"What are you working on, котенок?"
The pretty man startled violently enough to drop the thing that had arrested so much of his attention back onto the table. In the same movement, he took up the nearest possible weapon and turned, holding it out threateningly. He had good reflexes for a civilian, the Soldier decided. Even so, a soldering iron would not present much of a threat, should it come down to that.
"How did you get in here?"
The breathless question did nothing to distract him from the fact that Stark was steadily moving to put a larger space between them. For the moment, he let it go. There was no harm in making Stark feel more comfortable with the situation, as long as it didn't end in his arrest. The fact that Stark might very well have been working towards that before he'd interrupted was not lost on him. Cutting his eyes to the mess of wires on the table, he discarded the idea. Assuming that it did indeed turn out to be something that was supposed to help catch him at some point in the future, even his own, in comparison to Stark's almost neglectable skills were enough to be able to assess that it was not ready to do much of anything right this moment, thus presenting little danger.
"Ah doll, there are few places I can't get into if I set my mind to it." Admittedly, Stark tower would have presented a significantly larger challenge than this particular branch office of SHIELD, primarily because of the AI and his unwillingness to permanently damage it or the building. He'd decided that the increased unlikelihood of being interrupted in the tower didn't trump the easier accessibility of the SHIELD offices. For the moment.
"Listen, Frosty," Stark started, and if not for the shaking of his hands, the words would have given away nothing of the anxiety he was most likely feeling. Only outrage and an amount of audacity that, quite frankly, was unfairly attractive. "I don't know why you're here and, to be honest, I don't care. So why don't you leave the way you came, and maybe you'll be lucky enough to make it out before every agent in this building is trying to knock the door down? I'm pretty sure even you wouldn't make it out of that alive."
Stark talked a good game, he'd give him that. It didn't change that the threat was a weak one at best. From the fidgeting, clenched fist and the almost unhealthy paleness of his face, Stark knew it, too.
"You know," he started slowly, keeping his attention more on Stark's twitching fingers than the blank face and clenched jaw in the presence of someone Stark most likely assumed an indiscriminate stone-cold killer. "Word on the street has it that you have heart problems. I wouldn't want to scare you into an early grave, so I guess I'll take my leave." He'd already gotten what he came for, as it was.
He was almost out of hearing range by the time Stark seemed to find his voice again, and he couldn't help the laugh that slipped out, against all sense.
"I'm not afraid of anyone who's named after a fucking season!"
By the time SHIELD agents stormed the lab, Tony had gotten his shaking hands back under control and had forced himself to stop thinking about whether the line about his heart had been a threat, a warning or neither. Rumlow took one look at the room and barked at his men to spread out when he found that the Winter Soldier had already vacated the premises. Then he turned towards Tony with a look on his face that made clear that Rumlow was holding him personally responsible for -- what? Not throwing himself in the fucking Winter Soldier's path and stalling him that way?
Actually, no, Tony thought. This wouldn't do at all.
"Well, sorry to break this party up, but all this," he made a vague gesture that basically included everyone in the room and most likely everyone else, too, "is really not working for me. And since your oh-so secure offices are apparently not so secure after all, I'll go back to my actually secure tower to look at this. If Fury needs me, tell him to call. If I'm in a good mood, I might even pick up. Or, you know, send him to voicemail or something. We'll see."
"Working on something new already, Сахарок?"
He watched with interest as Stark jumped, not dropping the object he'd been focused on this time, catching himself just time. It seemed that he forever managed to catch Stark while he was working.
"JARVIS, a little warning please?"
The AI was silent for a moment, and Stark's eyes darted to one of the hidden cameras, hands twitching towards the closest keyboard. The thought occurred that disabling the computer would have been a possible strategy, though it was not the one he had employed, and the momentary dread on Stark's face made him somehow more satisfied that he'd found a different way.
"I apologize, Sir. I seem to have... lost track for a moment there."
He almost smirked at how miffed the construct - JARVIS? - managed to sound, though the urge faded the moment Stark turned to him with a glare.
"You'll show him how you did that."
