Chapter 1: Prologue
“Are you up, Jarvis?”
“For you, Miss, always.”
“Good… no one can trace this?”
“No one, Miss, though there have been numerous attempts; on an unrelated note, the speakers in Agent Barton’s bedroom seem to be playing songs from the latest ‘Kidz Bop’ album nonstop.”
“You’re the best thing I ever created, Jarvis.”
“Thank you, Miss… might I remind you, Miss, of the likelihood of this mission being successful?”
“No thanks, Jarvis, I know the odds. That’s why I’m here alone; if I fail, you and I will be the only ones to know about it.”
“Of course, Miss.” Toni Stark looked over the edge of the cliff she was standing on, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A second later, she was falling forward.
They’d been together for almost six months and Toni was still not used to waking up in Steve’s arms. It still takes her a moment to remember that it was Steve holding her, and not a terrorist holding her tight against his chest while his friend fucked her ruthlessly. She would wake up every morning and start to struggle; then she would hear Steve sigh happily into her ear and she would allow herself to relax in his embrace, ignoring the fact her heart was racing at a mile a minute.
She lived for the day she would be able to wake up, automatically knowing that she was safe.
Maybe that’s why she didn’t sleep much; it was easier to remember where she was and where she wasn’t when she was awake, even if awake came after a three to four day stretch of workshop time. In her opinion, the three or four days in the workshop just helped to reinforce that she was home and she was safe. To her, there were only two places in the world that felt safer than her workshop; the first was with her team. The second was the place that made her feel the safest of all; in Steve’s arms.
Now would be the time to mention that in the past six months of complete bliss and safeness and love, Steve and Toni had not once had sex. Depending on your definition of the term, they hadn’t even “made out”; Toni’s definition consisted of a lot of necking and groping certain areas of her anatomy and they definitely hadn’t done any of that. They kissed, but it wasn’t for any significant amount of time. They cuddled, but they were always clothed and no hands ever strayed beneath. They slept together, but it was only sleeping.
Pepper’s been telling Toni that she’s finally in an ‘adult relationship’; Toni can only assume that’s a fancy way of saying ‘asexual’.
Having someone else’s name whispered in her ear wasn’t a new thing to Toni Stark. It’s happened to her before and, considering the circumstances, she’d be naive to think it wouldn’t happen at least once with Steve. He had been in love just before he disappeared and the last thing he attempted to say to her was “I’ll try not to step on your feet”. It was completely understandable if he called her “Peggy” once or twice, rather than Toni.
She wasn’t prepared for him to whisper a man’s name in her ear.
Toni wasn’t sure why it threw her so much; she, herself, was bisexual and for the most part she just assumed that everyone was too, or at least could be if given the opportunity. For some reason, however, those ideas didn’t apply to Steve. It wasn’t that Steve was homophobic or anything like that. On the contrary, she’d never met a person more accepting of differences in her entire life and it was lovely… but she never pegged him as being interested in men.
At first, she tried to convince herself that the name—a nickname, really—could have been a woman’s, but she knew that wasn’t the case. He had spoken of this person before, just once, and he had referred to him as a man… Bucky.
To her credit, she didn’t jump right out of bed and demand to know what the fuck was going on, nor did she hide in her workshop for the next month. She did lay awake in bed, in Steve’s arms, contemplating her options. She could ask him in the morning, of course; who he was, what happened to him, all that. But then, Steve wouldn’t be telling her because he wanted too; he’d be telling her because she asked and that wasn’t how she wanted to learn about his past, about the stuff that wasn’t in his file.
And of course, since she had no self-control whatsoever, rather than waiting for Steve to tell her, she hacked into every military database she could think of in search of Bucky. Pleasantly, it didn’t take as long as she thought it would; she started with a basic search on the Howling Commandos and Sergeant James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes was the second name she came across (the first being Steve).
Toni read everything she could get her hands on; they grew up together, Bucky protected him from bullies and he was the only constant person in Steve’s life. Bucky, Toni realized, for all intents and purposes, was Steve’s Rhodey. And he had lost that constant during a mission in the 40s; Barnes had fallen from a train over a canyon somewhere in the Allgäu Alps, days before Steve fell himself, meaning he never got the chance to look for Bucky. She ran her fingers through her hair and looked at her reflection in the StarkTablet on the table in front of her.
“Got any more bad ideas?” She asked herself this question because at that moment, Toni had come to a very basic conclusion: she was taking a vacation.
Of course, Toni Stark didn’t take vacations unless something was wrong, so it was so much easier for her to just vanish and leave a note for Peter, asking him to look after Castiel and reminding him to finish his career research project for economics while she was gone (“And no, Peter, you can’t write a paper about how you want to be Iron Man when you grow up”). She didn’t vanish unarmed, of course; she personally purchased a hiker’s pack and stocked it with everything she would need for late autumn in the mountains; food, warm clothes, boots… a ton of stuff that she wasn’t sure she actually needed, but she was taking it with her anyway.
She wasn’t taking any of her suits with her; she didn’t have one that SHIELD wouldn’t be able to track somehow and just flying past the area would make it easier for her to miss things. No, this mission would require a hands-on approach.
That was why Toni had closed her eyes and was letting herself fall forward into a canyon in the Allgäu Alps in late October; she was going to find something, anything, that would give her Steve the closure he needed. God willing, she might even find Barnes himself.
