Bucky had learned early on that life had a way of going to shit on very short notice. As a kid, that had meant running around and goofing off with Stevie only for an asthma attack to come out of seemingly nowhere. During the war, it meant creeping through the wilderness or a town or a base only for bullets to start flying. One minute you could be fighting back to back with your best friend, the next you could be falling to the bottom of a snowy chasm. That was just life.
The most recent sudden turn in Bucky’s life came with being kidnapped by a group he hadn’t yet been able to identify. Attempted captures weren’t entirely unusual, considering he spent a good chunk of his time running around in a costume fighting beside other super heroes, but this one had been different. This group, whoever they were, had come after him as Bucky, not as the Winter Soldier. They hadn’t tried to hide their actions, either. They’d attacked him where he was most vulnerable: among a crowd of civilians.
Bucky’d been in the middle of a crowded street when the paneled van had pulled up and the armed gunmen had jumped out. Even a precisely calculated attempt to fight them off would have risked any number of the innocents around them being hurt, not to mention blowing his cover. He’d been worried they’d somehow figured out his secret identity up until they cuffed his hands behind his back. The metal was aluminum. One flex of his prosthetic arm and he’d be free. That was when Bucky realized the truth. They weren’t trying to capture the Winter Soldier. They were after his civilian alter ego, and there was only one reason for that.
Whoever these people were, they wanted to use Bucky to get to the most important person in his life. Tony Stark had no shortage of enemies, after all, though most kept to simple business rivalries and none had ever gone so far as to kidnap his husband before. Tony had always been worried it might happen, though. He’d been so thorough explaining the downsides when he’d asked Bucky to marry him that Bucky’d accused him of trying to talk his way out of it.
Bucky’s knees hit the ground hard as his guards shoved him down. They’d driven for well over an hour before he’d been escorted out of the van and into some sort of office building. It looked old, abandoned, but there was a sign out front proclaiming that it’d once been a Hammer Tech facility. All Bucky was worried about was letting them think he was still a captive until he could figure out just who they were. Then he was going to burn them to the fucking ground. Now, forced to kneel before some new asshole who Bucky could only assume was the fucker in charge, Bucky allowed all the ice HYDRA had once poured into his veins to bleed into his glare.
The man wore a mask that hid his entire face, but his body stood at ease. He was clearly ignorant of the predator he’d just walked through his front doors. That, at least, would work well to Bucky’s advantage.
“Hello, there,” the man greeted in a posh British accent, though there was no friendliness to it. “I’m sure you’re wondering why you’re here.”
He leaned over Bucky, a classic and transparent power play, but stayed outside of easy reach, never coming into what Bucky had come to think of as his One Second Kill Zone. Of course, the suit he wore was also heavily armored, not unlike some of those post-apocalyptic cosplays of Iron Man Bucky had seen online and Bucky wasn’t sure he’d be able to kill him in a second or less anyway. The armor was definitely tactically-inspired, not medieval or any of that crap. It was… a bit like Boba Fett’s, now that Bucky was thinking about it. All dark, tarnished copper color with blood red accents covering black Kevlar, it looked molded to the guy’s body. It even had smaller plates going up the neck to meet with the tinted glass that made up the mask. Still, every armor had to balance out coverage with flexibility and that inevitably left openings.
“What do you want?” Bucky demanded, though it wasn’t hard to figure out.
If they wanted something from Tony, then that meant they probably wanted weapons. As his husband had warned Bucky back when they’d first started dating, not everyone seemed to have gotten the memo that Tony was out of that game. There was that time AIM had tried to kidnap him (which had been terrifying, thinking of his civilian husband in the hands of those psychos) to finalize some sort of new formula for super soldiers, but so far no one that Bucky knew of had ever resorted to kidnapping just to get the new Starkphone upgrade.
The other alternative was, of course, money. Tony was one of the richest people in the world as well as one of the most famous. While SI had a strict policy against paying ransoms, it wouldn’t be completely unreasonable for some naïve hopeful to think that Tony Stark might shell out a few hundred million for Bucky’s safe return. Bucky was absolutely sure he would, actually, which made it Bucky’s job to ensure he didn’t have to. And if they were doing this for revenge of some sort, to try and punish Tony for some perceived wrong by hurting someone he cared about, well… They’d see soon enough how well that worked out for them.
