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Operation: Rescue Playmate

Chapter Text

Tony spun down the streetlight onto the crosswalk light. He balanced on the balls of his feet and looked at the hotdog cart below. He licked his lips and swayed his tail as he watched the woman manning the cart hand out the delicious Earthen delicacy in exchange for one of the many forms of Earthen money.

He waited for the moment when the woman was distracted, then looped his tail around the crosswalk light and swung down next to the woman. He inwardly laughed with glee as the woman remained oblivious to his presence.

It wasn’t the daily exhaustion that wore on so many humans, nor was it the monotony of routine that blinded her to Tony’s presence. A titanium-gold device that was simple in design and reminiscent to an Earth wristwatch wrapped around his wrist and performed many tasks for him. The device on his home planet was pronounced “Dummy”, and Tony took great joy in knowing that one of the human languages had a similar sounding word, even if their meaning was vastly different.

One of the many things Dummy could do was make Tony “invisible.” Tony found that ability very useful on Earth. With his purple and blue skin that was covered in a thin sheen of mucus comparable to Earth frogs, Tony stood out like a thinthak among batticore, and that was just his flesh. He had marsupial-like legs that allowed him to leap and climb with ease, and a tail that he used for balance and to grab things.

Tony touched the tongs the woman had put aside as she squirted mustard onto the hotdog for the young man waiting for his food purchase. Once Tony knew that he’d touched the tongs long enough for Dummy to make the tongs invisible to human eyes, he picked them up and used them to pluck two hotdogs from the cart and place them in buns.

The woman’s customer blinked and squinted at the appearance out of two hotdogs suddenly cushioned into two buns. The customer mumbled to himself then looked away.

Happiness and a sense of victory tickled Tony’s insides. He snatched up the two hot dogs then swung himself back onto the crosswalk light. He gobbled them up with voracity—just one hotdog short of what he thought humans would consider “gorging.” He licked his fingers and hummed in delight. His pointed ears wiggled as he sucked the crumbs and juices from his fingertips.

Dummy flashed a yellow light.

Tony and his tail perked up, just as Dummy displayed a human-thumb-sized image a man on a rooftop with the coordinates.

Tony yelped and leaped onto a passing truck just as a bullet zoomed past where he had been standing. Giddiness tickled his belly as he spun around and grinned at the rooftop where the bullet had come from.

A man dressed in armor and black cattle hide pivoted on the rooftop then ran to its edge. With inhuman strength and speed, he jumped from the rooftop to the next.  He reached for the goggles on his face as he ran. Tony could only assume that he was adjusting them.

Tony hadn’t gotten his hands on this particular human’s tech yet, but he’d been chased by this human enough to know that his goggles were what gave him the ability to see Tony even when Dummy had invisibility mode activated.

Tony chuckled and swished his tail as he watched the man jump from roof to roof.

The truck slowed as the vehicle approached a red light.

Tony tensed and got ready to leap as the the man adjusted his path—he was going to jump from the roof onto the truck.

Tony waited until the moment the man leaped then threw him on top of a bus and then onto a car turning right at the intersection.

Tony hissed with glee as the human landed and cursed. The human raised his gun to shoot, but Tony and the car had already rounded the corner.

When the human had hunted Tony for the first time an Earth month ago, Tony had been terrified. He had no idea why the human was chasing him, and he did not know the damage capable of the human. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if the man was human. His strength and speed were unnatural, and he could take more damage than the average human. Tony had been terrified that a bounty hunter from another planet had found him and was just disguising itself as human.

Tony knew better now, after getting a blood sample from the man (the human was not at all cautious and constantly injured himself during chases. It had been easy to find a piece of broken glass with the man’s blood after Tony had lost his pursuer). The man was human, but with a serum injected into his DNA that increased his physical prowess.

Once Tony had learned that the man chasing him was from Earth—and Tony had taken a couple a bullet wounds and found the bullets to be a painful nuisance, but nothing truly terrible—he’d taken to liking his little chases with the human. He loved Earth, but it was quite isolating. His only companion was his ship’s AI JARVIS.

JARVIS was great when it came to conversations, and was helpful when Tony was in the mood to engineer something, but when it came to actual play, Tony was by himself. He needed someone to fool around with. Admittedly, the man fascinated with wearing cattle hide was on the dangerous side, but Tony had grown fond of him and liked their game of “cat and mouse,” as humans called it.

Tony launched himself from the car onto the fire escape of a human domicile. He panicked as he almost kicked a woman, who was smoking and reading on one of the escape’s landings, as he swung himself onto the edge of the landing. Once Tony found his balance on the edge of the landing, he took a moment to make sure he hadn’t hit the woman. He was pleased to see she was undisturbed by him.

