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Some Kind of Personal War

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And Cap is down again, for the second time in as many minutes. Just like they knew he wouldn’t, he doesn’t stay down. Panting with the force of the kick, he rolls away from his attacker and struggles to his hands and knees. Tony watches from his position on a nearby rooftop, crouching on the edge and ready to leap in if anything goes south.

Well, more south than it already has gone. Cap wasn’t kidding when he said the Winter Soldier was a force to be reckoned with.

Hands clenched into fists, Tony glances around. He can see Widow on a snow-covered rooftop nearby, red hair glinting in the cold winter sunlight. Falcon is across the street, also ready to dive. He can’t see Hawkeye though, and he’s the one that actually needs to be watching this-

Down on the street, Cap isn’t giving up. He spits out a mouthful of blood, wiping his hand across his mouth and using part of a demolished building to haul himself up. “You know me,” he says, exhausted and in pain. He pushes away from the slab of concrete next to him, staggering upright. “You know me.”

“No I don’t,” the Soldier snarls, and he takes violent a step forwards, lifting his gun.

“Hawkeye,” Tony says over the comms, a warning.

“No,” Natasha’s voice replies curtly. “Let him talk it out.”

“Talk it out? He’s going to get merry hell kicked out of him, again,” Tony says. “Hawkeye, you’d better be ready. I don’t even know where you are-”

Back on street level, the Winter Soldier has stilled again, body tense and coiled and ready to surge into action. The gun is still raised, pointing at Cap right between the eyes. Cap himself hasn’t so much as moved. The shield still lies on the floor at his feet, forgotten or ignored.

“You do,” he says, and god damn it he’s so stubborn. “You dragged me out of that river for a reason, because-”

“Don’t!” the Soldier shouts, eyes bright and wild under the smear of black. He looks like a caged animal, scared and furious and ready to either bolt or attack.

“Hawkeye,” Tony repeats urgently. “The hell are you?”

“I got him,” Clint says lazily.

“-because you knew it was me!” Cap shouts over the Soldier. “Damn it, I know you know me.”

He reaches up with both hands and he tugs the cowl from his face. Messy brown hair tumbles across his forehead, sweaty and tousled. He throws the cowl to the side, spreads his hands wide.

“Come on,” he says, and the Soldier’s arm trembles. He takes a step back.  “Steve.”

“Don’t call me that,” the Soldier bellows, and even from where he’s standing Tony can see how startlingly blue his eyes are, how they seem even brighter the angrier he gets.

“Steve Rogers,” Cap shouts at him, and he steps forwards. “You are Steve Rogers from Brooklyn, born July fourth, nineteen eighteen. You are my goddamn best friend and you better fucking remember that after all the shit you put me through!”

“Shut up,” the Soldier says, but he’s wavering, seeming to lose his footing in the face of Cap’s mounting anger.

“You don’t recognise my face?” Cap demands, and the Soldier actually backs up a step. “How about this, then?” He spreads his arms. “This getup look familiar? Remember wearing it?”

“What is he doing?” Tony hisses over the comms, confused. “What is he talking about?”

“I don’t know,” Natasha breathes, and oh shit, if she actually doesn’t know then they’re in some serious trouble.

“How about this then?” Cap says. He steps forwards, stoops to pick up the shield.

“Don’t,” the Soldier says forcefully, and he’s looking at the shield like he’s afraid of it.

“Don’t what?” Cap asks, belligerent. “Don’t give it back? You know what, I think I will.”

He straightens up and in one easy movement, flings the shield at the Soldier. The Soldier reaches out and before Tony can process what the hell is happening, the shield is in his flesh and bone hand.

The world seems to stop. Tony can see their breath in the air, whorls of white in front of them. Errant flakes of snow blow across their faces, whipped up by the wind.

The Soldier stares down at the shield he’s holding, like it’s something terrible and wonderful at the same time. He drops the gun from his metal hand, and it falls to the asphalt with a clatter. The metal hand comes up to grasp the opposite edge of the shield and he holds it to his chest. He opens his mouth as if to speak and then changes his mind. He looks at Cap and now he seems lost, helpless.

“Bucky.”

The tension breaks. Tony literally has no idea what is happening here, but in that moment all he cares about is the fact that the Soldier finally seems to be giving way. Just like Cap said he would. Dammit, he hates admitting Cap is right.

“Fucking finally,” Cap says, exhausted. “Now are you coming with me, or am I going to have to get my friends to help drag you?”

The Soldier tenses all over again. He steps back, still clutching the shield, looking up and around. Great, well there goes the element of surprise then. His eyes lock on Tony, easily the most conspicuous of the assembled team, and Tony raises a hand in a half-hearted wave.

“You said it would just be - you tricked me,” the Soldier snarls back at Cap, and way to go Barnes, got the mass-murdering assassin all wound up again. Cap doesn’t seem bothered in the slightest though.

“Yep,” he says indifferently. “Being cruel to be kind.”

“If you were my friend you wouldn’t,” the Soldier snaps, spitting the word like a curse.

Cap just snorts. “Clearly you’ve yet to remember the finer details of our friendship,” he mutters, only audible to the others because of the comms. He sighs, lifts a hand. “Hawkeye.”

Tony doesn’t even see the arrow until it’s embedded in the Soldier’s shoulder. He gasps and jerks, dropping the shield with a clatter, and reaching up with his metal hand to wrench the arrow out. He flings it to the side and twists, grabbing a gun from the holster at his thigh-

He stumbles. Confused, he looks up at Cap, eyes wide and panicked. He sways and tries to raise the gun, but he staggers backwards again. The confused expression flickers betrayed and he tries to speak, but by this point he can’t. He lists sideways, and this time he falls. He hits the ground heavily and lies there, not moving. The shield lies at his side, glinting in the weak sunlight.

“Thanks,” Cap says, turning and saluting a spot on a rooftop behind him.

Tony looks in the same direction, spots a flash of purple. How the hell did he get all the way over there without a lift? Man, after two years, he probably needs to stop underestimating his teammates.

(Okay, maybe he needs to stop underestimating Hawkeye.)

Cap gives the all-clear signal – a little ahead of time, in Tony’s humble opinion – and starts walking towards the Soldier’s prone form. Tony immediately pushes himself of the edge of the building, repulsors roaring in a flurry of displaced snow. He lands heavily on the sidewalk a few feet away and straightens up, flipping the face-plate up.

“Fury was right about you,” he calls to Bucky. “High-level risk, self-destructive tendencies?”

“Coming from you,” Bucky replies, and his eyes are on the body of the Soldier. He crouches down next to him and shoves him over onto his back with a grunt of effort. The Soldier goes over, body still limp. Bucky checks his pulse and airways, and his hand rests on the Soldier’s chest, over the Kevlar that’s dotted with flecks of white and smeared with concrete dust.

“What the hell was all that with the shield?” Tony asks, kneeling down and frowning at the oddly protective gesture. He reaches out towards the exposed metal arm but Bucky smacks his hand away. “Hey, I’m just looking.”

“Not while he’s unconscious,” Bucky says. “He can’t exactly say yes.”

He heaves out a breath, pulls his glove off and reaches up to push dirty blond hair back from the Soldier’s forehead. His palm rests there, thumb stroking at his hairline. There’s a soft thud from nearby as Sam lands, wings folding back into his suit.

“Thought he was gonna take your head clean off for a moment there, Cap,” he says, tone laced with a warning, the same ‘stop putting yourself in danger, jerk,’ tone that he manages to infuse into most conversations that he has with Bucky. A moment later and Hawkeye and Widow appear, Nat stepping gracefully off of Clint’s foot as he unhitches the grappling hook from the line they’ve just come down. Normally Bucky would make a crack at Clint, something about ‘keep your hands off my girl,’ or ‘took your fucking time,’ but this time he just looks at them and straight back to the Soldier.

“Okay,” Tony says. “Spill. You said you knew who he was, but that is not explaining this,” he says, waving his hand at them to encompass the whole touchy-feely thing that’s going on, “And don’t think I didn’t notice your crack about the uniform, and what was with handing over the shield-?”

“Long story,” Bucky mutters.

“Oh I am not going to like this, am I?” Tony says.

“Probably not,” Bucky replies.

Distantly, they can hear sirens.

Bucky looks up, jaw going tense. “Iron Man, give me a hand. I don’t know how long this stuff Banner cooked up works.”

“It can keep the Big Guy down for twenty minutes, it can keep him down for a good while yet,” Bruce’s exasperated and amused voice comes over the comms.

“Not taking the chance,” Bucky replies. Natasha steps up to him, reaching up to touch his cheek and he nods briefly at her, a silent ‘yes, I’m alright.’ He turns back to the Soldier, a pained expression marring his features.“Not losing him again.”

“I feel distinctly like you may have lied to us somewhere along the line, oh Captain my Captain,” Tony says as he helps haul the unconscious Soldier to his feet. He hangs between Bucky and Tony, dead weight between the both of them.

“Maybe I did,” Bucky replies tersely, reaching around with his free hand and pushing the Soldier’s face up, fingers on his jaw. “Get him back to the tower.”

Tony does a double-take. “Hey, no - I thought we were taking him to the WSC facility?”

“Oh look, I lied again,” Bucky says. “The tower, Iron Man.”

“Whoa, whoa, what?” Clint says from behind Tony, sounding alarmed. “Are you actually kidding?”

“No I’m not,” Bucky snaps, and the sirens are getting louder. The press will be here any moment; they usually seem to either beat or be not far behind the emergency services. “Tony, please.”

The others are all looking at Bucky like he’s gone insane, but the please gets to Tony in a way he never expected it to, possibly because Bucky so rarely uses the word. “Your call, Cap,” Tony says finally.

“Hey, maybe we should think about this-” Sam says urgently, stepping forwards.

Bucky shakes his head, a short, sharp motion. “No time. Iron Man - you take him. You’ll be quickest.”

“Great. Carry villains bridal style, my favorite,” Tony deadpans as he adjusts his grip on the Soldier, ducking down to get one arm under his knees.

“Don’t call him that,” Bucky says as Tony hauls the Winter Soldier up, and fuck, it’s easy enough in the armor but this guy must weigh at least two hundred and thirty pounds. Bucky pulls the metal arm around Tony’s neck to keep him steady, looking him over and checking his pulse again.

“He’s fine,” Tony says. “Hawkeye, make sure you’re on hand to ping him if he so much as blinks.”

This is a bad idea, he thinks as he takes off, carrying the soldier back in the direction of the tower.

 


 

 

The Soldier lies in the bed in medical, looking oddly vulnerable without his armor and war paint. He’s still unconscious, the machines around him beeping softly. His wrists are cuffed together in heavy shackles which go from wrist to elbow, forearms lying parallel to one another.

Bucky hadn’t wanted to restrain him. Sam had been the one to insist on the compromise, though Tony knows he doesn’t really think the Soldier should be in the tower at all.

Bucky is probably the only goddamn one of them who does.

The lights of medical make the Soldier’s skin look far too pale, like he hasn’t seen the sunlight in years. Even asleep, the dark purple shadows under his eyes are easily visible, looking almost like bruises. His hair, short at the back and sides and longer on top, is cleaner than Tony has ever seen it, and is actually a much lighter shade of blond than he previously thought it was. The light shines on his hair and glints off of the metal arm, the red star on his shoulder shining brightly. The engineer in Tony very much wants to get a look at that arm, but even he can acknowledge that now might not be the best time.

“What is going on?” Tony asks, staring through the window in the door. Bucky sits on one side of the Soldier on a plastic chair, still in uniform and with his head in his hands. Bruce is on the other, checking something on a monitor. His face is tense and wary, and it’s clear that he’s not entirely happy being in such close proximity to the Soldier.

“I don’t know,” Natasha says quietly, a silent shadow at Tony’s side, watching Bucky watch over the Soldier.

“Do you really not know? Or are you just saying that to me?”

“I think I might know now,” Natasha amends, voice quiet and slow. “But he hasn’t told me anything for certain.”

“Are you going to share what you think you know?”

“Would you want to know the truth, if it meant that everyone has been lying to you your whole life?”

Tony doesn’t like her cryptic answers at the best of times. “Lying to me specifically? Or lying to the population in general?”

Natasha turns to look at him, face impassive. “Both,” she says, and blinks once before looking back through the window. Tony watches her for a long moment, feeling distinctly unsettled, stomach coiling with an apprehension that he doesn't think he’s going to be able to ignore.

 

 


 

 

Tony is there when the Soldier wakes up.

It’s one of the scariest, most exhilarating things he’s ever seen, and he’s Iron Man for god’s sake. One moment he’s talking to Bruce about sedation levels, and the next moment something beeps, and then chaos.

The Soldier surges upright, gasping in a choked breath of air. The machines around him go haywire; he looks wildly around him at the monitors and wires, jerks as if he wants to lash out, and then clocks that his hands are restrained. An inhuman noise is wrenched out of him and he literally tears the restraints apart as if they’re made of tinfoil, snapping leads and wires as he tries to fight out of the bed.

