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Unabashed Spoiler Hound & Fanfic writer

Reveling in the fickle nature of fangirlishness

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Elder Statesman Part 2/3
sophie_deangirl


Dedicated to laughtersmelody for her friendship. Our mutual delight in all things h/c and deathfic, from Supernatural to The Avengers , I'm ever grateful to her friendship.


The doctors had determined that Steve was quickly losing muscle mass and along with that, his veins, arteries, bones and tendons were deteriorating, becoming weaker and weaker. If they didn't find his blood with the serum soon, there would be a point of no return. There was also doubt that even if they found the blood and if it wasn't already degraded, the transformation back might kill Steve anyway. They didn't know if he had any reserves left to undergo the painful process all over again.

Steve knew.

He knew what he had wanted to do before they even speculated on his chances for survival, and he told the doctors that no matter what condition the blood was in, he would go through it all over again. He’d rather die on his own terms than let Loki win.

Natasha listened with awe at Steve’s completely unwavering conviction. It made his suffering all the more unfair.

When Fury had announced over the comlink that they had found the locker and blood and were heading back, she reluctantly stirred Steve from his concentration. Merciful unconsciousness eluded him, but he had found a way to drift away, if not meditating, then creating a place where he could retreat to for a few minutes at a time. She didn’t know how much of it was true concentration or how much of it was the poison invading his mind, but she was grateful that he could find some measure of escape.

“They’ve found the blood, “ she said.

“They’re coming back with it now.”

Steve nodded slowly. “There...should be...a notebook...explaining...what needs to be done...” he rasped.

“They found it all, Captain.”

“Call me Steve,” he said hoarsely.

“What?”

“I’m a Captain in name only...call me Steve.”

“You served and fought. You more than earned -”

“No...not like the men who worked their way...to their ranks...I...didn’t...” Steve said, his breathing ragged, tired and yet punctuated.

“Okay, Steve,” she acknowledged even though she disagreed with his assessment.

They then heard the footsteps of the others walking in and they gathered around him.

“I hear...you found everything...hope I didn’t make it too tough for you,” Steve joked.

Every man had to straighten at the sight before them; Steve Rogers was thinning, bones were showing through his translucent skin. It looked as if he were dissolving away, but they were also impressed at Steve's attempts to make them feel comfortable, knowing how badly he must've felt if how he looked was any indication.

“Please, your code was no match for the computers,” Tony snarked.

Steve smiled in spite of the pain.

“We’ve given the Doctor’s notebook and your blood to the medical staff. They’ll examine it -” Fury related as stoically and as impartially as he could, but he was having a difficult time. Truth be told, Captain America was one of his heroes as well. Only Coulson knew that.

Steve shook his head.

“I’ve read his notes...guess I was feeling nostalgic...” Steve said. “I’m no doctor, but all you’ll need to do is inject me with the blood as is.”

“Rogers, it’s been hidden, no refrigeration -” Fury tried to protest.

“For 70 years, I can do...the math, sir, but I know that Stark and Banner...have already read the notes too...they know...my blood...” Steve cringed with pain, cutting off his words.

“It doesn’t deteriorate like human blood,” Bruce piped in. “Whatever Erskine used to metabolize the serum, it fused onto every component of Steve’s blood.”

“It’s as fresh as the day they extracted it. A Twilight vamp’s perfect swig in a vial,” Tony joked then became serious. “The problem is more about timing. It might be too late to administer it to have any effect on Rogers.”

“What? What do you mean?” Natasha asked, distressed.

“My body...might be too far gone to recover, but that doesn’t matter,” Steve said.

“It could kill you,” Clint joined in the discussion.

Steve smiled.

“Whatever Loki gave me is already doing that...The blood will either save me...or just accelerate the inevitable. I’m willing to take that chance.”

Steve bucked weakly.

“You’ll need...to put me...into a containment cell,” Steve said.

“Why?” Natasha asked.

“We don’t have the pod he was in the last time,” Bruce said. “When the serum starts working, Steve will metamorphose and he won’t be able to control it.”

Steve looked at Bruce Banner, an expression of gratitude on his face.

“I’m counting...on you to...help me if things...you know...get out of control.”

