A/N: Hi guys and a big apology from me as to how long it's taken me to update this story. I'm just trying to finish off my Sleepy Hollow fic before I go away next week and there will be no writing for me. I really wanted to get at least one more chapter up of this story before I did go away, so I'm glad I've managed to get this one done.
Thank you all for your patience and I hope you enjoy this chapter. It's not amazing but it's a necessary bridge to what I'm building to. Hopefully the next update won't be far away. :D
Steve lurched forward and was forced to put out a hand to steady himself, almost slipping over because he was in the shower. He blinked, regaining his senses. This was the furthest back reset yet. Adrenalin surged through him as he jumped out of the shower and quickly dried off. Hanging on the back of the bathroom door was the suit he'd been planning to wear tonight. Considering how this evening had turned out, Steve figured he may need a different suit. A few minutes later a fully clothed Steve was determinedly striding from the bathroom, just as Olivia strolled into his bedroom, her attention fixed on the tie in her hand.
"I think you should wear the blue one," she said absently, not immediately looking up. "You always look good in blue." Olivia turned her head and looked at him, eyes widening a little at seeing him in his Captain America garb. "Although, I'm not sure it goes with your outfit now," she said a little unevenly. Olivia's delicate features became marred with a slight frown. "Did something just happen? Did the Avengers get a call?"
Steve didn't break his stride, just grabbed her hand and headed determinedly towards the elevator. "Not the Avengers, just me," he said grimly. "And I think that is where I've been making my mistake."
Olivia was forced to trot on much shorter legs to keep up with him. "Steve, I don't know what you're talking about. What's going on?"
They were in the elevator and Steve tried to give her a reassuring smile. "It's okay, I'll explain everything in a minute." He pulled a little bit of a face, knowing from previous experience that telling Olivia what was going on was unlikely to make her feel better but there was nothing he could do about that now. "Jarvis, I need you to pull up every bit of information you have on Sandy Knight, the woman who won the competition for the date with me."
"Very good, Captain," said Jarvis calmly.
Steve could feel Olivia's curious looks but he just held on tightly to her hand and gave her an encouraging look. The elevator doors slid open at the common room and Steve launched himself from the elevator, almost dragging the confused Olivia behind him.
Tony immediately arched an eyebrow at what Steve was wearing. He pointed a finger at Steve's Captain America suit. "Don't you think that's a bit ostentatious for a date?"
Bruce flicked a quick look at Steve and then went back to his newspaper. "Says the guy who wore his Iron Man suit to get a haircut the other day."
"That wasn't planned," protested Tony. "I was out, fighting the good fight and then realized I needed a haircut." He grimaced. "FYI though, hairdresser's chairs aren't made for the weight of one of my suits. I crushed two of them." Tony scratched his beard absently. "I'm really going to have to design a suit which is lighter so I can get haircuts in them more conveniently."
Bruce gave a grunt behind his paper. "Or just not wear the suit to get a haircut. That seems the easiest solution to that problem."
Tony snorted dismissively. "A straight line is not always the shortest way between two points."
"It completely and utterly is," said Bruce flatly.
"Both of you shut up and listen to what I have to say," interrupted Steve urgently, knowing a discussion like this could literally go on for hours.
"Captain, I have the information you requested," said Jarvis cordially.
"Thanks, Jarvis, give me a minute," said Steve quickly. "Okay, I need everyone to focus and stay with me on this one, no going off on a tangent. I'm going to say something which sounds impossible but I don't have time to argue the point with anyone. You're all just to take it on face value and run with it, alright?"
"Oh my God," said Tony, feigning a stricken look, "are you about to come out?" He gave a teasing look of sympathy towards Olivia. "Don't worry, Livvy, I can set you up with a dozen guys I know that would make all your dreams come true. You're not even going to miss, Captain Vanilla, trust me on this." Tony looked at Steve. "That goes for you too, Steven." He held up a finger. "Just to be clear, those are two different sets of a dozen guys I'm talking about." Tony tilted his head. "Except for Carlos," he conceded. "He dips his toe into both pools, if you know what I mean."
"What did I just say about not going off on a tangent?" ground out Steve.
Tony pursed his lips. "You were for it?" he offered up hopefully.
"Steve, ignore him," began Olivia.
"Such good advice," sighed Bruce. "It was on the tip of my tongue to say the same."
"Just tell us what is wrong," she continued on.
"I'm caught in a time loop," said Steve quickly.
