- Alternate Universe
- Fix It
- Science Fiction
Steve stood staring at the white board, littered with scribbles and pictures not unlike what he’d seen on television in the old timeline. He’d never admit that he’d gotten the idea from those shows, but he thought perhaps Tony knew that anyway.
In the year since he’d woken up, he’d made it his mission to track some of the players on the board that had been a genuine threat in the previous timeline. It bothered him not knowing where men like Alexander Pierce were. JARVIS had been instrumental in helping find them, and tracking money and influence that those men either wielded or benefited from.
“You know, this is not what I expected from you when you woke up.”
Steve turned around to find Tony leaning against the doorjamb of his ‘lab’. When he’d first proposed this project, Tony hadn’t even batted an eye; he’d just assigned him to a lab on the floor below Banner’s. Steve had turned it into a command center of sorts. The holographic table still sat in the middle of the room facing a truly gigantic screen; he’d shocked Tony speechless by not only learning how to use it but suggesting improvements.
The rest of the space held Steve’s work area—a large adjustable-height desk and comfortable office chair and the white board he was currently staring at—a conference table big enough for at least a dozen people, and a sitting area with a large leather couch and chairs. The only reason he didn’t spend more time in his lab was because JARVIS was consistently harassing him into dragging Tony and Bruce out of theirs.
“Most people never realized that the serum didn’t boost my intelligence,” Steve said. “I was smarter than most of the kids in my class growing up. The serum just enhanced my reading speed and gave me a photographic memory.”
“That must have been a shock,” Tony said. He walked in and joined Steve at the board. “Making any progress?”
“Some,” Steve said. “Maximoff, as it turns out, is a really common name in Sokovia. But, I think we’ve located the right family. I’m not sure when they got mixed up with Hydra, but given that Hydra infiltrated the Soviet Union at around the same time they formed within SHIELD, I can’t rule out that they’re already mixed up with Hydra.”
“And it’s really that important to prevent that?” Tony asked.
“They were experimented on, Tony,” Steve said. “Which is bad enough, but then they turned it around and tortured me and my friends. I’d like to prevent that from happening again, but I acknowledge that it may not be possible.”
“I don’t have may contacts in that part of the world, so this won’t exactly be easy,” Tony said. “We may want to partner with SHIELD on this one. If these kids were that easily manipulated by the Stone, they may already have genetic mutations that can be exploited.”
“Do you really trust SHIELD?” Steve asked, turning to focus on Tony instead of the board.
“I trust Coulson,” Tony said. “He’s always played it straight with me, and not just because of who my father was.”
“Then I think it’s time I meet him,” Steve said.
Tony raised an eyebrow. “May I ask why?”
“There’s another asset I want to track down, one that SHIELD may have had contact with,” Steve said.
“Someone they had contact with in the old timeline,” Tony said. “Okay, I’ll reach out and set up a meeting. You’re not going in alone, so don’t even ask.”
Steve held up his hands in surrender. “Wasn’t planning to. I wouldn’t mind the company, actually. I don’t know SHIELD the way you do, and I have no idea who I can trust and who I can’t.”
“For the most part, the people Coulson has brought in are people we can trust,” Tony said. “He respected my dad and Aunt Peg, and so far as I can tell, hasn’t made any moves that would be considered disrespectful or destructive.”
“And how do you know so much about SHIELD’s operations?” Steve asked. He crossed his arms and gave Tony a stern glare.
“You know, that probably didn’t even work on Howard, so I’m not sure why you’re pulling it on me,” Tony said with a smirk. “As for how I know so much about SHIELD, that’s fairly simple. I have a backdoor into the SHIELD mainframe.”
“You hacked SHIELD?” Steve asked. “What am I saying? Of course you hacked SHIELD. You did it in the other timeline, so I should have known you’d do it here, too.”
Tony laughed. “I like knowing everything there is to know, it’s true. But as for the SHIELD mainframe, I designed it. Any time they need serious modifications, they call me. Having unlimited access to the contents of their servers is just a bonus, and one I warned them about before they signed the contract.”
