Steve Rogers showed up at Stark Tower one day in a leather jacket, carrying a motorcycle helmet in one hand and a prosthetic arm in the other.
JARVIS, because he could be perverse when he chose, didn't warn Tony before allowing Steve up to the penthouse and then directing him down the stairwell to the workshop. Tony, to his credit, rallied nicely once he'd gaped for a few seconds at this sudden intruder and his extra arm.
"You never call, you never write," he said, hands on hips, eyes flicking over the arm covetously. "You don't invite me to your Blowing Up The Helicarriers Party. I'm beginning to think you don't like me, Rogers."
"Well, I know you're a busy man, and I thought you might take the Helicarriers personally," Steve replied.
"If you'd told me what they were meant to do I'd have blown them up myself," Tony replied, looking away from the arm and away from Steve, almost as though he were ashamed.
"What did you think three heavily-armed satellite-enabled Helicarriers were for?" Steve asked. His voice was carefully curious, not judgmental.
"I thought the engines were for the current Carrier," Tony said.
"Well, that probably won't be as much of a problem going forward," Steve said. "Anyway, I brought you an apology gift."
Tony scoffed, a little hollow. "More like you need a favor from someone who knows which end of the screwdriver is the handle."
"Well, if you don't want the Soviet-made advanced prosthetic -- "
"Don't play that game with me, Rogers, Starks invented that game," Tony replied, holding out his hand, making a little gimme motion. He took the arm from Steve, hefted its weight thoughtfully, and then set it down on the workbench nearby, pulling a stool around and plopping into it before studying the fingers intently.
"So, where's the rest of him?" he asked, as his examination continued.
"DC. We're staying with a friend."
"Your friend with the wings, or your friend with the stings?"
Steve smiled a little. "Wings."
"So did you hunt him down, or did he come to you?"
"Little of one, little of the other. We were looking for him. He...let us find him."
"Hm. And why did he allow you to take his arm and give it to the total stranger whose parents he likely murdered?"
Steve was silent. Tony looked up over the arm at him.
"The internet is sort of a specialty of mine," he said. "I read the SHIELD and Hydra documents. It's not explicit, but it's not exactly unlikely, right?"
"That wasn't him. At least...not the person he was before, and not the one he is now."
Tony picked up a micro-prybar, normally used for working on his gauntlets, and began working at the shoulder plates, easing them apart. "This seems functional," he said, peering between the metal slats. It did look functional. And...ominous.
"He said it's not broken, but it needs calibration. His...." Steve swallowed.
"His owners," Tony said. Steve looked surprised -- perhaps at his gentle tone, perhaps at his way of putting it.
"They had to recalibrate it every time he was, uh, activated. And if it was damaged."
"I'm shocked they knew how," Tony replied, settling back in his chair. "This isn't Soviet-made. It isn't human-made. Not entirely, at least. The tech in this is about a generation past the Iron Man armor. I could build it, today, with the materials at -- haha, at hand -- but there's no way Arnim Zola built this in the forties, in Russia, all by his genius lonesome."
"Then what is it?" Steve asked, looking worried.
"At a guess? Alien technology. I'm seeing familiar things in strange configuration."
"What strange new worlds," Tony sighed. "Probably not Chitauri. Asgardian's not a bad guess; wasn't Schmidt scooping up that kind of thing back when, before you started pounding on him? You hear Thor's back on-planet? We could ask him. The point's mostly moot, though, because I don't think you're here for Alien Antiques Roadshow."
"No," Steve agreed.
"Well, working out what 'calibration' means and how to perform it on this is going to take a while. He okay with you leaving his left arm with me?"
Steve chewed on his lip.
"Spit it out, Rogers, we're all damaged and crazy, there is no judgment in the workshop," Tony said tiredly.
"He asked me to take it off," Steve said. "He worried that it might do something he didn't want. He can't...he's struggling."
"Not that surprising. And you?"
Steve, clearly taken aback by the concern, took a second to find an answer. "Also struggling."
Tony nodded and started working on the arm again. "Go back to your friend, tell him I'll do what I can. I'll hit you up in a couple of weeks."
Steve was opening his mouth to reply when there was a squeal and a loud whirr, and the bots seemed to take notice of Tony's guest. Dummy and Butterfingers rolled out of the shadows, coming over to inspect the arm, their claws dangling curiously over Tony's shoulder. Tony raised a hand and stroked Dummy's housing absently, fingers curling around the metal.
"Are those, uh," Steve began. Tony looked up. "Part of your...JARVIS...?"
"No," Tony said. He pointed to the one he'd been petting. "Dummy," and to the other one, "Butterfingers."
The two gave Steve cursory, dismissive glances before returning their attention to the arm. Dummy picked up a tool delicately and offered it to Tony.
"No, it doesn't need a -- put that down, you'll hurt someone, probably me," Tony said, and launched into an affectionate harangue of the robot, who continued to try and press the tool on him. When he looked up again, Steve was gone, and Tony was alone in the workshop with the arm Bucky Barnes no longer wanted to call his own.
"Good old dad talked about him, y'know," Tony said a few days later. Talking to the robots was not a sign of sanity, but then Tony often felt he'd left sanity in a cave in Afghanistan. Dummy, who was for once being helpful, bleeped as he held the arm at the proper angle for the delicate work Tony needed to do inside the wrist. "He said What Cap didn't know couldn't hurt him. Tut!" he added, as U tried to nose in. "Back away, menace."
U sullenly reversed. Tony waited, then held up a hand the second he tried to sneak back, blocking U's camera. U pushed against his hand for a minute, but eventually wandered off. Dummy made a self-satisfied beep.
"The point was, sometimes you do stuff you probably shouldn't, but..." Tony paused, tongue between his teeth as he fixed a fiddly bit, "...you have to, for one reason or another. And those are the things you don't tell Captain America. For his own sake, really."
Dummy blew a raspberry, probably responding to Tony's dry, faintly annoyed tone. Tony blew one back.
"I can only imagine how Barnes is getting along with that," he continued. "I should rescue him for his own sake. Who knows, though. Maybe he's a masochist. This arm can't be that comfortable," he added. "Lower, Dummy."
Dummy clicked but didn't comply.
"I'm done now, lower it, put it on the bench," Tony repeated.
Dummy, in a determined motion that nearly clocked Tony in the head, whirled, arm still in his clutches, and took off across the shop.
"Hey, y -- no! Dummy, don't you dare -- DUMMY!" Tony yelled, giving chase.
When they relocated to New York for good, which had been an interesting trial in itself, Pepper had insisted on one constant: date night. It wasn't even about the date anymore, it was about the presence of one thing around which everything else could, if necessary, revolve. On days when Stark Industries was giving her new wrinkles (or Tony was), all she had to do was remember that date night was never more than six days away. At times when New York still made Tony panic, he could always shut everything down and focus on where they would go this week, what they would do, how for just a few hours everything would be quiet and calm and Pepper would be there.
Which was why she was perplexed, and not a little annoyed, to come home and find Tony in his workshop on date night.
"Are you still playing with your extra hand?" she asked, passing through the doorway and signaling for JARVIS to turn the music down.
"I've never needed more than two," Tony called, "but it makes a great backscratcher."