“Steve, no!” Bucky shouts, and he’s there, shoving the Soldier’s shoulders back into the bed. Bruce is swiftly stepping back, drawing a syringe from a bottle of a clear liquid. The Soldier backhands Bucky hard enough to send him staggering back, and Tony doesn’t think – he grabs for the Soldier’s arm to stop him going after Bucky, and then there are metal fingers around his throat that squeeze-

Choking, Tony grabs hold of the Soldier’s metal hand, trying to prise the fingers from around his neck. For one wild moment he thinks he’s going to die, he’s going to have his neck snapped by those fingers-

But then they loosen marginally, just enough for Tony to breathe. He meets the Soldier’s eyes, panting heavily. Bruce is on the other side of the bed, watching with wide eyes, tense and ready to move, syringe in hand. Behind them, Bucky scrambles to his feet but he doesn’t come any closer. The Soldier’s eyes flick up to him and then back to Tony, searching for something.

“Howard?”

The bottom drops out of Tony’s stomach.

“That would be my Dad,” he rasps, and he tugs harder at the metal arm.

“Tvoy otets-” the Soldier begins, falters. He looks over Tony again. “Your father-?”

Tony’s mind is racing. “You knew my dad?”

“That’s enough,” Bucky says suddenly from behind them. “Steve, let him go.”

The Soldier – Steve – looks at Bucky again. His expression has gone hard, unreadable. It makes Tony shiver; now the Soldier isn’t covered in black paint and dirt and blood it’s easy to see his features, and he’s surprisingly handsome. A strong jaw, straight nose, and those damn eyes.

“Steve,” Bucky repeats. “Let him go.”

“You knew my dad?” Tony presses, and Steve’s eyes flick back to him again.

“Tony, don’t,” Bucky says tersely.

“I think someone owes us both some explanations,” Tony says, staring the Soldier right in the eye.

The Soldier’s lip curls and he lets him go, shoving him away roughly. Tony stumbles back, reaching up to massage his neck. Bruce is there immediately but Tony waves him off. He turns on his heel and leaves the room, heart thudding strangely behind the arc reactor.

The Winter Soldier knew his dad?

Looks like Bucky fucking Barnes has got some explaining to do.

 


 

 

“I’m not the real Captain America.”

Silence follows Bucky’s words, the heavy kind that seems far too real. Tony just stares at the polished surface of the table in front of them, not blinking.

“I hate to break this to you, but you have been wearing blue spandex and defeating bad guys since 1940,” Clint says slowly. “I’m not sure how you can get any more real.”

Bucky rubs at his forehead. He’s standing at one side of the conference table, alone. Natasha is sat next to Clint, leaning back in her chair with her arms folded.

“Okay, I wasn’t the original Captain America,” he amends.

Tony freezes. He looks up at Bucky, the pieces slotting into place with frightening ease.

“Oh no,” he says. “Do not let the next words out of your mouth be what I think they’re going to be, or I am going to have to kill you to avenge my ruined childhood-”

“Steve was,” Bucky says miserably.

“What the fuck?” Clint asks, astounded. “That guy upstairs in medical? The Winter Soldier?”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Sam says, his disbelief written all over his face.

“But how?” Natasha says, and she looks calm but there’s an edge to her voice that shows just how angry she is. “There is nothing in any file or database about there being two Captain Americas. There is nothing anywhere about Captain America being so much as injured, let alone being replaced.”

“Yeah, as far as the whole country knows, you’re the one and only,” Bruce says carefully.

Steve was supposed to be the one and only,” Bucky says forcefully. “He – there was an accident. He-”

He breaks off, visibly struggling. Tony has never seen him so out of sorts, but he’s finding it hard to care.

“We’ve all seen the exhibit in the Smithsonian,” Clint points out, drumming his fingers agitatedly against the tabletop. “The only face up there is yours.”

“I know,” Bucky says, and he looks from Natasha to Clint almost desperately. “It was - they fabricated it, everything about me being part of Rebirth. The only people that knew what happened to him were the other Commandos and they - we were told we’d be committing goddamn treason under wartime law if we told anyone, they would have had them shot-”

“Hey, take your time,” Sam says seriously, pushing away from the wall. “We literally have no idea what you’re on about. Start at the beginning.”

Bucky takes a deep breath, trying to pull himself together. He’s not doing a very good job. “Steve was the one that went through Project Rebirth. He was Captain America. I got captured by Hydra in Italy - I’d joined the paratroopers before Steve went through Rebirth. Hydra got me and they dosed me up on a shitty version of the serum.”

“Not so shitty, I’ve seen you fight,” Clint chips in.

Bucky laughs short and broken. “Whatever. The point is – Steve was Captain America and I was the loyal sidekick,” he says, mouth twisting. “There was an accident. We were on a train, trying to capture Zola. I was nearly thrown from the train, and Steve saved me.”

Bucky stops, draws in another shuddering breath. “He fell. Right off the edge of the mountain. Must have been four hundred feet. Managed to push me back into the carriage before the floor gave out beneath him.”

The room is silent.

“We – we tried looking for him. Found a lot of blood and his helmet, nothing else,” Bucky says, voice cracking. “I lost it. Smashed up half the barracks before I calmed down. Turned around to see Phillips staring at me like a goddamn revelation, and I realized I’d torn up everything with my bare hands. Steel, brick, the lot.”

“The serum you were given,” Bruce says.

“It was good enough for Philips,” Bucky says bitterly. “They still needed a Captain America. Didn’t want morale to be hit. Can you imagine, thousands of guys on the front line hearing that Captain America had died? The SSR shoved me into Steve’s spare uniform so quickly that it still smelt like him.”

“The shield?” Natasha asks, quiet and still.

“Didn’t have it when he fell,” Bucky says. “I didn’t want it. But I sure as hell wasn’t about to let anyone else have it.”

“Did my Dad know?” Tony asks.

“Yeah,” Bucky says without inflection. “He was the one who actually bothered to fix the uniform, make sure it fit me right.”

Tony’s head hurts. He feels oddly betrayed. “So, the Captain America that everyone grew up loving,” he says slowly. “Who was that? The knock-off replacement version or the original, supposedly-dead, assassin version?”

“Hey, back off,” Clint snaps, jumping to Bucky’s defense as per usual. “Bucky’s not a knock off.”

“Well he’s not who he’s always claimed to be, is he?” Tony snaps back, ignoring the protests from Sam and Bruce, interjections to ‘calm down,’ and ‘this won’t help, guys’. “Wow, eighteen years of hearing Dad talking about Captain America being the greatest thing since the dawn of time – god, he wasn’t even talking about you was he? He was talking about that guy up there-”

Clint’s lip curls. “Don’t make this about your Daddy-issues.”

Tony shoves his chair back and storms out.

 


 

Tony stands in the open doorway of the medbay, silent and still, fingers curled around the glass in his hand. The lights inside are off, warm yellow spilling in from the corridor behind him and lengthening his shadow as it stretches across the room all the way to the bed. The room itself is dim and cold, all stainless steel and pale grey light.

Tony shouldn’t be here. After the near-choking incident, Bucky made it very clear that while Steve is still so unsettled, no-one is allowed into medical without him there as well. Bruce is grateful for the ruling, Tony knows. The others - well. The others still probably think that the Soldier should be packed off to a secure facility.

The Soldier – Steve – is asleep. Lying on his side, unrestrained. He’s a paradox in himself, looking so vulnerable yet so huge and strong. The blanket on the bed is thrown over his hip, the muscle and strength of his upper body exposed to the chilled air. He either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

Tony takes a mouthful of scotch, barely noticing the burn as it slides down his throat. His eyes feel too warm. He knows he has to go and apologize to Bucky.

Growing up with a phantom big brother over your shoulder, and then finding out that you’ve been attempting to live up to a complete stranger is not a welcome realization. To grow to respect and work with a person who isn’t who they’ve made out to be also doesn’t feel that fucking great.

Part of him knows that that isn’t Bucky’s fault. He’s just not sure he’s ready to accept it yet. 

Pushing away from the doorframe, he takes a step forwards and about has a heart attack when the Soldier sits up, moving so quickly it’s almost inhuman. Which, Tony supposes through the frantic beating of his heart and whirling of his mind, he is.

“Ubiraysya,” the Soldier snaps, low and dangerous. Fists planted either side of his hips, still sitting on the bed, he’s all coiled muscle and tension. Of course he wasn’t sleeping, and how long has he known that Tony was there?

“Sorry, I don’t speak Russian,” Tony says.

The Soldier’s face contorts. “Ubiraysya. Get out.”

There is so much pain and anger in that gaze that Tony can barely stand to meet his eyes. He looks furious, barely holding together under almost a hundred years of weight. From Captain America to this. Tony eyes him contemplatively, something close to pity sparking in his chest. “God, it must suck to be you.”

“Get. Out,” the Soldier snarls, punctuating the words as if they’re separate sentences, and Tony wonders that he hasn’t come over and literally thrown him out yet.

Or that he hasn’t just left.

Tony shrugs, raises his glass in a derisive toast to the good Captain. He swallows the rest of the scotch and then throws the glass aside. It smashes against the floor, and Tony wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and then turns on his heel and leaves.

 


 

 

“I’m sorry I said you had Daddy Issues.”

Tony looks up from the video feed he’s been watching to see Clint hovering in the doorway to the workshop, looking moody and petulant. He would assume that Clint was bitter about having to apologize, but he knows for a fact that Clint has spent most of the day arguing with Bucky, Sam and Nat in various configurations.

Tony sighs, looks back to the feed. “Did Sam or Natasha make you say that?”

“Neither,” Clint says tiredly. “Look, I know it’s shitty. I’m fucking furious that Buck never told me. Natasha is fucking furious that he never told her. You’re fucking furious your Dad never told you. I get it.”

“I can't work him out,” Tony says suddenly, ignoring Clint’s commentary about his dad and focusing instead on the video feed. “I think he knows more than he’s letting on.

“What, Bucky?” Clint asks, confused.

“No,” Tony says irritably. “The Soldier. Steve.”

“What?” Clint says again, and walks over to look at the video feed that Tony gestures to. “Jesus, invasion of privacy, much?”

“Would you rather I not be keeping an eye on the assassin who is living in the medbay? Which, by the way, is directly below your room?”

Clint grimaces. “Point,” he acknowledges grudgingly. He stares down at the video, looking at the Soldier where he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, shirtless. The arm gleams in the light, the scarring around it red and painful looking.

Bucky is standing over by the wall, leaning back with his arms folded across his chest. His mouth is moving, but Tony doesn’t have audio on so doesn't know what he’s saying. What is clear though, is that the Soldier is point blank ignoring everything Bucky is saying. Tony has got to hand it to Bucky; he’s not one for giving in, that’s for sure.

“I don’t know how he can just stand there and talk to him,” Clint says . “I would be pissing my pants. Sam says that guy literally ripped a car apart with his bare hands during the thing in DC. He reckons he’s stronger than Buck is.”

Tony snorts. “First of all, our dear Captain has no awareness of risk to himself, and secondly, if what he’s saying is true, then that guy is his best friend. He’s not going to care what he’s done. Cap’s stuck his neck out for us plenty of times, and he’s only known us a few years.”

“I guess,” Clint says, and his eyes drift back to the video feed. “God, look at him. That arm is insane.”

“Tell me about it,” Tony says, eyes watching carefully as the Soldier lifts his real hand to the juncture of his shoulder and neck, gripping tightly. Discomfort flashes over his face and he balls the metal hand into a fist; Tony watches as the plates in his arm shift and recalibrate.  

Interesting.

“You really believe that he was Captain America?” Clint asks suddenly.

Tony exhales through his nose, looking at the Soldier’s face. Tries to imagine it smiling, laughing, talking. Tries to imagine him in blue instead of black. Tries to imagine him being anything other than barely more than ruined.

“He was once,” Tony finally says. “But I don’t think that means much anymore.”

Clint shakes his head, looking sick. “What they did to him. How bad must have it been to break Captain America?”

Tony feels a lump in his throat. “Pretty bad,” he says, looking away.

 


 

A raw and strangled scream tears through the air of the workshop, far too clear over the audio feed from the medlab. Tony drops his soldering iron with a curse, spinning around and leaning over to swipe his hand through the holographic feeds, pulling up the feed from the lab-

The Soldier screams again and Tony wants to clamp his hands over his ears, to block out the pain in the sound. As Tony watches, the Soldier struggles upright in the bed, holding out his right hand in front of him as if fending something away. He holds his left up against his chest, defensive.

“Ne,” he cries, hoarse. “Stop.”

He struggles out of the bed, panting. He stands motionless for a moment and then without warning shoves the bed six feet across the room, the metal screeching on the floor.

“Fuck,” Tony breathes, eyes wide. The Soldier takes an unsteady step backwards, and then the plastic chair that was by the bed is hurled across the room, hitting the cabinets with a crash.

