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Voltage

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"You seem a little defensive Rogers.

"It's been a long day."

How had Tony fallen for that bullshit? Steve knew, he knew. He thought Tony knew, for a few minutes. They'd both known. Conspired together to kill him if he'd found out. What in God's name had possessed him to trust someone outside Pepper, Happy and Rhodey?

Pepper--

Tony took a shaking gulp of air, and then another. He didn't fight the fast breaths this time. Some anxiety attacks weren't that bad if no one else was around.

He lay on the concrete floor in his useless armor panting, staring at his own white breath and the cracked ceiling above him for fuck knew how long. He wasn’t trapped, physically. He could move in the armor, but he couldn’t fight with it, and even Friday was gone, with the reactor smashed. Tony had tried to get up after Steve had left with his parents’ murderer, then gave up and collapsed back to the ground.

His head and stomach wouldn’t stop churning. The blood rush he felt almost any time he was excited or angry normally left about as quickly as it came, but not this time. Maybe because he had become stuck in his crushed can of a suit before he could even get half of his rage out. Or maybe it was because he watched his friend—who he’d finally, after years of effort, managed to forgive for stealing his father’s love—walk out with his parents’ murderer, and having the gall to hold the shield Howard made for him while doing it. When Tony had pointed that out, Steve had chucked it at him with a mere “fuck you” sort of attitude. Tony had a lifetime’s worth of self esteem issues, but being shown that both he and his dad mattered less to Steve than the living weapon that had smashed his dad’s head and his mom’s throat was a new kind of blow.

And that was after Steve had punched Tony in the head repeatedly, exactly the same way his war buddy had when killing Tony's father on the tape. Had Steve done that on purpose, or was that just how he and Bucky killed everyone?

The arc reactor on his suit was smashed. The other reactor, the one in his sternum, was feeling abnormally hot—a strange contrast to the rest of his increasingly chilled body. (The suit had provided some much needed heat in this Siberian bunker.) Tony had once considered having it removed, along with the shrapnel in his chest, only to find that no reputable doctor would ever attempt something so experimental no matter how much money they were offered. In another universe maybe he’d be reactor-free, but not this one.

Steve. What the fuck was going through his head? What was his excuse for his “friend’s” actions again?

“It wasn’t him, he was under mind control…”

Tony chest suddenly felt as icy as the rest of his body.

Fuck no. Bucky wasn’t “innocent,” Bucky was basically dead; that thing Steve was calling his “friend,” just a fucked-up lab experiment that had no business running lose. A weapon to be shut down, like the Stark Industries missiles he’d flamed down in Afghanistan—
His throat tightened.

It would be a good idea to get out of here now.

He was just beginning to push himself up with a boot slammed into his armor’s shattered reactor, and shoving him back into the floor.

Tony tried to push against the foot pressing on his chest, but this guy was at least as strong as Steve, despite not looking all that ripped. The man staring down at him impassively looked familiar, someone Tony had seen fairly recently.

“Stark.” His accent sounded Russian. “Your friends are long gone but feel free to call out to them. It would provide me some much needed amusement.” Tony pretended to ignore him, and struggled to twist his boot off his armored chest. “I’ve injected myself with a variant of the super-soldier serum. You won’t outmatch me in combat Stark.”

Tony kept his hands on the man’s boot and his emotions neatly bottled, and demanded flatly, “Who are you.”

“Helmut Zemo.”

Zemo. That doctor Steve had tried to warn him about. Another fuck-up by Tony. Rhodey’s back, Bucky, Bucky again, Zemo…

It apparently showed on his face, because Zemo looked suddenly satisfied.

“What do you want,” Tony demanded flatly.

“To make you pay for what you did to my home and family, in Sokovia.” Zemo’s lips flicked up in a quick smile. “I don’t mean ‘pay’ only in the ‘punishment’ sense. You’ll ‘pay for what you did’ in that you’ll make it up to me. You’ve helped me beautifully so far. I will also make you suffer for your crimes, though.”

“Suck my dick.”

This time Zemo’s smile stayed, and he showed teeth.

Tony dropped his hands away from the boot and put all his energy in an attempt to roll away, which failed. Zemo kicked him in the chin, so hard he sent Tony’s head cracking against the concrete floor. His skull throbbing, Tony lifted his head, just to see if he could, and Zemo stomped on his face, knocking him against the concrete again. Tony realized he was about to be killed exactly the same way as his father.

But Zemo wasn’t kicking him anymore. The Sokovian was now putting on some sort of contraption to his ears. Oh god no…

The Sokovian pulled a small device from his pocket that Tony recognized. The little buzzer Obadiah had once used to paralyze him. Tony struggled for a second, then quickly moved his hands to his ears, in the hopes of blocking out the noise. It didn’t work. It was more the vibrations from the device that did the paralyzing, and only the ear plugs Zemo had could protect one against it.

Tony felt his entire body from roughly the nosecone down go numb and slack; it had been Obadiah’s idea to leave the eyes unaffected, so the interrogator would have the satisfaction of knowing whether his prisoner was following what he was being told. Someone had once compared him to a trapped turtle on its back (Killian, that was who). Tony felt like a turtle on a dissection table, when Zemo leaned beside him and began to tinker with his suit. Somehow the Sokovian figured out how disassemble the entire thing. The cold flooded Tony’s body as his armor crumbled off him. Tony was now wearing only the corporate-casual attire he’d departed in. The bits of armor beneath his body hurt—he was basically lying on a pile of scrap metal.

“Back to scraps, eh Stark?” Zemo said softly, moving a hand under Tony’s limp back.

The European lifted Tony up as easily as if he were a rag doll and tossed him over his shoulder. Still paralyzed, Tony had to stare at his captor’s putrid ass as Zemo moved swiftly through the freezing concrete halls. Actually, it wasn’t really that putrid of an ass, it was quite nice. Fuck, it was an amazing ass. If anyone else was wearing that body and accent, Tony would’ve immediately invited him into a three-way with Bruce or Pepper or Steve. Well, not Steve.

Speaking of, Tony realized that Zemo was holding Steve’s shield in his other hand. Tony immediately began running through scenarios for getting ahold of the shield when the paralysis wore off, and getting the hell away from this freak.

Tony was still unable to move when Zemo brought him to what looked like a medical ward. Since his body already was already freezing and paralyzed, only his mind could freeze when he saw the operating tables in the dimly lit ward. Zemo set down the shield and moved Tony into both his arms, carrying him like a bride. Bride of Frankenstein, in this creepy lab, with this creepy foreigner. Tony briefly pictured himself in the wedding dress and Marge Simpson skunk-hair, and didn’t like it one bit. His goatee would certainly clash with Mrs. Frankenstein-Monster’s getup. Actually, Zemo reminded him of some evil scientist he’d seen in a movie recently, but Tony couldn’t put his finger on which one. Probably no one he’d want to sport the Bride of Frankenstine’s hair for though.

His grim humor vanished when he saw that the metal operating table Zemo was carrying him towards had cuffs attached for the wrists and ankles at the very least, with other straps dangling at the sides. Most of the “patients” in this butcher shop had probably been those poor Winter Soldiers. Like the one Tony had tried to murder—

The gentleness with which the Sokovian lowered Tony onto the table was somehow far more chilling than if he’d just abusively dumped him there. Tony put all his willpower into making just one part of his body move, but failed. Zemo locked Tony’s wrists into the cuffs, then his ankles. He fastened a strap over Tony’s chest and another over his legs.

“Now I’ve more things to fetch,” Zemo breathed in Tony’s ear. “The paralysis should wear off in minutes. When I come back I expect to see you struggling like the hero you think you are.”

From his intimate tone, Tony wasn’t convinced that it was really “revenge” Zemo wanted. But whatever he had in mind, Tony was having absolutely none of this. Unable to speak, he could only bore his eyes into the Sokovian’s threateningly, while his chest heaved against the restraints.

Zemo gave Tony’s chest a short pat. “Looks like you’re already getting your energy back. I won’t be long.”

Tony craned his head to watch the Sokovian leave the lab. Steve’s shield sat leaning against the wall, a ways away.

Tony quickly ran through any and every crazy idea he could come up with on the spot. He tried struggling. When Zemo returned, Tony was jerking against the straps, trying to summon his armor—any armor. The odds of one of his suits somehow flying halfway across the world to his rescue was unlikely, but he was shit out of ideas.

Zemo was carrying a crate of what looked like scrap metal. “You’re not trying to summon your useless armor are you?”

Tony heaved on the table. Zemo came over and cupped the back of his head. Tony let out a short cry; the back of his skull still hurt.

“Concussion, at the very least,” Zemo said softly, and moved his hand to Tony’s hairline in a way that was way too intimate for Tony’s tastes.

Tony yanked his head away.

Zemo’s undid the strap across Tony’s chest, and Tony took the opportunity to try head-butting him. Their noggins never even made contact; Zemo stopped Tony with a hand on his chest—right over his arc reactor—and shoved him back down to the table so hard Tony thought his skull might’ve cracked. God he hated superhumans. Tony tried to sit up again, and Zemo stopped him with a hand on his throat. “You’re one of my tools now, Stark. You’ll soon learn that.”

With his other hand, Zemo ripped Tony’s vest and shirt opened like they were tissue paper. He then pulled one of the table’s straps back up, and fastened it over the bottom of Tony’s ribcage, leaving his arc reactor and abdomen completely exposed. Both were heaving again, partially just from the cold.

His mouth finally working again, Tony mumbled, “Don’t have heat in this place?”

Zemo ignored him, caressing and studying his arc reactor.

“You’re,” Tony joked lamely, “You’re supposed to take me out to dinner before all this aren’t you?”

“You’ll get fed,” Zemo said distantly, his eyes still on the reactor, “if you behave.” His hand moved to Tony’s belly, and kneaded a chunk of his jellyrolls so hard it hurt. “Looks like you’re used to good eating, Stark. I’d have thought a hero of your stature would be in better shape than this, but I suppose that suit does most of the work for you.”

“An amount of body fat is healthy and natural,” Tony retorted flatly.

“That it is. Something we Sokovians saw very little of in our third-world hellhole. You’ll know what it is to starve, among other things.”

His hand was still treating Tony’s tummy like Play-Dough. Tony swallowed and said, “Well if, if I’m skin and bones you’ll have nothing to play wi—”

He cried out as the superhuman pinched his protruding navel and twisted it like a nob. Zemo muttered seemingly to himself, “The Iron Man is an outtie, who knew.”

Tony took the opportunity to work up a ball of spit and send it into Zemo’s ear. It would be worth whatever punishment the psycho had in mind. The Sokovian released his hold on Tony’s navel to wipe his ear.

“Well,” Zemo said quietly, “This wouldn’t be interesting if you didn’t have such fight in you.”

He ripped Tony’s pants opened.

Tony immediately struggled against his restraints, trying to scramble away. Zemo paused in the middle of yanking Tony’s pants down to pull off his shoes and socks, then finished tearing the rest of Tony’s slacks and boxers, without even touching the strap across his legs. Once Tony was nude Zemo began rummaging through his crate of tools. Tony was unable to tear his eyes off his own exposed body. Zemo could rip his reactor out of his chest right now, with his bare hands. Never mind what he was planning to do with whatever he had in that box. Rework the reactor to explode in his chest, maybe. Slice his whole belly opened and gut him like venison. Hack his dick off, slash his throat…

“Now the question you should be asking yourself,” Zemo set some nasty looking tools on a tray next to the operating table, “Is not who can save you, but who would have reason to?”

Tony closed his eyes a moment, cringing at the cold and being so exposed. “Anyone who doesn’t want your sick little head on the loose.”

“The only people who know about me are all outlaws now, thanks to you. Will Rogers risk putting his friend in jeopardy again to save the lunatic who tried to murder him?” Tony stared fiercely at the ceiling. Zemo went on, “Why did you try to kill Barnes again? Because Hydra used his hands to kill your parents?” Zemo’s lip curled in a silent giggle. “You just tried to murder a young man in cold blood, for the crime of being Hydra’s meat-puppet—you’ll soon have a taste of what that’s like. And you wonder why Rogers left you. Oh! I wonder what your mother thinks of you now,” Zemo cocked an eyebrow mockingly upwards. “Or your father. Which side of the Avengers’ war would Howard Stark have chosen? His son’s, or his favorite hero’s? There’s a conundrum.”

Determined to keep his eyes dry and his voice flat, Tony addressed something Zemo had said earlier, about making him a meat-puppet. “You’re gonna Winter-Soldier-fy me?” Despite his best efforts his voice wavered, and his eyes were moistening. Shit.

“You should be so lucky. I’ve used the last of that serum on myself. You, I’ll have to train the old fashioned way. Which is more fun anyhow. Behave, and you just might get promoted from toy to pet. Oh,” Tony felt Zemo caress his hair; he didn’t see anything because his eyes were now tightly shut, trying to keep the tears in. “Look at you, trying so hard not to cry. This isn’t Steve’s old world you know, a man’s allowed to cry for his dead parents now.”

Tony was not going to cry for this fuck.

Zemo’s hand went back to Tony’s reactor. “God Stark,” his fingers traced its curved metal edge where it met the skin. “You have no idea,” Zemo seemed to literally tremble with excitement. “You see a power source like this is…” Tony’s eyes were still shut, but he got the sense the lunatic was ogling his reactor silently for a few moments. “…how is it you Americans say… ‘no spoilers.’ But for that power source to come wrapped up in a bipolar egomaniacal orphan with daddy-sorrows, who happens to be one leader of the Avengers, whose parents were murdered by the friend the other leader is desperate to protect at all costs…” he was now dragging the heel of his hand across Tony’s chest, quite painfully. “To say this is like Christmas morning would be the understatement of the eon.”

Tony was squeezing his eyes shut, putting all his energy into keeping the tears behind his lids. “Were you this sadistic before I supposedly ruined your life?”

“Hrm,” Zemo replied, in a “so-so” sort of tone.

Tony lay shuddering with his eyes tightly shut, his whole body tensed in an effort not to show any emotion. Zemo’s hand suddenly cupped his face again, and Tony’s eyes instinctively shot opened. The Sokovian clearly saw the tears now rolling down Tony’s cheeks, but didn’t mock him right away for it.

“Justice will be served,” Zemo said gently, causally wiping one of Tony’s tears across his cheek and then sucking his finger (seriously?). “Barnes and Rogers will both die, as you wanted. I may even allow you to watch. And you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to be my tool like what’s-his-nickname, Bucky? So it all evens out.”

Tony stared at the ceiling. “I’ll die long before you get anything useful from me.”

“You won’t be dying for a long, long time Stark.” His hand left Tony’s reactor and slid down his bare torso.

“Fuck you.”

That toothy grin again. “Quite the contrary.”

Tony’s blood froze then, because Zemo had just confirmed what Tony had been fearing since the sick fuck had arrived.

Zemo once again caressed his reactor. “I want to learn a little bit about this.”

“Burn in hell,” Tony said quietly.

“What was that? You said something about burning something? That’s a good idea. I’ll add that to the list.”

Tony felt the jarring click of his reactor being pulled from his chest. Freezing air rushed into the cylindrical cavity. Tony was aware of his own wet eyes bulging and his body painfully freezing up. The hole in his chest screamed to be plugged back up, but the Sokovian just pulled the device clean out and set it down on his chest besides the chrome cavity. The chord was still attached, and Zemo left it that way.

Tony was going to die right now—and that was good, right? The sooner all this horse shit ended the better. Tony’s wrists strained against the cuffs locking them to the table. If he could just grab the reactor, he could yank it out and kill himself, shove it into Zemo’s chest or face and kill him too maybe…

Zemo pulled some long thin tool from his box—a gold radio antenna?—Christ, no, that was a part from his fucking suit. Tony suddenly recognized parts of the suit in the scrap bin. “Now what happens when I—” He hit a sensitive spot, sending a searing pain through Tony’s chest along with a loud warning buzz that almost drowned out his short cry of pain.

Against his better judgment, Tony watched Zemo rummage through the bin again. This time his hand went past the red and gold scrap of his suit, and instead pulled out what looked like a silver finger--Christ, Barnes' robotic arm was crunched up in that bin too. Zemo took the "finger" into the reactor cavity with the ripped tiny wiring aimed and the spot where the reactor's plug met its cavity.

He kept it in long after Tony started begging him to stop. And that turned out to be just the warmup.

Once Tony’s voice had grown hoarse, and his reactor cavity began to spark, Zemo finally stopped. The Sokovian watched under half-closed eyes while Tony shook and whimpered, then shoved the reactor back in far too roughly, and a spiderweb of pain burned through Tony’s chest. He jerked and cringed involuntarily, slamming painfully into the restraints his restraints while Zemo continued to watch impassively. Then the Sokovian undid the straps, and then the cuffs, leaving Tony shaking loosely on the table. Tony brought his arms up defensively, and hugged his chest for several moments while agony cursed through his ribcage.

Zemo moved around behind Tony’s head. The Sokovian gripped the edge of the table and leaned over Tony’s face, upside-down. “What are you waiting for Stark?”

Tony just stared at him, still hugging himself. He eventually managed, “W-what’re you waiting for?”

“You to fight me.”

Tony’s eyes instantly went to the scrap box, for a potential weapon.

Misreading the gesture, Zemo taunted, “Your metal suit is crap.” The way he rolled that last “r” with his accent was almost funny. “I’d love to see how you fare against someone with Steven Rogers’ abilities against only your own, no cheating.”

“You’re pathetic,” Tony’s voice was shaking with the rest of his body.

“Prove it.”

Forming a half-baked escape plan, Tony played along, and shaking, pushed himself up from the table. Or tried to. It hurt just to move. He was halfway pushed up on his side, cringing in pain, when Zemo round-kicked him right off the table. While Tony’s skull was still recovering from the crack into the concrete floor, Zemo kicked him again. Tony used the momentum from the kick to roll across the floor to a counter on the opposite wall. He had enough pent up rage by now to fuel him, despite his exhaustion and injuries. Hands on the counter, Tony pulled himself to a shaking stance.

Zemo slowly approached him with clenched fists, his brown eyes hard and unblinking.

Swallowing blood, Tony, raised his fists in a pathetic imitation of Captain America’s oldschool fighting stance, then dove past Zemo to the Cap’s shield, propped by the door. Then he was in the massive gray hall, ass naked and bleeding everywhere, with the Cap’s scratched shield in one hand. His legs weren’t working as well as usual. This place was so cold—it was like being outside in January, with nothing on except a freezing metal shield.

Tony stumbled to a corner, and stopped when he saw a dead human face staring almost directly at him. It was a Winter Soldier, one of countless in their tanks, all dead. There seemed to be some more hallways beyond the tanks, but it was blocked by a row of jailhouse-like bars. Tony had only wasted a full second or two taking all of this in, but that was enough time for Zemo to deliver a surprise attack from around the corner. The Sokovian delivered a roundhouse kick to the shield, knocking Tony to the concrete floor. Before he could get up, Zemo pinned Tony’s head and arm under the shield with his foot.

“Captain America can move that shield in his arm,” Zemo said, crushing down on Tony. “You really think a superhuman couldn’t also move it with his foot?” He ripped the shield from Tony’s arms and hurled it behind him like a Frisbee. The shield clattered against the barred wall before hitting the floor. Before Tony could sit up Zemo’s boot was on his throat. The Sokovian’s voice was threateningly low and rough, almost sounding possessed. “Your father didn’t make that for you, you know. He made it for the hero who protects the people, not murders in cold blood…” Zemo was heaving, as if with rage, his wide eyes locked on Tony’s. For a moment, Tony believed Zemo sincerely wanted revenge for his “murdered” family.

Then heaving Sokovian began to undo his shirt.

Tony’s thrashing resumed, but he couldn’t budge Zemo’s boot. It eventually came off, and Tony crawled away as fast as he could, gasping loudly for breath.

An iron arm caught him around the waist, and Zemo leaned over him, pinning him in place. His hot breath engulfed Tony’s ear. The body pressing into Tony felt as naked as his own. From the corner of his eye, Tony could see Zemo’s pants discarded on the floor.
The Sokovian panted in his ear, “Stark...”

Tony tried jabbing an elbow into the superhuman’s chest, and got nothing but a shock of pain in his elbow. Zemo moved his other arm around Tony’s waist, and forced him, thrashing, onto his back, then mounted him. The sick fuck’s dick was touching Tony’s dick. And holy fuck, this European needed to shave. Everywhere. And although he hardly had the strength to move one muscle, and his own voice was hoarse almost beyond recognition, Tony decided to say so.

“You need to shave.”

That was supposed to be the one-liner before throwing his would-be rapist off—not that Tony fully believed that was possible. (It wasn’t.) Zemo wrestled Tony’s arms above his head and pinned both his wrists to the floor with one superhuman hand. The other grabbed Tony’s jaw (again).

“This part doesn’t have to hurt.” Zemo panted. “At least not all of it.” He crushing Tony’s chin, forcing his lips apart, Zemo forced is tongue on Tony’s in the most unpleasant smooch the playboy had ever experienced. “You’ve helped me immensely so far. You deserve a reward.”

Next he planted a huge wet kiss just under Tony’s ear, making Tony reflexively gasp and arch his back. Zemo let out a short airy giggle. Tony continued to struggle. Zemo moved both his hands to Tony’s wrists and pinned them near his sides, allowing himself to move further down Tony’s torso while leaving a trail of wet kisses over his heaving body. Tony was sweating, while also freezing. The warmth from Zemo’s mouth was cruelly tantalizing. Tony wanted a blanket, or a warm bath. Maybe if he closed his eyes hard enough he’d wake back up on that floor the Cap had left him on, find out this was all just a fucked up anxiety dream.

It didn’t work. He wasn’t waking up.

Zemo spent a long time on Tony’s belly. Of course he did, everyone Tony slept with had to show appreciation for his “cushion” at least once. But Zemo was a lot less gentle than most. He sucked Tony’s naval to the point of gnawing, and only got more aggressive when Tony reflexively cried out. After god knew how long, Zemo remembered there was something else to suck.

The Sokovian moved around so he was kneeling at Tony’s side. He brought Tony’s wrists up to his throat and pinned them there with one arm, pressing him against the freezing floor. The other hand wrapped around Tony’s length.

“Y—” Tony struggled for an insult, as Zemo’s fingers went to work. Tony’s voice shook as he struggled to hold the illusion of confidence. “You don’t get out much do you.”

“Even your wit is crumbling,” Zemo said, continuing to caress Tony’s member.
Tony was now putting all his mental effort into not getting an erection for his putrid fuck. But then Zemo’s tongue gently traced a circle around the tip, and that was that.

“Mmmm Tony Stark, Marchant of Death. Taking pleasure from the bomber who killed his friend T’Challa’s father.” Zemo paused to suck the tip and Tony couldn’t stop the small gasp that escaped his lips. “Kills innocent pawns because he needs to take his anger out on someone and Bucky has the same face as the tool that killed his mommy in the video, so why not use him to let off your steam? Starts a war, invents a deadly AI...” the last word trailed off as Zemo’s entire mouth engulfed Tony’s manhood.

The warmth was so tantalizing in this freezing hallway that Tony instinctively pushed inward at first, before recollecting himself and struggling to resist again. But he was rock hard now, and the puke-inducing wackadoof sucking him off was really fucking good at it. He really was enjoying this carnal thing, from the murderer of Black Panther’s dad and fuck knew how many other innocent people. Iron Man, a superhero, yeah right. The only thing that felt like iron was his dick, which was so hard it literally hurt. Or maybe that was more just the Sokovian being a little too rough. Blow jobs didn’t normally involve teeth, right? You were supposed to treat your man like a popsicle, not a corndog, weren’t you? Oh yeah, Zemo was a psycho. The sick Sokovian sucked on until Tony’s spent dick flopped down limply, contrary to his chest and belly which tremblingly rose and fell like… well, like a playboy who’d just had an incredibly violent blow job forced on him.

When Zemo finally pulled away Tony remained heaving, hot silent tears rolling down his face. A warm mass suddenly covered Tony, and he realized Zemo was now completely on top of him. He wasn’t bothering to hold Tony’s arms anymore. Tony weakly threw a punch at Zemo’s bicep, knowing already it was useless. Tony didn’t have any more energy to fight.

“Mmm Howard,” Zemo groaned, running his hands through Tony’s hair. “God I owe you Howard. You gave Hydra the super soldier serum so I could steal it from them; the leverage to kill the Avengers; and this sweet, beautiful little toy.” He forced another kiss on Tony, who found the strength to bite down on the loon’s tongue as hard as he could.

Zemo grabbed his throat and crushed his windpipe for a moment. Then he released his hold as quickly as he’d taken it, and caressed Tony’s face. “Oh Tony, you wouldn’t be much fun if you didn’t have so much fight in you would you.”

Was this reverse psychology to get Tony to cooperate? Tony decided he didn’t care, and wasn’t going to submit either way.

Zemo took ahold of Tony’s wrists again, and moved further up, bringing his own dick, predictably, to Tony’s mouth. Zemo moved Tony’s wrists behind his own back, forcing a painful embrace that stretched Tony’s arms almost out of their sockets. But Tony barely cared, because now was his chance to literally bite this freak’s dick off. Or at least part of it. That, he knew for certain, would make Howard Stark beam from whatever afterlife he watched his son from.

But Zemo’s fingers entered Tony’s mouth first, prying it opened and holding his jaws far apart, super-soldier fingers alone harder to budge than any iron. He was holding Tony’s jaw opened with one hand, and pinning both of Tony’s wrists behind himself with the other. Was that even possible?

“I won’t order you to suck,” Zemo said. “But I’ll tell you it will be over the sooner you do.”

Tony didn’t suck.

He spent god knew how long struggling against Zemo’s grip to clamp his jaws down on the putrid dick pumping in and out of his mouth. He didn’t bother fighting off tears because who other than the psycho was watching anyway?

It went on so long that Tony temporarily lost the will to fight, and instead tried mentally to escape into his own mind. Tried to think of something, anything but the sadist’s cock coming in his mouth.

"What do you think Merchant of Death," Zemo panted, plunging in and out. "Mom and Dad proud of you yet?"

What would Mom say?

His mom had always been the loving one, contrast to his cold father. Maria Stark would have squeezed one of the hands pinned around Zemo’s back, tell Tony how proud she was of her hero son, how it wasn’t his fault he lost control back there with Steve and Bucky, this serial killer raping him was just a big bully, Dad really does secretly love him, it’ll all be over soon, or some other cliched trite. Howard would probably be averting his eyes in shame.

Tony didn’t even realize Zemo’s cock had exited his mouth until he felt it slam into the other end. The Sakovian’s hips thrust at an increasing pace over Tony’s. Tony felt his asshole tearing, Zemo’s dick drawing blood with every thrust. He wasn’t sure if he was calling for his mom out loud or just in his head, but Zemo was laughing either way.

Zemo finally finished and collapsed over Tony’s limp body, heaving. His throat was close enough to Tony’s teeth. Tony was sure he could tear a chunk of this sick fuck’s esophagus out right here, with only his canines and adrenaline to help him. He lunged against for Zemo’s neck, but the super-soldier’s hand flew up to cover his mouth, and forced his head back to the floor.

Zemo finally rolled off him and lifted Tony up in both arms. Tony was too weak to fight at all now. He was too tired to question where he was being taken, why Zemo was moving him into a standing position in front of him (holding him up, as he was too weak to stand on his own), too weak to question anything until he noticed the small television screen in front of him. Then he found the strength to try scrambling away again, but Zemo pressed him tightly against his own body with one arm. With his other hand, he squeezed Tony's chin (again?) and forced his head towards the screen. Tony shut his eyes, but they flew back opened when something burned into his side. Zemo was using a cigarette lighter on him now.

"You'll watch," the Sokovian threatened, "Or I rape you again. Spend the next five minutes with me or your parents, your choice."

Tony's eyes watered again, as he watched his parents' car smash into the tree, and the Winter Soldier cruise over on his motorcycle.

"Does it hurt you to see?" Zemo whispered, still crushing Tony's face and chest in his grip.

When the Winter Soldier placed Howard Stark's corpse in the car (to stage the "accident") and moved on to kill Maria, Zemo pointed out, "So the last thing Mom saw was Dad's corpse sitting next to her."

Tony's eyes shut this time on instinct, but another burn from the lighter had them back opened.

There had to be a trillion and one things Tony could say to this sick son of a bitch, but he couldn't think of any of them at the moment. Just the trillion and one expressions that might've been on his parents' faces in their final moments, that the camera couldn't catch from this distance. All he could see was Bucky Barnes' cold, indifferent face, as he strangled the familiar shape of Tony's mother. He didn't hear the rest of Zemo's taunts, and was barely aware of his captor carrying him back to the medical ward.

Locking him back into his restraints, the lunatic said mildly, “If you want a blanket, food, need to piss, want me to tend any of your wounds, you need only beg.”

Tony was still struggling to come up with a decent retort when Zemo left the room.

Chapter Text

"Where's your wit today, Stark?"

Tony heaved against the bars he was cuffed to, feeling the blood stream down his back. Naked and on his knees, his wrists were cuffed around the bars of one of the cells Hydra had once kept their Winter Soldiers in. The silver lining of being whipped was that Tony didn't have to look at Zemo. The bicycle chain slashed Tony's back again, and he managed to bite a cry of pain into a hard deep breath.

"Nothing?" the European goaded lazily.

Tony kept his eyes and mouth shut.

"It's alright, I've one I made up last night. I've been waiting for a chance to tell it."

Tony braced himself for another flog, and more taunts about his parents.

"How much does it cost to eliminate a Stark?"

Or a billionaire joke...? Tony didn't care and didn't respond. Except when the chain hit his back again, this time curling around his side and leaving a cut on his stomach. While Tony breathed heavily against the bars, Zemo knelt beside him and crushed Tony's chin in his thumb and forefinger. Tony stubbornly kept his eyes closed, but Zemo didn't seem to care.

"Fifty cents." Zemo paused theatrically before the punchline. "For two Starks, about a buck."

It took Tony a second to get it. He couldn't stop the video from replaying behind his closed eyelids, or his face from jerking in the Sokovian's grip. Zemo chuckled almost giddily to himself. He released Tony's face, still laughing. Tony rested his forehead back against the bars, his breaths growing exponentially larger and faster. Zemo knew about Tony's panic attacks now, and they were one of his goals during these torture sessions. Fortunately this one passed relatively quickly. With the final frantic breaths Tony's eyes slowly opened, letting the tears roll out. He felt a bit better now, and could cook up a retort.

"All night, on that? You need a captive audience even for your shit sense of humor?"

"Tony," Zemo scolded, before bringing the chain down diagonally (earning a full cry of pain from Tony). "I know you can do better than that."

Swallowing the pain he managed, in a strained voice, "You first, Colonel Klink."

It was amazing, and disturbing, what the human mind and body could get used to.

Tony had long since lost track of time, but he knew he’d been Zemo’s play thing for a few days at least, maybe a week. He spent most of his time tied to a table, bed or chair; luckier days, he got to stretch a little when Zemo only had him cuffed around a pipe or the jail-like bars adorning the abandoned facility. (Where he’d found a pair of handcuffs, Tony neither knew nor cared.) He was Zemo’s favorite toy in several ways. The sick fuck had personally challenged himself to come up with some new kind of torture, large or small, every day.

And he’d done his research on Tony Stark. This freak must’ve had some kind of PTSD fetish, because every other “game” was based on something Tony had previously undergone. Zemo often waterboarded him, using the bathtubs in the living quarters formerly used by the Hydra up-and-ups. (The heating system was busted, because no matter which knobs Zemo turned the water always came out icy cold.) Choking and punches to the face were also regular rituatls, for obvious reasons. When he wasn't reenacting the Starks' deaths on Tony, Zemo was forcing Tony to watch it. Fourteen times so far; Zemo forced him to keep count. When it wasn’t the “1991” footage, he was making Tony watch news footage of New York or Sokovia, hoping to induce as many flashbacks and anxiety attacks as possible. And it usually worked.

And then there were their “love” sessions.

Zemo kept him restrained at all times, always making sure to incapacitate him with the paralysis-buzzer any time he decided to move him. (That is, when Tony wasn’t rendered unconscious or immobile simply from the torture sessions.) Going to the bathroom was a new kind of humiliating. But at least Zemo’s sick fetishes didn’t extend to feces or diapers; he just accompanied Tony to the can any time he had to go, keeping at least one superhuman hand on one arm or shoulder and threatening to waterboard him in his own piss if he tried anything. And Tony was completely naked all day, every day. He’d long since gotten used to having a cold, and maybe pneumonia. If he “behaved” himself he’d be rewarded with food or a blanket or both. When he was extra “good” Zemo tied him to an actual bed with several blankets. (He apparently only had one pair of handcuffs, and didn’t use those for anything that required Tony being spread-eagle.) Being “good” meant crying, begging or screaming; a genuine panic attack was cause for major reward. Being “bad” meant silent defiance, or snarky rebuttals; bringing up "Moose und squirrel" was always an automatic strike (literally). Tony was “bad” plenty of days, the cold and empty stomach often worth it.

In the long hours between tortures and rapes, Tony had plenty of time to reflect on his infinite list of fuck-ups, and run through every detail every friend and relative had ever offered about why they couldn't stand him.

"Every time I think you've changed Tony, every time!" His argument with Steve over "imprisoning" Wanda. Had that been when Steve decided that not to tell Tony?

Or maybe he'd had orders not to tell, from Mr. Fury or someone. The thought of Mr. Fury or anyone besides Steve knowing was even worse, many times worse. Why would they keep that from him? Because he was crazy. Ultron, the Mandarin, his embarrassing behavior back when his first reactor had been failing him and he'd thought he was dying. No one had any reason to see him as anything other than a brain-dead vegetable of a basket case who had to be contained. If they thought he was dead now, they were no doubt saying nice things about him, out of guilt and obligation, while secretly feeling relieved to be rid of the burden he was. He really was only useful to Zemo.

Which was just what Zemo would want Tony to think. It was literally what he'd been telling Tony a few hours ago, while he twisted the reactor in his chest, over Tony's hoarse screams. Tony believed every word of it, but he was not going to let Zemo win that easily. And anyway Tony had to have been doing something right for everyone to stick around as long as they had (right?). It was all he had for the moment, so it would have to do.

--

A long, exhausting dream involving the battle in New York was interrupted by the feeling of a soap bar running up and down his back, making it sting like fire. Tony gradually awoke to find himself on his knees, his face pressed against the wall of bars, hands cuffed above him. Glancing over his bare shoulder, Tony saw there was still fresh blood running from the long cuts in his back, mixing with the soap in a sick parody of a cherry sundae. His eyes inadvertently met Zemo’s, and the freak smiled at him briefly like a spouse greeting his partner in the morning.

Tony cringed, trying to contain the pain silently. “I get a bath?” he croaked. “Do I get a haircut and a shave too?”