"I'm sure Captain America will be thrilled to hear it," she replied, joining him at the workbench. "How long have you had it, two weeks?"
"Almost. Almost done, too," Tony said, indicating the 3-D holographic model he'd been building of the arm. "The Tony Stark Guide To Potentially Alien Prostheses. I'm tempted to steal some of the ideas, but I'm not sure if we have the resources to put them to any use."
Pepper rested her chin on his shoulder. He smelled like ozone, but she'd stopped worrying about brain-damaging fumes years ago and started to like it. Ozone meant Tony was working, and Tony was happiest working. Dummy, nearby, chittered dejectedly; his claws were zip-tied together, and looked like they'd been painted blue. "What did favorite baby do?" she asked, indicating him.
"Keeps messing with the arm. I gave it this awesome new paint job, and then he tried to grab it before the finish was dry, so I'm going to have to strip it and restart."
She studied the paint diagram he'd drawn up. "Are you sure he wants it so...busy?" she asked.
"Why wouldn't he?"
"Not everyone is you, Tony."
Tony squinted at the arm. It was blue from shoulder to elbow, red and white striped to the wrist, and blue again for the hand, with the infamous Captain America shield logo on the shoulder.
"Yeah, ditch the stripes," he said, and they vanished. "And...the blue. Less is more, right?"
"On occasion," Pepper said, patting Tony's shoulder as JARVIS took everything away except the shield logo. "That's better."
"Easier, too, won't take me as much time or holy shit it's date night," Tony said, looking up at her. She tapped him on the nose. "I am so sorry."
"It's fine. Did you make reservations?"
"JARVIS?" Tony called.
"None on file," JARVIS replied. "Shall I purchase an apology bouquet, Ms. Potts?"
"No need. Order us some pizza and one of those big Mediterranean salads, you know the one I like, and find something nice for us to watch."
"There is a recently filmed production of Don Giovanni by the Vienna Opera which is receiving very high reviews," JARVIS remarked. Tony turned huge brown eyes on her pleadingly.
Not opera, he mouthed.
You owe me, she mouthed back.
"Fine. JARVIS, queue it up," Tony sighed. He set the arm carefully in a long black case, locked it, and grabbed Dummy's ziptied claws, cutting them free with a pair of wire clippers. "Behave or I'll turn you into a wireless router and donate you to a hackerspace," he ordered, then turned to Pepper. "I'm gonna shower. You feel free to start Yawn Giovanni without me."
"I can wait," she said sweetly. "Meet you on the couch."
"If I'm good, can we make out for act two?"
It was three weeks before they heard back from Tony. He seemed like a fella who wanted to be left alone while he worked -- his father had been the same -- but Steve was about ready to get on his bike and head to New York anyway, by the time Tony got in touch.
It had been a frustrating day, not one of Bucky's better ones. Four weeks ago, they'd found him in New York, sitting quietly in a bar where his family's apartment building had once stood. They'd brought him back to Sam's place in DC and he'd gone quietly -- a little too quietly, to be honest. Since then, good days were ones where he talked, where he ate, where he sometimes went outside. Bad days were ones where he sat quietly, obeying any order but unmoving otherwise, like a marionette with no strings.
The previous day had been a good day, so Steve had tried to ask him about it, tried to help. Why does it happen? Where do you go when you get quiet?
Bucky had just looked at him and said "I don't have a mission," with his voice full of pain. Like an abandoned dog, hurt and bewildered. And then he'd fallen silent -- so it wasn't simply a bad day, but a bad day Steve had caused, and that cut deep.
"Leave him be a little," Sam had advised. "Don't ask why he is the way he is. Ask him how you can help."
"He shouldn't have to tell me," Steve had replied, discontented. "I should just know. He's my best friend."
"He was your best friend," Sam said. "Now he's caught in his own head. You'll know when he's getting better because you'll see your best friend again. Till then, you're dealing with the jailer. You're gonna have to ask the jailer what your friend needs."
"If he even knows," Steve had said moodily. Sam had smiled and clapped him on the back, gripping his neck, giving him an affectionate shake. Steve considered that Sam was acclimating both of them back to the world; six months ago he wouldn't have let anyone touch him with such familiarity, especially somewhere so vulnerable.
"You have seventy years to work out between you, but you've got plenty of time ahead of you. Give him a little space. He'll tell you when he needs something."
But it turned out the first time he saw Bucky, the real Bucky, was the day Tony called to say the arm was ready, and to ask if Steve would bring the socket to New York for a fitting.
The drive wasn't too bad, and Sam liked driving when he wasn't being stalked by assassins, so they packed overnight bags and Steve coaxed Bucky into the back seat of Sam's new car, where he stared blankly out the window while Sam continued Steve's musical education in the front. Occasionally Steve hummed along to one he recognized. Once in a while a look would flicker over Bucky's face that said he had heard the song, somewhere, in the other life he didn't want to remember, and Steve didn't know how to help him forget. Or, if not forget, at least reconcile and put away as something that was done to him, not something he'd done.
They reached Stark Tower around four in the afternoon, and JARVIS took them directly to the penthouse fast enough that Steve's ears popped.
Tony was in the workshop, and clearly knew they were coming; he had an Iron Man gauntlet on his left hand, and he was pale and fidgeting. It occurred belatedly to Steve (as perhaps it had to Tony) that it took some doing, bringing the man likely responsible for killing your parents into your most sacred place.
"Tony," Steve said, making sure he stood just slightly in front of Bucky. Sam was next to him, looking around like he wanted to memorize the place. "I'd like you to meet Sam Wilson and James Barnes. Sam, Bucky, Tony Stark."
"Yeah, I recognized him," Sam drawled.
"Likewise," Tony said. "You're the guy who flies around without any armor on. Boy, do I want to take your measurements."
"Buy me dinner first," Sam said, grinning.
"I will do that," Tony vowed solemnly.
"Buck," Steve prompted gently. Bucky glanced at him, then at Stark.
"This is feeling a little farcical," Tony announced. "Come on over here, Socket, we don't need to shake hands."
At least Bucky followed where Tony led, seating himself on a stool. He'd taken to wearing long-sleeved shirts with the left sleeve pinned up, henleys that didn't require a second hand to button and were easy to tug off. He pulled it off now, turning his head away as Tony bent to examine the gaping metal wound the arm mounted onto.
"Nice to see the other half," he said, his voice carefully steady. "I was wondering how some of these contact plates worked. I'd offer to overhaul this half but it's all neurologically linked and I'm not really a wetware guy. Still, everything should fit. So," he continued, leaning back. "Let's install your hardware. Stay there."
"He doesn't like me," Bucky said, as Tony trotted off into another room of the workshop.
"That's just how he is," Steve said.
"Then he's afraid of me."
"Maybe," Sam said, before Steve could speak. Steve shot him a glare. Sam shrugged.
Bucky simply digested the information quietly, eyes on the door Tony had gone through. He sat up slightly straighter when Tony returned carrying a long black box.
"Now, I figure," Tony said, setting the box down and flipping two latches up, one on either end, "this thing must have been hell on your spine. I don't know, you look pretty sprightly, but I'm half your age and I get cranky if I sleep wrong. So if you want to take it off to sleep, which your mechanic recommends..." he tapped the lid of the case, and then lifted it.