Bucky intended to find out who these idiots were and what they wanted as quickly as possible and proceed from there. Best case scenario for them, Bucky would figure out they weren’t much of a threat and escape before calling SHIELD in to clean them out. Best case scenario for Bucky, they needed to be dealt with immediately and Bucky got the pleasure of wiping them off the face of the Earth himself.
He’d never pretended not to have a bit of a dark side.
“What I want isn’t any concern of yours,” the British man answered. “Though I appreciate the lack of quivering. I’d heard you were a military man. Your kind are always the most fun to break.”
The clear relish and threat in his tone didn’t bode well. This was a career man who wasn’t in it just for the money or the rush of adrenaline. He didn’t care about serving some higher purpose. This was a man who enjoyed his job because he liked making people squirm. The fact that he had his sights set on Tony wasn’t something Bucky liked the idea of at all.
Wiping them off the face of the Earth it was, then. Bucky wouldn’t complain about that. He just had to figure out how and wait for his opening. He didn’t want to jump the gun too soon, just in case there was some larger plot at work.
“Who are you?”
The man tilted his head to the side for a moment, considering him.
“This,” he seemed to finally decide, “I will grant you. My name is Lancaster Sneed, but you can call me Shockwave. Now that introductions are out of the way, it’s time we got down to business, don’t you think? Bring him!”
One of the guards hauled Bucky up by one arm and Bucky let himself be pulled along, still playing the average joe. Sneed gestured toward a contraption off to the side that basically boiled down to a metal folding chair sitting in the middle of a large bucket. Bucky dragged his heels and put up a token struggle, more for show than anything else, but eventually let himself be wrestled into the chair. His arms were yanked down and his wrists cuffed to the legs of the chair so he had to hunch over uncomfortably. He’d been required to hold worse positions a few times for a sniper shot, but that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. Sometimes the hardest part of pretending to be weak was having to remember you aren’t. If he forgot himself and didn’t show the right amount of weariness or pain, his captors might become suspicious. On the other hand, it was a little too easy to start believing your own lies when it came to pretending to give in.
Once Bucky was secured, two of the guards broke away and headed out of the room again. With a few minutes of relative peace, Bucky took the opportunity to look around and get more of a feel for the place. The ceiling was only about ten feet high and they hadn’t left the first floor. The room was large, though, far larger than a conference room. Though the room lacked any of its original furnishings, the number of power outlets along the walls and ceiling clued him in that it’d probably once been a lab space. The industrial sink station against the far wall only cemented his theory.
Bucky tested his restraints as subtly as he was able and figured it would only take him a few seconds at most to break free of the cuffs tethering him to the chair. His flesh wrist might suffer for it, but that was an acceptable loss. He would just have to calculate it in. One thing he’d definitely have to keep in mind was to be careful not to accidentally break free while these fucks tortured him. Happy joy fun times. He was going to so enjoy breaking their faces and dragging them off to SHIELD. Just… not in the way Sneed would enjoy what came before then.
Despite telling Bucky that what Sneed wanted was none of his business, the man would have to tell him eventually. It was just a matter of how long it would take for them to get there. It wasn’t entirely uncommon to prime a subject with preemptive torture before interrogating them. Torture, in and of itself, held a power just by happening. There was no end in sight for the recipient, not unless they gave their captor whatever they wanted. Torture without even having been told what one was supposed to be giving up… Well, it brought with it a whole new level of desperation and fear. How could you make it stop if you didn’t know what they wanted?
Back with Hydra, there had been years when Bucky had been tortured for the single purpose of testing out what the Winter Soldier’s physical limits were. He’d been pushed over the edge time and time again just so his handlers would know where that edge was. He’d been broken over and over again to become their perfect little Asset. Fuck these guys if they thought they could hold even a candle to what Hydra had done to him. Bucky’s only concern was making it out before Tony had too much time to worry. There was no way Tony wouldn’t find out about the kidnapping, not with how public it had been, but Bucky could at least try and keep it on the shorter side of things. SHIELD would cover for him with excuses about how he’d gotten free.
