Are you sad because you're on your own?
No I get by with a little help from my friends
The music is different when Steve wakes a second time. He blinks his eyes open slowly and squints a little at the sunlight crossing the ceiling.
At the sound of someone catching their breath, Steve turns his head to the side. He hadn't expected Tony Stark to be at his bedside. For a moment Tony looks like a deer in the headlights as Steve's gaze falls on him. Steve blinks and the other man's expression is back to something resembling his more familiar smirk.
"Haven't you slept enough, Cap?"
"Think a helicarrier fell on me," Steve says, voice coming out in a rasp due to his dry throat.
Tony's expression darkens momentarily before he reaches to the side. Steve doesn't have a chance to tilt his head before Tony's hand returns with plastic cup and straw. He holds it out to Steve with an eyebrow cocked in silent question.
Steve fumbles a bit with the blanket covering his arms, but Tony surprisingly refrains from commenting. Steve's entire body aches, his head still pounds, and he worries that his hands will shake. However, despite the weak feeling of his limbs, he grasps the proffered cup with steady hands. Tony lets go once Steve brings it closer to capture the straw.
"You were very dramatic," Tony comments as he leans back in his chair. "I hear that the speech you gave when storming the Triskellion was an epic, inspiring scene fit for the next summer blockbuster."
"Only said what needed being said," Steve mutters around the straw.
Tony rolls his eyes with a tolerant expression and Steve can feel himself relaxing into his pillows. He sucks a few more sips of water from the cup before lowering his arms. Tony eyes the cup but does not try to take it away.
"What're you doing here?" Steve asks, tilting his head back against the pillows as he tries to get a good look at the man sitting at his bedside. Stark is dressed to the nines in a suit that Steve is sure costs far too much. The jacket is unbuttoned, though, and the golden tie is loosened around the collar of the crimson shirt. Tony's hair is mussed, though, not quite the picture-perfect styled look he has during photo ops. His expression seems open enough, mouth relaxed, but Steve notices the creases around Tony's eyes that signal a stress headache.
Tony replies after a beat of unusual silence, "Can't drop in on a sick friend?"
"Don't know if I'd say sick..." Steve gingerly touches his cheek and winces at the freshly scarred line sensitive to touch. It will be gone soon, most likely, but for now it's a reminder of how badly he'd been beaten. He tries not to let himself be distracted by thoughts of the battle and who had attacked him.
"Whatever. Hospitals suck. Can't believe you're even still here when those Hydra bastards seem to be crawling literally everywhere." Tony scowls down at his jacket pocket and it takes a second for Steve to hear the vibration of a phone. "Damn it," Tony mutters as he pulls the cell from his pocket and glares at whatever is displayed on the screen. He sighs but when Steve catches his eye, Tony smirks and brings the phone up to his ear.
"Hello, Senator. No, I didn't notice the time." Tony's smile seems to lock into place as he listens. His eyes wander to the window and his gaze goes distant. Steve watches, mildly concerned by the way Tony's fingers tighten on the phone and how rigid the man's smile looks. "Sure, always thought Stern was an asshole. No, I guess that wasn't a secret." There is more to the exchange, but Steve still feels hazy enough that he doesn't try very hard to follow the one-sided conversation. Beyond his lingering injuries, he also simply feels tired of trying to figure out what is going on behind the scenes of the face Hydra had been presenting to the world.
Steve doesn't realize Tony's finished his phone call until the man stands up and clears his throat.
"You're going?" Steve feels disappointed as he watches Tony straightening his cuffs and re-securing his tie.
Tony's smile is more of a grimace. "Meetings. Pandering to do. Assholes to take down." He tilts his head and makes direct eye contact with Steve. His smile relaxes and finally something happy seems to spark in his expression. "But first, a little gift for you. Or re-gift." He leans down towards the end of the bed and lifts a very familiar shield into view. Steve sucks in a gasp, torn between relief that his shield is okay and guilt that he hadn't thought about what had happened to it. Tony grins as he hands the shield over, careful not to let go until making sure Steve has a firm hold. "Kind of a little thing in the scheme of things, but the vibranium made it relatively easy to locate under the spectacular rubble you and your new bird buddy managed to leave behind."
"No biggie. Can't have Captain America going around without his shield," Tony interrupts with a wave of his hand. Steve stares at the man, wide-eyed as he realizes that his shield must have been buried and lodged within the wrecks of the helicarriers crashed into the Potomac. He doesn't even know how long it will take to clear the mess. Yet his shield is already in his hands - a little less paint, a little more scarred, but still as familiar as it had been when he'd trusted it with him on the battlefields of World War II.
