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(I Am) A Little Wicked

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Tony was ten when it happened.

It started with Howard angry and screaming, throwing things around. He reeked of alcohol, eyes wild with rage.

“Howard, enough!” Maria was standing in the kitchen, hands on her hips. “You’re scaring Antonio!”

“For the last time,” Howard growled. “The kid’s name is Anthony! And he’s a disrespectful little brat!” Howard lunged for Tony.

Tony screamed and scrambled back, but Howard, even in a drunken rage, was quicker. He grabbed Tony’s arm, wrenching him forward. Tony cried out, pulling his arm back. He managed to pull himself free, but Howard’s nails caught him. They scrapped down long and nasty across Tony’s flesh, leaving trails of blood in their wake. Tony huddled himself behind Maria, holding a shaking arm.

“You hurt him,” Maria whispered. The room fell silent. “You hurt my ‘Tonio.” Her fists shook with building rage.

Howard must’ve noticed a change in Maria’s demeanour and stepped back. He was breathing hard, raging eyes dying down to a simmer. “Maria…”

Mio figlio.” Maria hissed. “You hurt him.” She took a step forward, pushing Tony to stay in place. “Stay back, darling.”

“Maria…” Howard took a step back. “I’m sorry. Let’s calm down.”

Maria narrowed her eyes, opening a kitchen drawer. She rifled around a bit, then pulled out a butcher knife. “You are not allowed to touch him. You will never hurt my ‘Tonio again.”

Howard cowered against a wall. “Maria, please. Let’s talk about this.”

“No.” Maria shook her head. “No more talking.”

She lunged, and it was too fast for Tony to really comprehend. One moment she was standing in front of Howard with the knife, the next she had it buried in his stomach, inches away from him.

“I hope,” Maria murmured, leaning in close to Howard. “Il Diavolo keeps you warm in Hell.”

Maria pulled the knife out and Howard slid down the wall, eyes going glassy. She watched him fall, glowering at an already stiff body.

“No one,” Maria dropped to her knees, raising the knife. “Hurts my son.”

Tony didn’t know how many times Maria stabbed the dead body. He only stood and watched as her lovely white evening dress stained bright red. The blood splattered across her face and hands.

Madre.” Tony walked over, touching her arm. “Madre, I think he’s dead.”

Maria froze, looking up at Tony. There was a single, fleeting moment where Tony was terrified of her. The rage and pure insanity in her eyes was something to be feared. But it was gone in an instant, smoothed over with the familiar loving smile of a mother. She studied Tony, head tilted to the side.

“Oh darling, you’re bleeding.” Maria clicked her tongue. “Don’t worry, Jarvis will fix you right up.” She reached out to touch Tony’s face, but then seemed to remember her fingers were blood-soaked and pulled it back away.

Madre…” Tony bit his lip. “They’re not gonna take you away, right? Like the bad guys in the movies?”

Maria shook her head. “No, darling. The bad guys are the ones who get caught.” She glanced behind Tony and brightened with a smile. “Jarvis! You’re just in time. I need you to clean up ‘Tonio. He has a cut on his arm. I’m going to get cleaned up and all the police.” She grabbed a towel, wiping the knife clean of her fingerprints before dropping it beside the body. “A terrible murder has just occurred.”

She walked out of the kitchen perfectly calm and collected as if she weren’t covered in Howard’s blood.

Tony turned to Jarvis. Jarvis… well, as a ten-year-old, Tony could hardly understand the look on Jarvis’ face. It was solemn, pale. He stood staring at the dead body for a few long moments, blinking hard.

“Come along, Master Anthony.” Jarvis cleared his throat. “We’ll get your arm all bandaged up.”

Tony nodded, following Jarvis into the bathroom with a happy little skip. He idly wondered if, with Howard gone, there’d be less yelling. Maria was always so nice to Tony. Tony couldn’t wait to start living without Howard around.

 


 

“Why do we have to go?” Tony whined, sitting next to Maria. She glanced at him through the mirror of her boudoir.

“It’s your father’s death, figlio.”Maria hummed, clasping on her pearls. “We have to pay our respects.”

“You said he doesn’t deserve our respects.” Tony kicked his little legs as he sat on a stool.

Maria chuckled. “My beautiful darling, he doesn’t. And he doesn’t deserve our tears either.” She turned to face Tony, running a hand over his face. “But only the bad guys get caught, darling. And sometimes to make sure we don’t get caught, we have to lie.” She brushed stray curls off Tony’s forehead. “Your father doesn’t deserve your tears, Antonio. Don’t you ever forget that. He deserves nothing from you, my little one. But when you see a camera, you have to shed a tear for them. Be the sad little boy who lost his padre, hm?”

Tony nodded. “Yes, mammina.” He jumped off his stool after her as she stood up.

“And do you remember what I told you about smiling,figlio?” Maria asked, taking Tony’s hand as they walked toward the car.

“Don’t smile with teeth.” Tony recited. “Only your lips. Small and graceful.”

Maria nodded. “Si. You only show your fangs when you’re ready to bite. Now come, darling. We’ve a body to bury.”

 


 

“Maria.” Stane sighed. “I’m glad to have you on board with Stark Industries. Against all odds, you’ve managed to keep our stocks up this past month with… light of recent events.” He tugged on his tie as Maria did the sign of the cross. “But without Howard… I don’t know how to make this company work. He was the brains.” Stane gestured to the half-finished blueprints in front of them.

Maria studied the blueprints. For as much as she was a businesswoman, she wasn’t a genius. “Howard,” She let her voice catch on his name. “Howard relied on his own genius in running the company. I, however, am not opposed to finding help in others.”

Stane looked ready to say something when small feet ran into the office.

Madre!” Tony announced. “Jarvis says lunch is ready.”

“Thank you, darling.” Maria smiled, touching Tony’s head. She pretended to ignore the look of annoyance from Stane.

Tony walked over to the desk, peaking at the designs.

“Anthony, this is a grown-up-” Stane started.

“That’s wrong,” Tony said suddenly.

Maria tilted her head to the side. “What’s wrong, figlio? Show me.”

Tony pointed a little finger at a specific equation. “That one.”

“Can you fix it?” Maria offered him a pencil, silencing Stane’s starting objection with a look.

Tony nodded, grabbing the pencil. His careful handwriting started covering Howard’s, numbers written over different numbers. He hummed happily, writing more equations until the entire sheet was covered with them.

“All done now.” Tony set the pencil down, looking at Maria for approval.

“Thank you, tesoro.” Maria kissed Tony’s forehead. “Obidah, could you take these down to R&D?”

Stane forced a smile that was too strained around his eyes and showed too many teeth to be real. He grabbed the blueprints and walked out.

Maria turned to Tony and gave him a warm smile. “What’s for lunch, darling?”


 

Maria folded her arms, looking around at the board.

“Mrs Stark,” A board member whose name Maria hadn’t bothered to learn spoke up. “We’re aware of the positive effects you’ve had on this company’s business since taking over. However, there are countless other factors that can play into these positive effects. When it comes down to it, you simply aren’t equipped with the knowledge and experience to be CEO of this company.”

Maria studied him, then the rest of the board. They were all nodding along, even if they wouldn’t meet Maria’s eyes. She shook her head. “Do any of you know who Edith Wilson is?” Maria asked, drumming her fingers on the wooden table.

Silence.

“She was the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson.” Maria continued, walking across the room, around the long board table. “President Wilson had a stroke while he was in office, did you know that?” Maria touched her pearls. “A terrible thing, the man was bedridden for over a year. But countries don’t run themselves, do they?” She did a sharp turn, looking over the board, posture perfectly straight. “Edith Wilson ran the country while he was sick. No decision was made without her go ahead, no one was allowed to visit her husband without her permission. She ran the country so tightly, in fact, many of her own husband’s advisors thought he was simply dead.”

Maria tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, letting her head tilt somewhat to the side. “Eleanor Roosevelt was a Delegate to the United Nations, as well as Chair to the Humans Rights Commissions, after her husband’s time in the White House. It’s amazing, what a woman can do when she’s completely overshadowed by her husband’s fame.” She held her head high. “If anyone believes I’m incapable of running this company, I don’t think they quite understand that I’ve already been running it for years.” She glanced around. “I believe this meeting is adjourned.”

 


 

“You know, Jarvis.” Maria hummed, doing her makeup. “I’ve been doing some thinking.”

“Oh?” Jarvis asked, setting down a tray of breakfast for her.

Maria glanced down at the tray. “Thank you, doll. As I said, I was thinking. You and Miss Carter wrangled with some nasty fellows back in your time, didn’t you?”

Jarvis smiled at the memory. “I believe we did, ma’am.”

“Well,” Maria stood up, taking a sip from the cup of tea. “With Howard’s tragic passing, I do believe I have a bit more freedom to do as a please.” She walked across the room, grabbing a diamond necklace. “Help me put this on?” She pulled her hair away from her neck.

“Of course.” Jarvis stepped forward and grabbed the necklace.

“And for as much as Howard whined,” Maria continued. “Running that company of his is really child’s place. Antonio does the hardest part of the designs. Unlike Howard, I’m not content in wallowing about, drowning myself in alcohol.”

Jarvis offered a curt nod. “You’re much more dignified than that, ma’am.”

“Thank you.” Maria let her hair fall back in place. “If I’m going to consolidate my power in SI, I might as well go all the way, hm?” She grabbed a shawl, throwing it over her shoulders. “Running a major weapons dealing company is only a fine line from underground mafia business.”

“A fine line that is the law,” Jarvis said dryly, but his tone held no accusation or disgust.

Maria chuckled. “That’s never been something to stop a powerful woman. Tell me, Jarvis, do you happen to still have any connections to some of those fellows?”

Jarvis paused a moment, thinking. “I could arrange for a meeting with a few Brooklyn mafias if you so wish.”

“That’d be lovely, Jarvis.” Maria flashed a smile that was all teeth. “Put me in as Maria Carbonell.”

Chapter Text

Maria took a seat at a long table, fiddling with her pearls. The room had a dreary aesthetic to it, but one she expected for such a meeting. The walls were concrete and thick, ceiling low with a single hanging light. The table itself had an endless amount of knife marks and bullet holes but still managed to stand on its long four legs. The chairs pulled around it was a mismatched hodgepodge, seeming to be whatever could be found in the area.

Maria resolved to put time and effort into fixing the place up a bit when her place in it was established. She would be damned if she had to frequent such a disgusting place.

“Mrs Stark,” A man spoke up. He was a bird-like young man, with a sneer that held just a bit too much arrogance for his position. He wasn’t as high up as he believed he was, by Maria’s judgement. He’d be one of the easiest to take down should she need to assert her dominance.

Maria turned her head ever so slightly, giving him a faint smile that didn’t touch her eyes in the slightest. “I believe I asked to be called Ms Carbonell.”

“Ms Carbonell,” A different man cut in, with a deep baritone. He seemed to be responsible for the other man, but more aware of his own positions within the circle. “We’re certainly happy to have you here, but I don’t believe… you quite fit in, if you mind me speaking crudely.