Bucky was pulled out of his musing about bashing Sneed’s stupid mask in with a pipe by the return of the guards. And they weren’t alone. Even with a hood over his head, Bucky could recognize Tony instantly as he cursed and fought against his captors, shoulders jerking and legs kicking out. The two guards were clearly struggling to keep him under control and a third broke away to ram the butt of his rifle into Tony’s gut. The genius crumpled instantly, choking and gasping for air. The two original guards took the opportunity to drag him into a chair sitting opposite Bucky’s. It was only once he was securely in place that they pulled the hood off of his head.
Blood trailed down Tony’s chin from the corner of his mouth and a black eye was forming, his hair in completely disarray. He was still in the suit he’d left their bedroom in that morning. His expression was twisted with anger and spite for all of the half-second before he registered that Bucky was there, too. Then the horror flooded in. The fear seeped into his eyes.
His voice trembled and Bucky’s heart clenched at the thought of it.
“It’s gonna be okay, doll,” Bucky tried to comfort him, only to be cut off by Sneed’s amused chuckle.
“You should be careful what you promise,” he cautioned. “You wouldn’t want to make one you can’t keep.”
Bucky bared his teeth at the man in a snarl, fighting down the urge to give up this whole charade just to get Tony would of here. That would be a terrible idea, though. He might feel guilty about having to lie to Tony about his identity, but he wasn’t ready to lose the man because of his lies. He’d just have to… recalculate.
“Don’t you dare lay a hand of him! Why did you bring him here?”
Across the space between them, Tony was clearly doing some recalculations of his own.
“It’s me you want,” he bargained, “not Bucky. Let him go. Whatever this is, it’s between you and me. He’s got nothing to do with this.”
There was steel in his voice and Bucky couldn’t help but admire him for it. For a civilian, Tony had always been impossibly brave. It was one of the things Bucky loved most about him. There was no way Bucky was leaving here without him, though. That was not happening.
“On the contrary, Mr. Stark. You will find that he has quite an important role to play. You see, I have a project for you which is most vital. Your husband will simply be our special guest as we ensure the project is completed quickly and correctly. I trust you understand.”
Tony grit his teeth as rage engulfed his expression once again. Bucky knew him well enough to see the fear still lingering behind it, though.
“It’s okay,” he tried to provide what little comfort he could. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Yes, yes. You are a brave little soldier who can take anything that comes your way. I’ve heard it all before. We will see how long it lasts.” He waved one hand dismissively as he turned back to Tony and continued, “Now, are you prepared to hear the details of your assignment?”
Tony lifted his chin high and Bucky had never been so proud of him.
“I don’t make weapons anymore.”
“And you have made no secret of it. That is not why I have brought you here. Your company is the leader in prosthetics, among other things, the world over.” Which was true. Tony had been the one to engineer Bucky’s latest arm, actually, including the enhanced strength of it. Of course, he had no idea Bucky put that strength to use anywhere but their bedroom. No one knew about the Winter Soldier’s metal arm but practically everyone knew about Bucky’s. “Rumor has it that you are working on revolutionized life support systems, iron lungs that are so light and portable they can be worn under clothing or carried like a backpack.”
Bucky could practically see the cogs turning in Tony’s head as he tried to figure out the angle here.
“Is this corporate espionage? Are you after my designs? Because that stuff’s still in development. One day, yes, that’s the goal but SI isn’t anywhere near that stage yet.”
Which was only partially a lie, Bucky knew. Tony had spent a lot of time working on those designs himself and running simulations in his personal lab. Bucky had seen firsthand that he was tackling problem after problem with them and coming out on top.
“Well, then,” Sneed said easily, “I suggest you get to work finishing them up.”
As if on cue (and it probably was) someone dumped a bucket of ice cold water over Bucky’s head.
The water was just the beginning, a primer as it were. Bags of ice were dumped into the bucket at his feet and large, industrial fans were wheeled in and placed near him. They blew blisteringly cold air at him, biting at his exposed skin. They cut his shirt off of him to expose him even further and removed his shoes and socks. At least he’d been able to kick one of them in the face while they did it. All the time, Tony was trying to talk them into stopping, begging and pleading for them to understand that he just didn’t have the technology yet.