“Yes to the second, no to the first.” Zemo brought the soap up to the back of Tony’s neck, and Tony winced when he scrubbed the cut up there (that chain-whip had gone damn near everywhere). “I want to see you with your bangs a little more grown out.”

While Zemo was speaking Tony attempted another head-butt, shoving his head back into Zemo’s chin. The superhuman’s noggin didn’t even budge, it was like hitting a statue, and Tony’s head slammed back into the bars. Zemo pretended not to even notice, and just kept scrubbing. Tony just managed to stop a gasp when the soap reached his ass, and he buried his face in his raised forearms against the bars. When Zemo began to undo one of the cuffs—one hand carefully squeezing the wrist he was uncuffing—Tony didn’t bother fighting this time. Zemo grabbed Tony’s other arm and yanked him around, then brought his uncuffed hand back up to the cuffs. Time to wash the front, apparently.

Facing Zemo head-on now, Tony once again found himself wondering what creepy movie scientist Zemo reminded him of. It wasn’t Peter Lorre, or anyone from an old classic; it was something very recent, and sort of obscure. The accent, the crazy eyes.

Tony flinched as the soap bar went below the belt. Zemo seized Tony’s jaw in an iron grip, eyes boring into his warningly, then released his hold and continued washing.

“Why don’t you keep me paralyzed all the time?” Tony asked.

After a moment the Sokovian replied quietly, “Well what would be the point of trying to train a limp ragdoll.”

Tony recalled, “That thing also has a battery, that’s not easy to replace.”

Zemo’s eyes briefly narrowed in rage, and Tony knew he’d hit the buffalo.

Freakazoid scrubbed Tony’s entire body, even shampooed his fucking hair, and then hosed him down, like he was a poodle. (Apparently not all of the heating in this place was busted, because the water was fairly warm.) When Zemo brought what looked like a god-fucking-damn hunting knife up to dry-shave him, Tony elected suicide and tried thrusting his own throat onto the blade. The supersoldier stopped him and held his head in place by the jaw (again).

“You want to join Mom and Dad I suppose?” Zemo taunted, sliding the blade down Tony’s cheek, taking a bit of blood with the stubble. “Well which one do you want follow? I can slam your head against this these bars and you can go like your father, or I can just squeeze down on your throat and you can see what Mom’s last minutes were like.” Tony searched desperately for something far away to focus on. But all he could see behind Zemo were the tanks full of dead Winter Soldiers. “Poor Bucky,” Zemo’s disgusting breath filled his ear. “He’s got an old couple’s blood on his hands—well, one hand, one piece of hardware—and he’s eventually going to find out he drove their son to throw in his lot with the one who made him do it, before dying a very slow death.”

“Can’t you think of anything new?” Tony managed to keep his voice more even than his shaking body.

Zemo paused, and Tony’s shaking slowed. He’d got the fuck, at least in some microscopic way. Still holding Tony’s jaw in one hand and shaving blade in the other, Freak Show kissed him on the forehead and said, “I’ll make an effort Love.”

“You don’t know the meaning of the word,” Tony muttered.

“And you do, Merchant of Death?” Zemo’s fingers massaged the side of Tony’s throat, much too hard. “Has there been a single conflict you’ve partaken in in which you didn’t in some way contribute to your enemies’ power? Is there a single person in your life you haven’t put in mortal danger?”

Tony swallowed a few times, then retorted, “Who’ve you got, besides me?”

Zemo’s iron grip on his face quickly tightened, but the Sokovian caught himself and retorted calmly, “Like so many lonely men I’ve only my new pet.” He finished the sentence bringing the knife harshly across Tony’s cheek, yet managed not to spill any blood this time.

Tony really didn’t want to know what Zemo had done to any of his actual pets, if he’d had any.

He suddenly found himself snickering to himself.

“Something funny, Pet?”

He had Tony’s head tilted up, shaving the underside of his jaw. Suffice to say, having his throat so exposed to this lunatic with a huge knife was not reassuring. Tony was grateful to finally have something to laugh about.

“I just realized who you remind me of,” Tony said, eyes on the ceiling as Zemo’s knife ran under his chin. “The scientist from ‘Human Centipede.’” He quoted the movie’s most famous line, in an imitation more of Zemo’s voice than the actual movie character’s: “‘From A to B, and B to C.’ Oh god, I just realized how lucky I am you wanted to tear the Avengers apart, instead of stitch us all closer together.” Zemo had stopped shaving. “Probably should’ve said that, I’m giving you ideas aren’t—”

Zemo slammed Tony’s head against the bars. His large eyes bore into Tony’s murderously, which only enhanced his likeness to the movie villain. A possible concussion had never felt so good.

Zemo finished shaving him with some more taunts Tony did his best not to hear. And to add insult to literal injury, he almost certainly fucked up Tony’s goatee.
--
There was no one else in the massive concrete laboratory but the dozens of dead winter soldiers floating in their tanks. Tony Stark, Iron Man, had been incapacitated by this one lone psycho. Granted, a psycho with super soldier strength on par with Steve’s. But still. He’d battled aliens—he’d carried a god-fucking-damn nuke in to outer space—and now here he was in the middle of a “Misery” remake.

Did Steve know Tony was missing? Why hadn’t anyone come back here to look for him? Zemo of course brought these questions up to Tony regularly, making sure to hammer home that Steve and Bucky had washed their hands of Tony, and the rest of the world was probably glad to be rid of him. He loved to remind Tony of Ultron, the collateral damage in all his battles, and his “Merchant of Death” days. And of course, his favorite subject to rub in Tony’s face was Tony’s parents.

Tony wasn’t stupid though. He knew this freak was playing games with him. It was kind of great, that one time Zemo tried telling him that Bucky raped Tony’s mom before killing her, only for Tony to remind him “You showed me the footage seventeen times now, so I know that’s bullshit.” The disappointment on Zemo’s face had been hilarious. Less hilarious when he’d then decided to try pouring cleaning fluid into Tony’s reactor cavity as punishment, but even that was almost worth it. Tony fought back with his wit, whenever he had the energy. Zemo sometimes let him mouth off, seeming to find his snarking comments amusing; other times, he just shut him up with duct tape.

Tony came close to giving up countless times every single day. Most of his dreams were nightmares, many of them involving former friends or even his parents doing the things Zemo did to him while he was awake. But the few that weren’t horrible, where he woke up reminded that he did have friends and had been a hero once, were what inspired him to keep going.

One day, Zemo got some sick kind of creative spark, and worked some serious Mengele/Jeffrey Dahmer shit on him.

He used the paralyzer again to get Tony onto the operating table. Tony regained the ability to speak as Zemo was tightening the last strap over his legs. With as much feigned disinterest as he could muster, Tony asked flatly, "What's on the roster today Count Rugen, a game of Extreme Operation?"

Zemo's hand creepily came to Tony's reactor, and clicked it loose. "Bingo."

Tony's eyes flared before he could stop himself. I had to ask. His emotions took over, and his voice wavered slightly as he demanded, "Will this experiment finally fulfill your sick wet dream of..." He stopped himself and swallowed, well aware of his trembling body giving away his fear.

"Go on," Zemo jeered quietly, lifting Tony's reactor from his chest with a hissing click, ripping a short but loud gasp from his prisoner.

Tony closed his eyes and swallowed a deep breath of air. Opening his eyes again and locking with Zemo's, he finished--with classic rolling Rs-- "...of creating human-moose-squirrel zentipede?"

Zemo ripped one of the cylinders from the reactor, sending out several loud sparks over a scream from Tony. The reactor was still plugged into its cavity--of course it was, no point torturing a corpse--and with every small, moderately important component Zemo tore from the device, Tony felt it through the cord and in his whole chest, as well as if Zemo were snapping off one of his ribs.

Tony didn’t bother hoping for the pain to end, just to move to some other part of his body, anywhere. Apparently he said so out loud in-between screams, because Zemo started replying in a syrupy voice, “Anywhere? Even here? How about here?” Tony didn’t bother thinking of his reply, just babbled whatever came out of his mouth. His ribcage was still burning, when he finally got the distraction he now regretted begging for: a deep cut in his right forearm, severing deep muscle tissue, and a burning alien object stuffed inside it. He had no idea how Zemo wasn’t deaf by now.

Agony returned to his chest, as Zemo made a swift but messy C-shaped cut over his lower ribcage. He could feel muscle being ripped from bone, and something hard and meal being wrapped around one rib.

The one that finally rendered him unconscious, or just snapped his mind to open the door for hallucinations (Tony would never know which) was a searing pain in his gut, just next to his naval. He felt his belly being yanked opened, and the psycho fuck's fingers clawing through his bowls, and then Howard showed up.

Like he'd always been there.

Tony's father was in a chair next to the operating table, his brown eyes glued to a newspaper that's headline was something about Captain America saving the world again. Tony continued screaming for his Dad to help him. At first Howard Stark didn’t react at all, eyes fixed on his paper. Zemo made some taunt involving the word “Dad” that Tony didn’t hear over his own hoarse screams. He finally caught some semblance of a breath when Zemo’s hand pulled out of his body to go fish something out of his chest-reactor cavity. Tony made the mistake of looking, and saw his intestines poking out from the slit in his belly, everything drenched in blood. Spaghetti was officially ruined for him now. Both of Zemo’s hands—now working at Tony’s reactor again—were bare and completely red.

Had someone actually once been married to this thing? Had children with it? Zemo had to have made up that “dead family” story, or imagined it. And speaking of imagining things, was Howard Stark really sitting next to Tony’s operating table, reading a newspaper? The way his father shifted in his seat, and the crackle of the newspaper, was so real. Was this one of those eerily real fever-dreams, or was he delirious, or had Howard actually survived Bucky’s attack and just stayed away because he hated Tony so much?

Zemo was examining some wire he’d unraveled from the reactor.

Quick, think of something witty to say.

There had to be some lame surgery joke he could make, or else maybe a reference to that cookie scene from “Shrek.” Those both sucked. Dad, help me.

Howard suddenly spoke, eyes still in his newspaper. “If sarcasm is a metric for potential, then you should’ve figured out this crackpot’s game by now Tony.”

Tony stared at his dad, but before he could ask what the hell Howard was talking about Zemo dived back into his guts with something cold and metal. Back to screaming and begging his dad for help, any kind.

Then another familiar voice, that Tony couldn’t place at the moment: “Don’t waste your life.”

When Tony managed to look at his father again, Howard’s dark eyes were locked with his. Sternly he said, “My greatest creation is still you Tony. Not some frisbee I made for some sexy American meatloaf. Always will be.”

His head was burning.

His sternum and belly both hurt like burning hell.

How long had he been out?

He was in the dark, but in a bed. For a split second he thought he was at home, or anywhere other than Siberia; but then he felt the ropes on his wrists and ankles, and the weight on his chest. Zemo was asleep with is head on Tony’s chest, and one arm draped over him. They were both naked, and Tony had to assume he’d been raped again, but mercifully didn’t remember any of it. He was warm at least; several blankets and a few quilts were heaped over his body up to his neck, and another heavy blanket covered his outstretched arms. Of course he’d been rewarded; he’d given the sadist a magnificent show on the operating table. Zemo seemed completely spent, snoring softly. One could almost forget this was the same person who’d been torturing him for the last couple months. If only this guy wasn’t a psychopath, had just asked Tony out politely, it could’ve been exactly what Tony had needed after that fight with Steve. Fate seemed to have as sick a sense of humor as Zemo did.

Doing his best not to move his burning torso, he turned his head over on the pillow, hoping to see his father still nearby. But Howard Stark was gone.

Tony closed his eyes, and the tears began rolling down his face, nonstop. But they were the calm, silent type of tears, at least. He lay there for a long time, trying to stave off the pain by working out what his father and Yinsen (the other voice, he now remembered) had been telling him. What had his father told him?

If sarcasm is a metric for potential, then you should’ve figured out this crackpot’s game by now Tony.

Tony realized he’d been neglecting his obvious duty of figuring out what Zemo was really up to.

That was why Zemo kept raping and torturing him on a daily basis.

Satisfying his own sadistic dick was just a bonus. Zemo’s main goal here was to keep Tony distracted. Well two could play at that game.

--
The lunatic was building something, obviously. And he was planning to do something with all those dead Winter Soldiers. Some kind of zombie robot army or something? And why the fuck had he moved part of Tony’s reactor into his stomach? One of the wires was curled around a small section of his intestine, with some small round metal part attached to it, and it felt really fucking uncomfortable. Had he left any souvenirs anywhere else? Yep, he had stitches in his arms and legs, and could feel something uncomfortable in his spine. Tony focused on his throbbing head once, while Zemo raped his mouth again, and realized there was definitely a new cold tiny lump pressing against his brain that hadn’t been there before he came to Siberia.
Tony carefully used his snarks to try to worm information out of Zemo. The idiot was stupid enough to give Tony some clues, through is cryptic taunts.

Tony paid attention to what Zemo paid attention to. Zemo tended to really lay the dead-parent taunts on thick when he was working on Tony’s reactor, or “testing his pain tolerance.” Those times, Zemo was always finding an excuse to grab Tony by the neck or wrist, the spots where one would take a pulse. Zemo obviously wanted to use the reactor for whatever he was building. But what did that have to do with Tony’s heart or nervous system? He thought of those pickled Winter Soldiers, and while he still couldn’t fathom what Zemo had planned, Tony definitely didn’t like it.

At night, when he was alone, Tony talked in his head—and sometimes, very quietly, out loud—to his parents, Steve, Pepper, Bruce, Happy, Jarivs, Dum-E, and whoever else. Told them everything he should have when he was actually with them. Even Bucky. He found that on nights when he did this he was more likely to have at least a few good moments in his dreams. Once, Steve and Mr. Fury had congratulated him at a party in the Avengers Tower, for continuing to give Zemo hell, and taking one for the team. His mom crushed him in a hug, telling him she was so proud of him. Pepper and Bruce took turns giving him giddy congratulatory kisses.

But most of his dreams were still god awful.

The Cap roared in his ear, “You’re an egomaniac! That’s why you’re still here Tony!” And threw his shield across the room—where he’d somehow teleported (dream logic). It rolled and bounced across the concrete floor, curving around the cement pipe Tony was chained to before wobbling to a halt next to him.

“I can only say I’m sorry so many times,” Tony pleaded quietly.

Pepper’s voice echoed through the facility, “Too bad your hands are chained or you could give yourself a pity fuck.”

Tony shot a look over his shoulder, in the direction of her voice, and wound up jerking himself awake. He was still lying against a cold concrete pillar, his hands cuffed behind him. Steve was gone, and obviously Pepper was nowhere nearby. The shield was gone too.

No, the shield wasn’t gone. It was in this facility. Zemo had it.

And here was Tony, thinking all Zemo wanted was his reactor.

Egomaniac indeed.

Tony closed his eyes and took a deep breath against the cold pillar. Even when his friends weren’t there, they were still capable of snapping him out of his ego and into the face of the obvious.

Actually, a smug little voice pointed out (that sounded a bit like Jarvis), it was your subconscious—

No. It was the Cap and Pepper. Their influence on my subconscious maybe, or something. Bad ego, back to your kennel.

Where was Zemo now? Off working on something he didn’t want Tony to see, probably. Or maybe just finally getting tired of his “pet.”

Dad, Tony said silently to himself, Help me out here. What’s the sick Sokovian doing with Cap’s shield and my reactor and a room full of dead Winter Soldiers?

Chapter Text

Tony had a new coping method for Zemo’s tortures: pay attention to what he’s actually doing. Which was obviously much easier said than done. Being a genius helped a bit though. He realized that every time Zemo took out his arc reactor, he took out some more components, nearly always in groups of five. There were exactly five Winter Soldier tanks in the facility.

Most likely, Zemo was planning to use Tony as a living battery to bring a zombie army to life. A decade ago Tony wouldn’t have taken such a thought seriously even drunk, but in a post alien-invasion world it was plausible enough. Zemo was going to use Tony to charge the Winter Soldier corpses and bring them to “life,” or some fucked up imitation of it. And for some reason he needed Tony alive to do it; sadist or not, Zemo couldn’t possibly have been stupid enough to let Tony stay alive unless he absolutely needed him to be. And he apparently also needed Tony awake, and relatively healthy. (Wouldn’t it otherwise be much easier to just keep Tony unconscious all this time, than turn him into a very inconvenient, albeit sexy, pet?) Zemo needed Tony’s heart beating. Fast, probably. Which was why he was trying to keep him so worked up. (Wouldn’t it be easier to just shoot him up with—well, drugs would probably mess up whatever Zemo needed his body for.)

“You’re so quiet tonight, Pet.”

Shit.

When Zemo had played around with his reactor a few hours earlier, the panic attack and gasps for his mom had earned Tony ice cream in bed. He was tied to the bed, as usual. His meals had had to change a bit, since his “operation.” When Tony was good Zemo spoon-fed him creamy soups, yogurt, or fruit that he had gotten from balls-knew-where. ("I've been planning our stay here months in advance," Zemo had explained when Tony asked where he was getting fresh food.) When Tony was “bad” Zemo force-fed him something hot and greasy, knowing in his condition he’d puke it back up. When Tony once managed to puke on him and enjoy a short laugh, Zemo had kicked him in his stitches and then made him watch his parents die again. (Worth it.)

But tonight, Tony had been good, so Zemo tied him to a particularly comfy bed, and sincerely asked Tony if the ropes were too tight (but didn’t let Tony talk him into making them loose enough to break out of). Then fed him Rocky Roads (which—because of the name—made Tony think of and miss Rodey), and even let Tony decide when he was full. And actually waited for Tony to digest before raping him.

Zemo's plan had to be close to completion, for him to be in such a good mood.

Due to being so mentally and physically exhausted, and now so comfy, Tony had forgotten to show any displeasure now when Zemo was on top of him. The fact was, Tony was starting to get desensitized to being raped—which was a little fucked up—and he lately had to remind himself to snark, flinch or play up pain, so Zemo wouldn’t decide to raise the bar.

“Mmmm,” Zemo kissed Tony’s ear and asked again. “Why’re you so quiet Pet?” His fingers ran over Tony’s face, and scratched a recent cut on Tony’s forehead, making him flinch.

Tony swallowed and said barely audibly, “Well uh, you gave me a workout today.” He smiled up at his “owner” with mock affection. “I’m tired.”

Zemo’s large creepy eyes searched Tony’s. Then he planted a long, wet kiss in Tony’s mouth. Come to think of it, maybe a lot of this was Zemo genuinely being into him. It was obvious by now that Zemo literally needed Tony to suffer before his own dick would budge. (Heh, performance issues.) Sick Sokovian was probably thinking out loud back when he’d compared Tony to Christmas morning.

Zemo was making a trail of kisses down Tony’s neck, and Tony gasped, his mouth opening on reflex. (And for once, Zemo didn’t immediately stick his dick in it.) Was he getting gentler, or was Tony just getting used to it?

Tony had slept with men before. Basically everyone in the Avengers was bi and in an opened relationship. Bruce was always gentle, so much so Tony usually had to beg him to put a little more energy into it. And Steve, he was the strong and protective sort. (When he wasn’t mercilessly tickling Tony to death.) Steve was protecting Bucky now. Maybe he should, with unstable bipolar fuck-ups like Tony trying to kill him just for basically being raped like he was right now.

Zemo let out some hybrid of a moan and a whimper, gnawing at Tony’s ear while his fingers dug into his hair.

“Been lonely, huh?” Tony asked with some played up affection.

To his surprise Zemo didn’t punish him, and just replied with another keening sound. His grip on Tony’s hair was still hard and violent though, and his kisses moved quite creepily to the hollow of Tony’s throat.

“I had a lover,” Zemo whispered, kissing around Tony’s throat. “In Sokovia. You killed him.”

Matching his barely audible volume, Tony replied, staring at the ceiling, “That what this is really about.”

Zemo panted on his chest, one hand groping Tony’s reactor, other still fisting his hair. “You owe me.”

“You love me.” Tony lifted his head, working his charming eyebrow on the Sokovian. “Might as well admit it.”

Still panting, Zemo finally replied, “I might keep you around.”

“Nice to be wanted, for once.” Tony rested his head back against the pillow, and feigned a despaired glance around the ceiling. “Wish you could hold me properly. Wish I could hold you back.”

Zemo’s hand came up again to Tony’s face, and his unamused eyes met his. “How stupid do you think I am Stark?”

Their eyes remained locked, while Tony breathed heavily, his fingers running along the ropes holding his wrists to the bedposts. He slowly curved his head under Zemo’s throat and beginning a long, wet kiss, working his tongue in circles against the Europeans’s skin. Zemo was frozen. Tony kept him that way a bit longer with a trail of kisses up his face. Before Zemo could stop him Tony’s teeth were on his ear, his tongue artfully spiraling down into his ear canal. Zemo let out a loud, shaking gasp, and Tony smiled affectionately at him. Then gave him a little peck on the nose for good measure. The Sokovian’s shaking hand frantically moved up towards Tony’s wrist. But his other hand clamped over Tony’s throat.

“Try to escape,” Zemo warned, “I rip your stitches back open and tie you back with your intestines.”

His crazy eyes said he really would try that, regardless of whether it was physically possible.

Tony was aware of the frozen fear on his face as he stared up at his owner. He finally replied flatly, “Anyone ever tell you you’re a bit of a drama queen?”

Zemo didn’t respond. He kept one hand on Tony’s throat, but with the other, undid the rope holding Tony’s right wrist. Zemo tremblingly lowered Tony’s free hand to the back of his own head and placed it here. Tony hesitated, then seized a handful of Zemo’s brunette hair. The Sokovian took his hand off Tony’s throat, but made sure to keep a firm grip on him wherever his hands went.

How to get Zemo’s face away from the reactor…

Tony arched against the binds still holding his left wrist and ankles, and when he knew Zemo was looking, took a breath that gave his belly a few noticeable, cute ripples. (Which stung like fuck, in its current condition.) For reasons Tony had never managed to decipher, all of his lovers loved his belly. Apparently it was “soft” and “exactly the right size,” extremely ticklish, and outie belly buttons were a sort of rare oddity. He had to pray Zemo wouldn’t be an exception.

Before Tony lowered his body back against the bed, Zemo grabbed him around the waist and practically swallowed his belly button, sucking like a baby calf. Tony cringed at the sting that shot through his stitched area, and it clearly wasn't going to stop any time soon. (Seriously, Tony spent fuck knew how many hours a day working up his biceps and pecs—well not lately, but anyway—and 90% of his lovers barely even noticed his muscle because they were so mesmerized by his jellyrolls. The fuck?) While Zemo went at his midriff like it was the Rocky Roads he’d fed Tony earlier, Tony stroked the European’s hair with his free hand as seductively as he could, ensuring Zemo’s face remained buried in his flab.

While Zemo was distracted, Tony carefully glanced back at his chest reactor. He was fairly positive he could reconfigure it to send a signal to the massive reactor back at the old Avengers Tower. He wasn’t sure who’d be there to get the signal, or how many people out there understood Morse Code, but he had to start somewhere.

Pain shot through his abdomen as Zemo’s teeth pinched his stitches.

“Does that hurt?” his “lover” moaned.

Tony realized he had an opportunity. “Please, don’t…”

Zemo bit down again. Tony gasped loudly, and pulled his hand away from Zemo’s head in what he hoped seemed like shock. Raising his voice to a normal volume, Tony begged, “Helmut please, just this once,”

The Sokovian’s jaws moved to his protruding naval. This time the short gasp Tony let out was genuine. Christ, this guy was probably crazy enough to literally bite his belly button off, just like that crazy boxer bit that one guy’s ear off…

Reactor.

While Zemo tugged at Tony’s naval with his teeth, Tony quickly brought his hand up to his chest reactor and worked as quickly and quietly as he could. Unfortunately he was left-handed, and his only free hand was the right one. On top of that, this was the arm that had the reactor cylinder in it. He also hadn't used his hands in quite a while. His fingers rested on the edge of the reactor. Zemo was still chomping away, so passionately that Tony half wondered if Zemo had belly buttons confused for genitals, like in that one famously bad movie with that creepy French guy (what was it called?)

Tony hoped the sound of his voice would cover the click of his reactor leaving his chest. With genuine strain, he said, “Mmmmmy dick’s a little farther down, Tommy Wiseau.”

Had Zemo just growled? Whatever.

Tony carefully slid his reactor out all the way, the plug still attached to the socket. Several of the tubular lights were missing, one of them now in the arm holding the device. This worked in Tony’s favor, actually. When his reactor malfunctioned, it would sometimes cause uncomfortable vibrations in his chest, and even make other nearby reactors to spark if pricked (and vis versa). If he could reconfigure the energy signal to travel a lot farther than just his chest—

Fuck that hurt.

His outie was definitely bleeding now, and he was pretty sure Zemo was sucking it up like a vampire.

“Hey Romeo, don’t fill yourself up on appetizers,” Tony said, quickly working at his reactor, far past caring about how much it stung his arm. “The main course is—”

Zemo’s head shot up, his wide crazy eyes boring into Tony’s.

Tony was frozen for a split second. Then quickly finished his hack on his reactor before letting it drop onto his chest.
Zemo seized Tony’s free wrist, boring into his eyes with a death glare. Tony knew struggling against the superhuman was useless but tried anyway. Zemo twisted Tony’s arm around his head, and Tony cried out as something popped. Then the Sokovian ripped out his reactor, just plucked it right out like a daisy.

Tony felt the veins in his chest tightening, his sternum burning. (Having the thing ripped right out of him did a lot more than just allow the shrapnel to get closer to his heart.) As his body painfully tightened up, Zemo climbed onto his stomach—which really hurt, with the switches and all—and let Tony’s twisted, possibly broken arm fall limply onto the bed. Zemo gave the reactor a short toss like an apple and examined it for a long while. Or maybe it just felt like a long while, because Tony’s body was in increasing agony and he was dying.

“I admit it Stark, I’ve no idea what you did,” Zemo said. “I suppose I’ll just have to take extra precautions.”

Then he socked Tony in the jaw, hard enough to knock him out just like in a movie.

--

He hadn’t been kidding about taking no chances.

Tony awoke in the vast room full of the Winter Soldier tanks. He was sitting on a barred windowsill, arms bound up on either side of his face. His entire body ached but especially his chest. He wasn’t surprised to find himself restrained and naked again, but the was startled by the number of plugs and cords branching from his heart. That is not my reactor. It looked like a reactor. But the glow was yellow and the casing a dull brown metal. Cords fat and thin snaked around his body in all directions.

Zemo had his back to him, working at one of the tanks. The dead soldier inside reminded Tony of the kid who’d tried to take a picture with him in Afghanistan. He quickly tore his eyes away and focused back on the wires in his chest.

They mostly looked like electrical hardware, but the really big one branching right off the middle of his reactor, that had him worried. It was already sucking something from his body. He felt the reactor vibrating slightly in his chest, and knew the chord was at the very least sucking discharge from that. A smaller, clearer chord right underneath it was sending something biological somewhere—plasma? White blood cells? Fuck this was gross. All these cords spidering out of his chest were gross. He felt like some gargantuan, mutated, wrinkled old daddy longlegs had sought to spend its final moments on the most handsome chest it could find, and quietly expired between Tony’s pecs while he was unconscious.

And speaking of cords, it wasn’t just his wrists tied to the bars. Thick webs of rope ran across his upper chest, right above the reactor, and his lower belly and hips, securing him to the bars. Blood trailed from his shredded naval and loosened stitches, soaking the rope below. His ankles were tied together. Apparently Zemo had run out of rope, and resorted to using strips of torn white bed sheet to fasten him at the shoulders to the bars.

He was almost surprised he wasn’t gagged, but then, who was anywhere nearby for him to call out to?

Despite the crudeness of this arrangement, there was something weirdly medical about it all. Maybe it was the white strips of sheet tying his shoulders. What else? He felt really clean. Not emotionally, obviously. But his skin was smooth and dry, not a drop of grime or sweat anywhere. The only blood was freshly flowing from untreated cuts. There was a whole laundry list of things here that should have had him petrified, but for some reason the thing that kept running through his mind was son of a fuck broke my outie.

Ego Tony, ego.

Deep breath, deep breath.

Big room. The cords growing from his chest were insanely long, And there it was—his reactor. In the middle of the floor amidst a sea of wires. It was sitting on top of Captain America’s shield, like some weird glowing lightbulb of a cherry on top of a curved metallic pastry. Fuck when was the last time he’d eaten? On cue his tummy started growling. Shut up stomach I’m trying to think…

Small wires connected the reactor to the shield, and both to Tony. None were directly connected to any of the Winer Soldier’s pods, but instead to a bunch of odd equipment that looked like it had been build from ‘90s computer scraps. Some kind of primitive broadcast signal or something.

The reactor was an energy source.

Cap’s shield was made of vibranium, a near-invincible metal.

He wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to speak; Zemo might simply knock him out again, and then he wouldn’t be able to figure out how to stop this insanity. But apparently he’d made enough movement for Zemo to hear. Without looking back at him, the Sokovian asked, “Awake, Pet?”

Tony licked his lips, his eyes traveling from the cords to the tanks. “Looks like I’ve been promoted from Pet to car-charger.” Car charger? Fuck off, I’d like to see anyone else in my place do better.

“Howard should be proud.”

Tony just rolled his eyes now, beyond tired of Zemo’s repetitive taunts.

The Sokovian continued, “His greatest creation has gone from making weapons to powering them.”

Tony looked sharply back at Zemo. The Sokovian glanced over his shoulder to see Tony’s shock, and explained mildly, “You talk in your sleep, Pet.”

Their eyes became locked in a short stare-down, Zemo waiting patiently while Tony searched for a retort.

“So I’m the world’s most charming and handsome Duracell now?”

Zemo’s mouth finally spread into a smile, and he crossed the room towards Tony.

“What’re you gonna do with five zombies, assuming any of this is even possible?” Tony asked as his captor knelt beside him.

Zemo’s ran a hand through Tony’s hair. “A task force of five Winter Soldiers is nothing to sneeze at.”

“They were unstable when Hydra tried making them, that’s why they were pickled in the first place!”

“‘Unstable’ is exactly what I need.”

So Zemo just wanted glorious chaos, like the Joker from that “Batman” movie everyone was gushing over the same year Tony had built his first Iron Man suit. Or that sexy goddess from that not-quite-Disney movie, about the pirate guy who said “pickles and eggs!”

“So you’re just gonna send five zombie assassins out to wreak havoc and…what… frame the Avengers for it?”

“Something like that.” Zemo dipped his head behind Tony’s and took a long, creepy sniff of his hair. “I’ve been harsh on you Tony.”

“Really.”

“In doing my research to properly punish you, I’ve found the world’s been almost as cruel to you as to me. Maybe crueler.” Zemo caressed Tony’s face, his head was still buried in Tony’s hair.

Tony’s eyes rolled heavenward. “If I come to the Dark Side, will there really be cookies?”

“And revenge on Rogers,” Zemo purred in his ear, before kissing it. “And Barnes, all those who wronged you.”

Tony’s natural impulse was to reply Funny, for the last two months or whatever you’ve been doing your damndest to convince me I was the bad guy who wronged them. But maybe it would be better to play along. Subtlety though, or Zemo would catch on.

“I don’t wanna be the Merchant of Death anymore,” Tony hoped his wavering voice would sound to Zemo like an embarrassed confession rather than a pathetic lie he was making up on the spot. “I… I don’t wanna be like the thing that killed my parents.”

“You won’t be. You’ll be a hero, for real, for once. Rid the world of a dangerous vigilante and his blind followers. You were always too smart to go along with the rest of the sheep weren’t you Stark.”

Tony suddenly had no idea if Zemo was actually trying to manipulate him, or himself. He almost pitied the poor, lonely lunatic. That is, until he remembered the two and a half months of physical and emotional torture and rape.

Zemo’s hand fell to Tony’s midriff, and flicked his bleeding naval, forcing a short gasp of pain out of him. “It’ll heal I’m sure.” Tony cringed as Zemo dug his finger into the bleeding stump, then traced some red, smeared circles around it.

His hand moved back up to Tony’s neck. Discretely feeling his pulse, Tony realized, seeing if he’d got his Duracell fully charged. Actually, this might be good for Tony’s plan too.

“Why’s the reactor need to be in my chest?” Tony asked.

“It’s not.” Zemo’s eyes flicked to Tony’s real reactor, on the Cap’s shield.

“I mean, why do I need to be attached to it? You want me to consider joining forces with you, you could start by just giving me a separate reactor to—”

Zemo’s fingers came to one side of Tony’s chin, and turned his face to meet his eyes. “Be good, and I’ll tell you after we’re done here.”

Zemo kissed Tony’s forehead and rose. Before walking away, he turned around and added, “Oh, and talking about you reactor, your little hack won’t work. You seriously thought you could access one of your suits from halfway across the globe? I’ve diverted all energy back to outward powering. You can’t summon anything.”

Well thank you!

Tony had to clench his jaw to keep from smiling, and Zemo laughed, thinking Tony’s jaw was clenched in rage. Tony watched the Sokovian return to the tank he’d been working at.

Tony still had no idea what his body or Cap’s shield had to do with the zombie army, but he had to assume Zemo was somehow combining technology and biology to make his zombie task force.

Tony looked once more at the reactor he’d reconfigured, sitting on Steve’s shield. Then to Zemo, whose back was still turned.

Tony took a deep, shaking breath, and as quietly as he could, hit his head against the bars. Zemo didn’t seem to hear. Tony counted to three. Then slammed again, this time three times in a row. Count to three. Slam

Tony had to just pray to fuck the vibrations would make it to the reactor hooked to Cap’s shield, and in turn to the reactor at the old Avengers Tower. And hope to piss someone who knew Morse Code happened to be hanging around there at the right time. (Did Pepper know Morse Code? Did she even work at the old Avengers Tower anymore?) He had to hope, since there was nowhere else for these vibrations to go.

One, two, three…slam…

Chapter Text

The original plan had been to stay in Wakanda, where King T’Challa had offered both Steve and Bucky amnesty. And where Bucky had eventually been given a new robotic arm, with some nifty features. This had lasted until Bucky had one too many nightmares about hurting the Wakandan children surrounding him; Shuri, with all her genius, still hadn't managed to undo his Winter Soldier programing. Bucky convinced his friends that he had to get some alone time to “find himself,” or some such trite. Steve insisted on going with him, to which Bucky agreed; if god forbid he lost control again, at least Steve could hold his own against the Winter Soldier.

Two months later they were in Australia.

The Avengers were all scattered, and many unaccounted for. According to the news, Tony Stark had vanished and left behind a note for his secretary saying he was on a much-needed vacation and didn’t want to be bothered. This surprised no one, until it came out that no one had been able to get a hold of him in all that time. That was when Steve began to worry.

“He hasn’t picked up that phone once,” Steve lamented, pacing the motel room.

