“Why do people on the internet keep using ‘JFK’ as an expletive? What’s so expletive-worthy about the 35th President?”
“What? Let me see.”
“Steve… that says ‘jfc’. It stands for Jesus Fucking Christ. Not JFK.”
“Oh. I think I liked it better when I thought they were swearing by a dead president.”
“Well, if you want to swear by a dead president, more power to you, Steve.”
The first time Natasha heard it, she almost thought she’d imagined it. She’d been helping Steve move into his new apartment in DC, and he’d dropped a box on his foot. She’d heard a loud crash and then -
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy!”
Wait, what? It took a moment for her to process that, and then another to recall why Steve might be saying it. Then she started to laugh. She began to laugh and laugh and laugh. She couldn’t stop. It was so bizarre, but so very Steve at the same time.
“Natasha!” Steve whined. “Why are you making fun of me?”
Well, Natasha decided, right then and there, she couldn’t let Steve have all the fun. What kind of friend would she be then? So she replied in kind.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Steve, it’s not like you said something that most people don’t or anything.”
She had a big, shit-eating grin on her face, and she watched as a matching one bloomed across Steve’s.
He replied, “Since when have I ever been most people?” and then they both broke into laughter once more.
That was the day that Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff officially became best friends, no matter what everyone else said.
SHIELD didn’t understand Steve Rogers. Oh sure, they understood Captain America, but to them, Captain America was Steve Rogers. And while Steve Rogers was Captain America, the same was not true in reverse. Captain America was a character, a show Steve put on. Captain America was a good little soldier. Captain America believed in his government to always do the right thing.
Steve Rogers would always do the right thing, even if it meant going against the government. Steve Rogers was a lonely man in a strange place. And Natasha Romanov was his best friend.
Natasha brought him books that touched on the darker side of the last seven decades. She brought him Red Moon Rising and 33 Revolutions per Minute and A People’s History of the United States.
Natasha brought him fiction so that he could understand the pop culture references people were always making around him. She brought him Star Wars and Harry Potter and Doctor Who.
But more than anything else, Natasha brought herself, as a friend and as someone Steve could talk to as himself. Together, they talked about a lot of things. They both liked Princess Leia and the vast social and technological advances of the past seven decades. They couldn’t quite agree on the particulars of Operation Paperclip. (Natasha claimed it was at heart a good idea, but it had been poorly executed. Steve said it was blanketly terrible.) They both hated Reactionary Republicans (Steve said they sounded like Nazis, and Natasha agreed), JKR’s failure to understand her own writing, and Steven Moffat as a showrunner (“He did make for a decent writer, but it’s like the power’s gone to his head!” “I know! It’s so confusing. I keep on watching, or rather Clint does and I am also there, but it’s gotten so convoluted. River Song in particular makes no sense!”).
Steve had so many walls around himself, and for a long while Natasha was the only one who saw past them and really got to know Steve himself. But he was still so lonely, Natasha knew that had to change.
So she began trying to set him up with people.
One, two, three, four, five failed dates. Steve tried and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed. But they all expected someone who was a little more Captain America. They all wanted someone a little more Captain America. They didn’t want Steve Rogers.
No-one ever wanted Steve Rogers, it seemed.
Natasha went to Peggy once, asked her about Steve. Asked how to make him happy. Peggy had looked at her and laughed.
“If you’re asking me that dearie, you don’t know him quite as well as you think you do.”
Steve had trouble talking to Tony. It’s why he turned down the idea of living in the newly rebranded “Avengers Tower”. But it wasn’t because he didn’t like Tony or thought he wasn’t a good man or whatever other reason Tony’s self-conscious brain came up with. It was because of who his father was.
How did anyone go about talking to their ex’s children?
Natasha was ashamed to say that it took her seeing Steve flirt with a man to figure out that he was bisexual.
Soon after, she began to understand why Peggy had laughed at her.
Natasha sat down with Steve one afternoon and asked about Howard Stark.
Steve told her the tragic love story that no history book held.
He told her of a distant infatuation becoming more when he met Howard in person. He told her of a misunderstanding and jealousy that was misinterpreted, aimed at the wrong person. He told her about Bucky, about how he noticed them both. He told her about Bucky setting them both up, getting them together. He told her about Peggy and Bucky working to keep anyone from finding out.
He told her that discovering that not only was Howard gone, but that he hadn’t told even his son about what they once meant to each-other, was the worst part of waking up in the twenty-first century.
Well, no. The worst part was that no-one would understand why if he let himself cry.
“I would,” she said.
And she did.
Days passed, weeks passed, months passed. Steve still was quite alone.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Steve, you have to get out there sometime!” Natasha would gripe.
“No I don’t,” Steve would always reply. “No I don’t.”
One day, Steve met a man while running. His name was Sam Wilson, and he treated Steve like a person, not a symbol. Steve immediately knew he liked him. He was very kind, even when Steve taunted him with “On your left.”
Natasha felt bad for interrupting them, but there was a job that had to be done. The evil-doers of the world didn’t really wait for the heros to finish flirting before being terrible.
That didn’t stop Steve from complaining, even if he didn’t really mean it.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Natasha, couldn’t you have given me just five more minutes?”
