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I'll Just Hold Onto That For You (Your Heart)

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Tony parks his bike out front, laying it gently on the bike rack. The sky is blue, the wind's on his face, his laptop's charged, Tony's in a good mood. It's Spring Break, and he's just been dying for a cozy, peaceful morning at his favorite cafe, the Lionsgate. The cafe's his favorite for a reason 

"Hey, Tony!" Clint calls as soon as Tony steps inside. The bells jingle softly above him, and he turns to the fellow brown-haired man with a smile on his face.

"Sup, Clint. How you doing?" Tony greets, nodding at the other waiters and walking over to the counter. Clint shoots him a friendly grin and cocks an eyebrow. 

"Same order?" Clint asks, taking a pen and flipping it, catching it deftly with one hand as Tony nods. Clint moves behind the counter, lithe and agile in his brown Lionsgate apron. "Your hoodie looks cute," he adds, pouring Tony a mug filled to the brim with his favorite, black, black coffee. Black like scorched earth is how he likes it. He hands the mug over to Tony, who takes it and sips the liquid, closes his eyes like he's having a religious experience, and sighs in contentment.

Clint snorts. "Jesus, Tones, at least try to hide the boner." Pauses, then tells Tony, "You're burning your tastebuds right off."

Tony takes another long sip and feels the magic happening. "Sorry. I sometimes forget how distracting I can be for you." 

Clint scoffs, rolls his eyes, ignores the suggestive comment with practiced ease. "I forget you've probably burned the nerves off your poor tongue since you were around four."

"Aw thanks," Tony replies with a teasing smirk. "Might wanna reign in the crush you obviously have going for me there. Why are you so concerned about my tongue, Barton?" He asks, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Clint holds a hand to his heart, looking offended. "Excuse you, you'd be lucky to have me. And kindly fuck off about the tongue. I don't need any more nightmares featuring you."

"I've already got you, sweetcheeks." Tony stares back for a moment, then turns on his heel and sways his hips, glancing back and being absolutely smug as fuck about it when Clint's dark eyes go predatory. "You make me coffee. I've dated for less," he says, smiling with his teeth. "You dream about me, snuggle muffin?"

Clint laughs, flips him off, and turns to serve another customer who's currently eyeing them with a lot of uncomfortable confusion. Tony notices it right away, of course, the spark of interest in the eyes as the stranger clears his throat and turns his body away to the counter, shoulders stiff. Well. Someone needs to release some sexual tension.

The cafe's almost empty this early in the morning, and Tony loves it that way. All he needs is some AC/DC blasting through the speakers but Clint will probably asphyxiate him for that, so he refrains from upsetting the man who makes him coffee. Clint's been his friend ever since he started the semester at MIT, and found the gem that is the Lionsgate cafe. On the first day, Tony accidentally ordered a latte, tasted absolutely no coffee, demanded coffee, Clint argued there in fact was coffee, and no he was not about to give Tony a refund, and Tony declaring he would not leave the premises without coffee, and that resulted in Clint making a furious bet with Tony that if the security cameras were to show Clint pouring him the fucking coffee Tony would have buy Clint's pizzas for eight consecutive days. 

They became friends right away. As soon as Tony finished buying eight pizzas, lectured Clint about the dangers of eating so many pizzas and Clint threatened to poison every cup of coffee he would ever make for Tony in the future. 

Tony makes himself comfortable in his favorite corner, at the back of the cafe, surrounds himself with large windows that let through rays of soft sunshine. He takes out his laptop, fires it up and immediately starts working on the prototype for body armor that's light, compact, thick enough to endure multiple bullets but without restricting mobility or speed. While making it look good as hell. Which, Tony thinks with a satisfied smile, is definitely one of his fortes. His professor's gonna lose his mind when he launches the prototype. Tony's been aching to finally get through the droning seminars and pass over to the part where he actually gets to build things. He takes another long gulp of the sweet, black coffee, actually feels the neurons and synapses in his brain firing (yeah, he learned some shit from Bio class) and the mitochondria powering up for his cells. 

Tony takes the mug, tells it in a soft whisper that he'll remember it forever, and downs the rest of it.

A disgusted noise from across the room makes him look up. 

Clint rolls his eyes (the guy does it so much Tony's worried it'll roll right back into his skull one day) and holds up a freshly brewed coffee pot. "Come get your fucking refill," he yells. "I can see the empty cup from here."

Tony jumps to his feet, joy in his heart and grins wide and happy. "You're a goddamn national treasure," he tells Clint, greedily pouring the black liquid into his now empty mug. Clint sighs, loud and exaggerated. 

"I know. The plan is to have you die in two years when the caffeine spreads to your heart," Clint says with a shrug and takes the pot.

Tony makes a low, mournful noise in his throat, gazes up at Clint through his thick eyelashes and makes grabby hands at the pot. Clint pauses, narrows his eyes like he doesn't trust Tony to touch the coffee pot with a ten-foot pole.

"Fuck," Clint grumbles and glares at him. There's no real heat in it though, so Tony doesn't worry and instead takes the pot, blowing a kiss and a wink in response and carefully makes his way back to his table with the pot in one hand, and the refilled mug in the other. "At least take a muffin so your stomach doesn't commit suicide." Clint says grudgingly. 

Tony turns, beams. "I never knew you cared," He saunters over to the counter, gets himself a boxfull of muffins thrown at his chest for his trouble. 

"Asshole." Clint mutters after him.

Tony flips him off without looking and plops himself down on his favorite plushie chair, slinging the laptop towards his knees and hunching down to do some work. He's in the middle of explaining how long strands of fiber made of a super mindblowing metal shit can interlace to form a thick net that's enough to stop a bullet from a game rifle when in his peripheral vision, a low, steady thrum of energy tingles in the back of his neck.

Tony glances up, barely in time to leap out of the way when a motorcycle crashes through the window, shattering glass with the kind of noise that should be illegal this early in the morning, and tumbles across the cafe's previously white tiles, ending up near the door in a whir of spinning tires and machinery that Tony's hands itches to fix. Clint stands, uncertain and lost in the middle of the destruction, apron untangled and towel in hand, mouth agape.

The previous occupant of the motorcycle lies a meter away from Tony, clad in black combat gear and Tony can see the sleek outline of a Ruger poking out from a sheath on the guy's hip. Then, the guy shifts, and Tony's about halfway there to fainting and screaming because he has a metal fucking arm, glinting and looking all kinds of badass. Tony can't look away from the absolute beast. The guy looks up, dazed, blood trickling down the side of his face. He looks out of it, and completely wrecked and when the guy sees his motorcycle strewn on its side with half the gears hanging out, he looks fucking pissed about it and Tony decides then and there he's got a thing for angry, pretty brunets with blood on their faces, a metal goddamn arm, and molten fire in their blue eyes. 

"Fuck," Tony says, casually, like this is an absolutely mundane sight to see on a Saturday morning. 

 

 

 

 

A/N: Next chapter will be up soon

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Tony wobbles to his feet, and then his legs do some unnecessary bullshit where they collapse beneath him and he's left down on one knee. He looks at what used to be his favorite table and chair, and sees shattered wood and what looks like the remains of his laptop. And his coffee. Someone's gonna pay for that. This is officially the worst morning of his life, and apparently he must have said all of it out loud because motorcycle asshole turns to look at him, a little bit dazed and a lot flabbergasted. 

Once Tony gets to his feet and stays on them, he half stumbles half hops to where Clint is still standing, shocked. 

"Dude, snap out of it," he tells Clint and reaches behind the counter to grab the kitchen torch that Clint likes to use to decorate cups of fancy Starbucksian coffee. "Call the cops, and find something to defend yourself with." Clint looks at him, mute, and nods. He ambles to the phone-box, and Tony doesn't have the time to call him out on those fucking bambi-steps of his because motorcycle asshole clears his throat from behind. 

Tony whirls, holds the torch and points it at the incredibly attractive brunet. God. Tony's already getting a hard-on for that metal arm of his. "Hold the fuck right there, murder muffin," because Tony's got no filter when it comes to his mouth and he'll be damned if he starts now. "What's going on?"

Motorcycle asshole looks like he's trying to swallow a grin, and instead plasters on a pathetic serious face. "Sorry, didn't mean to drop by like this. But it's about to get pretty dangerous in a few minutes, so you better tell that boy with the apron on he'd better find somewhere to hide, and somewhere real good." Then he pauses, gets to a crouch, and starts dusting himself off. Tony's staring at him, incredulous, and ready to start blasting off some flames when the guy adds like an afterthought, "You too, if you wanna keep your head." 

"Aw, thanks,"  Tony says, voice sharp and flat. "Real considerate of you." Like Tony's the kind of person to listen to an asshole who destroyed his favorite coffee shop, and just trashed weeks of research on his computer. He's about to hold motorcycle asshole responsible, and he has no qualms about using the torch to do it. Tony glares at motorcycle asshole right in the eye as the torch comes on with a hiss and a pop. He may have a gun, and an arm that can probably crush Tony's throat in four seconds but Tony's got coffee in his system and no fucks left to give.

The guy winces, holds up both hands placatingly. "I'm Bucky. Bucky Barnes. Please, listen to me. Get behind the counter, now." There must be something he knows that Tony doesn't, because a note of urgency rises in his voice as motorcycle asshole gets to his feet, looking a little wild around the eyes. He takes the Ruger out in a smooth motion, handling it expertly, and Tony makes a noise of distress. 

"Put that gun down," he says, a little scared, mostly pissed, and absolutely not about to back down. He steps closer, and is in arm-length's distance to motorcyle asshole, who watches the whole thing with a bit of confused admiration in his eyes, like he doesn't know what to do with Tony. "Clint! Did you call the cops yet?" Tony yells, not taking his eyes off the brunet. There's a bit of shuffling behind the counter, and the pitched sound of something small and metal hitting the tile floor. Clint audibly gulps, and Tony tenses up. Motorcycle asshole is still holding the damn gun and acts like a cornered animal, eyes flicking from left to right. 

"Yes, yes," Clint says, slowly. Tony waits for him to continue. "Um, I'm not an expert or anything, but I think Bucky's right on the getting the hell out of dodge, because I think, I think I'm looking at a grenade."

"Don't give him the honor of his name," Tony snaps. He looks down at motorcycle asshole, motions with the torch to get in front. "Names are reserved for humans who don't destroy coffee shops." 

Barnes returns his hard stare, but moves forward anyway in light, quick steps that completely undermine the broad shoulders and bulky muscles. He peers over the counter, hisses, grabs Clint by the front of his shirt and shoves him towards the entrance door of the cafe. "They're already here, and you're fucked," he tells them, and Tony gapes at the audacity. The brunet ignores that, grabs Tony with his metal hand and pushes them both behind him. Tony takes a second to lower the torch and glance outside, and the street's quiet. A little too quiet. No cars, no pedestrians, and Tony exchanges an uneasy look with Clint, who's been a little quieter than usual. Understandable, Tony thinks with a mind-shrug. Then returns to glaring balefully at Barnes.

"Then get us unfucked, murder muffin." Tony says sweetly, blinking with faux-innocence when Barnes turns to narrow his eyes. Clint chokes. 

"How'd I miss the nickname phase, already?" Clint asks, loud and interested.

Barnes opens his mouth, probably to promptly tell Tony to kindly shut up, but doesn't get the chance to, because a second later there's a fucking explosion inside the cafe and Barnes is ducking, going low and yanking Tony and Clint to the ground with him. Smoke billows, tendrils snaking to the ceiling and clouding the air with thick, grey mist. It's hard to breathe or even blink now, and the air feels hotter, like the whole world is collapsing on itself and trying to envelope them all in it

Tony drops, heart hammering in his chest and bile suddenly in this throat, because Barnes was telling the truth, and Tony's never been face to face with the kind of life-threatening bullshit Barnes probably goes hand in hand with. Tony crawls behind the counter, pressing his spine against the cool stellate. His breaths are coming out too fast, too quick and Clint isn't in a much better state, fear tight around the corners of his mouth and eyes. Tony closes his eyes and tries to calm his heart before it fucking explodes because bullets are burying themselves into the cafe walls, deafening gunfire is in the background, and the screech of tires outside on the street signals new arrivals. 

Barnes grits his teeth, and Tony watches as the brunet vaults over the counter, making a run for a big black bag crumpled in the center of the cafe. Tony peeks over the counter, sees two black cars parked on the street, and spots two men inching their way closer to the shop, guns drawn and in similar black combat gear that Barnes is in. Then movement from the second car, and Tony realizes there are two more men, and with a sinking feeling in his gut he knows Barnes is outnumbered. The men are clearly tracking Barnes, who fires off warning shots that hit on the hoods of the cars and close enough that the two men decide to wait them out, and settle in position near their cars.

A hand tugs on his shirt, and Tony glances back. Clint shakes his head, frowning. "You're not going out there. I know you, that's your productive face, and you're not fucking going out." Clint sounds stressed, calmer than before, but looks intent in a way Tony's not really used to seeing. 

Tony conjures up a half-assed grin. "My productive face looks a lot like my bedroom face. How do you know I'm not planning to have a wild fuck in the broom closet right now?" Clint rolls his eyes, and Tony stares back, gentle and firm. "Hey, I'm gonna be fine. Stay here." Without waiting for a reply, Tony makes a scrambling sprint right past Barnes who looks like he can't believe his own eyes and ends up behind a pillar, away from the line of sight, with the bag clutched tight in his hands. 

Barnes laughs something a little high-pitched, amazed and relieved. "What's wrong with you?"

Tony lets himself breathe, then winks back, shameless. "People have said I'm an actual human nightmare." 

"Not compared to me you're not," Barnes throws back just as easily. "I'd make you look like a fucking daydream. Not that you need any help." he shrugs and Tony's absolutely delighted. Barnes is a regular Shakespearean goddamn tragedy, and wears it like a badge of honor. 

"Stop flirting and please focus," Clint says beseechingly from behind the counter. "Lives are at stake."

That seems to sober them up, and Barnes tells Tony what to do in a low voice that they can only hear.

Barnes keeps an eye on the men outside, while Tony rifles through the contents of the bag. He slides an assault rifle over to Barnes, who takes it and asks for some ammo which Tony quickly provides. Barnes aims the rifle, shoots through a car door and Tony kicks the black bag to him, trying his best to push down the coil of panic that abruptly grows every time he hears a gunshot. The car sets off a shrieking alarm, and while Barnes arms himself with all terrors in the bag, Tony sits with his legs curled up and eyes fixed right on the brunet.

He doesn't want Barnes to die, he realizes. He hopes they all get away safely, and he wants to get to know Barnes a little better, maybe make fun of his murder strut, and kiss the hell out of him.

Yeah. He wants to kiss Barnes. And maybe get some time alone with that gorgeous arm of his. 

A garbled shout outside draws Tony out of his thoughts, as a body falls behind an open car door. He whips his head to stare at Barnes, who cocks the gun again and aims, firing clear, precise headshots that have the men clambering to find adequate cover. Tony tries not to be completely charmed, when Barnes crosses the entire cafe and steps over broken glass to single-handedly take down another man with the handgun in his metal hand. Barnes shoves the handgun into his waistband and goes to town with the assault rifle instead. The men try to return fire, but Barnes moves too quick for that.

One man shoulders to the front of the group and lunges at Barnes, and Tony feels his heart jump a little when Barnes pulls out a glistening knife from nowhere and goes for his opponent, knocking the man back with his metal fist and shoving the man to his knees, and in a swift motion draws the blade across his throat. Barnes pulls the body up and uses it as an armor, plunging forward like a death machine.

He's beautiful, dancing on a deserted street in all his black geared glory, muscles rippling underneath the body armor and blue eyes focused with a sharp glint in his eye as he takes one well-aimed shot after another, throws the gun on the ground and goes hand-to-hand with the two remaining men. 

Tony tears his eyes away from the fight to look for Clint. "Clint, come here, it's okay. I think."

A head of tousled brown hair pops over the counter, and once Clint reassures himself Barnes is definitely taking care of any and all dangers, he unsteadily walks over to where Tony is crouching. Clint drops to the floor, eyes a little too bright and glassy, and Tony leans over to take one of his grime-covered hands. He holds it close, and squeezes. 

"It's okay," Tony says softly, the way he talks to Clint after a night of too many whiskey shots and too many beers, a night when Clint needs someone to ground him so he doesn't drown at sea. Tony smiles fondly, and Clint returns a small smile gratefully but it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Barnes is a regular Florence fucking Nightingale at taking care of people."

Boots crunch over glass behind him and Tony whips around, immediately shielding Clint with his own body. Barnes looks back at him, a smug smirk on his devilishly handsome face, unwinded and head high. That face is doing all kinds of things to Tony, and he's not proud of it. Tony clears his throat, reaches behind and pulls Clint up with him. He eyes Barnes cautiously, and makes a throaty noise of approval.

"You uh, what exactly are you?" Tony asks, peering around Barnes to see four crumpled bodies on the ground. The pavement has splatters of blood on it and Tony swallows, and actually feels a little sick. He's never seen a dead body before. It's oddly unsettling, the way their heads look wrong on their shoulders and their bodies are a little too flat, lifeless and strewn carelessly the way children leave their toys on the ground. Barnes is watching him with the kind of wariness you have when you approach a lion's cage, like he doesn't know how Tony will react. 

