“I need to give you prior warning today.”
Steve flicked his gaze up from the paper that he was barely reading, “Why?” He asked, not really sure he even wanted the answer.
Chris looked weathered from stress but his voice was calm as he spoke, “There’ll be a hanging at noon,” He told him, taking a seat at the table and sipping at the tea that he was offered by their assigned maid, “A group of people. Public.”
“I see.” Steve lowered his eyes, waiting until the maid left the room to talk again, “Who are they?”
“They're – ” The doors opened and he cut himself short but it was only Sam who walked in. He noticed the tension but didn’t comment and just took his own seat at the table as well, “Good morning.” Chris offered and he smiled.
“Good morning,” He glanced at Steve once, ducking his head closer, “There’s a hanging today.”
“We know,” Chris assured him, wincing when he shifted in his chair and felt his bones crack, “Eleven traitors at noon.”
Sam ignored him, his eyes on Steve, “Are we doing anything about it?” He asked, urgently, “To help?”
Steve kept his eyes down, directing his words to Chris still, “You said I needed a warning. What for?” He asked, “They’ve killed more than this before."
After everything he’d seen these people capable of, he didn’t think a hanging was what warranted a warning for him nowadays which meant that Chris wasn’t telling him something.
“The warning wasn’t because of death,” Chris said, “It was to stop you from acting to prevent it.”
“Why?” Steve pressed, raising his head now to glare at him. Chris met his gaze easily.
“Because I thought it might be hard to watch.” He said and Steve leant back in his seat, his glower darkening until Chris eventually sighed, “Because one of them is Tony Stark.” He said, honestly now, and it was a testament to the power of his will that Steve’s only reaction was to slightly crease the newspaper in his hands.
“What.” He didn’t ask for him to repeat it, didn’t ask for clarification, he just didn’t know what to say. All he could feel was a trail of ice running down his spine. He’d thought Tony was dead, had known it somehow, but to hear that he wasn’t but was going to die publicly in a few hours anyway was something else entirely, “How - ?”
“I overheard the names in a meeting,” Chris told him. He was an older man of State and had some privileges that the rest of them didn’t; such as attending meetings that could decide life-or-death for many of the people living here. Steve had been a hero once, had had super strength and speed and a team. He’d once been Captain America.
Now he was just Steve Rogers, a normal human and hidden beacon of hope. Sam had had his wings stripped from him, so was no longer the Falcon but other than him, Steve had no idea where the rest of them all were.
Superhumans were forbidden now and anyone who practiced being one was killed as examples to others. If your powers couldn’t be stripped from you, like Steve had had his serum taken from him, then you were killed anyway. Mutants had all but been exterminated in the first few months for something that was out of their control and it made Steve sick to his stomach that he’d been allowed to live when the serum had been his choice.
Extremis had been treated similarly to a superpower so when Steve hadn’t heard from Tony or about him in so long, he’d assumed he’d been killed when they hadn’t been able to remove it. Evidently they had however but it hadn’t saved him anyway.
“They can’t,” He found himself saying, “They can’t hang him.”
“I gave you a warning so you wouldn’t react badly when you saw him out there,” Chris spoke over him, “But there’s nothing you can do, whatever you feel.”
“I’m not going to just stand there and watch a man I love be killed.” Steve told him darkly, “I don’t care what you think you can tell me to feel.”
“Do I need to remind you that you’re only alive because of me?” Chris said, not sounding the least bit angry which just served to make Steve livid in contrast, “The world needs you Steve Rogers. We’ve come too far for you to throw it away for one man.”
Steve scoffed, “You’ve never been in love have you, Commander.”
“Actually I have,” Chris snapped now, “I loved my wife. But now she’s dead. Killed by these – psychopaths and many people will go the same way if you reveal yourself now.”
“Do you not include Tony in this?” Steve asked him in disbelief, “Does he not deserve to see freedom again?”
“You didn’t seem to care about some strangers being killed before I told you your lover was joining them.”
“How dare you.” Sam spoke up now, his voice low and full of venom but Steve shook his head.
