Title: Chaos Clock—Chapter I
Summary: An accident with a SHIELD artefact lands the Avengers back in the 1940s. Second chances, headaches, conflictions, reunions, HYDRA plots, explosions, rescue missions and 'Back to the Future' references ensue. — Steve/Peggy, one year post-Avengers.
Disclaimer: I am merely playing the characters, settings, ideas and explosions created by MARVEL. I own no part of the Avengers, save a few comic books scattered around the house, some doodles on a bulletin board and the Cap bobble-head on my desk.
Characters/Pairings: Steve/Peggy, Tony, Bruce, Thor, Natasha, Clint, Nick Fury, Howard Stark, and more . . .
A/N: Good grief, here we go.
Basically, this is a result of far too many Avengers and Steve/Peggy feelings. Thanks to kkann (the Tony to my Steve), I have been assaulted by an overwhelming amount of feels over the past few weeks through lots of Caps Lock, role-plays, gif wars and chatroom conversations. THIS IS COMPLETELY YOUR FAULT, TONY. (Don't worry; I still love you and owe far more than 12% of this story to you, you brilliant person.) I can't even anymore. Thus, this was born.
Here you have it, a multi-chapter fic focusing on tying up a few emotional loose ends from Captain America's temporal displacement. Prepare yourselves for lots of action, angst, Tony's snarky humour, some romance, some drama, and a heaping spoonful of me trying to justify all the scientific improbabilities with Marvel-esque logic. I'm warning you that I will do my best to have it all make some form of sense, but don't expect hard Sci-Fi, here. It's all in jest. Just for fun. Doctor Who is my main source of time travel explanation, so there you go.
*Small edit 19/06/12: Windsor, not Leeds. What was I thinking. Thanks to Hazel for listening to Peggy's accent and pointing out where she was likely from.
Oh, one last thing: I will be in Africa doing volunteer work for most of July, so updates won't be so prompt. But I'll try to keep up.
Argh, forgive me for boring you with all the technicalities and thanks. Get onto the story already. Because Avengers.
London, England, March 8th, 1946
"Well, if it isn't Agent Carter. What's shaking, sweetheart?"
Peggy smiled at Howard as she walked through the door, closing the entrance to the secret SSR Research Lab by lock behind her. She knew very well that he didn't genuinely fancy her—not after everything they'd been through—it was all in jest. But hell would freeze over the day Howard Stark stopped flirting with every eligible woman he encountered
Instead of remarking on that, she simply smiled at her friend. "Hello, Mr. Stark. It's a pleasure to see you again."
Howard dropped what he was doing momentarily, leaving one of his assistants to pick up the task, and came over to greet her with a kiss on the cheek. "It's nice to be back here again. Especially without guns all over the place. I love England, you know. This is a beautiful country. Clean up some of those broken buildings strewn all over the floor, and it could be a real swinging scene."
Peggy tried to ignore the jibe, knowing he wasn't serious—Howard grieved over things lost in the war just as much as she did. All the same, she couldn't help but feel a little offended. "Perhaps if megalomaniacs such as yourself would lose interest in explosives, we might all be bloody better off, is that right?" She lifted an eyebrow at him, hoping he caught it.
Howard cringed theatrically. "You hit low, Agent."
Peggy grinned at him, enjoying the natural banter. She wandered around the room, inspecting blueprints and prototypes alike that were strewn over any and all flat surfaces. Howard grabbed a nearby metal contraption with a few wires straying from its interior, beginning to poke around with a screwdriver. "I'm just pushing your buttons, honey. I am sorry."
"It's all right," she answered absently. Silence fell for a few moments.
Without glancing up from his adjustments to the machine, Howard began to speak to her from across the room. "Not that it's not a pleasure to see you again, Carter, but why'd you suddenly decide to make the trek out here?"
Peggy frowned at him. "My flat is only a few blocks away; it was no trouble."
"Sorry, not what I meant," Howard says, looking up and pulling off his goggles. "Was this a social call, or were the orders of a certain good Colonel Philips involved in the planning of your evening?"
She narrowed her eyes at the scientist, gleaning the intention. "Are you suggesting I have been sent here to spy on you, Mr. Stark?"
"I'm suggesting Colonel Philips decided I needed someone to watch over me, and you're just carrying out the orders."
