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This comes from the "fashion of the era" series, where Bucky and Steve were both recovered in the late 1940s and Peggy, Bucky, and Steve became a threesome in 1950.

"Auntie Peggy!"

Peggy, strolling up the walk to the Stark Mansion, heard trouble coming and bent down to intercept it; Tony Stark, five years old, hurtled into her arms with bruising speed. She moved with the momentum and caught him around the waist, hoisting him up to her chest. He threw chubby toddler arms around her neck and hugged tight.

"How are you, sweetling?" she asked, once Tony had released her from the hug.

"I made a new engine!" Tony said. "Daddy says I can show it to you if I'm good -- "

" -- and don't knock her over coming out to say hello," Howard finished sternly, emerging from the front door. She felt Tony stiffen anxiously in her arms, and petted his back to reassure him.

"I'd be delighted to see your engine," she said, as Tony relaxed. "But you know who would really love to see it is Uncle Bucky."

Tony twisted and scrambled in her arms to peer over her shoulder. "UNCLE BUCKY!" he shouted in her ear. "Mama didn't say Uncle Bucky was -- Uncle Steve," he interrupted himself in a hushed, awestruck voice.

"I thought he might like a surprise," Maria said, and Peggy noticed with delight that she cuffed the back of Howard's head as she passed him.

Peggy set the squirming boy down, coming forward to air-kiss Maria and shake Howard's hand as Tony raced off to greet the others. Down the walk, Bucky and Steve both hitched their trousers and crouched, holding solemn conference with Tony. He could be shy around Steve, and never asked the boys for cuddles the way he did his Auntie Peggy, but his worship of both of them was more than clear, and they liked to indulge it. Bucky took Tony's hand and began leading him back towards the house; Steve grabbed the other and with a glance at Bucky they both lifted, swinging him through the air. Tony yelled joyfully.

"Don't spoil him, he's been a terror," Howard called.

"Just what we like in a recruit," Bucky replied.

"Anthony, what've you done today?" Peggy asked, a smile twitching her lips as they trooped inside.

"Knocked over a bottle'a'milk and broke a torque wrench and tripped Jarvis and scuffed my shoes," Tony said, cocky in the presence of Bucky and clearly aware Peggy was teasing his father.

"All at once? Quite an accomplishment," Peggy said.

"Three of the four," Jarvis said, looking more sour than he sounded as he emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray of drinks. "The torque wrench I can't vouch for. Aperitif?"

"Thank you, Jarvis," she said, accepting a drink for herself and taking one for Steve. Bucky lifted Tony up onto his shoulders, not even wincing when Tony took a firm hold on his hair.

"We're going to see the new engine," he announced, and then paused when Tony leaned down to whisper in his ear. "Steve?"

Steve glanced at Peggy, who nodded, and then smiled up at Tony. "Sure thing, squirt. Come on."

"Well, you have got them trained," Maria observed, when they were gone.

"I suspected this was more business than pleasure," Peggy said. "But they're still operatives, and this seemed like a...directorial issue. I can call them back if need be."

"No -- you aren't wrong," Howard agreed. Maria hovered uncertainly, and Peggy could see why; she didn't involve herself in Howard's work affairs.


This is just a start of a story about Steve being touch-starved; it's a theme I tend to visit often. My idea was that Tony would try to touch him more and Steve would misinterpret it as romantic affection, leading to hijinks and confusion before the eventual getting-together.

Steve is super high and it's fucking hilarious.

Tony, who has been off his face in public a lot, would never laugh in front of Steve, but it's taking a lot of effort. They don't know precisely what Steve got sprayed down with during the battle, but it hasn't seemed toxic so far, and the medical staff seem to think this is a Serum reaction -- not something the bad guys they were fighting (and have now defeated) were intending. Which is good, because Clint and Natasha both got sprayed too, but they don't seem particularly affected.

Steve had, for some reason known only to him, latched onto Clint once he started showing symptoms. He spent most of his time in medical sitting on the hospital bed with his head on Clint's shoulder, whining softly every now and again.

At one point Clint asked, "How you doing, big guy?" and Steve answered, "Am I?"

"Are you what?" Clint asked.

Steve had looked around before whispering, "Did I shrink?"

Clearly Steve has some body-image issues.

He's also super-handsy when his filters are off, which was a surprise. They finally busted him out of the medical offices at Stark Tower, with the assurance that it would almost definitely wear off in eight or nine hours and the advice to monitor Steve and keep him hydrated. Since then, Steve has been attached to one or another of them continually. Normally his body language screams don't-touch, so Tony isn't sure what to make of this.

