Chapter Seven: Connections
Steve pulled into the garage feeling a lot calmer than he had when he'd left; he'd needed to escape the tower for a short while to clear his head and try to wrap his brain around just what the hell was going on. Suffice it to say he'd only really managed to do one of the two but he was sure that the other would come with time. With his bike parked in it's usual spot he pulled of his helmet and steeled himself for what was waiting for him inside.
What he hadn't been expecting was to be accosted the second he walked into the elevator.
"Captain Rogers, Doctor Banner requested your presence in the medical lab at the earliest possible convenience."
JARVIS's mechanical voice echoed through the empty elevator and the super-soldier felt himself sigh. He hadn't really wanted to face the doctor so soon after their last confrontation, the scolding he'd received still making him feel slightly bitter, no matter how right the other man had been in his assumptions. But he also knew that Bruce wouldn't ask for him without just cause; so whatever it was it must be important.
"Let Doctor Banner know I'll be there asap."
"I shall convey the message."
Before heading down to meet the physicist Steve quickly stopped off at his room to change into something more comfortable and then headed directly to the lab, figuring there was no time quite like the present. He approached the lab with some trepidation but quickly beat back those feelings, he had been asked here for a reason; he wasn't about to be fed to the lions or a Hulk.
He pressed the access panel.
The door slid open and Steve walked inside his eyes adjusting to the near darkness of the lab, the only visible light was spilling from the multiple monitors that Bruce was attentively scrutinizing apparently oblivious to the other man's arrival. The super-soldier allowed himself a small smile, some things never changed.
He gave a quiet but obvious cough.
The physicist started at the noise and turned toward Steve a look of relief clearly visible on his features.
The exchange was brief and to point and then Bruce turned back to the screens beckoning the blond over. Steve obliged and walked over marvelling at the sheer amount of information being displayed on the screens, he didn't understand any of it but that didn't mean he couldn't be impressed. The two men lapsed into contemplative silence.
"So... JARVIS said you wanted to see me."
The physicist nodded clearly not paying full attention, completely captivated by the streams of information dancing before his eyes. Steve fought the urge to roll his eyes, honestly when either he or Tony got into 'work mode' it was like the rest of the world melted away.
"So, what did you want to see me for?" His tone was slightly impatient.
Bruce seemed to finally realise that he was being just a tad rude and pulled his gaze away from the screen.
"Uh... Sorry. Well... Um...I need your help."
Steve's eyebrow rose and Bruce barreled onwards.
"It's to do with our guest..." There was a definite hint of nervousness in his voice and the blonde frowned.
"What about him?"
"He woke up."
Blue eyes widened and Steve felt his heart stop for the briefest of moments, Howard was... awake? From what he had gleaned from both Stark and Banner's science-babble back at the base it should have taken him at least a few days to come around, was something wrong?
"Is he okay...? Did something happen?" The super-soldier couldn't quite keep the worry out of his voice.
The physicist frowned and shook his head.
"No, no, he's fine... Better than fine to be honest he's healing at an accelerated rate which I've been trying to get to the bottom of and... Never mind, it's not important right now. What is important is that he doesn't trust anyone and is acting... well, understandably hostile. I figured a friendly face might make him more comfortable and... receptive."
Steve couldn't quite contain the chuckle of amusement, despite Bruce's glare, at the thought of Howard giving everyone a hard time. He'd been smart mouthed and mule-headed back in the war and he seriously doubted those particular aspects of the man's personality had changed that much. If anything the passage of time would have made them more prominent.
"So you want me to charm him into submission?"
The physicist couldn't help but roll his eyes at the comment but he nodded in affirmation.
"Yes, something like that; I'm not asking for a miracle... I just want him to understand that we're not his enemies."
The super-soldier sighed; the problem was Bruce was asking for a miracle. When Howard got an idea in his head there was very little anything or anyone could do to dissuade him from it. This was not going to be easy.
"I will try my best... But you've seen how he is."
"I have Captain ... And I... Appreciate that you came down here..."
The awkwardness in the physicist's voice is obvious and the look in his eyes makes Steve frown. The other man had honestly not expected him to answer his call and although he understood why it still smarted slightly. At the end of the day they were still Avengers; team-mates and he wouldn't betray that trust for anything, he had already lost too much and he would fight tooth and nail to see that he or any of the others didn't lose any more. And right now that meant him being the bigger man.
"Doctor..." the soldier swallowed past the lump in his throat "About earlier... I wanted to apologize you were right in what you said..."
Bruce held up his hand stopping the flow of words.
"You were angry, Tony was angry, I was... Well not angry enough..."
Steve felt his mouth twitch in amusement; Bruce was making a Hulk joke? Would wonders never cease?
"... The point is we all may have said some things we may regret but the important thing now is not our differences; it's the man in that room over there... " The physicist's jaw clenched as he spoke about Howard "...We can work out our differences later, the task at hand takes priority."
The brown eyes gazed sideways at the reinforced door and the blonde nodded in response, signalling that he was ready. Bruce stood and walked over to the entryway, hastily typing in the various key-codes that were keeping the door locked from the outside. The door slid open and the physicist leaned against the open doorway arms crossed against his chest.
"Mr. Stark I have a visitor for you."
There was a low dark chuckle from within the room and Steve felt his chest ache in familiarity, it was older,more world-weary but there was no mistaking who the voice belonged to.
"I hope they are more accommodating than your last visitors Bruce." The elder Stark snapped and threw
Bruce shot the super-soldier an exasperated stare as if to say 'See what I've been dealing with?' Steve however was having a hard time regulating his breathing, it felt as though his chest was seizing up and it was taking every ounce of his enhanced strength to suck in even a single breath. This was exactly what he'd been hoping for... Wishing for, a link to his past that wasn't just a dusty relic in a museum but something real, tangible.