“No he’s right, I didn’t,” He admitted, bile in his throat but he forced it down and kept as calm as he could, “I’ve been so focused on the resistance and on ‘keeping face’, that I’ve accepted I can’t save them all. And if you can’t understand why it’s different now that my ‘lover’ is involved, then all due respect, you probably never loved your wife.” He stood at that, refusing to regret his words, but Chris stood with him and blocked his way.
“You will destroy everything we’ve worked for if you help him,” He argued, “People died for this and you’ll throw it all away? The key to surviving this place is to play your part and keep your head down. Clearly Stark didn’t have the brains to do that.”
“If he didn’t keep his head down to grovel like you do to survive,” Steve scoffed, “Then that only makes him braver than you’ll ever know. And I will not watch him die.”
“You aren’t the only one who’s lost someone here.”
“I’m sorry about your wife, Commander,” Steve said coldly, “I am. But all her death means is that your motivation is now revenge. You lost what you’d have fought for so you don’t have any urgency. I have a chance to save Tony. I’m not going to walk away from that.”
He pushed past him then to head to his room, ignoring how the maid scurried out of his way because that was what was expected of him. He wasn’t a woman and he wasn’t a driver. He wasn’t a Commander either though he was almost at that point. That was what Chris wanted for him. That was what he thought would free them. To break the system down from inside.
Steve had to convince the leaders of this new world that he was a changed man and no longer believed in the old ideals. That he respected what they’d done and how they’d done it.
It was one of the hardest things that he’d ever done but Chris was right. They’d all worked too hard for this for him to turn his back on it now. If he saved Tony, he would breach everything, and they’d make the connection that they’d known each other and it would all be over. Tony would be killed despite his efforts and he’d probably be killed as well.
And where did that leave the people counting on him? Those that had risked their lives for him and for the cause?
He slumped against the wall and bowed his head, squeezing his eyes shut out of frustration. He couldn’t save him. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he couldn’t but that was the truth, and after all he’d seen and had had to stand aside for, he couldn’t live with himself these days anyway.
Maybe it was better to let Tony die. Maybe he shouldn’t have to suffer this world with him until it tore him apart. Tony had always been so much more susceptible to pain than he’d ever been.
It was no wonder he was being executed.
Come noon, Steve sat in the stands beside Sam and Chris, staring at the platform and the low and empty nooses that would soon be used. There were eleven for the eleven traitors and he felt numb as he waited to see them.
A woman in front of him struggled to hide her sobs as she sat there; a wife from the look of her blue dress and perfect hairdo. He wondered bitterly over what she could possibly have to cry over but he didn’t bother to think about it too much because the doors then opened and the traitors were brought in.
He tensed in his seat, ignoring how Chris cleared his throat softly to warn him off reacting so much. The traitors had their hands bound together against their stomachs and had the usual brown muzzles clamped over their mouth and jaws. Most of them were handmaids, in their red dresses and white caps, though there were three men as well. The guardians pushed them onto the stands and many of them froze in fear when they saw them.
Obviously they’d not been told what was going to happen to them today.
Tony was the third from the end and he stumbled up the steps with his head down. Steve felt his heart snap and break in his chest when he saw him. There were bruises over his left cheek, marks and scrapes down arms that were barely covered by three-quarter-length sleeves. His eyes were wide and glassy as he drank in the noose that he was shoved toward and the crowd that was watching him.
Steve prayed he wouldn’t see him within the group of spectators.
The rest of the traitors were lined up just as Tony was and they were pushed a few steps more, one at a time, to have the noose slipped over their heads and tightened. Watching it happen was harder than Steve thought it would ever be and he watched as Tony started to shake when the noose was placed around his neck and squeezed.
“I can’t do this.” Steve whispered and Sam nudged him gently.
“You have to.” He whispered back, “If you leave now, they’ll never trust you.”
Never trust him. Did he want these people’s trust?
