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green with envy

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one || back home

 

The secret that nobody knew about was that Steve was in love with Bucky--always had been.  Even as a skinny shrimp that barely reached his best friend's chin, he had had weird tingly sensations whenever Bucky was around.  Seventy years later and packing a lot more muscle than before, those feelings had never gone away.  In fact, they had only grown stronger--in both Steve's heart and nether regions.  At first, because of Bucky's Winter Soldier programming, he hadn't dared to make a move--it wouldn't look good on his part, after all--but now that it had been two years and the other man had adjusted to modern life surprisingly fast, the blonde was ready to develop something further than friendship.  He just needed to make sure that the darker-haired supersoldier felt the same way.

Although Steve had made sure to put on a wary expression when King T'Challa had told the fugitive Avengers they were being pardoned, inside he was secretly a little joyful.  He would forgive Tony--hopefully Iron Man had an eloquent apology prepared--and Bucky would realize how kind Steve was, to just let bygones be bygones like that.  Then he could start taking things further, as soon as he knew the former Winter Soldier was completely enraptured.

Steve glanced around inside the quinjet where the rest of his team was currently situated, excluding Natasha--she somehow managed to come and go, but hadn't visited for a few months.  Most were looking at the floor, as if they weren't sure whether to be happy or angry.  The only one watching him was Bucky, who--despite Steve's cajoling--had decided to keep his silky dark hair at shoulder-length.

The blonde offered his friend a small smile, which only grew wider when it was returned.   It'll be all right, Buck, he said silently.   I won't let Stark touch you like that ever again.  

After another hour, the quinjet touched down smoothly, and the ex-Avengers all shot up as if their seats had suddenly been covered in lava.  Steve stood hastily as well, his heart thumping in his chest like an urgent battle drum.  After two years hiding in Wakanda, he felt a little out of place back home--even if it was home.  And then, as he reached the ramp that led down to real ground, his stomach dropped.   Stark.

The billionaire was standing there casually, sunglasses down and a look of indifferent boredom on his face.  The odd alien thing-- Vision-- hovered protectively at his side.  Steve had wanted to put the Civil War behind them ever since it had happened, but Tony never bothered to call.  It hurt Steve a little, it really did, but one thing he could never forgive the man for was blowing off Bucky's arm.  Tony knew it wasn't Bucky's fault that his parents were dead, he knew, and yet he ruthlessly attacked anyway.  For that, Tony's apology had better be extravagant.

The recently pardoned Avengers made their way down the ramp slowly, as if they couldn't believe what they were seeing.  Taking a fresh gulp of American air--the America he, Captain America, had been named for--Steve finally allowed himself to relax and accept the fact that he was back.  God, how he had missed this.  He had even missed Tony, to an extent.  Before Ultron, he and Stark had even started to become friends.  Maybe their relationship could be repaired too, and then he could date Bucky freely without having to worry about murderous, petty billionaires.

"Hi Tony," the blonde supersoldier said, trying to keep the expectancy out of his voice.  For a man who was supposed to be falling all over himself in regret, Tony Stark did not look sorry at all.

"Rogers," the engineer said in a clipped, cool voice.  His expression didn't even waver, and Steve drew back a little in surprise.  

Quickly recovering, he said, "It's--it's real swell to see you, Tony.  And...for what it's worth, I'm glad you've finally accepted where you went wrong.  Although it's been hard to just forgive and forget"--here he let out a little chuckle, to let everyone know he wasn't upset about past events anymore--"I'm grateful you pardoned us.  I hope this is a step towards mending the friendship we unfortunately damaged when you signed the Accords and went after Bucky."  

There was a stony silence for a second, and then--

"HAHAHAHAHA."  A loud snort followed the laughing.

"...Pardon?" Steve said, completely taken off guard.  Scanning the lot, he saw that his other teammates were just as bewildered as he was.  "Sorry, who was that?"

"Here," the voice said, sighing.

Steve opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again.   "Vision?" he said dumbly.

"No, you absolute idiot, down here," the voice said again, and Steve looked down doubtfully only to step back in shock.  There was a talking raccoon.   A talking raccoon.   At his feet.  Not to mention said raccoon was rolling its eyes, which shouldn't even be a thing??

"I'm Rocket," the animal said cheerfully, as if neither Steve nor the rest of the ex-Avengers were staring at him in shock.  "Sucks to meet you, Blondie.  You must be the douchebag Tony's always trying not to talk about.  With your merry little band, too, I see.  Sucks to meet you as well, douchebag-minions."

The raccoon slunk forward from his place next to Tony's leg.  The engineer was watching in mild amusement, as could be drawn from the lifted corners of his mouth.  

