“What the hell?” Tony said sharply under his breath as he looked down at the battered, masked man tucked between the brick wall and the dumpster behind his student workshop.
He’d been going about his nightly chores to clean up and shut down after all the students had left, and part of that was taking out the trash. He certainly hadn’t expected to find an unconscious, masked man that looked like they'd been thrown into a fire pit while doing said menial chore. He had no idea when or how the man got there, since Jarvis should have spotted the guy when he arrived and told him. “Seriously, what the hell?” he mumbled under his breath again as he considered what to do.
He knelt in front of the man, hesitant to reach out to him as Jarvis piped up, “I’m looking into it, sir. I can’t place exactly when he could have arrived, but the corner around the dumpster does create a blind spot I had yet to account for. I will correct this immediately. There were several cars that came through recently that he may have arrived via. I will check the footage and look for all possible discrepancies.”
The ear piece Tony kept on him at all times was tucked in just behind the tragus of his left ear. It was completely unseen but made it so he didn’t need to talk loud enough for the general room to be heard by, or to hear, his AI. He studied the man a moment longer before reaching out to see if he could wake him. The instant his hand touched the man’s forearm it was captured in a bone-crushing grip and a knife was pressed to his neck. “Shit, fuck—okay, um—listen, I’m not gonna hurt you. Just wanted to see if you were alive,” and gestured as best he could at the dumpster the man was leaning against then to the open door behind him.
Wild blue eyes bore into Tony, the knife pressing a bit deeper, drawing blood. Despite that he couldn’t help noticing that the arm holding his was partially covered in burns and the proximity made the smell catch in his nose in a nauseating way. Jarvis was frantically asking to contact authorities, but Tony kept quiet, knowing Jarvis wouldn’t do so without his approval. Carefully, the knife was slowly pulled away, though the blade was still held before the man defensively. Tony took a deep breath and gestured to the door behind him again, “My shop. I can get you to a hosp—”
The knife was back at his throat, “No hospitals,” Blue Eyes snarled.
“Ok, ok, ok!” Tony said quickly, “No hospitals, but you’re beat to fuck. You probably need stitches in that head wound, I think I can see your skull,” he added with a grimace.
This was a stupid idea, and he could practically hear Jarvis’ frustration despite his silence. It didn’t change the fact that Tony knew that mask though. White Wolf, the ghostly back up for the Avengers. The only reason they had even given the guy a pseudonym for the public to latch onto was because he had had to come in to save several of the Avengers alongside Black Widow and Falcon once, and it had put him front and center in a very loud and spectacular way. He’d blasted his way into a vault to get to the Avengers before a chemical gas killed them and half the city of Philadelphia.
The mask was distinguishable enough, but that was easy to remake. No, what really gave him away was the weapons setup. He had a penchant for knives, specifically Russian tactical knives, Tony could make out three aside from the one at his neck. Then a glock and an old model M1911 at the man’s side, though he was missing his signature sniper rifle that he used to near perfection. To seal it, he could see a sliver of metal on the arm holding the knife at his throat. A metal arm. How did Tony know enough about him to recognize the weapons the man tended to keep on his person? He had something of a love/hate relationship with the Avengers and their organization, S.H.I.E.L.D. Their organization had tried, and failed, to recruit him multiple times and he’d had a few jaunts into their databases in search of his own information and, while he didn’t dig into personnel information (mostly because he’d decided that screwing around with the firewalls that were wrapped tightly around them wasn’t worth the trouble), there was some other general information that was not so tightly protected. It was easy enough to come across and he’d gotten a good picture of the White Wolf in full battle gear from it. He couldn’t help saving it for reference if he ever had a reason to come face to face with any of the Avengers and needed Jarvis to find weaknesses. Or so Tony told himself.
