About a month in, some morons in yellow hazard suits intercept Tony and Steve on the way to a benefit banquet. Steve wakes up first. He looks around the hull of the unfamiliar ship, testing his bonds for a few minutes before nudging Tony in the shin until he comes around.
"Fuck," Tony says immediately, blinking several times and then scowling at the hairline crack in his sunglasses. "How long?"
Steve leans as much as he can, peering at the sky through the porthole. Judging by the moon it must be about ten, maybe a quarter after.
"Not more than two hours," Steve estimates. "I don’t think they took us far. It smells like the harbor."
Tony wiggles, which looks especially undignified in the suit that must have cost a small fortune. “They took my cell phone.”
"Of course they took your cell phone," Steve says, but Tony rolls his eyes impatiently.
"If they took my cell phone, that means Jarvis knows I’m missing."
"That’s good, right? You’re not going to get out of those, by the way, you can stop trying."
Tony ignores Steve and keeps wiggling. “If Jarvis knows, that means Jarvis called Pepper.”
"And she’ll have called the police?"
Tony gives him a look. “Yes, and while she was at it she called up some five-year-olds with slingshots. No. Black Widow’s back in Europe, Hawkeye’s doing whatever he’s doing with Fury, Thor’s in goddamn space, Banner’s not the rescue-mission type so much as the destroy-the-whole-vessel type… honestly, Rogers, think for a second.”
Steve blinks. “He’s not-“
"Steve, he has more than enough training and ability to get us out of here.”
"I’ve seen him. He’s a little shaky, but I’m pretty sure his inability to express his feelings, remember his complete childhood or properly order a Starbucks beverage don’t interfere with his almost innate ability to find people and do flip-kicks.”
There’s a distant sound, like a body dropping into water. Tony starts to say something (probably something smug), but Steve kicks him in the shin, making a concentrating face that conveys that he’s trying to listen.
Several footsteps above-deck, most walking in a circular track forty-five to fifty meters apart. Seven walking. Now six. Another splash.
"Is it him?"
Steve ignores him, listening.
"Come on, Cap, what do you hear?"
"Someone’s picking them off." Five walking.
Tony leans back against the beam he’s tied to, visibly satisfied. “With a sniper, I hope.”
Steve tilts his chin up a little. “I think he’s just throwing them off the ship one-by-one.”
"Hmph. You’ve been rubbing off on him."
A shout, cut off quickly. Another splash. Steve sits patiently, trying not to crease his suit any worse than he already has, and finally he hears someone trying the door. It’s locked, and so the lock is promptly shot off, and Bucky is there.
"A.I.M.," he says flatly. He is wearing Steve’s motorcycle jacket, boots, and gloves, his hair tied back. He kneels next to Steve and pushes something that must be a key into the handcuffs. They beep and unlock.
"For what?" Steve asks. Bucky gives him a funny look.
"Could you maybe let me out too?" Tony’s singsonging. "I’m also locked up. I’m also the person that knows how to defuse that scary-looking thing in the corner over there."
"The what?" Steve turns to look behind him as Bucky pulls him to his feet, and notices something that’s either a tracking system or a bomb or both. "You didn’t say there was anything behind me."
"It wasn’t relevant until now. Thank you, Barnes." Tony rubs at his wrists a few times once released, standing up and smoothing his suit a bit before crossing the room and glancing at the display panel. "Oh. This is stupid. Give me like twenty seconds." He starts tapping away.
Steve shrugs and looks to Bucky, who looks… happy, almost.
"Thank you," Steve says, and then, because he can’t help himself: "What are you so happy about?"
"I used to help you all the time," Bucky murmurs, quiet enough that Tony probably can’t hear over his own muttering. "Kinda nice to do it again."
Steve smiles back.
"The ship captain and another one are tied up in the other room." Bucky jerks a thumb over his shoulder. "Figured you’d want to ask them what the hell they were trying to do."
Steve grins wider. “Thank you, Sergeant.”