“No, but I’m glad to see that you’re finally getting back out in the world.”
“Yeah, yeah, you would be.”
He rolled his eyes, and she rolled her eyes, and they were off to save the day again.
Steve and Sam grew closer and closer every day. It was only a couple of months after they met that they began dating. They were so sweet together, even if they weren’t physically together most of the time. That would be too easy.
SHIELD didn’t know Steve had a boyfriend, and likely didn’t care to know. Steve had seen how little acknowledgement Natasha and Clint’s relationship had gotten. Besides, SHIELD still thought Steve was completely heterosexual. Knowing about Sam would probably make their little heads explode.
Natasha just nodded when Steve complained to her. She was all too familiar with exactly what he was saying.
Clint didn’t know Steve at all. The first time they had met after the Battle of New York, Clint had made a quip about Steve being a Republican that had left Steve so offended that he had simply walked out of the room.
Steve didn’t talk to Clint anymore.
SHIELD did not care that Steve did not speak to Clint anymore, they assigned them to go on a mission together. Without Natasha.
It didn’t go well.
At the end of it, Clint came over and tried to apologize for “whatever I’ve done wrong”, but if there was one thing Steve was good at, it was holding grudges. And if SHIELD wouldn’t allow him to be himself in any other way, then by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, he was going to have this.
Steve and Sam had been dating for a while, but Steve was never able to properly stay over at Sam’s. SHIELD seemed to always invent an emergency right when he had decided to take some time for himself. It became a bit of a running joke between the two of them. Anytime Steve appeared at Sam’s door:
“Are you going to stay for breakfast this time?”
Steve wasn’t sure Clint ever figured out why Steve didn’t like him. That was fine, really. So long as he didn’t ask for forgiveness.
It was about two years since Steve had woken up in the twenty-first century. It was about twenty-two months since Steve had moved to Washington D.C. to get away from the ghosts of Bucky and Howard lurking around the city he still called home in his head. It was about eighteen months since Steve met Sam.
That’s when Steve’s whole damn world exploded. Again.
Fury seemed to think that Project Insight was rotten too, but he was in charge, so he couldn’t say that.
Steve saw Fury playing with a small device as he walked away.
Fury was shot in Steve’s apartment by a man with a metal arm. The man caught Steve’s shield. No-one caught Steve’s shield.
When Steve went back downstairs, Fury kept moaning, “Who’ll tell Carol? Who’ll tell Carol?” as he bled out all over Steve’s chair. Fantastic.
Also, who in the name of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was Carol?
SHIELD was rotten from the inside. Full of HYDRA agents. Because of Operation Paperclip.
Steve took a moment to tell Natasha “I told you so.”
When they’re in New Jersey, the Zola-computer reveals that HYDRA had Howard killed. Steve screams and punches the monitor. When he saves himself and Natasha from a missile attack, there are tears running down his face. Natasha doesn’t need them explained.
On the run from everyone, Steve and Natasha end up at the home of the one person (other than Natasha, and Tony (who he still can’t talk to properly)) that he still really trusts.
“Are you going to stay for breakfast this time?”
“Normally I’d take you up on that, but John Fitzgerald Kennedy Sam, I’m a little bit on the run from the Nazi terrorist organization I thought I gave my life to stop right now, can we take a raincheck?”
“...John Fitzgerald Kennedy? Again? Are you ever going to explain that?”
Natasha very nearly gives them away laughing.
Despite the fact that they are a bit busy getting ready to fight Nazis, when Sam says he’s going to join them in the fighting, Steve takes the time to explain why he swears by John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Steve is very tempted to just let Sitwell go splat after Natasha kicks him off the roof.
He doesn’t really feel anything for Sitwell when he gets thrown into oncoming traffic.
Really, the man with the metal arm in just that much more interesting. And terrifying.
The man with the metal arm is Bucky.
What did they do to him?
What did they do to Bucky?
What did they do to Steve’s brother?
Before, Steve had thought that Bucky was dead, lost to him forever.
This… This is almost worse.
Fury is still alive, but Steve feels numb. Maria Hill is here to help, but Steve feels numb. Sharon is here, and apparently Peggy’s niece, but Steve feels numb. They need to go and save the world, but Steve feels numb.
Natasha and Sam pull him away, out to a nearby overpass, and he cries.
They rob a museum in what could what could possibly be classified as a desperate bid to jog Bucky’s memory. Or maybe it’s Steve trying to reclaim something that used to be his. Either way, he has Natasha and Sam beside him, and that’s better than being alone.
He hates being alone. He hopes that’s over soon.
When the floor of the helicarrier gives out, Steve falls. Down, down, down into the Potomac. Into a river.
Just like Bucky did, sixty-nine years ago.
Steve wonders what will happen when he hit the water. Clearly rivers are unpredictable.
But if what he said to Bucky got through, if he remembers, if he gets free - consequences up to death might well be worth it.
He hits the water, and it is coldburingoily.
He wakes up in the hospital, with Sam sitting beside his bed. Music is playing.
“On your left.”
Steve knows that looking for Bucky likely wouldn’t work, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. Sam gets it, and helps him. Natasha gets it, and helps him.