“And why is that?” Maria tilted her head to the side. “Is it because of my gender? Or perhaps my socioeconomic status? Or whatever other bigoted elitist social divides you’ve created amongst yourselves?” The men around the room shifted uncomfortably and Maria held down a vicious smile. “Because whilst I’m not one to make assumptions, I do believe men of your lifestyles would be quite open to having the CEO of the world’s leading weapons company in their presence and ready to do presence, hm?” Maria tapped her fingernail against the glass of cheap whiskey she’d been given. “Or am I wrong to assume such notions?” She flashed her press smile, putting on the mask of a billionaire’s wife for only a brief moment, just to make it apparent it was just that. A mask.

The man sitting at the head of the table cleared his throat. If his seating didn’t make it clear enough, the expensive lapels of his suit coined with the way the room shifted when he moved made it transparent he was the one in charge. He looked to be about ten or so years older than Maria, making it likely his power came of his experience. “Ms Carbonell,” The man flashed a smile. It was one someone with enough naivety might’ve fallen for, but Maria didn’t. “My name is Alphonso Martinique.” He said his last name with weight. So his family was a long time established one, meaning his power wasn’t as much earned as it was hereditary. Interesting. “And I must say, I am interested in the prospect of having someone of your… position with us.” He leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table as if trying to intimidate her. “But I’m not quite sure why you’re here.”

Maria swirled the whiskey in the glass, studying it. “Ten per cent.” She didn’t even look up.

“Pardon?” Martinique asked.

Maria set the glass down, dragging her gaze upwards to meet his. “Ten per cent of all business operations from each of you. And you’ll all have complete access to all weaponry from Stark Industries.” She leaned forward, mimicking Martinique’s posture. “You’ll have access to weapons not even the military does. But,” Maria tilted her chin up, “if you say no, I’ll cut off your existing deals with Stark Industries. Don’t think I’m not aware of my late husband’s business partner’s already existing underground tradings. You’ll see just how quickly I can sever those ties, should I choose to.”

Martinique narrowed his eyes. “Ms Carbonell, I feel like it should be made perfectly apparent, you are in no position to blackmail myself or any of these other men.”

“Am I?” Maria arched an eyebrow. The silence in the room was stagnant, looks being exchanged.

The birdlike man stood up pulling out a gun. For as enraged as he was, Maria beat him to pull the trigger with her own Glock that’d been hiding under her skirt. His brain matter and blood painted a lovely red splatter across the concrete wall. Maria didn’t so much as flinch, making a show of flipping the safety of the Glock back on before sliding it into its holster again.

The silence filled the room, even more, charged this time. Shoulders tensed, fingers twitched.

The man with the baritone voice was the first to break the silence, laughing out loud. “Ms Carbonell, I’m going to have to think you for that. I’ve been trying to edge Marlon out for nearly a year.” He tossed back his own glass of whiskey. “Not only can I promise you ten per cent of what I control, but also all of his assets.” He glanced at the dead body. “Marlon won’t be needing them anymore, and I don’t want the extra workload.”

Maria flashed a smile, letting her teeth show. “And what’s your name, doll?”

“Smitty.” He nodded. “Everyone around here calls me Smitty.”

“Lovely to meet you, Smitty.” Maria tilted her head to the side. She glanced around the room at the half a dozen other men. “And as for the rest of you?”

Everyone looked to Martinique.

“Seven per cent.” Martinique glanced at Marlon’s dead body. “And you have a deal. With all of us.”

“My terms are non-negotiable,” Maria said.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this business, lady?” A deep, smoker’s voice directly on Maria’s left spoke up. She glanced over to see one of the older men at the table studying her, sizing her up. “You’re a widow. You got a kid. You don’t know shit about this side of the city.”

“I don’t believe my family has any significance to this.” Maria narrowed her eyes.

The older man scoffed. “Sure you aren’t just grievin’ from your husband’s death?”

Maria touched her pearls. “The only thing about his death I’ve grieved is getting his blood all over my favourite white evening dress when I killed him.”

The looks on the faces of the men around Maria were amusing in endless ways to Maria. The only one who seemed to find it to be something with smiling about was Smitty, who looked about ready to laugh again. Everyone else, even Martinique, looked uncomfortable, even horrified.

“Ten per cent,” Martinique nodded, “is fair, in light of all… information. Any objections?”

The room was quiet again.

Martinique forced a tight smile. “Welcome to the business, Ms Carbonel.”

 


 

“Oh Maria,” Peggy Carter swept Maria into a hug as soon as she stepped into the living room. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, Margaret.” Maria hugged her right back. “Would you like some tea? I can call Jarvis.”

Peggy shook her head. “Oh, I wish I could stay long enough for a cup. But I’m afraid this is a short visit. I only came to offer my sincerest condolences and apologies for not being able to make the funeral.”

Maria blinked a few times as if holding back tears. “It’s quite alright. Howard would’ve understood.”

“Have the police made any progress?” Peggy asked.

“Not that I know of.” Maria shook her head. “Howard had an endless list of enemies, they’re not even sure where to start looking.”

Peggy’s eyes were filled with misplaced sympathy. “I can ask SHIELD to look into it if you’d like.”

“I don’t want to waste your time, love,” Maria said, looking away. “As much as I’d like closure… I’d rather not drag this out. I just want him to have peace.”

“Of course.” Peggy put her hand on Maria’s shoulder. The faint hesitance in her eyes told Maria that Peggy was going to look into regardless. “How are you and Anthony holding up?”

“As well as you’d expect.” Maria sighed. “I’m just… nervous. Someone broke into my home, left my kitchen covered… covered in my own husband’s blood.” She did the sign of the cross. “It certainly doesn’t help one sleep at night.” Maria faked a weak laugh. “I’m just a bit nervous. ‘Tonio’s handling it well. He hides in his room a lot, I don’t know what to do about that. We’re healing as well as we can.”

Peggy sat down on the couch next to Maria. “Have you considered upping your security?”

“I’ve already doubled it.” Maria fiddled with her pearls. “I’m just afraid…” She shook her head. “Afraid for if someone manages to get past it. Antonio is ten. He can’t…” She took a deep breath.

“I don’t know if this is my place,” Peggy started, “but if you’d like, I can teach both of you a bit of self-defence. I’m not what I was in my youth, but I can teach you a few things.” She gave Maria a kind smile.

“Oh, I couldn’t ask you for that, love.” Maria shook her head, holding down a triumphant smile.

“I insist,” Peggy said. “It’ll give you something to vent some extra energy, and keep you a bit safer.” She stood up, smoothing her blouse. “I can’t help you by always being around, but I can at least do this. Let me help you, Maria.”

“Thank you.” Maria gave her a thin-lipped smile.

Peggy nodded. “I’ll be here on Wednesday. It’s been lovely seeing you.”

“You too, Margaret.” Maria gave her a brief hug and watched the agent leave.

Maria smiled to herself. Even secret agents could be played, she supposed.

Chapter Text

 

“Look at you,” Maria smiled, running her hand over Tony’s face. “Growing up so fast. Already going to college.”

Tony smiled, tugging at the edges of the oversized MIT hoodie. “Thank you, madre.”

Maria kissed Tony’s cheek. “Make some friends, ‘Tonio.”

“And why should I do that?” Tony’s voice was bored and annoyed, but he wore a playful smile.

“Connections are always worthwhile.” Maria reminded him. “MIT is filled with influential people.”

Tony nodded. “I’ll take the jet home every weekend, I promise.”

“Of course.” Maria kissed Tony’s cheek again. “Keep in contact, and let me know if you need anything, tesoro.”

“Mhm.” Tony hugged Maria. “Goodbye, madre.”

Maria gave Tony a final smile and watched him leave. That was her boy.


 

Tony hated college.

The subjects went mind-numbingly slow, the people were assholes, and the teachers belittled him. He was starting to regret letting Maria convince him into going.

So naturally, Tony was a loner. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it wasn’t like he needed friends. But it wasn’t going to help his public image. Maria would be disappointed in him if she knew. She always harped Tony about making sure what the people saw something they could love and adore without question. A wolf in sheep’s clothing and all.

And sure, Tony agreed with that. Wholeheartedly, even. If he hoped to even try to make Maria proud, Tony had to be like her. He had to prove to her he was worth more than Howard ever had been. Prove to himself that the media was all wrong. Tony wasn’t Howard’s son, wasn’t his pride and joy. He wasn’t the mirror image of Howard, wasn’t going to be the man Howard Stark was.

No, Tony was Maria Carbonell’s son first. The son of a woman who was stronger than the man who tried to control her, a man whose mask only hid an empty shell. And Tony had to make her proud.

“Hey.”

Tony glanced up, jerked out of his thoughts. “What?” Tony said, just a tad too harsh. He’d come to the library to be alone and study.

The guy standing next to Tony didn’t seem deterred in the slightest by Tony’s reaction, only smiling. “Hi. I’m James Rhodes, but everyone calls me Rhodey. Mind if I sit here?” He gestured to the seat next to Tony.

Tony blinked, then put on an easy smile. “Sure.” Tony dragged his books over and out of the way.

“This has gotta be weird for you,” Rhodey sighed, sitting down. “Everyone here is like, three years older than you. And assholes.”

“You said it, not me.” Tony glanced at Rhodey, giving him a small smirk.

Rhodey laughed. It sounded genuine, all in all. Even if Tony wasn’t really expecting much. Most people who’d tried to befriend him so far only saw the last name. If the whole point of making connections in MIT was for it to be beneficial to Tony, then Tony was well aware most weren’t worth the brainpower. Even so, Rhodey did sound somewhat genuine, so Tony didn’t immediately push him away.

“Tony, right?” Rhodey asked. “That’s your name?”

“Yep.” Tony nodded. “I don’t go by some weird nickname derived off my last name like ‘Stark-y’. Because that’d be weird.” Tony sipped his coffee.

Rhodey laughed again, throwing his head back. “Man, I didn’t pick the name. Even my mom calls me that. Nobody calls me ‘James’.”

“Well, that’s good.” Tony decided. “Because ‘James’ is boring. And you don’t look like a James. It’s too… boring.”

“Child genius, right here, ladies and gentlemen.” Rhodey teased, grinning.

Tony smacked his arm, having to hold his lips closed when he smiled.  “I haven’t had coffee yet. Shut up.”

“Coffee fuels all genius, doesn’t it?” Rhodey wiggled his eyebrows.

“Yes.” Tony looked him dead in the eye. Rhodey only shook his head and chuckled. So maybe not everyone at college was an asshole.

“Hey, Stark.”

Well, there were still the assholes regardless.

Tony looked up and put on an easy smile. “Hey, Justin.”

Justin Hammer gave Tony a nasty smirk. “Nice to see your sorry ass made a friend.”

“And I didn’t even have to buy him out like you do.” Tony tilted his head to the side and offered the sweetest smile he could muster.