"And you, you must be James Buchanan Barnes," the creature said with relish.  "You're a dick too, although less of a dick than your buddy-o here, Steve.  I totally get that you were under mind-control, man, and that's why I'm less angry at you than I am at the rest of your mates.  In fact, you must be a pretty cool guy for an ex-superhero to destroy everything to go chasing after you."

Bucky winced.

"Hey," Steve said, narrowing his eyes as he stepped forward and looked down at the self-assured raccoon.  "Don't talk to Bucky like that."  

Rocket shrugged.  "I do what I want, Rogers."

The blonde opened his mouth to reply when Tony finally stepped forward and interjected, "Hey, hey, stand down, Rocket.  No need to pick a fight with them on the first day back."

"This is all your doing, Stark," Clint spat as he moved closer so that he was shoulder-to-shoulder with Steve.  "Why don't you--"

"Hawkeye," Steve said sternly, and Clint shut his mouth with a grumble.  

"Anyhow, I'm not here to socialize," Tony said, removing his sunglasses to reveal eyes just as warm and brown as Steve remembered them to be.  However, they were stonier than before, and it unnerved him--how Tony didn't look at them the same way he used to.  "You all are going to have to sign the revised Accords, one way or another, if you want to stay an Avenger.  Barton, you're retired--you shouldn't even be here, you shouldn't have been here two years ago either.  Once you're escorted to the Compound by Vision, Laura will be waiting for you with divorce papers."

Clint made a choking sound and his fingers curled into fists.  Only Steve's hand on his shoulder made him stay in line, although he was vibrating with hatred.  "First locking us up and getting us exiled from our homes, and now you're making my wife divorce me?" he snarled.  "Fuck you, Stark, I didn't think even a self-absorbed bastard like you could get so low."

Tony gave a humorless smile.  "Oh, no, I had nothing to do with it.  This is Laura's personal decision.  I think she might be mad because...I don't know, actually.  Maybe because you up and left her and her children without a second thought, all for deal ol' Captain America."

Steve didn't like this new Tony--all razor sharp edges and corners.  What had happened to the guy that played video games with Clint in the Avengers Tower?  If only Tony hadn't created Ultron, things wouldn't be this way…

The archer was as tense as a knot, but he didn't say anything else.  After two years, he had kind of exhausted all his hatred even if it hadn't disappeared.

"As for Wanda, she's going to be enrolled at Charles Xavier's School for the Gifted.  It'll help her control those witchy powers of hers," Tony continued as if Clint's anger didn't affect him at all.  It bothered Steve more than he'd ever care to admit.  

"What?" Wanda said angrily.  "You cannot just lock me up like that, Stark!"

"Actually, this wasn't my decision either," the billionaire said lightly.  "The government thinks it's a good idea, and so does Xavier.  It's a mutant school--I think you'll actually learn a lot and enjoy yourself there.  And if you refuse, there are a lot of people who want to actually throw you in a jail cell as you're suggesting my intent is.  Believe me, I'd take being a student all over again rather than prison."

Wanda hissed, and red tendrils began to swim and flicker around her fingers.  Tony inclined his head sharply, and suddenly men Steve hadn't even noticed standing off to the side broke off from their pack to handcuff the Scarlet Witch before she even knew what was happening.  Struggling, Wanda flailed her arms only to realize she couldn't pull up her magic anymore.  What was going on?

"Vision here helped me create cuffs that would deter magic users," Tony informed Steve and the rest of his team.  Wanda's eyes widened in hurt as she looked at Vision, but the android only watched the ground.  As for Steve, he shook his head in disbelief--he couldn't believe Tony would do such a despicable and cruel thing to a child.  

As if the engineer could read his mind, Tony scoffed.  "And before you say it's wrong to handcuff a child, Wanda's twenty two, Steve.  She's a legal adult."

"Agent Barton, you're coming with us too.  You can see your wife now," one of the men dressed as bodyguards said.  Jerkily, Clint made his way over to Wanda and her guards, as if he still couldn't process everything that was happening.  To be honest, neither could Steve.

"Okay, moving on," Tony said briskly.  "I don't have much time here.  Rocket and I need to get back to Peter, I was busy beating him at chess.  Anyhow, Scott, you're going to have to return your little insect suit to Hope van Dyne, she's really pissed you took it.  And Cassie is most likely going to be with her mother and stepfather considering since she didn't have a dad for two years, she needed someone more responsible--and available, for that matter--to take her in.  Sam, you're going to be dishonorably discharged from the military, of course, but you're welcome to rejoin the Avengers if you sign the Accords as well as some other documents.  Barnes, you're welcome to the Avengers as well--we could use a man with your strength and stamina.  Steve...you can join too, I suppose, although I don't think many countries will be happy about it.  But that's why you're back, after all--we need as many people as we can get, even if the world doesn't necessarily like some of them."