Steve shook his head, smiling fondly at his friend. “Only you would make unfettered access to SHIELD’s top-secret data a condition of your server maintenance contract.”
“So, shall I call up Coulson’s admin and get us an appointment?” Tony asked.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “The sooner the better. We’re probably about six months out from the original date of the Chitauri invasion. Right now, it’s just you, me and Banner. I have no idea if SHIELD even has a way to contact Thor, and there are others I’d like to reach out to. I want to make sure we have all the help we’ll need when the time comes.”
“You sound like you’re building a team, Cap,” Tony said.
“Maybe I am,” Steve said. He sighed. “We had one, the last time. I wasn’t even sure it would work. We were certainly never invested in each other, much less in working as a team. I’m hoping we can do better this time.”
“Well, as long as we’re extending invitations to this party, I’ve got a plus-one,” Tony said. “I’ve been working on another suit for a friend of mine in the Army. His name’s—”
“Rhodey,” Steve said. “James Rhodes. I knew him. He’s a good man, and good in a fight. If you’re okay with him joining the… team, I’m glad to have his help.”
“I’ll bring him over for pizza and beer sometime soon,” Tony said. “I figure you two should meet before the shit hits the fan.”
“Sounds good to me,” Steve said.
He hadn’t set out to recreate the Avengers in this new timeline, but he knew they’d need to assemble a team sooner or later, and he had no idea if SHIELD had even had the idea, what with Fury not being the director. Even if the Chitauri never invaded, they weren’t the only threat out there. They needed to be prepared, and that started with having people he trusted watching his back.
“Do you know why Coulson didn’t join Fury at the CIA?” Steve asked as they drove to SHIELD HQ.
Ironically, SHIELD had taken over the facility in upstate New York that the Avengers had co-opted in his original timeline. They’d never built the Triskelion due to lack of funds. Steve wasn’t exactly sad, as he’d thought that complex was far too over-the-top for a spy agency. Plus, SHIELD’s current headquarters was just an hour’s drive in Tony’s low-slung sports car, which suited Steve just fine.
“The story I’ve heard is that Fury knew Coulson wasn’t cut out for pure spy games, so instead of recruiting him for the CIA, he referred his old friend to Aunt Peg and SHIELD,” Tony said. “His loss, SHIELD’s gain, really. Coulson rocketed up the ranks. He’s the youngest director the agency has ever had, and that includes my father. Why? Wasn’t he Director in your timeline?”
“No,” Steve said, shaking his head. “Fury was, actually. I never really did trust him, so it’s a bit of a relief that he’s not in charge here.”
“Fury is, by all accounts, a spy’s spy,” Tony said. “I’ve never actually met him, but his reputation precedes him into every room he enters, and even some he hasn’t. He’s deep into black ops and the kind of wet work that’d give a tenderfoot like you nightmares.”
“Ha,” Steve said. “The Howling Commandos were essentially the first Special Forces unit in the Army. We did things like wet work long before that became a thing.”
“You know, you continuously surprise me,” Tony said. “It’s kind of refreshing.”
Steve chuckled. “Well, I hate being a cliché, so I’ll take it.”
“In the interest of fair play, you gonna tell me what you want from Coulson?”
“I’m looking for someone SHIELD might have had contact with,” Steve said. “If Coulson has a way to contact her, I’m hoping he’ll be amenable to reaching out. We may need her help.”
“Are you talking about the Black Widow?” Tony asked.
“No,” Steve said. Natasha had become a friend, but he’d never been very comfortable with the way Fury had used her to manipulate people, especially Tony. “Natasha’s a spy, and even given her skillset, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to include her in our plans.”
“Don’t trust her, do you?” Tony said. Steve shrugged. “Well, it might interest you to know that she’s actually with the CIA and not SHIELD. Coulson’s team found her and brought her in from the cold, but she actually moved over to the CIA to work with Fury several years ago. It’s a better fit for her skills, honestly. She and Fury are a fucking nightmare that the US is only too happy to turn loose on our enemies.”