Now, with the Wolf – nope, he liked Blue Eyes better, especially since he was getting so intimately acquainted with them – glaring very real murder at him with a knife at his neck, he was glad for his discretion. He had enough things to deal with, he didn’t need more. After another long pause the knife lowered again, and Tony took deep breath of relief. It didn’t last though, as Jarvis sent a warning ping for intruders. They had a code when words would just get in the way, especially since, to anyone else, Jarvis was supposed to be an AI similar to Alexa or Siri: not a full-blown learning AI with his own personality and emotions. Blue Eyes snapped his head around to look over his shoulder, seeming to listen more than look, and then he was grabbing Tony and dragging him back into the workshop. Then there was two-hundred plus pounds of agent/soldier/spy/whatever his designation within S.H.I.E.L.D. was, pressing Tony up against the wall next to the door that closed surprisingly quiet behind them.
One hand still held the knife but now the flat was over his shoulder with the blade facing out and away from Tony towards the door. Blue Eyes’ forearm was pressed across his chest, and it was way too solid beneath the leather and cloth of his tactical jacket, further confirming it was not flesh and bone. He was about to make a mental note of it, and maybe a comment because that’s just what he did in high stress situations, when the hand not holding the knife came up to hover over his lips to signal silence. They stayed like that for a long moment, Tony fighting, and occasionally losing, the urge to fidget beneath the marksman. Almost at the same time that Jarvis signaled the danger was gone, Blue Eyes let up but didn’t push away entirely.
Tony raised an eyebrow, but then he felt the wet spots on his tank top and glanced down, “Fuck,” it was blood, Blue Eyes’ blood.
Blue Eyes tried to push completely away once he realized what Tony was referring to, but he swayed dangerously. Tony caught him by the arm, tucked under it, and pulled him to one of the large tables that littered the huge student workshop.
“Jesus, you weigh a metric ton,” Tony complained as Blue Eyes grunted in response and leaned heavily on him before catching the edge of the table to steady himself. “I’ve got a med kit here, have to with all the engineering that goes sideways easily enough,” Tony half babbled, “one second.”
Tony made sure Blue Eyes was steady at the table before striding across the room. He was lucky it was the end of his class, all the projects and materials gone and tools put away. Otherwise, he would have had to clear out all kinds of things to make space for the man. When he turned back he could see that the man was starting to pull off the gun harness, which didn’t remove even half of his weapons, and opening the tactical jacket underneath. He could see the Kevlar vest beneath, covered in blood from what looked to be very precise stab wounds. Whoever gave them to him knew where the Kevlar would stop, making them the best weak points to hit.
The engineer came back over quickly with the med kit, “Let’s see how bad those knife and burn wounds are.”
Tony went to take the Kevlar off first, but Blue Eyes stopped him quickly. Tony sighed, “I am not going to shank you, Blue Eyes. Otherwise, why would I bother getting the med kit out? It’d be easier to find some random tool in here and just blast you with it. Hell, that wall,” he gestured to the one behind him, “is all nail guns and screwdrivers. Now let me see what the hell was done to you.”
Blue Eyes glowered at him a moment more but allowed it, pulling off each layer until the man was shirtless. Tony couldn’t help trailing his eyes over the signature metal arm, making sure there was no doubt he was really the White Wolf. The arm looked like it had been crushed in a few places, scorch marks trailing viciously across it, and had difficulty moving, meaning that patching himself up would probably be incredibly difficult. That was more than likely the only reason why he was allowing Tony to help him. The thought made Tony’s eyes quickly move to the six stab wounds and the burns on his right arm, “How are you alive?”
The marksman seemed to want to say something, but thought better of it and just shrugged, making him wince. Tony glowered at him in return and tested the stab wounds. They were deep, but the blood flow was sluggish. So, either they were healing incredibly fast, or Blue Eyes was going to pass out soon. From the sharpness of his eyes, option one seemed most likely. Tony sighed and began working on cleaning the wounds, “Well, since I don’t know your name, and I know you’re not going to tell me your name, I’ll just keep calling you Blue Eyes. My name’s Tony. Yes, I know you’re an avenger. No, I’m not calling you White Wolf or whatever because I have a habit of shortening things and calling you ‘Wolf’ just feels weird, so Blue Eyes, or Blue. Work for you?”