“Why would he?” Bucky asked flatly, his gray eyes on the tiny old ‘90s TV the motel offered. “Your letter said to call if he needed help. He sounds like he doesn’t want anything form anyone right now.”

“I’ve tried calling him more than twenty times now.” Steve ran a hand over his mouth fretfully. “You think he even read the letter?”

Bucky shrugged slowly, his eyes still on the awful program. It was some animated film about a dog with rather creepy looking pop-eyes, vowing in song to never deface a Christmas tree with his urine.

“This one of Walt Disney’s?” Bucky asked casually.

“I don’t know, I’m a few decades behind on mo—Bucky!”

Bucky sighed and looked up at his boyfriend under his disheveled hair.

Steve had been growing a beard, mostly as a disguise. But even cleanly shaven, few people recognized Steve Rogers outside of his Captain America gear.

“Do you not even care?” Steve exclaimed.

“You know damn well I do.”

“You sure got a funny way of showing it!”

“He watched me kill his mother and father while I was standing right next to him. And then we treated him like he was Ming the Merciless instead of a guy having an obvious breakdown.”

“What the hell are you talking about? He was trying to kill us!”

“Yeah but…” Bucky’s voice dropped into an imitation of Steve’s. “‘It won’t change what happened.’” He brought his fists up. “‘I could do this all day.’” He dropped his fists and stared up at Steve.

Steve's face contorted in bafflement. “What the hell should I have said?”

Bucky shrugged again. “How about ‘It wasn’t him, he was under mind control.” Steve’s mouth opened to protest that he’d said exactly those words, but Bucky cut him off. “More than once.”

“How many times should I have to say it? He already knew!”

“He just watched me—!” Bucky glanced away, rubbing his mouth with his human hand, then turned his silver eyes back to Steve. “Steve you’re still just as clueless about people as you were back in Brooklyn.”

“Well I didn’t hear you say anything back there.” Steve retorted.

He had Bucky there. “I’m not as good at multitasking as you,” Bucky offered lamely.

For a while the only sound came from the increasingly annoying characters on the TV. Bucky was miles away, and Steve eventually noticed.

"Buck what's wrong?... Bucky?"

Without even moving his eyes away from the TV, Bucky said quietly, "You punched him in the head exactly the way I did Howard."

The tense silence was broken by Steve abruptly grabbing his coat. "I'm going out," he snapped angrily. "I'll get you plums."

“Swell.”

Why were Steve and everyone in Wakanda so convinced that Bucky was fascinated by plums? Because he tried to buy some in the outdoor market a few months ago? Whatever.

Steve left, and Bucky tried flipping channels. They didn’t have cable, and the only other programs he found were a boring talk show, a channel full of static, and some surreal baby program populated by the creepiest fuzzy fat alien things Bucky had ever seen, that made fart noises with every other movement. Yuck. May as well return to that singing-dog show. At least it would help him forget about the Winter Soldier for a while.

He flipped back to find the cartoon dog holding the bug-eyed body of a turkey, comically trying to deny to the other characters his role in the bird’s death.

With a sigh of defeat, Bucky flipped the TV off. He had to admit though, this was still nowhere near as violent as the cartoons of his and Steve’s time.

Not long after that, he got a call from Steve. (He used a pay phone to call the phone in their motel; they minimized cell phone use, to stay as low on the radar as possible.) “I might know where Tony is.”

“How?”

“I'll tell you later. Our phones could be tapped, remember.”

“Where do you think Tony is?”

“I’ll tell you after I get back Buck. You’re staying where you are.”

“You’re not going alone.”

“No, I’m not. I called T’Challa, he’s gonna come with me along with a few of warriors. But Buck, what happened last time you were in a room with Tony?”

“I can stay out of sight until we’re sure it’s safe.”

“Tony has all kinds of ways of detecting someone. And so does anyone else who might’ve set this up as a trap. Stay there, I’ll call you soon.”

Bucky sighed. “Be careful.”

Almost a full week later, Bucky hadn’t heard from Steve. He called countless times every day, only to be told every time that the number he was trying to reach was no longer in service. The same happened when he tried calling the number T’Challa had given him. When he tried to call Shuri, all he got was some strange technical wobbling noises. Apparently something was wrong with Wakanda’s national forcefield.

Bucky used every method he could of searching for where Steve or T’Challa had gone, short of calling the authorities. He had no idea where on the globe Steve had even gone looking for Tony. He didn’t even know where to start looking for Steve.

It was no surprise that Bucky developed a throbbing headache one afternoon. A throb here, three throbs there, another couple throbs. Should probably take something for that. He unzipped his backpack, where he had some First Aid materials, then cringed as another few throbs pulsed through his head. There was a very deliberate pattern to these pulses, he realized.

This wasn’t a headache.

Hydra was trying to re-activate his Winter Soldier programing. Or someone was. That had to be it—what else could it be?

He frantically tried to call Steve once again, both on the motel phone and his cell, even knowing it was futile. The throbs came in a pattern, almost like—Christ, was someone trying to send him the Winter Soldier programing words via Morse Code?

Bucky was well trained in the language, from his time in the army and Hydra. Yes, this was definitely Morse Code. He tried to block the message from his mind, whistling the first tune that came to his mind. He momentarily lost focus when he realized he was whistling “I’ll Never Do It On a Christmas Tree;” that’s when he caught one word, in the Morse Code headache, that stood out to him.

HELP

Bucky gave the throbs his full attention. After listening to a few words, he grabbed the pad and pen from the motel nightstand and jotted down what he “heard.”

HELP SBRA ZMO RMY TNY SBRA ZMO RMY ZMO SUPSOL B CRFUL

Variations of the message and its shorthand spelling repeated several times. “Tony, Siberia, Zemo army, Zemo super-soldier, be careful.”

It had to be Steve sending the message. Unless “Tony” was a signature, rather than a detail. If Tony was anything like Howard, he was exactly the type of genius who’d figure out how to perform a hack like this with some kind of technology or another. If it was Stark it might be a trap. Maybe he’d got revenge on Steve and wanted Bucky next.

No. Christ, Stark lost it back in the bunker because anyone there would’ve. If Bucky had watched his parents get killed by someone standing right next to him, he’d have been just as homicidal.

On the other hand, Stark was still in with the government. He might not consciously want revenge on Bucky, but he certainly would have reason to be eager to help the government lure the two fugitives into a trap. But then again, T'Challa was with Steve, and neither the U.S. government nor Tony Stark would dare risk pissing off the King of Wakanda, would they?

--
Blood had begun to stream from his reactor, down his midriff. The center of his ribcage burned with waves of pain that pulsed with the reactor, and again every time Tony banged his head against the bars. But he didn’t stop. He thrust his head back for another bang, and was stopped when Zemo grabbed a fist of his hair.

He stared up at the stone-faced Sokovian.

Tony tried lamely, “Stress rele—”

“Do you think I don’t know Morse Code when I hear it?” Zemo hissed through his teeth.

“Took you a while to recognize it,” Tony retorted.

The super-human struck him across the mouth, splitting his lip clean opened.

--

The throbs were spelling out the word “army” again, but after the “R” they suddenly stopped.

Someone or something had cut the messenger off.

Now Bucky was sure this was no trick.

It could be, really. A well-played act of distress, sending a help message and having it abruptly cut off. But Bucky was too spooked to risk not doing anything. He stuffed his backpack with as much warm clothes as would fit; fortunately, he wouldn’t need anywhere near as much as the average person, the super-serum rendering him relatively unaffected by freezing weather.

The two planes to Siberia were the longest fourteen hours of Bucky's life. He'd planned to pass a bit of the time working on his journal. In his backpack, he carried a diary where he jotted down any and all memories of his real life. He hadn't opened this journal in over two months. The most recent entry was titled: S (a line that would be the top of a "T").

Bucky found he still couldn't write about Howard Stark.

He spent most of the flight running through every possible scenario he could think of that might be awaiting him in Siberia, and mentally worked out various plans for each one. When his brain needed a break, he turned to the books and I-pod Steve had bought him, but he found himself in the mood for neither reading nor music. When an old jazz favorite of his and Steve's from childhood came up Bucky ripped out the ear-buds with a frustrated breath.

His mind was on Brooklyn now.

As teens, he and Steve would sometimes doodle on newspapers, adding speech bubbles to make the photos say inappropriate things (most of which probably wouldn't phase the average twelve-year-old in this century). Several familiar inside jokes came back to Bucky as he defaced his free pamphlets. All the in-flight movies were forgettable except the Disney one. The computer-generated moving dolls took getting used to, and Bucky had never been one for kids' movies or fairy tales; but this one hit him hard. And some of the music wasn't half bad either. He made a mental note to get "Let it Go" onto his I-pod as soon as he'd rescued Steve or Tony or T'Challa whoever had sent the message.

Once in Siberia, Bucky rented a snowmobile (T’Challa had been financially generous to Bucky and Steve before their trip). Flying through the snow well over the legal speed limit, he resumed running through every possible scenario he could think of, and forming a half-baked plan for each one.

--

The ripping sound of duct tape.

Zemo wrapped several rounds of tape around Tony’s entire head, far too tightly. Bringing another round of tape around Tony’s head, Zemo mused, “If I had any sense at all I’d amputate all seven of your limbs too, and get rid of any motivation of any kind.” Satisfied that Tony was gagged, Zemo took a seat on the low barred windowsill next to his entwined mancandy. “And when I’m done with this,” he gestured to the Winter Soldiers, “slit your throat.”

The tangle of cords rose and fell as Tony heaved against his restrains, wide eyes fixed straight ahead. Zemo ran a hand through Tony’s hair. “But I can’t. It seems you won one battle after all Tony.” His fingers reached up to massage Tony’s throat. “You’re not just beautiful, you just suffer so well. There’s no climax with you, I just want it to keep going. The other Avengers I’ll take down one by one but you,” He fisted some of Tony’s hair and forced him to face him. “It’s your eyes mostly. If I had any brains I’d have plucked them out when I first got ahold of you. I can’t. I don’t know how but you’re so expressive while being so deadpan.” He buried his head in Tony’s hair and breathed deeply. “I have to keep you.”

So it was Tony’s natural expressions and vocal inflictions that had prevented Zemo from already going Ed Gein on him. Tony thought about Natasha, or Clint or Steve. How quickly Zemo would get tired of their stoic defiance. Jesus, what happed if someone on the Autism Spectrum ended up with someone like Zemo? Stop it Tony, this conversation with yourself is over!

“When your friends get here,” Zemo said, “I’ll be waiting for them. You’ve lured them right to me.” He grabbed Tony’s chin (how original) and turned Tony’s face to the Winter Soldiers. “I imagine by now you’ve figured out you’re not very good at being a hero. Why not return to what you’re good at? Making weapons. Or charging them.”

Zemo glanced suddenly up at the tanks. "Ahead of schedule!"

Two of the bodies in the tanks were moving. Twitching. A third began thrashing in its tank. The liquid they were suspended in took on a turquoise glow, like the arc reactor powering them from the Cap's shield.

He stood back up, ruffling Tony's hair while his prisoner glared up at him with disgust.

--

He parked the snowmobile on one side of the facility, got onto the roof and ran to the other side to enter from there. Hopefully if anyone hostile was here, they’d see the mobile and its tracks and start looking for him on the wrong side of the facility.
The place looked as dead and empty as it had been the last time Bucky had been there. He expected an ambush around every corner, but none came. He had weapons hidden all over his body, including the small blasting canon in his new robotic arm. In his human hand was his favorite handgun.

The “medical” ward was the last place he wanted to go, but he assumed if Steve, T’Challa, Tony or all three were prisoners here, there was a good chance that was where they’d be. He found the ward empty, but it looked like it had recently been used. He didn’t dare turning on any lights, but he risked using the small wrist flashlight Shuri had installed in his new robotic arm. There was relatively fresh blood, maybe from today even, on the table and several of the tools nearby. A lot of the tools were colored red and gold, like—shit, these were pieces of Stark’s Iron Man suit. Bucky's blood plunged, because now he knew Tony was dead.

No. No, Steve had surely felt the same way when Bucky had fallen from that freight car. Tony could be....

Countless possibilities sped through Bucky's mind, each worse than the last. Tony Winter-Soldiered, or some other kind of monstrosity with no recollection of anything. Tony driven insane. Tony creating some elaborate trap for Bucky and Steve to finish them off... (From the way Steve described Tony, and what Bucky recalled about Howard, it didn’t sound out of character for Tony to get bored of an old suit and scrap it in favor of an upgrade.) Or Tony's corpse nailed to a wall or door as a greeting from someone else who'd set up the trap. Bucky’s stomach churned.

He didn’t know what would be worse: Tony still broken to the point of ill-placed revenge; Tony dead before anyone could comfort him or apologize; or Tony frightened and probably badly hurt in this horrible place, waiting to be rescued, only for Bucky show up. Unfortunately ,the latter was the best-case scenario. Unless maybe Tony was safe and sound nowhere near here, and he’d just left his suit behind for someone else to scrap and make a fake ransom message about him. Bucky wasn’t going to push his luck on that one though.

He checked the hallway, found it empty, and moved onward.

His head began to feel strange. The Morse Code wasn’t back, but something equally foreign was rippling through Bucky’s head, and it was increasing as he moved down the hall. He was headed towards the tanks of dead Winter Soldiers. Wait, had their tanks been glowing aquamarine last time? Bucky had to stop to put a metal hand to his temple. God this hurt. God, this might be his Winter Soldier programing returning—

They were moving.

Three of the Winter Soldiers were thrashing in their tanks, one smacking its head against the glass wall; the other two just twitched. Their eyes ranged from shut to half-opened to bulging wide opened, but all looked dead. This was clearly the "army" the message had referred to. Shaking, Barnes quickly brought up his gun and fisted metal arm. He recollected himself, stopping his own shakes, and stalked around the tanks, his weapons trained on the twitching and thrashing corpses floating inside.

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Steve’s shield sitting on the floor. And a device that looked like Stark’s arc reactor was sitting on top of it, connected to the shield with some small wires. Larger, longer wires connected the reactor to something on the other side of the room. Bucky’s eyes followed the cords to a limp nude body slumped on a low windowsill, tied up like a prisoner in some medieval torture chamber. The head hung down over the chest, concealing the face from this angle. But it wasn’t Steve, and it didn't exactly look like a citizen of Wakanda.

Bucky had never considered himself a "praying man," but he stole a couple seconds to mentally beg the Father, Son and Holy Ghost that Tony Stark was alive.

After a quick scan confirming no one else was in the room, Bucky dashed towards the figure.

--

Tony’s head shot up at the sound of rapid footfalls, and froze when he saw the Winter Soldier coming right for him, with the thrashing bodies in the tanks as a macabre backdrop. Zemo was gone for the moment—off to comb the facility for intruders or something. Barnes had a new robotic arm, somehow, and in his human one he held a gun, bent upward, away from Tony. Tony cringed, not knowing if Barnes was himself and here to save him, or under the Winter Soldier programing again. If someone had received his message back at the Avengers Tower there was no way they’d send Bucky to get him, least of all alone. Had Zemo somehow re-brainwashed and summoned Barnes?

Barnes knelt before Tony. His large gray eyes looked sickeningly just as empty as they had all eighty-eight times Zemo had made him watch Bucky kill his parents. For the first time since he’d last seen the man Tony was enraged at Barnes again, but this time he was also terrified. He was exactly in the same position as Howard and Maria after the crash, just slumped on his ass waiting for the Winter Soldier to crush his face or throat. The humiliating state Tony was currently in didn't help.

Barnes' eyes rolled up at him under his long disheveled locks, and his silver arm came up. Tony flinched backward into the bars. When the cold metal fingers touched his face Tony involuntarily shut his eyes with a whimper.

“Stark,” he hissed. “Tony.”

Tony heard it like a computer analyzing its target. His despair increased when the Winter Soldier’s breath came to his ear.

“Tony listen, I won’t hurt you."

Had he actually heard that? Tony waited for confirmation, his eyes still fiercely shut.

"I got your message, I’m here to save you.”

Heart slamming in his chest...

A bit louder, "Tony?"

Tony’s eyes flew opened and thin tears fell out, as he shook against his restraints. Barnes’ large silver eyes weren’t empty. They were hard as iron, sternly begging Tony to trust him. Tony's eyes momentarily flicked to the tanks, where the five corpses silently continued to flail and twitch, then back to Barnes.

Barnes' hands came back up to Tony’s face and stopped, gently pleading for Tony to trust him. Tony gave a small, shaking nod. Barnes gingerly peeled the duct tape off Tony’s mouth, and unwrapped all of it from his head. Tony’s jaw ached, and his split lip ached worse for having the tape stripped off. He took in huge shaking breaths while his savior began ripping away his bonds.

“Who else is here?” Barnes asked, untying Tony's wrist.

“Z-Zemo.”

“And?”

“Just him." Tony's voice sped up. "I don’t know where he is now but he’s armed and he knows I sent a message out. And he’s a supersoldier, Barnes. He took the serum.”

Barnes glanced over his shoulder before ripping the ropes tying Tony’s bare ankles together. The bonds now all broken, Barnes tried to gently take Tony off the low windowsill. Tony gasped when Bucky’s hands touched the gashes on his back.

“Sorry.” Barnes looked over his shoulder again, momentarily readied his gun and, for some reason, his metal fist. Did he have a gun in that robotic arm? “Steve's not here? It's just you? How long 'you been here?” He asked turning back to Tony.

Tony’s wide eyes also searched the room for any sign of Zemo, and he didn’t look at Barnes. “Two months at least. He nabbed me right after you two left.” He swallowed. "Who's with you? You're not here by yourself?"

A warm human hand and cold metal one took Tony’s bare, still shivering shoulders, and forced him to turn back to face Barnes. “Right after we left, meaning, right after we left? As in you never left this…place? After...”

Tony recognized the horrified guilt in the other man’s eyes; it was something Tony had been seeing in the mirror on and off for the last eight years.

Barnes suddenly embraced Tony, pressing his shivering naked body against his own winter-wet clothes. The cold silver arm and a warm human one wrapped tightly around Tony’s back. Before realizing he was doing it, Tony’s arms instinctively returned the embrace.

“Tony I’m so, so sorry. You have to believe me, I still have dr...you have to believe I'm sorry.”

Trembling, Tony replied, “W-wasn’t you Barnes.”

“It was my hands. And it’s Bucky.” Bucky was rocking him, and Tony wasn’t sure he even realized he was doing it. “Howard, I knew him. He was a friend,” his voice was flat and quiet but there was emotion in it. “You look so much like him, ‘specially the eyes. He called me by my name, Barnes. I remembered it just then, the look in his eyes when he did it, when I was seeing yours, reddening up at the footage.” Bucky’s human hand cupped the back of Tony’s head. “I can’t pay back Howard but I guess saving his baby boy might be a start.”

Still shaking, Tony stuttered, “I-I’m o-o-older than you.”

“Hardly.” Bucky moved Tony around, and gently lay him on his back on the floor.

He took off his coat and folded into a pillow. Tony was too weak at the moment to lift his own head, so Bucky gently lifted his head up and moved the coat under it. Then his hands went to the reactor, trying to decide what to do about the plugs and cords. He glanced back at the grotesque bodies moving in the glowing aqua tanks.

That is my property.”

Zemo had his gun trained not on Bucky, but on Tony. Bucky swiftly moved in front of Tony and fired at Zemo with both his gun and robotic arm, which apparently had a canon in its wrist similar to Tony's Iron Man suits.

Zemo, now as much a supersoldier as Bucky or Steve, easily dodged both blasts, diving at Bucky and knocking him to the ground.

“And now, I think, so are you.” He held Bucky down with two hands on his throat. “Longing. Rusted. Furnace. Dayb—”

Bucky kicked Zemo off him, sending him tumbling across the floor, then fired another blast from his robotic arm. Zemo dodged the blast, but Bucky had time to now crash him to the floor. He lifted his metal arm and took aim again, but the other supersoldier seized it with both hands and twisted. Bucky cried out as sparks flew from his metallic shoulder, and broken wires were exposed. Zemo then flipped Bucky over, slamming him into the concrete. Tony hardly had the strength to turn his head to even watch.

Zemo shouted as he and Bucky struggled, “Seventeen, benigh—”

They struggled, Bucky’s hand on Zemo’s throat, Zemo’s hand on Bucky’s wrist. Bucky was trying in vain to either strangle Zemo or tear out his esophagus, but Zemo was as strong or stronger. Zemo yanked again at Bucky’s metal arm, tearing further at its circuits in a way all too familiar to Tony.

“When you’re reprogramed,” Zemo said, still attempting to rip Bucky’s arm off, “I’ll have you both.”

Bucky tried head-butting him. Didn’t work.

“I think I’ll have you reenact your work on Howard and Maria—but stop just short of killing him both times. That’ll be our foreplay.”

Tony suddenly had the energy to roll over on his side. Everything hurt like a thousand hells. His chest mainly. Swallowing the searing pain in his sternum, Tony began to drag himself towards the fighting super soldiers, dragging his web of cords and the Cap’s shield and his real reactor behind him.

Zemo began reciting again, “Longing. Rusted...”

Bucky struggled against Zemo’s grip on both his hands. His robotic arm was almost completely torn off.

“SHUT UP!” Bucky screamed, most likely as loud as possible, attempting to drown out Zemo’s words to protect himself. Bucky seemed to be shouting whatever came to his mind, at a rapid speed, just to drown Zemo out. “SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU FUCKED UP COMMIE KRAUT MY NAME IS JAMES BUCHANAN BARNES I’M FROM BROOKLYN AND I LIKE PLUMS YOU SCHNITZEL-SUCKING FUCK-RAT…”

“Homecoming. One. Frei—”

Tony threw a jumble of wires around Zemo’s ankle. The Sokovian glanced down blankly at Tony for a split second, before instinctively kicking him, sending him across the floor and ripping the reactor clean out of his chest. Which was exactly what Tony had hoped for.

The glow from the five tanks vanished, and the five Winter Soldiers went limp.

The energy surge from the aborted power source probably wasn’t enough to do serious damage to the superhuman; but Zemo was frozen in electrocution for just the time that Bucky needed to fling Zemo off him, roll over, and punch him in the jaw with his human arm. Tony definitely heard teeth and bone cracking en mass. He lay on his side, half aware of the small waterfall of blood pouring from his empty reactor cavity and the red puddle growing under him. If he was dying, seeing Bucky kill Zemo would be an acceptable last sight.

Zemo howled on the ground, hands at his shattered jaw. Bucky shoved his hand into the Sokovian’s shattered mouth and tore something out—his tongue probably. He didn’t stop there. His robot arm, dangling from just a few cables, swung aimlessly while his human body unleashed Hell. With his human hand, Bucky slammed the bug-eyed Sokovian’s head into the concrete over and over, until it wasn’t shaped even remotely like a head anymore. His own face and hair sprayed with Zemo's blood, Bucky finished by tearing something out of the dead man's throat.

And why shouldn’t the guy let off a little steam? Tony thought, before losing consciousness.

Chapter Text

Fire zipping all directions in his belly while some horrible alien creature spidered through his guts. Ear drums exploding from some inhuman roaring.

Some recently familiar voice, “Tony please, I got one arm to do this… It’ll be over soon I promise…”

God turn that noise off.

--

Ancient pain enveloped a blind animal panic, that exploded when he opened his eyes to find himself strapped back onto the operating table, with his captor shaking him furiously, obviously trying to goat him on again. So nothing had changed, except things had just gotten worse.

“Tony!”

The Winter Soldier.

How had he not noticed, all this time, that it had been his parents’ murderer torturing him? …Or had he known all along? It was like trying to recall a long, confusing fever dream.

The killer was talking to him but Tony wasn’t hearing any of the words.

The cold gray eyes stared intently down at Tony, then went to the thing the killer was holding in his hand: Tony’s arc reactor.

Again?

You already killed me this way, eight years ago in the living room.

The reactor’s plug was still attached to Tony’s chest. For some reason Stane hadn’t yanked it out yet. The bastard was moving frantically, like he was looking for something or working on something. What? He’d killed Howard and Maria with his bare hands, why couldn’t he do the same for Tony, if ripping the reactor out was so much trouble?

Tony managed with surreal calm, “Finish it.”

“I’m trying Tony, but I don’t know how this thing works! I need you to talk me through it,”

“Just yank.”

“…huh?”

“Or punch me like my dad. Just fast, ple…” his pride long gone, Tony lost his voice next, as his eyes and throat swelled.

The Winter Soldier rubbed his face with his human hand, like it was such a chore to finish off the last of the Starks.

The pain was unbearable.

“Please,” Tony begged.

A human hand grasped his shoulder and rubbed gently. “Tony, please… you gotta remember me saving you...”

He remembered Bucky gently touching him, holding him. Tearing Zemo’s throat out for him.

Everything flew back instantly, like waking up from a nightmare. Tony blinked, hard, and gave his head a shake. He realized Bucky was using the operating table as an actual operating table; he’d clearly been forced to utilize the restraints, because Zemo wasn’t the kind of “doctor” to keep anesthesia lying around.

“B-Barnes,” Tony stammered.

Bucky’s continued rubbing Tony’s arm. “Bucky. I need you to call me Bucky. That name’s about all I got left…”

Tony swallowed, and found his throat really hurt. “I’m sorry.”

“No.” Bucky squeezed his shoulder. “You’re scared. And hurt. And running a wicked fever.” He pressed the back of his hand to Tony’s forehead; Bucky’s skin felt like an ice pack against Tony’s burning forehead. “And you’ve lost a lot of blood.”

Bucky seemed to suddenly realize how intimately he was touching Tony and withdrew his hand. Tony wished he hadn’t.

Changing the subject, Bucky held up the reactor. “I need your help with this thing. You need a hospital, but right now that’s not exactly an option.”

“Agreed,” Tony grumbled. “I’ll take my chances ‘till we’re back in the States. Don’t tell Nat I said so.”

Bucky just stared at him over the reactor in his hand.

Tony remembered where the rest of his reactor was. He glanced down at his own restrained body. First thing he noticed, Bucky had draped a sheet over his junk, to preserve his modesty. A wad of gauze was tapped over his brutalized bellybutton, and his stitches looked different. Fresher, but sloppier. All of them; Bucky had dug the reactor parts from his arm, ribs, intestines, back, leg, and so on, and re-stitched everything hastily but effectively. Probably had to move pretty fucking fast, to stop Tony from bleeding out. He noticed the contraption by the table with the tubes, that thing they used to control bleeding during surgery. It was crumpled looking and covered in blood. Poor Bucky had no clue what the fuck he was doing, yet had somehow managed to do it.

With one arm.

“I figured that part out,” Bucky’s hand went to the stitches on Tony's abdomen. “I’ve got all the parts, I think. But I don’t know what goes where.”

Beside the table was a tray where he’d set all the parts of Tony’s reactor, after rinsing them off apparently. (The water in this place was almost certainly infected, but Tony was long past caring about hygiene.) Tony watched Bucky’s hand on his belly, suddenly understanding what giant alien spider in his fever dream had been. Bucky’s had slid off and moved to undo the restraints.

Tony pushed himself into a sitting position, with a helping hand from Bucky on his back. The stings from the chain-whip were nothing now compared to what his chest and stomach felt like. In a strained voice he asked, “Where’s Steve?”

“I don’t know.” Bucky said. “We were in Australia,”

“That where you got your new arm?”

Bucky sighed. “No. I got that… somewhere else. They can fix it.”

I can fix it,” Tony said, almost affronted.

Bucky made a dismissive face. “Later.”

Tony picked up his reactor and attempted to get to work, but his hands weren’t working very well. (Possibly because he had barely used them in months.) He wound up having to talk Bucky through most of it. Bucky having only one working arm, Tony held up the reactor for him to tinker at and handed him the parts.

“What happened after you and Steve left? Did you go straight to Australia from there?” Bucky flinched quite visibly, and Tony realized what a horrible choice of words that had been. “I didn’t mean it like… I just want to figure out what I’ve missed—” He closed his eyes. Probably should just stop talking.

“We went somewhere else first.” Bucky said quickly. “Confidential.”

“….right.” Probably some secret base for runaway Avengers.

“Somewhere Else would be where you got your new arm?” Tony gestured weakly to the busted robotic limb dangling from Bucky’s shoulder, and Bucky nodded.

Picking up another piece of his reactor from the tray, Tony asked casually, “How’d you get my message in Australia?

Bucky’s gray eyes met his. “Was it not supposed to reach that far?”

“It was supposed to go to the reactor at Stark Tower. I mean Avengers Tower. Old Avengers Tower.”

Bucky’s eyes darted away for a moment, and he gave a short breathy laugh, as if realizing some brilliant irony. “I got a headache. In Morse Code.”

Tony felt his own eyes widen. “The Winter Soldiers. Crazy son of a bitch probably had my reactor broadcasting to their DNA or something.”

“Or something in the serum,” Bucky mused. “I thought someone was trying to reactivate the Winter Soldier, until I spotted the word ‘help’ in the,” not sure which word he was searching for, Bucky just tapped his temple, then returned to work on the reactor. “I couldn’t get ahold of Steve so I had to come here alone.” He lowered the reactor with a heavy sigh.

Tony suddenly grew worried. “Where is Steve?”

Bucky shrugged and shook his head. “He left to—” His sterling-blue eyes flared, like he just realized he’d stumbled into another forbidden subject.

“He left to what?” Tony demanded. “Where is he, where’s Steve?”

Bucky’s pale eyes wearily met Tony’s. “Don’t flip out over this alright? …he thought he knew where you were, and went to go get you. Haven’t heard back from him yet, and when I try to call his phone isn’t working—”

“How long ago?”

“Week maybe.”

The reactor was clamoring to the floor and Tony was speeding towards the door. The sheet covering his privates had slid off. Just as he registered all of this, his legs gave way.

“Woa!” Bucky caught him around the waist with his one arm. “You won’t help Steve much without your reactor, will you?”

Tony wavered in Bucky’s arm. “Steve vanished trying to find me and I’m not supposed to ‘flip out?’ Can I have another panic attack, is that alright?”

No! Listen, Steve’s…he’s Captain fucking America okay? Hey, Flash Gordon, think you can find a way to reach him with some of the scraps here?”

Flash Go—Okay first of all, you need to get caught up on cinema. Second, what's wrong with the plane or however you got here?"

"Tony I came here on a snow mobile."

Tony stared at him. "From Australia?"

Bucky began hauling him back to his feet, and Tony threw an arm around Bucky's back to grab his shoulder for support. Bucky replied in a strained voice, "I took two planes to Russia and then rented a snowmobile. There's no cell phone signal out here, so I can't call anyone to come get you. And there's no way in flaming Hell I'm taking you outside in Siberia 'till I can find you some very warm clothes and you're a lot better.

He set Tony sitting back onto the operating table.

“What happens when you try calling him? I mean back when you had a signal on your own phone. You get a busy signal or static or what?”

“Just an ‘out of service’ message. I don’t know if he had to ditch his phone or if something’s just interfering or—”

“He’s just too far away…” Tony finished grimly.

The colossal alien crafts from his New York related nightmares floating through Tony’s mind.

“Let’s finish this thing,” Bucky picked the reactor up off the floor.

While they worked on, Tony rapidly voiced his thoughts as he ran through ideas for how to contact Steve. He thought it was possible to do with his reactor—after all, he’d managed to reach Bucky in Australia with it. But he’d need a lot more power if Steve wasn’t on Earth. Bucky made acknowledging sounds without meeting his eye, like he was just trying to humor him. Well the supersoldier was decades behind on technological history, and he didn’t seem like a science guy anyway; he was clearly just too embarrassed to ask Tony what he was talking about. Probably.

“Finished,” Tony declared as Bucky slid the last part into place and the reactor lit back up to its full glow.

Tony attempted to slide the reactor back into his chest, but his hands still weren’t fully functioning. It was embarrassing, not to be able to do something so simple. Bucky’s warm hand came over Tony’s, then moved a bit; he was just trying to get ahold of the reactor. Tony slid his hand away. With poor Bucky being down an arm, Tony would have to be responsible for making himself hold still.

“Ready?” Bucky asked quietly.

“Go.”

Gently but firmly he slid the reactor in with a click, and Tony gasped, partially at the hand-shaped vibrations traveling through his reactor to his heart. He literally felt five fingertips flare around his heart between beats. He closed his eyes and relished what felt like the first full breaths of air he’d had in ages.

While he did that, Bucky went to find something to cover his stitches. Tony was greateful for that; they reminded him of a centipede, which reminded him of a movie that he really didn’t want to be reminded of when his tummy was already feeling not-so-good.

Once the bandage was done Bucky’s arm came around Tony’s back. For a brief moment of bliss Tony thought Bucky was about to embrace him again, but the other man was just urging him to a stance. Swallowing his embarrassment, Tony took a few weak steps towards the door with Bucky’s help, then stopped. “Where’re we going? We still have to get to Steve, I still need to fix your arm!”

“Sleep first.”

“Fuck sleep, Steve could be dead already!”

“And if you suffer sleep deprovision, that will make him not-dead again?”

“Every second counts!”

“T’Challa’s with him!” Bucky said quickly. “The Black Panther!”

“They need me—us. They, they need us….”

“Guess they were right about your ego.”

Tony shot him a vicious look, but before he could say fuck you Bucky cut him off.

“You think you’re the only one who can save everyone? How many times has that come back and bit you in the ass? For once give yourself and the rest of us a break and go to sleep.”

Pepper had said something similar a few years back.

“Steve…Bucky, you care about Steve, right?”

“Obviously. But your hands don’t work and you can’t stand. You’re no good to Steve or anyone right now. Come on.”

Tony was horrified to find he was too exhausted to argue further. Bucky wound up half carrying and half dragging Tony through the hall, with one arm around his waist while Tony held onto his shoulders like a damsel. He rested his head on Bucky’s shoulder as they moved through the dead facility. Literally dead, Tony thought, as they passed the Winter Soldier corpses in their tanks. Poor bastards. Each one of them like Bucky, some kid with a family and a history and heroic deeds behind him, turned into a meat puppet for murder. Died as meat puppets.

His stomach always chose the worst times to start growling.

“Don’t listen to that,” Tony said weakly, staring at a pickled corpse. “I don’t have an appetite.”

“You’ll have to eat something eventually.” Bucky said in a strained voice, hauling Tony along.

They’d reached the living quarters for the lunatics who’d once run this butcher house. Naturally Bucky stopped at the room with the already opened door, that had most recently been used.

“Not that one.” Tony said quickly. “Any room but that one.”

Bucky shot him a look of shock, pity and gulit; Tony’s loud stomach kindly changed the subject.

“Christ, your gagged and you still won’t shut up,” Tony snapped at his bandaged middle.

Bucky moved them along into the next room. “Is there anything you can’t eat? Are you diabetic or Jewish or vegetarian or lacto—?”