Justin baulked but didn’t back down. “He must like you for your personality. The way you’re so like your father,” He sneered. “I just hope you don’t end up in a pool of your own blood like him.”

As contrived as the hoops Justin had to jump through to bring it to Howard like he always did were, it still pissed Tony off. Not necessarily the mention of Howard, but the comparison. He gave a slight glare, throat tightening.

“Hey, fuck off.” Rhodey cut in. “How’d you feel if someone brought up a traumatizing event in your life, asshole? That’s just sick.”

Justin blinked, taking a step back. He opened his mouth, but Rhodey glared him down. He and his lackeys stormed off, mumbling to himself.

Rhodey shook his head. “That’s sick. You know you don’t deserve that, right?”

“It’s fine. It was years ago.” Tony cleared his throat, fiddling with his pencil. Maria’s words about shedding a tear for the cameras rang loud in his head.

“Doesn’t matter. It’s just not right, you know? I don’t care how sick you are, that’s messed up.” Rhodey glared at Justin from across the library.

Tony smiled. “Thanks.”

Rhodey definitely wasn’t an asshole. Tony made a mental note to kick anyone’s ass who touched him. Rhodey probably befriended Tony to take him under his wing, but Tony was well aware the opposite had just happened. Rhodey was under his protection, and anyone who hurt him would learn what a Carbonell was capable of.

 


 

Even with Rhodey, Tony was glad to be home for Christmas break a few months later. It meant less class, more sleep. And seeing his family, which was nice.

“Afternoon, madre.” Tony kissed Maria’s cheek as he walked into the house, bag slung over his shoulder. “Hey, Smitty.” Tony nodded to Maria’s favourite business partner. At least for the underground business, anyway.

“Nice to see you, Tony.” Smitty gave Tony a bright smile. “How’s college going for you, kid?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “If I wanted to be surrounded by alcohol, drugs, and stupid teenagers, I’d go to a crack house.”

Smitty laughed. “Good to know you aren’t hanging around that crowd then, kid.”

“My ‘Tonio would never be stupid enough to befriend such lowlifes.” Maria made a distasteful face.

“Of course not.” Tony nodded. “You raised me better.”

Maria smiled. “Oh hush.” She touched Tony’s arm. “I need you to come to a business meeting I have with Mr Hammer, tesoro. Tomorrow afternoon.”

Tony hummed. “Is it about the money he’s been trying skim off the top?”

“Yes.” She nodded. “He mentioned bringing his son to the meeting, so I thought it’d be only fair if you came too.

Even on his break, Tony had to deal with seeing Justin’s squirrely little face. “Sure thing.” Tony gave Maria another cheek kiss and headed up to his room. At least this time he’d be seeing Justin on his terms. “Nice seeing you, Smitty.”

“You too, kid,” Smitty shouted after him. Tony smiled.

 


 

“Mrs Stark,” Hammer started, fixing his tie. “While it’s a pleasure to see you, I’m not quite sure to what I owe the occasion.”

Maria tilted her head to the side, smiling with her lips. “It’s just a small business matter, concerning Stark Industries and HammerTech.”

Hammer mimicked Maria’s tilting his head to the side. Tony sucked on a lollipop, sitting on the living room couch and watching. Justin Hammer sat in a chair, watching as well. Tony hated having Justin and his father in their living room, but he supposed it was necessary. “What about it? Should we call a board meeting?” Mr Hammer asked.

“No, of course not, dear.” Maria gave her best press smile, sipping tea. “No need for such a fuss. It’s just a small thing, I’m sure we can clear it up without a problem.”

“And what would it be?” Mr Hammer tilted his head to the side.

Maria set her teacup down, touching her pearls. “You know, so often people tend to underestimate me. Even five years into taking over Howard company -God rest his soul- I’m still doubted.” She crossed her legs. “I suppose I don’t blame them, social prejudices and all. But,” Maria’s eyes narrowed just a tad, “I’m very good at what I do, Mr Hammer. I always know what goes on in my company, inside and out. And I especially know when someone is scamming me.”

Mr Hammer blinked a few times, clearing his throat. “I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, Mrs Stark.”

“You know exactly what I’m saying.” Maria leaned forward. “I gave you a generous business deal, and you took advantage of it.”

Mr Hammer’s face went from blank to shocked, to offended, then finally to a cocky smirk. “And how do you plan to fix that? I’m sure you don’t have any evidence of illegal actions, otherwise, this wouldn’t be such a casual meeting.”

Maria cocked an eyebrow. “I believe you’re mistaken. I don’t the law to rectify these sorts of things.”

“Are you threatening me, Mrs Stark?” Mr Hammer outright growled.

“Only if I need to be.” Maria didn’t flinch.

“And just what do you think you have to threaten me with?” Mr Hammer demanded. “If the business deal falls apart, you’ll lose just as much.”

Maria glanced around the room, eyes falling on Justin. “You have a lovely son. I’m sure he’ll be a wonderful heir to your company.” Maria picked up the teacup, taking a sip.

“You’re threatening to hurt my son?” Mr Hammer stood up, taking a step back.

“Am I?” Maria tilted her head to the side. “All you have to do is keep the business deal clean on both ends. I don’t think that’s too hard.”

“If you think you can threaten me into compliance,” Mr Hammer hissed, “you should know, I won’t let a woman tell me what to do. You wouldn’t hurt Justin. You’re bluffing.”

Maria pressed her lips. “I never said I would hurt Justin.” She glanced at Tony, smiling with all her teeth. “Did I, ‘Tonio?”

“You didn’t.” Tony sat up.

“And I don’t plan to.” Maria studied her nails. “I can’t speak for ‘Tonio will do, though.”

Maria gave Tony a single look, and that was all Tony needed. Tony stood up, wearing a feral grin. He sauntered over to where Justin was sitting. Justin was sitting still, glaring at Tony. Waiting for the bluff.

Tony stood right next to Justin, bending over so his mouth was right next to Justin’s ear. “Hey Justin,” Tony whispered in a soft purr.

Then he pulled a switchblade out of his pocket and slammed it into Justin’s hand.

Justin screamed, staring at his bleeding hand, that now had a knife pinning it against the armrest of the chair he was sitting in. Tony pulled the knife out just as quickly as he’d put it in.

“Who’s in a pool of their own blood now?” Tony murmured in Justin’s ear, then threw himself back down onto the couch, twirling the blood-soaked knife between his fingers while he sucked the lollipop in his other hand.

Mr Hammer stared at his bleeding son with a look Tony could only describe as pure horror. He only managed to look at Tony for a brief moment, the toothy smirk Tony gave him scared any eye contact away instantly.

“I’ll… look into fixing the problem,” Mr Hammer said, tugging on his tie. “Justin, let’s go.”

Justin stood up, looking white in the face. He cradled his bleeding hand to his chest, stumbling out of the house to follow his father. Tony watched the door slam shut, still smiling.

“Thank you, ‘Tonio,” Maria said as soon as they were gone. “You make me so proud, figlio.”

Tony put the bloody knife down and gave a genuine smile. “Anything for you, madre.”

Chapter Text

“Tones, I’m telling you, one day all that coffee is gonna short-circuit your brain.” Rhodey elbowed Tony as they walked down the dark streets.

Tony grinned. “Well, where’s the fun if you don’t live on the edge?”

Rhodey laughed, shaking his head. “The fun is in having a long lifespan, man. Living to be thirty.”

“Who wants to be thirty anyway?” Tony rolled his eyes. “You’re old and cranky and you look down on everyone.”

“You won’t be looking down on anyone,” Rhodey promised. “They’ll be looking down at you, short stuff.”

“Hey!” Tony smacked his arm. “You’re an asshole. I’m fun sized.”

“You’re something alright.” Rhodey shook his head with a smile. “Alright, here’s your dorm.” They stopped walking in front of the brick building.

“You didn’t have to walk me, you know,” Tony said, making a face as he got out his badge to unlock the door. “I’m a big boy, I can handle myself.”

“You’re a seventeen-year-old, five-foot tall little shit.” Rhodey corrected. “I’m just looking out for you, Tones.”

Tony stuck his tongue out. “Don’t go soft on me, Platypus.” He opened the door.

“Goodnight, Tony,” Rhodey called out, smiling so hard it hurt. “Get some sleep!”

“Love you too, mom!” Tony shouted back, shutting the door behind himself. Rhodey watched his figure disappear from the view of the windows. God, he loved that scrappy kid.

Rhodey sighed, flipping up his hood. His dorm was on the other side of the campus, and it was already late. Tony was right, Rhodey didn’t have to walk him back, but Rhodey liked looking out for Tony. The kid was smart but eccentric and weird around people. Even if Justin Hammer hadn’t harassed him in years for reasons Rhodey still didn’t understand, there were still others who did. Rhodey just wanted to keep his best friend out of trouble.

Rhodey wasn’t sure how far he’d been walking, he was maybe about halfway to his own dorm when he heard shouting.

“Hey! Fucking nigger!”

Rhodey felt his spine tighten. He couldn’t even walk home, could he? He kept his head down, glaring at the ground.

“Hey, listen to us when we’re talking to you!” A different voice shouted.

Great, so there was more than one. Rhodey’s heart started beating faster. It was fine. They were probably just a bunch of drunk frat boys. It was fine.

“Go back to Africa!” There was whooping laughter at that comment from the entire group. Rhodey didn’t dare look back and try to count, but there were easily more than three. The footsteps were getting closer. It took every ounce of self-preservation Rhodey had to stop from breaking out into a run.

“Hey!” A hand grabbed Rhodey’s shoulder and yanked him back. Rhodey was forced to spin around, heart pounding so hard he could barely see straight. There were five of them, all bigger than Rhodey.

“Look, man, I don’t want any trouble-” Rhodey held up his hands, taking a step backwards.

One of the guys stepped forward and shoved Rhodey. “Fucking nigger. Go back to Africa you dumb filthy piece of shit.”

Rhodey swallowed down bile. “I don’t-”

The first hit landed right over Rhodey’s face, sending him tumbling backwards onto the ground. He barely had enough time to cup his own bleeding nose before hands were tugging him back to his feet so he could get punched in the gut.

There was cheering and shouting all around Rhodey, slurs and insults shouted at him. Rhodey lost track of how many times he was hit, or who was even hitting him any more, it was a blur of pain and noise.

“Hey.” A slap cracked across Rhodey’s cheekbone, bringing him back to awareness. “Look at me, you filthy nigger.”

Rhodey blinked hard, trying to focus on the guy in front of him in the faint streetlamp light. He was tall with a leather jacket and blond hair.

“If I see you again, I’m gonna cut your filthy nigger heart out.” The guy taunted, then he punched Rhodey, and that was the last thing Rhodey felt before he passed out.

 


 

Tony was absolutely seething when he heard the news. He stared at his phone, vision going red. Rhodey. Hospital. The words barely seemed to click, the idea of it made Tony want to throw up. Rhodey was in the hospital. Some assholes landed his Rhodey in the hospital.

Tony didn’t even realize he was dialling Maria’s number until he had the phone pressed against his ear, pacing around his room.