"It's not important," Barnes says and Tony believes him. The brunet takes Tony by the wrist and leads him out onto the street, ducking out of the ruined coffee shop. Clint trails behind them uncertainly, assessing the damage with calculating eyes. Tony's glad to see that look back on his face, because it means Clint is coming back. Tony shakes his wrist free of the brunet, not that he wouldn't love to stay in contact with the totally hot assassin, but there's (unfortunately) more pressing matters at hand. 

Tony blinks, and after a moment's pause, heaves a theatrical sigh. "How the fuck am I gonna go about my life now?"

"It's not over," Barnes says, glancing around the empty street quickly. "They'll have called for backup the second the first man went down. They're coming, and we need to get out of here." Barnes doesn't wait for Tony's reply and calls Clint over, who went from looking displeased to full-on furious. "I've already sent a comm to my own team, they're on their way now. In the meantime—" Barnes doesn't even get to finish his sentence when two more SUV cars round the corner, tires skidding on the road and Barnes bites out a curse, manhandles Tony and Clint back towards the two black cars behind them. 

"Fuck, fuck, go. Go and hide, and don't come out." Barnes snaps, already moving to cover them, guns cocked and ready in his hands. 

Tony's panicking now, can feel the fucking high blood pressure chasing after him so Clint takes charge and bundles Tony towards the nearest car and Tony makes a sound in his throat that sounds a lot like Bucky, and then they're enveloped in a cloud of smoke and red sparks and he barely registers Clint yelling grenade, but they're thrown hard to the pavement and Tony rolls onto his back, eyes stinging, chest constricting because he can't get any damn air  inside his lungs and there's a throbbing in his skull, dull and loud, and becoming louder and louder and the edges of his vision swim black and stars dance across his eyes and Tony lets the crushing black tide envelope him until the whole world's silent, and Tony knows nothing anymore. 

Chapter Text

Bucky woke up this morning and expected the plan to go along smoothly.

He woke up at 6am, with a clear goal and mission in mind. 

He woke up with Steve, the big oaf, wrapped around him in a tangle of limbs. 

He woke up, got dressed, told the punk he'd be back in time for a late lunch, and set off to work. 

Bucky, however, made a fatal mistake. He hadn't factored Tony Stark into the equation, and got fucked in the ass for it. 

And now, with frightening clarity, he knows he won't make it back in time for that late lunch.

***

Bucky leaps onto the black car, muscles tense. He tells himself not to panic, and it's hard not to, when you're staring at a group of trained soldiers who are pointing guns at your face like you're a thin, innocent blonde who's walking alone in the middle of the night and the creeps start paying attention with bloodthirsty grins on their faces. But they threw a fucking grenade at him, and Bucky hasn't seen Clint and Tony yet after he sent them behind a car but he knows they could be hurt. Mercy is out of the question for these fuckers. 

Tony and Clint are civilians, who don't deserve to catch bullets with their faces, and Bucky can't let them become another unfortunate set of collateral damage that is seen all too often in his line of work.

And, if Bucky's being honest, the thought of Tony in danger makes his heart climb a little higher in his throat. It would just be a shame if Steve didn't get a chance to meet the destructive whirlwind that is composed of Tony, and so Bucky makes a promise to himself, that Steve will. 

And Bucky never breaks his promises.

"Come get me, you fucks," Bucky mutters, low and dangerous, aiming the gun directly at the driver.

The air is sharp with smoke, blood and death and it's instinctive, the way Bucky eyes the men inside the oncoming cars, checks to see how many rounds of ammo he has left, and calculates if by the time he takes down three, whether the other three will be met with his knives or his fists. The world settles to a still calm all around him, and Bucky shuts it all out, until all he's left with are the men he's going to kill.

A monster awakens in the pits of his belly, hungry and dark, and Bucky isn't about to chain it back.

Until a familiar Jeep flies into the side of the first black car, sending it crashing into an electrical pole with a sickening thud. The second black car skids to an unruly stop, tires screeching as it tries to reverse, and the Jeep's doors are thrown open. And then the four people he knows best in the world leap out, weapons drawn and crackling energy fills the air. 

Bucky laughs, loud and relieved, because his team is here.

Steve gets out, all suited up and starts ordering the team in position. He pauses, looks across the street, and his eyes locks with Bucky. Bucky, who's making his way to his team, fast and light, and comes to a stop beside Steve and wants nothing more than to kiss him. But he knows he can't, not yet, so he's all business when he talks to Steve. 

"Hey," Bucky says and claps a hand onto Steve's shoulder. "About fucking time you got here." 

Steve smiles back, and Bucky can't take his eyes away from the brilliant blue. "Sorry, we were preoccupied." Steve looks over Bucky's shoulder and snorts, unsurprised. "Looks like you gave 'em hell, sweetheart." 

Bucky doesn't need to look back at the bodies behind him to know what Steve's talking about. "I have no idea what you mean by that," he says brightly, and Steve laughs, fond and amused. It's a surprise, and a good one, when Steve reels him in by his black jacket to kiss him, deep and dirty and absolutely perfect. Then he pulls back, pats Bucky's jacket down with composed vigor, and smiles. 

"Goddamn. You have too much influence over me," Bucky says with a pointed look at Steve's lips.

Steve grins, bright and warm and repeats, "I have no idea what you mean by that." 

Bucky leans forward, presses his forehead to his best friend and lover. "Now who's the one talking bullshit." Bucky rasps, dark and promising, notes how Steve shivers with a curling satisfaction in his stomach and then straightens to gaze past him and see Wanda, who waves after taking down a man twice her size with a series of vicious high kicks and upper cuts. Pietro, her brother, beats back another goon with accurate strikes and the goon soon ends up with a slit throat and a broken jaw. Nat, the most experienced of them all, is locked in a fight with three, a menacing whirlwind. She throws a dagger at the nearest one, leaps and wraps her thighs around another's neck and swings them both down. She jumps back to her feet, diving for the last man whose face is the embodiment of regret. Bucky whistles appreciatively, and Nat flashes him a quick smirk. 

But Bucky doesn't have time to join the fray. "I've got two civilians back there," Bucky says and takes Steve's hand and pulls him away, falling into a jog back to where he left Clint and Tony. His palms are a little clammy, Bucky realizes with a start. He's nervous. Doesn't want to find Clint dead, and moreso Tony. Steve shoots him an anxious look but stays silent. 

Bucky finds them sprawled on the road behind the black car he pushed them behind, and makes a noise of distress when he sees Tony, on his back and dark hair flat across his face. Bucky rushes to his side, presses two fingers on Tony's neck and hopes for a pulse. He finds one, and sags in relief, but it's not as strong as it's supposed to be. Bucky gazes at the boy's face for a moment, and lets himself appreciate the fact that Tony is alive. He looks to side, and Steve is crouched over Clint, brows furrowed.

"Anything?" Bucky asks, nervous. He cradles Tony's face with his hands, and pushes the dark curls back from Tony's forehead. Tony is pale, body lax and Bucky bites his lip, worried when he finds blood, warm and sticky at the back of Tony's head. 

Steve nods, rocking back on his heels. "This one's fine, unconscious, but fine. What happened?" He asks, edged with concern.

Bucky shakes his head. "I was doing some recon at the warehouse, where the weapons drop was supposed to be happening, but there was a shoot-out, and they saw me. Must've mistaken me for somebody important because next thing I know I'm being chased on my motorcycle by two black cars, and then they shoot out a tire and I crash into that coffee shop," Bucky says, jerking his head backwards to the abandoned cafe. "and I met these two."

Steve clears his throat, reaches out to touch Bucky's hand gently. "Are you okay?" 

Bucky turns to stare down at Tony and says to Steve quietly, "He saved me."

Steve's eyebrows tickles upwards. "That pretty boy? He looks too cute to be brave," Steve comments with a chuckle.

"Well, he is." Bucky shrugs, and slides his metal hand under Tony's back, and hefts him up, bridal-style. "Braver than a lot of people I've ever known." Tony is light, suspiciously light and warm in his MIT hoodie and Bucky holds him close, cradling him to his chest with cautious care. It's strange, Bucky thinks with a wry chuckle. Because if Tony ever found out Bucky held him bridal-style, Bucky has a feeling Tony would let him know exactly how undignified it was in spirited, sharp words.

"Must be special," Steve tilts his head and regards Tony with an inquisitive look. "to have piqued this much of your attention." Steve leans down, takes Clint and slings the boy over his shoulder, grunting with the weight. Bucky stares. Steve rolls his eyes. "What?" 

"Handle that one with care, punk. I know my ass is a distraction but looking at it for more than thirty seconds can cause irreparable damage to your eyes," Bucky teases and turns, tightening his hold on Tony and striding back to the jeep. 

Steve sighs behind him. "Your ass isn't the sun, Buck, and you can't just say that," tagging along after Bucky grudgingly, right hand curled around Clint's waist to keep him on his shoulder. Bucky risks a glance back, and is pleased to see Steve's cheeks are rosy. Being with Bucky since they were kids, you would've thought Steve would make his peace with Bucky's brazenness by now. 

"It is 'cause you can't live without it." Bucky calls back, wiggling his hips to cement his point and walks over to meet the rest of his team, who all peer at Tony with curiosity in their eyes. Natasha approaches first, unwinded and calm, and takes a good look at Tony.

"Bucky," Natasha says, measured and even. He lets her look him over, because he knows she needs it. Once Nat is satisfied, she reaches forward to touch his shoulder with a hand. Bucky returns the touch, and they both breathe in silent unison for a moment. Natasha's breath is warm, and Bucky tells her with his eyes, we'll talk later. She dips her head in acknowledgement, gives him an easy smile, asks, "Hospital?"

Bucky shakes his head, ducks inside the open Jeep and lays Tony down on the backseat delicately. "Nope." 

Steve catches up a moment later, and sees Tony inside. "We gotta get both of them to the hospital," he declares, tone serious. 

Wanda slides into the passenger seat, smirking smugly at her brother's crestfallen expression. "Bucky said no." She tells Steve, who raises his eyebrows even higher to look expectantly at Bucky. Pietro sidesteps Bucky to take the brunt of Clint's weight, and stands off the side, waiting.

Steve must see something in Bucky's face because he hurriedly says, "We're not taking them to base." and makes a face at Bucky like he's waiting for an agreement. Bucky wrinkles his nose, because of course Steve knows him so well he can guess what Bucky plans to do. 

"Yeah we are. I'm not leaving without Tony." A pause, "and Clint, of course." Bucky looks at his team, each in the eye. "We've got doctors back there. Good ones." 

"They're civilians," Steve tells him, and Bucky rolls his eyes and tries to swallow the no shit, Sherlock on the tip of his tongue and instead settles for an impatient sigh. 

"Yep, and I'll take care of Tony myself. Promise," Bucky says with a drawl, and squares his shoulders, daring any of them to argue back. No one does, and Wanda and Pietro exchange confused looks. Natasha's eyes are narrowed, trained on Tony, and Steve is standing with his arms crossed. "C'mon. Tony's bleeding from his head, Clint's knocked out, and I'm not risking their lives for another moment arguing a moot point." Without waiting for an answer, Bucky climbs into the backseat, taking Tony's head and shifting his body until he's half in Bucky's lap, half on the seat itself. 

Steve is staring hard at Bucky, and after a moment, seems to come to a conclusion. "I'm your commander, Buck." He says softly.

Bucky stares back, resolute. "I know, Stevie."

Steve rests a hand against the car door, and Bucky's a little worried at what the look on his face means. He doesn't want to go over Steve's head, knows usually Steve's word is final, but their team's never been anything if not honest with each other. And Bucky knows he made the right call. Right now, Tony's the concern. 

"He saved your life?" Steve asks, eyes searching.

Bucky nods, a little tighter.

Steve pinches the bridge of his nose, looking like he wants to give Bucky a swat on the head, and gestures at Nat. "Alright. Let's go, Nat, we've gotta get out of here before the cops show up." Steve finally says, waits for Pietro to sit next to Bucky before getting in. Nat opens the driver's seat, revs the engine and the car jolts, a low hum starting.

The car moves, and Bucky settles back against the leather seats, and glances down at Tony's sleeping face. 

"You're gonna be okay." He whispers gently, touching Tony's soft cheek with the pad of his thumb. He doesn't miss the curiosity in Steve's eye as the blond sneaks careful glances at them.

***

Bucky sits, a cup of coffee in his metal hand, oblivious to the heat. His eyes are on Tony, whose head is bandaged and sleeping peacefully, tucked into white sheets. The color's coming back to Tony's face gradually, and Bucky finds himself staring at Tony's soft, pretty face more often than not. The nurses have changed Tony into a white hospital gown. With growing insist and with Steve's help, they even had Bucky checked over for injuries and changed into something comfortable; sweatpants and a hoodie.

Tony's going to be alright, the usual doctor at base had said, but he needs a couple days of rest and take it easy. The doctor, Felix Werner, was definitely surprised at having a civilian to treat. Bucky had not provided an explanation, but one glare from him sent the doctor running along. Bucky had listened attentively to the doctor's diagnosis, hand on the foot of Tony's bed. Steve lingered in the doorway, a little hesitant to come in, arms crossed across his chest. The rest of the team had dispersed, probably to clean up and head to a briefing. 

Thirty minutes later, and Bucky decides to sit with Tony for a while.

Steve is still in the doorway, face looking like someone's kicked his puppy and Bucky can't deal with another second of Steve's little sighs. 

"Just come in, Stevie," Bucky says, impatiently. "I know you're curious."

"I put Clint in the adjoining room so they don't freak out, and Nat's with him." Steve tells him offhandedly, still not looking at Bucky's face. He might have to take some personal offence to that soon, but he knows Steve, so he just listens. "Um. I can go." Steve offers, eyes downcast. 

"Jesus fucking Christ," Bucky groans and leans over to pull Steve down. "I want you here." Bucky says, softly, tips Steve's chin up and draws him in for a sweet, simple kiss. Steve makes a small happy noise that has Bucky feeling all warm and tingly, and wastes no time in sliding his hands down to grab at Steve's waist, down to his ass. Steve coughs, embarrassed, and Bucky throws him a sly smirk. "Stop sulking. I'm sorry I went over you back there," he says, honestly. 

Steve shrugs a little, gives him an indulgent look. "It's okay. It must have been important, and I trust you." 

Bucky grins, running his fingers through Steve's blond hair. "Kind of, you'll see why soon."

"Hurt me a little bit, though," Steve murmurs and pushes back, capturing Bucky in another deep, open-mouthed kiss. "The way you cradled Tony like that."

"Mhm, shoulda asked you to join in, my bad." Bucky rumbles back, nosing down Steve's neck and drawing in the familiar musky, alpine-woods with a hint of strawberry scent. God. Steve is warm, sparking passion down his spine, and Bucky arches into Steve's touch on his shoulders. "He's pretty, isn't he?"

Steve pulls back, a smile hooking up the corners of his mouth and hums in agreement. "He is."

"You gonna warm me up, darlin'?" Bucky breathes into Steve's ear, and tracks an eye to the door. It's closed, and the curtains are drawn. Not that he'd give a single fuck about someone seeing him kiss Steve. He can't help himself when he's around Steve. He's never been good at hiding himself from the people he loves and who loves him back, and Steve knows it.  "I'm feelin' a little bit cold in this room."

"Well maybe that's 'cause you're on that chair on not on my lap," Steve teases back, eyes hooded, dark with desire.

"Stevie," Bucky gasps, and pretends to be shocked. "How fucking dare you. Buy a fella dinner first, would 'ya? 

Steve rolls his eyes, and leans in for another kiss when someone clears their throat.

Bucky sits up, already grinning, and Tony stares back at him, accusing and scandalized.

"Fuck's sake, murder muffin," Tony says, alive and annoyed and all kinds of tangles in his voice, "Have some fucking decency for the guy who's literally three feet from you in a hospital bed, will you?" 

Steve shoots to his feet, blushing, shuffling his feet and Tony's eyes snap to Steve, and his eyes widen even further. "Who's this? What the hell is a fine specimen like you doing knocking boots with a ragdoll like Barnes?"

Bucky shakes his head. "You had a concussion, doll, so I'm gonna forgive that last word because you're obviously delusional and still recovering." he tells Tony and steps closer to the bed. Tony, for his part, is working his jaw up a furious storm and seems like he's about to bust out an eyeball. "I got your ass back to a doctor. No thanks needed." Bucky smirks and tilts his head. Steve coughs in his throat, looking like all he wants is to be somewhere else but Bucky's got a pretty firm hold on the front of Steve's shirt. 

"Where's Clint?" Tony asks, narrowing his large dark brown eyes. "This doesn't look like a hospital." Tony scans the room, quick and calculating. 

"Your, um, friend is in the next room. He's okay," Steve assures Tony hesitantly, and smiles uncertainly. Bucky tries not to roll his eyes. Steve is always so polite. Tony is squinting at Steve suspiciously, like he thinks Steve is somehow responsible for all the bullfuckery of this day. 