The arm rose up on two mounts, one under the bicep and one at the wrist. It sat there like a terrible art exhibit, a display piece of equal parts beauty and brutality. And there was something different about it.
It gleamed with the kind of high polish normally reserved for fancy chrome on cars, but that wasn't it -- nor was the soft, tooled blue leather of the palm guard it wore. It was the emblem on the shoulder -- the red star, except now it was white, and ringed in color.
"It's my shield," Steve said, surprised, and glanced at Tony.
"Seemed appropriate," Tony replied.
Bucky stretched out his hand to touch the star, head tipped curiously. Steve could see him trying to assemble what it might mean, trying desperately to fit himself and Captain America into the same world. Steve started to speak, but Sam caught his eye and shook his head.
After a minute, Tony took the arm out of the case, turning to Bucky.
"So, I'm gonna put this on you now. If you could not kill me, I'd really appreciate that," he said, as he eased the arm into place. There was a click, and Tony let go; Bucky reached over and grasped the arm's bicep in his right hand, then shoved his left shoulder forward. A low whine filled the air briefly as the power source came online.
Bucky looked up at Tony, thoughtfully.
Don't say it, Steve urged in his head, Please don't say it --
"What's my mission?" Bucky said. Steve tried not to let his disappointment show through, but it didn't matter. Bucky was watching Tony.
"I got nothin', Socket," Tony said, slowly backing out of arm's reach. "Not knowing is kind of what most of being human is about."
Bucky looked at Steve, who shook his head, and then at Sam.
"That arm belongs to you now," Sam said. "It's payment for services rendered. Your contract's up, Sergeant. Civilian life's waiting."
"The war's over," Bucky said uncertainly.
"For you, for now," Sam agreed.
Bucky nodded. "Thank you," he said to Tony.
"No problem," Tony said carefully. "Come back when you need a tune-up."
Steve stepped up to thank Tony as well, but as he did so, Bucky turned and butted his head into Steve's ribs -- not hard, not an attack, though he almost reacted like it was. Just the gentle thump of Bucky's head, the exhausted fall of his shoulders. Tony practically flinched back, and Steve saw Sam tense, but he just lifted his hand and cradled Bucky's head against his body.
"It's okay," he said softly. "Told you we'd fix you up, Buck."
Bucky nodded, but when he leaned back his face was impassive, as if the short, sudden fall and rise hadn't even happened. He got up, clearly waiting to be led out, and pulled his shirt back on with both hands. Steve thanked Tony, gathered up the case, and led the way towards the door.
They were almost out of the workshop -- Tony following along, easier now that he wasn't handling the arm and was probably reasonably sure he wasn't going to die -- when there was a soft metallic chitter, and Bucky jerked to a stop.
Steve turned and saw one of Tony's robots, claws lightly caged around Bucky's wrist.
"Dummy!" Tony snapped, as Bucky turned wild, confused eyes on the restraint. "Let go of him, oh my God, you and that arm -- "
"It's okay," Steve said to Bucky firmly, trying to sound in control of this situation. "It's fine, Bucky, it won't hurt you."
Everyone froze when Bucky turned sharply, right hand grasping one of Dummy's claws. With a soft hiss, Dummy released his wrist but kept his claws hovering around it. There was an air of questioning about the gesture, a sense that Dummy was asking for something.
Bucky let go of his claw and, very carefully, rotated his left wrist. Dummy jerked backwards, startled, and then prodded one of his fingers. Bucky twitched it, and Dummy squeaked.
A slow smile, the first Steve had seen since 1945, spread across Bucky's face. He crouched and ran his right hand over the nearest joint of Dummy's arm, while Dummy poked at his fingers with his claws, evidently delighted that his newest obsession was finally responding to his input.
"Hey," Bucky whispered, the smile still lighting his face. "Aren't you a piece a'work."
Steve gaped. It was Bucky, not the Winter Soldier or the broken man his programming had left behind but Bucky, the cocky kid from Brooklyn who loved the World Of Tomorrow exhibit.
Dummy burbled electronically at him, and Bucky wiggled his fingers. "Guess I look like a million bucks to you," he said to Dummy, who whirled his claws back and forth.
Steve watched Bucky gently disengage himself from the robot, speaking to it in a low, soothing tone. Eventually it pulled away and squeaked off, apparently satisfied that the arm's custodian was acceptable.
Bucky's eye caught on Steve's face for just a second, and his lips twitched in a quicker, smaller smile before he turned to Tony.
"I like your robot," he said awkwardly.
"Apparently he likes you too," Tony replied.
"Can we go?" Bucky asked Steve, sounding tired.
"Yeah, Buck," Steve said, resting a hand on his arm as they left. The metal was slightly warm under his fingers. "Let's get our heads down. It's been a long day."
"You know -- movies with dogs in them. You know why we worry that the dog will die?" Sam asked, as he shook out the blankets on a Stark Tower guest room bed.
"Because movies like killing dogs?" Steve ventured, inspecting the room. The entire suite was suspiciously patriotic-themed without being overt, and Steve wondered just what Tony Stark was up to. Still, he was glad of the free bed for the night.
"No. It's because animals dying is sadder. They don't know why what happens to them happens to them," Sam said. "An animal can't figure out why it's being mistreated, why it's dying. A dog, in particular, thinks it did something wrong."
"Are you trying to make a point about Bucky that I'm just really not following?" Steve asked.
"My point is, a dog's just so damn grateful if you even pay it attention, because then it knows it's not wrong," Sam said. "Tons of the folks I work with have pets they got because they needed to be able to do one right thing a day. You feed a dog, you make it happy, you feel good."
"This is about the robot, huh?"
"The robot doesn't know anything about him, but it likes him," Sam said. "It tells him he's an essentially acceptable person. Separates existence from action -- what he did is not who he is. Maybe we should get him a dog or something."
"Get him a robot dog," Steve answered, inappropriately amused. He glanced at Bucky, who was out cold on the couch nearby, left arm curled protectively around his chest, legs tucked up, back to the cushions and thus, the wall.
It might not be a bad idea, getting him something to care for. Bucky had never shown any particular affinity for animals, but the Bucky he'd known had a definite penchant for taking in strays who were more trouble than they were visibly worth. Like Steve Rogers. That was part of how he'd known it was Bucky in the first place, when he'd crouched to have his moment with Dummy.
"I've got something to do," Steve said, and Sam glanced up at him, face a question. "Won't take long. Be right back."
"Yeah, okay. Stark's got the best guest wifi on the planet, I'm good," he said, settling on the bed with a tablet. "Yell if you get into trouble."
"When have I ever done that?" Steve asked, and Sam made a rude noise after him as he left.
The elevator was just down the hall, and the doors opened silently when he approached, a sign that JARVIS was watching.
"Is Tony still in his workshop, JARVIS?" he asked, stepping onto the elevator.
"He is. Shall I take you there, Captain?"
"Please," Steve said. As the elevator began to move, he asked, "Do you, uh. Have a body, JARVIS?"