"Tony..." Steve sees tension returning to the set of Tony's shoulders, as if the man's afraid of whatever Steve may bring up. Deciding to play it low-key, Steve says, "Thank you. This... makes me feel a lot better."
Tony seems to relax and a genuine smirk settles across his lips. "Cap's security blanket is a chunk of metal. Can't say I'm surprised." His phone vibrates again and the smirk slips into a grimace. "Gotta go. Damn, thought I'd at least get a few minutes to chat about your ghost." He starts walking backwards to the door, though he keeps his gaze on Steve and points at the blond. "Don't disappear without telling me where, Mister. You and I need to chat."
"I'll wait for you," Steve answers, "but it seems like you've got something important to get to."
"Just pulling our asses out of the fire," Tony says.
As Tony reaches the door, it opens inward and Sam's head appears around the edge. He smiles at Steve, then side-eyes Tony with something that looks like disappointment. "Back to the grindstone?" he asks as he steps inside and holds the door open.
Tony pulls a pair of sunglasses from his pocket. "Back to center stage. Keep an eye on Muscles here."
"Absolutely," Sam agrees with an all too serious nod. Tony glances back at Steve one last time as he passes through the door. Sam pokes his head into the hallway, apparently watching Tony go. After a few moments, Sam fully comes into the room and closes the door. He takes a seat in the chair at Steve's bedside and grins. "You get custom gear from him all the time?" he asks with an undeniable lilt of excitement in his voice.
Steve chuckles at the enthusiasm. "Did he promise you something?"
"After insulting my Falcon gear, yeah." Sam doesn't sound overly upset about the insult, though Steve imagines Tony could have been quite condescending and critical over the technology. Sam leans his elbows on his knees and clasps his hands together. "I see he gave you the shield. I don't know when the hell he had time to get it, though." Sam shakes his head, expression bemused.
"What do you mean?" Steve asks, looking up from where he's been tracing his fingers along the most recent marks in the shield's paint.
Sam purses his lips in thought for a few moments. "Well, Stark's showing up quite a bit in video news coverage as the Hill scrambles together hearings. He's also been making some statements representing the Avengers. Seems like he's heading up Stark Industries' involvement of the clean-up personally, too. I don't know, man, there's a lot going on and frankly I'm still trying to get my balance after the whirlwind adventure I got myself into."
Steve shares a weary smile with his friend. It had been a chaotic week and Steve's still trying to wrap his head around events. He isn't clear how long he has been in the hospital recovering, much of the time he has been sleeping or, when conscious, simply content to let himself not worry about the larger picture now that the secrets are out in the open. He'll get involved in cleanup at some point, but for now he recognizes that he needs the breathing space. And he's still overwhelmed by the reveal of the Winter Soldier.
"Ghost..." Steve murmurs, finally catching on to what Tony alluded to as he was leaving.
"Kind of a mind fuck, huh?" Sam says gently.
Steve snorts at that and ignores the flare of pain his body makes to protest the movement. "Yeah," he agrees.
"Natasha's running around almost as much as Stark," Sam says, "but she mentioned looking into that for you."
Steve glances up in surprise. Sam grins at him and chuckles. "Come on, man. Of course your friends are going to help."
Steve is out of the hospital by the time he sees Tony again.
Sam answers the knock at his door after a cautious peek out the window. Tony pauses long enough in the doorway to shake Sam's hand in greeting, then strides into the living room with the air of a man on a mission.
"Hey Cap. Your face is looking better already," Tony greets. He drops down onto the couch beside Steve and turns at an angle to face him. Up close it's easy to see new lines of tension and the beginnings of under-eye bruising signaling recent restless nights. Tony is again dressed in a fancy suit, though this time the tie is gone and the shirt unbuttoned at the top.
"Do you finally have time for a break?" Steve asks.
Tony shrugs. "I'm free enough to delegate." He props an elbow against the back of the couch and rests his hand against his fist. "So what's the plan, Spangles?"
Steve probably looks as confused as he feels. He casts Sam a questioning look, but his friend just shrugs from his position by the kitchen counter.
"What am I supposed to be planning?" Steve isn't fond of the idea of trying to take a leadership role in the cleanup process and reorganization of SHIELD - if the organization will even stand at the end of things.
Tony shakes his head with a sigh of obvious exasperation. "Investigating and detective-ing. Ghost hunting." He waves a hand in an all-encompassing gesture. "Probably it'll include some more fisticuffs, then hugs and manly crying."
