Pairing: Steve Rogers/Tony Stark
Word Count: 4,906
Notes: Written for dark_fest. An Avengers movieverse AU.
Summary: What if Steve Rogers hadn't been born in Brooklyn? What if he'd been born in Berlin instead? And what if Tony found him anyway?
There would have been the hint of red and black amongst the gleam of ice crystals. Then the winking of torches shifting about in the downed plane, changing the angles to add to the sinister feel of the place - oh yes, Tony could imagine it alright. He didn't need to have been there to picture the scene. There would have been hushed voices, trailing off into awe or horror. Perhaps a hand or two trembled - or maybe not, the men he picked were tough, after all. Then there had been the radio signal, the prearranged message bouncing off satellites directly to his office. Pepper's mouth would have dropped open, very briefly, Tony liked to think, before she hurriedly located him. He'd been at the Malibu house, he remembered, and luckily hadn't even been drunk, or not enough to notice anyway. He'd sobered immediately though, faster than he liked, he remembered that. Just before arranging to fly out directly, to supervise the recovery himself. But he would never forget that first prickly rush at the news, like a flush of cold nausea. Merely the first and least of a long string of things to lay at Stefan Rutgers door...
He was blond and blue-eyed. Of course he was. He was built like some sort of god - and Tony had met gods, if you counted Asgardian's, and he couldn't say that Stefan didn't belong amongst their company. Stefan stared around at the bare metal walls of the cell in earnest unsurprise, as though he expected the blankness, the stuffed mattress on the floor (no springs, no bed frame), the metal toilet, the high ceiling with tiny lights behind toughened glass, the lack of windows. Maybe he did expect it, Tony didn't know, Stefan had never really been captured in the War, but it was possible the Allies had held him for a day here or there, enough for him to know what a cell looked like. Or, more likely, he'd taken part in interrogations of spies, or HYDRA agents, it was possible he'd seen many, many cells, but never on the wrong side of the bars. Tony had a stupid urge to ask how his cell measured up in comparison - was it comfortable? Had cells improved in seventy years? Oh, who was he kidding? He was Tony Stark. He asked the question anyway and got a delightfully surprised look, all widened eyes and pink mouth opened in an 'o'. But it didn't matter, Tony couldn't chatter on like he usually did, he had to pause, he had to let the translator catch up, he felt crippled like this, stifled, Stefan's attention split between the pair of them all the time, it wasn't an acceptable situation. He made a mental note to program Jarvis to speak German, before he left again. Rising up in the elevator at Stark Tower, higher and higher, he felt like a phoenix leaving behind some kind of Stygian underworld, blinking when the pink and gold of sunrise surprised him through the glass.
Jarvis translating instead didn't help matters as much as he'd thought it would. So Tony buckled down to intensive language training, helped along by the services of a mutant Charles Xavier swore could be trusted. He paid enough for scholarships to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters that it might even be true.
There were things that needed to be understood about Tony. He was a man with issues for a start. He'd be the first to admit it, to agree with you, any soul-baring he indulged in was nearly always conducted under the spotlights of the media, so the whole world knew about Tony's issues - too much money and too much fame. Too many women, too few relationships. Parents who'd died too young and were too brilliant - and well, Tony was just like them, wasn't he? Would he die too young as well? What would become too much for the billionaire playboy Tony Stark? Would he leave as beautiful a corpse?
Tony didn't know himself. Hell, if he knew he'd tell the paps, confessional-style, because he had this thing about control, a horror even, of having his secrets discovered, of having his deepest self laid bare - so Tony always kissed and told everything himself, no stories were worse than those he cracked jokes about at dinner parties; Tony Stark with his love/hate relationship with the media, as much as with himself.
So for example, people were aware of Howard Stark's time as a German prisoner of war, it was no family secret, it had just been forgotten about by most people, by almost everyone - except, in fact, by his son, by the man who'd grown up with the emotionally distant father who couldn't bring himself to love his talented, infuriating little boy. The manchild who'd listened to his father's tales of the War, who'd heard about Hauptsturmführer Deutschland1, about the human being behind the infamous legend, how he'd been the greatest soldier Howard had ever met, the most honourable, the man who'd saved Howard's life with no thought of personal gain.
But what no-one knew because they didn't know to ask, was what that same little boy overheard in the night. What he saw and heard when he crept from his bed to sidle round the door of his parent's bedroom. The image of his icily remote father wracked with shivers and sweats, muttering to himself in his sleep, screaming even, stayed with the boy long after he became a man.