With glee tickling his insides, Tony jumped to the next landing on the fire escape and faced the street.

It wouldn’t be long before-

The man in cattle hide rolled off the roof of a car that turned down the street. He barely had time to get his proper footing before Tony leaped off of the fire escape and tackled the man.

Tony laughed as the man let out a cry of surprise and hit the ground hard. Tony wiggled and rubbed himself up against the human as his tail snatched up the human’s gun and a knife the human kept sheathed on his hip.

The human shouted something and threw his arms around Tony in a half-flesh/half-metal hug (the human had a prosthetic arm).

Tony had already been fooled by this maneuver once. His friend wasn’t bestowing upon him wondrous affection. His friend was trying to capture him.

Thank goodness for mucus.

Tony chuckled and slipped out of the human’s hold. He sprang off down an ally and jumped over the fence there. Once over the barrier, Tony took a moment to have Dummy scan the gun and knife he’d stolen from his friend.

Tony pouted at the results Dummy’s scan brought up. The gun was not the same quality his friend had before. It was a gun made from a decade ago, and did not have any of the advance tech that some of his playmate’s previous guns had. The knife was well made, but it wasn’t anything special.

Tony huffed. He held the gun in his tail and smashed it against the brick wall of the alley. The gun shattered to pieces. Tony held the knife in his palms and flipped it over as he grumbled to himself.

Something sharp pierced Tony’s neck.

Tony reached for the offending object and pulled out a dart.

Tranquilizer.

It wasn’t the first time his playmate had managed to dart him, and so far the dosage hadn’t been high enough to take him out, but Tony always felt sick afterwards.

His playmate leaped over the fence and tackled him.

Tony flipped onto his back and kicked his playmate into the fence.

His playmate grunted as he hit the fence.

Tony sprang up onto his feet and bolted for freedom. He didn’t know if his playmate had figured out the right dosage needed to knock him out, but Tony wasn’t going to wait and find out. He also didn’t want to be running around the city. The tranquilizer was in his system, and running around would make it spread faster.

Tony picked up his pace. He wanted to go back to his spaceship, but he had it hidden far away. He also didn’t want to risk his playmate finding it, so Tony activated Dummy’s navigational mode. He plotted a course for somewhere secluded but nearby. Someplace where he could wait out the effects of the injection.

Where he ended up was a factory by the docks. Cars drove by the buildings nearby at a peaceful pace, and dockhands shouted instructions as well as casual conversation as they docked ships and unloaded shipments.

Tony eyed the workers with longing as he bounded over to the window of the factory Dummy had selected for him to take shelter in. He wanted to play with the humans at the docks. It was always fun to pick up tools or misplace important objects when humans were working. Some had no reaction to Tony’s games, but the ones that did were always vastly amusing. The number of times Tony had been called a ghost was so high he had stopped keeping track.

With a disappointed heart, Tony climbed through the window. He sneezed when the dust on the floor of the abandon building floated up and filled his nostrils. He wiped his nose with his tail and peered around the building. There were conveyor belts and boxes left on the bottom floor of the factory. As Tony explored the bottom floor, he found a roll of plastic wrap and kicked it around until he grew bored.

He ventured up the stairs to the second floor, where he skidded across the floorboards. He chuckled to himself as he left streaks across the filthy floors. When he grew bored of the second floor he bounced up to the third and looked out the windows. He watched the dock workers and grumbled petulantly.

He should be safe now. The tranquilizer would have affected him by now if it was going to at all. Nonetheless, if he was wrong, or if the dart had contained something other than a tranquilizer, the only person who would be able to help him was himself. He had to be extra cautious.

Depressed to see so many humans whom he could tease, but couldn’t, Tony moved away from the window facing the docks and went to another.

The view wasn’t very impressive. Behind the factory were more factories, some which were still operational, and others which were not. Tony let his gaze drift toward the ground. Surprise smacked into Tony when he spotted tucked away between the factories three black vans and four armed humans guarding them.

Tony cocked his head.

The way the humans were dressed was similar to his playmate.

He wondered why humans were so obsessed with cattle hide.

The humans shifted and their attention went to something ahead of them.

Excitement rushed through Tony. He sprang over to the next window so he could get a better view of what the humans were seeing.

His heart twisted and tore at the sight over his playmate with his head bowed and his hands cuffed as he was escorted by another set of four humans.

Two of the humans guarding the vehicles rushed to the back doors of one of the vans and held them open.

The human closest to Tony’s playmate lifted his rifle and slammed the butt of it into the playmate’s skull.