"Stark," Steve cut in quickly before the other man could go on.  "Don't you think you're being a little rash about all this?  Why would you just throw Wanda away like that, or Scott?  They're very essential to our team."

"Our team?"  Tony snorted.  "We're not an 'our.'  Even if you sign the Accords, we will never be an 'our.'  That all ended when you left me to die in Siberia, Rogers."

"What?" Sam said aloud in confusion, glancing at Steve.  Bucky looked over too.  "What did you tell them, Stevie?"

Tony shook his head.  "A liar too, I see.  Nobody knows what you really did, then.  Doesn't matter--I have a chess game to return to.  Vision, please escort the pardoned fugitives to the Compound.  Lang, you'll be seeing your daughter soon.  And, Wilson--Rhodey forgave you a long time ago for his paralysis.  It's not exactly your fault."  Sam looked a bit brighter at that.  "If it makes you feel better, Rhodey's walking now--I built him legs.  Barnes, Rogers, you're going to follow Vision as well--and Rogers, I'm sure many people would like to have a chat with you."

With that, the billionaire turned on his heel, the little raccoon slinking after him quickly.  Steve could hear the lighthearted tones of conversation being exchanged between the two, and felt a little pang of hurt and indignance.  Tony had never talked in front of him so happily like that.  And now he was talking to some repulsive animal with a lot more respect.

Facing forward again, he noticed Vision regarding him coldly.  "You will all accompany me now to the Compound, where you will face your fates," the android said.  The words sounded eerie to Steve, but he ignored it.  Looking at Bucky beside him as they all began to walk, he admired the dignified way the dark-haired supersoldier managed to stride despite having been so blatantly verbally abused by Stark.  He studied the strong jaw, the long thick lashes, the hair that even if too long Steve could sweep out of his face…

"Somethin' on my face, Stevie?" Bucky said with a wry grin, glancing at the blonde.  Noting Steve's sudden look of a deer caught in headlights, he mistook it for worry and said softly, "Don't worry.  I believe you're a good guy.  People jus' need to hear your side of the story first to understand."

Steve nodded slowly.  "Thanks, Buck.  I don't know what I would do without you."

His heart pounded in tandem with the sound of his footsteps against the gravel, and for a moment, he forgot everything else--Stark, the Accords, Wanda, everything.  With Bucky by his side, it would be all right.   He-- Captain America--would be alright.

 

 

Chapter Text

two || forming rifts

 

This was ridiculous.

Steve felt like throwing up now that he was in the privacy of his own bedroom (a bedroom, he might add, bare and empty much unlike his thoughts).  It had been four days since he'd returned to American soil and only eight hours since the signing of the Accords.  It was shocking when Bucky had signed first, to say the least.  To be honest, back in Wakanda when Steve dreamt about coming home with Bucky, he tended to leave out all this corrupt government stuff and focused instead on how their relationship would develop.  There was no time for the Accords; at least, not in Steve's fantasies.  However, now that he had officially signed, he felt as if he were stuck in a corner with no way out.  And really, even though he'd never admit it, the worst part about the Accords wasn't even that it took away everyone's rights and trapped superheroes under the thumb of villainous politicians, it was that Tony supported it.

Steve straightened on the bed, his sketchbook all but forgotten as he lost himself in his thoughts.  Really, if you looked at all the bad things that Tony Stark had done--creating missiles for the bad guys, whoring around, insulting anyone with two legs and creating Ultron --then when a guy like him thought something was good, it had to be bad.  

Pleased, Steve took up his pencil once more and continued his sketch of a certain dark-haired supersoldier.  For a moment there he was even afraid he had made a colossal mistake about going against Stark, but no.  He had done the right thing and was glad to realize that even seventy years into the future, he was still standing tall against bullies.

The only problem was, once again, Bucky's signing.  Steve had even envisioned a scenario in which he'd have to hold his best friend down as the other man snarled and spit insults at Stark and all the rest of them--it would be understandable after all.  However, Bucky had given an unsure quirk of the mouth and even seemed rather eager to scribble his name down on the dotted line.  Oh well, it didn't matter anymore.  Just because he and Steve were now officially government puppets didn't mean Steve was useless.  

Suddenly, a light knock sounded on the door.  The blonde looked up.  "Who is it?" he asked warily.

