“I really think I would look best in a purple tux.”
Bucky nodded and pressed his cell phone between his ear and shoulder as he stirred together the mixings for his apple pie crust. Tony had been stressing a lot lately, and Bucky knew the homemade treat was just what Tony needed to unwind. Tony loved Bucky’s baked goods with a passion. He would hole himself away from the rest of the world for hours just to enjoy Bucky’s cooking. “I’m sure you would, Tony.”
“But don’t you think one of us should be in white?”
“I’ll be in white.”
“But you look so much better in black, babe.”
“Isn’t white supposed to be a symbol of virginity? I think all of our teammates can attest neither one of us is a virgin.”
“If either of you two are virgins, then I’m a Velociraptor.” Clint swooped around Bucky and scooped up some half-formed crust with his finger. “Pie crust?”
Bucky slapped Clint’s hand away.
“In most Western cultures: yes. In Eastern ones white means death,” Tony went on.
Clint grinned and lunged for the bowl. Bucky elbowed Clint in the chest and held the mixing bowl high over his head. “I didn’t think you’d be concerned about that, but okay, wear the purple.”
“But Bucky, white goes better with your black tux! Plus, imagine the gossip rags freaking out because playboy Tony Stark had the gall to wear white at his wedding.”
Clint picked up an apple and threw it at the bowl.
Bucky just managed to duck in time to avoid the bowl getting knocked out of his hand. He punched Clint in the leg.
“Ow!” Clint gathered his injured leg to his chest and bounced around on one foot. “Fuck.”
“Well, if scandal is what you’re looking for, Tony, then you should wear a white dress. Hell, if it will make you happy, I’ll wear a black dress too. Honestly, we could walk down the aisle in nothing but brown paper bags and I wouldn’t care as long as we got married.”
“You’d really wear a black wedding dress for me? With lace and a sweetheart bodice?”
Bucky settled the mixing bowl on the counter as he frowned suspiciously at Tony’s words. “Tony dear, it sounds like you’ve been thinking about me in a wedding dress.”
“Well, someone has too!”
Laughter burst from Bucky. Tony was so ridiculous; it was one of the many reasons Bucky loved him. Tony was always able to make him laugh. “Okay, sweetie, whatever you say.”
Bucky’s phone beeped, signaling that a text message had come through.
“Now, the other question is: should one of us have a bouquet?”
“Hold on a sec, Tony.” Bucky pulled his phone back from his ear to check the message.
It was Pepper.
Bucky knew without looking why Pepper had texted him. “Hey, Tones, Pepper texted me.”
“Shit! What time is it? Crap. That’s the third time I’ve been late to the R&D meetings this week. Although, if they would just calibrate the damn thing correctly on the first try—”
“Bye, Tony. Have fun with R&D,” Bucky sing-songed cheerfully.
“Got it. Got it. Bye. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Bucky hung up before Tony could delay their goodbyes with an arbitrary comment or question at the last second.
Clint pretended to choke.
Bucky feinted a smack to Clint’s head. The archer ducked.
“You got something to say, Barton?”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all.” Clint gripped his hands behind his back and batted his eyelashes at Bucky. “Well, maybe just one little thing.” Clint pinched his fingers together in demonstration. “You and Tony are too disgustingly cute.” Clint fake vomited.
Steve and Natasha chose that moment to wander into the kitchen.
“What are you two doing now?” Steve asked.
“Dying.” Clint choked.
Bucky rolled his eyes. He picked up his bowl of pie crust mixings and held it up for Steve to see. “I’m just trying to be a good fiancé and make something special for Tony.” Bucky jabbed his thumb over his shoulder at Clint. “Blondie here is doing his best impersonation of a five-year-old crying out for attention.”
“You have clearly not been around enough five year-olds if you think what I’m doing is crying out for attention. It’s more like this.” Clint grabbed Bucky’s shoulders from behind and bounced up and down. “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Come see what I did! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! C’mon, Dad! Dad! Dad! Hello! Dad? Why are you not hurrying up? Da—”
Natasha shoved an apple into Clint’s mouth to shut him up.
“Not everyone was as terrible a child as you.” Natasha bopped Clint on the nose.
Amusement shone in Steve’s eyes, but he made no comment. “So, Bucky, were you planning on sharing any of your food with us?”