Tony made a loud clucking noise. "No such th—"
Steve was making determined eye contact with Bruce. "Estelle Getty," he ground out.
Bruce stiffened in his chair, going a little pale and sitting more upright. "Shut up and let the man talk," he ordered Tony sharply.
Tony looked between the two of them in consternation. "What just happened?"
"Listen to what I'm about to tell you," said Steve. He held up an imperious finger to Tony. "No interruptions."
"Is this some kind of prank?" asked Tony suspiciously.
"What did I just say about interruptions?" bit out Steve in annoyance.
"Is it just me or does tonight have a big pop quiz element to it?" asked Tony in exasperation.
Steve ignored Tony's distractions and launched into recounting all that had happened to him that night and the theory they'd put together when they'd last spoken, which of course, was all news to the three other people in the room looking at him in varying degrees of concern. When he was done, there was an audible silence in the room as everyone absorbed what he'd just told them. "I'm telling the truth," he said earnestly. "Everything happened just as I said, I'm not crazy and I'm not lying."
"Okay," said Tony, "I believe you."
Steve's eyes widened, not having expected Tony to be the first to say such a thing. "You do?"
"You never lie," said Tony calmly. "It's the second most annoying thing about you. The first is your haircut, obviously, but the earnest truthfulness thing is a close second."
"How can you manage to be supportive and a jerk at the same time?" bit out Steve.
Tony half-shrugged. "Talent… talent and practice." He looked Steve over. "And a lot of material to work with." Before Steve could retaliate, Tony was talking again. "Okay, so what are we dealing with here? Do you have a plan?"
"Each do over gives me more information but nothing I've come up with has worked so far," admitted Steve in frustration.
"How many times have you done this night?" asked Olivia in concern.
Steve's jaw hardened. "This is number fifteen."
Olivia gave a little gasp of distress. "Oh, Steve, that's awful."
He'd jumped back into this time line multiple times since he'd last spoken with them. Sometime it was mere seconds before the explosion, sometimes it was at the restaurant, the car, all the different jumps always resulted in the same outcome though. Steve had tried getting out of the car and running to the explosion. He'd also tried evacuating the restaurant and surrounding areas but each time the result was the same. This was the first time he'd reset back far enough since they'd first worked out the rock theory that he could actually ask for real help. He squeezed Olivia's arm. "It's okay, this time is going to be different." Steve looked back at Tony and Bruce. "This time it's not just going to be me."
"The Hulk doesn't have a long and glorious history of not blowing things up," fretted Bruce. "In fact, it's kind of the opposite with that guy."
"Pull on the big boy purple panties," said Tony dismissively. "You don't give the big green enough credit."
"I need the Hulk," said Steve seriously. "We need to be able to divide and conquer this thing."
"What's the game plan?" asked Tony, walking towards the middle of the room. "Jarvis, my suit, rack it up!"
"Bruce keeps the tanker away from the gas line," said Steve swiftly. "Tony, you seal up the gas line so it won't crack and I'll stop the work men from getting anywhere near that street." He glanced up at the ceiling. "Jarvis, that information on Sandy Knight, give it to me."
"Cassandra Knight, twenty-three year old Boston native, moved to New York exactly one year ago today. She has worked many jobs, mainly data entry or secretarial but seems unable to hold them for more than a couple of months. Miss Knight was originally studying art at Boston University but dropped out after the first semester."
Olivia was looking at Steve. "You think Cassandra has something to do with all of this?"
"I don't know," said Steve in frustration, "but if she does, I know it's unintentional. Jarvis, is that all you have on her?"
"Miss Knight has sealed juvenile records," said Jarvis evenly. "She was placed in the Wendford Psychiatric facility at the age of eight for seven months."
"See, now I would have opened with that," said Tony dryly. "You've got no showmanship, Jarvis."
"I am what you have created me to be, sir," said Jarvis coolly.
Steve frowned. "Why was she institutionalized?"
"Her younger sister, Lily, drowned and there were concerns that Miss Knight may have been involved."
Bruce grimaced. "What kind of screening system does this magazine have when they set Captain America up on a date with a sociopathic child killer?"
Steve gave an emphatic shake of his head. "I didn't get that feeling from Sandy. She was just a really sad young woman."
"I'd be a bit down in the mouth if I was given to drowning siblings," said Tony wryly. He clicked his fingers and seconds later pieces of his suit flew out from a side panel on the wall, expertly attaching themselves to him so that within seconds he was completely kitted out in his Iron Man suit. His face visor remained open. "Go on say it, that was cool."
