Notes: It's my birthday, so the last chapter's coming a little early. :)
Steve Rogers looks around his Brooklyn apartment, the bare walls, the furniture that seems right from a distance, but has an odd, pre-aged feel up close. He gets the feeling half a dozen Shield agents worked to make everything 1940's period-authentic, which was both thoughtful and terribly depressing.
Someone placed an old photo on his nightstand. It's a black and white of the Commandos and Howard, posing for a camera. Jacques, Dum-Dum, Gabe, Morita, and all the rest. Steve's in front, smiling brightly: the commander that should have lead them all to the end.
Steve picks it up, and his thumb touches the glass over one face. Bucky.
He wonders what Bucky would think about the world of the future. He'd probably have a joke or three about how people dressed - or didn't dress in some cases. He'd say just the right thing to make Steve feel better.
He knows Bucky would want him to carry on. But all he can see when he closes his eyes is the terror on Bucky's face as he fell into the canyon. It's been seventy years for everyone else, but only a couple weeks for him.
And to think, if they were both born in this day and age, they could have stepped out together in the open. Steve could have even married him.
The shrinks at Shield tried to get him to talk about all he lost, but he didn't want to. The wounds were too raw. He made noises about losing soldiers, feeling like he was betraying Bucky's memory.
There's a soft knock at the door.
For a moment, Steve considers being rude and not answering. The pretty nurse who lives next door has already introduced herself, and right now he's not sure he can scrape up politeness if she comes with a home-warming gift.
The knock comes again, and Steve sighs, supposing part of getting on with life is being neighborly.
Setting the picture frame aside, Steve wipes any hint of moisture from his eyes away with the side of his palm and stands up.
It's not the pretty nurse. For a stunned second he thinks 'Howard?' but that's not right, either. The man is about Howard's age as Steve knew him, about his height and build, with the same dark hair, but a different cut to his jaw. And of course it couldn't be Howard - Steve had read up on the files. Howard and his wife died a couple decades back. This must be his semi-mysterious son.
Howard's son looks him up and down, and a smirk pulls at the corner of his mouth that - weirdly - reminds Steve of Bucky. "Wow," the man says, without introducing himself. "Guess they did freeze at the peak of freshness."
"Uh, what?" Steve asks, and blames his confusion for stepping back enough to allow the man to bluster in.
"Anthony Stark," he says, stepping past Steve and looking around the room with an assessing air. "But you can call me Tony. History books tell me you knew my old man."
"Uh," Steve says again, but he'd read that Tony was a young child when Howard died - he'd want to know about him from a friend - but Steve is suddenly very weary, too sad to talk past-tense about someone he'd said goodbye to just a couple weeks ago. "Look, Mr. Stark, it's a little late-"
The man has turned away from him, infuriatingly, typing on a little device Steve's been told are telephones nowadays.
"Look-" Steve begins again, and the man turns and shows Steve the screen.
THIS ROOM IS MICROPHONED. KEEP TALKING.
Steve's eyes flick to Stark's again. The bluster is gone. Stark's dark eyes are serious, and something in Steve hardens.
"I... guess," he says, trying to keep it casual and knows he's failing. He's always been a terrible, terrible actor. "What would you like to know?"
"Only the good stuff, you can keep all your French brothel stories to yourself, Cap. Ohhh. Is this period-authentic?" Stark turns to a radio set in the corner and doesn't wait for Steve to answer. "No, the make stamp says nineteen fifty-five. Seriously? Well I guess it'll be futuristic to you." Then he flips the dial and turns on the knob. A transmission starts up - clearer than Steve ever remembered hearing from his own radios. Some sort of sports program.
Stark grins and turns the volume almost painfully high.
"That'll jam them," he says, coming closer to Steve and speaking sotto-voice, "But someone will be up here to 'check in on you' before long." He makes finger quotes around the words, showing his sarcasm. "Anyone introduce themselves yet?"
"Just my neighbor."
Stark taps a couple things on the screen again. It looks more like floating glass than the devices he's seen the Shield agents use. "Look a little like this?" He turns the screen, and the pretty nurse is there again, her face displayed under a Shield profile. Sharon Carter.
The expression on Steve's face probably says it all. Stark nods and looks even grimmer. All the bluster gone. It was as good as a mask. "There's a few things about the future you need to know, Cap, and I can't discuss any of them here. Come with me."
Steve hesitates. What if this is a trap?
Stark rolls his eyes. "Don't tell me they've given you the stranger danger speech? Look at me," he holds out his arms, "you could take me apart limb-by-limb."