Tony turns and slaps a button on the console to turn on the comms throughout the tower. “Code red guys; our guest is objecting to the furnishings in medical.”

“What?” Bucky’s voice comes over the speakers, groggy and rough.

“He’s trashing the medbay.”

“Shit,” Bucky curses, abruptly sounding a lot more awake. “Jarvis, give me surveillance-”

“What? Oh man, I’m on the way,” Clint says, and Tony can hear him moving around. “Banner, you got any more knock-out juice?”

“James, I’m on the way -  do not go in there.” That’s Natasha, sounding like she’s not willing to compromise.

“Whatever we’re going to do, we need to do it fast!” Tony says urgently, because a cabinet has just been ripped clean from the wall, and there’s bottles falling, smashing in quick succession and spilling liquid all over the floor.

“I’m on it!” Clint shouts. “Going in through the vent-”

“Don’t you dare shoot him!” Bucky shouts over the comms, and Clint is shouting back and Natasha is giving commands and Sam is demanding updates-

Tony watches as the Soldier takes a staggering step backwards and then sinks to the floor, clutching his metal arm to his chest. His back heaves and he curls over forwards, a wretched sound torn out of his throat.

“Guys, hang on,” Tony says, eyes fixed on the video feed. “Hey! Avengers, stand down,” Tony says, exhaling heavily. “He’s stopped.”

“Yeah, not trusting that,” Clint pants. “In the vent. Dropping down onto medical level now.”

“Do not shoot him unless you have to,” Bruce says.

“Do not shoot him,” Bucky snaps. “Clint, don’t you dare.”

“I might have to!” Clint retorts.

Tony’s breath catches in his chest as Bucky appears in the video feed of the medlab, barrelling in through the door. He skids to a halt in the doorway and he looks around, reaching up to put his hands on the back of his head, despairing.

“What the hell, Stevie,” he says, and he pushes the bed out of his way and steps forwards, broken glass crunching beneath his feet. “Come on, this isn’t you, buddy.”

The Soldier doesn’t move. He stays exactly where he is, curled forwards over his own knees, face hidden from view.

“Steve, talk to me,” Bucky says, and he drops down next to the Soldier, kneeling down in a puddle of something. “Come on.”

The Soldier neither moves or speaks. Bucky spends ten minutes trying to coax a response out of him. The minutes tick by. Bucky stops talking and moves to sit over by the wall, hand pressed to his forehead.

The Soldier doesn’t move again.

 


 

Days later, and Tony watches on the security feed as Bucky sits in the communal area, half the lights off. He’s motionless, sitting forwards with his elbows on his knees. His head is in his hands.

On a second video feed, Tony watches as the soldier sits silently on the edge of the bed in medical, his pose a perfect mirror of Bucky’s.

 


 

“He’s getting worse.”

It’s Bruce who speaks first, breaking the tense silence of the first real meeting they’ve had since the Soldier arrived. It wasn't even a planned meeting; the night before Steve had had another nightmare and wrecked the medlab all over again, and this morning everyone seems to know that they’re at breaking point.

Something’s got to be done.

“He’s not getting worse,” Bucky snaps back. “It’s not his fault-”

Bruce holds up his hands, placating. “I mean his general health,” he says gently. “He’s not eating, he’s barely sleeping.”

“He’s remembering more,” Bucky argues. “He talks to me now.”

“Sometimes,” Natasha says and the look Bucky shoots her is so full of venom that Tony is shocked.

“Better than never,” he snarls. Natasha doesn’t back down in the slightest.

“Bucky, man, we’re out of our depth here,” Sam says and the glare turns to him. “I know PTSD, I’ve seen soldiers come back all bent out of shape. Hell, I know you. But I’ve not seen anything like this.”

“We are not giving up on him,” Bucky snaps, and Tony realizes with a start that Bucky is horribly close to tears.

“We need more help,” Bruce says, voice soft but insistent. “I can’t do anything for him. I’m not the type of doctor he needs.”

“We can help him,” Bucky insists. “We just need to give him time, and - and -”

“He’s staying,” Tony hears himself say, and all the faces in the room turn to him. “Face it. The only person that knows anything about him is Captain Mark Two over here. We send Steve away and Buckaroo will march right after him. Personally, I’d rather have two slightly fucked up Captain Americas than none at all.”

“Seconded,” Clint says from where he’s sitting on the window-ledge. “It’s Captain America, guys. We can’t bail on America.”

Sam rubs at his mouth, looks from Clint to Tony and then Bucky. “Okay,” he says. “Okay, I’m in.”

Natasha shakes her head. “One of you better start learning Russian. I’m not translating for him.”

That’s as close to approval as they’re going to get, and Tony knows it.

“Okay,” Bruce says. “I’ll do what I can for him, but if he’s going to try and kill me every time I step into the room, there’s not a lot I can do.”

“Actually, the only people he’s tried to kill are Bucky and Tony,” Clint points out. “He’s obviously an excellent judge of character.”

“You can fucking shut up,” Bucky snaps, his relief obvious even in his irritation. “He’s not gonna kill anyone. It’s Steve; he never wanted to kill anyone even when he was trying to join the goddamn army.”

Tony looks at Clint, who quickly looks away, uncomfortable. He knows what Clint is thinking because it’s in the back of his mind as well; he’s not sure how much of the Steve that Bucky knows is actually left.

 


 

“Hey, Shellhead.”

Tony looks up from where he’s leaning against the back of the couch, absently staring out of the window at the falling snow. It’s really coming down now; he bets half of Manhattan will be closed tomorrow.

“Cap,” he returns evenly.

Bucky looks just as tired as he has done for the past few weeks. There’s a hell of a bruise on his cheek. Tony immediately thinks Rogers, but seeing as Bucky is sleeping with Natasha and is best friends with Clint, there’s no real way of telling where it came from.

“I came to say sorry. And thank you.”

Tony blinks, turning to look back out of the window. The lights from the tower make the snow stand out, flakes shining in the darkness as they drift towards street level.

“Okay,” he says. “Have at it. Down on one knee. Commence the grovelling.”

“You’re an ass,” Bucky says shortly and comes to stand near Tony, sitting down on the ledge of the lowered seating area. He rubs his hand over the back of his head. “Thanks for backing me up yesterday.”

“I wasn't backing you up. I was pointing out facts.”

Bucky shrugs. “Appreciated anyway.”

“Okay, that’s the thanks, now onto the apology,” Tony says, and Bucky sighs, looking dejected.

“I’m sorry I never told you. By the time we were friends, I’d been playing at Cap for so long that I didn’t even think to tell anyone otherwise.”

Tony considers that, and part of him understands. He frowns, distractedly thinking about Steve.

“He’s very blond.”

Bucky’s hand pauses on the back of his head and he looks up, faintly confused and a tad irritated.

“No shit, Sherlock.”

“Yeah, I mean and you’re not. How did no-one notice when you swapped?”

“I kept myself to myself,” Bucky replies. “Never took off the cowl. Anyone who had seen Steve being Captain America before wouldn’t know any different. And the only other people who knew who he was by name were those who were involved with Project Rebirth, and they were hushed up pretty easy.”

He smiles, bitter. “Amazing just how many people don’t even notice you, even when you’re wearing a goddamn spandex flag and standing right in front of their faces. They wanted Cap, so they saw Cap. I think after a while I forgot I wasn’t Cap.”

“Bullshit,” Tony says, surprising himself. “You have been Captain America since you got shoved into that spare uniform. You crashed that plane in the damn arctic, you survived and came to fight with us. As much as I can’t believe the words are coming out of my mouth...Barton’s right. You’re not a knock off.”

Bucky smiles wanly at that. “I guess,” he says shortly. “Sorry. Thanks. I just - I’m meant to be Captain America, and I can’t even-”

What he can’t even doesn't appear, and Jesus, the amount of pressure that Bucky puts on himself is insane. In light of recent revelations, Tony is starting to understand exactly why that is.

“Cut yourself some slack,” he says shortly. “You got him here, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, by drugging him,” Bucky replies moodily, and Tony should have spotted this mood a mile off. He hates it when Bucky gets like this; every damn thing anyone says is taken in the worst way possible, everything turning sour and bitter.

“He’s not trashed medical lately,” Tony ventures. “What’s that, a week without breaking anything?”

Bucky shrugs. “Whoop-de-fucking-do,” he mutters and that’s it, Tony doesn’t even know why he bothers. “His arm.”

Tony stills at that. Turns to look at Bucky. “What about it?”

“Do you know how it works?” Bucky asks.

Tony shakes his head. “Never seen anything like it,” he admits, and Bucky curses under his breath.  

“I think it’s hurting him,” Tony throws out.

“I know it is,” Bucky says, frustrated. “He won’t let me near it.”

“What would you do if you could get near it?” Tony asks.

“I don’t know, alright?!” Bucky yells, and suddenly he’s on his feet. “Probably jack shit! Is that what you want to hear? You want me to admit that I can’t do anything? That I brought him here and put everyone at risk for no fucking reason?”

“Jesus, Capslock, calm down,” Tony says in alarm, holding his hands up. “Sit down.”

Bucky stares at him, shaking from head to toe, and then he drops back down onto the step, face in his hands. Tony goes and fetches him a drink, nudging his shoulder with the glass as he returns.

“Thanks,” Bucky says and lifts his head, wiping his eyes with his fingertips. He coughs, a rough sound in the back of his throat. “I hate seeing him like this.”

“I’ll bet you do,” Tony sighs. “Hey, he’ll be alright.”

Bucky’s chin trembles and his mouth twists. “Yeah fucking right,” he says bitterly. “God, he was so good. And look what they’ve done to him.”

Tony exhales heavily, mouth twisting contemplatively. Yes, he’s still pissed at Cap for lying to him - for lying to them all - but he supposes that Bucky is still one of his best friends, regardless of how that came to be. And that shouldn’t change.

He walks away over to the bar, pours himself a drink. He tosses it back in two large gulps then pours another before walking back to drop onto the step next to Bucky. He eyes him for a moment and then nudges his knee with his own.

“Tell me about him,” he says. “Before.”

Bucky looks up, surprised. “What?”

“What was he like? Before he went all, you know. Racoon-assassin.”

Bucky stares at him. “Sometimes I think you’re incapable of taking anything seriously.”

“Hey you know me. Serious gesture, gotta undermine it somehow,” he says, and meets Bucky’s eyes. “Come on. Tell me.”

Bucky breathes out. He takes a swallow of his drink. He starts talking.

 


 

 

Tony stares at the ceiling above his bed, one hand tucked under his pillow behind his head, the other rubbing absently at the arc-reactor. It’s the early hours of the morning and he’s only just retired to bed, but he doesn't think he’ll be able to sleep. His mind is still full of everything he heard from Bucky over the past few hours, stories of dumb kids in Brooklyn, of a fiercely proud man who never backed down from a fight, never made the wrong call.

He can barely imagine Steve Rogers as anything other than the powerhouse he is now, let alone a five-foot four asthmatic who would be beaten up on a regular basis for being a smart-ass and running his mouth.

Imagining him as Captain America is almost as hard. Sure, the guy is handsome, but it’s been almost twisted along the way, his expression turned hard and unflinching, cruelty in the set of his mouth. It’s in the way he looks at other people, like he’s one step removed from them. Dispassionate.

Tony finds it strangely fascinating. It’s like being in close proximity to a panther; knowing the danger but not quite able to make yourself step away, too drawn by the power. It’s like a puzzle he’s trying to unpick, piece after piece slotting together to show the finished picture of the man that’s there with them today.

He blinks slowly, and wonders how much of the Steve Rogers that Bucky told him all about will ever come back.

 

 


 

The days pass, and he tells himself that he should keep his distance. Curiosity is not a good enough reason for getting involved with this. This is Bucky’s mess to deal with, and besides, he doesn’t want to be anywhere near a guy who’s going to mistake him for his Dad.

Steve refuses to talk properly to Bucky. Sits silently and listens to him when he speaks, but never replies with anything more than single words. He doesn’t try and hurt him again, and on more than one occasion Tony observes his eyes tracking Bucky out of the room when he leaves, looking desperate.

He still has nightmares, screaming half formed Russian words into the darkness of the medlab, clutching his left arm to his chest.

 


 

Tony stands behind the door to the medlab, watching. Steve is sitting on the floor next to the bed. In his hands is a long metal bar, pulled from the side of one of the spare beds. He’s bending it back and forth like it’s no more than paper, winding it around his left hand then pulling it out straight again.

Tony reaches out, enters the code to open the door.

Steve’s head snaps up, eyes flashing. Tony’s mouth goes dry.

“Thought you’d be sick of seeing Barnes’s face by now,” he says, stepping in and closing the door behind him. His heart is beating a little bit faster.

Steve slowly unwinds the metal bar from his hand, holds it loosely in his right. He curls the fingers of his left hand into a fist and Tony notices the way they spasm and jerk, a mechanical hitch in the movement.