He put a hand to his head, swallowing down every emotion he had, but as soon as he saw Tony again they rose back up his throat like bile. Tony had his eyes shut and his head tilted up like he was praying but Steve knew him better. This was what Tony did when he’d given up, when he hadn’t any more ideas or plans.
This was what he did when he accepted what was going to happen to him and disassociated himself.
This was Tony when he knew he was going to die.
A Commander stood in front of the platform after a moment, on steps that separated him from ‘filth’ but elevated him in their eyes. He had a book in front of him, covered in a black cover and spine, and he cleared his throat to throw his voice for them to all hear.
“You will love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” He recited from that disgusting parody of a Bible, “And you will obey him and honour him, so that you may be in his mercy. This is the message we teach our children. Our future.” He continued, speaking over the whimpering of the handmaids and men behind him as they awaited their execution.
Steve knew that tactic, knew that the waiting was part of the punishment. He watched the traitors sway on their feet, watched Tony open his eyes to stare up at the ceiling, like he hoped it was the sky instead. He loved the stars, Steve knew. He wished he could show them to him, just one last time.
“But there are those among us that would disgrace the word of God and think that they know better,” The Commander continued, turning only a little to slightly face those on the platform now, “Who think they can ignore the gifts and the Wonder that they have been given and throw it all away!”
The wife in front of Steve sobbed harder now, silently behind her gloved hand, and he looked at each of the traitors to see just who she was mourning.
“These handmaids, these drivers, are all here for one of the very sins we protect our children from,” The Commander said, speaking with a conviction that showed how truly he believed that this was the right way to treat people, “Lust.” He announced and Steve shut his eyes.
“OfSteven,” He then said, pointing at the first handmaid. She had her eyes cast down, her shoulders twitching like a manically controlled marionette. “Threw herself at her Commander behind his wife’s back and demanded his attention.” Some of those watching put their hands to their mouth in disgust.
Steve felt the same, though not for her actions. He knew the truth and felt his blood boil that this poor girl was going to be killed when all she was ‘guilty’ of was being a victim of rape.
“It’s their fault for seducing their rapists,” Chris had once explained to him when he’d lost his temper over hearing the mass execution of rape victims in what had used to be Ohio.
“That’s ridiculous!” Steve had snapped but Chris had just nodded.
“I know,” He’d said, “But that’s what they think. Men are never to blame.”
“Men are always to blame.” Steve had growled and though that wasn’t true, he was undoubtedly sure that it was for these men.
He tried to see if he could spot Commander Steven in the crowd, to see what his reaction to his handmaid being killed for his abuse would be. He eventually spotted him on the front row but couldn’t see his face from where he was sitting. Maybe that was better. He wasn’t sure he could control himself if he saw a smile.
“And Commander Colin’s driver, Stark,” The Commander pointed at Tony now, who had his eyes still cast up, “Was brought back in from the colonies to redeem himself. And how has he repaid us? By being a filthy gender-traitor.”
Oh. Steve stared, his lips pressed so tight together that he felt his teeth through them. He didn’t know what Tony would have been arrested for but somehow, he hadn’t expected this. How had they discovered this about him? Had he sought love or comfort in the wrong person? Was one of these other drivers his lover? But no, they would have mentioned it in Tony’s ‘crime’.
“Handmaids are in our homes to bear children, to bring forth a miracle of God, but Stark thought he knew better and decided his Commander didn’t need him to just drive. He decided that instead of the handmaid, his Commander needed him in his bed too.”
Twin tears slipped out of Tony’s eyes, sliding down into the muzzle, but that was the only reaction he gave.
“Commander Colin,” Chris murmured to Steve then, “Is a gender-traitor himself. His wife knows but other than that, he hides it well.” He told him like it was gossip but Steve really wished he hadn’t said anything at all.
If Colin was gay himself then that only meant one of two things. That Tony and his Commander had had a relationship and had been caught … but that would never have happened considering all that this world stood for. So the second option was that the Commander had forced Tony and for whatever reason, had turned him in afterward.
Maybe Tony had threatened him, maybe Tony had made a fuss. Maybe he’d screamed and someone had heard.
