner lead a man that looked exactly like Steve in the kind of display that would have gotten both men jailed or beaten to death back when he was alive. As he watched, Sam cut in and took over dancing with his double while Dr. Banner took over baby duty and Tony started clapping along to the music.
It was the strangest feeling, watching Sam dance with himself. He wished, fiercely, that he was actually the one Sam was dancing with. Sam threw in some fancy footwork and his double matched him step for step.
They were laughing when the song ended.
“You shaved the beard!” Sam crowed as he pinched his double’s cheek.
“Yeah, well,” his double slapped playfully at Sam’s hands, “no point in hiding who I am anymore, now is there?” He looked over at Steve and he watched his own face cloud with fury. “It’s not like I can be in the Army anymore. Someone gave my secret away.”
Steve swallowed and had to sit down. “You’re— My—”
“Steve Rogers,” Tony said from where he was using Steve’s elbow to maneuver him onto a stool. “Meet Clone #107. Though now he prefers Jake Jensen.”
“It’s not the first name I’ve had since Peggy Carter saved me,” his double—Jake —gave Tony a small smile. “And it probably won’t be the last, but it’ll do for now. At least until we rescue my sister from Hydra. Isn’t that right, dad?”
Steve had been shot. Recently, he’d been shot full of bullets by his own brother and that somehow hurt less than the vicious emotions he heard in that one word.
Steve bent forward to put his head between his knees.
“Sir?” he heard Tony’s AI, JARVIS, speak up.
“Christ, what now?” Tony muttered.
“The Losers have entered the executive elevator and are on their way to this level. Clint Barton and Laura Howlett are with them despite Agent Barton’s need for medical treatment.”
“What happened to Clint?” Steve asked, looking up.
Tony gave him a look that made him immediately regret asking. “He and his surgeon were stolen right out of a recovery room in the Triskelion just before everything went down. Not sure what Hydra was going to do with him but Laura Howlett, his maybe-girlfriend, had objections to it and I got her the help she needed to make those objections stick.”
“Damn right he did,” a beautiful woman with big brown eyes and a veritable ocean of inky black hair agreed as she strutted into the room. She walked right up to Tony and kissed him on the cheek, “Thank you.”
Tony blushed. Tony Stark. Blushed. “It was nothing,” he waved her off.
“It wasn’t nothing,” Clint countered. When Steve looked at him, the first thing he noticed was the big cast covering his left arm from shoulder to fingertips being held it perpendicular to his body with a series of supports propped against his side. His face looked like the human equivalent of a punching bag. “You saved my life. Roque had to carry my ass out of there, and Cougar kept me from bleeding out.”
“Why didn’t you go to medical?” Tony demanded as Jake cried “Cougar!” and bounced forward.
Steve watched stupefied as his…son approached the small, dangerous looking man with long hair and a patchy beard that stood in the back of the group invading Tony Stark’s penthouse. The man gave Jake a small smile that Steve knew instinctively was a rare occurrence and pulled off his cowboy hat. He used the cowboy hat to give the two of them some semblance of privacy as they very obviously kissed each other in the middle of a room full of people.
Jake had wrapped arms around this Cougar’s shoulders, Cougar’s free hand came up to grip his hip in a possessive fashion, and they were practically pasted together. There were only so many things they could be doing and Steve found himself a little jealous. He chanced a look at Sam only to find him smiling fondly at the two of them.
“You son of a bitch!” The bald man of the group grinned as he stepped up to Sam with hand raised. “Sam Wilson, a fucking Avenger.”
“Well, not everyone can be Bla-Gyver, Pooch,” Sam laughed as their hands met, held, and pulled them towards each other. Sam turned when he was released and smiled at Steve. “Steve, meet the worst decision of my sister’s life, Linwood Porteous. Pooch, Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America.”
“Goddamn,” Pooch grinned and offered Steve his hand. They completed the same ritual, though Pooch sort of bounced off his sternum rather than the two of them chest bumping like he had with Sam.
“Fuck,” the big guy with a scar across his right eye was looking between Steve and Jake with a look of grumpy understanding on his face. “I knew the kid looked familiar,” he shook his head. “Should have recognized that.”
Jake laughed as he came out from behind the hat. “But I worked so hard to make sure you didn’t!”