Tony’s playmate jerked, but held his ground for a second. Slowly, he lifted his foot and marched into the van.

Agitation sent Tony’s tail swishing.

Blood dripped from his playmate’s nose as he lumbered into the open van.

His playmate was tough and he liked to play rough, but this did not look like a game to Tony. Tony knew what captives looked like, and his playmate matched the appearance perfectly.

A creak from the staircase alerted Tony to the presence of someone in the factory with him. Tony snapped his head toward the staircase, but didn’t see anyone. He wasn’t an idiot though.

Tony glanced up to confirm that there were rafters above.

Tony ran a few paces then leaped into the rafters.

Men covered in black and toting weapons similar to Tony’s playmate tiptoed in from the staircase. The floorboards creaked under their boots. One of the men elbowed another. He used hand signals to communicate to his partners.

Tony lay low on the rafters. He watched the men intently as they swept the area. He also kept an eye on the windows. He was glad he had when he witnessed three more men scale the building from the outside.

Tony waited until the humans outside, as well as the ones inside, headed toward the roof.

With caution and care, Tony snuck his way through the rafters and down the stairs to the second floor. There were two humans guarding the staircases, but they were easy to knock out without alerting other humans to his presence. Tony snuck down to the first floor and repeated the process of knocking out the two guards there.

Tony used Dummy to scan the area and pick out the safest path for him to take in his escape.

Tony just made one alteration to Dummy’s escape plan.

Outside, Tony snuck between buildings and took a roundabout route toward the three vans. He dared not get too close to the vehicles, but close enough that he could use one Dummy’s tracking features. Tony ducked behind a dumpster in the alley that gave him a perfect shot at one of the van’s tires.

Tony aimed Dummy at the tire. Tony brought up the projection of Dummy’s keypad and inputted a command. A tracker smaller than a human’s pinkie shot out from Dummy and latched onto the tire.

Success and pride filled Tony. With a silent cheer, Tony dashed out of the alley, only to freeze when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps yet again.

Something was wrong. The humans should not be finding him so easily. It was as if-

Tony inwardly grumbled as he launched himself at the fire escape of another factory then proceeded to jump from building to building until he was confident he’d gained enough distance to do what needed to be done.

Tony pulled up Dummy’s keypad again and had Dummy scan him for tracking devices. Just as he thought, micro trackers had gotten into his system.

Scowling, Tony had Dummy deactivate the trackers as he fled from the docks and the precocious humans.

He was furious at himself for not considering sooner what his playmate had injected him with until then. At the same time, he was relieved and grateful to the part of himself that had had the forethought not to return to his ship right away. He had no idea what he would have done if the humans hunting him had found his ship.

He was scared of what he might have had to do if that had happened. He couldn’t let the humans have his ship. He’d have to fight for it, and he might not be able to knock the humans unconscious if it were a fight for his home.

With that thought in mind, Tony did not return to his ship that night. He found a motel, and when the human at the front desk wasn’t looking, he blocked out a room for himself and created a card key for the room. Throughout the night he had Dummy scan him for more trackers. When morning came and the humans hadn’t come for him again and Dummy continued to not find any trackers, Tony journeyed back to his ship.

His ship sat on the edge of a field connected to a park in the suburbs. The ship was cloaked to avoid drawing unwanted attention. Human children and their parents played on the slides and swings nearby and occasionally ventured close to the ship. Thanks to a low frequency that humans picked up on, but could not consciously hear, humans stayed away from his ship. Every now and then, a dog would come to the park and bark at the ship from afar, but once they realized that their bark would not stop the sound, the dogs would ignore it.

Tony wished he could feed and play with the dogs like humans do, but he had learned after the first and only dog that he had done that with that it encouraged the dog to approach his home. That in it of itself wasn’t bad; however, when it led to the dog’s humans approaching the ship too, Tony realized he couldn’t take the risk.

With a wistful and tired sigh, Tony bounded over to the round ship and waited for JARVIS to scan him. With a hiss, the door to Tony’s ship open and he hopped inside.

“Good afternoon, Sir. I hope you are well. Another twenty-four hours and I would have gone into Lost Child mode.”

Tony waddled over to the cockpit despite his bed calling for him. Tony plopped into the oval and plush chair and curled into a ball. He wrapped his tail around his body and closed his eyes. “I Should change the name of that.” He breathed deep then opened his eyes. “JARVIS, I planted a tracker on a vehicle yesterday. What do you have on it?”

“One moment, Sir.” The dashboard of the cockpit lit up as JARVIS went to work. Dummy lit up on Tony’s wrist, and Tony knew JARVIS was accessing information on the tracking device from Dummy. “By the way, Sir, might I recommend charging Dummy before you go out again?”