Tony doesn’t go any closer. He stays where he is, hands shoved in his pockets. “I’m Tony, by the way. I don’t know how much Barnes has said about me. You two knew my dad, back in the day. Howard. He never mentioned all of this,” Tony waves his hand over Steve, dismissive. “Like he talked a lot about Captain America, but he never filled me in about the whole switcharoo you pulled. Hey, not that that’s your fault.”  

Steve just watches him, eyes wary and narrowed.

“Well, as fun as this is,” Tony says. “I’ve got things to do. Congratulations on the whole, not trashing the medlab thing. Ten days clean, I’m impressed.”

Anger steals over Steve’s face, and then there it is again - the same strange spasm in his left arm, quickly followed by a flicker of pain.

Tony wants to go over and prod and poke so badly that it hurts.

“Later, Soldier-Boy,” he says, and leaves the room without looking back.

 


 

“You’re a fucking idiot, is what you are!” Bucky bellows. “You didn’t even have the suit!”

“He didn’t hurt me,” Tony says dismissively, words muffled around the screwdriver that’s in his mouth, elbow deep in the guts of the Bugatti.

“He could have!” Bucky yells, striding over. “Will you fucking listen-”

“I am listening,” Tony says, reaching for the cables he needs, pulling one arm out and taking the screwdriver out of his mouth. “Chill out, Capslock. We had quite a cordial encounter considering the last one-”

Bucky grabs him by the shirt, pulls him around. “He nearly choked you last time,” he snarls, both hands clenching into fists in Tony’s shirt. “Have you any idea what has happened to him? He’s been made to kill people for seventy years - if he hurts anyone else it will wreck him.”

Ah. Maybe Bucky has a point there. “Now, I may not have considered that when I went in,” Tony concedes. “Put me down, you fucking Neanderthal.”

Glaring, Bucky does.

“Okay. I get your point,” Tony says, turning back to the car and leaning in again. “Though I’m not sure that Soldier-Boy has any capacity to feel guilt-”

“He wakes up screaming every night,” Bucky says coldly. “I’m guessing he’s not dreaming about what he fucking forgot when he went grocery shopping.”

Tony pauses, letting the words sink in. “Is he talking to you yet?”

“Some things,” Bucky says. “Sometimes. Don’t change the fucking subject.”

“I’m not, we’re still talking about Steve-”

“You cannot go in without me,” Bucky talks over him. “You’re a reckless idiot-”

“Calling Captain Hypocrite.”

“You’re not fucking funny!” Bucky yells. “And I don’t know what you’re playing at-”

“Maybe I wanted to help,” Tony says, and that shuts Bucky up. “Maybe I thought someone talking to him like a fucking human being might be of some use. Maybe I just want to get my hands on that arm. Maybe I’m a reckless idiot who wants to prod the big bad soldier with a stick until he snaps and does something crazy. Maybe I just want to be besties with Captain America, and Clint already called dibs on you-”

“Stop being an ass,” Bucky scowls, and breathes out. “I’m sorry, alright?”

“I’m not going to do anything stupid,” Tony says. “Come on, Buckaroo. Trust me on this one.”

“Just - just don’t go in without me,” Bucky says.

Tony nods vaguely, mind already on the way Steve had watched him, wary and untrusting. “Whatever you say, Captain.”

 


 

“Morning,” Tony says, shouldering open the door to the medlab. He walks straight over and sits down in front of Steve, who is sat back against the wall, knees pulled up. He’s wearing his now usual getup of black sweats and a black t-shirt, which just makes him look even paler than he is. His metal arm is once again tucked into his chest, held protectively close. His right hand is atop his head, fingers threaded into long blond strands. He needs a haircut.

“So I need to fix this,” Tony says, sitting cross legged and dropping his armful of supplies to the floor with a clatter. He rummages past several screwdrivers, a wrench, some chocolate bars and various pieces of tech and finally pulls out a section of plating from the arm of the Mark Twenty-Eight. He holds it up, frowning at it. “But I don’t have three hands and Dummy is in the corner of shame, so I’m coming to borrow a hand. Yes, I could have asked one of the others, but Bruce is busy doing something that’s apparently more important than this, Sam is out running, Bucky is currently fighting with or having sex with Natasha, and I don't trust Clint to be anywhere near anything delicate.”

Steve just stares like Tony isn’t making any sense. To Steve, he probably isn’t.

Okay, he’s not entirely sure of this whole thing himself. He just knows that there’s something about Steve that he needs to get at, something that Bucky might miss or overlook while he’s looking for the old Steve Rogers. And come on, this guy used to be Captain America, and he can’t pass up a the chance to work him out. Like father, like son, Tony vaguely admits to himself.

He mentally shakes himself. “Okay, a long story but the crux of it is, I need to borrow a finger. It needs to go here, to keep this piece of plating back whilst I screw something ridiculously small into the plate that’s underneath it.  

Tony lays the plate out of the floor and lifts the flap he means. “Just there. For like, eight minutes. Tops.”

Steve looks at him and for one moment Tony thinks that it’s going nowhere - Steve looks so blank, like Tony might as well not even be there, like Tony could keel over dead in front of him and he wouldn’t even notice or care.

Eyes locked with Tony’s, Steve slowly reaches out with his real hand, and carefully holds the flap in place, allowing Tony to move his hand away.

“Beautiful,” Tony says, searching for the circuit board and his screwdriver. “Keep it right there.”

He falls silent as he works, carefully slotting the circuit board into the plate beneath the piece Steve is holding. Steve doesn't move a muscle, and Tony can hear his quiet breathing next to him.

“I’m nearly done,” Tony says. Over the sound of him screwing the board in place, he hears a faint click and whir, and looks up just in time to see the thumb of Steve’s left hand jerk.

“We make a great team,” Tony says, filing away the observation. “Hey, you’re super-strong, right? You could come and help with heavy lifting. That would be useful. Hey, is your arm hurting you?”

Steve flinches. Literally jerks away as if Tony had made a move to hit him. Breathing hard, a look steals over his face, stony and dangerous.

“Okay, okay,” Tony leans back, careful to keep still. “Just asking. I’ll stop asking. For the next thirty seconds, I’ll stop asking.”

The look fades from Steve’s face, and in its place there’s a flicker of uncertainty. So quick that Tony almost misses it, but he doesn't and it makes his breath catch in his chest. God, he could get addicted to dragging those miniscule flickers of expression out from underneath the weight that Steve is carrying.

“I talk too much,” Tony says as he bends back over the plating. “It’s a problem. And you’re just the unlucky one, because I tend to keep on talking until someone stops me, and you haven’t said a word to me so far. Bucky normally goes with calling me an asshole or something equally as pleasant. The PR team hate it, he once called Clint a fuckboy within earshot of a reporter and the press had a field day. Apparently Captain America isn’t supposed to swear. Shit, I’m doing it again, aren't I? The whole talking thing?”

Steve blinks at him and then shakes his head oh-so slowly. “Durak,” he mutters, and Tony knows Natasha well enough to know when he’s being called an idiot.

His heart skips behind the arc reactor. “You’re an idiot,” he replies, and Steve rears back and frowns, a tiny little cleft between his eyebrows. “You should talk to Bucky.”

Steve doesn’t show that he’s heard or understood, but Tony trusts that he has. He leans in, carefully screws the last corner of the plate in place. “Bingo,” he says. “Thanks, Soldier-Boy.”

He picks up the plating and his various tools, but leaves the chocolate bars. “Until notified otherwise, I will be paying you for your services in cheap candy,” he says. “See you later, Steve.”

 


 

Steve eats the candy bars.

Tony sees it over the video feed and his chest fills with a strange mix of unwilling pride and heartbroken pity as he watches Steve sit in the corner of the medbay, unwrapping the candy with eyes fixed warily on the door like he’s about to be caught.

He also sees Steve steal Bruce’s pen from his pocket when Bucky and Bruce go in to check him over, though he doesn't seem to know what to do with it after he’s taken it. Tony watches the confused expression play over his face as he turns the ballpoint over and over between dexterous fingers, and remembers stories of an artist, restless fingers and an eye for light.

He sees the restlessness in Steve’s eyes, accompanied by anger and uncertainty. Sometimes by fear, and something that could be regret.

And he also sees the way Steve’s arm continues to give him difficulty, jaw clenched against the pain. Brave, part of him thinks. Brave, but stupid.

Tony wishes he’d speak.

Bucky never mentions the impromptu engineering party, and Tony takes that as a go ahead to go back to Steve again, either because he's gotten away with it or because Bucky is choosing not to kick up a fuss. Either way, a week later and he's walking into the medbay armed with more candy and heavy-duty oral painkillers. Steve objects to injections. Tony doesn't really want to know why.

“Good morning medbay,” he announces as he walks in, setting the painkillers without comment on the side. There’s eight in the packet, which would probably be enough to put Tony into a coma, but Bruce assures him that it’s about right for Steve’s metabolism. “Good morning furniture, glad to see you in one piece. Oh, and good morning, Soldier Boy.”

Steve looks up from where he’s drawing patterns across the top of his foot with the ballpoint pen. The blue ink stands out brilliantly across pale skin. Tony can't help but stare at his bare feet. It looks strange, seeing him so - so human.

He tears his eyes away from the sweeping arch of Steve’s foot to look at his face. “Oh, don’t look like that,” Tony says. “I know you’re happy to see me.”

The Soldier’s eyes narrow, and then to Tony’s utter bemusement, the corner of his mouth twists up. On a less hard face, it would be a smile.

“Priyatnoye zrelishche?” Steve says, and Tony doesn’t know what he’s said but he easily recognize the way in which its said, half mocking. From another person, it might even be playful. From the Winter Soldier, it’s erring on the side of a challenge.

He half frowns, half smiles in surprised disbelief. “Did you just make a joke?”

“At your expense,” Steve replies in a voice completely clear of any lingering Russian, already back to tracing swirls of blue over the arc of his foot.

“You know, I can get you some paper if you want to draw,” Tony says. “Bucky says you used to be an artist.”

Steve’s fingers still, and his expression goes blank. “Bucky says a lot about what I used to be.”

It’s the longest sentence that Tony has heard Steve utter, but he bites his tongue and doesn't comment on it.

“He misses you,” he instead says. “Can't blame a guy for that.”

Steve snorts derisively, though Tony spots the tremble in his jaw. “On govorit: ‘ya skuchayu po tebe,’" he mutters. “On skutchayet po Steve Rogers. Eto ne ya.”

Tony sighs. “If I give you more candy will you talk in English?”

Steve lifts lazy eyes to his face, considers Tony carefully for a moment. Searching, assessing.

“Nyet,” he says, and then his mouth twists again. “Vozmozhno.”

“Have it your way,” Tony says frankly, already planning to have Jarvis translate for him the moment he leaves the room. “Two can play at the game. Arrivederci, Soldato.”

He’s almost at the door when he hears, “Fare silenzio,” and turns his head just in time for Steve to add, “Meccanico.”

He laughs, startled and pleased. “Okay. Italian. Check. Don’t make me bust out the Mandarin, I’ll do it you know.”

Steve doesn’t acknowledge that he’s heard but Tony doesn’t mind. He watches Steve trace another swirl of blue up around his ankle, nudging up the hem of the sweats he’s wearing. A strange pleased sort of satisfaction settles in Tony’s chest, warm and protective.

“Hey,” he calls to Steve. “Catch.”

Steve looks up just in time to reflexively catch the Snickers bar that Tony tosses over, somehow managing to keep the pen between his fingers as well.

“Remember what I said about Bucky. Talk to him,” Tony says.

Steve considers Tony again, another of those long gazes that somehow make Tony feel like he’s being seen inside and out. Steve breathes out slowly and then drops the Snickers bar onto the bed by his foot and resumes his drawing.

A faint smile tugs at the corner of Tony’s mouth as he decides that now is most definitely the time to cut his losses and leave. It lingers even as he leaves the room.

 


 

Sitting in the workshop, the smile fades as he reads the translated words on the screen in front of him.

‘He says ‘I miss you.’ He misses Steve Rogers. That's not me.’

 


 

“Sir?”

“Jarvis,” Tony replies vaguely from underneath the Ferrari. He gropes on the floor beside him, trying to locate the socket wrench without having to move and actually look.

“Captain Barnes is in medical with Agent Rogers.”

“Agent? Is that what he is now?” Tony asks, and he pauses. “Why are you telling me this, anyway?”

“You may want to see for yourself.”

Deciding the Ferrari can wait, Tony rolls out from under the car. He sits up and flicks his fingers at one of the screens, which flares to life, showing him the security feed from medical.

Bucky is sitting on the end of Steve’s bed, next to him. As usual, Steve has his left arm tucked up against his chest. His right is stretched out towards Bucky, and he is holding Bucky’s hand, thumb stroking against Bucky’s palm.

“Atta boy,” Tony murmurs, a smile hitching the corner of his mouth.

 


 

“I know what you’ve been doing, fuckhole.”

