Another Place, Another Time
I agreed to meet him.
For drinks, coffee what have you, after my meetings had concluded for the day.
I wanted to say I had no clue how he had managed this... but I knew exactly how he had managed this. The Quantum Tunnel. That could be the only answer to the question of how he had gone from human antique to young and vital again. During our short conversation on the street, he'd dropped enough hints for me to guess he wasn't some younger time-traveling version of himself, attempting to correct the error of not raising his... our daughter, which oddly enough could also have been possible.
No, this was Steve. My Steve. Or not my Steve these days, I supposed. Peggy's Steve who had taken the long way 'round to get back to here, after the defeat of Thanos.
And then like the eternal dumbass he could be, he played with powers he had no true understanding of, or the potential hazards. No one did and that included me. You know the one who had taken Dr. Banner's efforts at creating a time machine and refined them into a theoretical -- or maybe not so theoretical now -- immortality machine.
Yes, Fury had asked me to work on the math, for research purposes only he said.
I should have known better.
What the hell was I going to say to Steve?
"Would you care to weigh in on this conversation, Commander?"
The sardonic tone Fury used clued me in to the fact that he'd noticed I'd been off in my own little world for the majority of the current discussion. Not that it mattered, I'd still heard every word even if I hadn't been focused upon it. A quick review that took mere seconds and I responded, "The programming is solid so if there are power fluctuations it's most likely from a bad coupling." I pulled up the schematics on my tablet and sent them to the main screen projected over the table. "You'll need to test all the connections from here," I tapped an area on the tablet, "to here."
Hill snorted, tried to cover it up with a cough, gave it up as a bad job quickly, and simply turned away from the glare Fury shot at her. Her lips twitching as she desperately attempted to not let the grin actually show.
He sighed softly. "Thank you for reminding me exactly how smart you are."
I did not point out that it had never been about smart or not just smart, in my case, it was all about memory and processing power. Even Tony had been impressed by how fast I could learn. "I told you they were rushing the install."
"Yes, you did, but we need to get this base online sooner rather than later."
"All the more reason to do it right the first time. It is going to take them days to go through all the wiring to find the bad section," I pointed out earning a scowl from my ostensible boss for my trouble.
"She's right," Hill said, coming to my defense.
His head snapped about to aim the irritation at her instead. "I know she's right," he grouched. "We need more manpower."
I shook my head. "You need the right manpower."
Fury thought for a moment then tipped his head in acknowledgment.
"What do you suggest?" Hill asked, saving her boss the trouble.
"I have some people who helped with the power conversions during the Snap years, let me reach out and see if they're willing to subcontract."
"How many will pass a security clearance?" Hill tapped her tablet, most likely scrolling through the names of those currently on the payroll.
I answered with a half-truth, "Some, not all, but if you compartmentalize the work, it shouldn't be an issue."
"You trust them?" Fury asked.
"Enough to let them work on buildings the Expendables lived in."
Fury and Hill exchanged a meaningful look.
"Get me a list, we'll go from there." Hill swiped across her tablet. "Next on the agenda is quinjet production. I understand you have some new designs?"
I nodded and pulled them up on my tablet.
I met him at a bar, using that term extremely loosely. Done in the current trend of industrial style with all concrete and metal and repurposed wood complete with the mandatory faux Edison lights. The drinks high end and specialty. There were no tables or booths, just groupings of couches, loveseats, and chairs, designed for comfort and intimate, if potentially drunken, conversation. Bookcases had been filled with various board games from Trivial Pursuit to Cards Against Humanity. One table I had passed by had a modified DnD adventure in full swing, superheroes replacing the more traditional roles. A trend that had begun way back when the Avengers had first made their appearance in New York.
He'd taken the time to choose the setting with care. An out of the way corner where the music coming through the speakers would not overpower any normal conversation and shifted the chairs about in an effort to make it clear to others passing by we'd prefer to not have any other company.
Of course, it would be hours before the regulars rolled in, the sun not quite down when I had walked through the doors. I'd already let my people know I would be delayed and spoken to Sara, who didn't seem to overly mind spending more time with her grandparents as they tended to spoil her rotten. And they got along with the Expendables who were always nearby. My parents had adapted shockingly well to the new world order, even if they had lost a building or two during the Blip. Okay, maybe not lost so much as had them repurposed. My dad had taken one look at my operational models, pointed out a few flaws complete with suggestions on how to improve them and I let him at it.
He needed something to do and I had no problems letting him take it over given my schedule had become more than a tad full.
Full enough that I really shouldn't have permitted Steve to distract me. And he most certainly had.
I set my bag and tablet on the side table, removed my jacket, and tossed it over the back of the deeply cushioned chair before settling into it. He handed me a drink that I hoped included vast amounts of high-test alcohol since I had the feeling I would be in dire need of it to get through this.