"You're an octopus," he informs Steve, who is sitting with him on the couch, one arm around Tony's waist and the other flung across his legs. He somehow also has a hand on one of his arms, plus his face buried in Tony's shoulder. "What's with this?"

Steve just whines and pushes his nose against Tony's bicep.

"Are you feeling a little groped?" Clint asks.

"Little bit," Tony admits. He doesn't mind, exactly. Steve will probably be mortified if he remembers this later; Tony's impression, through the layers of barriers Steve constantly throws up, is that Steve doesn't care for personal contact. God knows, if Tony had been through what Steve went through, he might cultivate distance as well. Still. It's nice to feel, at least temporarily, like Steve doesn't mind touching him.

The Avengers as a rule are close-knit, now. Clint and Natasha are always in contact, and Clint likes to lean up against Tony or Bruce or Thor, too. Natasha is more choosy but even so, more than once Tony has ended up on the couch with her snugged under one armpit, between him and Pepper, and they had to have a talk about that but Pepper likes Natasha, so in the end it's okay. Tony and Bruce are always bumping into each other in the lab, shoving one another out of the way and good-naturedly poking each other in ticklish areas. Thor is indiscriminately grabby, but he learned early on, as the others did, that Steve flinches and withdraws when people get too close.

Until now.

Steve seems anxious and worried regardless of this new behavior. He huffs and whines and hides his face, clinging to Tony's shirt, and when Bruce gently rubs his arm to get his attention, he lifts his head, confused.

It's getting less funny, to be honest.

"Steve," Bruce says gently. "Can we talk for a minute?"

Steve nods, but he doesn't pull away from Tony.

"How do you feel?" Bruce asks.

Steve's eyes flicker. "Nice," he says, cautiously.

"Are you in any pain, anywhere?"

Steve shakes his head and plants his face back into Tony's neck.

"Steve," Bruce prompts, slightly stern.

"Mmhm," Steve mutters.

"Can you tell me where you are?"

"Couch," Steve replies.

"In?"

Steve hesitates. "New York?" he ventures. Bruce smiles. Tony lifts a hand to pat his hair, and Steve groans softly.

"Well, close enough for jazz," Bruce says. "Do you feel confused or upset at all?"

Steve shakes his head.

"Are you enjoying hugging Tony?" Bruce asks kindly, and neither of them are prepared for the response.

Tony feels Steve tense, and then carefully remove his arms; he leans back, disengaging when Tony goes with the movement, pushing away when Tony leans forward. He scoots a few inches down the couch and tucks his hands between his legs, hunching over, body closing itself off.

"Sorry," he mutters. "Sorry, sorry, sorry."

"Hey, it was fine," Tony says. "I was okay with it, Cap."

"Not supposed to," Steve says, and hunches down further.

Bruce glances at Tony, who looks back blankly. He's never said Steve can't touch; indeed, he'd prefer it more frequently. Tony uses touch as a social tool, but Steve's been so tense about it that he's deliberately pulled back, in the name of keeping the peace.

Bruce edges over to where Steve is sitting and cups a hand around his jaw carefully. "Steve, does it feel bad to touch people? Rough, or unpleasant?"

Steve shakes his head. "Not supposed to," he repeats.

"Why not?"

"S'not okay," Steve murmurs. His face is a mess of unhappiness and regret. "People don't like it."

"Like Tony?"

"People."

Bruce tugs Steve's head down to his shoulder. "Bet you don't get much touch, do you."

Steve's whole body sags as he shakes his head. Tony's heart breaks, a little. There have been many times when he's been lonely or unhappy, but he's never wanted for basic human contact. Rhodey and Pepper made sure of that. And even strangers could provide it, with the right incentive, but Steve of course would never think to find solace in someone he didn't know.

People don't like it. Tony wonders what gave him that idea.

He slides down the couch to sit hip-to-hip with Steve. "I don't mind," he says, resting his chin on Steve's bowed shoulder. "I like it," he adds, and Steve twitches. "I like touching people. C'mere," he adds, starting to pull Steve off Bruce, who actually is looking a little uncomfortable. Steve follows his tugging hands and ends up sprawled over him, Tony resting back against the arm of the couch, arms full of super-soldier. There's a giant, heaving sigh from Steve, and then a soft noise.

"S'okay?" Steve asks.

"It's fine," Tony assures him, as Bruce takes his pulse. Bruce lifts his eyebrow and Tony nods.

"Sorry," Steve says in a tiny, hesitant voice. Tony ruffles his hair.

"Don't be sorry. I like it, Cap."

Steve is silent, and Tony can feel his heartbeat slowing down.