Steve’s hands shook as he stared at the shine of tears on Tony’s cheeks. There was a bruise there that he’d seen when he’d first stepped onto the platform. On his arms as well. Fingerprints. He’d been raped and like Ofsteven, he was going to be killed for it.
Steve knew what Commander Colin looked like. He’d seen him before, had been invited to a birthing ceremony that he’d attended as well. And when he turned in his seat to look down to his right, he saw him sat there with nothing but a cold indifference on his face.
God Steve really wished Chris hadn’t told him anything. He wished he’d stayed at home, pretended to be ill, or even that he hated Tony and didn’t care at all. But he did. And he felt sick with fury.
“Steve?” Sam looked at him and he wondered what was on his face that made him worry but then he didn't wonder anything at all beside the anger in his heart.
He was out of his seat before anyone could react and pushed two wives out of the way. He had Colin’s throat wrapped in his hands the next second and squeezed it tight. More wives screamed and scrambled out of their seats, the handmaids staying stock still in their seats along with the Marthas as they watched him in shock.
Sam was at his side, struggling to pry him off, but Steve was stronger than him even without the serum. He’d been a soldier for a lot longer than he had been and a hero for even longer than that. He knew just where to press to kill a man that deserved it.
He heard guns cock, people yelling, and the sound of the platform creaking, which distracted him long enough to let Sam pull him off. He spun on his feet, finding Tony’s eyes staring at him with overblown pupils and unshed tears. They stared at each other for what felt like an age and the connection was only broken when the trapdoors opened and the traitors fell through.
“No!” He launched himself over the stands, reaching the platform and grabbing Tony’s legs to hold him up and let him breathe. He felt Tony struggle himself, the muzzle constricting him just as the noose did, and his eyes started to slide shut. Sam was there a second later however and with their assigned knives, he cut through the rope and stood back as Tony collapsed into Steve’s arms, “Fuck. I’ve got you. I’ve got you Tony.”
There was the sound of choking from all around him and he jerked his head toward Sam with a strangled order of, “Cut them down.”
He stroked Tony’s hair back from his face, holding him in his arms, and the sound of yelling blurred even closer until they were surrounded by a dozen guardians and their guns. Steve refused to let Tony go, burning his gaze into all of them as he knelt over the ground.
“I fought for your freedom.” He spat, “We fought for your freedom.” Tony was breathing heavily behind his muzzle, his eyes still shut however, and Steve refused to focus on that and panic, “And you lecture us on selfishness.”
His words were ignored as one of the guardians ordered, “At the ready.” Raising his gun until the rest of them followed his lead and aimed. Sam and the other handmaids were grouped together, many of them unconscious as well, in the perfect position for a shooting, but at least this way it would be quick. The two drivers had their bound hands at their throats, glaring down at the guardians before them.
The stands were empty now as the other handmaids, Marthas and wives had been evacuated. The Commanders had been too as far as he could see as none of them were here either, and Steve hated that he hadn’t managed to kill Colin for what he’d done. At least then he could have died in peace.
He stared down the barrel of the nearest gun, putting a hand behind Tony’s head and lifting it to hide him in his shoulder. Maybe he could protect him from some of the shots, maybe he could die saving someone and holding his lover. He pressed his lips to the skin just under Tony’s ear, whispering in it that he loved him and would always love him.
He shut his eyes.
The guardians shot, their bullets splintering the wood of the platform and the ground, and there were the sound of screams from outside as the spectators heard and knew what had happened. The guardians lowered their guns and two of them stepped toward him.
“I grew up watching you fight for us,” One of them said, his voice low and sure, “We could never kill you; not Captain America.” Thrusting a hand out to help him up, he waited until Steve took it and stood. Tony slumped against him and he bent slightly to lift him up, carrying him in his arms.
“They think you’re dead.” Another guardian told them, “But you don’t have much time. We only get around 2 minutes to clean the bodies before Commanders come in to check.”
Ignoring the shock that he was still alive, Steve just nodded and turned toward the doors, “Do you have bags for the bodies?”