"He might have implied that a scientist so devious and . . . creative as yourself might require some supervision," Peggy explained, letting a smile grace her lips. Whilst it was unlikely she would admit it out loud, she had missed Howard Stark. She'd taken a temporary leave back home in Windsor after the war, and Howard had returned to New York. After losing so many comrades (her heart betrayed her by pounding painfully as Steve came to mind, but she kept herself together), it was nice to see a familiar face again.
Howard just laughed. "I'm not sure whether to feel insulted or proud, but he is definitely correct." Placing down the blueprints he'd been flipping through and walked over to one of the other scientists in the room. He put his arm around the white-haired man, whose immediate shock was comical to watch. "But we don't need you, Peggy dearest. I've got my trusty assistant Mr. Anderson, here, to make sure I don't get into any trouble."
Peggy shook her head. "I'm sure."
"But on that note, I think I've kept you here long enough, Anders," Howard stated, grabbing his colleague's hand and shaking it once. He looked at the other men in lab coats at the back of the room. "That goes for the rest of you fine gentlemen. Hit the road, fellas! Have a nice weekend."
Howard poured over a few more files and sorted them away as his employees cleared out. Peggy waited politely for them to leave, letting her eyes gaze over the titles of some of the dossiers on the nearest desk. The only open one detailed Howard's contributions to the Manhattan Project. Already being in-the-know of the details of that operation, she picked up another project folder.
Without warning, Howard's hand came down on the dossier, holding it down to the desk. She looked up at him inquisitively.
"Some things are best kept secrets," he told her simply, smiling mischievously.
Peggy dropped the papers, taking a step back from the table. "Of course. I didn't mean to intrude."
Howard stepped around the table and gestured for her to follow him to another part of his lab, picking up the small talk. "But then, you would know all about secret projects, wouldn't you?"
She stopped in her tracks, trying to keep her expression neutral as he grinned in self-satisfaction back at her. Howard wasn't meant to know about her new assignment, her affiliation with it. It was Top Secret—the 'I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you' kind of Top Secret. And she didn't really fancy killing Howard, despite how irritating he could be on occasion. "Would I?" she asked curiously, having perfected her lying techniques.
"Aw, come on, Carter," he whined, hopping up on a desk to take a seat and winking at her. "You can't keep secrets from me."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Peggy insisted.
Howard nodded, unconvinced. She figured by now that he did, in fact, know exactly what she was failing to conceal from him. But she was willing to humour him for a while longer. "Really? You have no idea?" he asked sarcastically, feigning astonishment. "Not even about the 'shield'? And not the one of the star-spangled persuasion, either."
Peggy was sure Howard hadn't meant to mention such a thing like that, as his tone was rather off-handed. But he seemed to feel the full impact of what he'd said just a split-second after she did. "Oh, Carter, I'm sorry, I didn't—"
"Don't worry about me," she said. It had been a year since she'd sat on the line with Steve and planned their fated dance together as he flew a plane right into the Arctic waters. She shouldn't let it affect her so deeply, especially after so much time had gone by. But one unexpected comment such as that could still easily set her off. She hated how little control she had over her reactions.
Peggy knew it would become easier to bear, knew it would get better with time—it had to get better. Steve had been the Allies' hero, and she could not hold a candle to such a persona. So, she and Steve had been nothing more than friends. There was no reason for her to get herself worked up like this. But her heart kept betraying her. There was no way to disregard the man she'd come to care for so much.
And, if she was going to be perfectly frank with herself, she missed him. More than was healthy, most likely. But not more than was natural for someone to whom she'd been so closely attached. As the war had gone on, as they had slowly and sadly lost more of their friends and fellow soldiers, the two of them had grown progressively more dependent on one another. They had slowly become one of the only people the other had left to rely on. After Sergeant Barnes had died, Peggy knew she needed to step up and be there for Steve, just like he'd been standing up for the Allies for years—that was what had brought her to the bar in Italy that night.
Also, Peggy wasn't afraid to admit cared about him. She hadn't wanted to see this man she had come to admire and respect and even love tear himself apart over this. As much as he'd had every right to mourn, it was their mutual job to keep each other going no matter what. The world needed Captain America. And she needed Steve Rogers.
She felt tears beginning to form behind her eyelids and quickly blinked away the sting. She had countless memories of Steve—some good, some bad—that could wrench any number of emotions from her. Conversations backstage in the rain, walking in on him and Private Lorraine, the look on his face when she'd worn the red dress, imagining their date as she waited for the radio to cut off . . .
None of that would bring him back. So she couldn't allow herself to ponder it long.
