What Bucky didn't tell Steve was that the fall from the train wasn't what had crippled his wing. To be fair, Steve didn't even know he had one bum wing. He kept them both tightly folded against his back, his deficiency concealed by his messy black feathers.
It had been Hydra. Or the Russians. He wasn't actually clear on who had done it, he just knew it wasn't the fall.
At some point, he'd broken programming.
He'd tried to fly away.
If he hadn't made it so far, perhaps they wouldn't have done it.
He was brought back in, bleeding, bruised, and defiant. His left wing had already been damaged; he'd taken a hit that had ultimately dropped him from the sky, and there was a gaping hole in the middle of his wing that went straight through.
His handler had smiled cruelly at it. "A pity, but I suppose now you will match."
And then, from behind him, something sliced into the wing.
He could do nothing but arch his back in a silent scream of pain, as, suddenly, there was a wet slap of bloody flesh and feathers hitting the floor, and his back was lighter.
Amidst the pain of the loss, his handler's words reached him from a distance.
"Bind that up. Put him in the chair."
An hour later, he'd forgot that his wing was ever whole.
He woke up, panting softly and quickly. Sweat trickled down his back, but he felt cold. His one complete wing instinctively drifted forward, to warm him, but the moment his eye caught the movement, he snapped it back into its place, folded snugly against his back.
The memory burned fresh again in his brain-bloody feathers-and he shuddered, and snatched the blanket off the floor where he'd kicked it in his sleep.
He didn't want to bother Steve. For once, he'd managed to not wake him up during a nightmare, and he'd rather it stayed that way. Steve meant well, but he always felt guilty when he woke him up.
Steve deserved better than a best friend who couldn't remember half the things they'd done together, and had oceans of blood on his hands.
(Whether or not Steve could argue that it wasn't his fault, that he'd been brainwashed into doing it, didn't matter. It was a fact.)
He swung his legs out of bed silently, ears open for any sound of stirring from Steve's room. He only relaxed a little once their apartment door shut behind him.
Out of complete lack of any other place to go, he went up to the common area. It was empty at this time of night. The wide windows looking out on the city drew him closer, the bright night lights of the buildings shining into the dark room enticingly.
He shivered a little at the thought of swooping over them, and forced his mind to be blank.
The lights and the quiet were soothing, and eventually he was starting to feel like he might fall asleep if he crawled back in bed, when he heard the soft whoosh of the elevator doors opening. He didn't move, content in his dark corner of the room, and also certain that whomever was about to enter didn't want to be scared to death by the Winter Soldier in the middle of the night-or any time, for that matter. He was pretty sure nobody wanted to be in his company, accidental or otherwise.
The person that exited the elevator emanated a soft blue glow; he saw it reflecting in the windows, and shrank further back. Stark was the last person who would want to see him.
He watched the man's reflection in the glass, unable to stop himself from admiring the burgundy and burnished gold wings the man sported, and although they were drooping tiredly, and looked bedraggled from Stark's terrible self-care habits, they were beautiful. One of his metal fingers twitched at the thought of running his fingers over the feathers to groom them.
It had been decades since he'd groomed his own.
When he'd broken away from Hydra at last, after the Helicarrier disaster, he hadn't thought much of not being able to fly. It had been his reality for so long.
But in Romania, he'd stopped running for a stretch, and started filling his notebooks. At first, it was only flashes of Steve. Then it was his little sister, the Commandoes, Peggy, Howard. The day he remembered the sensation of flying, he'd stood in the bathroom and stared at his back in the mirror in surprise. He couldn't remember the last time he'd stretched his wings out.
So he did.
One glimpse of his shorn wing, and he'd spent the rest of the day huddled in a corner, shaking and nauseous.
He never consciously brought them out again, and especially not the left one.
"Want a drink?"
He tensed, and turned slowly. Stark, standing there as if he didn't realize what a big deal it was that he'd managed to sneak up on the Winter Soldier, held out a mug of… he sniffed curiously. Hot chocolate?
"Sorry," Stark said. "I was making some and Jarvis said you were up here, so I thought-" The hand holding the mug started to lower, and even his wings drooped a little more.
His hand flashed out, stopping just short of the grabbing the mug. Stark looked at him, startled.
"Thanks," he said gruffly, and took the mug from Stark's loose hand.
Stark blinked at him, and shrugged. "Uh, you're welcome."
