“You’ll see her again, Tony.” Steve said gently. “I promise. Her and Pepper.” He gestured to Tony’s phone. “Isn’t it Morgan’s bed time? Pepper said you do an excellent bedtime story. Especially when there are princess voices.”
“I vehemently deny such falsities and lies.” Tony replied absently, already dialing. “And I told you before – the power of the baby blues is to be only used for good.”
Steve grinned. “Good night, Tony.”
The next morning, Bruce threw a minor wrench in their plans when he informed them that he would be going with Clint to Vormir, not Natasha.
“We know that the stone requires a sacrifice to retrieve it,” he said bluntly. “And I am the only one here could potentially survive. Either I come back or the Hulk comes back, or we finally both get to rest.” He shook his head when Tony started to protest. “I’ve made peace with my decision, Tony, so please don’t try to talk me out of it. Hulk is in agreement.” He offered a wan smile. “No matter who comes back, he – we – understand the stakes. No more temper tantrums.”
Steve was the first to come over and hold out his hand. “Thank you,” he said quietly. Natasha was right behind him, giving a bittersweet smile and a long, lingering hug that said far more than words ever could.
Clint and Thor also moved over to shake his hand and murmur comments that were too quiet for the others to hear, but that made Bruce smile and nod agreement.
Tony moved to stand in front of Bruce with a dark frown. “No sappiness, because you’re coming back. And you’ve always been the bravest of all of us. You’re the only one who ever doubted.” He said quietly, waiting until the other man nodded before moving away.
It was time. They stepped onto the platform, as Bruce set the machine. Natasha met Steve’s gaze with a bright smile, that old familiar mischievous glint in her eyes. “See you in a minute.” She said, her voice full of laughter, like she knew something he didn’t. Did she know?- Before he could reply, she activated her bracelet and vanished.
The stench of New York City, brimming with life and wrought with turmoil and chaos, hit Steve like a punch in the face. Scott and Tony had already began their trek towards Stark Tower, but Natasha held him back with a gentle hand on his arm. He turned to her, the question on his lips dying at the look in her eyes.
“I know.” She said. “I know what you’re about to do. And it works – for them, and for us.”
“Natasha – “
“The timeline splits, but I can still access some of her thoughts, especially now that we’re here. Thoughts, actions, memories. They feel like waking dreams in someone else’s body.” She frowned. “I dreamt sometimes, over the past five years, of you and me – together, happy, with a family. It seemed so real…and now I know why.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he breathed, stunned.
“Because it felt like someone else’s life. The cruelty of fate, taunting me with what I could never have. My penance, for all the remaining red in my ledger. It was enough that you became my friend.” She smiled ironically. “My partner, my brother and shieldmate.” She met his gaze fondly. “And your heart belongs to another, man out of time.”
He leaned down, touched his forehead to hers, and let himself just breathe. She was right. They were brothers-in-arms, bound by war and death. And they weren’t done fighting. He knew it, and so did she. Reversing the snap was a desperation play. Wakanda had been the first siege. The soldier knew it, down to his bones, just like he knew that she would be there at his side, as she had always been.
“I do love you, you know,” he murmured, needing to say the words, just once.
She pulled back to look up at him, before leaning up to kiss him, achingly soft and bittersweet.
“Well. Someone has obviously snuck in some practice after all.” She murmured, laughter in her tone, but Steve felt the way she let herself lean into him, be completely vulnerable. I love you too. She wouldn’t couldn’t say the words – Red Room conditioning had burned any concept of love out of her long ago, deeming it a weakness and distraction, unnecessary and dangerous – but he knew that she cared as deeply for him as she could.
“Way to ruin the moment, Romanoff,” he countered lightly after a moment, letting her put some space between them.
“C’mon Rogers.” She said, tugging him along wit her. “Let’s go save the world, so at least one version of ourselves can have a happy ending…”
She split off to head uptown to where the time stone was, while he caught up with Tony and Scott. They hadn’t made much progress, having to detour to avoid the chaos and the attacking Chitari zooming by overhead.
“Guys! Over here,” he called. “Nat’s gone and the others have moved downtown by now. Fighting should be done soon, or at least contained, so they’ll meet at the Tower to converge on Loki. We need to hurry.”
