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Horse Play

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The gentle swaying of his body as it moved with the motion of his surroundings was the first sensation Tony registered as he slowly regained consciousness.

The second was the splitting pain in his head.

With a nearly inaudible moan and a great deal of effort, he raised his head from where it had slumped against the wall. Brown eyes remained closed as he extended his senses and began gathering information. There was a dull and constant rumbling somewhere up ahead; an engine, and coupling that with the fact he was very obviously in motion, Tony concluded he was in a vehicle. A large one, considering he was currently folded on his knees on a metal floor. His forearms were bound together and secured tightly behind his back just below his shoulder blades. The angle was uncomfortable and his shoulders were already aching. A quick flex of his fingers and Tony knew his fisted hands were secured in some kind of leather mitts, ensuring he would have no use of the appendages at all. The straps that secured the mitts were obviously tight and unyielding from the feel of them. He knew without even seeing that attempting to escape from them at this point in time would be a waste of his energy.

There was something on his face too. Actually, it was all around his head. A quick scrub of his cheek against his shoulder revealed a series of what felt like leather straps; a harness of sorts. What really got his hackles rising, though, was the noticeable absence of the prickly hairs that made up his signature goatee. Instead the skin on his chin was smooth against his shoulder. Someone had shaved his face. For what reason, he had no clue, but what he did know was that someone was going to suffer for destroying a national treasure.

Having gathered all the information he could from feel and sound, Tony finally dared to open his eyes. As he had suspected, he was in the back of a truck or van. There was only one small window at the top of the left wall, but the sunlight it allowed through was enough for him to see by as he peered around him. Aside from a door that would open at the end of the enclosure---trailer or truck then--- there was nothing of significance aside from a few leads of rope that hung from hooks on the ceiling.

He turned his gaze to his left when he heard a shuffling movement there, and his eyes flew open wide when he saw Steve bound beside him. The man was naked and his hands were mitted while his arms were bound behind his back like Tony’s. He also had a dark blue leather harness around his head, which Tony assumed must have been what he felt on himself. It resembled a horse’s halter, only altered for a human’s facial structure. Brown eyes traveled down to Steve’s torso, which was encased in another harness made up of various leather bands that crisscrossed across his pecs, showcased his impressive set of abs, and wound tightly around his waist. From the angle he sat, Tony could see that something was attached to the harness at the back, perched directly on top of where Steve’s tailbone would be. It was shiny, blonde like the man’s hair, and cascaded along the floor.

It was a tail. A horse’s tail.

Tony’s eyes shot up to meet Steve’s blue ones. He could tell from the man’s expression that he’d been awake longer than Tony had and already had time to evaluate their situation; and considering they were still sitting bound in the back of a trailer, that did not bode well.

Tony jerked his head down and found that he was trussed up in an identical harness to Steve’s, though his was red rather than blue. IronMan red. The rat bastards.

He twisted around as best he could and sure enough, a glossy chestnut tail sat proudly above the swell of his naked ass, a near perfect match to the hair on his head. But there was something else. Something he hadn’t yet noticed because of the pins and needles that had developed in his legs due to them being folded beneath him for so long.

Tony struggled wildly to pull his numb legs out from under him, and though he ended up tipping over without the aid of his arms and lay on his side instead, his wide eyes were finally able to see the reason his feet felt so heavy and awkward to him.

Instead of feet, he had hooves.

Ok, so that wasn’t entirely accurate. His feet were still there, but they were strapped into a set of boots that tied tightly up his claves. The black leather gleamed brightly, even in the low light, and Tony’s eyes followed the line of them down to the horse-like hooves that made up the sole of boots. His feet, he could tell even laying down, were arched highly into what would have had to have been 7 inch stilettos had there been actual heels, and the ball of his foot rested within the hoof itself. They even had metal horseshoes nailed to the bottom of them.

Anger welled up within the engineer as the shock wore off, and he thrust one of his hooved feet into the air, turning his eyes on Steve as his mouth opened to shout a stream of obscenities that should properly put into words how he felt about their current predicament.

But no words came. Tony blinked and snapped his mouth shut in befuddlement. Steve looked at him and gave a sympathetic shrug of his shoulder. Apparently the larger man had already figured out they couldn’t speak. They couldn’t speak, Tony couldn’t express his extreme pissed off-ness, and Steve was just SITTING there all calm and Captain America-like!

Oh, no. This was not ok! He couldn’t seem for form words, but Tony still managed a shrill shriek of displeasure as he kicked his feet against the side of the trailer in an attempt to get the stupid boots off his feet. The metal shoes on the underside of the hooves clanged loudly and even threw out the occasional spark as they collided with more metal, denting and scratching the wall beside him as he unleashed his fury.

Beside him Steve shuffled closer with the intent of calming him down if his firm ‘you’re acting like a child’ frown was anything to go by, but Tony wasn’t hearing it. He’d been kidnapped and dressed up like a fucking PONY, for christ’s sake. He was naked and the metal floor he was sprawled on was cold on his bare ass, and he couldn’t move his fingers, and that fucking tail kept tickling the back of his thighs, and his nose itched and everything just SUCKED!

And then the engine stopped. The lack of steady movement immediately made Tony pause in the middle of his tantrum to listen. He could hear the driver and passenger leave the cab, the doors rattling the vehicle as they were slammed shut behind them. There were muffled voices as more people seemed to join them, and Tony tracked their steps as they rounded to the back door of the trailer. He glanced at Steve. The man was in soldier mode. His body was tense, his eyes focused on the door as he readied himself to fight.

And Tony was currently sprawled on his back with his legs kicked up against the wall like an indignant child.

The large door opened and folded up into the top of the truck with a loud ‘swish’, and Tony internally cursed as he struggled to right himself without the aid of his arms. He only managed to roll onto his stomach and get his knees beneath him before the sudden introduction of direct sunlight made him squeeze his eyes shut and turn his head away.

He heard a chuckle.

Oh, great. Because laying there with his ass in the air was much better than being on his back. Jesus.

“Looks like the little one has a temper. Look at the damage to your trailer.”

Little one? Well, fuck you too!

Tony grit his teeth and forced his eyes open again, blinking several times until he finally adjusted to the mid-day sunlight streaming in on him. Four men stood at the threshold of the trailer, their eyes roaming and appraising Tony and Steve in a way that made Tony shiver. The engineer pushed himself upright and onto his knees, subconsciously moving just a little closer to Steve in the process. The larger man next to him cast him a quick glance before refocusing his gaze on the men in front of them, and his muscles bunched defensively when the largest of them stepped into the trailer.

His hair was sandy brown and cropped short to his head. He was tall, possibly as tall as Steve, and he had intelligent hazel eyes that seemed more curious and cautious than threatening. In his left hand he held what looked like a lead with a clip on the end designed to hook into the rings of the harnesses Tony and Steve wore. His right hand was held palm out in front of him as if he were calming a wild animal.

His voice was gentle when he spoke. “Alright, boys, take it easy. I’m sure you’re both ready to stretch after spending so much time in here, right?” He gently shook the lead to make sure they saw it. “Just let me clip this on your harness and we’ll unload you.”

Tony arched a disbelieving brow. Was this guy an idiot? He knew he was talking to Tony Stark and Captain America, right? They weren’t dumb animals who couldn’t understand English. This was so unbelievable that Tony almost wanted to pinch himself to make sure he was actually awake and not experiencing some booze induced nightmare.

But he couldn’t. Because his fucking hands were bound.

And oh, look! The Horse Whisperer decided ‘the little one’ was first.

With a flare of his nostrils Tony brought one booted foot/hoof onto the floor, and once he was kneeling awkwardly on the ridiculously tall heelless stiletto, (because that’s totally what they were), he heaved himself up to both feet.

It didn’t go so well.

Without actual heels to lean on, Tony was forced to balance all his weight on the balls of his feet. With his arms bound behind his back and his legs still partially numb, Tony immediately began to stumble backward. The metal shoes on the boot’s hooves clacked loudly as he took several small clumsy steps in an effort to keep upright, but the moment his back met the wall behind him, Tony let himself slide down it until his rump hit the floor. Brown eyes glared murderously at the things on his feet as the remaining three men roared with laughter.

“He’s as wobbly as a newborn colt!” one howled.

“I think I’ve got a name for him. Stumbles!” another cackled.

Tony could feel his face burning as he turned his furious gaze on the men, but before he could even attempt to verbalize again, The Horse Whisperer snarled and twisted to face his comrades.

“Shut it, you idiots! You know they’re both green! Now all of you fuck off! Go get Sam to help me!”

The men continued to snicker amongst themselves, but they did as they were told and disappeared from view. Tony and Steve both watched them go before turning their attention back to the remaining man. Likewise, his attention was back on them, his expression apologetic as he took a step closer. This time, however, he moved to Steve.

“Alright. It looks like the little one needs more time----“

Oh, fuck you too.

"How about you? You seem a little more calm. Show your friend there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Steve’s expression was wary as the man approached, but he didn’t move a muscle as the lead was clipped to his halter. Instead he allowed it to happen, keeping his blue eyes trained on The Horse Whisperer for a long moment before cutting his gaze to Tony. With a small, reassuring tip of his chin, Steve slowly climbed to his…hooves. His legs were shaky for the same reason Tony’s were, and Steve’s lips turned down into a frown as he eyed the strange boots and shifted his weight from foot to foot. The man holding his lead waited patiently, and when Steve was ready, he took a careful and tentative step toward the mouth of the trailer.

You would have thought Christmas had come based on the way Whisper’s face lit up. “Excellent! Take it as slow as you want. The grass will feel better on your feet.”

Tony snorted and leaned more heavily against the wall at his back as he watched Steve slowly make his way down the ramp. His head tipped to the side as that artificial blond tail swayed back and forth with his movements, inevitably drawing his eye to Captain America’s very shapely ass. Was that all natural or were the boots making those cheeks perkier? Tony briefly wondered how walking on his toes made his ass look. Magnificent, probably. It was already amazing, after all.

“Are you ready to try again?”

Tony violently startled out of his thoughts and jerked his head up. The Horse Whisperer was back with a new lead, and he was smiling down at him with kind eyes that kind of pissed Tony off. His foot twitched when he considered slamming his hoof into the man’s crotch, but he dismissed the urge with an irritated snort. Whispers hadn’t actually done anything to hurt them yet, but if he did….

As if sensing Tony’s train of thought, the sandy haired man stepped to the side and out of those hooves’ direct path.

So, not completely stupid then.

“Easy, boy. Jumpy one, aren’t you?”

….Never mind. He was stupid. Very stupid.

While Tony was distracted sorting out just how one man could be so moronic, The Horse Whisperer managed to clip the lead onto his harness. Tony threw his head back rebelliously, wincing sharply when the back of his skull collided violently with the wall behind him. Again, his mouth opened with the intention of spewing forth a litany of profanity, but all he managed was a pathetic keening noise.

Oh, yes. Why the hell couldn’t he talk again?! From what he could tell he felt no pain from his throat that would indicate an injury to his vocal cords, so what was the problem? And why wasn’t Steve using his super-duper serum strength to break free of his restraints? How’d they get here? Why wouldn’t his nose stop itching?

“Shhhh…Come on. On your feet, little guy.”

Oh, he was going to kill this man.

With the wall providing leverage this time, Tony managed to get to his feet again. Man, the boots made him tall! Not even the lifts he wore in his normal shoes could get him this kind of height. On the other hand, he was willing to sacrifice the extra inches for the comfort of being able to walk flat footed like a normal human being. How did Pepper strut around all day in those shoes of hers? Maybe it was less uncomfortable with a heel to help equalize the pressure between the heel and ball of the foot. In these boots, all his weight was on the balls of his feet; and it hurt!

His inner thoughts manifested themselves when Tony stomped a foot in frustration, and The Horse Whisperer murmured to him quietly and slowly walked backwards until the lead between him and Tony was taut. The engineer slowly walked after him in case the idiot decided to pull and throw him off balance again, and his movement earned him bubbly praise.

Tony rolled his eyes so hard he was sure they were going to fall back into his skull.

Negotiating the ramp was tricky, but he managed it with only a slight stumble. His hooves---ugh, that was weird--- sunk into plush grass, and Tony had to admit it did feel better on his feet. He kept his eyes on the ground for a moment longer until he was sure he wouldn’t fall again before turning them up to his surroundings.
Steve stood not too far off, his lead being held by a younger looking man---maybe in his early twenties---who looked like he could have been the son of The Horse Whisperer. It must have been Sam. Tony met Steve’s eyes, eyes that seemed too calm given their situation. He could see Steve’s message though. Stay calm, play along, learn what we can so we can come up with an escape plan, don’t get hurt.

Ok. He could do that. Calm, collected, stay out of trouble----Was this idiot trying to feed him a sugar cube?!

Tony took a step backward and away from the hand that had raised up to his mouth. In that upturned palm sat a single perfectly formed sugar cube, and Tony’s eyes turned to the owner of that palm and met Whisper’s smiling eyes with his own wide and disbelieving ones.

He couldn’t help it. He kicked the bastard. He kicked him with his steel shoed fucking horse hoof right in his fucking crotch. It sent them both sprawling backwards onto their asses, but it was worth the pain that shot up Tony’s spine. He wasn’t a goddamn horse and if this guy was going to feed him something, it’d better be a cheeseburger!

Steve’s eyes slid shut and he shook his head slowly as Sam cried out beside him. His shout must have alerted the three clowns Whisper sent away before, because before Tony could even attempt to get back on his feet, he found himself roughly forced down into his belly and shoved face first into the grass by two of the men as the third went to their injured comrade.

Tony thrashed wildly beneath them, but without his arms, he couldn’t get the leverage he needed to throw them off. He screeched---oh, another sound he could make--- when he was struck sharply across the shoulders with a crop. He could feel his skin redden and welt immediately after impact. He was struck again on his flank, and he hissed between his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut in preparation for the next blow. Instead of pain, the hands on him disappeared, people began to shout, and the ground on either side of Tony trembled as something impacted it.

Brown eyes slowly opened. A hoof rested not two inches from his face, and Tony turned onto his side and craned his head upward. That hoof belonged to Steve, who had broken loose from Sam’s hold and was now standing over top of Tony protectively. His long blond tail tickled over Tony’s chest, and he glanced around him as he tried to piece together what had happened.

The Horse Whisperer was on his feet again, though judging by his grimace; he was still in quite a bit of pain from the kick he received. Tony almost felt bad, but instead he cast the man a smug smirk. Served the bastard right. The two men who had attacked Tony were just now getting back on their own feet. Apparently Steve had either tackled them away from Tony, or kicked them away. Either way, they were going to be sore for a few days.

Above him—and hey, there’s a view you don’t see every day--- Steve stood firm, his eyes meeting those of each of their captors before they rested on The Horse Whisperer, who was approaching again with submissively raised hands. He spoke quietly and softly as if he were addressing a small child…or a horse.

“Heeeey, now. Easy. That was my fault. I already knew the little guy was skittish and I got in his space before he was ready. No one---“ Hazel eyes turned to the two bruised men at his side. “---is going to hurt you or your friend again.”

For some batshit crazy reason, Steve seemed to believe the guy. The tension left his body as he slowly straightened out of his defensive stance and stepped to Tony’s side rather than towering over him. The Man of Iron hated to admit it, but without Captain America shielding him, he felt exposed; and not because he was naked save for a few straps of leather.

When Whisper nodded, Sam slowly approached Steve and retrieved the lead that had been left to dangle on the ground from where it hung on the man’s blue halter. Tony slowly rolled back to his knees, wincing when his new wounds stung, and tottered back to his feet. His chest heaved as he drew in deep breaths. His adrenaline was still running high and his eyes darted around the yard. He noticed a barn for the first time since leaving the trailer, sitting not far from where they stood now in the middle of what looked like acres of farmland and pastures. There were no other signs of civilization in any direction he looked, just rolling hills and trees; nothing to help him identify where they might be.

As The Horse Whisperer gently and cautiously picked up his lead again, he sighed heavily, already knowing where they’d be heading next. It didn’t surprise him at all when he was walked toward the barn with a quiet reassurance from his ‘handler’.

“It’ll be ok.”

No. It wouldn’t be.

TBC

Chapter Text

Steve kept careful watch of Tony as they were slowly ushered down a dirt path leading to the barn. The man was still shaky on his feet, and it was hard to tell if that was due to his footwear or pain from the lashings he had received. Anger coursed through Steve at the sight of the red welts across Tony’s back and flank. Granted, he shouldn’t have kicked the guy for trying to give him a lump of sugar, but he didn’t deserve to be roughed up, either.

It was obvious Tony was frightened by the situation they found themselves in. Sure, he hid it behind smug grins, angry glares, and snark—which he delivered with surprising ease considering he didn’t have his words to aid him---but Steve knew Tony would sooner graze on grass like a real horse before he’d admit he was scared.

Fear was the first emotion Steve had experienced upon waking bound inside that trailer. He hadn’t remembered much concerning how they’d gotten there, though. Captain America and IronMan had been called out to deal with the sudden appearance of droids outside the city of New York. The rest of the Avengers were assigned to other missions and wouldn’t be able to help, but they hadn’t been concerned. Inside intelligence revealed the droids were manufactured by Hammer Industries and there weren’t many of them.

Tony estimated they’d be done in less than fifteen minutes.

But it hadn’t worked that way.

Hitching a ride on the armor, Steve had just barely caught sight of their targets swarming around in the distance when a high pitched screeching flooded his ears, deafening him to anything else. The pain was overwhelming, but before he’d even been able to cover his ears, the armor he held on to suddenly shut down. The glow of the suit’s eyes flickered and died out at the same time they began to lose altitude, and all Steve can remember is the ground rushing up to meet them and Tony’s frantic calls to Jarvis before everything went black.

When he’d woken inside the trailer the first thing Steve had done was try to rouse Tony; to check that he was ok. But he found himself unable to form the words. He wasn’t experiencing any pain aside from a quickly fading headache, but his vocal cords seemed frozen. With his experience with war and the use of chemical warfare, Steve was very much aware that there were drugs capable of paralyzing muscles---sometimes permanently and sometimes temporarily--- and it seemed someone had used something of the sort to silence them.

What was really alarming, however, was Steve was unable to break the bindings that held his arms against his back. His enhanced strength just wasn’t there. He didn’t feel frail or sick as he had before the serum, and his body looked the same, but he didn’t possess anymore strength than a normal man his size would have.

That was concerning. Had someone been able to neutralize the serum? It seemed doubtful. His flesh was free of any injuries he might have sustained in the freefall he remembered being in, while Tony had a few fresh bruises peppering across the left side of his body where he must have impacted the ground inside the suit. That meant Steve was still healing faster than a normal human, which meant his blood still contained the serum.

It didn’t make sense.

Steve sighed and refocused his attention outward again just as they reached the threshold of the barn. The interior was spacious with obvious temperature control. It smelled of fresh hay and clean linen; not at all what you’d expect had real horses been kept inside.

No, instead of horses within the stalls they were led by, there were people. Both men and woman were scattered throughout, all of which wore similar gear he and Tony found themselves in. Some were wearing full latex body suits that covered their human flesh completely and wore heavier harnesses and bondage gear, while others wore nothing at all aside from hooved boots on their feet and mitts on their hands.

All these people, however, seemed happy and willing to be there.

For the first time since he arrived Steve found himself blushing as several sets of eyes turned to watch him and Tony pass. Some were excited, some were curious, and others were clearly lusting after their exposed flesh.

The man leading Steve, Sam, chuckled softly. “Looks like you two are going to be popular here. You’ve already got some admirers.”

A woman in a stall to his left whinnied shrilly in agreement in a very equine fashion as her dark eyes traveled to Steve’s backside. Tony threw her a furious glare and if his hands had been free, Steve had no doubt that she would have gotten acquainted with his middle finger as well.

“Here we are.”

Past the stalls now, Steve looked around the new room they’d been led to. The floor here was tile rather than wood and hay. Two drains were in the corner beneath shower faucets protruding from the wall, and across from those was a large shelving unit containing various soaps, brushes, tackle, polishes and cleaning utensils. The room smelled fresh and clean, not like a room they’d be tortured in, so Steve didn’t object when he was pulled a little further inside and asked to stand on a padded rubber mat.

Tony, however, objected violently. His short-lived bout of good behavior expired when he pulled against his lead with an irritated grunt. The sandy haired man holding the rope was quickly learning his way around Tony and kept a careful eye on the man’s feet as he tightened his grip and widened his stance. He didn’t pull, but he wouldn’t give Tony an inch either, and on the tiled floor, the metal shoed boots Tony wore couldn’t get enough traction to move his captor.

“Sam, give me a hand. Bring another lead.”

Steve watched as the young man clipped his own lead to a nearby hook imbedded into the wall to make sure he couldn’t get to Tony himself, then grabbed another and rushed to help his companion.

Sam approached cautiously, hesitating only briefly under the weight of Tony’s furious gaze before he quickly clipped the end of his lead to the ring at the center of the red harness he wore across his chest. That gave the two men the extra leverage they needed to forcefully pull Tony to the rubber mat situated only feet from the one Steve stood on, and they quickly secured him in place as they had Steve.

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to put these on you until we’re done; just to make sure no one gets hurt.”

Steve watched cautiously and Tony suspiciously as the sandy haired man quickly clipped a short length of chain to two small clasps that sat on the inner sides of the boots Tony wore, securing his feet so they could move no further than a foot apart and insuring he wouldn’t be able to kick anymore.

For a brief moment Steve found the situation humorous. It wasn’t often anyone considered Tony the more dangerous of the two of them when the genius was outside his suit, but clearly his flailing had intimidated these men enough that they felt the need to make his ‘leash’ extra tight.

Steve’s eyes turned from the chain to Tony’s face, hoping to catch his eye and share his amusement to lighten the mood, but when he saw the other man’s expression any humor he felt was extinguished like a snuffed flame.

A fine sheen of sweat had broken out over Tony’s furrowed brow, and his brown eyes were unfocused and troubled, cast down to the floor as he panted heavily through his mouth. His body was held so tightly his muscles were literally quivering with the stress. Steve had seen Tony in plenty of hostage situations, seen him beaten bloody by their enemies, but never had he seen him look so….afraid.

Shifting on his feet, Steve again tried to will Tony into meeting his eye, but the man either refused or had retreated too far into his own thoughts to notice his attempts. His troubled gaze remained fixed on the floor, though he did shift his eyes slightly when the older of the two men in front of them spoke.

“No need to be so frightened.” He crooned softly, reaching out to move a few strands of dark hair away from Tony’s forehead. He paused and withdrew when the genius jerked away in response.

“Your master sent you both here because we’re the best training stable in the country. You’ll get the best treatment and education with us. We’ll have you boys turned into perfect studs by the time you’re picked up. Consider this a vacation. You don’t have to be anything aside from your equine selves while you’re here. All our guests find their stay therapeutic.”

Steve’s brow furrowed in confusion. Their ‘master’? Someone had sent them here to be trained as horses? Why?

The man continued talking, but Steve turned his eyes to the door when the three men from earlier entered the room. The two he had knocked away from Tony moved stiffly, but they made no aggressive movements as they stopped to watch them, so Steve ignored their presence and turned most his attention back to the man speaking.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get into the right headspace…” the sandy haired man looked at Tony when he said this. “But that’s what we’re here for. We’ll ease you into it, give you everything you want, need, and desire to bring out your inner stallion. If you really didn’t want to, you wouldn’t be here, so trust us. If at any point you want this to end, use the safeword ‘crackerjack’.”

Steve shifted restlessly and tried to tell the man they didn’t want this, that they didn’t ask to come here, that they didn’t even fully understand what ‘here’ was; but he was reminded again of his inability to speak when his mouth opened but no sound came out.

The man smiled at him. “I can see you already know some of the basic rules. No talking when you’re a pony. You can make sounds a horse would, but that’s it. Unless, of course, you need to use your safeword. We want you to completely immerse yourself in the experience. Only then can you truly let go and just be. It’s freeing.”

“Hey, Adam.” The third man who had aided who he now knew to be Adam when Tony kicked him spoke in a gruff voice. He had shaggy graying hair and a five o’clock shadow growing on sun darkened skin that suggested hours of outside labor. “The little guy has a pretty impressive scar there. Might’ve been mistreated by a careless master.”

All eyes turned to Tony, who visibly flinched under the sudden scrutiny. His shoulders hunched forward in a subconscious effort to shield the heavy scarring that covered his chest; a remnant of the arc reactor that was once imbedded there. Steve had taken a lot of time to study the damaged tissue when Tony had been unconscious in the trailer. It’d been the first time he’d seen the man shirtless since the reactor was removed, and he had to admit it was a shocking and painful looking sight.

And Tony was clearly self-conscious of it if his futile attempts to cover himself were any indication. Funny; he didn’t seem shy that his manhood was exposed, but having people looking so openly at his chest scar made him squirm.

Adam hummed and nodded. “I’d noticed it. Can’t for the life of me imagine what would have caused scarring like that, but it would explain his…reluctance.”
He pulled a phone from his back pocket and began scrolling down the screen, scanning and nodding silently to himself as he read the words there. When he spoke again, he was distracted; his focus still mainly on the screen.

“Their master included a little background. No major medical problems for either, no triggers, no limits…” Adam frowned as he read that, his eyes darting to Tony briefly before returning to the screen. Steve could easily see the doubt in his expression, the worry; and he began to feel he could trust this man to help them if he could ever make him understand they weren’t here willingly. Clearly he was not aware of that fact, nor did any of these men seem to recognize Tony or himself from the TV and papers. It didn’t surprise Steve too much, though. He himself was not as easily recognized in public and rarely had problems walking around the city in peace. Tony was the opposite. All he had to do was step a single toe out the door and he was hounded. However, whoever sent them here had shaven the man’s signature goatee off, and few people were aware the arc reactor had actually been imbedded into Tony’s chest, so it stood to reason these men wouldn’t recognize the scar immediately or what it meant.

Adam took only another moment to finish reading before returning the phone to his pocket. He inhaled deeply and slowly let the breath out through his nose as he folded his arms over his chest. His eyes moved back and forth between Steve and Tony before he stepped over to Steve. The man carefully scanned the displayed body in front of him as he circled around him, and when he came around front and met blue eyes, he smiled.

“You’re a big guy, but I don’t think you’d hurt a fly unless that fly were trying to kill you. Even then, maybe not.” Adam waved Sam back over, waiting until the younger man was at his side before he clapped his hand on Sam’s shoulder and grinned widely. “Sam, this big guy is called ‘Blondie’ according to his information.”

Steve couldn’t stop the eye roll. Blondie. Fantastic.

“And you’re going to be his Groom during his stay here.”

Sam’s expression shifted from surprise to delight in no time flat, and his eyes snapped from Steve, to Adam, to Steve again. “You’re shittin’ me! My first stallion under only my care and you give me this guy?!”

Adam’s brow furrowed, his voice hesitant. “You don’t like him?”

The younger man looked about ready to slap him. “Of course I do! He’s gorgeous! I just figured you’d start me off with some skinny little philly, but this guy…Oh, I’ll take good care of him!”

For the second time in less than thirty minutes Steve found himself flushing brightly, and he shifted uncomfortably under the man’s wandering eyes. He was practically salivating! What exactly did a ‘Groom’ do anyway? If this ‘fly’ buzzed around where he wasn’t wanted, Steve couldn’t promise he wouldn’t smack him out of the air.

Adam laughed and nodded in approval before he turned his attention back to Tony. His expression once again became serious and thoughtful as he studied the engineer. It was obvious he was troubled by something, but a moment later he shook his head and waved one of his three friends over.

Steve looked away from Sam, who was practically bouncing with excitement, and frowned when one of the men who had attacked Tony earlier stepped up beside Adam. This wasn’t the one who had struck Tony with the crop, but he had helped hold him down; and he hadn’t been gentle about it.

“What do you think, Danny?”

Neither man took their eyes off Tony as Adam continued.

“His master says he’s stubborn and requires firm handling. He won’t respond otherwise.”

Tony stiffened as the third man, the one who had struck him with the crop, jumped in.

“Hey! If it’s firm handling he needs then he should be mine! You know I’m the best there is for ponies like him. He needs discipline and dominance! Danny is too soft. He’ll ruin him!”

Both Tony and Steve fixed their glares on the black haired middle aged man. He used the term ‘pony’ as an insult to Tony’s stature, and his words were cruel and uncaring. His dark eyes were focused on the engineer like a wolf would watch a deer just before digging its teeth into its neck.

Fortunately, Adam picked up on the hostility as well and shook his head.

“You are good at what you do, Mike, but let’s let Danny try his hand first and see how it goes. I’m not entirely convinced this guy will respond positively to your methods.”

Mike scowled deeply, keeping his eyes locked with Tony’s brown ones a moment longer before he snorted loudly and left without another word. Adam watched the man go and shook his head before he turned his attention back to Danny. When he spoke again his voice was lower, but Steve could still hear his words.

“Something isn’t right with this one.” He tipped his chin toward Tony. “Until I figure out what, he’ll need a firm, but caring hand. You’ll offer just the right balance. You up for it?”

Danny, a man with stylishly shaggy brown hair stripped through with bleach highlighting, nodded as he met Tony’s eyes in what appeared to be a pacifying way. “I’ll make him as happy as I can. What’s his name?”

Again Adam looked unhappy about something. His mouth drew itself into a tight line as he shifted his weight restlessly. “I don’t care for the name his master provided. While he’s here we’ll call him ‘Honey’. Look at those big honey-brown eyes. How can we not?”

Tony shifted his attention to Adam, regarding the man in what Steve could only describe as confused skepticism.

“Besides,” Adam continued with a smile. “I think Honey here is just as sweet as his name’s sake deep down.”

And now Tony’s ‘you’re an idiot’ look was back. Steve grinned at that. He’d rather see Tony flustered by one man’s perceived stupidity, flattering as it may be, than consumed with anxiety and fear.

Besides, Steve kind of agreed with Adam.

When he first met Tony it hadn’t been under the best circumstances. Their proximity to the Tesseract had amplified their negative traits and emotions, and Steve had lashed out at the man who was so similar, yet so different from Howard Stark. His son was arrogant, selfish, careless…a brat.

But time had changed his opinion on Tony. The man had brought his team, the Avengers, into his home. He’d given them everything they’d wanted and needed; even before they’d known what those things were themselves. He was the most selfless, giving, and perceptive individual Steve knew. They’d become friends, though they still fought like cats and dogs sometimes. Still, without Tony in his life, Steve doubted he ever would have been happy in the future world he found himself in. The smaller man acted like his anchor, and if there was ever a moment when he found himself unsure or floundering in dark memories, Tony was always there to forcibly---and most the time obnoxiously---ground him back to the present.

Honey. It was a fitting name.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

Holy shit, this was a fetish resort! He hadn’t seen that one coming. He was Tony Stark. He was well-rounded in the devious world of sexual activities, but this pony play thing was new to him. Sure, those…horse people out in the stalls looked as happy as can be; and power to them, but this was NOT his thing. In the right setting maybe a little action with that crop could be fun, but only if a beautiful woman was wielding it and he wasn’t wearing hooves on his feet.

Speaking of his feet, they still hurt. And having his arms restrained behind his back was not ok with him. He couldn’t protect himself and the way these men were staring at his scars; the way STEVE was staring…it just wasn’t ok.

Tony shifted uncomfortably, ever mindful of the short length of chain tethering his ankles, and watched Danny closely as the man stepped up to him. Apparently this guy was to be his Groom, whatever the hell that was, and felt the need to get a closer look at his newest pony. Hazel eyes scoured over his body, but Tony could tell his gaze was more clinical than sexual. Still, it didn’t put him at ease much when callused hands rose and settled on his shoulders. He’d already been tense, but as those fingers began to feel across his neck and travel down, Tony’s muscles became downright rigid.

“Easy. I’m just making sure you weren’t hurt during transport.” Danny’s eyes met his again. “Or any time before.”

Tony’s brow furrowed and he turned his head to the side as the man’s hands traveled over his chest, ghosting over his ribs and abs before he moved around to check his back in a similar way. It didn’t escape his notice that Danny avoided touching his scars. Too disgusted, probably.

He focused his attention on Steve, and he couldn’t help the flicker of amusement that turned his lips upward when he saw how red the other man’s face was. Sam was checking him over much like Danny was with him, but the kid was doing it with far more gusto. He was babbling nonstop about how incredible Steve’s body was, how defined and well formed his muscles were, how long his legs were, and how well hung he was. Like a real horse.

Tony would have barked out a laugh at the expression on Steve’s face in response to that comment, but at almost the same moment, a slightly sweaty palm suddenly pressed itself to his own dick. Brown eyes went wide, and he’d admit it; he shrieked like a woman as he attempted to scramble way from the unexpected touch. The chain keeping his ankles close tripped him up though, and he would have found himself awkwardly hanging by his halter had Adam not appeared behind him and stopped him from falling. The man’s strong arms wound themselves around his torso as Tony’s back met his chest, and he tutted to his friend over Tony’s shoulder.

“Danny, you could have warned him first.”

A lighthearted chuckle came from the evil groper as he knelt down and felt along unsteady legs.

Tony blinked. Did someone wax his legs? They were perfectly smooth. He wasn’t all that furry anyway, but he’d definitely had some manly hair on his legs. In fact, now that he was looking, he didn’t have hair anywhere. Yeah, he did his fair share of manscaping, but this was complete and total hair removal! Ok, THIS discovery was now the most disturbing thing about the day so far. Who waxed someone smooth while they were unconscious? Probably the same type of person who’d dress two grown men like sex ponies and send them to a farm. Creepy.

“I thought it’d be better to do it while he was distracted. Had to check for any injuries. Don’t think he would have let me if I’d told him what I was going to do.”

Tony snorted and glared down at the man. No, he wouldn’t have. He would have bitten him before he let him grab his junk.

Behind him, Adam laughed softly and made sure Tony was steady on his feet again before he let go and stepped away. He ran his fingers through Tony’s hair as he did, and he grinned cheekily at the glare he received in return as if he’d just gotten away with something naughty.

“You’re probably right. Honey is going to keep us on our feet for sur----“

A loud high-pitched squeak had everyone turning to look at Steve, who was standing there wide-eyed and blushing so hard his entire neck and chest were turning red. Sam stood behind him, and his eyes were just as wide as a deer’s caught in the headlights of a car, because he had to deal with the fact both his hands were firmly squeezing Captain America’s buttocks rather boldly and everyone was watching him do it.

An awkward moment of silence went by before the man’s hands gave one last squeeze---electing another more hushed squeak from Steve--- before he let go and stepped away. He grinned bashfully and shuffled his foot across the tile.

“I was, you know….checking for…injuries.” Sam’s eyes traveled around the room, even meeting Tony’s before he suddenly forgot how awkward that had been and a smile plastered itself on his face. “Those gluts are the firmest I’ve ever seen! Like iron! Oh, man! Blondie here would make the BEST show horse. There’s no way he’d lose! He’s built perfectly!”

Tony, who was NOT jealous at all of how gloriously perfect Steve’s body was while his was softer and scarred, sighed and offered his fellow Avenger an encouraging grin. He couldn’t muster an actual smile given the situation, but at least now he felt a little better knowing it didn’t seem these men were going to physically harm them. Clearly they all thought he and Steve were just two more kinky bastards wanting to play My Little Pony.

His gesture seemed to relax the other man, because Steve’s shoulders visibly fell and he smiled in return. His face was still flushed a lovely shade of pink though.

Blondie had also been waxed smooth; Tony took the time to notice.

“Alright!” Adam clapped his hands to grab everyone’s attention. “These guys look sound and healthy, so how about turning them out to pasture to unwind while we get their stalls prepared. I’m sure they can use some fresh air and a chance to stretch their legs.”

The two Grooms nodded in agreement, and Tony sighed in relief when the chain between his ankles was removed. The second lead attached to his chest harness was removed and discarded while the one linked to his halter was taken in Danny’s hand and used to lead him to a door at the back on the room, opposite the way they’d come in.

A second set of clicking metal shoes behind him assured Tony that Steve was coming as well, and that was the only reason he didn’t make things difficult. If he lost sight of the bigger man, though, he was kicking asses again. Or shins. Whatever he could reach, really. He wasn’t picky.

Tony squinted into the bright afternoon setting sun as they passed through the door and into the pasture behind the barn. It was a large grassed area with trees scattered around for shade; probably three acres from the look of it. A six foot high white fence enclosed the land, and Tony was disappointed by the smooth surface. There’d be no way to scale it without his hands.

Tony didn’t notice when his lead was taken off, but he did notice when his ass was given a swift and firm slap just beside where the tail cascaded along it. He squawked indignantly and jumped a full stride forward before swinging around to stare at Danny with wide eyes. The man only smiled in return and made a shooing motion with his hand.

“Off you go. Run around. We’ll be back in a half hour to bring you inside for some dinner.”

Tony huffed and watched the man go. He wasn’t going to go frolic around the fields like a joyful pony. No. He was going to stand right here, in this spot, not moving, so the entire world could see just how pissed off he wa----Where the hell was Steve?!

His heart leapt into his throat when Tony realized he’d lost sight of the other man, and he swung around wildly, craning his neck in all directions until he finally spotted him standing under a tree. Abandoning his plan to stay put, Tony jogged---not trotted---he JOGGED over to Steve and--- Holy crap, he was taking a piss!

That would explain why his legs had been set a little wider than was strictly necessary for standing.

Steve didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed of himself; merely shrugging at Tony as if to say, ‘you gotta go, you gotta go’.

Well…he had to go too. Badly, now that he was thinking about it.

The urge was suddenly overwhelming and Tony shifted from foot to foot before deciding that the tree to his left was suitable for his needs. It was far enough from Steve’s tree to award himself a little privacy---scarce as that seemed to be here--- and he quickly darted around the back of it for more coverage before he imitated Steve’s stance and relaxed enough to let it go.

He quirked a brow as the heavy stream hit the bark at the base of the tree before absorbing into the grass below. He actually took care not to let any splash onto his boots. If they hadn’t been on his feet he’d have gladly pissed all over them, but he preferred to stay as clean as possible. These people may treat him as if he were a horse, but he’d be damned if he began to smell like one.

He was still peeing. Like a racehorse. Ha. God, he hated this place.

After another moment when his bladder was finally empty, Tony did an awkward little hip shake to make sure there’d be no drippage and walked back over Steve, who was now traveling along the fence, clearly checking for weaknesses in the structure.

Apparently they both decided to pretend like they hadn’t both just pissed on trees while buck naked and instead focused on the task at hand. Tony found his eyes kept moving back to Steve more often than not. The other man’s attention was entirely on the fence and that… bothered him. Was Steve ignoring him? Was he mad at him? Did he blame Tony for getting them into this situation? It was his suit that had failed, after all, and it took Steve down too when it fell from the air. Tony still wasn’t entirely sure what had happened there. One minute everything had been fine, the next there’d been a high frequency screech that made his system go crazy and shut down. Jarvis had attempted to keep them in the air, but it’d all happened too fast. There’d been no time to counteract the attack.

Tony slowly trailed behind Steve, his eyes focusing on the back of his head as they walked. He wanted the larger man to turn around and give him a smile to put his mind at ease. This was the first time they’d been alone together for an extended period of time since they got here. Shouldn’t they be attempting to communicate? He’d been whipped, for pete’s sake! Shouldn’t Steve be playing mother hen like he always does? How come he wasn’t mother-henning him? It was Captain America’s job to mother hen Iron Man!

Tony frowned and dropped his eyes to the ground. Yeah, Steve must blame him for this. Ugh. He should have built the suit better; made the computer systems impervious to hacks, improved Jarvis….somehow. As far as he was concerned Jarvis was perfect, but there had to have been something he could have done to prevent this. He’d let Steve down.

They’d only managed to cover about half the fence before a shrill whistle had them both looking back toward the barn.

They’d managed to travel quite a distance away, but they could clearly make out the two Grooms waving at them to come back.
Tony rolled his eyes and moved to continue his inspection of the fence, but he stopped short when Steve stepped in front of him and tipped his chin in the direction of the barn.

He cocked a brow at the larger man.

Really? They were just going to go running back when their masters called like good little poni----Oh, ok.

Brown eyes watched as Steve trotted…yeah, he was totally trotting… back the way they’d come. Again Tony’s gaze dropped to his ass. It was the movement of the tail. Had to be. Why else would he suddenly be so interested in Steve’s ass? Ok, maybe his interest wasn’t so sudden, but come on! Look at it! He couldn’t stop!

Another whistle and Tony snapped his attention back to Danny, who was again gesturing at him to come in. By now Steve was just reaching Sam, who in his excitement to have such an obedient horse had run a little ways to meet Steve and give him pats of praise.

“Hooooney! Don’t make me come get you!”

Oh, fuck you. Come try it.

If Tony thought he could get back up in these boots, he’d sit his ass right on the grass and make the bastard walk out to get him. Then he’d run at the last minute. Make him work for it!

….Ok, that was childish even for him, but he’d still do it.

His stomach chose that moment to grumble loudly, and Tony winced. He was starving. There was no telling how long he’d gone without food, but it must have been awhile if his body was announcing its need for a meal. He was known to go 16 hours or more working in his lab without stopping to eat.

And didn’t they say something about dinner?

Huffing at his traitorous body, Tony slowly made his way back to the barn. He purposely moseyed along at a leisurely pace, just to let Danny Boy know who was in charge here. He wasn’t coming back because he was told, he was coming back because he wanted to.

It took almost ten minutes to make the two minute journey, and he stopped in front of his Groom, meeting his eye challengingly. To Tony’s disappointment, Danny looked more amused than frustrated.

“Oh, you’re a stubborn one alright.”

He was prepared for Tony to jerk away when he went to clip the lead to his harness and compensated enough that he managed to snap it in place on the first try. He grinned.

“Fine by me. Give me all you got, little guy.”

Tony briefly considered kicking him in the shin, but chose instead to follow without a fuss. He was hungry and he wasn’t going to risk his meal being withheld if he pissed the guy off. He wasn’t sure what to make of these people yet, and he wouldn’t lower his guard for a second until he did.

“Let’s go. I bet you’re hungry. Blondie is already eating.”

He let, LET himself be led back inside, through the tiled shower room, and back into the stalls. Again Tony felt his hackles rise as several sets of eyes turned to watch him pass. Never before had he felt so aggravated by a bunch of attractive naked people who were clearly up for a romp, but in this situation, he just wanted to be invisible. For once in his life, Tony Stark was self-conscious.

“Here we go.”

When Danny stopped in front of an open stall door Tony’s eyes moved from the floor to the hay filled space he assumed was where he was going to be kept. It looked to be about ten by ten feet and was enclosed by wooden walls that reached his chest. Over top of them he could see his neighbors.

Steve was in the stall to the right of his. On the left there was another large man, built similarly to Steve, but not quite as tall. He had dark brown hair and blue eyes that were staring right at him. Leering, more like it. The middle-aged man made a show of looking him up and down, and Tony rolled his eyes at his attempt to intimidate him before he strode into his own stall.

The hay was fresh and thick beneath his feet, which Tony was thankful for. The moment his lead was taken off, he rolled onto the ground and curled up on his side to avoid putting any weight on his arms. A blissful moan escaped his lips as his throbbing feet finally got a break, and his eyes fluttered as a sudden wave of exhaustion threatened to put him to sleep.

Beside him Danny chuckled and squatted down beside him, giving his hip and playful pat.

“Long day, I know. Don’t sleep just yet. Food first.”

Tony’s stomach growled again and he heaved in a deep breath as he sat up. He shuffled around until he was comfortable enough and eyed the plate of fruits and vegetables Danny held balanced in one hand.

Ok, he hadn’t expected a cheeseburger, but rabbit food? Ugh! Kill him now. Look at it… all healthy looking.

Danny grinned and picked up a slice of apple.

“Look at that grumpy face. I take it you don’t like your veggies, hm? Well, you’ll have to get used to it. We make sure all our horses eat healthy and stay in tip top shape. No junk food here. Don’t pout.”

He wasn’t pouting. Much.

Tony sighed as he accepted that he would be doomed to this diet for a while and watched the other man expectantly. He was going to free his arms, right? How else was he supposed to ea---oh.

Danny held the apple slice up to Tony’s lips and waited. When no move was made to take it, the man hummed disapprovingly and rubbed the fruit over his bottom lip in the hopes the flavor of the juice would entice him into eating it, but all he received in return was a sour scowl.

“Oh, come on, Honey. I know you’re hungry. How about an orange slice? Do you not like apples?”

Danny set the apple slice aside and instead picked up the citrusy fruit, offering it instead. This time Tony turned his head away entirely.

Yeah, no. He could feed himself, thanks.

To emphasize this he pulled at his arm restraints. Danny, the clever man he was, understood what he wanted immediately, but shook his head.

“Now, you know you only have your arms freed while you sleep and even then your mitts stay on.”

No, he didn’t know that, actually.

“Now you can either let me feed you, or I can leave the plate here and you can figure out how to get at it yourself. I’d take option number one if I were you.”

Tony’s frown deepened. He didn’t want to eat from the floor like a dog, but eating from this guy’s hands? He wasn’t sure which was more humiliating at this point.
A loud thump made Tony jump, and he looked up and found Steve staring down at him from over the wall that connected their stalls. He had his patented ‘Tony, stop being stubborn’ look on his face and he nodded to the food in Danny’s hand pointedly.

Eat.

Tony didn’t comply immediately, Blondie grunted and kicked the wall again, startling him into opening his mouth with the instinctual need to tell Steve to fuck off. Before he’d even remembered he couldn’t form the words, Danny had placed the orange slice in his mouth and gently pushed up on his chin to close his jaw when Tony only gawked at his audacity.

“There we go! Listen to Blondie, Honey. He knows what’s best.”

Tony glared at his Groom and then at Steve’s grinning face as he slowly began to chew the fruit. The moment the juice gushed over his taste buds his appetite came roaring back in full force, and he quickly swallowed it and opened his mouth for more. At this point his hunger outweighed his pride.

Danny approved full heartedly as he slowly fed him everything on the plate, then offered him a drink from a chilled water bottle. The cool liquid instantly brought another moan from Tony’s throat. It must have been hours and hours since he’d last had anything to drink, and now that he was getting it he was realizing just how badly he’d needed it.
He’d drained the entire bottle in no time, and Danny took it away with a smile and set it aside with the empty plate. With the need for sleep clawing at him, Tony barely noticed as the man fished a key out of his pocket and moved behind him to unlock his arms. He hissed as he slowly brought them around front, and Danny shushed him and set to work rubbing his aching shoulders. Holding a position for so long had made his muscles and joints sore, but it didn’t take long with the way the other man was massaging him for the pain to fade.

Now that his hands were in front of him though, he could see the mitts that kept his hands balled into closed fists. They were black and, surprise, surprise, were shaped like hooves as well. However, they were made of pliable and soft leather rather than the hard material of his boots. They extended halfway up his forearm and they were held in place by several straps and locks along the length of them.

Yep. No way to get them off without fingers and keys. Great.

“Alright, buddy.” Danny patted his shoulders when he finished rubbing the feeling back into them, and Tony watched him pick up the empty water bottle and plate before he left the stall entirely, closing the door and locking it before casting him one last smile. “Sleep tight. Early start tomorrow.”

Tony sighed in exhaustion as he fell back into the mound of soft hay. It felt more like grass than the prickly texture he’d expected, and there was no dust to clog his sinuses. He lay on his back for a moment, looking at the darkening ceiling of the barn. The air was pleasantly warm despite his nakedness. They must have turned the heat on low to make sure no one got cold at night. How thoughtful.

A snort to his left had Tony turning his eyes in that direction, and he startled when he found the blue-eyed creeper next to him peering over the wall between their stalls, simply watching him. A shiver wracked his frame and Tony turned his back on the man and curled onto his side, gathering enough hay around himself that it would cover his assets. Still, he could feel the man’s gaze and Tony kicked the wall between his and Steve’s stall in frustration.

There was a rustling noise and a moment later, Steve peered down at Tony with a cocked eyebrow. The smaller man shrugged his shoulders and tilted his chin back, leading Steve’s gaze to the creeper on the other side of him. Instantly Captain America appeared as his eyes locked with a second pair of blue ones. When Steve used that expression, there wasn’t a person on the planet who wouldn’t be intimidated, and sure enough, after only thirty seconds into the stare-off, Tony heard the creeper pony move away. When he glanced back over his shoulder, he could no longer see him over the wall.

Steve continued to watch a little longer just in case he returned, and Tony smiled at him when blue eyes finally turned back to him. The larger man didn’t smile back though, and only looked down at him with a furrowed brow and an expression Tony couldn’t quite decipher. The smile slowly faded from his lips as Steve disappeared from view as well, and Tony sighed miserably and curled in a little tighter, tucking his mitted hands under his chin as he closed his eyes and tried to ignore the quiet shuffling of so many bodies surrounding him.

Yeah, Steve was pissed at him; blamed him for getting him into this situation. He couldn’t argue over it though; his suit had failed, plain and simple. No way around it. He’d been responsible for Steve’s safety and he’d let him fall.

Tony drew a deep breath in through his mouth and slowly released it from his nose, trying to relax his suddenly tense muscles and ease the ache in his chest. He’d fix this. He’d make it up to Steve somehow. The Avengers knew they were missing by now and Tony had no doubt they’d get them out of this. And afterward, he’d take Steve to Paris… or Chuck-E-Cheese or something. Where ever made him happy. It’d be ok.

Despite his physical and mental exhaustion, Tony’s rapidly forming thoughts kept him from falling asleep right away. He tossed and turned for hours, and it wasn’t until he’d pressed his back against the wall between his and Steve’s stall that he managed to drift off, calmed by the steady breathing of the man on the other side.

TBC

Chapter Text

Though it had taken him some time to actually drift off, once he had, Tony slept deeply. There were no dreams or nightmares at all; unusual considering he usually suffered from them nightly, but he chalked it up to being so exhausted from the stress of the day that even his mind didn’t have the energy to function on a subconscious level.

He slept so soundly Tony didn’t hear the people around him being fed and taken out for morning exercise, nor did he stir when the door to his stall was opened and heavy footsteps approached his side. He did, however, snap to attention when his hair was grabbed in an unforgiven fist and he was yanked into a sitting position with a startled yelp.

Tony’s eyes flew open and his hands automatically reached upward in an attempt to grab at the hands that hurt him, but with the mitts it was a useless endeavor. He locked eyes with his attacker. Mike.

The man smiled at him wickedly, his yellowed teeth gleaming dully. His face was so close to Tony’s the engineer could smell the cigarettes and whisky on his breath and the cheap cologne on his already sweat coated skin.

“Hey there, Stumbles.”

Mike’s grin stretched impossibly wider as he yanked Tony’s head back further and leaned closer to his ear, lowering his voice to insure no one else would hear his next words.

“Or do you prefer Stark?”

Brown eyes widened and locked with coal black ones that danced with mirth, and Mike chuckled at the shocked expression on his face.

“Yes, I know who you are. I’ve been waiting for you to arrive for months, in fact. Your master hired me personally to oversee your training. Or torment. Depends on you, I suppose.”

Tony could feel his chest tighten as his anxiety level skyrocketed. This man was not the same as the others. He was planted here to hurt and humiliate, and Tony’s eyes snapped to the still open door a couple feet away as his instincts screamed at him to run.

Mike was faster though, and he used his grip on Tony’s hair to throw him to the ground. The engineer’s breath was forced from his lungs when the larger man’s knee came down between his shoulder blades and large hands pinned his shoulders to the floor harshly. He could feel Mike’s sour breath ghosting over his cheek as the man leaned down over him, and Tony’s mouth opened in a useless attempt to shout for help.

His captor tutted mockingly and twisted the knee he had planted on his back cruelly, chuckling at the pained gasp it drew.

“Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Taking away your ability to form words. You can’t even get your lips to make the right shapes, can you? Can’t make your tongue cooperate? It’s amazing how a person can develop drugs capable of completely shutting down the simplest of functions when you are intimately familiar with the brain and how it works. Your master’s ex-partner is to thank for it. You knew him. The name Killian ring a bell?”

Tony stopped breathing for a moment.

He hummed in approval. “I thought you’d remember him. He was a genius, you know. He was able to completely alter the human body in any way he pleased just by manipulating various parts of the brain. Taking away your ability to use speech was like child’s play. It’d been one of his first and more infantile projects.”

Mike shifted his knees to either side of Tony’s body, and he leaned down close again, fisting his fingers into the smaller man’s hair and jerking his head back nearly to the point of breaking his neck.

“When your company turned Killian down, he took his brilliance to another; Hammer industries. Hammer knew what revolutionary work looked like when he saw it, and he provided all the funding Killian needed to do his research. Together they were going to change the human race as we knew it. We were going to evolve, become greater!”

“But then YOU,” Mike’s voice became impossibly harsher, taking on an almost insane edge as he slammed Tony’s head back down, bruising his cheekbone on impact. “YOU killed him, you little prick! You fucker! He was going to make me immortal, you know. He was going to give me everything I’d ever wanted!”

As if suddenly remembering that someone might overhear him, Mike paused and took a deep breath to regain his composure, speaking in a much softer voice when he continued.

“You’ve always been a thorn in Hammer’s side. And this ,” He threw his free hand out, gesturing at their surroundings. “This is your humiliation, Stark. You’re being put in your place now. You’ll never walk free again, you know. This is all you’ll ever be. A pet. A Lil’ Jackass!”

Mike laughed harshly in Tony’s ear, making the engineer wrinkle his nose as the heavy smell of cigarettes assaulted his senses and nearly made his eyes water.

“That’s what Hammer named you, you know. You’re his Lil’ Jackass.”

“What’s going on in here?!”

Tony sighed in relief when Mike jerked upward at the sound of Danny’s voice and his hair was finally released, leaving his scalp throbbing painfully. The larger man climbed to his feet to face Danny, and Tony moaned softly as he pushed himself up to his knees and placed an arm over his chest. Having so much pressure on it had left it aching where the reactor had once sat; the spot vulnerable and weaker than the rest of his chest despite his doctor’s best efforts to reconstruct his ribcage.

“Ah, Danny!”

Mike’s entire demeanor changed right before Tony’s eyes. He went from downright surly to somewhat pleasant in no time flat. If he weren’t a complete lunatic he might have been a gifted actor.

“I’m afraid Honey’s master neglected to send all his instructions yesterday. He intended for me to be this guy’s Groom.”

Before Danny could object, Mike fished out his phone and pressed a few buttons before he held it up for the other man to read. Hazel eyes moved over the words there and the man’s face became increasingly distraught as he read, his brow furrowing deeply when he turned his attention back to the other Groom.

“I see. Does Adam know about this change?”

Mike put the phone away and shrugged with a smile. “Not yet. Didn’t see him on the way over. He’ll know soon enough. Not much he can do, though. We have to respect the master’s wishes, you know.”

Danny nodded absently as his eyes wandered over to Tony, shifting uncomfortably at the blatant pleading for help he could see in his brown eyes. The rapidly forming bruise on his cheek didn’t go unnoticed either.

“I’ll be needing his keys then.”

Danny’s attention turned back to Mike, and he hesitated before pulling the keys to Tony’s restraints from his pocket. He looked at them with a troubled expression before finally placing them into the other man’s waiting palm, watching as greedy fingers closed over them fast as a viper strike.

“I think we need to go see Adam about this…”

“We will.” Mike replied as he turned and walked around behind Tony. The engineer tried to move away as the man knelt behind him, but his arms were snatched up and secured behind his back again with a series of clicks before he could manage it.

“But first I want to introduce Honey to my other stallion, Bullet. I think they’ll get along great. They’re already neighbors, after all.”

For some reason Danny looked skeptic about that, and Tony felt his stomach drop. That couldn’t be a good sign. And neighbors? That creepy guy who was staring at him last night? That was Bullet? Oh, no. He had no desire to get to know that particular pony any better. He probably ate kittens for breakfast from the look of him.

“Just…. Go easy. And make sure he and Blondie get to see each other. The big buy is protective of Honey.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Mike waved his hand absently in a dismissive gesture as he roughly pulled Tony to his feet and urged him forward with a shove. The engineer slowly left the stall, pausing when he neared Danny in the hopes of conveying some sort of message to him about the danger he was in, but Mike’s hands closed over his trapped forearms and he propelled him past the man before he could manage anything, forcing him toward the door that led outside.

“I haven’t fed him yet!” Danny shouted after them. “And he’ll need his hands and feet massaged today!”

Mike didn’t bother with a response as they left the barn and made an immediate turn toward another smaller building a little ways off. Tony squinted against the bright sunlight as he swiveled his head around in an attempt to find Steve. The other man hadn’t been in the stall beside his that morning, and Tony was desperate to find him. What if more people than just Mike were in on this? What if Steve was being tortured somewhere right now? They couldn’t afford to remain passive anymore; they had to get out of here now. There wasn’t time for planning or stealth at this point, but a fast and direct escape.

Mike, apparently, knew exactly what he was thinking.

“Captain America wasn’t part of the plan, but since he was with you, we thought it best he disappear as well. Hammer doesn’t really have anything against him,” he shrugged. “But what the hell, right?”

Tony attempted to drag his hooved feet as they neared the next building, trying to buy himself more time to scan the surrounding pastures for that familiar blond hair, but Mike wouldn’t allow it, forcing him on with a strong grip.

“He can’t help you. I’m sure you’ve noticed he doesn’t have his super strength. You can credit the slow release toxin for that.”

Tony inhaled sharply and he stumbled when his heart momentarily froze in his chest. Toxin? They were killing him?!

“Relax. The serum is still there. It’s just enough to keep him healthy. At his current dosage it only takes his strength away with no other ill effects. However…”

Mike pulled Tony to a stop when they reached the building and spun the man around violently, shoving him against the closed door behind him as he leaned into his face.

"Should you attempt to alert any of the other people here about your situation, that will change. At the base of the Captain’s skull there’s a small mechanism implanted that time releases the toxin into his blood. I have the remote that dictates how much is released and how often. Step one little hoof out of line and I’ll dose him so heavily he’ll be dead before he hits the ground.”

Sweat beaded up along Tony’s brow and his breath came in desperate little pants as the panic set in. His muscles trembled and he closed his eyes and tried to draw more air into his lungs to stave off the anxiety attack that was threatening to overwhelm him. Steve’s life was in his hands. One fuck up…

Mike’s lips spread into a cruel smirk and he leaned forward to lick away a bead of sweat that broke free and ran down Tony’s temple. The smaller man shivered in disgust and turned his head away, but that only served to further amuse the Groom.

“I think we have an understanding.” He roughly patted Tony on the cheek a few times and stepped away to give the engineer room to turn back around. Mike reached past him and opened the door before giving him a little shove, forcing Tony to stumble into the structure.

He jumped when the door was closed loudly behind him, but his eyes were focused on Bullet, the man who had given him the creeps the night before. He was even larger looking today now that Tony could see him in his entirety. The dark haired man was built like a tank, all muscle and broad shoulders without an ounce of fat on his bulky frame. His blue eyes weren’t warm like Steve’s, but cold and calculating as they stared him down as if he were sizing up a lesser creature.

“Bullet here has been my favorite Stallion for years.” Mike grinned as he walked past Tony and circled around the other man, running his fingers over hard muscle as he went. Still, despite his master’s affectionate attention, Bullet’s eyes never left Tony’s. The engineer found himself looking away uncomfortably, but he tried to make it seem as if he were merely too bored by the other man to give him the time of day.

“Hammer and I actually met at a resort like this one, you know. We’re both fans of the lifestyle. Unlike me though, Hammer’s never quite found that perfect match.”

Mike let his hand drop away from his stallion’s muscled chest and turned his cold smile on Tony.

“Until you, Stark. Just the idea of you with a bit in your mouth was enough to get him off. So. I break you for him, turn you into the perfect little pony, and he rewards me with all the bodily enhancements Killian developed before he died.”

Tony shook his head. No. Justin Hammer was a moron. There was no way he understood enough about Killian’s research to put it to proper use; not the way Mike wanted. Hell, the man couldn’t even get his own missiles to fire right. This guy was likely to end up dead if he let Justin anywhere near him with a half-baked serum like Extremis.

Mike only smirked at Tony, taking his negative reaction as denial towards the fate he was destined for, and picked up a harness from a table beside him. The engineer watched him warily as he approached, flinching back when he grabbed the halter on his head roughly and yanked him forward. Tony went reluctantly given his lack of options, but his attention returned to Bullet as he was pulled past the larger man. He had grown hard with arousal, and still his icy blue eyes remained fixed on Tony. When their eyes met, Bullet’s lips turned up into a smile that made Tony’s blood go cold in his veins.

He winced when Mike roughly unlatched the clasps holding his halter on and tossed it aside, and he gave a muffled shout of protest when a new one; one with a harsh metal bit, was strapped on instead. It was secured uncomfortably tight, the straps biting into his cheeks and forehead. Tony could already feel his skin chaffing against the rougher fabric. The piece of metal that had been forced into his mouth and over his tongue tasted metallic; strong and bitter. It cut into the corners of his mouth harshly and there was nothing he could do to dislodge it.

Two reigns were attached to the rungs on the edges of the bit that sat on the outside of either side of his mouth, and when Mike used them to yank Tony forward, the pain left him no choice but to follow or have his teeth chipped or broken.

“Good boy. Not as dumb as you look.”

Mike gave a mocking laugh as he brought Tony over to an odd piece of equipment. It was simplistic in nature, consisting only of two bars spaced a short distance apart with adjustable leather straps attached to each. The bars were welded to a metal frame braced on the floor for stability and strength. The engineer’s eyes flew wide when he realized what it was.

A breeding stand.

Despite the pain in his teeth Tony threw himself backwards and away from it, digging his feet into the ground as solidly as he could. The floor inside the building was dirt and he kicked it up as he struggled to free himself. The intent here was clear now. A breeding stand coupled with a horny man-pony? Yeah, no. That wasn’t happening.

Another harsh pull on the reigns and Tony could feel the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth where the bit had pinched it against his tooth, and he gave a muffled scream of protest when something solid slammed into him from behind. It was Bullet. He was thrown forward and off balance enough that Mike was able to bend him over the stomach bar and secure him there with a leather strap that buckled around his waist. A quick adjustment for his height and a second strap was looped around his neck and tightened, forcing him to stay bent over at the waist.

The rising panic kept Tony thrashing in his restraints. If it hadn’t been bolted into cement blocks buried in the floor, the entire stand would have fallen over with his struggles, but as it stood, he was trapped within its solid grip. He tugged violently on his arm’s restraints in an effort to get loose, but they held tight. All he managed to do was rub his skin raw.

“Relax, Stark. You’re only going to hurt yourself.”

Tony panted harshly around the bit, watching as a mixture of his blood and drool dripped onto the floor beneath him. His field of vision was narrowed to only half the room, as he couldn’t turn his head enough to see behind him, so when he felt the artificial tail he wore tossed up onto his back, he kicked out blindly in the hopes of hitting someone. Unfortunately, his booted foot was only met with air.

“I didn’t forget you’re a kicker.”

One after another, his ankles were grabbed and strapped to the legs of the stand, leaving him spread and completely vulnerable.

“Oh, isn’t he pretty, Bullet? You’ve always had a thing for small brunettes, haven’t you, stud?”

Tony shrieked and renewed his struggles when he felt Bullet’s solid form step up behind him. The man’s arms were also restrained behind his back in what seemed to be the typical pony fashion, but his hardened member pressed against Tony’s exposed backside as the man leaned over his back. His hot breath hit the nape of the engineer’s neck before teeth bit down on the flesh there, and Tony gasped in pain as he uselessly tried to move away. All he managed to do was choke himself against the restraint around his throat and further excite his assaulter.

Despite his playboy history Tony had never allowed himself to be penetrated by a man. The thought didn’t repulse him, but the act was far too intimate to waste on a one night stand; and it required a lot of trust on his part for his partner. To date there hadn’t been anyone Tony felt safe enough with to be that vulnerable for, and he certainly didn’t want to lose his final V-card to some steroid driven man-horse!