“You ain’t a scrawny kid anymore. Go get your own food, and stop mooching off of mine. Only Tony can do that, and that’s because he forgets to eat for three days.”
“Are you sure it’s not because Tony gives you the eyes?” Steve teased.
The eyes, also known as the most pitiful morose expression Bucky has ever seen on a human being, was Tony’s trademark trick for getting what he wanted out of Bucky, and Tony didn’t even know how he did it. Yes, Tony would give Bucky sad eyes when he wanted something, but the eyes was utterly different from the forced puppy dog eyes. The eyes was an expression of such deep sorrow that one would think Tony had watched his friend die in front of him, but what made it so much worse was that Tony’s grief was tainted with acceptance, like Tony deserved to have his theoretical friend die and have to watch it happen. It brought out all of Bucky’s protective and nurturing instincts—instincts that when he had first joined the Avengers he had thought had been long buried under decades of programming.
Bucky could still remember the first time he cooked something and Tony had wandered into the kitchen. Tony had asked if he could have one bite of the rice dish, and Bucky had refused.
A second later, the eyes had come out, stupefying Bucky into speechlessness. He’d watched Tony nod, make a snide comment that held no bite about how he bought everything, and then Tony left the room.
The next time Bucky had made food, he’d gone out of his way to share with Tony.
“Uh-oh, lover boy is thinking about Tony again.” There was a loud crunch as Clint bit into his apple. “Judging by the furrowed brow and the recent topic, I’d say Bucky is reliving the moment of deep-seated guilt when he didn’t feed Tony.”
“I agree.” Natasha perched against the kitchen counter as she drank from a bottle of water she’d procured from the fridge.
“He was just so sad.” Bucky hugged the mixing bowl to his chest. “You’d think he was the one who grew up during the Depression with the way he reacted.”
“We know, Bucky. You’ve only told us a thousand times.” Clint huffed.
“I think it’s cute,” Steve chimed in, taking a seat at the kitchen table. He picked up the newspaper that Tony special ordered for him (Tony liked to give Steve hell for it, but it was obvious Tony was just happy that he could buy something for his friend, even if it was a “smear” on his futurist persona).
“Which brings us back to how puke-worthy you two are,” Clint stated. “I bet you two are going to have heart-shaped rose bouquets at your wedding, aren’t you?”
Bucky shrugged. “If that’s what Tony wants, then yes.”
“How about doves?”
“Again, if it’s what Tony wants.”
“Really?” Clint pressed. “There isn’t one thing you wouldn’t allow Tony to have at your wedding?”
“Well, I thought nuclear weapons of mass destruction and our enemies was a given, but I’ll double check to make sure he knows.”
“Bucky requested pigs in a blanket for the after party,” Natasha stated.
Bucky frowned. “I’d ask how you know that, but I know you.”
Natasha smiled coyly.
“And that’s the only thing you want at your wedding, besides Tony, of course?” Clint asked.
“An open bar, but Tony already had that planned.”
Clint groaned. “I’m surrounded by lovesick idiots.”
“Aw, c’mon, Clint. You know what it’s like to be in love.” Steve grinned. “Just let them have this.”
Clint opened his mouth to argue, but was cut off by the piercing wail of the Avengers alarm.
Steve jumped out of his chair. “Avengers, assemble.” Steve bolted out of the room and towards the hangar room where the quinjet was stored.
Natasha and Clint sprinted after Steve.
Bucky looked down at the bowl of unfinished pie crust in his arms. He sighed forlornly and stashed the bowl in the fridge. There’d be no surprising Tony when he got home today. At least Tony would still appreciate the pie even if it was delivered hours after they got home.
With the bowl tucked away in the fridge, Bucky chased after Steve and the others.
Rumlows—Rumlows everywhere, or Crossbones as the man had taken to calling himself over the years. God, Bucky fucking hated him. Maybe it was because of a long forgotten memory from his time as Hydra’s weapon? Or maybe it was because the guy was a sadistic sellout who loved Hydra. Anyone who felt anything positive toward Hydra would rub Bucky the wrong way, but Brock Rumlow especially.
Which was why, Bucky happily shot the asshole point blank in the forehead.
The man went down. A blue electrical surge ran over his spasming body.