Steve was finding it hard to accept that the woman he'd met multiple times that night was any kind of killer. "I don't believe Sandy would do something like that."
Olivia laid a hand on Steve's back to calm his agitation. "Jarvis, what exactly do you mean by they thought Sandy had something to do with the drowning?"
"Before it happened she was telling her parents that her sister was going to drown. They dismissed her concerns but after the child's death, questions started to be asked. Miss Knight was in a fragile state of mind after the death of her sister, so she was institutionalized as her parents were unable to handle her and their own grief. Nothing was ever proven that Cassandra had anything to do with Lily's death."
"That's so sad," said Olivia softly. "The poor girl." She wrinkled her nose. "She suits her name well."
Steve glanced at her. "Sorry?"
"Cassandra, the tragic figure in Greek mythology," explained Olivia. "She was gifted with knowing the future but cursed with no one ever taking her seriously."
"I'm beginning to know how that feels," said Steve darkly.
"But we believe you, Steve," said Olivia swiftly, "and like you said, this time is going to be different."
Steve appreciated Olivia's optimism, he could do with some right around now. He looked at the one person who hadn't said much during this exchange. "Bruce, are you in?"
Bruce made a face. "I'm in, I guess. I'm just worried that the Hulk is going to make matters worse."
"This night always ends in a huge explosion which kills hundreds of people," said Steve grimly. "As one of those people who regularly dies, trust me, there is no getting worse."
Tony pointed both of his index fingers at Steve. "Great pep talk there, Captain Cheerleader. Don't give up your day job." His voice became more determined. "Now, let's quit with the standing around and shooting the breeze and go and kick some time looping ass." His visor snapped down into place. "And that's how you rally the troops!" With that Tony launched himself into the air and made a beeline for the windowed wall. One of the glass panels promptly slid away and allowed Tony access to the outside.
"I did not know those windows did that," mused Bruce. He looked back at Steve. "It's going to be okay, Cap. We've got this. There is going to be no explosion tonight."
"I know," said Steve but couldn't help a lingering niggle of doubt.
"Jarvis, do you know the location of the tanker right now?"
"It's a Bell Oil tanker, license plate TRB-8495," offered up Steve.
"Tracking now," said Jarvis.
"Let me know as soon as you have it." Bruce looked back at the still open wall panel and shrugged. "When in Rome, I guess." With a last encouraging look at Steve, Bruce headed towards the opening in the wall and stood on the edge. "I hate this part," he muttered and then launched himself from the twenty-fifth floor of Stark Tower.
Both Steve and Olivia hurried over to the window in time to see Bruce transform into the huge, green behemoth which was the Hulk. The Hulk landed on the pavement below, cracking concrete and then started to jump off down the street, startling even the more hardened New Yorkers. Thanks to the comms implants Tony had designed and embedded in all of the Avengers, Steve knew he'd be able to keep in contact with the other two men to try and co-ordinate a better outcome for this night then he'd managed so far on his own.
"Be careful," said Olivia softly.
Steve turned and looked down at her. "I will." He bent down and gave her a hard kiss. It felt like days since he'd last been able to do that and he didn't want it to end but time was ticking away. Steve reluctantly broke the kiss. "I'm going to be back soon and then it's just going to be the two of us. No time loops, no explosions, just us."
Olivia's beautiful face lit up. "I'd like that." She went up on the tips of her toes and kissed him this time. Olivia's kiss was softer than his but lingered more. On ending the kiss, Olivia made a husky declaration. "I love you."
Steve's heart leapt in his chest and the words were on the tip of his tongue to return but then Jarvis was interrupting them.
"Captain Rogers, I have informed Doctor Banner of the location of the tanker and he is on the way to intercepting it right now."
Steve bit back his frustration at Jarvis' timing but knew it wasn't the AI's fault.
"If you have information on the city workmen's vehicle, I can also track them."
"I know where they'll be," said Steve hastily, eyes still on Olivia who was now biting her bottom lip. "I've done this a few times now."
"As you wish, sir."
"You need to go," said Olivia unevenly. "Every minute is precious. Go."
Steve cupped her face and nodded. "I'm going to be back very soon," he vowed, "and we'll finish this conversation, I promise."
Olivia smiled. "I know," she said softly.
Steve stole one last kiss and then he was looking out the window. He shrugged. "Like Bruce said, a straight line is the shortest distance between two points." With a last smile at Olivia, Steve jumped out of the window, using his shield to slow his descent and then to land on to break his fall before starting to run down the street, intent on intercepting the city workers in their truck before all hell broke loose.