Bruce had always considered his “condition”, considered himself, a biological mistake, the kind of mistake you found a way to eradicate. His barely contained anger was just a fuse to be lit at a moment’s notice and not necessarily in his control, but after reading Erskine’s notes and learning that Steve Rogers had undergone something similar, it gave him a perspective he wasn’t expecting. He had tried to synthesize Erskine’s formula, and it had failed with horrendous results. At the time, he had never imagined that he would actually meet the man who had been the first to undergo the transformation, let alone Erskine’s actual notes.

Bruce also didn’t feel alone anymore, and though they were different, both ideologically and generationally, Steve could understand the torment of becoming someone, something else. And perhaps it was the kind of man Steve Rogers was that had made all the difference between success and failure in the experiment. Erskine's notes had mentioned that Steve's inherent belief in good and in self-sacrifice had determined his decision to select him, factors Bruce had never considered in his attempts. He would be the first to admit that he wasn't a completely good man. He often wondered if the monster was closer to the man he really was.

“Of course,” Bruce said with due respect as he remembered how he had first met Steve Rogers and how Steve hadn’t cared about “what” he was, just who he was.

Steve felt time running out. He knew that the golden window for him had already closed so he was now on borrowed time. If he was going to survive, he had to get the blood into him, but he had to do one last thing, likely his last act.

“I need a promise...and in order to ask it, you need to know...that I trust each of you...I have fought beside you and understand that though...we may have different views...we have a common goal...I want you to know that...I believe in all of you...I need you to promise me that if this fails...it won’t drive you apart, but keep you together...Coulson’s death brought us together...my death...has to keep you together...”

Everyone in the room was caught wordless. Even Tony Stark’s snarkiness was cowed.

“I’m trusting you to promise me...that my death won’t be about avenging it...You won’t beat Loki if it is...I don’t want...to be avenged...I want...to be a part of something greater...and I know that I already am...I want you to know that."

Steve then began to convulse and the doctors pushed everyone out of the way to wheel him away.

Time was running out.

Every member stood humbled by Steve’s words for a moment, unable to move from the gravity of the responsibility he had given them, potentially being his deathbed wish. There was nothing more to say, but there was much more to do, to show support for Steve, to be there for him.

They assembled around the containment cell. It hurt all of them to see Steve restrained, but they understood why. Still, at that moment, seeing how thin Steve looked, the restraints seemed laughably unnecessary. Steve looked ghastly frail and weak. The convulsions had finally stopped, but he seemed barely alive. His chest inflating and deflating was both reassuring and frightening as they saw the outline of of his ribs.

Steve turned his head and he saw the worry on their faces. In a strange way, it warmed him, comforted him to see them there, united in their concern, but somewhere deep inside of him, he knew that they were also united in something greater than him. That thought gave him hope for them. He weakly gave them a thumbs-up despite his restraints and smiled. He hoped that it would reassure them that no matter what happened, he would be at peace with it.

The doctors entered the room and one of them had the hypodermic with his blood from another lifetime. Steve shifted his gaze and gave the doctor a nod of affirmation that he was ready. He inserted the needle and Steve barely flinched. His memory went back to when Erskine had prepared him for the procedure, and he had mistakenly thought a simple shot was the extent of it. He had been very wrong then. This time, he didn’t make such an assumption because he knew the worst was yet to come, as bad as what he had been going through for the past several hours with Loki’s reverse engineered version.

The doctor pressed the plunger, emptied the contents into his left arm vein then removed it. He stepped back. Steve said,“You should go, I’ll be okay,” to him, giving him permission to leave him alone. It was so weak the doctor barely heard him.

Steve was suddenly afraid, as afraid as he was the first time he had been injected.

And then he didn’t have time to be afraid.

There was, at that moment, only familiarity in all of its fiery, fierce reality.

This time, he couldn’t hold back the screams.

The containment cell wasn’t sound proof and the glass breaking wail that Steve had roared should have shattered everything, but it hadn’t.

Except maybe every heart outside of it who had heard it. Even Tony Stark’s encased heart shuddered off rhythm for a second.