“Well, that explains why I didn’t find her in the SHIELD database you gave me,” Steve said.
“Barton would probably be a good fit, though,” Tony said, seemingly offhandedly. “He’s the best marksman in the Federal pantheon. Better than Ian Edgerton, and that’s saying something considering how many confirmed kills that man has. You probably saw his file in the database. Codename Hawkeye.”
“I know Clint,” Steve said. “Well, I knew him before. He’s good in a fight. Has good eyes and good instincts. I’d definitely want him on the team.” Steve paused. “We should probably talk about what we’re going to do with this team. I mean, I doubt it’s a good idea to form it under the auspices of SHIELD. Any one nation or agency having that much control over a team of… superheroes, for lack of a better word, is a bad idea. Not that I have a better one, honestly. That was always your bailiwick.”
“Bailiwick?” Tony said, smirking at Steve as he pulled up in front of the building.
“It’s a word,” Steve said. He stepped out of the car and looked at Tony over the roof. “I can’t help it that your education is sadly lacking.”
“Ha,” Tony said, pointing at Steve. “I’ll have you know I graduated from MIT. Twice. No, three times.”
“Were you too drunk to remember the last one?” Steve asked. Tony joined him on the other side of the car and they walked into the building together.
“The first one, actually,” Tony said. “By the time I got that one under my belt, I realized that drinking my way through college wasn’t going to help when it came time to actually remember any of what I was taught. So, I buckled down and earned two more degrees, stone cold sober. College pretty much sucked after that.”
Steve could only laugh.
They passed through security fairly quickly, and were escorted to a large office on the other side of the campus. There was a large, floor-to-ceiling window along one wall, with a large wooden desk in front of it. A conference table dominated the other wall, and a small sitting area tucked in near the windows.
Standing near the couch was Phil Coulson, looking very much like he had the last time Steve had seen him. Steve had met him the day he died, and despite the passage of time, it was like a punch to the gut to see him alive and well. He stumbled a bit, and Tony shot him a concerned look, one he waved off with a slight shake of his head. He’d have to explain later, because Tony wasn’t going to let that go. Hopefully by then Steve would have a handle on his shock.
“Director Coulson, meet Captain Steve Rogers,” Tony said. “Steve, Director Phil Coulson.”
Steve suddenly felt underdressed. Tony had come in one of his handmade suits, made from a special blend of Kevlar fabric that he’d been testing for possible sale to anyone who needed an extra layer of protection. Coulson was dressed in an immaculately tailored suit, much like the one Steve had last seen him in.
Steve, on the other hand, had come in khakis and a plaid shirt, with his leather jacket thrown over the top. He hadn’t wanted to wear a suit since that just wasn’t his style. He wondered if that was a poor choice, right up until Coulson opened his mouth.
“Captain, it’s a genuine honor to meet you,” Coulson said, shaking his hand. “I’ve been a fan of yours for years. I’ve been collecting Captain America memorabilia since I was a kid. I’ve got a complete set of trading cards, as a matter of fact. Slight foxing, but otherwise in near-mint condition.”
Tony was practically choking on the laughter he was struggling to hold back. Steve shot him a quelling look, then refocused on Coulson. “I’d be happy to sign them, if you think that’s something you’d like. Not too many people know I’m, well, back from the dead I suppose, but I wouldn’t want to damage the value of your cards by signing them when there’s a question of authenticity.”
“I’d be happy to have you sign them, Captain,” Coulson said. The smile on his face was worth a little awkwardness, Steve thought.
“Then we’ll plan for it the next time we meet,” Steve said.
Coulson indicated that they should all sit down. Steve appreciated that he wasn’t using his desk as some sort of power play the way Fury used to. Dealing with Coulson was probably going to be much easier just for the fact that Coulson was more authentic.