"Sir has offered to build one. I have declined," JARVIS replied. "Not to offend, Captain Rogers, but the human body, even your enhanced version, seems rather...limiting."
"I suppose it would," Steve agreed. He was beginning to get the hang of this route now -- out the elevator doors, through the penthouse reception room, past one secure door that JARVIS opened for him and down the flight of stairs, to the long glass wall fronting the workshop. Tony was sitting at one of the workbenches, casually manipulating a model of Bucky's arm with one hand while he ate noodles with chopsticks using the other. Steve knocked, though he heard the door lock click open; he waited for Tony's come in gesture before entering.
"Forget something?" Tony asked, as he walked in. "Pull up a stool. Have you tried pho yet?"
"One of the guys at SHIELD took me out for it once," Steve said. "It's good soup and all, but I don't really get the mania."
Tony shrugged and kept eating. "Well, there's more in the microwave if you want some. How's the Terminator settling in?"
"Terminator? Sarah Connor?" Tony prompted. "Hasta la vista, baby? Wow, those gaps of yours are weird. How's your friend?" he retranslated.
"He's asleep. New places, new people...little hard on him. I appreciate your help. I know it can't have been easy."
"Eh. Believe it or not, there are harder things in my life," Tony replied. "So. What is it you need?"
"Come on, you come back down here alone, all broody over your one chick. What do you need?"
Steve considered how to approach this. "I don't imagine you'd sell, but if I wanted to buy a robot -- like Dummy," he said, "how much would that run me?"
Tony glanced over his shoulder at where Dummy was "cleaning" the glass. He would spritz a little glass cleaner on one spot, wipe a totally different spot with a rag, and then move on to the next pane. Butterfingers was following behind him, cleaning up the mess. The look he gave Steve when he turned back was sardonic.
"Those are one of a kind," he said. "I built them each from scratch. There's no real price you can put on them. Materials plus labor wouldn't be accurate, given it's my labor. My time, so I'm told, is very expensive. Even the build time doesn't really cover their programming as well. You couldn't get them anywhere else but here. But it's moot, because they can't leave. Literally -- that's not me being clingy," Tony added, poking his chopsticks at them. "They're networked. They've recently been through a trauma. Take one away, the others would, uh, pine. The one you took would be completely alone in a strange place."
Well, it had been worth a shot, anyway. But Steve understood. Like Sam had said -- dogs don't know why what happens to them happens to them.
"This is about Socket, isn't it?" Tony asked. "His little moment with Dummy."
Steve nodded. "Sam says we should get him a dog."
"Pfft. Smelly, poopy..." Tony shook his head. "Plus, fragile. With his prosthetic, I'm not saying he would, I'm saying he is capable, easily, of accidentally crushing something's head with his hand."
"You didn't look terribly comfortable with him," Steve agreed drily.
"Can you blame me?" Tony asked. "Look, I think it's pretty big of me not to want to stab him for assassinating my parents. I'm allowed to be nervous when said assassin is in my home being given a lethal weapon by me. Traditionally, arming people has not gone well for me."
Steve blinked at him. "Was that a pun?"
"I have to find my humor where I can."
"How long have you been waiting to -- "
"About three weeks." Tony shot him a grin. "Look. I know what a breakthrough in therapy looks like. If you think a moron like Dummy would help, I'd give him to you if I could -- on loan, at least -- but I can't."
"Yeah, I understand," Steve said. "They have little robot dogs and such now, don't they?"
"Yeah, but they're trash. They're for kiddies. Don't waste your money and insult your friend," Tony said.
"Then a real dog might be my only option. Maybe a turtle. They're durable," Steve said with a small smile. Tony regarded him thoughtfully.
"Stop off before you leave tomorrow," he said. "I'll want to do a quick check on the circuit integration."
"Sure," Steve said. "Thank you, Tony. Again."
"Yeah, well, next time there's a massive security crisis, call me. Stop hogging all the fun," Tony said.
Normally, at Sam's place, Steve slept in Sam's guest room and Bucky slept on the living room couch, though Steve sometimes woke to find Bucky in the guest room, sleeping in front of the door. Tony had given them a two-bedroom suite, but the rooms felt big and a little cold; Steve ended up sharing one bed with Sam, back-to-back soldier-style, with Bucky on the couch nearby. Steve wondered if maybe they all weren't a little shell-shocked -- well, of course they were, in a general sense, but the Helicarrier battle had been traumatic too.
At any rate, he woke the next morning when he heard Bucky get up, and by the time Bucky emerged from the shower (good; it was usually a good day when he had a shower, especially one that Steve or Sam hadn't prompted) Steve had found juice and eggs in the fridge of the guest suite's kitchenette, and was making breakfast.
"Morning," he called, as Bucky walked in, pulling on yesterday's henley. Sam was already at the kitchen bar, sipping coffee. "How's the arm?"
"Stiff," Bucky said quietly, sitting down. Steve set a plate of eggs in front of him, fork balanced on the rim, and Bucky picked it up carefully. Steve wondered, not for the first time, if the prosthetic made him ambidextrous. He'd had no good way to tell -- Bucky had been silent and apathetic for a week, and once the arm had gone to Tony, he'd done everything right-handed. Sometimes clumsily, but he always got there in the end.
The metal fingers twitched around the fork, adjusting.
"But better," Bucky allowed, loading the tines with egg and beginning to eat. Sam shot Steve a grin over his coffee, then gently elbowed Bucky in the side.
"You want some coffee?"
Bucky nodded, accepting the mug Sam poured and drinking deep. "S'good coffee," he offered.
"Thanks," Steve said. "Better than boiled grounds, huh?"
"Food's pretty good now," Bucky agreed.
Steve had to tread carefully around the subject of memory; he'd tried, early on, prompting Buck to see what he remembered, but it hadn't gone well -- Bucky had been frustrated and angry, and all it got Steve was disappointment or grief. Even when Bucky did remember something, there was loss attached to it for both of them. Being the only two men out of time in the world didn't necessarily bring them closer, not yet.
"Tony wants you to come back down and get checked over before we leave," Steve said. "You should tell him it's feeling stiff."
"Just not used to it," Bucky said. "He did something to it."
Steve was alert immediately. "Something wrong?"
Bucky shook his head. "No. Just something different. It's lighter. It's okay," he added. "He likes robots. He wouldn't fuck it up." His right hand clenched around his left wrist. "It's safe now."
"Still, he says he wants to check you out," Steve said. "You fine with that?"
"Sure," Bucky said, and gave Steve another brief, genuine smile.
"You think he'll try to hold me down and measure me if I come along?" Sam asked.
"I beg your pardon, Major Wilson," JARVIS said, startling all three of them. "I took the liberty of several optical scans while you were in the workshop yesterday. I can delete them if you desire."
Sam looked up. "Excuse me?"
"I did not intend to scan you without consent."
"Ah. No, that's fine, it's not the most invasive thing that's been done to me in the name of national security," Sam said. "Knock it off with the Major though, will you?"
"Of course, Mr. Wilson."
"First names are outside of my parameters."
"Your friends are weird," Sam said to Steve, who shrugged.