Bucky's in good spirits the rest of the night, although he seems kind of down when Steve says he's finally going to hit the hay, that he'll see Bucky in the morning. Steve's not sure what he said wrong, but sometimes there's no figuring it out.
Three weeks later, Steve and the other Avengers are on a mission in Wakanda when an armored vehicle transporting convicts goes missing somewhere between Jersey and New York. There's a five-hour panic in the tri-state area until the Newark Police Department reports having discovered all eight prisoners. Tied up, unconscious, with tranquilizer darts sticking out of their necks. They were stuffed into one of the cop cars in the back lot and the surveillance footage can't account for how they got there.
Clint grabs the tablet from Tony's hands and points viciously at the news coverage on the screen.
"My tranquilizer darts! He's using my tranq gun!"
Tony rolls his eyes. "Serves you right for leaving your shit outside of the armory."
"It was in the armory."
Clint seems to grouse about it for a while, but Natasha assures Steve that since it wasn't a bow, there won't be any permanent hard feelings. Steve doesn't realize that Bucky kept the tranq gun until a few days later, when Bucky says he's going out for some air and doesn't come back until dinner time. The news, always on in the common room, is excitedly discussing the recent footage of the would-be convenience store robber. The cameras have the masked man entering, leaving fourteen minutes later, and making it about five steps out the door before he drops like a sack of bricks. The footage is grainy, but the reporter is insisting that the cops found a strange purple dart in the back of his neck.
"PURPLE!" Clint bellows down the hall. "AT LEAST RECOLOR THE DARTS!"
"The suspect is in stable condition and is being treated for two chipped teeth and a broken nose."
"BUCKY! RECOLOR THEM!"
The darts that take out the crooked cops, who were fleeing a botched drug deal, are matte black.
Steve's motorcycle jacket smells like the docks. Steve wrinkles his nose, grabs the boots and gloves, and throws them all in Bucky's closet across the hall. He'll buy new ones.
There isn't always something on the local news when Bucky 'goes out for air', but the few times Steve lets the curiosity get the best of him and checks Bucky's closet, the jacket's always missing.
They're giving reality television 'the old college try' when Tony walks in, stands irritatingly in front of the screen, and glares pointedly at Bucky.
"Can we help you with something?" Steve asks, looking from Tony to Bucky. Bucky has the calmly innocent face of a man who absolutely did whatever it is.
"What are you even doing with it?" Tony snaps.
"With what?" Bucky asks.
"You know with what."
"Actually, I have no idea what it's really called, I've just been calling it the zappy thing."
"It's a prototype adjustable-beam EMP ray, and you are a total dick. Give that back. It's not done."
Bucky rolls his eyes. "It works fine! Scoot, the commercial's ended."
Tony does not 'scoot'. "It works fine on what, exactly?"
"Security cameras, mostly. The power's getting low, though. Do you have a charger?"
"Yeah, of course, and a car adapter. Jesus. Steve, please stop bringing kleptos into my house."
"Fine, fine." Bucky rolls his eyes. "It's under my bed somewhere, I'll get it after the show's done."
"Under your -- ugh. Ugh. Fine."
It's the fight in Times Square that does it. Tony's out of the country so it's Steve, Clint, and Natasha, Bruce hanging back and War Machine on his way from DC. It'll be another twenty minutes, minimum, before he can possibly arrive, and they're overrun. Clint's yelling in his earpiece, saying he's taking them out as fast as he can but that there are at least three dozen more coming from the east.
Suddenly enemies start dropping around Steve, forming a circle of unconscious bodies like some kind of ritual offering. Steve takes a second to regroup before gesturing up and then over to the ones near Natasha, who are hindering her from reloading and establishing a safe route for the civilians to escape. Almost instantly Natasha's opponents start dropping instead, one by one, hardly a breath in between each shot.
Steve smiles behind his shield.
"You never did stop, did you?"
"Being an overprotective asshole."
"No, I guess not." Bucky yawns and rolls over, unapologetic and happy.