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For Want of a Nail - Part II: Ice

Title: For Want of a Nail
Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: Steve/Bucky, minor Tony/Pepper & OC pairings
Warnings: Angst, dystopia, minor violence
Word Count: 3857 (9054 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the good guys would have lost.
Summary: Hydra wins the war and then the world.  Seventy years later, the Resistance has a plan to win it back.

Part I: Fire


“This is a terrible idea. You know that, right?” Natasha asked, though she still walked over to help Tony when he started laying out his gear. It had taken the pair two days of sneaking through the countryside to make it this far and the worst part of the journey still loomed above them, mountain peaks covered with eternal snow.

“It may be terrible, but it’s the only chance we have. My mother cut off one of Hydra's heads when she stole the Tesseract, but there's still a horde of lesser evils with bullets in their guns and they’ve had decades to fortify their power base,” Tony said, buckling the straps of his pack across his chest as Natasha shrugged into her own. “However, if my uncles' stories are half as true as my father always claimed, Captain America's serum could turn this war around. Even if Banner can’t figure out how to recreate it, we’ll have kept another weapon out of Hydra’s hands and you know that's worth the risk.”

“Fair enough,” Natasha conceded, the agent never one to continue arguing when the other side was right. “But Hydra has searched these mountains fruitlessly for decades; they're still searching and you know it, so how do you expect to find the Captain where they’ve failed?”

“Oh, ye of little faith. Haven't you learned to trust in me by now?” Tony asked the redhead with a crooked smirk. “I’m not looking for him; I’m looking for his shield and no one knows Vibranium like my father did. Finding Captain America was his singular obsession so I'd wager anything that I'm a step ahead of Hydra's boys.”

The words were confident but his voice faltered slightly at the mention of his dad. For Howard Stark had passed away two months ago, the scientist living to the ripe old age of ninety-five before the years finally claimed him, and while his death had been peaceful, his son still missed him every day. However, Tony shook the mood off quickly; he was a Stark after all, and they were never one for emotions when there was work to be done.

Instead the scientist pulled out his scanner, calibrating the frequency according to his father's calculations before telling Natasha to head out. The redhead was the better climber so she was taking point on their initial ascent, Tony following in her footsteps through the snow.

Once the pair started climbing, all conversation ended since they needed to save their breath for the mountain, but the silence just left Tony alone with his troubled thoughts instead. For while nothing he had said to Natasha had been a lie, it was not only strategy that drove him on this trek and even if Captain America had been a normal human, the scientist would be on this mountain anyway.

Tony was going to find the captain's body because his parents had loved Steve Rogers more than anything, even more than each other, and he did not think they would rest easy as long as the man was lost. Admittedly, Tony had thought it a little weird when he first realized the true depth of their emotions, but eventually he had come to terms with it. It was simply part of what made his parents his parents, part of what had driven them to fight when so many others fell and he could find no fault with love in a world like this. Which was why Tony was going to honor his father's last request and bring Captain America back where he belonged.

They climbed for what seemed like hours before the scanner finally pinged, a faint trace of Vibranium sensed on the far edge of its range. The signal was strange, sharper and far more west than Tony had expected, but he had faith in his father's work so he followed where it led.

Now the scientist was the one taking point, the signal leading them over the next rise and down into a steep crevasse that meandered through the stone. Years ago this was probably a river, but where water had once run down from the highest peaks of the mountain, it had left only this icy path behind. So the pair clambered over jagged stones and scattered icicles as they moved ever onward and without Natasha’s skill, Tony would have never made it to his goal alive.

He was far too busy watching his scanner to watch where his feet were going and his companion was the only thing that saved him from bashing his skull in on the ice half a dozen times. Indeed he was cold and tired and far too old for this and once their search was over, the scientist was going to stay in his nice warm lab where he belonged.

But Tony forgot all about the ache in his lungs and the fact that he was probably getting frostbite when they rounded one last curve and he saw a flash of red in the corner of his eye. It was faint, just a glint of color within the wall of ice before him, but even if his scanner hadn’t been going haywire, he would have known that this was it.

Because he had grown up with pictures of Captain America; his father had given him a toy shield when he was seven and the real thing looked exactly as he had always thought it would. So Tony walked forward until his nose was nearly touching the ice, absently turning his scanner off along the way, and he forgot to breathe at the sight that met his eyes. If he squinted, he could just see the outline of a body, limbs curled in and braced for impact with the ground.

