There was something Winter needed, that he kept reaching for, but he couldn't get there. It was a dream from before, where pain and confusion would fade and he wouldn't have this mess of conflicting orders and old commands with no way to carry them out, where he could rest…
But he couldn't reach it. He couldn't even tell for certain what he was reaching for, but it seemed to be on the other side of his combat stance, the aspect that sharpened his senses and increased his strength and speed, to make him a better tool for Hydra. Or a better soldier for Mother Russia? Or for the US? Combat stance was more confusing, but he was sure somewhere beyond it he could find peace.
There was some passage of time - hiding, stealing food, running so he wouldn't have to choose who to fight. More memories came, but only caused greater confusion, as they fought for truth in his mind. Had he been an American soldier, or only pretended to be one for the Soviets? Or had he pretended to be a Soviet for Hydra? He needed the calm simplicity of… something.
He finally made a breakthrough of sorts while he huddled out of the rain, hands gripping a fire escape railing as he tried to find what was beyond the stance. He looked at one hand, turned gnarled and hairy, sharp claws and strength increased to match the other. The other metal hand which didn't change at all.
The metal arm didn't shift with him. Not in any way, and there was the slightest of pulls in the shoulder that told him it would hold his body in place with its anchors if he tried to change further in that way he craved. And he knew that whatever it was that he was craving, whatever lay past his combat stance, he would not be able to reach it with his arm as it was.
Now the question was how to change that.
"So, what, you're trying to tell me that people don't want a cell phone that turns into a little construct pet? That's crazy, Pepper." He patted Phoney III, which had flown over to perch on his shoulder while he video chatted.
"Tell me honestly, has any device you have turned into construct ever done the job it was designed for afterwards?"
"Now that's just mean, Pep! These little guys have personalities. You know full well that I can make limited AIs for the commercial stuff that won't develop side goals or be abusable." The latter was actually more important to him, no matter how much other people feared a construct uprising. No way was he putting one of his brain babies into the hands of some random kid who probably pulls the wings off of flies. "And I did prototypes for some of the Avengers, they love them."
His CEO sighed, but pulled up a document and added it to the screen gamely enough. "Everyone would want a construct pet phone that you made them personally, Tony, it's the mass production that people have a problem with. We've updated the market research yearly, and there's been some small gains, but…"
"Right, but people are frightened or offended or both by magic items that aren't handcrafted." He knew people thought that way, and hated making Pepper explain it to him like he didn't, but it just seemed so obvious that it could be done with precise enough manufacturing methods that, well, he was always amazed anew that it just hadn't sunk in yet .
Pepper was looking sympathetic instead of annoyed, at least. "Some things society just moves slowly on, and you can't get them on board by showing them how neat it is. I'll authorize a run of a hundred to test the consistency under factory conditions and we can use them for special gifts, charity auctions, that sort of thing. We won't make a big deal of the mass production or hide it, and maybe people will get to talking."
Tony smiled. They both knew that he could fund something like that privately, but these compromises between his vision as SI's owner and Pepper's pragmatism as CEO were important to maintain even in smaller matters. "Thank you, Miss Potts, that sounds like an excellent starting point."
Once the call was finished up, Tony decided to take a quick "bait walk" to clear his head. Rhodey rolled his eyes when he called it that, and Pepper and Happy got unreasonably stressed about his mental health, but he'd had thirty- cough [REDACTED] cough years since his first kidnapping scare to accept the reality of being Tony Stark, and if he wanted to tempt any stalkers into making a move on his terms, well, it doubled as a nice breath of fresh air.
After all, if being the son of a millionaire, and then a billionaire himself hadn't been enough, or when he announced himself as a Master Artificer in addition to a technological genius (in spite of having never shown the slightest magical spark,) being Iron Man as well as the Avengers' backer was all the excuse needed for cultists, conquerors and freelancers alike to play "let's kidnap Tony" as often as every other month. So he wasn't entirely surprised when halfway across the loading dock shortcut he took back to the lab (right where there was a blind spot in the security cameras - professional) he felt as much as heard a weight dropping towards him from above.
He was a little surprised when his random roll away was compensated for immediately (maybe supernatural?) and an iron grip (pretty literally, enhanced?) clamped down over his watch gauntlet. And again when an unnaturally calloused and clawed hand (supernatural and enhanced?) went to his throat.
"Do anything but comply and I will rip your throat out."