“You’re gonna kill him! Please! I can start working, but it’s going to take time! We’re still a couple years out from what you’re asking me to do! I know I’m good, but I’ve still got limits!”
While Bucky was well acquainted with all forms of torture, Cold Rooms were probably his least favorite. It reminded him painfully of the years with Hydra where he’d been placed in a cryotube and frozen solid when he wasn’t needed. It was a cold that went beyond bone deep and was one of the reasons he hated whenever the weather turned sour, always bundling up despite Tony’s gentle teasing. (Tony knew there was something behind it, had probably even guessed it was from Bucky’s time in the military, but he didn’t know what.) Cold Rooms were almost worse than the cryotubes. At least the tubes had gotten it over with quickly to avoid tissue damage.
His teeth chattered and he shook violently, his body trying to ward off the chill. His hair hung down in thick tendrils, clinging to his face and neck. He was pretty sure his eyelashes were covered in ice. His breath was visible in the air in front of him. From his seat about ten feet in front of Bucky, Tony couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away. He was shivering, too, though Bucky couldn’t be sure whether it was more from fear or the cold that he, too, had to be feeling. Bucky’s chest ached from the frigid air.
“Just stop, please,” Tony begged, his voice practically a sob. “Stop hurting him. I… Just tell me what I can do to make it stop.”
Sneed chuckled but held up one hand to forestall the next bucket of water.
“You know my demands,” he said succinctly. “You have four hours to complete the device.”
Tony made an agonized noise that tore at Bucky’s heart. He struggled to think through the all-encompassing coldcoldcold that ran through his veins. Why was he having to hide again? Why was he putting Tony through this? What, exactly, was keeping him from ending this right this second?
“I… I can’t. I’d need more time! Please! Fuck, keep me here as long as you’d like and I’ll make it happen, I promise you. I don’t even care anymore, just stop!”
Bucky’s enhanced hearing caught the muttering of some of the guards lingering near the door. Tony’s words were ringing true, which they should considering that they were true. Somehow, he doubted Sneed would much care.
True to expectation, the man gave an irritated tsk.
“How much more?”
Bucky watched as Tony mentally scrambled to do the calculations. If they could stall until the end of the day, at least, until they were thrown in cells (hopefully separate), then Bucky could make his move then. Even if Tony were to just fall asleep in the same cell, he could work with that. He just… he needed a bit of privacy to use his enhanced strength to break free. Tony knew about the metal arm, sure, but that wouldn’t explain the rest of him.
“I, uh… I’m assuming you don’t have any of the schematics here, so I’d be starting from scratch and working just from my memory. Fuck, I don’t know! With nothing else to focus on but none of my equipment… Six to eight weeks?”
He winced even as he said it and Bucky let his eyes fall shut in resignation. That was a big gap between Sneed’s expectations and the reality of the situation. There was no way this would end well.
“I do not have six weeks!” Sneed exploded, and Bucky’s eyes snapped back open as he latched onto that detail. “It must be done sooner!”
Sneed was in Tony’s face now, one hand grasping his shoulder tightly. Tony struggled and tried to get away, fear and pain leaking into his expression alongside his desperation.
“I can try,” Tony promised hastily. “I will!”
“You will get it done today!” Sneed roared and yanked Tony by his grip on his shoulder, toppling the chair and sending it, and Tony, crashing to the ground. Bucky heard the sickening crunch of bone.
He pulled at his restraints, the handcuff on his metal wrist distorting as it prepared to snap. Fuck this. He was not going to sit here and let Tony be hurt by this psycho.
“’mmkay!” Tony called, muffled by his face being pressed into the ground, only to cry out moments later as Sneed hauled the chair back upright.
The skin across Tony’s left cheek had been torn by the cement floor and blood flowed down his face. Bucky was pretty sure his cheekbone might be broken. Sneed leaned in menacingly close.
“You will get it done today,” he hissed.