“Will do, JARVIS.”

Projected images popped up above the dashboard. There was an image of a map, and beside it images of different locations where the vehicle had stopped. Tony had JARVIS create a timeline with them. He was intrigued to see that the van had taken a rather circuitous route. “Have any video, JARVIS?”

“I do, although I believe you will find most of it boring. Unless you find humans relieving themselves or eating of interest.”

“Depends on the day of the week. You’d be fascinated to see the things humans eat, and the way they go about eating, I’m sure.”

“If you say so, Sir,” exasperation filled JARVIS’ tone.

Tony hissed gleefully. “So what kind of video do you have of interest for me?”

“Their current destination, Sir.” JARVIS’ projections shrank and rose above Tony’s head, while a video of outside a building that was tall enough it stretched beyond the camera played. Passersby moved about in a rush as the vans drove past.

JARVIS cut the scene to a clip of the vans parked at what had to be the back of the skyscraper.

The drivers of the vans one by one stepped out from the vehicles and went around to the back of one of the vans. One of the drivers rapped his knuckles against the van’s back doors, then opened them. Two men with guns cautiously exited the vehicle. Once they checked the perimeter, they turned the guns on the people inside.

Tony’s playmate lumbered out of the back, sans parts of his gear, with another set of guards aiming guns at his head.

At first, it appeared he was being escorted to the back door, but he walked a few steps passed it and stood in front of the wall. One of the drivers ran their fingers over the wall until a door slid open. Tony’s playmate and the guards entered through the secret door.

The feed cut off.

Tony sat up straight and knocked his tail through the air. “That’s it?”

“I’m not done breaking the facilities’ encryption, Sir. It’s quite advanced. I’d almost say I’m dealing with another AI. As soon as I decrypt one of the firewalls, the previous one re-encrypts itself.”

Tony frowned. “Can you crack their systems then?”

“Sir. I’m insulted you would ask. As we speak, I am almost—correction: I am done.”

A new video appeared, seemingly taking place right after Tony’s playmate and the guards had stepped into the facility. Tony’s playmate stood in the center of the elevator with the guards ringed around him and aiming their weapons. The elevator doors opened and Tony’s playmate and the guards marched out.

Tony cocked his head. His playmate was being taken through a dark hall filled with pipes. Thin pipes covered the ceiling, and large ones that Tony could squeeze himself into created the walls for the narrow hallway. The camera angle shifted, and the hallway became an equally dark room with crates and a few people sifting through the crate’s contents.

The footage kept changing as JARVIS took Tony from one camera view to the next. In one scene, his playmate was walked past a vicious match between two humans who were bleeding profusely. One of whom had lost her hand.

Tony cringed.

His playmate was taken to a room full of lab equipment. At the center of the room was a chair unlike one Tony had seen on Earth before. It had the wear of age and was hooked up to several devices that looked ominous. In particular was the looming vise above the chair that waited to grab its victims’ heads and crush them.

Tony suspected the vise did more than crush the victims’ heads. The monitors surrounding the chair suggested that whoever was put in it was a test subject.

It was subtle, but Tony’s playmate tensed at the sight of the chair.

Tony’s stomach churned as he waited to see what would happen.

There were a few men and women in lab coats. Two of whom were going over monitor readings. Their faces were concealed by face masks and, for one of them, a pair of goggles. The one who went without eye protection wore in its place glasses. The man with glasses nodded and said something to the other scientist. He then stepped away from his companion.

He approached Tony’s playmate, and as he did so, he removed his face mask to reveal a toothy grin. The man’s face was lined with age and his hair was a bright hue with white ends peeking out along the edges of his hair. He was dressed in what Tony understood to be human business attire, and he even looked friendly from what he had learned about humans.

He spoke as he circled Tony’s playmate.

A gun appeared in the man’s hand, Tony only had a moment to wonder if JARVIS had edited the footage before he watched as his playmate took a bullet to the chest.

His playmate staggered and the man with glasses smashed the butt of his gun into the playmate’s head.

The guards surrounding Tony’s playmate seized Tony’s playmate by the hair and shoved him into the chair.

What followed was horrifying. The vise clamped onto the playmate’s head as scientists rushed forward to strap the playmate in. Once their task was complete, the scientists and the guards backed away.

Tony’s playmate convulsed as electricity plowed through his being. His jaw clenched, and even though Tony had no audio, he felt his playmate’s screams in his core. His playmate’s fingers curled into the arm of the chair as volts surged through his his body.

“Shut it off!” Tony swiped his tail through the projection as JARVIS made it disappear.