Three of the guardians jogged toward the back doors, yanking several body bags out from where they had been piled behind it and laying them over the ground. Sam got to work immediately lifting any unconscious handmaids into a bag and zipping it up. He left gaps in each side for them to breathe and turned to any that were awake. They stared up at him in both shock and fear and he knelt beside the nearest with a smile.
“It’s alright.” He assured her, though Steve was sure he had absolutely no idea what was going on either.
Steve opened a bag when the other handmaids climbed into ones themselves, with the drivers following. He placed Tony inside one himself, gently, zipping it up and lifting it into his arms.
“I’ll need your hat.” He said to one of the guardians, “My hair’s pretty distinctive.”
“There’s a car waiting for you outside,” The guardian answered, “You won’t need it.”
The doors opened again to reveal the sound of a car’s engine and Steve turned toward it. He didn’t have time to see if he could trust these men or not, and right now his biggest concern was Tony, so he ran toward the car and hoped Sam would follow.
Another guardian stepped out of the car, which was more a van now he looked at it, and when Steve saw his face he almost laughed with relief.
“Get in.” Luke ordered, yanking open every door the Van had and stepping aside as the guardians placed the body bags inside. Steve carried Tony around with him, putting him on the back seats and sitting beside him. Sam hopped in the passenger's just as Luke got back inside as well, “Buckle up.”
They drove for over an hour, the car flying over speed bumps and hurtling around the corners, but with the black of a guardian’s car they were able to get away with it. Handmaids stopped in their walks, pairs of them watching them race by, and Steve put a protective hand over Tony’s bag to keep him on the seat in case he was seen through the window.
He realised a moment later that the glass was tinted but it was better to be careful anyway.
They passed the Commander houses and drove through the woods after a while, the wheels crunching over fallen branches and stones.
“Where are we going?” Steve asked when they veered off of the road and drove straight through the trees.
“Safehouse,” Luke told him, his face lined as he concentrated on steering and avoiding a crash. Another hour of driving later and they stopped in the middle of the woods, with no clearing or landmark anywhere. Luke jumped out, running through the undergrowth until he found a string of rope and pulled. A trapdoor opened with it and he turned back toward them, gesturing that they hurry.
Steve climbed out of the car, opening the back doors and lifting the first bag that he could see. Between Sam and him, they carried them down the stairs beneath the trapdoor and into a dark and cramped hold. He carried Tony in last and Luke got back in the car once it was empty.
“I’ll be back at night.” He told them, “Stay here.”
“Wait.” Steve stepped toward him, hitching Tony’s bag up a little higher to stop him from slipping. Luke paused, looking back at him, “It’s good to see you Luke.” He said and Luke grinned.
“Good to see you too Cap,” He said, opening the car-door and getting in, “Now stay here. I’ll see you later.”
The trapdoor clicked shut once Steve was inside and Sam had found candles in the time he’d been overground. The handmaids were out of their bags and huddled together, two of them red in the face with lines on their throats from the noose. One lifted her head up to look at him, watching as he lay Tony down and opened the bag.
Tony was still unconscious, and that was worrying.
“What’s going to happen to us?” The handmaid watching him spoke and Steve glanced away from Tony for just a moment, “Gilead is everywhere.”
“Gilead is not everywhere.” Another handmaid argued, “I heard parts of America were still free. And there’s Canada – “
“Is anyone badly hurt?” Steve interrupted her, feeling cruel for doing so but needing to know before it could be too late for any of them.
“Ofhugh is still out cold.” The first handmaid told him, “She was the last to be cut down.” Steve stood to follow her gaze and knelt beside the only handmaid that was still in a bag, “But she’s breathing.”
He checked her pulse and found it steady, feeling around her throat for anything protruding or swollen. Medically, he wasn’t the best to ask, but from what he could tell with his own expertise he felt like she may have just fainted from fear. He hoped the same could be said for Tony but he knew people reacted to strangulation differently.
The rope could have hit just the right spot to force Tony to stop breathing entirely but could have slipped on the others. Usually that would mean Tony would have died much quicker than the handmaids had the execution gone through but now it only meant that Tony could have a deeper injury that he wouldn’t be able to help him with without resources.