Without any sort of other place to live, Steve moves into Avengers Tower. He hates it.
Not because of the building, mind, but because the living space is so empty. Sterile. Lonely. No matter what he does, it doesn’t fill the space. And he can’t leave his rooms without risking a run-in with the building’s owner - with Tony.
Needless to say, he still cannot figure out how to talk to Howard’s son.
The result is simple - he takes on more missions, anything that pops up and some things that don’t, real problems and fruitless searches for Bucky, anything that gets him out of the tower. Anything at all.
Ultron is a shit-show and a half, and that’s all Steve is willing to say on the subject.
Wanda Maximov is a wonderful young lady, and Steve likes spending time with her. They become friends rather quickly, and her mental abilities allow her to empathize with him in a way even Natasha really can’t.
“You are still so sad, yet you know you are happier here than you would have been had you not frozen over - and so few people get that,” she vocalizes the things he doesn’t dare to say.
“Well, I have you, and Sam, and Natasha,” he replies every time, and she just smiles at him sadly.
If only she would stop hanging out with Vision. That guy gives him the creeps.
Vision gave Steve the creeps. He never blinked, he never knocked, and he always talked down to people. If only Wanda and Tony didn’t like him so much, Steve could ignore him completely or start a campaign to get rid of him.
He begins to slowly mend fences with Clint after discovering that the archer distrusts the Vision just as much if not more so than Steve himself. That and Natasha was beginning to give Steve snark about not putting up with her boyfriend because of a years-old grudge. Only three years, but it was still beginning to get on her nerves.
The United Nations wanted to regulate superhero activity, and there were so many problems with that.
Firstly, the World Security Council tried to nuke New York City during the Battle of New York, so they clearly don’t have the best judgement, even though most of them had not been found to be HYDRA agents. They were also mostly dead now, but that was not relevant at the moment.
Secondly, they really wanted him to put his trust in another organization after the last one he had worked for had turned out to be full of Nazi-cultists? Maybe he had trust issues, or maybe he was simply being practical, but he sure as John Fitzgerald Kennedy was not about to give the reins to another group of people he didn’t personally know.
Thirdly, the United Nations was slow. If they had to wait until the UN said it was OK to intervene, thousands upon thousands more would die with each mission. What they were asking was impractical.
But that was fine. Really, Steve just wouldn’t sign the Accords. He’d retire, keep trying to find Bucky while living off his back pay, and go on dating Sam while nobody noticed.
In all seriousness, none of his male teammates had noticed that the two of them were dating. It was rather disturbing, considering that apparently there were teenage girls on the internet who realized it, at least according to Sam.
Regardless, Steve was all set to engage in some civil disobedience - but then things went from mildly unpleasant to extremely catastrophic in one fell swoop.
They were accusing Bucky of terrorism.
They were accusing Bucky of terrorism.
They were accusing Bucky of terrorism.
They were accusing Bucky of terrorism.
Well, that shit just can’t stand.
For all that Steve’s gone out on mission after mission, looking for Bucky, he’s never actually taken the final step and actually contacted Bucky, because it’s important that Bucky is the one to choose to contact him. Steve knows exactly where Bucky is, and that’s exactly where he’s going.
After a number of horrible occurrences, the whole team has split in half. Natasha is on the other team at first, but comes over when she realizes that the Accords side is made up of people who don’t really believe it, and Vision.
And Vision had just tried to kill Sam, missed, and injured Colonel Rhodes what seemed to be pretty badly, that might have also been a factor.
But the worst part of Steve’s day was still yet to come.
It’s just Steve and Bucky and Tony, walking through a Siberian bunker. The other Winter Soldiers are already dead, and they are just wondering why when they hear a voice.
The voice introduces himself as Baron von Zemo, which is a stupid name, and then they could practically hear him smiling as he says that his plan was to tear the Avengers apart from the inside. He says he has a video that will finish the job.
The video begins to play, the tape is labeled December 16th, 1991.
Tony says he recognizes the road, the car.
The car crashes, and someone who is unmistakably Howard climbs out and Steve screams.
At first it’s just noise, but as the video keeps playing, as it gets blurred with tears, it becomes words.
“Howard, Howard, Howard, my Howard, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I abandoned you, I left you, Howard…”
Somewhere else in the room, Bucky folds to the floor with muttered utterances that are half apologies and half self-deprecating remarks.
Somewhere else in the room, the video finishes, and Tony turns to Steve to demand to know if he knew, and he stops. He hears Steve say “My Howard” and “I love you, I’m sorry,” and suddenly so many things about his childhood make sense. Suddenly it doesn’t matter if Steve knew or not.
Zemo tried to break the Avengers apart, but instead he brought them together. This Zemo failed, and the next day Tony makes a scathing statement against the Sokovia Accords.
Not all Avengers teams are so lucky, but this one - this one came back stronger.
It takes Tony a while to adjust. He can’t quite wrap his head around the fact that one of the people he lives with is his father’s ex. Honestly, wrapping his head around Bucky’s past brainwashing and subsequet murder of his parents is easier.
That’s not saying it was easy, but he managed.
After all but one Avenger comes out saying they either will not sign the Accords, or that their signing of the Accords was a mistake, the public asks questions, asking if they can trust these powerful men and women.