“You do have a plan to get him out of there, right? Because I’m not carrying a frozen supersoldier all the way back down this mountain,” Natasha cut in, the redhead neatly puncturing his awestruck moment with her practicality.

But Tony had an answer because, as he had said, he always did. So in lieu of answering, he just tapped the communicator in his ear, punching in Banner's code and talking as soon as the other man picked up. “All right, Big Guy. Time for the distraction we discussed. Just remember, I need them too busy to notice that I’m carving out half this mountain with plasma cutters so you better make it big. Once you have the outpost mostly emptied, Ghost will swing through and steal our ride out of here.”

“Not a problem, boss,” Banner told him, his voice crackling over the radio. “The Other Guy hates Hydra and he's been itching for a fight. Just make sure you find me once I come out of it.”

“Don’t worry. Ghost will pick you up on his way to wreck the bird. You can help him scrub it clean before you disappear.”

“Works for me. Give me five and then start cutting; I guarantee they’ll be too busy to even think of wondering what the burning smell’s about.”

Tony cut the transmission as soon as Banner gave his agreement, sending a quick message to Ghost to let him know that he should be standing by.

“You’re setting the Hulk on Hydra’s outpost? That’s almost cruel,” Natasha said, although the curve of her lips told Tony that she approved this plan. With her tacit permission, the scientist began laying out his equipment, the other agent grabbing their gear and moving to a safe distance so that he could map out the angles for maximum efficiency. After all, the scientist didn't want to accidentally laser Captain America's arm off now that he had found him because that would just be embarrassing.

So Tony aimed wide when he powered up his plasma cutter, carving out a massive block of ice from the frozen mountainside. His cutter was actually starting to smoke by the time he finished and he switched it off quickly before something could explode.

But the device had done its job well and Tony leaped back as the sheer weight of ice began to separate the Captain's prison from the side of the crevasse. It slid forward with a deafening crash, the sound echoing off the surrounding stone like thunder and he was seriously glad that he'd planned for this. Because the noise alone would have brought Hydra down on their heads in an instant if the Hulk hadn't been keeping them too busy to think right now.

As it was, the scientist just signaled for Natasha to throw him his bags, pulling out the ice hooks and rope that he'd lugged up the mountainside. With the redhead's help, Tony soon had Captain America tied and trussed for transport and then there was nothing to do but wait for their ride.

However, it wasn't too long before the scientist received an incoming transmission from Ghost, his infiltrator checking in to say that he was on his way. François Morita – codename Ghost – was the grandson of the original Howling Commando and he had been one of Tony's most valuable assets ever since he'd joined the fight. Because the man was seriously a ninja, able to slip in and out of fortified bases without raising the alarm while his partner had a scary knack for camouflage.

Frederick was actually back with the truck since no one else could hide a vehicle like he could and Tony hadn't wanted to risk any more of his agents than necessary on this task. Sure it might change everything but he hated seeing people die on his orders and he would have left François behind as well if it had been possible.

However, he needed someone who could fly a helicopter in these kinds of conditions and François was the best pilot that he had. Truthfully, Tony didn't know anyone else who could hope to land a chopper at their location without exploding and he honestly wasn't sure how his man would manage it.

But even if the scientist had to close his eyes every time the helicopter's blades almost hit the walls of ice and rock around them, his agent was every bit as talented as his legend claimed. So once François had landed, the three of them leaped into action, attaching the net of ropes and chains to the helicopter as tightly as they could. If ice were any heavier, then this plan would have been doomed before it started, but Tony had done the calculations while they waited and with one of Hydra's choppers, they should just manage it.

Admittedly he had been hoping for a slightly smaller package, but SHIELD had survived by being adaptable and the scientist always had at least seven backup plans. So he buckled himself next to François in the copilot's seat while Natasha hopped in the back to watch over their cargo, Tony holding on tightly as the chopper's rotors began to spin again.

It was a bit of a struggle to get off the ground, the helicopter lurching dangerously as the ropes pulled taut. But François managed to save it before they crashed into the mountain, his expression hardly changing even as Tony fought the urge to scream.

