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The Kidnapper's Heart

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Tony should have known that something like this would happen when he presented as an omega, but he didn't. Howard had basically threatened him with it, but Rhodey went everywhere with him, and besides he had his own security guard because for all Howard hated his secondary gender for existing, he was still going to protect Tony, as his heir. Only whoever grabbed him didn't seem to care about any of his security.

He came to in a bedroom. He frowned as he looked around. This... wasn't what he'd been expecting. He wasn't tied down, he wasn't drugged, and the room, though sparse, was homey not sterile.

He was pretty sure this was the worst of the two kidnapping scenarios though, because this read more like a stalker delusion than someone wanting a ransom, or even to fuck him then kill him. Dangerous instability, agree with them until help arrives or they will become violent, he remembered from his lessons. He wasn't sure how much he would be able to comply with that, but he did have a survival instinct, despite what Rhodey thought.

He took a closer look around, scooting off the bed. It was a good mattress, but new, not broken in at all. The sheets were cheap, but not so bad that they'd been bought at Walmart. Also new. Maybe run through the wash once, but not much more than that. No decorations on the wall, and the only other piece of furniture in the room was a dresser. Well made, but brand new to the point that it still smelled of furniture polish. There were clothes in the closet, but altogether it took up less than a third of the space offered.

His feet were bare on the cold floor. Hardwood. His frown deepened as he stared down at it. Who kept hardwood in a bedroom? Apparently the same people that kidnapped underage, rich, genius omegas, which just made this person (or group) all that weirder.

There was a door and a single window. The door wasn't locked, but then there wasn't a lock on it. He padded to the window, trying to keep his steps light, and pushed aside the curtains to try and open it. His fingers fumbled for the bottom, but found nothing. He lifted the blinds a little, and saw that this window just... didn't open. It was a large piece of glass, and that was it. There was no way to open it.

Tony swallowed thickly, stepping away and rearranging the curtains so it wasn't visible what he'd been doing-- or trying to do. He didn't know if it was worth it to leave this room, but he knew that he wouldn't be able to stand just sitting in here waiting for something bad to happen.

He opened the door, shoulders tight as he waited for something to happen. Nothing did. He took a tentative step forward, and still nothing bad happened. He heard noises coming from one direction, so he tried to go the other way. Unfortunately there was nothing there, so he creeped forward, hoping that beyond all logic he'd be able to slip right out and forget about this whole affair. No such luck, but then that didn't surprise him. His heart sunk in his chest all the same.

It was an open floor plan. The man-- his kidnapper, presumably-- was in the living area, cleaning guns. The kitchen was just past him, and there was a door to the left to get in and out of the house, then one to the right that was probably the bathroom. There was something just past the kitchen, which was probably a laundry room. Basically, there was no way for Tony to sneak out because there wasn't a point in the house that was blocked from the others.

The man glanced up when Tony entered the room, and he would have been fucking gorgeous if he hadn't been a kidnapper and-- judging by the blood on his black leather outfit-- a murderer. He looked back down to his gun, wiping at it with a rag. The scent of the gun cleaner was strong, but Tony didn't think that being able to smell the other man would help him at all.

"I don't suppose you'd let me leave," Tony said.

He didn't say anything, so Tony gave a mental shrug and walked towards the door. He didn't have any shoes on, but he'd take bleeding and broken feet over being held captive as some pet omega any day.

"Don't," came a deep, strong voice, and Tony froze in his tracks, glancing back at him. He was holding a gun up, pointing it at Tony lazily, like he knew that he wasn't going to have to use it. Tony wasn't going to push it though, because the look in his eyes was very much that he wouldn't hesitate.

Tony held up his hands with a smirk he didn't feel, walking back into the living room. "Relax bronco, I was just checking."

He didn't say anything, but he put the gun back down when Tony was a solid distance away from the door. "Don't test the others."

"Others?"

"Crossbones will break your legs if you give him half a reason," was all he said in reply, and Tony swallowed reflexively. He'd need to get better about his tells and fast. Chances were that he was just saying that to scare Tony out of trying to escape, but it was equally likely that he was being serious, and Crossbones-- whoever that was-- wouldn't hesitate to hurt Tony if it made him less of a nuisance. He didn't say anything else as he finished with his guns. "There's food in the kitchen when you need it." He sat back in the couch and waited.

Tony watched him for anything that might help him escape, but he showed no signs of irritation or getting tired even though he kept the same position for an hour.

There was the sound of a call, and he answered it with a short, "What." The volume was too low for Tony to hear what was being said, but a few seconds later, the man was getting off the couch and opening the door. Tony wasn't in the right position to see how it opened, but it wasn't anything as simple as a key in a lock, he knew that much.

"Report," came a different voice.

"He woke, hasn't eaten."

Tony hated to say-- or even think-- that he'd gotten comfortable with his first kidnapper, but the change was making him even more nervous.

The two people swapped out. He found out, in the following days, that they took eight hour shifts between five people. The first one he'd met, known only as 'Winter' was the one he saw most often. Now that he'd gotten used to the constant surveillance in his kidnapped lifestyle, he was pushing his boundaries. Winter was the only one that was unaffected by his constant talking, most of it insulting. Masque backhanded him the first time he said something not docile to her, but it wasn't enough to stop him completely. He pretty much constantly had bruises on his face these days. Whiplash seemed to swing back and forth from not caring to slamming him down to get him to shut up-- or occasionally just if he was bored but that didn't happen too often. Mandarin got him to keep quiet after a few tests because when Tony annoyed him the first time, he shoved Tony's head in the toilet, letting him out for short bursts before forcing him back down. Tony couldn't help but poke at him a few rotations later, and it got him a similar treatment. After that he stopped. It wasn't worth the brief flash of satisfaction that was followed by blinding fear and the inability to breathe. If he left him alone though, Mandarin left him alone. He just wanted to tap on his phone and pretend like Tony didn't exist for eight hours, and that was completely okay with Tony.

Despite all that, Crossbones was definitely the worst. He had a... personal interest in Tony. He gave him looks like he wanted to fuck him no matter that Tony would sooner lose his right hand than so much as kiss the man. Tony had tread lightly, but once Crossbones had said something to the effect that he was an omega bitch who was gagging for it, and, well, Tony had ended that interaction with a broken arm and bruised ribs. They'd brought in a doctor to fix him up.

Tony had tried to keep track of the days, but he felt like he was losing his mind. Literally. The only way he had of tracking was the rotations and how often he slept, but Masque regularly injected him with something that made him pretty out of it, and he had no idea how long that knocked him out-- she could shoot him up at the beginning of her shift and the next thing he knew Winter was sitting on the couch. After the third time it happened, he stopped trying to keep count. He must have been there for months though, because his arm was broken and then healed and then broken and healed again. Were they still looking for him? It felt silly to say yes, but Howard wasn't likely to let it go despite the fact that chances of returning from a long term kidnapping were slim to none.

He had small victories, but they were less victories and more ways to make him slightly less uncomfortable in his prison. He drew on the walls. Like a toddler, Mandarin had said with a judgmental raise of his eyebrow, but he'd done nothing else.

"What is it?" Winter asked, eyes tracing over the technical diagram.

"A toaster."