“Good morning, figlio,” Maria answered, her voice warm.

Madre.” Tony took a deep breath. “My friend is in the hospital.”

There was a pause. “Oh, tesoro,” She said, tone radiating with sympathy. “Rhodes? What happened to him?”

“A bunch of assholes.” Tony hissed through grit teeth. “Racist assholes.”

“Oh,” Maria murmured. “Tesoro.”

Tony glared at the wall. “They hurt my friend, madre. He’ll be fine but…” Tony swallowed. “They hurt my friend.” Tony sat down on his bed, pulling out the knife he kept under his pillow. “I wanted to ask your permission, make sure you were okay with… me taking care of it.”

Figlio,” Maria said. “You’re a Carbonell. We take care of our family. Rhodes is a lovely young man. I’d send someone in to take care of it if you didn’t.”

“No, that’s fine.” Tony shook his head, twisting the knife between his fingers. “This is personal. I’ll take care of it. Thank you, madre.”

“Of course.” Tony could hear the smile in Maria’s voice. “Tonio, don’t forget I’m leaving for my business trip this weekend. You might not be able to get in touch with me this weekend, I don’t know how busy I’ll be. You can always call Jarvis if you need anything.”

“I know.” Tony nodded, standing up. “Take care of yourself, madre.”

Maria chuckled. “Don’t I always? Goodbye, ‘Tonio.”

“Love you.” Tony hung up and immediately started dialling a new number. He pressed the phone to his ear again, waiting for someone to pick up.

“Hello?” Rhodey’s voice was hoarse, but it was there and Tony felt a weight lift off his shoulders.

“Hey Platypus.” Tony cleared his throat.

Rhodey’s sigh of relief was audible. “Hey, Tones.”

Tony wasn’t sure what to say at first. “So is hospital food as bad as they say?” Tony asked.

Rhodey let out a shaky laugh from the other end and Tony smiled. “Man, it tastes like cardboard. You could cook better than they do.”

“Hey!” Tony laughed. “My ramen is made with love.”

“Love and other diseases.” Rhodey teased.

Tony shook his head. “How are you?”

“I’m okay.” Rhodey deflated a bit. “It’s better than it sounds. Just a broken nose, a concussion, some cracked ribs and a few bruises. They’re gonna let me out in a few days. For now, they’re more worried about the emotional recovery.”

Tony studied his knife. “Did you give your statement to the police?”

Rhodey sighed. “Yeah, but they didn’t seem too interested. They said my descriptions were vague at best, and if I really wanted them to catch the guys I would’ve been more helpful.”

“It was the middle of the fucking night and they were beating you!” Tony nearly shouted.

“I know,” Rhodey said. “I know, Tones. But it’s fine. This kind of thing happens a lot. I’m lucky there was nothing permanent. Just some scrapes and bruises.” His voice was too hollow for the sentiment to feel real.

“What did they look like?” Tony asked, rubbing his thumb along the flat of the blade.

“Tones, why does it matter? You can’t do any more than the police can.”

“Maybe I can go to the police. Say I was a witness. They’ll listen to Tony Stark.” Tony lied without hesitation.

“You don’t have to-”

“Humour me, Rhodes. Please?” Tony begged.

Rhodey let out another sigh. “There were five of them. They were all white.”

“Yeah, no shit.” Tony rolled his eyes.

“They were big. Like, six foot all of them. Easily. Muscular. I think one was wearing a jersey.” Rhodey listed. “It was dark. The only one I got a good look at was the one who said he would cut my heart out. He was blond, had a leather jacket. Green eyes, I think. Southern accent, like he was from Texas or somewhere down there. I don’t really know. It was hard to focus, Tones.”

Tony’s skin crawled with red-hot anger. “He told you he was going to cut your heart out?” Tony whispered jaw clenched so tightly it hurt.

“It was an empty threat, Tones. Calm down.” Rhodey tried to sooth.

Tony gripped his knife. “I’ll visit you tomorrow. I’ve got something to do today, gotta do some chores. But I’ll be there bright and early tomorrow, okay?” Tony was already on his feet, grabbing his jacket.

“I didn’t know Tony Stark did anything bright and early.” Rhodey teased.

“Oh shut up. Love you, platypus.” Tony smiled.

“Yeah, you too, Tones.”

Tony hung up his phone, tossing it aside. He knew just from Rhodey’s descriptions who the blond guy was, as well as the other four. A bunch of loud mouth assholes who were on the football team and thought they were hot shit. Tony tugged on his jacket, sliding the knife into his pocket. He should probably bring more than a hand knife, but a part of him wanted it to be up close and personal.

No one touched Tony’s family.

 


 

Tony wasn’t surprised to find all five assholes crammed into one dorm, drinking and being loud assholes.

“What do you want?” One asked, glaring down at Tony as he answered the door.

Tony offered a sickly sweet smile, trying not to let his gaze linger on the bruised knuckles the guy had. “Just wanted to talk. About what you all were doing last night.”

The guy scoffed. “We weren’t in the dorms last night, so don’t even start with another fucking noise complaint.”

Tony took a step forward, and he must’ve been glaring harder than he thought because the guy took a step back. “I know you weren’t in the dorms. You were beating up my best friend.”

The talking from the other four quieted and they all focused on Tony. Tony shut the door behind himself, hand sliding into his pocket.

“Unless you got a fucking arrest warrant, fuck off.” The blond with green eyes glared at Tony.

“I don’t need one.” Tony tilted his head to the side, offering the sweetest smile, with all his teeth showing.

After that, one of the dudes charged Tony, and Tony didn’t hesitate. He didn’t pay too much attention to his motions, didn’t make it clean or quick. It was bloody and painful, the knife cutting off screams.

He smiled the whole way through it.

Tony did make sure of one thing, though. That the blond was the last one left alone, face covered with a spray of his friend’s blood as he cowered in the corner.

Tony walked over to the blond, stepping over dead bodies. He knelt right in front of the guy, tilting his head to the side.

“What was it, that you told my friend?” Tony murmured, leaning in close. “Something about cutting his heart out?”

“It was just a joke, I didn’t-”

“Do you even know how to cut a heart out?” Tony asked. “The movies make it look like it’s easy, but…” Tony pressed the knife against the blond’s chest. “It’s harder than it looks. You can’t go through the chest, the sternum is in the way. You have to make a cut right across the top of the abdomen instead.” Tony dragged his knife across the guy’s skin, just below his ribcage. He was too paralyzed with horror to do anything other than watch. “Then you have to cut through the diaphragm, right under the ribs.” Tony pushed his knife into the cut. “It’s easier to do with a scalpel, but sometimes you have to make do.”

“Please…” The blond begged.

Tony flashed a feral grin. “And after you cut through the diaphragm you take the knife out,” Tony yanked his knife free, putting it back in his pocket. “And reach right inside the chest…” Tony pushed his hand into the incision, curling his hand around the blond’s heart. The way the blond’s eyes went wide was almost comical. Tony could feel his heart beating fast, right in Tony’s hand. Tony leaned in close, lips right next to his ear. “And then all you need is one hard tug.”

Tony ripped the blond’s heart right out of his chest.

Pulling back, Tony watched green eyes go glassy as blood poured out of his abdomen.

“See? Easy.” Tony stared at the human heart in his hand, still pouring blood. He dropped it. “That’s how you cut someone’s heart out.” Tony stood up, running a bloody hand through his hair. “No one hurts my friend.” An old memory surfaced in Tony’s mind and he smiled. “I hope Il Diavolo keeps you warm in Hell.”

Tony turned on his heel and walked out of the room, happily humming to himself.

 


 

“James?” A knock came on Rhodey’s door and he glanced up from his textbook. A nurse smiled at him. “You have a visitor.” She stepped out of the room, and Tony came in.

“Hi.” Tony flashed a bright smile, walking in with two coffees in his hands. “I’m not sure if you’re allowed to have this, but I charmed the nurse to let me in with it so here.” Tony set a hot coffee down on the desk next to Rhodey.

Rhodey smiled. “Hey, Tones. Nice to see you up and perky in the morning.”

“And it only took me one coffee.” Tony smiled proudly. “Besides this one.” He held up the cup in his other hand, taking a sip from it. Tony’s coffee was iced and probably filled with too much sugar.

“How are you?” Rhodey asked, grabbing his own coffee.

“Shouldn’t I be asking the bedridden one that?” Tony said with a flat stare.

Rhodey waved him off. “I’m fine, really. They’re just fussing over me.”

“You call your mom yet?” Tony pulled himself up to sit on the desk next to Rhodey.

“Yeah.” Rhodey nodded. “She can’t fly out, but my sister’s visiting next weekend.”

“That’s good.” Tony hummed.

Rhodey took a steadying breath. “Hey, Tones?”

“Hm?” Tony glanced up.

“Did you see the news report last night?” Rhodey asked. “About those five dead bodies, they found? At the college?”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. Heard it was a bloodbath.” He didn’t sound at all perturbed by the information.

“You know, I saw their pictures.” Rhodey cleared his throat. “They looked a lot like the guys who kicked my ass.”

“Weird.” Tony tilted his head to the side. He sounded utterly unbothered. It was… unnerving.

Rhodey bit the inside of his cheek. “Tony, did you know you were the only person I told, about the part where the guy said he was gonna cut my heart out?”

“No, I didn’t.” Tony’s eyebrows jumped a bit, but the surprise seemed beyond fake.

“Did you know they found that guy, and only that guy, with his heart, ripped out?” Rhodey could barely get the words out. “His entire heart, Tones. On the floor in front of him.”

“I heard that.” Tony hummed, stirring his coffee with its straw. “They said it looked professionally done.”

Rhodey flexed his fingers, counted to five in his head before going on. “I believe in coincidences, Tones. But coincidences only go so far.”

Tony glanced up again. “Oh?”

“Tell me the truth, Tony.” Rhodey gave him a hard look. “You didn’t… you have a lot of money. You didn’t hire someone to…”

Tony made a face of pure disgust. “You think I’d hire someone to commit mass murder?” He said and for a moment Rhodey calmed. “I don’t let other people do my dirty work, Rhodey. I take care of my own business.”

Rhodey’s heart stopped. “What?”

“What?” Tony asked, almost innocently.

“Did you…” Rhodey tried to ask, but the words wouldn’t come out.

Tony studied Rhodey. “Alright, let’s be honest here, okay? If I did have something to do with that murder, would you really want to know?” He took a sip of coffee.

“No,” Rhodey admitted quietly. “I… no.” He thought a moment. “How would you-you know what, fine.” Rhodey held up his hands in defeat. “Just promise me something, Tones.”

“What’s that?” Tony tilted his head to the side.

“Whatever side of you that is,” Rhodey stared at him, “the side that we aren’t gonna talk about? Let’s keep it that way. There are some things I don’t need to know about you, okay?”

“Sure.” Tony smiled. It was the first time Rhodey noticed, Tony never showed his teeth when he smiled. “If that’s how you want to keep it. Sure.”

Rhodey managed a hollow nod.