The Avengers reply: “We can’t answer that question for you, but we can say this: given our past experiences, we cannot trust the governments of the world. They have tried to nuke cities. They have agreed with the HYDRA among them. They cannot be trusted.”
The message hits hardest when Steve says it, because he is Captain America.
Tony brings home the Spider-kid from Queens. His name is Peter, and he’s the only one of them with a secret identity. The whole team dotes on him, but it’s clear that Tony has practically adopted the kid.
Watching Tony with Peter, Steve wonders what it would be like if he had a kid. He almost talks to Sam, but doesn’t. It’s not that Sam would say no. It’s that Steve was reading a book one day and realized that the likelihood of a normal kid growing up surrounded by superheroes developing an inferiority complex was high, and he wasn’t going to do that to a child.
But he doesn’t stop wondering about it.
T’Challa seems highly embarrassed by trying to kill Bucky, and tries increasingly ludacris things to make up for it, most of which are quickly brushed off. Or at least they were, until Bucky met T’Challa’s sister Shuri, and began agreeing to things that would have him spending time with the Princess.
Steve isn’t at all surprised to hear it when Bucky tells him that he and Shuri are now dating. He just wishes them luck, especially since the physical distance between them was so much.
“JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY!”
“Uh, Steve?” The voice of a confused Tony made Steve look up from the news article he had been reading. “What did you just say?”
“Not important,” Steve waived off the confused man. “Just a bit irritated by these lunatics using me as a symbol for things I don’t believe in.” His smile his strained, but Tony doesn’t say anything more.
That was the start of it all, really.
Of course, Steve explained the whole thing to Bucky. The man was practically his brother. And because Bucky was a gentleman (and because he thought it was funny), he told Shuri about it.
So when the rest of the team gets curious, the people who are in on it are: Steve, Natasha, Sam, Wanda, Bucky, and Shuri. Somehow, that only makes the rest of the team that much more amusing to wind up.
When Clint introduces Bucky to Mario Kart (Natasha says that’s how he bonds with people. Except her, because he bonds by lording victory over people, and she always wins), it goes about how you’d expect.
Bucky has excellent reflexes and a drive to succeed at something positive for once, so he doesn’t follow Steve’s example and not care about the game (something which infuriates Clint, also known as exactly why Steve did it), instead, he tries to win.
Things are going according to plan (according to both men), until right before the third lap starts. Now, Clint being Clint had picked a difficult course to begin - Maple Treeway. He planned to follow it with similarly difficult courses like Rainbow Road and Wario’s Gold Mine. He hadn’t counted on Bucky being able to stay on, but near the end of the second lap, managed to hit him with a red shell that also knocked him off the track.
Clint fully expected an expletive. Something like “Fuck!” or “Shit!” or “God Damn You!” He did not expect Bucky to open his mouth and yell “JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY!” Generally speaking, most people don’t do that. It was enough to make Clint stop and stare.
And subsequently run into a wall. And off the track.
As the only one who had had a decent, modern childhood (at least until her parents died), Wanda (who had been watching, as she had a knack for always being around when interesting things happened) had giggled and said, “Woo! I’m off the tracks!” every time Clint fell, which made him all the more distracted and all the more likely to fall.
Also, no-one really understood why she was saying it until she explained after the race was over (Bucky won).
“I had a toy train as a child,” she said, “When it went off its track, it said, ‘Woo! I’m off the tracks!’”
She clearly thought it was immensely funny, but no-one else really got it, not even the rest of the JFK crew. However, it did distract Clint from what originally distracted him, so when he did ask Bucky “what you said yesterday,” Bucky could be deliberately obtuse without letting on even of hint of that as his goal.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Steve, you can’t just say something like that!”
“But I just did.”
“I AM STILL TRAUMATIZED OVER HERE.” Tony interjected.
“See, Steve,” Natasha turned to gesture at Tony, “You can’t just say things like that!”
“He’s the one who asked about my relationship with Howard!”
“I DID NOT WANT TO KNOW ABOUT MY DAD’S -”
“Fine, fine, sorry Tony, I won’t do it again.”
“Good job Steve.”
“When Nat’s home.”
In the background, Tony began to cry.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who ate the Potato Skins? Those were mine!”
“Uh, Sam? What did you just say?”
“I said the Potato Skins were mine! They were hard to find, too…”
“No, I meant -”
“When I find the one who took them, I’ll make them pay.”
“Bucky. Are you… reading out the Social Security Administration’s data on baby names from the 1880s?”
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, why?”
“Because it’s interesting and I can, Steve, now go away and let me finish.”
“The 190th most popular name for males in the 1880s was Timothy. The 190th most popular name for females in the 1880s was Winnie. The 189th most popular -”
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, I’m going, I’m going!”
“WHAT THE HELL?!”
“Ugh, Tony, come on…”
“How… how long has this been going on?”
“Since… before SHIELD fell?”
“That long? And I never noticed?”
“Are we just going to ignore the fact that you barged into our bathroom? John Fitzgerald Kennedy, what did you expect, Stark?”
“I’m just… I’m going to go try not to think about this.”
“You do that, Tony.”