Olivia watched Steve run out of view with lightning speed and then stepped back from the opening as Jarvis sealed it up again, making the wall of windows intact again. "Jarvis," said Olivia, "could you do something for me, please?"
"Of course, Miss O'Brien. How may I be of assistance?"
Sandy pushed her heavy glasses back up her nose and then wiped her sweaty palms on her new dress. She looked down at the bright and confident peacock swirling its way around her body and wrinkled her nose. This really wasn't her usual type of dress. Sandy had learnt to not stand out over the years but in all of her dreams she'd been wearing this dress. So, when she'd seen it in the shop window last week, she'd known that she had to buy it. It was a tribute to the strangeness of her entire life that she'd somehow managed to choose something without ever choosing it. The publicity woman was suddenly shoving her face into hers.
"You alright, honey?" asked Jan but then didn't give her a chance to answer. "Now, don't be nervous. Captain Rogers isn't going to bite." The older woman winked at her. "Unless you get lucky that is, of course."
She laughed at her own joke while Sandy forced a feeble smile to her lips. This woman was half an hour away from her own death and didn't know it. Sandy glanced at all the people around her. They all were. She knew from bitter experience that there was no point in trying to warn them. They wouldn't believe her. They never believed her.
Jan patted her arm distractedly as she pulled out her phone. "You just remember to smile nice and big for the camera and everything is going to be fine." She dragged her attention from her phone and gave Jan a broad smile. "After all, this is your lucky night. You're a winner."
Did it make you a winner to know you were going to survive a catastrophe which was going to take the lives of so many others? Sandy certainly didn't feel like one.
Jan waved a finger at Sandy's face. "Do you really need the glasses, honey? They hide such a pretty face."
They hid a lot more than that. Sandy didn't want to see the smoking, dismembered corpses of all the people walking all around her and the distortion of the thick glasses allowed her that small reprieve. She squared her shoulders and gave an emphatic shake of her head. "I need them," said Sandy tightly and she really did.
Jan looked disappointed but tried to hide it. "Oh well, not everything can be picture perfect all the time, hmm?" With that Jan was off and already talking on her phone. "Hello, Mr Hogan? Yes, I realize this is the third time I've called you but you were meant to have Captain Rogers here already. I've got a schedule to—"
Sandy turned away from Jan's badgering of the poor person on the other end of the phone as her own phone rang in her purse. She frowned, not knowing who that could be as she wasn't in the habit of handing her cell number out to many people. Looking at her cell phone display, she didn't recognize the number. "Hello?" she asked hesitantly.
Sandy frowned, not recognizing the woman's voice. "Yes."
"You don't know me. My name is Olivia O'Brien and I'm a friend of Steve Rogers."
Sandy blinked. "This isn't supposed to happen," she blurted out, surprise bypassing the normal censuring she always made when talking to people.
"I know you've dreamt about this night for a long time," said Olivia sincerely. "And I know it's always ended badly, with people dying."
"How-how can you know that?" asked Sandy unevenly.
"Steve told me."
"Steve Rogers?" This didn't make any kind of sense.
"It's complicated but I wanted to talk to you and tell you that everything is going to be okay."
"But it isn't," said Sandy urgently. "Everyone dies."
"I know that's how your dreams always turn out but Steve isn't going to let that happen," said Olivia swiftly.
"He can't stop it," said Sandy despairingly. "No one can. My visions always come true."
"You don't know Steve. When he puts his mind to something, he'll stop at nothing to make it happen." There was a slight pause. "Or, in this case, not happen."
"I don't understand," said Sandy hopelessly.
Olivia's voice was warm and reassuring. "You don't have to understand, you just have to have faith."
Sandy bit her bottom lip. "Why are you calling me? Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because everyone needs to know that people believe in them," said Olivia simply. "And that they're not alone." Olivia's tone became very sincere. "You're not alone and you have people who believe you, Sandy. This night isn't going to end like you've feared."
Sandy still wasn't sure why this complete stranger was saying all of those things to her but she felt tears sting her eyes because no one had ever said anything like that to her before. "Thank you," she said hoarsely, choked up by the other woman's sincerity and kindness.
"Steve's not going to give up so you shouldn't either," said Olivia firmly. "There is always hope, remember that if you remember nothing else about this phone call, remember that."
"I will," said Sandy, not sure what all this meant but feeling like a weight she'd been carrying for so long had suddenly been lifted.
My dreams didn't have to come true after all…