Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandoms: Iron Man & Captain America & The Avengers (MCU) / The Matrix
Genre: Action, sci-fi, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis, Loki, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff, Betty Ross, Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor.
Guest appearances: The Architect, Emil Blonsky, Phil Coulson, JARVIS, The Merovingian, The Oracle, Persephone, Thaddeus Ross, Sati, Erik Selvig, Seraph, Samuel Sterns, Glenn Talbot.
Pairings: Betty/Bruce, Clint/Darcy/Natasha, Jane/Thor, implied Merovingian/Persephone
Summary: The Truce between men and Machines is threatened by a radical group called ‘the Cleansers’. Steve Rogers, the captain of a hovercraft named ‘The Avenger’, takes his crew to find the ultimate weapon the Cleansers are looking for, and reunites with an old friend whom he’d thought long dead. How is Tony Stark connected to their mission, and does a weapon exist that could destroy the Machines?
Complete. Sequel to “Creator”.
Written for: Science Fiction & Fantasy Big Bang’s Round 5.
Also fills the “free space” square on my card in Trope Bingo’s Round 2 (used trope: “au: fusion”).
Artist: raktajinos (AO3/LJ) – see banner HERE.
Warnings: Language, canonical violence.
A cross-country drive was their safest option. They could have exited the Matrix and then jacked in to a location closer to their destination, but they opted to stay inside and make their way across the continent the ‘old fashioned’ way.
“Why does Malibu sound familiar?” Jane asked as they drove a van procured from the Matrix.
“My friend Tony used to live there. At Malibu Point, to be exact,” Steve replied.
“Iron Man,” Clint hummed. “What do you think we’re going to find there?”
“Not Iron Man, that’s for sure,” Steve said, lamenting the fact already. “The Matrix doesn’t have superheroes in it. The Stark Tower in Manhattan doesn’t exist, and I doubt Tony’s home does, either. However, there will be something…”
“Why would the Oracle point us towards the Weapon?” Natasha asked. “If it’s real and it works, she will be destroyed along with the Matrix.”
“Maybe she’s tired of living,” Clint threw in an option.
“Or maybe there’s a different endgame and we’re just pieces to move the game along,” Bruce volunteered a much more likelier option.
“Why would she be confident that you, of all people, would know what to do about the Weapon?” Jane mused, looking at Steve.
“No idea,” Steve admitted, but he kept thinking about it, hard, while they drove.
They all took turns behind the wheel, only stopping to change drivers, fill up the tank or get something to eat. For the most part they were silent, all deep in their own thoughts.
It was early in the morning when they finally arrived in California; the sun was rising as Steve took the wheel to navigate them towards Malibu Point. There was no road leading up to where Tony’s house had been, and they drove back and forth a couple times to make sure they could get no further in the car.
“We’ll walk from here,” Steve decided eventually.
They left the car in discrete spot, continuing on foot. Natasha had one of her guns out while Clint nervously fiddled with his bow. The forest wasn’t thick and they moved easily in the right direction, until coming out of the trees to a wide, bare area where the point stretched out from the mainland to the ocean.
Steve stared at the terrain before them: there was grass and smooth rock, ending at a sudden drop. There was no house, no structures; just a blank slate, almost, where one could have inserted Tony’s home if they wanted to.
“That’s… disappointing,” Clint observed.
“Search the area,” Natasha ordered, and they spread out. As the sun climbed higher, they went back and forth over the area. Eventually Steve halted, looking around, measured the area and stood where he supposed the main doors would have been, should the house have been there.
“What do you want us to do?” Bruce asked, settling beside him. He was clearly disappointed, just like all of them. They had expected to find at least something here.
“Could the Oracle have meant the real world?” Steve mused, looking around. He had walked around cautiously all morning, almost like he was in a minefield and any wrong movement might trigger something, but nothing at all had happened or appeared, and he was starting to feel hopeless. In the real world, there was no chance of them getting to Malibu – or what would be left of it.