"Lemme in, Stevie," came the exasperated voice of none other than James Buchanan Barnes.  Steve's heart warmed at the familiar tone and accent.  Like usual, it satisfied him to see how far Bucky had come--from the skittish, wary, and angry victim to a guy just as snarky and quick to laugh like before he'd fallen from the train--albeit lacking much of the confidence he'd once had.  In fact, with the help of the BARF thing T'Challa had introduced, it was safe to say that he was as fine as he was ever going to get.  The guy still had PTSD and a load of other issues, of course, but Steve knew how to handle that.  Back in his war days, there had been tons of veterans just like Bucky.  

To tell the truth, Steve was surprised that the Wakandan king had found a solution to ease Bucky out of the Winter Soldier programming so quickly...he would've even thought that Stark had been the one to invent it, considering T'Challa's evasiveness when asked about "those brilliant Wakandan scientists" Steve owed his thanks to.  But he knew Tony wouldn't help his best friend, not when he was the sort to let emotions cloud his judgement.  

He got up off the bedspread, making sure to flip his sketchbook shut, and then opened the door to find warm dark eyes blinking at him fondly.  "You've been holin' yourself up in here ever since that final Accords meetin'.  You okay?"

Steve nodded and sighed, motioning for Bucky to come in before closing the door softly behind them.  "It's just...I don't know, Buck.  I know this is all new to you, but the government isn't as safe as it used to be.  Now they've got people like...Tony Stark, running all over the place and putting their noses in places their nose shouldn't be."  Steve fidgeted, running a hand through his hair.  "I hope we didn't make a mistake by coming back and agreeing to sign."

Bucky nudged him gently.  It was sort of an awkward nudge; a gesture borne from habit rather than familiarity now, but it made Steve brighten nonetheless.  "I talked to Stark a little jus' now, actually.  He's not so bad, Stevie, you just hafta get to know him I think.  He said some pretty agreeable things about the Accords.  He told me it's been revised since you last saw it an' that heavy corrections were made."

The blonde shrugged, giving his friend a half-smile.  "Well, I hope you're right...maybe some of your faith will rub off on me, huh?  Listen, I've known Tony for a long time.  He's not always...he doesn't always make the best decisions."

Bucky didn't seem to be listening; there was a serious concentration on his face as if he were stuck pondering another world entirely.  

"Buck?"

"Yeah," Bucky said, snapping his head up and giving Steve the slight but warm grin that never failed to arouse the other man.  "C'mon, enough moping.  Let's get you some food, huh?  I'll bet you've been sittin' here just drawin' since this morning."  Bucky motioned and made his way to the door, Steve following.  The brunette was right--he'd done enough moping; now was time to check out his surroundings and assess the situation at hand.  If there was one thing he'd learned from Tony, it was to always look first--you never knew who'd jump out at the last second and stab you in the back.

***

Splat!   Steve recoiled as yet another pea hit him squarely on the nose.  He turned around, glaring at whomever the offender might be, but didn't see anyone but a few agents milling around or eating innocently from their trays.

Splat!   Steve huffed a breath from his nose in displeasure and stood up, scanning the cafeteria.  Bucky stood as well.  "It's prob'ly just some asshole gettin' his kicks for fun.  It's okay."  Only Bucky's warm long fingers hovering tentatively near Steve's shoulder stopped him from snatching his tray and hurling it Captain America-style at anybody who looked vaguely suspicious.  

"I know," Steve said, offering a strained smile in his friend's direction.  

No more peas came after that, so he was just about to sit down and finish eating the rest of his meal (rather bland; he'd have to make a complaint because the food back in Stark's Tower had always been much more luxurious) when he spotted it.

The raccoon.   Of course.  Only a filthy animal could be the cause of Steve's woes.  

A green-skinned woman, a--was that a tree?-- a plant thing, a hulking ogre or something, and a regular looking man (thank God) were situated next to the raccoon, and all were smirking at him.  Even the tree thing looked like it was laughing, and from what Steve knew, not even twenty first century plants had emotions.

Despite Bucky's hushed but frantic whispering, Steve immediately stood again and stalked over to the little animal's table.  The raccoon put the spoon with which he had been catapulting veggies back onto his tray and smiled innocently up at him.

"What do you think you're trying to pull here?" he said loudly, glaring at each creature in turn.  The man especially annoyed him, because that devilish grin was all but wholesome.  In fact, Steve could swear on his mother's grave that that smirk gave off the exact same vibe as Tony Stark's.

"Hey, we're just trying to enjoy this shit as much as you," the guy said, waving a hand at the mashed potatoes and peas.  "Want to sit down and join us?"

The green-skinned lady elbowed him.

"Sorry," the man said, offering a charming smile that did nothing to placate Steve's worsening temper.  "I'm Starlord.  Otherwise known as Peter Quill.  And you're...Captain America, is it?  Except you're not really a captain are you?"