He tilted his head. "Fancy toaster."

"Yeah. I made it as a prank when I first moved into my dorm. Justin Hammer was a big bag of dicks, so I made this."

"You made a toaster for him?"

"Yeah, one that burned his toast no matter what he tried," Tony recalled with a smile. He missed his biggest problem being Hammer. "It's useless to you, but if you want to take a picture and send it to someone smarter than you just so they can tell you the same thing, feel free."

Winter didn't say anything, and Tony turned away to go sit on the couch. He wanted to ask Winter why he was looking at Tony's drawing like he was actually interested in it, but that wouldn't do him any good. He really needed to stop thinking of Winter as his closest thing to a friend in this situation, because he wasn't. Maybe Winter was the nicest and/or least cruel to him, but if they were actual friends, Winter would have busted him out by now.

He... god this whole business was making him loony. Someone that kidnapped you was not your friend. Tony had known that back when he was first taken, but it had been so long that he was starting to forget. Or maybe just get confused. Probably both.

Winter sat on the other end of the couch, picking up the remote. "What do you want to watch?"

"Bring Tony Stark back home and leave him alone?" Tony suggested.

Winter didn't so much as blink, and Tony sighed, feeling disappointed even though he knew that it wasn't going to work.

"I don't care, just put on whatever you want to watch."

There was a pause, like Winter didn't know what he wanted to do, but that passed quickly enough, and he turned on some stupid comedy.

They sat in silence, which wasn't new for Winter. The others talked. Sometimes to Tony, sometimes to themselves, and sometimes to other people on the phone; Winter didn't. They were nearing the end of the movie when Winter paused it, turning to look at Tony, a frown on his face. He leaned towards him a smidgen and sniffed, then leaned back. He checked the time on his phone, then tucked it back in his pocket. "Go to bed," he ordered, and Tony blinked in surprise.

"What? Why?"

"Crossbones is replacing me soon, and you're going into heat. Go to bed, and don't come out."

"I... I feel fine though." This would only be his second heat, and though he wouldn't admit it, he was terrified of Crossbones showing up during that. His first heat had been like a train in the countryside. He had seen it coming from a mile away, and it hit him wave by wave until he was fully under. He thought he'd be able to feel all his heats coming, the same way he had felt the first one, but he felt perfectly fine right now!

Winter glared at him, and Tony flinched, more because of him paranoia than the actual intent in Winter's face. "Go to bed."

He stumbled to his feet, but he went to the kitchen first, grabbing some water and granola bars. He dumped them on his bed, then went to the bathroom before he did as Winter said and closed the bedroom door firmly, with no intention of coming out any time soon.

Winter didn't turn the movie back on, and what felt like two minutes later, the front door opened.

"Report," Tony heard with his ear pressed against the door.

"Nothing unusual." Winter was lying for him. Why would he do that? Disturbed, Tony stepped away from the door and burrowed under the covers. He woke up when it was dark out, and he could definitely feel his heat now. He stripped out of his jeans but kept his shirt on. It didn't do much, but it made him feel slightly safer. There wasn't much to feel safe about in his current situation, so he was going to take what he could get.

Tony didn't manage to get to sleep before the door opened. He tried not to tense and did his best to keep his breathing even. He didn't know if there was a god, but if there was one, he hoped they'd do him a solid and keep his heat scent from being too strong. He'd just barely started and he was completely covered by the blanket right now, so maybe...?

The door shut again, but Tony didn't relax. It was possible that Crossbones had decided to step inside instead of leave; he wasn't the most considerate kidnapper, after all.

He didn't hear any footsteps coming closer, but again, that didn't guarantee anything. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and tried his best to fall asleep.

Eventually he woke up, which meant that at some point he must have fallen asleep. There was an itch under his skin, and being burrowed under the covers was suddenly the most uncomfortable thing in the world. For a second, he forgot what he was trying to hide, and he threw back the blanket, breathing a sigh of relief at the cool air hitting him. A moment later though, he remembered, and he glanced at the bedroom door in a panic. It was closed though, and it stayed closed. He watched it with a wary fear before his body's demands became too much to ignore, and he closed his eyes as he wrapped a hand around his dick.


He didn't count the days anymore, not for any amount of time, but he was starting to panic. His heat shouldn't have lasted this long, but it was two days and the end wasn't in sight. Crossbones had the least amount of shifts, but he still showed up every few days or so. Tony had been able to avoid him that first time with Winter's help, but the others knew about his heat by now, and there was no way he'd be able to convince them to not tell him. Personally, Tony blamed it on his lack of toys to help him through, but it was probably the several fertile alphas around him that were extending this so much, his biology trying to force him to mate with one of them.

For a minute, he entertained the thought of asking Winter to help him through his heat.

...and then he thought about it for another minute. And another, and another until it was all he was thinking about. Winter showed up for his shift of 'keep Tony from escaping', and as soon as Tony thought Masque was truly gone, he pounced on him. Winter reacted automatically, one hand going to his hip for a weapon, the other going to push Tony away, but he froze before he could do any harm, noticing that Tony wasn't attacking him, he was... scenting him. "What are you doing."

Tony was trembling, but it wasn't in fear. God Winter smelled good. He rubbed his mouth along Winter's scent gland, barely noticing the way it made him tense up further.

"Tony."

"Crossbones will come back soon, and my heat isn't anywhere close to ending. I need- I need help or I'm not going to get over it before he's back. Please. I know that you don't like me or even give a shit but come on! When was the last time you got to fuck an omega in heat? Not since I showed up, you're working all the god damn time."

"Tony..."

"Please."

There was a pause, and Tony thought that Winter was going to agree. "Go to your room."

Tony couldn't help it; he crumbled. It wouldn't be accurate to say he was on the verge of tears because they were already slipping out of his eyes. He stumbled to his room, curling into a ball next to the doorway as he sobbed, his heat's desires temporarily forgotten in the face of crippling fear of what Crossbones would do when he showed up.

He squeaked when he was scooped up, but he recognized Winter's scent before he could panic any further. "What're you-?"

Winter carried him to the bathroom, turning on the shower head and the vent before setting Tony down on the sink. "What do you need."

Tony blinked at him. "What?"

Winter's usually severe look turned to something like a glare. "To get over your heat. What do you need."

"Oh. Um, some help... getting off?"

He frowned. "What kind of help?"

"Well generally you'd knot me," Tony said with a responding frown. How did Winter not know that?

"What do you want me to do?" Winter asked, starting to look like he regretted entertaining this idea of Tony's for even an instant.

"I... I don't know." When he'd asked, he had sort of expected for Winter to say yes and take care of everything for him, but Winter wasn't doing it, wasn't taking the decision from Tony's hands so he could pretend later, that he hadn't asked for any part of it. "Can't you just take care of it? You're an alpha, you're supposed to know what to do with an omega in heat," he spat, fear making him lash out.

As usual, Winter didn't rise to the bait.

Just as easily as he'd gotten angry, he deflated. "Please Crossbones will- he'll- please."

"What do you want me to do," Winter repeated. Through the faint haze in his mind, Tony realized that this was Winter's way of getting consent as best he could in this situation. Tony kind of wanted to ask him why the hell consent mattered to him with this but kidnapping him-- for what was surely months by now-- was no problem.