Down in the workshop, Tony was playing catch with Butterfingers, which consisted of bouncing a ball off his claws, after which Dummy and U would race to pick it up. When they walked in, Dummy dropped the ball and rolled over to greet Bucky, or rather his arm, enthusiastically.
"Hi," Bucky said, the faint smile appearing again. He waggled his fingers against Dummy's claws. Dummy rotated, grabbed a wrench from the workbench, and tapped it against Bucky's arm.
"Yes, it is check time," Tony sighed, nudging Dummy out of the way with effort. "You are not a mechanic, you're a failure, go away," he told Dummy, who followed Bucky until he sat where Tony indicated, and then leaned over Bucky's shoulder to watch. Steve noticed with pleasure that Tony had foregone the gauntlet on his arm today.
"Thanks for the coffee," Bucky said, as Tony inspected the arm with eyes and fingers. "It was good."
"Pepper buys it, it's ethically grown and watered with the tears of Republicans or something," Tony said absently. "Make a fist?"
"Feels a little stiff?"
"Little bit," Bucky said, surprised.
"It's actually a neurological issue. Your brain thinks it should be working harder to control it. It's smoother than previous but your body hasn't acclimated yet."
"Thought you said you weren't a wetware guy," Sam said, leaning on the table.
"I'm a genius, I adapt," Tony replied without looking up. "Be nice to me or I won't build you ultra-light flight armor."
"Yeah you will," Sam said.
"Yeah, I will," Tony agreed. "Wiggle your thumb for me, Socket."
Bucky gave him a thumb-up, then bent it like he was pushing a button on a joystick.
"Good. Okay. I have, for you, a thing," Tony said, reaching behind him and picking up a brown box, slightly smaller and thicker than a pizza delivery box. It said S.T.A.R. on the front, and underneath it was stamped with the Stark Industries logo.
"The Stark Toy Arm Robot," Tony said, popping the box open. "We started conceptualization last year. It's a Christmas release so you're getting this before-market, feel special. It's for hobbyists and schools, mostly."
Bucky looked inquisitively at the contents. Steve leaned over. It looked like a series of circuit-boards and wires to him.
"So, you'll need to do some physical therapy," Tony continued. "The more you work the arm, the better it will respond. You can start by building this," he said, replacing the lid and turning the box over to show the build instructions on the back. "Once you do, it'll help with your fine motor skills therapy. Mostly these are program-it-yourself, but I've put a few extras on yours. A basic AI -- Dummy's, actually -- and some physio drills."
"A robot," Bucky said.
"Smaller, but still, yes," Tony said.
"Yes," Tony said. Steve looked at Sam, who was grinning, clearly both amused and pleased. "And they're super-needy, by the way, so you can't bring him back, I have no love to spare for more robots. You are this robot's forever home."
Bucky accepted the box warily, then turned it and held it protectively against his chest.
"What do you want?"
Tony frowned. "Nothing, I don't -- "
"What's m -- " Bucky began, and Steve cringed, but then he shook his head, determined. "What do you want from me?"
Tony looked blank. "I don't want anything from you, Socket."
"I got it covered, Bucky," Steve said gently. Bucky exhaled and turned to him; Steve gave him a smile. "I'll take care of it. It's a gift for you."
When he glanced at Tony, the other man shook his head lightly with a clear not taking your money look. Steve made a mental note to figure out whatever it was that a billionaire might want and be unable to get for himself.
"Okay, so, we're done here, right?" Tony asked. "Bird guy, you're up next. Gonna take me some time to source the right alloy. Report for fitting in a month. Bring your friends, God knows I don't get enough time spent in the company of other severely damaged people."
"Yeah, I'll bear that in mind," Sam said. He slapped Steve on the back, then gestured to Bucky. "Come on, guys, let's leave the mad genius to making me a sweet flight suit."
Bucky didn't wait until they were home. Ten minutes into the drive back to DC, he had taken every single part out of the box and was fitting them together, using a tiny battery-powered soldering iron that came with the kit to assemble the circuit-boards, like he built miniature robots in the backs of sedans all the time.
Steve watched him in the rear-view mirror, pleased, as the robot slowly came together. It would need a wall socket for the charging station before it would be functional, but Bucky seemed content to fine-tune its construction and carefully, meticulously assemble its chassis. He spent most of lunch, when they pulled over at a rest stop to eat, inspecting each piece carefully for burrs or flaws, paring down any imperfections with a large, sharp knife.
By the time they reached home, the robot was finished and Bucky was visibly flagging; he tired easily, even on good days. Steve kept trying to make him take a bed, any bed, had even offered to buy him a bed, but Bucky seemed to prefer the couch. Admittedly, it had excellent sightlines to the rear of the house, and you could hear anyone trying to come in through the front. Steve was pretty sure Sam had done it intentionally.
Bucky carried the little robot protectively into the house, set it on the coffee table, plugged in the charging station, and gently backed the bot up against the power plate. A tiny yellow light blinked on. He gave it a satisfied look, then looked up at Steve, who was getting himself a glass of water.
"It looks good, Buck," Steve said. "What are you going to name it?"
"Its name is STAR," Bucky said.
"No, that's what it is," Steve replied. "You can name it, if you want."
Steve shrugged. "It's what we do."
Bucky looked at the little robot for a while. "Jude."
He twisted to look at Steve again. "Patron of lost causes."
Steve nodded. "Well, you and Jude both need some sleep. Take the bed if you want it," he added, like he always did. For once, Bucky seemed to consider it.
"Where will you be?" he asked.
"I was going to go for a run," Steve said. "Loosen up after the car."
"I'll stay here," Bucky decided. "Wake me when you come back."
"Of course. If Jude charges up before I'm back, call me."
Bucky smiled and patted the inert claws of the robot with his left hand. "Okay."
For a man with the external social skills of a deranged monkey, Stark knew what made people tick. When Bucky disengaged Jude from the charger and switched him on, he did a couple of full circles, then turned his tiny camera up to Bucky's face and said, "Barnes, James Buchanan, identified. Hello, sir. Please extend your hand."
Bucky, looking downright pleased, offered his left hand. Steve and Sam just watched as Jude walked him through a full physical therapy routine and then told him it was time to eat dinner.
Jude turned out to be only slightly less trouble than a pet might have been, but just as charming. He rolled around, following Bucky mostly, acting like a particularly dumb puppy. He got stuck on discarded clothes, tunneled under Steve's newspaper and couldn't get out again, bleated in alarm whenever anyone not-Bucky picked him up. He didn't talk except when he was running Bucky through physio, but that was fine with Steve. Bucky was absorbed alternately in looking after Jude and working his way through engineering articles on robotics on the internet.
Sam seemed less worried about Bucky's new fascination than Steve was, and spent his evenings building elaborate obstacle courses for Jude. The little robot seemed to love them, even though he usually failed to complete them. Eventually he would beep in alarm, a cry for Bucky, who would lower his wrist for Jude to grab onto and then hoist him out of whatever trap he'd fallen into, carefully inspecting him for scuffs before setting him loose in a more open part of the house.
Bucky also worked out how to hack him in about ten days, hooking him up to an old laptop Sam had lying around, using Steve's StarkPhone charging cord. First he programmed him to play music, blaring Reveille to wake them up in the morning. Then he worked out how to make him dance, his little robot arm shaking its elbow. He taught Jude to greet them at the door whenever anyone came home.