He stared down into the chocolate pool in his mug. "I mean, for everything. You didn't… you didn't hafta do any of this."
Stark didn't seem to know what to do with his words.
"Uh, you're welcome," he finally said. "If you really want to thank me, though, you should let me look at your arm. It's seriously a work of art, but I bet I can make it work ten times better."
Bucky eyed him speculatively, and took a sip of his drink to avoid answering. (It was like ambrosia, or something, it was so good.)
It wasn't that he doubted Stark's ability to fine-tune his arm, and he actually found he wasn't so opposed to the thought of him poking around in there. He wasn't asking to mess with his wings. Wouldn't really even be getting near them. He wasn't totally comfortable with it, of course, but he did owe the man, and he felt like he could trust him. It was a strange, foreign feeling that so far, only Steve had earned.
"Ten times better, huh," Bucky said. "Okay."
"Yeah, okay," Bucky repeated. Stark seemed not to believe his own ears.
"Wait, really? You'll let me? Oh my god, I didn't think you'd say yes, this is great! Tomorrow? Yeah, tomorrow, come on down, Jarvis will help you if you don't know where it is."
Bucky nodded blankly in the face of Stark's torrent of words. The man had produced a tablet from somewhere and was typing as he talked.
"Shit, I'm never going to fall asleep now. This is too exciting."
He paused for a moment to grin widely at him, and then hurried off, before Bucky could recover his breath.
"I'm going to Stark's workshop," he informed Steve matter-of-factly, the next morning. Steve disguised his surprise well, but his navy blue wings went very still.
"I didn't even know you'd seen him recently," Steve said, although it was more of a question.
He shrugged. It was too many words to explain. Steve seemed to get that he wouldn't receive a more detailed answer, because he didn't push, but he still looked troubled as he got ready for their morning run. He was oddly quiet on their run, too, not that Bucky minded all that much, but it meant that Steve was thinking about what he'd said.
Then, Steve had gotten a look on his face, just as they got back to the Tower. It was a look Bucky remembered calling, once, his 'crusading' face. He was curious as to who'd earned it this time.
It was all too easy to follow Steve without him knowing. Super-hearing, his ass. Bucky trailed him all the way up to the common room kitchen, and he never faltered.
Stark was the target of Steve's lecture today, and although he'd missed the first bit, it was clear they were discussing him.
"Tony, you can't just coerce him like that, you know he's not always-"
"Yeah, yeah, Cap, I've had the consent lecture. I asked, he said yes. Now I can make him a cup of tea. He can still tell me he doesn't want the tea."
"What?" Steve's tone was clearly bewildered. Bucky had no idea what the tea thing was either, but Stark's point was made. "No, look, he might have just said that, he might not actually want to-"
"I want to," Bucky said, moving to stand in the doorway to the kitchen. Steve jumped a little, but Tony jerked violently in surprise, spilling coffee down his front. The engineer hissed, quickly putting down the mug and pulling the front of his shirt away from his skin.
"Not cool, Ice Queen," Tony complained, pouting at his now half-empty mug. His wings flapped once slowly, as if they, too, were mourning the loss of the coffee.
"Sorry," he muttered, and part of his brain absently noticed that Stark's hair was all mussed and stuck-up, and… cute? He wrinkled his nose in confusion, unsure where that had come from.
"You're sure?" Steve asked, earnestly. His wings fluttered anxiously.
"Oh," said Steve, looking relieved, but still worried. "I-sorry, Buck, I just worry, y'know, and-"
"S'fine, Steve," Bucky cut him off. It wasn't really fine, but he was going to pretend it was.
Steve opened his mouth, either to apologize again, or offer to follow him down to the workshop, both of which would end with him getting a metal fist to the face.
"Great!" Stark bounced over and grabbed his arm. "We'd better get going then. Lots of work to do, see you later Capsicle!"
Bucky was too startled to protest as he was dragged into the elevator.
"Thanks," he said, as Jarvis took them down, without Stark having to say a word. Stark rolled his eyes.
"You looked about to punch Steve's jaw out," Stark said, deftly avoiding the thanks. Bucky humphed.
"He's such a stubborn punk, his jaw'd prob'ly break my arm," he muttered sullenly. Stark barked a laugh as the elevator slowed to a stop on the lab floor.
"You know what, I don't think you're wrong," Stark chuckled, shaking his head as he led him into this workshop.