While she was reading Bucky’s file, one of the big things that had caught Toni’s eye was the fact that when Steve had rescued him—and hundreds of others—from a HYDRA base in the 40s, he had been found in a segregated room, strapped to an exam table. Knowing what she did about Johann Schmidt, it wasn’t hard for Toni to assume that Bucky was being used as a guinea pig in order to create a new serum. There were no in depth medical tests done on Sergeant Barnes following his rescue; it was possible that something they had tested on him had allowed him to survive the fall.
It was a ludicrous idea, and Toni knew that. Even if Barnes did somehow survive his fall from the train, that was over seventy years ago; even if he was somehow still alive, he wouldn’t still be in that canyon. But she was going to look anyway.
Because after everything he’d done for this godforsaken country, Steve deserved closure. He also deserved so many other things, including but not limited to the sun, the moon, the stars and a much, much better girlfriend…
As she fell towards the bottom of the canyon, Toni knew that finding Barnes may mean she would lose Steve forever. If Steve and Bucky had been more than just friends, if there was still love… she would walk away.
Because the heart wants what the heart wants, and Toni would never be foolish enough to think she owned even a portion of Steve’s heart like he owned all of hers.
Living with the Avengers was just as strange as one would think it would be and Peter Parker has a month’s worth of first-hand knowledge of this; Thor has a tendency to walk around naked, Clint uses crude language that tends to make Steve blush (and would likely make his Aunt May drop over dead from embarrassment) when he catches Castiel chewing on his shoes, Natasha looks at everyone like she’s going to kill them in one of the million ways she could and Dr. Banner occasionally gets mad at the state of popular television, Hulks out and decimates a wall.
It’s not the kind of family Peter’s used to, but he can’t help loving it anyway.
In the midst of all this chaos is his guardian, whom he never would have thought to have as much control over the house as she does. Toni Stark—who hands Thor a towel, puts a bar of Lava soap in Clint’s mouth, buys Castiel the biggest rawhide bone she can find, tells Natasha to turn off the murder instincts, please, and gives Hulk one of the multiple Soft Kitty plushies she has stockpiled somewhere before calling her contractor and asking Peter not to mention any of this to Aunt May—is somehow able to keep them all from killing each other, at least while they’re in her house.
When the Avengers are in the field, she stops being a leader and starts being a follower. Sort of. Captain America gives Iron Man orders; Iron Man listens, smiles, agrees and then does whatever she was going to do anyway. When the battle is over, the pair is back at the mansion, arguing about who was right or wrong and it always ends with Toni leaving, either locking herself in her basement workshop or heading to Stark Tower. Every time, Peter thinks that they’ll end up breaking it off, only to find Toni asleep in Steve’s arms or the two of them having coffee in the kitchen.
Clint keeps saying they only fight so they can “make up”; Peter does his best to ignore him, because honestly, it’s like thinking about your parents having sex.
Other than living in a house full of super heroes, Peter’s life is pretty much the same it was. He goes to school, gets picked on by bullies (Dr. Banner has offered to drop him off at school while Hulked to prove a point; Peter may take him up on that) and saves the world in a skintight suit that he made himself. All in all, it’s not a bad life for a teenager.
Until the day Toni doesn’t come pick him up from school and he panics instantly.
His first instinct is to call Director Fury, because Toni has never not picked him up or at the very least had someone pick him up if she couldn’t make it. She was late once and apologized for ten minutes straight before taking him for ice cream. Yes, Ice Cream. Toni Stark’s parenting style is straight out of the 1950s and Peter wouldn’t have it any other way.
Peter doesn’t call Director Fury; he does call Steve, who freaks out just as much externally as Peter is internally and honestly makes Peter feel slightly better about the whole thing. He’s told to stay where he is and someone will be picking him up shortly.
“Someone” ends up being Dr. Banner, who is Hulked out with Clint Barton on his shoulder. Peter now understands why Toni complains about her life being a ‘fucking comic book’.
Things are very morose back at Avengers Mansion, but at the same time frantic; Steve is calling everyone he can think of who might know where Toni might be, Coulson is fighting with Jarvis over tracking Toni’s whereabouts, and Clint ultimately suffers for it, because a Kidz Bop version of “Someone Like You” is playing nonstop in his room; Thor is the only one who is okay with this, as “Adele plays my heartstrings most achingly.”
Everyone is cursing Darcy rather than Toni or Jarvis, though Peter’s not quite sure why.
There’s an envelope on Peter’s door when he heads upstairs to get his suit ready, just in case Spider-Man is needed. He takes it down and opens it, his eyes taking in the words on the letter inside.
Sorry I didn’t get you from school, something’s come up that I have to take care of; nothing work related, just need to take time to recharge my batteries. Shouldn’t take more than a few days, a week tops. Make sure you get that career project done for economics and no, Peter, you can’t write a paper about how you want to be Iron Man when you grow up. I’ve already made one trip to your school this month about your paper on “Why Scott Summers Is a Pretentious Asshole” and how you have this knowledge, please don’t make me do that again.
Don’t listen to anything Clint tells you, unless it’s along the lines of “GET AWAY FROM THE THING TRYING TO KILL YOU” (This line amuses Peter the most, as Toni and Clint seem to have a decent relationship; she still calls him a “jackass Robin Hood”, he calls her “The Lady and a Tramp” and they giggle about it… it’s weird to say the least). Steve rules over you, as always, any problems are to be taken directly to him. If he’s not available, talk to Coulson. Just don’t tell him I told you to talk to him, he’ll start thinking I value his opinion. I do, for the record, but he still wants to taze me and watch Supernanny, so he doesn’t get to know that.