I sipped at it while watching him warily. He'd lost the hat and shed the jacket, but no one looked at him sideways. The beard adorning his features apparently enough to keep people from recognizing him, especially when the world hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him since the battle against Thanos. Still, if he planned to be part of the current society he would be in need of a much better disguise.
"Back in the forties, after the war, this place was the L & L Automat. Peggy..." He ducked his head for a moment as if feeling guilty for mentioning her name, but then lifted it and met my eyes before soldiering on. "Peggy hung out here a lot when she worked for the SSR. One of the waitresses was her friend."
"And now it's the Urban Sprawl. Home to hipsters and wannabe startup gurus."
He snorted. "Not your scene I take it?"
I kind of wanted to slap the smug smirk off his face. Instead, I said, "Well, you have been gone for a while, not surprised you've forgotten."
The smile faded instantly, and while part of me twinged at the drive-by backstabbing, the rest of me knew he deserved it if only a little. "I haven't forgotten," he reminded softly, "but you might have picked up a few new preferences in the last few years. I'm trying to not be presumptuous."
Oof. He had a point. I downed an overgenerous mouthful of the alcohol and decided to rein in my irritation until I understood why he wanted me here. "What do you need, Steve?" The ever so slight narrowing of his eyes gave the lie to my efforts to remain calm and patient with him. "Aside from the obvious, that is."
He blinked. "The obvious?"
"That Fury clearly needs to up the security around the Quantum Tunnel," I explained with a vague wave at his current countenance.
"Why would you assume that?"
I tipped my head slightly. "Do you really want to have that discussion here and now, because I promise it will end with you in custody."
He frowned slightly then shook his head. "Let me just concede the point for the time being without admitting to anything."
I chuckled and downed the rest of my drink wondering if I would need to put up smoke signals to get a refill. I'd known when I had agreed to this it had no chance of going smoothly, but so far it had been downright awful. I admittedly still harbored some deep-seated unhappiness over how our lives had played out but had found a way to deal with the antique version of Steve Rogers mostly because there hadn't been an option.
As usual, he had thought outside the box and proceeded to manage the impossible yet again.
"I need your help, Myls."
I sighed heavily. "For what? You have more than enough money to buy whatever you want, including a mid-sized country, what could I possibly do for you?"
He settled back into the cushion, his eyes glancing about the bar as if wanting to be certain our discussion would not be overheard. "As I'm certain you've realized just growing out a beard will not work as a disguise for long."
I nodded. "But the baseball cap and glasses, they should be more than enough. I mean they worked when you were on the run, right?" I managed to keep my voice utterly devoid of inflection but could feel my lip twitching as amusement tried to make an appearance.
He sighed. "Without having to resort to major reconstructive surgery there's a limit to what I can do... Smartass."
I let the grin escape for a moment. He had a good point though, he had a distinctive look that could not be easily disguised and because of the serum, he probably wouldn't be able to change his body mass all that much. Of course, I had thought the same thing about Thor and yet he somehow managed to get himself an impressive beer belly while waiting for the opportunity to get revenge on Thanos. "Hair dye would help some, hide those classic blonde locks everyone knows. Still, it won't alter your facial structure..." I trailed off thinking hard, working the problem, and wondering how he had managed to keep everyone, except Peggy of course, in the dark all those years. Even makeup with contouring to change the angles of his features would only go so far especially when literally everyone knew who Captain America was and hailed him as a hero for his sacrifice in the war that had ended just a few years before his reappearance.
I mean, we had tech now that easily let you change your face with... "You little shit. You took a veil with you when you left." That explained so much, especially the conundrum that had been gnawing at me since his return. Peggy had said in several interviews that Steve had saved her husband at the Azzano factory, that he'd been one of the captured soldiers there, but she carefully never mentioned his name. "Who? Which MIA soldier did you take the place of?"
He twitched as if he hadn't expected me to figure it out so quickly."
"Someone who had no family to claim otherwise," he responded sourly. "I'm sure that hint is more than enough for you to figure it out on your own. You already know the nom de plume I used for my art."
I did and had purchased quite a few of the originals over the years. I still wanted to slap myself silly for not realizing why. Of course, at that younger age, I didn't have the context to understand. "I'm still not sure why you need me if you already have a veil."
He tipped his head slightly the look one I recognized.
"You broke it."
"No. Nothing like that, just... it got old and I didn't exactly have the means to maintain it, by the time I did I no longer needed it. My looks had altered enough via aging that no one recognized me."
"I did. From behind, no less."
"Yes, you did," he agreed tone solemn.
"So you want me to steal you a new veil?" I mean, I could, fairly easily at that, but Fury might not appreciate it or the fact that when I got caught that I'd refuse to tell him why. He might think me a traitor or something. Hydra, somehow, still existed, plus the Skrull not all of whom were as altruistic as the few I had met and that he considered friends.
"Or build one. I imagine you can with your resources." He made it sound as if he knew some great secret or something, but I had no interest in poking that potential hornet's nest right now.
"And? Given you could probably steal one yourself with minimal effort."