And then, once he'd managed that -- once he'd trained Jude to identify Steve and Sam entering -- he taught him to patrol at night.
Steve noticed a sharp drop in the number of nightmares Bucky woke from, and the number of times he woke to find Bucky sleeping on his floor. Whether it was the soft whirr of tiny robot tires as Jude ceaselessly patrolled, or just the knowledge that he would sound the alarm if someone tried to get in, Bucky finally started sleeping whole nights through, and the perpetual weariness left his face. He smiled more. And, slowly, Steve began to see Bucky again beneath the Winter Soldier's mask. Especially in the rough affection, once bestowed on half-pint Steve Rogers, now offered to an equally small and troublesome robot. Steve didn't have it in him to be jealous.
"Why does Sam let us stay here?" Bucky asked one morning, playing keep-away with Jude and a bit of paper which Jude, for some reason, desperately wanted.
Steve looked up from his orange juice. "Same reason you let me stay with you after my mom died. We're friends."
"I'm not. I tried to kill you both."
"That wasn't you."
Bucky gave him a dry look, which was at least better than the blank ones he used to give.
"Sam works at the VA, you know that. He likes helping people. Besides, he doesn't think you tried to kill him."
Bucky tilted his head. "Why not?"
"Far as I can tell? Because you didn't," Steve replied. "You broke his wings and threw him away. You could have shot him, Buck, but you just disarmed him."
"I shot you."
Steve wetted his lips. This was perilous ground, filled with mines. "I believe," he said slowly, "that part of you knew I could take it. You've seen me shake off bullets before. And I know you. You're good enough that if you'd wanted to shoot me in the head, you would have. Where you shot me, you knew I would heal. Look," he said, spreading his hands, and Jude beeped inquisitively at him. "Either you were a good person struggling with bad programming, or you were a bad person doing an incompetent job. Of the two, I prefer to believe my pal's a good person who was treated very poorly by evil people. Like SHIELD -- the best, infected by the worst."
Bucky looked down, hair falling over his face. "I'm sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry for," Steve said, catching his eye and smiling. "But if there were, I'd forgive you. To the end of the line, Bucky. Always."
"Do you not remember, or do you not think I meant it?" Steve asked gently.
"I remember things," Bucky mumbled, letting Jude have the paper. "I don't always know what's true."
"Well, why don't you ask me and I'll tell you," Steve said. Jude rolled over and dropped the piece of paper in front of him. "Thank you, Jude."
"You used to be littler," Bucky said.
"And sick a lot."
"That was me," Steve said ruefully. "And you looked after me. Looked out for me."
Bucky nodded. "I could do that again," he offered. He fingered the edge of a butter knife, half-shy, half-pointedly. "If you needed."
"How about we look out for each other?" Steve asked. He saw Sam, lurking in the doorway, and caught the look Sam gave Bucky -- like he was watching someone in group at the VA have an epiphany.
"I'd like that," Bucky agreed. "And...maybe sometime we could take Jude to see Dummy."
Sam cleared his throat. Bucky's head whipped around, and Jude looked up with an alarmed beep.
"I had a call from Stark," Sam said. "He'd like to see you for a tune-up anyhow, when I go for my armor fitting. Apparently I'm your social secretary now," he added with a grin. "You know, I bet if you looked sad he'd give you your own damn phone, too."
"Do you mind us?" Bucky asked bluntly. Steve rubbed his eyes.
"No," Sam said simply. "Life got a lot more....interesting with you guys around, but I like interesting."
"To the end of the line?" Bucky asked hopefully.
Sam shot Steve a puzzled look, and Steve remembered that by the time they'd reached that particular part of their extended Helicarrier conversation, the comms had died. He didn't understand the meaning, but he rose to the occasion -- Sam always did.
"Well, you know what they say about me," Sam said, eyes flicking back to Bucky. "I do everything he does, just slower."
Jude, apparently upset nobody was paying attention to him, grabbed the last crust of Steve's toast and made a break for the edge of the table. Bucky's hand darted out and caught him just before he went careening over.
Sam rested a hand on Bucky's wrist. Steve watched the two of them, heart still in his chest with anticipation.
"I like it here," Bucky said.
"Good. I like you here," Sam answered, his gaze including both of them.
They drove to New York the following day, Steve and Sam talking music in the front seat while Bucky sat in the back, Jude on his lap, the little robot's camera trained unceasingly on the view outside the window.
When they arrived, there was a familiar face waiting for them: Clint Barton, sitting crosslegged on the end of Tony's workbench, adjusting something with a tiny screwdriver.
"Clint!" Steve said, surprised, when the door opened and Clint glanced over with a broad grin.
"Hey, Cap, Tony said you were coming," he said, as Steve hurried over to shake his hand. He used the handshake to tug Steve forward, into a one-armed hug. "He's on a coffee run, should be back soon."
"What are you doing here?" Steve asked, delighted. He'd run a few missions with Clint, and Natasha had slipped him intel after they took down SHIELD that he was fine, but he hadn't seen him since.
"Well, you kinda crashed and burned my last place of employ," Clint said drily. "Hello, friends," he added, leaning around Steve to wave at the others. Bucky stared sullenly. Sam looked confused and a little awed.
"Oh, sorry -- Sam, Bucky, Clint Barton," Steve said. "Clint, this is Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. Buck and I've been staying with Sam."
"You, I saw on the news," Clint said to Sam. He turned to Bucky. "You, I've heard about."
"Then you're luckier than most to still be alive," Bucky said, but there was a dark edge of amusement in his voice. "You're the archer."
"Yep. Actually, I'd like to poke your arm," Clint said pleasantly. "I want to know what kind of poundage you can draw with that thing."
Bucky looked like he was going to reply, but at that moment Jude let out a beep from his arms, and the other bots rolled over to surround him.
"So you're working for Stark now?" Steve asked, hitching himself up on the table next to Clint. It creaked under their combined weight, and he let himself down to lean against it instead.
"More or less. He'll explain," Clint replied. "It took me a while to get back here after the data dump from SHIELD. I had three or four mid-sized enemies who suddenly knew a lot more about me than expected."
"I'm sorry," Steve said. "It was the only way."
"No, man, I get it. Finding out I was working for Hydra was much worse. And Tasha slipped me a warning to watch my back the night before."
Clint nodded. "I think she made a couple of those calls."
"Tasha has trust issues. If she called us, she knew we wouldn't let it slip."
"I'm still sorry."
Clint set aside the arrowhead he'd been working on. "You hear the scuttlebutt about Fury?"
"No -- what's the news?"
"He skulked in, appointed Phil Coulson as the new Director of SHIELD, and skulked back out again. Coulson's rebuilding from the foundation up. I don't know how he's gonna manage that, being dead and all, but I guess stranger things have happened."
"Does he know we know?"
"Not sure. I don't think so. I'm going to enjoy pretending hysterics when we 'find out'."
"This is the most advanced engineering laboratory in the world," a new voice announced, as Tony walked into the workshop. "It is not a coffeehouse for you all to congregate in, I know this because I was just at one. And it's not a home for wayward veterans and even more terrible robots."