Turning on the spot to face Bucky, Tony throws a handful of blueberries into his mouth. “You’re welcome,” he says to him through his mouthful, holding out the bag.

Bucky scowls and then reaches forwards, digging his hand into the bag. “As if you are the person that-” he begins, shakes his head. He breathes out heavily, pops a blueberry into his mouth. “Thanks, Tony.”

“You’re welcome,” Tony repeats, and Bucky almost-smiles.

 


 

“The WSC know we’ve got him. They want us to hand him over.”

Bucky’s words hang heavy in the air. Outside, sleet lashes against the windows, the dark pressing up against the glass like it wants to steal in. Tony looks up, fear and defiance mingling in his stomach.

“We’ve got twelve hours,” Bucky says, sounding exhausted. He’s leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest. The others are sat around the conference table; Clint is perched on the edge of it. In the dim light and shadows, they look defeated. Last night Steve had completely lost it, breaking his streak and wrecking the medlab once again. Bucky had gone in and been thrown clear across the room.

Steve had spent the remainder of the night curled up in the corner of the room, cursing in Russian and babbling half-formed, barely awake pleas into the darkness.

“Twelve hours,” Bucky repeats listlessly. “And then he’s going to a secure facility and to be charged with whatever he did as the Winter Soldier.”

Clint shakes his head, wordless. Sam and Bruce sit side by side, and Sam clasps Bruce’s shoulder as he takes his glasses off and rubs at his eyes. Tony doesn't dare move. If he does, something is going to give way inside, and he's afraid he won't be able to take it-

“They are not having him.”

Everyone looks up as Natasha speaks, calm and unwavering.

“We can’t exactly stop them,” Bucky begins to argue.

“We can, and we will,” she says. “Drop the pessimism, James. Now is not the time for it. Redirect your stubbornness to where we need it, please.”

Hardly daring to hope, Tony looks up around the room. The rest of the team are also lifting their faces, seeking reassurance and solidarity from somewhere else, expressions turning from defeated into uncertain.

“What she said,” Clint shrugs, like it’s that easy. “I like him. And like I said before; it’s Captain America.”

Bucky laughs shortly. “Okay,” he says unsteadily. “Alright. They’re not having him.”

“That’s the spirit,” Clint says. Natasha’s mouth curves in the tiniest of smiles.

“This still isn’t gonna be easy,” Sam warns. “You saw him last night. This whole thing might get worse before it gets better.”

“We need to do something about his arm,” Bruce chips in. “I think he’s in a lot of pain and is refusing to acknowledge it.”

“Sounds like Steve,” Bucky mutters and then turns to Tony, looking like it’s paining him to ask. “Tony. You had a chance to get a look at it?”

“Nope,” Tony says, popping the P. “Thought I’d get to know him as a person before making a move.”

“You are not fucking funny,” Bucky says, though it’s half-hearted at best. He steps forwards, looking around the room at the rest of them. “Guys, I mean this,” he says, and he looks so earnest that he should really be in the damn uniform. “Thank you.”

 


 

 

It only takes Tony noticing Steve lingering near the door to medbay once, peering out into the corridor beyond, for him to make up his mind. He’s there the next morning, wandering in without a hesitation.

“Buongiorno, amato,” he calls, and Steve looks up from the notepad he’s drawing on to scowl at him. Tony dismisses the glare; he’d be more worried if Steve was ignoring him.

“I need your help,” Tony says. “Come on.”

Steve frowns. “Come with you?”

Speaking in English, that’s a good sign. Fortified, Tony nods. He stands in the doorway, holding it open with one hand. “Yeah, remember I said about heavy lifting?”

Steve hesitates. “Does Bucky know? Did he say-”

The rest of the sentence is bitten back, and a flash of angry humiliation crosses Steve’s face. Tony’s mind goes ahead and fills in the blank space of the sentence. Did he say I could?

“Nah,” Tony shrugs. “But I’m asking you.”

Without even pausing to put on shoes, Steve is up off the end without another wasted second. His jaw is set and determined, as if he needs to prove he’s over the momentary weakness of asking for permission. He strides across the room and is out of the door before Tony has a chance to say anything.

“Elevator,” he calls, turning to follow Steve. He steps into the elevator behind him, watching as Steve does an automatic sweep, checking for exits and vulnerabilities. He’s seen Natasha do the same, though normally she reserves such tells for combat situations, or when she’s especially stressed.

“Okay?”

“The archer came to see me,” Steve says suddenly, eyes fixed on the display panel that shows the floor they are on, the rapidly descending numbers.

“Yeah?” Tony says, surprised. “Did he come in through the vent or the door?”

Steve’s brows shoot up. “The vents?”

“Yeah,” Tony says with a grimace. “He likes high spaces. Tight spaces. He likes being a pain in the ass.”

“Like a lot of people in this place,” Steve mutters. Tony snorts with laughter and the rest of the journey is conducted in silence. They step into the workshop and Tony watches as Steve edges in, his usual wariness tempered by curiosity. His eyes pan over the cars at the back, the workbench - which is currently buried under repulsor parts - and the half assembled Mark Twenty Eight. He doesn't say anything, just steps further and further in. Eyes still scanning every corner of the room, he edges towards the workbench and reaches out, picking up a stray lens and turning it over and over in his fingers. He drops it and reaches for something else, coming up with a shining blue power cell, holding it up to the light.

Tony adds ‘inquisitive bastard’ to the mental list of things he knows about Steve Rogers, right under where he’s got ‘potentially a smart-ass’.

Tony does actually need Steve to help shift the chassis of the Ferrari, but for now he lets Steve explore. Once he gets going he doesn't seem to want to stop, silently moving around the workshop, reaching out to touch anything that catches his eye. Tony perches on the edge of his workbench and silently watches him, happily fixating on the oddly graceful way Steve navigates the space despite his size. It’s apparent in the way he moves, and also the way he handles things with care and precision, despite only having one fully functioning hand.

Leaving him to it, Tony goes back to his workbench. It’s a good half an hour before Steve speaks again. “More than a mechanic,” he says, and he’s stilled in front of the partially assembled armor.

“On occasion,” Tony says, closing the screens he’d been working from and standing up. Steve turns to look at him, and there’s something in his gaze; not exactly calculating, but he looks like he’s weighing up his options.

He walks over, standing closer to Tony than he ever has before, folding his right arm across his chest and holding onto his left elbow. His mouth twists and he heaves out a breath, and his eyes slide from Tony’s eyes down to his chest.

Tony’s breath catches as Steve stares at the arc-reactor, shining bright through his shirt. They stand there for what feels like forever before Steve finally speaks, voice low and serious.

“Who did that to you?”

“A man named Yinsen,” Tony replies. “And he didn't do it - well, he did. But he saved my life by doing it.”

“But you didn’t ask for it,” Steve says, faltering, and it’s oh-so easy to connect the dots and work out what Steve is getting it.

“No. This is the third version, though. The first one he put in was attached to a car battery,” Tony says, tapping his fingers against the case, a soft clicking sound. “I made this one.”

“You,” Steve begins, and then he swears softly in Russian. “Does it hurt?”

“Not anymore.”

Steve nods, unblinking. He looks almost hypnotized, gaze fixed on Tony’s chest. He swallows heavily and then he reaches out with his real hand, fingers hovering in the air an inch away from the arc reactor. Tony’s heart is somewhere up in his throat.

Steve doesn’t ask permission. He just so, so carefully, reaches out and presses his fingers to the edge of the arc-reactor. God, he’s so close.

“Howard was smart,” Steve breathes, and a cleft appears between his eyebrows. “I think you’re smarter.”

And Steve managing to remember something with enough clarity to make comparisons to now is probably a clear sign of progress but right now Tony doesn’t care.

Steve pulls his fingers away, balling his hand into a fist. “My arm,” he says, still looking at the arc-reactor. Tony wishes he were closer, so he could see blue-white light shining over his face, reflecting in the blue of his eyes.  

“It’s not working properly,” Tony finishes for him, unwilling to wait for Steve to get the words out.

“Can you fix it?”

The question is oddly vulnerable, even more so than Steve standing there barefoot in borrowed sweats, no armor or weapons in reach.

“Probably,” Tony says, and he steps forwards, hand extended and eyes on the joins between the plating of the arm, wanting to turn it around slightly so he can see-

Without warning, Steve grabs his wrist and yanks his hand aside, moving so fast that it leaves Tony reeling. He gasps in pain as Steve bends his arm back and forces Tony down onto his knees, arm twisted around, held in Steve’s iron grip.

“Nyet,” Steve snarls, and Tony gasps again as he shakes him roughly, agonizing pressure on his shoulder and wrist-

“Steve,” Tony manages to say, and Steve lets him go, sending him sprawling across the floor. He takes several deep breaths and then pushes himself onto his hands and knees, the tile of the workshop floor cold beneath clammy palms. “Jesus fuck,” he manages, shaking. He tries to put weight on both hands but he can’t, and has to lean heavily onto his left, the right still a burning flare of pain.

“Fuck,” Steve says, the profanity raw and jarring. Tony looks over his shoulder to see Steve has backed up all the way to the workbench, still holding his right hand in front of him like he’s scared Tony is going to try and touch him again.

Gritting his teeth, Tony climbs unsteadily to his feet, holding his arm to his chest. “Okay, no touching without asking, I get it.”

Steve stares at him for a moment and a wonderful and terrible slideshow of emotion plays over his face; anger and guilt and panic, before it’s all wiped away and shoved behind the blank mask of the Winter Soldier.

No, Tony wants to say. Those emotions are for me, don’t you dare hide them.

Steve eyes him dispassionately for another moment and then he stalks away, leaving the workshop without another word.

 


 

Bucky’s shouting before he even gets properly out of the elevator. He’s in uniform, has been out all day dealing with the WSC, and he looks murderous.

“TONY! What the fuck did you do to him?”

“Take this with as much respect as is intended,” Tony says tersely, “and fuck off, Capslock.”

Bucky strides across to where Tony is standing at the fridge and slams it shut, palm pressed against the metal.  

“What did you-” he snarls and then stops, eyes fixed on the ice-pack that’s secured to Tony’s wrist with electrical tape. His mouth falls open, and outrage and frustration cloud his features.

“Damnit, Tony! I told you-”

“It’s no biggie,” Tony says dismissively, even though to him it really is. “I went to touch the arm, he wasn’t ready for it.”

Bucky clenches his jaw, obviously still angry but unsure as to what exactly he can shout about. Tony pointedly shoves his hand off of the fridge door again and opens it again, reaching for a beer.

“What happened?” Bucky asks.

“I told you,” Tony snaps, because he doesn’t want to talk about it. “We had a bonding moment, he asked me to fix his arm, I reached out too early.”

Instead of snapping back, Bucky deflates, slumping back at against the counter. “Shit," he says, despairing. "I think one of us is getting somewhere, and then this happens.”

“Hey, he is getting somewhere,” Tony says, even though the incident earlier has left him feeling dejected and like a failure. He feels almost betrayed in a strange way, like he’s lost something, but that’s ridiculous. Steve - and Steve’s trust - aren’t his to lose. “Hey,” he says, doing what he does best and diverting away from the issue. “Did you know he can speak Italian?”

Bucky’s jaw trembles. “Yeah,” he says, and he looks hopeful and miserable all at once. “He can still-?”

“Remembers enough to tell me to shut up,” Tony says. Bucky opens his mouth to speak, but faint noise from the stairwell draws their attention. They look up just as Natasha walks in, wearing black leggings and one of Bucky’s T-shirts. Her eyes are fixed on Bucky.

He holds out a hand towards her, wordless. She sighs and pads over, pushing him into a chair. He goes with no resistance and she edges forwards to stand between his knees, holding his head to her shoulder.

“Durak,” she murmurs, stroking her hands through his hair. Bucky laughs, choked and far too thick, and he wraps his arms around her waist, holding on tight.

Tony’s stomach twists. He imagines standing there holding Steve’s head to his shoulder, stroking his palms over broad shoulders, doing what he can to chase the last of the lingering demons away. Imagines Steve holding onto him like Bucky holds onto Natasha, wondering if it would help.

It’s in that single moment that Tony finally realizes that somewhere along the line, curiosity and a desire to help has turned into something more.

Swallowing thickly, he looks away as Natasha presses her mouth to the top of Bucky’s head, stealing away and leaving them alone together.

 


 

His wrist isn't broken. However, it takes a few days to feel remotely normal again, the swelling going down to be replaced by mottled blue bruising. It sits there on his skin, a stark reminder of just how dangerous Steve actually can be.

When Sam sees it he gives Tony the usual disappointed look that he normally reserves for Bucky, but doesn’t say anything. Bruce just sighs and tells him not to take painkillers and drink alcohol together.

He doesn't go back to medical. Partly because Bucky is still furiously angry about him getting hurt, and Bucky is stressed out enough defending their choice to the WSC without worrying about Tony as well. He also puts off returning because Steve has been prowling medical like some sort of caged animal since he hurt Tony, restless and unsettled.