Tony curled into a ball and covered his head.

He shouldn’t get involved in human affairs. Especially when the humans he’d be getting involved with had been hunting him down for months now.

His playmate though…

Except his playmate wasn’t really his friend. They’d never spoken to each other, unless one counted the taunts Tony threw at his playmate. Nonetheless, he had grown to care for the human, and even if he had not, he knew what the moral thing to do was.

He was already such a coward for hiding on Earth. Must he make himself even more cowardly by leaving someone to be tortured?

Tony knew his answer.

Chapter Text

Tony had JARVIS comb through every bit of data he could to find info on the group who had taken and captured his playmate. The group went by many names publically, but in reality was one organization by the name of Hydra. Hydra had people employed in businesses and politics around the world. The amount of influence the organization had caused worry to gnaw at Tony’s gut.

Seeing how involved Hydra was in politics, he researched what he could about the various world governments, but even for a quick and critical reader, Tony struggled to absorb every fine detail. That being said, he knew enough to know that a group like Hydra should not be allowed to have so much influence, especially when so much of their rhetoric was about creating superior human beings and how humans as they are were not evolved or inferior to the super humans Hydra wanted to create.

Super humans like James Buchanan Barnes.

One of the first things he’d had JARVIS pull up after the video feed was information on his playmate. At first there was no name for his playmate. There was a moniker and a number. The Winter Soldier was what he was called, but the title was shared with others who were in the same program as he was. It wasn’t until Tony reached files on his playmate from the 1940s that he found the name James Buchanan Barnes.

As Tony read in detail the experiments, brainwashing, and training James Buchanan Barnes had gone through, Tony became more determined to save this human.

James Buchanan Barnes had not volunteered to become a superhuman; he had been man injured and captured serving his country in a war decades ago. He didn’t deserve to be made a weapon by Hydra.

Tony locked himself away in his ship for weeks. Rescuing James Buchanan Barnes wasn’t a simple matter of taking him away from Hydra. After what James Buchanan Barnes had undergone, he would have no memories of his time before being turned into a living weapon (or very few). He would most likely not know how to function in society.

Tony could not return James Buchanan Barnes’ memories to him, nor would he be much help in teaching James Buchanan Barnes the ways of human society (assuming James would even want his help).

Nonetheless, Tony could return to James Buchanan Barnes his freedom of mind.

It took weeks to develop a serum that was safe for humans that would also work in conjunction with nanobots to heal the damage done to James Buchanan Barnes. Once Tony had it, he returned to his usual stomping grounds in hopes that James Buchanan Barnes would appear as he always had in the past.

A week went by and James Buchanan Barnes did not show.

Tony worried for James Buchanan Barnes and began contemplating how to go about breaking into the Hydra facility. He still ventured out into the city as he plotted, and just as he was certain he would have to sneak into Hydra, James Buchanan Barnes appeared.

Tony had been minding his own business, squatting on top of a dumpster and drinking a chocolate milkshake, when he was attacked via a pair of thick thighs wrapping around his neck.

He shrieked and rammed his back into the wall. The thighs around his neck loosened and a device was shoved into his neck.

Volts of electricity raced through Tony.

Tony howled. With his tail, he plucked James Buchanan Barnes off him and flung James Buchanan Barnes into the opposite wall of the alleyway.

“That is no way to treat someone who wants to help you!” Tony shouted as he rubbed at his abused neck.

James Buchanan Barnes stumbled as he pushed himself off the ground and aimed a gun at Tony.

Tony cocked his head to the side and waited for James Buchanan Barnes to shoot.

The man didn’t.

Either the man had learned that his bullets were just a hassle to Tony, or he had a plan that didn’t involved shooting Tony unless necessary.

James Buchanan Barnes adjusted his footing and tensed his muscles.

Tony didn’t know what James Buchanan Barnes had planned, but he wasn’t going to wait to find out.

Time to test out the new feature he’d added to Dummy.

Tony raised his wrist and aimed Dummy at James Buchanan Barnes.

James Buchanan Barnes fired his gun.

Tony cringed as the bullet staggered him and cut deep into his shoulder.

“Dummy: Pop Princess.”

Dummy beeped. It launched a pink and gooey net that engulfed James Buchanan Barnes.

James Buchanan Barnes let out a series of phrase and words that Tony did not need a translator to understand. Partially because he had taken to learning a number of Earth languages, but also because there’s just a certain tone all humans used when they are swearing pain and humiliation upon whoever had angered them.

James Buchanan Barnes wasn’t simply caught in a net that looked as if it were made out of bubble gum. The net pinned James Buchanan Barnes’ limbs to his sides, and every time he struggled, the net’s pressure increased until he could no longer move.