Winter was very capable of bluffing, but in this case there was no need. The artificer he had found was the best option to aid him by a wide margin, but not the only one. And he came with risks to the mission that most didn't. So if there was any sign this wouldn't work, he was prepared to kill the man and disappear.
He didn't expect the tiny flare of magic he felt in response to his words from something on the target's chest, or for someone who was known to be an extremely uncooperative captive (and had been entertainingly alert and fast) to freeze completely at his words. "Well that's new. Most people know I'm more valuable alive than dead."
A truth detection charm then. Highly unusual, even inappropriate for casual use, but the target was known to subvert social norms. Useful to Winter though, since his threats required only the truth to be effective. "You are, but my freedom is more valuable than you alive." Without letting go of the weaponized watch, he adjusted his metal arm to support his captive better. "Hold on to me," he ordered, and leapt back up to the rooftop he had been hiding on.
He went across a couple of rooftops, then when he had disabled the watch and left its pieces behind said, "Don't flail," and slid down a fancy edifice to slip through the window he had left open earlier to a floor under reconstruction. As he dodged equipment, he considered that his target was being surprisingly cooperative. Not only was he not flailing, the Artificer had as strong a grip on the soldier as could be expected in the awkward position and was tensing his core and legs to reduce dead weight and avoid entangling their movements.
He reminded himself not to fall into a false sense of complacency. The target believed in his willingness to kill and additionally didn't want to be dropped, but there would be no way to maintain this immediacy of threat for the entire mission. This was the part where a handler would usually step in to make decisions, but Winter was acting as his own handler.
The truth detection charm might continue to be useful. Winter's goals affected no one but himself and while he had originally assumed the standard procedure of killing the Artificer when the mission was completed, it would not be… unreasonable to arrange an unconscious drop somewhere safe instead. Negotiation could be fruitful, as unusual a tactic as it was.
Sliding down a trash chute and leapfrogging dumpsters behind the building, Winter briefly considered that the target was actually quite pleasant to hold onto. Not only was he compact and somehow soft in spite of his obvious strength, his scent was clean of both excessive chemicals and strong magical influences. The pure mundanity he exuded was confusing in an Artificer (or a superhero) but soothing to the part of the soldier that always anticipated conflict with the supernatural.
It was another way in which this was the optimal target for the mission. Work on the arm would be less stressful, and while he had planned to keep the Artificer immobilized when Winter required rest, the idea of simply keeping him close like this was… not unpleasant.
If the metal arm hadn't been clue enough, the passenger carrying parkour that took them to another (less well surveilled) loading dock made it pretty clear who he was being kidnapped by. Because while a were's transitional form was useful for intimidation and when claws and manual dexterity were both wanted, it was usually slightly clumsy compared to full humanity and only marginally stronger. This kind of superpowered half shift was the exclusive domain of old movies and superweres.
And on a Venn diagram of the sets "metal arm," "superwere" and "cold blooded killer," the intersection of all three was currently occupied by only one man, the Winter Soldier, aka James Barnes, aka Cap's Bucky. (Also aka his childhood hero and parents' assassin, but he'd had a few months of research, rage and blackout engineering to come to terms with that, and was withholding any personal judgement until he could get the man's story directly from the source.)
That left him with a bit of a dilemma, what with the claws still poised over his throat. "Listen buddy, I appreciate you being upfront about your priorities, so I'm gonna be honest in return." He paused slightly, but so far, so not dead. "The way I see it, the only way for me to get out of this is to hope you don't ask for anything I can't comply with, or to kill you."
The clawed hand tightened infinitesimally, but his captor sounded merely professional when he half stated, "An armed and magically cloaked drone that will respond to a subvocalized command?"
"If you weren't literally holding my life in your hand, HILDA would have attacked by now, but I have to authorize kill shots. And I'm hesitant to give that command, because… well for a lot of reasons, but most relevantly because we have a mutual acquaintance you may or may not remember."
Barnes was as still as a statue, but responded quickly. "Steve Rogers, called Captain America. There are… conflicting memories, but his most recent behavior prioritised my life and health."
"Yeah, I gotta tell you, he's prioritising the hell out of your life and health, so unless it's straight out you or me, it's in my best interests that you come out of this alive." Barnes was still alert, but mostly peaceful, so Tony put on his best friendly negotiation voice. "All that considered, maybe before we disappear into whatever lair you have in mind, you tell me what you want from me, and I tell you if it's something I'd rather die than do, and if it isn't, we negotiate some terms to convince my AI to call off the pursuit?"
"And if it is?"