"I think everyone else is getting some rest," Bruce says finally, rising from his crouch nearby.

"Go, sleep," Tony says. "I got this."

"Call if you need anything. JARVIS, notify me if Steve's pulse drops below his baseline, or if his temperature rises or drops significantly."

"Monitoring protocols are in full effect," JARVIS answers. Bruce gives Tony what seems like a final "good luck" nod, and departs. Tony wriggles a little, getting comfortable.

"So," he says, resting a hand on Steve's broad back. "You think we don't want you touching us?"

Steve huffs. "No," he says sullenly.

"No you think we don't, or no you disagree with me?"

"S'inappropriate."

"But you see us do it all the time," Tony points out.

"Okay for you."

"Not for you?"

Steve sighs again. "I'm Captain," he says.

"That doesn't seem super relevant in this new, enlightened age," Tony points out.

Steve makes an annoyed noise, twisting his head back and forth a little before stilling again. "Don't want to talk about it."

"Okay, we don't have to."

"I never know," Steve says after about ten seconds of silence, with tragic predictability.

"What don't you know?"

"What's okay. Better just not to do anything. I'm too strong. And...not..."

Tony waits. He can practically hear those super-stoned super-soldier gears grinding.

"I don't know how," Steve sighs eventually.

"We're gonna work on this when you're sober," Tony informs him. "Not because I want to, but because Bruce is going to make us, and also because you are the saddest kitten alive, Steve. It makes me hurt."

Steve starts to pull away, and Tony grabs him by the collar of his shirt, tugging firmly. Steve at full power wouldn't even pause, and even in this state he could probably do what he wanted without a problem, but he's...biddable like this, reluctant to back off at any rate.

Tony eases Steve's head back down to his collarbone, cradling it firmly, and Steve goes lax again.

"Close your eyes," Tony says. "We had a long fight. Get some sleep."

Steve's soft noise of obedient agreement is almost inaudible. A few minutes later JARVIS says, very quietly, "Captain Rogers is dropping towards stage three sleep, Sir."

"Good," Tony says. "I'm going to try for that myself. Wake me if his condition changes. Don't let anyone in otherwise."

"As you like, Sir," JARVIS says. Tony yawns, and ignores the fact that when he wakes up he'll probably have a cramp.

***

When Tony wakes, he's covered in a blanket rather than a super-soldier, and he's remarkably well-rested, all things considered.

"JARVIS," he calls, sitting up. "Where's the octopus?"

"Captain Rogers is asleep in his quarters, sir."

"He got there on his own?"

"He seemed reasonably lucid, and expressed a desire to be in his own bed. It seemed easier to allow him to leave," JARVIS replies.

"Huh, okay. Well, when he wakes up, tell him there's going to be breakfast in the kitchen."

"Are you intending to cook, sir?" JARVIS asks. There is a careful lack of concern in his voice.

"Uh, have I ever intended to cook?" Tony asks. "No. Order me some pancakes. A lot of pancakes. With stuff in them."

"Of course, sir. Several pancakes with 'stuff' have been ordered. While we await their delivery, may I recommend orange juice?"

"Coffee? Yes, I would love coffee," Tony replies. The sound of the coffeemaker activating is oddly resigned.

The pancakes arrive around the same time Steve does, yawning and bedheaded, but wearing pyjamas instead of the scrubs he was in when he fell asleep on Tony. They're white, with little shield logos patterned on it. Natasha, Tony thinks, and wishes he'd thought of it first.

"Hey," Tony says, as Steve heads blindly towards the coffee. "How's the head, Cheech?"

"Don' get that reference," Steve mumbles.

"JARVIS?"

JARVIS sounds amused. "Captain Rogers is emerging from stage one sleep, but his brain activity suggests normal behavioral cognition."

Steve downs half a cup of coffee. "Yeah, I feel better."

"That's a shame. You're a fun drunk," Tony replies.

"I don't remember much after the gas. No clue how I got to bed. I slept really well though," Steve adds.

"You don't remember falling asleep?"

"Nope. JARVIS said you and Bruce looked after me, so I guess it was fine. I didn't say anything embarrassing, did I?" Steve asks.

Tony is tempted to let it go, to tell Steve it was fine and nothing weird happened. But now that he's looking for it, he can see past the don't-touch-me, to something that's more like I don't know how to touch you.

So instead of saying anything, he loads up two plates of pancakes and brings them to the table, kicking a chair around so that when he sits, his right arm is pressed up against Steve's left. Steve looks startled, but he can't pull away without actually scooting his chair, which would be ruder than Steve generally likes to be.