Peggy merely shook her head, clearing her throat in order to earn herself time to collect herself. This was the first time she'd seen Howard in months—it was meant to be a happy time. Dwelling on what-if's and could-have-been's was for when she was alone in her flat, not in front of her friends.
"Who told you about the plan? I wasn't aware you were part of it."
"Neither is the rest of the SSR, sweetheart," he exclaimed, taking her cue to shake off the mention of Rogers as well. "But I've got something on my side they really should have anticipated: Science. Not to mention their funding for this lab. And did I mention I was a genius? Modestly?"
"How do you mean?" Peggy asked.
Howard stood up, indicating a device behind him. "Feast your eyes, ladies and gentlemen," he called much more loudly than was necessary for the contained space, waving his arms with a flourish. Peggy smirked. Howard was such a stage character. "I present to you Howard Stark's stealth radio frequency detector."
"The name needs some work," Peggy murmured as she took in the sight of the device before her. It looked like a standard radio transmitter at first glance, but she could see the small adjustments that Howard had made, all of the supplementary wires and antennae and metal receiving plates.
Howard shrugged. "Not the easiest on the eyes, I'll give you, but she'll hold up in performance." He patted it proudly, only to have a the machine groan in protest as a piece fell off the back. Peggy rolled her eyes as Howard blushed, racing to reattach the metal plating, mumbling "I can fix that, it happens all the time" as he went.
It took her a moment to put it together. "It's a signal hacker. You can use it to spy on private frequencies."
Howard beamed proudly. "That, it can. Knew you were a sharp one. It can detect nearby or long-distance signals and amplify the range to synchronize the frequency with the ones we're trying to infiltrate. Spiffy, huh?"
Peggy smacked him on the arm, ignoring his offended expression. "You can't spy on the SSR! It's forbidden, Mr. Stark. You could be fired for this. In fact, you could be killed, at worst. Some of the things they talk about are actually secrets. Or would you like me to refresh your knowledge of the definition of that word?"
"Look, Carter, I was just trying to test it out. Your frequency was close by, and I thought it wouldn't do any damage to check in on my own organization, don't you think?" he said pacifyingly, trying to calm her down.
"Well, you obviously thought wrong," Peggy retorted.
Howard pouted at her. "But I can spy on the enemies, too! Watch this," he instructed, and turned it on. Static immediately filled the room, covering up any other noises or machines whirring in the background.
Peggy put aside her anger for a moment and took a step closer to Howard, who was fiddling with various knobs and buttons as he attempted to acquire a steady signal.
"Let's be a little more optimistic this time . . ." he muttered as he worked. Peggy lifted an eyebrow. "How about I show you what real long distance applications this beauty is capable of?"
She glowered at him, not approving of his methods. He shouldn't have known about the SSR's new enterprise. She hadn't been lying about the fact that someone could very reasonably send an assassin after him for knowing the things he knew. Everything about this screamed wrong—she ought to report this, ought to carry him down to the Legion immediately. But Peggy was too curious and too trusting of her friend to do that. So she ignored the consequences and put all her attention into the machine in front of her. "Let's see it, then."
Howard's expression brightened instantly. "I haven't found much of interest yet—despite those juicy SSR secrets—but maybe you'll just be my lucky charm today, Carter," he exclaimed, continuing to twist knobs as he inclined his head towards the static being emitted from the speakers. Peggy did the same, leaning down to be at the proper level to hear all the sounds. "And speaking of secrets, I also know they were planning to let me in on the plan, anyway." He smirked at her. "Or didn't you know that?"
Peggy cast him a disparaging look. "They weren't going to include you . . . Not yet, at least."
"Knew it," he claimed. "So . . . how've you been?"
"All right," she answered calmly. "Took some time off back home. But there's not much there for me anymore. Nor anywhere else, really."
Howard cleared his throat once. "How are you coping?"
He didn't elaborate or finish the sentence, but he didn't need to. She knew from the tone and the way his eyes had flickered up to hers that he meant Steve. Even though nothing had happened between her and the Super Soldier, Howard could be very perceptive when it came to people and relationships when he wanted to do. He had no doubt detected her feelings towards Steve—even Colonel Philips had accused her of being stuck on Rogers a handful of times.