Bucky snorts. "Tony, this is Steve Rogers. My boyfriend, and the up-and-coming head of the Carter crime family. I'm sure you've heard of it from the news." Bucky tells Tony bluntly, because he's not the kind of person to talk around important matters. Steve makes a sound of horror and stares at Bucky incredulously, and Tony's eyes gets a little bigger, face paling. "And the next time you plan on interrupting a fantastic make out session, it's actually mandatory to join in. Twenty-first century rule," Bucky explains with a dismissive hand. "Millennials, and all that. It's as normal as having threesomes."

Steve looks constipated, and Bucky holds back a laugh when he sees an eye start to twitch. 

Tony gulps, and blinks. "So. The blond hunk named Steve is a fucking mobster, you're a horny, out-of-control assassin." Tony looks at him for that and Bucky beams, with the kind of toothy smile that can clear a bar full of soldiers in thirty seconds. "And I'm not in the hospital," Tony says faintly, with a realization. "I'm not in the fucking hospital." It sounds like Tony's come to a conclusion.

Tony looks a little wild around the eyes, and Steve winces in sympathy, shuffling about like he wants to appease Tony personally.

"No," Bucky says, chipper and bright. "I guess not. We're somewhere much bigger, better, deadlier, and a hell of a lot more fun than your frat boy and alcohol-infested dorm room at MIT. So buckle up, doll. It's gonna be a bumpy ride."

 

Chapter Text

His mother always told Tony, to always give them the benefit of the doubt. 

His mother's usually right. And Tony listens to her. But in this case, Tony will absolutely fucking not give them the benefit of the doubt.

He wakes up, and it's like a thirty-pound safe box dropped square onto his face. His whole skull throbs, Tony can't even string a chain of thoughts together and from the waist up, his whole body aches like a bitch. Tony blinks, tries to focus on the ceiling. It's hard, but after a while, Tony reaches up and tentatively touches the back of his head, only to find it wrapped with white gauze. Concussion, Tony recalls vaguely. Clint. Grenade. Barnes. Panic shoots up his throat, heavy and high and Tony tries to move his head, looking for Clint, or Barnes, or anybody familiar. But no one's there.

Tony sniffs at the air, and it doesn't smell quite like the hospital. Maybe it's a private room. He still can't hear all that well, the sounds are a little muffled, so he waits.

Tony inhales a breath, long and deep, forces his heartbeat to slow. Fear paralyzes you, Tony tells himself, stretching his fingertips experimentally. Don't let fear cloud your judgement. Be calm and observe your surroundings. 

Tony blinks in relief when the sounds begin to come back slowly, little by little, and then voices at the end of his bed snag his attention.

He elbows himself up, and can't believe his damn eyes. 

It's Barnes. 

Barnes and a wide-shouldered, muscular man, making out, the air taut with uncharted sexual energy and broken occasionally by conversation between the two men. Tony's about to have a fucking heart attack, and he looks around wildly, knows it's not a hospital. Clint's not with him, and two objectively handsome men are going at it like bunnies at the foot of his bed. 

Oh, hell no. Tony's not going to take anymore of Barnes' psychotic bullshit.

So he clears his throat loudly, glaring daggers into Barnes' broad back. He waits till Barnes finished playing tango with the blond's tongue and sits up, a grin spreading on his face. The blond in question darts to his feet, blushing red, and Tony doesn't bother spare him either. "Fuck's sake, murder muffin," Tony says, alive and annoyed and with all kinds of tangles in his voice, "Have some fucking decency for the guy who's literally three feet from you in a hospital bed, will you?"

 

 

 

"You fucking kidnapped me." Tony says, deadpan and flat. He stares at Barnes unflinchingly. 

"Well, technically," Barnes tries to argue his case with a Cheshire shit-eating cat grin on his stupid face. "Technically, I brought you here to save you. Doctors, they were here to keep your brains inside your pretty little head."

"If you have to get technical about it," Tony replies scathingly, arms crossed from his sitting position on the hospital bed. "Then you've got a pretty strong case going against you." Then, as an afterthought, because Tony feels like being an ass today, "Well then, Barnes, if the doctors are here to keep brains inside heads, then what happened to you? Botched medical experiment?"

The blond, Steve, who instantly becomes Rogers in his head makes a strangled noise, like he's trying to choke in a guffaw. Tony eyes him for a moment, and Rogers immediately composes himself again, spine ramrod straight. The guy's probably military trained, Tony thinks, watches the way Rogers is standing, stiff and guarded. Barnes is entirely different. 

Barnes, for his part, is sitting on the floor by Tony's left side, metal arm propped against the bed, relaxed and completely at ease.

"C'mon doll," Barnes says with pleading eyes. "Don't be like that. Doctor says you gotta eat somethin', rest up, and you'll be back on your feet in three days, tops." Barnes turns to Rogers for help, who keeps lingering behind the brunet uncertainly, looking a little like a lost puppy. Tony thinks it's kind of adorable, and banishes the thought immediately. Right now, Tony doesn't know what to make of the whole situation. And it's not helping, have two incredibly attractive men by his bedside, eyes wide and hopeful. 

No. Tony refuses to think they're adorable.

"All I know is," Tony decides to say, softening his tone. No need to be harsh and get on their bad sides. "that I wake up in a place that is obviously not a hospital, with a horny assassin and an infamous mobster, and my friend's gone. How do you explain this bullshit?" 

Barnes makes a thoughtful face, like he's finally seeing how when things, spelled out like that, can look a little questionable. "Okay, Tony. You got me." He stands up, stretches languidly like a cat, and Tony swallows, looking away and coughing. "I'm going. Enjoy yourself." Barnes starts out the door, leaving Tony and Rogers staring after him in confusion and surprise. 

Rogers looks alarmed, and pauses to say apologetically to Tony, "Your friend's just in the next room, I promise. We can go see him soon. My friend's taking care of him. I'm sorry, but I'll be right back," and rushes after Barnes. 

Rogers is definitely the sane one. 

Tony sighs, and decides it's time to play a little desperate. "Okay, Barnes. Come back. I am not going to wander around this deathtrap alone." 

Barnes pokes his head in the doorway, eyebrows raised. "I'm sorry, Barnes?"

"Bucky," Tony grits out, teeth clenched. The guy is definitely testing his limits. "Bucky." He says it again, letting the name roll of his tongue. It's kind of nice. And sort of worth it, just to see the expression of happiness spread over Barnes'—no, Bucky's face. 

"Aw, look, Stevie, we're already bonding." Bucky says with a self-fulfilled smirk, and winks shamelessly at Tony. "First-name basis. What a fucking day," Bucky comments, plopping down on the seat opposite to Tony, and smiles. Tony closes his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose. God, the guy is a human nightmare. An attractive, horny, out-of-control assassin with a dirty smirk. It's like the heavens are having a hell of a time, screwing with his life in ways unimaginable.

Rogers starts up, looking like he's forgotten something. "Tony," he says, hesitantly. "Can I call you that?" At Tony's mystified nod, he continues. "I completely forgot to ask. Are you thirsty, or hungry? I can get you something," he offers with a small smile. 

Tony's mouth drops open. "What the fuck," he says. "What the fuck, Bucky. This guy has manners that would make my grandmother swoon, what the hell happened to yours?" 

"I've got a lot of other things that could make your grandmother swoon," Bucky replies, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Stevie there can vouch for me."

Tony laughs, short and wry. "Somehow, both of your credibility points are a little low." Then remembers, and smiles sheepishly at Rogers. "Thank you," he says awkwardly. "And yeah. A glass of water would be nice." Rogers looks relieved now that he's been given something to do, and bolts out the door like a deer from oncoming headlights. Tony watches him leave hastily, and looks back at Bucky. "So, you guys boning or dating?"

Tony's never been one to dance around important matters. And he knows, the easiest way to find out what exactly is going on, is through Bucky. Bucky, who's a little loose with his tongue and easy to talk to. But Tony also genuinely wants to know more about him. After all, the guy did save his life. In the cafe, and in whatever this place is, Bucky has saved his life more than once. And Tony owes a debt.

A Stark always pays his debts.

Bucky holds his hand over his heart in a gesture of mock betrayal, and squints at him. "Wow. I call it making 'love'," he says pointedly. "Because I'm a delicate person, and there are many, many other ways to describe Stevie's and I's relationship, but boning is not one of them." Tony's familiar with deflection, and it's a tactic he himself employs often when he gives an answer that's not an answer. It's a welcome challenge, that Bucky isn't an open book.

"Okay," Tony says, playing along. "Who'd have thought you were a gentleman when it comes to love?"

Bucky chuckles, shoots Tony an amused smile. "When it comes to love, Tony, I'm your Albert Einstein. Your regular Stephen Hawkings. Show me a man I cannot win over, and I'll give you my damn arm." He wiggles his metal fingers at Tony, making his point.

"Your confidence is swaggering," Tony tells him. "And that's disgusting," Tony shoots back, pretending to gag. "The fuck would I do with your arm?"

Bucky's eyes brighten instantly, and Tony realizes with a gut-sinking feeling he's just stepped on a bomb. "Well, Tony, remember when I was talking about twenty-first century millennial customs and—"

"Hey, asshole, I don't want to know about your disturbing, murder-muffin fucking fetishes—"

Rogers strides in, pauses, Tony's drink in hand, and closes his eyes. "I can't believe there's two of them." Rogers takes a pillow from Tony's bed, and chucks it at Bucky's face, and Tony breaks off mid sentence to laugh at the expression of shock on Bucky's face. It's hilarious, the way Bucky stares at Rogers in personal offence like someone kissed his mother and spat in her face. Tony admires the challenging glint in Bucky's eye, the kind of challenge that kittens have when they swipe at shadows with soft claws and mewls. It's painfully obvious that the brunet assassin has a weakness for Rogers, and for once in his life, Tony sort of wishes he has a bond like that in his life. Tony's not the type of person to lay his heart on his sleeve for everyone to see, but when he loves, he loves hard. 

Tiberius Stone is a name that swims in the back of Tony's mind, in the dark pool he never dares to venture into. Every moment with Ty was like walking on hot coals in a trance. Tony had loved him, bared his heart and soul open, and Ty had crushed it underfoot without a second glance. It was bliss, for a short while, but Tony still ended up with burns on his feet and thorns jagged in his heart. It's a sorry sight, to see a man left behind by a loved one, and an even harsher sight, to see them build walls up so high their own mother can't see through sometimes. 

But Tony doesn't mind. 

No, he doesn't mind at all. He protects himself with flippant words and the kind of smile that lights people up from the inside, and is more full of life than anyone he's ever met. 

"Tony?" Rogers draws him sharply from his thoughts, pulls him back in, and Tony blinks and stares right into Rogers' cornflower blue eyes. 

From the corner of his eye, Tony sees Bucky watching him quietly, intent and observing. It's times like these he can totally see why Bucky can be eerie, and such a successful assassin. "Yeah, thank you. Thanks." Tony says awkwardly, taking the glass of water Rogers offers and taking a long, slow sip. It's delicious, and Tony gulps the liquid in, downing the cup in seconds. Rogers is looking down at him with curious eyes, and Tony raises an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"Oh, sorry," Rogers says bashfully, averting his gaze. "Didn't mean to stare. It's just, you seem pretty calm with the fact that Bucky's an assassin and I'm a," he trails off, searching for a word. "A mobster, like you said. I'm a Carter."

It's cute. Rogers is agonizingly polite, says sorry like a child says mama, but the truth to Rogers' inquiry is that Tony doesn't let himself dwell too long on that particular fact, because once he does, Tony's brain is going to explode from the bullfuckery of the statement. So Tony puts a smile on his face, and blinks innocently at Rogers. "I thought you were a Rogers, Rogers."

"No, I am," Rogers intones with a nod. "I took my mother's name. The Carter crime family used to be lead by my aunt Peggy, but when her daughter didn't want the position," Rogers lifts a shoulder in a shrug. "I was volunteered." Rogers' voice goes a little hard, mouth a little thinner, and Tony doesn't think it was by Rogers' choice. "We're not," he continues, faltering a little bit. Bucky stands, and Tony watches inquisitively as Bucky touches Rogers' shoulder with his own, like standing support in camaraderie. "We're not bad people, Tony. I'm sorry if you're afraid of us, but we're not going to hurt you. I know what the news say," Rogers hurriedly adds, like he's worried Tony will start shouting obscenities and accusations. "And some of it's true, but some of it is completely not. But honest, I'm trying to make the family better. Trying to do better, hurt less people."

Then Rogers twiddles his thumbs. "Call me Steve."

"I don't think you're going to hurt me," Tony says carefully, folding his hands into his lap. He's not scared. "And you don't have to prove anything to me." he holds his palms open, and takes a breath. "From what I've seen, Bucky is a good person, and he saved my life," he charges on, points a finger at Bucky, who's smirking like the president just kissed his feet. "Don't make me regret saying that. And you're an obscenely polite crimelord. I'm not in any position to judge whether your organization or your family is evil or whatever. I'm not going to narc on you guys to the cops, either. I owe Bucky there my life. I'm just a kid," now his voice is soft, and Tony struggles to say the rest. "I'm just a College freshman with a serious coffee addiction. I'm just grateful you haven't killed me yet." And for that, Tony looks Rogers right in the eye. 

Rogers makes a noise of horror and shakes his head vehemently. "I would never harm an innocent." And Tony believes him, because no one says anything with that much conviction without believing it with their whole mind and body. 

"He's right. Sounds cliche, but we only deal with the bad guys." Bucky shoots him a flirty smile, leaning on the wall with his arms crossed. "And occasionally, with mouthy, pretty, floppy-haired college freshmen, but that's just an occasional side thing." 

"I will have to object to be being referred to as a 'side thing'," he tells Bucky, and slowly moves into a sitting position with his legs dangling off the bed. "I have taken the Carter family situation completely in stride, and the assassin as well, but I've got to ask," Tony says with a questioning look at both of them. "Am I going to have to tick 'kidnapped and held prisoner' off my bucket list? And, you better let me see Clint." Ends that with a statement, because it's non-negotiable. Rogers says that Clint is right in the next room with a friend watching over him, but Tony will relax when he's got his friend back at arms length.

"Of course, Tony," Rogers assures him immediately, and that's the moment Tony's brain makes the transition from Rogers to Steve, and it never quite goes back. 

Steve shares a meanginful look with Bucky, who turns to Tony, a smile curled on his lips. "Nope," he says, popping the 'p'. "You can leave. Say the word, and we'll have someone drop you off at your boring, lonely dorm room, and back to your droning college lectures. But you sure you want to? Doctor's orders dictate at least three days of rest..." Bucky trails off, sashays to the door, hips rolling. Tony can't help but look, because Bucky does have a fantastic backside. Steve looks like he's trying to hold back a laugh, and watches Bucky with an amused smile. "And I promise, I fucking promise, that you won't regret it. You might learn something new in that pretty head of yours."

It's an enticing offer. And Tony loves to tempt fate, taunt at it with both hands tied behind his back, a sword tipped down his throat. 

And honestly, he knows whatever this is, he's not done with it yet. There's nothing pressing back home, nothing that requires his urgent attention, and Tony's never been one to shy away from an adventure that's likely to leave him facedown in the mud, destroyed and absolutely craving for more

And Bucky's eyes are wide and hopeful, and Steve is studying Tony like he's something he doesn't quite understand yet. 

So he meets their eyes, head-on, and shows off a toothy grin. "Then I'm down for it. Three days, till this shitty head wound stops hurting."

 

 

 

 

They let him go to Clint. 

Clint's awake, squinting suspiciously at everyone who takes one step into his room. Tony settles on the bed, scans him for injuries. "Hey," Tony says, quietly. "You alright?"

"Yeah," Clint grumbles, reaches up to part Tony's hair away from his head. "You look like shit."

"I know," Tony says. He thinks he might need to lie down soon. He definitely feels like shit. "You're not so pretty yourself."

Clint looks past Tony's shoulder, sees Steve and Bucky locked in a quiet conversation by the door with a redhead Tony remembers seeing in the room with Clint. He assumes it's the friend Steve had mentioned. "What the hell was in that coffee, Tones?" Clint asks, softly. 

It's a loaded question, Tony thinks. One he doesn't know how to answer. "What did the redhead tell you?"

"No reason we should believe any of it," Clint says. "But her name's Natasha, and she said that the blond over there is Steve Rogers, head of the Carter crime family. And the man with him is Bucky Barnes, second-in-command and assassin." He gives Tony a long look. "Are we captives, Tony?"

He shakes his head, rubs at his face. "No, we're not. They told me I could leave, just say the word." Tony feels uncomfortable, anxious now, because he doesn't know how he's going to get Clint to agree to any of it. Or even understand, without sounding batshit crazy. "But I've decided to stay here for three days, doctor's orders. At least I know they'll treat me here, and if I go back... Clint, I'm in college. Money's tight."

"Doctor's orders?" Clint echoes incredulously. "Are you fucking with me? Did they drug you?" Clint moves, and Tony puts a hand on his chest, and gently pushes back. "You can't stay, Tony, this is serious. It's not about your head injury, goddamn, I'll give you the money to get it treated. No, actually, maybe we'll make them, because it's because of them you've got a head injury. Fucking ridiculous. We saw Bucky kill at least four guys, who knows what they could be capable of."