Tony grabs his fork and starts eating, left-handed. After a moment, the muscles in Steve's arm relax, and per morning standard he ignores Tony's idle chatter while he shovels pancakes into his mouth like he's never seen food before.

The others appear one by one, no doubt informed by JARVIS of the arrival of pancakes. Bruce is first, still a little bleary eyes, and halfway to the electric kettle before he looks at the table. His steps stutter as he raises an eyebrow, but he’s already turning away and asking JARVIS about which teas they have before Steve can see the look.


An unfinished fic about Steve and Sam looking for Bucky and making friends along the way.

They don't go after Bucky. Not immediately.

They can't, really. For one thing, Steve depended on SHIELD for his intel, and when SHIELD failed he depended on Natasha, neither of whom were now accessible to him. It wasn't that he couldn't build an intelligence network; he'd had a hell of a one in France, during the war. But it took time.

Then, too, Sam had things he had to wrap up -- most notably the military, who were not happy one of their own (ex-own) had gone rogue, stolen tech, and brought down a government agency with it. Ironically, the solution proved to be very patriotic -- they would defer charges and even allow him to keep the rig (such as it was) if he let them use his face on recruitment posters. Still, the paperwork took time, and until it was finalized he wasn't allowed to leave DC.

When Steve was well enough to go home, Sam walked his wheelchair out to the curb, helped him into his car, and drove them both straight to Sam's place. Steve exhaled tightly, gratitude and anxiety almost overwhelming in the moment.

"Your place is kinda messed up," Sam said. "I mean, there's boards over the windows and stuff, but..."

"SHIELD paid for it," Steve answered, as Sam offered him a hand to help him out of the car. "It smells like Nazi."

"We should stay in the same area anyway, until we get a lead."

"I'd appreciate an extra pair of hands," Steve admitted, walking slowly and tiredly towards the door. He felt old, every inch of his ninety years, in a way that had nothing to do with his injuries.

Sam grinned. "Okay then."

"I can stay?" Steve asked, still not quite believing his luck.

"Yeah, man. Long as you like."

They walked through the book-crammed living room, the sunny kitchen, down the hall covered in band tour posters and reproductions of album covers, and Sam leaned in the doorway while Steve collapsed on the guest bed.

"Chow's at six," he said. "I'm making a stir-fry."

"Hey, Sam," Steve said, as Sam turned to go. He pushed himself up, wincing a little, and Sam waited this time to see if he wanted help. "Thank you. So much."

"Crazy motherfuckers gotta stick together," Sam said. Steve grinned.

***

The day after they met with Fury, Sam got a message from the salvage crews that they'd found what he was looking for -- the remains of the wing Winter Soldier had ripped off his shoulder in the fight. He had the rest, and he said he could rebuild it, but it sure didn't look that way to Steve at first.

"I'm a motherfucking engineer, motherfucker, I will solve you!" Sam declared, hands on hips, staring at the assortment of twisted metal scraps and tools on the workbench.

"Are you?" Steve asked, sitting on a stool, leaning against the wall with a bottle of cola in one hand.

"Yeah, I mean, nothing fancy, but they made sure I could put this back together if it failed. It's not exactly legos," Sam added, already beginning to sort out what could be salvaged. "I'm gonna have to put in some orders with the base machine shop."

"I used to fix my bike on my own, but this is probably a little beyond me," Steve said. "I can leave you to it, if you want."

"I don't mind the company," Sam admitted. "You can hand me tools and stuff. So," he continued, beginning the process of removing the engine casing on the rig, "what's our first step?"

"You tell me."

"I mean, for your friend."

"Oh," Steve said, looking down. "Well, Natasha got me his file. It has names. Most of them are probably dead, but a few might still be around. I've been checking them. I mean, someone must have been his...keeper. Someone other than Pierce knew about this. The feds have a lot of Hydra agents in custody, that's another thing to explore."

"You don't think either of those are gonna lead you to him, though."

"No," Steve said. "I don't. Where he's been, maybe, but not where he is now. Buck -- you gotta understand, even before, he was good. Stealthy. He was a sniper. He knew how to go to ground."

"So how do we rustle his blind?"

"I'm working on that," Steve said. "You just get your wings fixed. When we do go back out, I need Falcon with me."

"You can't tell," Sam said, "But there's an eleven-year-old inside me who is high-fiving the me badass enough to be necessary to Captain America."

"You were a fan," Steve said, grinning.

"Was, till I met your rude ass," Sam said. "How could you tell?"

"You played it off pretty cool," Steve said. "Not quite cool enough, though."

"Uh-huh. Believe it or not, a part of that was actually the VA counselor talking."

"Yeah?" Steve asked.