After weighing her potential responses, she simply told him, "All right." Perhaps it was a lie when it came to the way her heart truly felt, but she knew it needed to be what she strived for. She was an agent of the SSR—even though the war was over, she could not let her personal life lead her off-course. Her emotions and regrets were of no consequence in the world in which she lived. It wouldn't do to dwell on the past. (Steve would have wanted her to carry on, be happy.) She needed to—
"Hold on. Go back," she commanded softly. She was certain she'd just heard a voice break through the white noise. Howard's brow furrowed in skepticism, but he obliged her, twisting the dial counter-clockwise.
They waited for the slight change in tone to become audible again. It took a while to get the right minute adjustments to the machine, but eventually, Peggy heard words cut through again. "There!" she called suddenly. Howard stopped moving the dials, instead moving to the other end of the lab to grab a couple gadgets. Peggy strained her ears and tried to distinguish the words she was hearing, but it was just a jumble of static and unintelligible voices.
"Good call, Agent Carter. You've got some sharp senses," Howard complimented as he deposited an armful of devices on the table, creating a loud clang of metal-on-wood. He hooked up something resembling a mobile SONAR screen, as well as plugged in a set of headphones. The sound of static instantly disappeared.
"What are those for?" Peggy asked.
Howard rattled the headphones in his hand. "Amplifies the sound and filters background noise. And this"—he indicated the sonar, flipping the on switch—"should let us see where this extra-elusive sound we're picking up is coming from." He slipped the headphones over his head, turning one of the speakers outward so that Peggy could listen in. She accepted, pressing the side of her head into the earpiece.
The voices were still faint, their owners having east-European accents, but she picked out a few. ". . . The doctor can't guess how . . . new operations to . . . in the water . . . collapse their army if you don't . . ."
Peggy pulled away, frowning seriously. "Where's this coming from?"
Howard whipped off the headphones and handed them to her so that he would have mobility. Peggy listened intently, heartbeat increasing as slight worry began to set in. She picked up a few words such as "Crossbones" and "Operation: Phoenix". Not promising at all. What had begun as just a simple demonstration of Howard's technological genius and propensity to get into trouble had suddenly taken a crucial turn. The inventor, meanwhile, grabbed a map from a nearby shelf and unrolled it, revealing the geography of Europe. He began to scribble away on a pad of paper, looking up at the SONAR periodically.
"Somewhere in Austria . . ." Howard murmured eventually, apparently to himself. "But it's got to be in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing in those mountains. Unless they've got . . ."
He looked up and seemed to remember she was in the room all of a sudden. "Let me hear those accents again."
Peggy flipped around one of the speakers so that Howard could listen in as well. The pair of them remained perfectly still, trying to maximize the amount of sound that made it into their ears.
". . . days before Zemo . . . on the way . . . starting next month . . . resurrecting of HYDRA so they can . . ."
Peggy and Howard both jumped back, exchanging a frightened glance. Howard quickly lunged forward and flipped the machine off, almost as if he was scared that the words it was letting out would physically manifest themselves and come attack him if he let them continue any longer.
"Did that just say . . . ?" Howard ventured warily a minute later. He didn't appear to have enough wits left to finish the sentence.
"HYDRA?" Peggy asked for clarification. She hoped her voice wasn't as shaky as her insides felt.
He nodded. "But . . . we bumped them right off. They're done. Scram. Vamoosed. Fiery explosions and lots of gunfire. Rogers took them out a year ago." Howard let out a long exhale. "Oh, I'm thinking this is actually the very definition of bad."
Peggy turned around and squeezed her eyes shut, giving herself a moment to pull it together. She was properly scared, felt just as shaken up as Howard looked, but she was the professional here. She knew how to keep calm (outwardly, at least) in the face of distressing news, even of these proportions. She straightened her posture, smoothed down her skirt, and faced Howard again with a collected expression.
"Mr. Stark, I need you to get on the line with the SSR, private frequency, clearance 17. There are some pressing matters I believe the SSR needs to be informed of in order to further investigate. And you, being the one who acquired this information, will be the one to do it." Because I have no bloody idea what just happened, Peggy added to herself.
"Yes, ma'am," Howard acknowledged with a sloppy salute, nearly on the other side of the room next to the radio transmitters already. Peggy started the signal hacker back up and slipped on the headphones as he patched in the line and asked for Colonel Philips. She grabbed a pen and paper to write down anything she heard. Peggy tried to keep control of herself, but all of her panic transferred into the anxious tapping of her foot against the floor. There was a chance it was still a hoax, but she couldn't help bite her lip and clench her fists in worry.
Oh, Steve, Peggy thought sadly. We could really use you right now. Where are you?
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Feedback is much appreciated.