“One Life Model Decoy down,” Bucky said into the comms.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Steve’s voice came over the comms. “His movements are all wrong. He’s attacking civilians with no purpose. He’s sloppy and he’s running. He’s forcing us to separate and chase after his LMDs.”
“Well, what do you want us to do, Cap?” Sam’s gunfire could be heard over the comms.
“I’m inclined to not do what he wants,” Steve’s statement was punctuated by his Shield striking down his LMD of Rumlow.
Bucky caught movement from the corner of his eye and ducked behind a car in time to avoid a shower of bullets. “I’m fine with sticking together, but if he keeps venturing out into the city, more people are going to die.”
“Code Green?” Bruce’s timid voice came over the comms.
“Still too much risk of collateral damage, big guy,” Natasha answered.
“Scarlet Witch. Iron Man. What are your positions?”
“Almost there, Captain,” Wanda answered. “Iron Man never showed, but I’m approaching the police barrier. I see one of the LMDs not too far away.”
Bucky pushed down the knot of concern in his chest. Right before the attack, Wanda had been all the way across the city, and Tony was supposed to put on his suit and bring her to the fight, since Vision was currently soul searching across the globe and could not fly her over, Thor was in Asgard, and Rhodey was somewhere in the middle east.
“I don’t like this,” Steve said.
“Really?” Bucky used the side mirror of the car to peer through the window and see if Rumlow or one of his LMDs was approaching. “Because I’m just having a glorious time.” Bucky rolled under the car and shot Rumlow in the kneecap.
The decoy cried out, and sparks shot out from its knee.
Bucky fired off another shot at the decoy’s head. Steve was right; something was wrong. The decoys were designed to mimic the original perfectly, so why would they be putting up such a lousy fight? With this many Rumlows running around, the Avengers should be full of bullet holes and bringing out the Hulk to keep the decoys occupied while they sent back their tech based fighters and set up EMPs.
Clint whistled in appreciation over the comms. “Damn girl, remind me never to piss you off. You just tore three of those things apart with no effort.”
“I’ve had a rough day, and I needed the stress relief,” Wanda’s smile could be heard in her voice.
“Bruce,” Steve said. “Patch FRIDAY in. I want to know what’s going on with Iron Man.”
“I’ve been trying to do that since Wanda reported in. FRIDAY is not responding.”
Bucky’s heart froze over in fear. Besides SHIELD there was another organization that Bucky knew of that used LMDs: AIM. “Steve,” Bucky’s voice wobbled.
“We need you on the field, soldier,” Steve said, knowing just by the tone of Bucky’s voice that it was taking all of Bucky’s willpower not to run off to Tony’s last known location.
“Steve, consider what we’re fighting against as well as who,” Bucky argued.
“Winter has a point,” Natasha cut in. She grunted. There was the sound of impact, and then Natasha continued, “LMDs are one of AIM’s devices. These are based off Crossbones.” Another grunt. “…who contracts out, and is a much,” a punch, “better,” a pause then a another hit, “fighter than this.” Bones cracked on the other end of the line. “Working theory: the LMDs are a distraction.”
“And Tony is missing.” Steve sighed, already knowing what the rest of Natasha’s theory was.
“Tony is AIM’s favorite,” Sam threw in.
“Pepper confirms that she saw Tony leave SI with his suit on,” Bruce reported.
“I’m within running distance of SI.” Bucky checked his surroundings then rolled out from under the vehicle where he’d been taking cover. “I can search.”
“Negative,” Steve answered. “Falcon, fly over.”
Bucky’s fingers twitched on his gun. He had the worst sense of foreboding. Today had been good, too good. He’d woken up to Tony kissing every inch of his body and then snuggling close when he saw that Bucky was awake. They’d had breakfast in the living room and had curled up on the couch together. Tony had talked incessantly about their upcoming wedding, and Bucky had just held him and nodded whenever needed. Then Tony had gotten a call from Pepper, reminding Tony that he had promised to go over SI business with her before his R&D meeting that afternoon.
All the stress that had been building up in Tony over the last few weeks because of SI, Avenger upgrades, and the wedding returned to Tony right then. Bucky had known exactly what to do to fix it, so he sent Tony off with a few kisses and a little groping, and mentally ran through a list of ingredients he would need for his apple pie.
It had all been so perfect, so of course, everything wound up in flames.