Tony shook his head. “I just went past a bunch of dead guys floating in tanks and had my guts ripped opened eating now is a very bad idea.”

“Shhh.” Bucky urged him onto the bed.

Tony was sure he could’ve tucked himself in, but Bucky was stronger and faster. Tony managed the strongest scowl he could with his weakened muscles, which wasn’t much, as he settled his head onto the pillow.

Bucky went to a dresser across from the bed, and grimaced to find it empty. “I’m gonna try to find something for you to wear, and some food for when you get your apatite back. And I’ll try calling Steve again. Even though that might lead someone else right to us, but I have a feeling you’re okay with the risk.”

“I am.”

“Don’t go anywhere.” And then he was out of the room.

This warmth and comfort was so alien Tony felt like he was floating. He was safe, and he was being taken care of by a fine-looking specimen of manhood. Who’d killed Mom and Dad.

Hydra. Not Bucky, Hydra.

Used innocent Bucky’s body as a weapon.

Which didn’t change the fact that the last pair of eyes Howard and Maria saw was Bucky’s, as his hands punched and strangled them. The same clearwater eyes Tony had just been getting lost in, the same warm hand and arm he’d taken comfort in.

Tony fought the panic attack for half a second, then let the rapid breaths out.

He wanted Pepper or Bruce. One of them could help him make sense of this.

Bucky found him almost in a fetal position, facing away from him.

“I blamed Dad for the crash,” Tony blurted out. “He was at the wheel, it was a straight stretch of road in the woods. I always figured he was drunk.” His panicked breaths were the only sound for a few moments. “I was gonna die, with that nuke. Completely at peace with Dad killing himself and Mom. For a team who for all they were at least never lied t—” he cut himself off with a choked swallow.

This wasn’t what Bucky needed to hear right now, not after everything he’d just done for Tony. Tony did his best to hyperventilate in relative silence after that.

He was aware of Bucky standing behind him, holding whatever he’d brought for dinner. Tony didn’t want to look at him.
“Set it down somewhere. I don’t like being handed things.”

He heard Bucky set the food down on a bed stand, and unzip a backpack. Tony got the sense that Bucky was standing awkwardly over him, unsure what to do. He glanced over his shoulder to see the supersoldier holding a bundle of clothes—some long-sleeved shirts, a red hoodie, and black pajama pants. Tony didn’t give any thought at the moment to where Bucky had gotten those clothes, and just took them.

“I can dress myself.” He pulled one of the shirts on without looking at Bucky.

Bucky hesitated, then hurried out of the room.

--

The cold had prevented any bugs or critters from entering the facility, leaving most of the supplies and clothing Bucky found in the various rooms well-preserved, if freezing as balls. Zemo would probably decay fairly slowly in this environment. Shit, Bucky had to do something about that mess. And his five comrades deserved a burial of some sort. The only option he could even entertain was an outdoor cremation, and the smoke might attract some unwanted attention. On the other hand, so might use of a cell phone, and Tony had already voiced his opinion on that.

The similarities between Tony and Howard were agonizing. Bucky’s old schoolboy crush on the famous inventor churned along with his memories of killing him, all the times he’d seen Tony’s beautiful face during their confrontations during that Avengers “war,” and Tony’s broken body on the barred windowsill.

Acidic grossness burned his throat, just for a moment.

I am not going to puke.

He returned to the room he’d found Tony in, with the five bodies lifeless in their tanks. Zemo was a ways back, or at least Zemo from the neck down was. The mess that had once been his head took Bucky back to a hundred other mutilated bodies the Winter Soldier had carefully observed to confirm his kills. Howard and Maria had frankly had it nice; no mutilation, no brain matter anywhere. The family he’d killed in Kuwait, when Hydra had once wanted to eliminate a very young witness—

He tore across the room and stopped at a concrete pillar, retching on the floor. And again. While burning tears streamed down his face he roared through his teeth and punched the pillar—with his only working hand naturally. He punched it repeatedly, exactly as he’d punched the glass cage, when Zemo had been reading the programing list however long ago. But this time he was using his human hand. He didn’t care about the red streaks that increased over the cracking dent he was making in the pillar; if he stopped punching, he’d start screaming, and fuck knew what Tony would make of that.

Chapter Text

When Bucky’s head cleared a little, he realized that a butcher shop like this place must have had some efficient way of desposing of bodies. A crude crematorium, probably. He spent the next few hours of exploring the horrible facility, checking on Tony periodically. The stubborn genius was stubbornly asleep, completely lifeless except his snores.

Every other room Bucky popped his head in brought back a lifetime of nightmares. The one small mercy was that there were working outlets in this madhouse for Bucky to charge the I-Pod Steve had bought him. Steve had a bunch of songs they both used to listen to back in the ‘40s loaded on there, but Bucky wasn’t in the mood for that. In Australia, Bucky had heard some strange sort of performance play on the radio, an odd combination of poetry and music. It was usually (but not always) a Negro, ratting off vulgar but impassioned rhymes backed by a strong beat, usually about the grittier sides of life. Steve had called it "skip-hop," or something like that. Bucky couldn't remember. “And you can’t say ‘Negro’ anymore Buck. It’s ‘African American.’” Steve apparently wasn’t a fan of this whatever-hop music, but Bucky couldn't get enough of it. So Steve had downloaded a truckload onto Bucky’s I-pod for him.

Bucky finally found the crematorium, a concrete room that was basically a giant fire-pit when turned on. He dragged the five Winter Soldiers and Zemo-from-the-neck-down one by one, hauled them into the pit, and lit it up. (He wasn't gonna leave a fire that huge unattended.) He had to use those ripped pieces of bed sheet he'd pulled off Tony's shoulders, when he'd first found him, to mop up the mush that had once been Zemo's putrid noggin (as well as the tongue and chunk of windpipe Bucky had ripped out). Not surprisingly, those two scraps of fabric weren't nearly enough, so he had to swipe a few more sheets from an unoccupied bedroom. He cleaned up the Zemo casserole while many men wished death upon 50 Cent; trekked back to the crematorium with the disgusting bundle to "Thrift Shop," and had it all dropped it all into the fire before the real Slim Shady had finally stood up. He took a seat in the doorway just as Eminem declared, “…Fuck it, let’s all stand up,” and watched the blankets curl up and vanish. The bodies would take a lot longer.

Bucky missed the jazz and swing of his era, but really nothing from the previous century could go with this scene right now. So he let 50, Slim, Fat Joe and the rest remind him that he wasn't the only person with a shitty life, to the crackling flames. It felt like an honest-to-god entire day before Bucky felt comfortable turning off the fire. Even then, he could still see pieces of scorched bone among the mountains of ash. Fuck it, he'd finish it later. What mattered was, there wouldn't be any more decomposition.

Bucky checked on Tony again. Still out cold. And still cold. His white breath was visible with every exhale. Bucky wanted to get right in with him and hold him tightly once more. Instead he fetched another quilt from the room across the hall, and after draping it over Tony, collapsed into an armchair in the corner of the room and listened to “Mockingbird” four times in a row.

--

Tony awoke with a rejuvenated energy that felt almost surreal. Bucky was in the comfy chair by his bed, asleep with tiny ear-buds in. His busted metal arm was draped awkwardly over one arm of the chair, bent at an unnatural looking angle with half the wires in the shoulders poking at random angles. It reminded Tony of the spidery cords in his chest just a few hours ago.

It had been just a few hours, right?

He had the strength to slide out of the bed, but instantly lost his footing when his bare feet hit the floor. He caught the blankets on the bed, and just wound up pulling them down with him. The supersoldier was awake and behind him almost before Tony could blink.

“How long’d I sleep?” Tony asked causally as Bucky hauled him, single-armed, back onto the bed.

“While,” Bucky said. “I wanna say it was around four when you went to sleep.” He lifted his I-pod to check the time.

“AM or PM?” Tony pushed himself up a little in the bed.

“Probably AM. It was after midnight when I first got here and I know it didn’t take that long to rearrange Zemo’s looks.

“He never looked better,” Tony smiled weakly. He nodded to the I-pod. “What time’s it now?”

“A little after seven.”

“Seven? I only slept three hours? Oh wait, you mean seven PM.”

“AM,” Bucky corrected. “I guess it did take me a while to get all this psycho ward mapped out and…clean up.”

“Hang on I slept twen…I slept for twenty-seven hours?

“Can anyone blame you?”

“How’s that even possible?”

Bucky glanced up at the opposite wall. “No windows. No light, no interruptions, two months of hell. I’d say it’s very possible.”

“What’d you bring me,” Tony reached for the container on the bed stand. “Nothing that needs any more refrigeration than we’ve already got in here I bet.”

“Potato salad. Chicken salad—from a can. I’m not touching any meat in this place unless it’s pre-canned or packaged, from a company I recogize.”

Tony was already digging into the chicken salad with one of the crackers Bucky had also brought, and stopped mid-scoop. Should they really put cannibalism past Zemo? “Probably a good idea.” He’d have to change the subject if he didn’t want to lose his newfound appetite. “These your clothes?”

“Yeah.”

Chewing, Tony self-consciously tugged the red hoodie down over his bandaged midriff. “You didn’t have to.”

“Actually I’m pretty sure you’d have hypothermia if I didn’t.”

“I’ve been ass naked for two months here.”

“And it’s a miracle you’re not dead.”

Tony shifted on the bed and offered the container. “Want some?”

“Not hungry.”

“Horse shit. Eat something, hypocrite.”

He finally got Bucky to tuck into the potato salad, and then resumed his musings about his reactor and how it could be used to up the signal on Bucky’s phone, picking up right where he’d left off in the medical ward.

“…and your arm, I can snag some wires from your old one, if there are any pieces of it left big enough.”

“One thing at a time. I don’t want you overexerting yourself.”

“I won’t have to exert myself trying to walk if you can carry me around like Lois Lane.”

Bucky chewed slowly.

“Lois Lane is Superman’s girlfr—”

“I know who Lois Lane is. I’m from the 1940s, not the 1490s.” He changed the subject. “Hey, if I just bring you the scrap here, can you just work here?”

Tony popped an eyebrow. “This would be a far more comfortable work area…. But they probably have all kinds of other tools there I won’t know I need until I need ‘em.”

They finished eating, and made the trip down to the medical ward. Tony pulled off the shirt and hoodie Bucky had given him. Bucky definitely stole a glance at Tony’s shirtless body.

“What is that thing anyway?” Bucky quickly said, trying way too hard to sound disinterested in Tony’s chest. “Is that some kind of artificial heart?”

“No, I still have my heart. This,” he rapped his the device with his knuckles, “is an arc reactor.” He summarized how it magnetically kept the shrapnel in his chest away from his heart.

Tony worked all through the night—which felt like the day for him—while Bucky handed him parts and conversed. Among the scraps Bucky brought back were the cords and reactor Zemo had had Tony hooked up to the previous night. The reactor, Tony now realized, was made from parts of his Iron Man suit’s smashed reactor. He was now working those parts into Bucky’s phone.

“Will it have to be plugged into…you?” Bucky asked.

“Well, we’re not trying to bring five zombies to life, but we are trying to reach outside of Earth’s atmosphere, so…probably. I’ll wanna be awake if Steve calls though.”

“Will you feel it, if the phone vibrates?”

“Probably.”

He eventually got a wire running from the center of his reactor to the newly improved phone. They dilled Steve’s number, and it rang. But no one picked up. And as it rang, Tony’s chest began to tighten. Bucky’s blue eyes flared at Tony’s chest. Tony looked down to see veins bulging as they did whenever his reactor was ripped out; the shrapnel was headed back towards his heart. He couldn’ move his hand to remove the plug. He opened his mouth to urgently ask Bucky to, but his voice wasn’t working either.

Bucky yanked the chord out of the phone just as Tony was slumping limply over the table he was sitting on, eyes bulging. Bucky gently rolled him onto his back, then brought his hand to Tony’s frozen chest. The “veins” were already receding, and Tony was getting the feeling back in his body.

“Thanks,” he breathed.

After a few more hours, Tony managed to get the phone's broadcast working without the reactor, but it would still have to remain close to Tony’s to work. A direct cord, it seemed encouraged it to stuck power straight from Tony’s reactor whether it needed it or not; but just keeping the two reactors in close proximity let the phone take only the extra energy it needed. Tony eventually gave up trying to explain the science of it to Bucky.

They let the phone ring again. After seven rings, the answering machine came up. Before Bucky could leave a message Tony swiped the phone from him.

"Steve? It's Tony. I'm with Bucky in S--" Bucky's eyes flared warningly, and Tony realized that he'd possibly already given away too much. "Call us back as soon as you can on Bucky's phone." He wanted to finish with "I love you" but despite Bucky's insistence that Steve still cared for him deeply, Tony wasn't convinced.

The next person Tony called was Stark Industries' head of security, Happy Hogan. Happy was overjoyed to hear from him, but did not have good news.

"Tony someone's trying to kill you. Not just you, all the Aven--"

"Where's Pepper?" Tony demanded.

"Rhodey took her into hiding. Tony it's Hydra. This morning they almost killed Nick Fury, who's supposed to already be dead..." As Happy rambled on, Tony's wide eyes met Bucky's, which looked equally shocked. "Nat was almost killed in a bomb planted by one of oursecurity officers Tony. I caught the guy and he almost killed me and tried to get me to tell him where you were." Happy chuckled. "Actually, this is kind of funny. He's got me on the ground right, and he's all--"

"When'd you say this all started, Happy?"

"This morning, around one AM. It was all over the news. Well not Fury and Romanov's names, that part I got from Fury himself."

"Where's he?"

"Wakanda I think. I've tried calling him like twelve times in the last hour,"

Bucky spoke up, "Something's wrong with Wakanda right now. I haven't been able to get through to there either."

"Who's that?"

"Pizza man," Tony said quickly. "Happy who can we trust right now?"

"I'm not trusting anyone I don't already know. Tell me where you are, so I can get over there are help you out. You may be Iron Man but honestly Tony, you really blow at surveillance."

"Got a better idea; you get your ass to Rhodey and Pepper and surveillance them. That's an order Happy." He flipped the phone shut before his friend could argue.

Tony handed the phone back to a grim Bucky, who palmed it shut with one hand. Tony pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed heavily. At this point, Steve, Rhodey, Pepper or anyone would've instantly come at Tony with some comforting words of bullshit, but Bucky was dead silent, either out of respect for Tony's headache or because he himself was lost in rapid thought. The latter, more likely.

Not expecting Bucky to care, Tony breathed under his hand, "Happy was damn near blown up because of me three years ago."

Bucky's eyebrows rose optimistically. "Hydra's gotta have the technology to track that signal we sent to the Cap. They'll come here long before they ever go looking wherever your friends are."

Tony lowered his hand and stared at the superhuman. "Bucky, you might just be the first person in history to offer words of comfort that were actually comforting."

Buckly just blinked his marble eyes slowly, as if he'd never been complimented before.

Tony pulled his legs up onto the table and moved back, gesturing for Bucky to have a seat. "Your arm's next. C'mon."

Bucky hesitated, then pulled off his shirt. He was far more ripped than Tony, but not in such a Herculean way as Steve. Bucky's whole body was smaller and infinitely more natural looking, with a thin coating of natural human body fat covering most of it.

"What the hell're you looking at." Bucky said almost grumpily, but without the enthusiasm a true Grinch required.

"You look at lot more natural than Steve. They use a different serum on you?"

Bucky made a face just short of rolling his eyes as he took a seat on the table. "I was already a soldier, Steve was a twig. Probably has something to do with that."

Tony sat cross-legged at an angle half behind, half next to the busted robotic arm. That had really been an ass question, bringing up Bucky's Winter Soldier serum. And he said so.

"Buck that was a dick thing to say I'm sorry."

"Hrmm?"

"Bringing up...that. I'm, I wasn't thinking, that was asinine."

Bucky teetered his head, gazing around the room. "Long as we're here I'm gonna be reminded of it. Doens't make any difference what you say."

Fixing another wire in his arm, Tony asked casually, "Can you feel much in this thing? I always wondered that about people with prosthe--"

"Heightened sensory input. Arm's not much good if you can't feel what you're doing w--" Bucky's eyes flared wide as he realized what a heinous answer he'd just given Tony.

"I for one don't care what the hand's feeling," Tony quickly joked, eyes boring into the wires he was working on.

Tony pulled wires and other small parts from the remains of Bucky's old arm in the scrap bin, as well as his own destroyed suit. After too much uncomfortable silence Tony tried, "Read any good books lately?"

"No."

Tony made a face. "I don't read either. Last book I tried reading was Lord of the Rings after the movie came out. Couldn't get passed the History of Hobbits." Bucky flinched as Tony fixed another wire with a small spark. "Sorry." Trying again, he asked, "What’s the last movie you watched?”

“Hrm… Disney flick about a… dog pissing on someone’s Christmas tree.”

Tony paused his work to give a curious look. “’That ‘Lady and the Tramp?’”

“No idea. Last Disney picture I saw in the theater was ‘Pinocchio.’”

“I’ll bet it was one of the shitty sequels. That pissing on a Christmas tree gag sounds like something they’d do in one of their direct to video sequels. When you say the last one you saw was 'Pinocchio,' do you mean when it first came out in 194-whatever?”

"1940." Bucky muttered, "Christ that Blue Fairy gave me an' Steve such hard-ons, even more than the Queen from 'Snow White'..." his voice became less and less audible as he talked more and more to himself. "Don't make dames like that anymore. Probably why we both just stick to men in this century."

"You don't like women who have equal rights?" Tony asked causally.

"What? No! I mean yes--look we both had the hots for Peggy, who was basically a proto-feminist! I'm talking aesthetically. The flat straightened hair, fake boobs, bodies like Steve before his supersoldier serum, skinny jeans..." He shook his head, causing his long hair to move around his face.

"Friend," Tony pulled a long wire out of the scrap bin sitting next to him on the table. "If you don't like skinny jeans you and I got nothin' to say to each other. "Pepper's..." he was going to rant about everything wonderful about his now ex-girlfriend, and swallowed. "...probably worried sick right now."

Bucky made an acknowledging sound again.

“There!” Tony declared. “Try it now.”

Bucky flexed his silver arm. Everything worked.

Tony began, “How long’d it take them to fix it la—”

Bucky whirled around and scooped Tony up in both arms, as easily as if he were a small cat.

“What’re you—down, please!”

“Bedtime.” Bucky carried him swiftly into the hall.

“What about Steve?!”

“I got the phone. I’ll keep it close.”

“Close to my reactor.”

“…Right,” Bucky remembered.

“One of us has to stay awake,” Tony said as Bucky carried him into the bedroom.

“I’ll do that.”

As he was pulling the covers over Tony, Tony quickly but gently took a hold of Bucky's wrist.

“Buck,”

Bucky glanced over his shoulder.

Tony's brown eyes wandered away from him, almost embarassed. “…I’m cold.”

Bucky’s hand wanted to shoot out and stroke his hair, but he clenched it into a brief fist instead. “I’ll get you some more blankets.”

“Nnn,” Tony clasped Bucky's hand in both of his own.

Bucky pulled his hand out of Tony's.

“Please,” Tony begged. "You're tired too, you have to be."

“You’re delirious.”

“No more than usual.”

“You’re lonely. When you’re back with your real… friends, you’ll never forgive me for taking advantage of you.”

“Bucky I swear this is me, please don’t…”

“I knew Howard!" Bucky blurted out. "I can’t….take Howard’s son!”

Tony stared at him. “How—how close were you to my dad?”

Bucky looked away, biting his lip. “He liked girls.”

Tony could only stare. “…seriously?

Bucky nodded. “Howard was straight.”

“That’s not what I—”

Bucky left the room.

--

He went for another walk around the facility. Against his better judgment, he revisited several familiar rooms he hadn’t bothered to inspect when searching for the crematorium. One of these was the room with the video screens, where his fight with Tony months ago had begun. Three '90s styled VHS tapes sat on the table beneath the flat screen that had started that fight. One was labeled, in sloppy handwriting, “Sokovia.” Underneath it, “1991.” In the player was “New York.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. Naturally, that fucker Zemo would have footage of all the “evils” the Avengers had committed, probably to keep his own rage pumped. And the footage of Bucky killing Tony’s parents? What’d Zemo have that for, to masturbate to? He wouldn’t put it past the sick fuck.

Speaking of sick, why did it smell like ancient vomit in here?

There, just by the “TV” (for lack of a better term), on the floor. Someone had wiped most of it up, very crudely, but hadn’t made any real effort to cleanse the floor or the air. Dried blood was there too. Did Zemo torture Tony here while watching—

It was like a wall of ice rippling through his entire blood system.

Tony’s terrified whimper and deluded struggles to get away, when Bucky had first approached him. The tears that rolled out of his wide chocolate eyes, while he shuddered under Bucky's touch.

His kill-me-quickly pleas, in the medical ward.

Bucky hadn’t been a two-month old memory to Tony; he'd been a daily torture.

Bucky grabbed the “1991” tape and hurled it with a roar through his teeth at the glass screen Zemo had once watched them start fighting behind. He threw it at such speed it actually went clean through the probably bulletproof glass, shattering like a grenade into the concrete wall. Bucky grabbed his face with his human hand, literally hyperventilating, only to realize he’d just destroyed the last footage of Tony’s parents last moments. He’d killed them all over again.

He’d punched his arm clean through the TV screen, tore the entire thing from its post and hurled it like a frisbe across the room before he had any idea he was screaming, so hard his chest and neck hurt. He was past caring. The other screen, he ripped in half with both hands. He destroyed the entire rest of the room, including the other two video tapes, and punched the walls until his human knuckles were smeared in blood and his robotic fingers started to dent. (And there was a massive hole in the concrete wall.) Bucky heaved rapidly, staring at his own damaged, murdering hands.

Sometimes, being superhuman wasn’t so great. God help anyone who’d find him now—

Oh Christ.

He ran back to the living quarters.

Tony was already dragging himself through the hall. He was leaning against the wall, using both hands to move himself forward. In one he awkwardly held the handgun Bucky had left in his backpack.

“Bucky?” Tony eyed him nervously, clearly unsure if he was looking at Bucky or the Winter Soldier. “Buck, you in there?”

“It’s me.” Bucky scooped Tony up in both arms again.

Tony kept the gun up, as if he expected an attack. “What happened?” He craned his neck to look nervously over Bucky's shoulder.

“Nothing, everything’s fine.”

“The hell it is!”

“I felt like screaming." Bucky snapped irritably. "You ever feel like screaming Stark?”

He set Tony back onto the bed. Pulling the sheets back over him, he realized Tony's eyes were locked hard on his, like he had something extremely important to say or ask. He waited for Tony to speak, but he didn’t. Bucky realized Tony wanted him to tell him what had triggered his screaming and smashing.

Instead, Bucky placed his human hand on Tony's shoulder and rubbed gently. “How don’t you hate me?”

Tony seemed to search endlessly for the words, then settled on, "I'm sick.”

Bucky's hand instinctively went back to Tony's forehead

"No Buck." Tony tapped his temple. "PTSD. Bipolar Disorder. ADD, or ADHD, I can never remember which. Depression, and possible Borderline Disorder. At least those are the ones all my shrinks agreed on." His hand curled around Bucky's wrist. "It's not unlike mind control, at times."

Bucky's hand moved to touch the side of Tony's face. Tony relaxed under Bucky's touch, more so when Bucky began moving his thumb around Tony's stubbled cheek in a circular motion. Tony slowly closed his eyes while Bucky continued to caress him.

Barely audibly Tony asked, "W'ur you?"

It took a second for Bucky to translate the mumbling to where were you? He moved his hand a bit higher, to stroke Tony's hairline. "The video room."

Tony's chocolate eyes fell, and Bucky felt his face twitch beneath his touch. As if frightened he was about to lose him, Tony grabbed Bucky's wrist and pulled his hand down to kiss it softly on the back.

Bucky kicked his boots off and climbed into the bed. He embraced Tony with both arms, while Tony pulled up the covers. Tony grabbed Bucky around the back of the neck and pulled himself into him. Bucky rested his head on Tony’s, and their stubbled cheeks rubbed against each other for a bit. He pressed Tony into him and began stroking his hair. Quietly in Tony's ear, he asked, "How many times?"

"Eighty-eight." After some hesitation Tony added, "Twice or more if I was bad. None if I was good."

Bucky tightened his embrace, and his eyes. Kissing his neck gently, Bucky muttered, "I got no business touching you."

Tony brought his hand up into Bucky's long disheveled hair. "You know how I made my fortune, right?"

"...I...thought you just inherited...?"

"The title of 'Merchant of Death,' 'War profiteer.' And I was in control, and completely aware." He mumbled, "Maybe not 'aware' exactly..."

Bucky was aware of his own cracking voice when he asked, "You ever have to face any of them?"

"I killed Wanda's parents." Tony shifted under Bucky, bringing his other arm up to rub the superhuman's back. "And a kid in Sokovia there to help the poor, kid who was everything I'll never be--I murdered him. His mom told me that to my face. And then, of course," he didn't finish, knowing Bucky was already sick of his apologies.

"You can't stop thinking about it," Bucky had stopped stroking Tony's hair and just held him for a bit. "You just keep seeing them, every other minute every day. Sometimes you can't even finish one thought--"

Bucky's mechanical finger brushed a scar the back of Tony's neck, and he was reminded of all the scars hidden under the shirts Tony was wearing. Zemo wouldn't have been whipping or cutting or raping Tony silently, Bucky realized. He recalled the video tapes labeled "New York" and "Sokovia." God, he'd probably been taunting Tony about his fight with Bucky, among other things.

It probably wasn’t possible to hold Tony any tighter, but Bucky tried. As soon as he felt Tony's cheek was wet under his, Bucky's own eyes watered. His tears rolled silently down into Tony's, while Bucky continued stroking his hair. Crushing Tony against him somehow was like a medicine, or even a shield, against his own atrocities. Tony nuzzled closer, and began gently kissing Bucky’s neck. For the first time in maybe forever, Bucky felt like he hadn’t done anything to Tony, or Howard or Maria. Someone else had done that, and they weren’t going to get near Tony without going through Bucky.

Chapter Text

He heard Zemo reciting the words before he opened his eyes. When he did, Bucky couldn’t see anyone in the dark bedroom, except Tony spooned in his arms, sleeping serenely. There were other noises—the howling wind from outside, motors from the old half-busted heating system in this joint. Bucky couldn’t tell if he still heard Zemo speaking, or if his half asleep mind was just mistaking those sounds for a bad memory.

Should he start making noise, to drown it out just in case? He didn’t want to wake Tony.

He shot up when he distinctly heard “longing” echo (in Russian) through the halls.

“Tony,” he whispered, gently shaking his shoulder. “To—”

“FREIGHTCAR!”

Tony’s eyes flew opened as Bucky’s silver hand seized his throat and squeezed. It hurt Bucky, emotionally and physically. In his shoulder, he felt like his arm was twisting the flesh that met the prosthetic like someone wringing a washcloth.

“Stop.” Zemo commanded, standing before the bed with the book and tiny flashlight. “Howard first.”

Bucky felt himself sit up on his knees, bringing a gasping Tony with him by the hair, and began punching his face with his human hand, feeling his target’s skull starting to fracture.

“Bucky?” he heard Tony ask nervously, though he couldn’t see his lips moving from this angle.

Tony didn't sound nearly as terrified as he should have. Could he see Zemo from where he was? Or was Tony in too much shock to realize what was going on?

“Bucky!”

Between punches Tony suddenly shot both hands out and shoved hard on Bucky’s chest.

Bucky woke up on his side, with Tony shoving at his chest.

"Bucky!"

The room looked no different, but Tony was completely unharmed, and Zemo was gone. Literally gone, Bucky remembered. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath of relief, basking in the satisfying image of himself smashing Zemo’s head into mush and watching his disgusting body burn away in the crematorium.

“Bad dream, babe?” Tony’s hand came up to caress Bucky’s unshaven cheek.

Panting, Bucky replied, “It’s ‘babe’ already?”

Tony’s hand moved up to stroke Bucky’s long hair. “Why not. You’ve seen me naked already.”

Just hours ago, Bucky had climbed into bed next to Tony for the first time, and they hadn’t even kissed yet. Tony apparently intended to fix that. He brought both hands to cup Bucky’s face.

Bucky didn’t want Tony whoring himself to him out of some misplaced feeling of debt or pity. “I don’t—”

Tony’s lips shut him up, and shut Bucky’s eyes as well. Tony’s kiss had a passion in it that left Steve’s in the dust. Did Tony always kiss like this? Their lips weren’t even separated all the way when Tony began another.

He lowered himself onto Bucky. Through the fabric of their shirts, Tony’s reactor pressed uncomfortably into Bucky’s ribs, but Bucky couldn’t have cared less. He continued kissing Tony back, running his hands all over his back. Tony briefly caught his breath as Bucky’s cool metal fingers slid under his shirt and traced his spine, before trembling and melting into him. So he liked that. Bucky did it again, and got even better resutls.

Both their shirts were now hiked up to their armpits, their skin sticking to each other. The long bandages covering Tony’s stitches and naval rubbed against Bucky’s abdomen, and reminded him to handle his partner with caution.

“Tony,” Bucky whispered, moving them onto their sides.

“Hmm?”

“Don’t hurt yourself.” His metal hand slid gently along Tony’s soft side.

Tony groaned with mild annoyance as Bucky pulled his shirt back down over his bandaged trunk.

Pulling his own shirt back down Bucky asked, “How about some breakfast?” He stopped, then took a stiff of Tony’s hair. “How about a bath?”

Tony offered a crooked smile. "Bath sounds fun."

Bucky shook his head. “Not a bath-bath. You can’t, right after getting stitches; the water’ll leak in and infect,” he pressed the heel of his human hand to his face. “I probably infected you already…you need a hospital.”

“Someone’ll kill me in my sleep. And you.”

Bucky remembered the phone conversation with Tony's friend Happy. How someone, probably Hydra, was attacking Avengers and former Avengers all around the world. One of Tony's own security guards, planting a bomb that almost killed Black Widow. Tony and Bucky both were too paranoid to call any major agency to come get them, not knowing how many nurses, airplane pilots or janitors were more Hydra agents in disguise. With Tony's reactor, there was no way to get him medical treatment without the doctor or nurse knowing exactly who he was.

“Isn’t there anyone else you can call?”

“Yeah,” Tony pushed himself up. “Steve.” He froze, contorted in pain.

“I’ll try calling him again.” Bucky gently moved Tony around and urged him down onto his back.

Tony was surprisingly cooperative for once. He rested his eyes while Bucky dialed Steve’s number on the phone again.

Again, no answer.

“He’s obviously in the middle of some heroic mission,” Bucky reassured. “With T’Challa.”

Tony stared at the ceiling. His face told Bucky that he wasn’t falling for it.

Bucky tried, “You know Steve’s defeated both of us before.”

“If I can fix my suit,” Tony mused, “We can be out of here.”

“'We?'”

“I’ll carry you." That crooked smile, "Like Lois Lane.”

Bucky didn’t like the sound of that. Plus,

“Didn’t you use your suit’s reactor for,” he held up the phone.

Tony groaned softly, and his hand went to his face. Dropping it, he concluded, “I’ll figure something out.”

“Work on that,” Bucky said quickly. “In your head. While I clean you up. Kill two birds with one stone.”

--

The bedroom they'd slept in was on the side of the hall where the water-heating was busted (and naturally, where Zemo had usually water-boarded Tony). The rooms across the hall had water-heat, but not heat-heat, so the rooms were dangerously cold. Bucky got the warm water from across the hall, and transported it back to their bathroom in a bin he’d swiped from a storage closet somewhere. Tony lay on the floor next to the tub, on a mat of large towels with a pillow underneath (that in all likelihood would still get soaked). Looking at his own brutalized body, Tony remembered for the umpteenth time how lucky (“lucky”) he was Zemo had had a fucked up sex drive to satisfy; a more straightforward sadist would’ve mutilated him far worse, and in far more private areas.

“I never done this before,” Bucky warned, pouring the last bucket of warm water into the tub.

“Me either, so I’ve got nothing to judge you by."

Tony actually didn’t like the sound of a sponge bath at all, even from a gorgeous cyborg. “Sponge bath” was a word he’d always associated with diapers, nursing homes, colostomy bags—Christ, would his stomach injury eventually doom him to one of those? No, no, Zemo hadn’t done anything to his actual organs, except wrapped wiring around the outside of one segment. (Right?)

“Hey,” Bucky brought the soapy washcloth to Tony’s chest. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”

Tony began to reassure him, “I’m just—” No, don’t mention any medical fears, then he’ll just go on another you need a hospital! rant. “I had a bad dream too,” he said, which was sort of true. (He knew his dream had involved a preview for a forth "Human Centipede" movie, anyway.)

Bucky made an acknowledging sound, scrubbing Tony around his reactor. “You’re sure this thing can get wet?”

“I’ve gone swimming in it hundreds of times,” Tony said.

When Bucky went to re-wet the cloth, its corner brushed his reactor. Tony cringed with an embarrassing giggle that stopped Bucky in his tracks.

“Do that again,” Tony begged playfully. The brush from the wet towel had sent a tickling vibration through his chest reactor.

“You’ll bust a stitch.”

“Killjoy.”

But Tony only had to wait until Bucky finished his chest for more tickles to come. Bucky’s overly paranoid attempt to be gentle around Tony’s largest incision, with the wet towel, had Tony near suffocating with laughter as soon as the cloth made contact with his stomach.

Bucky swore angrily over Tony’s giggles.

“J-j-just d-do it!”

“I need you to hold still!” Bucky pried Tony’s chest and thigh away from his middle.

“I can’t help it,” Tony gasped. “Ask Steve.”

Tony searched for something to grab ahold of. There was a towel rack on the wall, but obviously it was far too high up for him to reach.

“Tie me up,” Tony suggested.

Bucky stared at him under his eyebrows. “You serious?”

A few drops fell from the rag and hit Tony just below his bandaged naval, setting off another fit of giggles that had him doubled over, hiding his middle. Bucky threw the cloth into the tub with a soft splash and left the bathroom. In the other room, Tony heard tearing fabric. Bucky returned with a long strip of cloth ripped from a pillowcase. He wrapped Tony's wrists together above his head. He tied the other end of the fabric up onto the towel rack, leaving Tony’s wrists hanging maybe a foot above his head. He then sat on Tony’s thighs to keep them out of the way, and resumed washing.

Tony’s laughter resumed as Bucky tried scrubbing his abdomen as gently and swiftly as he could. Any minute now, the old grouch would lighten up. There was no way Bucky could keep holding that frown with Tony’s wheezing giggles, and his belly quivering like that. The wet cloth ran up and down Tony’s side, drawing more laughter from him. He twisted under Bucky’s weight, and yanked at the cloth binding his writs, laughing stupidly. After cleaning both love handles, Bucky brought the cloth back to his belly and began slowly rubbing in circles. His lips hadn’t changed position but Tony could see him grinning deviously with his eyes. The cloth snaked under the bikini line, his hips, then took a break from his trunk to wash/tickle his feet. And somewhere else.