He can't think of a thing to say to Clint, doesn't know how to say what he feels because it probably will come out garbled and a fucking mess. "Clint, listen. I'm staying," and doesn't bother trying to explain. "Just give me three days. And then we'll get back to our normal lives." 

Clint's face folds up, and Tony winces. "Do you want to stay here because our lives back home are normal?"

Tony doesn't expect Clint to pick up on that. But it's not a shock, barely anything gets past Clint. "Well, are we really needed back there?" he asks, throwing his hands up. This is making him question his own decisions. "I mean, I want to know what kind of life Bucky and Steve has, and it's just for three days..." he trails off helplessly, risks a glance over his shoulder and finds Bucky and Steve watching them, patiently. 

The redhead, Natashais gone. 

Bucky decides to step in, and calls out helpfully, "You know, you don't have to stay, Clint. Tony's right. We'll drop you back at your place if that's what you want." 

Tony looks back at Clint, and hopes with both fingers crossed that Clint says no. 

Clint heaves a sigh, glares at Tony. "Fuck. Fine. I'm not letting you stay here alone. You're not a cat, and curiosity is not going to kill you. Not while I'm here watching your back." 

Steve flinches, and it's subtle and Tony nearly doesn't catch it, but he mouths sorry to Steve anyway. Clint seems resolute in his opinion, shoulders tense. The air is taut with tension, but Steve has his head high and isn't about to back down. 

"Are you guys hungry?" Bucky asks, cutting in smoothly and Tony nearly crumples in relief. He shoots Bucky a grateful smile. "Come on, Clint, we're not that bad. I saved your ass, remember? Give us a chance." Bucky steps forward, face open and relaxed. He's trying to make Clint feel more comfortable, and it's sweet. It is. 

Steve hangs back, but still offers Clint a smile. "We do have a pretty good canteen, and today's menu is roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots." 

"It's smart," Clint tells them after a beat, "Trying to lure me in with food. And it's working. But I've still got my eye on you two, so don't start fucking with me and Tony."

Bucky rolls his eyes, offers a hand to Tony, and he takes it, sliding to his feet. "I'll gladly take up that option with Tony," he says and winks. Clint looks faintly baffled, and opts to narrow his eyes. 

Tony groans, and shakes his head. "Bucky, I'm not going to—" then he sighs, exasperated and loud, a little dramatically. 

"Is he always this horny?" Clint asks, squinting at Bucky, who smiles winningly. Tony gives Clint a hand in standing up, not that it's needed. 

"Yes," Steve informs them in a brisk tone, and moves towards the door. "It's like a disease. Tony, I'm glad you're staying for a while. Clint, we're not going to hurt you. I'm in charge here, and you're safe, I promise. Like Buck said, give us a chance and we just might prove you wrong. Now let's move, everyone. The canteen fills up quick, and well, there a few people I want you to meet."

There's a lot riding on Tony's head now, he thinks. Clint's involved, and he hopes to God that he's made the right decision.

Because if there's one thing Tony's promised to himself, is that if there's gonna be blood on his hands, it will only be his own. 

Chapter Text

It's easy to see why Bucky is so enamored by the spirited, lively brunet. 

It's because they match each other so well, word or word, insult for insult, like puzzle pieces. 

Tony's all soft curves fitting in Bucky's hard edges.

And it should make him a little bit jealous, Steve reflects, the way the two brunets walk alongside the other, teasing each other good-naturedly. It should set off some predatory instinct inside him, seeing Bucky brush his shoulder against Tony, to see the soft smile Tony tries to hide whenever he looks off to the side. Clint walks by Tony, a little stiffly, scanning their surroundings with suspicious eyes.

All it does, though, seeing them together, is make him curious. It's completely unprecedented. Tony wakes up, flustered and confused and Steve can see the fear in those doe brown eyes, and yet Tony agrees to stay. Steve doesn't need anyone to tell him it's a bad, shitpoor idea, but he also doesn't let anyone tell him what to do. If Tony's a mistake, then he's Steve and Bucky's mistake.

Every agent, every employee in the hallway stares at them when they walk by. They shoot dubious, confused glances at Steve and Bucky, because it must be as clear as day that Tony and Clint are civilians. Who are not supposed to be roaming free in the hallways.

Steve chases them all away with one hard look. They go scuttling, heads ducked, and Steve's stressed again, because he wishes it could all be that easy. 

He feels a headache coming on.

It's going to be an absolute nightmare, dealing with his siblings, Sharon, and Peggy herself, and explaining what the hell they were thinking, bringing civilians into their operations. The thought of the many long, emotionally exhausting conversations he will invetiably have because of this decision makes him a little tenser, and Bucky notices.

His best friend hangs back to match his pace, looking halfway between concerned and worried. "Stevie, it'll be okay," Buck says, reaching out with his metal hand and gently grasping Steve's shoulder. 

It's familiar and a comfort, so Steve leans into the touch. "Yeah," he says. "You're right. I can deal with Peggy. And once she's on board, the rest will back down."

"Definitely," Bucky agrees. "No one's ballsy enough to challenge you about it upfront. And," he says, shrugging. "The place is big. Tony's only here for three days. Maybe they won't even find out."

"Sure," Steve snorts, rolling his eyes. "Our luck, though, that this place is filled with super spies." 

They round the corner to the canteen, and Tony and Clint stop short. Tony looks nervous, shifting about. 

"Stop acting suspicious," Bucky tells him. "You shuffle your feet one more time and one paranoid super spy inside might decide to blow your brains out."

Steve sighs, and Bucky's eyes widen, like he's just now realizing how winding someone up like Tony and Clint might go horribly, with no prior experience to dealing with things Steve and Bucky has to on a daily basis. A civilian like Tony might just decide to have a panic breakdown. Bucky holds his breath, and so does Steve. 

Tony takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a second. "Is this a good idea?" then immediately follows that with, "It's a good idea. Shut it, everyone."

Clint rolls his eyes. ''This is Tony talk for 'Reflecting Regretfully on Decisions' and reassuring himself."

"It's just food, Tony," Bucky interrupts quickly. "You know, the thing that our bodies need to survive?"

"My body doesn't need food," Tony says, petulant. "It needs coffee, something I've gone too long without. One more hour without it, I'll fucking combust."

"At least some things don't change," Clint chuckles, pats Tony on the shoulder and moves past him into the canteen. Bucky follows him, telling Steve in an undertone he'll watch out for Clint. Tony stares after them, then looks at Steve for advice. Which he really shouldn't do, because Steve's brain is too cluttered to be able to help. But he's a leader here, he's in charge, so he's gotta start acting like it. 

"Come on, Tony. I'll guide you." Steve says, and leads Tony inside. Curious looks follow them, but it's definitely admirable to see that Tony pays them no mind, striding past with his head high and eyes fixed on Steve. He does it with more cool grace than Steve would admit to expecting, but he's already come to the conclusion Tony's full of unexpected surprises.

They make their way to the coffee machine, and Steve tells him, "This is a brand new machine my friend Sam ordered. It's great, and we imported South American coffee beans too. There's also fresh milk, cream, and sugars, if you take it that way," and he gestures to the small station beside it. 

"Wow. Not one sexual innuendo in that whole sentence," Tony observes, amused, pressing buttons on the machine expertly, and one second later, pure black coffee drains into the mug. Steve watches the entire thing with wide eyes. The way Tony takes his coffee violates his entire presumption on the legal limit of caffeine intake an adult can consume. "Were you born with perfect manners or was it a life skill you saw Bucky lacked and decided to pick up along the way?"

Tony downs the rest of the mug, refills it, stares Steve right in the eye. Steve laughs. It's startling how quick of an accurate impression Tony has formed of them. "In my position, I'm expected to be able to talk deals and have a calm head. Manners just come with the territory," he shrugs. "Sometimes, being extremely polite to crime lords have a way of intimidating them."

"Really," Tony says, mystified. "So if I ever get kidnapped by a mobster boss all I have to do is rough him up with some manners and talk nice to him, and he'll let me go?"

Steve shakes his head, a smile curling on his lips. He wonders, for the first time, if Tony has a boyfriend who's anxiously awaiting his return. Then abruptly, realizes it's something he'd rather not think about. "If you ever get kidnapped by a mobster," Steve decides to say instead, "Which I highly unrecommend, then—"

"Oh yeah," Tony's nose crinkles in a smile and it's adorable. "I'll be sure to give it one star on Yelp reviews and leave a scorned comment."

"If you're looking for ways to die," Steve tells him, "There are many easier ways than that."

"Yelp, really? I thought mobsters were supposed to be hip and in trend." Tony looks up at him, dark brown eyes warm, and it pulls Steve in like a moth to a flame. He should really ask Tony if he knows how magnetic he is. Here, it might not be a good thing, and he's already receiving a lot of attention. It won't be long till Steve's family gets word of Tony's stay,

"Well, what can I say," Steve says in a hushed whisper. "Mobsters are extremely sensitive to social criticism on websites like Yelp." He nudges Tony's shoulder, and directs him to the growing lunch line. "Go stand for a plate before the food runs out," he teases. Tony gives him an indulgent look, smiles cheerfully, and saunters away, grabbing a plate and waiting his turn. 

Steve leans against the coffee station table, keeps an eye on Tony, distractedly, and tries to strategize. Peggy is going to be appalled if the family discovers a civilian in their midst under Steve's nose, and the end of he story is: and then I had to ship Tony out in a body bag to avoid a public scandal, again. Peggy might even deem him unfit to become her replacement, and choose, God forbid, someone like Damien to take Steve's place. He would be less worried if Sharon, Peggy's own daughter, would accept the holy mantle, but like him, Sharon's more interested in making her own way in the world, without the weight of belonging to a notorious crime family on her back. 

"Hey, Steve," Natasha says from behind him, and Steve turns around, smiling at the sight of his old friend. 

"Nat," he says, and offers her a mug. "Coffee?"

"I would," she replies, taking the offered mug. "But you're blocking it."

Steve huffs in embarrassment, and steps aside. Nat smiles fondly, dumps two creams and one sugar in her coffee. She gives him a long, assessing look and then says, casually, "So, I take it that you've allowed the civilians to stay?" 

It's her way of asking, what the heck are you doing, Steve, and he knows her well enough to answer honestly. "Maybe I'm looking to expand into the beds and breakfast business," he answers with an easy shrug of his shoulders. "You were with us on the rescue. Bucky wouldn't leave them behind."

"That's hardly an excuse," she says, sipping her coffee. "Barnes has a thing for cute strays. But yeah, they're definitely something."

"How do you figure?" Steve asks, raising an eyebrow. "You didn't spend any time with him."

Nat gives him a look of pure disappointment, and Steve winces. She's always been good at reading people, knows how they are before they even open their mouths. Nat's always been one of those people who can disquiet someone with just a stare, and not for the first time, he's so relieved that she's on their side. His side.

"Don't think I haven't noticed Tony's exactly Bucky's type, and..." she tilts her head at him wordlessly, teasing, and chuckles softly when Steve makes a face, but feels his cheeks warming anyway. And he absolutely does not mention it, because that would be incriminating himself.

"Nat," he protests. "It's not like that. Tony's.... Tony. He's only here for three days."

She lets out a breath, stares off into the distance. "Sure, Steve." Then her tone drops, becomes serious. "But make sure you win the game you're playing."

"I will." He says, sure and clear. Steve knows that Nat's with him and Bucky on this, no matter what. He's not alone.

"Come join us," Steve invites, and decides to head to Bucky, who's sitting with Clint and Tony on the far side of the canteen. The canteen is quieter than usual, tension lacing the air subtly. After all, Clint and Tony are outsiders. And the Carter family has no business with outsiders. Steve makes a mental note to meet his Aunt Peggy directly after he gets Clint and Tony settled in for the evening, and make sure every member of his team is accounted and cared for. 

Nat pads silently behind him, green eyes scanning each table full of agents. She's a solid presence, and Steve feels more at ease, knowing her and Bucky are with him on this one. Bucky grins as soon as they near the table, and Tony and Clint glance up. Steve waits till Nat slides into a seat next to Clint, who shuffles to make room, and then he takes a seat next to Tony, who gives him an endearing smile and picks up his spoon to continue . 

"Damn, punk, you forgot your plate." Bucky says, gesturing to the empty space in front of him. "C'mon. You're 220 pounds, you burn through calories like a sex addict burns through porn."

"Buck, we're eating," he scolds. Tony smothers a laugh, and Bucky smirks, satisfied. "S'okay, I'm not hungry anyway," Steve waves a hand, flippantly. He is. But he wants to stay here, talk to his friends a little more. Lunch is nearly over, and after this, it's about to get busy. 

"Lies," Tony says, and smiles, lazy and crooked. "I'll get one for you. You didn't exaggerate about the roast chicken." 

Steve opens his mouth to refuse, because he can tell Tony's famished and not even half way done with his own plate. He watches as the smaller brunet stands up and walks to the lunch line, and then turns to look at Clint, who looks blissfully unaware that he's alone in the midst with three very dangerous people.

"So," Clint says, placing his cutlery on the plate. "I have questions." He glances to Nat, and it's strange, because Nat's also focusing on Clint. With people who aren't them, the family, Nat's not the type to give just anyone her full attention. Steve wonders, for a moment, if when he assigned Nat to guard Clint's room that they got to talking, and it's why Nat hasn't gone against him on the decision to bring in civilians yet. 

Nat cocks her head, takes another sip from her mug. "Ask away."

"Who were those guys that shot at me, Tony and Bucky this morning? And what exactly do you all do, just enough details for plausible deniability, please." Clint says, folds his hands on the table and waits.

Steve raises his eyebrows at the last bit, and it's not wrong. Clint and Tony do deserve an explanation to what happened to them. "The men that shot you, was from a rival family. They work for Alex McCullough, who's been giving us some trouble." He's purposefully vague, and Clint nods along, listening intently. "Bucky was there to do recon, and spotted him. Thus the chase. You were unfortunately in the crossfire."

"This is why the people have negative views on us, Steve," Nat says. "Sometimes civilians get caught in the crossfire. And there are casualties."

"It's something I've been trying to prevent." Steve says ruefully. The guilt's always been heavy on his chest, target on his back, the moment he was forced to take the mantle after Sharon disavowed it. If you get technical about it, a crime family is a crime family. They do illegal things. They hurt people, kill people. Steve's never been able to sleep soundly a week without at least a few nightmares, and sometimes he wishes he had less of a conscience. 

Just so things would be easier. 

But he has responsibilities, a duty to his family, the people he works with, and the people who's been with him since he was a child. Steve was raised a leader, trusted to be a leader, and he'll damn well do his best. 

"Steve is our leader," Nat tells Clint evenly. "Bucky and I work with him, sort of his second-in-commands. We have a bigger team, but you haven't met them. We do all kinds of things."

"Steve's a good leader," Bucky says softly, and looks grim, a shadow on his face. "He's always tried his best for us, for his family. But in our line of work, I can't deny we've hurt people. But unless we can fucking help it," Bucky's jaw tightens a notch. "never innocents."

"Mobsters with a conscience and moral fortitude," Clint says, perplexed. 

And it gains a unanimous nod around the table.

Tony clears his throat, and shuffles into his vacant seat. "What did I miss?" he asks, promptly sensing the atmosphere with raised eyebrows. He gently slides the plate across and Steve takes it, smiling gratefully. He begins to cut into the chicken, suddenly ravenous once he gets a whiff of the roast chicken. 

"Just some explanations I wanted to know." Clint says simply. "Nothing that concerns you, airhead."

Tony gasps, feigns betrayal. "Why, Birdbrain, you're being rude. Gotta show our dear Captain we normal folks also have manners."

It looks like Tony has an unhealthy obsession with his mannersSteve thinks, charmed, and slightly concerned with Tony's priorities in life. He leans over, mouth open to tell Tony what they've been discussing when a heavy hand grasps his shoulder, and Steve looks up to see his close friend Sam Wilson. Sam's brows are furrowed, which usually means something is wrong. 

"Everyone, this is Sam. He works with us." Steve says quickly, glancing expectantly up at his friend. 

"Steve," Sam says, voice low. "Someone ratted you out to Erik. The family knows you've brought them in. Peggy's asked to see you."

It's not a surprise but it's enough to send his shoulders snapping into a stiff line. He meets Bucky's gaze across the table, and mouths, Erik. 

"Tell him to get fucked," Bucky suggests, while Steve sighs and rubs his temples. "Tell him I said to get—"

"Bucky," Steve says. Bucky looks away, jaw clenched, eyes narrowing. Erik is a sore subject for all of them, and Steve directs his eyes heavenward, feeling exhausted already. If Peggy's asked to see him, then either she's already waiting for him to argue his case or she already has her decision made, and Tony and Clint could be in danger. 

"Bucky, too," Sam adds, a small frown on his face. "Apparently she wants a personal briefing on the recon mission you did, and what went wrong. She thinks McCullough is involved." 

Bucky rolls his eyes, and his metal fingers twitch, like he wants to wrap his hands around something and twist hard. "That's bullshit. It had nothing to do with us."