It wasn't a question, but it wasn't quite an order, either. The tone sat firmly enough between the two that he didn't feel the need to bristle at it. He shrugged instead.
"I can, I guess. If it means I won't have to bribe your AI the next time I come by?"
Stark looked dumbstruck and enraged, and the thought occurred that he was enjoying the expression way too much and that Stark should never learn about that.
Instead of saying anything to him - a pity, too, he'd actually been looking forward to it - Stark pointed at one of the cameras in the room and addressed the AI. "JARVIS! How did he even-- what could someone even bribe you with?" Confusion colored the last words. It was mirrored in Stark's face.
To be fair, the question had taken some serious thinking - and gathered information - on his part, too. In the end, the answer was quite an obvious one, though it may seem less so to Stark.
The silence stretched and for a moment he thought the AI wouldn't answer, though later, he would find the assumption to be stupid.
"He asked nicely," said JARVIS, almost snappily. "In fact, he gave me a reason to believe that his presence would have a positive effect on your health."
"I don't get how that works with the heart attacks he continues to almost give me whenever he appears out of thin air," muttered Stark, frowning. It was accompanied by a dark look, first at one of the cameras and then at him. It reminded him of a disgruntled cat, though he did his best not to let the amusement he felt at the thought show on his face. Stark most likely wouldn't appreciate it.
"I am certain he will do his best to keep you in best health, Sir."
He wouldn't have thought it possible from a computer-generated voice, but there was a terse stiffness in the tone that spoke of a threat should he fail to do so, and as Stark was still grumbling to himself, already giving in even if he didn't know it yet, he gave a pointed nod at the same camera Stark had targeted with his glare.
"Fine," snapped Stark after a few more seconds of tense silence. "Since JARVIS apparently decided to set up a playdate for us, why don't you just… shut up and sit down back there or something?" Stark waved at a couch on the other side of the room, about as far away as it could get without leaving the lab. He was already turning back to his work, attention caught by something more interesting. Even while Stark was angry at it, he believed in JARVIS' decision.
It seemed both strange and wonderful that Stark would trust his AI so implicitly, that he wouldn't even ask what had made JARVIS think that the man he was attempting to help catch wouldn't be a danger when in his home. In fact, he wasn't quite certain he believed it himself, though there must be something that JARVIS had seen to make him come to the conclusion that Stark was safe with him. The thought felt oddly warm.
The Winter Soldier was a surprisingly pleasant company, Tony reflected, considering he was an assassin with an impossibly long history. Really, for someone who was feared by most intelligence agencies, the guy was shockingly nice to have around. It possibly had to do with the fact that what made his proximity tolerable to Tony was the comfortable silence the soldier generally maintained in order to excel in his... job? Occupation? What did you call an assassin assassinating people, anyway?
Anyways, Tony actually enjoyed the silent watchfulness as he continued to babble about the upcoming release of a new, better water filtration system. Tony kept having to remind himself that even if the guy was one of the first whose eyes didn't start to noticeably glaze over when Tony really got to talking, he was not actually friendly. Probably.
"Hey Bane, you gonna take off that mask anytime soon?" Tony threw the question out absentmindedly, but when the Soldier stiffened alarmingly in response, he thought that he'd probably managed to hit a sore spot by accident. Story of his life, seriously.
Keeping his attention on Soldier-boy, Tony pointedly turned back to the code on the computer screen and waved off his own question. He was on a roll with the boring phone update, he didn't want to get killed over a stupid quip, and why did he care what the guy looked like, anyway?
Tony hummed around a sip of coffee made to perfection and shot a look at one of JARVIS' cameras, hoping he'd take the hint to take some scans to figure up what was up with the mask. JARVIS hadn't actually said anything since his token protests when Tony had taken up the mug from where Robocop had left it next to his elbow. Tony had taken the lack of real objection to mean that the coffee was safe to drink and gone right ahead under what he was pretty sure had been a disbelieving stare from the coffee-maker himself and a huffy sound from JARVIS.