One day, Tony asks Steve if he can invite Peter to join the Avengers.
“Tony, I thought Peter already was an Avenger,” was the only reply Steve gave.
Later, however, Tony flops down next to Steve and says, “Promise to keep this a secret?”
“Depends. What is it?”
“Kid turned us down. Said he’d rather continue to work on a local level. I’d already called in the reporters, so I proposed to Pepper instead.”
“I was gonna propose anyway! Somewhere more romantic than a press conference. Dammit. I’m lucky she said yes.”
“In more ways than one.”
“Well, at least I learned my lesson for next time. Don’t call a press conference until you know the answer.”
“That sounds like good advice, Tony.”
Suddenly, Tony sat up straight and pointed an accusing finger at Steve. “Hey, wait a minute!”
“Hmm?” Steve looked mildly confused.
“I’m… I’m… what, Tony?”
“You’re acting like a dad! To me! You’re acting like a dad to me!”
“Tony… you’re the one who came to me.”
Tony stared at the older/younger man for a minute or two. Then he let out a huff. “That doesn’t mean I was wrong.”
“Psst. Um. Captain America, sir?”
“Peter, isn’t it? You can just call me Steve, you know.”
“Uh, okay. But, um, I have a question?”
“Why did you make those PSAs they show at school?”
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, are they actually showing those?!”
“I guess… because you’re in them?”
“So… why did you make them?”
“Because I’d been out of the ice for about four months, had no friends, and it was something to do?”
“That’s… depressing, Mr. Captain America, sir.”
“Firstly, I told you, please, just call me Steve. Secondly, you asked.”
Tony teases Steve, at first, when he finds out about the PSAs. Steve tries so hard not to react. Tony doesn’t know why they were made, doesn’t know how much they hurt - they are both horrendously bad quality and a reminder of how bleak everything had seemed at first - Tony doesn’t need anymore hurt from anymore people in his life; there are so many reasons Steve shouldn’t react to the teasing.
But even the sturdiest walls still weather.
Eventually, Steve snaps. It had just been a light quip on Tony’s part, but as they say, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“Yeah, yeah, we could all be secretly compromised by head lice, right Steve?”
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, would you shut up about those? I don’t need any more reminders of how miserable I was! Just stop!”
The moment the words finished leaving his mouth, Steve regretted them. They were too harsh, and Tony’s face - Tony looked struck. And Steve had been the one to make him feel that way.
“I - I’m sorry, I -” Steve began to stutter, backing away. “I-I’ll just go,” he darted out of the room.
Tony didn’t deserve that. Steve knew that. Tony deserved better, and so Steve would go, and write an apology for his behavior, and fight crime on his own. Tony deserved better. He didn’t need Steve dragging him down.
Tony refused to let Steve leave. He refused to let Steve apologize either.
The team never actually got an explanation for why Steve and Co. were swearing by a dead president, but after about a year or so, some of them began to also do it, quite unconsciously. The first one to do so was, unsurprisingly, Tony.
“Pepper’s so worried about making sure the wedding’s perfect, Steve!”
“I know, Tony. You’ve already told me, Tony,” there was a smile present in Steve’s voice. It was still relatively new.
“But Steve, what if I fuck it up? John Fitzgerald Kennedy, what if I fuck it up?” Tony plopped down into a chair, running a hand through his hair, not even noticing what he had said.
Steve made a mental note of it, and proceeded to reassure the man that he wouldn’t fuck up his own wedding. At least not to the degree he was afraid of.
Actually, Steve wasn’t certain it was possible to fuck up a wedding to the degree Tony seemed to be afraid of, so there was that.
No-one is exactly sure when Clint started to swear by JFK, but they are certain that Natasha was the first one to hear it.
For the most part, no-one wants to think about that, either.
Rhodey noted when Tony started to swear by JFK, and soon decided that he would as well. For him, this was a conscious decision. At this point, almost the whole team was doing it, and he refused to be the odd one out.
The Vision does not swear by John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The Vision does not swear at all. What he does do is continue to be more than a little creepy. The only person who seems to like him is Tony, and everyone is fairly certain that’s only because Vision is all that remains of JARVIS.
They let Tony keep trying to include Vision in team activities, in fights, in conversations, in anything, just because they don’t want to crush him. They are his team, they know exactly how fragile he really is on the inside. So they’ll wait until Tony pushes Vision away on his own.
Some days are harder than others, but they are a team, so they can always fall back on each-other. Eventually, this means that Steve and Nat explain where swearing by John F. Kennedy came from in the first place. Everyone has a good laugh about it, except for the Vision, because no-one invited him. Not even Tony.
Two years after the team almost fell apart, then fell back together again, the world need them again on a larger scale than normal. The peace was too good to last.
The day the world began to end began like any other. The team wasn’t all home in New York at the moment, a natural disaster had called away several members of the team to help with cleanup, but there was no indication of anything nefarious afoot - until about 8:30, or maybe it was closer to nine. Then the peace was shattered, and in some ways, was never regained.
None of the actual team was there when Bruce crashed into Strange’s home, but Tony found out about it very quickly, because he was the one Strange choose to contact. In many ways, it made sense, as Tony was one of the only ones still in New York. He had been taking on fewer missions lately, preparing to settle down somewhat with Pepper. They both knew he could never fully settle down, but he could dial it back. So he was.