Steve works his jaw, tries to plan another approach. He knew Erik would find out, but not this soon. "Buck, you're coming with me," he decides. Bucky nods grudgingly, fingers flexing harder. "Nat, find Wanda and the three of you take care of Clint and Tony." he says, eyes trained on Tony. The brunet looks worried, dark brown eyes wide and eyebrows crinkled. Steve wants to make it disappear. 

Bucky looks at him, sends him a sidelong glance. "Stevie, you sure?" 

He's asking if Steve thinks Tony and Clint will be safe. 

"Bucky," Nat cuts in gently, places a soft hand on Bucky's metal one. "I've got them."

If anyone can protect them here, it's Natasha. 

"I'll find a safe place for them," Sam agrees, crossing his muscled arms across his chest. "To make sure it's a good fit, Clint why don't you come with me? I can answer any questions you have."

Tony frowns. "Is it a good idea to split me and Clint up?"

"Yeah, I'm here to watch Tones' back. He's absolute shit at it." Clint says, eyes Sam warily. 

"We'll get you back to each other within an hour or two. This will give us a chance to know you better." Nat promises, tucking a strand of red hair behind her ear. 

"That's a good idea," Steve says, standing up. The rest of the group straightens. "Sam, Nat, we'll meet up later once Buck and I gets things sorted out."

Bucky blows out a breath, and Steve looks right back. The group disperses, Sam leading a cautious Clint away who tousles Tony's hair affectionately before following, and Nat getting up to lead Tony away. Steve reaches across and snags his shirt back, and Tony yelps softly in surprise, stumbling back. Steve chuckles, tries to hold back a smile at the show of adorable clumsiness. Nat looks back, eyes glinting in understanding and steps away, waiting to the side.

"Hey, it'll be alright. Nat will keep you safe." Steve says, towering over the smaller brunet. For his part, he tries to make himself smaller for the sake of looking un-threatening, and Bucky snorts behind him. 

Tony blinks slowly, and then heaves a little sigh. "If it's this much trouble, I'd be happy to leave," Tony says uncertainly. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all."

"Doll," Bucky says, sauntering up. "Now what was our deal? Remember, three days? Can't ditch us before then." a smile hooks up the corner of his lips. 

Steve laughs. "That's true. Now you wouldn't want us to think you weren't a man of your word, right?"

The unease falls away from Tony's face and he smiles up at them, and Steve's heart skips a beat. "I did say that," he teases back. "And I am a man of my word. Can you guys really handle this? I don't want to be a trouble. I won't be." Tony says fiercely, eyes bright, expectant. 

"We can handle it." Steve says, confident and wonders if Tony really trusts them with his life, because that's exactly what he's doing. Then he wonders if Tony even knows it. "Right, Buck?"

"Till the end of the line." Bucky says, and gives Steve an absolutely predatory grin.

 

 

Chapter Text

They've marched Steve and Bucky down to Peggy's private office, and Bucky almost takes it personally that there are only three guards positioned inside the room, and two outside, eyeing Steve and him with distaste and suspicion. They stand tall, chest puffed, like they think they can take Steve and Bucky down if it really comes to it. 

So, just to be a little shit, Bucky flexes his metal arm, letting the machinery whir and stares at them in the eye.

They look away quickly at that, or an eye twitch betrays their discomfort because there's something fundamentally wrong with hearing metal where flesh should be. It used to bother him, the skittery looks and incredulous expressions, or whispered gossips and taunts at his missing limb replaced with metal. 

How it was so damn unnatural.

He tried to hide with long sleeves and jackets, but then Steve happened, and Steve told him to stop being scared and face up to the bullies. Steve put his hands on Bucky's shoulders, said it right to his face, honest and sure. 

Steve had always hated bullies.

The guard standing by Peggy's desk is definitely a bully, Bucky thinks, twirling his favorite knife absentmindedly. There's that mean glint in his eye, the type that likes to lord their own power over others. The knife slips smoothly between his fingertips, blade glimmering. The guard seems personally offended by the sight, and Bucky smirks.

"Stop antagonizing the guards, Buck." Steve whispers with a tense sideways glance. 

"I'm not," Bucky hisses back, but puts the knife back in his holster anyway. The guard seems placated, and turns to stare at another bright spot on the wall. 

Peggy clears her throat. She's a formidable woman, with dark brown hair pulled into a neat bun and clever, shrewd eyes, and a wicked mouth. She's what Bucky's mom would have been like if she'd lived. "Gentlemen," she says. "If you would focus."

Bucky sniffs, looks down. "Sorry," he mutters. "What are we here for, ma'am?"

Peggy's eyes flicks up, trains on his face. It takes another long moment before she says, "Why don't you brief me on what happened this morning, Sergeant Barnes?" 

He wonders if he should lie, just to save face that he was outed by a couple of rookie agents. But then he remembers the last poor fella who lied to Peggy Carter, and ended up in a ditch with two black eyes and a broken arm so it's an easy decision. "Well," he begins, clears his throat a bit. "For the past month we've been working up detailed accounts of McCollough's breach of territory. Reports say he's been crossing into our territory, trying to hoard supplies, contracting new suppliers and discouraging others from buying."

Steve tries to help, bless him, "We were gathering—" and shuts up the second Peggy shoots him her signature really look. 

"Anyways," Bucky continues, digging inside his mind. He's always been shitpoor at remembering stuff, like what he had for breakfast, but Peggy's staring at him, unimpressed, and it's a little stressful. "I received intel yesterday evening that a weapons transaction was occurring this morning, in our jurisdiction. So I went for recon, maybe to get some names and faces, just to observe."

"Observe," Peggy repeats wryly, thumbing through a stack of paperwork on her desk. "You normally get near-riddled with bullets when you observe something?" 

Steve's jaw is jumping, and he knows it's a sign Steve's worried. Bucky's going to have to draw the conversation out so Steve can get whatever it is that's in his head all sorted out. Ah, he thinks, the things you do for love.

"Not usually," Bucky admits, running a finger down the side of the leather handle of his knife. "Standard recon. No monkey business. All the guys there were normal rookies, though, none of McCullough's typical henchmen. Not pro, but not amateur. Four guys were selling the merch, y'know, guns, grenades, whatnot. There were only three on the buyer's side, wearing some kind of weird black-get up gear, looks kinda high-tech. " he says, and Peggy's got this weird look on her face that flits across but vanishes a second later. 

"The three men who were buying, you said?" Peggy asks sharply, snagging a pen and jotting something down on a notebook. "Did they have a red crest of an eagle on their shoulder?"

Bucky thinks, then nods. "Yeah, yeah I think I remember seeing that. Why, is it important??"

He looks to Steve, whose face is intrigued. "Red crest of an eagle?" Steve muses. "I've never seen it before."

Peggy drops the pen, jaw notched a little tighter. Bucky shifts on the edge of his seat, mystified. It must mean something, if it's got Peggy all wound tight and hard. "How did they find you?" she asks, intently focusing on him. It's disconcerting, but he shrugs it off. 

"I was up on a beam near the ceiling of the warehouse," Bucky says slowly, unsure. He hasn't thought about his recon mission at all. Not since Tony and Clint happened. "I don't know exactly what happened but someone pulled a gun, shot one of the suppliers, and I was about to get out when someone saw me." It's replaying in his head, the man in black pulling a Glock and shooting point-blank at a supplier. The supplier crumples, panic spreads, and Bucky's already moving, out the skylight he came in. Then he hears a whiz, and a thunk, and the same man wearing black is crouched opposite to him, guns drawn. "It wasn't messy. I got away, but they chased me." 

Steve frowns, looks at him. "You were on a beam and the buyer's goon was good enough to get the drop on you?"

"He got up fast," Bucky says and lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "I fought him off. I don't know. I didn't get to see the aftermath below."

"Did you identify any faces?" Peggy asks. "We need names. If they're not with McCullough, I need to know if there's a new player in the game, and if it means trouble."

"None," Bucky says, taps the metal of the blade. "But I remember seeing the man in black, the one who caught up. I knocked the gear off his head, and I can probably produce a sketch if you really need it. McCullough knows better than to fuck with us," he adds solemnly. "But if he's partnered with a new player and is making a move, we need to shut it up before word gets out."

Bucky is, after all, very good at shutting things up. 

"We need to approach this diplomatically," Peggy says, with emphasis. "No violence, no black ops. Not yet. This is new intel, it will take a few hours or a day to verify, and until then, I don't want any squabbles." She glances to Steve, raises an eyebrow expectantly. 

It's disappointing, Bucky thinks. He would've liked to show them just how much they shouldn't be fucked with. But it's not his decision, and ultimately, it's Steve and Peggy who has the final word. Bucky's just along for the ride. 

Steve looks aggravated, and Bucky shuffles to press his shoulder against his for a moment of silent support. Steve shoots him a grateful smile, and Bucky's glad to see the tension bleed out of his shoulders, even if it's just a tad. He worries about Steve sometimes. The guy stresses about anything and everything he can't fix, piles on the troubles of the world on his back, but Bucky doesn't have the heart to tell his best friend and boyfriend that he can't be everywhere all at once. 

And that he can't save everyone. 

 

He doesn't see that kind of optimism in the world anymore, so he thinks he should just let it be. Steve's a better leader for it.

"And if it is McCullough?" Steve asks, apprehensive. "We can't afford to let him off easy. We've already got the Zola and his boys on our back. If they come looking for allies to push us out, McCullough would be a prime one."

"Zola's an asshole," Bucky says simply and Steve hums in agreement. "And he won't go after us, because the Carters don't do dirty business. He has no chips to play at our table." Zola's been a thorn in their side for years, greedy and a slimy bastard who benefits from the poor, and from filthy money. It's everything Steve hates about their side of the world. Bucky's always dreamed of putting at least three knives in Zola's back, after his botched money deal with the latest street scum that cost the lives of some neighborhood kids, who just happened to be at the wrong place in the wrong time. 

Steve had been furious, and wanted Zola to pay retribution to the kids' families. 

Peggy, on the other hand, had also shared Steve's hatred for the man but insisted Steve stand down, as they had no right to overstep into Zola's boundaries without sparking a war between the two groups. 

"If Zola's involved," Steve says slowly, and leans forward, elbows on knees. "You can't stop me this time."

"We don't know that." Peggy replies, and softens her tone. "I know he's done enough damage. But remember, Steve, don't be reckless. I taught you better than that."

"Don't worry, Ms. Carter," Bucky decides to jump in, and grins. "I'll watch out for Steve. Meanwhile, what do you want us to do?"

Peggy nods in answer, her eyes resting on Bucky's face. "Good. Right now, I'm going to get this intel verified, and we'll reconvene to discuss the next measures that should be taken. I want your team to run up on any leads you may have at this point, or train."

Steve's already on his way to standing up, but Bucky knows better. Peggy clears her throat, and fixes them both with a knowing stare.

"I know about the two civilians you brought in." she says, almost inquisitively. "Erik informed me."

Steve plops back down on his seat. Bucky looks away, fidgeting. He can't tell what Peggy wants to hear, or what she's thinking. Her face is calm and blank, waiting on their response. It must be a good sign she hasn't told Steve off, though, so Bucky's got his hopes. 

"Yes," Steve answers evenly. "They're here for a few days, and once we make sure they're safe and cared for, they'll return to their homes." Then he frowns, and tells her with an edge to his voice, "Erik has no business in the civilians."

Peggy entwines her hands on the table silently. "I'm not going to reprimand you like a child," she says. "You know better than that. And you know how Erik is. As next-in-line for my position," She pauses, then continues quietly, but not any less sure. "You need to be able to handle the family. And if those civilians are a mistake, then it's on your head, Steve."

It's exactly what Bucky was expecting. Peggy won't tell you what you're doing is a shitpoor, absolute clusterfuck of an idea, but she'll warn you, and she'll be happy watching on the sidelines if it blows up in your face. She's charming that way. 

"I know." Steve says. "I can handle it, I promise."

Sometimes Steve is so sincere Bucky kind of wants to whup him upside the head.

Bucky's been silent for a while now, so he says, to lighten the mood, "It's been a rough day," and pats Steve consolingly on the shoulder. "Steve finding out he's a brand-new mother to a pair of pesky boys. It's hard, being a single mom in today's world." He tells Peggy conspiratorially. 

"You've got your hands full with this one," Peggy tells Steve dryly, but she's got a smile hooked on her lips. She stands, straightens her blouse. "By the way, what are the names of these two civilians? They must be special." 

Bucky laughs, smiles. It's a fair question. He and Steve aren't known to bring in strays. "Tony Stark and Clint Barton."

Steve's eyebrows shoot up, and Bucky tells him smoothly, "I pulled their files when they were in the hospital."

Steve does not look surprised.

"Tony Stark?" Peggy echoes, distantly. A strange expression flits across her face, caught off guard in a way Peggy never is. "I see." She says, softer, and her gaze drops to the desk, corner of her mouth pulled tight. It's a tiny detail, a change in her posture that would be completely unnoticeable to someone that's not Bucky or Steve. 

"Peggy?" Steve ventures, cautious. 

"Well." She pats down her pencil skirt, gives them an easy smile Bucky knows is a diversion. "Steve, I'll be expecting you tomorrow morning. Good day, gentlemen." 

Bucky wonders if there's more Peggy's not telling them. He wants to ask, of course, but he also wants to leave with his eyeballs in his sockets. 

However, it's a clear dismissal from Peggy, and Steve says, "Of course." prim and proper as ever.

"Have a good day, Ms. Carter." Bucky says, mock salutes, and together he and Steve head for the door.  

Once the door to Peggy's office clicks shut, Steve turns to him and gives a little sigh. "Well that went better than expected," he says and carts his fingers through his blond hair. "No reprimands whatsoever."

"Erik, though," Bucky says, glances back at the shut door. "Was Peggy being weird?"

"Nope," Steve answers, clearly distracted. It's no use trying to make use of him when he's like this. "We should check up on Sam and Nat and how they're doing. I'll deal with Erik tonight." He leans against the wall, crosses his muscled arms. 

Bucky smirks, steps closer, just to see Steve's eyes track from his eyes to his lips. "I'm sure they're fine. Nat can handle all three.'" He's nose to nose with Steve, and there's a hitch in Steve's breath. Even after all these years, it's adorable how Steve can still get so flustered.

"But what about Tony, and Clint?" Steve protests, straightening. He's not much bigger than Bucky, but he's got broader shoulder. But Bucky's got more muscles, so he counts it as his win. "We really should..." he trails off as soon as Bucky gets right in his face, and presses his lips to Steve's cheek.

"You were sayin'?" Bucky murmurs, nosing down Steve's neck. Steve shifts, hot breath on Bucky's chin. Bucky continues his way down Steve's throat, leaves slow, gentle kisses that have Steve making small, satisfied noises. 

"Buck," Steve breathes, low and guttural and catches Bucky in an open mouthed kiss. It's deep and dirty, makes Bucky's chest coil in all the right ways, and Bucky slides a hand down Steve's broad chest, palming over Steve's pants and eliciting a soft moan. Then, just because he's a dick, he abruptly leans back and puts a full foot between them.

"Yeah." Bucky says. Steve pulls back, eyes wide. "You're right," Bucky beams and turns around, back to the blond. "We really should check on our precious cargo." 

"You're a fucking tease," Steve growls, shoulders Bucky into the wall and takes a bite at his throat. His hands are gentle, but fierce, and lights every part of Bucky's skin on fire. 

It's so damn nice, Bucky almost gives up, but then he remembers they're making out four feet away from Peggy fucking Carter and he dodges the next kiss and dances away, back towards the way they came from. "Don't swear, Stevie," he calls and waggles his hips seductively. "It's unbecoming on a blond American dream like you."

 

 

 

Bucky's chased Steve away, to deal with Erik, because it's a problem that they cannot afford to let fester. 

Erik is a shithead, no doubt, and Bucky knows trouble is the guy's middle name.

They cannot afford having a loose canon in the family right now, and much to Steve's dismay, he's stuck on Erik-watching duty.

Bucky made sure to promise Steve he's going to have all the fun. Steve had narrowed his eyes, promised retribution, and Bucky had made a completely inappropriate comment about BDSM punishment that got Steve blushing and hurrying on his way.

So right now, Bucky is perched in a secret room above the training center Natasha and Tony are in. It's not stalking, Bucky tells himself, it's observing. He needs to know if Nat's already traumatized Tony, or it's a work-in-progress. He half hopes to see Tony running to him, arms stretched, grateful and happy to see Bucky return. It'd do wonders for his ego.

If Nat could hear his thoughts, she'd tell him to go get a damn golden retriever. 

But Nat seems taken with Tony, because she barely shows anyone how she throws her knives. 

From his vantage point, Tony seems carefree and relaxed, and Bucky can't stop looking at the way the brunet smiles and laughs. It's intoxicating. Bucky considers dropping from his perch and scaring the shit out of Tony, just to see the cute brunet gasp and perhaps, hopefully, tumble to the ground. 

Nat says something, gives Tony one of her small smiles that are only reserved for people like Steve, Bucky and their whole team. Tony laughs, squeezes Nat's shoulder, and Bucky almost falls out of his fucking seat because Nat doesn't even try and break Tony's finger. It's unfair, Bucky thinks. Tony is worming his way into everyone's heart. He makes a mental note to plant some kind of skunk perfume on Tony so everyone knows to back off. But Steve would probably give him some righteous speech about boundaries and Bucky absolutely does not feel like a Steve-lecture mood right now.