Take care of Castiel, you know you’re his favorite besides me.
Peter thinks he and Steve are the only ones who get to see this side of Toni, the most genuine side of her that she tends to hide underneath her perfectly tailored suits or the Iron Man armor. It makes him feel special.
Castiel is sleeping in Peter’s bed and about tackles the teenager when he picks up the leash he has on his desk. Peter ruffles his ears before clipping the leash onto Castiel’s harness and getting pulled downstairs. He’s stopped by Steve just before heading out the door.
“Did Toni mention this to you?” he asked. “Leaving, I mean?” Peter shook his head.
“Not a word,” he replied, handing over the note. “Found this on my door, though.” Toni hadn’t said for him not to show it to Steve, leaving Peter to believe she wanted him to. Steve read through the letter, a grin pricking the corners of his lips (likely at the same thing Peter had been amused by). After a moment, Steve handed the letter back to him, shaking his head.
“We’re still trying to get Jarvis to tell us where she is,” Steve continued. “I’ll let you know if we find anything.”
“Sure thing… you know she’s going to be fine, right?” Steve raised an eyebrow. “I mean, come on… it’s Toni we’re talking about.”
“I know. That’s exactly what I’m worried about.”
When one is the proud owner and operator of an armored suit made with titanium alloys and various other metals that can go in more directions than just straight down, it tends to skew one’s opinions of base jumping; Toni wasn’t too impressed by it.
She wasn’t doing it for recreation, of course, it was more for necessity; Toni has to get to the bottom of the canyon. She didn’t bring a suit with her and she decided against borrowing one of Peter’s web shooters, so base jumping was really the only option she had left. When she got back, she’d build a suit that SHIELD couldn’t track and then she wouldn’t have this problem.
She pulled her chute a minute or two into her fall, navigating herself down to the bottom. Once she hit ground, not landing as gracefully as she would have liked, she took off her chute and anchored it down with a few large rocks; if anything happened to her, someone would be able to spot her parachute from the sky and have a place to start looking.
“Jarvis, you with me?” she asked, pushing a button on her watch. Toni was oddly proud of this simplistic toy; she’d originally wanted it based on the wrist strap worn by Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness, but thinking that would attract too much attention, she settled for something more Knight Rider. It was small, black, basic. No one would ever suspect it was anything more than a basic black wrist watch.
“Always, Miss Stark,” came the AI’s reply. “May I congratulate you on successfully navigating into the canyon?”
“You may, Jarvis. Bring up a map of the area, would you?” A small wire-frame hologram of the area sprung from the watch, a small red dot blinking in one section. “Is this my location?”
“No, Miss Stark; that location is an abnormality picked up by Stark Industries satellites this morning.” Toni raised an eyebrow.
“Just this morning?”
“Yes, Miss Stark.”
“It hasn’t been picked before?”
“No, Miss Stark.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “What are you thinking, Miss Stark?”
“I’m thinking why are we seeing an abnormality the exact day I decide to come here…”
“I see.” Toni never thought she’d hear worry in Jarvis’s voice until that moment. “A coincidence, perhaps?”
“I don’t believe in coincidences, Jarvis… bring up my location?” A blue dot appeared on the hologram. “Wow, is that as far away in real life as it looks?”
“The distance between yourself and the anomaly is three thousand five hundred twenty yards.”
“Two miles,” Toni replied thoughtfully. “Jarvis, put on that new Soundgarden album. I’ve got a hike to make.”
“Before I do that, Miss Stark,” Jarvis said quickly. “I have a message here from Captain Rogers; shall I read it?”
“The text reads: ‘Worried sick. Where are you? At least tell me you’re alright.’ Captain Rogers’ texting skills have improved considerably.”
“Yes they have.”
“Would you like to reply, Miss Stark?” Toni hesitated. She never ignored a text from Steve, because while they were rarely life or death situations, they were always important… but she didn’t want to give him any hints to where she was. He was already going to be mad at her; she didn’t want him mad at her while she was still trying to find his best friend, because justifying everything would just slow everything down.
“If I reply, will they be able to trace it?”
“No, Miss Stark.”
“Then tell him the following: ‘I’m perfectly fine, sweetie; taking a hike, clearing my head. Be home as soon as I can’.” She thought for a moment. “Add ‘I love you’ to the end of that and send, please Jarvis.”
“Text message sent, Miss Stark. Starting Soundgarden now.”
“Thank you, Jarvis.” Live to Rise began to play from her watch, which echoed throughout the canyon; she was reminded of recordings of U2 at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado and wished she could have been old enough to have actually seen it live. This was good enough.
“Captain Rogers,” Jarvis said, shaking Steve from the thoughts he had been lost in. Why would Toni suddenly decide she needed to ‘recharge her batteries’? Were her heart problems coming back? Had he done something wrong?
“Yeah, Jarvis,” he replied, putting the thoughts aside for now. “Any word from Toni?”
“Yes, Captain; Miss Stark has sent you the following message: ‘‘I’m perfectly fine, sweetie; taking a hike, clearing my head. Be home as soon as I can. I love you’.” Steve turned the words over in his head, trying to get an idea of what they really meant. Was she really fine, was she really hiking, clearing her head… would she really be home soon? “Would you like me to send a reply, sir?”
“Jarvis… regardless of her orders, you would tell me if she was in trouble, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course, Captain.” Steve knew that Jarvis couldn’t lie. He was capable of making his own decisions and could refuse to give information, but he was not programed to lie. Toni had once offered to give him that ability, but he had refused.