Tony’s gaze found Bucky’s and he could see the apology within them. He lifted his chin high and gave a sharp nod. It was an impossible task. Bucky knew that. There was nothing Tony could do. Later, once they were through this, Bucky would make sure he remembered that none of this was his fault. None of it.
“I can’t,” Tony whispered hoarsely, the guilt he felt heavily lacing his tone. “I can’t.”
Tony cried out as Sneed backhanded him across his injured cheek. Bucky was going to kill that man with his own two hands before this was all over. He didn’t care what it took.
“Very well,” Sneed spat. “It appears you need some further convincing after all.”
Sneed held out his hand to one of the guards who presented him with a cattle prod, another item that Bucky was all too unfortunately familiar with. The panic welled up in his chest, the feeling of it threatening to claw right out through his throat. He must have made some sort of noise, or maybe it was just the looking on his face, and Tony started struggling all over again.
“I can work on it! I will! What more do you want from me? I can’t do the impossible!”
“I want you to do what I ask.”
Sneed jammed the prod into Bucky’s side and electricity coursed through him. He screamed. It only lasted a moment, but for that moment he couldn’t have said whether he was in a shitty folding chair covered in water or strapped down by Hydra being wiped. He didn’t- He couldn’t-! Sneed jabbed him with the prod again. He could hear Tony yelling even as the shadows of his nightmares danced at the edges of his vision. It was all just too much! He couldn’t take it!
Bucky wasn’t consciously aware of breaking free from the chair. One moment he was sitting and writhing with the pain and the next he was free, crouched over Sneed’s body where he’d been thrown the floor. Bucky snarled and raised his metal fist to punch through the glass mask. Cracks spiderwebbed across its surface from the force of the blow and Bucky raised his hand to do it again only to be struck from behind by one of the guards.
He whirled, near feral from the emotions coursing through him, and snarled as he launched himself at the guards. It didn’t take him long to rip his way through them. The Winter Soldier had been Hydra’s perfect asset, a killing machine of the highest caliber. He was lethally efficient even against trained mercenaries and teetering dangerously on the edge of a major panic attack. By the time he had taken care of all of them, he stood panting and trembling.
Tony’s hesitant tone was like that first bucket of ice cold water all over again. Bucky took a deep breath and straightened himself before turning slowly to face his husband. The confusion and worry, he’d been expecting, but it was the hints of fear that made his heart clinch like a vice. He held up his hands in the universal sign for ‘I mean no harm’ and cautiously started toward Tony to get him free.
“I won’t hurt you,” he promised quietly. “And I’m sorry, first and foremost. Let me explain?”
Tony didn’t object, so Bucky crossed the rest of the way over to him and knelt by his chair, examining the cuffs. Like the ones they’d put on Bucky, the middle of the cuffs were solid metal, not a short length of chain, and they were tight enough around Tony’s wrists that he wouldn’t be able to fit even a finger in for leverage. He took hold of the loop attached to the chair itself with both hands and began prying it apart, the metal biting into his flesh fingers painfully. Tony remained silent as he worked, just watching him. Then, as Bucky moved to the second cuff, “That’s not just from your arm.”
“No, it isn’t,” Bucky admitted. He pried the second cuff open and stood, giving Tony some room even if all he really wanted to do was wrap him up safe in his arms and never let him go. Then, with another deep breath to steel himself, “I’m a top-secret agent who was enhanced by Hydra while they were doing human experiments during World War II.”
Tony’s mouth worked, eyes wide.
“I’m the Winter Soldier. And I would have told you, babe, I would have, I swear! But my identity was technically classified and I was so terrified I’d lose you if I said anything and you are… Tony, you are the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Getting captured by Hydra and turned into- into this, the monster they made me? It was all worth it for the opportunity to have you in my life. But… I also understand if it’s a bit much. Just… take some time to think it over? I love you. You have to know I love you. Whatever else, that was never a lie and never will be.”
Tony was still gaping at him.
“You’re the Winter Soldier.”
He said it in an awed, stunned tone, like he was having trouble wrapping his mind around it. Bucky winced.