Tony felt jittery. He had to tell Winter exactly what he wanted, otherwise he wouldn't get anything, and then his heat wouldn't be over by the time Crossbones came by. "Finger me and uh- maybe play with my neck a little." It was an under-exaggeration for what he needed, but it put an ashamed flush on his face all the same.

Winter nodded decisively, once, like he was being given orders. Then he moved towards Tony like they were going to do this right here in the bathroom.

"Can we go back my room?" Tony asked, more than a little pleading.

Winter shook his head, and was it Tony's imagination or did he look sorry about that? "Scent," he explained.

"Oh." If they took this to his room, or literally any other room in the house, it would be obvious what Tony had done during his heat, and exactly who he'd done it with. If they stayed in the bathroom though, it would be easy to get rid of the scent, especially if they washed off any come or slick off immediately instead of waiting for the end of his heat.

"Strip and get in the tub," Winter said, and Tony did as he said hesitantly. He was pretty sure this was also the start to a murder, especially since he was already kidnapped.

He didn't look at Winter as he undressed, too humiliated to even think about it.

Winter was nice enough-- or perhaps disinterested enough-- that he didn't stare, just piddled around grabbing towels and washcloths until Tony was done, stepping into the shower. Winter started the water then turned on the vent, testing the temperature of the water with his flesh hand before he let it go through the shower head.

It was warm, but not warm enough for Tony in his fevered state. Winter turned the temperature higher and then climbed in behind him, fully dressed. "Last chance to change your mind."

"I'm not going to, so just fucking touch me already."

The touch, when it came, was tentative. A hand on his shoulder blade, touching softly before it moved up to Tony's neck, pressing down delightfully hard against his bonding gland. Tony moaned involuntarily, hips jerking towards nothing. His face was flush with heat, and he was pretty sure that was from the way Winter had touched him and not the hot water or even his heat.

He smoothed his hands over Tony's chest and put his mouth on Tony's neck, not biting or licking. For the moment, he was just resting his lips against the skin as his hands roved over Tony's body. His hand jerked, and Tony had no idea why, but in the next moment Winter was moving one of his hands back, nudging his fingers between Tony's cheeks.

Tony hadn't been touched in so long, not in a way that was meant to make him feel good. He was going to claim that was the reason he came so quickly, because even for his heat that was quick. Having an alpha next to him and touching him meant that instead of that orgasm making him feel better, it just made him crave more.

By the time he came back to himself, the water was almost unbearably cold, and Winter had half his hand in Tony's ass. "Thanks," he mumbled. He worried that maybe Winter didn't hear him, but then he was slowly extracting his fingers and rinsing them off in the water. Tony shivered in the cold, but Winter wrapped an arm around his waist to stop him from getting out.

"One minute." Winter grabbed the bar of soap and wiped Tony down. If Tony had worried that anything would change in how Winter treated him, it was unfounded. He was quick and efficient, and his hands didn't wander despite the fact that two minutes ago he'd had his fingers inside of him. After Tony was rinsed off, Winter pat his side to let him know that he could get out.

Tony was shivering from the cold water, but when he glanced at Winter, he was as stone-faced as ever, like he couldn't feel it. Tony wrapped a towel around himself like a blanket and watched as Winter wiped down his hands and forearms vigorously. He turned off the water, and for the moment between turning off the water and stepping out, he reminded Tony of a wet dog. A wet attack dog that had never asked to be part of the bullshit it was messed up in and had no way of getting out.

Tony shook himself to dislodge that thought. He was projecting, seeing what he wanted to see just because Winter wasn't mean to him. Winter doesn't like him, Winter doesn't care about him. He needed to remember that now more than ever.

He didn't mean to make Winter take care of him after that, but he was shivering and caught up in his own thoughts to the point that he hadn't connected drying off and getting dressed with feeling better.

Winter didn't verbally sigh when he saw Tony standing there miserably, but Tony could feel the spirit of it as he reached for another towel and worked on getting Tony dry. Tony shuffled to his room when Winter turned him that direction and nudged, sitting on the bed instead of grabbing clothes. Winter didn't bother to close the door, so Tony could see him as he shucked off his shirt and dropped it with a splat on the floor tile. He toweled off, then, with a grimace, peeled off his pants. Tony hadn't thought about it, but that was definitely an erection he was sporting, and he hadn't made the slightest move to do something about it.

He felt... something about that, but he couldn't identify what. Probably because he was just barely coming off his heat-- or at least that's the story he was going to stick to. He hoped he was coming off his heat anyway. There weren't any cramps, and he didn't feel any burning desire for an Alpha's knot, but he'd heard that there were moments like that during a heat if the omega was being taken care of. Tony sighed, wishing he knew for sure if he needed to worry about Rumlow more than usual, or if he was fine. Although if wishes were horses he wouldn't have gotten kidnapped in the first place, so what he wanted hardly mattered in this situation. He still hated it. Uncertainty was what was going to kill him, he was sure of it.

Winter toweled off with harsh rubs, like he loathed having to do this but knew he had to get dry anyways. He walked out of the bathroom buck naked, seemingly uncaring. His bag was in the living room, and he went to it, pulling out a change of clothes. He was careful when putting on his pants because he hadn't softened much, but other than that he was the same as always. Tony didn't know if that made him feel better or not.

After about ten minutes, Tony guessed that his heat was over and he was just dealing with the aftershocks of it. Unfortunately those aftershocks came in the form of uncontrollable shaking and a high whine in his throat that made him want to rub all up against Winter. He did pretty good sitting on the couch for a while, but then Winter stretched his arms over his head and Tony dove, hands latched around him as he shoved his nose against Winter's scent gland.

He froze, then slowly lowered his arms to the back of the couch. "What are you doing?" he asked.

Tony whined, holding onto him tighter. The tremors were going away, and peace was settling in his bones. He'd never had to go through this before, but then again, he'd never spent any portion of his heat with an alpha in any manner before, so he didn't know what to expect from himself any more than Winter did, apparently.

Winter swallowed. "Let go."

He didn't move.

"I can't leave here stinking of you. Let go."

Tony flinched but held fast.

Winter sighed, and Tony jerked hard when he felt a touch on his back, but Winter wasn't hurting him. "Tony," he said, using a softer voice that Tony had never heard him use before, "I need you to let go of me so we can keep you safe, okay? Do you want to be good for me and let go?"

He didn't make a conscious decision to let go, but his arms loosened of their own accord, and Winter pushed his advantage.

"That's it," he paused for a brief moment before saying, "omega, my pretty omega, you're doing so well, I'm so proud of you." He eased Tony's arms the rest of the way off of him and gently pushed him up so that he wasn't laying half on top of him anymore. Winter didn't look at him as he got to his feet, and Tony's head was hung in rejected shame as he heard the water in the bathroom turn on again.

When Winter came back out, his neck smelled like the hand soap kept by the sink. Tony, thinking a little more clearly again, told himself that he didn't mind. He didn't.


Crossbones came for his shift, and Tony avoided him as best he could without making it obvious that that's what he was doing. Either Crossbones saw through it or he was being his usual cruel self, because he flipped out a knife and just about scratched Tony's eye with the point to scare him.