He peered over Steve's shoulder.  "And you're the brainwashed terrorist that isn't a terrorist."

"I suppose you could say that," Bucky said with an amiable shrug as he moved to Steve's left, obviously looking to settle the situation.

"Don't call him a terrorist," Steve snapped.  "Buck couldn't help what he was doing."

The raccoon chuckled.  "Doesn't make him less of one," he said, and now Bucky was looking pained, and Steve tensed, readying up for a fight--

"Let's start over," the woman said loudly, eyeing Steve with luminous dark eyes.  "I am Gamora.  That is Quill, he's Drax, that's Groot, and that's Rocket."

"I'm not interested in knowing what your names are, I'm interested in why exactly you're trying to assault me when I'm eating," Steve said irritably.  

"Rocket is sorry," the lady--Gamora--said with a pointed look at the small animal.  "He just tends to be rather defensive to people who have hurt his friends."

"I haven't done anything to you people!" Steve said furiously.  "Listen--get your--your--pet under control.  He's been bothering me since I came home.  You all need to leave me and Bucky alone, it's not like I haven't had any troubles ever since Tony had to--"

"Talking about me again, Rogers?" came a voice from behind him, and Steve turned to see Tony with a tray full of noodles sliding onto the bench opposite Quill and the four creatures.  The billionaire gave a smile that didn't reach his eyes.  "It's not that I don't appreciate the attention, but…"

"It is Rocket's fault," the huge ogre thing--Drax--said with an amused grunt.

"Ah, I see."  Tony turned to the raccoon.  "Harassing our...guests...are you?"

Rocket shrugged.  "Come on, what'd you expect me to do?  Sorry, but I just saw him sitting there in all that blonde-haired, big-nosed glory and couldn't help the opportunity.  He looks better with his face all crinkled up when peas are hitting him."

"I don't have a big nose!" Steve burst out.  The Quill guy gave him an unimpressed look.  "Hey, man, you may be hot as hell, but your nose is pretty big."

Tony cleared his throat and everyone hushed instantly, turning to him.  Bucky pressed closer to Steve, and Steve couldn't help but touching his shoulder to the other man's for comfort.  "Okay, listen," the engineer said clearly.  "Rocket, stop making trouble.  That's not what we're going for here, alright?"  The raccoon nodded with a huff, and Steve relaxed.  This was good.  Tony was defending him and Bucky, he was coming around.  "And Rogers--don't yell at my friends.  That's not acceptable, and quite frankly, you're kind of on thin ice right now.  I'm giving you a second chance, but we can't have this."  Steve flinched at the coldness in his former friend's tone.

Tony then turned to Bucky.  "Barnes, you're welcome to stay and eat with us, because since you signed up to be Avenger you're definitely going to be working with these people sooner or later.  Might as well get to know them."

"What about...Steve?" Bucky said slowly, as if he were actually thinking about eating with these neanderthals.

"Rogers, sorry," Tony said with a shrug that clearly conveyed how not sorry he was.  "My friends come first and right now I don't think they'd welcome your companionship.  I'll be having a...talk about that with them later."  The raccoon huffed again.  "In any case, Everett Ross wants to speak with you today since he wasn't available until this morning.  He's been busy the past month or so but now's a good time as ever."

Steve spluttered.  "I'm not--I'm not talking with that man.  How could you, Tony?  Even after torturing Banner, locking everyone up in the Raft--"

"Listen," Tony cut in sharply as everyone but Bucky rolled their eyes.   "This Ross is named Everett Ross.  The Ross you're referring to was thrown into jail months ago, if T'Challa provided you with a TV at all.  That's Thaddeus Ross.  This one is better."

"There's no such thing as better," Steve scoffed.  "They're all bad--they're government slaves, Tony, don't you see?"

"I'm taking this to mean you want to reschedule the appointment," Tony said disinterestedly, twirling his fork around in the air.

"No."   Steve had finally had it.  He slammed his palms down onto the table, in his anger missing the sudden flash of fear in the smaller man's eyes.  "God, Stark, how could you be so--so--awful?  I thought we could fix this.  But you're obviously not willing to.  Even now, so selfish, it's disgusting really, why couldn't you be more like Howard?"  

Tony stiffened and the blonde supersoldier could hear Bucky tugging him back, saying "hey, Steve, stop this, it's not you" but he ignored it.  He was so sick of Stark and all his petty little Stark problems, he'd thought being here would make everything better but why would Tony get him a pardon if he wasn't even willing to try to get things back to the way they were?  This was probably his punishment for listening to Stark in the first place.  He should've known; it was like trusting a liar--you couldn't trust a liar no matter how many times the liar said he'd stop.