Nat tosses Tony some boxing gloves, steps out onto a soft mat. Bucky tenses, but he watches with interest. To his knowledge, Tony's not practiced in combat anyway, but Nat's got a good idea, giving Tony some basic skills. She's going easy on him, leaving her face unguarded and body relaxed, posture open. Tony looks nervous, but slips on the gloves anyway.

Then he sees Tony's right hook, and it's a national disaster. He throws a right hook exactly the way someone who's never thrown a punch in their life would throw a right hook, and Bucky almost goes down there to show him. 

Nat rolls her eyes, teaches Tony, and they're in a friendly discussion where Tony undoubtedly says something charming and Nat chuckles, when the gym doors clang open, and in walk three very familiar men. 

Bucky stiffens, prepares to slide down to Nat's side. Nat turns, shoulders snap into a straight line, and Tony watches, inquisitive. 

It's Erik, the slimy bastard, and two of his loyal minions. 

Where the hell is Steve? Knowing Steve, Erik would never get off scottfree in just twenty minutes.

Bucky smiles to himself, hand going to the knife by his belt. Erik stops a few meters away from Nat, which is probably a sane decision, and cocks his head in that special way Bucky knows means he's about to piss someone off.

And he strides out of his super secret room, and makes his way down to the gym, already itching to knock Erik's teeth in because there's no way he's about to let Nat have all the fun by herself. She's already getting all the lucky breaks in life, Bucky will not give her the satisfaction of one more. 

He made a promise to Steve about fun, and he's damn well going to keep it. 

 

Chapter Text

Okay," Tony says, places his hands on his hips, assesses the guy who looks like he's been sucking on a lemon. "Who invited the tragedy rendition of Napoleon Bonaparte without the funny hat?"

"Tony," Nat says under her breath, but there's a small smile on her lips. "Leave it to me." She moves forward, lithe, but there's some tension in her shoulders that Tony notices.

She stops a couple meters away from the men. Tony doesn't follow, instead peers over her shoulder in order to unashamedly observe. The guy in the front is solid, angry-looking, the way you'd expect someone to look after they found out their mother got them baseball gloves instead of porn magazines for their thirteenth, malicious birthday. He looks remarkably like Steve, but shorter and significantly more squat and I'm-going-to-bash-your-face-in-er. Tony quietly assumes Blond Potato is Steve's brother. Tony tip toes, catches sight of two more men behind the hunky alpha, looking bored and distant.

"I presume that's the little stray Steve picked up." Blond Potato drawls lazily, watches Tony like prey. It makes Tony's skin crawl.

It reminds him of Tiberius.

"What are you doing here, Erik?" Nat says evenly, tips her head. "Steve's been looking for you."

"My brother may be in line for the 'throne'," Blond Potato--excuse him, Erik, says, and flashes his teeth in a horrible parody of a smile. "But he's not suited to actually doing the dirty work necessary." He shrugs. "I'm here because I'm curious."

Nat scoffs, shakes her head a little. "We've all heard that line before. Back off before you do something you regret."

"What," Erik frowns, hand to his heart. "I'm hurt. Is this how you treat family? I just wanted to say hello," he says and strides over to Tony, taking a wide berth around Nat. His bodyguards follow quickly, putting themselves between Blond Potato and Nat. Nat, who's obviously trying to suppress the pleased smile Tony has no doubt means she wants to punch him in the throat. Nat backsteps, stands right by Tony. It's sweet, and Tony doesn't need the support, but he's grateful for it anyway.

Erik comes to a stop in front of Tony. "Well you're definitely prettier than I imagined," he muses and his hand comes up, hovering a few inches away from Tony's cheek.

It's nauseating and Nat looks ready to come to his defense, hand already going to her knife but Tony touches her hand with his. He shakes his head, and Nat doesn't look happy about it but she retreats.

Tony raises an eyebrow. "I try not to be so direct with these things, but fuck you. I don't know who you are, but I'm not looking for trouble."

Erik chuckles. "Feisty, too." The edge of the blond's fingertip brush over his skin. "Steve always did like mouthy brunets."

Tony mentally gags, because that's a disgusting thing to say about your own brother. "Are you from Alabama?" He asks sweetly. Erik's brows knot together in brief confusion, but then a pair of familiar black combat boots thump to the floor and Tony smiles wide.

"Put your fucking hand down," Bucky says from behind them, voice calm, but all kinds of dark. "Or I'm going to tear it off and shove it in your throat."

"Already coming as the knight in shining armor, Bucky?" Erik tuts, but lowers his hand and slowly steps back. "I didn't know your hero complex was this severe."

"The only thing that's going to be severe is your amount of blood loss that's going to happen in thirty seconds if you don't clear out." Bucky tells Erik, and places a protective arm around Tony's shoulders to gently pull him back. Tony tries to hide his surprise, and he'll be mortified if he finds out later that he blushed, but Bucky's arm is a welcome, warm weight on his shoulders and Tony relaxes into the touch. Nat exchanges a glance with Bucky, eyes asking a question. 

"Buckaroo," Tony says happily and makes grabby hands at the master assassin. "I missed you."

Erik's dark blue eyes glimmer, mouth hooking into a thoughtful and majorly creepy smile. "Well. Tony, aren't you the charmer."

"I'll teach you for free. Call it charity for the needy." Tony tells him, and relishes in the surprise that crosses his face for a second. 

"How's tonight, my room?" Erik purrs. "I'll mind your head injury."

Tony opens his mouth to deliver a retort, when Bucky audibly snarls, metal arm whirring. "I'm not going to fucking warn you again, asshole."

Erik's bodyguards immediately react to the threat, one of them drawing his handgun. Tony swallows nervously, because after going most of his adult life without seeing a gun, the sight of the weapon being drawn still makes his heart jump a little. Nat tenses, but before she does anything Erik sighs and waves his hands. "Gentlemen," he declares, annoyed. "Calm down. We're here to talk, not to fight." Erik shoots a cold stare at both Bucky and Nat, and Tony narrows his eyes, irritated. This guy has a lot of nerve, he decides. He'll have to ask Steve later about what role Erik plays in the family.

"Talk, huh?" Bucky says with an indulgent look at Nat. 

"Erik's full of surprises." Nat agrees, starts unwrapping the cotton from her hands. Tony looks down, realizes he still has his boxing gloves on, and pulls them off quickly, embarrassed. Bucky chuckles softly next to him, tells him it's a good look, and Tony meets his soft gaze to smirk proudly. 

"You all know what I want." Erik says, cuts through any sort of gentle moment between them. "I want Steve out."

"That's not going to happen." Nat says, looking affronted. Tony wonders if Erik is on a suicide mission, provoking Nat and Bucky like that.

Bucky's metal arm drops to his side. "You're still on about that bullshit?" He rolls his eyes. "Give it up, fuckface. The decision was made years ago."

Erik's face twitches, like he's about ready to start swinging. "You hold a lot of sway over my brother," his eyes rest on Tony, a predatory glint in his eye. "We both know it's not what he wants."

"Don't pretend like you're being selfless for Steve," Bucky snaps, moves forward a step. The bodyguards crowd around Erik immediately, and Nat watches with a disquieting, displeased expression on her face. "You're a psychopath, and even Peggy sees it. She'll hand it down to anyone but you."

Erik's blue eyes flash, rage hardening the lines of his face. "I am better than Steve." Tony's eyes drop to the blond, and he can't help but be innately horrified at the prospect of Erik assuming leadership of a crime family. He knows enough to recognize that this is a long, bloody issue in the family that strangers really shouldn't be privy to know.

Not for the first time, Tony wonders if he made a mistake staying. 

Nat says, quietly, "No, you're not. And you're not going to make us turn on Steve." And it's loyalty, in her voice, in Bucky's solemn eyes that Tony sees that they really are Steve's family, with him to the end. It's heart-rending, and absolutely sweet, the bond between all of them. A small pang of jealousy nags in his chest, and Tony looks away, down to the floor.

A family is all he ever wanted. 

"No one will back you." Bucky adds, and presses closer to Tony, as if sensing distress. Bucky looks at him for a second, and asks quietly, "Are you okay?" and Tony nods, smiles, softens a little bit at Bucky's warmth. And for a moment, Tony's nothing but charmed by that, the sheer unmitigated sweetness of Bucky Barnes, but then he remembers this whole mess could easily blow up in his face and he winces, ignores the concern in Bucky's blue eyes.

"Steve's people are few, and far between." Erik replies smugly. "The perks of growing up in the crime underworld, Tony," he says, circling closer like a lion cornering its prey. "instead of having a doll to play with, you have a gun." He pauses, comes to a stop dangerously close to Tony, and Bucky's muscles shift, hiding Tony behind his bulk. "And you learn, quickly, that loyalty is nothing. Anyone can betray you, and anytime. The trick," he says, and Tony's blood runs cold. "Is to make sure you do it first." And he makes a gesture with his hands, that go poof.

Tony's not staying silent. "Well excuse me if I don't take life lessons from an angsty David fucking Copperfield." 

Bucky laughs at that, and leans in to whisper in Tony's ear, "Careful there. You're cute when you're snarky." Tony shoots him an exasperated look, but chuckles anyway.

"Loyalty isn't nothing, Erik." Nat says, and she sounds bored. Like she's explaining how B comes after A in the alphabet to a two-year-old toddler. "It's how our family thrives. It's how we survive. If you can't recognize that, then you'll never be a leader."

"Don't waste your breath, Nat." Bucky says. "The guy must be deaf if he doesn't get it yet."

"Your  family?" Erik scoffs, taps the side of his face with a finger. "Don't kid yourself, Romanov. You're nothing but a goddamn licensed contractor, and you'll turn on us the second you have the chance and someone pays better. You, and every other shithead we employ, will never be one of us. Another thing you learn, Tony," Erik swivels to smile amicably at him. The candor of his psychopathic openness knows no bounds, Tony thinks. "Money buys. People will do anything for a drop of that golden blood."

Nat's nose crinkles, like Erik's personally offended her. "This is over," she says, an edge to her voice. "If you're not leaving, we will." She takes Tony by the hand, starts walking towards the door, and Tony follows hurriedly. 

"It was a delight to meet you, Tony!" Erik calls after them, and when Tony looks back, the man is wearing a smile and waving. "I'll be seeing you real soon."

"Come near him," Bucky stops on their way out and turns. "and you're a dead man." He doesn't wait for an answer before nudging Tony out the door, flesh hand resting securely on the small of Tony's back.

Something warm and happy pools in his stomach at that, and Tony struggles not to like the feeling. 

"That was Steve's brother?" Tony asks, almost incredulously. He has a whole new respect for Steve now, and whoever raised him. 

Nat hums in agreement. "Erik's...been through some things. But he's a brat, for sure." She keeps her tone level, but doesn't say anything more.

"It's fine," Bucky says and waves his hand flippantly. "Forget about him. He's not our problem."

It doesn't take Tony more than a few seconds to argue that Erik indeed is their problem, but he doesn't want to push. So they leave Erik behind, and immediately the tension dissipates. While the encounter wasn't completely forgotten, Nat and Bucky try their best to retain the normalcy. 

Nat tells him about some of their team while they walk through hallways, and not for the first time, Tony marvels at the size of the compound. Bucky notices, and steers the conversation away from the team and instead tells him about the compound itself, and how it's the main building where the operations of the crime family are organized, planned, and where the highest-ranking members reside. 

After a while, they take him to a spacious room, and Tony suspects it's a coffee lounge. So he makes himself a cup of black, and sips it religiously. Bucky's already sprawled on a lush leather couch, changed into a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. He looks incredibly comfortable and cozy, and Tony tries not to think about how cuddle-able Bucky looks. 

Nat hovers in the doorway, an amused smile on her face. "Tony," she says and takes one of his hands. He chuckles when he hears Bucky's indignant squawk behind them, and Nat ignores it with practiced ease. "I was called to train some new recruits. You'll be safe here with Bucky."

Tony frowns, makes a protesting noise. "Don't go. You're a badass spy master and you're so pretty you make me swoon. And you're equipped to deal with Bucky, don't leave me defenseless with him." 

"I'll leave him with strict instructions to leave you in one piece," Nat says with a soft huff and her eyes crinkle in a smile. "I'll see you tonight for dinner, and don't worry about your friend Clint and Sam. They're having fun, and Sam will probably bring him in here before dinner."

"Fine," Tony says, a little more dramatically than he planned. "Thank you, for today." He adds, sincerely, and gives Nat his best grin. 

"Of course." Nat says with a fond look, lets his hands drop, and moves out the door. 

"What, no farewell for your favorite assassin?" Bucky yells, throws a pillow at her retreating form. Lightning fast, Nat catches it single-handedly, without looking. She smirks, chucks it back, and disappears out into the hallway. Bucky groans, falling back into the plethora of fluffy pillows still on the couch. Tony laughs in surprise, impressed and utterly in awe of the normalcy of the situation. 

What would his parents say if they knew their son was getting friendly with the mafia?

"Doll," Bucky whines, and pats the seat next to him and blinks adoringly. "C'mere."

Tony rolls his eyes, and says, "I'm tired."

Fuck. He really is. 

"Then come be tired with me." Bucky replies, with more feeling. And what the hell, things could be worse than snuggling up to one of the most dangerous men in Manhattan, decked out in casual attire and sporting handsome smiles. All the days' events kind of hit him in one blow, nearly buckle his knees, and Tony finds it in himself that there's not much resistance left. So he pads to Bucky, legs aching, and flops onto the seat next to the muscular brunet. 

"Mhm," Tony mumbles and curls up, head in the crook of Bucky's shoulder. Personal space has never been a concept Tony's given two shits about when it comes to people he likes. The soft fabric of Bucky's sweater mush against his cheek and Tony sighs, melting in the comfort and feeling of another person around him. Bucky smells like alpine woods, and the crisp smell of fresh cookies in the oven. Bucky shifts, and Tony burrows in closer, feeling lighter and peers up at the assassin. 

Bucky looks back at him, eyes soft and curls a hand around Tony's waist. It's not as strange as he thought it would be, cuddling up to a complete stranger. But Bucky doesn't feel much of a stranger anymore. He yawns, and suddenly finds himself exhausted, body pleading to sleep.

"How's your head, doll?" Bucky murmurs, careful to give the wound some space and places a pillow under Tony's chin.

"S'alright," Tony slurs, eyes drooping. God, what he'd give to sleep right now. "Won't Steve be mad?" he says into Bucky's shoulder, registering the soothing movements of Bucky petting his hair gently. Steve, who's obviously Bucky's boyfriend or partner and best friend, and under normal circumstances Tony would back the hell off but Bucky's so warm. 

 He faintly hears Bucky's snort. "Oh, trust me, sweetheart. You're completely fine."

"Wha's 'at supposed t'mean," Tony grumbles and rolls onto his back, squints at Bucky. "I'm not being mushed into a Stark ham special 'cause your blond polite hunk of a boyfriend gets pissed."

"Will you just go to sleep?" Bucky says, and rolls his eyes good-naturedly. "I can drug you." He offers playfully when Tony makes a face. 

"I really should be alarmed by the amount of threats you make per day," Tony says, closing his eyes. Fuck it. If Bucky's going to murder him in his sleep, so be it. He whole-heartedly deserves that shit by letting himself be vulnerable in such a compromising position. "But I'm going to pass out now."

Bucky laughs again, and says something Tony doesn't hear, because he's already drifting off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

"Is that Tony?" Steve says, a smile in his voice.

Bucky shifts a little, and it nudges him slowly awake. "Yeah. He's adorable like this." Then pauses, and whispers. "Don't ever let him know I said that."

Steve laughs, and Tony lets out a soft groan, scrunching his eyes. "He is. And he'd hold it over your head forever."

Tony wakes a little more, opens his eyes to the sound of the leather couch dipping with the addition of a new weight. He cracks open an eyelid, and it's Steve, lowering his full weight slowly onto the couch. Bucky's head is turned, and opens his free arm to the blond. 

Tony prepares to sit up, when Steve says, "Is he asleep?"

"Yeah," Bucky says, checks Tony's face with a gentle touch and glances knowingly at the blond. "What's wrong?"

Tony decides to stay still, closes his eyes for extra measures and relaxes into Bucky's comforting hold. "I've just gotten reports of two unidentified, blank plated cars sitting outside Tony's and Clint's apartments." Steve says quietly, voice grave. Tony tries not to stiffen, listens harder. "They were tracked an hour ago."

Bucky makes a displeased noise, tightens his hold on Tony's side. "Son of a bitch. Already? How would anyone know?"

"I've been trying to figure that one out, too." Steve tells Bucky. It's clearly serious enough to have them both worried, and Tony holds his breath, calculates the odds.

Even if someone had escaped from the soldiers who had attacked them in the morning from Bucky, all they would have had to go on would be glimpses of Tony and Clint's faces. Even then, it's highly unlikely they would have been outed this fast. 

"McCullough might have found out through his men." Bucky ventures, carding his fingers through Tony's hair. "I didn't kill them, just knocked them out or injured them. Some of them may have fatal wounds," Bucky says as an afterthought.