Bullet’s hips adjusted themselves against him, and Tony squeezed his eyes shut as unshed tears filled them, threatening to fall down his cheeks. His screams for help only came out as pitiful squeaks, and he clamped his teeth down on the bit in his mouth as he felt the other man’s member nudging at his unprepared entrance, bracing himself for the agony he was about to experience. This would ruin him. Absolutely ruin him.

Then the door flew open, flooding the room with sunlight and a gust of much needed fresh air. The room had begun to smell of nothing but sex and fear.

“STOP!”

The weight on his back was gone almost immediately and Tony bit back a sob of relief at the sound of Adam’s voice. Oh, he’d never kick that man again. In fact, he may kiss him. Or eat a sugar cube from his palm. Whatever floated the man's boat.

Mike sounded both annoyed and bored as he replied from somewhere outside of Tony’s line of vision.

“What is it? You know it’s bad etiquette to interrupt a master while they’re tending to their horse’s needs.”

“I’m not entirely sure this is what Honey needs.” Adam snapped back.

Tony listened to the approaching footsteps and opened his eyes just in time to see two sets of feet come around the stand. A moment later he was freed from the straps holding him in place and he hauled himself up and stumbled back into Danny’s waiting arms. His former Groom held him securely; arms wrapped around his chest as Tony tried to calm his ragged breaths and allowed himself to lean back against the man supporting him.

“Shhh, it’s ok. Calm down.”

Adam’s face twisted into an expression of fury as he watched silent tears run down the engineer’s flushed face. The red marks where the restraints had rubbed harshly against his skin stood out in stark contrast on his body, making his struggles to free himself blatantly obvious.

He swung an arm toward Tony and turned to Mike.

“What do you think you were doing?! Does he look like he was enjoying that to you?! Look at him!”

Mike did look at him, his face as relaxed as his posture. “He never used his safeword.”

“How could he with the bit so tight in his mouth? Jesus! These straps are cutting into his skin!” Danny growled and set to work unhooking the buckles holding the halter to Tony’s head, and the smaller man sighed in relief when it was removed and tossed to the ground. He turned his head and spit the blood that had pooled in his mouth onto the dirt floor, and his eyes slid shut when Danny’s fingers smoothed over the red indentions the halter straps had left on his skin.

“Safeword or not, you should know when to stop, Mike. He was so scared he pissed himself.”

Tony’s eyes flew open at Adam’s words, and he looked at the floor beneath the stand he’d been strapped to. Sure enough, the dirt that’d been beneath his hips was stained dark with liquid. Luckily he hadn’t gotten any on himself because of the angle he was at, but his cheeks still burned with humiliation. He hadn’t even realized it’d happened.

Again, Mike shrugged his shoulders. “He pissed because I forgot to let him use the bathroom this morning. The bar was pressing against his bladder.”

Adam frowned and turned to Tony. “Honey, were you unwilling?”

Brown eyes darted over to Mike, and the man met his gaze with malevolence, reminding Tony of what could happen to Steve if he gave these people any indication that he wasn’t happy with that was happening to him. Bile rose in his throat, and he took a deep breath through his nose in an attempt to force it back down as he slowly shook his head.

Still, Adam looked less than convinced, and the resulting silence was only interrupted by Mike’s boasting.

“You see? He was loving it! He’s just the type of pony who enjoys the illusion of being forced. It gets him off. His master said as much.”

Adam’s gaze held on Tony so long the engineer began to fidget. “Alright…” he finally relented before turning back to Mike. “But you’re neglecting his basic needs. You didn’t let him use the bathroom and I’m willing to bet you haven’t fed or bathed him yet, either.”

The black haired man looked away, a clear admission of guilt. Beside him Bullet looked completely unaffected. He was even still sporting an erection, which he made no effort to hide.

“Danny, please take Honey back to the stalls to clean him up and feed him. Make sure the cut on his lip is tended to.”

As Danny nodded and gently urged Tony toward the door, Adam addressed Mike again.

“Put Bullet out to pasture for now. You and I have to discuss a few things.”

Tony didn’t look back, but he could feel black eyes boring into the back of his skull, and he shivered as he stepped out into the warm sunlight.

TBC

Chapter Text

The trip back to the barn was a slow and quiet one. Danny seemed to sense that Tony needed a moment of peace, and he made no attempts to rush him along the path. Only a gentle hand on the small of his back was used to guide Tony in the right direction. A new halter hadn’t yet been placed around his head. He could still feel where the straps had bitten harshly into his skin, and the corners of his mouth were raw from the bit’s bite. A headache throbbed in his temples and Tony closed his eyes against the harsh sunlight and simply allowed Danny to lead him back to the barn.

When they arrived there Danny took him directly to the shower rooms. Tony’s brow furrowed and he opened his eyes to watch as the other man set to work unlatching and removing the leather harness that encircled his chest and waist. The actual weight of it was apparent when it was finally taken off and hung on a hook mounted on the wall, and Tony sighed as he rolled his shoulders to ease the tension there. His lower back ached from the weight of the tail. Now that it was gone, he estimated its weight to be nearly 2 pounds on its own. From the look and feel of it, it was made from actual horse hair; and it was thick and long.

“Hey.”

Danny and Tony both turned toward the voice at the door. Adam had poked his head in and he quickly tossed a pair of keys through the air, which Danny caught with ease.

“Take your time with him. Mike and I will be talking for a while.”

The man beside him nodded and then Adam was gone. The keys, Tony realized, were the ones that opened his restraints. A series of clicks and suddenly his arms were free, further easing the tension that had built in his shoulders. Danny smiled at his apparent relief and went a step further, unlocking and completely removing the mitts that had kept his hands prisoner all this time. Never in his life had Tony thought that simply being able to straighten and spread his fingers could feel so amazing, but as he flexed the freed digits he nearly swooned in pleasure.

The boots were next, and Tony watched carefully as Danny knelt and released the locks that held them tightly on his feet, and then unlaced them until they were loose enough to slip off. The engineer automatically put his hands on the man’s shoulders for balance as his left leg was gently lifted and the boot was removed before his foot was placed back on the tiled floor.

Tony hissed at the ache in the balls of his feet, and he slowly lowered his heel to the floor with a little difficulty after having worn the boots for so long. His fingers dug tighter into the groom’s shoulders as he shifted his weight in order for the other boot to be removed, and then he was free. He sighed heavily as he curled his toes in satisfaction and he hadn’t realized his eyes had slipped closed until he had to open them again at the sound of Danny chuckling. Without the boots, Tony found himself looking up at the man, where before he’d been about even in height.

“You really are a little guy, huh?”

The man meant it in good humor, but Tony still found himself frowning and turning away stubbornly. His actions only served to further amuse Danny, who tutted at him and moved to turn on the shower beside them. He used his forearm to test the water, and when he’d decided to was the right temperature, he gently urged Tony to step into the warm spray.

As soon as the hot water hit his skin Tony moaned and let his head fall back. All his hurts were soothed away and he didn’t even mind when Danny’s soapy hands were suddenly there, rubbing away the remaining tension. His touch wasn’t sexual as he moved methodically across his body, and he nearly melted when fingers massaged themselves into his hair, removing all the dust and sweat that had accumulated over the past day. Tony had almost fallen asleep on his feet when his hand was raised and a bar of soap was placed into his palm. He opened his eyes and gave Danny a questioning look.

“Figured you’d want to finish cleaning yourself up.”

Ah. The groom had made a point of avoiding his sexual bits, which Tony was grateful for after the experience he’d just had. He turned away from the other man and finished cleansing himself to his satisfaction, and when the water had washed the last of the suds away, the steady stream cut off abruptly. Danny laughed as the engineer’s lip poked out without his permission, and he set to work drying Tony off with a large fluffy towel to chase off the sudden chill.

“Sit there.”

Danny gestured to a nearby chair as he turned to a cabinet and began to rummage around inside, and by the time he’d turned back around, Tony had settled himself comfortably, grateful to be sitting on human furniture again rather than a hay covered floor.
Danny gave him a quick smile as he poured a flowery smelling lotion into his palm and then knelt down. Tony yelped in surprise when his foot was gathered into the man’s lap and slathered heavily with the lotion, but his surprise turned to bliss as strong fingers worked into the arches of his feet, massaging away the pain there and rendering Tony completely boneless.

Danny laughed softly as he watched the engineer slump in the chair.

“You haven’t been a pony for long, have you? Your feet are too soft. No callous built up from the boots.”

Tony rolled his head back up from where it had fallen to rest on the back of the chair, and he regarded the man through half-lidded eyes. He wasn’t ashamed to admit he treated himself to regular pedicures and manicures. He may not have taken the best care of his body, but there was no reason to walk around with lizard feet. Quite frankly, the condition of most women’s feet horrified him. The shoes they chose to wear did them no favors, and Tony had always insisted Pepper accompany him to his trips to the spa in order to keep her feet in tip top condition. Still, she’d always groused that his were softer than hers. Well, if he was stuck here for too much longer, she wouldn’t have much to complain about anymore.

Danny was still watching him carefully as he set down one foot and picked up the other to repeat the process.

“Talk to me.”

Tony blinked and tore himself out of his inner musing to focus on the man in front of him. His lips parted in surprise, but he frowned and shook his head a moment later.

Danny mimicked his expression.

“I’m giving you permission to break headspace. Adam and I are worried about you. I need you to talk to me and let me know you’re here because you want to be. Do you enjoy the type of thing Mike was putting you through today? It’s ok if you do. We have plenty of ponies here that love it, but you didn’t look like you were enjoying it.”

Tony drew in a deep breath as he squeezed his eyes shut. Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to let Danny help him, but the consequences could be deadly. He had no real proof Mike could actually kill Steve with the touch of a button, but the fact remains that something was sapping the man’s super strength, and with Steve’s healing abilities, there wouldn’t be any mark left had they actually implanted the device Mike claimed they had.

Tony’s eyes snapped open as his train of thought led him to another. Speaking of implanted devices, Steve had a tracker imbedded in the skin beneath his arm! SHIELD had insisted upon it in case the man ever went missing again, and Steve had readily agreed to it. He’d had no desire to end up lost for another 70 years being that his body was capable of going into an extended state of hibernation.

That meant help must already be on the way! Steve must have known that already if his calm demeanor was anything to go by. He was just waiting it out.

Still, what would prevent Mike from pressing that button the moment SHIELD raided the place? All Tony could hope for was a quiet infiltration that would give him the opportunity to tell them about the danger Steve was in before Mike realized anything was amiss.

“Honey?”

Tony refocused his attention on Danny again, surprised to find the man had finished with his feet and was now working on his second hand. The first was slick with lotion. He’d been so deep in thought he hadn’t even felt it.

“Do you need to tell me anything?”

Brown eyes met hazel ones, and after a long moment of indecision, Tony forced a smile and shook his head.

Danny gave him an almost sad smile in return and sighed as he finished up with his hands, patting him gently on the shoulder. “Alright. Let’s dry your hair get you something to eat.”

------

After he was cleaned up and fed Tony was given a couple of hours to rest before Danny returned to redress him in his tackle. The engineer thought about putting up a fight when the other man went to put his boots back on, but Danny spoke before he could draw back.

“I put extra padding inside. It shouldn’t hurt so much now.”

True to his word, when Tony stood up the balls of his feet were supported by a heavy layer of padding. Walking was still uncomfortable and balancing was a challenge, but it was no longer pure agony as it had been before. At this point, any small mercy made Tony immensely grateful, and he nodded his thanks to Danny.

The other man smiled in return as he finished loosely securing the halter to his head and took hold of the reigns attached to the rings sitting on his cheeks. He gave a little tug to get Tony walking and led the way back outside.

“How about we go see Blondie? I think he’s competing at the track today. Sam’s taking him through his paces.”

Tony quirked a brow at that, and as they turned a corner and made their way between two buildings, a circular dirt racing track became visible. It was identical to the kind of track you’d see thoroughbreds racing on, and grooms lined the border as they shouted, pumped their fists into the air and cheered for their charges.

As Tony was led closer he spotted Sam standing nearby. The younger man’s wide eyes were dancing with excitement as he shifted from foot to foot and gave shouts of encouragement, and Tony followed his gaze to the people racing on the track.

There were six runners, all of them wearing fancy leather tack adorned with brightly colored metals and decorative stones. The hooves on their boots gleamed brightly in the sunlight, having been polished to perfection. Some looked as if they were made of pure gold. Some racers had long artificial manes attached to their bridles that cascaded in the wind behind them, perfectly matching their glossy tails. The two women on the track were covered with glitter to enhance their already flawless skin, and their make-up made them look exotic and more equine in the way it was applied around their eyes.

The men were oiled down and they gleamed prettily as they raced shoulder to shoulder, their postures straight, sharp, and perfect as they thundered down the track. The cheers from their grooms encouraged them to move faster whenever they found their stamina faltering, and Tony found his throat tightening as he watched them.

These people were here because they wanted to be. The trust between groom and ‘horse’ was painfully clear, and this was more about love between two partners than dominance and submission. Those people on the track weren’t feeling humiliated at all. They were performing proudly for their groom and did so with pride.

“They’re show ponies.”

Danny said, leaning closer as to be heard over the thundering applause and cheers from the people around them.

“With them it’s all about performance, beauty, poise, and elegance.”

The man fell silent again as he crossed his arms and watched the horses move with appreciation, and Tony’s eyes fell on Steve. He was leading the pack, naturally, but was clearly holding back to allow the other runners to keep close as to not discourage them. The thought made Tony grin and shake his head. Always the gentleman and good sport.

In a group of beauties Steve still stood out. His body was perfection; all lean muscle and long limbs. Blond hair, both natural and artificial, shone prettily in the sunlight as he ran along the track. It wasn’t terribly surprising the super soldier was out there with the rest of them. His body required exercise to keep functioning; something the toxin didn’t seem to change. His strength may have been gone, but his stamina remained intact; as he hadn’t even broken a sweat on the mile long track.

“He’s winning, he’s winning, he’s gonna win, HE WON!!”

Sam threw his fists into the air as the contestants crossed the finish line and a whistle sounded, signaling the end of the race. The young man scrambled over the barrier and darted into the circle of panting ponies, carefully weaving around them until he reached Steve, who was smiling brightly and with clear amusement when the younger man reached up and scratched behind his ears affectionately.

His mouth was moving a mile a minute, but at this distance, Tony couldn’t hear what was being said. Nothing but good things, if the expression on Steve’s face was anything to go by. The engineer wished the other man smiled at him like that from time to time. He’d never seen Steve look so carefree and happy; and that left Tony feeling lost.

Was Steve enjoying this? Or was this still an act to keep under the radar until they were rescued? A smile like that was hard to fake, and Steve had never been very good at concealing how he really felt about things.

Tony’s eyes strayed to the other ponies, all of which were being patted and praised and fed treats by their grooms. It didn’t matter if they came in last or first, their masters were proud and pleased with them, and in turn, the ponies were happy and content with themselves and the attention they received. They nuzzled into those petting hands, delighting in the way their grooms laughed in response.

And suddenly Tony found himself wanting.

He wanted someone who would be proud of him whether he won or lost; someone who would reward him with love and affection simply because he tried his best. He wanted to be able to trust someone to care for him when he was vulnerable and stripped of all his defenses; to be able to let go of everything and just be. Just be Honey. Because that was enough for these people. They didn’t care about Tony Stark, billionaire, philanthropist, playboy, Iron Man.

Tony turned his gaze back to Steve, and he froze when he found the other man looking back. That smile he’d worn only a moment before was gone, replaced by another unreadable expression he couldn’t quite figure out the meaning behind.

Suddenly Tony felt like he was intruding and his shoulders hunched as he gave the reigns Danny still held a small jerk when he moved his head to the side. The other man blinked and looked at him curiously.

“Too many people? Maybe some time out at pasture will do you some good.”

Tony followed when Danny led him away, not bothering to look back even as he felt Steve’s eyes continuing to bore into him.

 

-----

When Steve woke up the next morning, it was to the sound of his stall door being opened. He sat up immediately and couldn’t help but return Sam’s bright smile as the man practically bounced in with a plate full of fruit and a bottle of orange juice.

“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty! Big day for you!”

Steve allowed himself to be fed and drank the orange juice gratefully before he got to his feet. His attention immediately turned to the stall beside his own, and he moved to the wall dividing them to peer down at Tony. The other man was still sleeping, curled tightly in a protective ball and hidden beneath a pile of hay he’d thrown over himself. Steve quirked a brow at the sight. He’d always assumed Tony would be a sprawler, sleeping spread out and hogging all the space around him to himself.

Steve was just about to kick the wall in order to wake the other man when Sam’s fingers wrapped around the cheek strap of his bridle and pulled him gently toward the door.

“Let Honey sleep a little longer. He had a rough day yesterday.”

Casting one last look at the engineer, Steve nodded in agreement and followed Sam to the shower room. The bathing process was embarrassing, but getting out of those boots and mitts had been more than worth it. The massage had been even better, and Steve found his cheeks coloring when Sam chuckled at the moan his talented touch evoked from him.

It was concerning that he still wasn’t able to talk or use his strength. The serum should have been able to heal whatever had been done to him, but clearly that wasn’t happening. That had to mean that whatever was affecting his system was still being introduced.

Steve eyed Sam suspiciously as the man began to replace all his tack. Was there something in the food? No. He’d have to eat a lot more than he was for something to counteract the serum so completely. And he hadn’t tasted or smelled anything wrong with the food. Aside from that, Sam hardly seemed like the type to poison someone. Whatever was going on, Sam wasn’t involved.

Steve casually watched the other pairs that wandered into the room. Both groom and pony seemed completely at ease with each other, and the way the groom cared for their pony was nothing short of loving. These people adored each other, and Steve didn’t feel threatened by his environment in the least. This was a lifestyle he wasn’t familiar with, but the more he saw of it, the more appealing it became to him.

His circumstances for being here were still a mystery, but Steve was willing to bide his time until SHIELD found them. The tracker in his arm was sure to lead the Avengers to their position, though without any knowledge on where exactly they were, it could take a couple hours or a couple days. For all he knew, they were on the other side of the planet. The people here were a mix of races, so it was impossible to tell.

Escaping on his own didn’t seem like an option. From the moment he’d stepped off that trailer Steve had been surveying his surroundings. There were no signs of civilization in any direction he looked, and without clothes or supplies, risking walking for what could be days to the next town wasn’t sensible. Tony certainly wouldn’t hold up.

Aside from that, without his strength he couldn’t break his restraints. The morning routine did allow him some time without them, but what then? Tony was still restrained and Steve wouldn’t be able to free him without the keys, which he probably wouldn’t be able to find. And if he did, he’d most likely have to hurt someone to get them. He didn’t want to have to do that. So far these people didn’t seem like enemies, but they would still be able to overpower him in no time should he try to escape.

Or there was the chance they’d realize something was wrong and release them willingly. On the other hand, someone had sent them here forcefully, and it stood to reason there were enemies out to harm them here. A sudden outburst from Steve could trigger a violent retaliation he’d be defenseless against.

So for now, the best plan was to play along and wait for help to arrive. Hopefully it wouldn’t be long.

---------

The race was exhilarating. His body had needed an outlet for all his pent up energy, and the exertion of running down the dirt track in his hooved boots was the perfect thing. At first he’d felt absolutely ridiculous all trussed up in the fancy tack Sam had dressed him in. His chest harness was still blue, but it was covered in small diamond-like studs that shimmered in the sunlight. His bridle matched, but it now had a long blond mane attached to the back of it that cascaded down his back. His skin had been rubbed down with oil that made it gleam and defined his muscles, highlighting each movement in stark contrast.

When he’d been led to the starting gate he’d been apprehensive. He hadn’t planned on running at all, but the men and women around him snorted at him, tossing their heads and scuffing their hooved feet into the dirt. A redheaded woman sent him a wicked smile and all but pranced in a circle around him, so close that the red feathered plum on her head tickled his chin as she passed.

A lithe man to his left nickered gently and caught his eye before nodding to the track and tensing his body in preparation as he dug his boots into the dirt.

They were challenging the newcomer.

Ok.

Looks like he was racing after all.

-----

He’d won, of course. Still, Steve was impressed with the other racers. They were in remarkable shape with impressive stamina. Obviously they were well cared for.

He couldn’t help but smile broadly when Sam wormed his way over and began to spout out praise of a job well done. The scratches on his scalp felt nice too. No one had ever done that before. In fact, he hadn’t had much physical contact with people outside of battle at all since he woke up. He’d just been too busy to pursue a serious relationship, and his teammates weren’t really the cuddly types.

So it was ok to enjoy this, right?

Something made Steve look up from Sam, and he felt the smile melt off his lips when he locked eyes with Tony. The man was standing a ways off behind the barrier, watching him. He looked bothered by something, but that didn’t surprise him. The engineer was having a hard time blending in here.

Or maybe he was angry with Steve for not doing something to get them out of this. The man was a genius though. Surely he’d gone over their options and had come to the same conclusion Steve had. They weren’t being hurt, so a little patience was key.

Steve’s brow furrowed when Tony tugged on his reigns and Danny began to lead him away. His eyes traveled down the engineer’s well defined back as he went, settling on that swaying chestnut tail that accentuated the perky cheeks it concealed beneath it.

A blush rose in his face as his gaze lingered there, and Sam took notice of his stallion’s distraction, turning to follow his line of sight. He spotted Honey’s retreating form easily enough, and a smile spread over his lips as he spun back around to face Steve.

“Ahh, are you interested in breeding Honey?”

Steve’s blue eyes snapped back to Sam, his brows rising in surprise. The smaller man grinned and nudged him with his elbow.

“Come on now. I saw you. Mike is trying to breed Honey with his stallion Bullet, but from what I heard, Honey wasn’t in to it so much. I guess tall, dark, and handsome isn’t his type.”

Steve’s face paled and his eyes darted back up the hill where Tony had disappeared. They’d tried to…Oh god!

“Whoa!”

Sam made a mad grab for Steve’s reigns as he tried to run after Tony, just managing to wrap his fingers around them before they slipped his reach. The smaller man found himself stumbling behind his stallion for several steps before he caught his stride and darted in front of Steve, placing his palms firmly on his heaving chest.

“WHOA!”

Steve came to an abrupt stop and glared down at Sam, his hard gaze making the groom flinch.

“Just….calm down. I didn’t know you were so possessive of him. Were you two already mated before you came here? It didn’t say anything about it in your papers.”

Steve stomped his foot impatiently and shook his head. He needed to get to Tony and make sure he was ok. He didn’t have time for this right now. His teammate had been through something horrible and Steve hadn’t been there to help him!

“Ok. Ok, let’s go see him.”

Sam began to walk again, his pace brisk, but not rushed. Steve followed, fighting the urge to tear the reigns from the other man’s hands and run ahead, but he wasn’t sure where Tony was among the acres of land that surrounded them, so he inhaled deeply and tried to calm his racing heart.

Maybe making a break for it naked and without food was the better option after all.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

After several minutes of walking Sam and Steve had finally made it up the same hill they’d seen Tony disappear over. To Steve their progress was painfully slow, and his eyes were constantly darting around in the hopes of finding the engineer. From their elevated position he was able to look down on the acres of rolling grassland below. The pastures were separated by white fences and the landscape was dotted with trees, manmade streams, and wandering human ponies enjoying the sun and grass.

The sound of heavy footsteps coming up the path they were on caught Steve’s attention and he swiveled his head just in time to spot Danny walking back to the barn. Tony wasn’t with him anymore.

“Danny!” Sam waved his hand to grab the man’s attention and quickly ushered Steve over to Danny, who had stopped to wait for them.

“Where’s Honey? Blondie is anxious to see him.”

The older man’s hazel eyes turned from Sam to Steve as if he was hesitant to answer, but whatever he saw in the captain’s gaze convinced him to turn and point toward a pasture behind him.

“I just put him in pasture two. He needed to relax a bit. Try not to rile him up, ok?”

Sam nodded gratefully and continued past the man. He led Steve to a forked path and turned to the left. The walk was pleasant enough. The further they went the more mature and dense the trees became, offering ample shade from the warm sun. The leaves rustled gently in the breeze and birds chirped all around them.

When they came to a white gate Sam turned and removed the reigns from Steve’s bridle, then pushed the door open and gestured inside. “This is pasture two. Honey is in there somewhere. I’ll come back in a couple hours.”

Steve hardly paid him any mind as he rushed past and set a brisk pace as he began his search for the engineer. He wove around trees and followed a babbling stream for several minutes, his eyes darting to the left, then the right as he went. Several times he came across another person lazing around in the grass or sunbathing, but he continued past them, ignoring the occasional calls that beckoned him closer.

As the minutes ticked by Steve found himself becoming increasingly frustrated. Where was he? Had Danny lied? Was Tony even here? What if he was hurt?

Panic was clawing at Steve’s chest when he finally rounded a cluster of trees and stopped in his tracks. Beneath the shade of a large oak tree sat Tony. The man was sitting on his hip with his back leaning against the trunk behind him, his legs folded close and situated in a way that preserved his modesty. His eyes were closed and Steve took a moment to study the other man. Now that he was closer, he could see red blotches of raw skin scattered along his body, marks he knew hadn’t been there the night before. The red welt encircling the engineer’s neck was the most disturbing, and Steve found himself walking up to the other man as a wave of fury overtook him.

Brown eyes snapped open at the sound of his approaching footsteps, and Tony sucked in a startled breath as his body threw itself back against the tree, using the trunk as leverage to scramble to his feet. It was only after he clumsily stumbled back several steps that he seemed to realize who was in front of him, and Steve watched, concerned, as Tony quickly covered his obvious panic with an expression of annoyance. His scarred chest puffed out as he straightened and threw his shoulders back; a perfect imitation of Tony Stark’s usual haughty attitude.

But Steve wasn’t fooled.

He tore his eyes away from the other man and looked around for something that might help him communicate. A large patch of dirt provided the perfect surface for writing, and he gestured for Tony to follow as he walked over to it and carefully used the edge of his hoofed boot to etch into the soil.

The engineer came up beside him and watched curiously as he wrote out a message in surprisingly good handwr---hoofwriting.

What happened with Bullet?

Steve watched as Tony’s eyes widened, and his face turned a furious shade of red when he turned to look up at him. The engineer’s mortified expression quickly morphed itself into a very much forced smirk, but it’d been too late; Steve had already seen. So when Tony scuffed away the message in the dirt and wrote one of his own, he already knew the man was lying.

Just a little rough play. Good time had by all. You know me, Cap.

Steve turned his stern gaze back to Tony, frowning as the other man tried a little too hard to keep his stance casual and relaxed. The other man may have called himself a playboy at one time in his life, but those days were behind him. Since he’d known him Steve had never seen Tony engage in any casual sex. He’d been faithful to Pepper, and even after they’d gone back to being friends, there had been no strangers brought back to the tower for midnight romps. In fact, Steve had seen the other man turn down numerous women and even some men who had proposed a night of lascivious actives. He just hadn’t been interested.

So no, he didn’t believe for one moment that Tony had willingly allowed a stranger to ‘play rough’ with him.

We should leave.

Brown eyes blinked at the newly written message and Tony raised a brow as he cast Steve a questioning look.

SHEILD is tracking you. How long?

Ah, so Tony remembered the tracker.

Couple days tops.

We wait.

Steve sighed in frustration and glared at the words etched into the dirt. Waiting made the most sense, but if Tony was being hurt, then that changed things in his book. He couldn’t stand the idea of someone harming his teammate and friend; and certainly not in the way Bullet had tried to. Steve didn’t care what Tony claimed; he hadn’t been willing. His body language and badly concealed nervousness gave him away. The tension in his shoulders, the trickle of sweat at his temple, the way his eyes kept flickering away from his own whenever direct contact was made…

Tony must have sensed his doubt, because he stomped his booted foot beside his last message as if to repeat it. They were going to wait for help. Steve didn’t like it, but there wasn’t anything he could do if the other man wanted to stay put. He’d just have to keep his eye out and do his best to figure out who was the enemy here and do his best to protect Tony in the meantime.

------

Tony couldn’t believe it, but he was actually relieved when Sam and Danny showed up to take them back to the barn. Steve had been questioning him for over an hour about what had happened with Bullet and it was clear he didn’t believe that he’d willingly engaged in a little rough play with an attractive pony man. He was a piss poor liar apparently, but he couldn’t risk telling the other man the truth. Steve wouldn’t be able to keep from going after Mike and Bullet and if Mike felt threatened, Tony had no doubt in his mind he’d put Steve down in an instant.

So no. It was better to leave the Captain in the dark. Tony was just going to have to brush up on his acting skills and hold it together until help arrived to get them out of there; and even then it was a dangerous game if he couldn’t warn SHIELD about the implant in time.

Danny smiled as he stepped up to Tony and clipped the reigns onto the cheek rings of his halter.

“I’ll remain your groom, but Mike is to be your trainer.” Danny frowned as he said this, clearly unhappy with the decision. “Your master insisted, but Adam doesn’t trust Mike to take care of your basic needs, so that’s left to me.”

Tony barely managed to suppress the shiver that ran up his spine. He wasn’t sure if it was the idea of Mike still having a hold over him, or the way he could feel Steve’s eyes boring into his back, but it felt like his skin was crawling. Still, he nodded and gave his groom what he hoped was a convincing smile as he moved to follow him back out of the pasture.

The walk was uneventful and Tony found himself lulled into a semi-relaxed state as he listened to the steady rhythm of Steve’s steps behind him coupled with the cheerful twitter of the birds that resided in the trees above their heads. Sam spoke excitedly about the race earlier that day, and Danny chuckled as the younger man began to describe the gear he had planned for Steve to wear for the next competition. Apparently there would be more glitter.

Any amusement Tony might have felt evaporated the instant they emerged from the tree line. Mike stood at the gate, waiting impatiently for them to arrive. His black eyes locked on Tony the moment he became visible, and it took everything he had not to falter in his stride. Steve needed to believe they were safe.

“I’ll be taking Honey. Figured I can get in one more training session before the day’s up.”

Danny made a point of looking at the watch on his wrist as he and Sam passed through the gate, and he hesitated before handing Tony’s reigns over to the other man.

“Getting a little late, don’t you think?”

Mike closed his fist around the reigns tightly.

“He ate late. Won’t matter if he’s a little late for dinner. Just doing what his master requested.”

Tony only had a brief moment to catch the twin frowns on Danny and Steve’s faces, and he made a point of following after Mike without hesitation, throwing a wink and a smile at his teammate over his shoulder. The suspicious look Steve was giving Mike wasn’t good, and Tony wanted him to think he was willing and happy to go with the dark haired man. More rough play.

Yay.

Hopefully his acting was convincing enough, because the moment he was out of sight, his body visibly deflated as a wave of dread overtook him. His eyes fixed themselves on Mike’s back and his brows furrowed as he was led back to the building he’d nearly been raped in earlier that day, his stomach dropping further with each step.

The moment they were inside and the door was closed, Mike had him around the throat. Tony gasped in pain as he was shoved back against the door he’d just come through, his back screaming in protest as it impacted the splintered wood. The other man’s hot breath hit him square in the face as he leaned in close, black eyes blazing.

“Did you tell him?! Does Captain America know?!”

Tony shook his head as best he could with the hand around his throat, and he squeezed his eyes shut as he was jerked roughly away from the door only to be slammed back against it the next instant. When he cracked his eyes open again, Mike was only staring at him with a hard expression as if assessing whether or not he was being truthful. His free hand brushed against something he had stored in his pocket, and fear bubbled up inside Tony as he imagined it was the remote that could kill Steve.

Again he shook his head with more force this time and he met the other man’s eyes firmly with his own. For a long moment neither of them moved, but eventually the grip on his throat disappeared and Tony found himself spun around and pushed against the door again, this time chest first.

“Good.”

He heard the jingle of keys and Tony blinked in confusion as his arm locks were released, freeing his still mitted hands from their spot behind his back. A hand on his shoulder had him turning around again, and he followed with staggering steps as Mike dragged him to the center of the dirt floor by the reigns. The breeding stand was gone, but that didn’t alleviate any of Tony’s stress as the other man leaned in close to his ear.

“On your hands and knees.”

A cold sweat broke out along his hairline and Tony turned his head to meet the other man’s gaze in an attempt to decipher what he might have been planning. Mike’s expression gave away nothing though, and Tony’s self-preservation instinct---yes, he did have one--- kicked in. He shook his head and moved to take a step back, but a sharp pull on his reigns had him nearly stumbling back into the other man.

This time when Mike spoke, his voice was sharp and all business; just as if he were training a particular stubborn animal who needed to be shown who the boss was.

“Get down or we’ll continue on where we left off earlier.”

Tony heard a scuffling noise to his left and he quickly turned his head to find the source. His face trained of all color as Bullet stepped out of the darkened corner he’d been standing in. Jesus, the man was like a ninja!

His presence made Tony’s legs feel like jelly, and he folded down onto his knees without even meaning to. He cringed when Mike ran an almost gentle had through his hair before pushing on the spot between his shoulder blades to encourage Tony into the position he wanted him in. His eyes never left Bullet’s form as he gave in and placed his mitted hands on the dirt floor. He tried to ignore the humiliated blush that turned his face red as Mike crooned and ran his hand down the length of Tony’s spine.

“Not so hard, was it? You look pretty on your hands and knees. No wonder Hammer wanted you trained to be a riding pony.”

A riding….

Mike must have predicted that Tony would attempt to get up because he grabbed the back of his neck to keep him in place the moment the smaller man shifted to push himself back to his feet.

“Stay! Either you obey me or I let Bullet here have you.”

Tony panted heavily in anger and humiliation as Mike gave his neck one more warning squeeze before placing another metal bit into his mouth and securing it there. It wasn’t as tight as it was the first time, but it still clinked against his molars uncomfortably. He shifted to lift his mitted hand to his mouth in an attempt to dislodge it, but a sharp crack followed by a flash of pain across his forearm made him change his mind.

Tony glared at the red welt that rose across his skin as Mike waved the crop in front of him, making it clear that any unwanted movement would be punished. Brown eyes followed booted feet as the other man slowly circled him, occasionally running the tip of the crop across the skin on his back or sides as he passed. At one point it slid over his cheek in a gentle caress that made Tony cringe.

“There are different types of ponies, as you may have noticed. The pretty ones are usually made into show ponies; like Captain America. He's actually considered a Stallion. He’s flawless and beautiful. He’s valued highly and admired by every master and groom on the property.”

The boots stopped moving in front of Tony, and he lowered his head and closed his eyes as he waited for what he knew was coming.

“But you…You are scarred and unattractive. Unfit for such a high class of pony. You aren’t even good enough to pull a sulky or carriage. Ponies like you are beasts of burden. Your place is below your master where no one can see you. You’re there only for his pleasure and needs, no matter what they may be.”

Tony’s teeth tightened around the metal bar in his mouth as he listened to the harsh words. Mike stated them as if they were a matter of fact, and maybe they were. The scar on his chest tingled uncomfortably as Tony’s insecurities fought their way to the forefront of his thoughts, and he only raised his head when a thin piece of leather was placed on his back.

Two metal stirrups fell on either side of his body and rested about an inch above the ground, and Tony groaned and dropped his head again when it became apparent that he was wearing a modified saddle.

Mike gave him a hard tap on his flank with the edge of the crop as a warning.

“You’ve been a pathetic pony so far. Show me you’re capable of doing something right.”

Tony growled when Mike threw a leg over his back and brought it down on his other side so he was standing above him, and he lunged forward in an attempt to get out from under the man, but he wasn’t accounting for the fact Mike had a firm hold on the reigns, and his head was jerked back harshly and his mouth tore back open in the corner as pressure was put on the bit.

Tony instinctively moved to sit back on his knees in order to free his hands to grab at the thing that hurt him, but he was prevented from doing so when Mike came down heavily in the saddle. The air was pushed from his lungs as the larger man’s full weight settled on his back, and Tony’s first thought was to just collapse in defiance, but the reigns were pulled harshly once again.

“Hold me. You get one chance to do this right.”

Brown eyes darted over to Bullet. The man was watching them with hungry eyes, and he was once again fully erect as he paced around impatiently.

Mike slipped his feet into the stirrups and Tony honestly wasn’t sure which was worse; this humiliation or the rape. His arms were already shaking with the effort it took to hold the larger man up, and every time the rider shifted his back screamed in protest.

“Eventually you’ll be made to crawl, but first you need to build up your strength. The better behaved you are, the better I’ll treat you. You’ll earn more comfort, such as a padded saddle and knee pads.”

Oh, goody! His knees were already cracking with the strain, so pads would be swell. The only thing that kept Tony from bucking the bastard off right now was his concern for Steve’s safety and taking comfort in the fact he wouldn’t be here long enough to have to do this again with any luck.

Tony considered himself to be in good shape, but as the minutes began to tick by, he seriously began to doubt his ability to hold Mike for the amount of time he wanted. His spine dipped beneath the man’s weight, and sweat began to drip down his face as he drew in deep breaths through his nose and released it around the bit in his mouth. Whenever he began to waver he got a sharp slap to his rump with the crop.

“Hold.”

Off to his right side Bullet paced more heavily than before as he became increasingly frustrated. It made Mike chuckle as he reached down to pet Tony’s hair, forcing the smaller man to lock his elbows as the weight on his back shifted to his shoulders.

“I don’t think you’re going to get any action tonight, Bullet. Lil’ Jackass here is doing very well.”

Everything inside Tony was screaming at him to jerk away from the fingers threading through his hair, to shake the man off, drop to the floor, to do something to stop this humiliation, but every time he tensed his muscles in preparation for an act of rebellion, Steve’s face popped up in his mind’s eye. All at once the fight would leave him and Tony closed his eyes as he tried to ignore the way his body was screaming at him. Every muscle was on fire, and as another several minutes went by, he knew his limit was quickly approaching.

It occurred to him that Mike was setting him up for failure; that this was just a sick game preluding an inevitable rape, but the moment he was sure he would collapse, the man on top of him removed his feet from the stirrups and stood. Tony couldn’t even wait for Mike to move away before he dropped to the ground between his feet. Every muscle in his body twitched and he couldn’t stop the whimper that escaped his throat as pain shot across his back.

Black eyes regarded him thoughtfully, and Mike held up a hand to stop Bullet’s approach when the large man took several steps toward them. He moved so he no longer straddled Tony and grinned as he removed the saddle and detached the bit, wiping away the already drying trickle of blood that escape from the reopened wound on his mouth.

“Not bad,” he said as he patted the smaller man’s shoulder. “You lasted nearly twenty minutes.”

This time Tony did try to swat the man’s hand away, but Mike only chuckled at his efforts and grabbed his arms in order to secure them behind his back again, then he used them to pull Tony back to his feet. The smaller man groaned and stumbled unsteadily as he struggled to maintain his balance. Between the boots and his trembling muscles, it was no easy feat, but he managed to get it together just before Mike beckoned him to the door.

“You might make a decent pony after all, Stark.”

--------

Steve was getting restless. He’d been returned to the barn after Tony had been taken away and it’d been over an hour since then. He trusted his teammate to let him know if he was in danger, so he’d tried to relax when the other man had given him a cheeky wink as he was led away. Bullet hadn’t been anywhere in sight, so maybe he was worrying over nothing.

Or maybe he needed to bust down the stall door and go search for the other man like his instincts were telling him to.

His eyes had dropped to the door in order to search for any weak spots in the structure when he heard Danny coming. Steve looked up and sighed in relief when he saw Tony trailing behind the man. He walked stiffly, but he wasn’t limping. His pace was slow as if he were exhausted, but there weren’t any new wounds as far as he could see. His face was flushed and Steve could see the sheen of sweat still coating his skin, but his state of being could all be due to being subjected to a brisk run around the grounds.

He was still watching Tony intently as Danny opened the stall door next to his and led the engineer inside, and only when his feet touched the hay floor did brown eyes open and look at Steve. The smaller man immediately smiled at him and even seemed to gain some energy as his next step contained more of a bounce than the last, and Steve hesitantly mimicked his expression.

Yes, he’d been worrying over nothing. Tony was fine. Tired from some exercise maybe, but fine.

Danny removed the bridle from Tony’s head and left the stall with the promise to return later for a rubdown and food. The smaller man didn’t seem to be listening as he gingerly settled down on the floor and lay on his side in the nest of hay he’d pushed into the corner the night before. Steve frowned when Tony visibly winced and froze when he moved a certain way, and it was obvious his back was hurting him.

“Stop it. I said not tonight!”

Blue eyes rose and focused on Mike, who was leading a rather angry looking man-pony behind him. Bullet’s nostrils flared as he tossed his head in an attempt to rip his reigns out of his groom’s hands, and Mike was quick to deliver a harsh lashing across his chest to correct his behavior. Steve would have winced in sympathy had he not hated the man.
Mike muttered something to the large man too quietly for Steve to hear, but whatever he said seemed to pacify Bullet. His broad shoulders relaxed as he was put into his stall on the other side of Tony’s, and Steve bristled in anger when the other man’s cold eyes fell on his teammate and stayed there.

Mike seemed to take a moment to make sure Bullet’s door was secured before he walked over to Tony’s. He knocked on the wood and waited for tired brown eyes to open before he smiled.

“You did good today, Honey.”

He opened the door and stepped into the stall, and Steve watched as Tony sat up a little too quickly, wincing again when he pulled a sore muscle. Mike only grinned as he sat on his haunches in front of the engineer and reached into his pocket, bringing out a sugar cube after a moment of fishing around.

Tony’s eyes widened and his gaze darted to Steve only for the briefest of seconds before they turned back to look into Mike’s. There was a long and tense moment that seemed to go on forever as they watched each other, and Steve’s jaw nearly dropped when Tony slowly leaned forward and ate the sugar cube from the man’s open palm.

Mike flashed Steve a victorious smile as he scratched his fingers through Tony’s hair, crooning affectionately. The engineer never looked up from a spot he’d focused on on the floor, and Steve watched Mike as he stood and left the stall before disappearing down the hall. He couldn’t figure the man out. Had he been the one to stop Bullet when he’d gone after Tony, or had he been the one to encourage it? Bullet appeared to be hard to handle, and Mike appeared to be treating Tony kindly, but his gut was telling him he wasn’t to be trusted. Danny didn't seem comfortable with Mike handling Tony and that said something right there, but then again, the engineer had happily followed the dark haired man today. If Mike was an enemy, why wouldn't Tony let him know? Why hide the fact?

When Steve looked back to his teammate he found the man curled up on his side again with his eyes closed. He seemed exhausted and well on his way to sleep, but Steve still felt the need to watch over him. The way Bullet was watching Tony made his blood boil, and so he stood over the engineer and met the other man’s blue eyes with his own, clearly conveying the message that Tony was under his protection and was not to be messed with.

After only two minutes, Bullet stood down. But still, Steve remained where he was, guarding over Tony's slumbering form as best he could.

TBC

Chapter Text

Tony did his best to ignore the persistent tingling that traveled down his spine; a feeling he always got when he knew someone was watching him. Right now he knew there were two sets of eyes on him; both Steve’s and Bullet’s. Both made him equally uncomfortable. The reason behind the discomfort from Bullet’s gaze was obvious. It made him feel oily and disgusting inside. And Steve… Steve made him feel small and pitiful. Surely the blonde man saw him the same way everyone else here did; old, worn, and scarred. There were so many beautiful people on display here, and Tony knew he didn’t even come close to measuring up to them.

He just wanted to disappear.

Tony squeezed his eyes shut even tighter when he heard footsteps approaching his stall, and his body instinctively curled up into a smaller ball as the door was quietly pulled open.

“Honey, let’s get you cleaned up, ok?”

A big part of Tony wanted to shrug Danny away, but right now he wanted to get away from Steve and Bullet’s scrutiny, so he sat up and allowed his groom to help him to his feet. He kept his gaze on the floor as he was led out of the stall and into the showering room, only raising his eyes after he was sure he was out of sight of the others.

Danny smiled at him kindly as he set to work repeating the same procedure they’d performed the night before, and Tony sighed in relief as his feet were released from the boots and his hands from the mitts. The chest harness was next to go, followed by his halter. Just like before, his back felt the instant relief of the heavy tail’s removal, and he arched his spine, humming in pleasure as it gave a satisfying pop.

Danny chuckled as he urged Tony beneath the warm spray of the showerhead, and he collected a soft bristled brush before loading it up with a generous amount of soap. Brown eyes watched cautiously as the other man stepped forward and ran the bristles along the skin on his back to spread the soap, then began to work in small circles across his sore flesh. Tony gave a small moan of appreciation and braced his arms on the tiled wall in front of him, allowing Danny more access to his aching muscles.

The groom hummed to himself as his free hand felt along Tony’s spine beside the working brush, and his fingers paused whenever they encountered a knotted muscle beneath the skin. He took several minutes each time to ease away the pain, and by the time he was done with his back and had moved on to clean the rest of his body, Tony was practically putty in his hands. He didn’t even flinch when Danny ran the brush and slick fingers along his backside and around his front; only opening his eyes briefly to make sure the touch stayed platonic before be let his lids slide shut again.

His feet were lifted one at a time, and Tony’s forehead rested against the tile in front of him as the other man kneaded his heels and arches, only shifting when the side of his knee was tapped to urge him to lower one foot and raise the other behind him to receive the same treatment.

His hair was next, and Tony straightened and tipped his head back to allow the larger man to thoroughly shampoo and condition the thick strands. The contrast between this treatment and what he’d endured with Mike was staggering, and he found tears prickling the corner of his eyes at the very thought of having to go through hell again tomorrow. It seemed especially cruel to have to endure both ends of the spectrum.

On one end there was Danny, a kind man who obviously treasured anyone under his care. He respected the people who put enough trust into him to allow themselves to become vulnerable to him while they were in subspace, and the man repaid that trust with nothing but kindness and the best treatment he could provide.

On the other end there was Mike, a sadistic bastard who took advantage of anyone taking the submissive position below him. He was cruel, manipulative, abusive both physically and mentally, and he took a person’s trust and crushed it in his fist. Tony couldn’t help but wonder how many people he’d harmed and if his methods were the reason Bullet seemed like such a loose cannon.

Tony sighed and blinked away unshed tears as Danny rinsed his hair beneath the water. A sugar scrub was applied to his skin next and gently rubbed all over his body until his flesh was smooth and silky to the touch. When his back was done the larger man had Tony turn to face him, and he worked the scrub all over until he reached the scarring on his chest. Danny hesitated as he studied the healed injury, but before Tony could turn away, gentle hands spread the sugar scrub across the marred flesh.

The engineer felt a swell of emotion tighten his throat as his brown eyes dropped to watch Danny gingerly message his chest. Few people had seen the scar since he removed the arc reactor, and no one had ever touched it. Not even Pepper. She’d been too afraid to hurt him, she had claimed; but Tony suspected the unsightly mass of damaged tissue had disgusted her. He’d never slept without a shirt on after that; never let anyone see; but here was Danny, showing not even a hint of disgust as he worked to soften the skin as if it were the same as the rest of his body.

His eyes rose and met hazel ones. His jaw tightened when Danny smiled back as he rinsed away the sugar particles and shut off the water.

“It makes you unique and beautiful in your own right. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.”

Tony looked away when the other man brought over a large towel and wrapped him in it, using the fluffy fabric to blot away the access water before he led him over to stand on a rubber mat away from the shower stall. Rather than immediately replacing his tack, Danny removed the towel and slathered his already silky skin with a scented lotion. He worked it in from head to toe, and then followed with a layer of light oil that made his skin gleam just as Steve’s had earlier that day.

Tony blinked in confusion and furrowed his brow when Danny sat him down and went to work drying his hair. What was going on? Why would he go through all this trouble just to put him to bed? And as Mike had made clear, he was considered to be an ugly pony, no better than a mule in their society, so why bother with all this?

Tony’s stomach began churn as the blow dryer was turned off and set aside. Fingers covered in product swept through his hair, tussling the locks into organized chaos that was reminiscent of how he wore his hair a couple years prior. An electric razor cleaned the stubble from his face and neck, and another layer of lotion was applied to the smooth skin there to soothe any irritation.

His teeth were brushed and his nails were buffed until they were shiny enough to reflect the light, and it seemed that at that point Tony’s confusion was obvious enough that Danny decide to say something.

“Tonight we allow all the ponies to mingle and bond with each other. Horses are social animals and live in herds, so it’s only natural we allow for that kind of behavior here. You’ll all be free to do what you want,” Danny paused to cast Tony a suggestive grin coupled with a playful brow waggle. “So I figured you’d want to look your best for the phillies and stallions out there.”

Tony swallowed audibly as Danny ushered him back to his feet. No, no, no! The last thing he wanted was to be paraded around in front of a bunch of horny pony people! Sure, at one point in his life this would have been a fantasy come true, but he was done with casual, meaningless sex with strangers. In fact, the very thought made him sick to his stomach. And Steve! The man and his sensitive 40’s sensibilities would probably have a heart attack and keel over!

Danny must have noticed his panicked expression and rigid stance, because he shushed him as he began placing new tack on him. The chest harness was still red, but this time the leather was shiny and reflective; and the metal clasps were made of polished gold. Instead of a few straps crisscrossing his waist, this piece had a corset that hugged him tightly, cinching his mid-section as Danny laced up the golden bands in the back.

Tony gave a little squeak as it was tightened to the point of discomfort. The corset wrapped around him from ribcage to the top of his hips, leaving his chest exposed save for a few shiny straps that seemed to only draw more attention to his scars. The tail on the back of the corset was even thicker and longer than the other he wore, and without the boots, the end of the glossy strands dragged on the ground.

“Your master sent this gear for you for special occasions.” Danny said as he placed gleaming red leather mitts on Tony’s hands and laced them up to his elbows. The hooves at the end were a polished gold, and when his arms were folded and secured behind his back, matching boots were placed on his feet and laced up tightly until they stopped just below his knee.

Tony’s wide eyes stared at the gleaming golden hooves, hardly noticing as a decorative harness he didn’t even have time to study was fitted over his head and secured.
This tack was a clear imitation of the Iron Man armor, and Tony wondered not for the first time if Danny was in on the whole thing. Did he seriously not recognize him? Did he spend so much time on the farm that he had no idea what Tony Stark looked like? He could understand not making the connection when he was dirty, naked, and without his signature goatee, but he was wearing a rated-X version of his armor here! Surely this guy felt some spark of recognition!

“Gorgeous! It’s like you were born to wear those colors!”

Brown eyes narrowed in suspicion. He had to know. This was all part of the sick game, wasn’t it? Nice cop, bad cop. Danny was fucking with his mind! Killing him with kindness and gaining his trust as part of a sick, cruel game. And he almost fell for it!

He wouldn’t make that mistake again. No one here, aside from Steve, was to be trusted. He should have known better. He’d been stupid to think anyone would treat him so kindly if not for some ulterior motive.

Tony refused to look Danny in the eye again as the man attached ornate reigns to his bridle and led him outside. The sun had set and only the faintest glow along the horizon remained. The moon had risen and it was full, casting the grounds in a bright silvery light that made seeing in the dark fairly easy.

As they walked along a dirt path Tony could hear excited whinnies and squeals that had he not known there weren’t any actual animals here, he would have mistaken for real horses. The people really slipped into character when they were in their headspaces.

He could see several grooms leading one or multiple ponies to the meeting point, and everyone seemed keyed up on energy. The women were prancing around, their breasts bouncing proudly with their exaggerated steps, and the men were clearly taking notice if there obvious excitement was anything to go by.

Basically it seemed like this was a giant orgy. Fun times. But not for him.

“You’ll all get to mingle until midnight. For the most part you’ll be left alone, but a few grooms will be present to aid anyone who needs help. Sometimes not having use of your hands can make things difficult.”

Danny threw a smile over his shoulder as he led Tony to the gate everyone was passing through to gain access to a wide open field spotted only sparsely with trees. Watering troughs were set up along the perimeter as well as some freshly sliced fruit that sat on platforms sitting at about waist level; easily accessible with only a bow of the head.

His reigns were taken off and Danny gave him a playful slap on his hip before waving him off. “Have fun!”

Tony watched his groom go, unable to ignore the strong feeling of abandonment his retreat instilled inside him. It was stupid considering he strongly suspected the man was part of this whole ‘kidnap and humiliate’ thing, but it didn’t change the fact that Danny had stopped Bullet’s attempt at rape on him and had treated him kindly so far.

Now he was left alone in a darkened field with a bunch of horny strangers and completely exposed.

Exposed. Tony startled at the thought and took several steps back as he swiveled his head in all directions in search of a safer place. There were at least two dozen other people around him in various stages of… socialization, and he had no desire to become the focus of anyone’s attention.

He spotted a cluster of trees a ways off and immediately took off in that direction. He didn’t run; that would draw attention. Instead he kept his head down and tried to keep to the shadows as much as possible. The bright moonlight illuminated oiled skin and made it look as if it were shining, and the beams reflected off the shiny buckles and straps everyone wore on their tack, drawing the eye even involuntarily.

He’d almost reached the trees without incident when a woman stepped in front of him. She was taller than him, which irked him to no end because he was already wearing heels for fuck’s sake, and her creamy white skin contrasted beautifully with her long inky black hair. Her almond shaped eyes were a striking shade of green and her lips were red, plump, and turned up into a sultry grin meant to seduce. Her tack was jet black with silver adornments, and it crisscrossed beautifully across her shapely figure and supported her ample breasts so they stood firm and perky.

She was absolutely stunning and Tony wanted nothing to do with her.

He gave her an apologetic smile and shook his head as he moved to side-step her, but his obvious rejection had the woman snorting angrily as she moved to block his path again. She stood straighter and crowded into Tony’s personal space to press her chest against his, and he stumbled back and away before she could feel the raised scarring there.
Clearly she couldn’t see the details in the dark or she wouldn’t be interested in the first place.

Again he turned away, but before he could even take a single step, the woman tackled him from behind and sent both of them tumbling to the ground.

And holy shit she was insistent!

Tony managed to roll onto his back again, wincing as his trapped arms dug in uncomfortably, but any further movement was hindered when two powerful knees planted themselves on either side of his head. Wide brown eyes looked up at smoldering green as the woman settled herself on top of him, and he squirmed when the hairs of her artificial tail tickled along his chest and sides. The smell of her arousal was strong, and he twisted his head away in a final attempt to communicate that he was seriously not interested, but she didn’t seem deterred in the least. In fact, she seemed quite content to sit there and wait for him to cooperate, settling her weight on his chest as she perched.

The strain the pressure put on his compromised ribcage made breathing difficult, and the pain left him gasping beneath her. He bucked once, twice, then three times in an attempt to dislodge her, but this only seemed to excite the woman further, as she seemed to think this was a game to be played. She laughed with each movement and brought herself down heavily again, drawing a high-pitched keen of pain from Tony as he fell limp beneath her and turned his head back. Clearly the only way to get her off of him was to give her what she wanted.

Fine.

Without even prompting her to do so the woman moved up and sat herself on Tony’s face. She threw her head back and moaned when his tongue darted out to tease along her outer lips before quickly delving inside. He was going to finish this as quickly as possible and then go curl up in a corner and die. Perfect plan.

More than once his air was cut off as the woman ground down against him, her hips moving in desperate little humps, but he always managed to get her to ease up by delivering a quick and gentle nip to her clit. She would squeal happily and arch her back, and Tony worried all the noise would attract an unwanted audience, but at the moment, he couldn’t see much more than what was right on top of him.

A final well placed jab with his tongue brought the woman to completion, and he scrunched his nose up as her juices coated his face. She rubbed herself against him a few more times as she rode out her orgasm, then thankfully collapsed to the side, allowing him to sit up and flip to his knees. He used the grass in front of him to clean his face as best he could; swiping his cheeks against the lush blades until he was sure his skin was green. It didn’t occur to him that he was kneeling on the ground with his ass in the air until someone stepped up behind him.

Tony paused when he spotted a gleaming silver hoof on his left, standing far too close for comfort, and he drew a sharp breath into his lungs as he scrambled away awkwardly on his knees. He only made it a few feet before he turned and landed heavily on his rump, casting his eyes up at the tall man standing in front of him.

It took him a moment to recognize the blue and silver tackle coupled with blond hair, and Tony sagged in relief when he realized it was Steve. The smile he threw the man quickly faded when he met steely blue eyes and a clenched jaw, and for a moment Tony was at a loss as to why Steve would look so angry, but a moment later the larger man’s gaze shifted to the satiated women still spread out in the grass beside him before turning back to look at him accusingly.

Oh. Oh, no.

Tony shook his head forcefully and struggled to stand. He managed it after a few clumsy attempts and quickly attempted to close the distance between them, but Steve only took a step back for each step Tony took forward, and the engineer paused where he was and felt himself deflating under the furious and disappointed expression on the larger man’s face.

All Tony could do was shake his head, and his heart nearly broke when Steve turned and walked away from him. It wasn’t like that! He wasn’t…he didn’t want… How was he supposed to…?

He drew in a shuddering breath as he watched Steve go. The larger man never even paused to look back, and Tony folded onto his knees as a wave of despair overtook him. This wasn’t fair. He’d done everything he could to gain the approval of his childhood hero---and current hero if he was being honest---and he liked to believe he’d been making progress. He considered Steve a friend and given all the times the blonde had sought out his company in the past, he liked to believe the other man thought the same of him. They’d gotten close; so close that Clint frequently suggested they get a room and just get it over with. The blush that brought to Steve’s face never failed to amuse Tony, but the fact the other man never objected or asked Clint to stop was telling. In fact, sometimes Steve’s lips would turn up in a barely there smile, but it was a smile nonetheless.

But tonight… tonight Tony had seen nothing but malice and disgust from Steve. And rightfully so. He must look disgusting with someone else’s cum smeared across his face, and by all rights, it appeared like he’d just enjoyed a round of anonymous sex with a stranger while they were waiting to be rescued. Even knowing the circumstances of the situation Tony was disgusted with himself.

He pushed himself back to his feet and cast the now slumbering woman beside him a final glare before he stumbled off in the opposite direction Steve had gone. No sense in chasing the man down and flailing uselessly at him. His attempts would probably only earn him a kick in the face. Maybe if he went back to the gate someone would let him go back to his stall.

But of course things couldn’t be that easy.

He’d barely made it a yard before a freight train bowled into him and slammed him into a tree. Pain exploded in his shoulder as it impacted the solid trunk, and the air was pushed violently from his lungs as he was flattened chest first into the rough bark. The chipped wood scratched at his cheek as he fought to inhale some air, and his wildly rolling eyes struggled to make sense of the situation as dark spots danced across his vision.

Cold blue eyes and coal black hair.

Bullet.

A moment later the heavy body pinning him backed away, and Tony crumbled to the ground as his head spun from the impact. The defensive ball he curled up in was useless means of protection as the larger man kicked him in the side, and he cried out as the steel hoof cracked against his ribs. He automatically rolled onto his knees with the force of the blow and his forehead touched the grass as he panted in pain, his muscles cramping as they spasmed beneath his skin.

Tears he’d managed to hold back for so long filled his eyes and spilled down his cheeks as Bullet knelt behind him and folded himself heavily over Tony’s back. He was pinned beneath the other’s massive bulk, and there wasn’t anything he could do as Bullet thrust his hips in an attempt to enter him. As Danny had mentioned, though, it wasn’t always easy to accomplish things without hands, and Tony had never been so grateful to be wearing a thick artificial horse tail. It hung along his backside and served to create a shield of sorts, and no amount of grinding on Bullet’s part could move it enough for him to have a chance at penetrating him.

If he hadn’t been so busy struggling to breathe beneath the man’s weight, Tony might have laughed. Probably not, though. This was pretty serious.

All at once the body on top of his disappeared. A sickening crunch accompanied the movement and Tony’s eyes snapped open and immediately fell upon Bullet’s crumbled form. The man was slumped against the tree he’d pinned Tony to before and was he bleeding heavily from a nasty gash on his forehead. He was out cold.

Tony blinked and looked up to find Steve standing over him protectively, strangely reminiscent of the first day they were brought to this place.

And hey, that view was still pretty impressive.

The man’s chest heaved as his eyes bore through Bullet’s unconscious body, and Tony noted the blood that coated Steve’s left hoof.

Oh, man. Even without his super strength, the man was a powerhouse.

Tony moved to get up, but only managed to roll onto his unhurt shoulder instead. His entire right side felt broken, and there was nothing he could do as he lay between Steve’s feet and focused on filling his lungs with air. A crowd was beginning to gather---the scuffle hadn’t been a quiet one---and Tony craned his head back as several grooms pushed their way through to the front. He stopped breathing when his wide brown eyes met Mike’s, and he could only watch in silent horror as the man took one look at Bullet and reached into his pocket.

No, no, no, NO!!!

Above him Steve suddenly gasped. His back arched as if electricity were flowing through his body and his muscles seized up painfully just before his blue eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed on top of Tony in a boneless heap. He didn’t move again.

Tony barely registered the cries of alarm from the crowd or the thundering of feet as they surged forward to help. All he could focus on was the deathly still body of Captain America slumped on top of him.

He killed him. He’d killed Steve.

TBC

Chapter Text

“What happened?”

“Check his pulse!”

“Is he breathing?”

Tony watched in stunned silence as several men gently lifted Steve off of him and settled him back down beside him in the grass. Sam rushed forward and quickly unlocked the hooks holding Steve’s arms behind his back, and then removed the mitts entirely as they rolled him on his back. His body was nothing but dead weight.

Adam---when had he gotten there?--- knelt beside Steve and placed his ear over the unresponsive man’s mouth and nose to check for breathing. His fingers searched for a pulse at his neck, and after a few seconds, the groom’s lips turned down in a hard frown as he sat back up and called over his shoulder.

“Call an ambulance!”

Tony felt numb as Adam began administering chest compressions, and Sam knelt down on Steve’s other side to breathe into his mouth whenever he was instructed to do so. Captain America was dead. He wasn’t breathing and his heart wasn’t beating. This… this couldn’t be real.

He was so overcome with shock and disbelief that Tony barely even registered strong hands hauling him to his feet. He was roughly pulled back and away from the crowd, and it was only after he lost sight of Steve’s motionless body he came back to himself enough to struggle.

“This changes things. You’ve caused a lot of trouble, Stark.”

Tony tried to shout out for help as Mike wrapped an arm around his chest and pressed his other hand over his mouth to muffle any sound. He practically carried him across the pasture and down a path he’d never seen before. Everyone was so focused on Steve they didn’t notice the unusual sight as Mike dragged him into the shadows and into a dirt parking lot.

When the trunk of a car ahead of them popped up with a flash of tail lights Tony renewed his struggles. He squirmed, kicked, and even tried to bite his captor, but a brutal punch across his jaw stunned the engineer long enough for Mike to toss him into trunk and secure him inside.

It was only after the engine started and the car began to move that Tony’s head began to stop spinning. His eyes darted around the nearly pitch black space around him in search of a release or tool that could help him escape. The car he was in was an older model Mercedes, too old to have come standard with an interior trunk release like the newer models; and a few minutes of squirming around confirmed that there wasn’t a single useable item around him that could help him get out.

It was desperate and difficult in the limited space he had, but after a little maneuvering Tony was able to get his legs around enough to begin kicking at the trunk’s lock. Sparks flew as the metal shoes on the bottom of the hooves impacted with the trunk door again and again, but it didn’t budge.

Tony’s chest and throat tightened as he thought of Steve, picturing the man’s limp body lying in the grass as Adam and Sam performed CPR on his lifeless form, and he channeled the sudden rush of anger he felt into his next kick. Something gave the same moment the car screeched to a stop, sending Tony sliding deeper into the trunk as gravity forced his body to continue with the momentum.

Brown eyes widened when he managed to turn back over and he discovered the trunk had popped open just a crack, allowing cool fresh air to seep into the stuffy confines of his temporary cell. He scrambled forward awkwardly, cursing mentally for the lack of use of his arms, but before he was even able to push the door open the rest of the way, it swung up on its own.