His German accent was terrible, but Tony reckoned he could converse now, he could be understood and understand in return. Stefan presumably had a Berliner accent, but it was impossible for Tony to tell. That bothered him, the evidence that more than likely he'd never even know. Regional accents in a non-native language? Not impossible, but not easy either. He tried not to think about it, even as they chatted, him and Stefan, about where he was,what had happened to him and precisely how much time had passed. Stefan remained polite at all times, friendly yet reserved. They could have been at one of his mother's charity luncheons, Tony thought, with that same air of polite disinterest pervading the proceedings, the dance that might have led to donations, but not to anything actually real. God forbid that Mother's society friends should be touched in any way by the misery they were trying to alleviate.
Stefan Rutgers was like that, perfect and untouchable. Tony wanted to mess him up a little, ruffle his hair, rumple him for a while. His fingers itched with how badly he wanted to imprint something onto that put-together facade - the world paid attention to Tony, but that wasn't enough, he wanted Stefan's attention, his regard, his awe and laughter and shock, he wanted more than the public persona, far more, and he wanted it all, every day, twenty four-seven. Tony wanted...
It occurred to him eventually that maybe Stefan didn't actually believe a word he said.
Stark Industries used to be the leading manufacturer of arms in the USA, but that was before founder and majority shareholder, Howard Stark, had been captured behind enemy lines in a downed experimental plane. Howard had never joined the military, so he wasn't in uniform, and therefore wasn't technically an enemy combatant. He could have been shot as a spy, he could have been tortured by the Gestapo to learn the plane's secrets, or he could have been drugged into near madness by a scientist such as Dr Erskine experimenting on human subjects. And he could have been eventually saved from all this by chance, by a complete coincidence that saw the super-soldier hero of the Third Reich coming to visit his beloved creator and seeing things he shouldn't. Things that horrified him. It could be that to keep their hero from becoming disillusioned and his value from being drastically reduced, Howard Stark's captivity might have improved out of all measure, and in his gratitude Howard might well have designed and built an impregnable shield out of a new element to keep that super-soldier safe.
But if that was the case, then it would have turned out to be the last weapon that Howard Stark ever made, and when he was repatriated at the end of the War, he immediately stopped the manufacture of all weapons at his company and bent all its efforts to more peaceful pursuits. He might have taken a financial hit for a time but it would have been worth it. And when the time came, his son saw no need to change his father's company's ethos.
Tony wasn't a genius for nothing. His mind zipped through the possibilities. He couldn't just give Stefan a tablet and let him find out the truth for himself via the internet, because that could all be faked too, although much more elaborately - even when he found himself smiling as he pictured Stefan's horror at the idea Tony had created 4Chan just for him.
But Tony couldn't just let him just wander about either - what if someone recognised him? After old Adolf himself, Stefan's was easily the most recognisable face from the War - after all, he'd been the Nazi's favourite poster boy. Tony also managed to ignore the growl that kept threatening to erupt from some primeval inner psyche at the thought of letting Stefan go. He was Tony's, Tony had found him, and he wasn't about to let him out of his sight now, just as things were starting to get interesting. Tony was supremely good at ignoring things he didn't want to examine too closely, so this didn't seem at all weird to him.
Besides, if the government or the armed forces got even a whiff of who it was that Tony had dug up then Stefan would be dissected and studied like a bug faster than you could say military intelligence, never mind laugh at the irony. No, he needed another way.
Tony was good at other ways. It was said he didn't play well with others, but he barely needed to, his genius frequently having led him to discover far more than six impossible things before breakfast. Unfortunately, a few years ago it had also led to him being captured by terrorists in the Afghan desert and forced into making weapons for them, despite all his military contracts being for stuff like better self-heating MREs. Tony had tried to explain that weapons weren't his thing, but terrorists were notoriously bad listeners and after waterboarding him for a while, Tony agreed that perhaps he'd give it the old college try. He'd never been more scared in his life, but he'd also never felt closer to his dad.
Oh yes, there had also been the issue of those shrapnel fragments in his chest that were only failing to kill him due to a lovely homemade electromagnet hooked up to a car battery. Tony was a man of many issues, as previously mentioned - for the full report on his subsequent befriending of Dr Yinson, their building of the arc reactor and then finally a crude suit of armour with which to effect an escape from captivity, see Time magazine, vol. 171, no. 17. There are pictures.