Steve lets out a breath, clasps his hands together. "No, it's good you didn't kill all of them. We don't need a war. Honestly, I don't know how they found out it was you, because you always wear that mask when on the field." He taps his fingers on the table, and Tony silently agrees when Steve mutters, "Something doesn't add up here."

"But McCullough doesn't have eyes in our territory, and even if he did, because I don't trust that fucker, there's no way he could identify Tony and Clint this fast and put people on them." Bucky says, and a quick peek tells him the brunet is frowning. "The only way he could've known this fast is..." 

"Someone in our circle leaked the information." Steve sighs, sits back. He doesn't sound surprised. 

"Fuck," Bucky breathes. "A traitor?"

Now he doesn't know much about the mafia or crime families, most of his surface knowledge is definitely from the Sopranos or from TV shows. But Tony knows with absolute certainty, that having a traitor in the equation-- never ends well for anybody.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Steve, wake up!" 

Hands grab him by the shoulders, and acting on instinct, he strikes out hard and fast, hits flesh and someone grunts and the grip loosens. He slips to his feet, throwing the blanket from the bed and rolling to his feet, fists already up.

"Steve," Bucky groans, and Steve blinks in the dark, squinting to see his boyfriend. Bucky is crouching a few feet away, a hand pressed to his jaw. "Calm the fuck down."

Steve winces, drops his hands and crosses over to his boyfriend, and gently takes his face in his hands. "Sorry," he mutters and tilts Bucky's jaw to see the forming bruise. "You know I get startled." Trying to convey as much regret as he can, he presses a soft kiss to Bucky's cheek. 

"Listen here, you spooky little shit." Bucky says, noses Steve's face back. "I was working all night, and--"

"You didn't come to bed," Steve agrees, voice tilting on a whine. After the day they'd had, all he wanted was just to curl around Bucky in bed and fall asleep to the scent of alpine woods and sharp mint, wrapping in comforting duvets. "I missed you, sweetheart."

"No, listen." Bucky says, with more force and feeling in his voice. Steve stills, looks into Bucky's dark blue eyes. "I cashed in a few favors and I know who the buyers were. Or, at least one of them."

 Steve pulls back, blinks. "What? Who is it?" Bucky looks tired, bags under his eyes. Steve extends a hand, settling his palm on Bucky's shoulder and tries to push all his calming energy into the touch. If Bucky, who values his sleep more than Steve values his morning runs, the information must be damn important. 

"The men I saw, buying the gear at the warehouse. That's where I thought I should start," Bucky says, sitting heavily on the crumpled bed. "I couldn't get any face ID, so I started thinking... what if those men weren't actually the owners? I thought, what would run-of-the-mill soldiers be doing wearing such high-tech tactical gear?"

Steve frowns, thinks along. It's a valid question. "They were loaned the gear? Or stole it. But why go through that trouble for a couple of weapons?"

"Right," Bucky says and a smile curls on his lips. "I think they were borrowed. And in our world, who are the people we go to when we want others to do our dirty jobs?"

"Mercenaries." Steve says slowly, glances up at Bucky, eyes wide. "How could we not see this?"

"Because I'm a fucking genius, babe." Bucky purrs, leans over to kiss him softly. Steve sighs into the kiss, hand trailing down Bucky's muscled, solid back. "But it's not over," Bucky says and his eyes are bright, but Steve groans. Bucky rolls his eyes. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but focus, Steve."

"Buck," Steve grumbles. "Such a tease. Now that you've figured it out, can we just go to bed for a remaining three hours?" He asks with a mournful stare at the alarm clock. 

"If," Bucky says, ignoring him and grabbing his hands. 'If those men were mercenaries, then they'd have to belong to a pretty good one to get that kind of tech loaned. You know, with histories and confirmed kills and everything. So, I cross-referenced with the mercenaries we've employed over the years..."

"Did you find them?" Steve asks, narrowing his eyes.

The mercenaries they employ are efficient, good at what they do. Peggy's always told Steve, if he wants something done fast and dirty, they're the people you go to. But Steve's been trying to steer the family away from that. He thinks of Erik for a second, how hard it is to make any goddamn change when your own brother is actively fighting back. 

"No, there's no way of knowing exactly which. I contacted Carlston. He's agreed to meet me tomorrow for lunch, tell me what's the word on ." Bucky says, grinning. 

"Really," Steve says and raises his eyebrows. "Carlston replied at two in the morning?"

"He's either fucking someone," Bucky shrugs and smirks. "Or killing someone. You know Carlston."

"Most likely he's just cleaning up after his four-year-old daughter's coloring books." Steve rolls his eyes, and climbs back into bed, stuffs his feet into the duvets. "Come on. Let's go to sleep. I'll let Peggy know in the morning, and  you have a meeting in six hours," Steve says and swallows back a sigh of sadness at the time ticking away on the clock. "The clock is taunting me." Steve mutters, shoving his head into his pillow.

Bucky laughs, and the bed dips when he clambers beside Steve. "Sorry, babe. Want me to give you an apology blowjob?" He teases, nuzzling into the back of Steve's neck and Steve leans into the warm touch, and breathes out a little quick at Bucky's hand sliding down.

"Buck," Steve chuckles, takes the pillow and softly whups Bucky with it. "The only boner I have right now is for REM sleep." He takes the blanket, and brings it up to his chin.

"Stevie," Bucky snorts. "That's very indecent of you to say, you American poster boy for decency."

"Mhm," Steve hums non commitedly as Bucky burrows under the blankets. 

They lie in bed together, breathing in each other's scents. Steve closes his eyes, then blinks up at the ceiling. Bucky 's weight is familiar and warm at his back, breathing softly through his nose. It's crazy, Steve thinks. The day they've had. Yesterday, he went to sleep like this, and woke up this morning like it was every other day.

He had a plan, meetings with the family, maybe talk Peggy into taking a relaxing spa day, push forward legitimate business deals and attend a few meetings overseeing the whole Carter operation. Perhaps find a way to keep Erik occupied and out of his deals. 

And then Bucky went on a recon mission, and everything changed. 

Steve turns to his side, nudges Bucky gently in the back. "Hey," he says softly. "What are we doing?"

Bucky snuffles, shifts to crack open an eye to glare at him. "What do you mean, what are we doing? We're doing sleep. I thought we were doing sleep." 

"No," Steve murmurs, and stares into an empty spot on the wall. "I mean with Tony. Tony and Clint. What are we doing?"

"Where did that come from?" Bucky asks, turns on his side to face Steve, eyes glinting in curiosity. "We're not doing them. Clint, I'm glad. But Tony," he says and lets out a low whistle. "Not doing him makes me sad."

"I'm sure he's sad too." Steve says dryly, and goes silent. He hasn't truly thought about it, how absolutely preposterous the whole thing is. Turns out, his brain doesn't want to think about it either. His brain is stating a disclaimer that it's not responsible for most of Steve's idiotic decisions, and Steve relates to that on a spiritual level. 

"Stop thinking," Bucky advises around a yawn. "Fucks your shit up. It's scientifically proven." 

"Oh yeah?" Steve gives a soft laugh at that, blinks slowly at his drowsy boyfriend. "Those sketchy medical trials your friends do aren't scientific, Buck."

"No," Bucky says and sniffs haughtily. Well, as haughtily as he can manage with bags under his eyes and tangled hair with a blanket snuggled up to his nose, leaving only his dark blue eyes blinking incomprehensibly at him. "No, what I'm saying, Steve," Bucky emphasizes dramatically. "Is that our line of work isn't really suited to thinking. Once you think about it, it all sorts of unravels. Our whole operation. It's a shitshow." He tells Steve, says it like he's telling Steve nutella doesn't go well with mustard.

"You're a proven intellectual marvel." Steve tells him, and discovers that when he gets real close to Bucky, he kind of smells like unwashed sweat. Bucky nods, eyes already closed.

But hey, love is love. So he wraps his arms around the brunet and pulls him close, and tries to close his eyes to get two or three hours worth of shut-eye.

He gets about five minutes of silence before Bucky grumbles, and squints at him in the dark with the kind of offense people get when they've just gotten a thinly veiled insult. "You're a fucking furnace, Stevie, I love you but unfold from my physical body." 

"You broke your record of four minutes," Steve says and laughs. "I love you too."

And that's how the remaining early morning goes, with Bucky plastered to the wall because it's cool, and Steve ending half on his side and half splayed on his boyfriend and completely suffocating Bucky in heat.

 

 

 

 

 

Tony ends up staring at him, blurry and half-awake. "What the fuck," he says, doesn't even look conscious enough to look mad about it.

"I have so much planned for you," Steve says and leans against the doorway. "Bucky told me you're a mechanic, a talented one. You're from MIT so you must be that good. And we have a few labs downstairs for some research development..." He trails off, looks at Tony for an answer and smiles, bright and happy. "Come on."

There's a silence that stretches on unnecessarily long, and Tony regards Steve with a special blend of confused and mad but not knowing why. "What?" Tony finally says, and squints hard at Steve like he's a bug splashed on his windshield.

It's getting increasingly hard to not find Tony's rumpled spare pajamas and a bed-hair intoxicatingly cute. Steve crosses his arms across his chest, stares at the smaller brunet fondly. 

"The fuck is this horseshit," Clint yells, muffled from his face in the pillow. "Tones, tell your blond jacked up boyfriend to get the fuck out or I'm gonna start throwing lamps because that's the only weapon in here they left us with."

"He's not my boyfriend," Tony blusters, immediately whipping his head so fast Steve winces and immediately feels bad about admiring how Tony's eyes get wide and big, shakes his head quickly. "He's not, he's not even," and then increasingly panicky, "What are you—"

"I'm not," Steve adds and steps inside the still dark room. "And I'll calmly ask you not to throw that lamp, thank you very much, it was a limited edition from IKEA—"

Clint swears, takes his spare pillow and throws it at the general direction of nowhere. "Fuck IKEA, I'm going to shove it up Sweden's ass and once I'm done it's going up yours, so get out! I need to sleep. Tones, I am withholding caffeine from you if you do not get blond barbie out of this room right the fuck now." 

Steve closes his eyes, breathes out and tries not to smile. Bucky would have loved to be here. Bucky would have had a field day. 

"Clint, you little shit," Tony hisses and turns bodily to face the general direction of a Clint-shaped lump under the covers. "That's actually not up to you because you're not a goddamn barista anymore, you evil birdbrain—"

Clint's head pops up, and Steve braces himself for the rage. Instead, Clint glares at Tony, and then at him with bloodshot eyes, brown hair sticking up all over the place. He narrows his eyes, and tells Tony in a level voice, "I'm going to call MIT, and I'm going to report a fucking out-of-school harassment and a restraining order—"

"Your word against mine, shitface, I'll see you in court—"

"Up we go." Steve says and strides inside, to the foot of Tony's bed just in time to stop Tony's sleep-muddled failed scramble off the bed to lunge at Clint. He wraps his arms under Tony's arms, and bodily heaves him out of the bed and out the door. Clint shouts something after them, and Tony shouts right back, and Steve's starting to regret his decision in ever opening the dreaded 7th gateway to hell that is Tony and Clint's room. 

He closes the door shut behind him, and they stand in the empty hallway and plops Tony back on his feet.

Tony, who's lighter than a feather and is staring up at him with huge, long-lashed eyes and a pouty scowl on his face. Steve really wishes Bucky was here. Bucky wouldn't have been able to contain himself from gushing at the smaller brunet.

Then, on second thought, it's a good thing Bucky's not here.

Tony places his hands on his hips, glowers at Steve. It's like a fluffy kitten flashing tiny claws, and Steve tries not to melt. Be strong, he tells himself. "What the hell was that?" Tony asks, and eyes him suspiciously.

"I'm sorry," Steve says honestly. "But its almost eight, and I knocked a few times...and then there was this guttural noise and I was worried something was wrong and no one was answering so I forced the door in. I should've waited till you were awake to start telling you the plans for you today," Steve says as an afterthought and shakes his head regretfully. "Sorry."

Tony's silent for a moment, and then glances up at Steve and sighs. "I can't even be mad at you for waking us up. Not when you're so polite about it. Sorry for Clint's yelling, and mine, and that guttural sound is Clint's moan, which completely sounds like a goddamn donkey so it's understandable, but that only happens when he wakes up before ten AM."

"How does he keep his job, then?" Steve asks with a long, impressed glance at the closed door. 

 "I ask myself that everyday. I think he does too." Tony tells him with a long-suffering eye roll.

Steve shrugs, and purely on impulse, leans over to pat down the adorable cowlick tufting out from Tony's rumpled bed hair. Tony blinks up at him, surprised and a hint of a blush on his cheeks. Steve gulps, and moves his hand away. "It's a pretty big cowlick." He says helplessly, because there's nothing else to say without sounding like an absolute idiot.

Bucky would have died laughing.

Tony smiles, soft and sweet, and Steve feels something hook in his belly and tug. He drops his hands to his side, because he's not used to feeling nervous, and then says, "Well, do you want to hear about the plan for your day?"

"Yes, yes, of course," Tony says and laughs a little. "You said something about labs? Mechanic, right?"

Steve shrugs and nods, delighted when Tony's smile becomes bigger. "Yeah, we have a few. Mostly weapons testing and stuff, but definitely room for mechanic. A very talented engineer who operates the lab downstairs would be happy to have you work with him for the time being," Steve says and chuckles at the size of Tony's joyful expression. "His name's Happy."

"I would love to," Tony says and grins. "But is it allowed? I mean I'm just here for like three days... I don't want to bother your engineer or anything. I'm happy to just stay out of the way. Give me some Jenga. Yeah,  I'll go nuts. I'll do things with Jenga you've never seen before. I can get Clint in on it too. Give Clint a Rubik's cube, it'll take him years."

Steve feels almost obligated to stop Tony's rambling, and so he decides to make a placating gesture with his hands, a move that Bucky always scoffs at. "Jenga? Tony, what are you on about?" And because he can't help it, he smiles back at Tony. "I'm not giving you Jenga. You'd be bored in five seconds."

Tony looks briefly surprised, and then laughs. It's a sweet sound, makes Steve's hands go all lax and his chest all warm and soft. Tony's face lights up when he smiles. "I've known you for like a day, and you already know me better than my parents," he teases.

He shrugs, and gazes at Tony for a moment, marveling how well Tony can pull off messy hair and pajamas. "It doesn't take a genius to see how smart you are."

"Aw, shit." Tony says, and shakes his head, tousling his dark brown hair even more and grins up at Steve. "Careful there Captain Underpants, you're gonna make me swoon."

"You make it sound like a threat," Steve says and pauses, shoves his hands into his pockets. "You need to make better threats." 

He really hopes Tony doesn't find this conversation mortifying.

He clears his throat. "I can, uh," He nods over his shoulder. "Go. I can go. Wait for you to get ready."

Tony doesn't seem to notice how sweaty his palms are getting. "Yeah, you could go." he says, with a smile and a shrug. "Or you could stay."

Steve chokes a little, because he can't believe Tony hasn't run away yet. "Stay? Stay. I could wait. I'll wait right here and take you and Clint to breakfast." 

"Stay," Tony says again and nods matter-of-factly. "I am painfully aware how civilian-esque Clint and I are, and we are two potentially insane emotionally immature adults in an illegal crime family base, so yes. I'd like you to stay."

Oh. Of course Tony wants you to stay. He needs you.

It's a little pinprick to his heart, that Tony doesn't want him to stay. 

"Sure," he says, and is horrified it comes out a little squeaky so he tries again. "Sure. I'll be here."

"Thanks." Tony says, shoots him a sweet smile. "We'll be right out." Then he takes a step towards the door, and pauses. "So about Jenga?"

"No Jenga."

"Fuck. I'm being a good person and not being selfish. I'm happy to stay out of the way."

Steve raises his eyebrows. "I appreciate it. I do. But you don't seem like the type of person to like 'staying out of the way'," Steve echoes, and waves a hand when Tony tries to interject. "I already talked to Happy, and he'd appreciate a little help. I've already talked to Nat about Clint, so don't worry about him. And Tony," he says a little lower. "I haven't said anything to you and Clint, because I don't want to worry anyone but it might be dangerous for you anywhere but here right now."

It's a risky move, he thinks.

Telling Tony that McCullough's men have been running surveillance on his and Clint's home might be terrifying, the prospect of your home, a safe haven, has been compromised and invaded. It might make the fact that they're civilians seem even more daunting. And he doesn't want Tony, or Clint, to be scared for their lives.

It's not fair, Steve tells himself. 

Tony tilts his head, eyebrows furrowed. "Oh, dangerous? What do you mean by that?" He asks, tentatively, and shuffles his feet a little, eyes dropping for a brief second. "Do Clint and I have to stay here longer?"

It's cute, Steve thinks, amused. He learned how to lie at the age of four, and how to detect it after the age of six. As a Carter, it's really not a shock. So he finds it adorable, how Tony actually tries to bluster his way through and act innocent about it. "But you know that already, don't you." Steve says with a small smile.

He expects Tony to start blundering, to try and reassure Steve in a slightly panicked tone that he doesn't know what Steve's talking about, but no.

He should really stop being surprised about it, when Tony does the exact opposite.