They all watched in horror and perhaps with a little awe as Steve Rogers’s body transformed again, at what seemed like an inhumanly accelerated pace. Muscles expanding, inflating against skin, veins and tendons stretching to keep up.

Natasha’s eyes filled with tears and her body went rigid with trying to maintain her control, but it was slipping. She felt Clint position himself closer to her then his arm brushed against hers. She reached for Clint’s hand and squeezed. He looked over at her and squeezed her hand in return.

Steve caught the moment, and a sliver of satisfaction knitted through his suffering. It was then stolen away by an unbearable wash of agony. He couldn’t suppress the scream that came with it. He pulled against his restraints and they chafed against his wrists and ankles.

“Can’t they give him something?” Tony asked, his voice edged with frustration and concern.

“There’s nothing strong enough,” Bruce said, almost dreamily, as if recalling his own dance with his modified and failed experiment.

Bruce understood with intimate clarity of camaraderie what Steve was going through.

“I will make Loki pay for this,” Thor said, the bass tone in his throat rumbling with growing fury.

“We’ll all make Loki pay for this, in spades,” Stark affirmed.

When it seemed the worst of the explosive changes were settling into occasional twitching, Steve had stopped squirming, but his breathing was ragged, wet with phlegm and wheezing. The doctor checked Steve's vitals and his expression left the others fearful. After he finished his examination, he signaled that they could come into the containment cell.

When they had gathered around the doctor, his expression hadn't changed at all. It was still full of doubt and with grim purpose.

"Captain Rogers is extremely weak, but he's asked for all of you."

"How is he?" Natasha asked.

"We've given him something that will hopefully ease his discomfort, but I'm worried about his blood pressure. It's low and his heart rate is weak."

"What's his prognosis, doctor?" Fury asked, pragmatic because he had to be, concerned because he did care, contrary to everyone’s opinion of him.

"I'll be honest with you, I'm surprised he's still alive, but I'm concerned that the transformation may have compromised both his immune and his cardiovascular systems. He's highly vulnerable to infection and heart failure."

The silence of everyone absorbing the cold and hard facts of Steve's condition was deafening.

"Can we see him now?" Natasha asked, breaking it.

"He needs to rest so not too long."

They nodded and walked over to Steve. For every step they took, each of them tried to paint their expression with gentle concern not the anxiety they really felt.

Steve's physique was as he had once looked, muscular again, but his face was pale, drawn, lined with strain, his chest heaving with staggered breathing. He managed a smile as they approached. When they were beside him, he broadened his smile, shaking with the effort to sustain it.

"P...piece of cake..." He said breathlessly as he closed his eyes in exhaustion, relentless pain kept him conscious.

Suddenly their visit was interrupted by the the com. It was Agent Hills' voice calling out.

"We've confirmed Loki's position! He's at Stark Tower! So is the tesseract!"

Steve's body reacted to the news instinctively, the need to help was both intense and frustrating as every attempt to move brought agony to every part of his body. He growled in helplessness as his breathing became pants.

"W..We have to stop him..." Steve panted as he struggled and failed to rise up from the gurney his muscles rippling with spasms making them almost useless to him.

“We will,” Clint said as he placed a hand on Steve’s chest, his commitment to him absolute.

Steve felt the pain permeate every cell, but he wasn't sure that it was all about the transformation. There was also an ache from failure. He believed he was letting his friends down, to face the dangers without the needed support.

It wasn’t arrogance.

It was a deeply held responsibility for their lives that drove him .

"We have to stop Loki and the tesseract," Fury said. “Thor’s right. It belongs to his world.”

Fury gazed at the alliance he saw among these empowered individuals and realized that Steve Rogers had mobilized them in a way that he never could, to a unified cause; saving the Earth was a given, but saving one of their own, that was what was needed, that made it a personal investment for each of them. It wasn’t vengeance. It was the fruition of the Avengers Initiative.

"Besides, we don't need it anymore."

He went over to Steve and put a hand on his shoulder.

"When you’re ready, we'll be there for you. All of us. Count on that," Fury said, implicit faith that Steve would be there.

Steve was so moved by the gesture, he could only nod.