“Here,” One of the drivers stood behind him, his jacket peeled off and in his hands, “Keep her warm.” Steve took it and placed it around her chest and arms, tucking it in between the bag’s edges, “I found some guns.” He said when Steve stood again, looking both nervous and angry all at once.
“You know how to shoot?” Sam asked him and the driver shook his head.
“I do.” The other one told them, “I can shoot.” Sam lifted the guns that they'd found and took one for himself, giving the other to the second driver, “I’m Caleb.” He introduced himself afterward and that started a chorus of other names being announced.
“I’m Savannah.” A handmaid near the front spoke last, “I was in Commander Colin’s house.” Steve turned to her at that and she gave him a bitter look, “I wanted to kill him. And it was only every month for me.”
He didn’t ask her what that meant but his expression must have shown his understanding because she decided to tell him more. As though she’d kept this all in for long enough and it was time to let it pour out.
“He’s a gender-traitor. Commander Colin I mean, he’s – gay, or whatever.” She said and Steve wanted to tell her stop and I know but he let her speak instead, “He hated the ceremony because I was a woman. Tony was ‘convenient’ for him. He knew he’d never tell anyone and his wife kept it all hidden so she could have her happy, happy home.” She scoffed softly and everyone around her listened like they couldn’t stop, “Tony’d been in the colonies before but a handmaid stole a car and killed a few drivers. They needed more so they took any that could still concentrate.”
“He’s lucky he didn’t end up on the Wall before.” This girl had introduced herself as Gwen and she had a hardened voice with an even harder personality. This whole ordeal had made her cold.
“Yeah, lucky.” Another handmaid said; her name was Rona? He wasn’t sure. “That’s us.”
Savannah stood and went to kneel beside Tony, putting a hand over his chest, “He was always nice to me.” She said, to no one in particular, and then she bent to press a kiss to his forehead.
“Why were you being hung?” Steve asked her and she paused for a moment.
“The Commander saw me on the stairs when Tony left his office a few nights ago.” She whispered, “He knew that I knew what he was doing and thought I might say something. I don’t know why. I guess he panicked.”
“And he turned Tony in for being a gender-traitor, but you?”
“Obviously I conspired to help Tony seduce the Commander,” She said sarcasticly, her mouth twisted to show her bitterness. Steve nodded. Of course. Made sense.
The handmaid that had been announced as Ofsteven rose to lift a candle nearer, the flame flickering and showing the emptiness in her eyes. She’d given her real name as Lana but other than that, had been silent in the corner. It took a moment for Steve to realise she’d been crying.
Night came quickly and Luke opened the trapdoor after a short knock to warn them he was here. They each climbed out and Steve carried Tony up as carefully as he could. There was a different van this time and they filled it pretty quickly, staying quiet as Luke started it up and drove them away.
They drove right on until morning this time and Steve felt himself begin to doze off when he glanced down and saw brown eyes staring up at him. He almost bit his tongue in surprise, sitting up and hoping Tony would do the same. He didn’t.
“I didn’t know you were awake.” He whispered, aware that many of the others in the car were asleep and needed rest, “How long have you been?”
“A while.” Tony whispered back, his voice cracked and hollow. “How did – I thought you were – “ His voice hitched and he turned his face away, “Dammit.”
“I thought you were dead too.” Steve told him, his own throat tight with emotion.
“They had your uniform,” Tony continued, “In a glass box. Like an artefact.”
“I’m surprised they didn’t burn it,” Steve joked wryly and Tony shook.
“Don’t.” He said sharply, “I had to look at that. At a pile of scales I’d made, covered in all sorts of blood and muck, and watch as they congratulated each other on their fucking victory.” He lowered his voice when he noticed how loud he was getting and Steve didn’t manage an answer because the car stopped then and he had to focus on that instead.
“Out. Quickly.” Luke told them, jumping out of the car and gesturing they all went toward a large house in the distance, “It’s safe, trust me. Go.”