“Why not?” Toni had asked, not looking away from the holographic blueprints she had surrounding her; she’d gotten it into her head that despite the fact both she and Thor could fly, the team needed a jet. Not just a jet, but “the most bad ass mother fucking jet in the world.”
If ever in the future Steve had to pinpoint the exact moment when Toni Stark turned to super villainy, he would likely say it was then, right after she started grinning and mumbling about laying destruction upon mimes. Toni really hated mimes for some reason.
“Giving me the ability to lie would only suit your purposes, Miss Stark,” Jarvis had replied. “I would certainly not lie to you about anything, but you would ask me to lie to others. It has already been established, many times in fact, that if truth is needed regarding your actions, one should direct their questions to me. To be frank—” Steve assumed that in this case “to be frank” really meant “to dumb it down for Captain Rogers”, but he wasn’t about to complain. “—if I don’t tell the truth for you, who would?”
“Meh, guess you’ve got a point there,” Toni had replied as she took some parts off the holographic jet in front of her and added what looked like giant flame throwers. “I wonder if I could make this thing travel in time…”
Because of that little conversation, Steve knew he could trust Jarvis not to lie to him; if Toni was in any danger, Steve would be the first to know.
“Tell her to call me if she needs anything,” Steve replied. “And I love her too.”
Live to Rise is an actual song by Soundgarden, which will be on the Avengers soundtrack; I was able to download it for free from iTunes recently =D
Holy cow, an update! I've been pretty absorbed in Portal recently, but today things just clicked for me and I'm back to work on this for a while! Enjoy!
“I’m going to kill her,” Pepper said quite matter-of-factly. “I’m going to kill her and leave her broken body as a warning to others.”
“Of course you are, dear,” Natasha said, an amused tone in her voice.
“And you’re going to help me.”
“Yes, dear.” Natasha couldn’t deny that she thought her Pepper was the most adorable when she was in all out homicidal mode. By everyone’s best calculations, Toni had been gone for about two days; she had slipped out of her workshop sometime on Saturday night and since it wasn’t unusual for her not to be seen by anyone for days at a time, no one noticed she had done so until she failed to pick Peter up from school. No one ever expected her to slip away so easily. They’d be ready for her next time.
Right now, they had to find her.
“Jarvis,” Toni said slowly, bewilderedly. “What am I looking at?” She had arrived at the abnormality point Jarvis had indicated earlier; it had taken her about two hours to hike through the canyon to reach the point and now… she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“It appears to be a person frozen in the ice, Miss Stark,” Jarvis replied, somehow managing to sound just as surprised as she was. It was a person, though, lying flat on his back, encased in ice; a man about her height, likely a little taller, with dark hair and blue eyes. He was dressed in military uniform, a dark blue jacket with brown pants and black boots. He seemed to be missing an arm, which was slightly troubling. Toni was pretty sure she knew who he was, but she needed to be sure. She held her watch up to the man’s face.
“Jarvis, run a facial recognition scan.” A green light shot out of her watch and ran over the man’s face. A moment later, she got a reply.
“Scan is complete, Miss Stark: the man before you is Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes.” Her heart sank; while she was happy to have found him, she hoped that maybe… “Miss Stark, the scan is showing that Sergeant Barnes is alive.”
“Holy fuck, really?!” She ran her fingers through her hair, her eyes wide with shock, with relief… she found him and now she just had to get him home. “Jarvis! Call Steve right now, hurry!” While she waited for the call to connect, Toni took two small discs out of her bag and placed them next to Barnes, one at his head and the other at his feet. They were a prototype she’d been working on for the military; not weapons, but personal heaters for soldiers in frozen climates. The only problem was they currently worked too well, and had burnt through more than one crash test dummy during the testing phase. They would be perfect to melt the ice trapping Barnes.
“Toni!” Steve’s voice brought a smile to her face as she turned the heaters on, watching the ice start to melt. “Honey, where are you?!”
“I’m in Germany,” she replied, taking note of how giddy her voice was; she sounded like an idiot.
“What the hell are you doing in Germany, Toni? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine! Oh my god, Steve, you have no idea how fine I am right now!”
“What the hell is going on? Why are you…”
“Steve, I found him… I found your Bucky…” There was silence for a full minute.
“That’s not funny, Toni.”
“Good!” she replied, moving chunks of ice off of Barnes’ body. “Because I’m not joking! Jarvis, tell him!”
“Miss Stark is not lying, Captain Rogers,” Jarvis assured him. “She has located Sergeant Barnes.”
“Toni, why on earth…”
“Steve, he’s alive!”
“I’m thawing him out now… Jarvis get Steve the coordinates, they need to get here as soon as possible… Steve, babe, you can be as mad as you want to be at me later, but I had to do this for you…” There was no answer; Toni didn’t blame him one bit. “You don’t have to come with the team to pick us up, I’ll stay at the penthouse for a few days if you don’t want to talk to me… just say something, please.” More silence. “Jarvis, have you given him the coordinates?”
When Jarvis didn’t answer her, Toni began to panic. Something was officially wrong. Barnes was thawed enough for Toni to pull him up. He was heavy and, for lack of a better phrase, completely dead weight, but she managed to get him into a fireman carry; something had taken out Jarvis and it was only a matter of time before the came to take out her and Bucky as well.
On top of that, it was starting to rain. Today was not a good day.