"You looked a little lost," Sam said, not looking up from the engine he was slowly disassembling. "You look that way a lot, actually. Do my job long enough, you get to seeing it in people, even if they don't want you to."

"Last two weeks didn't help."

Sam laughed. "No, they sure didn't. You think about what you're gonna do when you find him?"

"I'll improvise."

"Improvise, he says," Sam muttered, and they lapsed into companionable silence as he worked on the rig.

***

That night, Sam taught him to make macaroni and cheese for dinner -- "The real kind, not the boxed kind" -- and Steve pretty much ate his body weight in pasta.

"I might die," he said, sprawled in the living room after dinner, one arm flung over his face. "Why did you let me finish all the macaroni and cheese?"

"I wanted to see if you could do it," Sam said. "That's usually enough to feed three hungry soldiers, with leftovers. You want a beer? Bar opens when the dining hall closes."

"Sure, think I've got room for that," Steve said, ruefully accepting the bottle Sam offered.

"To the start of the search," Sam said, and Steve knocked the neck of his bottle against Sam's. "You ever think maybe we should be looking for this Zola guy, too?"

"What? No. He blew himself up," Steve said. "And us almost along with it."

"Maybe he backed himself up somewhere."

"Maybe so. I wouldn't know where to look. I wouldn't even know how. One thing at a time, anyway -- finding Bucky is my top priority. If Zola's out there, he'll show his hand sooner or later."

"You could call Romanoff."

"No, she needs space."

"I get that. Still." Sam grinned at him. "She's cute."

"Cute is not the word I would use."

"Seems like she could be fun."

Steve sat back. "She kept trying to hook me up with other women. I think she's probably just not into me."

"Or a little too into you. Wants you to think she's being cool about it."

Steve shook his head. "We'd kill each other sooner or later."

"So who are you into?"

"Nobody."

"In a theoretical way."

Steve took a long drink while he thought about it.

"I dunno," he said. "The woman I was in love with is dying. She forgets I came back. Every time I visit, we have a reunion. It's hard on both of us. I tried getting out, meeting people, but...I think maybe Peggy was it for me."

"You've been out what, a year?" Sam asked. Steve nodded. "You ever think maybe you just need some time to mourn?"

"If I started taking time for that I'd never stop, and it would end...badly," Steve said. "Look, I appreciate the help, but...I think that's gonna have to wait too. Bucky's what matters right now."

Sam nodded. "All right then. But if you want a wingman -- "

"I know who to call," Steve agreed.

***

They fell into a pattern over the next few days -- Steve had PT exercises to do in the morning, so Sam went running solo and usually came back to Steve's idea of breakfast, which was possibly influenced by the boil-everything ethos of the forties, though he was improving. They'd eat and read the newspaper, and then Sam would spend the morning working on the rig while Steve sat in the garage with him, sometimes tapping determinedly on the computer, sometimes just watching Sam work. In the afternoon, Sam would stop by the VA and Steve would wander, sometimes hitting the Smithsonian exhibit again, sometimes the library. Sometimes he went out to the ruins of the Triskelion, where work crews were still cleaning up and would be for some time.

The fifth day, Sam was enjoying his solitary early-morning run when he heard a familiar fast beat, and Steve blared "On your left!" as he zoomed past.

"Your physical therapist is gonna kill us both!" Sam yelled after him.

***

Two days later, Sam came into the living room with a book of metal paint samples, to ask Steve's opinion of a sweet new paint job for the rig, and found Steve clenching his fist so hard around his phone that the casing was creaking.

"Steve," Sam said quietly. Steve's head jerked up. "You're gonna break your phone."

Steve looked down at the phone, then dropped it, his hand shaking.

"There was a sighting of him in New York," Steve said. He picked up the phone again, fumbled, and then jerked back when Sam bent to do it for him.

"Hey, deep breaths," he said, setting the phone aside. "Was it on the news?"

Steve nodded.

"Something bad?"

"No, I just, seeing his face, I wasn't -- last time there was too much else going on, this time I just." Steve looked at him, huge blue eyes in an ashen face. "Every time I think about it I see him falling from the train," he said.

Sam settled next to him on the sofa and picked up the remote, clicking the television on. He surfed around until he found a news station, and sure enough, there was Bucky fuckin' Barnes, the Winter Soldier, on his television set. In the middle of New York.

The tape kept looping as the reporters tried to find something new to say about what was clearly a very simple story. A bus swung around a corner too fast; a car hit it and spun through traffic; a kid in a stroller was coming off the curb in the line of the car's ricochet. And then, very suddenly, a guy in a green surplus jacket was knelt in front of the kid, arm outstretched, and the car just...stopped. The guy rocked with the impact, but he didn't move.