“Besides, you don't want us to have all the fun, now do you?” Tony teased as he, too, placed his hand on Steve’s shoulder, an emphasis that demonstrated a commitment that he didn’t think he possessed other than to Pepper.

“Can’t...have...you taking all the credit, can I?” Steve teased in return.“

You know I will, too...I’m all about style, right?”

Steve smiled weakly and nodded again. Tony then walked off, feeling the emotion coming through him like it had when Fury had used the word hero. He was still convinced that he would never qualify for that, but he realized that Steve did.

The others nodded back in a similar commitment as they filed out to head to Stark Tower and the inevitable battle ahead.

“Doctor Banner...” Steve then rasped. "May I have a word with you?"

Bruce stopped and went back.

“Bruce,” he corrected.

Steve took in a breath with difficulty.

“Bruce...I...I...want you...to continue...your research...”

“What?” He said shocked, completely not expecting Steve to say that especially at a time like that.“No matter what happens to me...take my blood...the doc’s notes...find the cure...for yourself...”

Bruce stood speechless. Steve was telling him to find a cure to his transformation. He had come to accept that he could never escape his fate, not even through death and that isolation was the only solution. The bond that had been created between him and Steve through Erskine’s formula had been unexpected and it made him feel less alone, less a freakish science experiment, if not necessarily a successful one.

“This can wait -”

“No, no, it can’t. I...I don’t know...if I’ll be here when you all come back...what I feel...not normal...”

Bruce stiffened and understood the implication. Not normal was his life.

“If I can’t kill...” Bruce paused, always struggling to find the right word to describe the other being he was. Hulk was someone else’s term, “then you can survive this.”

Steve smiled.

“I appreciate the...vote of confidence...and I wish...I could be so sure...but just in case...you need to keep trying...”

“I don’t think I can,” Bruce said. “After reading Erskine’s notes, I think the formula’s success is as much about the man who’s getting it than it is about the science. You’re a good man, unimpeachable. He knew that, knew that was important. I’m not. Perhaps, my curse, my punishment was my arrogance, for instead of thinking about whether I could, maybe I should have asked whether I should change nature and most arrogant of all, whether I was worthy of that power. I think the results speak for themselves.”

Steve listened with understanding.

“I don’t believe that...you are a good man...you and the hulk...you both serve for good...” Steve said tiredly. “What I do believe is that... all you need is...a chance to believe it yourself...”

Steve closed his eyes and groaned.

“Think about it...I just wanted you to know...that I’m giving you permission...to use the blood...It can’t be lost, can’t be just to have helped me...it has to serve a greater good.”

Bruce nodded. Before he turned to walk away, he gripped Steve’s hand.

“We’ll stop Loki. I promise. Even if the big guy has to smash him to bits to do it.”

Steve smiled and squeezed back in a much weaker grip.

Bruce let go and left.

Fury was the last to leave and Steve needed one more request from him.

“Director, wait, I need...one more thing,” Steve said.

“Name it,” Fury said.

“I need a comlink...I need to know what’s...happening.”

“I don’t think -”

“It’s not...a request...sir. If I can't be there...fight alongside them...then maybe I can...talk them through...whatever they're facing," Steve gently pressed. "Remind them...about what they are fighting for."

Fury considered himself a pragmatic man, a soldier first, perhaps commander even above that. He had his sentimentalities like he had for Coulson, but otherwise he didn’t consider himself someone who leaned towards sloppy sentiment. Nick considered the Avengers Initiative as a practical necessity for Earth’s survival, but Coulson had believed in what the Avengers Initiative stood for. Good triumphing over evil. A little hero worship for Steve Rogers played into that belief as well. It was watching Steve undergo such suffering and yet offering confidence to the others which had finally made him a believer.

“I'll see to it,” Fury asserted as he turned and left the room.

Steve closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on healing. He didn’t know what else he could do to make him whole again so that he could be there for his friends, but he did know he had to at least try to be helpful to them in any way he could until he couldn't do anything at all even if it was only to give them words of encouragement through the comlink. The idea of not being there with them, no matter what happened, to not fight by their sides was just as painful as the transformation.


TBC. Thanks for reading.


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I already said this on FF.N, but this is another great chapter. :D Poor Steve.

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