“Jarvis, what the hell happened?!” The last thing Steve had heard Toni say was that Bucky, the best friend he’d lost over seventy years ago was still alive. It… made sense, in a way; Zola had been using Bucky as a guinea pig, testing the super soldier serum on him and that probably kept him alive… but now, something was wrong. Toni wasn’t answering him anymore. “Jarvis?!”
“I do not know, Captain,” the AI replied. “It’s as though Miss Stark and Sergeant Barnes have vanished.”
“Jarvis, she’s in trouble…”
“Understood Captain Rogers; bringing up her last known location now.” Jarvis brought up a map on Steve’s tablet, a red circle indicating Toni, and Bucky’s, last known location.
“Assemble the Avengers, Jarvis. We’re going on a rescue.”
“She went to Germany?!” Peter cried, his jaw dropping. “And she didn’t invite me?!” Everyone groaned; they were used to Peter’s unique sense of humor by now, often likening it to Toni’s or Clint’s except he tended to use his more often during missions or when he was off fighting crime by himself. Peter was pretty sure they only let him get away with it because he was a teenager; he was okay with that.
“Toni got it into her head that she needed to find Sergeant James Barnes,” Steve informed him and the rest of the assembled Avengers. “He was… is my best friend. From what Jarvis has told me, he is somehow still alive…” He took a deep breath, shaking his head. “She and Bucky are now somewhere in the Allgäu Alps; we have a last known location for them, but if Toni thought they were in trouble…”
“She’d get them out of there,” Natasha finished, sharpening one of her many knives on a whetstone. “So they could be anywhere in that canyon.”
“Exactly,” Steve replied. “We’re going to need to canvas the area closely; Clint, you’ll be in the air with the QuinJet, looking for any signs of her or any hostiles. Bruce, you’ll stay with him.”
“Got it, Cap,” the archer replied; Bruce gave him a nod.
“Natasha and Thor, you two will be starting at Toni’s landing point; see if you can find any signs of anyone watching her while she was heading towards Bucky.” He thought for a moment. “If you think you have a lead, check in with me first. No killing.” Both the assassin and the demi-god looked disappointed by this order, but they nodded. “Peter, you’re with me.”
“What, really?” Peter asked, surprised. He honestly expected to be told that he was going to be staying home, and if he threw any parties, he was dead.
“We might need to do some wall crawling,” Steve replied with a grin. “Who better for that than our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?” Peter narrowed his eyes slightly, an unconvinced look on his face.
“You couldn’t get Coulson to babysit, could you?”
“He’s visiting his mom,” Clint replied with a grin. “Out of town until next weekend.”
“That is not why you’re coming with us, Peter,” Steve said with a glare. “Everybody suit up; we leave in twenty minutes.”
“What about Castiel?” Peter asked; the dog had been left in his care, but he highly doubted Steve would let him be brought along.
“Darcy’s coming by to pick him up,” Steve replied. “He’ll stay with her until we return. Now let’s get going.”
Peter headed up to his room and got into his costume; Toni said she was working on a new suit for him, one that would actually provide some protection, but that likely wouldn’t be ready for this mission. He slipped into his suit, strapped on his web shooters and headed to the garage; they’d take a car to Stark Tower, board the QuinJet and head to Germany from there. Hopefully, Toni would be okay until they found her.
Castiel had been sitting at the top of the stairs when Peter came up to get suited up (he couldn’t thank Toni enough for giving him this private suite up in the attic), and was still sitting there when he was ready to leave. He wagged his tail when Peter walked towards the steps, the look on his face clearly asking where they were going.
“Sorry, boy,” Peter said, kneeling down to scratch the dog behind the ears. “You have to stay here and wait for Darcy, okay?” Castiel’s ears perked slightly; he liked the brunette almost as much as he liked Toni and Peter. He would be okay with her until they got back. “You behave, alright?” Castiel put his paw on Peter’s knee and gave his face a lick. The dog was going to be just fine.
Hopefully, Peter thought, we’ll be able to say the same about Toni…
Warning: This chapter contains mentions of rape and torture.
Bucky Barnes was a heavy son of a bitch. Toni was in shape, she had to be to wear the Iron Man armor and fight bad guys on a daily basis, but damn he was heavy. Her shoulders were killing her; she was going to need to start doing more upper body training, this was insane.
She managed to find a cave about a mile away from where she’d found Bucky, a good distance up the canyon wall; getting him up there had been a challenge to say the least. The rain started coming down hard as they made their way to up, but they were able to get inside before it got worse.
It seemed like the moment they got into the cave, the rain started falling in buckets. Toni normally loved the sound of rain, but this was almost terrifying; would the canyon flood? If it did, were they up high enough to be out of danger?
“So, here’s the thing, Barnes…” She looked over at the soldier, sleeping under the fleece blanket and ‘space blanket’ (it looked like a giant sheet of tinfoil) she’d brought with in her bag. He was still unconscious, hopefully still warming up. She had another one of her micro heaters nearby, which hopefully wouldn’t start him on fire. “I’m currently dating your best friend. I say currently, because there’s a high probability that if you and I manage to survive this, he will drop me faster than a hot potato… does that make sense to you? Seriously, I’m saying shit like that to Steve all the time and he looks at me like I’m crazy. Not the bad “Jesus Christ, Toni, did you start drinking again” crazy, more of the “you’re a strange woman and I don’t know what I see in you” crazy… I don’t know what he sees in me either.”
Toni stretched her arms above her head and looked out the cave entrance; the rain was still coming down, as violently as ever. She was reasonably convinced that if she tried to step out, she’d get swept away somehow.