When he washed his legs and arms, Tony’s laughter began to recede. Bucky looked to be finished having fun. Then something cold began trotting up his fleshy side, sending Tony into a new laughing fit. Bucky was walking his robotic fingers up Tony’s tummy, towards his bandaged naval. He carefully peeled the wad of gauze off, which tickled Tony even more. They both saw his outie had healed. Didn’t even have any bite marks. Tony waited for Bucky to make another move. Bucky’s metal pointer finger slinked down against his flesh and snaked slowly towards his bellybutton. He kept waiting for Bucky to start humming the “Jaws” theme, then remembered Bucky probably had never heard of “Jaws.” Tony held his breath and sucked his belly in, mostly on instinct. Bucky’s finger slowed its approach. Just as Tony let go and exhaled, the metal predator shot forward into his naval. The giggle jackpot button. Tony shrieked with laughter as Bucky quickly cooked up one torture after another; he flicked his outie like a light switch, carefully let some drops of water fall onto it in succession, and finally closed in on it with is lips,his long hair tickling Tony's sides.

Tony’s laughter ended in a long gasp, as Bucky traced his naval with his tongue. “Don’t bite,” Tony quickly begged in a serious tone. “I mean it.”

Bucky paused the long kiss and said, eyes still shut, “I’m not a biter.” He resumed sucking gently.

Tony relaxed and Bucky began planting kisses around his stomach, while working his hands slowly at Tony’s hips. He was careful to avoid the crooked surgical cut, still bandaged over.

“Tony,” Bucky’s metal thumb ran along the edge of the long thin bandage.

“Nothing came loose,” Tony assured him.

Bucky acknowledged this with a final kiss on his stomach, then urged him over to wash his back. Tony waited, but the cloth didn't touch him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Bucky hesitating over his scarred back.

"I don't even feel those anymore," Tony lied. Not lied, exaggerated. He felt a little bit in his whipping scars, but nothing too horrible anymore. At least compared to his graver injuries.

His lie was exposed when Bucky gently brought the wet cloth down his back, and Tony flinched on instinct.

"Sorry," Bucky mumbled, and tried washing even more lightly.

"Don't...that just feels weird. A little more pressure..." Tony gasped at a circular pressure kneading one of the knots in his back.

Bucky washed and massaged Tony's aching back with his mechanical hand, through the wet cloth. Several stings burned through his muscle with every other motion, but god was it worth it. It was like the best massaging machine anyone could invent, but with a human lover's touch. (God, that sounded like the cheesiest infomercial tagline ever. Sell it to horny "Twilight" moms) With the occasional request from Tony, Bucky cleansed and un-knotted Tony's entire back and the back of his neck.

As Bucky gently turned him back over, Tony asked softly, "Do I get a shave and a haircut too?" His eyes went to the silver hand soaking the washcloth. "You probably have a steady hand."

"Babe, you've proven you're incapable of holding still. I don't wanna fuck up that work of art," his silver fingers traced Tony's goatee, joined now by a couple days' worth of stubble.

Tony smiled and closed his eyes. Babe. Mission accomplished.

--

STARK, TONY: was now an entry that consisted of several pages full of Bucky's cramped handwriting. Personality and physical traits made up almost two pages alone. Bucky added another to the list: wont go the fuck to sleep.Bucky didn't want anyone reading his journal, Tony least of all; but watching the guy work obsessively on the scraps of his suit, ghastly bags under his eyes, Bucky was now willing to try anything to get him to stop.

"What'cha writing about?" Tony asked, his bloodshot eyes only leaving his work for a split second.

"You not going the fuck to sleep," Bucky replied honestly, scribbling obsessive workaholic, tnkring w iron man scraps.

"Chhh."

“Tony what can I do to get you to take a break, just a for little bit?”

“You can let me finish this.” Tony tweaked another component in the red iron boot. “Just one leg. When it’s done I’ll go to sleep, swear.”

“You said that two hands and one other leg ago.”

Tony shifted where he sat, adjusting the wire he was working on. “Working helps me relax.”

Bucky clapped the journal shut and dropped it back into his backpack. “You’ve been awake for almost eighteen hours!”

“And I slept two days.”

“You look like Hell, Tony.”

It wasn't just Tony's eyes that looked near death. The lines in his face and gray in his hair seemed more pronounced to Bucky. Had Tony looked that old when they'd battled, two months ago? All he could tell for sure was that Tony for the moment didn’t have the energy to keep at this project anymore; he was working solely out of a paranoid obsession. The clothes Bucky had salvaged for Tony from the deserted dressers of Hydra officials were wrinkled and too big for him, making him look even more like a hobo. His trademark goatee barely showed through unshaven stubble. Bucky had tried rubbing Tony's shoulders several times, in an attempt to relax and distract him, to no avail. He clearly liked it, but his obsessive drive was taking president at the moment.

The only thing that didn't seem on the verge of death was his voice, almost frantically alert. “You wanna help, get me a screwdriver.” He specified the size and type.

While Bucky fished for the tool out of the toolbox on the floor, he came up with a plan. “Will you at least eat or drink something? I can bring you soup or coffee or something from—”

“Coffee sounds great!”

Bucky handed him the screwdriver. “I’m bringing you some food with it.”

“Food sounds good,” Tony began rambling off various things he had the munchies for.

Bucky returned with a hastily made peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, potato chips with a Russian logo on the bag, and a pot of coffee. “I think this brand is pretty strong,” he said in a warning tone. “You should probably go easy.”

He offered Tony a mug, but Tony instead took the pot, and had a long, savoring sip. Bucky normally being a stoic person, he didn’t have to do much to trick Tony.

“You don’t want cream or nothing in that?” Bucky asked.

Tony shook his head, and took another long gup of Decaf.

Even tricked into drinking decaf, eating foods that supposedly made one tired, and a long, stubborn, backrub, it took Tony almost three more hours to finally conk out. Bucky carefully picked Tony up bridal style, and carried him out of the medical ward. While carrying Tony Bucky was reminded, not for the first time, of a previous Stark he'd carried, far less gently, and dumped into a car next to his terrified wife. Bucky managed to beat off the wave of nausea this time. Hydra. Hydra had done that. And Bucky was going to keep Tony safe from those monsters. He tightened his grip, turning down the hall to the living quarters.

That was when the phone in Bucky’s pocket buzzed.

Fuck.

Bucky quickly deposited the snoring mechanic on the bed, and hurried back out into the hall. By that time the phone had stopped buzzing. Already? It had only rung a few times. Maybe the reception—

Oh. Shit.

He glanced back at Tony, snoring softly. Bucky really didn’t want to wake him.

He pocketed the phone and returned to the bedroom. After tucking Tony in, Bucky had a seat on the floor, leaning against the bed. He was just pulling the phone out of his pocket when it buzzed again. Bucky quickly flipped it opened and whispered, “Steve?”

“Bucky!”

“Shhh!”

“What’s wrong?” Steve whispered back.

“Nothing. Tony’s asleep.”

“Tony! Buck can you wake him up?”

“I’d rather not. You have no idea how long it took to get him to go the fuck to sleep,”

“That’s Tony,” Steve said quietly. “Can you go to a different room?”

“No, the phone has to stay near Tony’s reactor for this call to work.”

“Damn. Bucky where are you?”

“You first.”

“Fair enough. But you probably won’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

“I’m in space. On a ship, like right out of ‘Buck Rodgers.’”

“Tony figured something like that. How’d you end up going from Steve Rogers to Buck Rodgers?”

“Honestly Bucky, I don’t even know where to start. It’s been such an insane week,”

Had Bucky and Tony really been here only a week? It had felt like months already.

“What happened when you left the motel, to look for Tony?”

“That was a trap.” Steve sighed. “This weird guy in a blue dress, he just captures superheroes from different planets and makes them fight each other. He got me and King T’Challa and made us fight each other, and Thor had to fight Bruce—the Hulk. None of those three are here right now though. We got separated. I'm stuck on this dead ship with a raccoon and a talking tree with a very limited vocabulary, and they're both looking at me weird...”

“Oh.” Bucky didn’t bother feigning interest; all that mattered was that Steve was alright. “You’re okay now though?”

“Well yeah, but we’re kind of stranded. The ship’s power is down or something, and we’re nowhere near Earth. How the hell are you calling us anyway?”

“Tony did something with his reactor,” Bucky took a quick peek over the bed to ensure Tony was still fast asleep.

Tony’s back was to him, and his snores hadn’t changed.

“Are you in Australia?”

“No.”

Steve seemed to wait for Bucky to elaborate, and when he didn’t, pried, “Where are you?”

“S—” Bucky sighed. “Siberia.” He really didn’t want to tell Steve what had happened to Tony.

“Did you say Siberia?”

“Shh! Yes. Long story.”

“Summarize then.”

Bucky shifted against the bed. “After you left I got a… a message. From Tony.”

“You mean on the phone?”

“No, in…in my head.”

Bucky struggled to explain the Morse Code headache, and had to retell it three times before Steve began to understand what he meant.

“I came here to the Hydra facility, and Tony was here with Zemo.”

“The ‘psychiatrist?’”

“Yeah. He’s dead now, I killed him.”

“What’d he want with Tony?”

Bucky ran his silver hand over his face. “More…sciencey shit I don’t get. He wanted his chest reactor to power some Lex Luther machine or some shit. We stopped it.”

“How did he even get Tony all the way back to Siberia?”

Poor clueless Steve. Probably just assumed Tony had taken his plane back to the States after their last fight.

Steve’s behavior, and his own, during the fight, still made Bucky angry. But did Steve deserve to hear everything that had happened afterwards?

“Bucky? You there?”

“Yeah I…”

Bucky rose onto his knees and took another peek at Tony. He still looked fast asleep and hadn’t changed positions, but something in his breathing had changed. He wasn’t snoring anymore. Tony of course snored on and off all night, and told Bucky he did the same. So this might mean nothing. But on the other hand…

Tony was not the sort to pretend to sleep for the sake of embarrassment. The only possible reason for Tony to feign sleep now was if he wanted to hear what Steve would say when he thought Tony wasn’t listening.

“Bucky?”

“When we left, Siberia,” Bucky spoke quietly, but clearly enough for Tony to hear in case he was listening. “I mean right after we left, Zemo got him.”

Steve was silent for a moment. Then hissed, “What the hell do mean he ‘got’ Tony?”

“Kidnapped him. He took the supersoldier serum sometime before, so Tony was no match. Not without his suit.”

He felt cruel, rubbing this in Steve’s face. But he wasn’t going to “spare” Steve the way Steve had “spared” Tony about his parents.

“He’s—Tony’s been there, this whole time? Since we left?”

Bucky reached across the bed to stroke Tony’s hair. Tony didn’t stir. “Yep.”

Silence. “…What’d he do to him.”

He could hear Steve’s throat swelling in his voice.

“Well it’s not like we have lots of conversations about it,”

After several moments, Steve asked hesitantly, "What'd, what'd he look like?”

Stalling, Bucky replied, “Like…if young Claude Raines and Peter Lorre had a baby, who was Russian.”

“Buck!”

Bucky sighed. “Tied up. Banged up.” He continued stroking Tony’s hair.

“Tied up, you mean, to a chair?”

“To a barred window.”

Bucky could practically hear his (other) boyfriend him staring hard at him over the phone, demanding he go on.

“He had all these plugs and cords and shit in his chest, for the doomsday-fuckery or whatever. I don’t know the science of it.”

He hoped Steve might ask about the doomsday machine so the subject could change, but he didn’t seem to care about that.

“Where was he hurt, Buck? How bad?”

“He was…bleeding from his reactor. That was hurting him.”

“…and?”

Best get the horrible stuff out of the way. “Zemo did some kind of fucked-up surgery to him. He took some parts out of his chest reactor, and put them in different parts of his body. He’s got stitches on his stomach and chest...”

“He put…he…what?”

“He took parts out of Tony’s chest reactor, and put them in his stomach, chest, arm, leg etc-cetera. Fuck knows why.”

“For his machine,” Steve said with no hint of irony, like he actually thought Bucky hadn’t figured that one out.

Bucky added quickly, “We fixed that though. I think. I mean everything’s back where it’s supposed to be. Especially Zemo.”

“Where’s Zemo again?” Steve’s voice wavered slightly.

“Hell.”

He heard Steve take a wet breath. “Right.” More shaking breaths. “So he just wanted Tony for, for that?”

Bucky let his hand fall away from Tony’s hair and rest on the pillow above his head. He wanted to climb onto the bed and put his free arm around Tony, but he really did seem to be at least half asleep.

Bucky mumbled, “No. He was also just torturing him for the fuck of it. His back’s all whipped up, with a chain. He's got a fever, he wasn't wearing any clothes.."

Steve managed to momentarily compose himself. "Did Tony recognize you, when you got there?

"Yeah. Oh yeah he knew who I was. He was really scared..." Bucky definitely heard Tony take a shaking breath, even as he continued to "sleep." Bucky continued stroking his hair. "I told him I wasn't gonna hurt him, and he was okay with me after that." He added, "Then I smashed Zemo's skull like an egg, and then Tony was very okay with me." The corner of Bucky's mouth flicked up briefly, as he gazed at the sleeping man under him.

Steve's voice sounded about to crack.“Why did Zemo do all that? Did he want information?”

"No. He was just a sick fucking psycho."

“But why Tony?”

“Easy to catch. Easy to provoke.” Bucky knew that last part would hit Steve hard.

He could hear Steve open his mouth and take a breath through quiet tears. With a cracked voice Steve asked, “What else Buck? What...what else?”

Bucky gave Tony’s hair another long stroke, while answering, barely audibly, “Pretty sure he raped him. And not just once or twice.”

More stifled tears. Sound of Steve probably running a hand over his face. “Tell me that’s it?”

Bucky’s free arm rested on the pillow around Tony’s head, again. “…the video.” He gave Steve a few moments to figure out which “video” he meant, which didn’t take long. He heard Steve take in a long shaking breath. Bucky finished, “He made him watch it eight-eight times altogether.”

Steve’s quiet tears continued over the line.

Tony stirred under the blankets. Bucky brought his hand back up to Tony’s hair, coaxing him awake. Tony rolled over and opened puffed bloodshot eyes.

“Steve?” he croaked, as a question to Bucky.

Bucky hauled himself onto the bed and pulled Tony against him, holding the phone up for him.

Tony didn’t whisper, but his voice was quiet and timid, almost with shame. “Steve?”

“Tony!”

“Steve, I’m sorry I—”

“Shhh! No, don’t dare! Tony, baby…” Steve sounded shattered. “I treated you like…oh God….”

Tony’s eyes were watering. Bucky tightened his embrace.

After a long stretch of the only sound being choked sniffles and breaths, Steve said, “Don’t forgive me but please, Tony, please, trust me. I’ll be there—”

“I forgive you Steve.”

“You shouldn’t.”

Tony opened his mouth as if to say something but apparently couldn’t think of anything.

“Listen baby, Bucky… Bucky’s gonna take care of you. You rest. Wait for me. We’ll be there soon. I swear.”

“Steve I,” Tony swallowed. “I love you.”

“I never stopped loving you Tony. You know that.”

Tony seemed aware that Bucky had frozen awkwardly around him. To clarify that there was no deception, Tony said for Bucky’s benefit as well as Steve’s, “You can love me and Bucky, Steve.”

“Well I… Well good, ‘cuz I do.”

After an uncomfortably stretch of silence, Steve asked to talk to Bucky again.

“See you soon Hunksickle.” Tony said.

Bucky made a confused face, but apparently this was a familiar term of endearment between the two.

“See you soon heart-of-steel.”

Tony handed the phone back to Bucky and settled against his chest.

“Steve, Tony needs a hospital.” To his relief, Tony didn’t argue or even pout. “But we don’t know who to trust.”

He told Steve about Tony’s call to Happy, and the attacks on the other Avengers. Steve fretfully tried brainstorming ideas, and then the signal began to go out.

“Steve?”

“Bucky?”

Tony quickly yanked his shirts and sweatshirt up, apparently thinking that exposing his reactor would help the signal.

“Bucky if you can hear me I’ll call you back! Love you.”

“Steve?” The line was dead.

Tony looked petrified.

Bucky closed the phone and set in on the bedside table. Bringing both arms around Tony he lied, “Steve said something about the ship’s systems being goofy, for repairs or something.”

“No he didn’t.” Tony sadly flatly.

“Well, I mean,” Bucky climbed under the covers and brought his arms back around Tony. “We probably just lost the signal. They’re in a whole other solar system for god’s sake.”

Tony’s face relaxed as he saw the logic of this, and accepted it. But as he settled back against Bucky, Bucky could tell Tony was still worried sick.

Out of ideas, Bucky planted a kiss on Tony's unshaven cheek. Tony returned it.

--

They lay in each other's arms for hours. They were "sleeping," but neither one of them ever made it to REM. Short nightmares kept Bucky constantly waking up and unable to get back to sleep. Tony just lay in bed, occasionally turning over into a different position, resting his body and sometimes eyes, but clearly awake.

Tony withered and screamed, tied to the barred window, while Bucky's hand--out of his control--twisted the cords in his chest, drawing blood and sparks.

Bucky was shaken awake when Tony rolled into him and threw an arm around his waist. Bucky returned the embrace. It was Tony who started rubbing Bucky's back, in gentle but firm circles, then reached under his shirts. Bucky returned the gesture, moving his human fingers along the bumpy scars snaking along Tony's back. Tony didn't flinch. It wasn't long before Bucky's hand slid around to Tony's front and found his "outie." His thumb circled the stub off flesh, and gently pressed down. Tony jolted, giving Bucky a start, and speedily grabbed Bucky's shirts from the back, yanking them off.

"Wuzzat the magic button?" Bucky mumbled stupidly, fumbling with Tony's shirts.

Tony made an acknowledging sound, kissing Bucky even as Bucky was hiking his shirts off. Both now topless, they resumed exploring each other. Tony was like a starving man who'd found a steak. Bucky wanted to savor every touch.

"Tony for chrissake, it's not a race."

Tony made a noise that might've been a pouting groan or a muffled apology, but either way he slowed down.

Bucky gently traced the chain-whip scar on Tony's neck, before moving down. Bringing his metallic fingers down to Tony's chest, he ran one silver digit along the metal ring of the reactor. Tony's lips parted, taking in a long breath.

"It's beautiful," Bucky whispered.

Tony's breathing intensified. "You can feel that?" he whispered, "in that hand?"

"We discussed this," Bucky reminded him.

Bucky felt differently in each hand and arm, and he was starting to have a hard time deciding which he preferred to touch Tony with. The warmth of Tony's flesh sent a, for lack of a better word, human sensation, all up through the metal limp, straight to the human shoulder it was attached to. He ran his mechanical hand over Tony's arc reactor, and an energy pulse rippled up through his arm. Bucky and Tony both gasped, Tony arching under Bucky.

"You feel that?" Bucky asked needlessly.

Tony took in huge, savoring breaths, bringing one arm around Bucky's neck. "You?"

"In high-def."

Bucky began planting a long kiss in the center of the reactor, feeling Tony squirm in his arms. For a second he feared he'd hurt him, but Tony seized Bucky with both arms and pressed him back down, urging him to do it again. He did. And did again, and again.

Licking the reactor, however, proved a no-no; Tony enjoyed it, but Bucky got a nasty electric shock as soon as he began to drag his tongue across the glowing disc. Tony took Bucky's face in both hands, relishing the sandy stubble, and treated his wounded tongue with a long French kiss. Bucky went for Tony's neck, while Tony attacked Bucky's ear, his hands playing with Bucky's long hair. Trailing kisses down Tony's neck, and then chest, it didn't take long for Bucky to circle back to the reactor.

Tony heaved, "T-take it out."

Bucky paused, mid-kiss. "Hrr?"

Tony tapped his reactor with two fingertips.

"Wha'for?"

Tony panted, "Just do it. Don't unplug it, just..."

Bucky brought his human hand up, then stopped. "Which hand?"

It took Tony a second to process the question. But as soon as he did he begged, "The Sith one, Luke!"

Bucky assumed that "Sith" was some 21st Century slang for "sexually arousing," and "Luke" was probably some current Hollywood sex symbol.

Tony felt five silver fingertips gently but firmly close in over the reactor. When it clicked loose, the airy sound came from both the hiss of the reactor leaving its cavity and Tony exhaling with ecstasy.

Bucky breathed in his ear, "This doesn't hurt?"

Tony shook his head frantically.

Bucky gently and slowly pulled the reactor out, making Tony writhe impatiently. Bringing it fully out, Bucky held it like a champane glass in his silver hand, pondering what to do next. Tony could feel it--it was impossible to explain with words, but he could feel the weight of the reactor resting in Bucky's chrome hand. And it was nirvana. Bucky planted another gentle kiss in the middle of the disc, that traveled down through the cord to Tony's heart. He kissed again, longer, bringing both hands up to hold the reactor as if it was Tony's face. And it might as well have been, for how Tony felt both the warm flesh and electrifying mechanics shoot down the reactor, through his chest. He made a circle of small pecks closer to the edges, and then along on the cylindrical silver side.

Bucky carefully turned it over in his hand, gently kissing, until a small sparking shock stung them both. Tony grabbed Bucky's (human) arm, then they both relaxed again. Bucky ran his warm, human thumb down the cord, earning another gasp from Tony. For a split second, the warmth was so soothing Tony wanted to fall asleep right there. Bucky repeated the gesture with his silver thumb, which woke Tony right back up. And then he brought a human and robotic finger down each side of the cord simultaneously, finally worming the first moan of the night out of Tony's lips.

Bucky trailed kisses down the cord, to the reactor's cavity. When his tongue began sliding along the inner metal edge, Tony involuntarily let out another long moan. Bucky's tongue wasn't long enough to reach all the way down, and Tony knew what was coming next. (Pun intended.) Bucky's human finger submerged into the gooey bottom of the reactor, where the reactor discharge that used to gross Pepper out always pooled. When Bucky circled his finger along the bottom of the cavity, around the bottom of the cord, he did it almost better than Pepper or Bruce. Well, no one could play with Tony's reactor quite like Pepper (who'd come a long way from squealing "there's puss!"). But what Bucky lacked in technique, he compensated for with passion, and eventually, his robotic finger.

Tony was drenched in sweat, panting harder than ever, feeling harder than he'd ever been in the last three months at least. Bucky's own erection rubbed against Tony's through the increasingly dampening fabric of their pants.

Bucky took his fingers out of Tony's chest, and planted has hands on each side of his ribcage. The stimulating cold of the "Sith" hand and the warmth of the human one massaged Tony gradually lower, while Bucky kissed and licked his trunk. God damn it, that fucking "cushion" and outie always stood between Tony's lovers and Tony's dick. Like a dangling yarn in front of a cat. Tony never didn't enjoy it when Bucky was treating his bellybutton like a tootsie-pop, but for the love of fuck there was something else in desperate need of sucking.

"The sooner you give," Tony panted, fisting the blanket, "the sooner you get."

Apparently Tony's belly was more appealing than the offer of oral sex. Tony impatiently played the role of a keyboard, pillow, and ice cream sundae before Bucky finally remembered that there was more below. Tony was still wearing pajama pants (currently, heavy, hideous chartreuse ones from the '70s that Bucky had swiped from a drawer in another bedroom). Bucky yanked the slacks down and peeled them off in two long, quick motions, chucking the pants onto the floor.

Rubbing both of Tony's hips, Bucky asked again, "Which hand?"

"S-s..." Tony was too ecscatic to even speak.

Bucky got the message. Tony felt the cool chrome fingers closed gently around his length, followed by Bucky's warm lips on his tip. His tongue and metal fingers both went to work, and Tony's orgasm was ripping out before Bucky had even engulfed half of his cock. It hurt all of Tony's worst injuries when he arched back in pleasure, but Tony didn't care. The metal fingers slowly crawled off as Bucky's mouth moved further down. When Tony was completely in Bucky, the superhuman's hands slid around to cup both ass cheeks for leverage. Tony grabbed the bed frame, moving his hips to the rhythm of Bucky's tongue.

Tony didn't remember coming, but he obviously had. He breathed heavily on the bed while Bucky spit Tony's juices onto the floor. Tony never understood the appeal of one's partner swallowing. Less hassle to clean up afterwards? Zemo had made Tony swallow several times, to disgust and humiliate. Tony saw no reason for his lover to have to take in what his own body apparently no longer wanted. Just because you loved cherries didn't mean you had to eat the pit.

Bucky returned over Tony, hunched over with an arm on each side of him, panting under his curtain of hair. Tony got lost in the pale, half-closed eyes, the Tolkien-esque scruff and glistening sweat decorating his chest, and took an embarrassingly long time to remember that he owed Bucky something. Tony seized Bucky's sides with both hands. He pondered for a second what to do. Bucky didn't have an arc reactor for him to play with. Speaking of which...

Bucky remembered too. Panting, he glanced at the reactor sitting lopsided on Tony's chest, and gently replaced it back into its cavity with a hiss. Tony closed his eyes as he relished the moment of pleasure, Bucky's human fingertips and palm snaking around his heart once more. With his eyes still shut, Tony felt for Bucky's metal hand, and brought it to his lips. He tried his best to do for Bucky what Bucky had done for him with the reactor, sucking each metal finger and running one of his own down the entire limp, knowing Bucky would feel it all in "high-def." When he had Bucky rolled over onto his back, Tony began enjoying the rippling muscles partially hidden beneath thin layers of natural body fat. He fished for Bucky's abs under his thin rug of a belly, forcing Bucky to wait almost as long as he'd had to for the main event.

Bucky was already snoring when Tony was spitting. Did he always pass out after sex, Tony wondered, or was he just that fucking good? He liked to think the latter. Tony watched Bucky's sweat-drenched chest rise and fall with his heavy breaths, his metal arm draped limply over his stomach. Tony thought about the video again, and for the first time felt no connection between the walking murder weapon and the beautiful man asleep before him. Had Mom ever watched Dad like this, when they were together? Unlike most people, Tony did not have the luxury of being allowed to pretend his parents were sexless beings, with Howard's behavior and reputation. He'd always wondered how much, if at all, they'd actually loved each other. He'd never know now, obviously.

Feeling cold, Tony moved Bucky's arm out of the way and cuddled against him, pulling the blankets over them both. It wound up being the best sleep he'd had in years.

Chapter Text

“…as of yet, none of the Avengers have been recaptured, and are still at large…”

Only Bucky spoke Russian, so the report on the radio was nothing but foreign background nose to Tony. Bucky had found the old boom box in one of the other bedrooms, and Tony had fixed it up so they could catch some news of the outside world. Bucky stood craned over the bed, where Tony lay staring at the ceiling. Bucky brought the plastic razor gently down Tony's cheek, trying his best to follow the lines of his now barely visible goatee under the days of stubble.

Only physics had convinced Tony to finally let his body rest. He’d worked on his suit until he’d collapsed in a fit of coughs, that left small splatters of vomit and blood on the floor of the medical ward. Bucky was no nurse, but he was pretty sure this coughing up blood meant something was going horribly wrong on the inside. Both men were silently brainstorming different ways to get themselves out of this place without being caught.

“Staying here,” Bucky said quietly over the broadcast, “We gotta get our fuckin’ heads examined." He carefully brought the tiny razor across Tony's chin, to create that trademark rectangle. "It’s a miracle Hydra hasn’t come back here already looking for us--shit," he hissed, shaving the wrong angle, fucking up Tony's goatee.

"Zemo fucked it long before you showed up," Tony reminded him.

The Russian report continued.

Tony spoke quietly. “He really wasn’t working for them.”

“Hrm? Hold still.”

Tony waited impatiently for Bucky to finish the next motion. “Zemo. If he was working with Hydra they’d have tried calling him by now.”

Bucky paused, thinking it over. “Would they? I mean how long’s he been dead…not even a month?”

“…secret agents have to check in more often that that,” Tony said. “…don’t they?”

Bucky fiddled the razor in his hands. “Unless he wasn’t an agent, but just some crackpot who cut a deal wi—”

“…Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross has offered a bounty of two million dollars for each fugitive…”

That got both their attentions.

“…four million for the capture and/or safe return of Tony Stark, who is believed to be either a victim or accomplice of the fugitives, and five million for Captain America and the Winter Soldier each…”

Tony of course had only heard “Tony Stark,” “Captain America” and “Winter Soldier.”

“What's he—”

“Shh!”

Bucky listened on for the rest of the report, which wasn’t long. Russia apparently wasn’t all that interested in superheroes. When it cut to a commercial, Bucky filled Tony in.

“You know a guy named Thaddeus Ross?”

Tony sighed. "Unfortunately."

“He’s looking for us, and offering huge rewards.”

“If Ross finds us we are fucked, Bucky.”

"Well...how much power does he have? He's Secretary of State, so he can't just have us killed on sight or anything without a trial...?"

"He could if he deems us a 'threat.' He tried to kill Bruce, years ago, and that was when he was just an army general. Ross is obsessive, paranoid, and extremely stupid, he hired your 'psychiatrist' and left you alone with no guards with that fucker. Bucky, he finds me, like this, with you, what do you think he's gonna think?"

Bucky stared down at him. "I guess nothing you'd say would make a difference?"

"He didn't even listen to his own daughter when she was begging him not to murder her boyfriend, for a condition he basically caused on Bruce. He'll probably say you did all this to me, and I have Stockholm Syndrome or something."

Bucky dipped the razor in the bowl of water. “Well Steve did manage to free all the others from his prison, but I still don’t know we wanna take our chances.” Bucky snapped his metal fingers, which produced an odd metallic ring that echoed through the room. “Next time we get ahold of Steve, we ask him how he did it. What he knows about getting past Ross.” Bucky made the mistake of returning to shaving Tony while speaking.

“Call him now!”

Bucky sat back, his crystalline eyes rolling heavenward, while Tony felt the cut with a finger.

"It's nothing," Tony said, while Bucky dug through his backpack for Neosporin.

It wound up being another two full days before they were able to get ahold of Steve again. By then, Tony’s fever had skyrocketed, and the pain in his chest and stomach had as well. It hurt him even worse whenever they tried making a call with the phone, but doing so was their only chance in hell at getting Tony help in the long run.

Bucky returned to the bedroom with some more bottles of Russian vodka, none of which had been opened since the ‘80s. It was the only pain reliever Bucky could find in the entire facility. (Seriously, had the Hydra agents just taken all their anesthesia and morphine with them when they’d fled this facility, or had they always been such sadists they’d just prefer subjects thrashing and screaming?) Tony’s eyes were squinted shut, trying to block pain and tears, while a soft rock tune played from the earbuds. Bucky’s I-pod was the only other distraction he could prescribe.

“Tony,” Bucky ran a hand through Tony’s hair.

Tony rolled over in the bed, keeping his eyes shut. He let Bucky lift his head so he could take a drink of the foul tasting alcohol. After several forced gulps, Tony nodded, eyes still shut, telling Bucky that was all he was able to drink for now. Bucky took a swig of his own. God, this stuff tasted like cleaning fluid. He’d tried mixing it with fruit juice earlier, but Tony’s pain required the stuff straight. And even then it didn’t do much.

“Try calling again.” Tony croaked weakly as Bucky gently lay his head back onto the pillow.

Seeing Tony in so much pain made Bucky both reluctant and frantic to flip the phone back opened. Tony went ridged with pain as the phone buzzed. It was a mercy the cold forced Tony to keep several shirts and a sweatshirt on, so at least neither of them had to see the ugly veins probably spidering out of his arc reactor. With his free hand, Bucky rubbed Tony’s chest around the metal cylinder, in a small attempt to sooth the pain.

“Tony? Bucky?”

“Bucky.”

Tony at least seemed to relax a little bit from the sound of Steve’s voice.

Bucky asked, “Are you still in space?”

“Yeah. Well, no. We’re on an alien planet, trying to find parts to repair the ship. I’m still with Rocket and Groot and the fairy girls.”

A low female voice from the other end sassed irritably, “‘fairy girls?’”

“Well you’re green, and she’s got antenna—Bucky, how’s Tony?”

“Not good.” Bucky continued rubbing Tony’s chest. “He might be dying Steve.”

“Get him to a hospital." Steve ordered. "There only might be a Hydra agent there.”

“Ross is out looking for us all, Steve. He’s offered bounties of two million, and that’s just for the lower rankers like Wanda and Nat. Who can we call to come get us? I’m not taking him out on the snowmobile Steve.”

Steve sighed heavily. “Okay Stark Industries is a ‘no’…Shield’s not an option anymore…” he swore.

“Is there anyone or, or any facility that we can maybe bribe or something? That isn’t too loyal to the government?”

Tony croaked, “Or at least Ross?”

“Ross!” Steve snapped his fingers. “Betty Ross! Dr. Betty Ross!”

Tony blinked. “Bruce’s old girl?”

“Yes. Thunderbolt’s daughter. She hates her father. She hid Bruce from him, she’ll hide his friends too. I’m sure of it.”

“Does she have a helicopter or something that can come get us?” Bucky asked dubiously.

“She just might. She works with Thor’s ex now, what’s-her-name Jane? At the observatory somewhere in Europe, actually! Call Betty Ross, she’s your best bet.”

“Okay do you have her number?”

Steve swore. “I don’t. You don’t have internet there?

“Just a radio.”

He and Steve bounced ideas off each other, while Tony seemingly fell asleep. The signal soon dropped, but luckily Steve had given Bucky an idea. Tony’s eyes slid back opened, just slightly. Bucky’s hand came up to caress his face.

“Babe,” Bucky said softly. “I got an idea but I’ll have to make a lot of phone calls.”

Tony’s eyes shut again. “Do it.”

First, Bucky picked up the I-pod and flipped through the songs. “Here’s one Steve and I used to love, when we were kids. My mom once beat me with a broom when she caught us listening to it…”

He put one bud in his own ear, to check the volume for Tony. Muffled, old-timey music started up.

“There’s one pet I love to pet, and in the evening we get set, I stroke it any chance I get it’s myyyy giiiirl’s pussyyyyy….!”

Tony didn’t have the strength to laugh or smile, but he groaned humorously, “Wholesome ‘40s.”

“’30s actually,” Bucky corrected, returning the earbud to Tony.

Bucky dialed a random number on the phone, using an American area code. “Hello, is Dr. Betty Ross there? …I’m sorry, must have the wrong number. Damn. Say hang on, can you do me a favor? I’ve lost my phone book and I don’t have internet access at the mo…oh thank you so much, ma’am!” The stranger looked up Dr. Betty Ross online for him. Bucky jotted down all the contact information of her facility. “Thanks so much ma’am!” Hoping to worm the time out of the woman without giving too much away, he said casually, “I’m sorry to call at this hour.”