He hadn't wanted to give him a reaction, but he did. It made Crossbones laugh, and later Tony pressed hard over his ears to try and make the echo go away.

It didn't work.

He thought of Winter calling him his omega and imagined that Winter would save him one day, and that did help. Until, at least, the echo vanished and he was left feeling sick and empty, pining after someone that was helping keep him prisoner and watching him get hurt. His heart didn't feel that way about Winter, but Tony was going to lose his mind if he wasn't constantly reminding himself that if help was going to come, it wasn't going to come from the inside.


Tony wanted to gut his reproductive system. Apparently it had decided that since his last heat had gone so well, it was going to send another one just a few weeks later. He knew, in a more level-headed manner, that it was because of the stress and the isolation more than Winter's... assistance during his last heat, but he was alone and scared most of the time, and he was in favor of ripping out his uterus if it would make his heats stop. He'd barely survived the panic of it last time; he didn't think he'd make it again.

Masque was there when he went into pre-heat, and she continued filing her nails like nothing was different. He didn't expect her to react since she hadn't during his last heat. She did make a face when she smelled him, but it was more like she was uninterested with any change of scent than that he smelled bad. He hated that the lack of hatred towards him made him feel better, but what was one more thing to hate about himself? It was just a drop in the bucket by this point.

The panic didn't really set in until he heard Masque talking with Crossbones at the doorway and realized that he didn't have any time to hide. For the last heat, Winter had been with him when he started, and Crossbones had been in the house after that, so no one had thought to say it to his face that Tony was in heat because they thought he already knew.

The door shut, locked, and he heard Crossbones stomping into the room. He held rigidly still as if he thought that would help him. Crossbones came up behind him, fisted a hand in his hair and yanked his head to the side, baring his neck. Tony whimpered involuntarily at the pain, and he pressed his lips together to stop himself from making any other noise. He squeezed his eyes shut in a vain attempt to not cry as Crossbones stuck his nose into his neck and rumbled happily.

"Well aren't you the willing little omega today."

Tony jerked his head away, but all that succeeded in doing was hurting his head where Crossbones still had a firm grip on his hair.

He growled happily as he pushed Tony down further, and Tony had never been so scared in all his life. Not when he'd first gotten here, not when Crossbones had broken his arm (either time), and not when he'd been kidnapped for the very first time as a child. He was beyond terrified right now, and he was sure that if this went on much longer he'd get sick right here on the couch.

In the end, there were only two things that saved him. 1. Winter showed up. 2. Crossbones hadn't expected anyone to show up for hours so he had been slow, toying with Tony to make him as scared as he could before he actually raped him. When Winter yanked Crossbones off of him, he hadn't even gotten all of Tony's clothes off. He'd ripped his shirt for getting in the way of his neck before they left the living room, and his pants had gotten torn in the hallway. It left him in just his boxers, but that was better than nothing, especially with the way Crossbones had been rubbing against him. Tony wanted to scrub his skin raw to get rid of the feeling of that man's hands and nose on him. He'd been pulled to a sitting up position when Crossbones was pulled off of him, so it was easy to watch what happened next.

Crossbones turned to Winter in a rage, but he couldn't even raise his hands to defend himself before Winter broke his neck with a sickening crack, and his body slumped to the floor, motionless. "Don't look," Winter said gruffly, and Tony jumped. He hadn't realized that he had been looking until Winter said it, and he averted his eyes hurriedly. Oh god. What just happened? Had Crossbones tried- did Winter really-? "Get dressed."

Tony wanted to listen. He really, really did. But he was shaking and he couldn't get his legs to work. His eyes wandered back to Crossbones's lifeless body. He flinched when clothes were thrown in his lap, and he looked up to see Winter staring at him in worry. Or at least he thought that was worry in his eyes.

"Get dressed," he said again, softer this time. "And don't look."

Shakily, Tony started pulling on the clothes, and even though he tried not to look, he couldn't help staring as Winter dragged the corpse out of the room. Winter came back a minute later carrying a bag, and he started piling Tony's clothes into it. "What're you doing?" Tony asked, voice so hoarse he didn't recognize it at first.

"Packing."

"Why?"

Winter didn't answer at first, zipping the bag closed and opening up the other side of the duffle. "Can't leave you here," was all he said before picking up the bag and leaving the room.

Tony followed after him slowly, feet padding on the cold, wooden floor. Winter was in the kitchen, fitting as much of the food in the bag as he could. The zipper strained and bumped against the contents, but it held. "Where are we going?"

"Haven't gotten that far yet." He shrugged out of his jacket and held it out to Tony.

"What are you doing?"

"It's cold out there, and you don't have a coat. I have extra shoes in the car, now let's go."

Tony stumbled after him, sliding his arms into the sleeves of Winter's coat. It smelled like him and was just large enough that Tony could hide his face in it if he wanted. Apparently he wasn't walking fast enough, because Winter grabbed his hand and started pulling him along to keep pace. It turned out to be a good thing, because he froze up in the entryway and wouldn't have been able to make it out the door without Winter pulling him forward.

He shuddered hard when he stepped outside. It was frigid, the stone steps like ice under his bare feet. He fumbled on the first step, and Winter scooped him up, one arm going under his butt to hold him up as he walked the rest of the way to the car. "I can walk," he mumbled, ashamed.

"I know you can," Winter said, but he didn't set Tony down until he needed to unlock the doors.

There were patches of snow on the ground, and Tony frowned, cold momentarily forgotten as he looked around. It had been winter when he'd gotten taken, so... "What's the date?"

"December twentieth."

All the breath left Tony. A year. He'd been gone for an entire year . He'd been going home for winter break the last time he'd been out of that cursed house. "Are you taking me home?"

"Where's home?" Winter threw the bag in the extended cabin of the truck, then held the door open for Tony.

"New York."

The door shut, and Winter walked around to the driver's side. He climbed in, leaned behind Tony's chair, grabbed something, then dropped it in Tony's lap. "We're in Colorado. And I don't have any extra socks," he said, gruff voice just this side of apologetic.

"That's fine." It took Tony a few tries to get them on, but he did. It felt unnatural to be wearing shoes after an entire year without them, but it was the first sign of independence he'd had since being kidnapped. He chewed on his lip, watching that damnable house disappear as they took off. "So we're in Colorado."

Winter grunted an affirmative noise.

"Are you taking me home?" he asked again. His relationship with his parents hadn't been the best, but he missed them, and-- oh god a year ago-- Howard had actually wanted him to come home. He missed Rhodey more than either of them even with Howard's sudden change of heart, but he was pretty sure that he could get all three of them in the room with his return.

"Don't know where you live."

Tony frowned at that, staring at him in confusion. Winter kept his eyes on the road. Everyone knew where the Stark family lived. It was hard not to with a mansion spanning an entire city block that was protected from any interference because of something Tony's great-great-grandfather or someone had done. "890 Fifth Avenue. Manhattan."

"Then I'll get you there."

"If- if you let me call my father, he'd send me a plane ticket. For both of us. We could get there faster and-"

"No." Winter's tone brokered no argument, but that didn't stop Tony from trying.