“Yes, and I know I don’t exactly have the best reputation, but I promise you I am only trying to do what’s right. What I did at the hands of Hydra… That wasn’t me, and it’s taken me a long time to accept that but it’s true. None of it was my choice. What I have done as me? It was all to protect people,” he pleaded, one hand rising to gently cup Tony’s uninjured cheek and stroke his thumb across Tony’s cheekbone. “It was all to protect you.”
Tony didn’t get to finish as the wall behind them exploded and they were thrown away from it. Bucky wrapped his arms around Tony and pulled him close, taking the brunt of the force as they collided once more with the ground.
“If you don’t want to be filled with more holes than Swiss cheese, put your hands up and come quietly!”
Tony groaned pitifully from on top of Bucky.
“Really, Pep? Now, you make it?”
Tony pushed himself off of Bucky and levered himself to his feet with what looked to be an undue amount of effort as the red and gold armor of Rescue, one of Iron Man’s companions, stomped toward them through the rubble. Her various weapons folded back into the suit as she surveyed the area. One armored gauntlet carried was appeared to be a suitcase of the same metal as the suits and Bucky idly wondered what possible crazy gadget could be in there this time. Iron Man always had the greatest gear, though now wasn’t really the time Bucky wanted to spend concentrating on it. He had bigger things to worry about.
“Looks like I wasn’t needed, I guess. JARVIS and I had trouble tracking your signal. I don’t know if it’s this building or something your kidnappers did, but it was jamming us.”
Bucky’s brain stuttered.
Tony gave him a sheepish grin, well, more of smirk considering he could only use half his face without being in severe pain, and held out a hand to help Bucky to his feet.
“Yeah… So, you’re not the only one who’s been keeping secrets. Pep, if you would?”
“Wait, Pep as in Pepper?! Our Pepper?!” Bucky exclaimed as he let himself be pulled to his feet. He still wasn’t really feeling great. Pepper’s entrance was letting the cold air out and heating the room immensely, but he was still freezing.
Rescue chuckled as she set the suitcase down next to Tony and the faceplate slid away to reveal Tony’s fiery second in command at Stark Industries.
“Guilty.” She slid her eyes over to Tony before continuing, “I figured since you called me Pep he knew? Should I not have mentioned JARVIS?”
As the suitcase opened up and Tony grabbed onto some latches, Bucky began to formulate a sneaking suspicion as to just what it was Tony had been keeping from him.
“Nah, you’re good,” Tony said easily as he yanked on the latches and suddenly another suit of armor was folding around Tony, the Iron Man armor. “I was planning to tell him anyway.”
Bucky gaped. He definitely was not going to admit in front of Pepper how tight his pants suddenly felt after watching all that metal crawl across Tony’s body.
Tony’s faceplate lifted so Bucky could see the humor in his eyes. He probably knew exactly what watching that had done to Bucky.
“Surprise? I haven’t yet figured out a way to call the suit to me remotely and I didn’t have one with me when these idiots attacked or I would have used it.” All of the humor drained from his face, “Priority number one when we get back, I promise. I am never letting this happen again. I… Buck, I am so sorry you had to go through that.”
There was the guilt Bucky’d known was coming. He stepped up to the armor, having to look up to meet Tony’s gaze, and gently took the sides of the helmet in hand. He rose up on his toes slightly to press a soft kiss to Tony’s lips. The tasted like blood and Bucky really wanted to get him back home right fucking now for some medical attention.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” Bucky told him seriously, making sure not to let Tony avoid his gaze. “Nothing. You saw how quickly I was able to take them out. I could have done it sooner but I- At first, I wanted to know why they were after you, and then once I found out you were here… There is nothing I fear more than losing you.”
The metal arms of the armor wrapped around Bucky’s waist to pull him closer.
“Never,” Tony swore, leaning in to kiss him again. “Never.”
Later, they would find out that Sneed was former SHIELD agent who’d been on the receiving end of a bad mishap in Africa that’ll left him horribly scarred and physically handicapped. He’d built the suit they’d seen him wearing to survive and regain his mobility, but it was failing him. He only had a few days left.
None of that mattered, though, not to Bucky, not when he knew he’d have Tony by his side for the rest of his life. And if Iron Man and the Winter Soldier started teaming up more often? Well, that was nobody’s business but their own.