“Oh,” the woman made a sound through her lips. “I don’t start work till ‘nine, you’re good!”

She didn’t sound tired enough for it to be any time before six, Bucky thought. Doing some math in his head, he calculated that Betty Ross, stationed in Alaska, was probably asleep next to a clock that read “2:(something) A.M.” Shit. Well, he’d just have to wake her up, because Tony couldn’t wait.

Not surprisingly, no one picked up the phone. He was calling the research facility, where the scientists apparently lived. He called four more times, before someone finally answered.

“Daaaaarcy Lewis! A.K.A. Dr. Lewish A.K.A. the Intern’s Intern, talk to me babe!”

Darcy Lewis sounded oddly awake for two in the morning, but Bucky couldn’t care less. “Hi. May I speak to Dr. Betty Ross please?”

“May I ask who’s calling please?”

“I can’t say. I need Dr. Ross.”

“Well I’m pretty sure she’s asleep right now.”

“Then wake her up. This can’t wait.”

Darcy Lewis sighed, replied in an if-you-really-must tone, “Okaaay.” Apparently the facility was quite large, and he heard her going up several stairs. “Y’know I’m a scientist too, maybe I can help you out.”

“It’s gotta be Ross, sorry.”

“Is this Bruce Banner?”

“No.”

“One of the other Aven—”

“No!”

Bucky took a deep breath, and then took another swig of sour vodka.

“Okay well I hate to burst your bubble but this place is kinda big and the elevator’s slow as tits, so this could take a while, and if I don’t know what to call you this’ll be a very long night.”

“Bucky Barnes.” Fuck it.

Darcy burst out in a fit of giggles. “Is that a Loony Tunes character?”

“Yes.” Bucky snapped, having another sip.

“S-s-so what’cho been up to, ‘Bucky Barnes?’”

“Literally nothing. We’ve been here for almost a month and we’ve both got cabin fever something fierce—”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

Shit.

“No one.”

“Girlfriend?”

“No.”

“Boyfriend?”

Bucky glanced down at Tony. His eyes were shut, but he wasn’t snoring, and the I-pod was awfully quiet. He was fisting part of the blanket, reminding Bucky of the pain this call was causing him.

“Look just run to wherever Dr. Ross is, I’m kind of in a rush.”

Darcy squealed, “Aaaaaaaah it IS a boyfriend! What’s his name?”

Without opening his eyes, Tony said as loudly as his weakened state could allow, “Tony Stark.”

“Did you say Tony Stark?”

Bucky answered for him, “Yes! The Tony Stark! Tony Stark needs you to get Dr. Ross for us, now!”

Both Tony and Bucky were sure that would speed things up, but Darcy’s reactions remained frustratingly slow.

“You’re Tony fucking Stark?”

“Yes, to all three.” Tony smirked up at Bucky who narrowed his eyes irritably.

Darcy took a deep breath. “Mr. Stark I swear I’m not trying to suck up, but I am honestly, no lie, as we speak on this phone, I am literally smoking from an Iron Man bong. It’s got a little arc reactor that lights up whenever you take a huff,” she paused to do just that. “It’s pretty sweet.”

“I’ll have to try it sometime,” Tony’s voice was losing its volume.

Bucky snapped, “Please get us Betty Ross.”

“If I get you Betty will Tony Stark sign my Iron Man bong?”

His eyes shut again, Tony replied, “I’ll autograph your tits for you if you get us Ross.”

There was the sound of Darcy making some fast movement. “Oh sorry, you can’t see a salute over the phone can you.” She giggled, clearly intoxicated.

“Hurry up!” Bucky barked.

“You know something Bucky Barnes, I don’t see why you’re so…” she seemed to miss a step and caught herself. “…so pissed off about. If I was in a roman’ic getaway with my boyfriend who was Tony fucking Stark I’d be in a lot better mood.”

Bucky slowly finished his long swig of vodka, then slammed the bottle down onto the bedside table, making Tony jump where he lay. Bucky began ranting at lightspeed. “Yeah, it’s been a romantic getaway vacation here in fuck-freezing Siberia! Tony’s had a fantastic two months you know what Tony was doing for the last two months? He was getting tortured by a psychopath, getting whipped with a chain and burned with his own arc reactor," he was aware of Tony rolling over and cringing slightly in his "sleep" but didn't even care. "...had his belly cut open with no anesthesia, and every oth—” Darcy was laughing. “You think that’s funny?”

“I saw that one!”

“….What?”

“With Eddie Izzard! Where he cuts the dude’s stomach opened and takes all his organs out. My little sister made me watch that episode on a bet! And I was just like, 'is that Morpheus?'”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

….what were we talking about?”

He shouted, making Tony shift in his sleep again, “For piss sake, get me Dr. Ross!”

“Hey honey easy on the eardrums, I only got two of those you know.”

“And nothing in between them.”

“Gimme a break. My girlfriend used me to get hired on as our security head and then du--tricked me into dumping her--like half a month later so I'm in my full right to get stoned.”

Bucky's mind snapped to attention at that. "Who used you to--?"

Darcy wasn't hearing him, now giving a lazy but hard rap at a door. “Betty? Betty?” Door creaking opened. “Hey, Betty?”

A soft, feminine voice groggy with fatigue replied, “What?”

“Phone.”

“Who?”

“A grumpy sober guy named Bucky Barnes. And he’s with Tony Stark!”

If Betty gave a reaction, it wasn't one Bucky could hear over the phone.

Betty Ross answered the phone, her already soft voice practically ghostly with fatigue. “Dr. Ross speaking?”

“Dr. Ross I’m very sorry to wake you at this hour but this really cannot wait. My name is James Buchanan Barnes.” No reaction. “Also known as the Winter Soldier.”

That woke her up. He could hear her sitting up on the bed. “Go on.”

“I’m with Tony Stark.”

“Alright,” she sounded attentive, like she appreciated the seriousness of this conversation, but didn’t react quite the way he expected her to.

The Tony Stark.”

She grumbled, probably running a hand through her hair,“I know who Tony Stark is.”

“He’s been missing—”

“I watch the news Mr. Barnes. And I dated Bruce Banner. I’m used to all this super-shit.” She sighed. “I’m sorry Mr. Barnes, I’m tired. What can I do for you two?”

“Um…help us get Tony to a hospital where someone won’t try to kill him in his sleep. Or arrest either of us.”

“You do know my father is…” She sighed. “Of course, that’s why you’re calling me.

“You’re not—I mean I’m sure your father’s a fine person,”

Betty snorted. “More so since I filed the restraining order.” He heard Betty crack her back and mumble to herself, “Mmmfffuck.... Okay listen, Barnes, we have a medical team on sight, and we have a plane. I can get some people over there, but we’re bringing some security.”

“I guess that’s fair.” Bucky thought for a moment, then asked, “You really trust me enough even for that?”

“Well,” she yawned. “I figure, my dad hates you so much, you can’t be all that bad.”

Bucky gave a short breath that substituted as a laugh. “And you, you know everyone who works for you?”

“Who works with me, Barnes. I don’t run this place. I’m just one of the lead scientists. But we can trust everyone here. Even Darcy, when she’s sober. So how dire is this?”

“Tony might be dying. He’s hurt bad.”

“What happened?” she asked, with peaking concern.

“He was tortured for two months, and…and other things. I think he’s got internal injuries or infections, but he could also have a disease...”

“….Jesus…” Sound of Ross quickly sliding out of bed, turning on lights. “Okay where are you?”

“Uh, Siberia.”

“Siberia? ...Thank god! That’s not too far from Alaska!”

“I guess not.”

“Yah, ay kin see Russia from mey bedrooom weendooo!”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. Hang tight Barnes, I’m going to wake Erik and Jane.”

Chapter Text

Over the last two years, Bucky had experienced a handful of recurring nightmares. The worst involved his family or Steve. But after that, two of the worst those two years had been having to face Tony about murdering his parents—often with Tony trying to kill him—and being back at a Hydra base. Not once had either of those nightmares ever turned into a good dream, except here in the waking world.

Tony seemed to be sleeping peacefully, but given how weak he was now, he could be having a horrible dream and no one watching him would be the wiser. Bucky shifted on the bed next to Tony, wrapping his human arm around him. They were still in the bunker, waiting for Betty Ross and her doctors to show up.

Tony’s nightmares—he’d confessed to Bucky days ago—had involved a number of things, but in none of them had it ever occurred to him that his parents had been murdered, or that his teammates would betray him.

“Dreams are just your brain practicing for things that might happen, Bucky’s mom had told him when he was little.

Bucky had gone on to repeat that to his younger siblings and Steve.

Bucky had had two years to prepare for the fight here in Siberia. And so had Steve.

“This won’t change what happened…I could do this all day!....” God. Bucky’s stomach churned at that. For Tony, and for poor brain-dead Steve.

Steve had always been dangerously stupid in all areas outside battle strategies, and abnormally lacking in social skills; but even for him, that cold lack of empathy was not normal. (To say nothing of how bizarre those words were for someone supposedly hellbent on protecting Bucky from Tony’s wrath.) Bucky recalled King T’Challa, his sister Shuri, their mother and their guard Okoye, all staring in bafflement as Steve recounted the events in the bunker to them.

“So,” the dowager queen had asked gently, “The last thing you said to Stark was….”

“‘I could do this all day.’” Steve shrugged, like, what should I have said?

And Princess Shuri’s flat response: “What zebra shit.” Then waking out of the room.

Even less diplomatic had been Scott. The “Ant Man” had paid them a visit in Wakanda, shortly before accepting his plea deal with the U.S. government. Steve had recounted the events in Siberia to Scott, and Scott had not been too impressed.

“You were my idol Rogers!”

Bucky watched as Scott—ant-sized—stood on the bent straw in Steve’s tropical drink, yelling up at the supersoldier.

“You were supposed to be everything I’m trying to be and instead you make me feel horrible Stark! You…when you make me feel bad for Tony Stark you’ve officially failed as a superhero!”

To most people, Steve’s reaction to both conversations would read as comically blank. But to Bucky, Steve may as well have been sobbing. Social and facial handicaps, Bucky decided, were a horrible combination.

But even for Steve… especially for Steve…. Steve was an idiot at times, but he’d always been overflowing with empathy for others.

Had he just been so blinded by his obsession for Bucky, that Steve had suffered a temporary attack of amnesia regarding Tony’s situation and his own part in it? Was it the supersoldier serum mixing badly with seventy years of ice? Some bizarre brand of PTSD? Autism? Or…

Bucky glanced around the Hydra bedroom they slept in, as a shiver jolted through him.

Tony suddenly mumbled, “What’re you thinking about.”

“You’re awake!”

“Mmmm.”

Tony's eyes remained shut.

Bucky nuzzled against into Tony’s graying chocolate hair. “It’s not fair.”

“With us pair you gotta specify with that phrase.”

Bucky smiled into his lover’s hair. “I’m a century old and I’m still twenty-whatever.” While the child I orphaned is aging and dying before my eyes.

Tony agreed, his eyes still shut. “Really unfair. You’ll live forever and never become a silver fox. If you try to wear a vest you’ll just look like a dork instead of the world’s kinkiest dad.” His hand went to Bucky’s abs. “And I get no pillow.”

“Shit.” Bucky kissed his cheek. “So what’re you thinking about babe?”

“Zemo.” Tony’s voice and face betrayed no emotion other than obsessive scientific curiosity. “There is just no way he was able to do all this on his own. His revenge plan to break up the Avengers, it relied heavily on so much shit he couldn’t have known about ahead of time.”

“Maybe he was just adjusting his plan as he saw one opportunity after another.”

“But what was his original plan then? He studied the shit out of all of us—how? He knew things you don’t just get from tabloids and online forums. He had help from Hydra.”

“Probably.” Bucky squeezed Tony in both arms. “Hydra’s not getting near you.”

“Hydra doesn’t want me. I was just a tool to break up the Avengers and then payment for that sick fuck. I’m a basket case, everyone’s known it since before I was even Iron Man. If you want to fuck up the Avengers and have a prize to pay off some sadistic psycho to help you do it, Tony Stark is your man.”

Bucky tightened his hold on Tony.

“What do you think Hydra wants?” Bucky asked.

“Two guesses.”

Bucky breathed deeply. “Two supersoldiers.”

Steve, at least, was safe up in space. But what if Betty Ross was wrong about her coworkers? A Hydra agent in her lab, in the operating room, with Bucky and Tony… Tony was due for a third and proper surgery once they were back in Alaska, and Betty had promised Bucky could be with Tony for it. Bucky had no desire to see his lover get disassembled; but he was going to watch every second like a hawk and make sure no one tried sneaking any poison, or hostile technology or whatever else a Hydra agent might have up their sleeve, into Tony when he was being put back together.

“That Betty Ross,” Bucky asked timidly, “Steve knows her pretty well huh? I mean we know we can trust her, and trust her to trust her comrades and all that?”

Tony finally opened his Hershey eyes. “How should I know? I never even met the woman, I just know her as Bruce’s ex and a person unfortunate enough to be related to our asinine Secretary of State.”

Bucky groaned, “God I wish we were up there with Steve right now.”

--

Betty’s voice. “I thought Bruce had it bad. That poor guy.”

“But he doesn’t switch back and forth like Bruce unless someone turns the Winter Soldier on, right?” Jane. "That came out wrong..."

Betty made a small sound at Jane's unintentional innuendo. “That’s what the files say at least. Imagine being stuck back at one of their bases, for him…”

And then Erik Selvig: “Imagine him alone with the guy who created Ultron.”

“Well I don’t think Stark did that on purpose,” Jane countered.

“Still,” Erik grunted, “We best be getting those two out of there before Stark decides to try fixing Barnes on his own.”

“Sorry, any of us actually ever met Tony Stark?” Betty argued. “Anyway what Bucky Barnes said, he can’t even get out of bed…”

“I’m surprised I can,” Darcy said finally, rising off of the couch and cracking her back. God this hangover sucked. “So we really are on the jet going to Siberia, to get Tony Stark and some guy named Bucky Barnacle? That wasn’t a dream?”

Betty slowly closed her eyes. “Bucky Barnes.”

Darcy yawned. “Still sounds like something outta’ ‘Spongebob.’”

They were in the jet’s lounge. Jane, Betty, and Erik sat around the coffee table, sipping some quick stimulation for the long night ahead.

Another figure appeared in the doorway, one Darcy was not eager to see. Lush blonde hair, framing dark eyes. Darcy had found that odd combination enticing once. Sharon Carter cleared her throat. “We’re in Siberia. We should be at the bunker in half an hour.”

“Good,” Erik said. “Get this over with. Every second I’m paranoid some Hydra wankers will get there before us and have the Winter Soldier activated…”

“Same here,” Sharon sighed, running a hand through her blonde locks. “Barnes, he’s… he may seem unapproachable and emo, but he’s really a huge cinnamon roll. Seeing him turn into the Winter Soldier again….just no.”

Darcy sneered, “Yeah, it sucks when someone just changes on you overnight.”

Sharon’s black eyes rolled heavenward. “Oh my god, what am I your first lesbian break-up? You dumped me Darce!”

“After you completely lost interest in me, just weeks after I got you hired on as our security chief. Hey wasn’t that Shield place you worked for taken over by Hydra?”

“Yes Darcy, I’m a Hydra agent. That’s why I’m here using my real name, and letting you all know I used to be a Shield Agent and currently work for the CIA.” Sharon sighed, shaking her head.

“The government’s quadrupled their background checks for all agents like Sharon since that Hydra shit,” Erik reminded Darcy.

Darcy remained miffed. “And if we can’t trust the government who can we trust.”

Sharon turned back to Darcy. “Hey tell you what; if I try to put a bullet in Bucky or Tony, you can put one in me first. Deal?”

“Deal!” Darcy snapped, eyes wide and angry.

Betty groaned, rubbing her head. “Zip it, both of you.”

--

A jet thundered overhead.

Tony and Bucky’s eyes both flew opened, and met.

He’d gotten so used to living in his nightmare with Tony, started to like it, part of Bucky was apprehensive—terrified—of going back out into the world. Would Tony be the same person outside this bunker, when Bucky was no longer his only company? Would he remember to hate Bucky again, when he was back with decent human beings, who hadn’t murdered his parents?

Tony’s mouth didn’t budge, but he was smiling at Bucky with his eyes. Howard’s eyes.

When they’d first seen the video, and Tony had glared at him, Bucky had seen Howard’s eyes glaring at him, with Howard and Bucky also on the screen right behind him. The face glaring at him demanded,Why are you murdering me, Sargent Barnes? Aren't we friends? Didn't we fight the Nazis together?

Bucky realized then just how important Tony’s approval—and survival—were to him. Saving Howard’s son and being loved by Howard’s son was the only way he could be Bucky Barnes again.

Tony closed his eyes and nuzzled into Bucky’s mane of hair.

Boots tore down the hall towards their room, and Bucky shot up.

A familiar blonde woman paused by the partially opened door. “Barnes? Bucky?”

“Sharon,” Bucky lowered his robotic arm-gun.

Sharon stepped into the room, gun ready in both hands. “Bucky listen to me, Tony’s gonna be fine. But you should get out of here. Now.”

Tony did a double-take where he lay, and Bucky leaped off the bed, his weaponized arm coming back up. “What did you do?”

“Saved Tony’s life, and now I’m trying to save yours.”

“WHAT DID Y—”

A raspy female voice—like a naturally soft voice not used to shouting—suddenly echoed through the halls, “YOU SON OF A BITCH! WHAT PART OF 500 METERS DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?”

“DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR GRANDMOTHER THAT WAY. TELL US WHERE BARNES IS…”

As the shouting match continued, Sharon turned back to Bucky, her dark eyes desperate. “Bucky please,”

Part of Bucky wanted to blow her head off. Instead, he lowered his arm and spun around in one slick motion, scooping Tony up in both arms.

“Bucky,” Sharon’s voice rose. “No! BUCKY!”

Bucky shoved past her and checked the hall, before taking off.

Betty Ross and her putrid father could still be heard arguing over the sound of military officers shouting orders.

“I’LL HAVE YOU ARRESTED FOR VIOLATING THE RESTRAINING ORDER—”

“I COULD HAVE YOU EXECUTED FOR TREASON!

“Bucky,” Tony clutched Bucky’s red sweatshirt. “Bucky they won’t hurt me. I’m too valuable. I’ll tell them you went…somewhere, we can meet up again later,”

“Horse shit. Betty's dad is with Hydra.”

Bucky dashed down the halls and superhuman speed. His superhuman balance and strength kept it from being a bumpy ride for Tony. In fact it seemed to be lulling him back to sleep, with his eyes sagging. Or maybe he was passing out from anxiety (was that possible?). Bucky found a window, not far from the snowmobile. He searched for a door and found none. The sound of Thaddeus Ross’s army was echoing closer. Bucky shifted Tony into his human arm, and put his metal one through the window. Tossing Tony over his shoulder, he leaped up onto the window frame and kicked some more glass out, until he could get himself and Tony through without getting cut. The Siberian cold that hit Bucky didn’t hurt, but it reminded him of that Tony was only wearing three long-sleeved shirts and a pair of jeans and socks. His lover was shivering in his arms now, his breath visible in front of his face. His eyes were shut.

“Tony?”

Tony seemed to struggle to get his eyes opened just a crack, before they fell shut again.

Bucky tore through the snow to the mobile. Setting Tony down in the snow, Bucky ripped off his hoodie, destroying the zipper, and then yanked off both shirts he wore underneath. He yanked one shirt over Tony’s body, and struggled to get one arm through one sleeve. The sound of Thaddeus Ross’s shouting was the first thing to make Bucky freeze since heading outside.

Fuck the arms.

Tony couldn’t use them at the moment anyway.

Bucky pulled the second shirt over Tony, and then wrapped him in the broken red hoodie. Then hauled him up onto the snowmobile and took off, full speed. Where to, he had no idea. The cold bit his bare back and arms, with his bundled boyfriend providing the only warmth pressed against his front.

Gunshots followed them through the trees. Even for the Winter Soldier, it was a challenge to maneuver around trees and bullets simultaneously, while trying not to lose hold of Tony. When Bucky saw a white clearing in the snowy woods he sped right to it without a thought.

The ground was smooth here. Only when they were in the middle of the frozen lake did Bucky realize his mistake. But the ice had held so far. He tried to speed up, but the mobile was already flying across the snow-covered lake at full velocity.

Gunshots made Bucky instinctively duck to shield Tony. None hit them.

Were those holes in the snow in front of—

A deafening crack shattered Bucky’s eardrums, and the ice.

Even for the supersoldier, the cold of the icy water hit Bucky like knifes. The gunshots briefly continued above, before someone barked an order for them to ceasefire.

Bucky had them both back at the surface in seconds.

“FREEZE!”

The voice that carried across the lake was unmistakably “Thunderbolt” Ross’s. A ways away, Thunderbolt and his squad stood lined up at the frozen shore, guns pointed at Bucky and Tony.

Perhaps with some help from his superhuman senses, Bucky heard Thunderbolt say into his walkie-talkie, “We have a hostage situation.”

Bucky quickly glanced at his “hostage” to see Tony sagging limply in his arms, eyes still shut. He couldn’t tell if Tony was breathing or not.

Bucky had an idea, but it meant exposing Tony to more of the icy water. He’d gladly surrender Tony and himself right now, if he wasn’t convinced that Thunderbolt was with Hydra.

At least the water wasn’t specifically trying to kill Tony.

Bucky ducked back under the water and took off, clutching Tony tightly against his chest.

Tony wasn’t heavy, but this water was cold, even for post-Winter-Soldier Bucky.

But Bucky had spent seventy years being literally frozen. And as the Winter Soldier he’d endured far worse, with only the mission on his mind. Mentally, he dressed himself in his full Winter Soldier garb, complete with the mask, and shot forward.

Seconds later, his metal fist came up through the ice, near the opposite shore of the lake.

--

Having served with the CIA for quite a while, Agent Everett Ross knew a few tricks that Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross did not. The former army general was, predictably, leading his men on a search for footprints and broken branches, with the tracking technology they had providing minimal help in this wilderness.

Everett, on the other hand, knew the Winter Soldier wouldn’t need to leave any footprints here.

Everett scanned the forest. If I had super-strength, super-speed, super-jumping powers, and a metal arm-gun that could go through pretty much anything….which tree would I be hiding in?

He tapped his wristwatch, activating the device that picked up on the body temperatures of nearby lifeforms. It was Tony Stark, ironically, who’d invented this gadget. Everett wasted no time walking slowly and quietly; Barnes would have made significant distance in seconds once leaping out of that lake and getting into the treetops.

Though virtually all of the Avengers, and former Avengers, remained missing, the government had made some significant intel developments on some of them. The CIA had proof now that Howard and Maria Stark’s car crash had been no “accident,” and their killer had been the Winter Soldier. It was now believed that Tony Stark knew about this before he vanished, and had gotten himself captured or killed on an impulsive quest for either the truth or revenge or both. Everett hoped that wasn’t the case. Evidence pointed to James Barnes being essentially mind-controlled by Hydra during his time as the Winter Soldier; if Stark knew about this, he hopefully wouldn’t blame Barnes for what he’d done.

“You obviously don’t know Stark very well,” Thaddeus had grunted over his oatmeal, when Everett proposed the idea at breakfast.

“And you do?” Everett pressed. “You don’t exactly have the best track record for judging character, Teddy. That’s why I’m the secret agent and you’re just the politician.”

When Agent Carter had called in four hours prior, to inform Everett that Barnes and Stark were together in Siberia, Everett and Thaddeus had moved urgently. According to Carter, according to Betty, Barnes had rescued Tony from someone with Hydra, or in league with Hydra, and the two had been hiding out there. And Stark was gravely injured or ill or both. Naturally, Thaddeus doubted the story Carter had heard from Betty from Barnes. Barnes could be under Hydra’s control again, setting a trap; or it could be a trap by a willing Barnes on behalf of "Team Captain America" (as the media had dubbed the outlawed Avengers); or he could simply be insane and acting on his own, having no clue what he was really doing.

Unfortunately, the deeper into the woods Everett got, the more lifeforms cluttered the information in his “watch.” Four deer, one moose, and one bear later, he finally picked up a pair of large lifeforms. Plenty of trees nearby were large enough and dead enough for two people to fit inside comfortably. Barnes would know better than to hide in a place that looked comfortable.

He tracked the lifeforms to a massive, dead tree with thick, twisted branches sagging low, several broken right off. The obvious place to hide would be in one of those broken-off branches, or the tree’s trunk. Naturally, Barnes and Stark were not in either. But the branches still attached to the tree, sagging at awkward angles... Most people wouldn’t guess anyone could fit in there, or that those branches would even be hallow. But with the kind of technology that robot arm likely had, Barns could possibly make a branch hallow. And make himself a door.

Everett followed his watch’s signals to a massive sagging branch. He felt along the old bark, until he found the “door.” Barnes had used a knife or laser to carve a crude oval in the branch’s side. Everett yanked it away and brought up his gun, while Barnes brought up his metal arm.

Barnes lay on his side, with Stark pressed against him. Stark looked unconscious. Barnes looked homicidal. Wide gray eyes glared at Everett under a curtain of disheveled hair, daring him to move. He was shirtless, and Stark was bundled up in what looked like all the shirts Barnes had previously been wearing.

Everett slowly moved up his gun and raised both hands, but kept his finger near the trigger.

As calmly as he could, Everett asked, “Who’s your friend?”

“Y’know fuck well who we are.”

“But do you?” Everett pressed, raising his eyebrows urgently.

Barnes tightened his hold on Stark.

“Can you tell me your name?” Everett asked. “Your real name?”

“James Buchannan Barnes. I’m not Hydra’s toy anymore!” he spat the last sentence threateningly.

Everett swallowed. “Do I look like I’m with Hydra?”

“Yes.”

That made him jump inwardly, just a little. But…. “Fair enough I suppose.” He carefully knelt to Barnes’ eye level. “I’m here to help you. Both of you.”

“We had a deal with Dr. Betty Ross.”

“I’m afraid that’s off the table. But I’m the next best Ross you can get.”

“No sale.”

Barnes’ eyes were vicious and threatening, but they were also glistening.

At least Barnes wasn’t the Winter Soldier at the moment. His tone and posture told Everett he was deeply protective of Tony Stark. But was that because the two were on amicable terms now, or was this merely a guilty conscience? Stark looked pretty banged up, to put it mildly. Had Barnes been forced to do that in self-defense?

“Is there any way you can trust me?” Everett asked.

“Get me Betty Ross.”

“I’ll see what I can do. But Bar—”

As Everett had inched forward, Bucky inched back, pressing Tony into his chest and bringing his metal fist up threateningly.

“All right, we’ve established that I might be with Hydra. But suppose for a moment I’m not, suppose I’m just an agent trying to recover two injured soldiers, at least one of whom I know for a fact has had his mind cruelly tampered with. Now look at this from my angel: Stark goes missing, you go missing. We find out that…Hydra…killed Stark’s parents, using you. And then we find,” he gestured to Barnes. “Put yourself in my shoes.”

Barnes’ lips parted. “You think I did all this him?”

“I don’t think you’d want to hurt anyone Barnes. But we both know you’re not always in control of yourself. And I understand Tony Stark can be rather impulsive.”

Clouds of Siberian breath billowed from Barnes mouth, and Everett saw a couple of tears run down his face. “The last time I was the Winter Soldier was when I first escaped you.” Barnes added in a shaking voice, “And Tony didn’t know, not until he and I and Steve were already here at the bunker.”

Everett assumed they’d found some documents or something in Siberia that revealed the information. “So… I’m guessing Stark lost it. You had to defend yourself.”

Barnes looked on the verge of a breakdown.

“Who hurt Tony?”

Use first names. Keep it personal, not militant.

“We left him.” More tears rolled down Bucky’s face and he pressed Tony against him. “Tony tried to kill me, Steve,” he swallowed, “broke his suit. Got me out of there. He told me…we both assumed he’d get himself out. We thought Zemo had already left the place. And that he was just a regular civilian, no match for Tony even hand-to-hand.”

“Zemo. That’ll be that quack shrink who activated your Winter Soldier programing, and bombed the embassy. Right?” Barnes gave a short nod. “It wasn’t you at all then, all these months. I mean you weren’t the one holding Stark and…” he waved a finger in the air, “doing all this to him. You just had a brief squabble. All of this was Zemo from the start, wasn’t it.”

“Yes.”

“Where’s he now?”

“Dead. I—” Horror came over his face, and he almost slowly closed his eyes but thought better of it. “I cremated his remains in the crematorium.”

Everett shared Barnes’ frustration. Fuck. No body, no evidence.

Everett bit his lip. Glancing around, he mused, “Well I don’t suppose you could very well burry him in this cold. I’m sure there’s other evidence we can find to back your story up. And I do believe your story.”

Barnes’ eyes twitched, as if he wanted to believe Everett.

“I’m a CIA, it’s my job to be an excellent judge of character. I’m occasionally wrong, and I never make full assumptions. But your story holds a lot more water for me than any other theories I’ve heard. Does Stark know you saved him?”

“We’ve been together almost a month.” He added quickly, “Here at this place, I mean.”

Tony and the guy who’d killed his parents, oddly enough, made a bizarre kind of sense. Stark had famously become Iron Man out of a sense of guilt for the people killed by his weapons. And Barnes seemed like the kind of hot-head Stark would relate to. Anyway, Everett could certainly see Stark with Barnes a lot easier than someone like, say, Rogers. He’d never believed those rumors.

“He won’t last long without medical attention, you know that.”

Barnes swallowed, shaking. “I stay with him.”

“…well that might be a problem.”

Barnes tightened his grip on Tony again.

Everett ran a hand over his mouth. “If I’m Hydra, then Tony Stark would be a damned valuable prisoner, wouldn’t he? Would even the worst people risk hurting such a valuable hostage?”

A long silence.

Everett continued, “If Zemo was able to control you with a list of words…words Hydra created….then if there’s a Hydra agent anywhere nearby, would it really be safer for Tony if you’re near him?”

Barnes was an animal in the headlights.

Everett said gravely, “Thunderbolt Ross is a cold-hearted son of a fuck, but unfortunately his idea of dealing with this might be the best option we all have at the moment.”

“His own daughter filed a restraining order against him.”

“I don’t blame her. But—”

Soldiers were creeping out of the trees, guns raised.

Everett didn’t have to turn around to know his husband was right behind him.

Fuck.

Thaddeus didn’t say “well done Agent” at least. Just began barking orders. Shaking, Barnes surrendered Tony to the paramedics, his hand briefly clinging to Tony’s before letting go. He rose his own two hands. When the guards took ahold of his arms, they didn’t cuff them together; instead, they applied a technical device that removed his metallic arm, far more violently than necessary. Barnes let out a long cry of pain.

“Hey!” Everett snapped at the soldiers.

“Hey what, he’s a fuckin’ murderer,” one soldier spat.

“Innocent until proven guilty!”

Barnes’ tears continued to flow silently as they locked his arm into a restraint around his waist. Everett wanted desperately to let Barnes hold Tony’s hand all the way back to the hospital, and continue the interrogation with Barnes holding his love and watching him be healed. But if there really was a Hydra agent amongst them, that would be like dangling a steak in front of a wolf. Some sadistic bastard would probably jump to the chance to make Bucky torture Tony further, or just finish off the Starks. It was one of Thunderbolt’s positives that he understood loving often meant being the “bad guy,” temporarily. If only Teddy didn’t get so fucking carried away so much of the time.

--

Bucky watched them cut the top two shirts off of Tony, freeing his limp arms, and move him onto a stretcher. His heart froze when he saw them strap Tony down. Bucky knew that was procedure—seat-belts, basically—but seventy years of Hydra examination tables flew back to him. And Tony fastened to the barred window, being used as a living battery. What if Zemo had only been testing a prototype, and someone more powerful—like “Thunderbolt”—was going to continue the research?

Bucky roared through his teeth and fought against his restraint. He’d broken out of that fucking chair and bulletproof glass, he could snap out of this stupid belt.

The next several minutes were a blur of struggling, kicking, punching and shouting, before someone stuck a needle in the largest vein at the bottom of his arm-stump.

Chapter Text

The cushions beneath him reassured him he wasn’t waking up in a Hydra lab. The restraints and disorientation crushed any hopes of waking up safe in a bed, with Tony nearby. Bucky jolted against the metal restraints a few times before giving up. They’d upgraded since his last capture. His metallic arm was also gone. He was lying on a cushioned slab at an angle. The room looked like the bastard offspring of a Hydra lab and a hospital room, with less creativity than either.

“Where’s Tony?” it came out slurred; his jaw ached.

A doctor or scientist looked up from a computer, but didn't address Bucky. “Sir…”

Thunderbolt Ross--the fucking Hydra agent, Bucky was sure--strode towards him.

“Barnes,”

“Where’s Tony?” Bucky barked.

“Far away from you.”

“What’d you do to him?”

“Saved him from you, you lunatic.”

“Whatever you think you know...”

“I know you took off with Stark as soon as help arrived—”

“We were waiting for help! We had a deal with Dr. Ross—”

“When the law showed up, you took Stark into the Siberian wilderness with no jacket, and haled him through an icy lake and then into a tree trunk. You expect me to believe anything you say? Much less allow my daughter near any of you freaks?”

“You expect me to believe you’re not with Hydra?”

“…what?”

“Fuck you!”

Thunderbolt glanced at the doctor at the computer. “What’s wrong with him?”

The doctor made a gesture toward the computer, which he was probably monitoring Bucky’s body or brain with. “…how much time ‘we got Mr. Secretary?”

“Is his Winter Soldier shit malfunctioning?”

“Where’s Tony?!” Bucky yelled. “What’re you doing to him?”

“Why don’t you tell me what you did to him.” Ross fired back.

“I saved his life! From the psycho you left me alone with and set this all off.”

“Then why did my doctors find your DNA in all of the incisions in Stark’s body, including the one in his ass?”

Ice poured through Bucky’s body.

“Sir,” the doctor or scientist said quietly, “We’re not actually finished exa—”

“Shut up!” Ross hissed, then glared back at Bucky. “So what was this Barnes, business or pleasure?”

Under his disheveled hair, Bucky croaked, “…what?”

“Did you capture him for Rogers, as part of the Avengers' little feud? Or did your personal feud with Howard Stark extend to his son as well as his wife?”

Bucky screamed, “Fuck you! You know that wasn’t me, that was you! Hydra!”

Bucky was certain now that Tony was in some other room, strapped down like Bucky, being tortured or experimented on. Or already dead. Because Bucky had been stupid enough to just hand him over. After dragging Tony through Siberia with no coat, through ice-cold water. After keeping him from a hospital for a two months, after ripping him opened and digging dirty wires out of his guts with one unwashed hand and no anesthesia. After leaving him broken in every sense of the word in Siberia, after saying nothing about murdering his parents in front of him.