He’s not scared of Steve, but it’s clear that Steve is not in a good place, and that means unpredictability and risk.

Mostly though, he avoids Steve because Tony has realized that his feelings in regards to Steve have got all mixed up along the way, and he’s not entirely sure what to do with that. After the first day of watching Steve pace, he even stops watching over the video feeds.

Strangely, he misses him.

He misses Steve’s very presence near him, the way he fills the space or vanishes into it. The paradox of strength and gentleness that highlights everything he does. The quiet intensity in his gaze, the way flickers of emotion start to bleed through. The attitude that appears every now and again. The intelligence that Tony knows is there. The way he is one hundred and ten percent not impressed by any of Tony’s shit, only the things that are actually worth being impressed over. The trust that Tony has somehow earned.

The list has gotten pretty long, actually.

He sighs, leaning back against the couch in his own private lounge, staring at the falling snow out of the window, tiny gentle flakes that could easily vanish into rain at a moments notice. It’s bitterly cold outside, and he’s hoping that there isn’t a call out any time soon.

He lifts his glass of scotch to his mouth, letting the taste linger on his tongue before he swallows.

“Sir?” Jarvis speaks calmly, quietly.

“What’s up, J?” Tony asks, shutting his eyes and heaving out a sigh.

“I feel compelled to warn you that you may have a visitor in the next few moments.”

Tony cracks an eye open. “What?”

There’s a soft noise from the other side of the room, and Tony lifts his head just in time to see the elevator door slide open.

Steve edges into the room, eyes going straight to Tony before scanning the rest of the room in his usual sweep of exits and risks. Tony’s heart leaps up to somewhere in the base of his throat and his stomach twists in a way that’s half relieved, half nervous.

The elevator doors close and Steve takes an another edging step forwards. He’s wearing his usual black sweats but with a white T-shirt this time and it makes him look completely different. Less like a weapon. His feet are bare, as usual, and Tony can see that he’s been drawing on his own skin again, black ink covering the tops of his feet.

Finishing his assessment of the room, Steve walks forwards, taking a wide path around that keeps him away from the windows. He glances to Tony, looking somewhere between defiant and apologetic. Tony is guessing that the defiance is because he’s supposed to still be in the medbay, behind two locked doors that he most certainly doesn’t have the codes for.

“Does the word security mean anything to you?” Tony finally says, grudgingly impressed.

Steve shrugs. “Means a challenge,”he says, quickly meeting Tony’s eyes and then looking away. Something like hope kindles in Tony’s chest, grasping onto the way Steve is looking at him, the way Steve hasn’t been able to stay away.

“Soldier Boy does have a sense of humor, who would have guessed,” Tony replies. “How did you get out without Jarvis tattling?”

“I asked him not to,” Steve says simply, and Tony’s mouth falls open because dammit, that would work. He never even thought to tell Jarvis not to interact with Steve. “The door was easy.”

“You sneaky bastard.”

Steve steps forwards, eyes scanning the windows. Without being invited, he walks across the room and to the window, looking at the pale blue sky, the snow-covered tops of the skyscrapers nearby.

“Can I help you?” Tony asks pointedly.

Steve turns to face him, beautiful in the pale winter light. “I don’t know,” he says, and then he holds up his left hand. “Can you?”

The unspoken question is there. “Workshop,” Tony says, heart quickening. Steve nods once, a jerky movement like he had to force himself to do it.

They don't speak. Not in the elevator on the way down, not even as Tony clears his workbench and then pulls up his chair. Not even as Steve circles the workshop several times, aware of the seat but obviously not wanting to be put into it.

Tony lets him prowl, setting up the tools he might need on his workbench and clearing off a nearby trolley. He’s nervous, and it’s only when Steve moves past again that he realizes that it’s not just because he might get hurt. If he can’t fix Steve’s arm, he doesn’t know what they’ll do next.

Steve looks at the tools and then away, pacing towards the still unfinished Mark Twenty-Eight. He stands in front of it, left arm held up over his chest, right hand locked around his wrist. He’s so tense he’s practically vibrating, strength waiting in every line of his body.

It’s so quiet, save for the hum of electricity and their breathing. Even though he usually fills the workshop with noise, music and the sounds of him working, this time Tony doesn't want to break the silence.

He stands up, making sure his feet make noise on the floor. He slowly walks to Steve, who turns to look at him, defensive. Not wanting to wreck it with the wrong words, Tony just holds out a hand.

Slowly, so slowly, Steve nods and then lets go of his wrist to take Tony’s hand.

His fingers are warm against Tony’s and strong, yet somehow so gentle. Tony shivers, the awareness of how that strength could be used to tear him apart settling in with an understanding that Steve wouldn’t.

He steps back, pulling Steve with him. Steve resists for a moment and then goes, allowing Tony to lead him over to the workbench. He guides Steve carefully into the chair, pulse quickening as Steve’s fingers tighten on his.

Wordless, he reaches over with his free hand to pull over the flat-topped metal trolley, right up close to Steve’s left side. He toes the brakes on and nods towards it.

Breathing shallowly, Steve stares at the trolley for a moment and then slowly moves his left arm, setting his elbow on it and then lowering his forearm, holding onto the edge of the trolley so his arm is at ninety degrees to his body. He hisses in pain as he does, and his fingers all twitch spasmodically. If he grips any harder he’s going to bend the metal, but Tony doesn’t really care.

“Okay?” he murmurs, and the soft word doesn’t break the moment. If anything, it draws it closer, with the way Steve’s eyes flick up to his, vulnerable and anxious.

Steve swallows. “Da. Yes.”

“Shirt off,” Tony says, and Steve doesn't hesitate before pulling his shirt up over his head and tossing it aside, though Tony kicks himself for asking as Steve grits his teeth against the pain. Tony’s eyes can't help but map the contours of his chest, his abs, before drifting over the mess of scarring where the arm is embedded into his shoulder. Steve doesn't seem to notice the scrutiny, just sits back and winces again as he puts his arm back in place.

“Hurts?”

Steve nods jerkily. “Since - since I fought with Bucky.”

“Tell me when you’ve had enough,” Tony says, and he pulls up a second stool, shifting up close to Steve. Ideally, he wants to look at his shoulder first, but he’d have to sit behind Steve to get that done and he doesn’t think Steve’s shaky trust in him will allow it.

“I should probably bring Bruce down,” he muses as he shifts up even further, so close that his hip is pressed against Steve’s thigh. “Check your pulse and heart rate, maybe give you something-”

“No,” Steve bites out, and there’s the creak of metal as his fingers clench. Tony draws back immediately, sitting up straight and sucking in a breath, but Steve just exhales and shakes his head.

“No sedation,” he says unsteadily. “No doctor. Just you.”

“You got it, Soldier Boy,” Tony replies, and he leans in again. He reaches out and gently places his hand on Steve’s metal wrist. It’s cool and smooth under his fingers, and he hears whirring at Steve tenses, layers of plates moving beneath one another.

“Relax.”

“Shut up,” Steve replies, but he doesn't move, even as Tony reaches for a pair of long-nosed pliers.

“If this hurts, you have to let me know,” Tony says, and he’s utterly enamored with the technology under his hands but he has enough presence of mind to look up to check Steve is listening. Steve’s eyes are on his face, and his expression is set and hard.

He leans in, slides the pliers under one of the plates of Steve’s wrist. Steve sucks in a breath but doesn’t otherwise react, and allows Tony to slowly, methodically remove the first layer of plates.

Fucking hell.

This is - this beyond what Tony ever thought it could be. How they managed to build it - how it’s still working without regular maintenance is beyond him. He goes through layer and layer of plating, exposing countless pieces of circuitry and wires.

An hour in, and Steve’s entire lower forearm is open and exposed.Tony leans back, looks up at Steve’s face. He’s got his eyes closed, faced turned away.

“Steve,” Tony breathes, and without thinking he reaches up to touch Steve's jaw. Steve jerks, eyes flying open in surprise. He turns to look at Tony, hair tumbling over his forehead.

“Okay?”

Steve nods jerkily. He looks down at his arm, eyes flickering over the expanse of wire and mechanics he can see.

“I never saw-” he begins, but looks away, shutting his eyes again. His nostrils flare as he breathes out heavily. “Just do it.”

“Bend your fingers,” Tony says and Steve does.

“Holy shit,” Tony says, and Steve lifts his head again.

“What?”

“I think - I think this entire thing - it’s not just wired into your nervous system. They’ve created an entire artificial system out of something and run it the length of the arm, connected it to your own.”

“What does that mean?”

“You have nerves in your arm,” Tony says. “I bet if I touched the right things in here you’d feel it like a damn electric shock.”

Steve lifts his free hand, pushing his hair back from his face. “Is that what hurts?”

“I think some of the servos are catching on the artificial nerves,” Tony says. “Does it hurt right now?”

“Not too bad,” Steve says. “But yes.”

“Okay. What if I-” Tony says, and he slides a scalpel into the arm, presses up against the underside of a plate, bending it a fraction in the opposite direction.

Astonishment crosses Steve’s face. “Men'she,” he says. “Less - hurts less.”

“There you go,” Tony says. “Trapped nerves. I’ll bet that’s what causing the spasms as well.”

“Fix it,” Steve says, demanding. There’s sweat beading on his forehead, across his collarbones.

“It would take hours,” Tony says, shaking his head. “And I’d have to sedate you. If I touch one of these fake nerves-”

“You’re not sedating me,” Steve says violently. His left hand clenches unconsciously and he gasps in pain, back bowing as he presses his shoulder back into the chair, feet sliding across the tiled floor in front of him-

“Sit still!” Tony insists, and miraculously, Steve does. He stops straining and sinks back into the chair, gasping. He swallows convulsively and then nods shakily at Tony.

“See?” Tony points out, heartrate not quite back to normal. “I’m not doing that to you while you’re awake. No way.”

Steve draws in another shaky breath, brow furrowing as he looks at Tony. When he speaks, he sounds almost confused.  “You really care.”

Tony’s insides do a strange sort of twist, and he avoids looking Steve in the eye. “More like Bucky would kill me if I hurt you,” he says lightly.

Steve blinks at him, then the frown slowly fades. “You’re the only one who believes your shit.”

“You know what, the WSC can fucking have you,” Tony replies grouchily.   

To his surprise, Steve’s mouth hitches in one of his tight, almost-smiles. “Still not believing your shit, Meccanico.”

“You are unbelievable,” Tony says, wanting to sound dismissive but utterly failing in the way the corner of his mouth is pulling up. “I’m going to put you back together, okay?”

Steve licks sweat from his upper lip, nods. “Da.”

Tony ignores the way his stomach swoops at the careful drag of Steve’s tongue. “Does it still hurt?”

Steve looks at his arm and then shakes his head. “Not too much.”

Tony doesn't quite believe him. “Steve,” he says insistently.

Steve jerks his head, irritated. “Tony,” he replies, mimicking, and Tony’s stomach jolts because that’s the first time Steve has said his name. Steve seems to notice as well because he freezes in place, staring at Tony before looking away.

“Doesn’t hurt,” he says curtly. “Put it back together.”

Tony nods and leans back in. As he does he glances at Steve, and Steve is already looking at him. He quickly turns his face away, and Tony watches his throat move as he swallows.

Heart thudding strangely inside his chest, Tony does as he’s asked, pretending he doesn't notice every time Steve looks back at him.

 


 

 

The next day, Tony finds a note scrawled in ball point pen left on his workbench.

‘grazie, Meccanico.’

“How the fuck does he keep getting out of medbay without anyone noticing?” he says aloud, though he’s laughing, eyes dancing and mouth curved in a smile.

 


 

They’re halfway through dinner one evening when Bucky appears with Steve in tow. Steve looks less than happy to be there, glower firmly in place as he skulks in several feet behind Bucky, wearing sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt. The purple shadows are beneath his eyes are more pronounced than ever, and his hair most definitely needs washing.

Tony and Clint look at each other, eyebrows raised. Over at the other end of the table, Bruce pauses for a moment and then carries on eating.

“Steve is joining us for dinner, is that okay?” Bucky asks brusquely as he marches over to the table, the question clearly rhetorical. Steve’s glare turns on the back of Bucky’s head, but Bucky looks like he couldn't care less. He drops into a seat next to Nat, pulling out the one next to him for Steve.

“Wow,” Clint mouths at Tony, getting up and going to the refrigerator. He pulls out two beers and hands them to Bucky, who twists the caps off and then passes one to Steve. Steve hesitates and then takes it, looking at the bottle with no small amount of suspicion written over his features.

“How did the meeting go?” Natasha asks Bucky easily, as if he’s not just turned up for dinner with his amnesiac-assassin best friend in tow.

“Bullshit,” Bucky says as Tony shoves a pizza box over towards him. “They won’t unfreeze our funding.”

“Don’t sweat that,” Tony shrugs, licking grease off of his fingers and trying not to watch everything Steve does. He's currently tentatively smelling the beer, cautiously licking the lip of the bottle.

