It came alive before Tony even realized what he was doing.
Of course, after Ultron, it was a little worrying; he’d written a code for a personality and he didn’t even remember doing it. Somewhere between chugging that last cup of coffee and falling asleep at the workstation, he’d turned Sam’s surveillance drone into a bot with emotions.
It nudged his hand insistently, shaking him out of his light doze. He sat up, blinking blearily around his lab for the disturbance. The bot came into view and nudged his cheek, hovering above the table as it gazed at him. Chirping, it flew in a loop and nudged Tony again, impatient. Tony smiled at it helplessly, holding his palm out flat where it hovered above his skin.
It chirped, as if insulted and then settled, it’s warm body resting on Tony’s palm just enough so as not to weigh him down. “What am I doing?” he asked quietly.
He shuffles nervously around his lab waiting for Sam to come down. He tries not to look too eager when Sam jogs down the steps, wiping his mouth as he enters the lab. He’s in track pants and a tight t-shirt, sparing a quick smile as he comes over to the table. He rubs his hands together excitedly, “What have you got for me, smart guy?”
Tony grins, confused at the way the nickname made him feel, “Just what you asked for.” He gestures to the drone resting on the table. He swallowed nervously and prays he hadn’t messed up completely. He hadn’t had the heart to dig into the code and remove the personality. It felt too much like killing it.
Sam moved around the table, gazing at it from all sides. He looked to Tony expectantly, “How do I control it?” He returns to the drone, reaching out to poke the top. He tapped it a little insistently, earning a disgruntled chirp. Tony winced, covering his face as Sam frowned at it, tapping it again and watching as the drone rose. It stopped level with Sam’s eye line and beeped, clearly annoyed.
Sam frowned at it, eyes widening at it circled Sam, examining him from all angles. “What’s it doing?” he asked Tony and he shrugged helplessly in response, muffling a laugh when the drone nudged Sam’s back. “Hey! You’re rude, you know that?”
The drone let out a disgruntled chirp and bumped into Sam harder, pushing him forward against the table and Tony rushed forward.
“Sam, I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention and it’s a little temperamental and-“ he cut himself off, watching Sam’s shoulders shake as he stood up straight. He was laughing, his brown eyes bright with amusement as he looked over at the drone.
“I love him,” he said, crossing his arms. He examined the drone, cocking his head to the side as the bot gazed at Sam. “You need a name.”
Sam and Redwing bonded instantly. Steve insisted on a few practice runs before he allowed the drone in the field but they were near inseparable. Redwing followed Sam around the facility, to dinner, to his room, to the gym. He talked to it constantly, confusing some of the others but it reminded Tony a lot of how he talked to JARVIS. How he used to talk to JARVIS.
Sometimes it was a little hard for Tony to watch but then he reminded himself that Sam had been through a lot and while he had Steve, he was so wrapped up in worrying about Bucky that Sam could use someone to talk to. He focused on that whenever he felt that familiar grief returning.
He’s hard at work on some upgrades for Natasha’s pistols when Sam rushed into the lab, a worried look on his face. He had a bundle of broken pieces in his arms, his voice wavering. “I wasn’t paying attention and - it happened so fast. Can you fix him?” Sam asked, setting the mess of twisted metal on the workstation. Tony winced, looking at the wreckage; the original shape was near unrecognizable. He reached out, drawing his fingers over the nearest piece.
“I don’t know, Sam. He’s pretty wrecked.” Sam cursed, stalking away from the table and covering his face. Tony watched him, his chest aching before returning to the destroyed bot. He knew he could start from scratch and rebuild but he also knew that it wasn’t the same. Replacements were just that: replacements. Even if they looked identical, you knew they weren’t the same being you’d shared all your secrets with, survived traumas with, it wouldn’t be the same being that watched over you while you slept. If he started from scratch, Sam would know.