"Left arm," Steve said, pointing. "Wonder if his right is healed yet."

"If I had a metal arm I'd be using that one to stop traffic," Sam observed. The man looked up -- looked right at the camera -- and even through the grainy lens of the traffic cam, Sam could see the confusion and pain on his face.

"I think we need to go to New York," Sam suggested.

"Yeah," Steve agreed.

"I have a friend we can crash with," Sam said.

***

Sam's friend lived on the top floor of an elderly walkup in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood that had been middle-class in Steve's day and was now downtrodden enough that the rent wasn't murder. She opened the door and put her hands on her hips, eyeing them both.

"Welcome, patriots," she said drily. "I thought your brand of civil service went out with the Media burglars."

Steve itched to take out his notebook and write that down to look up later. Sam just grinned.

"Carol," he said, reaching out to reel her into a hug. "How are you, Colonel?"

"Eminently curious," she said, gazing over his shoulder at Steve. "And very patient with you."

"Yeah you are," Sam agreed. "Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers."

"Pleasure, ma'am," Steve said, shaking her hand.

"The pleasure's mine. I've been following your work. You make a lot of complacent assholes very nervous, Captain."

"Steve's fine."

"Well, I'm Carol, out of uniform," she answered, leading them into the apartment. "Guest room's through there, you two can armwrestle for the bed. Linens in the closet next to the bathroom. Hot water's plentiful before about seven in the morning, after that you takes your chances. I expect you both know how to pick up after yourself. Oh, and I gave Tony Stark a call," she continued, settling into a chair in a small, comfortably worn-looking living room. "We're having dinner with him tonight."

"You know Stark?" Steve asked.

"Sure. We used to be drinking buddies back in the Unbearably Boring Military Parties days," she said. "Rhodey's in town, Sam, he's coming too."

"Aw, hell yeah," Sam called from the guest room. "Rhodey's a good time once you loosen him up a little. That'll be fun."

"Plus you get four soldiers and Stark in a room, something's getting blown up sooner or later," Carol said. She looked like she was anticipating a great evening. Steve began to worry a little more actively than he had.

***

They didn't stay long -- just long enough to drop off Sam's rig and Steve's shield and their bags, and then they went down to the corner where the camera had captured Bucky's dramatic rescue.

Wasn't much to see, really. Bucky had fled as soon as the smoke cleared, and only a pair of skid marks and some broken glass showed where it had happened. The police, who clearly desperately wanted to be helpful when Captain America showed up at their precinct, didn't have much either. Steve patiently signed some autographs, extricated them as soon as he could, and bought a coffee off a vendor on a street corner. Sam ate a hot dog.

"Where would I go, if I were a crazy ex-assassin with a metal arm?" Sam asked nobody in particular.

"Central Park, maybe. Or a soup kitchen. Or, I don't know, the ductwork of the Ritz Carlton. He could be anywhere," Steve said.

"Can I make a suggestion?"

"I'm not gonna like this, am I," Steve sighed.

"Let's get our heads down. Make a list. Work systematically. At least we have a geographic area to work in."

"Unless he left."

"He didn't leave," Sam said.

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"He's home now," Sam said. Steve cocked his head. "So are you. Your accent got like, a foot thicker when we got back here. This is familiar to you. It's probably familiar to him, too."

"In that case, maybe we should put Brooklyn at the top of the list," Steve said.

"Let's clean up for dinner, I'll help you start it," Sam replied, clapping him on the shoulder.

***

"So, they did this study, after Vietnam," Carol said from the kitchen, where she was making coffee and ignoring the two half-naked men wandering around her halls. Steve, drying his hair in the bathroom, combed it back and tied the towel around his waist firmly before darting into the guest room. Sam looked at him like he was hilarious.

"What study is that?" Sam asked, checking his email.

"Well, they had all these soldiers who'd started getting high during the war."

"Every time I hear about the Vietnam war I like it less," Steve said.

"Some of 'em got it from fellow soldiers. Some got it from medics who didn't have much else to treat them with. They had all these addicts coming home when they were demobilized," Carol said. Steve tried to dress circumspectly; Sam had his head turned politely.

"Sounds like a problem," Steve said. "We had issues like that after the Great War, sort of. Men coming home without limbs, without a way to work. We...never really solved it. Did they solve it after Vietnam?"

"In a way. A lot of them, the ones that went home and stayed home, they just...stopped doing drugs. Most of them quit without the usual crash-and-burn first," Carol continued.