Maybe the scrappy kid wasn’t as scrappy as Rhodey thought.

 


 

Maria sighed, staring at the empty road. She had nothing wrong with taking back roads, even during the night. They didn’t bother her, and if they proved to be the more efficient route to her destination than they were the most logical choice.

And besides, the quiet was nice sometimes. Away from all the noises and problems she had to deal with around other people. It was relaxing, almost.

So granted, she was startled enough by the roaring motorcycle that had come veering in front of her, making her crash right into a tree.

Maria panted for a brief moment before collecting herself, pushing her hair out of her face. She had no injuries, save a few bumps and bruises.

The revving noise of the motorcycle caught Maria’s attention. It pulled up right behind her car before stopping. There were footsteps coming towards her.

Maria almost might’ve believed that whoever it was, was coming to help her but. But cyclist had come right at her, drove right in front of her. It was a hit, not an accident. Maria pulled out the gun Tony had made for her. It wasn’t lethal, instead loaded with a paralytic. Maria figured it was no use killing a hitman if she didn’t know whom he worked for.

The man walked up right next to Maria’s door, opening it. Maria laid perfectly still, waiting. As soon as he reached out to put his hand on her throat, she pulled out the gun.

It was a bit hard to find a chink in his armour in the dark, but she ended up going for his neck. The man stumbled backwards, but he didn’t pass out. Instead, he fell to one knee, trying to push himself back to his feet. Maria figured not only by his size and gear but also by the glinting metal arm that he was something above human. She shot him twice more and watched his body finally fall limp.

“And who are you?” Maria hummed, mostly to herself as she crouched next to the still body. She checked for a pulse, but otherwise focused on identifying him. She ran her hands over the leather straps of the uniform. They were HYDRA issue.

Maria made a distasteful frown. HYDRA wasn’t something she made a point to avoid, but they also weren’t something she sought out to aggravate. Being on their hit list was… annoying. Worrisome, at most. But, HYDRA or no, Maria could handle herself.

Maria’s mind flashed back to something she’d heard Martinique mention. What did he call it, a Winter Soldier? Some weapon of HYDRA’s. A ghost story.

A man with a bionic arm.

Maria couldn’t help but smile to herself. She had HYDRA’s prize weapon, lying right in front of her. The most logical thing to do would be to kill him. But.

But.

The idea of not only taking out HYDRA’s fist but making him her own… that was something Maria couldn’t quite resist.

Maria pulled out her phone, dialling a number. She’d need a new car and something to haul away the Winter Soldier’s bike. He certainly wouldn’t need it anymore.

“You know, it’s almost Christmas.” Maria mused, smiling down at the limp body, all teeth. “You’d make a lovely present for my ‘Tonio. I’m sure he could do great things with you.”

Chapter Text

Tony was sitting in his room, a textbook on his lap when Maria walked in.

“I thought you weren’t getting back until Monday,” Tony said, tossing his book aside.

Maria smiled. “Something came up. I have a present for you, ‘Tonio.”

Tony jumped down from his bed. “Oh?”

“It’s a bit large, but I get it moved into your lab.” Maria walked out of Tony’s room and Tony was quick on her heels to follow.

Tony and Maria walked down the stairs and into Tony’s workshop, flipping the light on. As soon as Tony saw what Maria had brought him, his heart nearly stopped.

“What’s this?” Tony murmured, walking over to this unconscious man on his lab table.

“HYDRA’s prized Winter Soldier,” Maria said with a wolfish smile. “They used him to put a hit on me.”

Tony snorted. “And look how that worked out.” He grabbed the metal left arm attached to the man, lifting it up. “This is the peak of HYDRA’s technology?”

Maria arched an eyebrow.

“It’s a piece of shit.” Tony made a face. “I think I can…” Tony ran his fingertips along the shoulder, where skin and metal met. With a few tugs and adjustments, the arm came right off. Tony held it up with a happy smile, setting it aside. “Do you think he’s got something like a serum in him?”

“I would assume so. It took three shots to get him down,” Maria hummed.

“That’s a lethal dose for a regular human his size, so we’re gonna say yes.” Tony nodded. Tony yanked off the muzzle, brushing hair out of the Winter Soldier’s face. “Huh. Does that look like Bucky Barnes to you?”

“I suppose,” Maria mused, “the resemblance is uncanny.”

Hm.” Tony tugged at the thick tac gear, undoing straps and buckles. “What are you gonna do with him?”

Maria chuckled. “I told you, ‘Tonio. He’s your gift. It’s what you’re going to do with him, not me.”

Tony’s eyes lit up. “Anything? I can do anything with him?”

“Yes.” Maria nodded. “Merry Christmas, ‘Tonio.” She kissed his cheek. “He should wake up in a few hours. I hit him again on the way back home.”

“Maybe shorter, with whatever he’s got juicing him up.” Tony managed to tug the Soldier’s entire top half of his ensemble off, weapons clattering to the ground.

Maria shrugged, walking out of the lab. “I’ll leave you to find that out. He’s dangerous when he’s awake, tesoro. Be careful.”

“Yes, madre.” Tony rolled his eyes. He looked back at the Soldier. “What am I gonna do with you?” Tony muttered to himself. “You arm is a piece of shit, by the way. If I like you, I might build you a better one.”

Tony started humming to himself as he got to work.

-

A few hours later Tony had the Soldier completely stripped of all gear and weapons, arm still off so that all he had on was a cotton tank top and briefs. He hauled the limp and heavy body into a small enclosure Tony generally used for testing explosives. The walls were transparent, and there was an air vent so he didn’t suffocate. Tony had already gotten a blood sample for most of his tests, but if he could get the Soldier to cooperate he planned to run a few more manual ones as well.

Tony was pulled out of his concentration in taking apart the arm by a faint groan.

The Soldier sat up slowly, looking around. His gaze was hard to read, too… vacant. Tony figured there was probably some form of brainwashing at play with him. He made a mental note to look into that as well.

“Morning.” Tony flashed a bright smile.

“Where…” The Soldier looked around again, standing up.

“My basement,” Tony said, hopping up onto a table to sit cross-legged on it. “Don’t worry, HYDRA won’t find you.”

The Soldier’s gaze snapped up at the mention of HYDRA, eyes narrowing. Almost as if the mention of HYDRA had been a catalyst, he seemed much more keen on escaping, running his hand over the walls. He punched the wall once, twice.

Tony sighed. “That wall has held up against a force equal to a small nuclear bomb. That’s not going to get you anywhere. The only reason you can even hear me is that there’s a speaker connecting both sides I use to measure the audio of the explosives I put in there.”

The Soldier stared at Tony, assessing him. “What are you going to do with me?” He asked, voice rough.

“Dunno yet.” Tony shrugged. “I don’t wanna kill you yet, but if I can’t get you out of whatever HYDRA did to you….” Tony twirled a piece of the Soldier’s arm between his fingers. “It’s an option. But I think there are more fun things I can do with you, so let’s not jump to there yet, hm?”

The Soldier frowned. “HYDRA…”

“What about them?” Tony leaned forward.

“They’ll come for me. They always do,” He mumbled. It was soft, pained. Tony almost felt bad for him.

“They really fucked you up, didn’t they?” Tony murmured. “But yeah, I know. They won’t get you though. You’re mine now. Understand?”

The Soldier didn’t say anything. Tony smiled. This was going to be fun.

“I’m Tony,” He introduced. “You’re Bucky Barnes, aren’t you?”

“Who the hell is Bucky Barnes?” The Soldier asked, but something flashed in his eyes, something that was a cross between recognition and confusion.

Tony tilted his head to the side. “They’ve really got the whole amnesia thing going on with you, don’t they? What do you think your name is?”

“I’m the Asset,” The Soldier, said, taking a step back.

“Uhuh.” Tony nodded. “Sure. You know what? I’m gonna call you James. The Winter Soldier is a mouthful, and the Asset is boring.”

“James,” He repeated, frowning. “James.”

Tony nodded again. “Yep. Are you hungry? I’m gonna order a pizza.”

James stared at Tony, sitting back down.

“We’ll take that as a yes.” Tony stretched. “You’re gonna have to start making your own decisions. We’ll get you used to that. Make you your own person and all that. You’re still gonna have to answer to me, though. Don’t worry, I’ll be nicer to you that HYDRA.”

James narrowed his eyes. “I need to urinate.”

“Well okay.” Tony blinked. He looked around. “Um… here.” Tony picked up an empty water bottle. He opened a small window in the explosives enclosure, tossing it in. “You can use that.”

James took the water bottle and looked at Tony, waiting.

“What?” Tony put his hands on his hips.

“I need permission,” James said.

“Permission to- oh fuck.” Tony made a disgusted face, “Damn, they fucked you up, didn’t they? Yeah, you can pee. Jesus Christ.” Tony turned as James started to pull out his dick, walking out of his lab. “I’ll be back with pizza. And maybe some brain bleach for myself. Don’t move, snowflake.”

Chapter Text

James. The name felt foreign in the Asset’s head. There was something distinct about it, yet unattainable in the back of his mind. He didn’t know how he felt about being called it. The Asset wasn’t supposed to feel. He was a weapon.

The Asset was undoubtedly malfunctioning.

The Asset looked around the small enclosure he was in for the seventh time during the thirty-two minutes Tony had been gone. If pressed, the Asset could probably find some sort of escape route. But… he wasn’t. It wasn’t the pressing concern right now. For now, the Asset could gather information about his surroundings.

There were footsteps and cheerful humming, then the doorway swung open. “Miss me?” Tony flashed a bright grin. He was balancing a flat box in one hand, with a large bottle of liquid on top if it.

Tony was small, short. He wore ripped denim pants with no shoes, and a red hoodie that hung several sizes too large on his dwarfed frame. He had an easy swagger to him, seeming to have not a care in the world. His smile was too cocky. All in all, he should’ve been a low threat level, at best.

He wasn’t.

The easy look in his eyes never seemed quite… genuine. There were always quick pauses between his sentences, where his gaze went sharp and analytical. It was impossible to tell just what Tony was capable of with such limited information.

“Here.” Tony took a few pieces of pizza out of the box, then slid the rest of the box into the Asset’s enclosure. He did the same with the soda, pouring a little less than half for himself, then giving the rest to the Asset.

The Asset looked at the food then back up at Tony expectantly.

Tony made a face. “Lemme guess you need permission to eat too.”

The Asset arched an eyebrow.

“You can eat. And drink,” Tony said with a groan. “Just don’t gorge yourself.”

The Asset nodded, carefully opening the box. He briefly watched Tony eat a piece of the pizza, folding it in half and biting off the end tip of it. The Asset copied that motion, taking a large bite to chew and swallow.

It had more flavour than the food usually given to him by HYDRA. But the flavour was a luxury a weapon was not allowed. Food, in general, was a luxury. If the Asset needed subsistence, he was usually given nutrients injections directly to the bloodstream. Actual food was only used when absolutely necessary.