"Alright," Tony says, sounding cautious. "You got me. I heard when I was taking a nap with your murder muffin. The bad guys totally know who Clint and I are, which shouldn't be possible this fast, but since they know, we can't go home."

Steve lets that settle for a few seconds. Tony's more observant than both he and Bucky thought, and whether or not it can become a problem, he'll have to keep an eye on this. 

"You're right. But we can talk more about this during breakfast, because the hallway is completely expository and you're in your pajamas."

Tony looks down at himself, eyes widen a little like he's just realized it, and then looks back up at Steve. "Absolutely, Steven. Of course. I will return in ten minutes."

"No one calls me Steven except Peggy when she's mad."

"Tough fucking luck, snookums. But fine. When I'm done with your name, you'll be wishing for Steven."

 

Chapter Text

Bucky doesn't expect the huge six-foot-four guy to crumple to the floor. A guy his size should be able to withstand a good, solid right hook. 

But then again, Bucky thinks as he retracts his metal fist and shakes it, the gears whirring back. Maybe not a solid right hook out of metal. 

The plan is simple: drive to Carlston's personal cafe and work shit out until he leaves with a definite answer of the whole situation, and then head back to the base to hopefully make out with Steve and annoy Tony to the point of no return. 

When Bucky's plans fail, it's usually because of some circumstantial bullshit that is no way under his control or because someone let him leave the base without double-checking his plans. But this time, it's because of the simple, bland idiocy of some people.

He really tries not to get mad when two more guys come at him from behind, but Bucky figures if they have enough sense to come from behind, they're at least better than the six-foot-four redneck squirming on the floor. The soldiers coming at him aren't stupid or careless or poorly-trained, but Bucky's better, and his guns are better. It becomes a matter of knocking all the stragglers out and not getting himself shot anywhere inconvenient in the process. 

"I'm telling you," Bucky says, kindly, as he takes the but of his gun and slams it into one soldier's neck, letting the body slide to the floor. "Carlston knows I'm coming. Just call him."

He rolls his eyes when another one yells out something in garbled Slovenian and charges, whipping out a gun and aiming. 

Bucky takes two steps forward, ducks, swipes his leg under the soldier, barrels up and forward and into the soldier, driving them both back a full meter. The soldier hisses, Bucky sighs, and then in two quick moves has the soldier in a chokehold and Bucky's letting down another body. Plenty of time to react when another goon tries to take him by surprise, and Bucky whirls around and delivers a vicious uppercut, a couple pulled punches to the guy's ribs and then kick him to the curb. The two soldiers are groaning, blood on their faces, and Bucky stands above them, smiling grimly. 

"Gentlemen!"

Bucky turns. Carlston, the bastard, is standing behind him, and he's holding a gun with a displeased frown on his face. 

"What," Bucky says. "the fuck. Carlston. Nice of you to show up fifteen minutes late."

"Those were my five personal guards, Mr. Barnes." Carlston says, aggrieved. "This is not what I had in mind when you called me asking for a peaceful meeting. Now I need a new team, and you almost got yourself shot."

"Not what I had in mind, either," Bucky tells him, makes his way over to the smug son of a bitch and kicks one groaning soldier in the guts for good measure. "Next time tell your guard dogs to back down. And I would get a new team, for the exact reason I didn't get shot."

Carlston cocks an eyebrow, and brings the gun up and points it at Bucky, clicking the safety off. "I could finish the job right now."

"I wouldn't do that." Bucky says, flashes a little teeth. "We both know I'm your favorite representative of the Carters."

He's a nice guy, ask anybody, but business is business and right now all he is, is a notorious assassin mafia second-in-command with a fancy metal arm. 

"That's because the standard is low," Carlston sniffs but tucks the gun into his waistband anyway. He didn't click the safety off, and Bucky stores that little tidbit into his mind just in case. "Most of the Carters are either insane, or close to it."

"Real cute," Bucky gives a little shrug. "I'm offended you think I'm sane."

"How is Peggy Carter?" Carlston asks, gestures to an empty seat in the 90s themed cafe. "She hasn't been by in a while."

Bucky takes the offer, slides into the seat and thinks for a moment. "She's peachy. Been giving off more work to Steve." Carlston's a sneaky shit, so Bucky should probably think about the things he says during this meeting. If one questionable thing gets back to Peggy, he knows it's absolutely not above her to take away to new set of tactical knives they've introduced into the armory. 

And it'd be a damn shame if that happened. 

"Ah, Steve Rogers." Carlston settles on the opposite seat, seems to mull it over for a moment. "He's the blond, decent one? I've heard he's been trying to turn the family upside down." He holds up a hand, making some sort of gesture, and Bucky glances around to see the barista, cowering behind the counter, looking petrified. "Two Scotches. On the rocks, please."

The barista immediately scrambles to the liquor cabinet, hands shaking, and Bucky almost feels bad for him, so he calls, "Thank you." but only succeeds in making the poor kid tremble even more. 

"So, Mr. Barnes." Carlston says, examines Bucky carefully. "What can I do for you?"

"You're a smart man, Carlston," Bucky muses and leans back on the seat. "You must be up to date to what's been going on."

Carlston gives him a little bit of a flat look, reassessing him. "As vague as usual, Mr. Barnes. Carters keeping you on a tight leash?" Says it in a pitying voice, like he's some kind of charity case with no mind of his own and Bucky could take the butter knife lying on the napkin and bury the damn thing in Carlston's throat, or his wrist, and be done with this whole mess, but he thinks that would definitely be one hell of a waste for the whole trip over here.

"Tight enough that I don't increase the fatality rates from last year." Bucky says, smiles wide and dark enough Carlston gets the message to stop fucking around. 

The Winter Soldier's fatality rates are well-known in the underworld, and Bucky's never been one to discourage vicious rumors about the efficiency of his work. 

"I take it you want to know about the mercenaries who were sent to pick up a load, am I right?" Carlston asks, looks at him with a blank expression. "They tailed you, almost killed you, and you left with two brand-new playthings right off the street."

"Yeah," Bucky says, with a sharp nod. "Exactly. I went to the drop for recon, saw a couple of new guys I've never seen. Red eagle insignia. High-tech gear."

"Red eagles?" Carlston repeats, and it's only then that Bucky reads something off Carlston's face, can tell he knows. "Rogues. I took them in, gave them a chance, but they thought they could do better." Carlston grits his jaw, mouth a little tighter. "So they left. Decided to make their own group, and now they're backed by Zola."

"You're shitting me," Bucky says, falls back and tries to hide his surprise. "Zola?"

"Zola," Carlston shakes his head. The barista scurries over, places the glasses on the table and at Carlston's nod, hauls ass out the door. Bucky watches him go, and still feels a little bad. "Goddamned asshole. But I've been hearing things, and they tell me the rogues have been getting plump on Zola's feeder."

"What's his play in this?" Bucky asks, levels a stare at Carlston. "Zola's always been a piece of shit, but a weapons transaction in Carter territory? No way he'd be that confident to take us on."

"Maybe he knows something you don't," Carlston counters and takes a thoughtful gulp of his scotch. "Zola may be an asshole, but he's a smart one. I'd be careful."

"I need solid intel," Bucky says and leans forward, expectantly. Some part of Bucky is reeling, at the knowledge Zola has resurfaced after a year of being underground, and that he's making a move just when Steve is about to assume power. "I need names."

Carlston blinks, looks past Bucky's shoulder briefly. "Of course you do," he says and laughs about it a little and takes a piece of paper out from his suit, slides it across the table and tilts his head. 

Bucky raises an eyebrow, takes the paper and flips it over. 

Niki Rosten is scrawled in messy handwriting on the paper. 

"Who's this?" Bucky says, takes his untouched drink and downs it in one swig. 

"She's in charge of the rogues. Find her, you find them. You find why they were there, and what Zola paid them to do," Carlston pauses and when he smiles, the hairs on Bucky's neck stand up. "But one thing you should know."

"What's that?" Bucky says. He's curious, about this Niki person. Who's important and dangerous enough for even Carlston to know about. 

"She's McCullough's daughter." 

Bucky's mouth screws up into something ugly. He shakes his head, thinks a little about what exactly that means, and shakes his head again. This just got a whole lot fucking harder, says the little rational voice in the back of his head. Peggy is going to hate this, and Steve is going to hate this even more. "Fuck."

"Fuck," Carlston agrees with a wry smile. "Indeed. I wish you best of luck."

"Thanks," Bucky says and slides out the booth, takes the piece of paper and stuffs it into his jacket and pats down his jeans, tucking the hilt of his favorite gun into his waistband. "I appreciate this."

"Did you really take in two civilians?" Carlston suddenly asks, with the kind of tone that's designed to piss people off.

Bucky decides to flip him off. "Shut your fucking mouth." Bucky says, and starts walking to the door. 

"Tell them to swing by if they're pretty!" Carlston yells at his retreating back, and Bucky shakes his head, laughs.

"Over my dead fucking body, Carlston, and you have a daughter."

"I could get a babysitter." Carlston replies, and Bucky turns to see him shrug innocently. 

"You're a goddamn menace." Bucky says, and walks out the door.

 

 

 

 

 

From one mess to another, it looks like this day is just fucking messy.

Bucky strolls right into the gym, because that's where the first newbie recruit squeaked out where Steve was after Bucky waved a knife in front of his face.

Steve and Natasha are in the middle of the empty room, on padded mats, with Clint and a strangely grime-covered Tony standing a few meters away.

When Bucky steps inside, Tony whirls around with grime in his tufty, curly hair and a smile that makes his heart skip a little beat. "Murder muffin! Buckaroo! You're finally back." 

Steve and Natasha turn as one, and Bucky raises an eyebrow at the group. "Fighting without me? I'm betrayed." He says and chuckles at Tony's feigned gasp, and Steve's laugh and Nat's eyeroll. Clint just sort of squints at him, and Bucky squints right back.

Steve breaks off, walks right over in long strides and presses a quick kiss to his lips. "Hey, sweetheart," Steve says lowly, blue eyes glowing and earnest. Bucky's always been in danger of getting lost in those blue eyes. "How was the trip?"

Bucky kisses back briefly, and leans in to whisper in Steve's ear, "Good. I've got a name."

"Great," Steve smiles and runs a hand through his tousled blond hair. "That's great, Buck. We'll go through it later. Come on, join us." And because Bucky can't ever resist it when his boyfriend asks him anything, he follows Steve back to the group.

"Bucky," Nat says in greetings and nods. "Good to see you. Got what you needed?"

"Nat," Bucky smiles. "I always do. Finished with the recruits already? Seven came in and four went straight home?"

Nat rolls her eyes, crosses her arms over her chest. "Five went home. Not even with any broken bones," she adds with an incredulous little toss of her red hair. "Just some bruises.

Steve gives a low whistle, shakes his head. "Must've been one hell of a bruise."

"Must've been one hell of an internal injury." Clint mutters under his breath.

Nat shrugs, steps forward and snaps her fingers in front of Tony. "In my day," she tells him. "We used to work to get where we are. We didn't quit. Not even when it got tough, not when we broke a few bones, we still got up."

"This pep-talk isn't making me feel better," Tony says with a little bit of whine in his voice as he reluctantly takes up stance. "Please let me go back to Happy, the man's a fucking wizard. I'm helping him with this energy circuit that's supposed to power a really cool blue-energized weapon, and—"

Nat throws a punch, a really soft one, at Tony's face and Bucky almost tries and stops it because Tony's still talking like the idiot he is but is completely shocked when the brunet sidesteps, ducks and puts his fists up to his face and throws a right hook which is infinitely better than the first one Bucky's seen him throw. 

Nat blocks the hook, responds with a low jab to Tony's underbelly and Bucky watches earnestly as Tony jumps right back, curls falling into his face and eyes bright with focus. Goddamn, if Tony looks this focused when he's fighting, Bucky could think of a hell lot more to occupy Tony with to get that look in his eye. 

Clint makes an approving noise, and says, "Go for her throat or her knees, Tony!" then a second's pause, and says, "Maybe just her knees." 

Tony gives a short laugh, dodges another flurry of blows from Nat and gets at least two of his own in. Bucky shares a look with Steve, who has a secret smile on his face that completely acknowledges how Bucky's internal organs are screaming at him to take Tony back to their room. 

"Good," Nat says as Tony does this adorable high kick thing with his left foot and she blocks it expertly. "But never take your eyes off the enemy." Tony gives a startled squeak as Nat pulls back on his extended left foot, uses it to turn Tony's weight and momentum against him and gives Tony a little push backwards. 

Tony yelps from his place on the mat, stares up at Nat with a shit-eating grin on his face. "That is such a Bruce-Lee thing to say," he announces with a smug wink. "You guys have the same nose and punch and everything. Are you guys related?"

Nat gives him an unimpressed look, but pulls Tony up anyway and says flatly, "Bruce Lee is a distant relative. My mom's side."

Tony stares back, wide-eyed. "No."

Nat continues to stare right back unflinchingly, and Tony's mid freakout is interrupted by Clint's guffaw from the side. "Oh, you fucking gullible bastard. You're smart enough to build a goddamn rocket into space but you believe this shit? Tones," Clint says and grabs Tony by the back of his neck and shakes him. "You're like Bambi. You'll just cease to exist on your own."

"Excuse you, asshole," Tony shoots back and turns in Clint's grasp. "I'll have you know I am nowhere as thick as orphaned Bambi and I do not have a white fluffy butt with a tiny brown tail."

"No, your ass is all grey hairs because of all the—" Clint starts to say, and is cut off mid sentence when Tony launches himself at his friend and they both go down in a tangle of limbs and garbled shrieks, and Clint yells from behind a mop of Tony's grimy brown hair, "Hey there are at least three master assassins in this room will one of you get this maggot ass off my back?"

"No," Bucky calls back down gleefully. "I fully support Tony. Tony, try and sound a little manlier when he grabs you like that."

"I'll make sure to grunt like a caveman whenever I am physically touched." Tony agrees and disappears underneath Clint's flailing arms. 

Steve sighs, shoots Bucky a fond look. "Come on, guys, break it off. Bucky's had a busy morning, Tony, tell him about your time with Happy," Steve tells the smaller brunet as he climbs to his feet. 

"Happy?" Bucky asks, swiveling to look at his boyfriend. "You got Happy to take an apprentice?"

Tony blows his hair away from his face, frowns at them. It's supposed to come off as threatening, Bucky faintly registers, but the only thing Tony's achieving is coming off as precious. "I'm not an apprentice. Just a helper. He's so nice, he lets me work with him and I actually get to work with metals and fires and gears..." he trails off, looking a little lost. "It's great. The kind of raw work I never got to do at MIT."

Nat nods, pats Tony on the back with a small smile. "I sometimes forget how sharp you are, kotenok."

Bucky raises his eyebrows at that, glances at Nat curiously, and looks away before he gets caught staring at the master Russian spy who can kill with her thighs. 

Tony smiles at her, wide and happy. "And once I finished working with Happy on his new electrical circuit, Steve came and got me and we visited Clint and Nat. Clint was shooting arrows, and he's fucking good at it. Right, Nat?" 

Clint clears his throat, shifts on his feet a little and Bucky chuckles at the subtle display of shyness. "I knew it. Saw you had a thing for arrows the second I caught you staring at the armory in the gym yesterday like a horny bird, trying to hide your fucking boner." Bucky says, and claps Clint on the shoulder heartily. "That's great."

"Buck," Steve scolds lightly. "We don't call people horny birds."

"If the shoe fits," Tony says, and then he starts laughing.

"Dick." Clint says, makes an aggravated noise in the back of his throat, but he's smiling anyways. 

"He's not bad." Nat says with an exasperated smile. "Better than some recruits."

"From you, I'm going to take that as a fucking compliment." Clint tells her with a proud tone.

"Well you should, she meant it as one." Bucky agrees with a hum and puts his hands on Steve's broad shoulders just because he can. 

"I'm confused as how to respond," Clint admits and stares beseechingly at Steve, who downright laughs about it. "There's no Wikihow on accepting compliments from mobsters."

Tony sniffs, still laughing, tries to hide a smile behind his hand. "You know they let anyone edit those articles, right? You could just be one of those unnamed bald divorced guys hunting for a weakness. You were born for it." he adds with a convincing nod. 

It's dangerous, Bucky thinks distantly. How comfortable they're all getting, to the point where they can just all kind of laugh and poke around with each other. How comfortable Nat is, to give Tony endearing nicknames in Russian and for Steve to let himself go and open in a way he never really is when they're at the compound. It's scary how well Tony and Clint fits into their little merry band of miscreants, how well they click. It shouldn't be happening, he knows, it should be over in less than four days. It really fucking should. He, Nat, and goddamn Steve, most of all, shouldn't be getting used to this. They all know that.

But the longer he spends with them, the less reason he sees not to enjoy having them around, while they're still here.

Steve pulls him out of his thoughts with a hard tug on his sleeve, and Bucky snaps back to attention. 

Steve has his phone in his hand, and he's looking worried about it. "Buck, she just landed two hours ago. Here, in New York."

"Who?" Bucky asks, searching Steve's blue eyes. 

His boyfriend's face is tight, mouth pulled in a line. "Sharon. She wasn't supposed to be back for another week, which means it was Peggy. Peggy called her to come back."