“Remind me to give you a raise,” he muttered after the chopper's rotors missed the rock wall by a hair's breadth, the block of ice that held the captain dangling like a pendulum beneath their feet.

“You don't pay me, boss. Remember?” François replied with a laugh, swinging the helicopter around to head back northeast. The trek that took Tony and Natasha hours flew by in about twenty minutes and the scientist really would have preferred to conduct his search like this. But SHIELD didn't have any helicopters of their own – the things were too big to hide and too hard to fuel – and the Hulk could only keep Hydra distracted for so long.

Even now they were running under the wire to escape before their enemy realized what had happened and, more importantly, before Hydra realized what SHIELD had found. If Commander Pierce even guessed that Captain America's body had been discovered, he would burn all of Europe to the ground in order to reclaim him and Tony didn't want to be the cause of that.

The only reason that the Resistance had survived this long was because the Red Skull hadn't wanted to destroy the world, he'd wanted to command it and that had protected SHIELD where mercy failed. But over the last few years, Alexander Pierce had shown himself to be a new breed of despot, one willing to cut off his left hand in order to spite the other, and they couldn’t afford to draw his gaze just yet.

So Tony didn't relax until they had reached their truck's location an hour later and even then he kept one eye on the horizon while they waited for Frederick to guide them in. Because the Chameleon lived up to his name and their truck was completely invisible from the air until the other man started it. Even when the agent opened up the back in order to load the captain up for transport, Tony had trouble seeing the vehicle underneath his painted canvas and Frederick would have been one hell of an artist in another life.

As it was, the man just blew a kiss to his partner before François flew off to pick up Banner and then helped Natasha make sure that their cargo was secure. They had a long drive back to SHIELD's main base in Grenoble, one made all the longer for the checkpoints they'd be dodging, and the sooner they got back, the sooner Tony could see the captain buried properly.

Besides, even packed with straw the ice would start melting eventually and not even Hydra's most oblivious soldiers could fail to notice a stream of water flowing out of their vehicle.

So Tony ushered his agents into the cab of the truck and started driving, doing his best to ignore the various means that his passengers used to keep themselves entertained along the way. Because Natasha and Frederick got on like a house on fire and the scientist had no idea where an ex-Hydra assassin had learned so many stupid games. Seriously, it was kind of creepy how gleeful she was about winning license plate bingo and Tony was almost happy when passing convoys made her duck below the dash.

However, years of practice helped him keep his annoyance more or less in check and some nine hours later, the trio finally neared their goal. By this point Frederick was dozing against the window, the agent losing his battle with exhaustion once he knew that his partner was all right.

François had called in a few hours before to say that he had picked up Banner and dumped the chopper in the Western Alps, the two men making their own way back home in case the truck got caught. However, Tony wouldn't be surprised if they actually beat him to Grenoble since François had sticky fingers and a thing for racy sports cars that belonged to Hydra's officers.

Not that the agent was stupid enough to drive a stolen vehicle back into the city, but he'd certainly be traveling faster than this hunk of junk. Indeed François was there to greet Tony when he finally arrived, waiting with the undercover SHIELD agent who would let the truck inside Grenoble's walls.

His organization had dozens of these agents, people who obeyed the law to the letter so that they could help the Resistance slip past its enemies, and while some groups considered such men cowards, Peggy had believed them invaluable. After all, who better to fight Hydra than someone who knew its inner workings and thus exactly where to strike?

So Tony had continued cultivating such sleepers after his mother died and several of SHIELD's agents had nearly made it into Pierce's inner circle now. It was these agents whom the scientist intended to enhance with Erskine's serum if Banner could replicate it, because his mother's death had proven that chopping one head off their enemy would never be enough.

Instead the Resistance had to move as one, agents smuggled into key positions all across Hydra's empire in order to strike down every top general simultaneously. Only then could they be certain that their enemy was conquered; only then could the world remember that it was free.

But first, Tony had to get Captain America back to the lab and defrost him since none of his plans would matter if they got captured now. So even though his team had dodged a hundred of Hydra's patrols without mishap – Ghost and the Chameleon out on point while the Black Widow watched their rear – Tony didn't relax until he had the familiar walls of SHIELD's bunker surrounding him again.