"Oh hey, I heard about this," Sam said. "When you're back in familiar surroundings where the drug wasn't part of your routine, it makes it easier to drop a habit."

"Your brain knows what does and doesn't belong," Carol agreed.

"What are you saying?" Steve asked, buttoning his pants. "Sam," he said, more quietly, and held up a pair of shirts. Sam pointed to the blue one.

"I'm saying, leaving your friend alone in New York for a few days might not be a bad thing," Carol said. "It might be enough to help."

"Kind of a long shot."

"Of the three of us here, hands up everyone who doesn't specialize in long shots," Carol said, poking her head in. Steve hastily finished buttoning his shirt.

"Woman's got a point," Sam said.

"I know, and I appreciate that you're trying to make me feel better," Steve said.

"I do what I can," Carol told him with a sunny smile.

***

Tony Stark welcomed them with open arms, or rather, his AI welcomed them with open doors.

"Mr. Stark is completing work for the day," a robotic voice said as it welcomed them into a private elevator to the penthouse. "He should be out momentarily. He has placed a very particular bottle of wine on the table, and says only Colonel Danvers is to uncork it."

"Thank you, JARVIS," Carol said. "Is Rhodey here yet?"

"Colonel Rhodes is slightly delayed, but should arrive soon," JARVIS said.

"Hope he makes it before dessert," Carol said to Steve.

"So, dinner with Tony Stark," Sam said. "You think he'd build me one of those robot suits if I asked nicely? He built one for Rhodey."

"You wouldn't like it," Steve said.

"Yeah, the wind in my hair is a big deal for me," Sam deadpanned as they left the elevator. They stepped out into the penthouse, somewhere Steve had only been once before.

"Gentlemen, Ladies," a voice called, and Stark appeared. "Welcome to the palace. Glad you made yourselves at home. Hi, beautiful," he added, offering a sarcastic air-kiss to Carol, who shoved him in the face and then gave him a hug.

"We appreciate the hospitality," Steve said, once the horseplay was done. "Tony Stark, Sam Wilson. Sam, Tony Stark."

"Always happy to meet a fellow victim of Captain America's inspirational speeches," Stark said, shaking Sam's hand.

"You never give me inspirational speeches," Sam said to Steve.

"I distinctly remember at least three," Steve said.

"I can't wait to hear one," Carol remarked.

"So what brings you to New York?" Stark asked, leading them towards the dining room. "Though, I mean, you can't be that popular in DC right now."

"Not so much," Steve agreed.

"Don't fret. Makes most people outside of DC like you more. So just getting away, or?" Stark raised his eyebrows. "Carol said you were staying with her, and I'm insulted, but I suppose there's less ostentation at her place than mine."

"We're looking for someone," Steve said. "A fugitive from the Triskelion crash."

"The Soldier survived?" Stark asked. Steve tensed.

"How do you know about him?" Sam asked.

"Did they tell you first? I'm so insulted," Stark said to Carol.

"Unlike some people, I can keep a secret," Carol replied.

"But you did hear about him," Steve said.

"I had JARVIS read me all the good parts of that Hydra data dump. Thought that might have been him on the news yesterday."

"It's been our only lead," Steve said. "There's no way else to find him."

"I don't think he's going to conveniently rescue a small child again so that you can triangulate him," Stark pointed out.

"No, but at least we know where he was. Sam thinks he's staying in New York now that he's here."

"Well, you know what I'd recommend," Stark said.

"What's that?" Steve asked, arms crossed.

"Don't wait for him to get your attention," Stark grinned. "You get his."

"How do I do that? I'm not gonna go on a talk show and give out my home address," Steve said. Stark clutched his heart dramatically, then straightened.

"You put on a show," he said.


This is an Armored Adventures story that never got off the ground, based on my believe that in Armored Adventures Pepper is Coulson's daughter, and also on the following:

copperbadge: I think Pepper probably thinks by now she's been deputised.
clockways: her dad probablly pretended to deputize her when she was little and she took it seriously
owlish: she would. It's an *honor* and a *duty* to uphold!
copperbadge: Pepper's dad deputising a six year old Pepper to get her to go to bed
owlish: And pick up all their toys.
clockways: and eat their veggies
copperbadge: oh man the FBI Deputy gig was great until she started demanding to be issued a gun (she was eleven)
clockways: and a cap gun only cut it so long
owlish: She passed her first arms exam using the suction dart gun, even though it pulled to the left and had terrible range.

When Pepper was a little girl, all skinned knees and curiosity, her father deputized her.

Well, at the time it had seemed like a reasonable idea.