"Fair, but I am trying to stay under the radar here."
I remained stoically silent, willing to wait him out this time.
"Papers, Myla. A new identity that we can tie to my... resources in a seemingly legit manner. I'm sure I could find someone, but then I risk outing myself..."
I waved him to silence. "And what makes you think I can make you an identity, hmmm?"
He snorted. "I've followed your exploits, the Expendables that is. You've created personas that fool government databases for one day jobs. I think you can manage this."
Damn it. He'd clearly done his homework. "Okay, say I do this for you, then what? You ride off into the sunset, park your ass on a beach, and teach Zen meditation techniques?"
He blinked. Twice. "Well, I was planning on raising our daughter with you."
Oh. Duh. "Weren't you already doing that?" He visited, often. Came for special events, like her birthday. I actively sought out his advice on some aspects, simply because he would always be the best and most reliable source on his enhancements. The fact that she'd been the only one of his children to seriously benefit from the serum still baffled me, but given she shouldn't have happened anyway I managed the best I could. Thankfully, aside from intelligence, there was little chance she could develop my ability to see the various changes to the time streams. Something I had only mentioned in passing to Steve and he hadn't yet requested details on.
"Not how I want to. Myla I want... need to be her father. Not your older friend who visits now and again. You made it clear I could never be more than that."
I scrubbed my face in my hands to hide the sigh of frustration. Yes, I had said that, and I still believed that I was right to take that stance but now... "How is this better? It's been difficult enough trying to explain why you aren't here, now I have to figure out why you are and hope she doesn't tell everyone who you really are. Yes, she's smart, but she's also a young child. They don't often think before they speak."
"Myls..." He leaned forward and set a hand atop my knee. Somehow I managed to not flinch away. "I know this won't be easy, but I want to try."
I sat stock-still until he removed his hand then sat up straighter and waved at the bartender for more drinks. I stayed silent, my mind whirling with questions that I refused to say aloud. He'd abandoned us, unknowingly admittedly, gone back to his true love, lived what I could only assume had been a wonderful life with her as he'd told me little and I, truthfully, hadn't asked, and now... now this.
When the drinks came and mine was, thank god, a double I quickly downed half. It wouldn't do much, a slight buzz maybe since it had been hours since I'd eaten anything of value, but my tolerance had become exceedingly high thanks to the surprise serum related enhancements I'd been gifted with. "What will you do? Playboy philanthropist?"
He damn near choked on his swallow. He'd been the one to tell me that story and how he and Tony had not gotten along all that well at first. I'd been totally shocked by that revelation. "Uh, no. I hadn't thought about it in detail. Maybe open a gym for underprivileged youth or the like. Train with the Expendables on the side."
"You do realize we're contracting to the Avengers for the foreseeable future."
"Ah, but I won't be me, remember. Though I suppose a few will need to know. Those who watch Sara and such."
Christ. "And this is not thinking about it?"
He shrugged. "I won't go back. I won't be a soldier anymore, but if it'll save a few lives, including yours, I'll help all I can."
Hard to argue with that. "Where will you stay?"
"Well, I was thinking I'd move into the condo we bought. You still have ownership of it last I checked and use it as lodging for visiting Expendable members and such."
"How could you... Fucking Wilson. That man has no skill at subterfuge when around you."
"He has no skill at subterfuge at all. He can keep a secret when needed, but he clearly didn't think this qualified."
It stung. It really did. I should have given the place up years ago, I'd never spent more than a few minutes inside, especially post-Snap, but I also hadn't been able to sell it either. The hopes and dreams of that other life still tied to a converted warehouse in Brooklyn. All but growling in frustration. "Sure, I'll rent it to whoever you decide you're going to be." I tossed back the last of the drink and damn near broke the glass when I set it far too violently on the table before me.
He appeared taken aback by my reaction to what he must have thought was a logical solution. "My, I can make other arrangements."
I shook my head. "No, it was the place you wanted, you're welcome to it." I picked my tech up from the table and pushed to my feet. "I have arrangements to make."
He swiftly stood, reached out, and curved his hand about my biceps. I glared at the offending appendage until he removed it. "Let me buy you dinner at least. There's a place around the corner--"
"No. I need to get home. To my daughter." I chose my words intentionally.
He went stiff as a board. "Of course," his response just as stiff. "I'll text you about..."
I stepped away, grabbing my coat as I did so, attempting to make as clean an exit as possible. "Give me a couple of days. I need to do some research before I can begin."
He nodded. "Okay, I'll attempt to be patient."
I ground my teeth together. "And pick a name. I'll need it for the paperwork."
"I already have some ideas. I'll email them to you?" His tone remained formal, clearly as upset with me as I had become with him.
How the hell did we end up here?
"That works. Goodnight, Steve." I could see that he wanted to walk me out, but a slight narrowing of my eyes got him to back down from the usually welcome gentlemanly gesture.
And with that, I turned on my heel and walked out into the bitter wind and blowing snow of a late March evening.