“It doesn’t seem likely,” Bruce replied, looking thoughtful.
The others gathered around, trying to keep their expressions in check but mostly failing. Disappointment was a tough pill to swallow.
Steve hoped his refusal to accept defeat would serve him better, but as he took another look around – at the trees, the ocean, the empty stretch of land – it felt like their surroundings were mocking him for not finding what he was looking for. He turned further around, to face empty air where the doors should have been; glass, transparent, opening to admit a person. A few steps in and JARVIS would scan the newcomer, subtly, swiftly, always suspicious and protective of Tony… He could almost see it, and he stretched out his arm, fingers wide open. The cool feel of the door against his palm –
The air flickered, and all of his team jumped back with a few undignified sounds of surprise no one would probably admit to later, if mentioned. Steve jerked back as if he had been burned, his fingertips briefly caressing solid doors that had appeared out of thin air. He forced himself still, to wait, as the house suddenly appeared, right where it should have been, arching over the ocean and filling the emptiness in a way that made his heart beat a little harder.
“Wow,” Clint breathed. “That was unexpected.”
“Do you think it’s a glitch of some kind?” Jane asked and stepped forward. She reached out past Steve, to touch the wide glass doors, but as she went to rest her hand on the surface, her hand went right through, as if it were merely an illusion.
“Freaky,” Bruce muttered but joined Jane, attempting to touch the door as well; his hand went through the surface the same as hers. He moved to the side next, trying the same thing with the nearest wall, and ended with the same result. “Steve, why don’t you try to touch the house?” he suggested.
Steve took a step forward and reached out for the door more firmly. The surface was still cool and smooth, then suddenly moved, sliding to the side to present a way in.
“I think you’re supposed to go in alone,” Natasha observed.
“I don’t like this,” Clint muttered.
“No one likes it,” Bruce stated, “but we can’t touch it. Steve can.” Steve looked at the scientist and the other man nodded at him. “Go ahead – unless you don’t want to.”
“The door’s open,” Steve said pointlessly. “I think I’m supposed to enter.”
“Good luck,” Jane called out, and it eerily reminded him of what the Oracle had said.
With a steadying breath, Steve stepped inside, and the door slid shut behind him. Beyond the reinforced glass, he could see his team peering inside as if they could no longer see him, although he could see them just fine. He opened his mouth to call out, to tell them he was fine, then jerked as a familiar voice greeted him:
“Welcome, Captain Rogers.”
“JARVIS?” Steve looked around. The interior of the house looked the same as he remembered. The AI sounded the same. Everything was the same, which led him to wonder if this was a program hidden from any stragglers, accessible only by certain individuals. Why him, though?
The sound of footsteps drew him out of his musings and Steve looked slightly to the right in alarm, only to see Tony Stark rounding a corner. Steve had to blink, and blink again, looking the other man over several times.
Tony looked exactly as Steve remembered him: his clothes, the faint lines on his face, the trademark goatee. In fact, Tony looked like he had just come up from the workshop, a dirty rag in his hands.
“Hello, Steve,” Tony greeted him, and Steve absorbed his voice, feeling a bit faint. He had thought he had lost all this, for good, and it felt like a nightmare and the most amazing dream at the same time. “Cat got your tongue?” Tony asked, eyes twinkling, lips pulled into an amused smile. “Come on in, don’t just stand there.”
“My team,” Steve started, glancing towards the door again.
“They’ll wait outside,” Tony shrugged, turning around and heading for the bar.
Numbly, Steve followed him, taking in Tony’s usual gait, the shape of his body. Everything matched his memory to a T, and questions were beginning to form in his mind. “Tony,” he finally spoke up, as the other man placed the rag on the bar and reached out for a glass. Tony’s hand hovered before the rows of bottles before snatching one off the shelf and pouring himself a drink from it.
“What?” Tony asked, in his usual tone, and turned to look at him. “Do you want a drink?”