Thunderbolt’s hand seized Bucky’s chin, which was now soaked with tears. The ordinary human couldn’t make the supersoldier's face budge, but he had his attention.

“I wanna know what you did and why.”

“I saved him. From the sick fuck you left me with. From Hydra, from you!” Bucky began screaming again.

The doctor reported urgently, “His heart rate—”

“Can wait!” Thaddeus roared.

“That’s not how biology works!” the doctor exclaimed, exasperated.

Bucky shouted, “why don’t you at least have the balls to admit you’re with Hyd—”

A plastic cup covered Bucky's mouth and nose. His face began to tingle, followed by the rest of his body.

Thaddeus asked the doctor, “That’ll calm him down?”

“That’ll knock him out.”

“I need him awake! Now!”

Over the sound of Thaddeus’s shouts, Bucky heard the doctor calmly explaining, “Fuck you, Mr. Secretary,” before he blacked out again.

--

Tony couldn’t tell if he was flying or floating. The bright hostpial lights told him he was in fact just high as a kite on painkillers. A jungle of wires and tubes surrounded him, and a familiar blue glow emitted a nearby table. His arc reactor was outside his chest, but still attached by some wires to his chest cavity. He remembered being in bed at the Hydra bunker with Bucky, waiting for Dr. Betty Ross’s team to show up. He shut his eyes, knowing he and Bucky were safe. Bucky was obviously talking them through how to fix his reactor, whatever was wrong with it this time. He waited for the soothing sound of Bucky’s voice, and the resassuring touch of a warm flesh hand or a cool metal one.

“Stark,”

He knew that voice.

He was still half asleep, half-stuck in an anxiety nightmare. Tony’s eyes shot opened, hoping to see Bucky or Dr. Betty Ross reassure him that it was only a dream, and Thaddeus Ross wasn’t really in the room with him.

Instead he saw Thaddeus Ross, and all of his putrid mustache-hairs, staring down at him. The Secretary of State would’ve been frightening angry, but he was staring down at Tony with a patronizing faux sympathy, not unlike the expression Steve had worn when telling Tony, “This won’t change what happened,” back in that Hydra bunker.

Tony dared a glance away to see who else was in the room. Doctors or scientists surrounded him, working silently at his reactor or monitors or other technical shit he was too disoriented to identify. His arms were spread slightly on arm boards, and strapped down. Blankets covered him up to just below his reactor, so he couldn’t tell if the stitches on his stomach had changed. But he felt tight straps running across his legs and hips.

Security guards stood at the room’s door, and Tony recognized one of them—a blond woman with dark eyes, looking like she was doing her best to hide extreme discomfort or shame under a professional air.

He'd given them Bucky. After everything, Tony had handed Bucky right back to Hydra. He hadn't listened when Steve tried to tell him Bucky wasn't responsible for the bombing (granted, Steve hadn't exactly tried too hard to communicate anything, none of them did, but Tony hadn't tried to figure out what was going on either so he could blame himself for that). He'd tried to murder Bucky for actions that weren't his fault, right after a video that had to be as traumatizing to Bucky as to himself. He'd dragged Bucky back there to that Hydra bunker, and kept him there for weeks, babying the man who'd tried to murder him, and Bucky's thanks was being handed back to Hydra.

One of the many beeping sounds in the room suddenly sped up, and one of the doctors quietly reported something about Tony’s heart rate increasing.

“Tony,” Thaddeus’s voice and face remained gentle but stern. “Do you know who I am?”

“I know who you are,” Tony spat, “and I know what you are you son of a bitch. Where’s Bucky?”

Thaddeus reached out to lay a hand on Tony’s bare shoulder.

“Don’t touch me!” Tony barked, jerking as far away as the straps would allow. “What’d you do with Bucky? What the hell are you doing to me?” he glanced at this disassembled arc reactor.

“What I did,” Thaddeus growled, “Was save your life from the man who—” he stopped himself, as if about to stumble into a subject prematurely.

Tony glared up at Ross with bulging eyes. Don’t you even fucking dare.

“How much do you know about James Barnes?” Thaddeus asked.

“I know he’s not Hydra’s tool anymore, unlike you.”

Thaddeus made a baffled face. “What bullshit did Barnes fill your head with?”

“It was me who filled him in!” Tony barked. “I knew something was off the second I told you Barnes was innocent and you didn’t even listen—!”

“Barnes murdered your parents Stark!” Thaddeus blurted out.

“Burn in hell.”

“We have video evidence—”

“I’ve seen the video eighty-eight times you fuck. The ‘shrink’ you left Bucky alone with and then sold me to,”

“What?!”

“What, was showing me that video not part of your deal with Zemo?”

Thaddeus was rubbing his forehead. “Whoooo is Zemo?”

“Who’re you playing stupid for, these assholes?" Tony jerked his head at the doctors around him. "Why don’t you just have them eliminated like me and Bucky?”

“Sir,” one of the doctors said quietly, “I think he’s having a panic attack,”

Thaddeus waved his hand. “Do whatever you have to to keep him calm, but keep him awake.”

The doctor made a face.

Tony had more for Thunderfuck, but before he could spit it his boiling rage suddenly began to calm to a simmer, as something sped up through a tube in his arm. Some kind of tranquilizer, that wrapped a cloud around his heart and brain. He wondered if this was some kind of standard hospital drug, or a new invention. Being a genius, Tony could only deduce that it was amazing shit. He made a mental note to steal some of these drugs when he and Bucky busted out of here. They could have one fuck of a party back at Avengers Tower. Or the Compound, or wherever, he couldn’t remember. Could this stuff be mixed with alcohol?

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” one of the doctors suddenly sighed.

Shit, had Tony said some of that out loud?

Thaddeus growled, “Yes, Stark, you’re talking out loud. Let’s talk about Barnes now.”

Tony glanced at the blonde security officer. “I wanna talk about her.”

“For four minutes, Stark,” Thaddeus sighed, “Could you not be yourself?”

“I don’t mean talk about her tits. I mean talk about the part she played in our Avengers’ ‘Civil War.’ I missed Aunt Peggy’s funeral because I’m a deluded fuckup locked in my lab trying to save the world from alien destruction, but a lot of other people I know were there.” Now addressing Sharon Carter, Tony said, “You gave a nice little speech while making direct eye contact with Rogers, about how Peggy would want him to stand his ground or some shit. How well’d you even know your aunt?”

Sharon Carter just made a face, urging Tony to continue.

Tony glanced at Thaddeus, whose face was frozen, like he’d been caught with his hands in a cookie jar.

“Bucky told me some more,” Tony turned back to Sharon. “The reason Rogers and Wilson thought the government was gonna kill Bucky on sight was because you told them." He turned to Thaddeus. "When they wanted to go behind the law’s back Barbie brought them their armor and gear.”

“Barbie?” Sharon exclaimed.

“Sorry… Skipper?”

“…better,” she sighed.

“And then she’s suddenly kissing up to Steve, out of the blue.”

Sharon rolled her dark eyes. “What a seductive harpy I am.”

“You seduced Steve into violating the Accords and starting a war!”

“If Steve Rogers were half as competent as the leader of the Avengers should have been, none of that would’ve worked on him.” Sharon said flatly. “I was testing him.” She added, with a jerk of her blond head to Thaddeus, “On his orders.”

“Wait,” one of the doctors, who’d been eves-dropping, jumped into the conversation. “I thought you worked for the other Ross?”

Agent Ross is my usual handler, but Secretary of State Ross can pull rank.”

Thaddeus squinted angrily at Tony, “And what does any of that have to do with me somehow working with Hydra?”

Tony had to admit, Thaddeus Ross by no means needed to be a Hydra agent to take such asinine measures to destroy the Avengers. He may simply have been a power-hungry son of a fuck, without having anything to do with Hydra. But the fact that there were Hydra agents out trying to kill Avengers...

“I wanna talk to the other Ross,” Tony said flatly.

“You’re in no position to make demands Stark.”

Tony glanced around his own restrained body, covered in wires and blankets. “I am in a position to take a nap.” Tony closed his eyes and turned his head away from Thaddeus.

“We’re not finished here Stark!”

Tony kept his eyes and mouth shut.

“I want to know what happened after you left for Siberia behind my back.” Thaddeus's voice rose threateningly. "Stark! I'm giving you a direct order!"

Tony distracted himself by imagining all the things he and Bucky could do back at the compound, with these drugs the whitecoats kept pumping into him. They could bake them into a cake, maybe. He’d been meaning to teach himself how to cook, for the last thirty or forty years, but the closest he’d ever gotten was that two-hour omelet for Pepper on the jet that one time. Bucky could probably teach him. They could bake a layered cake on the Cap’s shield—after washing it of course—and just stuff it with these drugs, and eat it right out of the shield while watching the “Star Wars” Christmas Special, one of Tony's favorite movies to watch high back when he was in college. Being a billionaire and tech genius, Tony Stark took pride in being one of the conniving minds behind the circulating illegal tapes of the notorious special George Lucas so famously wanted to destroy every copy of with a sledgehammer. Speaking of “Star Wars,” why did that Jedi with the purple light saber look so damn much like Mr. Fury? Mr. Fury kept insisting that no, he didn’t have any relatives in show-biz, but a few bites of the pain-killer-cake might have him revealing some dark juicy secrets. Fuck this was going to be some party! Wait, was he talking out loud again?

Thaddeus’s voice sounded exasperated, “Sober him up, and get my husband up here. You win Stark, and fuck you,” he called over his shoulder as he stormed out of the room.

--

As usual, Teddy’s winning people skills had bungled their first chance to get straight information from Stark and Barnes. Of course, at this point, just seeing Thaddeus Ross would’ve obviously caused problems for the former Avenger and former Winter Soldier. Everett had tried warning Thaddeus about that, and as usual his husband didn’t listen.

People had raised eyebrows at Thaddeus Ross—seemingly a walking stereotype of a militant conservative—making good on his vow never to marry another woman after the death of his first wife by tying the knot with Everett. They normally maintained flawless professionalism at work, to the point that most people didn’t even realize why they had the same last name. But today, Everett was positive everyone could take one look at the two of them and know that someone would be sleeping on the couch for the next month.

Everett exchanged a silent glance with Sharon Carter as he entered the room.

Tony Stark lay strapped to an operating bed with his eyes half-opened, clearly heavily drugged. His arc reactor was being dissected, while the rest of him underwent a series of tests and scans. Everett wanted to believe what Barnes had told him, but for all anyone knew Teddy was right, and the former Winter Soldier’s brain was swiss cheese. He had to hope Stark’s wasn’t, so he could get some more information.

“Stark,” Everett pulled over a chair and sat beside the bed.

Tony’s half-closed eyes drifted in his direction. The man was nearly unrecognizable as the sharp playboy Everett had briefly met with before Tony had disappeared. The half-dead doll Barnes had been cradling in the tree trunk was frankly a tad eerie to see awake and moving.

Tony slurred, “Ross.”

“How’re you feeling?”

Tony’s face wavered, as he apparently thought over his response. Then he said weakly, “I wanna’ see Bu… Barnes.”

“That’s not safe at the moment. Barnes and I discussed that. You were unconscious.” Everett squeezed Tony’s shoulder. “You’re safe, Tony. You and Barnes both.”

“Bullshit.”

“Why do you say that?”

Tony stared at him, then swept his eyes around his dissected arc reactor and restrained body.

“We’re just examining you.”

“Have I been falling out of bed a lot?” Tony jerked his arms weakly for emphasis, strapped down to angled arm boards.

“You’re in custody, you went behind the Secretary of State’s back to meet with two fugitives in Siberia.”

“The Secretary of State works with Hydra.”

Everett felt his eyebrows go up.

Tony added, “He’s not really your husband, right? That was just the drugs talking to me?”

“The Secretary and I are married,” Everett clarified. “Not that that's relevant. What makes you say he's wi—”

“Holy shit.”

“Quite.” Everett shifted in the chair. “Stark, can you please tell—”

“Is he blackmailing you?”

“Who? My husband?”

“Yeah, that creep. Why’re you married to Thunderfuck? Or is that why? He's just a really, really good fuck?”

Everett was was used to people questioning his marriage, including himself. But his marital problems were irrelevant at the moment. Everett saw an opportunity to get the conversation back on track, and calmly retorted,

“Why’re you with the man who killed your parents?”

Tony’s eyes flared angrily. “It wasn’t Bucky! Hydra controlled him like a puppet!”

“Did you know that when you attacked him in the Bunker?”

Everett didn’t enjoy being cruel to Tony, especially in his current state; but poking for emotional responses was part of digging out the truth. Tony seemed to choke on his response, and closed his eyes, looking on the verge of tears. Everett squeezed Tony’s shoulder again.

Tony nodded, his eyes squinted shut.

"It's alright Tony," Everett said gently. "What happened when you got to Siberia?"

Everett got Tony to give him a detailed account of what had transpired in the Hydra Bunker, over the last two months. In two decades on the force, it was easily one of the saddest stories Everett had ever heard (though, even more sadly, still not on the top ten list; the world was a fucked up place).

Later, Everett, Thaddeus and Sharon met in a secured office to discuss what they’d learned.

“Their stories match up,” Everett said, with some hesitation.

“…‘but’?” Thaddeus urged.

Sharon said, “They’re leaving something out, obviously.”

“They’re leaving a lot out.” Everett agreed. “Stark ‘can’t remember’ how Barnes found him, how his arm works, what Zemo did to his arc reactor…”

Thaddeus added, “Not to mention what they were doing in the same bed when Carter found them.”

Everett said evently, “That part seems like a whoel lot of none of our business.”

“Like it was 'none of my business' that my daughter was being stockholmed by a green monster?”

“That you created,” Everett snapped back.

Thaddeus pointed towards the door. "We have a self-admitted mentally unstable vigilante, vanished for two months, turned up with his parents' killer who also happens to be the Winter God Fucking Damn Soldier. You're gonna tell me Stockholm Syndrome isn't at least a possibility here?"

"I'm telling you we've only seen the tip of the iceberg!" Everett shot back.

Sharon suggested over the bickering husbands, “If we let them see each other that could put them at ease, make them more cooperative.” She added, at a look from Thaddeus, “Barnes and Stark, I mean.”

Everett shot the idea down. “If we really have a Hydra agent in here that’d be like dangling a steak in front of a wolf!”

Sharon shrugged. “Good way to catch a wolf.”

Thaddeus’s eyebrows went up, apparently liking her idea.

Everett looked between them. “And have the Winter Soldier activated in here? Are you nuts?”

“It takes a full list of words to activate the Winter Soldier,” Sharon reminded him. “Anyone who tries that’ll have to get Barnes alone with them first, like Zemo did. If we’ve got our eyes peeled for suspicious activity…”

“I got a better idea,” Thaddeus said. “Why don’t we just activate the Winter Soldier ourselves, and get him on our side right away.”

Everett stared at his husband over folded arms. “Teddy, that just might be the most ludicrous idea I have ever heard come out of your mouth, and that’s saying something.”

Sharon added, “If Zemo was able to command the Winter Soldier just by reading the list to him, it apparently doesn’t matter who’s talking to him. There’s no ‘controlling’ him, Mr. Secretary. At least not right now. Maybe Hydra had some way—”

“That the Winter Soldier might remember!” Thaddeus’s eyes were darting enthusiastically, like they did whenever he was starting up on another power trip.

Everett didn’t like when Teddy got that way. He didn’t like it at all.

Sharon bit her lip, apparently regretting her last comment. Everett didn't blame her.

Everett suggested, “Why don’t we approach this with baby steps. Find out more from Barnes first, get more information on how to handle the Winter Soldier,”

“We don’t have time for that shit, Agent,” Thaddeus countered. “This is a matter of national security.”

“Agreed!” Everett locked eyes with Thaddeus harshly. “And activating the Winter Soldier on impulse when we know so little is a really fucking bad idea!”

“I second that sentiment,” Sharon said. “As someone who’s seen the Winter Soldier in action.”

Thaddeus snapped, “And I outrank you both.”

--

Bucky lay with Tony in a bed-boat, floating serenely down a stream. He couldn’t see or hear anything; it was one of those dreams were only one or two of the five senses were at play. He just felt Tony’s weight against him, his chest rising and falling under the metal arm Bucky had draped over him; the mattress under them, and the rocking of the boat.

“Longing.”

It wasn’t Zemo this time. But the voice was familiar and unpleasant, and right in Bucky’s ear.

“Rusted.”

Bucky tried screaming, but his mouth seemed fused shut. He tried pushing himself up away from Tony, but couldn’t move. His head throbbed with silent screams as the list went on. Tony was gone, and so was the boat.

When the Winter Soldier’s eyes flew opened, he didn’t remember the dream at all.

He was restrained to a cushioned table at an angle, which was new. He was used to being kept in a chair or a freezing pod. He was alone in the room with a couple of technicians, and a mustached man in a military uniform. American. This was also new. But hardly unexpected. Hydra changed its allegiances frequently. First they’d been German, then Russian. Now apparently they were American. It wasn’t the soldier’s place to question.

Despite knowing he was working for Americans now, the Soldier replied in Russian, on instinct. “Ready to comply.”

The mustached official asked carefully, "Do you speak English?"

"Yes," he replied, in the requested language.

The uniformed man asked, “Who are you?”

“The Winter Soldier.”

“Who do you serve?”

“Hydra.”

The man grumbled an “eh heh….” Then muttered a bit more loudly, “Let’s see if we can fix that.”

Chapter Text

“It’s the absence of a father. The lack of a proper masculine role model. That’s what’s caused this. Don’t worry Mrs. Rogers, we can fix this I’m sure. He’s already halfway there, you said you do like girls, right son?”

“…some…”

As if being an “invalid” wasn’t enough, young Steve Rogers had also been “queer.” That, at least, he and his mother had managed to keep secret. The only other one to ever know was Bucky. “Best friends,” sure.

Back in Brooklyn, Bucky had insisted that this was perfectly common. “Forget that ‘Maltese Falcon’ movie Steve, real queers aren’t Peter Lorre. Unless Peter Lorre’s a queer. But, if you like girls at all, you should still get yourself a wife. Not like you can get yourself a husband to keep the house and cook for ya.”

“I take care ‘my house,” Steve said. “And I’ll cook for you Buck.”

Bucky just laughed, put his arm around Steve, and kissed him on the cheek. But he wasn’t laughing like he’d thought Steve was joking; he seemed like he was laughing at how naïve he thought Steve was.

--

Steve took a long swig from the alien alcohol the crew had managed to loot from the pirates who’d tried attacking them. He wasn’t keen on drinking anything stolen, but after about a month in space with a crew whose manners and temperaments rivaled some of his old teammates, and two of whom were very difficult to communicate with, and another who seemed almost like a smaller, furrier version of Tony, on top of what he knew had happened to his real Tony, Steve needed a damn drink.

And for the first time since the serum, he could have one.

A side-affect of the Supersoldier serum was that he couldn’t get drunk (from Earth booze). He’d learned that the hard way when trying to numb the pain of Bucky’s apparent death.

Bucky… God…

Steve pressed the neck of the bottle to his forehead, before taking another swig.

The alien liquor wasn’t safe for Peter Quill to drink, and the “Star Lord” had tried warning Steve away from drinking it. Steve, being Steve, hadn't listened. It wasn’t like it was going to burn a hole in him or anything; Quill’s warning was that it was just too strong for humans, would give them instant alcohol poisoning. For Steve, it was a light buzz. And a much needed one.

Christ, so much had happened in just a few weeks.

--

After Steve had freed his friends from prison, Scott and Clint had both instantly parted ways, deciding to turn themselves in and look for a plea deal, to be with their families again. So, mercifully, those two hadn’t been on T’Challa’s plane when the shit hit the fan.

Wanda and Sam were talking with the king in the jet’s cockpit. Bucky was back in Wakanda, under ice. Steve was walking towards what he thought was an empty part of the jet, and ran right into Nat. If not for his trained supersoldier reflexes, he’d have jumped and gasped right there. She was leaning against the wall, hands in the pockets of her leather jacket.

“Nat! What the hell are you doing here?”

“You didn’t think that was all you back there, did you? I drugged the guards so they’d sleep a little more deeply tonight.”

“You drugged them?” 21st Century medicine was still something Steve was trying to get used to. “Nat what if one of them had a condition or something?”

“I did my research on all of them beforehand, obviously.”

Steve relaxed. They’d had a similar exchange after she’d leaked Shield/Hydra’s files, and he’d realized that might mean exposing innocent Shield agents all around the globe. But Nat had taken the precaution of alerting all of them that they’d been compromised beforehand. Two had died anyway, unable to escape their situations in time, and he knew that would weigh on Nat along with all the rest of the “red on her ledger.”

“Steve,” Nat locked eyes with him. “How did he find out?”

After a moment, he stalled lamely, “What’re you talking about?”

She gave him that weary eye-roll of hers. “Thaddeus Ross has it in his records that Stark was last seen headed towards Siberia, as were you two. Barnes' arm looks like it was blown off with a very powerful energy burst, and your shield is missing.”

“You ever hear of something called privacy?”

“You ever hear of something called common sense?” she snapped. “What the hell were you thinking, dragging Barnes back to a goddamn Hydra facility? Where they could brainwash him again?”

Steve gapped at her hypocrisy. “You let us go!”

“To keep Stark and Barnes apart for as long as possible! Those were my orders from Nick. ‘Keep Barnes and Stark apart. All of the other problems can just wait.’”

“You—you knew it was Bucky?”

“Don’t give me that Steve, we all suspected. That’s why Fury ordered us not to tell him.”

Steve was breathing heavily. “Tony’s bi… bi….”

“…polar.” Nat said. “And bisexual, but that's beside the point. The plan was to find and contain Barnes, and break it to Tony slowly. Steve, I’m a master manipulator, it’s my job. Do you think I couldn’t have stopped you morons from going to war if I’d wanted to? Some choice words could’ve prevented both your winning communication skills from tearing the Avengers apart. I…”

Steve stared at her, waiting for her to continue.

“You what?”

She swallowed, clearly guilt-ridden. (But was she really? Or was this just more of her “master manipulation” at work?) With a deep breath she confessed, “I made Sam think he couldn’t trust Stark.” Her head rolled over to face Steve, shame all over her face. “I subtly fed him a lot of… Tony being unstable, being dangerously stubborn, anything so he would convince you not to go to Tony when you’d found Bucky.”

“This…this entire… everything was just you keeping Tony from Bucky?”

“Don’t flatter me Rogers. I have no idea where either of you got any of your half-baked ideas during this whole fiasco. And I’m pretty positive I wasn’t the only one manipulating you.”

“You weren’t. That psychiatrist, who they left with Bucky—”

“I don’t just mean him,” Nat said. “I mean Ross, putting Tony of all people in charge of the mission to capture you. And your new girlfriend, Agent Carter.”

Of course, Nat and Sharon would know each other, or at least know of each other, both being former Shield agents.
“What’s that, about Sharon?”

Nat shook her head. “I don’t know. Something about her… I didn’t come here to talk about Sharon, I came to talk about Tony. What the hell happened in that bunker, Steve?”

Steve was suddenly aware that he and Nat were no longer alone. He glanced over his shoulder to see Sam and Wanda, staring at Nat in bafflement. Sam’s look was one of shocked and angery betrayal; Wanda’s brow was just knitted curiously. King T’Challa stared at Nat, then at Steve. Clearly Natasha had not been invited onto the royal jet. T'Challa looked like he might declare any second that he would turn the jet around and drop them all back in prison.

But instead, the king said, “What happened, Rogers? After Zemo showed Stark the video feed?”

Nat’s eyes widened.

Steve gave her a double-take. “Nat? You knew about the video?”

Nat’s eyes locked with Steve’s for a moment. Then she said in a quiet, choked voice, “It was on the Dark Web. Fury and I are still taking down copies. They keep resurfacing.”

“And Tony never found them?” Sam asked, baffled. “Paranoid tech genius like Tony?”

Wanda said quietly, “Why would he go looking for his parents on the dark web? His fear is,” she pointed up, referring to the aliens that had attacked New York. “He's probably spent the last several years nightmaring about that. Not his parents' accident being a conspiracy.”

“Hey Scarlet,” Sam was referring to Wanda’s “Scarlet Witch” handle. “Can you tell us if Nat or Steve’s keeping anything else from us?”

“I haven’t used those powers since Sokovia.” Wanda said. “I swore them off.”

T’Challa said softly, “No doubt you could have defeated us far more quickly if you hadn’t.”

Wanda swallowed. “I’d grown so used to just looking inside people’s heads to see if I could trust them. Now, doing it the old-fashioned way, just by talking to people and watching their faces…I’m horrible at it. I’ve been so easy to manipulate.”

Steve knitted his brow at her, but Sam slowly closed his eyes, as if he’d heard this all a million times in the prison, before Steve had freed them.

“First Hydra,” Wanda’s voice rose with anger, “Then the Avengers. Clint. Then Tony, and Vision. Then Clint again. He steered me right in Sokovia so I trusted him. ‘Time to get off your ass’… what bullshit.”

“Wanda,” Steve said carefully, “We just needed your help. Clint may’ve been wrong, but I swear, no one was trying to mislead you on porp—”

Wanda’s eyes suddenly bulged and her fingers snapped out, as if on impulse.

Steve was rubbing his forehead, feeling as if he’d just woken from a dream. A dream about Siberia.

Wanda’s eyes were bulging in frozen horror at Steve. Sam, T’Challa and Nat were all staring at him, as if he’d just been caught doing something terrible. Good god, had Wanda shown all of them that memory?

Wanda backed away, whispering, “You bastard.” While she turned and ran from the room, Sam, still staring at Steve, muttered slowly, “What the fuck?”

“He was attacking Bucky!” Steve defended. “Trying to kill him!”

Nat blinked and shook her head. “And goading Tony on was gonna, what, make him less likely to kill Bucky?”

“What? When the hell was I ‘goading him on?’”

“Wait,” Sam said quickly, “Wait, maybe that was just one of Wanda’s illusions! I mean you didn’t really go," he raised his fists, “’I could do this all day!’”

Steve gapped at him. “He…he was attacking Bucky.”

Sam slowly lowered his fists, staring at Steve in disbelief.

“‘He’s not going to stop,’” T’Challa said slowly. “That’s what you said, after telling Stark onceabout Barnes’ brainwashing. Very early in the fight...Did you want a fight?”

“Wha—? No! I— Tony knew Bucky was a mind-control victim!”

Nat said flatly, “Tony just watched his parents get butchered with the killer standing right next to him, and in the same instance learned you’d known all along with you standing right next to him. You expect Tony to be rational then?”

Steve stammered, fighting the sickening feeling swelling up inside him, “If he’s that unhinged what would it matter what I said?”

“Jesus,” Sam left the room, almost looking disgusted.

King T’Challa just stared at Steve, like he couldn’t decide if he wanted to murder him or pitied him.

--

Nat took Wanda to Europe, to help her set up a new identity. Wanda and Vision were there together now. Both were fairly angry with the rest of the team as well as themselves, and seemed to regret ever joining the Avengers. Sam got in brief contact with Clint and Scott, and let slip what Wanda had showed them. Scott had payed a visit to Wakanda, specifically to chew Steve out over it.

“You were the one who stood up for the little guy! The dirt poor handicapped kid who fought Hitler and saved babies from robbers and all that shit! You were supposed to be everything I’m trying to be and instead you make me feel horrible Stark! You…when you make me feel bad for Tony Stark you’ve officially failed as a superhero!”

Steve had just taken it, inwardly screaming, wondering what the goddamn hell he’d done wrong.

Because the more he’d tried to remember about that night, the less he could.

--

Steve took a long swig from his whatever-this-stuff-was-called. This alien drink. Good stuff.

The ship was quiet. Groot was playing some game on a little metal rectangle. Mantis had gone to bed. Drax and Rocket were playing cards. Gammora and Quill were alone in another room.

He closed his eyes and tried, once more, to remember Siberia. It was like trying to recall a dream from months ago. One of those dreams where you say or do things you never would in real life, and you wake up thinking why the hell did I do that?

--

Bucky, mercifully, hadn’t talked much about Siberia during their stay in Wakanda. He hadn’t talked much at all. When Bucky declared he needed to get away from Wakanda to “find himself” and keep himself form endangering the Wakadnans, Steve had agreed because secretly, he wanted to get out of there too.

Shuri had scanned Steve’s brain a dozen and two times, and assured him she’d found no malicious brainwashing programs like Bucky had. All she could suggest, about why Steve hadn’t been feeling like himself for the last couple of years, were PTSD, Depression, and some possible side effects of being frozen for seventy-odd years.

But something was wrong with him, Steve was sure of it. Not just because of Siberia. But two years before that, he’d once endangered the lives of twenty-some hostages, just to prove to a goading opponent that he could win a “fair” fight without his helmet. It had taken exactly one taunt from the pirate to get Steve to do that. Part of it was his usual enthusiasm in a fight. He’d always lost himself in the thrill of every fight, after that serum. And throwing those corny lines at his opponents was always one of the highlights. But never when lives besides his own were at stake. Never to a friend, who’d just watched his parents get murdered.

What the fuck is wrong with me?

“So do you want to die?”

Steve jumped where he sat against the wall.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle ya,” Quill slumped on the floor next to Steve. "That stuff hasn't killed you yet?" He gestured to the bottle in Steve's hand.

Ignoring his comment, Steve said, “I thought you were with Gammora.”

“She’s making me sleep on the couch tonight.”

“There’s a couch here?”

“No it’s just—never mind.” Quill pulled a swig from his own bottle of non-supersoldier-safe alcohol.

“Mantis was right,” Steve admitted, resting his bottle on his knee. “When she read me, that first time.”

Quill imitated Mantis’s soft high voice, “‘You are prowd!’”

“I’m a proud, proud fuck,” Steve realized he was slurring. He was finally drunk. “I lied, to get into the army, when I was a walking medical disaster. I was thinking—I had this fantasy, that I was gonna die taking a grenade for ten soldiers twice my size, or something like that. And Bucky and everyone back home…. I’d go down in history as a war hero. I could’a just made tanks or worked in a hospital or something, I didn’t wanna ‘do the right thing’ I wanted to be a ‘hero.’ Always.” He took another swig, finishing the bottle off. “Any more ‘this stuff?”

“Uh, I think Rocket got a whole case, I don’t know where it is.”

Steve rose to a wobbling stance. “I’ll find it.”

Mantis couldn’t tell him if anything was wrong with his brain. She’d tried, several times, at his insistence. But, “I can only feel feelings.” Shuri hadn’t found anything. Wanda had been gone before Steve could think to ask her. He wondered if the three women together could run some deep-level scan on his hundred-year-old noodle. If there was anything left of it, after tonight.

He found the case of alien booze after tripping over it. Without even bothering to get up off the floor, Steve pinched a bottle from the case and pulled the high-tech alien cap off with his supersoldiered teeth.

Bucky… Tony….

He kept imagining Tony tied to a barred window, with all that shit in his body. He kept seeing Tony’s face while watching Bucky kills his parents—his eyes—and placed those expressions on Tony while Zemo raped and tortured him.

Because Steve had left him there, after Steve had set him off and goaded him on. And the final salt in the wound was, Steve didn’t even get to make two percent of it up by at least rescuing him. Bucky had. Steve had just fucked them both over, and they’d saved each other from him, without him.

And Thor's hammer had had the gal to budge for Steve, right in front of Tony, while Steve was keeping that secret from him. (And later he'd scolded Tony for "not telling me things.") Funny thing was, for that split second, Steve had been thinking of Tony's parents, and was one-hundred percent convinced that he was not worthy to lift that hammer, and that was when it had budged. Then Steve's pride skyrocketed, and the hammer stopped moving.

While he and T'Challa had been prisoners on the Grand Master's planet, they'd had a deep conversation about Steve's... everything. The King had a genuine brand of chivalry that Steve realized he'd been living a pale parody of for the last six years.

"You and Stark are the same." T'Challa had said. "Both of you, from childhood, were neglected, you both desired glory and attention. But only one of you was high profile enough and rich enough to have people making him aware of it."

Steve had replied quietly, "Whereas I had an overworked mom and one friend who were both worried sick about me because I was a sickly twig. So why bother. When I was acting like I had moral high ground over everyone, they probably thought, 'Poor Steve's not gonna live to see thirty, just let him have it.' Then I was given superpowers by a German who barely knew me, and trained in how to beat people up and punch fake Hitlers for cheering crowds. And Peggy, Bucky and Mom weren't there to watch it all unfold and tell me what was going wrong... Maybe I should just say here. Keep punching things. Maybe Earth's better off without Captain America."

T'Challa had begun to respond, but Steve angrily punched a dent in the metal wall, and the conversation had ended.

Why America? What was so special about that place? Because Steve had just happened to be born there? Because they’re the ones who gave him the muscles and glory he’d always craved? He could’ve just as easily been Commander Canada had he and Dr. Erskine been one country over.

Dr. Erskine…

“Don’t lose what you have here.” Prodding Steve’s heart.

Prodding his heart one final time, silently, just before dying.

“I could do this all day!”

“God’s righteous man, pretending he can live without a war."

Steve hoped Mantis couldn’t pick up emotions from afar. He was the kind of person who, when he was crying, preferred to be left alone.

Chapter Text

"I read an article on Cracked once about how coma patients don't actually just lie there like in the movies."

None of the "doctors" around Tony gave any indication they'd heard him, but he knew he was speaking loudly and clearly enough that there was no way they hadn't.

Tony's reactor was back in his chest, for now. He had no idea what they were doing at the moment, and was extremely tempted not to care, but a genius couldn't let a three-digit IQ go to waste while his and Bucky's lives were at stake (and maybe many more, depending on what the old mustached lunatic was plotting).

"They actually take them out for walks and stuff, they have to exercise them so their leg muscles don't rot away or something. How long have I been lying here? Do I get exercise? Do I get any bathroom breaks?" (Actually, under the thin medical blanket, he was wearing a strange, newly invented kind of high-tech briefs that took care of all that, and they were disturbingly comfortable, but still embarrassing.) "If I shut up for five minutes do I get a recess? What if I give some blow jobs? I will perform sexual favors in exchange for two minutes of freedom. Except on you, since you look underage. Are you qualified to operate on me? Have you even graduated high school?"

The young "nurse" he spoke to looked barely older than Peter Parker. She had wavy brown hair, and looked to be of mixed race and mixed feelings. She concentrated on the computer she was monitoring, and didn't look back at him.

The door opened, and a familiar rhythm of footsteps told Tony not to look at who it was approaching.

"Stark."

"Thunderfuck."

Thaddeus Ross took a deep breath. "You're gonna help us with the Winter Soldier."

Tony's blood went cold. But, he realized, what else should he have expected?