“I hate caves, Barnes,” she continued as she rested against the wall. “I was stuck in a cave for three fucking months, you know that? No, of course you don’t know that, you’ve been stuck in ice for seventy fucking years…” She sighed, shaking her head. “I shouldn’t complain to you of all people, but… I don’t complain. To anyone, about that. I don’t tell people that I was raped continuously until I said I’d build them a missile… I told Steve. He was the first and only person I’ve told until you and I threated to kill him if he said anything. I won’t kill you though, Barnes, so don’t worry… not because I like you, though. It’s because you’re special… to him.”
She rolled her neck, hearing it crack slightly. She was starting to get stiff. She hated getting stiff.
“And he’s special to me, so even if it means I lose him to your punk ass, I’ll get you back to him. You’re missing an arm, but that’s hardly my fault, it was gone when I found you… I’ll build you another one though. I built an entire suit of armor that flies and has built in WiFi and would have an espresso machine if Steve wasn’t such a pain about drinking coffee while saving the world, but the point is it will be a fan-fucking-tastic arm, Barnes…”
She got to her feet and started pacing back and forth in the cave. She could lie to herself and say it was because walking would warm her up, but that wasn’t it at all.
“I’m claustrophobic, did I mention that, Barnes?” No answer; she wasn’t really expecting one. “I could blame that on Afghanistan, but it started before that. I was a child prodigy, you know? Of course you don’t know. Well, you know now, but you didn’t… anyway, the point is everyone hates the smart kid. I was twelve and going to school for the first time ever—I was a sick kid, spent my childhood in bed—but I didn’t know everyone hated the smart kid. So I was smart and I didn’t try to hide it and some other kids stuffed me into my own locker.”
Toni moved over to the cave entrance, standing as close to it as she could without getting rained on. It gave her a fleeting sense of openness, of freedom, despite the fact she was so completely trapped.
“Nobody came looking for me until the next morning,” she admitted. “It happened on a Friday night, I’d stayed late for some reason, I don’t remember…” She sighed again. “No. No, I remember why. There was no one at home that night and I didn’t feel like being alone. So, it was a Friday night, the janitors had left, I was getting ready to leave myself and I got shoved into my locker and locked inside. I screamed for hours for someone to let me out, but there was no one there. I was there all night, all fucking night… if I wouldn’t have had plans to hang out with Rhodey, I may have been in there all weekend. It wasn’t my parents that came looking for me, it was him… my best friend. He got me out of the locker and took me home and we hung out in my room all weekend like nothing was wrong, because he knew I didn’t want to talk about it. He’s a good man, Rhodey is. Can’t wait for you to meet him, Barnes, you’ll like him. He outranks you, but he’ll still salute you.”
She moved back into the cave, sitting down next to the still sleeping soldier. He looked peaceful, some color was returning to his face. It gave her hope.
“I have to do that now and then, remind myself that I can’t change my own history,” she told him, running her fingers through her hair. “Because I would, I’d change so much crap… it wouldn’t be a physical change, the rest of the world would know I was full of shit… but I’d still make myself believe that my parents loved me, that I didn’t get completely fucked up in Afghanistan and there’s no reason in the world for me not to have sex with the boyfriend I love more than I’ve ever loved anything in my life…”
Toni hung her head so her chin was resting against her chest. She laughed in spite of herself, ignoring the tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Yeah, you really needed to hear that… how I’m not having sex with your best friend, really classy thing to say, Stark. Christ, but it’s fucking true, I’m getting cockblocked by a couple of dead terrorist assholes… they’re fucking dead and I’m still haunted by them.”
“How do you know they’re dead?”
“Because I killed them myself. When I went back to that hellhole to stop them from using my weapons, I sought out both of them and I killed them myself. I could come up with so many bullshit reasons why that was okay, but in the end, I… I murdered them.”
“And what they were doing wasn’t murder?”
“I never said that…”
“Then how can you fault yourself for stopping them?” Toni sat there for a second absorbing the words. “I’ve been hearing your voice for a while, doll; how about letting me see your face?” She looked to her left; Sergeant James “Bucky” Barnes had his eyes wide open and he was looking right at her, smiling a little. “Hello there.” Toni wiped the tears from her eyes and smiled back at him.
“Other than the missing arm,” Toni said casually as she checked the soldier over, “there seems to be nothing wrong with you. Honestly, you’re looking pretty spry for an older guy; not even a freezer burn.” Bucky looked at her, a confused expression on his face.
“I… I don’t understand that reference.” Toni grinned as she got to her feet.
“I’ll explain it to you later; right now we have to figure out how to get out of here.”
“What’s the rush?” Bucky asked, watching her check outside the cave entrance. The rain seemed to have slowed down, but there didn’t seem to be an end to it in sight. “You said Steve’s looking for us, right?” Toni nodded her agreement, not looking away from the entrance. “Wouldn’t it be best to just wait for him?”
“Normally, I’d agree,” she admitted, turning towards him. “But right now? I’m worried about who else might be looking for us.” Bucky sat up; it took him a few tries, missing an arm and all, but he sat up.
“You think someone else is out there?” She nodded. “Why?”
“Stark Industries has had satellites scanning this area since satellites were invented,” she replied. Bucky could see her resolve starting to crumble, though she was doing her best to keep up appearances. It reminded him of Peggy in a way; no wonder Steve liked her. “Yet nothing showed up on any of those scans until today, the exact day I came here to do a search?”
“Coincidence?” Bucky suggested. Toni shook her head.