“No, thank you.”
“I have ginger ale.”
“No,” Steve repeated.
“How about milk and cookies?”
That was a giveaway: Tony knew of his visit to the Oracle – or, not Tony but whatever this was; a program, perhaps, because that was the only thing that really made sense.
“Why am I here?” Steve asked instead.
Tony sipped his drink, taking his time. “You visited the Oracle. She pointed you in this direction. Am I right so far?”
“And here you are…” Tony’s eyes moved over him, much like Steve had looked at him. Steve wondered if there was some kind of test or a trick he needed to perform in order to crack the code and find the answers he wanted. After all, most programs, as he understood it, had a code they followed, and one needed to access and bypass that code in order to move forward.
“Do you know how to find the Weapon?” Steve asked, deciding that he might as well ask the big question.
“Maybe,” Tony replied, and that confirmed Steve’s suspicion that there was some kind of task he needed to accomplish in order to gain access to the information he wanted.
“Will you tell me?” he pressed.
“Maybe,” Tony repeated and sipped his drink. “You sure I can’t get you anything?” he asked next, and Steve guessed this might be the same kind of deal as with the Oracle.
“Fine, get me some of that ginger ale,” he acquiesced.
Tony smiled at him and went to a nearby fridge to get him a bottle. He opened it for Steve and handed it over. On purpose, Steve slid his fingers over the cool glass a bit further than necessary, brushing his fingers against Tony’s. He felt skin, soft and warm, which surprised him a little but he didn’t let it show on his face.
“What’s with the house?” Steve asked, trying a different tactic. “It wasn’t there at first, and the others couldn’t touch it.”
Tony gave him a reserved smile, eyes a bit more guarded. Steve didn’t expect him to talk, but then, if this program was imitating Tony Stark, there was no shutting him up. “The house doesn’t exist in the Matrix. Not on the level of the virtual space that humans can access, anyway. Think of it as a ghost; a haunted house.” The last statement didn’t seem to amuse Tony as much as it would have, in the past.
“But I’m inside it now,” Steve pointed out.
“Because you’re different,” Tony pointed a finger at him, for dramatic effect. “You’re not supposed to be in the Matrix to begin with.”
“So that’s why I can access this place?”
“That, and it was programmed that way.” There was a very specific look on Tony’s face; he was satisfied with himself. He had just accomplished something all others had deemed impossible, or which defied some pre-defined theory. “You weren’t born in the Matrix, and as such, you shouldn’t be able to access the Matrix. In theory, I may have laid out a few Easter eggs, heralding your unlikely and entirely impossible entrance into the Matrix. In other words: this place was designed to let you in.”
Steve stared at him, wondering what kind of glitch had caused that. “But I wasn’t… I was never supposed to be here.”
Tony gave him an enigmatic smile. “Ever wonder about that shield of yours?”
Steve looked down at it on cue. “I’ve stopped wondering about it. Didn’t do me any good.”
Tony snapped his fingers, in that way he always did. “Pre-programmed into the Matrix, waiting for said entrance on your part. Since it should be theoretically impossible for you to be here, the hardware or programs never looked at that string of code twice. It was irrelevant and harmless, because it could not be activated…”
“But here I am,” Steve finished the equation.
“Here you are,” Tony spread his arms, smiling at him. “Right on schedule. Okay, that’s not true, but I take it it’s time, seeing as you came knocking and asking about the Weapon.”
“Tell me about the Weapon,” Steve requested.
“That would ruin the fun of finding it,” Tony informed him.
“I don’t need it to be fun. I need to find it,” Steve insisted. “Tell me where to find it.”
Tony pursed his lips a little. “Do you know why the Oracle sent you here?”
“To find the Weapon.” Steve felt like sighing and giving Tony a look, but this wasn’t really Tony. It was just some program, going about its pre-programmed life, and he needed to find a way to crack it open.