The handmaids and drivers did as they were told and ran over gravel and the first inklings of snow that must have fallen through the night. They reached a huge door and stood with some uncertainty over whether they should knock or not. Sam stayed with Luke as he drove the car a little further out before a garage door opened on automatic and swallowed them in.
Tony staggered on his feet with the rest of them, walking slowly toward the door with Steve at his side and keeping his head down with a meekness that was bizarre on him.
Once they both reached the door as well, Steve knocked and waited, trying to look like he knew who or what they were expecting on the other side. He did not expect to see Mary Jane, of all people, however.
She had a band-aid over her right ear and was in clothes far too large for her frame, but she was fast on her feet when she saw them standing out there, “Inside.” She hissed, moving aside to let them in.
Once inside, she waited for Luke and Sam to catch up before shutting and bolting the door with several locks.
It was another few hours when Steve finally got some explanations.
In that time, he’d showered, gotten out of dirty and sweaty clothes and into what had looked like guardian clothing instead. He joined Luke and MJ around a table downstairs, with Tony already there, and the handmaids and drivers elsewhere; likely resting or eating. He wondered where Sam was and assumed he was with them as their protector if he wasn’t here.
Tony was in a guardian uniform as well, his eyes cast down as he fiddled with a pencil in his hand. Sitting with them, Steve learned that Luke had heard they were going to kill Tony and MJ had begged he do something. He’d made some contacts with guardians and Marthas and if Steve hadn’t interfered Tony would have gotten out alive anyway considering the plan they’d had to save him. As it were, Luke was glad he had meddled. He hadn’t known he was alive too until he’d seen him tackle Colin and strangle him and they needed him.
People always needed him, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to do here.
He also learnt things he’d rather he didn’t have to learn. He leant that Jess was a handmaid. Dani had been taken from them and Luke had no idea where she was. They’d tried to kill him but he’d gotten out and had hidden away, staying in Gilead to look for his wife and daughter.
Peter was dead and MJ was a rescued handmaid. The band-aid was for the clip they’d inserted into her ear; she’d pried it out with clippers. Pepper was also dead. Clint, Natasha, Logan, Strange, Reed, Ben and Danny were confirmed dead as well. Sue was confirmed a handmaid, as was Janet, and Carol was MIA.
They didn’t have news about anyone else but it was so much more than what Steve had heard in a long time. Tony kept his head down while they spoke, reacting to each death with a barely noticeable flinch, but when Luke mentioned the Fantasti-kids and how they’d not heard about them since Reed’s death and Sue’s kidnapping, he stood and walked out of the room.
Steve found him in one of the bedrooms later. The ‘safehouse’ was originally built for the X-men and he recognised it from pictures Logan had shown him once for just-in-case scenarios. Gilead’s war must have missed tearing it down like the others when they’d eradicated mutants.
Tony was sitting on the edge of a bed when he saw him, staring at the floor.
“I want to leave.” He said, when Steve stepped inside, “I can’t be here.”
“We can’t leave yet.” Steve reminded him, “We have the advantage that we’re ‘dead’ at the moment, we can’t ruin that.”
“This place stinks of death, Steve,” Tony whispered, lifting his head up to look at him. His eyes were wavering, unshed tears giving the impression of a shine in them, “I saw blood in some of the rooms. Toys. Math books. They killed kids here Steve, how the hell are we expected to sleep here.”
He didn’t have an answer to that. Instead, he crossed the room and sat beside him on the bed, “Savannah told me what happened to you.” He said, changing the subject from one awful thing to another.
“Savannah?” Tony asked, blinking at him, and Steve realised he probably never had the chance to hear her real name.
“Ofryan.” He said, remembering Commander Colin’s Christian name and assuming Savannah’s given name with it. Tony’s expression cleared at his guess so he must have been right.
“What happened to me.” He repeated, “What happened to me is what happens to so many women out there, only at least I was able to drive. I could drive, I could write and read and be out at night if I wanted. I had my own house beside their garden, I had some freedoms.” He shrugged, “It was nothing compared to their nightmare.”