“So, what can SHIELD do for you, Captain?” Coulson asked.
“First, you can call me Steve,” he said.
“Then please feel free to call me Phil,” the Director said. He glanced at Tony, a frown edged with mirth on his face. “Tony usually does.”
“I’ve got a question to ask you, if you’d be willing to answer,” Steve said.
“I can’t promise I can give you answers,” Coulson said. “Especially if we’re talking about classified information.”
“I understand that,” Steve said. “I’m looking for someone you may have had contact with. Have you ever encountered Carol Danvers? She’s also known as Veers by the Kree.”
Tony was staring at him in surprise, and Coulson had a calculating look on his face, as if he were weighing exactly how Steve had come to know about Danvers.
“We’ve had dealings with Captain Danvers,” Coulson finally said. “What’s your interest in her?”
“That’s a bit complicated,” Steve said. He glanced at Tony, who gave him a subtle nod. They’d talked about what they could tell Coulson about Steve and his true mission. Ultimately, Tony thought they could trust Coulson not to go off the deep end about the time travel because of the information Steve could give him about the Chitauri invasion. “I’ve actually met Captain Danvers, but it was in another timeline. There are events that are coming that make contacting her a priority.”
Coulson glanced at Tony, then back at Steve. “And you’re willing to give us this information, no strings attached?”
“My priority is the survival of this world,” Steve said. “I’m not interested in quid-pro-quo. I have information I’m willing to give you that will help protect this planet. All I ask in return is that you act on this information. Not to be melodramatic, but the fate of the universe is at stake.”
“And he’s on the up-and-up?” Coulson asked Tony. “Not an imposter or mildly psychotic?”
“I wouldn’t have brought him here if I thought he was nuts,” Tony said. “My father told me about him before he died. I actually have a video you can watch, if you’d like. He left it for Steve, but if it’ll help convince you that he’s for real, I’m willing to let you watch it.”
“I’d like to see it, but I have to admit that I’m inclined to believe you without it,” Coulson said to Steve. “You’ve always been honest in your dealings in the past. The fact that you survived the crash only to be held in stasis for over half a century hasn’t changed your character.”
“Thank you, sir,” Steve said. Tony had suggested that they inform Coulson that they’d found Steve not long after he’d woken up. He had a feeling that not springing it on him along with the rest was a wise choice. “And Captain Danvers?”
“She did leave us with a way to contact her,” Coulson said. “It’s for emergencies only, so I have to ask what’s coming that you feel we could need her assistance.”
“About six months from now, if all goes the same way it did in my original timeline, Earth will be invaded by a race known as the Chitauri,” Steve said.
“They’re actually going to be drawn to Earth by the Tesseract,” Tony said. “So, if you’ve got any of your scientists playing with it, you might consider locking it up in a vault, just in case.”
“Hmmm,” Coulson said. “As a matter of fact, Doctor Eric Selvig just started a series of experiments with it. He’s showing some promising results, but if you really think it’s that dangerous, we may need to suspend his project. At least until we know for sure if this invasion is really going to happen.”
“There’s no guarantee that the Chitauri haven’t already noticed,” Tony said. “So, I’d suggest a shielded vault if you have one. If not, I can recommend someplace secure.”
“I’ll let you know,” Coulson said. “We currently have it at an offsite lab, so it’s as secure as we can make it. But it’s a powerful artifact, so secure is a relative term.”
Just then, the door to Coulson’s office swung open, and Maria Hill walked in. She looked much the same, if perhaps slightly less stressed out. She was wearing a pantsuit, with her hair pinned up in some sort of fancy twist. Steve had barely noticed her in his original timeline, but today it struck him just how beautiful she really was.
“Maria, you’re just in time to meet Captain Rogers,” Coulson said, standing up. “Steve, this is Deputy Director Maria Hill.”
“Ma’am,” Steve said, reaching out to shake her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“And you as well, Captain,” she said. “I’ve heard a great deal about you. I look forward to working with you in the future, if circumstances allow.”