A woman’s scream caught Bucky’s attention.
Bucky sprinted toward the noise.
He rounded the corner and found an LMD dragging a woman out from her apartment building. Her left eye was swollen and blood trickled down her nose from where she’d been punched. Her right arm hung limp and broken at her side.
The LMD grinned maliciously and twisted her left wrist, the bone breaking with a sickening snap.
Bucky didn’t hesitate. He lifted his gun and shot the LMD.
The LMD fell, and the woman dropped to her knees with a sob.
Bucky kneeled in front of her. He raised his hand as if to touch her shoulder then decided against it; he didn’t know what kind of injuries she had that might not be visible to him. “I’m calling a medical team to assist you. Until they arrive, I want you to go back inside and lock yourself in your apartment, understood?”
The woman nodded.
“Do you need any assistance getting into your apartment?”
She shook her head and stood on shaky legs.
Screeching car tires wailed down the road.
Bucky whirled, spotting a black sedan barreling down the street at him.
“Fuck.” Bucky spun on the woman. “Go now!”
The woman jumped up and bolted for the apartments.
The car was still speeding toward him, but Bucky held his ground. If the driver was aiming for him, then he was going to wait until the vehicle would be unable to change its trajectory then he’d side-step out of the way.
Except the car was swerving like a fucking maniac.
All right, change of plan.
Bucky shot the left front wheel, sending the car careening into the side of a coffee shop.
Bucky hoped no civilians were in the sedan.
From a distance, Bucky could see the airbags had released and broken the side windows. Bucky squinted, trying to pick up any signs of life from the car, but the airbag blocked his view.
It didn’t block his hearing, however, and he detected muffled noises that indicated a struggle was going on inside the car.
Bucky readied his gun and took two steps toward the car.
One of the back doors opened and a dark haired child in an oversized button down shirt came spilling out, holding a pistol in his shaky grip. He aimed the gun at someone inside the car. “Back off, or I’ll shoot!” Tremors of terror laced the boy’s voice.
Bucky slowly moved to get a better angle on the car without alerting whoever the boy was talking to of his presence.
“Nice try, kid, but even at point blank with a grip like that you’ll miss. I, on the other hand, can easily blow off your hand in two seconds if you don’t get back in the car.”
The boy swallowed hard and raised his gun higher.
Bucky could just see a glimpse of the man.
The man didn’t make a sound as the bullet ripped through his skull.
The man’s body hit the ground with a “thunk”.
The boy gasped and spun on Bucky.
Instead of relaxing at the sight of his protector, the boy’s body tensed up so tightly, Bucky cringed at how painful it must have been. Tears welled in the corners of the boy’s eyes and snot dribbled out of his nose. He whimpered as he redirected the gun at Bucky.
Bucky sighed; it wasn’t the first time a kid had had a bad reaction to him. From a kid’s perspective, Bucky was probably the scariest Avenger on the team, other than Hulk (although kids loved the green guy for some reason. Go figure). He was tall, muscle-bound, dressed in all black, had a metal arm, and carried a stockpile of guns and knives. Throw in the mask he sometimes wore, and why wouldn’t most kids be terrified of him?
Tony always said if he didn’t want to scare kids he should add more color to his uniform.
Bucky took a deep breath and slowly lowered his gun.
The boy continued to aim his gun at Bucky, but for a moment, his curiosity overpowered his fear, and he stopped trembling for a few seconds.
Just as slowly as Bucky had lowered his gun, Bucky got down on his knees so he was at the same eye level as the kid. He contemplated smiling, but wrote off the idea; any smile he’d give would come off too fake in the situation. He didn’t want to risk the kid picking up on his deceit and perceiving him as a threat.
“Hey, kid, are you all right?”
The boy flinched.
“You found a kid, Winter?” Steve inquired through the comms.
Bucky ignored Steve. “You look a little scraped up. I can come over there to make sure you aren’t hurt too bad if you want, or you can come to me.”
The boy shook his head and took a step back.
“Falcon, any reports on Tony?” Steve asked over the comms.
“Help Winter with the kid.”
“Do you know why that guy was trying to kidnap you?” Bucky asked.
The boy bit his bottom lip.
Bucky frowned. He changed tactics. “My name’s Bucky.”