The marksman didn’t say anything, instead looking at Tony in slight amusement instead. “All right then, ahh…” he considered the wounds, “Well, I’m not a physician, but I know well enough how to stitch a wound and treat a burn. Let me just-“
Blue shook his head as Tony went for what could be used as makeshift stitching (he wasn’t about to explain why he had that in a student workshop med kit) and pointed to the gauze. Tony gave him an incredulous look, but the man gestured to the gauze again, “Don’t need ‘em, just gauze’ll do,” he finally said, voice low.
“You will bleed to death before midnight,” Tony pointed out.
Another shake of his head and Tony sighed, “Fine, fine, I can at least tell them when they come accusing me of killing you that I tried to get you to go with stitches, but nope. You just wanted gauze.”
Blue shrugged again, earning him a wince as it jarred the burns and the stab wound in his shoulder once more. Tony plucked out the necessary items to treat the wounds as best as possible. He was careful as he worked, making sure there wasn’t anything left inside the wounds (in case it wasn’t a knife he was stabbed with) before packing them and patching gauze over each one. The burns he couldn’t do much about. If he was guessing he’d say they were bordering on third degree burns with a few spots he knew had to have crossed that line. The most he could do was put the burn cream on them all, patch some gauze over the worst of them, and hope. The startling thing was how the edges of the burned tissue were pinking, like they were healing already. For just a second his mind went back to his old man’s stories about Captain America’s serum. That couldn’t be it though, not possible. What the fuck kind of steroids was this guy on? Or maybe S.H.I.E.L.D. had figured it out?
He pushed the thought aside as Blue hissed and swayed when he passed over the worst of the burns. They were almost blackened but he couldn’t do much outside a hospital, “Hey, whoa, steady there, Big Blue,” he said, putting a hand on his metal shoulder to steady him.
“Thought I was Blue Eyes…” The man slurred, glancing nervously at the hand on the metal of his arm and then back at Tony.
“Yeah, penchant for nicknames, Terminator? I’ll probably have six more for you before the end of the hour,” Tony said with a small smile, adding another just to make a point.
The marksman huffed at him but remained conscious through the rest of the patching up. There was a moment, while Tony was cleaning his head wound and the blood that ran down under the mask, where they both paused. Blue gave him a narrow look that Tony just smiled at before cleaning around the mask as best he could without really touching it. Once he was sure there was no excessive bleeding he bandaged it with some butterfly tape and leaned back, “I’d offer you a place to stay, but I don’t think you’d take me up on it.” Blue confirmed with a shake of his head, “So, anything else I can do for our friendly neighborhood Avenger?”
The man regarded him for a moment, then shook his head, “Thank you,” he seemed to finally settle on.
“Hey man, just doing a service to the people that tend to save someone, somewhere on a weekly-ish basis,” and flashed him a grin.
Blue’s eyes crinkled to show his amusement before he stood, steady this time, gave a lazy salute, and left silently through the same side door they had come in through. Tony waited a bit, letting the footsteps disappear into the quiet of near midnight while the empty workshop closed in around him. He took a slow, but semi-panicked breath, “Fuck, Jarvis, I just helped the White Wolf. Fuck.”
“Indeed sir,” Jarvis answered, his voice unimpressed and exasperated.
Bucky arrived back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters roughly an hour after he’d left Tony’s workshop. It took another two hours to get through medical, where they sighed over the makeshift patch up job Tony had done while the debrief was set for three days out with the rest of the team. With the mess that was his arms they wanted him to rest up and be able to either fix his metal arm or get a new one before briefing. It was tempting to get out the arm that Shuri had given him before he left Wakanda two years ago, but he was wary of S.H.I.E.L.D. learning too much. They were good people, but they took liberties he didn’t like sometimes, and he had promised to not let anyone toy with her tech. Especially since it was made of vibranium. So instead, he kept what S.H.I.E.L.D. gave him unless it became absolutely necessary to switch.