The original suit was just scrap metal these days, and anyway it had been a heavy, crude thing, smelling of desperation and fear. It gave Tony the heebie-jeebies to think about it now, but that hadn't stopped him playing with another prototype or two. He'd had plenty of time to tinker with it, leaving Jarvis to run calculations and iron out the wrinkles. It did need test flights, of course, and probably some kind of shakedown cruise. Tony hadn't - quite - got round to it. Oh, who was he kidding? Tony hadn't quite got the nerve to put himself voluntarily into another tin can - with or without car batteries. Which was a separate point - he had a much more powerful arc reactor these days, and he'd designed the suit around it, so that would need altering too... Tony got Jarvis on speed-dial before he'd even finished formulating the thought. Stefan looked at him as though the American schweinhund had suddenly gone mad and begun raving to himself, which up to a point, Tony thought, certainly appeared to be true.
He'd had an idea. But his newly acquired German was barely good enough to convey thoughts streaming at Tony's normal pace, never mind the scorching flow at peak operating period, so Tony didn't even try. Instead he was reduced to snapping his fingers and grinning manically at Stefan through the glass. It felt like a shot of whiskey straight to the heart when, for the first time, even if he was humouring him, Stefan tentatively smiled back.
This is what is known about Hauptsturmführer Deutschland, pieced together from records and propaganda. Stefan Rutgers was born in Friedrichshain, a suburb of Berlin, in 1917. As a young patriot, he was utterly loyal to the Führer, he was the most enthusiastic member of his Hitler Youth corps, and he tried to join the army when he turned eighteen, as a good member of the Nazi Party should. But a seven stone weakling couldn't join the Führer's glorious march to victory, he had to serve in other ways, for all Stefan's hair was as gold and his eyes as blue as any pure Aryan.
He got his chance in the end though, thanks to Dr Erskine. The good doctor saw Stefan's latent promise and took him into the project he was working on, which was to produce a super-soldier that would win Hitler the War. Stefan was by all accounts so grateful and happy to be able to do his duty at last that even with the dangers of death or disfigurement that could result from the experiment, he eagerly volunteered. After all, Stefan had never backed down from a fight, even if before this, he'd never won one either.
He'd apparently admired the previous test subject, Johann Schmidt, very much, and had shaken his hand before going into the metal suit for his own rebirth. There was a photo in the Getty Archive of little Stefan with his huge grin, being towered over by the future Red Skull. Ironic really, considering what came next. Sadly, Schmidt did not prove loyal to the cause of the Third Reich, he was merely a man overcome with greed for himself and not for the glories of Greater Germany and Lebensraum.
Instead, it was Stefan who got to meet the Führer and who became a national hero, held up to all as the perfect example of the master race, the embodiment of the Ayran ideal. Dr Erskine was later killed by Johann Schmidt and the secret of his serum died with him, leaving Stefan alone to be the perfect super-soldier. He fought in many battles against Allied forces and often his actions were instrumental in carrying the field. He was given a title too, Hauptsturmführer Deutschland, but it was just as likely that the crowds appearing at his rallies would instead be chanting his popular nickname of Übermensch, Übermensch!2 Eventually, he got a costume in the colours of the flag - black, white and red with the swastika prominent in the centre of his chest. He even had a beautiful German maiden to be his girl, Margarete, who was an officer in the Bund Deutscher Mädel3. They had been planning to get married on his next leave of absence, if other events hadn't intervened.
When Tony surfaced from his workshop approximately three days later, he was covered in oil, ravenous, slightly singed around the edges and had no idea what colour he was going to spray the suit. Stefan's old costume had been all about the Nazis, but it didn't sit right with Tony to make it all about the USA either - he'd thought red, white and blue, but it felt cheap somehow, taking something neither of them had earned. Then he thought he'd paint it in the colours of his favourite car, but he couldn't choose between them, so he plumped in the end for red - his favourite colour - and gold - a shade as close to Stefan's hair as he could get it. Which was sappy and ridiculous but he did it anyway.
When he lugged the armour into the elevator in the suitcase he'd designed for it, Tony was running on about four hours sleep, and a shot of vodka he'd downed to clear his head. Stefan actually looked alarmed when Tony arrived outside his cell, hurriedly putting down one of the German novels that Tony had managed to get shipped over. Apparently it wasn't just Pep who freaked out when he'd been on an inventing jag, huh, who knew?
Tony managed to remember enough words to convey that it was a present for Stefan though, even as he squeezed the suitcase through the aperture that was meant for meal trays. The man managed to look both flattered and suspicious at the same time - which was a feat, Tony thought, even as he waved him on impatiently, because he couldn't wait to see the fit. Cautiously, Stefan pressed the button, and then Tony got a first hand view of something he didn't think he'd ever see - the Übermensch in full combat mode, fighting each piece of Tony's beloved armour as it flew towards him. It was educational, Tony could admit that, although it was also alarming, and damn hot too. It was possible,Tony thought, just the teeniest bit likely, that he should have warned Stefan first.