Tony scanned James Buchanan Barnes for tracking devices, and had Dummy disable all that were found.

“I will capture you,” James Buchanan Barnes promised.  

Tony frowned. He then aimed Dummy at James’ Buchanan Barnes’ mouth. “Sorry. Can’t have you shouting for help.” Tony fired a blast of pink goo at James Buchanan Barnes’ mouth, effectively silencing the man.

Tony then picked up James Buchanan Barnes, and slug him over his shoulder. Tony used his tail to keep himself and James Buchanan Barnes balanced as he climbed to the roof of the nearest building then jumped from roof to roof until he found a motel a great distance away from where he had taken James Buchanan Barnes.  

He picked an empty room then locked James Buchanan Barnes in the closet until he could secure a key from the front desk and ensure that no one would enter the room uninvited. Once he had done that, Tony returned to the room and laid James Buchanan Barnes on the bed. He then turned off invisibility mode on Dummy, then removed James’ Buchanan Barnes’ goggles.

The man burned Tony with the rage in his gaze.

Was he doing the right thing? Tony wondered. He wanted to save James Buchanan Barnes, but everything he was about to do he was doing without James Buchanan Barnes’ consent.

“I’m sorry,” Tony said to James. “I hope I am doing the right thing for you, but I understand if you never forgive me.”

James Buchanan Barnes’ thrashed as best he could, but the netting had him entombed like a fly wrapped up by a spider.

Tony adjusted his settings on Dummy until a thin needle poked out from the device.

He searched for a vein in James Buchanan Barnes’ neck and jabbed him with the needle. James fought against his muzzle, but any sound he managed to make was muffled.

Tony removed the needle. He went to the bathroom for a tissue and dabbed at James Buchanan Barnes’ neck where there was a drop of blood. “In a few minutes you’ll fall asleep as the serum, the nanobots, and your body work to repair any damage that has been done to your brain over the last several decades. Some of the areas they will be targeting will be by your frontal lobe as well as the hippocampus and the amygdala. I can’t promise that you’ll retrieve any memories of your life before Hydra, but…” Tony trailed off. “..sorry.”

Tony watched over James Buchanan Barnes and waited for the man to fall asleep. Once the man was unconscious, Tony removed the net covering James Buchanan Barnes’ mouth, then removed the net binding him.

Tony’s tail swished anxiously.

He fiddled with Dummy. He could go a few days without recharging Dummy. By then James Buchanan Barnes should be awake.  

Doubt plagued Tony. He’d done his research. He’d taken the information he could find on the human body and compared it to several species across the galaxy. Based off those comparisons, he had designed his serum. Any side effects should be minimal.

Nonetheless, there was always room for error.

To silence his thoughts, Tony picked up the remote of the motel room’s TV and turned it on.  

An image of humans mating appeared on the screen accompanied by a song Tony had yet to hear. Tony cocked his head, studied the image, then changed the channel. Tony flipped through the channels until he found one featuring a dessert cooking contest.

Tony sat on the foot of the bed and watched the TV for hours.

Time passed slowly. For the first few hours, Tony felt comfortable leaving James Buchanan Barnes alone to fetch some much needed food and bottles of water for himself and for when the human would awaken. After those hours had passed though, Tony was less confident in leaving James Buchanan Barnes alone.

The human should remain asleep for quite some time, but there was always the chance that Tony’s calculations could be off. Also, even though Tony had put up the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, he worried that housekeeping or some other human might venture in the room and do something that would cause James Buchanan Barnes to be taken away while Tony was gone.

So for the bulk of two days, Tony stayed by James Buchanan Barnes’ side and entertained himself with human TV. He grew fond of the cooking channel and a channel called Hallmark.

He was just in the middle of watching a pragmatic and sassy witch detective solve a murder mystery, when suddenly the bed shifted and a lamp was slammed onto Tony’s head.

Tony hit the ground and rolled onto his back. His tail lashed out and wrapped around the ankle of his assailant: James Buchanan Barnes.

“What the fuck are you!” James Buchanan Barnes ignored the fact that Tony currently had his ankle in his grasp and stretched to grab the lamp on the other nightstand.

Tony yanked James Buchanan Barnes down to the foot of bed, where he’d be unable to reach the lamp.

James Buchanan Barnes cried out in shock and horror.

Tony rubbed the top of his head where James Buchanan Barnes had viciously attacked him. “Ow! I know I look strange to you humans, but could you at least attempt civil conversation before you attack anything that doesn’t look like you?”

James Buchanan Barnes’ eyes widened. His grip on the bedspread whitened. “It talks.”