"But it would be faster and easier, not to mention cheaper for you if you'd just-"

"Too dangerous."

"It's too dangerous for me to call my father?" Tony said disbelievingly.

"You don't know who else would be listening." And that was all Winter said on the subject.


Tony had half-expected for them to sleep in the car, but Winter found a motel along the road, and paid for a room for the night. It was weird to see him smile and make small talk with the receptionist, and the act dripped away as soon as the door to their room shut. He rubbed at the space between his eyebrows like faking nice for two minutes had given him a headache. For all Tony knew, maybe it did.

Winter apparently didn't have any extra clothes for himself, which Tony thought was strange. For someone that was so prepared, this seemed a large oversight, in Tony's opinion.

Tony had assumed, at some point between taking a shower and pulling on some of the sleep clothes Winter had packed for him, that he and Winter would be sharing the one bed occupying the room. Instead, he came out of the bathroom to see Winter laid out on the too small couch, flesh arm thrown over his eyes. He couldn't think of how to ask for Winter to join him in the bed, because everything he could think of sounded pathetic and desperate. Even though he was both, especially going into his heat as hard as he was.

He fell into a fitful sleep, only to wake up a couple hours later, sweat soaked and panicked. He threw off the covers and climbed on top of Winter, curling against his bare, warm chest until he fell asleep again. When he woke the second time, it was still dark outside, and he was back in the bed, alone. His stomach was cramping, bad. He tried to straighten up but couldn't, curling back up with a cry. "Winter?"

He was at Tony's side in an instant, wiping hair away from his face. "What's wrong?"

"Hurts," he whimpered. He had to swallow a few times to get anymore words out. "You helped last time, would you... please?"

Winter hesitated only a moment before agreeing.

Only it didn't work. Winter fingered him like he did last time, touched him in all the right places, but it didn't relieve Tony in the slightest. He would come, and not feel any better than he had before.

"It's not working," he said, voice wobbling as he tried not to sob. "Mark me, mate me, make me yours Winter please I need you, I want you to be my alpha, you make me feel safe Winter." He only stopped babbling because Winter covered his mouth.

He eased away after Tony's mouth stopped moving. "Breathe." It took Tony a few tries, but he managed it.

Breathing helped to make his mind clearer, but the panic didn't subside. "Please," he said again, failing to keep the tears at bay.

Winter brushed Tony's hair away from his face, tucked the long, curling strands behind his ear and off the nape of his neck. "You'll regret it."

"Please."

Winter's fingers brushed along his oversensitive bonding gland, and Tony shuddered. Winter moved his head and bit down hard, breaking skin and releasing euphoric endorphins into Tony's system. He gasped, fingers scrabbling at Winter's bare skin to try and pull him closer.

He'd heard about heat hazes before, but he'd rather thought it was an old wives tale. Something they told omegas to make them stick out their miserable bonds in the hope that one day their alpha would be able to do something good for them. His experience with Winter proved that theory wrong. It was a blur of mind-whitening pleasure and getting fucked within an inch of his life in the best way possible.

His heat hadn't broken by the time they needed to leave, and Winter very nearly paid for another night just so he wouldn't have to move Tony when he was finally getting comfortable. In the end, logic won out. Their trip was going to take long enough without delaying an entire day, and despite what he might be feeling at the moment, Tony did want to get home as soon as possible. So Winter grabbed the thin blanket in the truck, brought it to their room and wrapped it around Tony before scooping him up and placing him in the passenger seat.

"Don't open the door for anyone but me. If someone threatens you, drive." He put the key in the ignition, locked the doors, then left. Tony watched him leave, shivering in his seat and pulling the blanket tighter around himself. It was too thin to be of much help, but it's not like he had anything else to use. He didn't think for an instant about turning on the car and leaving without him, even though that's what he would have done a few months ago. It felt like an eternity before Winter returned, and Tony leaned over to unlock the door before he'd been standing there for a full second.

Winter looked a little surprised that he was still there, but Tony was still too much in his heat mind to notice. Winter did his best to take care of Tony despite the poor conditions, making sure he was eating and drinking as they drove.

Tony's hormones were going wild now that he was bonded but not currently knotted to his alpha, but enough of him knew that what they were doing was important that he held himself back as long as he could. It wasn't very long though, before he was trying to distract Winter from paying attention to the road, nuzzling at his neck and touching his thigh as he purred.

He thought Winter was ignoring him, but when he pulled off the freeway to get gas, instead of going to the station, he chose one of the back roads and pulled over, neatly out of eyesight from anyone that might be passing by.

He turned the truck off before he turned to Tony, rumbling possessively as he bit at the healing bite mark on the curve of Tony's neck. He scooted to the small, nearly nonexistent middle seat and pulled Tony to him, prompting but not forcing Tony to climb on top of his lap. Winter couldn't keep his mouth off him, kissing his mouth, his neck, his hand, and undoing his pants with one hand, the other keeping Tony's balance on top of him.

Tony had taken off his jeans during the drive so that they wouldn't get soaked, and it was easy for Winter to find enough space in his loose boxers to slide into him, warm and wet and so fucking good that he couldn't help groaning. He clenched his jaw immediately after. Afraid wasn't the right word for what he was feeling, but he definitely felt that Tony would be... displeased to hear it. Tony was breathless in response though, rocking his hips to try and get Winter deeper.

Winter growled happily, taking most of Tony's weight in his arms as he thrust up, keeping him steady as he fucked him. With Tony's pheromones filling the cabin and Winter being on edge for so much of the day, it didn't take him long to come, knot inflating and keeping him and Tony locked together. He thought that Tony was going to be satisfied for at least a little while after that, but Tony moved his hips before Winter's knot had gone down at all, biting on his lip hard as he came again. The only sign that Winter felt anything at all about this was the slight twitch of his face when Tony first moved and he wasn't expecting it.

He ran a hand through Tony's hair, feeling as he went boneless relaxing against him. He kissed Tony's cheek, and tried not to think about what would happen if they got caught before he could make it to Tony's family. Hell, he didn't even want to think about what would happen once they were there. Tony would get space, and he'd realize that having Winter as a mate wasn't what he wanted. It wasn't going to be a surprise, but it was going to hurt. If he was lucky, Tony wouldn't tell the whole truth about Winter's involvement and he'd be able to walk away without getting arrested for kidnapping, assault, and/or murder. If he was very lucky though, someone Tony was close to would kill him and he wouldn't have to deal with any of this bullshit. How did he even get himself in this position? Oh right, by having no morals and no memory. He kissed Tony's cheek before helping him off his lap.

Tony shivered, and Winter turned the car back on to get the heat going. They had some wet wipes, but that was a poor substitute for getting actually clean. He wiped Tony down since the omega seemed too lethargic to do more than slowly raise an arm, put the trash in an empty plastic shopping bag, and got back in the driver's seat. He smelled too much like sex for comfort, but there wasn't anything he could do about that. He'd play the part of a self-satisfied alpha, and the cashier would probably be too annoyed to remember anything significant about him.