Bruce was the last person Tony expected to see, but he had been gone for three years at this point, so it was nice to see him again. What news Bruce had brought was equally unexpected, but far less pleasant.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy!” Tony swore, “Why can’t we just get rid of that one? Stick it down the garbage disposal?”
Strange gave Tony an odd look and a bullshit excuse, as expected. But the look on Bruce’s face, the one of clear bewilderment, gave Tony pause, despite him knowing that there was no reason for Bruce to be in on this thing the team had. After all, he had been gone for three years.
Peter felt everything in his body telling him something was wrong. The big flying space donut only confirmed that. He had to go and help. So he did.
There were people on that bus who didn’t see him again for years.
The Avengers helping with the natural disaster didn’t hear about the spaceship over New York. They already knew something was wrong when two aliens showed up and began targeting the Vision. While most of them were holding back a joke about not blaming these aliens for wanting Vision gone, they were holding it back because they knew that these two really wanted that pretty gemstone embedded in Vision’s forehead.
And while they didn’t know much about said pretty gemstone, they did know that it was powerful, and therefore they could not let these two make off with it.
A series of unfortunate happenstances lead to Tony, Peter, and Strange, alone in a spaceship, hurtling towards Thanos’s home planet, with no way to turn around. They all know that there will be a fight when they get there. So they prepare, and hope that they’ll make it out alive.
But more than that, Tony hopes that Peter will make it out alive, even if he doesn’t. He’s already had a chance to live his life. Peter has not. He’s still so young.
The Vision proposes destroying the mind stone, even if it kills him in the process. The team agrees, a couple of them perhaps a bit too readily.
They go out into an empty area, and Wanda strikes the killing blow.
For many of them, Vision’s death was somewhat cathartic. But what they didn’t know, was that ultimately, it wouldn’t matter.
While the Vision was dead, and subsequently the mind stone destroyed, the Avengers had a feeling that Thanos would still come for them, so they began to prepare for battle.
It was a good thing they did.
Tony and Peter and Strange met the Guardians of the Galaxy when both parties thought the other party was working for Thanos and they fought. Despite that, they seemed to get along alright, or at least well enough that they could work together.
But the level of confusion on every face but Peter’s when Tony says, “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Quill, Footloose is not real life!” has Tony missing the rest of the team.
They almost managed to defeat Thanos, but then he revealed that he had killed Quill’s girlfriend, his own daughter, in order to obtain one of the infinity stones.
Tony wanted to be mad at Quill for how he reacted, because it put everyone at risk and allowed Thanos to win, but he knows that if it had been Pepper or Peter that had been killed, he would have reacted the same way, if not worse.
The same could be said about what Strange did, although Tony wasn’t sure why Strange did it for him.
On Earth, the rest of the team fought long and hard, but they didn’t know what Thanos wanted. The mind stone had already been destroyed.
But Thanos had the time stone, so he just found where Vision had exploded and turned back the tides of time until he had the mind stone in his grasp.
Thor tried to kill him, but he was more focused on getting vengeance than stopping Thanos, so he still managed to snap.
People began to vanish, turning to dust and scattering in the wind, at first one by one, and then faster and faster.
Bucky was the first of them to vanish. He didn’t get a chance to say much: he had said only “Steve…” trying to call attention to the problem before it overtook him. And overtake him it did.
The battlefield was covered in dust within minutes. Everyone lost someone. Bucky was gone, Sam was gone, T’Challa was gone, Groot was gone, and many more besides.
Steve tried to reach for the dust that used to be his brother-in-all-but-blood before it could blow away, but the wind was faster. He sat down hard on the ground, hearing Natasha run up behind him and ask “What happened?” as though she was still far away, and someone - was it him? - said “John Fitzgerald Kennedy...”
Far away, across space, people there too began to lose structural integrity. Quill first, and then his friends, then Strange. Tony already felt panicked, stricken, hopeless when faced with the fact they had lost, horrified as he watched people dissolve before his eyes, when the worst thing imaginable occured.
“Mr. Stark? I don’t feel so good.”
A minute later, Tony is left alone, grieving, with a blue-skinned cyborg alien and dust that used to be people, used to be Peter, swirling through the air.
Eventually, Tony and Nebula are rescued and brought to Earth by one Carol Danvers. She was apparently where the name “Avenger” came from.
And Nick Fury’s fiance. But Fury’s gone. Carol swears to avenge him.
The team decided to go after Thanos one last time. They succeeded, but he’d already destroyed the stones.
There’s a feeling of hopelessness that settled over them all. They all felt like they failed. And in a way, they all did. But Thor knew he failed most of all.
Tony and Pepper still got married. Rhodey was still Tony’s Best Man. Natasha was still Pepper’s Maid of Honor. But there weren’t as many people there as had been originally invited. The whole thing had a bittersweet feel to it.
Later, Tony and Pepper had a daughter, and named her Morgan. Well, Pepper was the one who physically gave birth to the child, but that’s beside the point. The point was that Morgan Stark was born.