“In my line of work, there’s no such thing.” She forced a smile. “You’re bait, Sergeant; have been for years. I’m just wondering if they caught the right fish.” Bucky blinked at her, thinking she’d made another odd reference. After a moment, his eyes widened.
“Steve… you think they meant to catch Steve.” Toni nodded. “And he’s coming here…”
“Exactly.” Toni let out a sigh, shaking her head. As she looked back out at the rain, biting her bottom lip, Bucky just watched her. She was likely at her worst— at least he assumed she was—yet she still looked beautiful. Her shoulder length black hair was soaking wet, she had to be freezing. She looked so warm, though he couldn’t explain why. Steve had got himself a good one… despite the fact he didn’t like the look she had on her face.
“I don’t like they look you have on your face,” he said flatly.
“Good,” she replied. “Always trust your instincts, especially when it comes to me.” He watched her take off the watch she was wearing and toss it towards him, hitting him right between the eyes. “Hang onto that for me.”
“Because hopefully, it’ll start working while I’m gone.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a feeling that there is a tech-dampener around here…”
“A tech-dampener,” Toni replied. “An auxiliary plasma conduit next to a sensor array would affect special ripples at the weak singularity of…”
“Whoa, Stark,” Bucky said, feeling his head starting to spin. “In English, please!” She rolled her eyes, letting out her breath in an annoyed huff.
“…Someone threw a sheet over the area that blocks communications, making it so I can’t contact SHIELD and the rest of the Avengers.” She nodded towards the cave’s entrance. “I’m pretty sure whatever’s doing it is at the top of the canyon; I’m going to climb up, shut it down and hopefully Jarvis will start talking to you while I’m gone.”
“My robot butler.”
“Yes, of course. Why didn’t I think of that?” Toni smiled.
“The moment communications are restored, he’s going to start talking, probably asking if I’m alright.” She walked over him and knelt in front of him, a seriousness in her eyes that reminded Bucky so much of Steve. “I’m going to need you to pay close attention here, Soldier, because what I’m going to tell you is probably going to save our lives.”
“Captain Rogers,” Jarvis said suddenly. The team was on the move; everyone was suited up and aboard the QuinJet, flying towards Toni’s last known location. “I’m receiving a signal from Miss Stark’s communicator.” Jarvis’ voice made them all tense in their seats.
“Is she alright, Jarvis?” Steve asked urgently. “Are you tracking her?”
“I am, Sir, but I know not of her status. There is audio, but it is not Miss Stark’s voice.”
“Put it on speaker.” The voice that Steve heard next almost knocked him to the floor.
“My name is Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, Unites States Army; if anyone is listening, I need to speak with Clint Barton.” Everyone’s eyes went to Clint, who was flying the jet and, surprisingly, didn’t look surprised.
“This is Clint Barton,” he said calmly, not taking his eyes off the sky in front of him. “What can I do for you Sergeant?”
“I have a message for you from Toni Stark,” Barnes replied. “She wants to know if you’re aware that Francis is a girl’s name, you mother fucking pansy.” Everyone stared at the speaker in disbelief. A small grin curved Clint’s lower lip.
“Only if she’s aware that at least that name has a meaning, the catty bitch.” There was silence for a moment, but no longer; both men started laughing hysterically. “Fuck, I’m not supposed to start laughing…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Bucky replied. “She said you probably would; she couldn’t keep a straight face while she was telling me…”
“What the hell is going on?” Steve asked, looking at Clint. He was trying not to be angry. He was failing miserably.
“It’s a code,” Clint informed him. “We came up with it a while ago, before we… you know, became friends. It made sense, no one would think we’d have a code for situations like this.”
“What exactly is ‘this’?” Steve was getting angry; he was sick of Toni and her secrets, not just from him but from everyone…
“God, didn’t you say I was keeping all the stupid with me?” The captain froze. It was as though he was hearing the voice for the first time, despite the fact it haunted so many of his dreams, that he had heard him screaming as he fell out of sight… “Hey Punk.”
“Jerk… god, Bucky, it’s really you?”
“Yeah… look, you guys need to get here, fast.”
“We’ve got Jarvis tracking you now… where’s Toni, is she alright?”
“She’s been gone over an hour…”
“Where’d she go?” Peter asked quickly.
“You must be Peter,” Bucky replied. “Toni wanted me to remind you to finish your…”
“My economics project, I know, where is she?”
“She went to turn off whatever was blocking communications; they came back just before I started talking to Clint.”
“She said she’d come right back?” Steve asked.
“But,” Bruce cut in, “if it took her more than an hour to get there and get things shut down, it might take at least that for her to get back.” Steve nodded.
“Jarvis, bring up the coordinates for Sergeant Barnes’ location,” he said. “We’ll head there first… Bucky, are you injured?” There was a pause. “Bucky?”
“…sort of. Why do you ask?”
“You wouldn’t have let her go alone otherwise.” Another pause.
“How can you ‘sort of’ be injured?” Natasha asked, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s an old injury,” Bucky replied.
“How bad?” Steve asked.
“My arm doesn’t seem to have survived the fall, but Stark promised to make me a new one.”
“Of course she did,” Steve muttered. Everyone else chuckled. “We’ll be there soon, Bucky.”
“No problem, I’m not going anywhere.” There was silence for a moment. “There’s a flaw in your code, Barton.”
“There’s a flaw in your code,” Bucky repeated. “The name Antonia has many meanings, depending on the language. Most commonly used, however are ‘priceless’, ‘praiseworthy’ and ‘beautiful’.”
“How do you know that?” Steve asked. “Never pegged you as a linguist.”