Phil had been at his wits' end, trying to get her to listen to him -- or rather, since he was sure she did listen, to remember what he'd asked, to remember at least the most basic rules that would keep their lives together running smoothly. It was already just him and her; her mother had died when she was two, and while Pepper had her mother's last name and her eyes, she was her father's daughter in the realm of heedless, headlong barrelling into trouble.

So he'd sat her down when she was six and told her he was going to make her a deputy FBI agent. He said there were rules and regulations that all deputy FBI agents had to follow, and Pepper (who adored her father with a purity of heart Phil wasn't sure he deserved) had listened so, so carefully and written down a list in her sprawling six-year-old handwriting. Go to bed on time -- her inability to stay in bed when sent there had triggered this little plot -- and eat her vegetables; pick up her toys when asked, and help her Special Agent In Charge (aka Dad) do the dishes.

It worked like a charm for years. If Phil asked his daughter to do something, she might or might not remember to do it, but if SAC Coulson asked Deputy Agent Potts to do something, that shit got done. He tried not to abuse his power.

When she was eleven, she asked when he was going to issue her a sidearm. Things went downhill from there, somewhat. She was only satisfied with water pistols and suction dart guns until she hit thirteen.

But the point was, really, that while Pepper was a handful, she was his beloved handful, and Phil Coulson loved her and worried about her in equal measure. He wasn't sure it was good for her to be running around with James Rhodes and Tony Stark -- oh, James was a decent kid, but Tony was a wild boy. Not spoiled, as Phil had feared the son of Howard Stark might be, but not too careful with his studies, either, and sometimes he distracted Pepper from hers.

Sadly, he did not seem to distract Pepper from hacking into Phil's computer on a regular basis, eavesdropping on his phone calls, and generally attempting to actually be a deputy FBI agent despite being seventeen and reckless.

And then Phil ended up in the hospital during an investigation gone wrong, and he found the second way to keep his daughter out of trouble: scare the living daylights out of her.

***

Pepper had just left, Tony and James trailing behind her, and Phil was contemplating how long he could play the "your poor injured father" card with her, when someone else entered. Phil, startled, pushed himself up, and the sort of regretted that movement.

"At ease," Marcus said, with a familiar smile. "Been a while, Cheese."

"It has," Phil agreed, blinking. "It's great to see you, Marcus."

"Ah. New name," Marcus said, tapping the insignia on the black uniform he wore. SHIELD; Phil swore internally. He knew he'd gotten in deep with this investigation, but he didn't realize how deep. "I go by Nick Fury now."

Phil couldn't help his sardonic eyebrow. "Little on the nose there, sergeant."

"Believe it or not, I didn't pick it. And it's Colonel now, or Director."

"I'd salute, but..." Phil gestured at the IV in one arm, the cast on the other.

"No need. Not yet, anyway," Marcus -- Nick -- said. "Was that your kid leaving as I was coming in?"

"Redheaded, with bodyguards?"

"That's the one. She grew up fast."

"They apparently do that," Phil agreed.

"She runs around with Tony Stark, huh?"

"Should have known you'd know him on sight," Phil said.

"He's hard to miss."

"You knew Howard, didn't you?"

"Somewhat," Nick said. "But I guess you know I didn't come here to talk to you about your kid or her friends."

"Little confused about why you did come here," Phil admitted. "I haven't seen you in years."

"It's come to my attention that you did good work on this last case, injuries notwithstanding," Nick said. "And it's also come to my attention that you're a little senior to be doing fieldwork."

"I'm not..." Phil considered how to phrase this. "Not politically minded enough for the Bureau. To advance, anyway. By the time I worked that out, it was sort of late. I don't mind; I like field work."

"But you have a daughter to think about."

"And I'm not getting any younger." Phil shot him a half-smile. "Is this a lead-up to a job offer, Nick?"

"And you say you're not political."

"Not in the way the Bureau wants me to be."

"How would you like a position with SHIELD? You'd be a managing agent, overseeing field agents. Some light field duty, mainly analysis and deployment logistics. I know your strengths, and I think the position would suit you."


And from a little later in the same story:

Clint Barton was probably the most beautiful man Phil had ever seen. He was young enough to be a little stupid but old enough to be aware of it, with softly curled blond hair, straight white teeth, and an attitude that filled any room he walked into. He had "trouble for Phil Coulson" written all over him.

"Agent Coulson," Barton said, offering his hand. His grip was firm, fingers rough. "Guess you're my babysitter till they figure out I'm not wandering off?"

"Lucky me," Phil said. "I think they call it training agent, actually."

"What do I have to learn? I mean, you guys want me to shoot, and I know how to do that."

This should be fun, Phil thought to himself.