Mike glared down at him. In his hands he held a roll of duct tape--- that was a weird thing to have handy--- and he tossed the roll inside before reaching for Tony. Despite his pointless thrashing, the larger man was easily able to pull him closer simply by wrapping his fingers into the straps of his halter. A damp cloth was placed firmly over his nose and mouth, and Tony took an involuntary gasp of air when a fist collided with his stomach.

He tried to hold his breath after that, but his lungs were screaming for oxygen, and it wasn’t long before his head became fuzzy, his eyes grew heavy, and his body fell limp. He’d barely registered the sound of the duct tape being unraveled before he succumbed to the darkness entirely.

-----------

“Wakey, wakey.”

Tony’s brow furrowed at the whispered words as they were sing-songed into his ear. The voice was familiar. Annoying.

“Oh, come on, you naughty boy. Your master wants to play.”

A wave of disgust rushed down his spine as he made the connection.

Hammer.

The other man’s finger tips were traveling down the exposed flesh of his thigh, and Tony’s initial reaction was to kick him in the face, but when he tried, he found himself unable to move his leg enough to do it. He opened his eyes to find out why and nearly moaned when he saw the duct tape holding his ankles together. Another ring of it was around his knees to further limit his movements, and the horsey gear he still wore ensured he wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“Ah, there you are!”

Tony visibly cringed at Hammer’s grating voice, and he shifted his gaze to the man kneeling beside him on the floor. The full impact of his malevolent glare must have been intimidating, because Justin visibly paused for a moment, seemingly frozen under the weight of Tony’s furious rage, before he shook his head as if to clear it. The cocky smile he’d worn a moment before returned, though more forced this time.

“You don’t look happy, Lil’ Jackass. Why aren’t you happy? Didn’t you enjoy yourself at the ranch?”

Tony snarled and snapped his head away when the other man had the nerve to run his fingers through his hair, but Hammer’s grip tightened in the strands and violently jerked his head back in place. His expression turned stony as his voice took on a less jovial tone.

“None of that. Did you already forget your training; brief as it may have been?”

Justin used his grip to tip Tony onto his back, and he straddled the bound man and leaned down until their noses nearly touched.

“You are my pet now. No one is coming for you. You team believes you to be dead. The evidence I left at the scene of your accident assured that.”

Hammer paused for a moment and leaned back just a little, a cruel smirk spreading across his lips as he gave Tony’s hair a sharp tug.

“Ohhh, and isn’t it a shame that Captain America really is dead now…”

Tony’s breath caught in his throat as his chest tightened uncomfortably. His mind’s eye once again flashed back to the scene in the field. Steve was so lifeless…pale…No…

“It’s your fault, you know.”

Brown eyes locked with blue, and Justin looked at him with a mocking expression of sadness as he tutted through his teeth.

“If you’d just been good…But then you had to go and fight Bullet…and look what happened.”

The hand in his hair loosened and fingers began to stroke slowly over his throbbing scalp to soothe the hurt there, but Tony barely noticed as he stared blankly into the space over Justin’s shoulder. His mind was awhirl with chaotic thoughts.

Could he have prevented what happened? Bullet had attacked him; but he hadn’t really fought him, had he? He’d been too stunned. Maybe if he’d been quieter Steve wouldn’t have heard. He should have pretended to enjoy it, then there wouldn’t have been a fight, right? Now Steve was dead. He was dead and it was Tony’s fault. Even if the other Avengers did find him they’d never forgive him! He’d been responsible for Steve’s life and now he was dead.

Dead, dead, DEAD!

Tony’s breath began to come in increasingly desperate gasps as panic began to consume him. His heart rate spiked and raced in his chest, spots danced across his vision, and a cold sweat broke out across his skin as his entire body began to shiver. Tears filled his eyes and he squeezed them shut as he twisted beneath Hammer and curled into a ball, uncaring as his cheeks grew wet.

He could vaguely hear the other man’s mocking laughter over the sound of blood rushing through his ears, but he didn’t care enough to attempt to make sense of whatever he was saying. All he could think about was Steve’s dead body and the rejection he was sure to face if his team ever found him. He’d lost everyone. He was alone in this world again and there was no way he could face his old life without his makeshift family behind him. He couldn’t. It hurt. It hurt too much!

He heard a high pitched keening, and it took him a moment to realize it was coming from him. Had he had full use of his vocal cords he probably would have been screaming in anguish.

“Oh, hush now, pet. Get it together. I don’t have time for this.”

Justin stood and walked away, but his voice carried back to Tony and penetrated the haze of panic that had settled over his mind. “Hang him up there. He needs to be whipped back into shape. This is pathetic.”

Tony’s eyes snapped open as he was hauled off the floor, and his chest heaved as he struggled to get air into his lungs. It never seemed to be enough, and his vision was still spotty. He knew that touch, though. Mike released his arms from behind his back and instead pulled them around front before securing them together at his wrists with another hook. His arms were pulled over his head and Tony gasped when his feet left the ground and his weight shifted onto his shoulders. When he looked up, he found that his latched wrists were secured over a hook hanging from the ceiling, leaving him dangling an inch above the floor.

“Ok, pony. Time to break you properly.”

Tony heard the whip cut through the air before it hit his skin, but he was still unprepared for the intense burn across his back as the skin split beneath the leather. His cry was strangled and broken as he arched away from the pain, but it only came from a different direction a moment later, this time cutting across his left shoulder and wrapping under his arm.

Tony went limp after that, only gasping and drawing in choked breaths when the whip landed across already broken flesh.

This… he deserved this. This was his punishment for letting Steve down, and in his opinion, it wasn’t nearly harsh enough. The least he could do was accept this humiliation and pain; let it happen without a fight. And maybe if his team ever did find him… Maybe they’d forgive him if Hammer hurt him enough. Maybe they’d be satisfied.

Tony found himself nodding at the thoughts in his head, even as he flinched under another strike. Hot blood was staining his back and sides now, dripping onto the floor beneath him. The golden hooves on his feet were gleaming prettily with the crimson liquid, and brown eyes blinked lazily as he watched the droplets roll off the edges to join the growing puddle below.

His mind cleared as he drew in a deep breath, finally filling his lungs with much needed oxygen. A sense of calm came over him as his body went numb and his ears seemed to fill with cotton, blocking out any outside source of noise.

Yes, this was his life now. He’d submit, stop being the stubborn bastard that had gotten Steve killed, and just be Hon---Lil’Jackass. A pet. A scarred, ugly old pony. He’d pay the price for his failure and maybe… maybe one day he’d be forgiven.

---------

After the whipping Tony had been let down off the hook. His arms were secured behind his back again and a rope was clipped into the ring on his halter, then attached to the hook on the ceiling. It was too short for him to do anything but stand in a puddle of his own blood. The tape had been removed from his knees and ankles and he’d been left alone in the small bare room; the only room he’d seen since arriving.

Hours ticked by and still no one came. Tony’s back throbbed painfully, but the blood seemed to have clotted and was now drying into an itchy crust on his skin. The rope holding him in place was taught; so much that he couldn’t take a single step in any direction. All he could do was shift from foot to foot to alleviate some of the pressure, but after a while, not even that offered any relief to his aching body.

Without any windows or sources of outside light, telling time was impossible. The heavy silence buzzed loudly in Tony’s ears, and his legs began to shake with the effort it took to hold him up. At one point he attempted to let the halter take some of his weight, but the way it cut into his jaw and strained his neck was too painful. He’d end up strangling himself if he didn’t stay standing.

Still, as the hours went by the balls of his feet began to feel as if they were on fire, his knees and calves burned and his thighs quivered and cramped painfully. His eyes were growing increasingly heavy and once he fell asleep only to startle himself back to awareness when he collapsed and nearly hung himself. He’d scrambled madly to get his feet back under him, the metal shoes slipping on the slick floor wildly before they’d finally found purchase again.

After that he was desperate for Hammer to come back. He shifted restlessly from foot to foot both in an effort to alleviate the pain and stay awake. Shameful whimpers escaped past his lips, and his eyes slide closed as tears filled them and spilled down his cheeks. He couldn’t stand anymore. He was going to die here. He was goin---

The door opened.

Desperate brown eyes flew open and immediately found Hammer as the man sauntered in with a grin plastered on his face. He’d changed clothes since the last time Tony had seen him, but considering his old outfit was probably covered in blood, that didn’t seem terribly odd.

“Sleep well, pet? I did.”

Ah. So an entire night had passed. He’d been left to stand there for eight hours or more. It was no wonder everything hurt.

Justin’s grin twisted into a fake expression of concern.

“What’s the matter? Ponies sleep on their feet, you know, and since you’re a pony I figured you’d be more comfortable this way.”

Tony would later be ashamed to admit he whimpered when the other man scratched his fingers through his hair, but he was desperate to be let down.

“Don’t worry. This will become normal soon. Your body will adjust.”

Normal? He was going to do this every night?!

Tony was so horrified by the thought he almost didn’t hear when Justin continued.

“I’ll let you down if you promise to be a good boy. Do as I say or I’ll leave you here for another day without food or water.”

The other man waited and Tony nodded quickly. Anything to get off his feet.

The second the hook on his halter was released he dropped to his knees, moaning as pain flared more intensely in the balls of his feet when his weight was taken off them. He could feel the bruises forming as blood rushed through broken vessels, busted from the pressure placed on them for so long.

When his arms were released from behind his back and a hand pressed between his shoulder blades, Tony didn’t even hesitate to shift forward onto his hands and knees. It just felt so good to be off his feet he really didn’t care what happened at this point; just as long as he didn’t have to stand.

He heard Justin croon at him with praise, and a moment later, he’d swung his leg over his body and was settling his weight on his back.

Riding pony. Right.

Tony hissed as the rough fabric of Hammer’s denim jeans rubbed painfully against his wounds, and he felt some of the scabbing tear away. Blood welled up and trickled over his sides, dripping on the floor below him, but the man on top of him didn’t seem to care as he rocked back and forth.

“Oh, look at you, Stark. Bleeding and submissive below me.”

Justin placed his feet on the floor and stood for a moment, and just when Tony thought he was going to move away, he dropped down heavily onto his back again. He gasped in pain as his left elbow buckled. His hair was grabbed in a tight fist and pulled back harshly as Justin hissed in his ear.

“Give me a good ride or I’ll put you back on your feet.”

Tony drew in a deep breath and locked his elbows again, drawing strength he didn’t realize he still had to keep him up. The humiliation he’d felt when Mike had done this to him had all but vanished. This was his purpose now. He wasn’t Tony Stark anymore. He was just a thing… and animal to be enjoyed and used by whoever cared to do so.

And it was ok. Because… Steve.

Tony retreated into his own mind after a few minutes. Based on the movements of the man sitting on top of him he knew Hammer was getting off on this. He’d heard his zipper come undone, felt the rocking motions of his hips that threatened to throw him off balance, and almost embarrassingly too soon, felt the sting of what could only be ejaculate stinging the raw wounds between his shoulder blades.

Still Justin sat there as if he were sitting on the world’s most comfortable chair, completely oblivious or uncaring that Tony’s arms were beginning to shake with the strain of holding his weight for so long. His knees weren’t fairing much better, and the muscles in his thighs were twitching almost constantly now. He couldn’t do this much longer.

Justin sighed and rezipped himself as he lazily rubbed his cum into Tony’s wounds, chuckling when the man below him shivered in pain. Finally he stood and walked around to crouch in front of Tony, using the halter to pull his head up in order to meet his eye.

“I’m never going to let you go.”

If Justin was expecting a response then he was disappointed because all he received was a clouded and distant stare in return.

It didn’t matter, because Tony had no life to go back to. He’d let Steve die, and now he was exactly where he deserved to be.

TBC

Chapter Text

He was kept in nearly constant movement the entire day. For what seemed like hours Justin made him walk in a circle around the perimeter of the small white room he was being kept in. In his hand he held a long lead that’s other end was attached to the corners of the bit placed in Tony’s mouth, and whenever the engineer’s pace slowed or his step faltered, he was punished with lash from the whip.

If he didn’t raise his knees high enough, arch his back, or he let his chin drop below what Justin felt was acceptable, a new wound was opened on whatever exposed flesh the leather happened to strike.

Tony circled the room over and over. The balls of his feet, already bruised and raw from standing on them all night, were now beginning to feel wet as blood seeped inside the boots. His calves cramped in a nearly continuous state of agony, and his chest heaved as he struggled to draw air into his lungs. His eyes were heavy with exhaustion and his mind was growing increasingly hazy with lack of sleep and food. More than once he found himself stuck inside his head. His thoughts centered on Steve and the circumstances surrounding his death. What else could he have done to prevent Mike from pressing that button? He struggled to remember the details of his final encounter with Bullet. In one version he’d fought back, in another he hadn’t. Each time he circled the room his grasp on these memories slipped a little more until he could no longer distinguish between the actual facts and the made up details created in his own mind.

In the end it didn’t really matter. The results wouldn’t change.

Tony drew in a sharp breath when the whip slashed across his thigh. He’d broken pace again.

“Move it!”

He tried to go on, he really did, but pain, exhaustion, and hunger sapped his energy and after a few more stumbling steps, Tony slowed to a stop. He panted heavily and squeezed his eyes shut, shoulders hunching as he was struck three times in quick succession. The third time had him collapsing to his knees and crumbling into a ball on the cold floor.
Justin’s angry babbling failed to register as Tony tried to blink away the red haze that had begun to cloud his vision. He couldn’t tell if he was simply losing consciousness or if blood had dripped into his eyes. Both were very real possibilities.

“Is that all you’ve got? Up, up, up!”

Fingers wrapped tightly around the cheek strap of his bridle, and Tony whined in pain as he was jerked upright. His jaw ached fiercely around the harsh bit in his mouth and a migraine pounded in his temples as the other man shook him violently until he managed to get his feet back underneath him. His trembling legs barely held as his weight made the pain flare to life again in his feet, and he limped heavily when Justin brought him back to the center of the room and clipped him back onto the short lead attached to the ceiling.

Dull brown eyes watched, dismayed, as the other man left the room and left him standing alone again. For several long minutes he watched the door. His heart pounded rapidly in his chest as the possibility of another night without food, water, or rest loomed ahead of him, and he found himself keening lowly as he shuffled restlessly back and forth on his ruined feet. The floor below him was still stained with old and fresh blood, and his metal hooves clapped noisily against the damp surface.

“Awww, did my pony miss me?”

Justin returned holding a bucket filled with items in one hand and a hose in another, the length of which disappeared back out the door he’d come through. Tony watched as a brush, towel, and a bar of soap were removed from the bucket and set aside. The hose’s nozzle was pointed into the bucket, and when the handle was pulled, water began to fill it. The sound of the rushing water reminded Tony of how thirsty he was, and he worried the bit in his mouth in an attempt to work up enough saliva to moisten his tongue, but it was useless.

So it was more of a relief than a shock when Justin turned the hose on him, drenching him with freezing water from head to toe. The stream was harsh and stung on his open wounds, but Tony was too focused on his attempts to lap at the water that dripped down his face to notice the pain.

When the water stopped Tony opened his eyes wearily, watching with a detached sense of interest as the bar of soap was picked up and rubbed along his skin. It was only at this point the engineer realized that the tack he wore hadn’t been removed, and the soapy water that seeped into his boots and mitts was already beginning to itch and irritate the skin on his hands and feet. Even the corset that encased his midsection quickly became a major source of discomfort as the wet material rubbed uncomfortably on his softened skin.
A hiss escaped his lips as the soap stung his open wounds, and Justin hushed him as he dropped the bar and picked up the brush from the floor. He scrubbed the rough bristles across his flesh with far too much force, and Tony squirmed in discomfort as Justin chuckled in amusement.

“Stay still, Lil’ Jackass. You’re filthy. I won’t be seen riding a dirty pony.”

The implication that someone would actually be watching his humiliation had Tony’s eyes flying open wide, and for a split second he felt the will to fight welling up inside of him again. Hammer must have noticed the way his body language changed because he made a move to step away, but before he could, Tony brought one of his hooved feet down hard on one of Justin’s unprotected ones. The man howled as an audible crack echoed against the small room’s walls, and he shoved himself away and sat down heavily to grab at his injured foot.

“You broke my toe, you stupid----“

His shouting dissolved into a pained groan followed by muffled curses, and Tony watched silently and with a growing sense of dread as the man rocked back and forth for several more minutes.

Mike appeared in the doorway and looked between the two of them with an arched brow. “What happened?”

Justin gestured to his foot and then waved his hand toward Tony. The larger man hummed in understanding as he moved to Hammer’s side and hauled him off the floor, paying little mind to the way Justin yelped and hopped on his uninjured foot.

Cold blue eyes remained trained on Tony.

“Looks like he still has some fight in him.”

Justin snarled and limped across the room. He picked up the hose and sprayed the strong jet of freezing water at Tony, rinsing the lingering suds of soap from his skin and soaking him to the bone. When he was done the engineer’s skin was beet red and covered in goose bumps.

“Turn up the air. No food or water until tomorrow….if he’s good.”

Tony tried to call after the two men as they gathered up the bathing supplies and left the room, but he could only work a few pitiful squeaks past the bit in his mouth. They went ignored, of course. When the door slammed shut the lights went out as well, leaving him standing in the pitch black darkness. His eyes were open as wide as they would go as they darted back and forth, but even after several moments needed for his eyes to adjust, he remained as blind to his surroundings as before. There wasn’t a speck of light for him to see by, and the buzz of silence was only interrupted when cold air began to flow in from the vents over head with a gentle ‘whoosh’.

His wet skin quickly began to freeze from the exposure, and he shivered uncontrollably. His teeth chattered against the bit and his limbs went numb as the minutes ticked by. Unfortunately, the cold did nothing to ease the pain in his abused feet. They throbbed horribly, and the swelling made the boots feel impossibly tight. Each time he shifted he felt his soaked skin rub off his soles and toes, filling the boots with more blood. His fingers, trapped in tight fists inside the wet mitts, weren’t fairing much better.

Tony drew in a shuddering breath, but when he released it, it came out as a broken sob.

--------------

The harsh routine went on for days it seemed. If he was good and did everything Justin demanded of him, he was given small amounts of food and water as a reward. He began to look forward to the times he was ridden because it brought a small window of relief to his feet, but his knees and hands would suffer instead. His body was bruised, broken, and bleeding; his joints swollen and aching. But none of that mattered because he wanted it. He wanted to pay for what he’d let happen to Steve, so it was ok.

Sleep was a luxury he was awarded in small doses. Ten minutes there, five here… He’d even begun to develop the ability to sleep on his feet at night. It was never for long before the pain woke him or he’d slump far enough that the halter choked him, but it was something.

His tack was never removed. Tony wasn’t sure if Justin was just so stupid that he didn’t realize the damage he was causing, or if he was doing it on purpose, but there was no doubt in his mind that he’d never be able to walk or use his hands normally again. More often than not he crawled wherever Hammer wanted him to go; though considering he was never allowed to leave the small featureless room he was imprisoned in, he never really had to go far.

Traveling in circles was normal for him now. Never ending circles. Over and over and over.

 

Mike came and went. The last time Tony had seen the man he’d thought he heard him arguing with Justin about something. He was too tired to listen, but it had something to do with basic care. Foot rot. Infection. Fever. It all sounded really unpleasant.

He wondered who they were talking about. Poor guy. Sounded like he needed a doctor, whoever he was.

--------

A slap across the cheek startled him awake, and Tony squinted his eyes open. Justin was standing there looking put off by something, but he had no idea what the problem was.

“You sleep too much, pet.”

His lead was unclipped from the ceiling hook and Tony immediately dropped to his hands and knees, as was the usual routine. He moaned in pain and shifted carefully. The skin had worn off his knees days ago, and the gleam of white bone was visible now. Even with his dulled senses, Tony could smell the foul stench of infection emanating from his many wounds. The lash marks were scabbed over, but they were swollen and puffy, and the boots and mitts he wore never dried completely, leaving his hands and feet to rot inside.

He was going to die and it seemed they both knew it.

Justin sighed heavily and pushed on Tony’s shoulder until he’d shifted to sit on his heels instead. Brown eyes looked up at the other man, confused. Usually he was being ridden around the room at this point while Hammer got his rocks off. Why not today?

“Look at you. You’re a mess. This is why I was never allowed to have pets growing up.” Justin ran his fingers through tangled brown locks gently, and Tony found himself leaning into the touch instinctively. He hadn’t felt a kind touch in a long time, and he was sure it would be a long time before he ever felt one again, so he would be selfish and soak it up while he could.

Justin noticed, and his lips curved up into a small smile.

“Mike and I ended our partnership this morning.” He said conversationally as he continued to stroke Tony’s head, pulling him closer until the kneeling man’s cheek rested against his thigh. “The deal we made was simple. He trains you to be the perfect pony for me and I give him what’s left of Killian’s Extremis project. Well, he gave me an imperfect pony, so I gave him an imperfect serum.”

Justin paused and smiled down at Tony.

“He exploded in record time after he injected it. Left a pretty sizable crater too.” His fingers tightened. “Unfortunately, he hadn’t driven far before he went boom, and I’m sure it drew some attention to this location. Soooooooo, I think it’s time I got going.”

Tony blinked sluggishly as Justin shifted. He heard a zipper being lowered and then the hands were in his hair again, pulling him around and forward. The next thing he registered was that he was choking, and it took a moment for his brain to supply him with the knowledge that it was Hammer’s cock cutting off his air supply. He tried to pull away, but strong hands held him firmly in place as the other man shifted his hips in subtle back and forth motions.

“Ahhh, there we are. You’re too far gone to bother with anymore, Stark, so give me one last ride and you’re free to go.”

Tony sucked in a lungful of air when Justin pulled out and shoved him over onto his back. He climbed on top of him and straddled his face before shoving back inside and sinking in as far as he could go. Brown eyes squeezed themselves shut when his nose was pressed forcefully into the curly hairs at the base of the other man’s erection, and tears leaked from the corners of his closed lids as his mouth was brutally raped. He gasped in air whenever he was able, but black dots still danced across his vision whenever he chanced opening his eyes.

“Oh, yes. A little more, a little more…”

Tony drew his tongue back and away in an effort to avoid the taste of the flesh in his mouth, but Justin sat up from his hunched position over his face in order to meet his eye. He fisted his hands in Tony’s hair and jerked; hard. His hips stopped moving and he slid his cock in as deep as he could, cutting off all the other man’s air as he stilled.

“Use your tongue. Get me off before you suffocate and you’re free to go. Or don’t and…well…Die with my dick down your throat.”

For a long moment Tony did nothing. Did he even want to live? What was left for him back home? Clearly his team wasn’t coming for him and that meant they knew what happened and they didn’t want him back. Right? They were the Avengers. They could have found him by now if they were looking. They just weren’t. Without his team, what was left for him? Pepper could run his empire better than he could, so he wasn’t needed there. He’d miss Jarvis, but his AI was programmed to go on without him in the event of his death. Hell, Jarvis was even capable of piloting the Iron Man armor and could take his place on the team too.

No one needed Tony Stark.

His vision was going fuzzy, and so he closed his eyes and let himself sink. He disconnected, ignoring the angry ranting and renewed thrusting, no longer caring about the violation occurring to his body. All his pain faded away and a dull buzz filled his ears as the weight of the world seemed to lift off his shoulders. He felt free, light; happy. He didn’t have to worry about anything anymore; and hopefully now he’d be forgiven. Everyone would be satisfied and could move on.

In his mind’s eye he pictured Steve standing tall and proud in his Captain America suit. His blue eyes were bright, his hair shining, and he was smiling kindly. He didn’t look angry or disappointed, and Tony felt his heart swell as he basked in the glow of the moment.

That smile. He’d finally gotten that smile.

TBC

Chapter Text

Tony wasn’t sure how long he laid there staring at the white ceiling above him after he woke up. It could have been hours or days. Time held no meaning to him anymore and he didn’t really care. All he knew was he was still bound in horsey gear and had been left to rot in the featureless dungeon of a room he’d spent the last several days in. There was no sign of Justin anywhere; just the lingering bitter taste of his spent seed on Tony’s tongue that refused to dissipate. The lack of saliva didn’t help matters; and he was so thirsty.

His head rolled to the side and he looked at the door. It had been left open. Justin must have been confident he was dead to be so careless. Tony doubted Hammer had had any intentions of letting him live. Just one more thing the idiot couldn’t do right.

His body was nothing but one big constant source of pain. His hands and feet stung and throbbed inside their wet casings, and his untended wounds were festering with puss and infection. He felt as if he weighed a thousand pounds. Moving didn’t seem like an option.

Still, he found himself turning his body toward the door, and he moaned as he flipped onto his stomach and began belly crawling to freedom. It was a slow and painful process, but the flood of adrenaline his body released as his survival instinct kicked in aided him in his efforts. A journey that should have taken seconds took over ten minutes, but finally he reached the threshold of the door.

Tony paused to catch his breath, and he rested his cheek against the concrete floor as he panted heavily. He could see sunlight filtering through a door down a narrow hallway to his left. To his right the small structure opened up to a small storage space; empty aside from a few dusty sheets that once served as covers for whatever had been kept there before.

So this wasn’t a house at all. It was a storage shed. And it appeared to have only one way out.

He drew a large breath of air into his lungs and held it as he heaved himself up onto his hands and knees. The surge of pain made black spots dance across his vision, and Tony exhaled loudly through his mouth and sucked in another lungful of air as he desperately worked to stave off the darkness that wanted to consume him again. If he lost consciousness now, he wasn’t confident he’d wake up a second time.

Slowly, he started forward down the hall and toward the door. Every muscle in his body quivered with the strain of holding him upright, and it was only his infamous stubborn nature that prevented him from collapsing. His knees left trails of blood as they dragged across floor, marking his progress with a gory painting of crimson and bits of flesh. Inside the mitts his hands felt like mush. He’d be surprised if he even had functioning digits anymore. His tinkering days were over.

Had his mind been clearer, that thought might have bothered him, but as it stood now, all he could focus on was the door in front of him. He’d finally reached it, and he sat back on his heels and gazed up at it. It was closed and the knob required a functioning hand to open.

Tony blinked slowly as his brain processed his predicament. Freedom lay on the other side of this unlocked door… and he couldn’t open it. He fumbled at the knob clumsily with the mitts, but he couldn’t get a firm enough grip to turn it. Still he tried several more times; trying to keep his cool as his throat tightened and his breathing became more labored. Tears sprung to his eyes as the futility of his efforts became clear, and he let out a frustrated cry as he turned and leaned back against the wall beside the door.

So close, but so far. Story of his life.

The engineer let his eyes slip closed as his chin dropped, and he sat there limply. Just like back in that white, featureless room, he slipped into his own mind, oblivious of the time that passed by. His thoughts centered on Steve and the other Avengers. One by one their faces flashed to mind, and it was comforting to him that they were all smiling; even Natasha. And it wasn’t a scary smile this time either. Steve’s smile, though… Steve’s was always the best.

If he was going to die here then he was content. He was surrounded by friends and family. They were happy, they looked happy, and that made him happy. And they were talking to him.

“Tony!”

Why did they sound far away? They were all standing right here in front of him.

“Tony!”

He frowned. They didn’t sound happy anymore. Ohhh, that wasn’t good. He wanted them happy.

“Tony!!”

Tony snapped his eyes open as the door beside him swung open. The rush of fresh air felt like heaven on his overheated skin. He hadn’t realized how incredibly hot and stuffy it’d been inside this place.

“Tony!”

There was a rush of activity and suddenly there were people moving all around him. His jumbled mind couldn’t make sense of what was going on and who was calling his name, so when a hand came down to rest on his shoulder he gasped and jerked away. Touching meant pain, and he was in enough pain as it was.

Was Hammer back? Oh god, please don’t let Hammer be back. He just wanted to die in peace!

“Careful!”

“Jesus, he’s a mess.”

Tony squeezed his eyes shut and hung his head. Yes, he knew he was an eyesore. Why did people have to keep pointing it out?

“Honey?”

The room fell silent as Tony slowly opened his eyes. His vision was hazy and unfocused, but he knew that voice. Crouched in front of him he could just barely make out the sandy hair belonging to Adam. The sight of the man snapped Tony back into the here and now sharply, and he inhaled deeply as his eye flew wide.

Adam raised his hands in a calming gesture, and Tony looked past him. Natasha, Clint, and Danny stood behind him and were all wearing worried expressions. Natasha was speaking quietly into a com unit, and Clint’s eyes were constantly darting back and forth, always on guard in case of attack.

His gaze turned back to Adam when the man began to speak again.

“Honey, we’ve been looking all over for you.” He smiled kindly as he gently reached up and began removing the bridle. His skin felt raw and burned where the straps had sat, and he sighed in relief when it was taken off.

Behind Adam Clint tensed as if to move forward. “Should you be doing that? He’s hurt. We should wait for the medics to get here.”

The sandy haired man shook his head as experienced fingers set to work removing the chest harness, his hazel eyes never leaving Tony.

“He’s been through so much already. Do you think he’d want anyone else to see him in this gear? I’m trying to help him retain what’s left of his dignity.”

The archer glared at the back of Adam’s head. “So you admit treating people like ponies is humiliating?”

Adam sighed heavily through his nose as he slowly removed the chest straps and corset, using a knife to cut it all off rather than make Tony lean forward to lift it off as it normally would have been.

“It is if it’s done to the unwilling.” His voice was hard and his brow was furrowed in a harsh line. When he met Tony’s eyes his expression softened. “I’m sorry. I knew something was off, but I never imagined…”

Behind him Danny put his hand on Adam’s shoulder, squeezing lightly to offer silent encouragement. “Let’s just get the boots and mitts off so we can get him some help.”

Adam nodded, but he paused when he took a closer look at the mitts. It was clear the skin beneath the leather was in bad shape. The smell alone was a pretty good tip off.

When a buckle was tugged, the resulting pain had Tony gasping and yanking his arm away.

“Let me.”

Natasha shoved Adam aside none-too-gently and brought out a pocket knife. The sight of it had Tony trembling with irrational fear. He knew she didn’t intend to hurt him more than was necessary, but the danger was there, and it was clouding his mind.

He cried out when she ran the blade down the length of leather enclosing his forearms, and he didn’t realize he’d begun to struggle until Natasha shouted an order that resulted in several sets of hands holding him still so she could work as quickly as possible. The leather was peeled off, and his skin along with it. The sight of his swollen, bloody, oozing arm had him retching; and the smell of rotten flesh that hit them all a moment later turned even the hardened assassin’s stomachs.

“Oh, god!”

Clint turned his head and threw up violently on the floor beside him, and Adam and Danny weren’t much better off. Only Natasha, despite her greenish parlor, was able to keep her lunch in her stomach. It was an impressive feat; even more so as the other mitt and then the boots were removed.

No longer restricted by the leather, the blood began to flow heavily from his wounds. Tony watched with a detached sense of fascination as the crimson liquid pooled onto the floor beneath him. His body had gone numb and he could no longer hear anything around him. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion, and so when he was suddenly staring up at a blue sky, it took several minutes for his brain to register the fact that Adam had picked him up and was running to a waiting helicopter.

Before the spinning blades could blow dirt into his open wounds Clint was throwing a sheet from inside over him, effectively blocking out the vast expanse of blue with a dingy grey instead.

Beneath it Tony only blinked and wondered if he’d ever see the sky again.

 

------------
After that things were spotty. Tony regained consciousness several more times, but only for seconds at a time.

The first time he was inside the helicopter. He remembered masked faces leaning over him and a cooling sensation settling along his burning limbs.

The second time he was on a gurney and the ceiling was moving rapidly above him. People were shouting, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

The third time the ceiling was no longer moving and he could hear the painfully familiar sounds of a hospital room around him. The steady beeping of a heart monitor, the click of a nurse’s shoes, the buzz of an intercom announcing a new arrival… He should have found it all so comforting, because it meant he was safe. He had been rescued.

So why did he feel so empty?
---------

“Steve.”

Tony smiled as he watched the blond approach him wearing a smile of his own; though it looked more seductive than friendly. This made the engineer pause, and as silly as it seemed, he glanced behind himself to see if there was someone else standing there. Surely Steve wasn’t looking at him that way.

A soft chuckle made him turn forward again, and Tony startled when he found the other man standing impossibly close. Steve was most definitely looking at him, and Tony’s lips quirked up into a cocky smirk as he prepared to shoot off a snarky comment to lighten the mood, but he lost the words when strong fingers wove their way into his hair.

“Honey.”

Tony’s eyes widened at the soft use of his pony name, and he looked down at himself in surprise. Instead of the clothes he was sure he’d been wearing a moment before, he was back in the red leather harness he wore at the ranch. His feet were trapped inside the hooved boots and his arms were restrained behind his back. He could feel the hair of his tail tickling the back of his legs, and when he looked up at Steve again, he found himself unable to talk around the bit that was suddenly inside his mouth.

He should have been panicking. He was trapped again, exposed, vulnerable… but he wasn’t. The admiration and adoration he read in Steve’s eyes was making his heart beat faster inside his chest. He didn’t feel humiliated or degraded; he felt cherished and loved. The way Steve looked at him made him feel beautiful and he found himself leaning into the other man’s touch as his hands roamed the planes of his body.

When those wandering fingers reached his chest though, they paused. Steve’s eyes dropped to the scar there and suddenly he looked disgusted as he drew his hands away as if he had been burned. Tony could feel the color drain from his face as the other man stepped away from him.

“Disgusting. Look at you.”

Ice filled the engineer’s veins and he took a desperate step toward Steve, but the larger man shoved him away so violently Tony found himself sprawled out on the ground. Wide brown eyes met hard blue.

“I can have much better than you, Tony.”

Hurt bubbled up hot and heavy in his chest, and Tony found himself struggling to stand again as Steve began to walk away from him. He couldn’t seem to move, though. His body wasn’t responding. He took his eyes off Steve’s retreating form and looked down, his breath catching in his throat as he discovered the problem.

His arms and legs were gone; removed below his elbows and knees.

------------

The sudden wail of the heart monitor was the only warning anyone received before a tortured scream tore through the hospital’s halls.

TBC

Chapter Text

“Mr. Stark, please! You’re going to hurt yourself!”

The nurses frantic cries barely registered as Tony scrambled away from her reaching hands. He’d woken from his nightmares with a violent jolt that had resulted in his ending up sprawled on the floor beside the hospital bed he’d been resting in. Oxygen tubes, IV needles and monitoring clips were all torn from their places on his body, and the wail of the heart monitor tore through his pounding head like a million knives.

His clumsy retreat only came to a halt when his back hit the wall, and he drew mouthfuls of air into his lungs like a fish without water as he pulled his limbs tightly against his body.

His limbs. They were there. They were there, but heavily wrapped in gauze that was stained a dark brown in some places where blood seeped through. His legs were bandaged from the knees down and his arms from the elbows down. His hands were concealed by large rolls of white material; and he had no way of knowing if his fingers lay beneath, or if the balls of gauze concealed the stubby remains of what were once his hands.

“Mr. Stark!”

Brown eyes snapped back to the woman in front of him. She was crouching with her hands outstretched as if to calm a wild animal, and this only made Tony feel more cornered. Behind her more people filed in; doctors, nurses… all of them gesturing and talking loudly. It was too much! He didn’t want anyone near him, seeing him. He hurt everywhere and his head felt like it would split any second.

When several pairs of hands reached for him he lashed out, batting them away with his bandaged arms. A new wave of pain flooded his system with his movements and fresh spots of blood began to form along the gauze as the wounds beneath split open, but he wasn’t concerned. He just wanted to be left alone.

“Everyone STOP!!”

The room fell silent immediately save for the audible rasps of breath Tony drew into his lungs. All eyes turned to Bruce, and the green tinge in his normally brown orbs was incentive enough for the staff to step aside to let him through. The man glared hotly at them all before turning his attention back to Tony. His expression softened as he slowly approached his injured friend and knelt in front of him, gingerly placing his palms on trembling shoulders.

“Tony, you’re ok. You’re in the hospital. Your injuries are severe, so I need you to stay calm. Steve…”

The very mention of Steve’s name brought back the panic and Tony sucked in a deep breath as his eyes filled with tears. His bandaged hands placed themselves over his ears as he shook his head. He didn’t want to hear it. He knew Steve was dead and that it was his fault. He didn’t want to hear it from Bruce’s lips. He was sorry! He really was!

He wouldn’t let Bruce pull his hands away from his ears, and the other man didn’t try too hard in case he aggravated his injuries further. He squeezed his eyes shut as the tears finally overflowed and spilled down his cheeks, and his lips silently repeated the same words as the sound of his pounding heart drowned out everything else.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

He barely registered the pinch of a needle as a sedative was injected into his blood stream, but he was immensely grateful when he succumbed to the darkness.

------

The next time Tony woke up he wasn’t in the hospital. He was in his own bed within the Avengers Tower in New York. There were no obnoxious monitors tracking his vitals and no doctors swarming around the room. Most noticeably though, was the absence of pain. He was still sore and stiff, but the worst of it was gone. He must have been on some pretty good drugs to feel as good as he did.

He lethargically rolled himself onto his back and moved to stretch his tightened muscles, but his breath caught in his throat when his arm slipped from beneath the covers. The bandages were gone, and instead of the gory mess he remembered seeing when Natasha initially freed him, his skin, though slightly pink and sensitive, had regenerated completely. His fingers, against all odds, were still there, though when he tried to flex them, he found that they were stiff and stuck curled into loose fists. A wave of panic swept through him before he forced it away. He had fingers. With a little luck physical therapy would help him regain full use of them, but for now this was good enough.

A quick peek beneath the covers revealed that his legs were in a similar state of advanced healing, though like his fingers, his range of movement was limited.
He sighed as he relaxed back into the pillows and turned his eyes to the ceiling. He must have been unconscious for months for his body to be in as good of shape as it was. What had he missed in that time? Did they catch Hammer? He must have missed Steve’s funeral…

His chest constricted painfully and he curled up on his side as a different kind of agony overwhelmed him. His mind’s eye flashed back to that night in the field and he saw Steve’s lifeless body spread out in the grass. It was the last image he had of the man, and it would haunt him forever.

“Tony…”

Brown eyes shifted to the door where Bruce stood watching him with a small smile on his lips. The other man crossed the room after he’d given Tony enough time to register who he was, and he carefully sat down on the edge of the bed.

“You’re looking good.”

He gently picked up Tony’s arm and ran his fingers over the skin there. The soft touch sent a shiver rippling down the engineer’s spine. It really was ultra-sensitive.

“Your fingers should regain most their mobility over time. The muscles and joints seized up from being stuck in the same position for so long. Same with your feet. You might have trouble walking flat footed for a while until your calf muscles relax again.”

Tony only nodded absently as he watched Bruce check over his fingers.

“You can talk, you know. We were able to reverse the effects of the drug Hammer gave you.”

In the past this news would have immediately prompted Tony to begin a long rambling speech about the injustice of his ability to talk being taken away, because he was Tony Stark and talking was what he did best. The world should never be deprived of his intelligent wit and banter.

But at that moment, he didn’t have too much to say.

“How long?” The sound of his own voice made him wince. It was rough and crackly from disuse.

“Three days.”

Tony’s brow furrowed at that, and his eyes turned from the hand Bruce continued to fiddle with to the other man’s face. Three days? He’d been asleep for three days? That wasn’t possible. How was that----

“We used Steve’s blood to help heal you. Turns out you two are the same type and without it you would have lost your feet…and most your fingers. It’s amazing, really. The serum eventually dissipates in your system, but before it does it heals your cells at a rapid rate. We weren’t sure how----“

Tony tuned Bruce’s voice out as the man rambled on about the science of the serum. They’d taken blood from Steve’s body? The super solider never would have allowed that had he been alive. He was more protective of his blood than Tony was of his bots; his children. His team had defiled Steve’s body! Taken something from him that wasn’t theirs to take!

“How dare you…”

Bruce immediately fell silent at the dark sound of Tony’s voice. It wasn’t just raspy and low from lack of use; but it was filled with anger and malice.

“Tony?”

Bruce blinked in confusion when Tony yanked his hand out of his grasp and he held his own hands up in what he hoped was a calming gesture when the engineer sat up in bed and fixed his angry glare on him.

“How could you just take…What else are you doing with his blood?! Steve NEVER would have wanted…You CAN’T!”

“Tony, calm down! We had no choice. You had so many infections. Your blood was poisoned! You would have died!”

“Then you should have let me die!”

Bruce was startled into silence at that.

“….I don’t understand. Does the idea of having Steve’s blood inside you bother you so much that you’d rather die than let it save your life? Look, I know you two didn’t get along very well, but Steve made a huge sacrifice…”

“I KNOW!” Tony’s shout immediately dissolved into a sob. “I know! I’m sorry! I tried, Bruce! I tried to keep him safe, but it happened so fast and I couldn’t do anything…I don’t---You shouldn’t have taken his blood!”

“What’s going on?!”

Two pair of brown eyes turned to the figure at the door. One set was confused and frustrated, while the other was wide in disbelief.

Steve’s brow furrowed as he looked between the two men before settling his gaze on Tony. The engineer was speechless for a long moment as his mind struggled to process what he was seeing; and when he did manage to speak, it was only a faint whisper.

“You’re alive.”

Bruce made a small sound of understanding as it dawned on him why Tony had been so upset. No one had been clear about the details of the events leading up to the separation of Steve and Tony, and it was clear now that the genius had thought the Captain to be dead.

“I’ll give you two a moment.” Bruce nodded to Steve as he slipped around the man and left the bedroom, quietly closing the door behind him when he went.

The silence stretched on between the two remaining occupants, heavy and full of tension until Steve smiled softly and crossed the room to take the place on the side of the bed Bruce had just abandoned. Tony watched his every move with wide eyes, afraid that Steve would disappear if he so much as blinked.

“You were dead the last time I saw you. How---“

“The serum kicked in.” Steve explained gently. “I was dead. My heart stopped. The CPR kept my blood pumping though, and when the paramedics got there they gave me a shock and it must have given the serum the kick-start it needed to counteract the poison in my system.” He paused and huffed out a laugh as he ran his fingers through his hair, ruffling the strands comically. “I still can’t explain it, really. Bruce studied the toxin. He says I shouldn’t be alive.”

Blue eyes stared at the far wall for a moment longer before their focus returned and he shifted his gaze back to Tony. When he spoke again his voice was softer, on the verge of cracking.

“I didn’t think we were going to find you, Tony. And when we did you were so far gone…”

He trailed off as he picked up the smaller man’s healed arm and gently clasped the curled fingers in his own.

“You gave me your blood.” Tony said quietly.

Steve nodded, his eyes never leaving the hand he held in his. “We weren’t sure if it would work, but there really wasn’t anything to lose by trying.” Blonde brows furrowed as his voice turned bitter and angry. “I had to do something, Tony. I let them hurt you. I completely failed as your teammate.”

The strangled laugh that bubbled up from Tony’s throat finally made Steve look up in surprise. Brown eyes were looking at him as if he were crazy. “You failed me ? Steve, you got dosed with a lethal amount of that toxin because of me! He told me you’d be safe if I cooperated and I---“

“Did everything they wanted.” Steve interrupted. “You weren’t fighting, Bullet, Tony. In fact…I---“ A blush colored pale skin. “That woman… I was…angry.”

Tony looked away as he was reminded of the shameful events of that night. The look of disgust on Steve’s face had hurt.

“Not at you.” Steve continued quickly, gaining a questioning look from the other man. “I was angry because I didn’t know why you didn’t want to---.” Again he trailed off and took a deep breath, releasing it in a deep sigh through his nose as he struggled to communicate his thoughts.

“Tony, did you enjoy being with those people….or….were you just trying to keep me safe?”

The engineer gave a self-depreciating laugh. “Look, I know I have a reputation for being a complete whore, but I was more worried about getting us out of there in one piece than chasing the ponies around. I did what I had to, ok? I’m sorry if you were disgusted with me. Trust me, I was too, but I had to---That…Bullet, I HAD too, Steve…”

Anger swelled up inside Tony as another wave of tears filled his eyes, but before he could reach up to wipe them away, he found his face tucked against Steve’s chest. Strong arms held him tightly and he blinked in surprise when he felt the other man’s shuddering breath in his hair.

“Tony, it’s alright. I wasn’t disgusted with you. I was frustrated…I don’t like other people touch---- People were hurting you, and I didn’t know how to help.”

Relief swept through Tony. The tension he’d been holding in his muscles eased immediately and he felt himself slump more heavily against Steve’s chest. His lungs were suddenly easier to fill with air, and the headache that had been throbbing in his temples dissipated instantly. He wasn’t sure when Steve’s opinion of him began to matter so much, but it was apparent that it did; very much.

Tony’s eyes grew heavy and he let them drift closed as he basked in the warmth that was Steve, allowing himself to be gently rocked back and forth with the larger man’s motions. The fingers that carded through his hair and down the back of his neck had an almost hypnotic effect, and Tony was asleep before he even realized he was going under.

----

After Tony had fallen asleep in Steve’s arms, which had been embarrassing beyond measure, he’d slept for several more hours. His stomach had been what had woken him up, and he was surprised to find that Steve was still there in his bed. The other man had been sleeping soundly and being that he’d wrapped himself around Tony like an octopus, the engineer’s movements to free himself had inevitably woken him up.

There was no time for awkwardness though, because the mother hen had immediately tried to keep Tony in bed when he’d tried to get up, insisting he’d bring whatever it was he needed instead.

Tony had refused, of course. He’d been in bed long enough and he was ready to get up and move, thank you very much. Or so he thought. The moment he’d attempted to stand the pain that shot up his legs had rendered him immobile, and if not for Steve’s quick reflexes, Tony would have found himself getting more intimate with the floor.

The muscle spasms in his feet and calves were incredibly painful, and he found himself panting like a woman in labor as he attempted to rub the cramps out with his stiff fingers.

“Your muscles are damaged.” Steve explained as he laid Tony back in the bed and pulled one of his legs into his own lap. He began to kneed his feet and calves with firm, but gentle fingers, careful of the newly grown skin. “Your feet are used to the boots you were wearing. You won’t be able to walk flat footed for a while.”

Tony hissed as the other man placed his hand on the ball of his foot and used the leverage to rotate his ankle around. It hurt and the range of motion was obviously stunted. His feet were still arched as if they were trapped inside the boots, and he bitterly wondered if he’d have to start wearing woman’s heels just to get around.

Steve seemed to sense his train of thought. “Don’t worry.” He moved to the other foot. “Bruce says you’ll recover with enough work. You just need to be patient.”

Tony moaned and flopped backwards onto the bed, glaring at the ceiling as if it had done something to personally offend him. “Steve…”

The other man’s hands paused as tension filled his frame and worry his voice. “What? Are you ok? What do you need?”

“A cheeseburger, Steve. I really, REALLY need a cheeseburger.”

When Steve didn’t respond right away and his hands didn’t begin to move again, Tony tore his eyes away from the ceiling and met the other man’s blue ones. His breath caught in his throat when he was faced with that smile… that smile Steve always directed at other people, but never him. That smile he’d only dreamt about until now. This time that smile was for him.

“Sure, Tony. Whatever you want.”

Tony’s heart beat a little stronger in his chest as he returned that beautiful smile with his own.

TBC

Chapter Text

“There was a burned body next to my suit?”

Natasha leaned back in the chair she’d sat herself in beside Tony’s bed. The engineer had more energy since waking up the day before from his three day sleep, but his body was still weak and stiff, making the simplest of tasks a challenge. She’d brought him a bowl of soup so he could eat while she explained the circumstances behind his and Steve’s kidnapping, but the man had become frustrated when it became apparent his curled fingers weren’t up for the task of holding the spoon. Instead he’d tossed the utensil aside and brought the bowl to his lips to drink from it.

“Yes. It took us almost a day just to find the crash site. You’d traveled quite a ways after we lost your signal. Your suit was destroyed and burned. Pieces were scattered everywhere. We found Steve’s shield almost a mile from the debris. Everything was charred black. The two bodies were so badly burned we couldn’t even get a DNA sample. Not even the teeth were salvageable.”

Natasha paused a moment, watching as Tony set the bowl in his lap and stared at the contents without speaking. Apparently he’d lost his appetite.

“Of course we weren’t going to assume the bodies belonged to you and Steve; especially not when Hammer was involved. Clint and I went to go visit Justin…”

“She made him piss his pants!”

Both Natasha and Tony turned their heads as Clint entered the room. The archer gave them both a big grin as he crossed the carpeted floor and threw himself down on the bed beside Tony, jostling the man and nearly spilling the remainder of the soup. The twin glares he received had no effect as he continued on in a jovial tone.

“Hammer insisted he had nothing to do with the attack even though his bots were used, and considering how easily you and Steve were taken down, we were inclined to believe him. I mean, really! Justin doing something right? Please.”

Tony visibly winced as he was reminded of how humiliatingly easy he’d been captured, and the guilt came roaring back as he recalled the way Steve had shouted his name as they’d plummeted out of the air.

Natasha, far more aware of Tony’s floundering mood than Clint, quickly continued. “We got nowhere with him, but we kept a close watch. We searched for days, but we were looking in all the wrong places. It wasn’t until Fury’s constant search of all the incoming patients in every hospital in the United States paid off. Every time someone matching yours or Steve’s descriptions was admitted, someone would check it out. Just so happens we finally got lucky.”

Clint, who had helped himself to the remainder of Tony’s soup, placed the now empty bowl on the nightstand beside the bed and grabbed a pillow to tuck under his arm as he made himself more comfortable.

“Steve was weak as a kitten when we found him, but boy, the moment he saw us walk in the door he went into a full blown game of charades trying to tell us where you were. I couldn’t get a pencil and paper fast enough for him. I still took us a couple days to find you, though. Steve didn’t know the exact location of the place, but that sizable explosion pointed us in the right direction.”

Tony nodded. That explosion had been Mike. If not for that, they might not have ever found him. The thought sent a shiver up his spine. He wasn’t a fan of exploding people, but in this case, he couldn’t say he was too torn up about it.

“Yeah, those fireworks lit up our scanners like the fourth of July! We found that ranch in no time and your buddy Adam helped us find you. Turns out your kidnapper, Mike, took you to a neighbor’s abandoned property. It was only a couple miles from the ranch itself.”

Clint paused and flopped onto his back, his eyes gazing at the ceiling as he seemed to ponder over something.

“I tell ya, that ranch was crazy! People pretending to be horses? Is that a thing now? What kind of weirdo do you have to be to enjoy that kind of thing?”

A knot formed in Tony’s throat as he slumped further into the bedding surrounding him. He obviously had not enjoyed what Hammer had done to him, or what Mike had done, but the care Danny and Adam had given him had been…nice. There had been no pressure on him to do anything put allow himself to be cared for, and that wasn’t something he’d ever experienced before in his life. And the dreams he’d had of Steve being the one to care for him… Those dreams had filled him with a sense of warmth and security he’d never known.

But the disgust on Clint’s face made Tony feel ashamed that he’d even felt these things. Clearly normal people saw how twisted that ranch was. He’d be utterly rejected if he ever voiced his true feelings and thoughts on the matter.

Ever the observant assassin, Natasha frowned at Clint and stood before grabbing the startled archer and dragging him off the bed.

“Don’t talk badly about things you know nothing about. It makes you look foolish.”

Clint stuttered in surprise as the woman literally dragged him from the room. She tossed him out into the hallway before turning back to Tony, whose eyes were still focused on the blanket thrown over his legs.

“Ignore him. People find happiness in many different ways. There is nothing shameful about it.”

Tony didn’t say a word.

---

“Tony?”

Steve gently pushed open the engineer’s bedroom door and peeked inside. The other man hadn’t been venturing out into the rest of the tower much during the day----Steve suspects it’s because he’s embarrassed that he’s still walking on his toes--- and so he’s been making a point of bringing up food often to make sure he was getting enough to eat.

Most the time he finds Tony doing exercises Bruce had shown him to bring back the flexibility and mobility in his fingers and feet, or he finds him sleeping, but this time the other man was standing in the middle of the room, completely motionless. Well, not completely motionless. He was subtly swaying each time he breathed, and every now and then he’d shift the weight from the ball of one foot to another.

“Tony?” Steve moved into the room and set the tray of food he’d brought on a nearby table, never once taking his eyes off the other man. Tony was facing away from him, so it was impossible to see what his expression was. Was he having a panic attack? Was he hurt?

He cautiously approached the engineer, once again quietly calling his name. His call went unanswered once more, and Steve carefully and slowly walked around the other man so he could see his face.

His eyes were closed and his lips were parted slightly. His features were calm and relaxed, though when Steve placed his hand on Tony’s shoulder and called his name again, brown eyes shot open as the engineer sucked in a panicked gasp of air. His hand flew up and violently knocked Steve’s away as he stumbled backward, and if not for the larger man’s quick reflexes, he would have fallen.

Instead Steve darted forward and grabbed Tony in a loose hug, giving him the stability he needed to regain his balance.

“Jesus, Steve! Where did you come from?!”

“I called your name three times. Were you…sleeping? Standing up?”

Steve did not expect the rush of color that suddenly lit up Tony’s cheeks, nor was he prepared for the way he almost violently pulled away and stumbled over to the bed where he sat down with a heavy huff.

“I guess I was. I had to…before.”

Steve frowned as he watched the other man fuss with the blankets without any real purpose; he was simply using it as an excuse not to meet Steve’s eye. He’d been wanting to ask Tony about what had happened to him. He could guess a lot of it based off the injuries, but he had concerns about what Hammer may have done to harm Tony in other ways. He just couldn’t find the right words to ask without setting the engineer off.

Tony must have seen the lost expression on Steve’s face, because he scratched his fingers through his hair and mumbled an explanation.

“He had me strung up most the time. All I could do was stand in place. The halter strangled me otherwise.”

Steve’s immediate impulse was to apologize or provide some words of comfort, but he bit his lip before he could. If he knew Tony at all, and he hoped he did, saying anything that could be misconstrued as pity would not go over well. Instead he hummed and pulled one of Tony’s feet into his lap to begin his routine massage.

“You know, that’s a pretty impressive ability. I bet you could even list it as a super power.”

Brown eyes rose in response to the teasing tone, and he watched Steve for a long moment as the grinning man’s hands worked magic on his stiff muscles. Slowly, his own lips turned upward, his voice full of amusement as he finally relaxed and leaned back on the bed.

“I would, but I don’t want to the rest of you feel any more inferior to me than you already do. Bruce-Bear’s self-esteem is already pretty low. This would devastate him.”

Steve chuckled as he switched feet, his own shoulders releasing the tension he hadn’t even realized he was carrying in them.

“Gee, Tony. You sure are a swell guy.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t tell anyone, though. I have a reputation to uphold, you know.”

The next few minutes were spent in comfortable silence, only broken by the occasional moan of appreciation from Tony when Steve worked out another knot along the arch of his foot. It was nice, being able to take care of Tony this way. Before this entire ordeal they’d been teammates and what people these days called ‘frenemies’. Steve always liked Tony, but the smaller man had a way of getting under his skin like no one else could. He was so reckless; not with his team, but with his own safety. He was so generous with other people, but always sold himself short. And whenever anyone tried to get close, it seemed the engineer turned the level of obnoxious up to full blast until he drove that person away.

And Steve tended to get the worst of it. It drove him up the wall!

Being at that ranch hadn’t been all that bad. He himself hadn’t been mistreated at all, though the experience was embarrassing. But watching those people care for their partners triggered a sense of longing in Steve he hadn’t realized he’d had. Yes, he’d always been protective of people; it was in his nature, but he didn’t realize how badly he’d wanted someone---someone special--- to care for as his own. He wanted someone to protect and spoil. He wanted to provide for someone and care for someone who couldn’t….or in Tony’s case…wouldn’t care for themselves.

It had bothered Steve to see those people at the ranch caring for Tony’s needs. He hated seeing the smaller man being submissive to someone else. In fact, it made his blood boil.

Blue eyes darted to Tony’s face, relaxed as he dozed under Steve’s ministrations. He wanted to be the only one Tony allowed himself to be vulnerable for. He wanted to be the one to care for Tony, spoil him, and show him how beautiful he was. He wanted to have the honor of being the only one Tony dropped all his defensives for; the person the engineer put all his trust in. Nothing would make him happier.

He finished the massage with a double pat on Tony’s shin, and the smaller man gave an exaggerated whine of disapproval.

“Ughhh, Steeeve! Forget saving the world. I’ll pay you to be my personal masseuse. You’ll be a very rich man.”

Steve laughed softly as he stood and crossed the room to retrieve the sandwich he’d brought for the other man.

“I can do both. And you don’t have to pay me.”

Brown eyes opened and he watched Steve with a curious gaze as the tray of food was set on the bed beside him. The larger man could feel his cheeks heating under the other man’s scrutinizing gaze, and for a moment he thought he’d screwed up; scared Tony off. The man was recovering from torture and who knows what else. The last thing he needed was Captain America implying he’d like to feel him up on a regular basis.

Fortunately, Tony grinned wickedly as he sat up and scooped the sandwich up with his stiff fingers.

“The how about when I have full use of my hands again I just return the favor?”

The engineer gave an exaggerated eyebrow waggle that immediately had a calming effect on Steve, and he smiled widely as he watched Tony take a big bite out of the sandwich he’d made, surprised at the level of satisfaction he felt that the smaller man had accepted the food he’d provided for him.

“It’s a deal.”

-----

When Fury attempted to debrief Tony and gather information on what happened during his time with Hammer, Tony told Fury to fuck off. He wouldn’t talk to anyone about it, in fact. Not Pepper, not Rhodey, not even JARVIS. Though to be fair, the AI was only asking on behalf of the other people Tony had already denied information from. He was muted for his efforts.

It became clear very quickly that bringing up the subject at all put Tony in a foul mood and just about everyone steered clear of it. Except Clint.

It was the first movie night since the Avengers team had been fully reunited, and everyone had gathered in the living room. Bowls of popcorn were organized to be within arm’s reach no matter where you sat, cold soda and beer was available, and the blankets had been spread out as everyone got comfortable and settled into their places.

Natasha was curled up in her favorite recliner, Bruce was spread out on the floor amongst a mountain of pillows, Thor, Steve, and Tony were on the oversized couch, and Clint was perched on the back of it like a gargoyle, as was his customary position.

The only thing left to do was choose a film. This was always the hard part of movie night.

“No romance.” Natasha.

“I WISH TO WATCH A GREAT BATTLE BETWEEN WARRIORS.” Thor, of course.

“Something calming.” Bruce.

Clint snickered in the darkened room. “How about Sea Biscuit? Black Beauty? My Little Ponies?”

Everyone fell silent as their eyes turned to the archer, who was still chuckling.

“Oh, come on! It’s funny! Steve, To---“

Clint never saw the fist flying at his face, but he felt it. He cried out in pain as blood immediately gushed from his nostrils, the cartilage breaking with an audible crunch. He tumbled off the couch and landed on the floor heavily, moaning as he clutched his face against the throbbing pain.

“Tony!!”

The engineer was panting angrily with his fist still outstretched in front of him. He’d spun around on the couch so quickly no one had seen the attack coming, and Steve slowly stood and gently placed his hand on the smaller man’s shoulder.

“Hey, it’s ok.”

Tony’s brow furrowed even further as he turned his enraged glare from the still withering Clint to Steve. He flicked his bruising fist to remove the blood, both Clint’s and his own. The punch had torn the delicate new skin there.

“No. It’s not ok. It really isn’t, Steve.”

His voice was too calm, and everyone shifted uncomfortably. Tony’s refusal to talk about what happened was clearly having a negative effect. He was bottling it up. He was bound to either turn to alcohol to deal with it, or be subject to violent outbursts such as the one, or even harm himself… It was a problem and it needed to be dealt with.

Natasha pulled herself up from the chair and walked over to Clint. She poked him with her toe. “Idiot.”

“A FINE PUNCH, MAN OF IRON!”

The archer whined and looked up at her pitifully from the floor. “’Elp ee, ‘tasha! ‘Eeding ebeywhere!”

The Black Widow’s expression remained as blank as ever as she roughly pulled the man to his feet, slapped a few napkins over his crushed nose, and ushered him out of the room. It was best to remove him from Tony’s presence as quickly as possible.

Bruce was at Steve’s and Tony’s side a moment later, and he began to reach for the engineer’s injured hand, but it was yanked away from his grasp.

“It’s fine!”

Tony shuffled off the couch and headed straight for the elevator that would take him to his workshop, growling lowly. He didn’t like people seeing him walk the way he did, and he could feel everyone’s eyes on him as he went.

With his injured hand cradled to his chest, he jabbed the elevator button with the other and stepped inside when the doors slid open. He kept his eyes on the floor until he was sure the doors had closed, and when the elevator began its descent he let out a furious yell, slamming his injured fist into the metal wall.

The tears in his eyes had nothing to do with the physical pain.

TBC

Chapter Text

By the time the elevator opened to his workshop Tony’s eyes were dry again. The rage he was feeling had returned in full force and he stormed across the room, picked up the closest object to him and threw it as hard as he could. The wrench-turned-projectile smashed into what sounded like the wall, but a series of distressed beeps suggested otherwise.

Wide brown eyes turned toward the sound, and Tony choked down a cry of regret when DUM-E came wheeling slowly toward him. The bot was clutching the wrench in his drooping claw, and he had a large dent on the left side of his carriage just above the wheel.

The engineer met the poor bot halfway, his anger forgotten, and dropped down to his knees to inspect the damage. His stiff fingers caressed the damaged metal there as he murmured quietly under his breath, reassuring DUM-E that he was ok.

“I’m sorry, buddy. I didn’t mean to hit you. I can fix you up good as new. Give you some upgrades. You’re due, you know. Your outdated bits are embarrassing. I’m a horrible daddy to you.”

The wrench dropped to the floor beside the engineer with a loud clatter, and DUM-E whirled loudly as his claw gently scratched through Tony’s hair. Brown eyes closed as he took a deep calming breath, and he leaned forward until his forehead was resting against the bot. There was another series of whirls and beeps before the robot’s arm wrapped around its creator in the closest thing to a hug he could manage, and Tony couldn’t help but smile as he settled himself more comfortably on the floor and leaned against DUM-E’s base. His fingers continued to caress the dent he’d made in apology, but he otherwise fell silent.

Eventually U and Butterfingers came around as well, and they lingered nearby, but didn’t attempt to take Tony’s attention from DUM-E. The bot who held him gave them a warning beep; the equivalent of a growl from a dog, and they minded him well.

The engineer couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “Getting possessive, are we, buddy?”

His answer was a whirl accompanied by a minute tightening of the arm looped around him.

“Sir?”

“Hm?”

”Sir, in regards to your physical therapy, I believe I can accelerate your recovery if you would allow me to help.”

That got Tony’s attention, and he glanced up from where he was gently stroking DUM-E’s arm with his stiff fingers.

“What do you have in mind?”

“The gauntlets. If you put them on and allow me to control their movements, I can believe I can help you regain full range of motion in your fingers faster than you could on your own. I took the liberty of doing my research regarding your needs and I am confident I could be of assistance.”

Tony fell silent for a moment as his eyes dropped to his hands. He flexed the digits as best he would, but their range of motion still wasn’t what it should have been. Bruce had explained that regaining full use of his hands would take a long time, but he was not the type to wait patiently. If Jarvis says he could speed things along then of course he was going to---

“Oh.”

Butterfingers and U had gone to retrieve the suit’s gauntlets while Jarvis had made his proposal, and each bot was now eagerly holding one out to him. He chuckled and took them, giving each bot a pat before slipping them on his hands.

“Good boys. Alright, Jarvis. Do your thing. Just… be careful. Don’t overextend them too quickly. I don’t want anything snapping off.”

“Of course not, Sir.”

The gauntlets whirled to life a moment later as the A.I. took control of them. Each piece of the suit had a sensor in it that gave Jarvis full control in case of an emergency, though this was the first time he’d taken advantage of that feature to pilot only a small portion of the suit.