"I'm sure they will Mr. Stark, Captain if you would."
The blonde took this as his cue and stepped forward into the doorway a look of mingled shock and relief on his face. The man looked a little rough around the edges and there were a few yellowing bruises on his face but he was awake and alive. On the bed for the first time since he had awoken Howard was actually dumbstruck and he had to rub his eyes to make sure that he wasn't seeing things. Behind them Bruce excused himself knowing that his presence was no longer needed.
"Steve? Is that really you?"
The super-soldier smiled; striding over to the bed and grasped the man by the shoulders, pulling him into a brief hug before stepping back.
"Yeah it's me Howard... Long time no see."
There was a moment of elation on the older man's face but then realization seemed to slip in and his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"No this isn't possible, you died... You died when the plane went down..."
"It might be hard to believe Howard but I didn't die. I landed in the ice and froze but the serum it kept me alive and then they found me and thawed me out."
The man was struggling now trying to get away from the 'fraudster' and Steve felt his heart twist, just what had happened to make Howard this distrusting of people? Or had he always been like this and he'd never seen it because he'd been considered one of those confidants, he shook his head trying to will away the hurt at the accusation that he was lying.
"Howard it really is me... I can prove it..." There was a moments pause "...Did Peggy ever tell you the last thing that I said on the plane... before it... it crashed." Steve's voice became a little distant.
Slowly the man nodded eyes glazed as his mind sunk back into the past, to a friend long forgotten.
"I told her to have the band play something slow..." The words were filled with seventy years worth of pain and longing.
The dark eyes went wide as cold reality sunk in, that this really was Steve Rogers. The skinny kid from Brooklyn he'd help make into the worlds first super-soldier, the man he'd flown into enemy territory on a whim and the man he'd thought had plummeted to his death after stopping the Red Skull's nefarious plan. It really was Steve.
"I... It really is you." His voice was light and full of wonder.
"Yes it is."
"I can trust you right?"
The distrust was still there in Howard's voice but at least it wasn't aimed at him anymore, he nodded in response to the man's question.
"Then can you tell me where the hell I am?"
Steve repressed a small sigh, he wasn't exactly sure how much he should tell the man. He remembered when he came around how difficult it had been to adjust to the new world he'd been thrust into after being out of the loop for so long, he didn't want to put his friend through the same trauma he'd been through. But Howard had a massive advantage over him, he'd at least seen some of the future maybe this wouldn't be as big of a shock for him. Deciding that honesty was probably the best way to go about it he took a deep breath.
"You're in New York."
Again there was that look of suspicion but it melted away when he remembered that it was Steve who was telling him this not Bruce or one of his flunkies but it didn't look anything like the New York he remembered; the sky-line was all wrong and he told Steve so. The super-solider's face turned sad and he gazed out of the window.
"Trust me it's New York... It's just been a long time since you've seen it."
A long time?
"Steve what year is it?" There was an angry edge to his voice.
Again the blonde sighed but turned to look the man straight in the eye.
And all Howard could do was gape.
Bruce backed away from the door content to let Steve do what he was best at; getting people to trust him, because he had worried other than his friends father on his mind. Well that wasn't entirely true; Howard was at the heart of his current worries but the less time he spent around the man the happier he'd be. Unfortunately it didn't seem that fate wanted to play nicely, he sat back down at the computer combing over the data again and sighed.
The physicist grimaced as he asked the AI to give him the run down on the data.
"Blood work shows an array of enhanced antibodies and immune system that is not natural to the patient..."
Well Bruce had already surmised that much from the basic blood work he'd done, Howard's white blood cell count was through the roof and they seemed to be unusually resistant to most antigens.
"There have also been a large number of nano-mechanical organisms found within the blood sample although exact purpose is unknown and will require further analysis."
Nano-machines? Bruce could feel a migraine beginning to build behind his eyes this; was all getting more complicated by the second and although he didn't really want to ask he knew he was going to need Tony's help with this. The billionaire had a lot more experience with Nano-technology than he did, by which he meant that the engineer at least had some experience with Nano-technology.
"JARVIS, what about the DNA analysis."
There was a whir as the AI sprang back to life.
"DNA analysis shows that patients DNA has been reconfigured on multiple occasions with various genetic markers, nearest known likeness in configuration: Captain Steve Rogers aka Captain America."
Now that he hadn't been expecting, Howard had been made into a super-soldier? For what purpose? The man was easily hitting his sixties even now; it made no sense whatsoever to give him a version of the serum. It did at the very least explain how the man had been able to heal in cryo-stasis and even though that small mystery had been solved (And what an answer he'd gotten) it opened up a complete can of worms. Who had done this to Howard and why? What on earth where the Nano-machines doing in his blood stream? Why had he even been saved in the first place? Bruce groaned and rubbed his eyes, he was beyond exhausted and there was still so much to do.
With a sigh the physicist stood and saved the information he'd accumulated thus far on to the tablet Tony had gifted him with for his last birthday and tried to swallow the anxiety he was feeling. He wasn't looking forward to explaining to his friend that someone had been messing around with his father's DNA but Tony needed to know the full scope of the situation. Even if he wasn't on good terms with the man (understatement of the century there Banner) he knew that the billionaire was fiercely protective over those he considered 'his' and Tony wouldn't have gone after his father if he didn't fall into that category on at least some level. He would not take someone fucking with Howard lightly and heaven help when they found out the party responsible because it was going to happen. If he knew Tony half as well as he thought he did he knew the other man would make it happen and there would be hell to pay.
Resolved to yet again not getting any sleep the Doctor headed toward the penthouse, ignoring the twisting of his gut.