This entire mission had been one big cluster fuck. It was supposed to just be a small nest of AIM operatives, an outlying base for them to gather more information from. It was only the tip of an iceberg though, and it had ended with almost a dozen freshly injected Extremis soldiers, two of which failed immediately, and a rabbit hole that extended farther than it should have.
Bucky had gotten separated from the others while trying to get some of the Extremis soldiers off Natasha and Clint long enough for them to get into the base and start dismantling it from within. Then, instead of circling back around to rejoin the team, he had kept moving outwards, taking what heat he could off them. That ended up being more than he could handle after one got a lucky shot in and overheated before Bucky could find cover. That’s what had caused the burns on his right arm. He’d managed to kill the other soldiers and then lose the last of them before climbing onto the back of a van for a quick getaway and abandoning it in the city to tuck away behind that dumpster.
The breather in Tony’s lab? Workshop? Whatever it was, had been enough for him to return to the base to find and help take out the last of the Extremis soldiers before reporting back to the Avengers compound. The compound itself was situated underneath the main New York Headquarters for S.H.I.E.L.D., similar to the Triskelion in D.C., and there were multiple floors dedicated just to housing and protecting the identities of the Avengers. Now he sat in their common room, ice on his burned arm to keep the blistering down as it healed, and his left arm gone while the tech guys fixed it or made a new one. Steve sat across from him and Sam and Clint were in the background playing darts.
Steve was freshly showered and wearing casual clothes. Bucky gave the blond a sidelong grin and waved with his free fingers, “Hey Stevie.”
“Hey Buck,” he said, then sighed, “You know I’m going to have to talk to you about that stunt you pulled. Again.”
Bucky resisted the urge to roll his eyes and Steve shook his head, “Don’t do that. You know why it’s not acceptable. You’re not a lone wolf anymore and you have a team and good people backing you up. You are also not expendable, so don’t try that argument either.”
A sigh left him, Steve already knowing each of his arguments by heart after two years. Bucky looked at his best friend with a tight expression but nodded, “I know, and I know it’s been two years, but old habits like these die hard Stevie.”
“I know Buck, even after your time away… It’s a lot to work through, so I’ll keep calling you out each time you do it,” Steve responded, reaching out and clapping his knee lightly.
“All right, ya’ stubborn mule,” Bucky said through a grin, making Steve chuckle.
They leaned back into the couch and Bucky snorted as Clint hit another bull's eye and Sam groaned, "You're never gonna win a round with him, Feathers. Same way you won't beat Steve or me on the track," he teased their aerial support mercilessly.
"'Ey, shut it metal man, I have a better chance of beating this slack off here than you or the captain. At least he's a normal human," Sam shot back, cursing as he landed outside the bull’s eye again.
"You think Clint's normal? Pretty sure the circus screwed up the normal part for him," Steve dropped in.
"Ouch, Cap, ouch," Clint said as he took his shots, easily beating Sam.
Steve just smiled and looked over at Bucky again, "They really tore into you there, Buck. How's it healing up?"
"Not bad," he said, wiggling his fingers again, "By the time I got to medical the lesser burns were already trying to scab over and the stab wounds had stopped bleeding completely. I just don't want to deal with the blistering, that's the worst."
When asked where he had gotten patched up Bucky had only said that he broke into a shop, couldn’t remember which one, and stole some supplies. No one questioned it considering his track record of actually doing just that.
With a grimace he shifted his arm, the movement making the ice over some of the more tender blisters fall and a short flair of pain went through him before it dulled again. Steve grimaced in sympathy, "Yeah, not a fan."
Bucky was unable to resist teasing his best friend, "What, not a fan of skin bubbling up with extreme heat, filling with liquid an-"
"Oh, come on, man!" Sam yelled from the dart board, having turned fully to glower at Bucky as he took on a slightly green shade.