“‘He talks’, or ‘Tony talks.’”

“Tony,” James Buchanan Barnes said in disbelief.

“It was one of the names closest to my original,” Tony explained. Tony clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “James Buchanan Barnes, do you have any memory of who you are or how you came to be here?”

James Buchanan Barnes blinked. “James. It’s just James. I…” James complexion whitened and he swayed. “Holy! I don’t—fuck! How did I…?” James pierced Tony with a look of terror, what did you do to me?”

“Before I can explain that, I need to talk about a group known as Hydra and what they-”

James launched off of the bed and headed for the bathroom, or he would have, if not for Tony’s hold on his ankle. James smashed into the floor and groaned. He clawed his way onto his hands and knees. “Gonna-” James shut his mouth. His stomach and throat undulated as he fought valiantly to keep the contents of his stomach in his stomach.

Tony grabbed the wastebasket nearby and shoved it under James’ head.

James vomited.

The foul smell of James’ contents attacked Tony, and Tony covered his nose with his tail. He clicked his teeth nervously as his mind calculated the odds that James’ reaction was a side effect of the serum.

James’ hands shook as he took a shuddery breath.

James’ vomited again. Barely anything came out of him but the sounds he made told Tony that James’ body was using every muscle to push the insides of James’ stomach out.

James coughed and covered his mouth. He shoved the wastebasket away and tried to stand, but faltered.

Tony rushed to help James. At first James tried to shake Tony off, but he didn’t have strength.

That scared Tony more than anything.

James was the strongest human Tony knew, and he was acting weaker than the average human.

Tony rushed James to the bathroom. Once inside, James shoved himself off Tony and braced himself against the sink. With fumbling fingers he turned the sink’s knob.

Water spewed from the faucet and James wasted no time thrusting his mouth under the water flow. He swallowed gulp after gulp until he was satisfied. With a gasp he pulled away from the water and turned it off.

James looked at himself in the mirror and trembled. His flesh hand reached up and touched his metal shoulder. “What happened?”

“It’s a long story,” Tony said.

James whirled. A scowl in place. “Well, someone needs to-” James knees buckled and quaked. He just managed to grab the sink in time to keep himself from collapsing. “Fuck. So, so-” James’ teeth chattered.

“Cold,” Tony stated. He rushed to the shower and cranked the knob as far to the hot side as he dared. He then hurried back to James and wrapped his arms around James’ waist. “C’mon.”

“No.” James shuddered. “Clothes.”

Tony nodded. “Okay. Strip. I’ll help.”

James didn’t hesitate. He cursed as he tried to figure out how to take off his clothes. It didn’t help that his shivers forced him to cling to Tony or the shower door. Eventually though, Tony got James’ clothes off and James into the shower.

“Hotter,” James demanded from the shower floor where he was curled into a ball. He feebly reached for the knob.

Tony batted James’ hand away and raised the temperature.

James breathed deep to warm himself and rubbed his arms and legs. His teeth didn’t chatter and he no longer shivered, but his actions indicated he was still cold.

“Would it help if I joined you?” Tony asked.

James croaked. “God, please don’t let that be the kind of offer my gutter brain thinks it is.”

“Intercourse?” Tony cocked his head. He considered the option. “If we must, but I really don’t think that would be best for you right now.”

James chuckled dryly. “‘Right now,’ he says.” James brow furrowed with concentration. He looked at Tony. His eyes darted up and down Tony’s body. He frowned. “I…”

“What?” Tony asked.

“I think… I feel like? … you’re not human, and so…” James scowled. “Everything seems wrong. Like you shouldn’t be here. But I don’t remember. I don’t remember it. I don’t remember how things are supposed to be. It’s just… instinct.”

Tony nodded. “You were captured by a group called Hydra. They performed experiments on you that blocked your memories. I gave you something that would help with any damage that had been done to you in that process. For some species that have used a similar serum that mine is based off of, it also has the added benefit of distancing one from the trauma caused by such incidents. However, it doesn’t-”

“Trauma?” James sat up straighter.

Tony nodded.

James groaned and clutched his head. He screwed his eyes shut. “I’m crazy. I’m crazy.”

“Technically, not crazy, but not necessarily mentally fit either. You’ve been through a lot.”

James snorted. He swayed as his eyelids fluttered.

“James?” Tony leaned into the shower.

James fell to the side and Tony caught him in his arms.

Tony touched James’ head as he had seen in human movies and TV shows. He wasn’t sure what qualified as a hot forehead for a human, but Tony’s gut told him that James’ forehead was not supposed to be burning.