Morgan was introduced to Rhodey as her “Uncle James”. No one was surprised. Everyone knew that Tony considered Rhodey to be a part of his family.
Morgan was introduced to Steve as her “Grandpa Steve”. When Steve tried to protest such a designation, Tony said, “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Steve, if things in your life had gone as you wanted, you would have been a second father to me. Maybe that didn’t happen, but you can be Morgan’s grandfather. In fact, I insist that you are.” Then he shoved his daughter into Steve’s arms, giving him no time to protest.
Steve looked down at the little girl and thought to himself that usually, he was fairly certain that you were supposed to have children before you had grandchildren. But then again, when had Steve ever done anything the way he was supposed to?
Some days were harder than others to push through. It was hard, losing Sam and Bucky and so many others. But for Steve, at least he wasn’t totally alone this time. This time he still had Natasha, and Tony, and Tony’s family.
Five years passed. Some people were able to move on. But none of the Avengers were. It wasn’t in their nature.
Then Scott showed up and gave them an idea. With time travel, maybe they wouldn’t have to move on after all.
Tony initially dismissed time travel as wacky nonsense, but then he looked into it. If his simulations were correct (and they always were), then time travel was very possible. They could do this. They could rescue everybody. They could rescue Peter.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”
They collected everyone together and began to make a plan. There were a couple of difficulties getting everyone together, namely Clint and Thor, but they handled those.
Natasha went to get Clint, told him there was a chance he could get his sister back. He followed her back to the group. There was a noticeable distance between Clint and the rest of the team now. After the snap, he had become a vengeful assassin, killing anyone he thought deserved it. Unlike the other assassins on the team, there had been no element of brainwashing, and that unnerved most everyone in the room.
Bruce and Rocket went to get Thor, who was so drunk Bruce was almost surprised the man recognized them. He didn’t want to go at first, didn’t even want to hear Thanos’s name, but Rocket promised the Asgardian booze, and suddenly he was alright with coming along. With him too, there was a distance, but that had more to do with the fact that he was obviously drunk and also extremely odorous.
The plan was simple: collect the stones and return to the present. When Rhodey asked why they couldn’t just kill baby Thanos, Bruce tried to explain, but honestly just made things more confusing, so Tony cut in to explain.
“Basically, by interacting with the past, we cause it to split off into a new timeline. If we were to kill baby Thanos in the past, it wouldn’t actually change anything here,” he said, and everyone agreed that he made more sense than whatever-it-was that Bruce had said.
One group would go to New York in 2012, right after the Battle of New York, and collect the mind stone, the space stone, and the time stone. One group would go to Asgard in 2013, and collect the reality stone. The final group would go out into deep space in 2014, and collect the power stone and the soul stone. With the plan set, all that was left to do was implement the damn thing.
The group in 2012 seemed to be doing quite well at first. Bruce got the time stone away from the Ancient One with only a little argument, which never got physical. Steve managed to convincingly pass himself off as a HYDRA agent, which left him feeling both glad that worked and also gross, because HYDRA.
After that, however, things went pear-shaped in a hurry.
Steve came across himself, looking just as miserable as he remembered himself being in 2012, and fully believing that he had found a wayward norse godling.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy,” Steve swore to himself, and watched as his counterpart looked unbearably confused. It wasn’t a thing yet, here. He wondered if it would be, the same way it was back home.
At the moment, it didn’t matter. He had a fight against himself to win.
Downstairs, Tony watched Scott successfully give his younger self heart troubles, and then they almost managed to make off with the space stone.
But then the Hulk came down the stairs, ran into Tony, knocking the stone from his hands, even from the case, and sending it to slide up to Loki’s feet. Loki grabbed the thing and skedaddled off to who-knows-where. The space stone was gone.
Well, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
On the planet Vormir, catastrophe struck in the year 2014. Husband and wife fought each other, both trying to be the one to fall over the cliff, so that they could save the world. One of them had to fall. One of them had to die.
In the end, Natasha dangled from Clint’s hand, and although he knew he couldn’t really save her, he also couldn’t bring himself to let her go.
“It’s okay, Clint,” she said. “Just let go. I love you, you know that. Despite everything, I still love you more than anything. Let me go, and everything will be okay. I promise.”
Clint doesn’t remember letting go, but he must have, because he woke up in a puddle, holding a glowing orange stone, and Natasha was nowhere to be found.
Steve and Tony had to go on another quest to find the space stone, and also more fuel for their time traveling, so they found themselves in 1970.
“Lovely year, I think,” Tony said to Steve. “It’s the year I was born.”
“The perfect year, then,” Steve nodded. “Too bad I missed it the first time.”
An idea suddenly came to Tony. It was so enticing, and yet… “Steve?”
“This is a terrible idea, probably, but… this is a different timeline, now that we’re here, right?”
“That is how you explained it to me, yes.”
“So if we told someone like, say, my dad, something about the future, it wouldn’t cause a paradox, now would it?”
“What am I saying, of course it wouldn’t! I know how my own technology works!”
“Tony, it’s not a bad idea, but we shouldn’t go out of our way to do something like that. However, should the opportunity arise, go ahead and say whatever you feel you need to say.”