“It’s the principle,” Bucky says with a scowl to almost match Steves, flipping open the box and grabbing a slice. “Fuck it. I’m not in the mood. Steve, pizza.”

Steve obediently reaches out the moment Bucky speaks, hesitantly taking a slice from the box. He keeps looking up and around, checking the individuals at the table and the exit routes, more tense than he’s been in a long time.

“So, Steve,” Clint says, and Steve’s eyes flick to him. “Must be pretty nice to actually leave medical.”

Steve’s eyes immediately flick to Tony, and Tony bites down on an insane urge to laugh. Steve looks back at Clint and shrugs.

“Yeah,” he says, surprising Tony - and Bucky as well, if the look on his face is anything to go by. “Might have to see if I can get out more often.”

He glances at Tony as he says it and Tony about chokes on his beer. Bucky looks over at him, startled for a moment, before comprehension dawns over his face.

“You two are not funny,” he says. Clint looks from Tony to Steve to Bucky, confused.

“What did I miss?”

The rest of the dinner is fine. Steve picks at whatever food Bucky tells him to eat, clearly unable to properly relax. Though for a first attempt at being social with more than one person at a time, Tony doesn’t think he’s doing that bad. Nothing gets broken and the few words he speaks to Clint are in English, and that’s progress as far as Tony is concerned.

What he does notice though is Steve barely using his left arm at all, the way he keeps shifting uncomfortably, pain flickering on the edge of his expression.

He waits until Steve is alone at the table - watching Bucky and Clint stand over by the television and argue about which channel to watch with wary eyes - before going over.

“You said that it didn’t hurt,” he says casually as he collects up empty boxes.

Steve doesn’t even look at him. Annoyed, Tony nudges him with his elbow and Steve instantly jerks around, looking murderous.

“Oh, please,” Tony says. “If you were going to hurt me you’d do it without the warning glare.”

The glare melts into confusion. “I wouldn’t hurt-” Steve begins but then stops, looking almost guilty. Huh, interesting.

Tony thinks that Bucky would say that the Steve part of him wouldn’t hurt anyone, but he doesn’t think that’s it. They both know that Steve can hurt him - has hurt him, which is probably why Steve is currently feeling guilty. He thinks maybe Steve - every part of him - is learning what he will and won’t do now he’s got more agency over himself.

He can't deny how it feels to know that Steve is learning that hurting Tony is something he doesn’t want to do.

His thoughts are disturbed as Steve reaches out with his right hand to pick up his beer from the table, and then his left spasms so violently that he jerks back completely, knocking the bottle off of the table.

It hits the floor with a thunk, chugging beer everywhere, and they both leap back. “Fuck,” Steve curses, and stoops to grab it. As he straightens up, he gasps and Tony can see the pain he’s in.

“You are both a fucking wind-up merchant and a liar,” Tony says, voice low and irrationally angry. “That arm is hurting you-”

“It is not-” Steve snaps back, and looks hurriedly across the room. “It isn’t that bad,” he says, voice insistent. “Don’t tell Bucky.”

Tony gapes at him, mouth open uselessly. “Oh no, don’t put me in that place,” he says, half pleading.

“He needs me to be okay,” Steve says suddenly. “He can’t worry about me.”

“He’s going to worry anyway,” Tony tries. “From what I’ve heard worrying about you was practically his job-”

“I won’t be a burden to him,” Steve snaps, and then breathes out slowly, reigning in his temper.

“Alright,” Tony says, knowing that he won’t get any further with Steve when he’s like this. “Okay. But you’re going to let me look it over again within the next few days, and if it gets any worse, you have to come and tell me.”

“Okay,” Steve says, and Tony doesn’t believe him at all.

 

 


 

Tony is half asleep, drifting on the very edge of consciousness. He’s curled up on his side, frown on his face as his mind drifts restlessly through equations and calculations, variables left over from the stress testing that he’d done on the new armor earlier that day.

Grunting sleepily, he rolls over onto his back. His mind wanders along another set of calculations, ending with a soft thump. Frowning in his sleep, he goes back over the numbers, only for them to thump backwards halfway through the calculation. The numbers jolt, falling out of place with resounding thuds-

His eyes open in the darkness, taking a moment to adjust. Confused, he blinks hard and the numbers thud again, and it takes him a few seconds to realize that it’s actually the sound of someone banging on his door that has woken him. He swings his legs out of bed and pads over to the door.

“Alright alright,” he yells over the banging. “Give it a rest, I’m coming-”

He opens the door and stops dead as he sees Steve slumped in his doorway. He looks ashen and sickly, sweat on his brow and like he’s about to throw up.

“Steve?”

“Get it off,” he gasps, throat working as he swallows convulsively. “Tony, get it off of me.”

He’s clutching his left wrist in his good hand, and he’s shaking violently from head to foot. His eyes are on Tony’s screaming for help. Begging.

“Fuck, Steve-” Tony says, and he stepping forwards and grabbing hold of him. Steve’s knees give way and he slumps to the floor, yanking Tony with him. “Fuck - Steve? Jarvis, get Bucky and Bruce!” Tony shouts, and he’s pushing Steve’s face up, tilting his chin up. He’s breathing rapidly and shallowly, agony in every muscle.

“Get it off,” he begs, and Tony feels anger and panic rising in his stomach.

“Steve, stay with me,” he says. “I’ll do what I can, I promise. Just stay with me.”

Steve nods jerkily, licking sweat from his upper lip. He opens his eyes hazily. "Snimi yeye," he mutters. “Tony-”

“English, idiot,” Tony says, hauling Steve half into his lap and pushing sweat-damp off of his brow. “You fucking idiot, why the hell did you let it get this bad?”

The elevator opens at the end of the corridor; Bruce and Bucky run up together.

“The hell happened?” Bucky says, eyes wide and terrified. “Steve!”

Steve reaches out for him with his good hand. He grasps hold of Bucky’s fingers, a choked sound of pain escaping. He screws his eyes shut and tears are forced from under his lids, sliding into his hairline.

“His arm,” Tony says. “It’s attached to his nervous system somehow, it’s not working properly. He let me look at it before, but he said it wasn’t too bad-”

“Medical,” Bruce says shortly, reaching out to check Steve’s pulse. “Steve, can you hear me?”

“Bol'no,” Steve slurs. “Moya ruka-”

“Back to Russian, that’s not good,” Tony says. “Bucky, help me lift him-”

Bucky’s already there, hauling Steve to his feet. He’s strong enough to manage Steve by himself, but Tony presses himself to Steve’s left side, helping keep him up. They manage to get him into the elevator, swaying dangerously.

“Stay with me, idiot,” Bucky is saying to Steve. “Don’t you dare. God, you’re only fucking doing this because it’s like the good old days, you and your near death experiences every time you got a fucking cold. Hey, keep up Steve, don't you dare go deadweight on me-”

The elevator doors open and Clint and Sam are both there, immediately rushing in to help take Steve’s weight. They manage to get him to medical and onto the bed, just as he starts to fight against them.

“Ne,” he gasps, shoving back at Sam and almost knocking him clean off his feet. “Otvali!”

“Whoa!” Clint yells, grabbing for Steve’s wrist. “Bruce, knock-out juice!”

“Steve, stop it!” Bucky yells, shoving him back down against the bed. Steve lets out a strangled cry.

“Any time now, Bruce!” Sam hollers, back on his feet.

“Steve, listen to me,” Tony snaps, and Steve gasps, turning his face towards Tony’s voice. Something like comprehension flickers over his face and he stops fighting against them, chest heaving as he snatches in gasps of air.

“Listen up Soldier boy,” Tony says roughly. “I’m going to try and get it off, I swear. At the very least I’ll turn it off so you can't feel it. But you need to sit still so Bruce can sedate you, because I daren't do it while you’re moving. We talked about this, remember?”

Steve’s chest shudders as he chokes, barely managing the snatched breaths that don't seem to be enough. He swallows convulsively. “If I wake up with - fuck - if I wake up with any more technology attached to me I’m going to kill you.”

Tony laughs shortly. “Deal,” he says. “Bruce, knock-out juice.”

Tony watches Steve’s face as Clint stands back, allowing Bruce to slide a needle into Steve’s arm. Steve’s eyes are locked on his and Tony reaches out to push his hair back from his face, nodding.

“We got you. You’re okay,” he says. Steve’s eyes are wide, a mix of fear and desperate trust, and then they roll back into his head and his whole body goes limp.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Bucky says, letting him go. The others all step back except Bruce, who is moving in and attaching sensors to Steve’s wrists and ankles.

“Tony, get on it,” Bruce says. “I can keep him under for a few hours.”

“Okay,” Tony says grimly, and he’s already pulling  the sides of the bed up, locking them in place. “Cap, get the other side. We’re taking him to the workshop. Come on Avengers, lets get this shit done.”

 


 

“Thank you.”

Tony lifts exhausted eyes to Bucky from where he’s slouched in a plastic chair on one side of Steve’s bed in medical. Bucky is sitting in a matching chair on the other, curled over forwards with his elbow on his knee and his chin on his fist. He’s got three days worth of dark stubble on his jaw and deep, tired shadows under his eyes.

“Don’t mention it,” Tony mumbles. He looks at Steve, who is still out for the count, breathing easily through parted lips. He looks almost as rough as Bucky does.

“He trusts you.”

“Yeah,” Tony says, not really seeing how he can deny it. “Kinda trust him, too.”

“Unbelievable,” Bucky mutters, but then shakes his head and turns his attention back to Steve, biting his lip contemplatively. “You know, if that’s his arm fixed, we might be able to start getting him back on track.”

Tony goes still. “What do you mean, back on track? You’ve seen how far he’s come.”

Bucky doesn’t look at him, just shrugs, one shouldered. “He’s supposed to be Captain America, not me.”

“He doesn't want to be.” The words are out of Tony’s mouth before he’s even really considered them. Regardless, he knows he’s right.  

“Yeah, he doesn’t want to be now,” Bucky argues, looking unhappy. “I can’t be Cap with him back -  I feel like I'm taking that from him."

"That's exactly how he'd feel if he took over from you again,” Tony says, and he rubs his mouth with his fingertips. He gets it, of course he does; it’s not hard to understand why Bucky would want Steve to go back to the way he was, to being Captain America. But with everything he’s seen and heard and learned - and despite the fact that his curiosity in Steve initially came from the fact he used to be Captain America - he knows that Steve won't be able to to go back.

But Bucky is looking at Steve, worried and heartbroken, wanting his best friend to be exactly who he was. Tony feels a pang of sympathy and regret.

“Look, I know you want him to be the same as he was, but he won't be."

"He might be."

"He won't be," Tony says, low and insistent, and Bucky's mouth tightens. "He's been through too much to just go back."

“You don’t know-” Bucky starts to retort, but the brewing confrontation is cut short as Steve stirs in the bed next to them. It’s faintest catch in his breathing, a twitching of his fingers atop the blanket. Bucky’s head snaps around so fast that he’s probably given himself whiplash, and Tony pushes himself up in the chair, eyes on Steve’s haggard face.

“Steve?”

Bucky is there as well, reaching over and smoothing a palm over Steve’s head, pushing back tangled blond strands. “Hey, jerk,” he says, voice wavering. “Wake up.”

Steve makes a rough noise in the back of his throat, and he screws up his face. With what seems to be monumental effort he lifts his right hand, presses it over his eyes. Tony leans back, a little wary because if Steve wakes up and doesn't know where he is-

“Bucky?”

Tony lets out a breath he didn't know he’d been holding, relief coursing through him at the sound of Steve’s hoarse voice.

“Yeah, I’m here,” Bucky says, relieved. “Get up, jerk. You know, waiting around for you to wake up got old in thirty-eight.”

“Mudak,” Steve mutters, and Bucky chokes on a laugh.

“Yeah, you’re okay.”

Steve lifts his hand from his eyes, blinking hard in the light as he looks around. Exhausted eyes land on Tony and Tony’s heart skips at the sheer relief that crosses Steve’s face, before it gives way to something like embarrassment, blotchy pink coloring his cheeks and his neck.

With a bit of a struggle, Steve pushes himself up. Bucky is there immediately, lifting the top half of the bed so Steve can sit comfortably. “What did you do?” Steve asks Tony as he tries to get upright. He glances down at his left arm, where it’s strapped up against his chest in a sling.

“Turned it off,” Tony says. “Pulled out half the nervous system. Replaced a lot of metal with better metal.”

“You fixed it.”

“I think so,” Tony says. “Got to put some bits back in and turn it back on, but you should be okay.”

Steve doesn't respond to that, just stares down at his arm, expression blank. Bucky chews his lip, brow furrowing with worry.

“Steve?”

Steve shakes his head, not wanting to talk. Bucky scratches at his jaw, mouth twisting as he fights back what must be almost overwhelming amounts of worry and relief. Tony would know; he’s feeling it as well.