He threw a look of disgust at Stark and turned to go.  "Come on, Bucky, we're done here.  We're leaving."

The darker of the two looked at him unsurely, his mouth open.  "I--Steve--"

"Come on," Steve insisted darkly, ignoring the stares of everyone sitting at the table as well as the surrounding people who'd been drawn in by the conflict.

"I can't," Bucky said firmly, his face distraught but resolute.  "You're not acting you, Stevie, an'--"

"Fine," Steve snapped, throwing his hands up in the air and feeling more than a little betrayed.  "God, Buck, sometimes I don't know why I try with us."  He stormed off, avoiding Bucky's slightly confused but mostly hurt gaze and the rest of the snickering agents.  


 

Chapter Text

three || heavy hanging

 

When Steve stepped into the elevator, he was so riled up that he almost didn't notice James Rhodes sitting in the corner, planted in a wheelchair with eyes that only grew calculating yet thoughtful as soon as he realized just who had joined him.

"Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes," Steve acknowledged with a nod of his head.  Although he couldn't fathom why Rhodes had supported Stark, friends or not, he knew that most of the time the darker-skinned man tried to keep the guy in check.  Also, Rhodes had been in the military once, just like Steve, so they shared something in common.  Maybe he, at least, would understand Steve's perspective - about how he had had to fight for his friend, how it was deeply rooted in him the saying "no man left behind" - and so it was just impossible to have left Bucky up for dead.

"Rogers," the other man said calmly, leaning back in his chair as the elevator began to smoothly move upwards toward the second floor.  "Since you're here, I'd like to talk to you about something, actually."

Steve exhaled in relief.  "Of course," he replied, facing Rhodes.  

"FRIDAY, halt," the colonel said, waving his hand in the air for the doors to stay closed.  "I'd like to talk to the private."

"Captain," Steve supplied without even thinking about it.  He'd become so accustomed to his title that his true position in the military had escaped him.

Rhodes shook his head.  "Don't push it, Rogers.  A nickname borne from propaganda is still just propaganda.  And frankly, you're not even a private now that I think about it.  You never finished your training.  Anyway - I want to talk about Tony."

The supersoldier exhaled again, but this time in annoyance.  Everything came down to Stark in the end, didn't it?  What was so special about the billionaire that everything had to be about him?  "There's nothing to talk about," he said firmly.  "I've already accepted the...unfortunate circumstances that Stark seems to favor."

"No, there's definitely something to talk about."  The darker-skinned man's voice was icy as he turned his wheelchair to face Steve.  It had definitely been handcrafted by Tony himself, based on all of the fancy little gadgets and automatic movement of the wheels.  "Firstly, I want to make it clear that I understand why you tried to save Barnes."

"Thank you," Steve blurted automatically, but Rhodey shook his head again.  "I'm not done.  I understand why, but you know what I don't understand?  How you could possibly ruin one man's life, as well as countless others', for another person.  Tony's my best friend.  I'd do many things for him.  But diving headfirst into something I don't understand, and at the same time risking my friends for his sake?  I wouldn't do it.  When it comes down to it, I wouldn't.  I'd try to find another way."  Dark eyes met blue ones, and Steve found himself thinking about how much darker Rhodes' eyes were than Stark's.  "And what's even worse is that Tony offered you another solution to help Barnes, Rogers.   You were just too stubborn to take it."

"After Ultron, after everything, I couldn't risk it," Steve retorted, folding his arms.   I couldn't take that chance, you wouldn't understand, you haven't been in my position.

Rhodes just sneered at him.  "You're lucky my metal legs are down in Tony's lab being repaired today, or I'd stand up and beat your ass myself.  FRIDAY, open."  The man moved to wheel himself out using the controls on the arms of his chair, but right before he exited, Rhodey stopped in the middle of the doors.  He didn't turn around to face Steve, but said quietly, "I know what it's like to want to save someone you love so much you would do anything to have them back.  But think about it - you have Barnes now, but you lost my admiration.  You lost Tony, even though maybe that doesn't mean anything to you.  You lost most of the public's respect and even your delusional teammates would rather save themselves first than you.  You have no one but Barnes - one man at the expense of everyone else.  So, tell me, Rogers - was.  It.  Worth it?"

The wheelchair glided smoothly out and Steve knew that he should be off to his room now, also on the second floor of the Compound, but he stood there numbly and blankly until FRIDAY told him to get out.  Deep inside him, a cold, furious rage had started to uncoil - much unlike the hot and restless anger from before - the kind of rage that people harbor for years, the kind that turns them sharp and cunning.  Catching his reflection in the doors of the elevator as he stepped out, he was glad to see that he only looked stronger than ever.  And armed with his shield and his best friend by his side, he was invincible.