He walked straight through the crowd of bots around Bucky, shoving to disperse them, and placed a cake pop in Bucky's free hand as he passed. Bucky looked at it like it might explode.
"I was just catching Steve up on our undead friend," Clint said.
"Pepper's excited. She thinks this means they can start having coffee dates behind my back again. Hello, beautiful, I have armor for you," he added to Sam. "Step into my fitting room? The rest of you, entertain yourselves."
Bucky set Jude down on the workbench, where he stretched all the way to his full length vertically and blared a defensive challenge to two of the robots, who were approaching him cautiously. Dummy remained with Bucky, minutely inspecting his arm, twitching every time Buck made the metal plates ripple as he carefully gnawed at the cake pop.
"So that's him, huh?" Clint said quietly, jerking his chin at Bucky. "He doesn't look so bad."
"He isn't," Steve replied. "He's had terrible things done to him."
"It's okay, I'm onboard the rehabilitation train. I know how it is," Clint added.
"Oh," Steve said, feeling stupid. "Of course you do -- sorry, Clint, it's just -- "
"He's your friend," Clint said. "It's okay. Listen, though," he continued, "I'm living at the tower now, and Tasha's using it as her base of operations in town. Thor's coming too, his girlfriend's moving back to New York in a few months and he's following her. I think Tony might actually have chained Banner up to keep him from leaving, so he's around here somewhere too. I know you got this...case to deal with, and that's cool and all, but Stark's probably gonna invite you to move in, and I think you should consider saying yes."
"Move in here."
"I doubt I could afford the rent," Steve drawled.
"Rent-free. Yeah, I made that same face," Clint said, when Steve looked skeptical, "but I do a few errands for Stark Industries, I train with Tony, I let Bruce test my eyesight, I pretty much pull my weight. It's a little Super Secret Hero Clubhouse, but you don't have to be a genius to name some reasons it could be a good idea to have everyone under one roof."
"I would," Steve said, "but I've got Buck to think about."
"Bring him. As long as he's not going to murder us in our sleep, there's room for him. Hell, I've seen the footage, definitely bring Sam Wilson. Hello," he said, as Jude rolled up to them. "Who are you?"
"That's Jude," Bucky said, as Clint lifted the little robot into his lap to protect him from Butterfingers, who was getting pushy. "He's mine."
"Is he smarter than these assholes?" Clint asked, shoving Butterfingers back. Bucky gave a jerky nod.
"Jude, shake," Bucky said, and Jude grasped Clint's thumb, vigorously shaking it like a dog with a toy. Clint cracked up laughing. "Jude, vaudeville."
Jude stopped shaking Clint's thumb, and appeared to compose himself for a second. Then he began to 'sing', synthesized swing emerging from his speaker, and 'dance', wiggling the lowest joint of his arm and tossing his claw back and forth with rhythmic abandon.
"Jesus Christ, what did you do to it?" Tony yelled from across the workshop. "Why is it doing that?"
"I programmed him," Bucky said.
"You what now," Tony replied, dragging Sam with him over to the bench. He plucked Jude out of Clint's lap and the song-and-dance abruptly stopped. Jude turned inquisitively to look at Tony.
"I put a plug in there," Bucky said, pointing to the port in Jude's base, "and put it in the computer, and I programmed him."
"You programmed him," Tony said.
"To sing and dance?"
"And shake hands. And patrol and play alarms in the morning," Bucky said.
"They trained you in coding?"
Bucky shook his head, eyes going flat. Steve was about to gently remove him from this fairly intense situation, but he muttered, "Not hard to learn. I got Google."
"You and I are going to have an interesting conversation later," Tony said to him. Bucky looked apprehensive. "No, you'll have fun. It'll be good. Okay, you two, fuck on out of my workshop," he said to Steve and Clint. "Clint, show him your place, give him the pitch. Wilson, back to the fitting. Barnes, stay there and don't accidentally reprogram my robots to do a kick line."
"They'd have to have legs," Bucky said, deadpan, and Tony just stared at him for a second before he started to laugh.
"Okay, you creep me out and we're keeping you," he said, patting Bucky on the shoulder. Dummy made an outraged noise and shoved him aside. "Seriously, you I'm going to disassemble and make folk art with."
That evening, Tony took them to dinner at a barbecue joint where he stuffed them full of ribs, pushed microbrews on those that could appreciate good beer, and buried them in fried onions. Bucky put away more food than Steve had seen him eat in a week, and he'd forgotten to keep his left hand hidden when he had to use both to eat the ribs.
"I want you to seriously consider returning to New York," Tony said, once they were reduced to gnawing idly on bones.
"Well, Buck and I come as a set these days, not that it matters according to Clint," Steve said. Clint nodded. "All that's left for me in DC now is Sam, but that's not nothing, y'know."
Sam shrugged. "I went to DC because that's where the VA wanted me. What family I have left is in New York. I wouldn't mind being closer."
Steve stared at him. "You'd come back with us?"
"Only if you want," Sam said, holding up his hands.
"I'd like that. But are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'm in. I can transfer down to a New York office -- pretty sure they'll let me do whatever the hell I want at this point. Enlistment jumped after word got out I was at the Triskelion. Air Force owes me."
"Well," Tony said. "Welcome to the Avengers, Sam Wilson."
"Happy to be here," Sam said. "Terrified and probably crazy, but happy too."
"Fear and madness is kind of what we do," Clint said. He elbowed Bucky. "I heard you were a sniper. Let's go up on the tower roof after dinner and shoot pigeons. Office of Animal Control pays twenty cents a head this time of year to keep the population down."
"Clint," Tony said patiently, and Steve suspected this was not the first time they'd had this discussion. "I am literally a billionaire, you do not need to shoot pigeons for spare change."
"Waste not, want not," Clint replied. "Come on, Barnes, you want to? Sniper with the most pigeons at the end of the night keeps the take."
"Sure," Bucky said, with a hesitant smile. "You got a gun?"
"Do we have guns," Clint scoffed.
It didn't end up taking very long to pack Sam's house and move up to New York. Steve did a lot of it during the days, while Sam was at work. Neither he nor Bucky had much -- Bucky especially, and what Steve had was already packed in storage after he got kicked out of his apartment building. Two weeks after the invite, they pulled up to Stark Tower in a moving van and began to unload.
"I like Clint," Bucky said that evening, after they'd done a little unpacking. Clint had stopped by with beer and ammunition as a housewarming present.
"Yeah, he's all right," Steve said, carrying a box across the hall to Sam's half of the floor -- an entire floor for the three of them seemed excessive, but Steve suspected Sam was happy for a little privacy again. And Steve was sharing with Bucky, so at least that was more efficient than it could have been.
"Not as much as I like Sam," Bucky said loyally, when Steve returned.
"What, I don't count?" Steve asked, grinning. Bucky shot him a look.
"Punk," he said, and Steve's smile widened. Jude, who was not at all pleased with the packing boxes or the moving van or their new home, screeched from under a sheet of bubble wrap until Bucky removed the offending plastic.
"But Clint gets it," he continued.