From there the rest of the day quickly disappeared in a flurry of delegation, a fresh team moving the captain to the secondary lab for thawing while Tony caught up on some much needed sleep. When he woke up a few hours later, the scientist went straight to the laboratory, only stopping to eat because Natasha shoved food into his hands.

Banner was there already, the doctor looking only slightly worse for wear after his run-in with Hydra's soldiers, and he quickly caught Tony up on the preparations he had missed. There wasn't much to tell yet: heaters and fans set up to help the ice melt faster, scanners ready and waiting to analyze the captain's body, along with every other piece of equipment that Banner could fit inside the room. He'd even set up a video recorder and when Tony asked him who would possibly want to watch this, the doctor just shrugged and said it was for posterity.

Because melting ice is so very historical, the scientist snarked to himself, quickly losing patience with the sight. As excited as he had been to find Captain America, this was just plain boring and if Tony stayed here too much longer, things were going to explode.

So he left Banner to his vigil and went back to his office cum laboratory to get through some of his paperwork. There were supplies to obtain, intelligence reports to read and all sorts of other tiny details that were required to keep SHIELD going strong. In all honesty, Tony really couldn’t stand most of this minutia, which is why he had created a robotic assistant back in his thirties to keep track of it all. But he still had to sign off on any major decisions and the scientist had a knack for mission planning that no one else could match.

Or maybe it was just that no one else was crazy enough to try the sort of schemes that had made Tony famous amongst the Underground. Even the whole plan to find Captain America had garnered some weird looks from his lieutenants and Natasha was hardly the first to speak her doubts.

But like most of the scientist's craziest ideas, this one had born fruit and Tony had trouble keeping his mind on his work. His thoughts kept drifting back to the laboratory where his prize was slowly thawing and the fifth time that he found himself doodling the captain's shield in his margins, he put his paperwork aside. There was no point in reading about supplies and requisitions if he wasn't going to remember it and he was too distracted for his usual recall to kick in.

So Tony left the papers on his desk for Jarvis to scan over and grabbed a pencil, sketching out ideas for SHIELD's new supermen. If this worked out the way that he and Banner hoped, the Resistance would finally have an edge over Hydra, but their agents would still need weapons with which to fight.

Actual weapons since there was only one shield to go around and Tony didn't exactly have another store of Vibranium hidden away somewhere. No, his men and women would have to make do with more normal materials when they began their final Blitzkrieg and either won or lost this war for good. To be honest, Tony was almost afraid to think about it for fear of jinxing SHIELD's last mission and yet, he also wasn't sure what he would do with peace.

This war was the only life that the scientist had ever known; he had been born into it and for years he had believed that he would die in it as well. So it was kind of terrifying to think of a world where SHIELD didn't need him, one where Tony could walk the streets freely without worrying about a bullet in his back.

Though, truthfully, SHIELD would probably be necessary for decades after Hydra was obliterated because it would take time to restore what had been lost. It would take time for people to remember how to make their own choices and rebuild the governments that had fallen beneath the Red Skull's hands.

So really Tony didn't need to worry about being useless for a long, long time and he tried to tell himself that being a civilian would be a good thing in the end. Because the scientist would finally be free to do anything he wanted, free to put aside the weapons and create something beautiful instead. He could finally build the future that his father had always dreamed of, one where technology made people's lives better not shorter; he could finally meet the leaders of the War Machine in person and beg Pepper Potts to date him because Tony had always had a thing for redheads with some fire in their veins.

(Yes, he had hit on Natasha once, but they'd both decided it was best to never speak of that again)

Thoughts of Pepper proved to be a most effective distraction from the thawing corpse one floor below him, his doodles taking a far more lascivious turn. There was just something about the woman that Tony hadn't been able to get out of his head, brilliance and competence wrapped up in one gorgeous package – gorgeous even through the crackling static of his video uplink.

Not that she had seemed particularly impressed by his attempts to get her attention, though the scientist was pretty sure that he had caught her partner Rhodes grinning once or twice. However, Pepper's resistance only made her a more attractive challenge and he was busy preparing his next pick-up line when his comm finally buzzed.

It was Banner calling from the second laboratory to say that the ice had almost melted, but it wasn't this news which made his voice shake like that. No, it was something far more unexpected and when Tony heard the doctor's words, he forgot all about his romance plans.

“Boss. You’re going to want to see this. There are two of them and their hearts are still beating under there.”


Part III: Stone