Steve opens his mouth but he can't react right away. He hadn't given much thought to Tony mentioning Steve's "ghost." He thought maybe the man was just curious to hear about Bucky Barnes. Perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised by the question about future plans, seeing as Tony makes it well known that he himself is a futurist. Still, the implication here is that Tony is interested in being involved and that... Steve most certainly did not expect.
"And you always tell me I have no plan," Tony scoffs when Steve's silence continues. His smile looks almost soft as he nudges Steve's foot with his toe. "Don't tell me you're jumping in feet first. That's my schtick and there's only room for one of me."
"You'll help me?" Steve asks, his voice coming out quieter than intended. He hides a wince when he sees disappointment cross Tony's expression.
Sam speaks up. "Forgive Steve, he's under this absurd impression that he has to fly solo."
"Don't think flying's one of your skills," Tony quips, eyebrow arching. Steve isn't sure whether that's meant to critique his inability to land a damaged Hydra warplane or highlight the flying capabilities of his current company.
Sam huffs a laugh. "Yeah. Well, translating the foot-in-mouth syndrome, Steve meant to say 'Thank you for your help, where do you suggest we start?'"
"Did he now..." Tony mutters, casting a look over his shoulder at Sam. "I suppose you're also along for the ride?"
"I can be a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and I suspect I'll have a steady supply if I stick with this guy."
Steve finally interrupts, "I'm right here."
"And clearly you're not on top of this venture." Tony pulls his phone from his pocket and swipes his thumb over the screen. "JARVIS, bring up Project Christmas Past." A moment later, holograms of heavily redacted files start popping up along with a few maps and some reports that seem to be the same as the paper files Natasha handed Steve the day before. "Got any updates for me, J?"
The AI's voice replies from the phone's speaker, "I regret to inform Captain Rogers that I have no further updates regarding Sargent Barnes' location since leaving the Smithsonian—"
"Bucky was at the exhibit?" Steve interrupts, leaning forward. "When?"
"Five days ago," Tony answers. "One brief image of his face that JARVIS could verify above an 85% certainty. Pure luck, he was clearly aware of the cameras and keeping himself hidden."
Despite the disappointment of having missed Bucky, Steve feels a bubble of hope at knowing that Bucky was at the Smithsonian exhibit. It has to mean that Steve's words had sunk in enough for the Winter Soldier to investigate the man he was.
"He's got his determined face on," Tony comments over his shoulder to Sam. He's grinning, eyes bright with his own indication of eagerness. "You packed, kid?"
"Where are we going?" Sam asks.
"Well..." Tony draws out the word as he gives Steve a quick wink. "Pit stop in New York to appropriately outfit you to fit in with the superhero crowd. Pretty sure Cap needs yet another new uniform - seriously, stop ruining them - and it gives JARVIS some more time to comb through the possibilities."
Sam's been bouncing in place with excitement since Tony mentioned equipping him. "Give me fifteen!" Sam says as soon as Tony finishes speaking. He darts out of the room immediately after.
A bark of laughter escapes Steve without warning. He looks at Tony's grinning face and shakes his head. "He really..." Steve trails off with a small sigh. "Tony, you don't—"
"Uh-uh." Tony leans forward with a raised hand, looking ready to cover Steve's mouth if the blond tries to continue. Steve shuts up as the holograms disappear from between them. He isn't sure what his expression looks like, but Tony glares at him. "Haven't you heard about not looking a gift horse in the mouth?"
Steve rubs his neck with a self-conscious smile. "I'm just... touched."
It's Tony's turn to look awkward, and his gaze shifts way from Steve. He's still leaning close, broaching Steve's space. "Yeah, well. If it were Rhodey..."
On impulse, Steve catches Tony's hand and squeezes gently. Tony looks back at him, eyes wide and startled. "Thanks," Steve says. "I'm sorry we didn't call you in earlier."
Tony shrugs awkwardly, frowning a little. "Yeah, well, both you and Widow need a reminder about who's the technical genius when things are going to shit. As for the Ghost of Christmas Past, well, Captain America needs friends."
Steve tugs a little on Tony's hand and makes sure he has the other's man's full attention when he says, "I already have some pretty great friends."
Tony stares at him for long moments without saying anything. He looks uncertain, his usual show of self-assurance pushed aside as he seems to search for something in Steve's expression. Finally, Tony huffs a laugh and leans back. "You are such a sap," he accuses.
But his hand is still in Steve's when Sam comes back into the room with a packed duffel and a sheepish smile.