Tony watched as his fingers were moved gently but firmly in various patterns. Sometimes they were all moved, other times only one, but at no point did the manipulations cause him any pain. A little discomfort if a stiff tendon was stretched further than it wanted to be, but no pain. A few minutes in, the engineer settled back against DUM-E and quietly watched as Jarvis did his thing.

---------------

“Tony?”

Tony jumped, pulled out of the light doze he hadn’t even realized he’d fallen in to. Steve was crouched down in front of him with a small smile on his lips. He held a plate of food in one hand and a drink in another.

“How’d you get in here?” the engineer mumbled as he stretched, popping his back as he flexed his spine. DUM-E wasn’t the most comfortable thing to fall asleep against, but he wasn’t inclined to move either way. The gauntlets on his hands continued to whirl quietly as they did their work.

Steve cocked his head in question, looking for all the world like a confused puppy. “I just walked in.”

“You never initiated any kind of lockdown, Sir. I saw no reason to disallow Captain Rogers' entry.”

Tony hummed in acknowledgement before dropping his eyes to the plate the other man held.

“….Are those donut holes?”

Steve chuckled. “Of course that’s the first thing you’d notice. Yes, but there’s also some fruit here. You need the vitamins. Eat those first and then you can have the donut holes.”

“Oh, Steve, you’re a cruel man! Give it. I’m starving.”

Tony went to reach for the plate, but paused when he was reminded of the gauntlets still on his hands. His fingers were still being manipulated by Jarvis, and to the A.I.’s credit, it looked like his range of motion had already increased by a few degrees.

Before the engineer could even say anything, Jarvis spoke up.

“I’m afraid I cannot stop right at this moment. I must complete the full therapy session or the full benefits may not be achieved.”

The look of complete devastation on Tony’s face as he eyed the donuts was almost comical.

“It’s ok, Tony. I’ll just feed them to you. I don’t want the fruit drying up or anything going stale.”

Steve smiled and plucked a piece of sliced orange from the plate, but when he went to hold it up to the engineer’s mouth, Tony twisted his head away with a scowl.

“Uh, no. I’m not a baby or an invalid. I don’t need you to feed me, Steve.”

The larger man frowned before forcing a smile back on his face. “I know that, Tony. This is just easier. Now come on. The faster you get through this fruit the faster you can get to the good stuff.”

Still, Tony only scowled, but Steve didn’t miss the way his eyes flickered to the small mound of donut holes sitting on the plate. The Captain hummed encouragingly and waved the orange piece around in what he hoped was an enticing way, but the engineer’s expression only became more cross.

“If you start making airplane noises I’m going to use these repulsers on you.”

That made Steve pause immediately, and he cleared his throat as he set the plate down beside the glass on the floor.

“Would it be easier if you couldn’t see me?”

Tony quirked a brow. “Are you leavin---GAH!” He squawked as the larger man manhandled him away from DUM-E, much to the bots dislike if his suddenly flailing arm had anything to say about it, and dragged him between Steve’s legs, propping Tony’s back against his chest. The smaller man’s head was tucked just below Steve’s chin and he glared up his captor.

“What do you think you’re do---“

A piece of fruit was shoved into his mouth before Tony could finish, and he blinked in disbelief before the frown returned. Still, spitting it out would be childish at this point, so he chewed and swallowed the mouthful. When another was pressed to his lips, though, he turned his head away.

Above him Steve sighed.

“Tony, did you know that in almost every culture throughout history people in high positions of power were handfed by their servants? It wasn’t an act meant to demean or humiliate. Being able to feed another human being was an act of honor, respect, and worship. This idea you have in your head that it makes you less of a person; or puts your validity in question is all wrong. I want to do this for you because I’m your friend and I want to make sure you’re cared for. I’m not forcing this on you…But it would make me very happy if you trusted me enough to let me do this for you.”

The sincerity in Steve’s voice made Tony pause, and he turned the information over in his head. It was true that the act of letting someone else feed you wasn’t meant to be a humiliating one; at least not in this case. Mike used it as a sign of his dominance over him, but Danny hadn’t made it feel that way. Danny had just wanted to care for him; and remembering the smile the man had given him each time he allowed another bite to be placed in his mouth was nothing short of mind-boggling. How such a simple gesture could make someone so happy was strange to him.

Tony sighed and relaxed against Steve, resting his head back against the man’s shoulder as he wiggled into a more comfortable position. “Alright, Steve. If you want to worship me, who am I to deny you. Proceed. Nourish me.”

The smaller man felt more than he heard the rumbling laughter as he allowed an apple slice to be placed in his mouth. Steve’s voice was full of not only amusement, but relief as well.

“I will not forget this great honor you’ve bestowed upon me, Tony.”

The engineer hummed before they fell into a comfortable silence, and wouldn’t you know it; the moment the last bite of food had been served to him, Jarvis finished his therapy session.

-----

Steve didn’t leave after lunch. In fact, he’d insisted on staying when he noticed the cut on Tony’s knuckles hadn’t been properly wrapped yet and played nurse instead. The engineer’s fingers were noticeably more relaxed and flexible, and Tony was already planning out his next projects now that it seemed the dexterity required to hold his tools would be achieved far ahead of schedule. First on his list were the repairs to DUM-E, of course. He still felt awful about that, but the bot had done nothing but coddle his creator since the incident, leaving no doubt in Tony’s mind that he was forgiven.

For now Steve was working on Tony’s feet again. They’d relocated to the couch in the corner of the workshop, and the engineer found himself so relaxed under the larger man’s attentions that he didn’t even startle when a panel from the ceiling suddenly disappeared and a certain archer dropped to the ground in front of them.

Brown eyes only opened slightly before closing again. “Security breach.”

DUM-E, U, and Butterfingers charged forward, but rather than defend their master from the intruder, they poked and prodded at Clint in an attempt to get him to play. They associated the man with a good game of fetch, as that was their shared game whenever the archer was around. Clint grinned at the bots but waved them off before turning and fixing the full power of his guilt riddled hurt puppy expression on Tony.

It wasn’t as effective as he’d hoped considering the engineer’s eyes were still closed. Steve only offered the man a shrug and smile as he continued to kneed the arches of Tony’s feet with his thumbs, wringing a positively indecent moan from the man.

Clint coughed and reached up to scratch at the bandage stuck across the bridge of his nose, shuffling awkwardly from foot to foot.

Nearly a full minute later Tony finally took pity on the man and opened his eyes. “Big Bird.”

Clint chuckled at the greeting and opened his mouth to speak, but Tony beat him to it.

“Come to beg for my forgiveness?”

“Uhhh…”

Tony smirked and lifted the foot Steve wasn’t working on, wriggling the toes playfully.

“Your words mean little to me, but make this foot as happy as the one Steve is working on and I’ll consider it.”

The tension dropped from Clint’s shoulders almost immediately and he laughed in what sounded more like relief than amusement. “I’m sorry, but not THAT sorry.”

Tony huffed mockingly and let his foot drop. “Just as well. No one’s as good as Steve. You probably would have given me a cramp anyway.”

“And we can’t have that.” Clint grinned before his expression turned more serious. “I am sorry, though. I wasn’t trying to be cruel or anything. It’s just… we joke a lot, you know? I thought it’d help you relax. I didn’t mean to…”

Tony waved a hand to stop Clint from saying any more. The way he was struggling to get the right words out was painful. “It’s fine, Clint. Stop it. You’re making me itch. I’d say we’re even being that I totally kicked your ass.”

The archer scrunched his nose at that. “I wouldn’t say you kicked my a---“

Tony shushed him as he tossed a ball at the archer, which he caught with ease. “Shh. You’re ruining my relaxation time. Go play fetch with the bots. They’re smothering me.”

DUM-E beeped in question as his claw froze in Tony’s hair, then he turned his camera to Clint and the ball he held. All at once the three bots turned and charged after the archer, who sent one last grin the engineer’s way before tearing off through the workshop, ball in hand.

The crashes, shrill beeps and whoops of laughter that followed weren’t even concerning enough to make Tony open his eyes, though his brow did twitch when something expensive sounding shattered.

Steve was more worried by the chaos, and Tony frowned when the hands that were currently squeezing along the backs of his calves paused.

“Steve, no. Jarvis will take care of anything important and DUM----“

Clint shrieked. “WHY WOULD YOU SPRAY ME WITH A FIRE EXTINGUISHER?? THERE’S NO FIRE!”

Tony’s lips turned up. “DUM-E will do that. So more attention on me, please.”

Steve grinned and shook his head as he turned his attention back to the engineer, choosing to ignore the ball that went flying past his head and the bots that chased after it. “So needy.” He teased.

“You like it. Don’t think I don’t know you and Jarvis were in cahoots with the whole feeding thing. Genius here.”

Tony didn’t need to open his eyes to know Steve was blushing. He could feel the heat of it.

He smiled.

-----

 

Later that night, just as he was about to drift off in bed, Tony mumbled quietly into the dark.

“Jarvis. Was I right? Did you keep those gauntlets on just so Steve could feed me?”

There was a short pause before he received a reply.

“As I mentioned before, Sir, I took the liberty of doing research regarding your needs. All of them. I believe the Captain’s attentions are beneficial to you.”

Tony considered this for a long moment before humming in a noncommittal reply and drifting off to sleep.

TBC

Chapter Text

New chapter will be posted soon, but in the mean time, here's a quick piece of Tony in pony gear.

 

 photo ponycopy_zps3d5aa85b.jpg

Chapter Text

Over the next week Tony’s physical condition improved dramatically. He gained back the weight he’d lost, the range of motion in his fingers had increased by leaps and bounds thanks to Jarvis, and most important, he was now able to walk fairly normally. Occasionally he sprang back up on the balls of his feet when working through a cramp, but for the most part, despite some stiffness, he was nearly back to normal. The aches and pains, especially the ones centered in his back, had begun to fade away.

What wasn’t improving, however, was the engineer’s mental condition. He’d still chosen to say very little concerning his experience in that storage shed, and his silence was having negative repercussions.

At Jarvis’ prompting, Steve had come down to the lab, where Tony spent almost all his time now that he was able to hold his tools with relative ease. The A.I. was concerned for his creator, and as Steve stood at the glass doors and peered inside, he could understand why.

Currently Tony was walking in a large circle with his eyes cast down and his arms folded over his chest defensively. His pace was steady, but not overly frantic as you’d expect to see when he was excitedly brainstorming up a new invention. He almost seemed absent in the way he refused to acknowledge DUM-E, who was trailing behind the engineer and tugging at the hem of his shirt in an attempt to stop his creator’s endless circling.

“How long has he been doing this, Jarvis?”

“Sir has been walking on the same path continuously for approximately one hour. All my attempts to stop him or inquire about his motives have been ignored.”

Steve nodded as he punched in his passcode, stepping inside once the doors opened. DUM-E beeped excitedly upon his arrival and abandoned his attempts to gain his creator’s attention in favor of speeding across the room to usher Steve inside. He smiled at the bot and gave him a pat on the strut as he approached Tony, a silent reassurance that he’d take care of the smaller man.

“Tony?”

Much to Steve’s surprise, the engineer acknowledged him with an inquiring hum, though he didn’t take his eyes off the floor or break pace.

“Are you ok?”

“Fine, Cap.”

“Can you stop walking?”

“Of course I can.”

He didn’t stop.

With a furrowed brow Steve waited for Tony to circle around again before extending his arm to block the other man’s path. The engineer didn’t stop until his chest actually hit the limb, and he blinked large brown eyes and turned his head to look at Steve. He must have seen the concern on the larger man’s face, because he quirked a brow.

“What?”

“Tony, you’ve been walking in a circle for an hour. Didn’t you notice DUM-E and Jarvis trying to get your attention?”

Tony cut his eyes to DUM-E. His lips parted, but before he could say anything, Jarvis spoke up.

“Captain Rogers is correct, Sir. You began your trek around the lab 72 minutes ago, and all attempts to stop you have failed. You were completely unresponsive.”

Again Tony’s lips parted, but he seemed at a loss for words. He remained silent as Steve put an arm around his shoulders and ushered him over to the worn couch in the corner, and he sat down heavily, wincing when his socked feet throbbed. Wearing shoes for long periods of time was still too uncomfortable, so more often than not he went without them. The soles of his feet were still tender and soft though, and standing for too long always proved to be a bad idea.

And based on how they hurt at the moment, he knew what Jarvis and Steve were telling him was true. He’d lost all track of time.

“I didn’t realize it’d been so long.” He muttered as he folded one foot into his lap and kneaded it with his thumbs.

Steve nodded and sat beside the other man. “Tony, I really think it’d help if you talked about what happened. Or at least let me help with whatever is bothering you. You haven’t left your lab in days. We’re all worried about you.”

“Have they found Hammer yet?” Tony blurted.

Steve paused, considering the other man carefully. “No. Turns out Hammer is good at one thing; and that’s disappearing. There’s been no trace of him and all leads have been dead-ends.” He regarded Tony thoughtfully, watching as the engineer kept his eyes down, his full attention on rubbing the soreness out of his feet.

“Are you afra---“

Tony jumped up off the couch so quickly it nearly startled Steve.

“You know what? I’m starving. Pizza sounds great right now. I’m going to go get some pizza!”

Steve didn’t bother to point out that Jarvis could have easily placed an order, and Tony was already nearly out the door.

“Do you want me to go with you?” he called.

The increased pace and lack of response was all the answer Steve needed.

--------------

Tony begrudgingly slipped on a pair of shoes on his way out of the tower. He hated the way they felt on his feet, but it was a necessary evil if he was going to go outside. Leaving the tower hadn’t held any appeal to him for the past couple weeks, but now the urge to get some fresh air was overwhelming. Apparently the team had been watching him a little too closely for his liking, and being worried equaled them questioning his ability to carry on as IronMan.

It was always the same song and dance. Tony’s losing his mind, so that means he’s incapable of being an Avenger.

So if being outside made them happy then fine. He’d go outside.

And he was.

Tony paused and glanced around. He already traveled several blocks away from the Tower without realizing it, and now he was standing in the middle of the chaos that was New York. It was late in the afternoon and warm, but not uncomfortably so. After being in the relatively calm environment of his lab, the amount of activity that surrounded him now was nearly overwhelming, but Tony drew in a deep breath and hooked his fingers into the pockets of his jeans as he continued down the sidewalk.

Pizza. He was supposed to be getting pizza. No problem. There was a pizza place on every corner. Ah, there was one now. He’d zip in, get a pizza and bring it back to the tower to show everyone that he was just fin--- He didn’t have his wallet.

Tony’s step faltered as he reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration. It probably didn’t matter. Everyone knew who he was and all he had to do was instruct them to send the bill to S.I.; though the last time a bill for $3000 worth of poptarts had showed up on the company’s records Pepper had threatened to castrate him. It’d been worth it to see Thor nearly cry with happiness.

Still, it was best to keep his personal spending on his personal account. Pepper was scary.

Tony turned on his heel to backtrack to the tower, but found himself walking directly into another body. He blinked at the large chest in front of him and was opening his mouth to mumble out an apology when something else caught his eye. The barrel of a gun. And it was pointing right at him, concealed from the surrounding crowd where it was tucked between their bodies.

Brown eyes darted upward and Tony felt the color drain from his face when he was confronted with the icy eyes of Bullet. The man was just as huge as he remembered and twice as intimidating without his horsey gear, and that was saying something because he was pretty damn intimidating wearing it too. His lips were turned down in an angry sneer, and his jaw was tense as he ground his teeth. You could feel the hate oozing off him; and it was all directed at Tony.

When he finally spoke, it was low and gravelly. “Move into the alley way and don’t make a scene. You’ll be responsible for a lot of lost lives if you do.”

Tony took a quick glance at the people bustling around him. Men, women, children; all completely unaware of how much potential danger they were in. He kept his expression as neutral as possible as he turned and slowly made his way through the crowd to the isolated alley, wincing when he felt the muzzle of the gun dig into the space between his shoulder blades. He could feel the other man’s body heat as he kept close behind him to conceal the weapon.

In his head Tony was cursing himself for leaving the Tower in such a hurry. He’d brought nothing with him. Not his wallet, not his summoning bracelets that would allow him to call the suit, not even his watch; which contained a tracker so Jarvis always knew where he was.

The sounds of the city traffic faded away as Bullet herded Tony further down the alleyway. They turned a few corners to insure they were away from any wandering eyes before they stopped, and Tony began to turn in an attempt to talk to the other man.

“Look, Bulle----“

An angry growl was the only warning Tony received before the butt of the gun was slammed across his jaw. His mouth immediately filled with blood as the impact sent him sprawling onto the dirty asphalt. He groaned and ran his tongue across his teeth to check if they were all still there. They were.

Yay for small miracles!

A hand fisted itself in his hair, and the other man crouched down over top of him as he yanked Tony closer to look him in the eye.

“You don’t get to use that name, Stark! You don’t have the privilege!”

Tony winced when the grip on his hair tightened, but he didn’t dare reach up to try to free himself. He didn’t want provoke the other man into doing something drastic… like smashing his brains out all over the street.

“Ok, ok! What do I---Jesus, can you not scalp me---What do I call you?”

Surprisingly enough, he got a name.

“Blake.”

“Blake. Ok.” Tony grimaced as he swallowed a mouthful of blood. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

Being snarky probably wasn’t the best thing to do at the moment, because all it earned him was another growl and a punch to the face. But hey, at least Blake had let go of his hair.

“You think you’re cute, Stark? You are responsible for Michael’s death and you have the nerve to act like you don’t deserve anything less than death?”

Blake spat in Tony’s face and raised the gun so the smaller man was staring down the barrel of it. The engineer threw his hands up defensively.

“Whoa! Hammer killed Mike! I was too busy being strung up like an animal in a storage shed to have had anything to do with it. If you’re here for revenge then you’ve got the wrong guy!”

Blake snarled as he wrapped his hand around Tony’s throat, pulling him off the ground before slamming him back down again. He shifted the gun so it pressed harshly against the smaller man’s forehead, and his finger tensed against the trigger.

“He was killed in an explosion! You have a history of making things explode!”

“Extremis!” Tony choked as he grasped at the wrist holding him with both hands.

Blake’s brow furrowed, but his grip on Tony’s throat loosened enough that the engineer was able to pull enough oxygen into his lungs to continue.

“Hammer injected him with an unstable form of Extremis. He didn’t have a chance. I tried to warn Mike, but he didn’t understand. I couldn’t speak!”

For the first time Tony could see the uncertainty on Blake’s face, and the grip on his throat vanished a moment later, as did the gun that had been pressed to his head. The relief didn’t last long because a moment later he was hauled to his feet and his back was slammed against a brick wall. Stars danced across his vision as his skull impacted the solid surface, and Mike’s looming image blurred and spun in front of him. He felt nauseas. Concussion.

“Where is Hammer?”

Tony turned his head and spat out another mouthful of blood, raising his hands to grip at the hand fisted in his shirt. He hoped it might ground him and stop the spinning. It didn’t.

“I don’t know. We can’t find him.”

Tony cried out as the pistol’s barrel was brought down across his face again, slicing a gash from temple to cheek.

“You’re lying! You have the most advanced technology on the planet at your disposal and you can’t find one man?!”

A knee to the stomach had Tony groaning in pain, and he struggled to draw air into his starved lungs. Black dots were beginning to dance across his vision and the left side of his face was hot with freely flowing blood.

“N—not lying.” He sucked in a shuddering breath. “He knows how to stay hidden. We’ll find him.”

For a long moment Blake said nothing. His cold eyes bore into Tony’s as if searching the smaller man’s very soul for truth in what he was saying. His lips pulled back to reveal gleaming white teeth as he thrust the gun into the space beneath the engineer’s jaw, leaning in close as he dropped his voice to a more sinister level.

“Find him. I’ll be watching, Stark. Find him or I’ll be back for you. Someone will pay for Michael’s life and if I can’t have Hammer, then I’ll have you instead.”

Well, that hardly seemed fair. In his increasingly delirious state Tony wanted to tell Blake so, but before he could even open his mouth, one more well placed swing of the gun left him swimming in darkness.

---------------------------------

Tony only remembered bits and pieces of his walk back home. It was dark now. Fewer people were on the street, but the ones he encountered were too frightened by his appearance to do anything but stare. He could feel the blood trickling down his head, neck, and soaking his shirt, making the fabric stick unpleasantly to his sweat soaked skin.

He remembered the lights of the Tower in the distance, and he was drawn to the glowing ‘A’ that represented the Avengers like a moth to a flame. There was a blank space between then and when his unsteady feet carried him into the building and into the elevator, and he only vaguely recalled Jarvis calling out to him as he slid to the floor, leaving bloodied trails on the mirrored walls as his hands skimmed their surface.

The next thing he remembered was crawling into the common room. Apparently Jarvis felt this was where he needed to be. His goal had been to get to the couch, but he must not have made it because sometime later he was on the floor looking up at Steve’s worried face. The other man’s skin was flushed red and damp with sweat as if he’d been running for hours non-stop, and the faces that appeared behind him moments later looked equally exhausted and stressed out.

They were talking, but Tony couldn’t make out the words. Maybe there was too much blood in his ears.

His eyes slipped closed, and he barely registered that Steve was holding his hand as he sighed.

“I forgot the pizza.”

TBC

Chapter Text

“Tony, you need to stay awake. You have a concussion. Stay awake.”

Tony batted away Bruce’s hands as the other man worked to clean up the bloody mess that covered his head and face.

“M’wake. Stop touchin’.”

Steve sighed and gently took hold of the engineer’s hands to clear the way for Bruce. Angry brown eyes glared at him for his efforts, and he only gave a sympathetic shrug. It was for the best.

“Who did this?” Natasha asked. She was standing to the left of the sofa they’d moved Tony to, and her clenched fists were a dead giveaway that she was ready to hunt down and kill the one responsible for hurting a member of her team.

Unfortunately, Tony had begun to drift again. Steve gripped his hands a little tighter and gave him a little jolt. “Tony! Wake up!”

An angry gurgle bubbled up from the engineer’s throat as his eyes opened again to glare at the blonde.

“Who did this?” Steve repeated. The slitted death glare had no effect.

Tony seemed to ponder the question a moment. Obviously his mind was fuzzy and muddled, and he blinked several times before the haze cleared from his eyes.

“Blake.”

The Avengers all exchanged puzzled glances before Steve turned his attention back to Tony.

“Who is Blake?”

The smaller man hissed and twisted his head away from Bruce as the gash along the side of his face was doused with a generous amount of peroxide. The others winced in sympathy as the wound bubbled over with cleansing foam.

“Bullet.” Tony gritted between clenched teeth. “But don’t call him that. He’ll hit you in the head.”

Steve immediately dropped the engineer’s hands and stormed out the door without a word to anyone, and Natasha and Clint hesitated for only a moment before Bruce nodded at them to follow. Tony would be fine under his care.

None of them noticed the way Tony’s fingers clenched tightly after the loss of warmth Steve’s grip had provided, and the engineer sighed softly as he dropped them to rest against his chest. He stared blankly at the ceiling as Bruce worked, hearing but not quite following the one sided conversation as the other man babbled about nothing to keep him awake.

-------

“Steve, we’ll find him.”

Steve seethed as they returned to the tower nearly four hours after they began their search for Blake. The man was long gone and though it’d been a long shot they’d have found him anyway, their failure to do so didn’t settle well with any of them.

Steve’s hands remained clenched with pent up aggression. He wasn’t normally a violent person, but he’d be lying to himself if he said he hadn’t wanted to absolutely destroy Blake.

“How is he, Jarvis?” he asked, pointedly ignoring Clint’s reassurances. He meant well, but Steve wasn’t in the mood.

“Sir has been stabilized and is now resting. His concussion was minor and Dr. Banner felt it safe to allow him to sleep two hours after you departed.”

Leaving his teammates to their own devices, Steve took the elevator to the pent house suite. Jarvis made no move to stop him, and he felt an overwhelming need to check on Tony to reassure himself that the man was ok. It wasn’t that he doubted Bruce’s skills; it was just something he needed to visually confirm for himself.

When the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened Steve quietly and quickly crossed through the living room. He hesitated at the threshold of the bedroom and peered into the darkened space. He could see the bed and the lump that must be Tony sleeping beneath a pile of blankets. A grin tugged at Steve’s lips as he silently slipped inside and crept across the carpeted room to get a better look. The smaller man hated to be cold while he slept. Before their capture Steve had noticed the way the engineer always had a blanket wrapped around him on movie nights or bundled himself in oversized hoodies when the air was cooler than he deemed comfortable. And while they’d been captive, Tony had always managed to bury himself beneath the hay in his stall each night. At least, he always did until Danny had caught on and began bringing him a blanket.

Steve’s grin morphed into a soft smile as he slowly sat on the side of the bed, careful not to jostle the sleeping man. He pulled the covers down just enough to see Tony’s face, and the smile all but disappeared. Heavy bruising had formed in splotches, the worst highlighting the now stitched gash that stretched from temple to cheek. The thought that it might scar made Steve’s nostrils flare as another wave of anger washed over him, but he drew in a deep breath to calm himself. Now was not the time.

He reached forward and gently traced a bruised cheek bone. Tony’s eye was black and slightly swollen as well, and Steve could just barely make out the darkened marks forming along his neck where hands had gripped him too hard. His fingers abandoned their path along that battered face and instead wove themselves into short brown hair, stroking through the strands gently.

Tony drew in a deep shuttering breath and then released it with a satisfied sigh. The smile returned to Steve’s lips. This was something else he’d noticed about the other man. He absolutely melted when someone played with his hair. It was something he’d observed only at the ranch. Before then no one had really touched Tony this way before. In fact, the only time Steve had witnessed anyone touching Tony was to shake his hand during a business related event, or to deliver a punch during a sparring match with a teammate. Maybe a hearty pat on the back now and then, but that was it.

As Steve watched Tony lean into his touch even in his sleep, he wondered if he and the team had overlooked something major. They’d always assumed the engineer wasn’t interested in casual touching; unless it led to sex of course. He’d never sat too close to anyone on movie night, spent so much of his time alone in the lab, and usually fluttered around so quickly it was difficult to get a grip on him anyway.

On the other hand, Tony was always touching his teammates. Shoulder pats, a quick back rub with a single hand as he passed, the occasional hair ruffle to piss Clint off, a brief squeeze to a forearm or knee… All these things were done right before Tony wandered off, and he never lingered or stayed within reach of the person after touching them.

Why?

Did Tony think his touch would be ill received? Was he afraid he’d be asked to stop? Did he crave some kind of contact so much that he’d created a ‘touch and run’ technique and hoped he got away with it?

Steve hesitated only for a moment before kicking off his shoes and carefully shifting on the bed until he was lying on his side behind Tony. His fingers quickly returned to weave themselves through the other man’s hair as he settled himself comfortably amongst the pillows. The gentle rhythm of Tony’s breathing had a calming effect and Steve found his muscles finally relaxing after hours of stress and tension.

He traced his index finger along the shell of the smaller man’s ear, and a grin quirked at his lips as Tony grumbled and tried to shrug off the ticklish touch. Steve quickly resumed petting him instead, not wanting to wake the engineer now that he was getting some much needed sleep, and before long he felt his own eyes grow heavy with exhaustion.

Sleep wasn’t something that came easily for Steve. The serum altered his body and made it difficult to relax long enough to rest more than a couple hours at a time. His muscles needed exercise and without it, he frequently felt as if he would vibrate out of his skin. His mind was another matter. Flashbacks and nightmares filled with ice, water and darkness plagued him on a nearly nightly basis, and more often than not, Steve spent his nocturnal hours in the gym or running the streets of the city as if he could outrun the haunting memories.

But right here; right now; he felt as if he could sleep for days.

-----------

Steve had only meant to rest his eyes for a moment, but when he opened them again the sun had risen and he found himself blinking into a pair of large brown orbs. Tony had propped himself up on his elbow and had turned on his side to face Steve. It seemed he’d been watching him for a while, because the engineer was very much alert and smiled brightly when their gazes locked.

“Hi. So I’ve been thinking we should go back to the ranch.”

Again, Steve found himself blinking. His brain was having trouble kicking into gear after such a deep and restful sleep. It was disorienting. Did he hear him right? He wanted to go back to the ranch? Did he want to…

Tony didn’t seemed to notice the confusion on the other man’s face as he rambled on, toying with a loose thread on Steve’s shirt absently.

“I’m going to take a wild guess and say you didn’t find Blake. You were wearing this when you left last night and I don’t see any signs of a scuffle or brutal beating.”

Finally Steve found his voice. “You remember what I was wearing? You were barely conscious.”

Tony almost looked insulted. “’Barely’ being the keyword. Genius here. Very observant. Besides, I always take notice of the shirts you paint on. You’re quite the artist. Can’t even see the brush strokes.”

Steve felt the blush burning on his cheeks, and Tony definitely saw it if the growing grin spreading across his features was anything to go by.

“Adorable. Anyway. I’m thinking maybe some records are kept on the clients there, so maybe Adam can get us a full name and address.”

Oh, of course. This was business. Steve bit the inside of his cheek and tried to fight off the flash of disappointment. It’d been stupid of him to think Tony would want to go back there for…that.

The engineer frowned as he ran his fingers through his hair, oblivious to Steve’s train of thought. “Ugh. Is there blood dried in my hair? I feel like there’s blood dried in my hair. I need a shower. And a pain killer. Feels like some psycho pistol whipped me or something. Ha. That’s my life. Also, I didn’t get any pizza. I’m starving. Steve. Go find me food while I’m in the shower. And coffee. Lots of coffee.”

Steve quickly sat up as Tony threw the blankets off and stood on wobbly feet. He swayed when the vertigo hit him; no doubt lingering remnants of the concussion he’d suffered. He seemed to recover quickly enough, though, and Steve watched as the engineer slowly made his way across the room to the adjoining bathroom.

“Tony, can you handle yourself ok? I don’t want you falling in there.”

The smaller man threw him a teasing smirk over his shoulder as he placed a hand on the doorframe to balance himself. “My, my, Cap. First you want to feed me, then I find you sleeping in my bed, and now you’re suggesting I need your help showering? Buy me flowers or something first, would you?”

If it was even possible, Steve’s face burned hotter as his mouth opened and closed wordlessly. Tony laughed good naturedly before disappearing into the bathroom. A few moments later the water began to run, and Steve was jolted back to awareness by the engineer’s shouting.

“STEVE, I DROPPED THE SOAP!”

Another round of laughter had Steve moaning into his hands; he understood that reference, but when it tapered off his enhanced hearing picked up the distinct sound of a pained moan and the faint murmured complaints of a throbbing headache.

Steve rolled his eyes to the ceiling and pushed himself up off the bed, though as he left the room to start breakfast and scrounge up some pain pills, he couldn’t help but wonder if his building desires for the other man could become a reality.

------

The team hadn’t been happy about it, but right after breakfast and a generous helping of Advil, Tony had wasted no time getting to his private jet to set off for the ranch; which they now knew was located in Virginia. Steve had tried to get the other man to wait a few days to recover; to give the massive bruising on his face and neck time to heal, but there was no deterring him. His mind had been set.

After reassuring the rest of the Avengers he’d watch out for Tony and keep in touch, Steve found himself ushered into the passenger seat of a ridiculously expensive car. Turns out Happy worked for Pepper now as her personal body guard so Tony was on his own, but Steve had always been told by others that the engineer rarely let his old driver actually drive him anywhere. Tony, in fact, almost always did the driving. It wasn’t clear if this was just another strange quirk or if there was a deeper control issue manifesting itself. It was worth taking note of.

There wasn’t a lot of conversation on the way to the airport. In fact, nothing was said at all until they boarded Tony’s personal jet and Steve realized there was no crew. Instead the smaller man was sliding into the pilot’s seat and immediately set to work readying for take-off.

Steve watched him as he threw various switches into position, checked all his gauges and fiddled with dials and buttons.

His hands shook with nervous energy.

Sliding into the co-pilot’s seat, Steve buckled himself in and placed his hand over Tony’s when it rested on a lever between them. The smaller man paused with the contact and met his eye with a quirked brow. Despite his attempts to appear calm and collected, Steve could read him like a book. A fine layer of sweat had pebbled up along his hairline, his fingers trembled ever so slightly, his shoulders were tight and his left heel bounced as he struggled to control his anxiety.

“Are you ok, Tony? I can go on my own if you’d rather stay here.”

The engineer shook his head and let Steve’s hand remain where it was for a long moment before shrugging it off in order to move the lever to the position he needed it to be in for take-off. Brown eyes stared straight ahead as the engines powered up and the plane was steered toward the runway.

“And let you have all the fun?”

His tone was meant to be teasing, but it was clearly forced.

“I don’t think so. Besides, if I let you go alone that kid might not let you leave again. ‘Best looking Stallion they’d ever seen’. That’s what they all said about you, you know. We’d never get you back.”

Steve frowned. “I wasn’t the best looking one there, Tony.” He fixed the engineer with a pointed look, but the other man purposely kept his eyes averted as the plane increased speed; the engines roaring as they prepared for flight. His lips turned up into a very much forced smile. It almost looked painful.

“Don’t think so? I suppose one of the fillies caught your attention, huh? They were a bit pushy for my tastes, but easy on the eyes, I admit.”

“No, Tony, I’m not talking ab—“

“Here we go!”

Steve sighed and sat back in his seat as the plane ascended into the sky with a little more speed and thrust than was actually necessary. Maybe he’d been mistaken about those desires become reality after all.

TBC

Next chapter gets more interesting.

Chapter Text

The entire flight was full of silent tension. Well, Steve was silent. Tony, as always, babbled nearly constantly about nothing at all. It was a clear sign that he was nervous and on edge. Steve wasn’t expected to participate in the very much one sided conversation; and even if he wanted to Tony wouldn’t give him the opportunity to get a word in edgewise.

It wasn’t until they were landing in a clear field not far from the ranch’s main entrance that Tony finally fell silent. The smaller man seemed to drag out the task of powering down the aircraft, taking nearly three times as long to go through the procedure as he normally did. When he ran out of switches to fiddle with, he drew out his phone; and if Steve wasn’t mistaken, the genius was currently checking out postings on Tumblr.

“….Tony?” Steve tried to keep the impatience out of his voice, but he was eager to get off the plane and away from the palpable tension that filled the air.

“Right, right. Let’s go.” The engineer tucked his phone back into his pocket, hit a button that released the door that would allow them to exit, and hopped up. Steve quickly followed the other man, inhaling the fresh air deeply into his lungs when his feet hit the grass. After spending the last hour or so breathing stale recirculated air, this was heaven. His body felt like it was coming alive again.

Blue eyes turned from Tony’s fidgeting form to scan their surroundings. The ranch didn’t look any different—not that he’d expected it to—but being here this time under his own free will did make everything seem just a little more beautiful. The lush green grass rolled along the hilly terrain for acres, and the mature trees swayed in the breeze; their leaves contrasting nicely against the clear blue sky. The air itself was fresh and clean, not at all fogged with the pollution that contaminated New York. The birds were constantly singing, and in the distance Steve could hear the sounds of happy grooms and ponies alike as they interacted on the grounds.

When Steve’s gaze turned back to Tony, he nearly laughed when he found the man frowning at a passing rabbit as if it had personally offended him. The engineer must have heard his amused snort though, because those brown eyes turned on him instead.

“I don’t remember this place looking like a scene out of a Disney movie.”

This time Steve did laugh.

“Blondie!!”

The smile immediately dropped from his lips as Steve looked out across the field. On the far side, approaching quickly from the barn itself, were three figures. Clearly one was Sam. The young man was waving as he practically ran toward them. Adam and Danny were the other two, and they were moseying behind their excited friend at a far more leisurely pace.

Beside him Tony tensed upon spotting them, but almost immediately he shook it off, hooked his thumbs into his pockets, and started toward the other men. Steve quickly followed, hoping to provide some sort of comfort to the smaller man. Obviously being back here was causing Tony stress and he hoped to keep the experience as pleasant as possible.

It wasn’t long before they all met, and Steve smiled politely and nodded in greeting as Adam and Danny did the same. Sam, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as subdued about the reunion. He immediately slotted himself into Steve’s personal space, gazing up at him with stars in his eyes.

“So, Captain America, huh? I knew you were too perfect to be an ordinary person! Oh, man! I’ve been sworn to secrecy, of course, but man, I’d love to be able to tell people I was a Groom for Captain America!”

Sam must have noticed the expression on Steve’s face, because he quickly rambled on.

“Oh, but don’t worry, Sir! Your organization threated to cut out my tongue if I told anyone. Besides, we have strict rules here about people’s privacy----“

Danny, thank god, clamped his hand down over Sam’s mouth to bring his babbling to a halt, pulling the younger man back and away from his target. “Hush, boy! You’re making a damn fool out of yourself.”

Steve spared the suddenly red-faced man any further embarrassment by smiling and looking away as Danny all but tossed him back toward the barn; a silent order to go back inside. With a mumbled apology Sam quickly trotted away.

“You’re looking far better than I expected, Hon----Mr. Stark. Sorry. Old habits die hard.”

Tony pulled out his best press smile, the expression clearly forced to anyone with two eyes in their head. “Had a good doctor.”

Adam hummed under his breath with a nod, but he knew even the best doctors couldn’t heal the damage he’d seen done to Tony’s hands and feet so quickly and completely. He’d been sure the other man would have suffered the loss of fingers and toes at the very least. This, of course, wasn’t his business, so he went along with it.

“Best money can buy, I’m sure. But this---“ He gestured to the damage to Tony’s face, his fingers grazing but not quite touching the damaged skin. “This is fresh. What happened?”

Surprisingly to Steve, the engineer did not shy away from the near touch from the other man. In fact, it looked as if he might have wanted to lean into it.

“That’s why we’re here, actually.” Tony continued, his eyes clearly following Adam’s hand as it returned to rest at its owner’s side. “Blake paid me a visit, roughed me up a bit for the death of Mike, and disappeared without a trace. Any chance you have more information on him than his first name? Because I’d really like to find him before he finds me again.”

Danny growled lowly. “That crazy son of a bitch! Never liked him or Mike. Both had screws loose.”

Adam’s eyes flickered between the two Avengers before settling back on the bruising on Tony’s face. He nodded and motioned for them to follow as he turned to head back toward the barn.

“Giving out a client’s personal information is usually against our privacy policy, but in this case, I think an exception can be made.”

---------------------

“So you miss it at all?”

Steve startled a bit as Adam appeared beside him. Danny had been given the order to pull Blake’s information, and he and Tony had disappeared into the office to retrieve it. In the meantime, Steve had opted to stay outside and watch the couples interacting in a fenced in pen a little ways off. He made sure to keep his distance as to not make anyone uncomfortable, but he couldn’t help but admire the fluidity in which the ponies moved and showed off for their proud Grooms. The level of trust and comfort they had in each other was beautiful, and he wished…

“It’s a lifestyle I’m still trying to fully understand, I admit.” Steve started, turning his eyes to meet Adam’s knowing gaze. “But if done right, it’s appealing to me. Though I think I’d rather play the role of a Groom than a pony.”

The other man’s brow arched curiously at the admission, and he turned his eyes to the pen in the distance, as did Steve.

“I think you’d make a great Groom. You’re always welcome to explore the role here. We can even match you up with a pony.”

Steve shook his head immediately. “Thanks, but there’s only one per---“ He felt his cheeks heat up as he snapped his mouth shut, hoping Adam hadn’t caught on to who he’d been talking about.

“Honey.”

Damn.

There was a tense silence that settled between them, and Steve folded his arms tightly across his chest and set his jaw, resolutely not looking away from the couples in the distance.

“It was pretty obvious, if it puts you at ease.”

Steve chuckled as his muscles relaxed by a degree, and he turned his gaze back to the man beside him.

“I could never ask that of Tony. His experience wasn’t a good one.”

“Not entirely.” Adam encouraged. “I’ve been involved with this lifestyle for years now, and I can read the signs pretty well. I knew something was off with you and Mr. Stark, but there were many moments when he was perfectly at ease with being Honey. I don’t think he’d be completely closed off to the idea. In fact, for a man of his standing, I imagine his daily life is full of pressures and stress. Being Honey once in a while might prove to be very therapeutic.”

At Steve’s skeptical look, Adam continued.

“I can’t name names, but we have many high profile clients who visit us to unwind. Senators, police chiefs, even members of congress. Many claim this is the only escape that keeps them sane.”

Steve sighed and glanced back toward the barn, where Tony was still with Danny. “I think Tony just wants to be cared for; to be able to trust someone enough to just let go. I also think Tony has far too much pride and trust issues to let anyone do that for him.”

“Are you going to let that keep you from trying? Isn’t he worth the effort?”

He was.

“And Mr. Rogers…”

“Steve.”

“Steve. Mr. Stark did not have to come all the way out here for the information on Blake. We’re easily found on the internet if he wanted to contact us.”

-------------

Only a few moments after Adam had wandered off, Tony took his place beside Steve. He was still fiddling with his phone, but when Steve gave him a sideways look, he put it away.

“I sent all Blake’s information to Natasha. I’m going to be extra cruel and let her go after him. Poor guy.”

Steve nodded with a grin. He couldn’t manage to muster up any sympathy for Blake, though. “So, I guess we can head back now then.”

Tony nodded, but made no move to head back toward the plane. His eyes were fixed on the people down in the pen, following the movements of the ponies as they pranced in circles at the paces their Grooms requested of them.

“Or…” Steve began, dragging the word out a bit to make sure he had the smaller man’s attention. “We could stay for a few days…”

Tony blinked, then swiveled his head to stare at Steve in both surprise and confusion. “Stay? Why?”

It was a struggle to keep his nerve under control, and Steve shrugged a shoulder as nonchalantly as he could manage under the other man’s scrutinizing gaze.

“Well, to be honest, I wanted to learn a little more about the Grooms.”

Tony, clever as he was, understood what the larger man actually meant. “You want to be a Groom, you mean.” He didn’t wait for a verbal reply and instead turned back to the pen in the distance. “You want someone here. I was right! Which one is it? The blonde down there? The redhead?”

Was there a hint of jealousy in the engineer’s tone? That… that was encouraging.

“No, Tony. I’m not interested in anyone down there.” Steve drew in a deep breath and shifted on his feet. He had to go about this carefully or he’d scare the other man off. If he knew anything about the genius, it was that if you wanted him to do something, you had to make it seem like it was his idea.

“Something about it just… does something for me. You can laugh if you want, but I want to explore it a bit.”

Tony’s eyes remained fixed on the couples. “I’m not laughing…”

Steve grinned. “You can head back if you want. Pick me up in a few days?”

Now wide brown eyes were fixed directly on him, brow furrowed. “Uh, no. I’m not leaving you here alone. Sam might molest you in your sleep. I’ll stay while you… explore.”

“Great. Thanks, Tony.”

Phase one of ‘Recover Honey’ complete.

TBC

Chapter Text

Above the stables in the barn there was a loft. It had been divided into many bedrooms, each with their own adjoining bathroom. The grooms stayed here; close enough to their ponies that they could be at their sides within seconds if the need arose. There were other buildings on the property to house workers and ponies who chose to slip back into their human personas for the night, but Adam chose to give both Tony and Steve their own bedrooms in the loft. It was the best place for Steve to be if he truly wanted to experience all that came with being a groom.

The sun had gone down nearly an hour before, and Adam was walking Steve through their nightly care ritual for the ponies. Tony trailed behind them for lack of anything better to do.

“Most our ponies prefer a bath both at night and in the morning. They tend to get dirty out in the fields or during their training and want to be fresh after sleeping in their stalls. We change the hay each day and disinfect the floors to keep things clean and sanitary. That’s a groom’s responsibility, of course, but some choose to hire helpers to carry out these tasks.”

Adam nodded at Sam, who was busy sprinkling a thick layer of hay on the floor of an empty stall. The smell of fresh lemons wafted from the space as they passed by.

“Is it appropriate to provide a stallion or filly with linen?” Steve asked, remembering that the hay alone hadn’t been enough to keep Tony warm at night. “In the case they aren’t comfortable enough?”

Adam’s lips quirked up in the grin as he paused outside the stall of a filly. There was hay inside, but several blankets and pillows lay strewn across the floor as well. The woman inside was obviously used to such luxuries, as her braided hair was decorated with fresh flowers and her halter was lined with padded silk so it lay against her face without irritation. She was currently laying back amongst her soft nest of linen as if she were a queen perched on her throne.

“Of course. Princess here---“

Tony snorted.

“---is quite the diva and requires only the best of the best. Each pony has their own personality and needs. Take away her blankets and you’re sure to be on the receiving end of a painful kick or bite. Keep her happy and she’s the sweetest filly on the ranch. Eager to please.”

Princess visibly preened as they moved on, and Steve found himself grinning knowingly as Tony’s eyes lingered on not the woman, but the stall. The engineer may have scoffed, but there was some diva lurking in him as well.

They continued on to the showering room. Several grooms were currently working on cleaning up their ponies, and Steve had to fight to keep the blush from rising onto his cheeks. He’d been here long enough the first time to grow accustomed to the nudity, but oddly enough, he felt a little more self-conscious fully clothed than when he’d been as exposed as the others.

“Now cleaning not only your pony, but the tack and equipment, is one of the most important parts of being a groom. Your pony is completely reliant on you to keep them happy and healthy. It’s your job to make sure they aren’t developing any sores, aren’t in any pain, and their tack is always fitting comfortably.”

Steve nodded as he watched the grooms run their hands over their ponies’ flesh; lifting legs to check feet and gently trailing their fingers over soft lips to insure the bits hadn’t injured the delicate skin there. Others were working on oiling the leather harnesses their partners wore, making sure the material was soft and pliant to avoid any irritation or discomfort while it was worn.

Adam led them over to a harnessed man standing alone near a shower stall. He was a thinner man with freckled tan skin and sandy auburn hair. His eyes were dark green and had trained themselves on the groom as they approached.

“This is Speckles. His groom can’t be here tonight, so he was left in my care until he returns.”

Adam kept his eyes on the man as he spoke, reaching up to pat him on the chest. “Speckles, this is Steve and Tony. Steve wants to learn the skills of a groom. Would it be ok with you if I let him help me get you cleaned up?”

Speckles’ green eyes darted to Steve, who had lost his battle to keep the blush from reaching his face. The corner of the man’s lips quirked up around the bit he wore, and he nodded, trilling softly in compliance. Adam smiled and scratched him behind the ear as a thank you before he reached up to check the lead that kept the man secured to a hook screwed into the wall.

“Always make sure your pony is secured before you start removing their gear. It helps keep them grounded and prevents any mischievous ones from running around the barn unchecked.”

Adam stepped aside and gestured for Steve to step forward. “Arms are always freed first for better balance when the boots come off. Chest gear second, any decorations third, then boots, then halter. I’ll show you how all the ties and locks work.”

Tony crossed his arms over his chest as he stood back and watched Steve and Adam tend to Speckles. They murmured quietly to each other as the gear was taken off; the occasional pat being given to the pony whenever he became unsettled or unbalanced.

Brown eyes narrowed at the freckled man as he seemed to purposely stumble out of his boots so that Steve’s hands would settle on his hips to balance him. He even whinnied sweetly and nuzzled against the super soldier as if seeking affection, and sure enough, Steve ruffled his hair with an amused chuckle.

Son of a bitch.

“Good. Now we check to make sure everything is alright. Feet first. Make sure there’s no bruising or blistering. Joints, teeth, eyes… And depending on what type of gear your pony wears, you may be required to check more intimate places to insure no damage has been----“

“WHOA!”

Three sets of eyes turned to settle on Tony. The engineer could feel his face heating immediately. He hadn’t meant to shout like that, but the idea of Steve checking…intimate places… No.

“Is something wrong, Tony?” Steve asked. His tone was innocent, but Tony knew a bullshitter when he saw one. Steve was amused.

“Hey, I’m all for learning; love to learn; learning for all, but molesting poor Freckles---“

“Speckles.” Steve corrected; just barely managing to hold back the grin tugging at his lips when Tony noticeably bristled.

“SPECKLES, for the sake of----Oh, jesus, he’s pointing at me.”

Steve blinked and turned back to Speckles. The man was indeed aroused; quite impressively so, in fact. Wow.

Adam laughed and gently urged the man into the shower stall. Speckles went, but his eyes never left Steve. “Sorry about that, Steve. He’s a young, healthy Stallion and you’re a sugar cube for the eyes. It’s to be expected. I’ll take care of bathing him, but stick around so I can show you how to put the gear back on, ok?”

Before Steve could answer Tony had grabbed him and dragged him several feet away from the pair before spinning back around to stare up at him with wide eyes.

“Steve, Steve, Steve! You’re so uncomfortable with this; I can tell. Look at you! You’re a nervous wreck! Freckles upset you. I can tell. This is silly. I know you want to do the groom thing, but you shouldn’t have to deal with that stuff. The nerve of that guy! He should be made to sleep in the pasture by himself!”

Steve couldn’t help it. He laughed. This put an immediate stop to Tony’s rambling, and Steve placed his hands on the engineer’s shoulders as he shook his head in amusement.
“Tony, I’m fine. This is part of everything, you know. In fact, the sexual aspect is a HUGE part, if you didn’t notice. And his name is Speckles.”

Tony's jaw worked uselessly for a few moments before he was able to form words again. He pointed toward the pair in the shower accusingly. “But he’s a stranger! And how did you memorize his name so fast? Do you like him? Is this the one who caught your eye? Kinda scrawny…”

Brown eyes had turned to closer inspect Speckles as if he were trying to figure out why Steve found the man attractive; his brow furrowing in frustration.

Sighing, Steve shrugged helplessly. “Everyone here is a stranger, Tony. It’s not ideal, but how else am I supposed to learn this stuff? I don’t have my own partner yet.”

Tony’s eyes remained fixed on the couple in the stall as the water cut off. He watched as Adam carefully and thoroughly dried Speckles, then had the man sit down as he gathered the familiar massage lotions Tony himself had loved so much. It’d been one of the few highlights in an otherwise nightmarish experience.

“Steve, we’re all set over here! I’ll show you the rub downs.” Adam called.

Steve nodded and turned to go, but he paused when his wrist was clutched again, glancing back in surprise to meet Tony’s gaze.

“Wait.”

His jaw dropped as Tony let go of his hand in favor of removing his clothing. The other man kicked his shoes and socks off, dropped his pants, and tossed his shirt aside carelessly. He was left in only a black tank top and a matching pair of black briefs that hugged him like a second skin.

“Tony…”

Tony raised a finger to silence Steve as he moved past him and settling into a chair beside Speckles; which Adam had pulled up the moment his clothes start coming off. Brown eyes turned back to the super soldier and he smirked.

“You haven’t massaged my feet in two days, Steve. I’m feeling neglected over here.”

Tony turned to the man seated beside him, taking satisfaction in the way his lips had turned down into a frown now that it was becoming clear it wasn’t Steve’s hands that would be rubbing him down tonight. He smiled at him, showing teeth, and then gestured to the jars of lotion as Steve knelt in front of him.

“I like the pink stuff best.”

Steve chuckled and did his best to mimic Adam’s technique, delighting in the way Tony melted almost immediately in his hands. His eyes slide closed and for the first time since they arrived, he completely relaxed.

Beside them Adam smiled knowingly, catching Steve’s eye to share some encouragement. He’d give soft instructions now and then, commenting on the need to keep nails cut and filed, cuticles cared for to prevent painful hang nails, and hair groomed. At the mention of hair, Steve noticed that Tony’s legs were still as smooth as the day they’d woken up inside the trailer. In fact, his entire body still seemed hairless. Same went for himself. Had they simply been waxed, the hair should have begun to grow back by now; but clearly this wasn’t the case. Odd.

Tony remained silent throughout the entire massage from toe to fingers tips; only emitting the occasional sigh when a sore spot was given attention. Beside them Speckles was a little more vocal with more pony-like noises. At one point Tony poked an eye open to glance at the man, clearly conveying that he wasn’t impressed with the man’s attempts to get Steve’s attention; which was clearly his intent.

Steve only had eyes for Tony and they all knew it at that point.

“Alright.” Adam patted Speckles on the shoulder after they’d gone over all the basic care, urging the man to his feet. “Each pony has two basic sets of gear. There’s daytime gear and nighttime gear. Everything is softer and lighter for nighttime use; while day gear is stronger, heavier, and flashier.”

Adam opened a nearby cupboard and removed a lightweight halter with no bit, soft leather hooved elbow high gloves, a long tail with a single waist strap, and hooved boots that lacked the buckles and belts that were on their daytime counterparts.

“Halter first, and secured to the hook, just like before.” Adam said as he handed Steve the gear.

Speckles shifted excitedly when he realized he’d be getting attention from Steve; and his body once again displayed his happiness in a very obvious way. Tony bristled at the thought of Steve getting up close and personal with Freckles Jr, especially when he’d had to kneel down to lace up those boots.

All it took was a quick glance from Steve to make Tony move forward. Clearly that millisecond of eye contact was a desperate scream for help. And hey, he was a helpful guy.

“Steve learns best from watching and imitating.” Tony said as he strolled up to Steve and plucked the harness from his hands. He tossed it back to Adam and folded his arms expectantly. “I trust you still have my nighttime gear? Unless you auctioned it off on ebay. Which would have been smart, actually. Big bucks for Tony Stark horsey gear, I’m sure.”

And again he was rambling to cover his discomfort and anxiety, but Adam was quick. “Absolutely. Be right back.”

Steve watched Adam return to the gear cabinets before turning to Tony. “Tony, are you sure? I appreciate it, but don’t force yourself to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

The engineer arched a brow. “Me? Not comfortable? I’m standing here in my underwear next to a naked pony and offering to let you put me in pony gear. I can’t get much more comfortable. I’m so comfortable it’s ridiculous.”

He was NOT comfortable. Adam had already returned before Steve could argue further though, and the look Tony threw him was a clear indication that he wasn’t interested in further conversation.

So, drawing a deep breath into his lungs, Steve mimicked Adam as he fit the halter on Speckles, mirroring his moves on Tony. He carefully slipped the straps in place, taking care to make sure his hair wasn’t caught in the buckles and that nothing was too tight or chaffing against his skin. He met Tony’s eyes once and the smaller man threw him a cheeky smile. Steve felt some of his tension melt away as he chuckled in response.

“Now the boots.” Adam said after checking out and approving Steve’s application of the halter. “We secure their arms last. They may need the extra balance when stepping into the boots.”

Steve nodded as he set the boots down in front of Tony and grasped one of his ankles to encourage him to step into them. Beside them Speckles made a bit of a show of fighting it; just like a real horse might do if they didn’t want to take their bit or saddle. Adam clicked his tongue and gave him a soft swat on the thigh to discourage the behavior; and the pony begrudgingly put his foot into the first boot.

Tony, much to Steve’s delight, stepped into both boots without fuss. He stood perfectly still while they were laced up, and Steve breathed a sigh of relief as he stood and waited patiently for Adam to finish. Speckles wasn’t quite as well behaved as Tony was. Something swelled inside Steve’s chest and he grinned proudly when he caught Adam’s eye.

“Looks like my pony is better behaved than yours.”

Adam’s eyes cast over to Tony, then back to Steve as a grin spread across his face. “You sure about that?”

Steve blinked and turned back to Tony. He was holding the lead that was clipped to the hook of his halter… but wasn’t secured to the hook on the wall. He’d forgotten to do so and Tony had noticed. He’d noticed and was now smiling wickedly.

Steve raised his hand as if to stop the impending shenanigans, but it was too late. Tony bolted, his hooved feet clacking noisily across the floor as he ran off with an impressive amount of speed. Being stuck in those boots had certainly improved his balance.

Steve looked back at Adam helplessly as Tony disappeared into the barn, but the other groom only shrugged with a laugh. “You forgot to secure him. I warned you. Better go catch him.”

Once the initial shock of having his pony run off on him passed, the humor of the situation hit him full force and Steve barked out a laugh as he took off after his rogue pony. He expected to see or at least hear Tony running down the hall of the barn, but he was greeted with near silence. There was no sign of him, and based on the length of the barn, the man shouldn’t have had time to get outside.

Steve’s eyes cast back and forth as he quickly walked down the corridor that ran down the center of the stalls. Many of the ponies inside were on their feet and alert, a sure sign that they’d just seen an underwear clad genius run through. A low giggle caught his attention, somewhere to his left, and Steve found himself once again approaching Princess’s stall. This time, however, there was an extra occupant.

Strewn amongst the pillows, blankets, and soft hay lay Tony, who was looking rather smug with his arms pillowed beneath his head where he was reclined comfortably. Princess was curled up beside him with her head resting on his chest; and Steve tried to fight down the wave of possessiveness he suddenly felt at the sight.

Instead, Steve sighed and leaned on his elbows against the half wall of the stall. “I get it. Lull me into a false sense of security and then bolt the moment I make a mistake. And here I thought you’d be a sweet pony.”

Tony outright laughed as the other man pouted dramatically, but he didn’t say anything as he gave Princess a pat and climbed to his feet with surprising ease. Steve had not failed to notice that even though Tony was only supposed to be helping him learn about being a groom, he was playing the part of the pony almost to a tee. He hadn’t spoken once since the gear went on, and he went out of his way to be a bratty pony that took advantage of his novice mistakes.

Steve was loving it.

He opened the door and took hold of the lead that still dangled from Tony’s halter, leading his now compliant but still heavily amused pony out of the stall. His eyes danced with mirth as he followed Steve back to the bathing room, walking with such a bounce in his step he was nearly trotting.

Steve couldn’t help but laugh at his antics, shaking his head in disbelief. This wasn’t Tony he was dealing with anymore.

This was Honey.

TBC

Chapter Text

Later that night while lying in bed Steve found himself reflecting on the events of the day as he stared at the darkened ceiling above him. After leading Honey back to the bathing and tack room he’d been prepared to fit him with the remaining gear. That meant the body harness with attached tail and the hooved mitts. He hadn’t expected any trouble considering how easily Tony had accepted the halter and boots, but he’d visibly cringed at the sight of the restrictive mitts and immediately slipped out of his pony persona. A strained smile had stretched across his lips and he’d rambled on about how he’d leave the rest to ‘Freckles’, then proceeded to remove the boots from his feet and prompted Steve to take off the halter. The moment the gear was removed, he’d scooped up his clothes and taken off.

Initially Steve had been baffled, but after thinking about it for a moment, he wasn’t all that surprised by Tony’s reaction. By allowing his hands and arms to be restrained he was giving up all control again; and that was something he clearly wasn’t ready to do after suffering the abuse he’d already endured.

Steve sighed and turned his head to the left to peer at Tony through the dark. The other man was sharing a large room with him. There were two double beds, and Tony was currently curled up and fast asleep in the one furthest from the door.

After his initial retreat, the genius had disappeared for nearly two hours while Steve remained behind with Adam. He’d chosen to return just when Steve was beginning to really worry, and he’d acted like nothing had happened at all; simply announced he was hungry and then waited expectantly for someone to produce a meal. Of course, being the gracious host he was, Adam had provided.

While they ate Adam had explained the many types of ponies. Steve had been under the impression that there were only three types: cart, riding, and show; but it turned out there were many sub-types as well. Not everyone fell into only one category either.

Cart ponies could also be show and riding, for example. There were also working ponies, pleasure ponies, breeding ponies, event ponies, dressage ponies, and bondage ponies.
Tony had remained uncharacteristically quiet as Adam went into further detail about each category and type, helpfully explaining what each entailed.

Event ponies, for example, usually had the skills of several sub-category of equine. Events included displays of strength required of a work pony who was trained to pull heavy loads and move fallen obstacles off paths, such as dead trees and debris. They required the stamina of a cart and riding pony, who were expected to carry their grooms for long periods of time over long distances. There was a show category to display dressage gear and graceful gates perfected by ponies who fell into the show and cart categories.

Then came the pony types that made Steve flush with both arousal and embarrassment at the same time. Pleasure ponies. These types were trained to give sexual pleasure to others. Slave ponies in this category were meant to pleasure anyone who demanded it of them, but pleasure ponies were only meant to serve their grooms. There were also bondage ponies. While pony play entailed a certain level of bondage on a normal basis, these ponies took it a step further. More often than not they were made to be completely immobile; their limbs folded and secured in place so the pony could only stand on all fours while resting their weight on their knees and elbows.

The pictures Adam had shown Steve had set off a fire burning deep in his belly, but he didn’t dare let it show outwardly. Tony had looked absolutely horrified by the display, and Adam was quick to insure him that the participants were always willing. It took and extreme amount of trust between pony and trainer to allow such a degree of vulnerability; and sometimes it took couples years to work up to that level. Once achieved, however, the experience can be very gratifying for everyone involved.

He went on to explain that nothing about pony play was meant to be degrading to those playing the role of the pony. In fact, it was more often the pony who held all the control. In a healthy relationship it was they who dictated how far their groom could go and what they were willing to allow. Without the pony’s consent, the groom or trainer was powerless.

There were instances, Adam went on to acknowledge, when a bound pony was abused and forced into doing something they don’t want to do, but as with any sexual act lacking consent, that was no longer pony play. It was just plain rape and or assault. He made sure Tony knew what he experienced was not what the lifestyle entailed at all. He’d been held prisoner and assaulted. Pony play was all about trust and a mutual understanding between pony and groom. The groom was meant to please the pony just as much as the pony was meant to please the groom.

Steve had watched Tony’s expressions through the entire explanation carefully, but the other man’s poker face was pretty solid. The occasional furrowed brow or twitch of his mouth gave his skepticism away, or his confusion. By the end of dinner, though, he had noticeably relaxed in his chair and listened as Steve asked questions with far more interest and much less suspicion.

It had been very encouraging for Steve. He’d feared that after today’s episode things might not progress as smoothly as he’d hoped with Tony in his quest to make his Honey persona an accepted part of his being, but he had to remember that there had been a lot of trauma involved that would need to be erased and replaced with more pleasant experiences; experiences Steve intended to be the one to provide.

Blue eyes swept over Tony’s sleeping form one last time before his lids slid shut. They wouldn’t be able to stay too much longer before they were needed back in New York. Pepper could only cover for Tony for so long as far as his company went and they’d both be needed again by The Avengers soon. It was an inevitability. He only hoped tomorrow would bring more progress.

-------------

“That guy is strong.”

Steve nodded toward a solidly built pony on the far side of the dirt arena they stood outside of. He’d been hooked up to a sled that was piled high with what seemed like an entire tree’s worth of cut wood, and he was leaning forward on his hooved feet for leverage as he dragged the heavy load across the ground. As he gained momentum his task became easier, but Steve couldn’t help but admire the way his muscles rippled beneath glowing skin as he moved. His legs were nothing short of perfection, toned and strong. Clearly this was what a working class pony looked like.

Beside him Tony looked less than impressed. His arms were folded over his chest and his eyes had already wandered off, clearly conveying that the spectacle wasn’t even worth his attention.

“Simple matter of physics, Steve. Friction, lack of. Momentum. Anyone could do it.”

Steve raised a brow and grinned playfully. “Oh yeah? Want to give it a try?”

Tony scoffed and kept his gaze averted. “Waste of time. Besides, I have you if I want something heavy moved.”

Steve chuckled and shrugged a single shoulder. “I suppose you do. Still, I’d be impressed if you could do it.”

That had brown eyes flickering back over to the man hooked to the sled, and he took a moment to watch the strain of the man’s muscles; muscles that were much bigger than his own, and clucked his tongue. Clearly the man had had a lot of training to reach that level of strength, and while Tony didn’t doubt he could rely on science to get the stupid thing moving, he knew that at this point in time he wasn’t prepared to attempt it. His feet were still soft and tender, his muscles still weakened from poor care and lack of food, and his back still caught painfully sometimes if he moved the wrong way.

“You know if I can’t, which I can, my failure would only reflect badly on you. Strapping a poor untrained stallion such as myself to such a heavy burden? Steve, you’d be shamed off the farm for such cruelty.”

A knowing smile spread across Steve’s face. “So are you proposing I train you to take on such a task? I’m not sure I’d be good enough for Honey; being as inexperienced as I am.”