Casual shrugs were hard when one is in a death threat hug, but he thought he mostly pulled it off. "I'm willing to call 'no blood; no foul' and walk away. I won't even report all this."
There was a long, considering pause. Tony would have honestly felt better if he knew whether Barnes was considering his trustworthiness, or just the chances of ripping his throat out and getting away from HILDA. But finally the superwere held out his metal arm for display while shifting slightly towards human and back. "It does not change. It pulls when I… it needs to change. You will enchant it."
For a moment he staggered and thought he might throw up as the full implications hit him. "You can't actually shift. You… they prevented you from being a full wolf for over sixty years?"
It was hard to say why, but he would swear even without being able to see him that Barnes was blinking. "Wolf?"
"Yes, wolf!" Had it been so long, and such complete brainwashing, that Barnes had forgotten a fundamental part of himself? "You are a werewolf. You can be a full human, or like this, and you should be able to be a wolf."
"Oh…" Wonder filled the superwere's voice and his grip softened for a moment. "That's what I've been looking for!"
Winter's half formed plan to continue enjoying contact with the Artificer ran into a problem as soon as he tried to enact it in the workshop he had prepared. The man objected to certain kinds of touch and the proposed sleeping arrangements, leading to a distinctly unproductive conversation, before he closed his eyes for a few moments and started again.
"Okay, we just have a bit of a… culture clash here. I didn't think to specify that my body wasn't included in the deal, because the way my world operates, you don't have rights to other people's bodies. You didn't think to specify, er, enjoying me, because I agreed to be a prisoner, and I'm assuming you've been living for a while in a world where prisoners' bodies were, erm, available."
Winter considered this. "Not just prisoners. You are… under my authority." It was true that he did not think to specify. He still wasn't entirely sure of the problem, though he supposed that some officers could be unnecessarily rough. "I would not damage you in any way."
The Artificer smiled slightly, which was… nice. "I appreciate that, but in modern American culture, when you aren't part of evil shadow organizations, authority is not universal. When I was CEO of Stark Industries, I technically had authority over every employee in the entire company. But it would have been wrong, not to mention illegal, to even ask any of them for access to their bodies. And there are laws about how prisoners should be treated as well."
This was a lot to think about. He knew that Hydra was harsh, and that their goals and missions had to be hidden from the wider world. The few times he had seen news on Hydra's fall, they had used words like "evil" and "cruel" to describe them. But he had never considered that their internal methods might be considered just as wrong.
"Hey, I get that this is different from what you've known for a very long time." The Artificer moved back closer to him and gently took hold of his flesh hand. "And I'm not saying you can't touch me at all. I'm just very big on consent, and any more than casual contact in this situation raises a host of issues. Are we good?"
Winter looked at their hands for a moment. This level of touch was still nice, as was the Artificer's smell. He nodded sharply. "I will cease contact when requested, you may touch me as long as I am aware it is coming. I am sometimes easily startled."
"Fair enough, Bucky Bear!" He attempted to restrain the flinch, but wasn't surprised that it was noticed. "Sorry, I do a lot of nicknames. And technically, you haven't given me anything to call you."
"I am Winter now. I remember being Bucky… but I also remember 'Bucky' being a lie I had to tell for my mission. It is why I need the wolf, to make everything simpler." It was so incredibly satisfying to be able to name the state he was working towards.
"Okay, Winter Wolf, and you can call me Tony. Let's see what we have to work with here and figure out what our first step should be."
Tony rapidly determined that the first step was to get some xray and other imaging equipment delivered by HILDA. "There have been some prior enchantments placed - looks like waterproofing and some gradual self repair - but they seem to only be on the outer panels. I need to determine if the arm is a Whole Item before we move on."
"The arm is functional and therefore whole. You are saying nonsense, and trying to gather intel."
"Okay, I can see how you could feel that way, but, no." He supposed he should be more concerned about the Snow Miser getting cranky, but why start the self preservation instincts now? "A Whole Item in artificer terms means that you can place one enchantment on it and it will automatically all be affected."
"But… why wouldn't it be?"
"Here, lemme give you an example." Tony pulled his wallet out of his pocket and held it up. "Suppose I want to enchant this so that it turns into a rabid chipmunk and bites pickpockets." He took the small snort as the equivalent of a laugh and moved on. "Now the wallet itself was manufactured to be a single usable item, it doesn't have any removable parts, and is made of a small number of materials, all pretty evenly distributed through it. It is definitely a Whole Item, and I could place the appropriate sigil anywhere on it and use one enchantment to transform it completely into a rabid chipmunk."