"You know, if you're looking to change professions, I'll pay you twice what you earn now to do this thing forever," he said, a blatant change of topic as he held up the coffee mug and pointed at it with the other hand. "Seriously, I have no idea how you did that, but this coffee has never tasted so... not-burnt."
Dummy made a protesting noise from the other side of the lab and Tony twisted around to point at him. "Don't even, your coffee is a travesty. Motor oil does not belong in coffee!"
It took a moment for Tony to understand that the sound he was hearing was laughter, that they'd managed to make the Winter Soldier laugh when only seconds ago, it had seemed as if he would be flinging himself from the room in a hurry.
Huh, he thought. If that wasn't an accomplishment to feel proud of, he didn't know what was.
"Just keep it in mind, the offer is open. By the way, you up to hauling some heavy stuff around?" Sure, he didn't actually have anything heavy he needed to be carried around, but Tony was certain he could scrounge something up since it didn't seem as if the Winter Soldier would be leaving anytime soon, now that Tony had changed the topic.
This was a service to the people, Tony thought. While the guy was in his workshop, he wasn't out there assassinating seemingly random people. That counted for something, right?
And if he happened to ogle the Winter Soldier's arms as he lugged around some heavy machinery, well, Tony was only human, wasn't he?
(He would love to get his hands on that metal arm, for that matter. Or maybe his tongue. He wasn't all that picky about the specifics.)
He gritted his teeth as something in his elbow scraped together in a way that sent painful chills up and down his spine. By this point, it would have been a surprise of Hydra hadn't picked up on what it was he was doing and prepared accordingly - it was only a matter of time before the remaining parts of the organization up and vanished, and he intended to make the best of the time he had until that happened and take out as many of them as he could.
A grinding sound came from somewhere in his wrist when he swung himself off the roof onto a fire escape. Whatever kind of gun that had been, it had sure packed a punch. At least this time, the Hydra henchman wouldn't be mistaken for a poor civilian victim, not with a weapon that hardly resembled anything that was commercially available.
As it was, however, there was no way for him to get anything more done while his arm was like this. A careful rotation made everything lock up until he managed to jostle something free with the help of his other arm. Yeah, there was no way.
It was a good thing he knew a mechanic.
"Hey Лучик, do you take walk-ins?"
Tony turned with a quip on his tongue, only to almost swallow it when he set eyes on what had once been a fascinating example of a metal arm. "What happened to you?!" He immediately scrambled for the kit of precision tools and had already nearly reached the Winter Soldier when the more sensible part of his brain kicked in and reminded him that the deadly assassin might not want him to pounce on one of his body parts without warning. (And didn't that just conjure up a whole different host of deliciously inappropriate images.)
"Have at it." A gesture at the poor mechanic marvel that was his left arm was invitation enough, and a few minutes later, Tony was prying apart two interlocking plates that had bent in a way they definitely shouldn't have for optimum functionality.
There was a screwdriver in his mouth, but Tony figured he was still easy enough to understand, because when he asked, "So, what even happened there?" The Winter Soldier didn't seem to have any trouble deciphering the question.
He somehow managed to shrug without jostling Tony or the arm he was working on at all. "Sometimes I get shot at."
Tony sent him a glare, even as he carefully untangled three wires. "Yeah, try the other one. There's no way a gun did that much damage, so what was it, a rocket launcher?"
The answering smirk was unfairly gorgeous, really, especially when it was followed up with a reminder of who was actually sitting in front of him. "Well, if I'm right SHIELD will call you in on it, so I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise," the Winter Soldier drawled.
(Still so very attractive. Fuck.)
Tony's grin felt stiff on his face as he tried not to show the sudden surge of remorse at how comfortable he was with an assassin in his lab. "So mean."
He watched very closely as Tony was led into the SHIELD facility. A different one than last time, slightly better secured but still not as hard to infiltrate as Tony's tower. Although, he was starting to think that few things were, and that it had possibly led him to expect too much. He'd already figured out three possible entry points and he'd only been here for fifteen minutes.
There was a part of him that started to get antsy as soon as Tony was out of his sight, and it was the same part that insisted he follow immediately in case something happened. To be fair, he didn't try to fight the urge very hard, and he was in the vents by the time Tony's driver pulled the car away.