This was good. Tony was clearly giving him an opening, and with a little careful wording, this could be exactly the moment he’d been waiting for to make this thing between them real and official.

He watched the other man from the corner of his eye as Tony thought. He could practically see the gears turning in his head as he struggled through his doubts and insecurities, but in the end that all too familiar Tony Stark snark won out.

Brown eyes locked with blue, and they were filled with mischievous amusement.

“I won’t make it easy for you.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

---------------

Steve was practically vibrating with excitement when Tony had agreed to their first training session after lunch. He knew the man had been dragging his feet all morning over it, clearly at war with himself concerning his willingness to make himself vulnerable again, but Steve always jumped in whenever the genius’ eyes darkened with doubt, quickly pulling his thoughts back to the here and now with encouraging words and genuine thanks for trusting him enough to allow Steve to be his groom.

Now they were back in the barn’s tack room, and Tony fidgeted with the hem of his shirt as Adam and Steve carefully selected gear from the collection of items. They made sure to pick the pieces with extra padding, safe guards, and lighter weight material for optimal comfort. Adam had even brought out padded sports tape to wrap Tony’s feet in to protect the new skin from the boots’ interior. They’d provide extra cushion and comfort, something he was immensely grateful for. Even the quick frolic in the boots yesterday had left his healing feet a little sore and raw.

Still, there was something that was making him uneasy.

“Hey…”

Both Adam and Steve turned to Tony, who had his attention turned to a male pony who was being led out the back door by their groom. Underneath the usual tack this man wore a fitted black body suit; so tight it could be a second skin. The material shone and left nothing to the imagination, but it did provide that extra bit of security that being nude took away.

“Can I…?”

Both men were quick to follow his gaze and Adam nodded enthusiastically.

“Of course! I should have thought about it before.”

He turned away and opened a drawer, drawing out an identical black body suit. Steve noticed, however, that many of the suits in the drawer were designed to resemble the different coat types of different breeds of horse. Grey, chestnut, white, spotted, golden---all were beautiful. Maybe in the future he’d see which complimented Tony the best. He already knew from experience, however, the Tony looked gorgeous in black.

-------------------------

Gorgeous was right.

It had taken almost twenty minutes to fully dress Tony in his gear. There’d been some hesitation with the arm restraints again, but with some reassurance and patience they’d been able to work past it.

The black body suit, though not as beautiful to Steve as Tony’s fully exposed body, was stunning. The material caught the light and shone much like a real horse’s coat would, and it highlighted every muscle and curve to perfection. The boots, body harness and bridle were also black, but they were made of shiny lightweight vinyl with silver buckles. The flowing tail still matched Tony’s own chestnut hair, and the bridle featured two perky horse ears that were both sexy and adorable at the same time.

It all made those large amber eyes pop dramatically, and coupled with Tony’s regrown signature goatee, Steve felt confident that he had the most beautiful stallion on the farm. He’d make an amazing show pony, and Steve was already picturing those eyes outlined with black liner for that exotic edge.

As with the first time, Tony had stopped speaking the moment the gear was applied. Though Steve knew the man wasn’t fully into his ‘Honey’ headspace and probably wouldn’t be able to get there for a while to come, he was trying, for Steve’s benefit, to fit the role.

It was a heartwarming gesture.

Adam had casually and secretively slipped a bit into Steve’s hand a few minutes before, which he had promptly put in his pocket. He remembered how torn up Tony’s mouth had been after his rescue, and he wasn’t sure if using a bit so soon would be readily accepted at this point. Like the mitts, there were bad memories associated with the piece that could set Tony off. So for now, he’d forego using it.

Instead Steve clipped his lead onto one of the metal rings that sat on either side of Tony’s mouth and gave the man an encouraging smile. “You look amazing, Tony. Let’s go.”

Steve turned to lead the other man outside, but after a step and a half there was resistance. He quickly turned back, alarmed that something was wrong, but he stopped short when he found Tony was only looking at him with a raised brow. After a moment of eye contact, he looked away as if he were bored.

Steve blinked and turned to Adam for help.

“You called him Tony. He’s Honey. It’s important to remember that. Mixing the two up can really mess with his headspace.”

Steve hummed in acknowledgement and nodded as he stepped back up to his indifferent stallion. Again he was taken with just how attractive he found the other man, both in his gear and out, but at that moment he knew he’d never seen anything as beautiful as Honey. And he was his. His to care for, to train, to protect, and to own.

Steve’s nostrils flared as he drew a deep breath in through his nose when a surge of arousal swept over him. He gently took Tony’s chin in his hand and turned his head until their eyes met, and before he could stop himself, he’d pressed his lips to the man’s forehead.

When he drew back Tony’s face had turned red and his eyes were wide and surprised. Steve smiled gently and swept his fingers through soft chestnut hair, delighting in the way the other man’s expression relaxed as he subconsciously leaned into the touch.

“My beautiful Honey.”

His words made the flush on Tony’s face deepen, but when his lips turned up into a pleased but hesitant smile, Steve knew he’d said the right thing.

“Let’s go.”

This time when Steve led the way, Honey followed.

TBC

Chapter Text

 photo honeydone3_zps77f18490.jpg

A larger version of this drawing can be viewed here:

http://agenttoni.deviantart.com/art/Tony-Stark-Honey-487267088?ga_submit_new=10%253A1412815385

Chapter Text

So, this was still pretty embarrassing; even when he was doing it for Steve under his own free will.

Tony’s eyes moved from side to side as Steve led him across the grounds and toward an enclosed arena. He and Adam were quietly conversing, but Tony wasn’t really listening. His attention was instead focused on the ponies that were visible to him from his vantage point. Many were with their grooms, prancing around without shame or any trace of self-consciousness. In a nearby outdoor arena a female pony was running in circles around her groom at the end of a long tether her partner held in his hand. Each time she broke her stride the groom would flick the end of an extended whip at her backside, startling her back into the correct rhythmic stride.

The sight of it made Tony’s muscles tense beneath his skin as bad memories of his time with Hammer infiltrated his mind. The hours he spent running ‘round and ‘round in circles on his bleeding feet; his lungs and muscles burning for oxygen as he strained to keep going lest he be beaten with whips, fists, and steel toes shoes…

Tony drew a deep steadying breath in through his nose and pushed the memories away as he exhaled through his mouth, forcing himself to focus on the here and now. He turned his gaze back to Steve.

Though he hadn’t even realized it himself for the longest time, Tony could no longer deny the affection he felt for the other man. Steve’s disapproval, frowns, and verbal attacks had always stung more than anyone else’s. That right there should have been a tip-off, but genius or not, Tony was man enough to admit he could be a little dense when it came to emotions and understanding them.

He always tried a little harder for Steve---just like he’d tried harder for Pepper. His efforts hadn’t been enough to preserve his romantic relationship with the fiery redhead though, and even now an obnoxiously loud voice in his head was telling him that he’d never be good enough for Steve either, but here he was; dressing up in pony gear to make the man happy---to make him look at him---smile at him in approval---touch him with gentle hands.

It was pathetic if he thought about it.

If Tony was being honest with himself, it wasn’t the idea of looking and acting like a pony that appealed to him. It was the freedom of being able to let go of everything that came with being Tony Stark. He didn’t have to put on a show, babble incessantly, or prove his worth with his tech and money. No one expected anything from him at all. As Honey, he could probably go roll in the mud and he’d get pats and sugar cubes in return. There was no pressure.

He’d always been at a loss when it came to making Steve happy. He tried so many ways to gain favor with the man, and it never seemed good enough. No matter how closely he followed Steve’s instruction during a mission, he always did something that earned him a stern lecture about being a better team player. If he tried to buy things he thought Steve would like or find useful, he got a frown and a comment about wasting money that could help people who needed it more. If he spent too much time in his workshop developing new equipment for his team, Steve would fuss at him for neglecting his health.

Tony couldn’t win.

But Honey, it seemed, could.

As long as he kept his mouth shut and played the role of the perfect little pet, Steve responded with genuine smiles, gentle touches, words of praise; and best of all, when he looked at Tony his eyes were filled with affection; affection he had never received from anyone before. Not in its purest form like this. There was no underlying exasperation like with Pepper or Rhodey, no malicious intent like with Obadiah, and no greed like with every one night stand he ever had.

And Tony wanted it. He needed it. If all he had to do was strap on some hooves and leather to get it; so be it. It was a small price to pay.

-------------

“This is the indoor training arena.” Adam began as soon as they stepped inside the large enclosed space. There were at least six groom and pony pairs currently present, and each were working on various exercises. Some were performing lunges in those endless circles Tony hated so much, some were jumping over hurtles, and a couple in the corner appeared to be putting together some kind of dance routine. Though there was no audible music, both groom and pony wore ear buds; and both were swaying to an unheard beat. The rhythmic swaying of the male pony’s hips drew Tony’s eye like a moth to the flame; and he couldn’t help but find the movements sexy.

“We hold contests a few times a year to showcase the talents of our guests.” Adam continued. Tony’s gaze lingered a little while longer on the dancing pony in the corner before he forced his attention back to the talking man. He couldn’t help but notice Steve’s knowing grin, though. Clearly he’d seen the subject of his interest and he probably planned on doing something about that.

“There are several categories. Dressage, dance, blindfolded obstacle courses, freeform performances…” Adam pointed to a different training pair as he spoke, matching their actions with his descriptions. Near the center of the arena another male pony was hooked up to a sulky his female trainer sat in. She held his reins in her hands and gave him signals via the bit in his mouth and the occasional verbal clicks and clucks. The pony was blindfolded and was trying his best to maneuver the sulky through a series of cones that were set up on the ground without knocking anything over.

It looked very difficult and very frustrating to Tony. The pony was completely reliant on his groom to guide him through the course. He had no control whatsoever and relied on only his blind trust that his partner would keep him from running in to anything that could cause him injury.

Yeah, nope. Tony learned a long time ago that the only person he could rely on 100% was himself.

Adam was still talking, and Tony pushed his wandering thoughts aside to catch the tail end of what he was saying.

“There’s also a contest for those who want to show off their pony’s sexual prowress. Breeding and pleasure ponies participate, and of course, it’s completely optional.”
Tony arched a brow at Steve, who looked a wee bit too interested in that particular activity. What happened to his innocent little 40’s soldier? This place was bringing out the sexual beast in Steve! Not that it was a bad thing. Who wouldn’t want to see the super solider in all his glory?

“The winners of each category are awarded ribbons and quality gear for their ponies; though we make sure everyone gets a little something. There’s no such thing as a bad pony.”

Someone tell that to Bullet.

Adam must have caught the expression on Tony’s face because he shrugged a shoulder and sighed. “There are bad people in pony gear, but I’ve never encountered anyone who was truly in their animal headspace committing a human crime.”

Tony really wanted to verbally reply to that, but he caught himself at the last moment. Clearly he still wasn’t experiencing this ‘animal headspace’ everyone talked about yet because he was still having very Stark-ish thoughts. How’d these people manage to shut off their minds anyway?

“Whoa, Princess!”

Three sets of eyes turned as the sound of thundering hooves advanced on them. Princess; the spoiled pony whose stall Tony had invaded before, had set her sights on her newest friend, and she apparently thought it was appropriate to ditch her embarrassed groom to come visit.

Tony startled back a couple steps when it seemed the woman might just bowl him over, but instead she trotted around him in circles excitedly. Her hair was done up in bouncing curls and a huge feather plume danced over her head with her exaggerated movements as she pranced. She was an obvious beauty, and much to Tony’s ire, she was also a little taller than he was. It became apparent when she finally stopped behind him and nuzzled her nose into the nape of his neck. She was stooping down a bit to do so, and Tony found himself sighing in annoyance as Steve and Adam chuckled.

Princess’s flushed groom; an equally attractive brunette lady, held her hands up in apology. “I’m so sorry! She just bolted on me. I ho----“

The woman stopped talking abruptly when Tony squawked loudly. Princess had stopped nuzzling and instead began nipping him along his neck and shoulder. She wasn’t biting hard enough to hurt him, but having a set of teeth so close to his jugular wasn’t exactly comforting.

Adam laughed when Tony stumbled away from the other pony and all but hid behind Steve, peering around him with wide eyes to make sure a safe distance was kept between him and his ‘attacker’.

“I think Honey is a bit unfamiliar with the behavior of horses. What Princess just did is a bonding ritual. She’s initiating a kind of grooming. Real horses bond with each other by nipping and scratching their teeth along the other’s body. It means she likes you and would accept you into her herd.”

The explanation served to calm Tony to an extent, but he still wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Princess mouthing him in places he’d prefer Steve’s mouth would explore instead.

Princess’s groom hummed as she retrieved the lead that dragged on the ground at the pony’s feet. She patted the hooved woman on the hip affectionately as she turned her smile on Tony, who had the most childish urge to duck behind Steve again. Unfortunately, the bastard instead stepped aside and tugged him forward again by his own lead, chuckling as Tony fixed him with an indignant scowl.

“Relax, Honey. She’s only being friendly.”

“Beyond friendly!” The brunette woman boasted. “Princess doesn’t take to other ponies too often. She’s picky.”

Princess tossed her head and nodded a matter of factly; not at all disagreeing with her trainer’s assessment of her.

Adam smiled and motioned toward Steve as he spoke to the other woman.

“Krissy, this is Steve and Honey. They’re new to all of this and I wondered if perhaps you and Princess here would mind showing them the ropes.”

Before Krissy could even agree Princess was already nodding enthusiastically and stomping her hooved foot. Tony startled as the other pony grasped his lead in her mouth, tearing it right out of an equally surprised Steve’s hand. Brown eyes widened as Princess trotted off toward the center of the arena, and he nearly missed a step in his haste to keep up with her. She was surprisingly strong.

“I guess that’s a yes.” He heard Krissy say behind him. Steve and Adam chuckled in agreement as they turned to follow the ponies.

As unhappy about the situation as he already was, Tony was even more unhappy when it became apparent that Princess wanted to do something involving the sulkies. She’d brought him to the obstacle course he’d seen the blindfolded pony negotiating before, and he felt his heart rate pick up in his chest. It was silly, really. There was nothing to it.

All he had to do was follow Steve’s instruction and everything would be fine.

“Tony! What were you thinking? You need to listen! You’re going to get yourself killed out there!”

Oh, yeah. He sucked at listening and following instruction. Steve made sure he knew it at every opportunity too. His inability to do so was the biggest point of contention between he and Steve, and now here they were; starting off this whole master and pet routine with an activity that was bound to remind the Captain why Tony was the worst possible partner he could have chosen.

“The blindfolded sulky course is the best way to start building your relationship between you and your pony.” Krissy began when she and the other two men had finally caught up. “This will give you a good idea of where your level of trust and compatibility with each other currently lies. You’ll be able to figure out your strengths and weaknesses and work on them appropriately.”

While Krissy explained how the obstacle course worked to Steve, Adam had pulled two sulky carriages up to stand side by side. Princess finally dropped Tony’s lead and willingly stood between the two poles in front of one of the sulky’s, standing quietly as Adam fitted the waist bands around her midsection that would allow her to comfortably pull it behind her.

When she was all set, the sandy haired man turned to Tony expectantly. He remained frozen in place until he felt a large hand settle between his shoulder blades, right above where his arms were secured behind his back. Brown eyes shifted to the side as Steve’s warm breath ghosted over his ear.

“Come on, Honey. This will be a breeze for you.”

The hand at his back gave him a small nudge, and Tony swallowed the lump in his throat as he finally took a step toward Adam. He’d agreed to this, so how could be possibly say no to the very first thing Steve wanted him to do? He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

Tony steeled himself as he situated himself between the poles and allowed Adam to secure him in place. Ok. Not so bad so far. The sulky supported itself, so there wasn’t much pressure on his hips at all. A small step forward revealed that it was easy to pull as well. Even with someone sitting in the seat it shouldn’t take too much effort to move; even with his weakened muscles and soft feet.

Voices murmured to his left, but Tony paid no attention until Steve moved to stand in front of him. He looked hesitant and unsure about something, and when he pulled a bit from his pocket and held it up so he could see it, the genius understood why. He sucked in a harsh breath through his nose as phantom pains shot through his jaw. His past experience with bits wasn’t pleasant, but the more rational part of his mind argued that Steve would not do anything to hurt him. In fact, this bit looked much smaller than the one that’d been used on him before. While the other bit had been large and made of metal, this one was obviously made for a human’s mouth and looked like it was made out of a softer plastic.

Steve seemed to wait for the conflicting emotions flickering across Tony’s face to settle before he spoke. His right hand came up and his fingers curled around the cheek strap of the bridle in an effort to anchor the engineer, and he only spoke after brown eyes locked with blue.

“I will not hurt you, ok? This is all about trust, so I’m asking you to trust my word on this.”

Tony’s eyes darted back and forth between Steve’s for several moments before the tension eased from his shoulders. Of course he trusted him. He was Captain America. Despite what his mind was trying to tell him, there was really no safer place on the planet than right here right now.

With a small nod Tony let his mouth open just enough for Steve to fit the bit between his teeth and secure it to the rings on either side of the bridle. The way Steve’s entire being lit up sent a shiver of pleasure traveling up Tony’s spine, and he reveled in the way the other man murmured words of praise in his ear as he ruffled his fingers through his hair.

And then the blindfold blocked out all of that. He was left in the dark and he could no longer feel Steve’s hands. Instead Tony found his mind racing as he tried to recall his surroundings. He wasn’t really floating in a black void. He was safe inside an arena with people all around him. People who were friends; not people who would hurt him. He was safe. He was safe and he was fine.

Tony startled when he felt the sulky he was secured to dip, and he heard Steve shushing him soothingly when he took a quick step backwards to regain his balance. There was a little more pressure resting on his hips now that he was pulling an occupant, but it was still much easier than he would have guessed it’d be. He could feel the bit tug at the corners of his mouth as Steve gently tested the reins, and Tony noticed that it tasted like apples. It was narrow enough that he could close his lips with it in place.

At least he wouldn’t drool.

Next to him he could hear Princess’s hooves kicking impatiently at the dirt of the arena floor. Small knickers escaped from her throat as she trilled in excitement. Apparently this was something she enjoyed and probably excelled at. Her relationship with her groom was obviously a good one.

He listened intently as Krissy explained the commands to Steve. Tug left ring, pony goes left. Right, right. Tug both and release, stop. Tug both and hold, back up. Quick flick means go. Easy enough.

Tony could feel the tension start to bleed out of his body as he followed the audible progress of Krissy and Princess as they demonstrated the course to Steve. He could hear the steady thud of hooves, and crunch of the sulky’s wheels on the dirt, the occasional cluck of a tongue, and the frequent praise Krissy gave her pony for a job well done. Apparently she hadn’t knocked over a single cone.

By the time they sided back up to Tony and Steve, 3 minutes and 32 seconds had passed.

This should be a piece of cake.

Behind him Steve took a deep breath of his own. Was he nervous? Was he expecting Tony to ignore him?

A quick flick of the reins had Tony startling forward with more force than he intended, and he could feel the sulky jerk harshly behind him. Equal pressure on both corners of his mouth brought him to an abrupt stop, and Tony’s heart pounded loud in his ears.

Fuck. He’d already screwed up!

But instead of being angry Steve only chuckled softly.

“I wasn’t expecting that kind of strength from you. Ok, slowly this time. No rush.”

Tony released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Not mad. Ok.

This time when the reins were flicked he stepped forward slowly, using only minimal effort to get the sulky moving. His steps were short and unsure as he moved in a straight line; waiting intently for some kind of instruction from Steve. Shouldn’t he be turning by now? He knew there was a cone coming up. He’d seen it before. Maybe Steve didn’t see it.

Still no turning? Did he not feel the tug maybe? Was Steve trying to be too gentle? He really should be turning. Steve definitely didn’t see the cone he knew, KNEW was there.

So he turned.

And Steve tugged him to a stop.

Then he gave a quick tug back to the left to put him back on the original path. But why? There was a cone there! What if he tripped over it?

So he ignored the instruction and took another step forward on his chosen path.

Another, more harsh tug to his mouth.

Ow! Fuck!

Tony’s nostrils flared as frustration began to set in. Fine, fine. He’d walk into the damn cone he KNEW was there. Stupid Steve.

This time when the rein was tugged he corrected his course, and he started forward when he heard a soft tongue cluck.

Yes, yes. Walking like a good pony.

Hm. Where was the cone? He should have run it over by now. Odd.

He stopped when both reins were tugged, but this time the pressure remained. Oh! Back up. Why? Was he about to run into something? Fuck.

He backed up quickly, but apparently it was too fast again because Steve hissed in what sounded like frustration. Fuck again.

The sound made him freeze in his tracks. He needed a moment to calm himself, and he took long, deep breathes in an effort to stave off the wave of anxiety that threatened to overwhelm him. It was too dark and he was disoriented. Steve was getting frustrated with him and he had no idea what to do!

His legs began to tremble as the left rein was tugged. Ok. He could do this. To the left.

When he took a step in that direction, the rein was tugged again. He took another step. This repeated another three times until they’d rotated 90 degrees, and then a flick was given. Tony slowly moved forward for a total of five steps before he was signaled to stop again.

Why?! Augh! This was taking too long! They’d already been at this for longer than the 3 minutes and 32 seconds it’d taken Princess to finish the course. In fact, they’d passed the four minute mark. The four minute and 48 second mark to be exact. This was embarrassing! Everyone was watching this fiasco and he was ready for it to be over now!

This time when the right rein was tugged Tony ignored it and surged forward. Behind him the sulky bounced as it ran over something, and Steve muttered something under his breath with obvious disappointment.

He must have run over a cone.

Well, fuck.

Tony stopped abruptly and his shoulders filled with tension when he heard Steve’s footsteps approaching him from the left. His jaw clenched tightly around the bit as he felt his face flush with shame. He didn’t listen. Again. Why couldn’t he just cool it and trust that Steve knew what he was doing?

He flinched violently when fingers brushed along his cheek, and he heard Steve’s breath hitch in response. A long, tense moment passed before those fingers returned to untie the blindfold, and Tony blinked several times to adjust to the sudden introduction of light. His gaze remained fixed down on the dirt below his feet. He didn’t want to see Captain America’s patented ‘I’m disappointed in you, Tony’ frown.

“Hey, I don’t think we did too bad for our first try.”

Brown eyes blinked, then blinked again before cautiously traveling upwards until they finally settled on Steve’s face. His smiling, not disappointed face. What?

“We almost got through the entire thing.” Steve went on to explain as he casually removed the bit from Tony’s mouth. It was clear the genius was upset, but he was tactful enough not to point out the redness that rimmed overly bright eyes. Instead, Steve only gave him an encouraging smile as he moved to unhook him from the sulky.

“Not bad at all!” Krissy gushed as she joined the two of them to aid Steve with the belts and buckles that held Tony in place. “It took me and Princess three tries to even get halfway through the course. And I think we ran over every single cone.”

Her words were encouraging to Tony. Ok, maybe he was being too hard on himself, but still, if he’d just trusted Steve they would have finished without any problems at all. He could have been better. He SHOULD have been better. He was Tony Stark. He was a genius! This should have been child’s play!

After he’d been freed from the sulky, Krissy took her leave, sensing the two of them needed a moment to themselves.

Tony was still expecting some kind of lecture, so he was surprised when Steve pulled him forward, kissed his forehead and then tucked him securely beneath his chin. Tony blinked against the other man’s neck, his brow furrowing in confusion as strong arms closed around his body.

Why was Steve doing this? He’d messed up. He hadn’t listened. He…

“You were perfect.”

TBC

Chapter Text

Steve might have held Tony a bit longer than he should have, but he couldn’t help it. He could feel the minute tremors that still wracked the other man’s frame and he wanted to soothe away all the tension and provide some much needed reassurance.

Despite his outward ‘larger than life’ persona, anyone who knew Tony Stark at all knew he was a man riddled with insecurities. His inferiority complex wasn’t something Steve could honestly say he fully understood, but it was something he’d been able to pick up on shortly after meeting the man. His own personal research suggested many of Tony’s issues came from his turbulent relationship with his father. Pile on top of that the many betrayals from the few people Tony had allowed into his inner circle and it was no wonder he had problems forming relationships with people.

But Steve was patient. Patient and fully invested. He wanted Tony, mind, body, and soul. He no longer had any doubt about it. He’d known for quite some time if he was being honest with himself, and he was sure the other man felt the same. He had to. Tony Stark, genius, billionaire, playboy (ex-playboy if he had anything to say about it), philanthropist, would never make himself as vulnerable as he was right now for someone he didn’t have strong feelings for.

It had been clear from the start Tony was uncomfortable about today, and Steve hadn’t missed the tension, flinches, or the trembling breaths he drawn into his lungs throughout the sulky maze. Yet he’d powered through it. For him. The very thought sent a ripple of possessive pride through him.

Steve dropped his nose into Tony’s thick hair and inhaled deeply. His own muscles relaxed at the other man’s familiar and comforting scent, and he gave a quick squeeze before stepping back to look into big brown eyes; eyes that were clearly still unsure and more than a little uncomfortable, but also held an underlying hint of happiness.

“Hey, how about a few rounds to try out his paces?”

Both Steve and Tony turned at the sound of Krissy’s voice. The woman was standing stationary as Princess pranced around her in a wide circle. She held a tether in one hand that was attached to her pony’s harness, and a long whip in the other. Princess’s knees lifted high and proud as she paced around her groom in a brisk trot, back arched elegantly and head held high. The whip whispered past her flowing tail and she increased her speed to the human equivalent of a canter.

Steve thought she was beautiful and he wanted nothing more than to see the sleek lines and curves of Tony’s body imitating the elegant movements, but knew right away that today was not the day. The man beside him had gone rigid at the sight of pony and groom together and his breathing had taken on that ragged edge it always did when his anxiety got the best of him.

Steve was under no illusions that Tony had recovered from his ordeal with Hammer, both physically and emotionally, and he expected there would still be triggers that set him off.

This was clearly one of them.

He bit back the brief flash of disappointment and looped his fingers into the cheek strap of Tony’s harness, pulling his head back toward him until brown eyes could no longer follow Princess’s movements. Steve smiled and waved at the couple.

“Maybe next time! Thanks for the sulky lesson! I’ll see you two later.”

He could not only see, but feel the tension leave Tony’s body as he gently tugged the man toward the doors that would lead them out of the indoor arena. A small sigh of relief escaped the other man’s lips the moment the sunlight touched his skin, and Steve changed their course and headed toward one of the fields rather than the barn. Tony didn’t seem to be walking with a limp yet, which meant the new padding and wraps on his feet seemed to be keeping him comfortable, and Steve wasn’t quite ready to let go of Honey just yet. He knew their time here was running short and once they returned to New York there wouldn’t be much time or opportunity for Honey to make an appearance, so he wanted to get his fill while he still could.

For once in his life he wanted to be selfish.

Their walk through the field and into the dappled shade of the trees within was a peaceful one. They seemed to be alone, and Steve stopped in a small shaded cove before turning back to Tony. The other man cocked his head in curiosity as Steve pulled out the key to his gear and walked around to his back. A few quick flicks of his wrist and he freed the smaller man’s arms, allowing the leather clad appendages full range of movement.

Steve smiled at the resulting sigh of relief and watched as Tony rotated his shoulders to ease the tension in his muscles, and he placed his hand at the small of his back to guide him to the large patch of thick grass at the base of a nearby tree.

“I thought we could just take some time for ourselves. Unwind a bit.”

A strange expression flittered over Tony’s face for a brief moment, but it was gone before Steve could interpret its meaning. He smiled reassuringly as he settled himself on the ground and leaned back against the tree’s wide trunk, spreading his arms wide in a clear invitation.

For a long moment Tony only stared at him. His brow was furrowed as he thought, but he hesitantly stepped forward just as Steve was beginning to feel awkward. The larger man hummed in satisfaction as Tony moved to sit beside him, yelping when Steve instead pulled him directly into his lap and hugged him to his chest. He did his best to ignore the obvious tension in the body he held, trying his best not to take it personally. Steve was willing to bet he could count on one hand the number of times anyone had held Tony simply to hold him. It would take some getting used to.

He unwrapped one arm from his captive’s chest and moved his hand up to run his fingers through thick brunette hair, but his lips turned down when they got caught on a harness strap. His other hand came up and he released the buckles keeping the headpiece in place, casting it aside on the ground once it slid free.

Steve smiled when Tony’s eyes fell on the abandoned piece of gear, and he used the momentary distraction to pull the smaller man close again, resting his chin on top of his head as he leaned back against the tree behind them.

“Is this ok, Honey?”

The body he held jumped slightly in his arms before settling again, seemingly startled by his voice, but a moment later he felt more than he saw Tony nod. Steve’s eyes closed and his lips quirked up in a satisfied grin has the other man slowly relaxed more heavily against him. He let his hands slide innocently along the sleek fabric of the black bodysuit Tony wore, fingers dancing along the vinyl straps and metal buckles whenever he encountered them.

His gentle ministrations became bolder when he felt the slight tremors his touch pulled from the other man, shivers Steve knew were derived from pleasure and not discomfort. His hands flitted over firm pecs, pausing briefly over the spot he knew the arc reactor once sat, then moving down to brush across a firmly muscled stomach. Despite losing weight and muscle mass during his ordeal, Tony’s body was making a fast recovery, both in part to the blood transfusion and the man’s own efforts to rebuild himself.

In Steve eyes, he was perfect no matter what he looked like.

He licked his lips as his gaze followed his own hands’ progression across Tony’s body. He grazed across a tapered waist before settling his grip firmly on shapely hips, noting how the other man’s breath hissed from between his teeth as he pushed back into Steve’s chest.

The bodysuit did little to hide the fact that Steve’s touch had aroused Tony, and the larger man was sure his own erection could be felt pressing against the small of the engineer’s back.

So they were both mutually aroused by the other. A good sign.

The question was, how far did Steve want to take it right now? It was early on in this admittedly untraditional relationship they were forming between them, and they hadn’t yet formally discussed each other’s intent. How much of this was simple stimulation to a pleasant touch? Was Tony really interested in a committed relationship, or was he simply playing a part for Steve’s benefit? Was he even really interested in anything outside of this ranch?

His hands stilled as a wave of doubt hit Steve like a wall. He couldn’t move forward until he was sure they were on the same page, for both their sakes.

He knew he was breaking some rules here, but he had to know right now.

“Ton---“

“Steve, there you are!”

Steve nearly growled in frustration as Sam’s voice cut through their tranquility with all the force of a hot knife. Tony scrambled out of his lap as if his touch suddenly burned and stumbled back to his feet just as Sam stopped in front of them. He seemed out of breath and a little sweaty; and judging from the slightly guilty expression he wore, he knew very well he’d interrupted a private moment.

“I’m sorry, but we’ve all been looking for you.”

Steve sighed and scooped up Tony’s harness in his hand as he stood, casually fixing it back in place as the other man stood awkwardly still. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“There’s this really scary lady on the phone. She keeps cursing and complaining about neither of you having your phones on…”

Both Steve and Tony looked at each other with wide eyes. It was true. They’d both left their phones in their room that morning, and off apparently.

Sam continued. “Our cell phones don’t even work out here, so she’s on the landline inside the office. You better hurry. She’s not happy about waiting.”

Steve didn’t even have to ask to know it was Natasha. Only she could make people’s faces the particular shade of pale Sam’s currently was. It was a talent.

Tony was already moving without prompting back to the barn, and Steve was right on his heels.

-----------------

When they finally reached the barn and entered into the tack room, Steve seemed to act on autopilot. He attached a lead to Tony’s halter and then quickly clipped it onto a hook on the wall before giving the smaller man a quick pat on the backside.

“I’ll be right back to get the gear off!”

Before Tony even had time to protest the other was gone, disappearing through the door that led to the office as large brown eyes watched in disbelief.

Son of a bitch!

Tony quickly glanced around for Sam, but it didn’t seem like the kid had followed them inside after delivering his message. In fact, no one seemed to be around at the moment. The usually occupied grooming stalls were empty and aside from a few birds chirping outside, he couldn’t hear any sounds that might indicate that anyone was nearby in the sleeping stalls down the hall.

So he was alone, then.

With an irritated huff Tony turned to glare at the hook keeping him tethered in place. He took a step back until the lead was taught and gave it an experimental tug, hissing when a halter strap rubbed roughly against the still healing cut along the side of his face. Of course, the hook didn’t budge.

Alright. He could wait.

The minutes began to tick by and still no one came by, nor did Steve reemerge from the office. He strained his ears in the hopes of picking up any of the conversation he was having with Natasha, but he couldn’t hear anything. As the time passed, Tony became increasingly worried that something was wrong.

His feet were starting to hurt now, and he shifted back and forth in an attempt to alleviate the building discomfort. It was too warm too. The building was air conditioned, but he was currently standing in a patch of sun that was filtering in from the outside door and his limited range of motion prevented him from moving away from it. The black bodysuit was doing him no favors in terms of cooling him down, either, and he felt his heart rate begin to pick up pace in his chest as he became increasingly agitated with his current situation.

Where the hell was Steve?!

Tony sucked in a panicked breath and he jolted forward when he felt someone’s hands brush against the back of his thigh. He twisted his head around as much as he was able and barked out a choked laugh when he realized it had only been his tail. Not Hammer.

He paused at the thought.

Of course it wasn’t Hammer. What a ridiculous thought that was. The man would have to be a complete moron to show up here in the middle of the day when no one was around, Steve was occupied and he was trapped…

Fuck.

Now that the idea had entered his panicked mind, Tony couldn’t make it go away. His arms were free, but his hands were still bound inside the hoofed gloves, so his frantic scrambling at the clip that held him prisoner was ineffective and pointless, but that didn’t stop him from trying. He tugged with his head as his eyes wildly darted back and forth. Any movement at all caught his attention and screamed ‘DANGER’! His fight or flight instinct kicked into full effect as he deteriorated into a full blown panic attack, his mind convincing him that Hammer had planned all this; that Steve was incapacitated somewhere; that everyone on the property was dead and he was alone.

Alone, alone, alone!

It never even occurred to him to yell out for help. It hadn’t been an option before and apparently it wasn’t one now. All that managed to escape his lips were harsh pants for air and the occasional pained moan when his struggles caused him injury. And the pain only made him panic more; struggle more.

The previously stitched cut on his face had reopened, torn and irritated by the constant rub of his harness against the skin. He could feel the blood trickling down his neck, and he squeezed his eyes shut against the disturbingly familiar sensation. His feet were throbbing inside the boots, unprepared for the strain as he dug into the floor with them and kicked at the wall. His fists were going to be bruised, the soft mitts doing nothing to protect them against the hook he repeatedly punched at in an attempt to dislodge it from the wall.

And still no one came to help him! They were gone! He was alone and Hammer was going to walk through that door at any moment and shove him back into that shed! He wa---

“TONY!”

He wailed in pure terror as a pair of strong hands grabbed at the harness straps along his cheeks. His head was pulled forward until there was slack on the lead he was pulling on, and he lashed out in a blind panic. His trapped fists made contact with someone solid and a good kick drew out a pained grunt from whoever had their hands on him.

“Tony, calm down! It’s Steve. I’m unhooking you. Just calm down.”

Brown eyes pried themselves open to look at Steve’s worried and horrified expression. One large hand let go of the harness long enough to unclip the lead from it, and Tony gasped when he found himself swept up into the other man’s arms in a bridal carry. He was rushed past a few wide eyed spectators----oh, now they show up. Bastards.--- and though he couldn’t register the blur of their surroundings, he recognized their room when he found himself being lowered onto his bed.

Tony could only focus on breathing as Steve began to delicately remove the gear he wore, all while repeatedly apologizing.

“I’m so sorry, Tony. I didn’t realize how long I’d been gone. I didn’t think! How stupid of me! I’m so sorry!”

A part of Tony thought he should be uncomfortable with the fact he was being stripped naked, but even in his turbulent state of mind, he knew it was Steve and that he was safe. Still, as the bodysuit was stripped off and the suddenly freezing air touched his overheated skin, he began to tremble uncontrollably. This drew another pained apology from Steve and suddenly Tony found himself wrapped in a warm blanket and held firmly by strong arms. He let his eyes fall shut as he focused on his breathing, deepening his intakes as the pressure and pain in his chest lessened.

Steve fell silent and rested his forehead on Tony’s shoulder as he waited for the panic attack to pass. It was a full ten minutes before he spoke again.

“I’m so sorry……Tony? Please talk to me.”

The smaller man stilled, drawing in a deep breath as he turned his head to meet Steve’s eye.

“You are the WORST fucking Groom EVER!”

A sobbed laugh was the initial response as Steve’s forehead dropped back onto his shoulder.

“Ever, Steve.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, you said that. A lot.” Tony groused as he used his blanket to wipe away a trickle of blood that still seeped from the cut on his face. He winced when Steve mumbled something about cleanliness and infection and pulled his hand away.

“Stop worrying, though, because I’m the worst pony ever too. We’re on even ground, here.”

Steve rolled his head back and forth on his shoulder in a firm denial before moving around in front of Tony to meet his gaze head on. He gently took the smaller man’s cheeks in his hands, mindful of his injuries.

“No. I told you before and I’ll tell you again. You are perfect. Perfect. This was my fault and I’m sorry.”

Tony sighed and reached up to pat at the hands framing his face. “Ok, ok. Apology accepted. Now what did Natasha want?”

It was a clear diversion from talking about what had just happened, but his panic attacks where always embarrassing and Tony was in no mood to sit there and talk about how stupid he’d been to believe Hammer had come back for him. Talk about paranoid.

The smile that formed on Steve’s face a moment later gave him a moment’s pause. It was a little dark, and a whole lot scary. It wasn’t an expression Tony would ever think he’d see on Captain America.

“You’ll never have to worry about Bullet again.”

What little color Tony had regained in his face promptly drained out again. Surely Steve didn’t mean they’d killed Blake. Not for him. The Avengers weren’t like that; they only killed if it was a last resort.

Steve must have read his thoughts based on his expression, because he shook his head. “He’s not dead. He’s in custody and he’ll never have the chance to hurt you again.”

That should have made Tony feel better, but there was something about Steve’s tone; his demeanor, that didn’t quite sit well with him. There was something he wasn’t telling him; something big, and even as Tony found himself wrapped back up in strong arms, he couldn’t manage to shake the feeling that his team; his friends, had done something horrible on his behalf.

TBC

Chapter Text

 photo ponytonypngy_zps0e87a760.png

Chapter Text

It had been dark for so long. It was a dark that was absolute and unrelenting; the kind void of any kind of light and left you constantly wondering if your eyes were open or not. The lack of visual stimulation amplified all other senses, and the mind would begin to play tricks on itself. Was he really alone? Had he been there for minutes, hours, days? Was he even still alive? Maybe this was hell.

That noise--- that barely audible scurrying noise somewhere to his left. What was that? A rat? A person? Could it see him even in this void of never ending darkness?

The air came on with a soft whoosh, and goose bumps immediately formed all over his body. It was always kept too cold. He never felt warm enough to be comfortable, and his muscles were always tense as he shivered in an attempt to ward off the chill.

He ached all over. Everything hurt. He wanted to lie down so badly, but the lead that kept him on his feet was unforgiving. All he could do was shift back and forth on his ruined feet and hope someone came for him soon.

No one was coming. No one except…

Tony hissed and slammed his eyes shut---they had been open---- as the room exploded with harsh artificial light. Tears spilled down his cheeks through clenched lids as his eyes burned fiercely and his head throbbed relentlessly. It would be several minutes before he’d be able to see anything.

Instead, he could only listen intently as Hammer---he knew that shuffling walk by now--- crossed the room and stood in front of him.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Lil’ Jackass. Too bright? Open your eyes.”

Tony shook his head as much as his restraints allowed. He couldn’t! He couldn’t handle the light right now.

A harsh slap drew another hiss of pain. “Open your eyes.”

He tried. His lids cracked open, but he was forced to slam them shut again when blinding pain sliced through his head like a knife.

“Pathetic.”

The lead holding him upright was released with an audible ‘clack’ and Tony gasped in both surprise and pain as he was yanked to his hands and knees with one harsh tug on his collar. This was becoming a routine now, but not being able to see Justin’s movements made everything ten times worse. He didn’t know which direction the pain would come from next; couldn’t prepare himself for what was coming.

So when the other man’s weight came down on his back, he wasn’t ready for it. His weakened muscles gave out almost immediately, and the air rushed out of his lungs as his arms collapsed. He barely managed to catch himself on his elbows to spare himself a face plant on the concrete floor.

“Useless! You’re absolutely useless!”

Hammer snarled as he shifted and yanked Tony over onto his back. What little air was still left in his lungs was forced out when the other man’s weight dropped down on his stomach, and a strangled whimper bubbled up from his throat as he desperately struggled to draw in a breath.

Harsh hands grabbed at the cheek straps of his halter and gave him a violent shake. “Open your eyes!”

This time, he managed it. His eyes watered against the light, but the pain wasn’t as severe. His lids blinked rapidly for a moment before settling in to a more natural rhythm, and Tony found himself gazing up at a face that looked back at him with nothing but disgust and contempt. Not an unusual sight, actually.

“Useless.” Hammer mumbled again as his eyes left Tony’s to instead rake down his body. “You’re terrible for riding, not pretty enough for showing, and too filthy for fucking.”
The harsh flinch the words drew from Tony brought a smirk to his lips, and he took advantage of the obvious sore spot.

“What’s the matter? Everyone knows you’re a filthy whore. How many diseases do you have anyway? How many men have you let fuck you, hm?”

Tony drew in a sharp breath as the other man’s knee jammed itself between his legs. He drew his own up in an attempt to minimize the contact, but a fist slammed itself across his jaw for his efforts, leaving him reeling and blinking away the black spots that danced across his vision as Hammer roughly groped him.

“I’m willing to bet my fortune that your company only surpassed my own because you offered your clients some extra incentive to do business with you. Am I right?”

Tony moaned and shook his head as the other man squeezed his length tightly in his fist. The pain left him trembling uncontrollably, and no amount of twisting and squirming could free him from the punishing grip.

“Look at you. Moaning for it like a whore. Disgusting. Filthy. You’ll never be clean again, Stark. No one will ever want you for anything more than a good fuck. And that’s if you’re lucky. I wouldn’t dare risk the chance of catching something.”

This time when he was pulled back into his hands and knees Tony closed his eyes by choice; and the tears that ran down his cheeks had nothing to do with the light.

------------------------------

Tony didn’t remember falling asleep, so he was momentarily disoriented when he opened his eyes and looked around the room. His body was tense and his breathing short and ragged with the memory of his nightmare---memories. A trickle of sweat made its way down his temple as he struggled to reorient himself with the here and now; his mind warring with itself to separate his current reality with memories of his old one.

It took him a few seconds to recall that he was in his and Steve’s loft in the barn, and everything came rushing back immediately after.

His panic attack, news of Blake’s capture, and apparently falling asleep in Captain America’s arms. Not embarrassing at all.

He sat up slowly and ran his fingers through his hair as his eyes dropped down to examine himself. Seems at some point a pair of pants had been put on his body, which was great, because Danny was standing in the threshold holding a plate of food.

The moment their eyes met the older man smiled and crossed the room, perching himself on the edge of the bed like he owned the place…Which he might have.

“Hey there, Mr. Stark! Enjoy your shut eye?”

Tony grunted in response as his fist rubbed at his left eye. He felt strangely comfortable around Danny, though he really didn’t know the guy all that well. Maybe it was because he’d been so kind to him when he was at his most vulnerable, but rationally you’d think he’d loath the man for humiliating him. Still, he had to admit to himself that it hadn’t been Danny’s intention. He couldn’t hate someone for being ignorant to his situation.

He dropped his hand back to the mattress and blinked down at his lap when the plate of sliced fruit was placed there. He arched a brow as his gaze moved back to Danny, but the man only shrugged.

“Sorry. We don’t have burgers on hand. You’ll have to make due with Honey’s diet if you’re hungry.”

Tony sighed as dramatically as possible, earning a fond eye roll from Danny, but chose an orange slice to bite down on. He had to admit that the burst of cool juice across his tongue was refreshing. His mouth had gone dry while he’d slept.

“Where’s Steve?” He asked after swallowing the fruit.

“He went to go put all your belongings back on the plane. Says your team wants you back in New York.”

Tony sat up straighter as a pulse of alarm shot through him, but Danny raised his hand in a calming gesture.

“Simmer down there. No emergency from what I gather. Finish eating.”

Not an emergency. And yet, Steve wants to leave right away. Tony leaned back against the headboard as he absently mindedly popped another orange slice into his mouth. Why the hurry then? Maybe…maybe it was because Steve realized how hopeless Tony was as his partner here at the ranch. It couldn’t be a coincidence that the other man had hoped to stay for several more days and now, after that massive panic attack that completely ruined the scene, he wanted to leave. And of course he did. Steve could have any partner he wanted here. Why would he waste his time with someone who clearly had more issues to deal with than the White House?

It really shouldn’t bother Tony so much. It wasn’t like he absolutely loved the idea of dressing up like a pony and displaying himself in front of everyone, but he did love the idea of Steve’s eyes on him; his hands, his full undivided attention…

“Hey, you gonna swallow that or are you attempting to liquefy it?”

Tony jolted out of his thoughts and blinked at Danny. The man was grinning at him, but there was a worried edge to his expression as if he knew the thoughts filtering through his head weren’t good ones. The orange slice he’d placed in his mouth moments before was nothing more than tasteless pulverized pulp. He’d been grinding his teeth.

He quickly swallowed and placed the remaining plate of food on the table beside him before swinging his legs over the side of the bed and bouncing to his feet.

“Well, then! I better get dressed if we’re heading out again. Always a pleasure, Danny.”

The other man nodded and stood. He heard the dismissal and took the hint gracefully as he moved back to the door, but he paused at the threshold and shot Tony a look over his shoulder.

“I don’t know what your team needs, but I do know Steve’s need to return to them has nothing to do with what happened earlier. That man adores you. You and Honey both.”

The tension in Tony’s shoulders was a clear contradiction with the smile he forced onto his lips. “Oh, I have no doubt.”

Danny didn’t seem to fall for his cheeky reply. “Somehow I think you do.”

Brown eyes could only watch in silence as the other man slipped out of view.

-----

Steve had been thorough with the gathering of all their things, and Tony had been left with only a pair of his most worn jeans and favorite band t-shirt to change into. He slid on the only available pair of socks and sneakers left to him and checked the loft over once more in case Steve had forgotten anything. Of course, there was nothing. It was Steve, after all. His attention to detail was second to none.

Brown eyes gave the room one more cursory scan before he drew in a deep breath and left to find the others. The stairs leading to the loft connected with a hallway below that had a direct route outside, and Tony chose to take that path rather than detour through the stables. He was still embarrassed by what had occurred earlier, and he had no doubt word had spread via the few witnesses that had seen the tail end of the entire fiasco. He had no desire to face anyone or be subjected to their pitying eyes.

As soon as he stepped outside he found Steve. The other man was standing a ways off in the field their plane was parked in, but there was no mistaking that blonde head of hair; especially when it shone like gold in the bright sun. Someone was with him, but it wasn’t until he’d gotten much closer that he identified him as Adam.

Tony couldn’t help but tuck his hands into his pockets as both sets of eyes turned on him, and if his shoulders hunched forward a little under the scrutiny, well, maybe the breeze was just a little chilly.

“Mister Stark! You look well rested.”

Tony offered the man a smirk as he stopped next to Steve. The man was a complete bullshitter. He’d seen his reflection before he came down. He’d seen dead people with more color in their face.

He caught Steve’s concerned gaze for only a moment before turning away and moving to the plane; offering the man a quick wave over his shoulder as he went. “Been fun, Adam.”

He didn’t look back as he climbed the plane’s stairs and quickly situated himself in the pilot’s seat. By the time Steve joined him several minutes later, he was already strapped in and had the engines roaring to life.

“Everything ok, Tony?” Steve asked as he sat down in his own seat and buckled himself in. Tony could feel his eyes boring into the side of his face; and he made a point of keeping his own gaze locked straight ahead as he turned the plane in the right direction for take-off.

“Fine, Steve.”

Brown eyes flickered to the side just enough to catch sight of an unhappy frown, and Tony stiffened further in his seat as his stomach churned in discomfort. He hated that look. It always made him feel like a child who had disappointed their parents. And god knows he’d done that enough times. It was even worse coming from Captain America, though.

“Adam doesn’t think you’re coming back.”

Tony cocked a brow at that. “He’s right.”

The roar of the engines as they lifted off the ground wasn’t loud enough to drown out the sudden silence. It felt icy.

“……Oh….”

Tony put a little more speed into their ascent that was absolutely necessary as he chewed on his lower lip. Why did Steve sound so disappointed? Clear Tony wasn’t cut out to be his partner. There were so many other better options for him. He should sound relieved now that he was free to have his choice of the bunch.

When the plane leveled out at cruising altitude Tony finally had enough of the silence. He set the controls to cruise and twisted to look at Steve, but no words left his lips when he took in the absolutely miserable man that sat hunched down in the seat beside him. If someone had killed Captain America’s puppy, this was how he’d look….Well, AFTER he’d killed the person responsible.

He winced when those sad blue eyes turned on him. Ouch. It was almost physically painful!

“Steve. You’re killing me here with those eyes. I’m sorry I screwed up today, but at least now we know this…thing isn’t going to work. Better now than later, right? I’m sure you’ll find a partner that’ll compliment you perfectly. You can take your pick, you know. Who wouldn’t want your undivided attention? You’ll be back there in no time.”

If the sad face wasn’t bad enough, now Steve’s expression was caught between confusion and anger. Unfortunately, the confusion seemed to dissipate as he continued to ramble on and the anger dominated entirely. It took everything he had not to cower away under the intensity of it.

“Tony, you didn’t do anything wrong today! We’re not leaving because… because I don’t WANT you anymore!” The words were practically hissed as if they were something filthy, but as he continued, Steve’s previously clenched fists relaxed on the arm rests and his voice took on a softer tone. “I don’t want another partner. If it isn’t you, I don’t want anyone.”

Tony’s breath caught in his throat at that, and the sudden fluttering in his chest surprised him so much he reached up to rub at the scar there. He didn’t want anyone else? All the eye candy at that ranch and Mr. Perfect wanted only him ?

Steve must have liked the reaction his words evoked because his eyes softened as he continued to watch Tony. “I know you doubt yourself, Tony, but don’t doubt me.”
He reached over and gave his shoulder a pat before settling back in his seat. His expression hardened again just a little. “We’re going back because there’s a situation we have to deal with.”

Tony was instantly more alert. “What situation? I thought there wasn’t an emergency.” He reached for his pocket instinctively, but came up empty.

“What’d you do with my phone when you packed everything up?”

Steve looked guilty for a moment, and Tony’s level of anxiety went through the roof. Why didn’t Steve want him to have his phone? What was he hiding?

“Just… just wait until we get back to New York, ok?”

-----------------

“Tony Stark’s Kinky Secret Life!”

“IronMan or IronSteed?”

“Taking Brony to a whole new level!”

He couldn’t breathe. The air just got stuck halfway down his throat and absolutely refused to go any further. But that was ok, because right now, Tony wanted to die.
On every channel, every blog, every news outlet--- there were pictures. Pictures of him. Pictures of him in full pony gear in the tiny prison he’d been trapped in. He was blindfolded in most of them, but it was clearly him. And the one or two without the blindfold confirmed it with absolute certainty. The pictures must have been taken early after his kidnapping, because aside from a few bruises and cuts, he wasn’t so far gone that anyone questioned his consent to the treatment.

In one picture he was standing in the middle of the room, tied and forced to remain on his feet for all those hours. In another he was moving around in those endless circles Justin had forced him to run. In another, he was on his knees, hands restrained behind his back with only Justin’s hand visible where it was fisted tightly in his hair.
He was blind folded in all these shots. He’d never even entertained the possibility that his picture might have been taken.

The most humiliating, though, was the one taken of him while he was being ridden. The photo was cropped at Justin’s shoulders to conceal his identity, but Tony was fully visible. His position and the angle of the picture hid his private parts (they’d been blurred out in other photos), but it made it no less humiliating.

This picture had clearly been taken by Blake.

Tony folded his arms tightly across his chest in an attempt to conceal the way his hands shook, and he pulled away from the hand Steve tried to place on his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. When he finally managed to find his voice, it wavered with barely suppressed emotion.

“I’m ruined.”

“No.” Clint stepped forward and turned the TV off with more force than was necessary. “We can claim photoshop. The internet is full of photoshopped pictures of you. Of all of us, actually.”

Tony’s blank gaze remained on the now dark screen as he shook his head slowly. “People are too good with those programs now. It’s easy to separate real photos from fake. It won’t work.”

The room fell silent.

“We’ll make him wish he’d never been born, Antoshka.” Natasha quietly muttered. Her expression was neutral as always, but the hard set of her shoulders gave away her anger.

Tony offered her an empty half smile, lips turning up on one side before dropping again when the effort became too much. He was too overwhelmed; too humiliated to come up with anything clever to say. So instead, he spoke only the truth.

“Right now I wish I’m the one who hadn’t been born.”

A huffed laugh that wasn’t really a laugh escaped his trembling lips, and he turned and slowly retreated from the room, his eyes never leaving the floor at his feet as he went.

His team could only let him go.

TBC

Chapter Text

The silence that had fallen over the remaining Avengers after Tony departed was thick and cloying; as if a real weight was pressing down on their shoulders. Everyone seemed to be at a loss as to what to do or say, and for this particular group, that was something to be concerned about.

Clint awkwardly cleared his throat and a smile that looked more like a grimace pulled at his lips. “It’s.. Uh, it’s not the worst thing we’ve caught him doing…”

The comment was meant to lighten the mood. Everyone knew about the famous inside joke between Pepper and Tony when she’d discovered he was IronMan, but this time it didn’t have the desired effect. Instead the archer was met with three glares and one confused gaze; as Thor didn’t understand the reference.

Clint’s shoulders hunched as if he were a small child being scolded by his parents, and he looked down at the floor with a shrug. “Sorry. Just trying…Sorry.”

Natasha muttered quietly in Russian as she grabbed Clint’s wrist and tugged him toward the door. “We’re going back to SHEILD to see if they’ve made any headway finding Hammer. And then we’re visiting those reporters. If they have any information on the source of those pictures, we’ll find out.”

“I will do what I can to right the wrongs committed against our shield brother!!” Thor raised his hammer in the air dramatically---as was his typical form of communication--- and gave both Bruce and Steve a final departing nod before he left the room. The heavy rumble of thunder outside was an appropriate background noise to match the mood in the tower, and it revealed just how angry Thor had become on Tony’s behalf.

“Right now I wish I’m the one who hadn’t been born.”

Tony’s words kept playing over and over in Steve’s mind. He’d never known the other man to sound so defeated; so unwilling to stand and fight. He’d been resigned. There had been no jokes; no snark; nothing that was so typically Tony Stark. It was disturbing and unsettling on so many levels.

Steve was walking before he’d even registered he was moving, and he’d almost made it to the door before a surprisingly strong hand wrapped around his wrist. Blue eyes dropped to the point of contact before he looked over his shoulder in question.

Bruce’s expression was hard to read. He had become so talented at controlling his emotions in order to keep The Hulk contained that it was almost impossible to know what he was thinking.

“Bruce?”

The grip on his wrist tightened a fraction before falling away altogether.

“I can’t pretend like I know exactly what to do in this situation, but if you’re going to see Tony…just be careful.” Bruce offered a small smile. “He’d kill me for saying so, but he’s fragile right now.”

Steve drew a deep breath in through his nose and nodded as he let it out from his mouth; forcing the tension in his muscles away as the air left his lungs. The other man was right. He couldn’t go charging in when his anger was so close to the surface. Tony could misinterpret it. He needed to remain calm and in control of himself.

“I just want to make sure he doesn’t do anything crazy.”

Bruce chuckled at that as he took his glasses off and used the corner of his shirt to wipe away the fingerprints that weren’t actually on the lenses. The motions were more for calming himself than anything else.

“Crazy? This is Tony we’re talking about. Of course he’s going to do something crazy.”

“Which is why I need to be there for him.”

----------------------

Of course the workshop was the first place Steve checked. It was Tony’s sanctuary; a place he went when he wanted to feel safe and secure. So when he discovered the space was empty, Steve couldn’t help but feel a surge of alarm as he ran back up the stairs three at a time.

“Jarvis, where is Tony?”

All sorts of horrible scenarios ran through his head. He’d hurt himself and was hiding somewhere alone and bleeding; he’d jumped off the roof; he’d left the tower distraught and in one of his fastest cars…There were so many outlets for Tony’s self-destructive behavior, so Jarvis’ answer surprised him so much he froze in mid-step.

“Sir is currently in his bedroom.”

His bedroom? It was such an oddly normal place for a person to retreat to that Steve hadn’t even considered it a possibility.

“Thanks.”

Steve was off and running in an instant. It was bizzare, but knowing Tony had retreated to his bedroom sounded worse than Jarvis telling him he was on the roof would have. It was just so… out of character for his eccentric genius.

His.

A ripple of possessive pride sent a shiver down his spine. Thinking of Tony as his brought him a ridiculous amount of satisfaction. He wanted it to be a reality; to be able to say it out loud. He wanted…

“Tony?”

Steve’s heart was pounding loudly in his ears as he stopped outside of the man’s door. He hardly remembered the journey it took to get where he was, but his breathing was coming in slightly labored puffs; so he must have hauled ass the entire way.

He drew in another large calming breath and tapped gently on the door; waiting only a moment before trying the knob. Surprisingly enough, it was unlocked, and Steve slowly pushed it open and peered into the darkened room. The blinds had been pulled, blocking out any light from the outside, but Jarvis, helpful as always, turned the overhead light up just enough for him to see by.

He whispered his thanks and stepped inside as cautiously as he’d enter a minefield, his eyes scanning the dimly lit room before landing on the lump curled up beneath a cocoon of blankets in the middle of the large California King bed. He hesitated in case Tony was asleep. The man was always in need of sleep; and Steve didn’t want to deprive him of anything he needed.

“The door was locked for a reason.”

The low voice almost startled Steve, and he stuttered in surprise as he glanced back at the door. “It wasn’t…” The knob was clearly broken. It had been locked, and he hadn’t been mindful of his strength. He liked to think he was used to controlling it by now, but there were still times he forgot to keep it in check. Clearly, this was one of those times.

“…Sorry.” He could feel the flush creeping across his cheeks, and he was thankful for the dim lighting.

An awkward silence descended upon them both, and Steve nervously took a few steps closer until he was at the edge of the bed. He hadn’t actually thought ahead before he’d come charging in; and now he was at a loss for words.

“What do you want, Steve?”

“I just wanted to make sure you’re ok.” It was uncomfortable talking to a lump of blankets, and Steve really wished Tony would come out and…

He startled when the bed sheets were suddenly thrown aside and a pair of blazing brown eyes fixed themselves on him. The intensity of it all left Steve feeling as if he were that tiny guy the army kept rejecting, and now talking to a pile of blankets didn’t seem so bad.

“No. I mean what do you want from ME, Steve?”

He felt pinned in place by those eyes, and Steve struggled to string his words together in a way that would properly communicate his thoughts and feelings, but as the seconds passed, the initial heat in Tony’s gaze seemed to cool into something softer; something more vulnerable--- and it left him speechless all over again.

A humorless chuckle crackled past the other man’s lips as he rolled out of bed opposite of Steve.

“I don’t get you. I don’t know what you want.”

Steve watched helplessly as Tony began to pace in a circle; a nervous habit he unconsciously fell back on whenever he became too distraught to remain still. He was mumbling inaudibly to himself as he moved, and his arms folded themselves tightly across his chest defensively as he shot Steve another look.

“You barely tolerated me before, Steve. When we weren’t on the field we were only just on the right side of civil. So what is this?!”

Steve flinched when Tony’s voice rose sharply in volume, and he shook his head. “Tony, I’m not going to pretend we always got along, but things changed after New York. I was wrong about you before. So wrong. But I said some horrible things and I kept my distance out of respect for your feelings on the issue, but I… Uh…”

He could feel his face heating again as Tony stopped pacing and gave him his full attention. This… this was harder than he thought it’d be. Suddenly he was filled with doubt; not about his own feelings, but about Tony’s. The way the other man was looking at him right now made him reconsider everything. Maybe Tony didn’t care for him in the way he thought he did. Maybe he’d misread everything and he was about to make a complete fool out of himself.

But Tony deserved to know.

Drawing in a deep breath, Steve steeled himself and locked eyes with the other man. “I love you, Tony. I love everything about you and I have for a long time. What happened to us… It only confirmed my feelings for you. I’ve never felt this strongly for anyone before in my life, and even if you don’t feel the same way, you deserve to know.”

A heavy silence fell over the room. Steve kept his eyes on Tony’s the entire time, but as the seconds ticked by, he began to fidget. He wished the other man would say something, do something; ANYTHING…

Tony laughed.

Anything except that. It hurt. It hurt more than any physical wound he’d suffered before.

“Tony, please…”

The laughter stopped abruptly and the voice he heard next was filled with more bitter emotion than Steve had ever heard come from the genius.

“You don’t love me, Steve.”

Steve opened his mouth to object, but he snapped his jaw shut when Tony shouted over him.

“People don’t love me, Steve! They obsess over me, envy me, use me, hate me, fuck me, you name it, but they DON’T love me! So fuck you!”

Steve only watched with wide blue eyes as the other man stalked across the room until he was against the other side of the bed; careful to keep the furniture between them as a barrier. Now that he was closer Steve could see the unshed tears glistening in those impossibly large eyes, and it broke his heart just a little more.

“What you love, Steve, is Honey. You love the obedient little sub-human you can keep under your thumb like a pet. Oh, and best of all, you don’t have to listen to me talk! THAT’S what you want, Steve, NOT ME! People can’t handle me! Not Pepper, not Rhodey, not Obie, not even my own fucking FATHER could stand to be around me too long!! No one stays, not for long, Steve! I’m unlovable! I’m good to have around if you need money or things or connections or a good fuck, but beyond that, people don’t need me or want me around, so you CAN’T love me, Steve!”

The way Tony’s voice cracked at the end of his outburst finished Steve off, and he drew in a sharp breath as his chest tightened painfully. He’d never seen Tony so broken, so unhinged. He didn’t even think the other man felt as deeply as this or cared enough about anyone else’s opinion to let it affect him so completely, but now it was clear he’d been a complete fool to ever think so little of the genius. No. It wasn’t that. He’d just fallen for the mask that was Tony Stark. Just like the rest of the world.

And now, watching as silent tears finally broke free and rolled down flushed cheeks, he couldn’t stop himself from rounding the bed to go to him. Tony was shaking and he took several steps back as he approached.

“Stop! Steve, stop, stop, STOP!”

But he couldn’t stop, even when Tony backed himself against the wall, he couldn’t stop. The hands pushing him away were captured and pressed against Steve’s chest as he trapped them between their bodies, moving close enough to envelop the other man in a tight embrace. He struggled at first; of course he did, but it wasn’t long before Tony accepted the fact that fighting against a super solider who very clearly wanted to hug you was completely pointless and a waste of energy, and he went still and rigid.

The quiet room made their uneven breathing seem so loud, Tony’s occasionally hitching in his chest as he struggled to control his raging plethora of emotions.

“Tony…” Steve’s voice was quiet and what he hoped was soothing and sincere. “I can love you and I do. You. Tony Stark. Genius, Billionaire, Philanthropist, Obnoxious Pain In My Ass, Tony Stark. I love your generosity. I love that you care so much for your family; your team, even though you complain about them every chance you get. I love how you can be so smart and yet so stupid at the same time. I love your sense of humor, your sass, your ability to drive people up the wall while you make them love you at the same time. I love the way you treat your bots like they were your own flesh and blood children. I love how quickly you’ll sacrifice everything to help someone else….though I hate that too.”