Johann Schmidt became more than a selfish man broken by his tortured condition, he evolved into a megalomaniac who thought he was above the Führer. He began working with a shadowy organisation named HYDRA and started calling himself the Red Skull. Hauptsturmführer Deutschland was appointed the task of tracking him down, which Stefan eagerly accepted, only begging for the privilege of picking out an elite corps of stormtroopers to aid his mission. His best friend Jakob 'Jeckel' Scheune came with him and the rest of the war was spent hunting down the race traitors and arrogant warlords of HYDRA - their motto was cut off one head and two more would grow in its place, but they reckoned without Stefan's sheer doggedness.
Finally, the last HYDRA Base was destroyed, but not before the Red Skull himself escaped in a plane full of bombs destined for Berlin and other cities. Stefan couldn't let the Fatherland he loved be destroyed so regardless of the personal risk he clambered aboard at the last minute and fought and killed Johann Schmidt. During the battle the plane was badly damaged and as it was too dangerous to risk landing it anywhere near a population, selflessly Stefan brought down it down in the Arctic. Despite the Führer personally sending several rescue missions, taking precious resources away from the War efforts, Stefan's body was never recovered. In absentia, he had the largest state funeral the Third Reich had ever seen.
After the War, a certain American industrialist continued to send out search missions of his own, but it was his son who finally succeeded in recovering Stefan Rutgers' body. Meanwhile, popular myth had Hauptsturmführer Deutschland striding across battlefields ten feet tall and breathing fire. Children were put to bed with warnings that the Übermensch would get them if they weren't good. The collective unconscious shook in its very boots at his name.
It was just as well he'd built the suit tough. Although Tony figured there were only a few dents here and there really, as a stream of small metal components flying at your body all at once could only be fended off so far. He'd be proud of it if he wasn't so worried. But the suit was assembled now, and Tony had the autopilot engaged so he had the leisure, a little late, to finally explain. Or rather he tried to, Stefan didn't appear to be talking back, and his physical stress readings were off the chart. Tony could hear harsh rapid breathing over the comlink, and it made him near frantic to make everything alright, when he'd obviously somehow made everything all wrong.
In desperation he nearly hit the control for flight right then and there before realising that a hole punched straight through the entirety of Stark Tower might be a little over the top even for him. Instead he used the elevator and felt his mood lift with the floors passing just by watching how smoothly the suit's servomotors worked and the joints shift. The override controls he was using were getting a good test run too - this would work, he was sure of it.
He babbled down the comlink all the way along, explaining what he was doing in minute detail, breaking out in English before forcing his brain back into German. Exhaustion was definitely beginning to kick in. It was all worth it though when they reached the roof and Tony heard Stefan gasp - at the view? At the daylight? Tony didn't know. It was pretty awesome either way. He let out a whoop of his own when he finally got to do what he'd been longing to do ever since he'd designed the new repulsor units.
The armour shot into the air like a streak of red and gold fire, and just for an instant, a tiny moment, Tony felt he could watch it climb forever into an infinite blue dawn.
Tony might not want to be in the suit itself but this was the next best thing. Really. Like chocolate and peanut butter, if peanut butter preferred to hide in the jar. He built a kind of virtual reality suite in his penthouse and that made controlling the suit so much easier. And when he didn't control it, once he'd got Stefan on board with the programme, got him to take over sometimes, on the ground at first, so they wouldn't plummet out of the sky like a broken bird, then... Then it was even better. Tony could hear every tiny hitched breath or muttered comment, it was like he was there with Stefan, alongside him, inhabiting it with him, almost feeling the same sweat crawling along his brow, with the same readouts in front of his eyes. It was the next best thing to being him - but Tony didn't let himself think about that either. He just worked on getting the pick-ups more and more finely attuned, and improving the feedback circuits, and then there was something cool he could do with nanites, Tony was certain...
Stefan just flew. And sometimes landed and looked around at the thronging crowds of people in New York with wondering eyes. Luckily, there were enough superheroes bouncing around the place to make it an unsurprising sight - people would check about them nervously in case there was a full-scale invasion by Doom-bots or something but when nothing materialised then they'd go back to shopping or talking or strolling in the park. Stefan didn't seem to mind either. Tony kept thinking he'd try to
The only time Stefan went off-map was when he caught sight of a particular window display in a bookshop in Brooklyn. Tony knew he could take back control at any time he liked, and besides Stefan might trust more in things he found out for himself. The books were all in German, and while Tony had learned to speak it, he wasn't as fast with the written word. Even using the visual pick-up he couldn't keep up with what everything Stefan was learning, although the pictures made Tony swallow and look away. Stick-thin figures in striped pyjamas, piles of abandoned belongings, blocks of soap, photos of medical test subjects...