Bucky burst into laughter at the look and glanced back over at Steve, expecting an equally grossed out expression. Instead he had a fond look on his face that Bucky raised an eyebrow at. Steve shrugged, "It's good to see you so relaxed. Even though it's been a few years, it's sometimes hard to find a moment when you smile or laugh again."
Bucky sobered a little, "I know, after everything that happened with me running and then the crap with Zemo... Didn't seem like there was much for me to rebuild."
Steve nodded, then quickly changed the subject, not wanting to dampen the mood more than he already had, "When you going to get that arm back you think?"
"Techs said to give them a day or two. Should have it back by debrief. Gonna be awkward till then though," he said with a shrug.
"Wait, so we're not gonna have to help you around or anything are we?" Clint asked, making a face.
If Bucky had his metal arm he'd have flipped the archer off. Instead he settled for yelling, "Not if I don't have to yell at you ‘cause you can't hear shit!"
"Say what?” Clint mocked, pressing to fingers behind his ear like he hadn’t heard anything before returning to the darts, grin still plastered on his face.
Coming to be an Avenger had been a very long and convoluted path. It'd been five years since Steve came across him purely by accident. He'd been on assignment when some whack job had decided to release overgrown, murderous monkeys into the Bronx. Bucky was trying to take out a prominent business man who wasn't too fond of Hydra’s propositions but had ended up trying to dodge monkeys instead. He managed to get his target, but in line-of-sight of Captain America and his superior eyesight. Steve had gone after him and they would have fought if not for the fact that one of the monkeys had managed to rip off his mask. Getting a look at his face had sent Steve on a warpath, and it ended in a decommissioned military camp, a lot of explosions, and Bucky breaking his programming while that bastard Zola-program tried to keep him in line. It was hell and Bucky had bolted after nearly killing most of the Avengers.
It took another year for Steve to track him down again, but not before a vengeance obsessed man tried to pin blowing up half the UN on him. That was another train wreck with a vengeful Prince T’Challa in the middle of it all. It ended up good and awful. Steve was in-between law keeper and criminal while Bucky was offered sanctuary in Wakanda to try and get the triggers and conditioning out of his head.
Bucky had very little clue what went on with the outside world in the two years he was in Wakanda. He focused on Shuri getting his head straight and then finally being able to rest.
But a soldier gets restless and Bucky finally decided to join up with Steve after the good Captain was able to say that he wasn't going to be arrested in multiple countries and Bucky had been acquitted of any charges raised for things he did under Hydra’s control. Bucky'd kept to the sidelines for the most part, only coming in as necessary. Until Steve and the others got themselves in too much trouble and he'd had to get in the middle of it all. They all kept their identities close to the chest though, no one wanted their normal faces plastered all over the media. Only Steve had that misfortune, but it was kept to as much of a minimum as possible, his mask featured in almost any pictures in the media. Steve carried it well enough and they all helped where they could.
As Bucky continued to watch Sam and Clint go a few more rounds, Natasha appeared and gave him an exasperated look before telling Steve to go get him fresh ice. Clint won by a mile, and Bucky thought back to Tony as Steve rooted around in the freezer and Natasha set herself down across from him. Tony had known he was the White Wolf, not that his mask wasn’t a dead giveaway, but it was easy enough to remake a mask that was splashed across one too many media outlets. He’d seen the way Tony took in his weapons and then didn’t balk at his metal arm. He’d known from the second Bucky reached out to grab him behind the dumpster. It intrigued him, even terrified him a little, but mostly he wanted to know more about the man. It helped that his workshop looked interesting, not the clean order of a S.H.I.E.L.D. workshop or the twisted madness of Hydra. It was like a car mechanic’s garage, but so much more complicated.
It made him want to go back and get to know the guy. Bucky wasn’t sure what he’d say or do, maybe just a bit of a ‘thanks for making sure I wasn’t dying’? Maybe. He’d think about it after he was healed up.