“She likes riddles,” Tony went on, clearly talking about the Oracle. “She likes seeing the pieces move, puzzles inside puzzles. Outcomes and possibilities, all wide open in front of her and ripe for the picking.” He fell silent, looking to the side, through the floor-to-ceiling windows and the sea spreading out on the other side. “I’ll help you get closer to that ultimate weapon of yours – but I need you to do me a personal favor.”
Steve considered his options. “What do you need me to do?”
“You’ll figure it out in due time,” Tony told him, and once again it eerily reminded him of what the Oracle had said. “For now, I need to give you some coordinates and travel plans.” He stepped closer to Steve and raised his right hand; Steve stiffened, set his bottle of ginger ale to the side and raised the shield in protection. “You look like a skittish lamb walking to a slaughter house,” Tony told him in a low voice. “Relax. I won’t hurt that pretty head of yours.”
Steve stilled, but he was still tense as Tony reached out and touched the side of his face. The feel of Tony’s skin was completely natural, down to the calluses on his fingers which were strangely familiar. Steve didn’t feel anything else, and wondered if he was even supposed to; just because Tony had told him he wouldn’t hurt him didn’t mean Steve didn’t expect to feel pain.
“Upload complete, sir,” JARVIS announced suddenly, startling Steve a little.
Tony smiled and pulled back. “There.”
“What did you do?” Steve asked, frowning.
“I installed a map in your brain. To open it, enter a white space.”
“White space?” Steve’s frown increased. “I don’t –”
“Sir,” JARVIS interrupted him. “There are Agents approaching. They may pose a threat to Captain Rogers’ crew.”
“Thanks, J,” Tony replied. “Okay, we need to get you out of here.”
“Wait,” Steve argued. “I don’t understand. How do I open the map?”
“I just told you,” Tony said and started pushing him towards the doorway.
“That explanation doesn’t make any sense. Is ‘white space’ another hidden place in the Matrix?”
“I trust you to figure it out,” Tony responded. He was starting to really tick Steve off, but suddenly they were at the doorway and the glass doors opened, letting them outside. Steve’s crew, who had stayed almost completely still since he stepped inside, jumped into attention, staring at them.
“Who’s that?” Clint asked, bow ready to release an arrow he had pulled from his quiver.
Steve blinked then looked at Tony. For some reason he hadn’t expected for the others to be able to see him, just as they hadn’t been able to touch the house or enter it. As it was, they were all gawking at Tony, who was looking back at them steadily.
“Easy, Robin Hood,” Tony said to Clint. “Steve and I go way back.”
“Who is he?” Natasha repeated Clint’s question.
“Meet Tony Stark – or a program who’s pretending to be him,” Steve introduced the other man.
“That’s… We’ve heard a lot about you,” Bruce volunteered.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Tony hedged. “Right now, I need to get you off my lawn because there are Agents a-coming and that’s a mess we all hope to avoid.”
“Agents?” Jane repeated in obvious distress. “Why?”
“I think we’re not supposed to be here,” Steve guessed.
“Bingo,” Tony smiled a bit uneasily, then looked off into the distance, towards the trees. “Too late.”
Steve looked as well, seeing six men approach. All of them wore black suits, ties and sunglasses to match. They looked almost identical with their combed brown hair and stern expressions. They walked closer and halted, staring at them without speaking. Steve had never come across an Agent before, other than in a Construct, and he wondered how his shield would do against the powerful programs.
The air rippled, suddenly, and a seventh Agent appeared at the head of the group. This one was slightly different – mostly because his features were familiar.
“Phil!” Tony exclaimed with faked cheer. “Long time, no see. You didn’t need to come out here in person.”
The Agent took a look at them all, his gaze hidden by the sunglasses on his face, but Steve could feel the weight of his gaze as it landed and lingered on him. This Agent was the spitting image of the man, Phil Coulson, who used to be in contact with them on behalf of an organization called S.H.I.E.L.D., back when Steve and Tony worked together as Captain America and Iron Man. Steve had considered Phil a personal friend, and it was disturbing to see the man standing in front of him, obviously not himself.