***

It was awkward when Bucky sat down at the table after Steve's fuming face was finally gone from sight.  A sudden silence settled down like a heavy blanket over Tony and his friends (friends?  Allies?) now that the little raccoon guy had nothing and no one to yell at anymore.

Bucky cleared his throat, forcing himself to look Stark in the eyes.  The other man watched him, a hint of suspicion but also curiosity in his gaze.  "Uh...I'm sorry for Steve's behavior.  He - I dunno - he's a lot different now."

"It's alright," Tony said with a slight shake of the head, casually dismissing Bucky's apology.  "I'm used to it.  Even back when we were teammates, it took a lot of effort to get Rogers to act like he even tolerated me at all."  This statement was followed by a little chuckle, almost as if the billionaire didn't care, but based off the rest of the table's angry faces, they could hear the bitterness tingeing Tony's words too.  The way the man had even phrased it made Bucky's internal alarms go off inside his head.  What exactly had gone down between Stark and his supposed best friend for Steve to hate him so much?  He remembered the little squirt from 1940's Brooklyn - the kid liked everyone, except for bullies.  But Bucky was pretty sure Stark, no matter what else he was, was not a bully.

It's not like he knew anything; after all, Steve had known the guy for far longer than he had...but something just felt off here.  And as the Winter Soldier, Bucky'd learned to trust his instincts.

"Hey," Tony said all of a sudden.  "Too much feeling-y shit going on in here - I feel like I'm dying or something with all these emotions.  I'm going to go outside."  He stood, and the Guardians stood with him.  Bucky noticed the adoration bright in their eyes, even in the fierce little raccoon's.  "You're welcome to come, you know, Barnes," Tony said offhandedly, addressing the supersoldier.  "I don't bite.  At least, not unless I'm in bed."

Bucky wanted to laugh, but all the day's stress and tension was getting to him and making his head fuzzy inside.  So he just nodded and followed Stark out of the mess hall as the rest of the SHIELD agents watched.

As the supersoldier trailed behind silently, he watched how the unusual group acted around each other.  Stark looked happier, more carefree, and he found himself thinking that the man looked a lot handsomer (not that he wasn't already - he wasn't on the Top 20 Sexiest Bachelors list for no reason) when there was no stress lining his face.  Already the years seemed to be vanishing from his features as the single other human of the group - Quinn? - laughed and pushed him lightly on the shoulder.  Next to the pair, the raccoon was shouting sarcastic quips up at them and the tree thing's shoulders were shaking gently.  The green-skinned girl as well as the hulking creature next to her were both looking on in poorly-concealed fondness.

Bucky found himself wishing that he had that kind of dynamic with someone, anyone.  Not Steve - despite the blonde's obvious hopefulness, he could never be the Bucky from 1940's Brooklyn ever again.  But someone new, maybe; someone who wasn't afraid of him but was also aware of how broken a man could be inside.

"Hey, buddy, you alive in there?" Stark said, snapping his fingers in front of Bucky's face.  The sound as well as the movement of his hand startled the supersoldier out of his stupor.  

"Sorry," Stark said with a smirk.  It was a strained smirk, but lightened the atmosphere just a bit.  "Just checking."  Bucky realized that he had been staring at all of them for much too long and that they had stopped on a nice grassy hill overlooking the Compound.

The raccoon flopped down onto the grass with a big happy sigh and pillowed his head on his hands, crossing his ankles as he looked up at the sky.  "This is the life."

"Rocket, you'd be happy with anything as long as there was a sky," Stark said with a fond grin.  

The animal - Rocket - rolled his eyes but didn't deny it.  "Hey, you know, staring at space all the time gets a little boring and lonely sometimes, okay?"

The others, including Tony, joined him on their backs in the grass and Bucky sat down too, albeit awkwardly.  He wasn't good in social situations like these.  And talking to Stark was like operating a minefield - there were too many uncertain variables and it made his brain hurt.  He didn't miss HYDRA - it wasn't like he had Stockholm Syndrome and the BARF technology had helped a lot - but sometimes what he did secretly miss were the straightforward commands and words spoken to him.  He knew if he was hated - they'd beat him, and insult him, until he was a bloody hurting scrap.  And on the off chance they were pleased, they'd give him a compliment - or at least, a sign of approval.  In this new, shiny world, everything was so much more confusing.  They didn't hurt him, they didn't wipe his memories, they didn't drown him and electrocute him and whip him till he was unconscious, but at least he had always known what was coming.  He had always known before, but he knew nothing now.