Winter narrowed his eyes slightly and said, "But there are things inside, that are not part of the same object."
He couldn't help the bright grin that spread over his face. "Exactamundo, my young padawan!" He flipped the wallet open to show various cards and cash. "As manufactured it is a Whole Item, but as I carry it in my pocket, it isn't. If I put the single enchantment on it, the first pickpocket would get a handful of exploded chipmunk and some unpleasantly sticky credit cards. Not what I'm going for at all."
He caught a quietly grumbled, "At least you wouldn't have a rabid animal in your pocket," as the superwere nodded, and grinned.
"The good news is, there are some fairly straightforward prep enchantments I could do to designate the wallet as a container, which then allows anything inside it to be affected by subsequent enchantments, and save the chipmunk."
"Why couldn't you use those on the plating as a safety?"
It seemed the Winter Wonder was not keen at all on getting scans taken, and Tony tried to tone down his enthusiasm to something approaching calm and understanding. "For the inside versus outside, that would work, but I'm most concerned with how deeply it might be anchored in your body." He carefully touched the were's metal shoulder and traced gently down his back. That cut some of the tension at least, the poor guy really was touch starved. "All of this just hanging from the socket would be a frightening idea in terms of bioengineering, but if there is internal support, that presents its own problems with the enchanting work. I need to get a look at what I'm dealing with."
"Will your drone be able to bring that sort of equipment here?"
"Yeah, I have some handheld prototypes for field triage that will show me what's going on inside, and I can play with different factors to narrow down the likely materials involved." The tension dropped even more, and Tony gave a reassuring smile and a scritch between the shoulder blades. "Nothing that will be surrounding you or restraining in any way, I promise. You're in control here."
The Artificer - Tony was his preferred designation - delivered well on his promises. Winter only had to stand still for a few seconds at a time and move the metal arm as requested. Tony flitted around him taking readings and recording seemingly random bits of data, with an excitement and joy that Hydra mechanics had never shown.
"This isn't perfect, Icicle, but so far it's looking better than I hoped for. You good for a couple more minutes?"
After translating what a couple of Tony Minutes would likely be in reality, he nodded. "I am comfortable." That was another difference from the maintenance and diagnostics he was accustomed to - Tony cared about his comfort, and not just out of fear. (Perhaps not at all out of fear; the Artificer seemed to have little in the way of self preservation.)
"Okay, good news first or bad news?" Tony asked after something surprisingly close to a couple of minutes.
Winter like being talked to like a person, even if he didn't always know the right answers. "The most relevant information should always be first, in case a debriefing is interrupted."
He was rewarded by a brilliant grin. "Okay then, the internal structure is different enough in materials and form that it can't be considered a Whole Item with the arm." Winter was guided to sit near a worktable, and the Artificer held his flesh hand as he continued. "That was the bad news, by the way. The good news is that it's made from a magically neutral material, and has replaced your bones rather than being grafted to them. I suspect that they wanted to leave their options open to do this sort of enchantment themselves but decided not to for whatever reason."
"The wolf is resistant to mental manipulations," he put in. Simply being told he had a wolf form had helped bring back more memories of it, and solidified his sense that it would help him understand his fractured identity. "What will need to be done to enchant that portion?"
"I need to be able to physically get at a section of the metal that is around one by two inches, and work on it for… depending on how much prep can be done beforehand, I'd say between half an hour and two hours. I can give you a better idea on that after I've fully designed the enchantment."
Winter thought about this for a few minutes, during which Tony shifted closer and linked their ankles together. The Artificer was good at sensing when he needed more contact and, as promised, was willing to provide it within certain boundaries.
"I will need to be able to keep you under threat for the procedure, so it cannot be done on my back. Show me the internal structure."
"I guess that's a 'no' to doing this at a hospital or with any decent anaesthesia then, huh?" Winter only dignified the question with a small scowl as he pulled the other chair over to his side so that he could see the tablet which held all the scans. (And so Tony would be closer. He would have liked to just put him in his lap, but that was apparently outside the bounds of casual contact.)
"Here, on the lower ribs. There is no need for anaesthesia, and I can cut and repair the flesh myself."
"Can I talk you into a local, at least?" The Artificer looked unreasonably distressed about the simple seeming procedure. "I really don't like the idea of you being in that much pain."
Oh. That was nice. Winter found himself smiling slightly, and pulled the other man close for a moment. "If your drone can bring lidocaine, that would be acceptable." It would make little difference to his effectiveness, and easing Tony's distress would be worth it.