Tony shut off the water, then toweled James off. He carried James to the bed and lay James on top of it. He scanned James with Dummy to check the human’s body temperature.

James had a fever, but he wasn’t in the danger zone in which Tony would have to take him to a hospital. Tony looked up what to do when humans have a fever then tucked James snuggly into bed.

Tony ransacked his collection of food until he found a cup of instant noodles. He was tempted to leave James and get better food and medicine, but without knowing when James would wake up, Tony dare not risk it. In James’ state, he might sneak out and get himself recaptured by Hydra or end up dead in a gutter.

When James woke an hour later, Tony hurried to make him the cup of noodles.

James coughed after eating his first spoonful, but he valiantly ate the whole thing.

“Why is my head hurting nooow?” James groaned then hissed in pain. He rubbed his head.

“If you promise to stay here, I can get you medicine. I don’t want you wandering around in this condition.”

“Anything,” James pleaded. He snatched a pillow and covered his face with it.

Tony nodded and did as promised. The first place Tony went in search of medicine was the motel’s front desk. While the receptionist was distracted, he sneaked a peek at the motel’s first aid kit.

He couldn’t believe his luck.

There was an entire box of pain relievers that doubled as fever reducers. Tony stole the whole box and returned to James, who inhaled three pills immediately.

As another day passed, Tony became anxious about Dummy. Dummy’s power was dangerously low, and Tony needed to ensure that he had enough power to get himself back to the ship undetected. He had grown so reliant on Dummy though, he was scared to power Dummy off.

As James’ fever threatened to bleed into another day, Tony finally turned off Dummy.

His tongue felt heavy in his mouth when he spoke to James the first few times after he had turned off Dummy. He’d listened to English and had practiced speaking it, but he had always had Dummy ready to translate in case he forgot a word or phrase.

If James noticed that Tony spoke with less speed and more caution, he didn’t point it out.

By the third day, James’ fever broke. He walked around with ease, but there was a tension to him. Despite Tony’s constant care for him, James’ was cautious.

Knowing what James had been through and how much of struggle everything must be for the human now didn’t change the fact that Tony was hurt when James asked, “So am I your prisoner or can I walk out that door?”

Tony wanted to shriek his displeasure, but he conveyed it through a tail thump instead. “You were never my prisoner. You can leave whenever you want; however,” Tony bowed his head, “I don’t think it is safe for you out there on your own.”

James snorted and glanced at the TV, which was playing the food channel. “No. Someone might throw a spatula at my head.”

Tony knew James was being sarcastic, but nonetheless, he was tempted to point out that someone very well could throw a spatula at James’ head. “I understand if you do not trust me and want to leave. You have no reason to believe me, and any evidence I can give you could be a fabrication.”

“Yeah.” James crossed his arms over his chest. His flesh fingers tapped his metal arm. He considered Tony. “The only reason I have to trust you is that you took care of me while I was sick, but you may have caused me to be sick in the first place.”

Tony was not going to tell James how true that statement was.

James sighed and plopped onto the foot of the bed. He grunted. “There’s also the weird dreams too.”

Tony’s spine shot up. “Dreams? What dreams?”

“I’ll share the details when I trust you.” James raised his head to the ceiling and shook it. “I’m an idiot or crazy, but so far, I don’t have a solid reason to trust or distrust you.” James uncrossed his arms. “So I guess that means, until you give me a reason to distrust you, I’ll listen to what you have to say.”

Hope filled Tony. “Really?”

“Don’t get too excited.”

“I can’t help it. You were my first playmate on Earth, and now we are bonding.”

James wrinkled his nose. “Playmate? That sounds so wrong, and kind of perverted.”

“James,” Tony took on a serious tone, “are most adult humans fascinated with sex?”

James’ ear tips turned red. “I… I feel like it is normal. I don’t really know.”  

Tony nodded. “Is it normal for adult humans to call the people who make them think about sex 'perverts?'”

“What? Why would you ask that?”

Tony tilted his head. “I’m not the one who keeps thinking about sex, but you think I am a pervert.” Tony hissed in amusement.

James startled at the sound, then turned a deeper red. He covered his mouth with his hand and mumbled to himself. “Am I the pervert then?”

Tony hissed in amusement again. “It is okay, James. I don’t mind if you are a pervert.”

James snatched a pillow and chucked it at Tony. “Shut up, and tell me more about Hydra.”

Tony sobered up. It was nice to share enjoyment with James—to finally talk to his playmate—but if James was ready to hear about Hydra, then it was time for Tony to share the details of the bitter truth.

“All right.” Tony made himself comfortable on the bed, next to James. “Let’s start with a brief history lesson and talk about World War II.”