A choked off laugh made Steve grin, and he let his hands rub soothing patterns on Tony’s back as the man began to relax little by little in his arms.

“I know you have trust issues, Tony. I know the people you’ve loved the most have let you down in the past, but please don’t push me away. It’s hard to let people in; I know, but give me a chance. If you don’t feel the same about me, I understand and I respect that. I won’t push you for anything. Just… let me be there for you.”

The hands that had been trapped between them shifted, fisting themselves instead in Steve’s shirt. Tony’s face was turned down, hidden from his view against his chest. When he finally spoke, his voice was tight and small.

“You can’t.”

“I do.”

A long, shuddering breath.

I can’t. It won’t last. It never does. I can’t.”

Steve’s eyes slid closed as the other man’s voice cracked again, and this time Tony couldn’t hold back the sobs that followed. Gut wrenching, painful, heart breaking sobs that only a man who had been strong for too long could render.

“I’m s-ss-sssorry! I can’t!”

“It’s ok, Tony. Just…It’s ok.”

And it was. Steve could respect Tony’s decision; and if a few stray tears found their way into thick brown hair, well, no one would ever know.

TBC

THE ANGST!

Chapter Text

It had been several hours since Tony’s initial breakdown and Steve was still at his side, hoping he was providing some kind of comfort to the man who lay curled on his bed. He had his back to Steve, but hadn’t objected when Steve’s fingers had begun to card themselves through his hair. The larger man had settled himself against the headboard behind the engineer, and he’d remained there when Tony had begun telling him about his long history with betrayal and abandonment by the people he’d loved and trusted most. He’d refused to turn to look at Steve the entire time, but that was ok. Obviously it was easier for him to talk about it if he didn’t have to see Steve’s reactions.

He’d begun, of course, with Howard. Steve had already known their relationship hadn’t been a great one, but hearing the details of Tony’s childhood revealed a lot when it came to understanding the man he knew today. Howard was a man who couldn’t be pleased. He hadn’t had a kind word to offer to his six year old son after he’d built his first working engine. He never smiled, never said ‘I love you’, and never had a moment to spare for Tony. On occasion Howard would drink a little too much. During those times he’d become violent, and more than once both Tony and his mother, Maria, had been on the receiving end of a punishing slap or shove.

Maria hadn’t been able to cope. She began to rely on pills to get through her days, and it wasn’t long before she’d become a shell of the woman Tony once knew as his mother. Most days it seemed she didn’t even recognize her son.

After that the only steady form of comfort in Tony’s young life was the family butler, Jarvis. He’d been a kind man; always there for Tony when his parents refused to be; which was always. In fact, up until he was old enough to go to boarding school, Jarvis had been Tony’s stand in father. And maybe Howard had seen the bond forming between them, because he sent Tony away abruptly and callously, claiming he was too soft and needed to toughen up if he wanted to live up to the Stark name. The loss had been devastating.
At school the kids weren’t kind. They resented Tony for his abnormally high intelligence and for his family’s wealth. They were jealous and saw the Stark heir as an easy target. He was small for his age, and his parents never checked in on him, so there were no consequences for the ones who picked on him. It was a lonely time.

When he went to MIT at age 14, things deteriorated. The bullying was worse than ever. The older kids hated that they were taking their classes alongside a child at least 4 years their junior, and they’d all assumed Howard had paid to get Tony into the school. None believed he’d gotten there on his own merit, and they tormented him endlessly over it.
And then Rhodey had come along. He took Tony under his wing, treated him as a little brother, and made the days a little more bearable. But Rhodey couldn’t be there all the time, and the young genius had to learn to fend for himself. He wanted to fit in; be accepted. By age fifteen Tony was drinking at the frat parties alongside his fellow students. Women started paying more attention to him. He learned to hide his insecurities behind snarky comments and brush off hurtful words by being an asshole right back. He developed a reputation. Not exactly a good reputation, but a reputation all the same.

He’d even developed his first crush on a sophomore girl, many years his senior. Tony could honestly say he loved her. He’d given her his virginity; had thought they’d be in it for the long haul. But it turned out she’d only wanted his help to pass her tests. By the year’s end, after all the finals, she’d dropped him like a rock. And she’d been mean about it. She laughed at his tears; his confusion; his genuine hurt.

“This is real life, kid. Get used to it.” she’d said. Then she’d turned and walked out of his life without so much as a backward glance.

There were other girls after that, but Tony had learned his lesson. They were only interested in his intelligence, his money, or his fame. None actually cared for him as a person. He used them the same way they used him. He provided them with tutoring, and they slept with him in return. He never asked for sex; the women just used it thinking they needed to bribe him into helping them. The truth was, Tony would have been happy to help just to have the company. The sex was nice; it gave him a temporary contact high he so desperately needed after being deprived of affection for most his childhood, but he could have done without.

Despite all his amazing accomplishments at MIT, Tony never heard from his parents. Even when he built Dummy and made the headlines, he received no kind word. Jarvis, of course, had made time to visit and praise him for his work, but never his parents.

And then they were gone. Howard, Maria, and Jarvis. All dead.

Tony didn’t think he could possibly feel more empty than he already did, but he’d been wrong.

Years past filled with meaningless relationships with people who only saw him as a means of personal gain. Rhodey remained a good friend, but he had enlisted in the army, and their paths didn’t cross often. His career always came first.

There was Obadiah, though. The man had become a father figure to Tony. He’d encouraged Tony, praised him, comforted him--- he was everything Howard wasn’t. For a short time Tony was happy.

And then came Afghanistan. His ‘father’ had tried to have him murdered. He’d betrayed him utterly, used him, and played him for a complete fool. Just like everyone else in his life.

And Tony thought maybe he was a fool, because he’d honestly been surprised.

It’d been a harsh blow.

And Pepper. The breakup hadn’t been as mutual as everyone was led to believe. She couldn’t handle his lifestyle anymore. She couldn’t handle his panic attacks, his need to tinker for hours; days even. She just couldn’t handle Tony Stark anymore. So she’d left. And Tony had let her. He’d wanted to beg her to stay, but it was clear they weren’t going to work. The way Pepper had walked away without even a backward glance had spoken volumes. No one ever looked back at him. He wasn’t worth the extra thought. He didn’t doubt that she cared for him; just not as much as he cared for her and not in the way he wished she would.

Because no one loved Tony Stark.

Steve sighed as he glanced down at the silent man beside him. Tony had fallen silent nearly an hour before. His tears had dried, and though he might have slept for a short time, now he lay with his eyes half-lidded, staring at the far wall with no real focus. His arms were folded tightly against his chest, his hands fisted beneath his chin. He looked vulnerable, exhausted, and raw. It made Steve’s heart ache.

He understood why Tony was so afraid to let him in on a more personal level. So many people had let him down. Far more than was fair for one man to bare in a lifetime. But at the same time, Tony had told him details of his life that were so personal; things he hadn’t shared with anyone else… and that had to mean something. It had to mean that Tony’s feelings for Steve were strong enough that he felt he owed him an explanation. He never would have become so emotional otherwise.

Tony wanted this as much as Steve, but he was afraid it would blow up in his face again.

There was still a chance here; but Steve had to approach it in the right way. Patience was the key.

“I’m embarrassed.”

Steve blinked out of his thoughts, startled by the sudden break in silence. Tony hands had moved to cover his face, the palms pressing into his eyes and rubbing away the salt that remained in his lashes. His cheeks had flushed with color, and that had Steve grinning as his voice took on a playful tone.

“What for? For feeling real human emotions? Shameful, Tony.”

Tony moaned and kicked one of his feet against Steve’s shin. “So much sass. Captain Sass. Who are you learning this from?”

Steve hummed and carded his fingers through brunette hair, pretending that he didn’t notice when the smaller man leaned into the touch. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m surrounded by nothing but positive influences.”

This earned him a strangled laugh, and though it wasn’t much, it made Steve’s heart swell. Oh, he was so far gone for this man…

A comfortable silence settled between the two, each simply gathering comfort from the other.

“Steve?”

“Hm?”

“…Thank you.”

When Steve looked again, Tony’s eyes had finally slipped closed. His hands were tucked beneath his chin again and his body had relaxed into the mattress. A small smile was tugging at the corner of his lips, and Steve matched it with a smile of his own.

This would work.

------

“The Madness is spreading! Captain America’s gone brony!”

“Captain Pony, Hot to Trot!”

Tony stared, uncomprehending, at the newspaper that had just been slapped down on the table beside the cup of coffee he was having for breakfast. First, because it was a newspaper, and ew, why were one of THOSE relics in his tower, and two because pictured on the front page was Steve in all his pony-ed up glory.

He blinked once, twice, then slowly, very slowly, shifted his gaze from the paper to Steve as the other man slipped into the chair across the table from him. They stared at each other for a long moment before brown eyes shifted back to the paper.

“…..What is this?”

Steve’s face flushed only a little as he glanced at the headlines, then settled back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest. “Looks like they got a few shots of me too. And not to make you jealous or anything, but they’re not even talking about you anymore. I’m much bigger news.”

Tony huffed out a laugh and shook his head in disbelief. “No. Steve…” He jabbed his finger at the paper. “You never wore that body suit at the ranch.”

Blue eyes shot up to meet brown, and Tony almost laughed at the fish out of water impression Steve was doing. His mouth was opening and closing without sound, and it wasn’t until the engineer arched a brow that the larger man snapped his gaze away and cursed under his breath.

“Yeah… In fact, I’d say you had some help from Jarvis. That’s definitely your body. I’d know those biceps anywhere, but the outfit was added. If I wasn’t sure you’d never worn that, I’d believe this was real. My A.I. is ten times better than any Photoshop program.”

“I’d like to think I’m more within the realm of one hundred times more efficient, Sir. In fact, my data suggests it to be a fact.”

“Annnd, now I’m positive this is a fake.”

“Jarvis!”

“My apologies, Captain.” The A.I. didn’t actually sound sorry. Not by a long shot.

Steve drew in a deep breath and let it out his mouth as he ran his fingers through his hair. He was about to explain himself when Clint dropped in from the ceiling as he typically does, electing a curse from Tony as the man startled enough to spill his cooling coffee on the paper in front of him.

“Watch it, Hawkass!” Tony grabbed the newspaper and held it away from the mess, but it was already sodden and well beyond saving.

Clint didn’t seem concerned as he thrust a tablet into the genius’ face. “I expect a new car out of this. With missiles.”

Tony dropped the paper in favor of taking hold of the tablet, irritably knocking the archer’s hands away when they clung too long. Clint squawked indignantly and flicked at his ear before throwing himself into a chair, but Tony hardly noticed as he watched the news broadcast.

“As more pictures emerge depicting the members of the Avengers wearing what in the BDSM community is called ‘Pony Gear’, its become clear that these photographs are indeed fakes produced by a talented fan with what must be the most advanced photo manipulation system we’ve ever seen.”

The news anchor’s voice became background noise to Tony as pictures began to flash up on the screen. Thor, Natasha, Clint---“

Said archer shoved his finger against the screen as his own censored picture came up. “Look! I opted for dick out! No body suit. I’m going for it, man!”

Tony nodded blankly, still not quite believing what he was seeing. He had just sipped what little coffee he still had left in his mug when a picture of the Hulk came up wearing pink pony gear, and everything that was in his mouth ended up sprayed all over the tablet he was holding.

“….Ok, I want a car with missiles and a new tablet. You can keep that one.”

Clint slapped Tony on the back as the engineer continued to sputter and cough, flashed Steve a thumbs up, and left the room.

On the screen, the news anchor continued. “Our news station would like to issue a formal apology to Tony Stark for our earlier reporting concerning the first altered photograph of this bizarre series. Anyone who may have information regarding the creator of these forgeries is urged to contact us at….”

Tony turned the tablet off and set it down carefully on the table. For a long moment he said nothing, but when he raised his eyes to meet Steve’s, the emotion displayed in those chocolate orbs was so powerful and raw it nearly brought tears to Steve’s eyes to see it.

“You all…”

Steve smiled softly and reached across the table to rest his hand on the other man’s, noting that it trembled a little beneath his own. “We’re a team, Tony. A family. We do everything as a team…. Or in this case… a herd.”

Tony huffed, a sound that was torn between a sob and a laugh. He was shaking his head slowly as he dropped his eyes back to the tablet, then over to the soaked newspaper with the still legible photograph of Steve on the front page. “I can’t believe you’d all do this… I just… I don’t know what to say.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

“Steve….the sass!”

TBC

Chapter Text

So of course Tony couldn’t be content to simply accept his team’s support with a smile and a heartfelt thank you. No. He had to lock himself in his workshop and build them ridiculously expensive gifts in order to show his gratitude. They’d all insisted it was unnecessary; that they hadn’t expected or wanted anything in return, but of course, it fell on deaf ears.

Clint was the first to change his tune and began lurking over Tony’s shoulder as the engineer worked, whispering his wish list in his ear. The missile car was still top priority, of course, but new kinds of arrows were always loved and appreciated. More than once Steve had to forcibly remove the archer, and today was no different.

He’d just arrived with a sandwich and a bottle of water for Tony when he’d paused in the doorway. As usual, Tony was hunched over his work table with a soldering iron. Sparks flew in all directions as he melded bits of circuitry together, and Steve sighed when he noted the complete lack of safety gloves. You’d think after nearly losing his hands the man would take more care to preserve them, but as Tony explained the last time Steve had complained, his dexterity hadn’t completely returned to his fingers, and wearing gloves made it nearly impossible for him to work on the finer details of his projects.

Normally Steve would have insisted on the gloves anyway, but he didn’t want to deny Tony his ability to work. The first time he’d successfully connected two tiny bits of wire inside the repulsor of his gauntlet without slipping or missing his target the engineer had nearly kissed Steve on the lips in his excitement. Unfortunately, he’d caught himself at the last second and instead stopped at grabbing Steve’s face in his hands. He’d babbled happily over his achievement, given him a little shake and returned to his project—still talking a mile a minute--- and Steve had only smiled as he watched on; wistful of that kiss that he’d been so close to getting. He’d been able to feel the heat of Tony’s lips, and his cheeks still tingled where the engineer’s palms had rested. He’d wanted to grab the other man and take what he wanted; what they both clearly wanted…

Patience.

He had to have patience.

“Clint. I thought Jarvis blocked the air vents to keep you out of Tony’s hair for a while.”

Clint glanced over his shoulder from where he was perched on the work table and grinned. “I used the door instead.”

“Forgive me, Captain. I had not anticipated that.”

Steve sighed and shook his head at the somewhat bashful tone of the AI. In his defense, though, Clint rarely used a door on any occasion, so it stood to reason that no one would think to lock him out that way.

He guessed.

Steve sent the archer his patented look of disapproval as he crossed the room and set Tony’s food down before shoo-ing his now free hands at Clint. “Go. Leave Tony alone for awhile, will you? He’s built you enough toys.”

“But… But I went dick out! That’s priceless!” Clint huffed as he hopped off the table to let himself be ushered from the room. Halfway to the door he gave up trying to get around the human wall that was Steve, and he instead shouted over his shoulder before darting out of the room. “Don’t forget to paint the missiles purple!”

The door closed behind the archer with a soft ‘whoosh’, followed by a nearly inaudible click as Jarvis locked it for good measure. He was an AI that was constantly learning, and that never failed to impress Steve.

Tony was still bent over whatever he was working on when Steve returned to his side, and he placed his hands on the engineer’s shoulders in an attempt to get his attention. It was a known fact that Tony had the uncanny ability to completely ignore his surroundings when he was focused on his work; and nothing short of an explosion could distract him. Steve remembered there was a time when Jarvis had called him to put out a fire Dummy had started—an accident, of course--- and when he’d arrived, he’d found the bot in question flailing around the flaming remains of a blender with an empty fire extinguisher while Tony himself sat completely unaware of the situation as he worked beneath one of his favorite classic cars not more than thirty feet away. It was a trait Steve found both endearing and frustrating beyond all measure.

“Tony. Take a break.” His fingers kneaded the tense muscles along the other man’s neck. “I brought you food.”

“Almost done.” There was another spark followed by a small puff of smoke as two more wires were melded together.

Steve waited until the soldering tool was held at a safe distance from the wiring before gently pulling Tony back a bit. He dug his fingers into the knots along the engineer’s spine, smiling when Tony sighed and finally dropped what he was working on in favor of leaning into the touch. He worked out the tension with ease, pausing only long enough to pick up the sandwich and hold it to Tony’s mouth. The offering was plucked from his fingers the moment its presence was registered and Steve smiled in satisfaction as a bite was taken, followed by several more.

Leave it to Tony to not notice he was starving.

Steve continued massaging as the other ate, taking great pleasure in the way his touch made Tony moan in appreciation.

“You’ve been down here for days. We all appreciate everything you’ve made us, but I think you need to get out of the lab for awhile.”

Tony’s only response was a noncommittal hum, followed by, “Lower.”

Steve adjusted the pattern of his fingers until he found a knot at the base of the other man’s neck, and the groan of approval he received when he dug his thumbs into the muscle there sent a rush of arousal coursing through his body. Steve closed his eyes and drew in a deep, steadying breath. It was getting harder to control himself.

“How about a walk? Maybe see a movie? Get ice cream?”

Tony didn’t need to turn around for Steve to know he was frowning. “Jarvis can stream any movie we want right here. I have ice cream. Lots of it. I’m rich. What flavor do you want?”

Large hands slid down to a pair of suddenly stiff shoulders, and Steve gently spun the stool Tony sat on until he could lock eyes with the other man. The rabidly building anxiety he saw swimming in that honey brown gaze was both unsettling and telling.

“Tony, you’ve only left the tower twice since… everything; and once was to go back to the ranch. This isn’t healthy.”

Steve took a startled step back when Tony suddenly surged to his feet and began busying himself with meaningless tasks in an attempt to distract himself from the abrupt surge of agitation. He moved a box of screws two inches to the left on his work table.

“I’ve always spent a lot of time in here, Cap.”

Cap. They were back to that? It stung.

A holographic display of what appeared to be a modified version of Natasha’s Widow’s Bite was thrown up, then almost immediately minimized again before Tony turned and paced to the opposite side of the lab. He refused to look in Steve’s direction.

“I know you do, but you haven’t made a public appearance in weeks. People are starting to think you’re dead.”

“Let them think that!” Tony’s voice was sharp and abrupt as he slammed a half built gauntlet he’d been fiddling with back onto the table he’d picked it up off of. His back was to Steve and his posture was rigid as he mumbled under his breath.

“It’s safer that way.”

Steve was sure he wasn’t meant to hear that last part, but he didn’t miss much with his enhanced hearing. His own shoulders sagged as he sighed deeply; his suspicions confirmed. Hammer’s whereabouts were still unknown, which meant Tony was afraid to leave the tower; to be vulnerable. The last time he’d gone into the city for pizza, Blake had found him. It stood to reason Hammer could do the same. It was an understandable fear; but it was only a matter of time before Hammer was found, and Tony couldn’t spend his days hiding away in the dark. It’d drive him crazy.

Steve closed the small distance between them, pressing his chest to the smaller man’s back as he reached around and gently encouraged Tony’s still gripping fingers to release the gauntlet. The digits tightened at first, but the engineer slowly relaxed and sighed as he allowed Steve to guide both his hands away and enfold them into his own. He rested his head back against a strong shoulder, and Steve smiled to himself as he enclosed Tony tightly within his arms, drawing him back more solidly against his body.

For several moments they only stood in a calming silence. Steve’s thumb was pressed against the inside of Tony’s wrist, and he could feel the fluttering pulse there begin to slow as the panic attack that had been building began to ebb away. He’d recognized the signs. Increased respiration, clammy skin, dilated pupils, manic movements, shaking hands--- they’d all been there. He hadn’t known for sure that simply holding Tony would prevent the attack from cresting---in fact he’d been worried the confinement of a hug would push him over the edge---but it appeared his actions were having the desired effect.

Steve’s lids drooped as he found himself relaxing as well. Being around Tony had that effect on him. He buried his nose in brunette hair, inhaling the man’s natural scent deeply into his lungs. This brought a chuckle from Tony’s lips.

“Are you sniffing me? Stop sniffing me. That’s a mistake. I’ve been down here for two days. I reek.”

Steve grinned and gave the man in his arms a little squeeze. “I like your stink.”

An amused snort. “Wow. You sure know how to woo a guy.”

“Nobody uses the word ‘woo’ anymore, Tony.”

That got an actual laugh, and Tony playfully batted Steve away when he tried to take another sniff of his hair, pulling himself from his arms and turning to face him with an amused grin. “Are you seriously calling me out for using outdated lingo? My god; I have been in here too long!”

The engineer gnawed at his bottom lip as he nervously rubbed at his slightly shaggy goatee with fidgety fingers. His eyes moved around the workshop without really focusing on anything until they landed on Steve.

“Ok. Yeah. Let’s go out.”

Steve flashed a brilliant smile. “Movie?”

“Nothing sappy.”

“Deal. But, Tony…?”

The engineer hummed enquiringly as he absently removed a greasy rag from the back pocket of his jeans to uselessly scrub at a glob of grease on his forearm.

“Go take a shower. You really do stink.”

-------------------

Their outing had been a success for the most part. In the beginning Tony had had a hard time relaxing. He’d constantly been looking over his shoulder for trouble and tended to fill with tension whenever anyone even remotely resembling Hammer crossed into his line of sight. There were moments before they’d even found their seats in the theater that Steve considered ending the other man’s apparent misery and returning to the tower, but he rejected the idea. This was what Tony needed.

Sure enough, once the movie began Tony became totally invested in pointing out all the obvious errors and impossibilities concerning the engineering of the stunts. They’d chosen to see the new Furious 7 film, and apparently everything was wrong, wrong, wrong. The car engine shown wasn’t powerful enough to propel the vehicle to the speeds it was shown traveling. The driver was shown shifting into third gear at a speed that would have blown out the transmission. You couldn’t drop a car out of a plane like that with a parachute that small and expect it to land as gracefully as it did in the movie. It would have landed in several pieces. Also, the color combinations were hideous and the actor’s lines were corny.

Steve found the commentary hilarious, and more than once he had to cover his mouth to muffle his laughter, but the other patrons weren’t quite as amused. They were shushed nearly constantly and anyone within hearing range made sure to throw a dirty look their way.

Tony was completely oblivious, as the atrocities on the screen were simply too much for him to bear. It was physically hurting him to watch--- or so he claimed. Several times. Dramatically.

The entire ride home all Tony did was rage about how utterly ridiculous the movie had been. He’d grabbed his phone at one point and began making plans to build a car that could actually do what the fakes in the film had been depicted doing; claiming he’d make his own movie without the use of CGI and lies.

Steve couldn’t get a word in edge-wise.

But that was ok. He was perfectly content to listen to the genius ramble on, because Tony had completely forgotten about Hammer and his anxiety. He was Tony Stark at his finest, and Steve couldn’t help but love him even more for it.

------------

One movie outing turned into two; then three, then became a regular thing. It became a weekly event and frequently included lunch or dinner depending on show times. Sometimes they’d catch a ballgame if Steve’s team was playing, or take a simple walk through the park. It was something that had become so routine that they didn’t even have to ask each other anymore. They simply showed up in the main living room around noon every Thursday and went on their way.

Today Tony had shown up first. He’d thrown himself on the couch and began fiddling with his tablet as he waited. He was still working out the finer details of the super car he was planning on building. He wanted it to fly, surpass 400 MPH, be fire proof, water proof, and resistant to freezing temperatures. And it was going to be red. Because red made everything look amazing.

“Going on another hot date?”

Tony glanced over the top of his tablet as Clint strolled in—through the door for once--- and fixed his almost manic looking smile on him. The engineer arched a brow and lowered his tablet in question.

Clint cocked his head at the lack of reply, and he spoke at a slower pace as if attempting to communicate with a small child or someone who didn’t speak English. “You and Cap? You’ve been going to dates for a few weeks now. Are you sleeping together yet? Is he good?”

Tony rolled his eyes and snorted before returning his attention to his tablet. “Steve and I aren’t dating, Birdbrain. We’re having man time. As friends. I know you’re confused as you don’t have any friends. I can hire a few for you if you want.”

“Oh, come on!” Clint threw his arms up in an exaggerated display of exasperation before flinging himself onto the couch beside the other man. He plucked the tablet from Tony’s hands, ignoring his indignant squawks as he placed his foot on the genius’ chest to keep enough distance between them to prevent the grabby hands from reclaiming it. Clint’s fingers danced across the screen before he removed his foot and thrust the screen back into Tony’s face.

A picture of him and Steve eating at a higher end restaurant was displayed with the caption, “Captain America and IronMan in love!”. This had been from a more recent outing, and granted, the scene did make it look like a romantic date. The lighting had been dim; more intimate. Both Tony and Steve had dressed up a bit more than usual, each wearing tailored blazers, pressed slacks and shined shoes. Tony was laughing at something while Steve leaned forward on his elbows and simply smiled at his amusement. His expression was almost dreamy; and most certainly that of someone who appeared smitten with his present company. A red and gold tipped rose was sitting on the table between them; a gift
Steve had jokingly given him. Or, at least Tony had thought it was a joke. It had been a joke, right?

Tony swallowed thickly.

He and Steve were dating.

The realization must have shown on his face because Clint dropped the tablet in his lap and clapped him on the shoulder; completely oblivious to the engineer’s inner turmoil and thoughts.

“Hey, no need to be such a closed book, man! We’re all happy for you two. I call best man at the wedding!”

The archer patted Tony on the head and flipped off the couch, passing Steve as he left. “Hey, make sure you get him some candies and flowers! Guy didn’t even know you were dating him! Try harder, man! Grab his ass from time to time!”

The blonde blinked, his mouth falling open but failing to produce words before Clint was gone. Blue eyes met brown.

“Steve. We’re dating.”

Steve swiftly raised his hands in what was supposed to be a calming gesture, but it only made Tony’s eye twitch. “We’re hanging out. A lot. As friends. Don’t let Clint freak you out about this. I’m not pushing for anything more than what we’ve been doing. It works and we’re happy. Right?”

Tony slowly nodded. His finger tapped absently on the tablet’s frame he still held in his lap, and his eyes moved to the picture displayed there. He silently studied the image, cocking his head to the left, then the right as he thought it over. When his attention turned back to Steve, he startled to find that the man had crossed the room and was now squatting down between his knees as he stared up at him in confused concern.

“Tony, what is it?”

“We’re dating.”

“No, T---“

Tony leaned forward and placed his finger against plump lips, silencing him as he shook his head.

“Steve. We’re dating.”

It took a second, but the moment Steve understood what Tony was saying, his previously furrowed brows shot up into his hairline and his eyes seemed to light up as if someone had thrown a switch. Large hands reached up and wrapped around Tony’s, guiding it away from his mouth and instead pulling it to his chest. When he spoke, his voice was soft; almost a whisper. It seemed as if he were afraid that if he spoke too loud, Tony would change his mind.

“We’re dating.”

The engineer’s lips turned upwards into a small, but hesitant smile and he nodded. He radiated nervous energy and doubt, but seemed to relax as Steve drew his captured hand back up to his lips and kissed the top of it as if he were the most precious thing in the world. Tony would always deny that his cheeks had flushed with color at the gesture of affection.

Never happened.

Steve’s lips began to move against the skin of his hand, and it took Tony a moment to realize he was whispering something so quietly he almost couldn’t hear it. “Thank you, thank you, thank you…”

The engineer’s breath caught in his throat and his chest tightened a fraction. He hadn’t realized how badly Steve had wanted this; how much it was hurting him to be denied. It made Tony feel terrible; to have denied this man something so simple because of his hang-ups and insecurities. Selfish. He was being selfish. But not anymore. He still may end up hurt in the end--- hell, it was a practical guarantee--- but for now, making Steve happy for as long as he was able made it worth it.

Steve was worth it.

Tony drew in a steadying breath as he reached forward with his free hand and ran his fingers through blonde hair. Steve raised his head and their eyes locked for a long moment before Tony used his grip to pull the other forward. Steve didn’t need much prompting, and he slowly came, rising up just enough to bring their lips together. The kiss was soft, gentle, and sweet. It wasn’t demanding or overwhelming in its intensity. There was no biting, or tongue action; no fight for dominance or demands for submission. It was simply the meeting of two sets of lips, warm and soft.

In a word: It was perfect.

TBC

Chapter Text

Dating Tony Stark was not entirely what Steve was expecting. That isn’t to say things were going badly; just… not quite the way he imaged they would. The previous weeks they spent together had been so easy going and tension free. They’d go to a movie or show, grab something to eat, engage in some harmless flirtatious commentary and call it a night. It was easy because they’d convinced themselves they weren’t dating; that they weren’t in a relationship.

But now that they’d officially declared themselves as ‘dating’, things had changed a bit. They still enjoyed their time together, of course, but Tony seemed a little more tense. More than once Steve had caught the other man watching him intently after saying something that could be considered obnoxious as if waiting for some kind of negative reaction. When Steve responded with his own special brand of sass, Tony would visibly relax. His shoulders would drop, a puff of air would escape from its prison in his lungs, and his eyes would soften with obvious relief.

Touching was an issue too. Tony was treading carefully in that department; and it frustrated Steve to no end. They were a couple now; and couples exchanged affection in many ways; physically being the most common. He knew Tony enjoyed his touch. The way he leaned into him and sighed happily when his hair was stroked or his cheek was kissed was evidence enough of that. And yet, Tony was always hesitant to initiate any kind of physical contact. His hand would hover a fraction of a second too long before settling on Steve’s shoulder, his eyes always searched for permission before he leaned in for a chaste kiss on the lips, and there were absolutely no attempts made to take things any further than that.

For a while Steve thought Tony was holding back for him. Everyone seemed to be under the impression that Captain America was pure and innocent with absolutely no sexual experience to speak of, but that was far from the truth. He’d spent time in the army. He’d seen a lot of things and participated as well. The USO girls had been a temptation he couldn’t refuse; not after landing himself a body that was the peak of human perfection.

Of course he was going to have sex. And he enjoyed it in all its forms. Numerous times.

Steve would casually drop hints of his permiscutive past to help ease Tony’s mind in case he had the idea he’d somehow be defiling a national icon, but nothing changed.
It occurred to Steve then that Tony wasn’t holding back because he thought he was inexperienced. He was holding back because he was still holding on to the fear that Steve might end this at any time. That he’d be rejected. Or maybe he thought once Steve slept with him and got his fill of the ‘Tony Stark experience’ he’d grow bored of him and move on like so many other one night stands had.

Well, he was no one night stand and it was time he drove that point home.

Two weeks after they’d officially accepted that they were indeed dating, Steve let himself into the lab and strode purposely toward his distracted boyfriend. Tony had been working tirelessly on developing a new fabric to make the team’s suits out of. The fiber would be stretchable for the Hulk, yet strong enough to give Kevlar armor a run for its money. It was fire proof; bullet proof, lightweight, and even insulating should the wearer end up battling in freezing weather. It had multiple purposes designed to protect each member of the Avengers in almost any situation. But if that wasn’t enough, Tony wanted to incorporate an electrical system into the fiber that would allow the user to power any electronic device within 3 feet; just in case their regular means of communication failed somehow.

It was amazing and thoughtful and appreciated, but right now it wasn’t important.

Tony was so engrossed in his project that he didn’t register Steve’s presence until he was right behind him.

“Hey, Steve. Gimme one mi--- Or not!”

The engineer yelped as Steve spun him around on the stool he sat on and firmly placed his hands on either side of his head. Wide brown eyes became impossibly wider as Steve captured his mouth in an aggressive kiss. The larger man growled lowly in his throat when Tony tried to pull away; most likely to question the situation, and Steve only pressed closer, tangling his fingers in thick brown hair as he pushed his tongue into the other man’s mouth.

Their kisses had always been sweet and gentle until this point. Each of them was being careful of each other’s boundaries, but it was time for things to progress. Not only did Steve want to act on his desire to ravage the other man, but he felt Tony needed to know just how deeply he was wanted.

A thrilled shiver ran down Steve’s spine when he felt Tony begin to reciprocate. The tension bled from the engineer’s body and his hands moved to wrap around Steve’s larger frame as he leaned into the kiss with an eager moan. Their tongues clashed and Steve swallowed the startled yelp from Tony as he hoisted his smaller body off the stool and sat him on the table instead. The hand still fisted in Tony’s hair ensured that their lips never parted with the movement, and it was only when Steve forced Tony’s legs apart so he could press between them that he allowed the other man to break their kiss in favor of tipping his head back with husky moan as their arousals pressed together.

Steve took advantage of that wonderfully exposed column of flesh, peppering Tony’s throat with kisses and gentle nips with his teeth as he grabbed shapely hips and braced them in place, grinding his obvious erection into the other man. He wanted this; wanted Tony to know he was wanted and needed. If his words couldn’t convince him, then maybe his actions would.

“Steve…” His name was a sigh on Tony’s lips, and Steve bit a collarbone in response, delighting in the surprised gasp and the way strong legs suddenly wound themselves around his waist, pulling him impossibly closer. In one quick motion Tony tipped Steve’s head back up and brought their lips crashing together again. This time there was no hesitation to open for Steve’s questing tongue, and Tony eagerly accepted the intrusion with a heavy sigh.

When they parted, Steve found himself staring into deep brown eyes full of questions, arousal, and yes, a touch of fear and doubt. Tony’s eyes had always been expressive, and it was impossible not to see the conflict there.

Steve forced his body to still its motions, and he nearly whimpered at the loss of friction. This was important, though.

“Tony, I want to give you everything you need. I want you to be happy, to feel good and secure. If this isn’t something you want, tell me now, but I assure you no matter what I will not leave you. I want you however I can get you.”

For a long moment Tony only stared at him with an assessing gaze; his head tilting slightly to the left like it always did when he was pondering something through. His breathing was still labored, but now it was due more to nerves than physical stimulation.

When he spoke, his voice was soft, a cross between disbelief and hope. It made Steve want to kill everyone who had ever hurt Tony in the past; anyone who had a hand in filling a man like Tony Stark with so much insecurity.

“So if I say no…You’ll still want to be with me?”

Steve’s eyes never left the other man’s as he stroked gentle reassuring hands down his back. “Tony, we could sleep in separate beds for the rest of our lives and I’d still dedicate myself to you one hundred percent. I love you for you; not just for your body.”

Tony’s breath hitched as he digested that; and his lips slowly quirked up into an amused grin. “But you DO love my body.”

Steve chuckled, sensing that the mood had shifted and his words had been taken to heart. He dropped his hands and gave the other man’s rump a playful squeeze, secretly delighting in the way his touch made Tony’s skin pebble with gooseflesh. Very responsive. “I DO love your body, but I could keep my hands to myself if that’s what you wanted. And I’d still love you. I might develop some serious feelings for my right hand too, but you’d still be my favorite.”

Tony’s mouth dropped open, obviously shocked by the idea that Captain America would make a joke about chronic masturbation, but the silence didn’t last long before he was laughing so hard tears formed at the corners of his eyes. Steve couldn’t help but laugh right along with him, and Tony pressed another kiss to his lips when they’d managed to gain some control over themselves, still chuckling as he stroked his hands lovingly down his chest.

“Well,” Tony drawled, a grin still playing on his lips. “If I’m really stuck with you then I suppose it would be a shame to let your right hand get all the action.”

“It really would be.” Steve’s voice was raspy with want as he set to work freeing his throbbing erection from the confines of his pants. It took less than a second to pop the button and bring down the zipper before he moved on to Tony, pausing and meeting his eyes for the permission he felt he needed in case he was moving too fast. He laughed softly when it became clear the other man’s full attention was focused solely on his exposed cock, and if Steve hadn’t been so confident with himself, he might have felt a bit self-conscious under the intense scrutiny.

“Tony.”

Brown eyes shot up to meet his own, then down to the hands hovering over the clasp of his jeans. He blinked once as if he were rebooting his brain, then lifted his gaze back to Steve’s before nodding. It was obvious he was nervous, which Steve thought was incredibly endearing, so he freed Tony with a bit more care than he had himself. Nervous or not, he was clearly just as painfully aroused as Steve, and a hiss escaped from between his teeth as fingers skimmed across his heated flesh.

Steve knew neither of them were going to last long, and he frantically searched for something that would act as lubricant. He plucked a tube of what appeared to be some kind of jellied grease, most likely for use on the IronMan armor’s joints, and held it up for Tony to see. “Is this safe for skin?”

“Better be. I’ve been using it for years.”

Steve bit back a moan at that. He wasn’t talking about using it on the armor. Just the thought of Tony down here in his lab, pleasuring himself…That underlying scent of oil he always carried with him may have been on his skin for an entirely different reason…

With a nearly silent curse Steve squeezed a generous amount of lubricant into his palms before tossing the tube aside and taking hold of both their cocks. Tony inhaled sharply and thrust his hips as they were brought together in Steve’s firm grip, exhaling shakily as he watched with wide, dilated eyes. Just knowing he was responsible for that expression, for those full body shudders of pleasure, sent a ripple of possessive pride through Steve’s body.

He captured Tony’s mouth in another kiss as he stroked them, slow at first, but quickly increasing the pace to match the frantic twitching of their hips. Steve’s free hand reached for one of Tony’s, and he broke away from the kiss and rested his forehead against the engineer’s as he guided the other man’s hand to their erections. Tony needed no further encouragement, and he wrapped his fingers around Steve, stroking and squeezing with just the right amount of pressure.

Steve returned the favor, mirroring his motions and reveling in the way Tony’s breath hitched, the way his hips thrust into his hands, the way his entire body quivered with raw arousal. At some point the engineer’s legs had wound themselves around his waist again, and when Steve felt them tighten and heard his name whispered on swollen lips he pulled Tony’s hands away and placed his own on the other man’s clothed ass, pulling him close as he forcefully rutted against him.

Tony tossed his head back at the sensation, his eyes falling shut as his entire body shuddered when his orgasm overtook him. The sight itself brought Steve over the edge, and he thrust his hips roughly and bit down on the expanse of throat so prettily exposed for him, growling as he came violently between them.

Steve tightened his grip on Tony as the felt the other man’s body go lax in his arms, and he gently ran his tongue over the bitten flesh along Tony’s collarbone as a silent apology. The contented sigh he received in return gave Steve the impression that his more aggressive tendencies weren’t a problem. In fact, it seemed Tony enjoyed a little pain and maybe even the idea of submitting to a more dominate partner.

It made sense, in fact. Tony Stark may have given the general public the impression that he was a dominate personality, but Steve had seen the real Tony Stark. He saw the Tony that visibly cowered away from Pepper’s steely gaze, the Tony that huffed and moaned and bullshit around when he was given an order from Fury or another member of the team on the field, but ultimately did as he was told, the Tony that would absolutely melt when someone stroked his hair on movie night.

Not to mention ‘Honey’.

The real Tony Stark was a man who just wanted to be cared for and loved. Steve had no doubt Tony would do anything to make his partner happy; and with the wrong partner, that could be a dangerous thing. In fact, it had already proven to be in the past. Tony’s willingness to make others happy had always been taken advantage of, and the engineer was always left hurt and betrayed in the end.

That kind of trust could not and would not be taken lightly. Not by Steve. He’d give Tony everything he needed for as long as he was allowed to; and he’d be honored to do it.
Steve left a trail of kisses along Tony’s skin as he worked his way back to the man’s lips, and once he was there, he placed one final kiss to his mouth. He smiled when those lips quirked up into a contented grin, and Tony arched in his arms as he stretched his back. It had to be sore from being hunched over his workbench for so many hours in a row.

“Something tells me you aren’t going to let me finish this tonight.”

Steve chuckled and encouraged Tony to wrap his legs around his waist again before he gathered the man into his arms and headed toward the elevator. “You would be correct in assuming so. We’re going to bed.”

Being they were chest to chest, Steve could feel the vibration against his ribcage when Tony groaned. His arms were dangling uselessly along Steve’s sides and his face was tucked into his neck. “Steve. I know you’re a super soldier and all, but some of us need some time betwe---“

“Shush.” Steve used his free hand to playfully bop Tony on the head, then stepped into the elevator as JARVIS opened it helpfully. He didn’t need to tell the A.I. to take them to Tony’s penthouse; the floor was already highlighted as their intended destination. “I meant to sleep. It’s late and I know you haven’t slept in the past 24 hours.”

A puff of air hit Steve’s neck, and he barely suppressed the shudder than ran through him as Tony’s lip ghosted across the skin there. The man was mumbling something about overly informative AI’s. The lack of arguing meant he was tired, though, and there was no effort to squirm his way free of Steve’s embrace.

When the steel doors opened again Steve stepped into the darkened penthouse. It was spotlessly clean as usual. Not because Tony was a neat freak, but rather because he spent so little time here.

“M’sticky.”

Steve shifted Tony slightly, wincing when he discovered that yes, they were sticky, but they were also beginning to stick together. Not terribly sexy. So instead of heading straight for the bed, Steve veered off into the bathroom instead. He gently deposited Tony on the edge of the massive tub and turned toward the shower, but the other man waved a dismissive hand at that.

“Noooo. Showering requires standing. Let’s take a bath. Wash me.”

A huff of laughter escaped from Steve’s lips as he abandoned the shower and instead began filling the tub with hot water. He watched fondly as Tony made a half ass attempt to remove his clothes without actually opening his eyes. He wasn’t terribly successful, and he made a pathetic whimpering noise when he became stuck in his shirt. Only his hair remained sticking out of the collar by the time he slumped in defeat, and Steve shook his head as he hooked his fingers beneath the rim of the shirt and heroically freed the other man from his prison.

“How did you survive before me?”

Tony smiled sleepily and shrugged a bare shoulder. “I walked around naked most the time.”

Steve hummed in acknowledgment and worked on removing the smaller man’s socks and shoes, which lead to the removal of his pants and underwear. He made a point of letting his eyes roam across Tony’s body, grinning when the engineer visibly squirmed in discomfort. Still not terribly confident of his body, it seemed. Steve wondered how many people knew that Tony Stark was actually insecure with his appearance. He was guessing there were none.

“I wouldn’t object if you wanted to continue the habit.”

Steve finished stripping himself down and stepped into the tub. Once he settled himself, he held out his hand for Tony, granting him a solid point of balance as he followed suit and planted himself between Steve’s bent knees. The smaller man’s sigh was almost a moan as the hot water immediately brought relief to his aching muscles, and he let Steve pull him back until Tony rested against his chest; head pillowed on his shoulder.

For a long time they simply basked in the steamy glow of the moment. Steve’s fingers skimmed along Tony’s skin beneath the water. His touch left a trail of gooseflesh in its wake despite the hot temperatures, and it wasn’t long before Tony was dead weight against him. The engineer caught one of Steve’s hands and brought it to his lips, pressing soft kisses to each finger before clutching it against his chest as if he were afraid Steve would disappear at any moment.

Steve’s mouth opened with the intention to reassure him that he’d be by his side for as long as Tony wanted him to be, but the words caught in his throat when Tony’s body suddenly went rigid against him. His hand tightened like a vice, and had Steve not had the serum running through his veins, he would have been worried about the integrity of his bones.

He looked down in an attempt to catch Tony’s eye; to see what was wrong, but the other man’s gaze was focused intently on something, and Steve raised his head to follow his line of sight.

Suddenly his own body became just as rigid as Tony’s.

A man was standing in the doorway watching them. He’d been so silent Steve hadn’t even heard him approach; and they’d received no warning from JARVIS. Clearly the AI had been compromised, but considering who they were dealing with, he wasn’t surprised he’d managed to disable the biggest defensive system in the tower.

Steve instinctively tightened his arms around Tony. He wanted to put the more vulnerable man behind him and further away from danger, but he didn’t want to make any sudden moves that might set their ‘guest’ off, either.

When Steve spoke, his voice came out almost a whisper with none of the strength and authority his tone normally held. But who could blame him? He was staring directly at a ghost from his past.

“Bucky?”

TBC

Chapter Text

It felt so surreal to have Bucky standing only a couple feet from him. Steve had spent months searching for him without an ounce of success. The Winter Soldier was like a ghost. You might catch a glimpse of him from the corner of your eye, but when you turned to look, he was always gone in an instant. As stubborn as he was, Steve knew when to back off. Clearly Bucky hadn’t been ready to be found, and with any luck, Steve hoped his old friend would come to him when he was ready.

And he had.

However, this wasn’t the reunion Steve had pictured in his mind. He never imagined The Winter Solider would corner him and Tony while they were at their most vulnerable. And the man standing there watching them with hard blue eyes did seem to be the Soldier rather than Bucky. Steve felt like prey under that intense gaze, and if the tension he felt coiled in Tony’s muscles was any indication, he felt the same.

And eternity seemed to pass in complete silence before Bucky took a slow step forward. The corner of his mouth quirked up in amusement when Tony visibly jolted; held in place only by the strong circle of Steve’s arms around him. If not for that, the engineer may well have hit the ceiling.

“I was offered a substantial amount of money for your retrieval.”

Bucky’s voice triggered memories from Steve’s past, both happy and unpleasant, but the way his eyes were trained on Tony made his blood run cold in his veins. Bucky wasn’t here for Steve’s help. He was here to take Tony away.

A few more steps put the Solider at the tub’s edge, and his eyes shifted between Tony’s and Steve’s before he slowly lowered himself down to his haunches and brought their gazes to the same level. His blue eyes locked with brown, and his expression darkened as his brows furrowed deeply.

“My client believes himself to be your master; your owner.”

Bucky’s metal arm came up to rest on the rim of the porcelain tub, the fingers tapping loudly on the surface in a way that made both Tony and Steve wince. They were both well aware of how quickly that arm could kill either of them at any moment, so having it hovering so dangerously close to their exposed throats left them feeling more than a little vulnerable.

“However, I do not believe that a human should ever own another. Especially one so unwilling.”

Steve’s breath caught in his throat. What…?

When Bucky looked away from Tony, the blue eyes that met Steve’s were no longer those of the Winter Soldier’s. They were those of his best friend and partner, Bucky Barnes. The cocky grin that followed left no doubt.

“Besides, I have no use for dirty money.”

“Oh, thank fuck!” The air that Tony had held trapped in his lungs left in one long whoosh as he flopped back against Steve’s chest. His fingers pried themselves out of the larger man’s arms, his nails leaving behind perfect half-moon crescents in Steve’s skin, and instead tangled themselves into unruly brown hair.

“I thought we were dead. I thought I was going to die naked in my own tub with Captain America. …Actually, not a terrible way to go, but I’m still too young and pretty to die. Jesus, Steve, your friend is an asshole.”

Steve chuckled as he dropped his forehead down to rest in Tony’s hair. For a moment he only breathed, willing his muscles to loosen and his heart rate to drop back into a normal rhythm. That… That had been intense.

He only opened his eyes again when a towel was dropped over their heads. He ignored Tony’s squawk and reached up to pull the soft fabric away, turning in order to bring Bucky back into his line of sight. It would be foolish of him to assume his old friend was no longer a threat. He knew nothing about him anymore; had no idea what he was capable of or if all of this was just a ruse meant to lure them into a false sense of security. Maybe he was really here for information or tech. Clearly Bucky had been in contact with Justin Hammer, so at this point, nothing was off the table.

For now, though, the man seemed harmless. After dropping the towel on their heads he had stood and turned his back to them; most likely in order to give them a little privacy. That was a bit of a laugh. He’d already seen everything there was to see. More significant though, was that by turning his back, he was allowing himself to be vulnerable to attack. The Winter Solider Steve had met would never have allowed such a thing to happen.

At some point Tony had pulled the drain, and the chill of the air against their wet skin left them both shivering. Steve was quick to use the towel in his hands, wrapping Tony in the large expanse of fluffy fibers to both shield him from wandering eyes and to dry him off. As irrational as it may seem in this circumstance, Steve still didn’t like the idea of anyone seeing the other man naked other than himself while they were in such a private setting.

Grabbing a second towel for himself, Steve swiftly wrapped it around his waist and stepped out of the tub, holding his hand out for Tony to take as he followed suit. Both were careful to keep an eye on Bucky, though the man still remained casually facing away from them as he patiently waited for them to pull themselves together.

Once he was sure Tony had his footing he gave the man a gentle nudge toward the bedroom, and for once Tony went without arguing. When his footsteps faded Bucky finally turned around, glancing toward the door Tony had disappeared through before casting Steve a wicked grin.

“Bagged yourself Tony Stark, did you? You’ve really moved up in the world since I saw you last, punk.”

Steve grinned at the old nickname and shook his head as he moved to stand in front of the other man. He took a moment to assess his body language, giving Bucky plenty of time to move away before he enfolded the man into a firm hug.

“Not that I mind the visit, but next time, can you knock first?”

A puff of warm hair hit Steve’s neck as Bucky huffed with laughter. “Now where would the fun in that be? Maybe you should work on the security in this place.”

“I’ll have you know the security here is top notch!”

Both Steve and Bucky turned to look at a rather flustered looking Tony. The man had quickly thrown on a pair of black sweat pants and a white muscle shirt that was clinging to his still damp skin. In some places it was nearly see-through, and Steve was pretty sure he could see the man’s left nipple peeking through the wet fabric. The rush of arousal that seized him at that moment could not have been more inappropriate, and he had to step away from Bucky just in case there was physical evidence of his ridiculous attraction to Tony taking form.

Tony, of course, was completely oblivious to the effect he had on Steve, too focused on the insult to his tech as he boldly marched up to Bucky and poked him in the chest. “How’d you do it? How’d you take Jarvis down?”

Bucky shooed away the offending poking finger and reached in to his pocket. The device he pulled out was small, rectangle shaped, and had two buttons on it. One was unlit, and the other was flashing red.

“Hammer provided me with it. He said it would block Jarvis long enough to get in, get you, and get out.”

Tony snatched the bit of tech from the other man’s hands like a greedy child stealing the last piece of candy, and he turned it over in his palm several times before prying the edges open with his thumbnails. Once the inner workings were revealed Tony tsked and disconnected two wires.

Immediately the lights flickered as Jarvis came back online, and the AI’s voice seemed both alarmed and confused. “Sir? There was a security breach. I was unable to communicate for several moments. My sensors, however, indicate the intruder was using Stark Tech.”

“The intruder is standing right here, buddy.” Tony rapped his knuckles against Bucky’s chest, though his eyes never left the device in his hand. “Apparently Hammer’s own technology can’t touch my security, so he stole mine. Pathetic bastard.”

Tony grumbled to himself as he turned on his heel and left the bathroom, paying no mind to the ex-assassin still standing next to his nearly naked Super Soldier boyfriend.

Bucky quirked a brow as he went, then turned to Steve. “Your fella is odd. Kinda short too.”

Steve smiled. “I think he’s perfect.”

-------------

It turned out Bucky had been on his own since the last time Steve had fought him as the Winter Solider. His captors no longer had control of him after that, leaving him free to recover his memories and general self over time. Without the continuous mind-wipes and brainwashing, Bucky Barnes had slowly regained control of himself, and though he was still haunted by the scattered memories of his time as the Soldier, he was closer to being himself than ever before since falling from that train.

Bucky had known Steve was tracking him because Bucky had been tracking Steve. He’d only lost track of him for a short time; and that was when Steve and Tony had been kidnapped by Hammer. Since that slip-up, Bucky had been far more diligent about keeping an eye on his old friend; and he’d taken it upon himself to track down Hammer on his own. The man had been expertly keeping himself hidden from the Avengers---not surprising considering the man was a dirty rat--- so Bucky had subtly left clues for Hammer to find him .

After all, who better to have your back when the Avengers were out for your blood than the Winter Soldier?
And it had worked. Hammer had ‘found’ him alright, and the first thing he had done was offer Bucky both money and unlimited resources to keep his arm in tip top shape. Even brainwashed Bucky knew better than to let the man mess with his arm, so he accepted the money under the false pretense of bringing Stark back to him in chains.

“This is the drop-off address.” Bucky handed Steve a folded up piece of paper. “He’ll be there waiting when I call to confirm I have Stark.”

Steve clutched the paper tightly in his fist as his jaw clenched with barely contained rage. Finally they knew where to find Hammer, and it was all thanks to Bucky. He’d done what none of them had been able to, and now they could take Justin down and give Tony the peace of mind he’s needed since the kidnapping.

“You have no idea how much this means to me.”

Bucky clapped Steve on the shoulder from where he sat beside him on the couch. “I think I do. The sick bastard showed me pictures of your boy and the things he did to him. He was bragging about it; talking about Stark like he was nothing more than an animal.”

Both sets of blue eyes turned to the man in question. Tony had seated himself at the table in the adjoining kitchen, and he was furiously working on his tablet. Apparently he was running a full system check on Jarvis just in case Hammer had inserted a virus, though he’d made it clear he seriously doubted the guy had the brains to manage it. Still, one could never be too sure, and he wasn’t taking any chances with Jarvis.

“I don’t even know him.” Bucky continued, his voice low and hard. “But I wanted to kill Hammer then and there on Tony’s behalf. The only thing that kept me from doing it was knowing I’d be taking the honor away from you.”

Steve nodded, tearing his eyes away from Tony to meet Bucky’s again. “When can you make that call?”

-------------

“You’re all fired! All of you!”

All heads turned to Tony as he burst into the common room with his usual obnoxious flare. He was pointing accusing fingers at all of them, and he rambled on about taking away their TV privileges, pop-tarts, and internet access.

“What’s got your panties in a twist now?” Clint sighed as he turned back to his hand held video game. He fully intended to tune out the genius and focus solely on his very intense round of Mario Cart, but something changed in the atmosphere of the room. Everyone had gone silent and tense, and Clint’s training kicked in as he dropped the Gameboy and reached for the knife he always had hidden on his person.

When he looked up, he was not expecting what he saw.

“Is that the Winter Soldier?!”

Bucky Barnes was standing behind Tony in the doorway with Steve right beside him. He seemed hesitant under the scrutiny of the entire team of Avengers, but didn’t appear to have any immediate plans to murder any of them.

Natasha looked more curious than anything else, Banner seemed to be actively meditating in an attempt to keep the Hulk under control, and Thor’s expression of anguish was probably more due to Stark’s threats to take away the pop-tarts than anything else. The man loved his pop-tarts.

“Yes, it’s the Winter fucking Solider and he strolled right into a tower full of the world’s best fighters and assassins and popped in on me while I was naked! I should throw you all out on the street! I could have been killed and none of you would have noticed!”

Clint looked insulted. “We would so have noticed! Thor would have broken the toaster eventually and we would have needed you to fix it. That’s when we would have found you dead.”

Thor nodded in agreement. “Yes, friend Tony! We rely on you for much! Without you, my beloved pop-of-tarts would be beyond my grasp! If this man means you harm, I will surely smite him in your honor!”

Behind them Bucky snorted, then grunted in pain when Steve’s elbow lodged itself into his ribs.

Tony sighed heavily as he rubbed at his temples. “No smiting, Thor. Lucky for you slackers he’s not full of murderous intent anymore. Meet Bucky Barnes.” The genius threw a hand out behind him in Bucky’s general direction. “Who wants pizza?”

-------------

“Steve, stop. I can feel you smiling. I need to sleep. Your general sunshiny-ness is keeping me awake.”

Tony pretended to grumble in annoyance as Steve chuckled and gathered him into his arms. He pulled him close until Tony’s head was tucked beneath Steve’s chin, and the engineer squirmed around until a playful slap was delivered to his backside.

“Hey! We communicate with words. Slapping asses does not get us what we want.”

“You stopped squirming.”

Tony could feel the smugness rolling off the other man in waves, and he huffed as he sat up, bracing himself on his hand as he looked back down at Steve in the dark. Blue eyes shone with mischievousness even in the low light, but that quickly morphed into lust when Tony swung a leg his torso and settled himself on his stomach. Large hands automatically reached up to settle on Tony’s hips in an attempt to make him scoot a little further back, but the smaller man batted them away.

“No! We’re using words!”

“Tony! You can’t just…” Steve squirmed. “Move back some.”

“Stop being horny for a moment! I want to talk.” Tony’s face scrunched up as if he couldn’t believe those words had left his mouth, but he shook his head a moment later and refocused on the man below him. That proved to be a mistake though, because Steve’s face was flushed with arousal, and Tony’s entire body moved with each heaving breath the man took. He had no doubt that if he looked over his shoulder he’d be greeted with a saluting solider in the tent of Steve’s boxers, so he didn’t look. Because then there would be no talking.

Steve closed his eyes as he visibly made an attempt to calm himself. The physical part of his and Tony’s relationship was still so new, and he found it hard to keep his hands to himself. If he had his way, he’d always have Tony pinned below him and moaning for his touch, but in reality, they still hadn’t progressed past mutual hand jobs and some heavy grinding. It was getting harder with each passing day to control himself, but until he was given the go ahead, he would not push beyond the limits Tony had set.

When Steve opened his eyes again, he found himself using his words alright, but they left his mouth before his brain had caught up and slapped a filter over his lips.

“Have you ever been penetrated?”

Tony’s eyes flew wide open and his face turned a deeper shade of scarlet than it ever had before. His mouth opened as if to speak, but no words came out as his lips flapped uselessly. Steve winced and started to apologize, but instead he yelped when Tony’s hand came down and slapped him in the head. Before he could protest, the other hand hit him on the other side.

“Words, Tony!”

“The Winter Solider shows up in our bathroom today and we’re going to go after Hammer tomorrow and all you want to know is if I’ve ever been fucked up the ass?!”

And gosh, it sounded really bad when he put it that way, but…

“It’s just, I want to do everything with you, Tony, but I need to know why you don’t seem to… I need you to talk to me about these things.”

And suddenly using words was the last thing Tony wanted to do, so he did what he did best. He deflected.

Quick as he could Tony scooted back until he was settled in the ‘V’ of Steve’s thighs. Sure enough, Steve Jr. was standing tall and proud, and it took no effort at all the free the swollen shaft from the confines of the boxers that held it prisoner. Above him Steve hissed out his name and made to reach for him as if he meant to put a stop to the proceedings, but Tony was faster, and his lips were wrapped around Steve before that could happen.

Tony dragged his tongue across the heated flesh as he watched the other man’s hand continue toward him, but rather than pull him away, large fingers wound themselves into his hair and held him there instead. Perfect. No talking.

Tony gave Steve’s cock a little victory suck, and if he could have smirked at the sharp intake of breath the action wrought from the other man, he would have. He may not have any experience with being penetrated by another man, but he’d given plenty of head in his day. He knew how to leave a man speechless, and that’s exactly what he was going for here.

He slowly inched his way down, lavishing the hard flesh in his mouth with his tongue as he went. It’d been awhile, and he wasn’t fully confident he could still control his gag reflex the way he used to, so he set to distracting Steve by wrapping his hand along the base of the sizeable cock while he worked the rest with his mouth. He sucked with steady pressure as he bobbed up and down and made zigzagging patterns along the shaft with his tongue. Steve gasped his name between moans, and Tony felt a shock of pleasure jolt through him when the grip in his hair tightened and pushed him down a little further than he was ready for.

In fact, Tony had to take his hand off the base of Steve’s shaft to make room, and though he expected to panic as his airway was temporarily blocked, he didn’t. His heart was pounding loud and heavy in his ears, but it wasn’t fear, it was the thrill of being at someone else’s mercy; someone that he trusted.

And he did trust Steve. He trusted Steve with his life.

The involuntary choking noise he made must have brought Steve back from his lust filled haze, because suddenly the hand in his hair was pulling him up and away. A string of apologies followed, but Tony was quick to silence them as he stole a rough and sloppy kiss. He bit at Steve’s lips until he stopped trying to talk and then pushed his tongue inside just long enough to tease across his teeth before lowering himself back down to engulf his straining arousal.

Silently, Tony grabbed Steve’s hands, both of them, and placed them back on his head, moaning his encouragement as those fingers curled into his hair again. The unexpected vibrations made Steve spasm in pleasure, and for a brief moment their eyes met. Tony did his best to communicate his want; his consent to what he knew they both wanted, and he was relieved when Steve’s pupils dilated. His nostrils flared and a wave of arousal tingled down Tony’s spine as he watched Steve transform from boy scout to sex demon in the blink of an eye.

With a strangled growl Steve forced Tony down into his cock until his nose was pressed into the short curled hairs at the base, and he held him there as he leaned over him and whispered. “Tap three times if it’s too much.”

Tony tapped his thigh once to indicate he’d heard, and that was all Steve needed before he began to fuck Tony’s mouth with wild abandon. It was messy. There was drool and choking and gasps for air, but it was good. Tony was lost in a haze of pleasure as he worked the cock in his mouth with everything he had, and he couldn’t remember ever being as hard as he was right then without ever having been touched. Steve seemed to know exactly what his limits were; always easing up when his vision would go spotty, stroking his hair when his grip became too tight, and best of all, he was constantly murmuring words of praise into his ear.

“You’re so perfect, Tony. You feel amazing. You’re beautiful. Look at how well you take my cock. This is what you do to me. Only you.”

Tony moaned as Steve thrust deep one last time and kept him there. He shuddered around him, hard, and then hot liquid was coating his throat as a hand left his hair in favor of stroking down his back. Tony almost didn’t hear it through the buzz of pleasure, but distantly he picked up on a single word being chanted.

“Mine, mine, mine.”

And then he was cumming. Untouched and more violently than he ever had in his life. Almost instantly Steve pulled him off his cock, and Tony sucked in a lungful of air he hadn’t realized he’d so desperately needed. He’d been so confident in Steve, so trusting he wouldn’t push him too far, that he hadn’t even registered the burn in his lungs. No panic attacks, no flashbacks of freezing, filthy water, just hazy pleasure and the feeling of complete safety and contentment.

Tony still felt as if he were floating as Steve lowered him back into bed. He vaguely felt the soft kisses being peppered across his face and the warm, wet cloth that dragged across his skin as he was cleaned up. His eyes refused to open even as Steve settled against his side again and pulled him close, whispering praise and declarations of love into his ear as he began to ease off to sleep.

So Tony felt he owed it to Steve to dredge up the last of his energy in order to use his words, rough as they may have sounded coming from his well-used throat.

“You’ll be my first, Steve.”

TBC

Chapter Text

The best way to wake up, Tony decided, was to a good massage. The magical fingers that danced along his back and kneaded away the tension in his muscles was pure bliss, and oh! There was a tongue blazing a hot trail down his spine too. That was nice. It was like a huge cat was perched on top of him doing what cats do, and that mental image turned his appreciative moan into what could be considered a giggle.

Except Tony Stark didn’t giggle. So it definitely wasn’t a giggle.

A nose nestled its way into his hair right behind his ear, and Tony wiggled away from the ticklish sensation, swatting playfully at Steve when the man purposely wriggled his fingers along his sides to get a reaction from him.

“Steeeeve… You’re not being nice to me. Bring me coffee.”

It was early. Tony could sense it was early and his body rejected the idea of moving from the bed, let alone opening his eyes. He could feel the morning sun warming the skin on his left side, and based on its position, he estimated it was somewhere around seven a.m. Far too early to be conscious. It was a sin. Why did Steve wake him? He was supposed to love him. People who love each other don’t wake them before noon.

Tony huffed when Steve’s body came down on top of his own; and that was fine. Being crushed into the bed by over 200 pounds of blonde Adonis wasn’t the worst way to go. It was warm and comfortable. And arousing. Hm. Being sleepy and aroused was new. He could get used to it, though.

“Tony.” Steve spoke directly into his ear, even going as far as to bite the lobe. Bastard. He knew his ears were an erogenous zone for him. “You need to get up.” A kiss was pressed to the cheekbone that wasn’t buried in the pillow.

“You think doing what you’re doing is going to get me OUT of the bed?”

Above him Steve chuckled and Tony very nearly whimpered when the weight of him disappeared, leaving his skin to prickle as the cold air hit it. Cruel. He reached out blindly for the blankets but came up empty, and he moaned loudly and dramatically as he rolled onto his back and squinted against the sunlight that suddenly had direct access to his eyes.

“What, what, what? You better have a good reason for waking me up this early.”