“Tony says a few days to finish the new parts and then he can get you back online,” he says. “We only strapped it up because it’s so heavy-”

A soft beeping interrupts. Steve slowly lifts his eyes, evidently still cautious about unexpected sounds even while he's half-drugged. Bucky swears and leans back, pulling his phone from his pocket.

“Hill,” he says, running a hand through his hair in frustration. “Going to set Coulson on me if I don’t get there in the next twenty.”

Still swearing under his breath, Bucky goes to stand up. Surprise crosses his face when Steve reaches out and grabs his hand, quicker than his half-awake state should really have allowed.

“Okay, Hill can suck it,” Bucky says and adjusts his fingers around Steve’s. “I’ll stay, alright?”

It’s not relief that Tony see’s in Steve’s expression; there’s a pause and then his face twists like he wants to argue but doesn’t know how.

“You try telling Hill she can suck it,” Tony says, taking a gamble. “Cap, go. Go and do your Captainy things.I promise to make sure Soldier-Boy stays right here until you get back.”

Now Bucky appears as torn as Steve, but as Steve nods at him he exhales, the fight bleeding away. “Alright, I’ll go. But I’ll come back,” he says, insistently. “Going for a couple of hours, tops. Promise.”

Steve clenches his jaw and then nods, letting go of Bucky’s hand. Bucky reaches out to squeeze his shoulder and then leaves, glancing back at the pair of them as he exits the medbay. Tony slouches back in his chair again, kicking up his feet onto Steve’s bed.

Steve sighs. “You don’t have to stay.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Tony asks, mildly affronted. “If I leave you Bucky will bash me with the shield - and besides. You scared the hell out of me. Why didn’t you tell me it was hurting that much?”

“Didn’t need help.”

“Okay yeah - no. You did need help,” Tony informs him. “Jesus, Bucky was right. He said you’re historically terrible at accepting help from anyone.”

Steve scowls. “Bucky can shut his mouth.”

Tony aches to reach out, to push his fingers through Steve’s hair. “I’m serious. You cannot do that, my heart isn’t going to take it.”

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Your heart?”

Tony taps at the arc-reactor. “Might short-circuit with shock.”

“Still not believing your bullshit, Meccanico,” Steve says, and he reaches across the bed to take Tony’s hand. He holds Tony’s wrist in his own fingers, thumb stroking against his skin.

“Oh like I’m the only one full of shit. You’re not nearly as dark and brooding as you make out,” Tony argues.  

“You tell anyone and I might have to kill you,” Steve says, and Tony really shouldn’t find that funny, but Steve probably shouldn't be making jokes about it, so he supposes they’re okay.

 


 

Tony solders the last piece of wire in place, carefully making sure it’s exactly where it needs to be before pulling back. The muscles of his back protest, aching from being leant forwards for so long.

He doesn't say anything. He doesn't need to. He just clicks the plate on Steve’s wrist back into place, sets the soldering iron aside and sits back. He reaches for the last remaining lead that’s wired into the shoulder plates of Steve’s arm, the cable that’s currently rerouting the entire system and keeping the arm offline.

Winding the cable around his fingers, he looks at Steve, eyebrow raised in question.

Steve nods.

Tony nods back, holds his breath, and then yanks the lead out of Steve’s arm with one efficient tug.

Steve literally shudders, and Tony hears the servos all whir into life. Metal fingers twitch and then flex, and then Steve lifts his whole arm, turning his hand over and bending his fingers. They go easily none of the previous snagging or spasming.

Steve stares at his fingers, and then he smiles.

Tony can't help but grin back. He wants to get up and cheer, to celebrate that Steve now appears to be pain free and can use the arm again, that he’s no longer going to spend his days soldiering on through the pain and pretending that it doesn't hurt-

Metal fingers on his chin abruptly stop his thoughts.

Steve meets his gaze, smile gone and eyes serious. He’s sitting up with his real hand braced against the arm of the chair, leaning forwards and holding Tony’s chin in a gentle grip between his left thumb and forefinger. Tony swallows and Steve’s eyes flicker over his face.

He doesn't say a word. He just leans over and carefully brushes his mouth over Tony’s.

Tony’s eyes flutter shut as Steve’s mouth touches his, a wordless thank you that sends heat prickling down Tony’s spine.

Too soon, Steve pulls away. Their eyes meet, serious and understanding. Steve’s fingers slide along Tony’s jaw and Tony reaches up to hold them with his own. He pushes his fingers between Steve’s metal ones, and Steve folds them around Tony’s. Breathing heavily, Tony looks from their joined hands back to Steve’s face.

Steve’s brow furrows. He looks caught between impulses, not entirely sure which direction to go.

After a moment that lasts a lifetime, he decides. Reaching for Tony with his real hand, he slides it onto the side of his neck and lean in again. He kisses cautiously, almost clumsily, and Tony doesn’t think he’ll ever get enough. He pulls him in closer, kissing him quietly again and again.

 


 

“Bucky says he’s going to kill you.”

Tony looks away from his phone up at Steve, standing nonchalantly by the elevator.

“Security breach,” Tony says, not bothering to get up from the couch.  Steve just rolls his eyes and then pads forwards carefully, before climbing onto the other end of the couch.

“Between you and Bucky, I should be a dead man five times over,” Tony says dismissively, going back to his phone. “Why does he want to kill me today?”

“I told him you kissed me.”

Tony’s fingers still on his phone, heartbeat quickening. “Well, that’s a lie. You kissed me. Is he threatening to kill you as well?”

“No,” Steve says, sly and almost smug. “Just you.”

“Damn,” Tony says. “Oh well. Killed by one Captain America for kissing the other one. Can't say that’s a bad way to go.”

A hand winds around his ankle and tugs, and Tony lets out a surprised shout as he’s hauled along the couch, ending up on his back. Before he can blink or sit up, Steve is leaning over him, so close that they're almost nose to nose. Tony relaxes back into the cushions, trying not to give away how being so close is making him shiver.

“I’m not Captain America,” Steve says, and there’s something in the way he says it. Almost a plea.

“I know. Ancient history,” Tony replies, and Steve’s shoulders relax marginally, reassured.

“You’re the only one that believes that,” he says, sounding too close to bitter about it for Tony’s liking.

“Bucky’ll get there,” Tony says, and without thinking he reaches up and traces his fingertips over Steve’s cheek. Steve doesn’t pull away; he stays exactly where he is, still leaning over Tony, bracketing him in with strong arms either side of his head.

Steve nods slowly, and he’s looking straight at Tony, gaze unflinching. It’s just like the way he looked at him before he kissed him in the workshop, and an electric thrill runs down Tony’s spine as he realizes exactly what’s going to happen next.

“Bucky says I should probably keep away from you,” Steve says, unapologetic. “He thinks neither of us are in the right place. For this.”

“Right,” Tony says. “We should probably listen to Captain America.”

“We probably should,” Steve says, and he leans fractionally closer. There’s faint stubble on his jaw, just visible in the light. Tony gives in to the impulse and reaches up to drag his fingers over Steve’s jaw, relishing in the way Steve’s breath hitches as he does.

“Sir, if I may interrupt,” Jarvis says smoothly.

“You may interrupt for a maximum of ten seconds,” Tony says, not breaking gaze with Steve. His eyes are dark and hungry and Tony wants him so badly he can taste it.

“Captain Barnes says he’s coming to kill you.”

“Tell Captain Barnes to go away,” Steve replies, and he’s leaning closer to Tony, so close that Tony can feel his breath on his lips, can already taste him.

“Captain Barnes says he is also going to kill you.”

“Tell him that I’d like to see him try,” Steve snorts, and then he’s closing the gap between them. Tony makes a sound that’s not quite a groan in the back of his throat, a cut off sound as he presses closer to Steve, pushing against the cushions of the couch.

Steve doesn’t pull away. He crowds closer, kneeling up onto the cushions and pressing his bulk between Tony’s thighs, pinning him down into the cushions. Tony lets him, hands on Steve’s neck as they kiss and kiss and kiss-

“Ty-” Steve begins, pulling back. Tony can't stay away, has to lean up and kiss that serious mouth. “Ty-” Steve tries again, but then seems to remember that Tony doesn’t understand much Russian. “Non si dovrebbe-” he amends, switching into Italian instead of English, but cuts himself off mid sentence.

“I should not what?” Tony asks, pressing for the rest. Steve blinks, frowns as if he doesn't realise he’s missing sentences or lapsing out of English. Not breaking eye contact, he leans down and kisses Tony again.

“Tu mi ami,” he says as he pulls back, lips brushing Tony’s.

Tony’s heart skips, pulse thudding strangely behind his sternum. “Yeah,” he says helplessly, all out of sarcastic retorts. “Yeah, I don’t know what happened there. Something has obviously gone catastrophically wrong.”

Steve’s mouth curls in a lazy half smile. He doesn’t say it back, but Tony doesn't need him to. He’s there in Tony’s arms and that’s enough.

“Durak,” Steve murmurs, and he pulls Tony close and kisses him again.

 


 

The sound of their heavy breathing fills the space of Tony’s room, safe and secure in the early, quiet hours of the morning. Steve is a shadow above him, pale and grey in the darkness. His arms are braced either side of Tony’s head, fists clenching as he makes helpless sounds into the space between their mouths.

It’s warm, blankets tossed aside as sweat-slick skin slides together. The single remaining sheet tangles around their legs, dragged low over Steve’s back.

Tony presses his mouth to Steve’s, lazy and searching. Hands slide up Steve’s back, mapping muscle and strength and coming to rest on either side of his neck, thumbs stroking the hollow beneath his jaw. Steve pulls away from his mouth to press his face against Tony’s neck, hips rolling against Tony’s as he mouths hot and damp against his skin.

Panting, Tony forces his face back up so he can kiss him again, unwilling to separate their mouths for longer than he has to. Steve is out of his depth here, memories missing or hazy, and it shows in the way his hands tremble, how he shuts his eyes tightly and hands over control to Tony in a way Tony never thought he would.

Pressing against the mattress with his heel, Tony pushes up and rolls them over. Steve goes without a fight, the blanket pulling tight around their lower bodies as Tony settles on top of him. Steve hooks an arm under Tony’s, fingertips pressing into his shoulder blade. Chest heaving, he looks up at Tony and then reaches up with his left hand to touch Tony’s collarbones, flattening his hand and dragging it down until it covers the arc-reactor with his palm.

Tony lets him, even though he misses the play of blue light over Steve’s face. Steve spreads his fingers and looks up, meeting Tony’s eyes, and in that moment all the cruelty and hardship is gone and he’s nothing but beautiful under Tony’s hands.

 


 

A scream drags Tony from sleep, heart slamming into his sternum and adrenaline flooding his system. Gasping, Tony sits up and looks wildly over, and his eyes find Steve sitting upright on the bed next to him, curled over with both hands on the back of his head. The pillows have been knocked aside, the blankets kicked away.

“Nyet,” Steve sobs. “Ostav' menya v pokoye-”

“Steve,” Tony says urgently, every part of him wanting to reach for him, to touch and hold until the nightmare passes. “Hey, Soldier Boy. I’m here. You with me? Steve?”

Steve gasps in a breath and lets go of his head, lifting his face from his knees. Wide eyes find Tony, and he reaches out blindly. 

“I got you,” Tony says and reaches out to take Steve’s metal hand in both of his own. “Hey, it’s okay. I got you.”

 Shuddering, Steve nods jerkily. He swallows and then uses his free hand to wipe his face, trembling. He’s covered in a fine sheen of sweat, and Tony curses himself for not waking up earlier.

“Something in English, please,” Tony says carefully.

“Steve Rogers, born in Brooklyn on the fourth of July, nineteen eighteen,” Steve replies, sounding exhausted. “Prosti. I’m sorry.”

“Shut up,” Tony says. “You want me to call Bucky? Or are you getting back in?”

Steve nods without hesitating. He shoves the pillows back into place and pulls the blankets with him. He lays down and tugs Tony with him, pressing his front to Tony's back and sliding an arm around Tony’s waist, slotting it beneath Tony’s arm and threading their fingers together.

They lie there quietly together, their soft breathing the only sound in the room. Steve is a solid presence behind him, skin warm and still faintly damp. Tony pulls his pillow straight, eyes half closed as he listens to Steve’s even breaths.

Steve shifts slightly, knees pressing into the back of Tony’s, and Tony knows he’s going to speak before he does.

“Falling from a train,” he says quietly. "Them taking me."

Tony pulls Steve’s hand up to his mouth, kisses the back of it. “God, it must suck to be you.”

Steve hums noncommittally and leans up slightly, tracing his nose down the side of Tony’s neck and making him shiver. He presses a kiss to Tony’s shoulder and presses even closer, holding Tony tightly.

“I guess it could be worse,” he says. “Go back to sleep, Meccanico.”

Tony smiles tiredly, yawning widely. “You gonna be okay?”

Steve presses his face to the back of Tony’s neck, breath warm against his skin. He doesn’t answer out loud, but that’s okay. Tony doesn't need him to.