Tony ate his own food but still watched the Asset out of the corner of his eye. The Asset ate half of the food given to him, as well as about two-thirds of the drink given. When he finished he looked back up at Tony expectantly.

“What?” Tony arched an eyebrow, wiping his hands free of grease. “I’ve got work to do. You can just… hang out, I guess.”

The Asset sat back, tilting his head to the side. He was being observed, clearly. Oh well. He could observe Tony just as well. Learn more about the man -well, if Tony could even be considered that, he was young- holding him.

Tony picked up the Asset’s metal arm, staring at it with a disapproving him. He ran his fingers over it, starting to take pieces apart, setting them aside.

“An absolute piece of shit,” Tony muttered, to himself, the Asset assumed. “I can’t believe HYDRA thinks this is halfway decent. I could’ve built something better when I was still in diapers.” He glanced at the Asset. “If you end up sticking around, I’m so building you a new and better arm. It’ll be a damned work of art, just you wait.”

The Asset studied Tony, mentally going over what information he knew about him.

Tony clearly had extensive mechanical knowledge, with the way he took the arm apart with ease. Smarter than the HYDRA technicians, at least. He likely had some sort of relation to Maria Stark, the Asset’s failed mission. Judging by the facial structure and general mannerisms, he was likely to be her son.

He was young, if the Asset had to guess, he would place Tony at about eighteen years. His easy swagger and bright smile made it clear he had decent social skills and could probably easily assimilate himself into whatever situation he needed.

Even despite his loose walk, he was clearly trained. To what extent the Asset couldn’t quite tell, he’d need to see Tony actually fighting to quite know that. But he was trained nonetheless.

Above all else, the Asset knew one thing.

Tony was dangerous.

 


 

“So how are things going with our new friend?” Maria asked when Tony came bounding up the stairs.

Tony smiled. “Better than I thought. He ate without question. Doesn’t seem to be able to get out.”

Maria tilted her head to the side, setting her book down. “And how long do you think that’s going to last?”

“Don’t know yet. Hard to tell if he’s staying because he wants to or because he has to,” Tony admitted. “He’s still not all there. I don’t know how exactly to break him out of whatever HYDRA did to him.

“I’m researching a bit up on Bucky Barnes, maybe if I show him who he was, something in him will snap,” Tony said, shrugging. “After that, I don’t think it’ll take much to sweeten him up. Afterall, you saved him from HYDRA, didn’t you? That’s something to be grateful of.”

Maria nodded. “Just remember to be nice to him. There’s no use in painting yourself as a villain in his eyes.”

“I know, madre.” Tony rolled his eyes.

“Don’t sass me, figlio.” Maria chided. “I have a meeting with the boys tonight. Someone’s scamming money from the rest of us. I think I know who, but I need to confirm my suspicions.”

Tony kissed her cheek. “Stay safe, madre.”

Maria chuckled. “What’s the fun in that, ‘Tonio?”

 


 

Maria folded her hands over her lap, studying Martinique as he spoke.

“If the individual responsible doesn’t come forward,” Martinique was saying, “then there will be consequences for all parties, which no one wants. If they come forward, I’m sure we can all decide on fair actions to be taken as reparation.”

He looked around. There was silence.

Martinique leaned back in his chair. “I see. Might I remind everyone, liars are not tolerated in this line of business. And a lie by omission is still a lie.”

“Well I don’t see how that would be relevant,” Maria spoke up. All heads turned sharply. Maria studied her nails. “As the one openly lying is you.” Maria looked up, making direct. eye contact with Martinique.

Martinique’s eyes widened. “And what makes you make such an accusation, Ms Carbonell? Might I remind you, you’re still the fresh blood around here. If anyone would step out of line, it’d be you.”

“Deflecting blame,” Smitty said with a harsh laugh. “Has that ever worked for you before? Maria has only ever had honest business here.”

“And I haven’t?” Martinique asked, fingers clenched in a controlled rage.

“Have you?” Maria tilted her head to the side.

Martinique glowered at her. “Yes.”

“Have you?” Smitty repeated, tone firmer.

Martinique didn’t say anything.

“I thought so.” Maria smiled a bit. She turned to the rest of the table, surveying the shocked and angry looks. “So how do you boys suppose we go about this?”

“You know, Maria Carbonell,” Martinique growled. “You’ve been overstepping since the day you walked into this room.”

Maria arched an eyebrow, fiddling with her pearls. “Oh?”

Martinique stood up. “Yes. And especially as a woman in your place, that’s a dangerous thing to do.” He narrowed his eyes. “With such a young son, Anthony is it? You should watch your back. And Anthony’s. Your actions could have consequences for him.”

“Are you threatening my son?” Maria asked, eyes narrowing.

“Yes.” Martinique’s voice was dangerously arrogant.

Maria stood up as well, chair sliding back with an awful screech. “You’re threatening my son. My ‘Tonio.” She tilted her chin up. “Leave. Everyone. But Martinique. We need to have a… discussion.”

There were grunts of complaint and protests, but Smitty moved to clear everyone out, pushing even the most resistant out the door and shutting it behind himself.

“You know,” Maria flipped her skirt up, grabbing the two knives she had holstered to her thighs. “The last person to hurt my ‘Tonio was Howard. I’m sure you know the price he paid for it.” She took a few steps forward. “And he was my husband. Now imagine what I’d do to a man who I didn’t even like.”

Martinique took a step back, going just a shade whiter. “My death would upset the entire balance of things.”

“Would it?” Maria twirled her knife between her fingers. “Or would I just take your place, hm? I honestly can’t say that anyone would miss you. You never were very good at your job anyway.”

Martinique took another step back. “Maria…”

Maria tilted her head to the side and flashed a vicious smile, showing all her teeth. “I hope Il Diavolo keeps you warm in hell.”

 


 

Almost ten minutes later, Maria walked out of the room, drenched head to toe in blood. She slid her knives back into their holsters. Maria glanced around and couldn’t help but smile at the looks she got.

“I need to go wash up a bit,” Maria hummed. “Would one of you be a dear and clean up the mess in there? That would be lovely. Thank you.”

Maria walked away, heels clicking and leaving bloody tracks with each step.

Chapter Text

Tony was woken up by his phone ringing. He groaned, fumbling around before picking it up.

“What?” Tony yawned, sitting up.

There was a sigh. “‘Tonio, it is past noon.” Maria’s voice came from the other end.

“I’m a college student. I’m not supposed to have a sleep schedule.” Tony grinned. “How are you, madre?”

“Alright,” Maria hummed. “HYDRA’s already sent a second attack on the house, but it was taken care of. Margaret has set up some SHIELD agents to keep watch.”

Tony stretched. “Aunt Peggy stopped by?”

“She did.” Maria confirmed. “Anyhow. I was wondering if you could stop by this weekend. I’ve got a meeting with the boys that I can’t make.”

“You want me to fill in?” Tony asked, perking up a bit.

“You’re eighteen, tesoro. You’re going to have to take over at some point. Might as well get you used to it,” Maria hummed. “And besides, your pet misses you.”

“Yeah, I know. You know how they’re all gonna react to a kid in the business though,” Tony said, rooting around for his pants. “How is James?”

After the first week, James had been much easier to take care of. He wasn’t even held captive anymore, but now allowed wherever he wanted in the Manor. He practically shadowed Tony whenever Tony was home. Tony still hadn’t given him his metal arm back, but Tony was considering doing it soon. He already had a prototype finished.

James was still working on developing his own personality, but he was docile and quiet most of the time. There were occasional bursts of snark and character, as pieces of James Buchanan Barnes slowly put themselves back together, but it was slow work. He’d still yet to mention anything of his past. Or even HYDRA, for that matter. He seemed perfectly content the way he was.

“He’s alright. Doesn’t leave your room often. He’s homesick for you, it’s pitiful. Maria’s voice just a bit too amused.

Tony couldn’t hold down a grin. “I’ll catch a flight tonight and be there tomorrow morning. It’s the end of the semester anyway, all of my finals are over.”

“Sounds good, ‘Tonio. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 


 

Tony stepped into the house just before noon to be promptly greeted by Jarvis.

“Good morning, Master Anthony.” Jarvis’ crisp accent rolled over Tony and he smiled.

“Hey.” Tony sipped an iced coffee. “Is madre around?”

“She has SI meetings all day,” Jarvis said. “Your meeting is at eight tonight. Ana made lunch, if you’re interested.”

“I’ll grab some leftovers later.” Tony waved off, running upstairs to his room. He opened the door and kicked it shut, tossing his bag down onto the bed.

James was sitting on the floor, reading a book. As soon as he saw Tony his eyes brightened, but he didn’t smile. They were still working on that.

“What’s up?” Tony asked, flopping down on his bed.

James offered a lopsided shrug. “Just reading.” He held up the book. It was a book about Captain America, complete with Steve Rogers on the front and everything.

“Oh, you’re in that one.” Tony mused, propping his head up on his arm.

“Yeah,” James mumbled. “It… it has stuff I remember. I think.”

Tony grabbed a bag of chips from under his bed, ripping them open. “HYDRA really fucked you over hard, didn’t they? I can try to find more stuff about you, if you want.”

James tilted his head to the side, bangs falling over his face. He wore his hair in a bun nearly every day after Tony has made a flippant comment that he looked cute with it up. “There’s stuff about me in books?”

“Well, usually about Steve Rogers with you as a footnote, but some stuff focuses on you and the other Commandos.” Tony shrugged, eating a chip. “Want some?” He held out the bag.

James took a handful of chips. They’d been working on the whole eating thing, and they’d managed to work up to James being able to eat food if it was offered to him. He was going to the bathroom on his own now, thank god. “I remember them… I think.” He ate a chip.

“Well, what do you remember?” Tony coaxed. They might as well talk about this. Now was as good a time as any.

“I don’t know.” James shrugged, looking at the floor. “I remember… I remember Steve’s mom’s name was Sarah and that he wore newspaper in his shoes.”

“That’s a start.” Tony nodded. “Baby steps, it’s fine.” He stood up. “I’m gonna take a shower, I smell like an airport and it’s gross.” He walked by James, patting him on the cheek absentmindedly. Tony didn’t miss the little smile it caused and couldn’t help a grin of his own.

 


 

A few hours later, Tony found himself sitting in a dimly lit room, surrounded by men at least double his age, all glaring at him. Well, except Smitty. He was grinning like he thought this was the greatest thing.

“What are you doing here?” One guy snarled.

Tony arched an easy eyebrow. “My mother couldn’t make it tonight. She asked me to fill in.”

Another older man scoffed, shaking his head. “First women, now children. This business is losing all of it’s respect.”

“And you think you had any in the first place?” Tony’s tone was calm, smooth. He could see Smitty holding down a smile. That man got too much gleeful joy out of watching Carbonells work.

The older man scoffed. “You have as little respect as your bitch of a mother.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed. “What did you say about my mother?”

He shifted. “I didn’t-”

“No.” Tony cut him off. “What did you say about my mother? What did you call her?”

“Don’t be such a momma’s boy, Stark,” The man said.