A pair of lips pressed themselves against his forehead, and Tony sighed as Steve’s fingers threaded through his hair. The sensation those digits left in their wake was enough to make his toes curl in pleasure. He was definitely going back to sleep at this rate.

“Is kicking Hammer’s ass a good enough reason?”

And Tony was awake now. He was VERY awake. The previous day’s events came flooding back with vivid clarity, and Tony sat up and rolled out of bed in one fluid motion. He would have found Steve’s surprised expression funny had he not been so caught up in the sudden flood of adrenaline coursing through his veins.

“Jarvis, how did our guest do?”

“Mr. Barnes slept fitfully, but never left his room. I can report that he displayed no suspicious behavior and made no effort to contact any outside sources at any point.”

Steve cocked a brow and frowned up at the ceiling. He still had the cute habit of doing that whenever Jarvis spoke. “You had Bucky under surveillance?”

Tony cast him his best ‘duh’ expression over his shoulder as he crossed the room and headed into the bathroom. He didn’t feel any further words were needed. Steve may have believed that Bucky was the man he used to know again, but Tony had been stabbed in the back enough times to learn that you never took a kind smile or pat on the back at face value. And something… something about Bucky just didn’t feel right.

-------------

“I’m sorry…. What?”

Surely Tony hadn’t heard right. He couldn’t have. There was no way this was the plan. It was an unacceptable plan. A horrible plan. In fact, it wasn’t a plan at all. It was just sheer absurdity. That’s what it was.

But Bucky looked very serious about it. Very, very serious. And annoyed.

“Listen, I know you think this guy is a complete moron, but keep in mind he already managed to capture you once. And he’s been able to keep under SHEILD’s radar for months. That’s not something even I was able to do. What did you think was going to happen? I’d call Hammer and we’d all attack him at once at the drop-off location? Done and done?”

Had it been the evening time, they probably would have heard crickets in the silence that followed.

Tony opened his mouth to argue that yes---that was exactly what he’d planned to do--- but he snapped it shut when he thought twice. As reluctant as he was to admit it, Hammer had outsmarted them all. Once. Just once! But it was a BIG once. Still, the proposed plan wasn’t sitting well with him. At all.

He was going to be used as bait. There was no guarantee that Hammer would even be at the drop-off location. For all they knew, he’d send him more of his idiots-for-hire to do his dirty work. If that happened, then they still had no way of finding Hammer AND their inside guy, Bucky, would no longer be a trusted source. There’d be no telling when they’d have another opportunity to get their hands on him. So it’d be smarter to let it seem like Tony was a very unwilling abductee until they had actual eyes on Hammer. Even then, it would be difficult for the entire team to remain hidden, yet close enough to act quickly. Justin was likely to have friends with him, or at least a wealth of second-rate tech surveilling the area, so they had to keep their distance. Only Bucky and Tony would go in. It would be risky. A number of things could go wrong, but this was their best shot.
Steve didn’t like it any more than Tony did, nor did the rest of the team. They were sending one of their own into the lion’s den, and none of them---aside from maybe Steve--- trusted Bucky enough to have their teammate’s back if everything went south.

And Bucky was very much aware of the unease and mistrust. He’d think them to be fools if they did trust him at this point and had told them so, but it was the best way.

“Hammer is expecting me to call from his phone he gave me.” He set said phone on the table in front of them, and Tony couldn’t help but sniff at it. Looked outdated. Probably lagged and had lousy service too. “He’s tracking it, but it only sends out a signal while it’s on. I’ve had if off since I stepped foot inside the tower, and I have no doubt he’s becoming suspicious by now. I need to leave here with Stark soon and make contact before too much time passes. Decide now what you want to do.”

This was going to suck.

---------------

Tony couldn’t help but fidget as he stared down at the masking tape that sat on the floor between his feet. He was riding shotgun beside Bucky in an unassuming early model Toyota---the fabric seats alone were enough to make him antsy--- and they’d already been driving for two hours. The drop-off location was only another fifteen minutes out, though based on the long stretch of deserted backroads they were driving on, it seemed more likely they’d end up in some cave than an actual building. They hadn’t seen anything more than trees for over forty minutes.

Tony tore his eyes away from the window to look at Bucky instead. The man wasn’t nearly as chatty without Steve around, and aside from some small talk along the way, he hadn’t done much more than drive and stare straight ahead. He only gripped the wheel with his flesh and blood hand, and it made Tony wonder how much control he had over his metal limb. Maybe he couldn’t control the amount of pressure he applied with it. There probably weren’t any type of sensors or feelings in it, so it’d be hard to judge its strength. It was fixable, though. In fact, if all this turned out ok, Tony would personally offer to make Bucky an entirely new arm if he wanted one; complete with artificial nerve endings and pressure sensors. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about crushing people’s skulls when he patted them on the head.

Everyone wins.

Tony was just about to open his mouth to attempt conversation when the phone sitting on the dash rang. The sound was so abrupt in the near silence that it made his entire body jolt in surprise. This, of course, got a chuckle out of Bucky, who in turn earned himself a glare from Tony, but they both took on a more serious air when the call button was pushed.

Bucky didn’t say anything at first, but Tony could just barely make out Hammer’s voice rambling away on the other end. He’d recognize that irritating whine anywhere. It sent a shiver of disgust down his spine.

Something about what was being said seemed to change Bucky’s demeanor, though. The flesh hand on the wheel tightened and his jaw set, the muscle there bulging with tension as he pressed his teeth together. His eyes, though--- His eyes suddenly became cold and distant; and if Tony had to guess, those were the eyes the victims of The Winter Soldier saw just before they died. It made his blood run cold in his veins.

“Understood.”

The call ended with a final ‘beep’ and Tony’s eyes followed the device as it was tossed from the window. His breath caught in his lungs as the car was violently pulled to the side of the road, and Tony’s hands shot out to catch himself on the dash before his face could smash into it when the car came to an abrupt stop. This…. This wasn’t part of the plan.
Wide brown eyes turned to meet blue, and Tony was sure he saw a flash of regret, but it was gone in a blink. His wrist was seized by cold metal and held in an unbreakable grip as Bucky brought out a knife in his other hand, and he dug the blade into the flesh just below Tony’s elbow without so much as a warning.

The tracker. He was removing the new tracker Bruce had placed under his skin before they’d left. But how did he even know it was there?! There had been no visible marks and they hadn’t even told him they’d done it. It was a backup plan in case… well, in case something like THIS happened!

Tony was so shocked that he didn’t even register the pain as blood welled up around the new wound. The device itself was tiny and almost impossible to see with the naked eye, but Bucky seemed satisfied that it was gone. And it was. He’d dug more than deep enough to remove it and a good amount of flesh with it. His only real life-line to the Avengers was gone, swimming in a growing puddle of blood in the center console of an old beat up car.

“Bucky, what…Why?”

The knife’s blade was wiped clean on the leg of Tony’s jeans, and he winced, fully expecting the sharp edge to slice into his thigh, but it never did. Instead the weapon was tucked safely away where it had been hidden before, but the vice-like grip on his wrist remained. No amount of twisting or tugging could get him free, and Tony felt the panic begin to set in as Bucky retrieved the duct tape from the floor and tossed it into his lap. His brain was beginning to catch up now, and it was becoming clearer with each passing second that he was royally fucked.

“Bucky, please! Whatever he’s paying you, I will double it! Triple it! And if he offered you tech for your arm, then I suggest you decline because I’m pretty sure you’d end up strangling yourself in your sleep with that thing when it malfunctions! And it WILL malfunction! PLEASE!”

Oh yes, he was panicking now. Just the idea of being back in Hammer’s clutches made his skin crawl and his heart race in his chest. He’d rather Bucky kill him right there and then than face that again. He’d give up his fortune to avoid it, sign over his company, ANYTHING!

But Bucky only silenced him by placing a single flesh finger to Tony’s trembling lips, his eyes hard and emotionless.

“The plan changed.”

Then that hand drew away, only to return in the form of a fist. The last thing Tony remembered thinking before the darkness took him was how sad Steve would be when he found out his best friend was a backstabbing bastard.

--------------

“We have a problem.” Natasha’s voice was tight as she studied the radar she held in front of her. She and the rest of the team had been following Bucky and Tony at a distance---about 30 minutes behind them--- in their own unmarked vehicle. It wasn’t ideal, but they were fairly confident they were far enough that they wouldn’t be detected immediately, and close enough to deliver some back-up should things go south once contact with Hammer was made.

However, there were always unknowns. No plan was fool-proof and this one had been far from ideal.

“What’s wrong?” Steve leaned forward to look over Natasha’s shoulder from the seat he’d taken behind her. Bruce was next to him and Clint was driving. Thor had been left behind for fear his tendency to disrupt electrical devices might tip Hammer off if he was within range, though being that he was a god, he could easily catch up with them should he be needed in case of an emergency.

Natasha pointed to the two blinking dots on the screen. “The tracking device we put on Tony and the one we put on the car stopped moving five minutes ago.”

Clint’s brow furrowed as his eyes darted to the screen momentarily. It showed that their position was still straight ahead of them on the road they were traveling, and he subtly sped up when a rush of anxiety flooded over him.

Bruce’s voice was low, almost too low, when he spoke next. “I take it they didn’t get to the drop-off earlier than expected?”

Natasha closed her eyes and shook her head, drawing in a calming breath before she turned to look Steve directly in the eye. “Looks like Bucky has use for Hammer’s dirty money after all.”

TBC

Chapter Text

The first thing Tony registered upon regaining consciousness was that his head was absolutely pounding. His temples throbbed with every beat of his heart and he just knew he had a black eye. Maybe two. Talk about a sense of deva vu.

He knew Bucky wasn’t on the up and up. He couldn’t wait to rub it in Steve’s face. He was right, Steve was wrong. Nanner nanner and such. But right now he had bigger things to worry about. Like where he was and who was staring at him. He didn’t even need to open his eyes to know someone was there. He could feel them watching him. It was unnerving and sent a shiver he couldn’t quite suppress right up the length of his spine.

“Ah. Is my Lil’ Jackass finally awake?”

Fuck.

And just like that the panic set in. The throbbing in his temples became that much worse as his heart began to pound heavily in his chest. His breathing became shallow and more labored and he could feel the blood leave his face. Justin’s voice alone was enough to trigger the onset of a panic attack; and wasn’t that just a kick in the ass? In his mind Tony was telling himself not to panic---to keep calm. Steve and the others would find him soon. It wouldn’t be like last time.

But would they find him? After Bucky had cold-cocked him Tony had no sense of time or direction. How long was he out? How far away had they gone from their original drop-off point? Could his team even find him without the tracker? Did they even know the plan had gone wrong? Were they even looking for him yet?

There were so many unknowns, and right now all Tony knew was that he was alone with Hammer.

Or maybe not.

When he finally managed to pry his eyes open he found that he and Hammer weren’t alone. There were four other armed men standing along the perimeter of the room. Maybe there were more, because it seemed they were in a large warehouse filled with heavy machinery. There were conveyer belts crisscrossing in all directions and the air smelled like molten metal and burning rubber.

It wasn’t exactly the stable he’d expected to wake up in.

Tony tore his eyes away from his surroundings and rocked himself upright in order to settle on his knees. His hands were bound behind his back with what felt like duct tape--- Bucky’s doing--- but he was otherwise free. It took a moment for the black spots dancing across his vision to clear, and when they did, he set his hard gaze on Hammer. The smirking man looked very pleased with himself.

“Why the audience, Hammer? Am I too much for you to handle on your own?”

The man’s haughty expression only spread wider across his face. “You? Oh, no. You’re nothing. They’re only here to stall for time in case your team gets past The Winter Soldier.”

Tony watched Hammer’s every move as the other man sauntered closer and began circling Tony like a shark stalking its prey. The engineer jerked away when fingers trailed across his cheek, but Hammer only chuckled in amusement.

“Lil’ Jackass, I really should apologize. I’ve been a neglectful owner. I honestly thought you were dead the last time I saw you. You weren’t breathing. And the smell… well, I suppose that’s my own fault for letting you rot that way.”

Hammer poked out his bottom lip and struck himself on the back of his own hand. “Shame on me.” He shrugged his shoulder and fixed his eyes on Tony with a grin. “That’s what happens when inexperienced masters such as myself are left to their own devices.”

Tony nearly snarled. “Or maybe you’re just a dumb fuc---“

Justin clucked his tongue as he grabbed a handful of brunette hair and yanked Tony’s head back, harshly cutting him off when the pain made the words catch in his throat. He leaned down, brushing his nose along Tony’s cheek in a mockery of affection as he shushed softly.

“Now, now. Have you forgotten your training already? I like you so much more silent.”

Tony opened his mouth to snap out another insult, but before he could get a word out a rubber ball gag was suddenly shoved between his lips. Brown eyes widened in surprise---he hadn’t even seen the thing in Justin’s hand--- and he tried to yank his head back in an attempt to dislodge it, but the grip in his hair didn’t allow him much range of movement. Some words were muttered above him, and a second set of hands set to work securing the gag tightly at the base of his skull.

Of course. Hammer couldn’t do anything by himself. The sorry sack of sh---

“That’s better.” Hammer’s cooing tone made Tony sick to his stomach, and he shook the man off again when the fingers in his hair loosened to instead thread through the strands as if he were petting his favorite animal. And no, that wasn’t going to become a thing.

His defiance only seemed to amuse Justin further, because the man drew his hand back and laughed. “Looks like my pony needs to be broken in again. That’s always fun. Crushing your spirit and bending you to my will is all part of the thrill.” Hammer turned and walked toward a large furnace. The space between the large gratings was lit up a bright orange. A fire was burning inside.

A gesture thrown over his shoulder sent two men that had been standing behind Tony into action, and they both stepped forward. One knelt behind the engineer and looped his arms beneath Tony’s bound ones, then placed his hands behind Tony’s head in an effective arm bar head lock. Before he could even begin to struggle the man bent him forward, using his body weight to keep Tony’s legs folded beneath his body despite his struggles to throw him off.

The second produced a knife, which he used to begin cutting the clothes from Tony’s body. Two shallow cuts, one on his thigh and the other along his ribs convinced the engineer that it might be better if he just sat still and let it happen. He was going to lose his clothes one way or another; at least this way he wouldn’t lose a few pints of blood with them.

Instead Tony turned his glare on Hammer---having lost track of him while he struggled with the two men--- and what he saw made his heart seize up in his chest. The other man was crossing back over to them, still with the same shit eating grin he’d been wearing since he’d woken up, but it was what he was carrying that made Tony’s blood run cold.

It was a brand. The long metal stick of iron had an ‘H’ on the end of it, and it was glowing a sinister red-orange. White smoke was billowing from the burning metal, fresh from the fire it had been pulled from only a moment before.

“This time, Lil’ Jackass, if I lose you again, at least everyone else will know who you belong to.”

Tony, now fully naked and still held in an unbreakable grip, trembled uncontrollably as Hammer squatted down in front of him. Wide brown eyes ignored him in favor of focusing on the glowing brand he held. It was as if the fear had paralyzed him. His mind was screaming at him to fight; to get away, but he couldn’t move a muscle. Only his chest moved in great heaving motions as he struggled to pull air into his constricting lungs.

The pout was pulling on Justin’s lips again; his tone mocking. “I heard you were being a good little pony for someone else while we were apart. For good ol’ Captain America, in fact. That hurts, Lil’ Jackass. Did our time together mean anything to you?”

If he was expecting an actual answer, then Tony was going to have to disappoint, because he still couldn’t focus on anything but brand. The time out of the fire hadn’t done much to cool it. Only the edges of the ‘H’ were beginning to turn black again; but it was still hot enough to burn into his flesh; and it would be for quite some time.

Hammer clucked his tongue and stood, and the man holding Tony used his grip to hoist his now naked body upright. It was only when the branding iron left his line of sight that Tony’s senses came back to him, and he began to kick and struggle against his captor, screaming as best he could around the gag in his mouth. A second man stepped up, and the first adjusted his grip so that each of them had an arm. Try as he might, he couldn’t resist their combined efforts to drag him forward, and the air whooshed out of Tony’s lungs when he was bent over a wooden table. A hand went to the back of his neck, but before the second man could get a grip on him, Tony managed to nail him in the stomach with a well-placed kick. The guy went down with a pained grunt, and Hammer laughed from somewhere behind them.

“I forgot to mention he’s a kicker. Lucky for you he’s not wearing his hooves yet. Gentleman, if you would…”

More men rushed forward, and before long Tony found himself hopelessly pinned. His legs were held tightly against the legs of the table and his upper body was being crushed to the surface. He couldn’t move a muscle, and if he tried, more force was applied. It was already hard enough to breathe through the panic; he didn’t need any more pressure on his lungs.

“There we go.” Tony rolled his wide eyes to the side and back, and he was just barely able to see Hammer in the corner of his vision. He automatically made another attempt to squirm away when the other man patted his exposed rump, but his efforts only drew another amused chuckle.

“This will only hurt…well… a lot. This, Lil Jackass…” Hammer’s voice turned hard, cruel. “---Tony Stark… This makes you my property for life. Even if your team manages to get you back, your body will always be MINE!”

Tony heard the sizzle and smelled the burning flesh before he felt it---probably the shock--- but when the pain did set in, it was intense and horrific. All he could do was scream.

--------------

No one had spoken another word since Natasha had implied that Bucky had most likely betrayed them all; tricked them even. The only sound was the roar of the engine as Clint sped along the roughly paved road. Natasha’s eyes remained fixed on the tracking screen as if willing the blinking green dots that represented Tony and the car to move.

They never did.

In fact, when they reached the spot the trackers were supposed to be, they found nothing. No Tony and no car. They’d all filed out of their vehicle to search the area, just in case Tony was around. A big part of Steve hoped they didn’t find him there, because if the tracker was still inside the man and he was so still… Well, it couldn’t mean anything good.

“I found the phone!” Steve looked up at Clint, who had traveled several yards back the direction they’d come. He waved a broken and battered phone in his hand. Bruce had already joined him and taken the device, probably hoping to find a way to use it to track Hammer or get some kind of clue as to what might have happened.

Meanwhile, he and Natasha were searching the area right over top of the trackers, still beeping away on the screen. The one that had been on the car didn’t take long to find. It was larger and had been attached to the muffler of the old Toyota. Now it sat on the burning pavement, intact save for a little damage around the edges where Bucky had pried it off.

Steve frowned as he picked it up and turned it over and over in his palms. How had Bucky known it was there?

“Steve…”

Natasha’s uncharacteristically soft tone made his head snap up so quickly something in his neck creaked. Steve closed the few steps between them peered over the kneeling woman’s shoulder. Her fingers slid along the pavement, and when she held them up, they were covered with a sticky red liquid.

Blood. Tony’s blood.

“Bucky cut the tracker out of him. It’s too small to see, but it’s here.”

Steve’s mouth went dry as he fought down the rush of emotions that threatened to take him to his knees. He felt like a complete and utter failure. He’d literally let Bucky hand Tony over to Hammer. He was so blinded by his trust in his old childhood friend that he completely forgot that Bucky was The Winter Solider. He was a master assassin, a master manipulator. They had all been fooled. Completely fooled!

But not Tony. He hadn’t trusted Bucky at all. It’d been obvious. The way he’d side-eye Bucky, the way he’d monitored him, questioned him. But Tony had trusted Steve and his team. And they had let him down.

Steve hadn’t realized he’d closed his fist around the tracker until it crunched in his hand. Natasha was standing now, and she placed her hand on his shoulder. She didn’t try to offer him words of comfort or false hope. She wasn’t the type. She was a realist, and she understood they’d all fucked up. No words needed.

Clint and Bruce had sidled up to them just as the distant sound of an approaching engine caught there attention. They all watched in silence, muscles tensing as they watched. It didn’t take long for a familiar grey Toyota to speed around the bend in the road, and Steve’s lips curled up in barely concealed rage when the vehicle came to an abrupt stop nearly fifty feet ahead of them. The door swung open and Bucky stepped out. The sun shone off his metal arm, and if Steve’s gaze hadn’t been so intensely focused on Bucky’s eyes, it might have blinded him.

The Winter Solider said nothing at first. His expression was unreadable; blank. He gave nothing away at all in his stance; at least not until his hands balled themselves into fists. For a moment Steve thought this was a prelude to an attack, but Bucky only began walking steadily forward with only the slightest bit of hesitance.

He wasn’t being aggressive. He was being cautious.

Steve brushed past his team, ignoring Clint’s cut off protest when Natasha held out her hand to silence the archer.

He approached Bucky with far more aggression than the solider was showing him, his teeth bared with poorly concealed rage.

“What did you do?! WHAT DID YOU DO?!”

Bucky’s eyes widened, apparently surprised by the venom in Steve’s voice; and his steps came to a halt. Steve didn’t stop, and he didn’t wait for an answer before he brought his fist down across Bucky’s jaw with everything he had. The brunette went down hard, either too shocked by the attack to retaliate or unwilling to defend himself, and Steve was on him in a second, straddling his waist as he gathered fist fulls of Bucky’s shirt into his hands to haul him back up.

“I trusted you! Why?!”

To his credit, Bucky met Steve’s furious gaze without blinking; without flinching. Without a word his hand—his flesh hand--- came up slowly, too slowly and deliberate to even be threatening, and his fingers grazed the spot at the base of Steve’s neck.

“This. He’ll kill you.”

Steve’s grip slackened a bit as his rage gave way to confusion. And then it hit him. The device Hammer had planted at the base of his skull. It was still there. Its placement had been so close to his spinal cord—practically imbedded into it, in fact--- that no SHEILD doctor had been willing to touch it. Even with the serum, there was a huge chance he could be paralyzed, or dosed with more of the toxin that nearly killed him before. Surviving it the first time had been a stroke of luck. He doubted he’d get that lucky a second time.

“Hammer knew you were following. If I failed to deliver Stark or you and your team showed up, he would have killed you. I couldn’t let that happen. Stark wasn’t worth your life.”
Something close to a strangled sob bubbled up from Steve’s throat, and his fingers tightened again as he shook Bucky violently. “Tony is worth my life and more! That wasn’t for you to decide!”

Bucky snarled as he gripped at Steve’s wrists and yanked himself up so that their noses nearly touched; eyes blazing into the other’s. “Not to me! We will find a way to get him back, but not right now!”

“You don’t understand.” Steve’s voice came out in a vehement whisper, slowly rising in volume as he continued. “You don’t understand, Bucky! We need to get him back now! Why didn’t you just kill Hammer?!”

“He may not be the one carrying the remote! There are others with him! I wasn’t willing to take the risk!”

Steve shook Bucky’s grip away and dropped him hard onto the pavement as he stood. He started back toward their vehicle, waving his arm at the others to follow suit. Behind him Bucky stood.

“You idiot! Hammer will kill you on sight!”

Steve swung around. “Tony neutralized it!”

It had been the first project Tony had set to work on when his fingers had regained the dexterity they needed to function on more detailed work. Tony had agreed with the doctors about the dangers of removing the device from his neck. He hadn’t been too worried about paralyzing Steve. He could build something with movements precise enough to remove it without worry of damaging anything around it. What had concerned him was the risk of releasing the toxin. Without knowing exactly how the implant worked, there was no way to know what could set it off. The best Tony could do was implant a radio wave blocker that in theory should neutralize any signal sent by Hammer to set it off. Of course, there was no way to know for sure it would work unless someone tried to set it off, but Steve believed in Tony. He trusted him with his life. He knew it would work.
Bucky, however, didn’t.

“You can’t be sure, Steve! Let him have Stark for now! Even if you stay behind and your team goes in, he’ll kill you. That thing has one hell of a range on it!”

Steve turned to go, but Bucky bolted forward, grabbing at his shoulder with his metal hand. “I won’t let you, Steve!”

Before any of the other Avengers could intervene, Steve had stopped cold in his tracks. He turned his head just enough to meet Bucky’s eye over his shoulder. “You try to stop me and I’ll kill you where you stand.”

Blue eyes widened, the shock plain to see on Bucky’s face. His mouth opened, but snapped shut with an audible clack a moment later. His brow furrowed, deep and hard as his jaw set tightly. He was studying Steve in a new light, taking in every inch of him with a new appreciation. No longer was he the skinny little kid from Brooklyn in need of his protection. The man who stood before him now was a lethal force to be reckoned with, and in that moment, Bucky understood that he had made a monumental mistake.

His grip loosened before his hand fell away from Steve’s shoulder, and he met the other man’s eyes when Steve turned to face him fully. His expression had softened somewhat, seemingly knowing something had changed.

When Bucky spoke, his voice was low and soft, tinged with both resignation and admiration. “You love him that much? So much you’d take me down and risk your own life?”

Steve didn’t hesitate. “Nothing is more important than Tony. He’s everything to me, Bucky.”

Bucky’s eyes dropped to the pavement, coincidently landing on the dark spot that was Tony’s drying blood. The sight nearly made him wince. “Well…” He met Steve’s eyes again. He didn’t like it. The idea of sending Steve to his death made Bucky’s blood run cold, but it was clear now that there was nothing he could do to stop the man. It was either let him go on his own, or suck it up and help fix his mistake. Stark had better have neutralized that implant, because if Steve died trying to get him back, Bucky wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep from killing Tony himself.

“Let’s go get your boy back.”

TBC

Chapter Text

To say the mood was tense would be an understatement. The air was so thick inside the SUV they rode in you could almost see it. Natasha, for the most part, was indifferent. Her eyes remained trained on the road ahead as they sped toward their destination. If one was watching, the only visible clue providing insight to her true emotional status was the minute tightening of her right fist where it sat curled on her thigh. For a normal person, that was the equivalent of a full fledge rage rant.

Bruce was concentrating on keeping the Hulk at bay. His eyes were closed and he drew long, steading breaths in through his nose before releasing them slowly from his mouth. His brow was crinkled and his foot was tapping with anxiety. Hopefully he’d be able to control himself until they got to Tony; then the Hulk was free to smash to his heart’s content.

Clint, still driving, made no attempt to hide his ire for Bucky. His eyes continuously found the other man in the rearview mirror, and if looks could kill, Bucky would have been dead three times over by now. It was clear the archer had plenty of things to say, but every time he parted his lips to share his thoughts, Natasha, who was riding shotgun, would fix him with a pointed stare that silenced him before he could get started. It was effective for all of three minutes before Clint would once again find Bucky in the mirror and make another attempt. And the loop continued.

Steve chose to sit in the third row next to Bucky. His jaw remained clenched tightly and his arms were crossed across his chest. It was clear that he was still utterly enraged by Bucky’s betrayal, even if he did understand the man’s reasoning behind it. Regardless, sacrificing Tony was never an option; ever.

“How did you know about the tracker?”

Though Steve’s voice was low and intended only for Bucky’s ears, the sudden interruption of cloying silence was enough to make everyone snap to attention. Bucky’s eyes never left the terrain rushing past out the window, but his posture stiffened when he was addressed.

“The skin at the injection site was slightly irritated. On top of that, Stark’s finger tapped the spot on three separate occasions. I wouldn’t be much of an assassin if I didn’t pick up on these things. The tracker on the car was a given. I found it easily.”

A moment ticked by. “I didn’t want you following him to your death. I would have tracked him down later once we’d taken care of your problem.”

A small part of Steve felt a tiny sense of joy that Bucky would still care so much for him after all these years. He’d always looked out for Steve when they were growing up; always pulling him out of the trouble Steve so often threw himself into with great enthusiasm. He was only continuing the tradition. Bucky didn’t know Tony--- didn’t care for him or comprehend how Steve felt about him. His decision to sacrifice Tony hadn’t been made with malicious intent. In fact, it’d been the exact opposite. And that was the only reason Steve hadn’t taken Bucky down back on the road. It was the only reason he was giving him an opportunity to correct his error in judgement. But that didn’t mean Steve trusted him. Not by a long shot. He’d been foolish to accept Bucky into the fold so easily before. He wouldn’t make the same mistake again. At this point, Steve simply wanted Bucky where he could watch him, so bringing him along had been the most logical choice.

He’d worry about the rest once he had Tony back and Hammer smeared across the ground at his feet.

--------------

He hadn’t even tried to fight it when Justin’s men went about equipping him with a new set of pony gear. He hadn’t fought when the hooved stiletto boots had been placed on his feet and laced up to his knees. These weren’t nearly as comfortable as the padded pair Steve had for him. The body harness, complete with a full, heavy cascading brunette tail had come next. The leather straps crisscrossed across his torso and hugged his waist snuggly, uncomfortably so. The elbow high hand mitts were next, and the pain of having his arms bound far too tightly between his shoulder blades barely registered in comparison to the searing burning sensation centered at his hip. And finally, the halter with the harsh metal bit that hurt his teeth and made his jaw ache was buckled into place.

Throughout the entire process, Tony only stared at the floor with glazed eyes. His body shivered uncontrollably from the pain of the branding. An ugly mark---a ‘H’ standing for Hammer--- stood out starkly on the otherwise unmarred flesh of his hip. The burned skin was raised and beat red, broken and leaking blood in some spots. The edges were charred, and the flesh had shriveled and begun to flake off. Each step was agony and the pain so intense it almost seemed as if the hot metal were still pressing against him. It was absolutely hideous and Tony felt ruined. Both mentally and physically. Steve had somehow convinced him that the scars on his chest did nothing to detract from his appearance, but no amount of reassurances and sweet talk could convince Tony that he was still attractive like this. There was just no way Steve would be proud to show him off---Honey off--- with a scar like this.

The ‘click’ of a lead being buckled onto his harness brought Tony’s mind back to the present, and he blinked dully as he raised his eyes to meet Hammer’s glowing ones. The man smiled with sick satisfaction as he looked Tony up and down, humming in satisfaction as he gave Tony’s burned hip a slap. The extra flare of pain made the engineer shriek around the bit in his mouth, nearly cracking his molars when his jaw clamped down. Hammer’s grip on his lead prevented him from moving away, and instead he was pulled forward as the other man began walking toward a door that would take them outside.

“As much as I’d love to take you for a ride right here and now, we have to get going. My men have spotted your team and apparently the Winter Soldier is with them. What a dirty double crosser!”

Tony’s eyes darted down the road when they stepped outside. He was torn. Part of him wanted to see Steve rushing to his rescue; but another part of him hoped he didn’t come. He felt absolutely humiliated; and though he argued with himself that this wasn’t his team’s fault, they had pushed for this whole ‘bait’ thing to be the plan. He’d trusted them to have his back, and now…

Tony sucked in a deep breath through his nose as Hammer pulled more insistently on his lead. The pain in his hip left him limping heavily, and walking on his toes didn’t help matters, but he somehow managed to keep up as he was led over to an enclosed trailer. In fact, it was the same exact one he and Steve had initially woken up in after their capture. The memory alone sent a violent shiver through Tony’s frame. He stumbled when his feet tried to stop on their own accord, but a pair of hands pushed on his shoulders from behind as Hammer pulled from the front, and Tony was left with little choice but to clamber up the ramp and into the trailer.

The man who had pushed him from behind quickly removed the ramp and closed the doors before slapping the side of the metal enclosure three times. Apparently it was the signal the driver had been waiting for, because the truck towing them lunged forward so abruptly it threw Tony to his knees. The skin there tore against the wooden floor, and Tony groaned as the pain flared up his thighs.

Behind him Hammer chuckled. He’d been more prepared and had gotten a firm hold on a handrail for balance.

“Oh, poor baby.” His tone was so unsympathetic and full of mockery it made Tony cringe. “Sorry about that. Just in a bit of a rush.”

By now they had reached a more steady speed, and Hammer felt secure enough to let go. He clipped the other end of Tony’s lead to a hook embedded into the wall of the trailer and plucked a short leather crop off another hook beside it. He used it to tap insistently at Tony’s flank as he clicked his tongue. “Up, up, up.”

Brown eyes squeezed themselves shut tightly, torn between lashing out and simply doing as he was told. He already hurt too much. His body, his mind, his heart; it all hurt. What was to be gained from fighting? More pain? He just didn’t want to hurt anymore. He didn’t want to fight or think. He didn’t want to be Tony Stark anymore or deal with any of his problems. He just wanted to…be.

And with that thought, everything just seemed to fade into the background. The frantic tempo of looping worries in his mind came to an abrupt halt, replaced by a blessed hazy silence. The anxiety melted away and the tension in his muscles melted away. His racing heart slowed and everything became so much more simple.

If he did as he was told he would be taken care of. Obey and be rewarded. Disobedience would lead to pain. Nothing else was important. Not right then.

Tony sighed deeply when he simply let go, and he ignored the pain in his knees and the ever present burn in his hip as he got to his feet without a fight. Beside him Hammer seemed caught off guard. Suspicious blue eyes studied him carefully, and he slowly extended the crop and used the tip of it to tap at Tony’s left ankle.

“Lift.”

The moving floor he stood on made it a bit of a challenge, but Tony managed shift most his weight onto his right foot before lifting his left up. He kept the very front tip of the hoof on the floor to prevent himself from falling, but Justin seemed pleased nonetheless. Surprised, but pleased.

A soft pat to his thigh was all the permission he needed to place his foot down again, and the murmured bit of praise and brief rake of fingers through his hair filled Tony with such an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that it was almost scary. But it left him wanting more.

Hammer moved to stand directly into his line of sight, and his searching blue eyes bore into Tony’s brown ones, darting back and forth for a long moment before they widened with dawning comprehension. Fingers curled into the cheek strap of his leather halter, and he was pulled forward; closer.

“You… You’ve dropped, haven’t you?” A lazy blink was Hammer’s only reply. Though Tony had his voice, he made no attempts to use it. This only seemed to excite Justin further, and he let go of the halter to instead disappear behind Tony to release the locks that held his arms behind his back, all the while babbling.

“All the time I had you before you never once went into subspace. You gave up eventually, but you never willingly obeyed me. You were always Tony Stark in your mind. But not right now. Tony Stark isn’t home, is he? You’re my Lil’ Jackass right now. You WANT to make me happy. You WANT my control.”

Tony listened in silence as the other man rambled on. He heard the words, but he didn’t really comprehend them. He didn’t want to think anymore. But one thing… one thing seemed wrong. He wasn’t… that name. It wasn’t right. He didn’t want to be…that. Honey. That was his name. That’s who he wanted to be right now. He was Steve’s Honey.

But Steve wasn’t here right now. Steve let Bucky give him to Hammer. So Honey belonged to Hammer now.

Tony’s arms came loose as the last buckle was released, and he sighed around the heavy bit in his mouth as the freed appendages fell to his sides. His shoulder ached, but it was the good kind of ache. Brown eyes dropped to stare at his hands. The hooves he saw there were shiny and black… pretty and polished. It made him feel nice. Kept. It made him feel like Hammer cared.

A pair of lips hovered by his ear, whispering. “Get on all fours.”

Honey did.

----------------------

“Don’t stop. He’s gone.”

Clint’s eyes cut to Bucky briefly before he focused on the large looming warehouse they were quickly approaching. This was the drop-off point, and the place Bucky had handed
Tony over to Hammer. There were still several cars parked around the lot, and even now armed men were rushing out of the building to intercept them.

“Are you crazy?! If he’s not in there then what are these guys protecting? I’m stopping!”

“Don’t!” Bucky nearly hissed as he leaned over the back of Bruce’s seat. “There was a trailer parked out front before. It’s gone. They’ve already taken Tony away from here! These men are a distraction! Keep going!”

Clint’s foot eased up off the gas as his eyes met Steve’s in the rearview, torn and waiting for their leader to make the call.

Steve’s eyes darted to the building and each of the men leaving it. Soon they’d start shooting, and he had to make a decision. Quickly. If there really was a missing vehicle, then it was likely Hammer and Tony were already gone. However, he’d be taking Bucky’s word for it, and at this point, he had no reason to trust him. If they kept going---if this was just a trick and Tony was still here--- then they’d be abandoning him to Hammer.

But if they had already gone, then stopping would allow Hammer more time to disappear.

“Stop.”

Clint immediately brought the SUV to a skidding halt. They all filed out of the vehicle at once, armed and ready to storm the warehouse and rescue their teammate. So they were surprised when Steve slid into the driver’s seat and motioned for Bucky to take shotgun.

“You three take care of things here. If Tony is still in there, radio me. I’m going to go ahead in case Hammer has already fled.”

Steve’s blue eyes jumped between his teammates, hoping they understood his need to cover all bases. If he was wrong about either scenario here, it could cost Tony dearly.

Separating the team wasn’t ideal, but he was desperate.

Luckily, the others all seemed to understand. Bruce nodded as he removed his glasses and calmly handed them to Natasha. As she hid them away in a pouch at her hip with practiced ease, Bruce’s frame expanded and his skin bled to green. A low growl turned into an ear shattering roar as the Hulk turned to the quickly approaching men. They immediately began firing their guns, and that was all it took for the smashing to begin.

Clint was off in a flash, firing arrows that quickly cleared the path for Steve to get through.

Natasha simply waved Steve on with a small, nearly undetectable grin. He nodded in return, grateful for his team’s understanding. His eyes shot over to Bucky briefly before he pushed the gas petal to the floor.

------------------------

“You’re perfect like this. Perfect. This is exactly where you’re supposed to be. On your hands and knees below me. Look at you. Doesn’t this feel right?”

Honey sighed deeply as he focused on keeping himself steady under his rider’s weight. It wasn’t an easy task. Each time they went over a bump in the road he felt jostled and off balance. Gravity would make them both nearly weightless for a split second before reversing itself, and suddenly the man on his back felt twice as heavy. Twice his elbows nearly gave out, but he managed to keep them locked. Everything would be fine as long as he held his rider up.

But suddenly the weight was gone, and brown eyes widened as a brief wave of fear washed over him. What had he done wrong? Had he missed a command?

Honey risked turning his head to see what the problem was, and he was surprised to find that rather than preparing to punish him, Hammer had retrieved a small round container of what appeared to be salve. He twisted off the top and scooped out a glob of the clear gel-like substance inside. Honey nearly whimpered in relief when it was applied to the burn on his hip. He chewed at the bit in his mouth instead. He wasn’t supposed to make noise. The sudden soothing of pain was enough to make him melt, though, and he swayed with the motion of the trailer was his muscles truly relaxed for the first time since being branded.

“There. See? You make me happy, I take care of you. You’ll find that I’m a much kinder owner than I was before.”

Honey’s eyes closed when he obeyed a command to get back to his feet. His arms were secured behind his back again, but this time they were crossed lower and more comfortably. His lead was secured to the hook on the wall again, and Hammer signaled for him to stand still as he set to work cleaning the scrapes on his bruised knees. It was nice. It felt nice.

Honey felt himself sinking deeper into his headspace. It was just so much easier being like this. At least for a little awhile. He still wished it were Steve here with him, but he’d been marked. Steve wouldn’t want him like this. Still…

“Oh, fuck!”

Brown eyes flew open at Hammer’s shouted curse. The other man was focused on the back windows, and Honey followed his gaze. A dark SUV was quickly approaching them, and despite the extra speed their own driver put out, the gap was quickly closed. They were nearly bumper to bumper now, and Honey could clearly see Steve in the driver’s seat. Bucky was beside him, and both men were talking back and forth while they gestured wildly at the trailer.

Hammer was suddenly scrambling in his pockets, and the color trained from Honey’s face when he pulled out the small remote that controlled the implant in Steve’s neck. The button was pushed before he could even respond, but the sick smile on Hammer’s face dissolved when nothing happened. He pressed it again, then one more time before snarling and tossing the remote to the floor.

Justin spun around, his eyes blazing, and grabbed at Honey’s halter. “You disabled it, didn’t you?!” He shook his captive angrily, slamming him back against the wall as he bared his teeth. Wide brown eyes only stared back, and that seemed to give Hammer a moment’s pause. “No. Not you. Tony Stark.”

Justin released him with an irritated hiss and turned to the back doors again. By now they were traveling so quickly in an attempt to outrun Steve that the trailer was bouncing and weaving dangerously on the road. Honey was having trouble keeping his feet beneath him on the slick wood, and Hammer wasn’t fairing much better despite wearing actual shoes with rubber soles on them.

The rocky ride didn’t prevent the man from pulling a gun from the waist of his pants, though, and he took aim at their pursuers; or more specifically, Steve.

Alarm bells went off on Honey’s head, and before he’d even registered what he was doing, he kicked out violently, catching Hammer in the back with the steeled shoe bottom of his hoofed boot. The gun went off as Hammer was thrown into the doors, but the shot was deflected into the roof instead of hitting its intended target. Still, the sound must have startled the driver, because the trailer pitched to the left sharply, then to the right as the truck towing them attempted to correct itself. But it was too late. Gravity coupled with their momentum had taken hold, and Honey could only brace for impact was the world turned itself upside down. He heard Hammer yelling in pain as his body was thrown around like a rag doll, and though Honey wasn’t fairing much better, the lead attaching him to the trailer wall did prevent him from being ejected when the back doors were thrown open.

The sound of crunching metal was loud in his ears as they tumbled over and over.

And then everything stopped. Honey drew in staggering breaths as he looked around with wide eyes. The trailer was upside down, and he was sprawled on the ceiling. His halter was surprisingly still intact, as was his neck, though his head was being pulled up uncomfortably toward the hook he was still attached to. His body throbbed in pain, but nothing seemed broken. Hammer was gone.

He was alone.

And that’s when the shock wore off and the panic set in.

TBC

Chapter Text

Steve’s heart absolutely plummeted when the trailer containing Tony left the road. Grass, dirt, glass and hunks of metal flew through the air as both truck and trailer tumbled over and over. He counted five complete rotations before it all skidded to a stop. The smell of burning rubber was heavy in the air as both Steve and Bucky jumped out of their own vehicle and ran toward the wreck; their eyes scanning the debris through the dust and smoke.

It had all happened so quickly, but Steve had been sure he’d seen a body fly from the trailer, and the thought of it being Tony made his stomach churn violently.

“There.”

Bucky pointed to something in the tall grass before darting toward it, and Steve held his breath as he followed. He watched as Bucky crouched down, his hands reaching toward what was, in fact, a body. But a quick scan told them it wasn’t Tony. The hair was blond. That meant it was either Hammer or the driver of the truck. Neither was important.

Steve pushed past Bucky and carefully made his way to the trailer. It had detached from the truck on the third flip, and now it lay on its roof several yards away from the smoking vehicle that had been towing it. It was a big possibility that the truck could ignite at any moment, and the urgency to find Tony grew as each second passed. Blue eyes scanned the debris zone for any signs of life. He didn’t want to miss Tony if he’d been ejected. Seconds could mean the difference between life and death.

But as his steps brought him closer to the wreckage, his enhanced hearing picked up the unmistakable sounds of someone struggling. Someone inside the trailer. Tony.

Steve covered the remaining distance in half the time it would have taken a normal person, and he dropped to his knees to peer into the crumbled opening of the trailer. The frame had been crushed during the accident, and it now resembled an aluminum can that had been smashed beneath someone’s shoe. The fact that anyone inside could still be alive was a miracle on its own.

But someone was alive.

There, hooked in the very back of the trailer, was Tony. He was struggling violently with the lead that attached his bridle to a hook in the wall; thrashing and kicking out as he panted heavily around the bit between his teeth. He didn’t even seem to notice as Steve called out to him, cautiously easing his way inside to reach him.

“Tony, it’s ok. Stop. You’re going to hurt yourself.”

Steve could already see that Tony was hurt, though. While he couldn’t see any obvious breaks in his bones, he could see a multitude of lacerations covering his body. He was bruised and bleeding, and now that Steve was closer, he could see the wild look in brown eyes when they finally fell on him. For a moment it looked as if Tony didn’t even recognize him, and that was worrisome. He could very well have suffered a head injury; a concussion even. With all the blood, it was hard to tell where it was all coming from. Until he got him out of there, Steve had no way of checking for any head wounds.

For now, Tony had gone still. His wide eyes were fixed on Steve and nothing else, and after a few very tense seconds went by, recognition came flooding back. The engineer’s body seemed to relax almost instantly, though his muscles still twitched and quivered with what must have been pain.

Steve offered him a small smile as he crawled across the remaining distance between them. He immediately unsnapped the hook holding Tony to the wall, and Tony let out a relieved huff of breath when the pressure was finally taken off his neck. Steve carefully eased his body the rest of the way down and set to work checking him for more serious injuries.

His hands shook as he gently removed the halter. Steve fully expected a tirade of complaints to spill from Tony’s now free lips, but instead he was met with a disturbing silence.

A bleeding tongue darted out momentarily---it had clearly been bitten as some point--- but the moment it hit bloody lips, it withdrew back into that damaged mouth with a wince.

Steve’s hands shook as he carded his fingers through Tony’s dusty hair, checking for any gashes and bumps. He found none. The only injury aside from the smaller cuts on his face was a slightly larger cut on his forehead. It appeared to be merely a surface wound, though, so Steve passed it over in favor of checking the rest of Tony’s body.

Throughout the entire process Tony remained silent, only grunting in pain if Steve’s fingers pressed too hard on a tender area. His eyes were focused---they wouldn’t be if he had a serious head injury--- but they seemed distant; glazed. That probably shouldn’t be that surprising, though. He’d just been in a major accident, and the shock of it was probably setting in.

Satisfied that moving him wouldn’t result in further injury, Steve gathered Tony into his arms as best he could in the cramped space and shuffled back toward the entrance. He carefully maneuvered the other man past the sharp, jagged edges of metal and found a patch of grass free of debris to lay Tony down on.

In the sunlight he looked even worse. His skin was pale and covered in so much blood; he was more red than flesh colored. Most the bruising was localized on his face, knees, and shoulders. With his arms bound the way they were, he’d been unable to protect himself during the crash, and those were the most exposed places on his body to be left open. They’d taken the brunt of the damage when he’d been thrown around. The bruising on his face was patterned like the halter. The straps themselves had created so much pressure they’d bruised the skin beneath. Tony’s left eye was also black and swollen; though it seemed like an older wound. The rest of the bruising was still developing, and had yet to turn the same dark color as his eye.

Steve had to bite down a surge of anger. His jaw set hard as his teeth mashed together, and he had to forcibly remind himself to be gentle with Tony as he rolled the man onto his side to gain access to the buckles that held his arms captive. Logic said it was most likely Bucky who was responsible for that black eye. He could hear the other man walking through the taller grass somewhere behind him, and if his urge to care for Tony hadn’t been so strong, he was sure he would have gone after Bucky in a second.
But he’d deal with that later.

Right now Tony was his priority, and something was clearly wrong here.

Steve had freed the other man’s arms and removed the mitts completely, but for a long moment Tony’s arms remained folded behind him as if they were still bound. Tony was frozen; his eyes wide as they stared ahead at nothing. For a moment Steve panicked, thinking that maybe something was broken in Tony’s arms and he’d just seriously hurt him, but the second the thought crossed his mind, the smaller man was moving.

The problem was he was moving AWAY. Scrambling, actually.

“Hey! Tony, don’t! Don’t move!”

Steve quickly wrapped his arms around Tony, his hold loose but firm, and his heart nearly broke when his touch wrought a violent flinch and low pitched whine. And the reaction was not pain based. It was as if the other man didn’t want him near him; and that hurt on a level so profound Steve felt his entire chest seize with the pain of it.

But why? Why would he…

And then he saw it. At first Steve thought his eyes were playing tricks on him. It must have been the blood making patterns in Tony’s skin… but it wasn’t. Steve left one arm wrapped around Tony and carefully used his free hand to wipe away the gore and dirt from Tony’s hip. His touch made the other man jump---this time in actual pain---and draw in a sharp intake of air before he went completely still; stiff in Steve’s hold.

Blue eyes remained fixed on that mark; that brand---- and his brow furrowed as a wave of conflicting emotions bombarded him. Tony had been burned with Hammer’s mark. His skin was permanently scarred, marked as if he were common cattle to be claimed and accounted for. Tony was HIS. The very idea that anyone would have the audacity to lay claim to this man in such a barbaric way filled him with such white hot fury that it would scare him had he been any more rational at the moment.

“Steve…”

“WHAT?!”

Bucky’s eyes widened and he took a small step back as Steve’s head swung toward him. His voice had been little more than a snarl, animalistic and savage, and the blazing blue eyes and bared teeth left him looking positively rabid.

“Steve… calm down. You’re hurting him.”

Steve inhaled sharply as his attention returned to Tony. The man was still, but his breathing was labored. His eyes were wide and panicked, and Steve realized with a muttered curse that his grip had tightened considerably around him. He immediately loosened it and dropped his face into Tony’s hair, inhaling his scent deeply into his lungs as he willed himself to calm down. His hands stroked along Tony’s arms as he murmured what he hoped were words of comfort, both for himself and Tony.

Bucky, to his credit, remained silent until Steve raised his head again. Winter Solider or not, the expression on the Captain’s face as he spoke left him feeling chilled to the bone.

“Is Hammer dead?”

Bucky nodded once in confirmation. “And the driver. Dead on impact. Hammer had massive internal bleeding and a broken neck.”

Steve’s eyes slipped closed as he nodded. He wanted Hammer dead, but a dark part of him had wanted to snap his neck himself. He’d put Tony through so much; he’d deserved to suffer.

“Leave his body for now. Fury will send a clean-up crew.”

Steve fell silent as he set to work removing the body harness and boots from Tony as well, tossing them aside with disgust and a low growl. He barely caught the nearly inaudible whimper from Tony as he did so, and he wondered for a moment why those brown eyes looked so lost all the sudden. They’d fallen on the discarded pony gear and remained there for a long moment before dropping to the ground as he curled his battered body into a ball in the grass.

Steve accepted a blanket Bucky handed him a moment later, wrapping it tightly around Tony’s shivering form before gathering him into his arms. He moved past the other brunette without a word, expecting that Bucky would follow on his own, and headed back to their waiting SUV. Tony had turned his face into Steve’s chest and seemed content to hide there; and that just about broke Steve’s heart.

This was not the Tony Stark he knew and loved. This was a broken man.

“I’m sorry, Tony. I’m so sorry.”

His tight, cracking voice didn’t seem to bring Tony any comfort. In fact, if anything, Steve’s words only seemed to make Tony retreat further.

----------------------

“It’s a miracle considering the severity of the accident, but he has no serious injuries. He’s going to be very sore for a while, but nothing is broken, none of the cuts were too deep, and there’s no internal bleeding.”

Steve released a breath he’d been holding since Bruce had approached him where he waited outside Tony’s room. He’d been so worried that there was some major injury he hadn’t been able to see, but this was manageable. In fact, it’d give Steve the chance he’d wanted to coddle and care for Tony to his heart’s content. The urge had been so strong from the moment he’d laid eyes on him in that crumbled trailer, and he fully intended to spoil the other man until he was forced to stop.

But Tony’s behavior still worried him. It had been hours since they’d returned, and even with multiple doctors checking him over, Tony hadn’t really said a word. He seemed listless, absent. He was there, but he wasn’t present.

“There’s no sign of a concussion?”

Bruce glanced down at a chart he held in his hands and shook his head. “None. I know you’re concerned that he’s not acting like himself, but he’s been through a pretty big shock…”

“Tony has had buildings collapse on him. He’s been swatted out of the air like a fly and bounced back with a smile. He’s had broken bones and laughed about it. He’s never acted like this before. Something else is going on.”

For a long moment Bruce said nothing. He seemed to be deep in thought, and he chewed on his bottom lip as he raised his eyes to meet Steve’s gaze. When he spoke, his words were soft, quiet so no one else would overhear them.

“Steve, what is the exact nature of your relationship with Tony?”

A flush immediately spread across Steve’s cheeks, but before he could respond, Bruce continued on.

“Do you two engage in any activities in which one of you might take a more dominant role?”

“Bruce, I really don’t think…”

“It’s important. You said Hammer had put Tony back into pony gear when you found him. I’ve done research on the subject of Pony Play since you two were captured, just in case there were any lingering mental affects from the experience that might need to be addressed.”

Steve’s jaw snapped closed, words lost. He nodded for Bruce to continue.

“Generally the partner taking on the role of the pony is considered the submissive. They’re giving up control and putting their complete trust in their dominant partner. When someone fully immerses themselves in their role, they sometimes go into what’s called a sub drop.”

A sub drop? He’d read about that when he was doing his own reading on Pony Play. Though he and Tony had only been to the ranch together once---willingly--- Steve was sure the other man had never dropped. Sure, Tony had gotten somewhat into character as Honey, but he was still Tony Stark. He’d been thinking too much, assessing, been too self-conscious to truly be Honey. If Steve was being honest, he hadn’t been entirely sure Tony was capable of going into a sub space. His mind was just so active all the time---it must be nearly impossible to achieve.

And yet, if Bruce was right, Tony had dropped while he was with Hammer. For Hammer. The very thought made him sick. Why would Tony do that?

Bruce, genius that he was, seemed to read Steve like a book.

“Sometimes a sub drop isn’t something that’s done willingly. Extreme stress can make it happen. Sub space is like an escape for some.”
An escape. Of course. Tony had already been through such a massive amount of trauma at Hammer’s hand---both physically and mentally--- that maybe the idea of going back to that had made Tony drop. He couldn’t handle it, but perhaps Honey could. It made sense.

But he seemed stuck. How did people come back up from a drop?

And he must have been thinking out loud, because Bruce was already answering. No one read minds that well.

“The shock of the accident might be keeping him in the drop. Or he might just not want to deal with his reality at the moment. Everyone is different, so I can’t say for sure.”

Steve nodded as he glanced over Bruce’s shoulder to peer in the doorway of Tony’s room. He could just see the foot of the bed there, covered by crisp white sheets.

“Thank you, Bruce. Can you make sure no one bothers us for a while?”

“Of course.”

The smaller man stepped aside and seemed to take up post just outside the door as Steve went in and closed it behind him with a gentle ‘click’. He calmly crossed over to Tony. His back as to Steve as he laid on his side--- his favored one. Even beneath the sheets Steve could see the raised bump on Tony’s hip where a thick bandage covered the burn there. He reached out, carefully, and brushed his fingers over the area. Predictably Tony became tense beneath his touch, but Steve leaned over him to place a kiss on his temple before whispering in his ear.

“‘H’ stands for Honey.”

Steve smiled when Tony turned his head and fixed wide brown eyes on him. It was the first time since the accident that Tony had met his gaze head-on and without shame and fear of rejection. Now that Steve understood what was going on, he knew that’s exactly what Tony had expected earlier, both when he saw the brand and then immediately after when he’d stripped off Hammer’s pony gear.

Tony thought he was being rejected. Steve had stripped away Honey at that moment and tossed him aside, so Tony interpreted that as a rejection.

But no. This mark may not have been placed on Tony by his own hand, but he was claiming it as his own, along with the man it was burned into.

“Ah, there’s my beautiful Honey.”

The way Tony---no, Honey’s--- lips hesitantly curled up into a small smile made Steve feel as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. This was happening, and Steve would make sure no one ever hurt Tony again.

He returned the other man’s smile with a much brighter one before he leaned in for a chaste kiss. He ran his fingers through brunette hair, delighting in the way Honey’s eyes fluttered closed with a contented sigh. Steve couldn’t help but shiver as a possessive thrill rippled through his body. No one would ever touch his Tony or Honey again.

“My perfect boy.”

TBC

Chapter Text

I won't be keeping this up for too long, but here's a teaser sketch of Honey and Cap from a future chapter~~ The finished version will be much different (more leather), but it'll probably be awhile before I can get it done.

'Cap' is depicted as a stronger breed of horse. I'm picturing Clydesdale; so he's got the furry legs. XP. He's very possessive of his Honey.

What breed of horse do you all picture Tony and Steve as? I've already gotten some nice suggestions for Steve. Now I'm just curious as to what everyone else sees them as.

 

 photo hc2_zpskkwrv6cv.jpeg

Chapter Text

It seemed a little bit of reassurance from Steve was all Tony needed in order to succumb to some much needed rest. The tension had melted out of his body under Steve’s gently stroking fingers, and within only a couple of minutes, the engineer was fast asleep. His breathing became deep and rhythmic, indicating that he’d be out for a while, so Steve took the opportunity to quietly slip out of the room and start down the hallway to the debriefing room that the rest of the team had converged in.

They’d patiently waited for him to arrive, having the courtesy to give him some time with Tony without disturbing him, and he was grateful for it. It had given him time to cool down and collect his thoughts on what to do about Bucky. Technically the former assassin had betrayed them, but he’d also redeemed himself by aiding them in Tony’s recovery and killing Hammer.

Steve had noticed that Hammer had been breathing when he’d glimpsed him there in the grass. In fact, he may have even been conscious, but he’d definitely been alive. There was no doubt in his mind that Bucky had been the one to snap his neck; and Steve was still at odds about how he felt about that. If he was being honest with himself, though, he would have killed Justin himself the first opportunity he’d gotten. The man had just gone too far; done too much harm to Tony to walk away. Even a lifetime behind bars was too kind. So the question was; was Steve angry Bucky took his kill from him, or only bothered that the man had killed at all?

He knew the answer, but it left him feeling too disturbed with himself to acknowledge it.

Soon enough Steve came to the door he was looking for, and he turned the knob and pushed his way inside. As expected, Thor, Natasha, Clint, and Bucky were gathered there. Bruce was still hovering around Tony’s room in case his condition changed. He’d also confided in Steve that it wasn’t the best idea for him to be around Bucky at the moment, lest a big green rage monster rear his ugly head.

And speaking of rage, the moment Steve’s eyes landed on Bucky, all the calm he’d managed to achieve while he’d lulled Tony to sleep seemed to dissipate; leaving a bubbling, boiling flood of anger in its wake. Before anyone had time to react, Steve was across the room, fist drawing back as he cornered the former assassin where he stood. Bucky tensed long before the blow connected with his face and snapped his head to the side, but he did nothing else to defend himself. He could have, but he didn’t.

No one said a word as Bucky slowly straightened himself back to his full height and turned his head back to meet Steve’s eye. It said a lot about his strength. Had the super soldier hit anyone else with that kind of force, they would have been dead with a shattered skull and a pulverized brain, but a similar serum flowed through Bucky’s veins.

“I suppose Tony told you how he acquired his black eye.”

Steve’s jaw tightened at the man’s monotone drawl, and he threw another punch. This one seemed to catch Bucky off guard, and he stumbled back a couple steps until his back hit the wall. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth where his lip had split, and his blue eyes watched Steve more carefully as he slowly reached up to wipe the stream away on his metal wrist.

“No, he didn’t. But I suspected you had something to do with it.”

Bucky sighed and pushed his tangled hair out of his eyes. “Are we even now, or should we take this somewhere else? Blood stains will never come out of this carpet.”

Steve’s first instinct was to attack again, but he held himself back even as his body lurched forward to deliver more damage. Bucky had proven himself to be an even match for him in the past, and yet he was willing to allow himself to be beaten to a pulp to satisfy Steve’s thirst for revenge. It was both noble and extremely stupid, but it spoke volumes about his character and offered Steve a glimpse of the Bucky Barnes he’d known as a kid.

Natasha had stepped forward by then, and she very pointedly placed herself between them. She raised one hand and placed it on Steve’s chest as if to anchor him to the spot, but her eyes were on Bucky as she spoke.

“You screwed up, Barnes. You’ve given us no reason to trust you and the only reason you’re still standing is for your part in getting Tony back. Consider yourself lucky. The last asshole who messed with Tony ended up short two testicles.”

Bucky, despite having killed many targets as a brainwashed assassin, still winced at the imagery. His flesh hand seemed to automatically move to cover his crotch defensively, and his eyes took on a much more guarded look as he watched Natasha. The woman’s lips curved into a wicked grin as she tilted her head toward Steve.

“Oh, it wasn’t my idea. I just provided the blade.”

Wide blue eyes darted back to Steve, who returned his gaze without a hint of remorse. “Steve. I didn’t think you had it in you. You really don’t need my protection anymore, do you?”

“I don’t. While I appreciate the thought, I’ll take down anyone who messes with my team.”

“But mainly Tony.” Clint pipped in from where he sat with his feet kicked up on the table. “Don’t fuck with Tony.”

“Verily.” Thor agreed with a nod and a smile that was far too cheerful considering the subject matter. “Our Steven has proven himself to be quite the leader and warrior, and he will smite those who dare to bring harm to his chosen!”

“Verily.” Clint nodded.

Bucky held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “I regret my actions. I’ve had people fucking around with my head for a long time now, and things are still… confusing for me at times. The only decisions I’ve had to make for years now were who to kill and who not to kill and I’d follow through by any means necessary.”

Bucky paused and seemed to gather himself as he set silently pleading eyes on Steve. “I can’t say I even trust myself right now, but I need help, Steve, and you’re the only one I do trust.”

For a long painfully tense moment Steve didn’t say a word. But gradually the tension in his jaw gave away and his fingers finally relaxed from the fists they’d formed at his sides. When he spoke, his voice was low and stern. “You can stay, but you will be monitored at all times. Just remember what I said.”

-------------------

Sleep had clearly done Tony some good, because by the time Steve had returned to him, the man had wrapped himself in the white sheets that had covered his bed and was insisting it was time to go. Bruce, despite his best efforts, was unable to keep Tony in bed, and when Steve walked in the poor man looked like he was about ready to tear the curly hair right out of his head.

Tony spotted him immediately, and it was readily apparent that he was no longer in subspace. He circled around Bruce with a surprising amount of agility considering his injuries and smiled brightly as he approached. Despite his chipper attitude, he wasn’t quite able to hide the limp in his gait.

“Steve! Cap, baby, apple pie! Tell Brucie-Bear it’s time to go. I need a shower. I have dirt in places it should not be and smell like hospital. That bed is horrible and I’m hungry.
Like, really hungry. A cheeseburger sounds amazing! Steve! I need a cheeseburger, a shower, and my bed. In that order. Maybe get some extra cheeseburgers for when I’m in bed. That sounds sexy.”

Steve blinked, and then looked over Tony’s head to Bruce. The other man just sighed and shrugged, which Steve assumed meant that there was no use in fighting this. His attention turned back to Tony, who was standing in front of him looking like an expectant child as he clutched the sheets around him. Steve could see through the act, though. He saw the way Tony’s hands were fisted too tightly in the fabric covering his battered body. He saw the tension that came with the pain he must have been feeling, and he saw the slightly furrowed brow and eyes that were practically screaming for Steve to take him home and away from the rest of the world.

He may not have been in subspace anymore, but he was extremely vulnerable at the moment. From what Steve had read, people who went into sub drop often needed aftercare when they came out of it. They were in a delicate emotional state after the experience, and they needed to feel safe, reassured, and cared for.

There was nothing Steve wanted more than to provide those things.

He smiled and wrapped his arm around Tony, drawing him close to his body. “Alright. Let’s go home.”

The smaller man flashed him a grateful smile as he fell in step. “Cheeseburgers on the way.”

“Cheeseburgers on the way.”

-----------------

Tony had wolfed down two burgers and an order of fries by the time they’d made it back to the tower. He was finishing up a large soda during the elevator ride to the penthouse, and by the time the doors opened to the main suite, he was sucking nothing but air and chipped bits of ice through the straw, producing that aggravating sound that made Steve want to snatch the cup away.

It became a nonissue when Tony limped out of the elevator and dropped the empty cup on the kitchen counter before dropping the sheet he’d stolen to the floor and headed right for the master bedroom---and presumably the bathroom. Steve felt a brief wave of anger course through him at the sight of his battered and bruised body, but he was immediately drawn back into the present moment at the sound of Tony’s voice calling from the next room.

“Steve! Come wash me!”

What a brat.

Steve sighed deeply as if he were feeling extremely put out, though they both knew that wasn’t the case. A smile played over his lips as he followed Tony into the bathroom, and he gradually shed his clothes as he went. By the time his feet touched the tile, he was naked and ready to step into the large shower Tony was already occupying. Jarvis had been ready for them, as always, and had already turned the water on and adjusted it to the perfect temperature.

The other man had situated himself beneath the main stream so that the water cascaded down his back without soaking his head. Anyone who had read his file knew Tony Stark had issues with water, but he still managed to work around his fears and anxieties. It was one of the many things Steve loved and admired about the man. Tony was much stronger and resilient that he gave himself credit for.