At least with HYDRA, in a twisted sense, he knew his place and where he belonged.  He didn't belong here, with Stark and his friends.  He didn't deserve to sit with the man whose parents he had killed.  He didn't deserve anything.

Bucky stared at his fists in his lap, and wondered how much blood on his hands he'd have if he was able to see it.  

A body shifted out of the corner of his eye, and he looked up.  "So, how're you enjoying the chaos of the twenty first century?" Stark said casually - a little too casually in Bucky's opinion.  He was studying the assassin with an indecipherable look in his eyes.

Bucky shrugged.  "Better than anything I coulda expected.  So, 's fine, I suppose."

"Rogers should take you on a tour sometime," Stark said with a hard grin.  "An approved one, obviously.  But you should get to see the city."

Rocket elbowed Stark in the ribs.  "Maybe he doesn't want to, Tony," the raccoon said, mock-annoyed.  "New York is a wasteland compared to the beauty of my ship."

Tony turned to his friend and raised an eyebrow skeptically.  "I'll admit, it's better than what I've seen, but I could do better.  And don't forget it was government issued - you stole it, Rocket.  A few repairs here and there or that nude lady painted on the side don't count."

The green-skinned girl laughed as Tony turned back to Bucky, humor gradually fading away again.  "Tour," he said.  "Did you ever get to see any of Wakanda?"

Bucky shook his head.  "I was stuck in cryo for almost a year, and then spent two tryin' to repair my mind.  And Stevie...he's a...he's always been kind, but he's a bit overprotective.  King T'Challa didn't want us out of the palace anyhow."

Stark barked out a laugh.  "Really."

Bucky felt a surge of defensiveness rise to the surface.  "Steve's a friend.  And I never really got t' explore, besides what's on TV.  Haven't seen much."

"Well, you need to," Tony said decisively, sitting up again and shielding the sunlight from his eyes with a hand.  "I'll convince someone to tour you around, maybe Romanoff or something.  Gets her out of my hair for a day and you your worldliness."

"You trust me out there?  On the streets...with all those civilians?  Stevie said that 's not worth the risk."  Bucky stopped, and stared.  Maybe Stark wasn't such a genius after all.  He was a danger to society, no matter how much he had improved.  The Winter Soldier was said to have been erased completely, but how could you erase something that was basically a part of yourself?  Maybe he was only waiting deep inside Bucky's brain for a chance to come out.

"BARF helped, didn't it?" Tony said, watching him with an odd glint in his eyes.  It looked almost...resentful.  Or bitter.  "You seem fine to me, Barnes.  I trust that you won't go psycho and decide to mass murder a bunch of adults and children."

Bucky tensed, and the tree grumbled, "I am Groot" with a reprimanding glance at Stark.

Stark waved his hand in the air.  "Romanoff could probably handle you anyway - she wouldn't be accompanying you without weapons.  Seeing the world would be good for you, Barnes.  Gives you anxiety but you'd probably end up liking it."  Almost as an afterthought, the engineer shook his head and murmured, "God, Rogers, what are you trying to do, shove him into yet another corner?"

Bucky laid back as well and opened his eyes up to the huge swallowing sky.  The few clouds littered across the blue seemed to be waving at him, like friendly cotton candy animations or something.  He hadn't had cotton candy in so long…he wondered if it still existed, those kinds of candies.  Maybe they had new types now.  Things he'd never seen or tried before.

One thing he'd realized since waking up from cryo was that Steve, unlike him, had never been all that willing to explore the present.  He still clung to his old photographs, his memories, his past.  On the other hand, Bucky felt even relieved that he was here now - at least he was out of HYDRA's clutches.  Perhaps it helped that although he could still remember much of his growing up in old Brooklyn, it was like a distant memory - detached and not his.  So it didn't matter as much to him that he wasn't the old Bucky, although it would be so much easier and much more happy if he could only reverse time to the past.  

The clouds moved slowly across the sky, the sun imprinting itself on the insides of Bucky's eyelids.  Maybe he would someday create new memories here, that could overpower HYDRA's influence.  And he could fight as an Avenger, and at least try to make up for the hundreds he had murdered in cold blood as the Winter Soldier.

Bucky wasn't sure if he believed in God anymore, but he figured there was still a higher being out there.  Perhaps he'd been found by Steve so that he could make a difference and wash some of the blood from his hands.  Perhaps that was what God had meant for him, or the people up in heaven or whatever.  And deep inside him he had a little bit of hopefulness, too - because maybe then he'd stop waking up every night with his mind screaming murder and his eyes filled with the sight of betrayed brown eyes, metal fingers curling around the slender throat of a woman, and the blood from a skull smeared across a steering wheel on a dark and lonely night.