Tony tilted his head to the side and gave a vicious smile, teeth showing. “It’s Carbonell. Antonio Carbonell.” With that, Tony pulled out a gun and shot the man right in the head.

The entire room shifted, looking around.

“Any other comments about my mother?” Tony asked, putting his gun away. “I’m all ears.”

There was silence.

Tony smiled. “Good. I think we can move on, then.”

Chapter Text

“Jarvis,” Maria said, carefully filing her nails. “May I ask for your opinion on something?” 

Jarvis looked up from the bookshelf he was dusting. “Of course you may, ma’am.”

Maria blew away dust from her filing. “How would you describe James’ feelings towards ‘Tonio?”

There was a pause. “I would say he cares very deeply for master Anthony. He is incredibly protective, perhaps one of the most important people in master Anthony’s life.”

“And would you say those feelings have a chance of being romantic?” Maria asked, pushing down her cuticles.

“There is… a possibility.” Jarvis set the duster down. “An incredibly high possibility, in my opinion.”

“Do you think the feelings are romantic?” Maria stood up, brushing brangs out of her face. Her hair was starting to grey. Oh well. It was a regal look anyway.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they were,” Jarvis hummed.

Maria nodded, setting the nail file down. “I believe I should have a conversation with James. If you’ll excuse me.” She flashed a smile and headed upstairs, to Tony’s bedroom.

Tony wasn’t home. He’d just graduated college, managing to graduate early at twenty one. But he was out on a trip with Rhodey and wouldn’t be home at least until midnight, though probably later. Which was for the best, as it gave Maria a chance to talk to James without him shadowing Tony.

Knocking lightly to announce her presence, Maria stepped into Tony’s room. James was curled up in Tony’s bed, reading a book. Tony had just fit him with a new arm, one that had gold shining between the silver metal in a stylish sort of way.

“Good morning, James.” Maria stepped into Tony’s room, shutting the door.

James set his book aside, looking up at her. “Good morning, miss.”

James was… polite. Respectful. Maria wasn’t quite sure if that was lingering HYDRA programming, or just his own personality. Probably a combination of the two. He was quiet, only speaking when spoken to, but he was working his way out of his shell. He was certainly a human being with a personality now, much more than he had been when Maria first brought him home. He made jokes, smiled, occasionally spoke in an accent that was faintly reminiscent of Brooklyn.

“How are you today?” Maria asked, sitting in Tony’s desk chair. “Any recent nightmares?”

James blinked, eyebrows knitting together before he relaxed a bit. “I’m alright, thank you. Nothing too bad.”

Maria nodded, smiling. Without teeth. “I know your nightmares can be worse when ‘Tonio isn’t here.”

James shifted. He was smart, and could easily pick on the tense undertones of the conversation. His shoulders relaxed, gaze dropped. It was submissive. “Tony… helps.”

“He does, with a lot of things for you.” Maria agreed. “You care about him a lot, don’t you?”

“Yes.” James’ gaze darted up.

“I would even go so far as to say you have a crush on him.” Maria ran his hands over Tony’s leather jacket that was thrown over the back of the chair.

“I-” James fingers twitched. He swallowed, fumbling for words.

“And,” Maria continued, cutting off whatever he was going to stutter out. “I think my ‘Tonio may return those feelings.” She stood up, walking over to Bucky with slow, careful steps. “I think that’s absolutely lovely. You’re a very lovely young man, James.”

“Thank you, miss.” James nodded.

Maria smiled, showing the faintest hint of teeth. “I do care about you, James. You’re almost like a second son to me.” She reached out, brushing a few bangs out of James’ face. James bit his lip, but didn’t draw back or flinch. “And I think you and ‘Tonio would make a beautiful couple.”

“Thank you, miss,” James repeated.

“You’re smart, James. A tactical, , practical sort of smart.” Maria stood up, walking around Tony’s room. “You and ‘Tonio are two geniuses, and put together you make a beautiful picture.”

James opened his mouth, but closed it again, frowning.

“Howard was a genius.” Maria hummed, picking up a trophy off Tony’s shelf, studying it. “But he didn’t appreciate that I was just as much of a genius as he was. He didn’t appreciate ‘Tonio either. I expect you’ll know better than to make the same mistake.”

“Yes, ma’am,” James whispered, shifting a bit.

“Do you know what happened to Howard?” Maria asked, but it was rhetorical. “He hit ‘Tonio. Made my son bleed. So I made him bleed, until he had no more blood left to bleed.” Maria set the trophy down, walking back over to James. She rubbing his shoulders from behind, grip firm. “It’d be a shame to see the same happen to you.”

James didn’t say anything. The only noise were the whirring servos of his arm flexing.

“I may not be a super soldier with a metal arm, but I am not someone you want to be the enemy of,” Maria whispered. Her voice dropped an octave, fingers digging into James’ shoulders. “Respect my ‘Tonio. Understood?”

“Understood,” James said, spine perfectly straight.

Maria smiled. She let go of James’ shoulders. “Such a smart young man.” Maria turned, walking out of Tony’s room with that, leaving a shell shocked James in her wake.

Walking back into the kitchen, Maria found Jarvis washing dishes.

“Did your conversation go well with mister James?” Jarvis asked politely, glancing up.

Maria smiled. “It went perfectly.” She walked across the kitchen with a thoughtful hum. “You know, it wouldn’t hurt to go public with him. At least, quietly. Let SHIELD know and all.”

“Aren’t you a bit worried about how Miss Carter will react?” Jarvis glanced up.

“Not in the slightest,” Maria stood in front of a mirror, fixing her hair. “Margaret and James go back. She wouldn’t let SHIELD get their hands on him even if I weren’t a part of the problem.”

Jarvis hummed. “So why tell her, or anyone else for that matter?”

“It’ll give James a bit more freedom. And ‘Tonio, if the two do really have a future together.” She paused, tilting her head to the side. “And I want SHIELD and anyone who it’s relevant to, to be very clear in knowing that I am in possession of the Winter Soldier, and very much not afraid to use him.”

Chapter Text

Maria was reading a book, tranquil in the environment of her own home when someone rang the doorbell. Jarvis answered it, and not a minute later he was escorting Smitty into the lounge where Maria was.

“It’s polite to call ahead.” Maria didn’t even look up from her book.

There was a soft chuckle. “I know, but this was a bit of an emergency. Well, an emergency for you.”

Maria set her book down. “Oh?” She tilted her chin up.

Smitty sat down on the couch in front of her. “The other guys, they’re planning to off you tonight at the meeting. Just ambush you and leave you for dead. They’ve already started planning for how they’re gonna off Tony too.”

“Are they?” Maria arched an eyebrow.

“Wish I could say I was lying.” He shook his head, wringing his hands. “They’re stupid enough to plan in front of me though, and I thought I’d pass it along.” Smitty flashed a feral grin.

Maria pressed her lips together, letting out a distasteful hum. “Jarvis?” She glanced up. “Would you be a dear and grab James for me?”

“Of course.” Jarvis stepped out of the room.

“James?” Smitty arched an eyebrow.

Maria only smiled, sipping a glass of wine.

A moment later, heavier footsteps came into the lounge, and James appeared, tugging a t-shirt on. He wore jeans, but no footwear and his lips were red and swollen.

“You asked for me, miss?” James said, blinking. He sunk a quick glance at Smitty but turned back to Maria.

“James, this is Smitty, a good work friend of mine,” Maria introduced. “Smitty, this is James, Tony’s boyfriend. Among other things.” She set her glass down.

“I see.” Smitty raked his eyes over James’ metal arm.

James gave Smitty a polite smile and turned to Maria, waiting.

“James, I need you to accompany me to my meeting tonight.” Maria leaned back. “It would seem there’s a plot to murder me.”

“Of course,” James said without hesitation. “Anything else?”

Maria hummed. “Talk to Tony about the new tac gear he’s been working on for you, it might be useful.

James nodded.

There were more footsteps, and Tony stumbled into the living room. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, but he was thankfully wearing pants.

“Oh, hey Smitty.” Tony nodded. “What’s up?”

Smitty grinned. “Just stopping by to talk to your mother, kid.”

Tony made a face. “And cockblock me, apparently.” He turned to Maria. “Can I have him back now?”

“Yes,” Maria said, smiling just a bit.

“Good.” Tony grabber Bucky’s shirt collar and dragged him out of the lounge without another word or struggle from Bucky.

Smitty watched them go with a chuckle. “That son of yours is going to take over the world if you don’t, Maria.”

Maria smiled, flashing all her teeth. “I know.”

-

Even if Smitty hadn’t warned Maria beforehand, she would’ve known the moment she walked into the room that something was distinctly off kilter. It was more tense than usual, with quick shared looks and rim rod straight spines. Nonetheless, Maria still carried out business per usual.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until the end of the usual meeting until someone broke the spell. She was almost impressed they managed to hold it together for that long.

“And is there anything else anyone would like to add or bring up?” Maria asked, folding her hands on the table.

“I’d like to bring up this,” A man snarled and he shot to his feet, pulling out a gun.

A gunshot went off, but it was the man bleeding, not Maria. James stepped out of the shadows, gun still in his hand. The man wasn’t dead, merely clutching a bleeding hand that his gun had been shot out of.

“Are you sure that was the smartest thing to do?” Maria murmured, standing up. She walked away from the table, to stand beside James. “Thank you, dear.” She kissed James’ cheek.

James nodded, flashing the briefest smile, but never lowering his gun. Tony’s new gear for him was practical, but still followed the black leather aesthetic HYDRA had for him, metal arm showed off and all. It was a terrifying look.

“Is that…” A different man stood up, chair screeching. “The fucking Winter Soldier?”

“The Winter Soldier is a ghost story,” Yet a different man argued.

“I am?” James arched an easy eyebrow. With two words he had the entire room shifting and Maria could smell the fear.

She was beyond proud of him.

“You work for HYDRA, don’t you?” The man with the bleeding hand hissed.

Maria chuckled. “I don’t have the time for HYDRA’s antics. They tried to kill me as well.” She glanced at James. “And suffered the consequences. Losing their prize weapon.” She turned back to the men around her. “Imagine what I’ll do to you for it.”

 


 

When Maria was back in the car on the way home, James was cleaning blood off of a knife, smiling a bit to himself.

“You enjoy it, don’t you?” Maria asked, looking at her makeup in a small mirror.

“Hm?” James frowned, looking up from his knife.

“Killing. Getting to let yourself let loose,” Maria said, touching up her lipstick.

James paused, fingers twitching faintly. He blinked a few times, lips pressed together. “I don’t…”

“Yes you do,” Maria interrupted. “It’s intoxicating, getting to kill. Let that side of you free. But you’re afraid of it. You’re afraid of being only what HYDRA made you. A shell of a man. Just a weapon.”

James stared at her.

Maria smiled, brushing hair out of James’ face. “But I need you to remember, James. You are not HYDRA. You are more than the Winter Soldier. But you aren’t Sergeant Bucky Barnes. And you shouldn’t try to be him. You shouldn’t try to be Captain America’s best friend, dear. That’s not who Tony wants you to be. That’s not who I need you to be.” She cradled his face. “Remember that for me, James.”