Steve was distracted by a picture of himself. He saw Peggy through the window of her office. She didn’t see him. In some ways, he thinks that might be better. He doesn’t know what he would say to her.
Howard Stark entered the room just in time to see some weirdly familiar man putting the Tesseract in a box and looking like he was about to make off with it.
He probably should have called security, but there was something about this man that made him not want to.
The man turned and started walking, and almost immediately ran into Howard. The look on his face was bizzare and multifaceted, and definitely did not prepare Howard for the word that slipped out of the man’s mouth in a breath, almost unbidden.
Of course, if you meet someone claiming to be your time-traveling as-of-yet unborn son, who also happens to be trying to steal the Tesseract, you’re going to ask for some proof.
Tony seemed very excited to be speaking to Howard, though, more so than most thieves getting caught in the act would be. In fact, he seemed ecstatic.
“I’m not the only time traveler, there’s someone else with me, you have to talk to him, Dad, please, come on,” Tony rambled as he tried to drag Howard through the compound. For definitely being an older man, he was certainly very energetic.
“Look who I found!” Tony was beaming when he came up to a blond man with a ballcap and sunglasses. If Howard was honest with himself, the man looked very familiar in a you-look-like-my-dead-boyfriend kind of way.
“Tony,” the blond sighed, and wow was his voice familiar, why couldn’t he place it? “Who could be important enough to delay us getting back home with the space stone?”
“How about my Dad?” Tony shoved Howard toward the blond man.
Howard wasn’t entirely sure what was happening at first. The blond seemed to just freeze up. His breath audibly caught. Quite frankly, it did not make any sense. Who exactly was this man? Unless - but that wasn’t possible. Right?
Then the blond regained the power of speech and Howard’s world was the one that came to a screeching halt.
“I- I need to sit down.” Lacking any nearby seating, Howard opted to slump against the nearest wall. His suit was getting dirty, some part of his mind noted. The rest of him didn’t care. If this blond really was who he thought he was, if he really was - “...Steve?”
Steve - it had to be Steve - perked up for a moment, before seeming to remember something and hunching back down again. “Not- not yours. I’m sorry.”
“Steve!” Tony whisper-shouted, “What do you mean ‘not his’?”
Steve shook his head. “There’s still a Steve in this timeline, Tony, even if he’s still trapped under layers of ice. I shouldn’t let Howard think I can stay.”
“But you could,” Tony argued. “You could, and then come back later.”
“No, Tony. That would be dishonest in a number of ways. And besides, I couldn’t just leave you and Morgan and Natasha! And if we succeed, there are even more people I won’t ever be able to purposefully leave behind.”
“But we can tell this Howard things. Just talking, you understand?”
“H-hey,” Howard struggled to find his voice. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
“Is there something we said that you disagree with?”
“Well, no, but…” Howard trailed off. “I guess I just felt slightly ignored.”
Tony rolled his eyes and sat down on the ground with Howard, and Steve followed suit. “Since we’re just talking, not-Dad-yet, I feel like we had better start by telling you our stories.”
“And a few more stories for good measure.”
“Actually, yeah. Let’s start with a story that, if you can change it, just might let you live longer…”
Eventually, Tony and Steve ran out of stories to tell Howard and returned home, leaving him wiser, and ready to save many a person with the power of the knowledge they gave him.
When they all returned to the year 2023, they had all six stones, but someone was missing.
“Clint, where’s Natasha?”
Bruce makes the reverse snap. It works. People are returning to the world like they had never left in the first place. If Steve was in Wakanda, he knew he would see Sam and Bucky.
There was a part of him that wanted to leave right away. He had missed them both dearly, but especially Sam.
He didn’t get a chance to do that at all, because suddenly the whole compound up and exploded.
At first, there was only chaos and panic. Then they found out that Thanos - a younger Thanos - was there to take back the stones and tear apart reality.
In the moment, things were clear throughout the fight. Looking back, there are only a few moments that actually stand out with perfect clarity.
Steve remembers the first time he actually allowed himself to wield Mjolnir. Things were desperate, so he decided to use all the tools at his disposal instead of worrying about what Thor would think.
Thor remembers seeing Steve holding Mjolnir, and only feeling proud of his friend.
Steve remembers things feeling hopeless, then hearing Sam’s voice over the comms: “On your left.”
They all remember standing together as one before they charge.
If Tony were still alive, he would remember seeing Peter again and hugging him tight.
They all remember watching Tony die, and being unable to do anything about it.
Tony’s funeral was nothing but a blur. That might have been because everyone was crying.
Despite everything, the infinity stones still needed to be returned to their proper timelines. Steve volunteered for this thankless task. Sam and Bucky saw him off, but did not accompany him, mostly because Steve wouldn’t let them.
When it was time for Steve to return, he did not immediately appear. Everyone was worried. Then, a minute later, he did appear on the platform, and the reason for his delay was plainly obvious.
He had each of his arms around a woman, both of whom were leaning on him for support, like they had been through something dreadful. On his left was a woman with green skin and purple-ish hair that no-one present immediately recognized. On his right, however -
She looked at their stunned faces and let out a weak laugh. “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, boys,” Natasha said, “It’s like you’ve never seen someone come back from the dead before!”