“It was still rape.” Steve said softly and Tony jerked his head to one side, “Savannah said it happened more than her ceremony would?”
“Don’t.” Tony said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Are you okay?” Steve asked, pressing his side against Tony’s.
“No. I’m really not.” Instead of pressing back, Tony shifted until he could face him, and then his arms were full of him and they were hugging, “I thought you were dead Steve. God, I – saw your uniform. They knew I’d known you, they knew and they – fuck.” He sniffed, “Feels good to swear.”
Steve laughed into his shoulder, short and barely there, but it was more than he’d had in a long while. He held Tony as though his life depended on it, feeling much like he had when he’d seen him hang, “I couldn’t stand by and watch you die.”
“You could have been killed.” Tony said, “If those guardians hadn’t been on our side, you – ”
“I wasn’t going to let you die.” Steve paraphrased himself, “I’m just sorry I didn’t get to kill Colin before we left.”
Tony slid out of his arms, leaning in to kiss him. Steve kissed him back, gently, slowly, putting a hand behind his head and holding him close. They kissed again and again and time seemed to fly by as they remembered what it was like to be together. Steve felt everything that he’d shut down these last two years flood out of him in waves, and he felt his hands shake as they ran over the skin under Tony’s shirt.
“I love you,” Tony murmured against his lips, “I missed you.” They lay over the bed, clinging to each other, and Steve wrapped his arms around Tony’s body in a hold he hadn’t had since he’d lost him, “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too.”
Steve woke hours later into darkness and when he sat up, he felt Tony roll beside him and moan in his sleep. He stood to switch on the lights but when nothing happened, went downstairs to find Luke. MJ was there instead however, hugging a blanket to her chest as she sat on a sofa and stared at a blank television.
“Oh!” She jumped when she saw him, “You scared me.”
“Sorry.” He whispered, stepping into the room and squinting through the black, “Is there electricity?”
“We don’t use it,” MJ said, “Lights can show for miles in the dark. There’s no generator and we switched the mains off.”
“Where’s Luke?” He asked as he joined her on the sofa.
“Sam?” He asked then, “He wasn’t at the table before.”
“I knew Sarah. His sister.” MJ said, bluntly, “She was a handmaid in the same district as me. I told him she was alive and he said he needed time.”
Dammit. Steve hadn’t even thought to see if any of Sam’s relatives were alive or prisoner. He should check on him in the morning.
“You doing okay?” He asked MJ after a moment, pushing aside the voice in his head that told him that she was very likely not going to be doing okay.
“I’m fine. I just can’t sleep.” She murmured, the blanket in her arms slipping to reveal a red-and-black pattern that made his heart ache. She caught him looking and smiled, “One of the kids must have liked Spiderman.” She explained, “They had his colours as a blanket and pillow-case.” Her voice warbled by the end of her sentence and she pressed a hand to her mouth to hide it.
“I’m so sorry MJ,” He pulled her into a hug and she pressed her face into the blanket and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. He wondered how long she’d needed this.
Gilead had many ideals and many laws but to have separated two people in love so permanently and then force the survivor to have children via rape was something so twisted and sick that he felt that none of the truly ‘faithful’ deserved to live.
Something dark rot in his stomach as his thoughts turned to all the friends and teammates that were now dead. He thought to all the children and mutants and innocents that had been slaughtered, to the women abused, to MJ sitting alone in the dark with glassy eyes, and to the acceptance of death that Tony had had after being repeatedly raped by a man that had had power over him.
He thought to life before Gilead and to love and happiness. He thought to Tony in his lab and how he may never see his eyes light up during a breakthrough again.
He held MJ until she slept in his arms, exhausted from crying and slumped against him. The darkness in his stomach spread when he saw the hole in her ear and he lay her gently on the sofa and stood to hunt for a pen and paper.
He left a note for Tony, feeling selfish and awful for saying goodbye this way, but he was tired of standing aside. Serum or not, he was Captain America.
And Gilead hadn’t seen the last of him yet.