“Would you mind if I briefed Maria on our conversation?” Phil asked.
“I don’t mind,” Steve said. “I trust your judgement regarding who you’ll need to bring in.”
“And I’ll get you that video,” Tony said. “You should find it interesting.”
“Thanks, Tony,” Coulson said. “Maria, would you escort our visitors out. When you get back, you and I can talk over what Steve and Tony told me. We’ve got some work ahead of us.”
“Right,” Maria said. “Gentlemen, if you’ll follow me?”
They walked with her out to Tony’s car, chatting about the weather and the newest Cuban restaurant in town, of all things. After they shook hands, Maria headed back inside; Steve watched her walk away, wondering how he’d never noticed how striking she was.
“Looks like someone’s interested,” Tony said over the roof of the car.
Steve turned around and opened the car door. “I barely knew her in my original timeline. I’m wondering if I missed out on something.”
Tony threw his head back and laughed.
Steve hated being right. At least, he hated being right about this.
Almost six months after their conversation with Coulson and SHIELD, the Chitauri invaded. Events didn’t unfold exactly as they had in Steve’s original timeline, but they’d been ready for the invasion and had defeated the Chitauri, just as he’d hoped.
Now, all that was left was the clean-up. Not exactly easy, but they’d caused far less damage this time because Loki had chosen SHIELD headquarters to set up his portal device due to the arc reactor Tony had built for the facility. He’d delayed construction on Stark Tower, knowing that it would be too appealing a target for Loki; they’d wanted to avoid nearly destroying Manhattan, and with SHIELD HQ being far from the city and in a more rural area of New York, they’d done what they set out to do.
Danvers had answered their call, and Thor had shown up just after Loki took the Tesseract, just as he had the first time. But without the infighting and hostility—and knowing that the Mind Stone in the scepter was actually stoking all of that bad blood—they were able to gel a lot quicker. That turned out to be the difference, and allowed them to turn the tide of the battle a lot sooner.
“It was a glorious battle, was it not, Captain?” Thor asked as he stepped up beside Steve.
Steve had retreated to the rooftop deck of Tony’s mansion to look at the mostly-undamaged Manhattan skyline and enjoy the fact that they’d won the battle, even if they had yet to win the war.
“It was something,” Steve said. “I’m just glad we came out of it unhurt.”
“I feel I owe you an apology,” Thor said quietly. “If it were not for my brother, your world would not have been at risk.”
“Loki is just as much a victim in all this as the people who got hurt,” Steve said. “The scepter was controlling him even as he was using it to control others. When he’s finally free of it, he’s going to need a lot of help. Can you make sure he gets it?”
“I will see to it that Father does not punish him for what has transpired,” Thor said. “It is the least I owe you for not killing him when you had the chance.”
Steve took a deep breath and turned to Thor. “I’m not in the habit of killing victims, Thor. Your brother has done terrible things, but ultimately Thanos is more to blame than Loki. There will come a day when we face off against Thanos; I’ve made it my personal mission to see him dead for all the havoc he’s wrought in the universe. He’s planning to assemble the Infinity Stones so he can destroy half of all life in the universe. The consequences would be… devastating. I can’t let him do that.”
“Then I shall join you in your endeavor,” Thor said. “Thanos is no god. He does not have the right to decide who will live and who will die. If we must kill him to stop him from completing his quest, so be it. I will not mourn such a man.”
“Thank you,” Steve said. “Just remember, aim for the head. The bastard can survive pretty much any body blow, and we really don’t need him living to fight another day.”
Thor laughed. “I will take your advice to heart, Captain.” He slapped Steve on the back, nearly knocking him over. “I must take my leave of you now. I am to return Loki to Asgard to face our father’s justice. I will see to it that he is taken care of. Our mother, especially, will not want to see him harmed for acting against his own will.”
“That’s all I ask,” Steve said.