Not if Stark has futuristic weapons, but the thought of sitting alone in an apartment where he might be listened in on was not appealing.
Steve nods, and Stark makes his quick way out the door.
They take the stairwell, apparently not trusting the elevator. There's a limousine waiting outside. Steve tries not to boggle as Stark crawls in.
"Hit it, Happy," Stark says as soon as the door closes.
But they only roll a few blocks before the driver pulls into an alleyway.
Stark flashes Steve another brazen smile that would have looked the same on Bucky's face. He gestures to the door. "On the count of three."
Steve nods, and on three they open the doors and exit out of the still moving car. Steve has to jog to keep his feet, and Stark makes it despite the fancy get-up.
Stark gestures and they duck into a shadow.
"Watch," Stark says quietly, peeping around the corner to the street. Steve does the same, and sure enough two unmarked cars pull into view, following the still driving limousine.
Stark had been followed.
Stark has evidently planned for this. There is a stash of clothes in Steve's size, hidden in a mostly dry corner. He changes and pulls a ball cap over his head for good measure.
Then Stark picks up Steve's discarded Shield issued jacket and tears one of the seams. There are... wires on the inside, following the stitching. Stark gives Steve a direct look.
"I take it that's not normal?" Steve asks.
"No, you were being traced. C'mon."
They walk out the alley on the other side, and down to the closest subway stop.
At this time of night the subway car is empty, except for a young mother with a baby sitting at the end. Stark takes a seat, looking not out of place despite the fact he is probably richer than Rockefeller.
"So," he says casually, resting an arm along the back of the seat. "Some important things I've been asked to explain to you before we arrive-"
"Where are we going?" Steve asks, cutting him off.
"A safe house," he replies. "I have a few of them scattered here and there in the city and more scattered through the world - old habit from childhood." He fixes Steve with a direct stare. "What'd they tell you about how Howard Stark died?"
"It was a car accident?" he asks because he's suddenly not sure.
"He and his wife were assassinated," Stark says, and it's odd to hear him speak so distantly of his parents.
"Assassinated? Who would-I-jeez, I'm sorry to hear that," Steve says, thinking of how traumatic that must have been on a kid. But Stark shrugs.
"I don't remember it - don't remember them. Personally, I consider it a small mercy. But the important thing is this," he leans forward. "I've been doing a little research over the last couple years, and I found out it happened because Howard was unraveling some very big secrets several interested parties wanted to keep hush-hush."
"You're saying Howard was killed to keep him silent?"
Tony nods. "The man who did it was code-named: Winter Soldier. He was under mind-control of a group called Hydra. Know them?"
A zing shoots down Steve's spine. "Yes, but...The Red Skull is dead."
Now Stark rolls his eyes. "Yeah, but you know what they say. Cut off one head-"
"How do I know any of this is true?" Steve demands, looking around. "Maybe there's no one following you. Maybe they put wires in all jackets nowadays."
"A little far -fetched, right?" Stark asks, not concerned. "We're going to speak to the Winter Soldier - he'll be able to collaborate my story. He ended up raising me, by the way."
"What?" Steve asks, shocked, wondering if Stark is pulling his leg.
Stark shrugs. "Apparently he had, well, not a change of heart, but managed to snap out of some of the brainwashing Hydra had him under before he killed me, too." He looks at Steve and smirks as if he's in on a joke. "I think you'll trust him - you'll have to. I have evidence that points to the fact Shield has also been compromised. You're in danger, Cap."
Steve privately thought he would have to see about that, himself. It's a wild story. But Stark says no more on the matter until the subway stops.
They exit in a nice part of town. Upper East side, which Steve had not visited much when he lived in Brooklyn. It's better being here, where things are unfamiliar. Makes him wonder if he made a mistake trying to settle back in his old neighborhood.
Stark leads him to a fancy building, then turns to Steve in the elevator. "I know he killed Howard - but that's my problem, not yours. He's saved my life a half-dozen times since then, and raised me the best he could. Don't be too hard on him."
Steve doesn't know what to say, doesn't know if he has it in himself to face down the murderer of one of his friends and do nothing. He tries to be a good man, not a saint.
The elevator dings open, and they step directly into the living room. There's a young woman sitting on a couch nearby, and a man in casual slacks. They both stand as Steve walks off the elevator. And... the world stops.
"Bucky?" he breathes.
His hair is longer, pulled back into a ponytail, and there's something wrong with his left arm that Steve is too shocked to focus on. But Bucky's alive. He's alive.
Bucky smiles and gives a half-shrug. "Hey Stevie."
Thank you for reading!
Critique always welcome. :)