Steve didn’t realize he’d been staring until warm brown eyes opened lazily and focused on him. Tony’s mouth curved into a knowing smirk as he reached his arms out toward him, his fingers making grabbing motions.

“Steve, stop admiring my god-like physique from afar and come appreciate it up close. And please, get personal.”

The larger man rolled his eyes but smiled softly as he stepped over the threshold and into the spray of the main showerhead. As with anything involving Tony, the shower was over the top, and there were several showerheads spraying them from all directions and with varying amounts of pressure. It was ridiculously lavish and luxurious, and there was a time Steve would have thought it was a complete waste of water; but now, after the day they’d had, he was grateful for it. It felt amazing on his muscles, which he hadn’t realized had been so tense until this moment when the beating water began to ease that tension away. It helped that Tony was there with him, not entirely sound, but definitely safe.

The moment he was close enough, Tony’s hands wove themselves into Steve’s blonde hair, and he pulled him down for a kiss that Steve was happy to give him. Part of him had worried that Tony might pull away from any kind of intimacy after today’s violation, but considering the delightful amount of tongue he was receiving at the moment, it was safe to say that his worries were unwarranted.

They separated with a wet smack, and Tony smiled up at him with sleepy eyes as his hands slipped from his hair and trailed down his cheeks, neck, and then down his chest before falling away from his body entirely. Steve wanted to object to the loss, but before he could, a loofa already loaded up with soap was deposited in his hand.

Tony chuckled at his baffled expression. “I wasn’t kidding. Wash me.”

Steve clucked his tongue as he stepped forward and began to run the soapy puffball across the other man’s shoulders. “You’re very bossy.”

Tony poked one eye open---they’d fallen closed the moment the other man’s hands made contact with his skin--- and fixed Steve with a challenging stare. “It’s all part of my charming personality.”

Steve grinned and leaned forward to place a soft kiss on his forehead. Tony may have been trying to pass it off as a joke, but there was insecurity in his tone, and Steve wanted to put that to rest right away. “It is. And it’s one of the many, MANY things I love about you.”

The smaller man hummed and let his lid slide closed again, sighing as gentle, but firm hands traveled across his chest and down his stomach. Steve expected a little more banter; even expected Tony to demand that he list all the other things he loved about him, but instead the engineer only relaxed into his touch. And that was better. It showed a level of trust that words could never express, and it made Steve’s heart beat harder in is chest.

He stepped closer and pulled Tony forward until their torsos were flush, and the shorter man immediately turned his face into Steve’s neck and leaned on him as the loofa massaged soapy circles into his back. His lashes fluttered and tickled Steve’s skin each time he paused to work out a knot he discovered as he worked, and Tony’s arms came up to wrap around his shoulders as his back arched in pleasure. The moan that rumbled from his throat was downright obscene, and Steve felt a rush of arousal travel south.

“Hmmm, that hurts so gooooood….” Tony paused, then his head lifted from Steve’s shoulder as he looked down between them. “Oh, hello.”

Steve tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling in an attempt to hide the blush he felt heating his face. “Sorry.”

“Sorry?” Tony’s hands grabbed the sides of his face and brought it back down so their eyes met. “What’s to be sorry for? I am a very attractive man.”

Steve couldn’t help the strangled laugh that fell from his lips, and he placed a quick kiss on smiling ones. “It’s really not appropriate right now. You’re hurt. We shou---AHH, TONY!”

Big brown eyes looked at him with far too much innocence considering the owner of those eyes currently had his soapy hands wrapped around Steve’s length, and they were doing amazing things. “What? I’m helping.”

“You’re…” Steve stared at him incredulously before reaching down to grab at Tony’s wrists. “Stop that. I’m supposed to be making you feel good. Let me take care of you.”

For a moment the smaller man looked a bit put out, but the turning gears in his head must have hit on something, because almost instantly his expression turned downright lascivious. “Ok…” Tony let his fingers slip away from Steve’s cock, which was both a relief and a crushing disappointment, and instead guided Steve’s hands around until each palm rested on the rounded globes if his ass. The super soldier’s knees nearly gave way at the rush of pure arousal, and his fingers shamelessly groped at the firm flesh so freely offered.

Tony smiled wickedly. “Take care of me.”

A primal urge to take suddenly hit Steve like a freight train, and he used his grip to push their hips together. By now Tony was just as aroused, and when their hardened lengths ground together, he tossed his head back with a breathy sigh. Steve took advantage of the exposed column of flesh, and he bit and sucked his way down Tony’s throat, delighting in the way the skin beneath his lips vibrated with each moan his attentions wrought.

One hand slid up to the small of Tony’s back to serve as a point of balance while the other slowly delved between firm cheeks, and his fingers ghosted across the hidden entrance there. His actions made the man he held shudder, and Steve pulled his hand away and gripped at Tony’s thrusting hips in order to still him.

Tony grunted and snapped his head up--- he had buried his face into Steve’s neck again--- and you’d think based on the expression he wore that someone had shot his puppy.
“Steve, no. You stopped. Don’t stop.”

The blonde smiled softy and placed several soft kisses across Tony’s frowning face. His forehead, his cheekbones, his nose, and finally his mouth. When he pulled back the smaller man was still frowning, but now he looked more confused than annoyed.

“I want your first time to be special.”

“Special? I can light a candle. Very romantic.”

“…No, Tony. You’re one big walking bruise and we’re in a shower. You still have dried blood in your hair.”

“You don’t think I’m pretty?”

“I promised Bruce I’d get you to rest.”

“Fuck that guy!”

“Tony!”

Steve knew he’d won when the other man groaned and let his hands fall away to his sides. As much as he wanted to have Tony in the most intimate way possible, he couldn’t ignore the stiff way he moved, the flinches when he pulled a muscle too far in the wrong direction, and the ever present raw burn on his hip. No. The last thing Tony needed right now was…well, vigorous activity. He may have wanted it---they both did; badly--- but it wasn’t the right time.

So instead Steve retrieved the loofa from where he’d dropped it and finished carefully scrubbing Tony’s bruised body. The entire time the smaller man pouted like a child. His bottom lip was actually poking out, and Steve had to resist the urge to bite it. Apparently he had a biting fetish. It was a new discovery and he was very interested in finding out if Tony had any interest in indulging this newfound kink of his.

When he’d finished shampooing and conditioning Tony’s hair and his expression hadn’t changed, Steve flipped off the water and grabbed a towel, which he wrapped the other man in before lifting him into his arms bridal style. The startled yelp made him grin, and he ignored the chill of the air on his own wet skin as he carried Tony to the bed and adjusted him to sit between his legs as Steve settled himself against the headboard. He pulled the other man close until he got the idea and rested his back against Steve’s chest, tilting his head back until it rested on a large shoulder so Steve was forced to endure the full effect of Tony’s puppy eyes.

“Steve. I’m horny.”

“Oh, really?”

“Really.”

Steve hummed as if this were new information, and he reached around Tony and gently urged the other man to spread his legs, which he did with great enthusiasm. He snorted in amusement as he pulled the towel aside and wrapped his hands around the straining member he found there. The surrounding skin was still smooth and hairless, as was the rest of Tony’s body---not to mention his own--- and Steve couldn’t help but once again wonder what Hammer had done to prevent the regrowth from occurring.
But right now he was focusing on Tony, and the last thing he wanted to think about was Hammer.

Steve inhaled the clean scent of the other man’s freshly washed hair as he slowly worked the length in his hands. He was lacking lubricant, so he relied more on using varying amounts of pressure as he alternated between controlled squeezing and massaging with only his fingers. Too much rigorous back and forth motions without any slick could hurt, and the last thing he wanted to do was cause further harm.

Regardless of the less than ideal conditions, Tony seemed to be enjoying himself. His hands had reached up above him to wrap around Steve’s neck, his fingers interlacing at his hairline to maintain his hold. His head was thrown back against his shoulder, and his eyes were closed as he chanted Steve’s name under his breath; barely a whisper. If not for his enhanced hearing, Steve probably wouldn’t have been able to hear him at all.

Dropping his head, Steve ran the tip of his tongue around the shell of Tony’s ear, then gently bit down on the fleshy lobe when the other man tilted his head in order to give him better access. Tony’s teeth sunk into his bottom lip and he arched his back beautifully as he came. The sight alone had Steve following suit with a low moan. Biting was a go.

Tony drew a deep breath in through his nose and released it from his mouth in a long, drawn out sigh as his body went completely limp against Steve’s. His hands fell loose and dropped to rest against the legs that bracketed his own, and for a long moment they simply basked in the afterglow.

But then…

“Steve…”

“Hmmm?”

Tony wiggled a bit, making the wet spot on his lower back obvious to both of them.

“Wash me.”

“….So bossy.”

TBC

Chapter Text

They say a good night’s sleep does wonders, but Tony was in total disagreement. Maybe it was the shock or drugs he’d been given the day before that had numbed him to the true pain of his injuries, but today he felt every cut and bruise. He felt it right down to his bones, and he wondered briefly if perhaps some were broken after all.

A deep moan bubbled up from his chest as he attempted to push himself up from the mattress, but he aborted the movement when every muscle in his body protested painfully. Nope, looks like he was going to spend the day in bed. Oh, how he loathed wasting time just laying around.

But then a warm hand gently laid itself in the space between his shoulder blades, and Tony found himself sighing deeply as he relaxed beneath the slight weight of it. He had no doubt who it was beside him and his lips quirked up into a lazy smile as the hand stroked up and down the length of his back. He couldn’t help but reminisce of the night before when that very hand had lavished its attentions on another part of his anatomy, and Tony didn’t even feel the slightest bit embarrassed when his hips pressed into the sheets without his permission in response to the vivid memory.

Beside him, Steve chuckled and leaned down to press a kiss to the spot just behind Tony’s ear. He lingered there for a moment, simply breathing in the other man’s scent as his talented hand continued to tease across Tony’s bare back. His fingers would pause frequently each time they encountered a bruise or abrasion on his skin, and Steve shifted so he could press his lips to each hurt as if it would take away the pain.

If Tony didn’t know any better, he’d say it worked. That is, he thought it did until he tried to move again and all the pain came rushing back. Steve’s fingers spread out again to still him, and his mouth nipped at the shell of his ear.

“Just relax. I’ll get you something for the pain.”

He almost whined in protest when Steve’s warm body moved away from his, but he managed to bite back the sound as it bubbled up in his throat. Instead he watched with vast appreciation as Steve, still very much naked from the night before, crossed the bedroom and disappeared into the adjoining bathroom. He was sure he’d only closed his eyes long enough to blink, but when they opened again, Steve was sitting beside him on the bed, offering two pills and a glass of water. Tony blinked, the blinked again as his sluggish mind tried to work out how to swallow the pills without moving from his face-down position, but when Steve set the glass and medication aside and reached for him, he knew there was no avoiding it. He had to move.

“Take it slow.”

Thankfully Steve did most of the work, but sore muscles still screamed in protest as he shifted until he was on his back and propped up by several pillows. Tony didn’t realize he was holding his breath until he released it with a loud ‘whoosh’, and he quickly popped the pills Steve offered him into his mouth and knocked them back with a large gulp of water.

The smile Steve offered him made Tony’s heart skip a beat, and he let his eyes slide closed with a sigh. His need for Steve’s approval had become so strong that a mere smile for taking medication was enough to send his body into a state of euphoric high. It was pathetic, but it felt so good and at this point, he welcomed anything good with open arms.

Not literally, though, because it hurt to move his arms at the moment.

“You should start feeling better soon.” Steve smiled as his fingers wove themselves into chestnut hair. The way he looked at Tony could only be described as adoration, and if Tony was being honest, it was a little intimidating. Though they’d been dating for a while and things had been going relatively well, the pressure of maintaining the relationship was getting to Tony. He was struggling to be the perfect partner in all the ways he hadn’t been for Pepper, but it was difficult. While Pepper felt he was too needy, Steve seemed to love Tony’s clingier side. Pepper wanted him to maintain the perfect balance of workshop time; enough to keep SI supplied with new gadgets, but not enough to impede on their personal time. He never seemed to get the balance right. Steve, on the other hand, encouraged him to spend more time tinkering, though Tony had mixed feelings about that. Was it because Steve knew how much he needed it, or was he encouraging it to get some alone time? He would have assumed the latter, but then again, Steve tended to park himself on the couch in the workshop and spend time drawing or reading for hours at a time.

It was all very frustrating. Tony had only had two official relationships in his lifetime, and they were both so vastly different from each other that he had no idea how to navigate it. Maybe he was cruising blind and would crash and burn, but until then, he’d enjoy the ride.

------------------

Tony really needed to stop blinking, because every time he did he seemed to fall asleep. This time when he woke up he felt much better than the first time. He was still stiff and sore, but he could move. The headache he’d had before had also faded into near non-existence. All in all, he felt pretty good. But he was hungry and it appeared Steve had gone to do whatever it was Steve did---probably saving kittens and helping the elderly--- so there was no mother hen around to stop him when he tossed back the covers and slowly got to his feet.

He stood there for a moment to make sure all systems were go, and when no wall of dizziness threatened to knock him on his ass, Tony felt confident enough to shuffle into his closet for some clothes. It took him some time to find a pair of sweatpants worn enough to be comfortable against his burned hip and bruised skin, but he managed. The shirt he pulled on was Steve’s and threatened to fall off one of his shoulders, but it was comfortable and loose enough that it didn’t irritate his injuries and that was his story for not wearing one of his own shirts. If Steve’s scent made him feel a little more content---well, that was ok too.

The journey to the kitchen was uneventful. Jarvis had the elevator waiting and knew exactly where to take him. Even his AI seemed to be able to hear his growling stomach, and it was only a matter of seconds until the steel doors opened to the common room floor. Brown eyes scanned the sitting area as he slowly padded toward the kitchen. The TV was on, but no one was watching it. At least, no one he could see. That didn’t mean Clint wasn’t lurking in the ceiling vents watching from there like some kind of horror movie freak show.

Tony grinned to himself as he crossed the threshold into the kitchen. The transition from carpet to cool tile on his bare feet sent a shiver up his spine, but the slight chill had nothing to do with the way his body froze in place on his next stride. All the humor his thoughts of Clint had conjured up faded away, along with the grin on his lips, replaced instead with a mixture of confusion, fear, and anger as his eyes locked with a pair he’d hoped to never see again, let alone see in his own home.

Bucky stood at the island in the middle of the kitchen as if he belonged there. An empty plate sat on the counter in front of him, and he held a glass of milk halfway to his lips. Blue eyes stared back at him with what Tony could only describe as a ‘deer in the headlights’ expression, and if the situation hadn’t been so serious, it might have been funny.

“Jarvis!” Tony hated that his voice sounded so weak. “Initiate protocol Alpha3890!”

There was a pregnant pause, and for one terrifying moment Tony was sure the Winter Solider had managed to disable his AI again. But just was his heart threatened to fall into his stomach, the familiar British voice rang out.

“Sir, that protocol is for intruders. Mr. Barnes is an invited guest.”

“By who?!”

“Captain Rogers, sir.”

And just like that Tony felt as if he’d been thrown out into the cold. The man standing in front of him---the man standing in his HOME, eating his food--- had betrayed them all not even a day ago. He’d handed Tony over to Hammer and left him to that torment, and yet Steve still felt that it would be ok to let Bucky live amongst the team like he wasn’t a serious threat?

It seemed Steve’s loyalties still lay with Bucky Barnes first and foremost. And that… well, it hurt. A lot.

Across the room Bucky had slowly lowered his glass, and he was now holding his hands up as if he were surrendering. The moment he moved to step around the counter, however, Jarvis spoke again.

“Mr. Barnes. My sensors indicate that your presence is triggering a stress response in Sir. Though you are registered as a guest, any further action on your part to approach Sir will result in defensive measures on my part.”

That made the taller man pause, and Tony drew in a deep breath and praised himself silently once again for creating Jarvis. Most days his AI was the only other being on this planet he felt he could truly trust to have his back.

“Mr. Stark, there was a misunderstanding. Let me explain…”

Tony shook his head, unwilling to listen. Even if he wanted to, the pounding of his own heart in his ears drowned out any other sound. His thoughts were racing and his emotions were at war with themselves, and right at that moment he just needed to get away.

His hunger forgotten, Tony backed out of the kitchen and spun on his heel, trusting Jarvis to keep Bucky from following as he fled.

------------------

Steve had been in the gym when Jarvis had informed him that Tony was awake. After taking his medication that morning, the other man had fallen into a more restful sleep, and Steve didn’t have the heart to wake him. That had been nearly four hours ago, and there was no doubt in his mind that the first place Tony would head would be the kitchen. He just hoped it was for actual food and not a pot of coffee.

He’d been leisurely unwrapping the protective tape from his knuckles, knowing that Tony would be moving slowly with his injuries. Steve figured he’d have time to get to the kitchen and probably even start cooking something up before the other man even left the bedroom, but a message from Jarvis said otherwise. The AI’s voice sounded strained and urgent, and Steve found himself once again marveling at the fact that a computer program could show emotion.

“Captain Rogers, you are needed on the common room floor. Sir has encountered Mr. Barnes and his vitals have become elevated.”

Steve’s eyes widened as he cursed and bolted for the door. He hadn’t told Tony about Bucky yet, and he hadn’t expected Bucky to leave his floor in favor of the common area so soon. The former assassin had kept to himself since arriving in the tower and had made no attempts to communicate with any member of the team so far--- nor had they expected him too—at least, not this soon. Regardless, Jarvis had been instructed to keep constant survallience on Bucky and to report any unusual behavior. What hadn’t been taken in to account was Jarvis didn’t know what ‘unusual’ constituted for Bucky. While traveling to the common area may not have been unusual for the rest of the team, it was for this virtual stranger who, until this point, avoided all contact with people he wasn’t out to kill.

“Jarvis, what’s going on?” Steve decided to bypass the elevator in favor of taking the stairs; four at a time. It was faster.

“Sir has secluded himself in his workshop. Mr. Barnes appears to be returning to his floor.”

That made Steve pause, but it only took a second for him to change course and head to the workshop. He wasn’t surprised to find it sealed with the glass walls blackened out, and he was even less surprised to find that his access code had been revoked. It hadn’t been the first time he’d been locked out of the lab, but this time it stung a little bit more.

“Jarvis, let Tony know I won’t leave until he lets me in to explain.”

There was no answer, but Steve was sure the AI had passed on the message. He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair as he moved back toward the stairs. He’d sit and wait for as long as it took for his stubborn genius to come around, and in past experience, that usually meant hours if not days. He doubted Tony would last that long, though. His pain medication would wear off sooner or later, and that coupled with hunger should draw the other man out a little more quickly. While Dummy could make Tony those green smoothies to hold him over, they could not replace a real meal, which his body needed to heal.

Even so, Steve was prepared to wait a few hours at least, so when the door slid open before he’d even sat down, he froze in surprise. For a long moment he stared blankly at the entry, baffled by the complete lack of fight, but then a jolt of fear had Steve running into the lab. Was Tony hurt? Had Jarvis over-ridden the lockdown protocol because something was wrong?

Blue eyes darted around the workshop. For a moment Steve couldn’t find him, but when he turned toward the lounging area in the corner, he finally spotted Tony sitting there in the middle of the couch. Their eyes met and any relief Steve might have felt instantly evaporated at the cold expression that greeted him. Cautiously, as if approaching an angry tiger, Steve moved closer.

“Tony, are you ok?”

The seated man cocked a brow, and when he spoke, his voice was deceptively calm. “Am I ok? No, Steve. I just walked into the Winter Fucking Solider in my kitchen. He was drinking a glass of milk.”

Steve’s mouth opened to explain, but he snapped it shut again when Tony continued, his voice raising and filling with more anger as he went on.

“Yesterday that son of a bitch turned me over to Hammer! He double crossed us and he’s responsible for all THIS!” He angrily gestured to his battered body. “So unless I’m missing something HUGE, I just can’t understand why Barnes would be waltzing around the tower, free as a bird! Jarvis tell me it’s under your authority, so what the actual FUCK, Steve!!”

Steve could see the way Tony’s hands were shaking where they were fisted in his lap, and he knew it was more than anger that was fueling all this. The other man felt betrayed. Of course he did. When Steve automatically moved to comfort him though, he was batted away. It’d become so commonplace for Steve to hold Tony that the rejection honestly surprised him, and he took a quick step back to avoid being hit. He felt his heart clench tightly in his chest. Losing Tony now after all the progress they’d made would be absolutely devastating.

“Tony, Bucky only turned you over because he thought Hammer could kill me.” He gestured to his neck to clarify. “He thought it was safer to hand you over for the time being and come for you later. He didn’t know it was a none-issue. He helped us get you back once he realized his mistake. He even killed Hammer.”

If Steve thought his words would do anything to placate the other man, he was mistaken. Brown eyes were still clouded with anger, but even worse, there was hurt there.

“Whoop-de-doo! So Barnes realizes he’s got a bunch of angry Avengers in front of him and changes sides again. Sounds like another act of self-preservation to me. I bet Hammer was holding something over his head too. Don’t be naïve, Steve! He’s the Winter Solider, not Bucky Barnes! This guy is a master assassin. Everything he does is a means to an end. So now he’s managed to infiltrate the tower. Wonder who is paying him to get information. Or maybe he’s just planning on slitting everyone’s throats while we sleep!”
Now Steve was getting a little angry despite his best efforts to keep a cool head. He understood where Tony was coming from, but his bond with Bucky had been---and still was--- a deep one. He just didn’t believe that all this was an act. Bucky wanted their help. He didn’t want to be the Winter Solider anymore. Tony had just been through so much and he didn’t know Bucky at all. Of course he’d feel this way.

So when Steve spoke again, his voice was as calm as he could make it, despite the tumultuous emotions that were beginning to bubble below the surface. “Bucky is being monitored at all times. I want him close so I can watch him. I don’t trust SHEILD to treat him right and I don’t think it’s the right place for him to recover. He needs to be here right now. If he does anything that can be perceived as a threat, he will be dealt with. I won’t let him hurt you.”

A strangled laugh bubbled up from Tony’s throat. It sounded painful. “Won’t let him hurt me, huh? You let me get in that car with him. That worked out well.”
It was a low blow and they both knew it. Steve couldn’t hide the full body wince. It was almost as if he’d been physically struck. He swallowed the lump in his throat, his words tight as he spoke again. “I’m sorry, Tony. That---that killed me. But Bucky only did it to protect me---“

“So what happens the next time you need protecting? He going to push me in front of a bus? Does it not matter to you? Risk worth taking to have your BFF back, right?!”

“NO!”

Before Steve registered his own movements he’d closed the distance between them and trapped Tony against the couch. His hands were on either side of the other man’s head and their faces were hovering inches apart. Brown eyes had widened slightly with surprise and a touch of fear, as if he were waiting for Steve to hit him, and that hurt more than any physical wound could. Clearly they had a lot to work on if their relationship was going to work.

No. Not if. There was no if. It was going to work.

When Steve spoke again, his voice was calmer; more steady.

“Bucky knows the boundaries. If he touches you or anyone on my team with violent intent I’ve made it perfectly clear that it will be the last thing he does.”

Steve locked eyes with Tony’s, hoping that the other man could see the sincerity there and understand.

“No one comes before you, Tony. You are everything to me. But Bucky has been a victim too. He’s been tormented, controlled, and brainwashed. He wants help and I have to give him a chance. He’s all I have left from my past. He’s a good man and he deserves this opportunity to get his life back.”

A heavy silence settled between the two men, and just when Steve considered resorting to begging, the tension in Tony’s body melted away. He seemed to deflate where he sat, and brown eyes looked down and to the side as he turned his head away just enough for the shadows to hide most his face in the dim lighting.

“I understand.”

Steve waited for more. He wanted to know what Tony was thinking. What was it he thought he understood? How was he feeling? But there was nothing, and when Steve tried to grasp his chin to turn his head back, the other man pulled away and placed his hand on Steve’s chest as if to push him away.

“Tony, please…”

“It’s fine. I get it. I do. I’m just tired, ok?”

Steve nodded slowly. He wanted to talk this out, but he knew better than to push Tony when he was very clearly shutting down. It was better to wait until the other man was more receptive. Now was not the time.

“Do you want help back to your bed?”

Tony shook his head once, his eyes shifting everywhere that wasn’t Steve. “I’m going to sleep here.”

It was a clear dismissal. Steve backed away from the couch in order to give Tony more space, and he tried not to take it too personally when the smaller man sighed in relief. He’d been through a lot. Steve just needed to be patient and understanding. It would be ok.

But he couldn’t help but ask just before leaving. “Tony. Are we ok?”

The other man had already curled onto his side, his back to Steve when his tired voice drifted over. “It’s fine, Steve.”

Those words brought him no comfort at all.

TBC

A/N - So sorry for the long wait, everyone! I've just had zero free time. Just know that I will never abandon this story! It will be seen through to the end. Promise. Thanks for hanging in there!

Chapter Text

Steve’s heart sat heavy in his chest as he wandered through the darkened tower. The very air he breathed seemed thicker and more suffocating. He was at a complete loss. Tony was everything to him. He’d give his very life to protect the man from anything that threatened to harm him; Bucky included.

But obviously he hadn’t thought his plan to keep Bucky here through. His intention had been to keep Bucky close and under the best and tightest surveillance possible. Between Jarvis and the Avengers themselves, there wouldn’t be much the former Winter Soldier could do that he wouldn’t know about. But he’d admit his decision to house Bucky within the tower had also been influenced by his selfish need to have his best friend back in his life and within arm’s reach. The thought of the other man disappearing again made Steve feel as if he’d been thrown back into the ice, and his eyes burned with barely suppressed tears as the current conflict he had on his hands left him feeling torn; pulled in two separate directions in a tug of war that threatened to break his heart in two.

Predictably Steve found himself exiting the elevator on Bucky’s floor. He hadn’t remembered pressing the button or making the conscious decision to come there, but his fist was already rising to knock on the bedroom door. This part of the tower seemed darker and more abandoned than the more routinely used portions. This was a guest floor. It was decorated nicely, but lacked the personal touch the other Avengers had added to their floors that made it more of a home than simply a place to sleep. While the cleaning crew insured the area was free of dirt and dust, Steve still felt cold in the impersonal space as he waited for any signs that the man he sought might still be awake inside.

And he didn’t have to wait long. The door opened only slightly, just enough for a single blue eye to peer at him from within. Bucky didn’t have any lights on inside his room; though as the man opened the door a little wider, it was clear he was still fully dressed and wide awake.

The thought of Bucky simply sitting in a dark room all alone threatened to bring that burning feeling back to Steve’s eyes again. How could he turn this broken man away?

For a moment they merely held eye contact, and Steve almost expected for the door to be shut in his face, but Bucky seemed to sigh as he pulled the door open wide and step aside so he could enter. His shoulders were slumped, defeated as Steve moved inside the darkened room, and as he passed, he spoke softly and with an air of finality that suggested the man knew with no uncertain terms why Steve was there.

“I’ll go.”

Steve spun on his heel and tried to catch Bucky’s eye again, but the other man simply looked away as he let go of the door and approached the bed. The comforter had been flipped upside down and a few articles of clothing and toiletries that had been stocked for guests were sitting in the middle. He’d planned to use the blanket as a make-shift bag to carry the items, and Steve couldn’t seem to find his voice as he watched Bucky tie the edges together to form a secure sack.

“I’ll send money to replace these once I have some. I appreciate the hospitality, but this clearly isn’t a good idea.”

It wasn’t until Bucky moved to walk past him again that Steve seemed to break free of the paralysis that seized hold of him. His hand shot out to grab the other man’s shoulder, and he used his grip to pull Bucky into a hug that he had no possible way of escaping from.

“No. Please don’t leave. Stay. It’s hard right now, but it’ll get better. They’ll get to know you. They’ll---“

Bucky sighed heavily into Steve’s shoulder, bringing an end to his rapid fire rambling. “Stevie, I’ve seen the way they look at me. Your team. And Tony was terrified of me. This is his home and I’ve violated his space and his person. I have to go.”

Steve shook his head in denial, but when Bucky’s metal arm came up to push at his chest, the sheer strength of it made him loosen his grip enough for the other man to slip free.
Steve’s fingers clenched at his sides as he resisted the urge to grab his best friend and force him to stay, but he knew Bucky was right. It wasn’t fair to Tony or his team. This had been selfish of him, but Bucky…he needed him too.

As if he were reading his mind, Bucky’s lips quirked up into a grin. “I’m a big boy. I’ll be fine.”

He was lying. Steve knew it. Bucky knew it. But there was nothing Steve could do as he watched the other man toss his makeshift suitcase over his shoulder and walk out of his life.

------------------------

Tony found that sleep simply wasn’t possible. His mind was too active. His body hurt too much. His hunger had returned and the lab simply didn’t have the comforts he was craving. No food, no pain medication, no Steve.

And so not long after the other man had left him by his own request, Tony found himself slowly shuffling out of his lab and back to the main floor of the tower.

“Sir.” JARVIS’s voice jarred him, and Tony stumbled to a halt. “I feel I must inform you that Mr. Barnes has decided to leave the tower. He is currently stepping into the elevator with the intention of traveling to the parking garage.”

Tony sucked in a deep breath as he turned his head to gaze at the elevator. Sure enough, the lights were moving in descending order as it neared its intended destination, and he felt his heart begin to race. Obviously Bucky would not be getting off on the floor Tony was currently standing on, but he would be passing by, separated only by a pair of metal doors. Suddenly leaving his lab seemed like an incredibly stupid decision, and again Tony had to marvel at the fact he couldn’t even feel safe inside the walls of his own home.

For a brief moment the anger he’d felt toward Steve flared to life again, but with the rush of emotion, a thought.

“Does Steve know?”

“Yes, Sir. Captain Rogers appears distraught, but has made no move to stop Mr. Barnes.”

Tony’s heart clenched. Steve was upset. His best friend was walking out of his life and Steve was letting him go for Tony’s sake. Suddenly he felt incredibly selfish and pathetic.

This was Bucky Barnes; a man who had grown up protecting Steve when he still weighed in at a whopping 90 lbs. A man who had fought along Steve’s side through a war and died while doing so. A man who had been taken by force and turned into a brainwashed killing machine for Hydra. A man who wanted and needed help so badly, but was willing to go it alone because the sight of him scared the shit out of Tony.

Steve would grow to resent Tony in time if he let Bucky go now. He knew it. He couldn’t let…

“Jarvis, stop the elevator on this floor.”

The words were out of his mouth before he’d really even taken the time to form the thought, and his A.I. hesitated for a moment before confirming the command.

Large brown eyes watched in trepidation as the lights counted down and eventually stopped, and Tony swallowed dryly as the doors slide open with a final ‘ding’. Inside Bucky Barnes stopped short. His own eyes darted back and forth in confusion, obviously thrown by the lack of concrete and vehicles of the expected parking garage he intended to arrive in, before his gaze landed on Tony himself. The man dropped the bundled up blanket he’d held----was that a bedspread?--- and threw his hands up in a universal sign of ‘I surrender’. If Tony hadn’t been putting all his effort into keeping his heart from exploding in his chest, he might have laughed. The Winter Soldier had no business looking so frightened of Tony Stark.

His throat had gone bone dry, so his first attempt to speak was a squeaking failure, but after clearing his throat and trying again, Tony managed to force the words past his lips.

“I heard you’re leaving.”

Bucky seemed to refuse to leave the confines of the elevator, but with JARVIS holding the doors open, it wasn’t a problem. He wouldn’t be going anywhere. The man nodded sharply. “I am. I---It’s not---- I shouldn’t be here.”

Tony was silent for a long moment. The man standing in from of him was not what he expected when he thought of the Winter Solider. His eyes were not cold and calculating, but empty and sad; lost. His posture was that of a defeated man with no options--- something Tony knew all too well. Everything about him screamed ‘sad puppy’, and Tony grit his teeth as he forced his own wants aside.

“Steve is upset you’re going.”

Bucky glanced away but nodded.

“I don’t like it when Steve is upset.”

Silence stretched thin in the air for a long moment before blue eyes slowly rose to meet brown. The uncertainty of his expression was clear as he arched a single brow.

Tony folded his arms over his chest and lifted his chin; a gesture that demanded that the other man listen and do as he was told. “Go back to your floor. Put that sheet back on the bed. Don’t take my stuff.”

Bucky’s mouth dropped open, but before he could stutter out a single word, the metal doors closed and he found himself being propelled back the way he’d came.

--------------------------------

Steve was still standing in the dark where Bucky had left him when he heard the elevator returning. At first he thought nothing of it, figuring it’d simply pass by this floor and keep going, but it didn’t. He heard the distinct ‘ding’ and the slight rumble of the doors opening, and he almost tripped over himself as he ran out of the bedroom to investigate.

Bucky stood there, motionless and with a perplexed expression on his face as he stared at the blanket containing his few borrowed possessions. Steve didn’t dare say a word, afraid he’d scare the other man off. Had he forgotten something or….

Bucky blinked and turned his eyes to Steve, his expression slowly melting into one of amusement and untold levels of relief. “Your fella said I wasn’t allowed to take his stuff. Guess I’m staying.”

This time, when Steve rushed forward to wrap his friend in a hug, he couldn’t stop the burning tears in his eyes from breaking free.

----------------

The second the elevator doors closed Tony just about collapsed as all the bravado left his body at once. Facing Bucky was like facing down a hungry lion. It wasn’t that the man had been the Winter Solider so much as Bucky simply represented every horrible thing that had happened to him in the recent months. He looked at him and saw Hammer, Mike, and Bullet. He felt every humiliation, every hurt, and every degradation he’d suffered through. It wasn’t completely logical, but these things rarely were. It was something he’d simply have to get through on his own. It wasn’t right for Steve to suffer a loss because Tony couldn’t get his act together.

Drawing in a deep breath---and then wincing as his bruised ribs screamed in protest--- Tony turned and shuffled the rest of the way through the living room and into the kitchen. He made a beeline for the cabinet he knew held the medications, and he grabbed a bottle of Advil and downed three of the pills, bending to drink straight from the faucet when his dry throat prevented them from going down as smoothly as he’d hoped.

When he straightened back up Clint was standing by the fridge, and Tony yelped in both surprise and pain when his body jolted in shock. His first instinct was to yell at the archer for being so sneaky, but by Clint’s standards, this was a loud and obvious approach. Had he been attempting to scare Tony, he would have been suddenly sitting right beside him on the counter. Instead he’d kept his distance and had probably actually walked into the room rather than dropping from the ceiling. It wasn’t his fault Tony hadn’t heard him.

“A bell, Barton. I’m getting you a bell.”

The other man’s lips quirked in amusement, and he shooed Tony away to the table and opened the fridge, pulling out enough ingredients to make a couple of sandwiches. The engineer was simply too tired to argue, so he sat down with a sigh as Clint set to work. He was surprisingly efficient around the kitchen.

“So, not that I was spying, but you happen to be right below the vent I was chilling in, so I heard your exchange with Bucky.” Clint paused and turned to looked at Tony, who wasn’t the least bit surprised the spy had been lurking. “Are you really ok with this, or are you doing what you think Steve wants?”

Despite the Advil he’d just taken, Tony could feel the beginnings of a headache building, and he closed his eyes and ran his fingers over his temples in an attempt to alleviate the pain before it grew to unmanageable levels.

“I don’t do anything I don’t want to do.”

“Lies.”

Tony cracked open and eye to glare at Clint as the man set down a sandwich and soda in front of him and then sat across from him with his own. He eyeballed the food for a moment before his hunger won out and he lifted the sandwich to his mouth for a bite. He chewed a little more thoroughly than was necessary, but Clint’s unrelenting gaze meant he wouldn’t be weaseling out of the conversation anytime soon.

“…. Steve wouldn’t get over it. He’d say it was ok and that he understood, but deep down he’d resent me for making him choose between us.”

Clint shook his head. “No one is making anyone choose. You’re perfectly within your right to not want the guy in your tower. Hell, I’m surprised you allow any of us to live here. We aren’t exactly the Brady Bunch.”

Tony snorted. “More like the Addams Family. I’m tired of finding knives and explosives hidden in the couch.”

“I’ll talk to Natasha about that.” Clint grinned, amused as he took a bite of his sandwich. His expression turned a little more serious after he swallowed and took a sip from his soda can. “But seriously, man. This is the one place you should feel safe. Don’t give that up for anyone. Not even Steve. It’ll tear you apart and it’s not worth it.”

Tony nodded but said no more, leaving them to finish their meal on companionable silence. When Clint was finished, he squeezed Tony’s shoulder and left the room, leaving the engineer alone with his thoughts.

Steve was worth it, though. And if he was being completely honest with himself, if Tony had made Steve choose between him and Bucky… well, he had no doubt in his mind that he’d lose that competition. Bucky and Steve had too much history, too strong a bond. Tony and Steve… well, they started off hating each other. They still argued, were as different as night and day, and had only just recently found some level ground in which they could stand together on.

So, no. Tony knew better than to think he was anyone’s number one choice, even Steve’s. He was Tony Stark. Sure, he could make people happy for a while with his money and fame, but he knew better than anyone that he was an emotional cripple. Experience taught him that people used you and left you for the next best thing; and there was always a better thing. Like Bucky. This was an eye opener for Tony. He’d foolishly let himself believe that he might be Steve’s number one person---for once in his life he was someone’s number one person---- but no. That would always be Bucky for Steve.

But Tony could live with being second best. He could. It was better than nothing, and he knew letting Bucky leave would eventually leave him with nothing. So he’d let him stay. He’d let Steve have his best friend back; his number one person.

Because Steve was worth it.

TBC

Chapter Text

When Tony woke up the next morning alone in his bed, he couldn’t say he was surprised. Even as he swept out his hand to feel the sheets for a trace of warmth that might have suggested Steve had been there recently, he knew they’d be cold to the touch. And they were. Ice cold. Steve had never come back that night. Instead he’d spent the night with Bucky; and again, it didn’t surprise Tony. It did hurt a bit, though. Something in his chest pulled tight and he drew in a deep breath as he rolled up and out of the bed. There was no sense in moping around feeling sorry for himself. If Steve wanted to spend the night with his BBF, who was he to deny him?

Brown eyes darted away from Steve’s side of the bed when he realized they were lingering there, and Tony grabbed the robe he’d left draped over a nearby chair. There was a chill in the air, and he was far too tired to get dressed in anything warmer than the black sleep pants and t-shirt he’d slept in. Coffee was required before any further actions to begin his day could occur.

By the time he’d shrugged on the robe and tied it securely around his waist he was already walking down the hallway to the elevator. He had no coffee on his own floor---which was a tragedy---so he’d have to go to the communal kitchen to get his fix.

A flutter of movement made him pause, and Tony turned his head just in time to spot Steve coming out of one of the guest rooms. He paused, curious as to what could possibly be of interest in the rarely used space, but when Steve turned to face him, it became clear. The red harness Tony used while he was Honey was dangling from where it had been thrown over Steve’s shoulder, and the specialized boots were clutched in his hand.

When their eyes met, Steve jumped and froze in surprise; and Tony’s smile faded when he saw the flash of guilt in blue eyes.

“…Hey, what’s wrong?” Tony glanced back down to the gear before meeting the other man’s gaze again. “Are we going back to the ranch? I mean, it’s short notice, but I’m sure I can clear a few days…”

He trailed off as Steve shook his head and shuffled uncomfortably from foot to foot. “Actually, Tony, I thought I’d take Bucky. He’s having trouble adjusting, and I thought this might be a good way to get him out of his head. He’s used to taking orders and I think this might be a good therapy for him as he adjusts to his new life. I told him all about us an---“

Steve’s words became nothing but background noise to the sound of Tony’s own heart beating loudly in his ears. He was taking Bucky? Bucky was going to be replacing Honey? Steve was going to share that level of trust and intimacy with someone else?? Someone… younger, stronger, better looking. Definitely someone who took orders better. Ok, so Tony could understand why Steve would rather have Bucky, but so quickly? Had everything Steve said to him been a lie? Had Tony just been a convenient stand-in until someone better came along? Seemed that way.

But Steve had said he didn’t want anyone else; that Tony was the only person he wanted as his partner. Captain America didn’t lie! But here they were.
It hurt.

A strangled cross between a laugh and a sob escaped before Tony could stop it, and his fingers came up to clutch at the material covering his heart. Had the arc-reactor still been in his chest, he would have sworn it’d malfunctioned and the metal shards inside of him were clawing their way into his damaged heart. It hurt so much, and it took a monumental effort simply to draw air into his lungs. His vison became cloudy as unshed tears built up in his eyes.

“Steve…”

When there was no reply, Tony blinked to clear his vision, allowing the tears to slide down his cheeks as he looked up in search of the other man. But he was gone; already disappearing behind the closing doors of the elevator. He’d left Tony standing there; shattered, as if he didn’t care at all. He didn’t care. No one cared about Tony Stark. No one.
He hadn’t even looked back.

----------------

“Tony. Wake up, Antoshka.”

Tony sucked in a deep breath as his eyes flew open and he sat up far too quickly for his injured body. He groaned as pain traveled throughout his sore muscles, and his hands came up to rub at his damp cheeks before he turned his attention to Natasha. She was standing beside him with her hand placed firmly on his shoulder, and if you squinted, you could almost see the way her lips were pursed in concern.

It’d been a dream. He’d fallen asleep at the kitchen table shortly after Clint had left, and now he had to deal with the embarrassment of the Black Widow finding him crying over a nightmare. How pathetic!

He sighed as perfectly shaped nails traveled up his shoulder to instead bury themselves into his hair, pulling a shiver from him as they scratched along his scalp.

“You talk in your sleep. You need to speak to Steve.”

Tony’s eyes slide closed as he buried his face in his hands, though he made no move to dislodge the fingers petting his hair. It felt too good and as much as he hated to admit it, he needed the comfort right now. Talking to Steve was the last thing he wanted to do. These were Tony’s insecurities to deal with. Steve had already told him that there was no one else; that he would always be there for Tony. He should believe that; trust Steve. But he was a Stark; and he’d lost his ability to trust a long time ago. That wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to Steve, and the man shouldn’t have to deal with his partner constantly doubting his every move. Nothing would push Steve away faster, and with Bucky in the picture now, it would be all too easy to lose him. Why stick around and deal with Tony’s nonsense when a more compatible partner was waiting in the wings?

So no, Tony wouldn’t say anything at all. He’d just…deal with it.

But still, he nodded. “I’ll talk to him.”

-------------------------------

Apparently spending a good two hours sleeping at the kitchen table was murder on the neck and back, because it took every ounce of will power Tony had to slink back to his room. The dark hallway seemed to stretch on for miles as he shuffled along the length of it, and it seemed that his bedroom never seemed to get any closer. He needed something stronger for the pain, but he’d left all the medications down in the lab, and there was no way he was making it down there to retrieve it. Screw that. No way, no ho---

Tony froze when a puff of hot air hit the back of his neck and his body went rigid in fear. He hadn’t heard the elevator open or footsteps, but then again, the plush carpet beneath his feet tended to allow anyone who wasn’t shuffling along like a zombie nearly silent movement.

A pair of strong arms wound around him a moment later and pulled him back against a solid chest, and it was only then Tony caught Steve’s scent and relaxed into a boneless heap of bruised flesh. It wasn’t Bucky.

Steve chuckled as he buried his face in thick brunette hair, pressing his lips to the crown of Tony’s head in apology.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

Tony huffed as he tilted his head back to catch Steve’s eye. “Bells. Bells for everyone.”

If Steve was confused by the statement, he didn’t show it. Instead he smiled softly, and the affection in those blue eyes made Tony’s breath catch in his throat so thoroughly that he didn’t even object when he was scooped up into the bigger man’s arms and carried bridal style the rest of the way to his bedroom. It beat walking, so he remained silent, only sighing in relief when he was gently deposited on his bed. His wonderful, plush, warm bed.

Steve climbed right in beside him and gathered the smaller man into his arms again, carefully arranging him so he was tucked close without aggravating his injuries. Of course, Tony was made to be the small spoon, but the heat Steve put off acted as his own personal heating pad, and it soothed his sore muscles in a way nothing else had. He didn’t even object to the octopus impression the larger man was pulling off, instead finding comfort in the way he’d been thoroughly trapped within Steve’s grip. It didn’t feel smothering at all; instead he felt safe and secure; comforted.

“You are an amazing man, Tony Stark.”

Tony’s eyes slide closed as warm lips pressed against the back of his neck. Of course Steve would say that. He’d given him something he wanted. But what if he’d let Bucky leave? What if he hadn’t stopped him? Would they both be here right now, or would Tony be shivering in the cold by himself? He just didn’t know.

He tried to push the thoughts away and simply enjoy Steve’s touch; his words of praise as they were whispered into his ear. This was how relationships worked, after all. You give your partner what they wanted and they loved you in return. Not a bad trade. This could work. Honestly Tony hadn’t expected to see Steve at all tonight. He was sure he’d stay with Bucky, but instead he was here. With him. It gave him a renewed sense of hope, and as Steve tugged the covers up over both of them to settle in for sleep, Tony let a small content smile curl his lips.

This might work.

----------------------

When Tony woke up the next morning, Steve was already gone. With déjà vu tingling in his head, he quickly pinched his arm, wincing at the sharp pain. Awake this time.

A heavy sigh escaped his lips as Tony rolled over onto his back and scrubbed his hands over his face in an attempt to wake up a little more fully and push the headache building in his temples away. It was a near constant occurrence now; the pain in his head. He wasn’t sure if it was just stress, the strained muscles in his neck and back, or perhaps a tumor. Because that would be his luck. A nice big tumor right smack in the middle of his brain.

“Sir, Mr. Rogers left for his morning run just over an hour ago. He left your pain medication on the nightstand to your left.”

Tony’s hands flopped back down to the mattress as Jarvis spoke, and he cut his eyes to the side and nearly moaned in relief when he saw the pills and tall glass of water waiting for him. It took some effort on his part, but he managed to sit up and snatch up the items quickly enough, downing the medication with several large gulps of water. He sat there with his eyes closed for several more moments, and he was beginning to slip back to sleep when his AI continued.

“I have taken the liberty of starting the shower for you. Dr. Banner insists you join the team for breakfast in thirty minutes.”

Brown eyes cracked open with a frown, but Tony thought better about arguing when his stomach rumbled loudly. Apparently his body decided breakfast sounded good without his consent, and with all that noise, there was no way he’d be going back to sleep.

“Tell him I’ll be down in forty.”

------------------------

Tony arrived in twenty-eight minutes. The hot shower had felt amazing, and the medication had kicked in mid-way through. He’d begun to feel so good he even took the time to clean up his goatee and somewhat style his hair; if scrubbing some pomade into the strands with his fingers counted as styling. He thought it did. He felt pretty. A for effort and all that.

When he crossed the threshold early, all those present actually stopped what they were doing to stare at him. Natasha merely raised a brow, Clint looked alarmed, and his eyes scanned Tony’s body as if searching for a bleeding wound. Bruce hid his initial expression of surprise with a bright smile as he got up from the table to prepare another plate.

Tony ignored them all and sat down in his usual chair. Clint didn’t even object when he reached across the table and stole his orange juice, drinking from the glass in large gulps.

“Wow. All groomed and on time. You even smell nice. What’s the occasion? Got a hot date with Steve?” The archer yelped when Natasha kicked him beneath the table, and Tony had to resist the urge to stick his tongue out at the other man. Instead he just settled on taking another drink from his stolen juice.

“I’d like to believe my cooking is just worth being on time for.” Bruce smiled as he placed a full plate of eggs, bacon, hash browns, sausage, and toast in front of Tony, and then sat to finish his own meal. “You look good this morning, Tony. Feeling better?”

Tony hummed around the forkful of food he’d already placed into his mouth. There was no time for talking. He was starving, and as always, Bruce’s food was delicious. The man needed to open a restaurant. This had to become a thing. Maybe the Hulk could be the mascot. Hulk’s nom-noms. Mmm. Good.

….How strong was that pain medication?

Tony had zoned in so thoroughly on his plate that he hadn’t even noticed the room’s two new occupants until the chair next to him was pulled out and a large body sat down and scooted close. Steve’s scent, freshly showered, washed over him like a wave, and he couldn’t stop the smile that plastered itself on his face when a pair of lips pressed themselves to his cheek.

“Did you say something about nom-noms?” Steve asked with a teasing grin.

“I think the new medication might be a bit strong. But he needed the rest.” Bruce supplied.

Tony shrugged, enjoying the light, floaty sensation in his body as he did so. He felt good. Whatever he’d taken that morning was certainly stronger than the Advil, and if his mind had been clearer, he might have objected to taking something that could possibly have addictive qualities, but for now, he was content to simply enjoy himself.

“Hmm. I like it.” Tony placed a piece of bacon in his mouth and chewed noisily, moaning in a way that made Bruce blush, Clint bark with laughter, and Steve raise an eyebrow.

Natasha, as always, remained unaffected as she silently ate her breakfast.

At some point Tony’s eyes had slipped closed, and when he opened them again he noticed Bucky sitting on the other side of the table in the chair furthest from his own. Immediately his good mood evaporated. The former winter soldier’s hair was damp, much like Steve’s, and Tony’s drug addled mind began to make connections. Clearly, CLEARLY they had showered together. Clearly.

Brown eyes swung around to focus on Steve, searching the skin visible to him for any marks that might suggest there had been something inappropriate going on. Before he could even register what he was doing, Tony had reached up to pull at the collar of the larger man’s shirt, searching for hickeys, scratch marks, bruises. Surely two super soldiers would leave marks in the throes of passion, right? Or maybe they were too clever to leave evidence.

The moment Tony went to lift Steve’s shirt up entirely, strong hands wrapped around his wrists to stop his movements. Brown eyes lifted to meet concerned blue.

“Tony, are you ok? What’s going on?”

Tony’s eyes darted back to Bucky, who was now watching them with a curious expression. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like it when Bucky looked at him. At Steve.

His heart began to hammer in his chest as his breaths became more labored. Distantly he could hear Bruce say something about a possible bad reaction to the pain medication, but he was fine. Why didn’t anyone else see what was happening here?

Tony pulled his hands free from Steve’s grip, a feat only accomplished because the super soldier allowed it, and he stood abruptly. The room swam momentarily, but Tony batted the hands away that tried to steady him.

“Tony, what’s wrong?!”

He ignored Steve, ignored the itch beneath his skin, the sudden blistering heat in the room, and he zeroed in on Bucky. The other man looked on edge. Guilty people usually did.
Tony had every intention of decking the guy as he approached him, but then Bucky stood, and wow he was tall, and built, and handsome and absolutely perfect for Steve in every way. Then his eyes caught his own warped reflection in the recently polished metal of Bucky’s artificial arm, and he practically recoiled at the sight of himself. Short, soft around the edges, scarred, damaged. There was no contest. What was he doing? Who was he even fooling? Why the hell was the room spinning so much?!

Minutes must have passed in silence as Tony gazed at his own reflection in the metal arm he was now holding close to his face. Bucky had gone absolutely rigid, and Steve carefully came around and placed himself between them as he slowly took Tony’s hands in his own, releasing his grip on Bucky.

“Tony… you’re not reacting well to the medication. Let’s get you back to bed.”

Wide brown eyes turned to Steve, and he shook his head. “He’s so much better for you, Steve. We all know it. Just go! Don’t sneak around behind my back! I’m not stupid, you know! I can’t do this again! Just GO!”

By now Natasha had gotten to her feet, as had Clint. Tony was violently pushing at Steve’s reaching hands, and with one flailing motion, he struck the larger man across the face. It certainly wasn’t enough to hurt, but it stunned Steve enough that he stood motionless for a moment. In a flash Bucky had stepped forward, and Tony screamed as the soldier’s flesh hand gripped the front of his shirt. If he had any violent intent, it never came to fruition, because Clint and Natasha were there a second later, tearing Tony free and shoving Bucky away.

Natasha had pulled a knife and had it poised just below Bucky’s chin, its blade resting against the soft flesh of his throat.

“You don’t touch him. Ever.”

Clint and Bruce were on either side of Tony, who had collapsed into a heap on the floor and was muttering to himself as he rocked back and forth. “I don’t feel good. Something isn’t right.”

“Shhh, I know.” Bruce glanced at Clint and nodded, coordinating the effort it took to pull Tony back to his feet. “Let’s get you to medical, ok?”

Tony nodded, and Clint cursed as he and Bruce began slowly walking to genius out of the room. “Jesus. He agreed without a fight. He’s dying.”

The remaining three pairs of eyes watched them go, and once they lost sight of them, Natasha lowered her knife and stepped back. Bucky’s expression hadn’t changed much throughout the entire ordeal, a credit to his assassin training, but Steve’s eyes were wide with concern and confusion.

Natasha sheathed her weapon. “When Tony is himself again, you two will talk. You’re both idiots! And you!” For the first time that day, Bucky looked startled when a manicured finger pointed itself right at his face. “You come with me. We’re training.”

Bucky cast Steve a desperate expression that pleaded for help, but he was too lost in his own thoughts to help as the former Winter Solider was led away to what was surely going to be a very painful sparring session.

TBC

Chapter Text

By the time Steve had pulled himself together enough to follow the others to the medical bay many floors down, Tony had already been whisked away into one of the several rooms for treatment. The usual staff was present, but rather than mulling around as they usually did, nearly everyone had paused in their daily routines and were quietly murmuring to each other. Steve had no doubt the three Avengers that had just gone by were the topic of their discussion.

“Which way?” His question was directed at a middle-aged blonde woman, and she needed no clarification before pointing down the hallway.

“They’re taking him to room 4.”

Steve nodded his thanks and hastened his pace. His heart was beating hard in his chest as guilt ate away at him. Tony’s bizarre behavior was clearly related to a bad reaction to whatever pills Bruce had given him, but Tony’s earlier issues with Bucky obviously extended past the realm of simple fear. He was jealous; threatened.

Part of Steve wanted to take Tony and shake him. How many times did he have to reassure the man that there was no one else Steve wanted to be with? How many times did he have to tell him that he loved him? How did you deal with a man who refused to believe he was worth anyone’s time? It was beyond frustrating, and it was clear now that it was time to change tactics. If Tony couldn’t believe Steve’s word, then he’d try showing Tony his worth through actions.

But first, he needed to be healthy.

Steve came to room four’s threshold just in time to witness the chaos unfolding within. Tony was sitting on a bed, his skin as pale as the sheets that covered it. His entire body quaked violently as if he was standing in the middle of a blizzard, but he was shining with sweat. Brown eyes were wide and confused, and he refused to allow any of the doctors who tried to approach near him. Anyone who made the attempt was kicked away, though each motion the man made caused him to sway dangerously. His equilibrium was off.

“Get AWAY from me!”

“Tony, try to relax…” Bruce spoke in a calm tone as he held his hand up to the doctors, silently asking them to keep their distance for the time being as he sat beside Tony and gently placed his other hand on the man’s shoulder. “Remember, you agreed to come here. You aren’t feeling very good. They just want to help.”

Steve frowned as he watched Tony scratch at his arms as if bugs were crawling beneath his skin. His nails left red welts in their wake, and he was stepping forward to grab hold of the man’s wrists before he could stop himself. Tony startled violently as his attention snapped to Steve, and for a tense moment, Steve was sure he was going to be violently rejected again; but then brown eyes softened and Tony leaned forward until his forehead thumped against his chest.

“Steve. I feel like shit.”

Blue eyes slipped closed as relief washed over him, and Steve moved forward, releasing Tony’s wrists in order to envelop the smaller man in a protective hug. He relished the way Tony folded into him, allowing Steve to become his shield from the rest of the world.

“What did you give him?”

Bruce didn’t need Steve to look up from where he’d buried his face in Tony’s hair to know he was being addressed, and the older man sighed as he adjusted his glasses. “Oxycodone. It’s medication used to treat moderate to severe pain. The most common side effects are sleepiness and dry mouth.”

Steve finally lifted his head and shifted his gaze to Bruce. “And the less common side effects?”

“….For those with sensitivity to it, rarer side effects can include confusion, dizziness, headache, itching, cold, clammy skin, slow heartbeat, seizures, and slower breathing.”

Steve felt his eye twitch. “You gave a man with reduced lung function a medication that can slow his breathing?”

At this Bruce had the sense to look guilty, his shoulders hunching ever so slightly as his eyes dropped away and to the side. “Tony gave me his consent to prescribe him any medications he may need. He’s been under a lot of stress lately, and I gave him what I thought would do him the most good with the least amount of risk. This reaction is rare, Steve. I wouldn’t have knowingly given him something if I thought this would be the result.”

Bruce’s words did little to quell the silent rage that was simmering beneath the surface of his otherwise calm exterior. Blue eyes dropped to gaze at the man huddled against him. Tony was still shivering as if he were freezing, and after pressing his fingers to his pulse to check for an abnormal rhythm, he discovered that his skin was as cold to the touch as it appeared it would be. His heartbeat was steady; a good sign, though the warm puffs of air that hit his chest were a little more labored than he’d like.

Steve opened his mouth to ask Tony if he was ready for the doctors to look him over, but before the words could leave his lips, the smaller man jerked backward and twisted to lean over the backside of the bed. By the time anyone registered what the problem was, Tony was already retching violently over the edge.

Beside them Bruce winced. “Vomiting is also a side effect….Usually caused by the dizziness.”

Steve inhaled deeply as he rubbed a soothing hand over Tony’s back. “Bruce, I think you should go. We’ll talk about this later.”

The smaller man nodded and slipped from the room without another word, recognizing the Captain America tone that left no room for argument. Clint, who had been waiting silently off to the side, followed suit.

A few more painful heaves left Tony gasping for air, and he moaned as he slowly turned to face Steve again. “Ugh, I’m gross. Are we on a ship? Everything is moving. I don’t like it. Why do I itch so much?”

He took a long shuddering breath and fixed his gaze on Steve, his eyes filled with confusion and something desperate that made every protective instinct in Steve’s body flare to life all at once.

“You’re Captain America, Steve. Fix this. Fix everything.”

Steve pulled Tony close again and held him tight, willing away the shivers that continued to wrack the other man’s frame. “You just relax and sleep. When you wake up, everything will be better. I promise.”

And just like magic, the man in his arms went limp as he slipped into unconsciousness.

------------------------

Steve was waiting patiently when Tony woke up a couple hours later. It was abrupt and sudden, the other man sitting up as if propelled by a tightly coiled spring. The movement seemed fluid, free of any pain or discomfort if the lack of facial cues was anything to go by, which meant the procedure had worked.

Again.

For a moment Tony simply blinked in confusion. Last he remembered---or maybe not---he was in medical. Now he was safely tucked into his own bed on his private floor. Steve couldn’t help but grin when the other man began to notice the lack of pain in his muscles, his brown eyes filling with surprise, then confusion, then suspicion as they turned on Steve for an explanation.

“I allowed another blood transfusion.”

Tony moaned and flopped dramatically back into the sheets. “Steeeve. Not that I don’t appreciate having your fluids inside me and all, but you have to be careful with that. What if someone steals a sample?”

Steve shook his head as he stood from the chair he’d settled in and crawled up length of the bed instead, settling himself flush against Tony and pressing a firm and demanding kiss to the smaller man’s lips. It was over before Tony could truly respond, and Steve grinned at the barely suppressed whimper his abrupt withdraw brought with it.

“I watched the doctor like a hawk. It was the fastest way I could think of to rid your system of that medication. And it seemed to heal all your injuries from the crash.”

Tony looked thoughtful for a moment as he wiggled on the mattress, testing all his muscles for any sign of pain, but there was none if the satisfied expression that appeared on his face was any indication. He hummed in agreement and sat up abruptly. Steve was opening his mouth to object, but the words lodged in his throat when Tony only moved far enough to straddle his hips, settling on top of him and placing his hands on his own thighs as he looked down at the larger man.

Steve’s thoughts were momentarily derailed as the sensation of Tony’s firm bottom pressing against his groin short-circuited something in his brain, and it took every ounce of will power he had to channel his attention away from the physical distraction and focus on what Tony was saying.

“-------ember much about what happened, but I need to re-think who is allowed to give me drugs and blood and whatever else when I’m not of sound mind. Like I said, I appreciate the super duper blood boost, but at this rate I’m going to become a vampire. And what the hell did Bruce give me anyway? I haven’t tripped like that since the late 80’s…”

Hearing Bruce’s name had the same effect on Steve as a bucket of ice water would if it were dumped over his head, and he reached up to settle his hands on Tony’s hips, giving them a little squeeze to get the man’s attention. As he’d hoped, Tony fell silent and blinked down at him, cocking his head in that adorable way he always did when he was curious about something.

“I don’t think Bruce should be in charge of your medical decisions anymore.”

Tony’s lips pursed as he thought about it, and his hands moved from his thighs to rest over Steve’s. “He made a mistake. He didn’t know I’d react that way.”

“He gave you a potentially addicting drug. I know there’s a reason you won’t take anything stronger than Advil, even when you’ve been injured on a mission. He meant well, but he should have respected that.”

For a second it looked like Tony might argue, but a moment later he seemed to deflate, visibly slumping in defeat.

Steve took the opportunity to sit up, shifting the other man slightly so he was more comfortably settled in his lap. Tony followed the movement easily, naturally wrapping his legs around the larger man’s waist to maintain a comfortable balance. Steve's expression became stern has he gently took Tony’s face between his hands and tilted his head back, locking their eyes.

“I know it doesn’t seem to matter to you how many times I say it, Tony, but I care about you. I love you.”

A flush colored the smaller man’s face, and though brown eyes made every attempt to turn away, Steve’s grip refused to falter. “I kn---“

“Bucky is like a brother to me.”

If the matter hadn’t been so serious, Steve might have laughed at the way Tony’s jaw dropped and his brow furrowed in baffled confusion.

“I thought your main issue with Bucky had to do with what happened with Hammer, but it’s become pretty apparent it goes a little deeper than that. I have absolutely no romantic feelings toward Bucky. It’d be like incest to me. Weird.”

The jaw he cradled in his hands snapped shut as more blood rushed to flushed cheeks. It was a good look.

“Tony Stark, you are the most insecure, bone-headed, stubborn, aggravating man I know. I want to shake you sometimes. A lot of times.”

“Nice pep talk, Steve.”

Steve grinned and placed a finger over the other man’s frowning lips to silence him. “No. No more pep talks. You don’t listen to them and they never stick. You’re a man of action, right? I think it’s time I stopped telling you how much I want you; how much I love you, and just show you instead.”

Between them Steve’s words seemed to stir a physical response in Tony; one that was nudging him rather insistently in his belly. The way the smaller man rocked in his lap left no doubt that Tony felt Steve’s interest as well, and the hungry look in those brown eyes made keeping his composure difficult. There was still so much they needed to talk about; and there was no missing the lingering bits of doubt and disbelief flickering across Tony's face as his brain tried to process everything, but Steve had plenty of time and energy to convince him of his sincerity.

When Tony spoke, his voice had a raspy quality to it, a raw lust that sent a shiver up Steve’s spine. “I’ve heard that actions speak louder than words. I’m a terribly insecure man, Steve. I need a lot of actions. Lots and lots and lots…”

Clever fingers tickled their way down Steve’s chest, inching lower and lower until the larger man caught them and kissed the knuckles.

“Not yet.”

“Fuck, Steve!”

He chuckled and pressed another kiss to Tony’s hands, this time more apologetic.

“There are some things I need to take care of first. I don’t want any distractions or interruptions.”

Tony huffed dramatically and tossed himself off of Steve’s lap and into the sheets as if he were a petulant child. Not the most attractive display, but it still made the larger man smile as he stood and gave Tony’s rump a playful pat before heading to the door. He couldn’t help but grin over his shoulder as he left the room.

“I won’t be long. No plans to cheat on the love of my life with my brother.”

The long, drawn out moan of embarrassment muffled beneath the pillow Tony had covered his face with almost made this entire ordeal worth it.

Almost.

(TBC)