They set off at a determined pace, careful to keep
The two original Avengers had agreed beforehand to stick to calling each other (and Scott) by first name, and the 2012 versions by their superhero identities, to keep things straight. Steve honestly didn’t feel like he was Cap anymore anyway, even with the familiar burden and weight on his arm and back.
At the Tower, Tony and Scott flew up and hid in the common living room, where just as Steve had predicted, the others had gathered around a slightly Hulk smashed demi god. Tony kept up a running commentary, including a few snarky comments about Cap’s ass in his suit – the same suit that Steve was currently wearing, at least on the outside. In a fit of delusional whimsey while hiding in Wakanda, he had asked Shuri to upgrade his suits – both the Cap ‘spangles edition’ and the darker blue stealth suit.
The princess had outdone herself, using vibranium mesh between layers of tightly woven material, as well as plenty of hidden pockets for slim tools and weapons. As a result, Steve’s – and Natasha’s – suits were light, breathable, could stop a bullet, and ensured that he would never be fully defenseless again.
By contrast, Cap’s suit was the one Coulson had helped to design. It definitely didn’t breathe and wasn’t nearly so lightweight -or easy to get on and off. Steve absolutely did not miss it.
“Tony. Focus please. And not on my ass. Never, ever, again.” He said, rolling his eyes. He was inwardly a bit relieved at the commentary though, since it was a sign that Tony had truly forgiven him for their past feud, if he was feeling comfortable enough to snark and tease again.
“Sitwell and STRIKE team have the scepter and are nearly in the public elevator Steve. Go now.”
Steve slipped around the corner and strode confidently to the elevator, catching it just before it closed. He paused, fighting a surge of déjà vu at the sight of his old team and Rumlov staring back at him, before he stepped smoothly into their midst, right in between Sitwell and Rumlov. He could feel their collective gaze on his back. It made his shoulderblades itch, even through the shield.
“Something wrong, Captain?” Sitwell finally ventured. “Did we forget something?”
“No. I just wanted to catch you before you left.” Steve replied easily. “I just received counter orders from the Director. He has agreed that I should take point on the scepter.”
“Sir?” Sitwell frowned, exchanging a look with Rumlov. “I should call him and confirm – “
“No need,” Steve interrupted, hardening his tone. Leaning forward, he murmured, “Hail Hydra” into Sitwell’s ear, but loud enough for Rumlov to hear. In the same motion, he picked up the case with the scepter and stepped out of the elevator, smirking at the sight of the stunned men as the doors closed yet again.
“Got the scepter. Heading down,” he said into his comms.
“Yeah. About that,” Tony replied ruefully. “Things went FUBAR down here. Loki escaped with the Tesseract. The others are searching the building for him. Watch your six.”
Steve groaned as he turned a corner and saw who was standing there. “We really need to work on your timing, Stark.” He grumbled, eyeing Cap warily as he set the case down. “Get out if you aren’t already and stay safe. I’ll come to you when I’m done.”
That was a signal to Tony that he was still determined to carry through with their private plans that they had cobbled together the night before.
“Roger that, Rogers,” Tony replied. “We’ve got a Plan B to get the Tesseract and some more Pym Particles. You do what you need to do and get your ass back to the future.”
Steve’s eyes widened as there was a muffled burst of static in his earpiece, before it went completely silent. “Dammit Tony!” He cursed under his breath. Nothing he could do about that now. Time to deal with the very real, very strange problem right in front of him.
“As if this day weren’t strange enough.” Cap sighed, before saying into his own comms, “ I have eyes on Loki.”
Steve shook his head. “I’m not Loki.” He said ,but his tone was resigned as he carefully loosened his shield. He vaguely remembered this encounter, but like Natasha had chalked it up to just another weird memory in an already very strange day. “You don’t have to do this.”
Cap ignored him, of course, and the battle was on. Steve would’ve been intrigued in any other situation, almost having fun fighting someone with whom he didn’t have to hold back and had almost the exact same fighting style. Cap hadn’t yet spent numerous hours in the gym sparring with Nat and Clint though – two expert hand to hand fighters who had no qualms about fighting dirty to take an opponent out. Steve used Nat’s favoring leg sweeper to knock Cap down, before grabbing the scepter and lightly touching it to the other man’s chest.