Stefan's breathing and other readings were changing but for once Tony looked away. He hated it, hated being separated, as though he was alone again - but it wasn't right to intrude, whatever Stefan discovered. He had to find out sometime.
It's not your fault, Tony told him all the time. It's just survivor's guilt. And sometimes he'd offer to fly them to Germany, so Stefan could go rooting about in all those Nazi archives that were being declassified these days, to satisfy any burning curiosity. Because it occurred to Tony that Stefan might think everything published about the Führer, the Nazi party, even the War, was just another case of the winner's rewriting history. But the idea backfired, Stefan had just shuddered and looked sick, before stating he never wanted to see Germany again. And he said it slowly and clearly in English just to make sure there were no misunderstandings. Tony assumed Jarvis was teaching him English, but tried not to think about it. Never mind that Jarvis was like an extension of Tony, he still wasn't his back-up brain yet. He still wasn't Tony himself.
Stefan had been moved from his cell. It was like locking up a puppy in a yard, after a while Tony found he couldn't do it any more. Particularly when those big eyes had just looked at him so sadly, and the puppy was so very well behaved. Anyway, the penthouse was nearly as secure and a lot more comfortable and while Stefan didn't show any signs of wandering off, didn't ask for anything and never complained, where was the harm? Tony found he bought a lot of things for him anyway, just because he could. There was more than one kind of guilt at work here, after all.
Steve was online a lot now, once Tony had shown him how to use a tablet. He looked at sites about art, and classic motorbikes, and the Nuremberg trials. He watched cartoons, and Indiana Jones movies and the terrible Übermensch trilogy, where Stefan was played by Dolph Lundgren as a remorseless, cold-blooded killer. Sometimes they both sat on the couch and watched something together, although when their arms brushed, or when Stefan nodded off and his head slipped onto Tony's shoulder, Tony tried not to think about it too much. His skin felt too sensitised, like a thousand tiny magnets were pulling him to his own personal north. He tried very hard not to initiate anything of his own, because it was Stefan, who'd saved his father's life, who was perfectly and impossibly there, who'd strode through his dreams ever since he was a small boy, ten feet tall but always with a smile. It was enough to make his heart beat faster, or maybe at least to help the arc reactor glow. And the best part? He was all Tony's, and nobody else's. He never had liked to share.
Tony Stark is a man with issues. He's lived his whole life in the glare of the spotlight and he still has a horror of being exposed. He has an even greater horror of not being in control. Just ask Raza, the terrorist who kidnapped him, or Justin Hammer, his main rival. (They're both dead now, as it happens.)
Just ask Stefan Rutgers, who was saved from the ice only to discover that life in a gilded cage was just as chilling. But don't ask Stefan to give himself up, don't force him to confront his demons, because he doesn't want to sit alone forever in a cell in Spandau, unable to help anyone or atone for what he did. Stefan knows what he's doing when he stays with Tony. Every day when he puts on the armour, he's reminded of Dr Erskine's metal suit, that started all this seventy years ago, which is a fitting irony. Every day he offers a kind of penance in claustrophobia, and control surrendered, and covert protection. All this because he didn't recognise what was happening all around him, because he didn't try and stop it.
He always stands behind Tony's right shoulder at public events. His new bodyguard, the papers gossip, a secret employee. The Iron Man. It doesn't bother Stefan. He has held his own war-crimes tribunal in his mind and declared himself guilty, has all the media of the last seventy years to back him up. He's a monster. He wants to be punished.
He knows Tony doesn't intend to ever let him go, but that's ok. Tony always has the override controls, so you see, Stefan is never really free. But Tony will let him help people as Iron Man, he'll even let him fight with other superheroes sometimes, because he'll be there to ride alongside virtually. At least Stefan will never be alone.
And if he gives in to touch starvation once in a while, if he lets himself sink into Tony's warmth on the couch, and much later lets him kiss him and take him to bed, finding some Stockholm comfort in his prison, well. Who in the world could blame him?
1. Hauptsturmführer Deutschland - Captain Germany
2. Übermensch - superman, overman
3. Bund Deutscher Mädel - League of German Girls