“Well, we know now,” the oldest one with almost as much white as black in his beard said with a sigh, “so you can tone that down.”
“Sure!” Jake agreed with a grin that promised he’d do no such thing.
“Everyone!” Jake crowed, bouncing to the middle of the room. “Meet my recently-former team, US Army Special Forces, codename: The Losers. My CO, Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Clay!”
The black and white beard nodded, “Call me Clay.”
“Our 2IC, Captain William Roque!”
“Just Roque,” Scarred Eye corrected.
“The best driver and heavy weapons expert in the United States Army, Sergeant Pooch Porteous!”
Pooch managed to look both grateful and disgruntled as he rolled his eyes at Jake’s antics.
“And the number two sniper in the entire U-S-of-A and the man I am pleased to have watching my ass in every possible situation,” Jake leered down at his partner—and Cougar made a show of leaning backwards to check said ass, “Sergeant Cougar Alvarez!”
“Thank you for your help in getting Clint back,” Steve said into the silence. “He’s an important part of our team and we would all be poorer without him.”
“Oh, they’re part of the team now, too, Capsicle,” Tony offered, “if they want to be. The President offered them to us for intelligence analysis and scene containment and support. Which reminds me, Cougar, how are you with a bow and arrows?”
Jake’s sniper snorted in a way that conveyed his feelings on that quite clearly.
“Hey!” Clint objected.
“Just temporarily,” Tony held up his hands to show he meant no harm. “You’ve got at least two months of recovery ahead of you and you got us a great substitute, but your stabby friend doesn’t do long range…unless she can forcefully eject her claws?” He glanced at the woman Clint was slowly beginning to lean on.
“No,” she laughed. “They’re connected. I could probably tear them off but I’d rather not.”
“Yeah, good. Because gross.”
Laura laughed. “I need to get this one down to medical before Jolene sends out a search party.”
“I’ll come down, too,” Pooch offered and moved to help support Clint’s weight. “I can distract her from yelling about unnecessary delays in an emergency medical situation. Probably.”
“We need to go submit our resignations,” Lieutenant Colonel Clay offered as he physically tugged Captain Roque toward the elevator. He jerked his chin and Cougar got Jake moving that direction, too. “Before the President changes his mind or something crazy like that. General Makepeace said you’d be putting us up, Dr. Stark?”
“Yeah,” Tony gave them a little wave. “J will let you off on the right floor.”
“Oh, look at that, Bethany needs changed,” Bruce said unconvincingly as he made for the elevator too.
“Don’t forget to feed Barnes!” Tony called after Banner and Steve’s world rocked on its axis. Again.
Tony Stark. Unreliable, untrustworthy, disobedient Tony Stark had probably saved Sam. Had saved Clint, had saved him, and had saved his son and his granddaughter. He was going to save Steve’s daughter and, yes, he had in fact saved the world at least once that Steve knew of. He had saved it at least once that Steve was there for.
And now he’d saved Bucky, too.
This was the man he had disdained for so long. The man he had started to hate because he was The Future incarnate and Steve hated The Future. Steve had been drowning in The Future with no salvation in sight until a change of venue on his morning run had introduced him to Sam.
Banner waved Tony off. “Pull his food out of the oven when the buzzer goes off. It needs fifteen minutes to cool, I’ll be back before then!”
Soon Steve was left alone with both Tony and Sam. Tony wasn’t even looking at him and things were tense.
“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted to Sam.
“Don’t you?” Sam tipped his head to one side. “You made a list, not even an hour ago.”
Steve swallowed because, yeah. Yeah, he did. But apologies were—he swallowed a sigh. “Tony?”
His teammate turned away from what was probably a billion-dollar view and looked at him with guarded eyes. Tony just raised an eyebrow at him when he took too long to continue.
“Tony, I’m sorry.”
Tony nodded but clearly wasn’t moved.
Steve set sincerity to ten and continued. “I’m sorry I rejected you; I’m sorry I refused your help and friendship; I’m sorry I didn’t trust you; and I’m sorry if anything I said or did at any point hurt you in anyway. It won’t happen again.”
Tony snorted at him but neither argued with nor comforted him. “Prove it.”
I have no plans to sequel the story. Thank you.