He tied back his hair, put Tony's seat buckle on, then drove the short distance from their spot to the gas station. The beta man working as cashier inside took one whiff, and promptly muttered, "I don't wanna know," which saved Winter from trying to come up with something to get him to ignore the situation. He paid for gas, bought the biggest bottle of gatorade they carried, then left. There wasn't a single car passing by the entire time they were stopped, and that helped his paranoia somewhat. "Drink this," he said, pressing the opened bottle into Tony's hands.

Tony sipped on it while the gas pumped, but Winter made him gulp more of it down before they left. On the interstate again, Tony laid down to rest, the top of his head pressed to Winter's thigh.

Winter switched positions, putting his left hand on the wheel and dropping his right hand to tangle his fingers in Tony's hair. Scenery passed, and Tony woke up hungry and horny. The first was easily solved, but Winter was occupied driving and wasn't exactly available to help with that unless they pulled over again. Winter would have done it, except they were on a stretch with mountains and bridges, and there weren't very many exits or entrances, and he didn't want to pull off only to get stuck and make their trip hours longer while he struggled to find his way back. "C'mere," he said, and helped get Tony into position.

It was awkward, but Tony had his nose as close to Winter's neck as he could, and he was partially on his lap so that Winter could reach behind him. His fingers were shallow inside Tony, but it was better than nothing. Combined with Winter's closeness and omnipresent scent, Tony was able to get himself off. He didn't really move after, wanting-- if not needing-- the closeness.


Another night, another motel, and Tony's heat still hadn't broken. He hadn't expected it to, but it was disappointing all the same. His mind was going a hundred different directions at once when he had a moment to stop and think, and then of course, his brain chose the worst possible scenario to run with. What if Winter didn't care about him at all? What if he was bearing all of this but didn't give a shit about Tony? It didn't make sense to keep bothering him with his heat when he just as easily could have shut his feelings down and dealt with it by himself. But then again, Winter wasn't the sort to let someone push him into a situation he didn't want to be in.

Winter pulled Tony into the small bathroom, rinsing both of them off and cleaning Tony as best he could. Tony leaned back into Winter's bare chest, his hum of appreciation sounding like a purr. Winter had to lean into it when he reached around Tony to turn off the water, and Tony grabbed ahold of his arm when it came into range, pulling it close so it was wrapped around him like a hug. "What're you doing," he said quietly.

"Enjoying time with my alpha." He heard Winter swallow hard, and he took that as a good sign. "You should knot me. You haven't because we were on the road, but you should." He rubbed his ass back against Winter's cock, feeling it twitch and start to fill as he moved. "I bet you'd feel so good inside me."

"Tony," he whispered, a touch reverently. It made Tony slightly uncomfortable to think that Winter felt like that concerning him, but he brushed it aside, chalking it up to misunderstanding and excessive hormones.

"You're my mate. It's gotta happen some time, and it might as well be something we control, right?" He hoped it would appeal to Winter's sensible side, and he was right. Winter nodded, pulling back the shower curtain and pulling the pair of them out. He was careful when he pat Tony dry, and, Tony noticed, was considerably less gentle with himself. He hung the towel up to dry, and Tony grabbed his hand to lead him out of the small room.


Winter had never felt so completely out of control before. When he'd rescued Tony and killed Rumlow, that had been the first time he'd done something stupid-- something selfish-- in a very long time. Hydra didn't allow for self-doubt or mistakes, and Winter hadn't maintained his position by fucking up. Once you were in Hydra, you were there for life. The only way out was death, and Winter himself had been the cause for many a persons' end when they tried to leave.

And Winter? He had no memory of a life before Hydra. He must have had one because people did not spring out into the world fully grown with the skill set he had, but that hadn't mattered until now. He'd had the organization, and there was nothing to do but follow where they led-- or so he'd thought.

With Tony on his lap, arms wrapped around Winter like he was the only thing keeping him together, it was the nail in the coffin for his realization: he would do anything Tony asked to keep him happy. He'd do anything he asked just because Tony said it. He didn't even know why, but he would.

Tony's heat broke quickly after that, and Winter wondered if it would have been easier if he'd taken a few hours to stop and properly take care of Tony. It might have saved them more time in the long run, not to mention a great deal of dissatisfaction on Tony's part. It was a moot point though, because they managed the rest of the journey without him going into heat again.

Winter remembered the address Tony had told him, and it didn't dawn on him that it was an entire city block until they were pulling up to it and Winter saw the building. 'Mansion' seemed too small a word for the monstrosity of a building that was. "Tony?"

"Keep going straight. There's a driveway on the left halfway through. You'll uh- be stopped by a gate, just go up to the intercom so I can talk to Jarvis."

Winter gave a short nod to show he understood. Blindly following Hydra had meant that he didn't know almost anything about what he was doing. It hadn't bothered him enough to do something about it, but now he was left with one very large question: who exactly was Tony and why did Hydra want him?

The driveway was where Tony had said it would be, and Winter turned in, trying to squash the desire to keep going and find somewhere remote where he could take care of Tony without anyone interfering.

"Roll down the window," Tony said, unbuckling his seatbelt and scooting closer to him.

They rolled up to the intercom, and there was a ding before a British voice said, "Please state your name and business."

There was a pause, and Winter looked longways at him to see him staring at the speaker with something akin to fear. He curled his fingers around Tony's hand, hoping that it would give him courage and not scare him or anything like that. Tony turned his hand over and squeezed Winter's fingers gratefully. "Tony. Uh, Stark. Looking to go to my room and finally get a good night's sleep if you'll let me, Jarvis."

"Tony?"

Tony smiled tremulously. "The one and only."

There was a loud buzz from the gate, and then it started to open, rolling along the tracks to let them through.

Winter pulled forward slowly, and Tony took a deep breath-- he couldn't believe they'd actually made it.

Chapter Text

They parked the car, and Tony rushed out of the car then stopped. He stared at the house-- if it could be called that, Winter still had his doubts-- with wide eyes, filled with something akin to fear, like he didn't think he was allowed to step inside. Winter was a comforting presence at his side even if they weren't currently touching. 

The door at the house opened, and a small group poured out. Two of them were obviously Tony's parents evidenced by their rich clothes and family resemblance, but Winter didn't know who the other two were supposed to be. Another couple, around the same age as Tony's parents, and probably trustworthy since Tony lit up when he saw them and immediately went in for a hug. 

"You don't look too bad," the man who wasn't Tony's father said. He was British with a kind expression, but the set of his shoulders was a dead giveaway that he was more dangerous than his face would have someone believe. "They were feeding you?" 

"Couldn't have been anything good," his wife said worriedly. "Why don't you get inside and I'll make sure you have a good meal after the doctor checks you over." 

Tony stuttered back a step. "Doctor?" 

They all exchanged glances. "Yes Tony," his mother said cautiously, "a doctor. You've been gone for over a year, we need to make sure you're okay." 

"I'm fine." He wrapped his arms around himself, and Winter hated that he didn't know what to do to make this better. 

"Tony-" 

"I said I'm fine," he snapped. "Do I look like I'm sick? No, so I don't need to go to a doctor. I just want to get some sleep in my own bed and know that I can walk out the front door if I want to." 

"Yes, of course. We can talk about doctor's visits at a later time. For now, come inside dear you must be freezing." 

"Wait," Howard said even though Tony hadn't taken a step closer. "Who's that?" He nodded at Winter, and Tony glanced back at him, searching his mind for the best answer to that. 