“I’ll do my best, okay?” he offered, getting the breath knocked out of him when Sam yanked him into a hug. He huffed out a laugh, breathing in Sam’s cologne. “Okay, okay, buddy. You’re welcome. Now let me work.”
Tony worked tirelessly for the next week. Sam brought him coffee and sandwiches under the guise of making sure Tony was eating but Tony knew he was worried. He got this strained look on his face whenever Tony spoke to him like he feared he was going to hear that there was nothing more to be done. Tony also wondered if Sam found his way down here because the others didn’t really get it. They didn’t really understand getting so attached to a piece of technology.
Sam took to watching Tony work a lot and, to Tony’s surprise, it wasn’t unpleasant. It was only mildly distracting when he’d look up, after hours of working, to feel Sam’s eyes on him. “What?” Tony asked one night, a little self conscious.
Sam hid a smile in his hand, the sleeve of his sweater bundled in his fist as he explained, “You talk to yourself. A lot.”
Blinking confusedly, “I do?”
He starts to say no, he must’ve been talking to FRIDAY but- “I thought maybe you were talking to FRIDAY but you don’t speak as though you expect an answer back or for her to do anything. It’s like you just want to... talk.” Sam explains, his hands outstretched.
Tony frowns because, in all honesty, it paints a pretty sad picture. “That must get annoying.”
“It’s not,” Sam replies instantly. He gets up and stretches his arms above his head, his shirt riding up to reveal the thin trail of hair above his waistband. Sam wore his track pants low on his hips, so much so that Tony nearly burned a hole through his table one night when Sam reached up to help Dummy get flecks of smoothie off his support strut and his pants revealed a long stretch of belly and the v line of his hips.
That night, Sam yawned and moved past Tony, a hand on his head. “It’s kinda cute.”
And just like that, Tony couldn’t focus for the rest of the night.
Sometimes Sam talked; he sat down next to Tony one night with a cup of coffee. “I never really asked you how you felt about losing JARVIS. Granted, I didn’t know you all that well. Still don’t, to be honest. But… thinking about how hard this is for me… it must have been rough. And he could talk back!” he added.
Tony hesitated, his throat raw. “It was... hard, I mean. He’s - He’d been there for me since before I was Iron Man. And now… I could have rebuilt. I could have pulled an older backup but it wouldn’t be the same knowing what happened. And now we have Vision. I’m moving on.”
Sam was quiet before he reached out and covered Tony’s hand. When Tony met his gaze, his eyes were soft. “Hey, I’m sorry.” Tony choked, feeling his eyes warm as he forced himself to take a deep breath. Sam nods in understanding and lets go after some time.
He returns to working, a quiet, “Thanks, Sam.”
Sam’s around when he finishes and, as anxious as Sam’s undivided attention was at times, it was worth it to see Redwing rise again, Sam’s smile was instantaneous. Tony leans against the table and watches Sam beam up at the drone, laughing at his excitable chirps and beeps. Redwing leans in, his own version of nuzzling as it butts up against Sam’s chest. Sam grins, sliding his hand over the upper casing. Although, “You can still see the seams where I welded it together. I’m sorry, let me-“
Sam’s hand lay down on his shoulder, strong as he squeezed lightly, his eyes warm. “He’s perfect. Thank you.” He surprised Tony by pulling him into a tight hug, a few moments passed before Tony awkwardly reached up and pat his shoulder. He could hear Redwing chirping away at Dummy in the corner but all he could think about was the way Sam held him tight, his arms locked like he was never letting go.
After that, Sam was around more. Seemingly with questions about Redwing but Tony knew there was no way Sam had this many questions about maintenance. But he humored Sam, answered them all and begrudgingly took the offered food, coffee and sweater on one interesting night.
“This smells like cherries,” Tony noted curiously, smelling the lapel.
“Slurpee,” Sam said tiredly. “Bucky’s an asshole.”
Tony looked up at him, “You guys found him?”
“Cornered him outside of a store and he knocked me into a guy holding one before he booked it.” He stretched out, rubbing his shoulder.