He held out a hand; Thor slid easily into a warrior’s handshake, grasping Steve’s forearm with a firm grip without trying to crush the bones of his arm. Steve nodded at the other man, and Thor nodded in return.
As he watched Thor walk away, he wondered if his words would be enough when the time came. He knew he could call Mjolnir should he need it; he’d done so during the battle with the Chitauri. Thor had merely grinned at him, as though he’d known all along that Steve was a good man for whom the hammer would do his bidding. He just hoped it would be enough to change their fates.
Tony stepped up beside him, handing him a beer as he turned to look out over Manhattan. “So, I saw you chatting with Thor. He doing okay?”
“He’s upset about his brother,” Steve said. “And I think a little relieved that someone else sees his brother as the victim he is. I think he’ll make sure Loki gets treatment for what the Mind Stone did to him.”
Tony turned around and leaned on the railing, facing the terrace. Steve leaned on the railing beside him, glancing at the rest of the team as they sat around the firepit, drinking and laughing and enjoying the victory. Rhodey, Banner, Barton and Danvers were there, along with Coulson and Maria. It was strange, how familiar and yet so very different it all was. The group had changed slightly, but at the same time the relief at having won the day was exactly the same.
“You sure about keeping the Tesseract here on Earth?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, I am,” Steve said. “Leaving it on Asgard is just asking for trouble. It’s not as secure as they think it is. And there are things coming on Asgard that will make it even less secure. You sure it’s a good idea to give the Wakandan’s both the Mind Stone and the Tesseract?”
“I trust them more than I trust myself,” Tony said. “They’re not going to experiment with either of the Stones, and they have the best chance of anyone on this planet to hide them away from prying eyes. When Thanos comes looking for them—and he will—we’ll be able to set the time and place for the battle. Apart from our new little superhero club, I trust the Wakandan warriors to have my back. It’ll be fine.”
“I believe you, Tony,” Steve said. “And I trust you. But that’s three Infinity Stones on Earth. I just hope it won’t backfire on us.”
“If we need to, we can call on the Ancient One, though I’d rather put that meeting off for as long as possible,” Tony said, shivering slightly. “That woman give me the creeps.”
“She’s… interesting, that’s for sure,” Steve said. “I think she’d help us, if we asked.”
“Let’s hold that for a last resort, shall we?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, okay,” Steve said.
He wasn’t sure keeping her out of the loop was such a good idea, but considering she had the Time Stone, she probably already knew about everything that was going on. She’d step in if she felt it was warranted, of that he was certain.
“Now, what say we rejoin the party,” Tony said. “I hate being a wallflower at my own party.”
Steve just chuckled. “If you’re planning to try to drink me under the table, I have to warn you I can’t get drunk anymore. My body metabolizes alcohol too fast.”
“A fact for which I am deeply sorry,” Tony said. “Getting blind drunk so I won’t remember what it was like to fly through one of those Leviathans sounds like a really good idea right about now.”
“Hmmm,” Steve said as they walked across the terrace to rejoin the rest of the team. “Sounds like I need to reach out to a friend. He’s a counselor with the VA. We could probably use someone like him around here.”
“Oh, fuck no,” Tony said. “I hate shrinks.”
“He’s also a former Air Force Pararescue jumper,” Steve said. “He was part of a project that used wingpacks instead of parachutes.”
“I think I remember something about that project,” Tony said. “Wait, is this a guy you know now, or a guy you used to know back in the old timeline?”
“The old timeline,” Steve said. “But I’m sure we’ll be friends again in this one. He’s a good guy; I think he’d fit in well around here.”
“Give me his name and I’ll look him up,” Tony said. “If nothing else, I want to see this wingpack in action. J, see if you can dig up the plans and get started on fabrication.”
“As you wish, sir,” JARVIS said.
“Let’s hope he’s also interested in becoming a superhero,” Steve said sardonically.
“He’s gonna love it,” Tony said with all the considerable bravado he could muster.
Steve could only laugh.