He felt distinctly smug when he found Tony a few minutes later, already taking apart the gun and muttering to himself, snorting whenever he found something that made his face scrunch up in a half-amused, half-annoyed expression.
Dropping down from the ceiling, he mused that he'd probably appeared from nowhere too often if Tony didn't even startle anymore when he turned around to find someone standing almost at his shoulder. He only got the same half-amused, half-annoyed look that Tony had aimed at the weapon before.
"You know, you could have just told me I'd find a heavily modified version of SHIELD's supposedly secured weaponry from your latest target waiting for me here. Would have saved me a lot of worrying." Tony pulled at one of the panels, humming thoughtfully. "Also," there was a glint in his eye, and he braced himself for whatever was coming now. "If I didn't know better I'd say this is the same sort of good-foundation-but-shoddy-modifications work as on your arm."
He hummed, keeping his expression blank even as he debated how much he wanted to tell Tony. Going by the stubborn look aimed right back at him, the answer was everything if Tony had his way. Part of him thought that possibility sounded way too compelling. By this point, he was convinced that the chances of Tony being Hydra were basically in the negatives. It was this possibility that kept him from explaining himself, and the more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of having someone to turn to - which he'd already been doing for a while by this point.
The realization dropped like a stone in his stomach, and it was sheer luck that a group of people walked past the door outside right then, causing Tony to automatically look that direction.
It was just a few seconds, but they were enough for him to jimmy back into the vents and be gone by the time Tony turned back around.
To say that Tony was unamused when a certain someone walked into his lab that evening was an understatement. JARVIS had warned him this time, though he was almost certain that was only because when he'd come home from SHIELD, Tony had ended up ranting about how being left mid-realization was just bad taste, and JARVIS didn't want to be on the other end of another row of complaints so soon.
Crossing his arms in front of his chest, Tony tried to stay hard in the face of the serious case of sad puppy-dog eyes currently aimed at him. "You know Winter Wonderland, when you run off mid-conversation that kind of leaves the other person hanging a bit."
The eyes got sadder.
Honestly, an expression like that on what was supposed to be a hardened assassin's face was just criminal, Tony decided, and folded like a card house.
Fuck, he was so weak for this man.
"Okay, let's hear it," he sighed, leaning back against the workbench and uncrossing his arms, because really, that was just uncomfortable after a while, and it never looked as intimidating as he wanted it to, anyway. "Why did you run away from me?"
"I'm going to tell you something."
Well, Tony thought, those were certainly words. It wasn't an answer, but hell, he'd take it over another flight from the room, any day. Settling in against the table - not his best decision, arguably, nor the most comfortable, especially if this was going to be a longer talk as he got the feeling it was going to be. For that matter-- "Hold it for a moment there, Opera Ghost, if we're going to have a heart to heart are you going to take off that thing? I mean, it can't be comfortable, right?"
As with the last time Tony had mentioned it, the Winter Soldier froze for a moment, making an aborted movement towards his face, as if he'd forgotten he was still wearing the mask on his face. He didn't run, however he also didn't make a move to take it off himself.
He'd forgotten. He'd been wearing it for so long, and he'd felt so unlike anytime before when in Tony's presence, he'd forgotten he was still wearing something that impeded anyone's view of his face.
When Tony reached for the straps of the mouth guard behind his neck - slowly and carefully, as if he was afraid of startling him - the muscles in his shoulders started to relax as if he'd just been waiting for Tony to make the move, and he found his attention taken in by their closeness. He would only need to bend a little bit--
"That's unkind," he said instead, voice unreasonably rough, as he tried to keep their banter going through his urge to get as close to Tony as possible, as quickly as possible. "My face is a thing of beauty."
A smile pulled at Tony's lips. "Well, I wouldn't know, would I?" Freeing the last strap, Tony grinned up at him, as he pulled off the muzzle. "And now the reveal--" The grin abruptly vanished as he processed who was standing in front of him.
"Oh fuck, I've been lusting over a World War II relic."