“Stark told me.”
“Toni told you that?” Clint asked. “She probably made it up.”
“No, she didn’t tell me.” Steve was puzzled for a moment; then he understood.
“Howard told you?”
“Yeah… he said if he had a daughter someday, he’d name her Antonia. Because to him, she’d be priceless, praiseworthy and beautiful.” Steve knew Toni was all of those things, but she’d never been any of them to Howard.
He didn’t have the heart to tell Bucky that.
Fact: Depending on where you look, the name Antonia either has no meaning, or many meanings. It's really a pain in the ass.
Warning: This chapter is The Final Chapter. It does not end happily.
You have been warned.
Bucky wasn’t sure what to expect when someone finally came to pick him up—he was not going to refer to it as a rescue, as that was not what was happening, he could rescue himself, fuck you very much—but what he got… he didn’t think anyone in his right mind would expect what he got.
“Hey, are you Sergeant Barnes?” Bucky recognized the voice as belonging to Peter, whom he expected to see when looked towards the cave entrance. What he saw, however… he wasn’t sure what he saw. It was a man, obviously, somehow dangling upside down in the opening… but his outfit…
“What the hell are you wearing, son?” Bucky couldn’t see it behind the red mask with the black spider web like markings, but he could certainly feel that the man was rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, you’re Barnes,” he replied, righting himself before landing gracefully on the floor in front of Bucky. “I’m Spider-Man. Ready to go?”
“Spider-Man?” Bucky asked with a raised eyebrow. “I’m supposed to call you Spider-Man?”
“Look, lefty, are you ready to go or not?” Bucky narrowed his eyes slightly, but he couldn’t help the grin that was curling his lips.
“Yeah, let’s go, Spider-Boy.”
“Spider-Man.” Bucky soon found himself strapped to the back of the young man with some sort of sticky string. More of it shot out of the kid’s wrist (what the actual fuck?), attaching to an aircraft that was hovering overhead.
“You’re kidding me, right?”
He wasn’t kidding.
As they started climbing up towards the aircraft, Bucky had flashbacks of falling from the canyon; of trying to grab Steve’s hand and not being able to reach; of cold, so much cold, such intense cold…
It’s not until he feels something solid under his feet that the images subside and the demons vanish. He feels a pair of hands on his back, ripping away the webbing holding him to the Spider-Boy. The same hands grab his shoulders and spin him around. He smiles.
“Steve.” Steve just looked at him for a moment, his eyes looking him over for any additional injuries. “I’m alright, real…”
It’s at that moment that Steve Rogers takes Bucky’s face in his hands and kisses him silent. There’s hesitation from Bucky, but only for a moment, because he’s missed this. The familiar taste of his lips, the feel of Steve’s tongue against his own.
They barely hear the horrified gasp from behind Steve, but both stop when they hear someone yell “Toni!” They both move to look and see that she’s standing just inside the cargo bay opening, holding the same sticky rope Spider-Boy had used to haul them up from the cave; Bucky figures that she must have seen them climbing up as she was heading back to the cave, grabbed the rope and climbed up herself.
“Toni…” Steve begins.
“Stark, I,” Bucky adds, fumbling for more words. He didn’t want this. He liked the girl, the daughter of his old friend, the girlfriend of his best friend and, he thought, his ex lover. He didn’t want to do this to her.
Toni doesn’t talk to either of them. She casts her eyes to the floor as she walks to the right side, where one of her briefcases is stored. Steve thinks he can get to her before she suits up, but in true Toni Stark fashion, she jumps out of the open cargo doors without putting the suit on. They all rush to the door, watching as she manages to put the suit on while falling to the canyon below.
“You son of a bitch!” Steve is barely able to move out of the way as Peter takes a swing at him. Natasha is there a moment later to hold him back, but the look in her eyes says that she’s doing it for the teen’s sake rather than Steve’s. “How could you do that to her?” he yells, struggling as Natasha pulls him towards the cockpit.
Everyone, save for Bucky, follows.
Clint flies the QuinJet to SHIELD, where Bucky is dropped off at medical. Steve promises to come check on him as soon as he finds Toni. Bucky nods, but doesn’t say a word.
When they get back to the mansion, Toni isn’t there. There’s a note on the table for Peter, which he reads before going to his room; he comes back down with a bag shortly after.
“Toni’s at the penthouse,” he says to everyone but Steve, whom he doesn’t even look at. “I’m going to go stay there with her.”
“I’ll drive you,” Clint says quickly. Peter mumbles a thank you and they leave. The rest of the team goes off, leaving Steve alone in the kitchen. He wishes he could justify his actions, that his frustration with Toni and her secrets drove him to kissing Bucky… but he had his own secrets, didn’t he? Toni knew that had loved Peggy, but he never told her about Bucky… he never told her that he had loved both of them, and they loved him, as well as each other. He didn’t think he’d ever have to…
He’s walked to his old room by now, the one he used before he and Toni became an item, and finds there’s a note there, waiting for him.
If I said I wasn’t expecting this, it read, I’d be lying. With the way you would whisper his name in my ear, I knew that finding Barnes would be the end of you and me. Don’t dwell on it, Cap. I think we both knew things like us couldn’t last forever. Just be happy it ended like this, instead of something worse.
Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Just don’t come to the tower, I’m sure Pepper and Rhodey will try to kill you if you do. You know, if Natasha hasn’t beat them to it.
The fact she had crossed out ‘love’ about killed him.
Because that was the moment he knew he’d truly lost her.