"This is Winter. He rescued me." 

A year too late and only because I wanted you for myself, Winter thought uncharitably. He needed to remember that Tony had been starved for positive attention the last year, and even if this was how Tony currently thought of him, that would surely change in a few months' time if not sooner. 

Howard's eyes darted between the two of them and he walked forward slowly, chasing the sense that something was off. He froze in place when the wind carried Tony's scent over to him. "Rescued you or mated you?" 

"I don't see a reason why they can't both be true," Tony said, eyes hard. 

"I don't know about this..." Howard said, eyeing Winter distrustfully. That was fair for many reasons, not the least of which being that Winter had nearly been given an assassination order for him and it was only sheer luck that the mission had been placed on a lower priority list when it had. It was a miracle that Tony wasn't an orphan right now, on top of everything else he had to deal with. "How well do you know him?" 

"I trust him with my life," Tony said, leaning into Winter's side. "Let me put it this way: if you don't let him in, we'll find somewhere else to stay." 

Winter hoped that Tony was bluffing because it was dangerous to trust him that much. Regardless, it panned out for him, and the skeptical parental figures all folded, assuring Tony that of course his 'friend' could stay and really, they should get inside and have some cocoa. 

"You okay?" Winter mumbled as they walked up the steps. 

"Getting there." 

There was indeed cocoa-- and cookies, which Winter enjoyed but only nibbled on a single one for propriety's sake-- and everyone but Tony pretty much ignored Winter's existence. He was fine with that, it was how he was used to living, but he wondered how long this method of operating would last for them. Hydra was good at functioning with it, but these were normal people. He gave them until lunch the following day to crack and start reacting to him, either negatively or with small talk. 

"Where's Rhodey?" Tony asked between his first and second mugs. "Did he graduate?" 

Jarvis-- Winter now knew the British man's name-- nodded, but it was Ana who answered verbally. "He's in the Air Force now." 

"Is he-" Tony started to ask but stopped, changing questions. "Can I call him?" 

The adults exchanged glances. "None of us kept up with him after you went missing," Maria said with a slight wince. 

"He... he just left?" Tony asked, looking crushed. They'd been close, and he'd thought that Rhodey gave a shit about him. It was hard to imagine that he dusted off his pants and took off when Tony disappeared, but that's what they seemed to be saying. 

"He tried to," Jarvis assured Tony, patting his hand as an attempt for comfort, but it was pale. "But." He glanced at Howard, who picked up the sentence. 

"We don't know who kidnapped you, and with him being the only person you were close to..." 

"Rhodey did not fucking kidnap me. He was not complicit in my kidnapping, and the reason he tried to figure out what was going on is because he's my friend and he was worried about me! And you sent him away because- what, you were paranoid?" 

"You were taken Tony," Maria said, hurt leaking into her voice. Hurt that Tony ignored, because Rhodey was one of the only people to genuinely give a fuck about him, and they shut him out. 

"Really? I hadn't noticed, what with the babysitters twenty four seven who drugged me to make me more docile, and the broken bones, oh and let's not forget the one that tried to rape me when I went into heat." Everyone was silent, and Tony was a little embarrassed by his outburst, but overshadowing that was anger and frustration and the feeling that he still wasn't safe. "Whatever," he said, pushing back from the table and standing. "I'm tired is there still a bed in my room?" 

They all nodded quietly. 

"Good. Come on Winter," he said, grabbing his hand. 

"Are you sure?" 

"Come on Winter." He yanked on his hand, and Winter got to his feet before he could try again and bang his arm against something. Tony hadn't been home in over a year, but he had a good memory and was able to navigate the halls easily. 

Winter scanned for potential threats in the strange environment, and when he wasn't doing that he was watching Tony worriedly. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. Tony was supposed to be happy and realize that Winter wasn't who he wanted-- wasn't what he wanted. Hell, he should turn him in for kidnapping and assault. He could also do murder, but Winter liked to think that since that had directly been to help Tony that he wouldn't count it in with his crimes. Then he reminded himself that it hadn't even been an hour since they got here, and Tony would come to his senses eventually. 

"They meant well," he said quietly. 

"I don't care," Tony said, and his tone didn't invite any further discussion about it. He found the room he was looking for and pulled Winter inside, then froze abruptly. 

Winter reached for a knife automatically but paused when he didn't see anybody. He looked around, searching for a sign as to what made Tony stop cold. It was a bedroom, and it looked like it had been occupied not too long ago. The bed was made up, the closet was full, and the desk was covered in books and what looked to Winter like scrap metal but was probably a project in the making. There was no mess, nothing out of place, not even a speck of dust. "Something wrong?" 

"They cleaned it," Tony breathed. 

"What?" Yes, everything looked to be clean, but how was that worthy of this reaction? 

"This was my room, and they- they kept it clean. They didn't pack everything up." 

"They thought you'd be back." 

"I was gone for a year Winter. Do you know what the chances are of being found after that long? A fraction of a percent. So negligible that it means nothing. They shouldn't have held onto hope for that long." 

"But you are back." 

"But I shouldn't be. Crossbones had no intention of letting me leave. I should be dead or worse, and they were all sitting here hoping that I'd come back good as new." 

"You did come back," Winter said again. He didn't see Tony's point of view, which made comforting him all the more difficult. 

Tony snorted. "Yeah, a year later, broken and mated to someone they've never met and don't approve of." 

"You're not broken." 

"Not going to defend yourself?" Tony asked, raising an eyebrow. 

"I kept you prisoner in that house." 

"You were kind to me." 

"I was the nicest of your kidnappers, that's true." 

"Why are you doing that?" 

"Doing what?" 

"Trying to convince me to hate you." 

"Because you should." 

"Why, so I can lose something else in my life?" He'd lost a year of his life, his best friend, his virginity, and he didn't want to lose his mate too. He'd-- hopefully-- be able to reclaim his place in Rhodey's life, but the other things were gone for good. If he lost Winter, he'd never get him back. And yes, maybe it was strange that he'd spent so much of his time trying to convince himself not to like Winter only to turn around and fall for him after he helped him through his heats. Tony didn't care about that anymore though, he just wanted to be happy. Happiness had been elusive during his kidnapping for obvious reasons, and now? Well now, Winter made him happy and he wasn't going to throw that away just because it was unconventional. 

He shook his head, walking towards the bed; Winter followed. "Let's just get some sleep. Not sure I have anything that'll fit you, but we can look in the morning." Tony looped back around to close and lock the door since Winter hadn't done it. His bedroom lock was downright flimsy compared to what he'd gotten used to the past year, but it only needed to warn Tony that someone was coming, not truly hold them back. 

Tony stripped down and nudged Winter to do the same, curling up together under the covers. Tony was tired but restless. There was clearly something on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn't bring himself to spit it out. 

"I'll do anything to keep you safe," Winter said in a low voice. 

That calmed him down, and he nodded, making himself comfortable in the cocoon of Winter's arms. "I..." 

Winter didn't say anything, just held him. 

"Never leave me," he said quietly, desperately. "I'm your omega, you have to stay with me, right?" 

"I'll only leave if you tell me to," Winter promised. 