It was at times like these when Tony wished he had an extra hand or two. (Totally doable, by the way, but for some reason people got very worked up when he suggested grafting construct or robotic limbs to himself.) Just, you know, one to trace the sigils, one to place the materials, one to blot the blood before it got in the way, and maybe a spare to give Barnes the occasional reassuring pat. Nothing excessive, we aren't talking Doc Ock or anything.
He made do, though. He could blot and place with the same hand if need be, and since he'd practically climbed into the superwere's lap by ten minutes into the work, patting wasn't really needed.
"You doing okay there, Snowdrop? Do you need any more numbing?"
"I am comfortable." Yeah, from that low rumble in his voice and the flesh hand 'steadying' him on his perch, Tony thought things might be getting a little more comfortable than he was, well, comfortable with, at least on principle. Insert joke about his lack of principles here, yeah, ha ha, but he'd rather everyone was compos mentis and not a prisoner before he fulfilled his lifelong desire to climb Bucky Barnes like a tree.
Luckily things were wrapping up. A traditional artificer would have taken days of ritual and probably carved runes over half of Winter's skin, but Tony had spent years deconstructing those rituals and runes back into their base concepts - the machine language of enchantment as he thought of it. Then he applied the techniques of micro circuitry and laboratory grade purified materials to make their implementation so efficient that even someone as magically average as himself could trigger them.
Speaking of… "Okay, Winter, final step, you may feel the sensation of the enchantment activating, but no worse than when we did the arm." The initial mirroring enchantment had gone smoothly, and had worked as far as the transitional form, but this was the real hurdle.
After a last blot, he placed one hand an inch above the inscribed rib and the other over the equivalent spot on the other side of Barnes' chest. As he moved his hands symmetrically to mirror the metal implants with their matching bones, he cleared his head as well as he could.
In this moment Barnes couldn't be his teenage crush (though this new version was worthy of some adult crushing too) or Cap's best buddy (Rogers would probably be mad he didn't send a message when he was getting supplies) or even his parents' murderer (a final judgement of not guilty had been easy when he saw just how completely the were's ability to make moral choices had been destroyed.) He was just a skeleton in two halves, which had to be convinced to change as one.
The slight burst of heat as he circled back to the enchantment site would have been enough of a sign of activation even without the sudden wave of exhaustion that he felt. The tiny twitch of Winter's shoulder, which he took as a shudder of sensation, was just added confirmation.
"There we go, now to get you closed up, can you hold-"
Gentle hands, flesh and metal, eased his away from the incision. "I will handle it. You will rest."
"Rest? But there's a big wound. And testing. And…"
"And rest." He was slid back off the (comfy) lap into his own seat, and he hated to admit it, but once he hit the chair back, he didn't want to sit up again. So he just wouldn't admit it. He'd fall asleep before it could come up and win the argument by default. That would show Winter.
"Yes, that has certainly shown me. Sleep, Tony."
Ha, showed him.
Once Tony was settled as comfortably as possible, Winter sealed the incision with a few dabs of surgical glue and cleaned the space up.
Now that the enchantments were completed, there would be no need to stay in the workshop. He would miss it, to some extent, but mostly he would be missing Tony. It was shocking in a way to remember that he had casually planned the man's murder at the outset of this all - both because of the affection he now engendered, and his renewed awareness of how people were meant to behave outside, as the Artificer has put it, evil shadow organizations.
Hopefully that better behaviour would become natural once his wolf had time to sort things out. He had found Tony's closeness during the enchantment very pleasant, and he wanted to be able to ask for more without causing distress.
Luckily, all he had to do now was transform. He held his hands out and shifted to his combat stance, watching the metal hand turn just as gnarled and clawed as the flesh. With the second enchantment, the tugging sensation was gone, and he just had to change the rest of the way.
Just change the rest of the way. There was nothing stopping him now, he could just push to the other side and be the wolf.
Nothing stopping him, but he realized he was whining under his breath and clenching his fists so hard the flesh one was bleeding from his claws. Angrily, he shook his arms out and began pacing.
"Hey Cold Snap, everything alright?" Tony had woken from his post-enchanting nap and stood to intercept him.
He shook his head; clearly something was far from alright. "I cannot change."