“Of course.” James nodded, blinking a few times. “Of course, you’re right.”

Maria smiled, flashing her teeth. Good.

Chapter Text

Tony woke up warm and gloriously wrapped up in super soldier skin and metal. It was a scene straight out of a movie, maybe minus the sun hitting his back and all. He didn’t rush the process of waking up, stretching nice and slow, enjoying it.

James was already, as evident by the gentle rubbing of Tony’s back. Which was nice. James almost always woke up before Tony but never got out of bed until Tony did. It was cute.

“Morning,” Tony mumbled, looking up at James.

“Afternoon, actually,” James said with a blink.

“Mm, whatever.” Tony yawned. “Time is a social construct created by the Mayans anyway.”

James blinked again but didn’t say anything.

Tony sat up, stretching. His back cracked and he groaned. “Sweetheart, I love you but I think we overdid it last night. My everything hurts.”

James stared at Tony, mildly concerned. Not that it was James’ fault anyway. Tony was the one who’d handcuffed him to the bed and rode the life out of both of them. Tony was proud to say he put the power in power bottom.

“You gonna join me in the shower, hot stuff?” Tony asked, standing up. He was still naked from last night. And smelled distinctly like sex.

“No,” James mumbled, staring at the ground. Sometimes James was more on edge about small things, and it made him all twitchy. He wouldn’t eat certain foods, he wouldn’t go anywhere near water, he wouldn’t let anyone -excluding Tony- touch him. It always passed, but he had his bad days. Tony respected that, for the most part. He couldn’t change what HYDRA did to James.

“Your loss.” Tony shrugged. “Just make sure you put some cologne on, you still smell like my ass.” He grinned and winked at James before walking into the bathroom.

Tony took a quick but efficient shower, not lingering on pampering himself too much. Washed his hair, washed his body, watered down, dried off, and all of that. It was less than fifteen minutes before he was stepping out of the bathroom again, rubbing his hair dry.

James was right where Tony had left him, but this time dressed and with a faint scent of cologne in the air. He was combing his hair. Or at least trying to, anyway.

“You know, you can always cut all that off if you want,” Tony said, tugging on a pair of pants.

“You said you liked it better longer,” James murmured, looking up.

“Sure I do.” Tony shrugged. “But it’s your hair.”

James bit the inside of his cheek. “It’s fine. I like it long.”

Tony couldn’t help a small smile of victory at that.

“Come on,” Tony said as he yanked on a shirt. “Let’s go get breakfast. Or lunch, whichever.”

James, of course, followed Tony like a lost puppy out of his room and down the stairs into the kitchen. He had his hands buried in the pockets of the large hoodie he was wearing, which was adorably cute. He sat at one of the stools on the kitchen island, watching Tony ransack the fridge.

“How does…” Tony looked around, frowning. “Leftover lasagna sound?” He pulled the pan of it out, setting it on the counter.

“Fine,” James said as he brushed hair out of his face.

“Good.” Tony nodded with a smile. He stuck the pan in the microwave, grabbing two plates from the cabinet.

Once the lasagna was done heating up, Tony made two plates, throwing some salad on the side as well so he could almost pretend it was healthy. He poured two glasses of water and sat down at the kitchen island with James, giving him a plate and glass.

“Could you…” James cleared his throat, staring at the plate, then back up at Tony.

“Oh, sure.” Tony leaned forward, taking a bite of James’ lasagna, then of his salad. It was a weird thing James had on his bad days, not being able to eat before someone else took a bite of his food. Whether it was a permission thing, a test for poison or whatever, Tony didn’t really mind it. It was a lesser of many quirks James had.

James nodded in thanks and quietly dug into his food. He was never really talkative, and that went double for when he was eating. He ate fast and almost desperate as if he were waiting for someone to take the food away from him.

Fucking HYDRA.

Tony half watched James eat and half focused on eating his own food. It wasn’t the best flavour wise, but Tony didn’t have much to pick from with Jarvis and Ana on a much-needed vacation, and Maria on a business trip. The upside of that was having the house all to himself and James, which was admittedly nice. They didn’t have to worry about being quiet during sex, at least. Or someone walking in on them during sex.

Just as Tony was clearing the dishes and set them in the sink to be washed, the doorbell rang. Tony made a face at the thought of social interaction.

James tensed, looking at Tony and waiting for guidance.

“It’s fine, I’ll answer it,” Tony said with a wave. “You can come, but try not to be all broody. It creeps people out.”

James nodded and once again followed Tony, this time into the living room, then the foyer before they both stopped at the front door. Tony finger-combed his hair a bit to make sure it looked at least semi-presentable, then he opened the door.

Tony wasn’t sure what he was expecting, a neighbour, the mailman, maybe. Whatever he was expecting, it sure as hell wasn’t this.

The woman in front of Tony was tall and wrapped all sorts of leather. Black leather pants, black leather boots with heels on them, a black leather shirt with a white undershirt peeking around it, and a long brown leather jacket that ended at about her knees. Even her forearms were wrapped in black leather.

Her hair was a dark, blackish brown at the top, but it faded into a magenta ombre. Her brown eyes were alert and sharp, but with a desperate edge to them.

But that wasn’t the weird part. No, the weird part was her light, honest to god, green skin. Every inch of exposed skin was that same shade of pale green, except maybe her lips that were a shade darker. There was also silver… designs, almost, cutting into her skin. It was the type of thing that looked far too intricate to be face makeup or any type of costume.

It wasn’t Halloween season anyway.

Tony could do metal arms and super soldiers. But green ladies with purple hair, that was definitely out of even his league.

James was already stepping forward, eyes narrowed and posture tense. Tony held him back for the time being and took a deep breath. “Who the hell are you?”

Chapter Text

Gamora was barely a step ahead of Thanos. It was only by a stroke of pure luck that she even found the stone before Thanos did. And she wasn’t going to waste the one chance she had to stop him.

The house of the location of the stone wasn’t quite what Gamora was expecting. An expensive mansion, large and lavish. She walked up the door, sharp and quick.

She rang the doorbell.

After a short pause, there were footsteps from the other side. Gamora stepped back from the door enough for it to swing open.

There were two men on the other side. In front was a younger one, short and pale with brown eyes and hair. Despite his young age, his gaze was sharp and waiting. He wore Terran clothing that seemed to fit his age, even more so alienating his sharp look.

The older man had the same pale skin and brown hair, but longer and touching his shoulders. His eyes were a bright blue and also alert, similar to the younger man. His left arm glinted metal under a t-shirt. He was bigger, more muscular. The way he hovered in the background made it clear his job was to protect the smaller man. He glared at Gamora and tried to step forward, but the younger man held him back.

“Who are you?” The man demanded.

It was a fair question. Terrans hadn’t really explored the galaxy yet, and Gamor was likely a strange sight to both of them with green skin and purple hair. Even if Zehoberei were similar to humans, compared to other species, she still must’ve been a sight.

But that wasn’t important now. Hopefully, if these humans were close enough to the space stone, they would know a thing or two about space. Or at least stranger things.

The man did have a metal arm, after all.

“My name is Gamora,” She started. “I need you to trust me.” Gamora took a step forward, reaching out to grab the younger man’s shoulder.

The older man intercepted her touch, metal arm flying forward at a speed that was impressive even to Gamora, a trained assassin. He grabbed her wrist, holding it in a tight grasp.

As much as Gamora wanted to fight him, she knew it wasn’t smart to fight the people who had the stone she needed. Even more so considering they didn’t know Thanos was coming yet.

“James.” The younger man didn’t even look up from Gamora, but the word was clearly an order. The older man let go of Gamora’s wrist, almost reluctantly. “Why should we trust you? What do you even want?” He took a small step forward.

Gamora closed her eyes, drawing in a deep breath. She needed to explain this as quick as possible, without confusing the two of them. “Do you know what an infinity stone is?”

“Should I?” The younger man arched an eyebrow.

That wasn’t a good start. “They’re six stones, that together can control the entire universe. You have one here, somewhere in this house.”

“Okay.” The man blinked. “And?”

“And someone is coming for the stone,” Gamora said. “If he gets to it, he will kill both of you to get to it.”

The older man -James, Gamora assumed- tensed, even more, curling an arm around the younger man’s waist. The younger man didn’t fight it, leaning into the touch.

Oh. So they were more than friends.

The younger man narrowed his eyes. “Okay. Okay sure, let’s say I believe a word of that.” He tilted his head to the side. “Why would this stone be here? And what do you expect us to do about it?”

“I don’t know,” Gamora sighed. “One of the stones, the space stone, ended up on Earth. It needs to be destroyed before he gets to it.”

The younger man let out an incredulous laugh. “So there’s an all-powerful stone somewhere around here, and you just want me to find and destroy it? You think that’s a normal thing to just walk into someone’s home and say?” His voice was getting quieter, with a more dangerous edge.

“I think you don’t have time for this,” Gamora snapped. “Look the stone… it should look like a cube in its current form. Blue and glowing.”

There was a faint glint of recognition in the man’s eyes, but he held back. “You know what I think?” He tilted his chin up. “I think, this glowy rock of yours might actually be something. But this mysterious ‘he’ you keep talking about? I don’t think he has much to do with it. I think this is about what you want from the space stone, Gamora.”

“I don’t-” Gamora started but took a step back. She grabbed her knives, unbuckling all of them and throwing them to the ground. Next went her guns and other weapons. She only kept the one knife on her, in her boot. The one Thanos himself gave her. She held up her hands. “There. I’m unarmed. I promise you can keep me as far away from the stone as you want. Just please destroy it, or Thanos will get to it and we’ll all die.”

“You missed one,” James said, speaking for the first time. His voice was deep and rough.

Gamora frowned. “What?”

“Your boot.” He pointed. “You still have a knife in your boot.”

Gamora stared at James for a moment, before slowly taking the knife out of her boot and setting it on the ground with the rest of her weapons.

So he was observant too. Interesting. James was dangerous. Gamora made a mental note of going for the younger man first in a fight and using him against James, should she need to come to it.

“So who’s this Thanos guy?” The younger man asked, looking down at the pile of weapons with curiosity.

“He’s from the planet Titan,” Gamora started. “He’s powerful, and he has one goal. To wipe out half of the galaxy.”

The younger man shook his head, letting out a short laugh. “Titan. Right, so aliens?”

Gamora glared at him. “Your… friend has a metal arm, and you want to talk about strange things?”

“Yeah, a metal arm that I built,” The man shot back. “It’s a little different than having green skin.”

“Are you going to help me or not?” Gamora demanded, trying to get back on topic. “This isn’t something we can just put off.”

The man tilted his head to the side. “You know what, fine.” He stuck out his hand. “I trust you, for better or worse. Tony Stark, nice to meet you.”

Gamora shook Tony’s hand. “So you know where the stone is?”

Tony grinned. “I might.”