“You okay?” Tony asked and Sam looked up in surprise.
“I’m fine. Nothing to worry about.” He poked at the ball of his shoulder for a bit and Tony sighed, standing. Sam looked at him curiously. “What? What - no, no, I’m fine.”
Tony came to stand in front of him and made grabby hands. “Shirt off.”
“I’m fine,” Sam whined and Tony rolled his eyes at the fond feeling coming over him. He’d begrudgingly come to enjoy Sam coming to hang out in his lab and Sam knew that, to Tony’s dismay.
“I’m fine,” Tony mimicked in a poor imitation. He made grabby hands again until Sam rolled his eyes and pulled his shirt over his head.
“If you wanted to undress me, there are easier ways.”
Tony flushed, watching Sam’s abs flex as he tossed his shirt away. It was easy for the others to forget that Sam used to be a soldier, especially next to Steve but Sam was built. Tony had caught glimpses before but with his shirt off, Sam was gorgeous. His
abs well defined, his biceps large and imposing as he held on to the edge of the workstation and waited.
“That’s my thing, injured men,” Tony murmured.
“I’m not injured-“
“Stubborn men,” Tony corrected with a raised brow and Sam scowled at him lightly. Tony reached up, hesitating for a moment before forcing himself to get over himself and touch Sam’s warm, dark skin.
“But they are your thing?” Sam asked quietly, uncharacteristically nervous. Tony looked up at him in question as he clarified, “Men, I mean.”
Tony blinked, his breath caught as he held Sam’s gaze pointedly before answering, “Sometimes.” He turned Sam gently and got a look at the ball of his shoulder. “It’s definitely bruised,” he remarked. The skin was darkened, bruised and painful looking. Tony would wonder aloud why Sam hadn’t said something but he knew. They were just normal guys compared to the others. They began this job with a chip on their shoulders.
Still, “You’re usually much smarter than this, bird boy,” Tony remarks. He drops down and grabs the first aid kit from beneath the table. He grabs a compression bandage and starts wrapping it around Sam’s shoulder, securing it under his arm. Sam sighs, his breathing unusually loud in Tony’s ears. He could see the steady rise and fall of Sam’s chest out of the corner of his eye and his mouth watered. He forced himself to focus, biting his lip.
When he finished, he closes the kit and looks up to see Sam staring at him. He starts to smile nervously, wincing internally when he realized his lip was caught between his teeth. Sam reached out and thumbed his lip, freeing it. He swiped his finger pad over the bruised skin and leaned in, meeting Tony’s eyes briefly before their lips touched. Tony sighed, his eyes falling shut as he opened for Sam and set his hands on the table. He was boxing Sam in but he felt snared, lost in the way Sam tilted his head back and sucked on his tongue.
He feels a warm palm slide up his hip and beneath his shirt, a thumb rubbing circles into his hip and it was like everything else they did. Unexpected, curious but pleasant. Easy and he lets Sam slide his palm up his stomach.
A throat clears and Sam huffs through his nose, placing another soft kiss on Tony’s lips, his nose, before pulling back to rest his forehead against Tony’s. “How long have you been there?” he asks, pulling back to look over at the doorway.
Natasha leans against a nearby table, clearly amused. “Long enough. Cute,” she adds with a teasing grin. Tony flushes, turning away and covering his mouth. “Cap needs us,” she explains.
“Us?” Tony asks and Natasha shakes her head. Right, Cap never seemed to need Iron Man these days.
Sam pats his shoulder and Tony meets his gaze, the heat he found there making him shiver. “No more biting my lip, okay?” It sends a flash of heat through Tony’s body and he blushes. Sam steals another kiss, smiling softly as he pulls away. Tony stares at him, trying to will away his own stupid grin as Sam waves and starts towards the doorway.
“Where we headed?” Sam asks.
“Lagos,” Natasha answered. “Fill you in on the way.”