"Gets what?" Steve asked, though he suspected he knew. Bucky, looking down into a box of Steve's flatware, shrugged.
"What it's like," he said. "To be unmade. You don't get it. I'm sorry. And I'm not."
Steve sat down, turning this over in his head. "You're not sorry because you don't want me to know firsthand."
"But sorry because Clint understands something I don't."
"You know if you want to, Buck, you can tell me anything," Steve said. "But if Clint's the guy to go to, that's fine too. I trust him."
"Sometimes I tell Jude."
Jude, hearing his name, rolled over to where Bucky was, bumping against his leg. Bucky bent down and offered his wrist, letting Jude grasp it so he could be lifted up. He examined Jude's joints and pistons, spun his wheels to make sure everything was in order, and then set him down again.
"Sam's unpacked his Nintendo. Wanna go watch him swear at Wii Golf?" Steve asked.
"Can I play the Captain America game?" Bucky asked.
"Once Sam gets sufficiently angry at Wii Golf, you can," Steve replied. He had been personally horrified to discover that in his absence several generations of Captain America pinball, cabinet, and video games had delighted America's youth. He'd been especially dismayed to discover Sam had one of them for the Nintendo doodad -- but he couldn't deny the game was kind of fun. You got to climb buildings in a bunch of different cities and run around in national parks and throw the shield, and the story was pretty compelling.
He wasn't sure why Bucky liked it so much, but it was good for his hand, anyway.
Steve had arranged the bedroom on their side of the floor so that it had good clear sightlines out the windows from one bed and a view of all exits from the second bed, and then let Bucky choose. They'd had a painfully earnest talk about how Bucky should be sleeping in a real bed, and Steve figured the issue was that the beds in Sam's house hadn't had good tactical positioning. Bucky seemed okay when they went to bed, only a little over an arm's length away with just a bedside table between them. Though the table did have two guns in the upper drawer and the shield leaned up against it on Steve's side.
He woke, around one in the morning, and looked over to find Bucky's bed empty. He tried not to immediately panic, but when he listened he couldn't hear the soft whirr of Jude patrolling, either.
"Buck?" he said, sitting up and then sliding out of bed, checking the bathroom and kitchen. He backtracked to the closets -- Bucky had taken refuge in Sam's closet one time, early on, when evangelists had come to the door. The closet was empty. Both guns were still in the bedside table, and Bucky's shoes were next to his by the door.
"Buck?" he called, louder now, growing concerned. "Jude? Buddy, give a beep if you're around."
"Captain," JARVIS said, scaring the bejesus out of him. Steve gave a whole-body flinch and fought the urge to dive for the guns in the table. "My apologies, Captain."
"No, it's fine, just -- unexpected," Steve said, putting his head between his knees until the rush of adrenaline passed. "You know where the odd couple are?"
"Mr. Barnes and STAR Unit Jude-1 are in the workshop," JARVIS said.
"What, Tony's workshop?"
"Is Tony there?"
"No, Captain. Mr. Stark is in the penthouse suite with Ms. Potts."
Fear gripped him -- fear that the last few months had just been a deep cover mission, that the Soldier and not Bucky was in control, and that someone in Hydra had prepared for this. Someone had programmed Bucky to fool Steve like a sucker and get in tight with Stark; there were millions of dollars worth of technology in Stark's workshop, and --
"Mr. Barnes appears to be asleep, Captain. STAR Unit Jude-1 is in patrol mode."
Steve's chest eased a little. "Asleep?"
"Perhaps you should see for yourself, Captain."
"Sure," Steve said, heading out into the hall that split their place from Sam's, down to where the elevator doors were opening.
When he walked into the workshop, a few dim blue lights were burning, probably courtesy of JARVIS. Steve padded through carefully, not wanting to startle Bucky if he really was sleeping. Jude ambled past, checked him, and continued on.
He worked his way deeper, past half an Iron Man suit, hanging grotesquely with cables emerging like guts from the bottom, and a large holographic projector with an exploded diagram of what was either Bucky's hand or an Iron Man gauntlet, endlessly rotating. Finally he reached the back wall, where a series of alcoves held apparatus that looked like outsized versions of Jude's charging base -- three alcoves, three big steel plates, and three robots backed up against them.
Dummy was stretched out, arm lying along the ground like he'd collapsed straight down. Curled against the robot, silver arm tucked around Dummy's claws, Bucky was sleeping. Laid over Bucky's hip was one of the other bots' arms, and the third was splayed across his ankles. The one over his hip lifted its camera to glance at Steve, then flopped down again. There was a thin futon pad under Bucky that he must have found somewhere.
"You're lucky I'm giving you a break tonight, pal," Steve said to Dummy, when the robot whirred his camera. "Tomorrow night he has to sleep in his own bed."
Bucky grumbled in his sleep and burrowed closer to the robots. Steve cast around, found a blanket lying on a ratty couch nearby, and spread it out over the heap of robot and person. It had small cartoon Iron Man suits cavorting across it and said KAWAIIRON MAN in large letters.
He was just turning to leave when Bucky mumbled, "Steve."
"Yeah," Steve said, crouching.
"Take Jude with you, he bugs the big guys."
"Alright," Steve agreed, gathering Jude up in his hands. "Come back for breakfast. I'll make burritos."
"Mmmkay," Bucky agreed.
"And don't knife Stark in the face if he comes down early for work. It's his workshop."
"Love you, Buck."
"Love you too, now go 'way, lemme sleep," Bucky complained, and Steve nodded and crept away quietly, only stopping to leave Tony a post-it note warning him to beware of assassin.
The next morning, when Bucky still hadn't shown up and the breakfast burritos were getting cold, Steve piled a plate with them and headed down to the workshop. Tony was visible, though most of the shop was still dark; he was working on something with a small tool, and it took Steve a second to understand what was going on.
The object in front of Tony was Bucky's wrist, and Bucky was still attached to it -- the pair of men had their heads bent over the arm together, and Tony was speaking, obviously explaining something. Dummy was draped over Bucky's shoulder again, watching, and Jude was holding a flashlight so they could see their work clearly. It looked like Tony was showing him how to open up his arm and do his own repairs. Bucky was nodding, face thoughtful, drinking in the instruction.
Steve caught Sam's reflection in the glass as the other man came down the stairs after him, first curious and then grinning when he saw what was going on.
"Guess Stark got over his concerns," Sam said. "Looks like your boy's doing all right, too."
"I thought I was the only one who could save him," Steve replied, watching Bucky try to imitate Tony's work.
"You were the only one who could bring him in," Sam said.
"Maybe. But it's okay now, right?" Steve asked. "More or less okay. I just...I don't know what I did to deserve all this."
"Helped win World War II. Influenced generations of soldiers. Fought aliens. Took down Hydra twice," Sam ticked off items on his fingers. "I mean I can keep petting your ego if you want, but…"
Steve smiled at Sam's reflection. "Point taken."
"Come on. Nobody wants to sit around in a garage all day except those two. Feed them and let's go practice air rescue," Sam said. "I want you to start telling me before you jump off shit."
"No promises," Steve said, pushing the door open. Neither Bucky nor Tony looked up from their conversation when he set the plate of food at their elbows, though Dummy did wave to him as he left.