Confusion and distress instantly filled the Artificer's face. "It didn't work? I'm so sorry, Winter, I swear I'll fix this, we'll just have to-"
"No." He grabbed Tony's hands as they started to flail. "It is not that. I am not able… I cannot bring myself to try to change. I want it so much, but…"
"Oh. Oh, Winter." The other man turned soft and gentle in a moment and pulled him in for a hug. "I should have thought of this. It's been so long, and you must have tried so many times at the beginning with it hurting so much. Of course you'd have a bit of a… you know, mental block on fully transforming."
Winter nodded. The tug wasn't there, but the belief that he would be stopped was so deep he had forgotten the wolf entirely rather than be tempted to try. With Tony's sympathy, it was easier to see the issue as another obstacle, rather than a failure. "Now what?"
Tony shrugged and shifted over, still hugging him, but from the side. "I guess just try to relax and let it come naturally? Here, change all the way back to human for a moment." Winter did, and Tony moved back some so he could place a hand on each shoulder, fingers trailing his collarbones. "Now go back to your transitional form."
He changed again, and was almost too distracted by watching his arm to feel what Tony was looking for under his skin. "The bones…"
He could hear the other man's happy grin in his voice. "I could feel the shift on both sides. You always looked a little lopsided when you shifted, and I thought it was just the arm, but there's a bit of growth and hunching of the shoulders too." Tony leaned in and rested his chin on his metal shoulder, one hand slipping down to touch the now healed skin over the enchantment and the other lazily embracing him. "It worked, Winter. The metal is changing right along with the bones on the other side. Whenever you're ready, it will work, and changing will never hurt you again."
The words filled him with warmth, but the warmth of Tony's breath in his ear and the line of heat where they were pressed together was just as significant to his renewed sense of purpose. The mission to gain his wolf form was over, and if he wanted this man in his life as something other than a target or prisoner, the first step to that mission was being whole.
He took a moment just to feel and remember this closeness, then leaned forward until he fell…
And landed on one flesh and one metal paw.
Tony was returning from another bait walk, this time with Phoney Beta flitting around his head and taking random pictures. (Not that he was allowed to call them that - marketing was already testing all number of names and would undoubtedly end up with the Stark Something-Or-Other, because 'branding is important, Tony!')
It wasn't as personable as the original Phoneys, but 85% of the first test group cooed at it, so it wasn't bad, either. And the picture taking behaviour was popular among the social media obsessed crowd, and sometimes caught interesting things.
Like now, when Phoney Beta was circling a very large wolf with one metal leg that lay sunning himself right in the blind spot Tony had been kidnapped out of a few months ago.
"Well, hello there, Frosty Paws. No death threats this time?"
The wolf clambered to his feet and stretched. Then kept right on stretching into Winter, dressed in the traditionally woven tunic and pants that were popular among shifters. (An enchanted item that had snuck into mass production as little grandma weres had quietly upgraded their looms with the times.) He looked healthier, happier and better groomed, overall nothing Tony could object to seeing.
"I'm sorry about that. The, uh, death threat. And the kidnapping. And anything that made you uncomfortable." The were was actually blushing a little as he added to the apology, and Tony was sure that at least 90% of a test group would coo.
"It's okay and you know it. I take it the wolf helped get things settled upstairs?"
"It did, a lot. What memories were real, which were lies, which were real, but I was a lie… uh, that's how wolf thinking saw my, um, missions. And I was able to track down some of the Barnes pack, which helped with the emotional stuff and some practical matters."
"Glad to hear it." Tony really was. He had been prepared to throw himself into fixing things for Winter on a legal and financial level, but he also didn't want him to feel indebted. "So, do you still want to be called Winter, or…?"
"On the rare occasions you use my name? I've been going by James, but I wouldn't mind Winter from you any more than I think I'll mind Bucky from Steve when we get in touch."
"Oh." Tony's heart dropped just a bit, but he kept his smile up. "Is that what you stopped by for? Avengers aren't currently assembled, but I can message Cap easily enough."
"Nah, he's still associated with the pack and will get a message next time he's state side. I, uh, actually came here because, well..." The blush was back and Tony felt a lot safer enjoying it. "I think I've figured out how modern Americans who aren't part of evil shadow organizations go about addressing attraction, and I thought I could… buy you a coffee?"
He took Winter's hand, grinning so wide his face hurt. "I love coffee, and I've been wanting to have one with you for, well, longer than I should probably admit on the first date."
"Oh, really?" Winter was smiling too, and started leading him back to the main street and, presumably, coffee. "How long could that have been?"
"Well… I don't know if you've heard about certain post war propaganda and comic books…"
Phoney Beta flitted after them happily, capturing the steadily shrinking distance between the two as they walked and laughed.