Agent Coulson’s face finally turned to look at Tony. “You’re not supposed to leave the house.”
“Cabin fever,” Tony shrugged dramatically. “Needed to air out my brain.”
“Why are they here?”
“None of your concern,” Tony told him. “Tell your lackeys to back off.”
Agent Coulson’s lips tightened even more, if possible. “You are not supposed to interact with humans. They are not supposed to be aware of your presence.”
“I’ve heard the sales pitch,” Tony snapped, voice dropping. “I’m getting tired of it. Is that a problem?” If Steve didn’t know better, this was Tony getting pissed off at being cornered, and that was never a good thing.
“Get back inside. I shall deal with these humans,” Agent Coulson ordered.
“They go free,” Tony argued. “You’ll let them leave, and forget they were ever here.”
“I cannot do that.”
“You can,” Tony pressed, then looked at the six other Agents. “Leave. Now. You saw nothing here worth reporting back. Everything’s as it should be.”
The six Agents nodded simultaneously and turned to leave. Agent Coulson looked over his shoulder, watching them vanish into the trees, then looked at Tony again. “You are not supposed to do that.”
“Bitch please,” Tony rolled his eyes. “Get a sense of humor! Oh, wait, they didn’t give you one.” The brown eyes narrowed, looking at the remaining Agent. “Don’t make this into a mess, Phil. I’ll go back inside, these people will leave, end of story. Return to the Source. You need your beauty sleep, after all.”
The Agent seemed to be considering it.
“Go,” Tony ordered, and miraculously, Agent Coulson turned, began walking away, and then disappeared just as he had appeared in the first place.
Silence followed, and for several seconds Steve was certain a dozen more Agents would storm the point.
“That was… unusual,” Natasha mused. “Usually the Agents need a body to jump to. They don’t just appear like that.”
“Normal Agents, yes,” Tony agreed. “Agent Coulson is special. He’s the… How should I put it? The Head Agent. He doesn’t come out to play unless he has to.”
“Like when you break your house arrest?” Bruce guessed.
Tony gave him a sideways glance. “Don’t push it, Shaggy. I just saved all your asses.”
“We’re thankful for that,” Steve hurried to say.
“We should get going,” Clint suggested. “They might come back. Whatever Agent-whispering your friend just did might not work for much longer. I would rather not be here if and when they return.”
“Agreed,” Jane echoed.
Steve turned to look at Tony, who met his gaze. “The map –”
“Remember, I need you to do me that favor,” Tony reminded him and turned to return to the house.
“What favor? And what about the white space?!” Steve called after him. “How do I open the map?”
Tony just waved at him without looking and stepped inside, the glass doors closing behind him. And just like that the house vanished, refusing to reappear even when Steve stalked over to it in order to wrangle an actual, useful answer out of Tony.
“So, he gave you a map?” Bruce ventured.
“I sure hope so,” Steve sighed in defeat and looked at the empty space before him. No matter how much he tried to find the door, it refused to appear to him.
“Let’s go, Cap,” Clint said at length, and they all headed back towards their car.
Half-way to the vehicle, Steve’s communicator beeped and he answered: “This is Rogers.”
“Thank God!” Darcy’s voice shouted from the other end. “Are you okay, Cap?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Why?” Steve frowned.
“You totally disappeared from every screen and feed for several minutes. I thought you had died, spontaneously, but even that would have left some kind of trail.”
Steve blinked and looked back towards the house. The trees blocked his view, and he doubted he would have seen anything, anyway. “Huh.”
“What do you mean, ‘huh’? What happened?”
“Let’s just say I entered an uncharted zone. Now that you’re there, see where you can establish the nearest Exit and we’ll come home.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Darcy agreed, something akin to relief in her voice.
to be continued…