Tony nodded. "Good." It was clear from the way he tightened his fingers on Winter's back that he never thought that would happen. 


It was uncomfortable from the start when Winter found Howard alone the next day. Howard eyed him distrustfully. 

"You have experience with Hydra," he stated. 

Howard's eyes narrowed further. "What's it to you?" 

"They're the ones that took him." 

"How do you know that?" 

"I was one of the people holding him there." 

Howard's face contorted in rage, and Winter figured he should keep talking before Howard found the courage and means to react to that in a physical way. 

"The only way to keep him safe is to destroy Hydra, and Tony seems convinced that this is the safest place for him." 

"You don't agree?" Howard asked challengingly. 

"It doesn't matter if I do. Tony won't leave." Winter folded his arms across his chest, looking at Howard searchingly. "What are you doing that has Hydra worried?" 

"You're blaming me for this?" 

"If they wanted something from Tony, they would have questioned him. Tony was a hostage, nothing more. Whatever you're doing, put it on hold while we get rid of them." 

"It's the key to getting rid of them. I can't drop it, and I can't ignore it. We need this; the entire world needs this." 

Winter stared at him evenly. "Think about it." He turned around and left, making his way towards the sun room where Tony currently was. 

When he got there, Tony was sitting on the floor, sneakers on his feet and staring at the floor length windows. He looked to see who it was, then relaxed when he saw it was Winter. "I tried to call Rhodey. He didn't answer. I know his mom's number though, so I called her." 

Tony didn't elaborate, but it didn't seem like he was done with the story. "And?" Winter prompted. 

"And she said he's overseas. Won't be back for another four months. She wants me to visit. I wish I could, I miss her apple pie. She used to give me the biggest hugs," he recalled, leaning into Winter when he sat down next to him. 

"Where does she live?" 

"Down in Atlanta. There's no way they'll let me leave after I just got back though." 

"We don't need permission," Winter said. 

Tony looked at him, surprised. "You think we should leave anyways?" 

"You said you want to see her. This house isn't a prison." 

"No," Tony said, laying his head on Winter's shoulder, "I suppose it isn't." He didn't make a move to get up or otherwise encourage the idea that they could leave though, so Winter assumed that if Tony wanted to do it, it would be later on. 

They sat in silence for a while, staring out the windows at the trees that littered the grounds. 

"Do you have plans today?" Winter asked. 

"I was going to go back over my notes, make sure I didn't forget anything. Why?" 

"I need to take care of a few things in the city." 

Tony jolted, no longer relaxed. He turned around and lifted up to rest on his knees, staring at Winter. "What could you possibly be doing out there that can't be put off? Why do you have to do anything?" 

Winter blinked. He needed to take care of the local Hydra buildings so that, when they did decide to come after Winter/Tony/Howard, they wouldn't have a base ready and waiting for them. He was pretty sure telling Tony that would be a bad idea. 

"We said we'd stay together, you can't- you can't leave." 

"I'll be back in a few hours." 

"No, you can't- you don't get to-." Tony climbed on top of his lap, holding Winter's face in his hands, his grip tight like he was afraid Winter would slip right through his fingers. "You said you'd be here as long as I wanted to be, and I still want you to be here so you can't leave." 

"I'm not leaving. It's like going to the store, you won't notice I'm gone." At least he was pretty sure that's how it worked. He didn't exactly have experience with every day, normal tasks like going to the store and coming back to a family. 

"You're going somewhere that I'm not, that's leaving." 

"We were in different parts of the house and that was fine," Winter pointed out. 

"It wasn't fine but I thought you'd think I was crazy if I made you stay in the same room as me all the time. You're not going anywhere," Tony said, his eyes wild with something like fear. 

"It's-" 

"You're not." He leaned forward, pressing their lips together desperately. "Stay. Promise me you'll stay." 

Winter kissed him back, not answering. He didn't want to lie to Tony, but he wasn't going to sit here and let Hydra try to hurt him again. 

This was the first time they'd kissed outside of Tony's heat. It was... nice. But it didn't change his mind about his plans. 


That night, Winter snuck out of bed after Tony fell asleep. He left a knife on his empty side of the bed so that Tony could protect himself just in case something happened. It was easier to leave through the window than make his way through the entire mansion just to get to a fucking door, so he slipped out, closed the window, and dropped to the ground. 

He didn't have any explosives or grenades on hand, but Hydra facilities were always well-stocked so he wasn't worried. Throughout the burrows, each district had two bases. The main one was in Manhattan, so Winter went there first. The smaller ones might have been abandoned with his betrayal, but the main one was too big to simply be shut down every time the location was compromised. 

Security measures hadn't changed so drastically that he couldn't slip inside without being seen. His first instinct was to make the usual rounds: destroy the data, take any specialized items so they couldn't be recovers, and collapse the building. This wasn't a Hydra mission though, this was a way of hurting them while also helping bring them down. He needed information, and that was more complicated than just destroying it. 

His life was becoming more complicated by the second. 

In the end, he accomplished his goal with only a minor bump in the road-- a shot through his side, bullet went in and out with no problems, barely winged him-- and headed off to one of the minor bases. Chances were that they had enough warning to get out before he got there, but there was no point in taking the risk. 

He showed up in the middle of evac. 

What a fucking mess. 

When the smoke cleared, he felt something pulling him towards the underground levels. He stood still and thought about it. With a mental sigh, he started in towards it. This was probably something would kill him, but he possible benefits outweighed the probability of that happening. Tony would disagree, but Tony wasn't here. 

He waded though the rubble and had a moment of doubt when he saw that he'd have to go far below ground to find whatever was tugging on him. His self-preservation instincts were in working order, and what had kept him alive for so long. They'd found a bit of a dip when he got Tony out of his kidnapped situation, and apparently they were going to keep going down at a steady rate. The only way down was an elevator, and Winter hated that but he went anyway. 

Hopefully if he died, Tony wouldn't take it personally. It's not like anyone would be able to find his body down here, and besides, he was a ghost story: no identity, no history to speak of. No one would know what to do with his body, and Tony definitely wouldn't be told. Which is why, he decided, he wasn't going to die down here. Tony'd had disappointments enough that he didn't need one more thing. 

The elevator seemed untouched by the destruction above, which made the bright light washing over the small space seem all the brighter. It was creepy. The doors opened with a ding, and Winter stepped out, then frowned. 

Cryo tubes. A dozen of them, and half of them were non-functioning, leaving the inhabitants inside dead. Winter walked between them, glancing at faces he didn't recognize. He felt drawn towards a specific one, and he stopped in front of it, frown deepening. This was... they looked like him. The man in the cryo tube was clean shaven where Winter had scruff, and his hair was much shorter than Winter's. The man was smaller than him, lacking muscle mass, but even with those differences it was clearly him. Or, a version of him? 

Winter took a couple steps back. The pull was gone; he could leave if he wanted. He sighed, reaching for the controls and activating it. They were pretty straightforward, so he was confident that he hadn't managed to accidentally kill his doppelganger. The cryo tube deactivated, the power leeching from it. 

He didn't wake up when the tube turned off, and Winter sighed, hefting the smaller man in his arms. More complicated indeed. How was he going to explain this to Tony?