"You want my input on the Winter Soldier," Tony kept his eyes determinately focused on the brunette nurse's computer, "tell him to reenact his mission from December 16, 1991, with the part of Howard Stark played by Thunderfuck Ro--"

"December 16th, 1991, mission report,"

Tony's head whipped around, and his heart stopped. Bucky stood next to Thunderfuck, staring ahead with the same blank eyes he'd attacked Tony with back in Germany. He was flanked by several security guards. His robotic arm was gone, and his remaining one was locked into some odd restraint around his waist.

Bucky's voice was as empty as his eyes, staring into nothing. "Howard and Maria Stark eliminated. Serum obtained, no witnesses."

Thunderfuck's quickly looked away with a hand to his mouth, stifling a shocked laugh. Clearly, this had not been rehearsed. Tony gapped, his words caught in his throat. He could feel his entire body shaking against his restraints.

Thundershit recollected himself, and grabbed the indifferent Soldier's locked-up arm, hauling him closer to Tony's bed. "You recognize this man, Winnie?" He flashed Tony a shit-eating grin and a shrug. "Winnie, 'short for Winter Soldier."

"Stark," Bucky's voice was distant, but something flared in his eyes as they crossed Tony's face.

"Bucky," Tony rasped. "Bucky, Buck you know me? Tony? Steve, you remember Steve? What about Abby, George and..." Tony squinted. Christ what was the other sisters' name... "...Susan? Was she the one that threw the radio at Steve's head when she was on her first period? Knocked him unconscious and sent him to the E.R.? You remember telling me that, while we were listening to the radio eating Rocky Roads, in the bunker?"

"Roads..." Bucky's overcast eyes darted around Tony. "Colonel, James Rhodes, ally of Tony Stark."

Thunderfuck's mouth shook with a barely repressed grin. He had his "Soldier" under control.

Tony refused to let this mustached fuck take Bucky from him. "Remember me losing control in the bunker, and trying to murder you? Taking your arm off?" God, what had Bucky said Steve had said to get his memory back, two years ago? I'm your friend to the end? No, that was from "Chucky"...

Tony squinted his eyes shut, trying to think of something that could jog Bucky's memory. While his eyes were shut, Tony heard something click. Jesus, was Thunderdick actually letting the Winter Soldier's arm loose from its restraint?

"Soldier," Thundershit said quietly, and Tony heard a subtle noise that made him feel like Ross was pointing at something. "Get me that reactor."

Less than a second after the words had been spoken, Tony felt five warm fingertips clasped around his reactor's frame. His fear vaporized just as quickly, as he realized Thunderpiss had just done his job for him.

The reactor clicked loose and slid out far more quickly and efficiently than Bucky had ever done while himself, but the Winter Soldier didn't yank the cord out. Tony peeked under his eyelids. Bucky held the reactor a few inches above Tony's chest, still plugged in, resting in his human hand like a daisy. Tony felt the chunk of his chest cupped in Bucky's warm hand as clearly as if it were his hand resting in Bucky's. Bucky was staring down at the reactor, as if it had just abruptly spoken to him in Mr. Fury's voice and called him a motherfucker.

Quietly, just for Bucky, Tony said flatly, "It wasn't you, Bucky."

The Winter Soldier shattered, and the reactor bounced painfully against it's frame in Tony's sternum. Tony didn't care, because Bucky's warm hand was running through his hair.

"Tony!"

Thunderdiarrhea swore under his breath, and guns game up all around the room. Tony ignored them.

"Buck," Tony breathed, nuzzling into Bucky's arm.

Bucky's hand left Tony's head and began yanking at the strap across his forearm. But it was made of some new sort of material that even a former Winter Soldier was struggling to loosen. Two guards suddenly zapped Bucky on the back with two odd sort of laser-taser pens, that shot blue sparks and made Bucky cry out. Tony's shouts for them to stop went unnoticed under the commotion. Bucky sagged, like his supersoldier strength had been knocked out, and the guards yanked his arm back into its restraint at his waist.

"Are you out of your god-fucking-damned mind?" Everett Ross's voice suddenly cut in.

The younger and less vomit-inducing Ross was hurrying into the room with his gun out, suit jacket flying behind him.

Thunderpuke sighed at his husband, "We were making some progress."

"On what, inviting a Hydra agent to turn on the Winter Soldier and kill us all?"

All the "doctors" had paused whatever the fuck they'd been doing to stare at the two Rosses.

"You know who it is?" Thaddeus asked his husband, with an apprehension that could easily have been either eagerness or worry.

"No," Everett said, "But this is no way to find out...."

Tony was beyond lost, but didn't care. His eyes were on Bucky, sagging in the arms of the guards, just inches away from Tony. His blue eyes were fixed to Tony's, glistening--no, Jesus, don't start that now Buck...

Tony stretched his neck as far as he could. Bucky blinked, letting one thin tear leave his eye, and lunged forward, startling the guards holding him. Their lips touched just barely, before Bucky's captors yanked him back.

Everett pointed at Bucky and snapped to the guards, "Get him out of here, now!"

Shatteus--no, that sucked, Thudnerfuck was fine--Thunderfuck didn't argue. But his jaw was clenched.

Tony's eyes didn't leave Bucky until they'd hauled him out of the room. His eyes remained on the door. Tony muttered, for Thunderfuck, "When the Winter Soldier and Tony Stark have a better relationship than your marriage."

He was a tad startled when Everett snapped, "Shut up."

Tony let his eyes fall shut, working to slow his breath and heartbeats. Some soft beeps erupted from a nearby computer, and more calming happy-fluid flowed into his arm.

Tony had outsmarted Zemo, with his brain and body working completely against him. There was no reason a literal genius couldn't figure something out while lying in a soft bed with his panic attacks being staved off for him.

His father's voice flowed into the back of his head, almost as if he were hearing it under water. "For god's sake Tony, I'm limited by the technology of my time...!"

Tony squinted and gave his head a short shake.

Unless he was stoned the whole time. That might slow even his brain down a bit.

----

"So, what's your scientific opinion on hobbits?"

Betty Ross glanced up from her worn copy of The Two Towers to see her step-father seating himself on the other side of the booth. She and Everett had agreed to meet at this '50s diner in Brooklyn, to discuss current events. Their relationship was an odd one, with Betty having a restraining order on Everett's husband, her actual father. Betty would have preferred Everett being her real father, or at least someone she could trust as a full-on friend. But she was always on edge when speaking to him about anything she didn't want her dad to know about. Everett did his best to act as a mediator between the two, but old Thunderbolt could be just a tad controlling. In fact, Betty suspected the marriage bordered on emotional abuse.

Closing her book, Betty replied, "I've deduced that the question isn't what percentage of Middle Earth's population are engaging in homosexual activities, but how many would actually still choose another man on the rare occasion they ever bump into an actual female. We're still trying to deduce how Middle Earth keeps its population up."

"The Hobbit is better," Everett said, flagging a waitress.

"Are there women in The Hobbit? Besides that Turtle-shell or whatever her name is who they added for the movies?"

Everett pursed his lips. "No, but if memory serves there is a chapter called 'Queer Lodgings.'"

After catching up a bit and ordering some coffee, the two got to the subject at hand.

"I have no idea what Ted thinks he's doing with Barnes and Stark. Obviously he wants to find out everything they otherwise wouldn't tell him, like with Stark's arc reactor. But I feel like he thinks he's got something specific planned."

Flatly, Betty stated, more than asked, "He broke the Avengers apart on purpose."

Everett grimaced, then nodded. "Supposedly he was sending our agents to test the Avengers, to see whether they could be trusted under dire situations."

"Was it Sharon Carter?"

"You know I can't disclose that Betty. Listen, I'm doing all I can to help you, but getting the up-and-ups to consider letting just one of you in there,"

"In where?"

"In the confidential location where detained enhanced humans are...detained."

"Erik's experienced mind-control. He'd have more luck with Barnes than anyone!"

"Erik's a physicist, not a psychologist or a biologist."

"Jane's got experience with people from other planets. She's been to another planet for God's sake! She and Erik would both be invaluable on Project Barnes,"

"'Project Bar--?'" Everett shook his head. "Listen, the Secretary of State unfortunately has a lot of sway. He's not going to let anyone who might be on Stark and Barnes' side to get near them if he can help it, he's specifically requesting scientists who have bad histories with the Avengers for this. If you want to get a foot in the door, you'll need to bribe someone else who hates Barnes or Stark to hate the government more."

Betty looked at her stepfather inquisitively.

"That was a joke." Everett's eyes were hard on Betty's. "Obviously I wouldn't support you doing a thing like that." He checked his watch. "It's getting late, and I think I left a window opened at home. I don't want another ant infestation again. I'll keep you posted." He gestured to her book. "Good series. Little people saving the world, I always liked that trope."

Chapter Text

Scott Lang was pissed, at quite a few people.

He was pissed at the government for putting him under house arrest. He was pissed at Captain America, Sam, and Clint for giving him such little, deluded information. He was pissed at Stark for catching them, pissed at the billionaire with the fancy showy Iron-suit for siding with the big government. And he was epically pissed at Captain America for treating the billionaire Scott was pissed at like a villain right after he’d watched his parents get butchered by someone sanding right next to him.

(As a father to a young child, Scott was no stranger to the feeling of being extremely concerned for someone’s wellbeing while also being tremendously pissed at them. But apparently Steve Rogers only had room in his noggin for one emotion and one person at a time.)

There were so many people Scott was pissed at. He was pissed at the spider kid for tripping him with his web, but more importantly, calling "Empire Strikes Back" a "really old movie." (For gods' sake, Scott wasn't a spring chicken but he wasn't ancient... was he?)

He was also pissed at Ant-nakin Skywalker for leaving basket-ball-sized ant droppings around the house for him to clean up (but Cassie loved the Swiss mountain dog sized ant when she came over, so he had to keep Ant-nakin around).

He was pissed at Hope and Hank for being pissed at him, and pissed at the government for putting Hank under house arrest all for Scott’s stupidity, and pissed at himself for getting Hank and himself house-arrested. Scott had known from the beginning that all he was doing was jumping at he chance to break the law alongside one of his idols—who failed to be exactly that.

And, finally, he was pissed at whoever it was at whoever was ringing the doorbell at this ungodly hour. (2:04 in the afternoon.)

They'd been ringing for a stupidly long time.

With a groan, Scott hauled himself out of bed, where he'd been practicing his magic card tricks, and lumbered down the stairs. He opened the door to see a middle-aged man and three hot brunettes, all done up in Captain America T-shirts and party hats and shit. A young woman whose light-brown pigtails were clipped with tiny Captain America shields presented a round shield-shaped cake with "TEAM CAP" written sloppily in red, white and blue frosting.

With no change in facial expression, Scott pulled the door back shut, but the girl holding the cake stopped it with a booted foot.

"We won't be long," the girl with the pigtails and cake assured him.

"I'm not 'Team Cap' anymore," Scott grunted.

"That's fine," said a curly haired woman, whose getup was stupid even compared to her comrades; she wore shades tinted to look like the Cap's shield, and patriotic pinwheeled head-boppers that were spinning in the light breeze. "We're not just Cap-stans; we're here to thank all of the Avengers that stuck it to the man!"

"Oh! Well, you're welcome, for getting put under house arrest and failing my daughter, again. Get lo--Woa! Ant-nakin, down!"

The dog-sized ant had already snagged the cake from Pigtails, and held it in his pincers like a giant crumb. While the ant's body held the door opened, the woman with the glasses used Ant-nakin's thorax as a stepping stool and climbed into the house. Pigtails let Ant-nakin have the cake, and followed her friend. The third woman and the man followed. Ant-naking was now crawling up the stairs, his pinchers holding the cake high in the air. The man quickly closed the door and locked it behind him, then moved to close all the blinds in the windows.

Scott blinked. "So...the cake was a lie?"

The woman with the pigtails began, "We actually didn't plan to give it to your ant, we didn't know you had a giant an--"

"Jane," the woman with the curly hair said, "Honey, it's a meme." Turning to Scott she said, "Yes, the cake was a lie. The cake is always a lie. Never trust cake."

Scott sighed. Well, at least he wasn't really being ambushed by a bunch of Captards. About the only good news of the day.

"Whatever this is, I'm not doing anything illegal again..." he trailed off, watching as the man closed all the window blinds.

"Dr. Erik Selvig," the man introduced himself, closing the last set of blinds and offering his hand for a shake.

Scott grimaced and reluctantly gave Dr. Selvig a quick, half-assed handshake.

The third woman, with long dark hair in a baggy Captain America T-shirt, stepped forward. "Mr. Lang, I'm Dr. Betty Ross. This is Dr. Jane Foster, and our intern Darcy Lewis. We're sorry to bother you, but you're literally the only Avenger we could locate."

"I don't think I actually count as an Avenger, but whatever. I'm not breaking the law again."

"Do you know anyone that could?" Erik Selvig asked hopefully,

Scott sighed. "The Cap likes breaking the law. Good luck finding him. I haven't heard from any of them... what's this even about?"

Betty Ross said with clear disdain, "My father is Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross. And he's delusional. And he currently has a hold of Tony Stark, and Bucky Barnes, AKA the Winter Soldier."

That got Scott's attention. "Tony Stark gave him Barnes? And then Ross just arrested Stark too? Fucking figures..."

"No, Mr. Lang," Betty said practically through clenched teeth. "Stark and Barnes both called me hoping I could save them from my father. Unfortunately we had a mole."

"My bad," Darcy sighed.

The group told Scott an incomplete story, that they admitted they themselves had only the tip of the iceberg to.

Scott sat hunched on the sofa, rubbing his face. "I have no idea how I’d just bust two superheroes out of there by shrinking.

“No one’s necessarily talking about a heist,” Erik clarified. “Thunderwanker’s looking for scientists to help him, preferably ones who don’t have past affiliations with the Avengers. If we can get someone who could just convince him he can't use Barnes and Stark for whatever he's planning...”

Scott shook his head under his hands. “Trust me, the only scientist I know ha—” Scott’s head shot up, his eyes wide. “Hey.... so you're saying, if I knew a scientist who publicly hated Stark and the Avengers, but who might hate the government more, that's someone we could use?”

--

"Fuck no."

"Will you let me finish one sentence before you—?"

Hank Pym snarled into the phone, "You're lucky I don't send a regiment over to 'Lennington Versus The Ants' your ass after what you pulled! I’m under house arrest because I provided technology you used to shit all over that airport in Germany with Captain America, and now you want me to help break out a psychotic cyborg super-assassin and a Stark out of the Secretary of State's facility? Goodbye Scott." He killed the call before Scott could get another word in.

The phone immediately buzzed again. Hank declined the call, and then blocked the number. Over the next hour he blocked four more numbers, as Scott apparently tried calling from four more people's phones. He didn’t have time for this wombat-shit. After making himself some tea, Hank sat back down to his computer to continue his work.

Truth, his lack of patience with Scott wasn’t just about Scott’s bullshit behavior and his own dislike for Starks. Hank had a lot on his mind at the moment. Coaching his daughter in becoming the Wasp, and working furiously with her on a way to retrieve her mother from the Quantum Realm. Ever since Scott had returned from the Quantum Realm, Hank’s hope (har, har) had returned. He’d spent every waking moment searching for a way to retrieve Janet, and he now had Hope at his side.

So hours later, close to midnight, when his computer alerted him of an email from Hope, Hank didn’t hesitate to click. But when he saw the email’s content, he found himself scowling.

Thinking we should reconsider Ross’s offer.

The Secretary of State had recently offered Hank a lightened sentence on his house arrest , in exchange for help on some top secret scientific project. Hank, who never appreciated being taken advantage of, had told Thaddeus Ross to pay someone else to suck his dick, before hanging up. Hope had had a similar, though more professional, reaction when Ross had contacted her with the same offer. Now Hope was abruptly bringing Ross back up, the same day Scott wanted him to go on some stupid jailbreak mission into Ross’s base.

He adjusted his glasses, and read the rest of the email. A little bird sent me this video. Watch ASAP, but not in public.

Hank’s jaw clenched. He knew one of the Avengers was a “bird.” (“Eagle” or “Hawk” or something like that.) And how could he watch anything “in public,” when he was under house arrest? Sounded like a not-so-subtle content warning.

With a heavy sigh, Hank clicked the video, sipping his tea. It looked like old security footage, like one of those “shot on shiteo” indie exploitation flicks from the ‘80s. Scratch that, ‘90s; the security time at the bottom of the video indicated it was from December of 1991. It was in the forest, near the fence of some building. Hank sighed again, bracing himself for some kind of “Blair Witch” shenanigans, presumably with a (real) supervillain or alien that the Avengers apparently needed Hank’s help to defeat.

Instead, a regular, ‘90s car came out from an angle and smashed into a tree, with uncomfortable realism.

Am I watching a snuff film?!

Hank’s hard froze when his old business partner and nemesis stumbled out of the car. That was Howard fucking Stark. He glanced again at the video’s date. Christ, Howard had died in December of ’91, hadn’t he.

Hank had never given the crash much thought, assuming—like most people—that he infamous man-child billionaire had been driving drunk when he’d killed himself and his wife. Any obvious sympathy he’d felt for the surviving son had been dampened by the fact that everyone lost family, and most didn’t have billions of bucks to comfort them through their loss, nor go on to live the lives of obnoxious playboys. Hank’s begrudging respect for the times Tony Stark had saved the world was, as well, dampened by the number of times he’d endangered it, and overall ego and incompetence. Unlike most who hated Tony Stark though, Hank didn’t much care for “the Cap,” or any of the other Avengers, either. As far as he was concerned, they were a bunch of incompetent basket cases who had no business being vigilantes or the government’s watchdogs (hence Hank’s neutral stance on the Sokovia Accords). And at the start of the fiasco known as the Avengers--in Hank's opinion--was Howard Stark, the genius who'd given the Supersoldier serum to a random little shit eager to punch something, and then gone on to begot and raise a son as impulsively stupid as himself, before lying and ripping off Hank and nearly stealing his life's work.

None of that meant Hank enjoyed seeing someone he knew, even Howard, stumbling out of a car wreck with a bleeding head. What the fuck were the odds the Starks would crash right in front of the one camera on that empty stretch of road? When another figure entered the video, Hank realized that the conspiracy theories he’d always brushed off about Howard’s “accident” being caused by more than liquor and old age were true. The footage was so grainy, it was hard to tell who the murderer was, but from the hair and black getup, it looked like some ‘90s Goth grunge punk. A Goth grunge punk with a…metal robot arm?

Hank muttered over his tea, “What the crap?”

Hank, for all his past rage at Stark and disdain for youth culture, felt nothing but pure, chilled horror watching his old associate get punched to death by this Charles Manson impersonator. The stomach-churning began when the cultist (or whatever the fuck he was) moved on to the wife, who Hank realized was still in the car when the guy had dumped her husband’s corpse in the seat next to her.

The video was followed by a black screen with some white lettering.

Falcon and Black Widow dug that up from the Dark Web. Tony Stark didn’t know until he watched the footage, with Barnes standing right next to him.

Before Hank could finish wondering who the fuck “Barnes” was, the video went on to show some old photos of Sergeant Barnes, and summarize his transformation into the Winter Soldier.

Hope—and Hank knew Hope had put this presentation together, it was all her wording and her emotional string-pulling, just like her mother—concluded on the note that Thaddeus Ross now had both the Winter Soldier and Stark’s arc reactor (with Stark attached to it), to do with as he pleased. And all that that implied.

Well, shit.

Hank removed his glasses with a shaking hand and rubbed his face.

Hope hadn’t directly said anything about Barnes or Starks’ suffering; she’d worded everything with scientific precision, just slipping in the worst details and all the perfect moments. Most women who wanted to make you feel bad would try eating away at your conscience with some kind of impassioned speech; but Hope, just like her mother, went straight for the jugular. A female with brains really was the worst.

Hank traded his tea for a brandy from the basement fridge, and turned the video over in his mind. Hope had dumped a lot of confusing and, from the sound of it, incomplete information on him in that video. Hank's opinion of Howard Stark went in circles. It wasn't his fault, he hadn't been drunk, he'd been murdered, him and his poor wife...for Supersoldier serum...that Howard had apparently been trying to smuggle away from his enemies, and transported in the same car as his wife. So it was, partially, his fault. The bastard had gotten his wife stupidly killed and orphaned a son he'd probably been a winning father to, all because he'd felt like transporting some highly coveted item his enemies were after in his car trunk with his wife.

He knew it made no sense to lay all this on Howard, rather than the murderer. And apparently he couldn't lay it on the murderer either, because Barnes was a victim of mind-control. Shit... Hank was the kind of embittered genius who didn't like being reminded that other people also had problems. Janet had been glad to remind him of that all the time. Hank's personality had really gone downhill since losing his wife. He knew for a fact Janet would be on Hope and Scott's side in all this.

But what the fuck was he supposed to do? Volunteer to “help” Ross with the two prisoners, and…convince them he couldn’t use them? Distract Ross with science while someone else broke Stark and Barnes out of the building? Use his ant-technology to shrink them and sneak them out in his pocket? And to where? He was not prepared to shelter two world-hunted fugitives. He didn’t want the Winter Soldier in his house. He definitely didn’t want a Stark in his house. At least not in his lab.

Hank spent the next year building himself a heavily guarded fortress in the rainforest out of bamboo, to protect his fragile lab equipment from the hoards of screeching wombats scratching to get in. Finally, finally, after months of hammering and frantic duct-tape binding, his castle was complete, and his lab was safe. He poured himself some tea, finally able to relax in his perfectly sealed off bamboo lab, when a hoarse screech pierced the air. Hesitantly, he opened one bamboo window a crack. A small wombat lay on the side of the road (that apparently, somehow, ran through this jungle). Its back legs were a bloody mess of roadkill, and it was still alive and conscious. The animal’s moaning didn’t stop. Hank rushed to the door and hurried over to the injured animal. He pondered how to handle it, and hesitantly reached to pick it up.

He woke up on his sofa with his arms outstretched. His ants had draped an afghan over him after he’d fallen asleep, and were transporting his empty brandy bottle to the kitchen recycling bin.

Groaning, Hank left the sofa.

As he un-blocked all the numbers Scott had called him from, Hank decided that when he had Stark and Barnes safely hidden away in his home, he’d pile them with blankets, feed them hot cocoa with marshmallows, and tell Tony Stark to stay the fuck out of his lab.

Chapter Text

He didn’t know where he was, how old he was, or who needed his protection. He just knew that they were trying to control him again—whoever “they” were—and they wanted him to do it all over again: kill Howard again, and hunt after Steve again. He saw himself chasing skinny Steve into an alley and beating five different shades out of him with is metal arm. Crushing his skull with his fist, like he had Howard.

He wasn’t going to let them.

“Try wiping him again.”

A sigh. “We can try, but I’m telling you, this prototype is…..shit.”

“We need someone from Hydra who knows how their machine worked.”

Hydra.

His fist curled against he metal slab. He lay tilted at an angle, with a painful contraption pressing against his skull. He was still down one arm. This wasn’t Hydra’s mind-wiping chair, this was some pitiful attempt to replicate it.

A feminine voice asked timidly, “Who was the doctor that made him in the first place?”

“Arnim Zola,” someone else answered. “Put his brain into a computer, supposedly destroyed by Captain America. If we could just retrieve the Zola program though…”

Bucky blinked slowly. The more names he heard, the more everything came back to him.

The nurse who’d asked about the doctor who’d “made him” was a young woman with light brown skin and dark, wavy hair. She looked familiar. Like someone Bucky had encountered here and there. He didn’t know who she was but he knew that he knew her from his Winter Soldier memories.

“Hold it!” Everett Ross’s hand went up. “You’re talking about resurrecting the fruit who invented the Winter Soldier, and planted Hydra inside Shield for five decades?! Does anyone else see why that’s a bad idea?”

“We’re just talking about digging up a computer program,” Thunderfuck was speaking. “We can reprogram it to service us.”

Everett snorted.

“Sir,” a low-level assistant approached Thunderfuck. “Dr. Pym has arrived.”

Thunderfuck nodded. “I’ll be right there.”

Bucky glanced back at the young nurse. Their eyes met, and locked. She knew him. She was staring him down with cold calculation.

Like she had during their fights.

Bucky heard himself whisper, “Ghost.”

Everett and Thundershit both looked at Bucky.

“What’d he say?” Thunderfuck asked.

A jolt of energy slammed into his head from the metal pressing against his temples.

“What the hell was that?!”

“Y-you said to ‘wipe’ him….”

“Shit… Sergeant Barnes,” someone was slapping his cheek, “What were you saying? Sergeant Barnes? Bucky?”

Who the fuck is Bucky?

---

Tony woke to the same hospital-like laboratory, with some new faces. He was still strapped to the bed with his arc reactor disassembled, but the scientists who’d been studying it were gone. His only company was a pair of new security guards: a woman with dark hair tied back in a ponytail, and a Hispanic man who looked a tad too chubby and excitable to be a security guard. New guy? The woman seemed frustrated with her partner. The man grinned stupidly and gave Tony a tiny wave, like they were friends sharing some inside joke.

From the hall came a high-pitched male voice, with a slight Brooklyn accent. “…I’m here to help with your Stark infestation.”

“Fortunately we only have one,” Thaddeus Ross grunted.

Thunderfuck entered the room with a small scientist that reminded Tony of a disgruntled rodent.

“Dr. Pym,” Thunderturd nodded towards Tony, “Tony Stark.”

“Pleasure.” Dr. Pym said with a grimace.

“Fuck you.” Tony replied.

Pym pulled his glasses off as he approached Tony’s bed. Tony knew he looked like shit. Dr. Pym looked like he hadn’t been expecting that. Large eyes traveled from Tony’s face to his disassembled arc reactor. Pym almost glanced at the two security guards, before stopping himself. Turning back to Thaddeus Ross, Pym gestured to Tony with his glasses.

“Any particular reason he’s done up like something out of a Frankenstein porno?”

“He’s delirious. A danger to himself and others.”

Pym muttered, but loud enough for all to hear, “A delirious Stark, bit of a redundancy.”

Tony offered, “You try being sane after two months of rape and torture.”

That made Dr. Pym flinch.

Ross said flatly, “The Winter Soldier assassinated his parents, then held him prisoner for two month.”

“Why’re you lying to him, Thundershit?”

“Why’re you so attached to the man who murdered your parents?”

Tony was shaking, but before he could blurt out a retort Dr. Pym’s hand went to Tony’s shoulder and squeezed. “Could be worse.” He causally removed the hand. “You could have Dr. Ross’s parents.”

Thaddeus snarled, “Just whose side are you on Dr. Pym?”

“The one that will alieve me of my house arrest.” Dr. Pym assured Ross. “But like Stark here my asinine banter is nondiscriminatory. It’s how I say hello.”

“I happen to be Secretary of State—”

“And I happen to be the only one who can dissect this science fair project for you, and I’m doing it at the cost of being in a room with a Stark for the next several hours. So if you’ll kindly piss off and let me do my job, I’d appreciate it.”

“You can get in a lot of trouble talking to me that way.”

“And you can get laid Mr. Secretary. You can, can’t you? You’re married again after all.” Before Ross could retort Pym picked up Tony’s reactor in his hand. “Interesting nightlight…”

A menial messenger hurried into the room with some quiet news for Ross. The Secretary of State gave a final glare at Pym, seemingly struggling for a threat, then gave up and followed his assistant out the door.

Dr. Pym sifted through the wires snaking out of Tony’s chest, with an irritable interest that almost looked staged. But maybe that was wishful thinking. Tony wanted desperately to ask Dr. Pym if he was here to save him and Bucky, but that would obviously be a bad idea.

Snidely, Tony asked, “Dr. Pimp is it?”

“I’ve never heard that one before.”

The scientist lifted the arc reactor in one hand. Tony had long since grown used to the discomforting, violating feeling of stranger’s hands clasping his “heart,” often with painful pressure. Pym held gently, but almost too much so; Tony was terrified it would tumble out of the old man’s loose, disinterested grasp and slam back onto the tray, or go straight the floor, ripping the wires out with it.

“Stark.”

Pym’s low, urgent voice got Tony’s attention. The scientist spoke through his teeth, moving his lips as little as possible, and making sure to keep the reactor over his mouth for good measure. Tony recalled that there were security cameras in this room, and while they probably didn’t have sound, a high-level facility like this probably had lip-readers on hand.

“I apologize….” Pym said, working at the reactor. “…in advance.”

Tony began to ask, “For what?” but got no further than “F—” when a shock blazed through his chest, causing him to cry out.

“You say something?” Pym asked, looking over the reactor with comedic casualness.

The security guards had both cringed. The woman slowly closed her eyes, as if some relative had embarrassed her in public.

Breathing heavily, Tony asked the doctor, “What’re you doing.”

Back to talking carefully again, head bowed low. “I have absa-fucking-lutely no idea.”

“…I don’t like that.”

“And I don’t like asparagus but we can’t always have what we want can we.” Raising his voice a little, he said conversationally, “I worked with your father Stark.”

“Really. He never mentioned you. Actually he might’ve, I just wasn’t listening.”

“Stark,” Pym’s voice was low and serious again. “Complications have arisen…and busting you and Barnes out of here will be harder than we thought. I need you to be patient and play along.”

Matching his low voice, Tony replied, “What the hell does ‘play along’ mean?”

“Just…keep your mouth shut. Actually, do the opposite of that, keep pissing everybody off. Or else they’ll start to get suspicious. Maybe…offer autographs in exchange for freedom, something like that.”

Tony rolled his head on his pillow to look at the guards. The woman was trying hard to keep from rolling her eyes, while the stout man just stood there looking stupid. The woman clenched her jaw, and finally gave her comrade a kick in the shin.

“Oh!” the male guard left his post and headed for Tony’s bed, fumbling something in his pocket. “Mr. Stark, do I have to pay for autographs?”

In his hand, the man held a permanent marker, and a red glass blown object with gold trim. It was an Iron Man themed bong.

The guard holding the Iron Man bong chuckled, “So I guess, the little reactor here lights up when you light up—”

Pym snatched the bong from the guard and set it on the tray with the wires and (real) reactor. “Stark’s tied up at the moment.”

He was back to speaking for the cameras. “Stark, if you wanna get out of here, you can tell me how to help the Secretary of State turn your arc reactor into a broadcaster.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then he’ll probably just keep bringing in more scientists until someone figures it out.”

“He wants to use me to find the rogue Avengers.”

“Probably.”

“What about the law-abiding ones? Where the hell’s Vision?”

“Your grape Data hasn’t been seen in months. I assume he’s one of the people Ross wants to find. And he’s very bent on this project; the more he fails to provide results, the more the president loses faith in him,” Pym’s voice was lowering as he spoke, back down to a barely audible mutter, “and the more time someone might have to dig up some of his dirty secrets.”

---

Darcy Lewis sipped her latte, eyes never leaving her laptop.

She sat in a cramped truck, sifting through all the files she could hack out of Thaddeus Ross’s facility.

A small window was opened on the screen, where Darcy was skyping with another hacker from another dark room. The other hacker was also female, with short bleached hair.

“So what’d you say your name was?” Darcy asked the other hacker casually.

“I didn’t. Just call me Charlotte.”

“Like ‘Charlotte’s web?’ So your real identity is something spider related I take it?” Darcy snapped her fingers. “You’re Black Widow!”

“You were the smartest kid in your class, weren’t you.”

“Well I’m the one who found out basically all the information on Thundertwit’s security for us to formulate this plan so yeah, I guess I’m pretty smart. So it looks like Ross has his own batch of superheroes, or super-villains, or super-punchclock-guards more like. So even if we did have all the Avengers here, which we don’t, we’d still have a hell of a time breaking Tony and his boyfriend out of there. Where are all the other Avengers anyway?”

“That’s partially what Mr. Fury and I are trying to figure out. We both wish we could help you all more directly, but our hands are kind of tied at the moment. But even if we were all there, just breaking Stark and Barnes out would be a bad idea. We’d all just be back where we started, but Tony would be a fugitive too.”

“Yeah, but he wouldn’t be getting dissected,” Darcy pointed out.

“What’s your plan?” Black Widow asked.

“Dr. Pym’s gonna pretend to try and turn Tony’s chest-battery into an Avenger-detector, like Thundertits wants, but he’s actually gonna sabotage it so Thunderfart will not only not find any Avengers, but the president will get pissed at him, and I’ll have time to dig up some dirt that’ll get his ass fired, hopefully tossed in prison. And then Tony and Buck can be officially let off the hook and we can all go out for shawarma.”

“Hang on!” Black Widow’s eyes narrowed. “Scroll back down.”

The two hackers were following the same scroll of data. Darcy did as Black Widow requested, and her eyes widened. “What’s that?

Black Widow said quietly, “That’s interesting…”

--

Pym had left hours ago. Tony lay with his eyes shut, trying to convince himself to sleep—his brain needed to rest if it was going to be any use—but sleep was impossible.

“Stark?”

Tony’s eyes opened.

His room was empty. Even the two “guards” were gone. His saviors had to have done some hacking on the security cameras, to allow for this to happen. He searched for the source of the voice. It sounded both close and far away. Some kind of advanced broadcasting system.

“Who are you?” Tony asked, his eyes searching the room.

“I could tell you… but you might not like the ant-swer.”

Tony craned his neck to look at the tray where his gutted arc reactor sat. The Iron Man bong was still sitting there… and a tiny man was climbing out of it. Tony recognized him, from the German airport. He had to assume that red and silver armor had some kind of broadcasting technology that made it possible for Tony to hear his voice, even this faintly. The man tumbled clumsily out of the bong, with some “Omfs!” and “Ows,” then stood up and began brushing cannabis-ash off of his armor.

Tony muttered in disbelief, “You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“That’s what I said. Yet, here we are.”

“Have we met?”

“Briefly. You never seem to remember my name.”

“Because you never told me it asshole!”

“Scott Lang, Ant Man.”

“…. Ant…Man?”

“Problem?”

“I was gonna nickname you Thumbelina or something but I don’t think anything gets more ridiculous than Ant Man.”

“You’re right, I should call myself ‘Iron Man’ as I blast around in a suit that contains every kind of metal except iron.” Scott was swinging his arms, preparing for a big jump. He leaped off the tray and landed on Tony’s chest, near his arc reactor. “Now I understand you can broadcast signals with this magnet-thing?”

“S…stay out of my hole.”

“I promise you, the hole of a Stark is the last hole I ever wanted to enter, but unfortunately Hank can't work this small without requesting more equipment and arousing suspicion, so, we have to do it this way.”

Tony clenched his jaw at the uncomfortable sensation of the ant-sized man climbing into his chest cavity, using the wires like vines on an old brick wall.

“I’ll need you to talk me through how to make this thing broadcast a secret signal, that only the receiver can detect.”

“Depends. Who’re we broadcasting to?”

“Wakanda.”