The kid blinked. “That’s an old person’s name.”
Bucky’s brain stopped for a second as he stumbled over the reaction. Kids usually liked his name—something about it sounded cute to them. The only person who had ever taken a jab at his name had been Tony when they first met, and it was in jest.
Except the jest had been about how uncommon the name was in the modern world.
“Well, that’s what my best friend calls me. My real name is James.”
The kid frowned, looking very distrusting. “What’s your friend’s name?”
The kid jerked back and raised his gun so he’d shoot Bucky in the face if he pulled the trigger. “Liar!”
What the hell? What kind of reaction was that? Bucky didn’t even know how to respond. At least, not to a kid. If he were dealing with an adult, he would have long ago incapacitated them and put them somewhere safe until SHIELD’s recovery team arrived.
“You’re lying! You’re just trying make me think you’re Bucky Barnes. I bet you were going to promise to take me to Captain America, weren’t you? Well, too bad, because he’s gone! You liar!”
“FRIDAY is back online,” Bruce announced over the comms.
“Apologies for the nap everyone. AIM took me out of service before attacking Tony. I am already searching…” FRIDAY trailed off, which was just fucking weird. She didn’t do that.
“FRIDAY?” Steve inquired at the same time Sam landed a few paces behind the kid.
In just a few quick steps, Sam snuck up behind the kid and snatched the gun out of his hand.
The kid cried out in shock.
“Forgive me, Captain. I needed a moment to be certain I hadn’t erred, but based on my facial recognition systems, I can safely say that Mr. Barnes and Mr. Wilson have located Tony.”
“What the fuck?” Bucky rose to his feet.
The kid tried to run, but Sam caught the rugrat and restrained him.
“Let me go!” The kid struggled. “My dad isn’t going to pay any ransom. You’re just wasting your time.”
Ransom? Facial recognition?
Bucky stared at the kid—really looked at his face.
Amber eyes, oval face, olive skin, strong but narrow chin, a slightly larger than normal forehead, and a nose somewhere between small and medium in size.
“Oh, fuck. Tony?”
The tears were back in Tony’s eyes. “Fuck you, you assholes!” He wiggled one arm free and punched Sam in the kneecap.
“Just wait until Jarvis finds you. He may not look it, but he can kick all of your asses!” Tony kicked and punched at Bucky.
After removing all of his knives and guns from his right hip, thigh, and leg, Bucky had taken over holding Tony. He hugged Tony’s small form to his hip, carrying Tony like he was a ragdoll.
Tony bit Bucky’s arm and snarled like a dog.
Bucky sighed, Tony’s teeth were no match for the thickness of his sleeve. “Tony-baby, please calm—”
“I am not a baby!” Tony screamed. He swung his leg as far back as it would go and kicked Bucky in the rear.
Bucky jumped. He bit his tongue to keep from cursing. It was bad enough that he’d flinched. He didn’t want Tony getting any ideas about continuing his kicks to Bucky’s ass.
“Steve, please tell me you are on your way?” Bucky’s forehead throbbed. Tony was a child. Tony was a child and he had no memories of his adult life.
He also thought Bucky and Sam were kidnappers.
Lovely. His day was just so beautiful. Really. Flowers and rainbows everywhere. All he was missing was a unicorn.
“Almost there. Just had to finish making sure the area is clear of anymore LMDs.”
“Maybe we should hold off a little longer?” Sam suggested. “You know? Maybe see if we can borrow his old uniform again? Tony might not recognize him in the new one. He doesn’t recognize you and your face is practically in every shot with his after joining the Howling Commandos.”
Tony scoffed. “Army regulations wouldn’t let Bucky have long hair.”
“Who said I was still in the army, squirt?”
Tony shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, because Bucky is dead anyway.”
“Do you watch horror movies, kid?”
Tony froze. His eyes widened and he swallowed hard. Suddenly his kicking and screaming increased exponentially.
“Jesus!” Bucky let out a foul curse in German. “That wasn’t a threat. Just calm down.”
“I know a threat when I hear one!” Tony squirmed.
“I wanted to know if you watched horror films, because I want to know if you know the rules of horror.”
Tony stopped flailing and shouting. He side-eyed Bucky with suspicion. “Virgins don’t die and the token ethnic character dies first.”
“Don’t I know it,” Sam grumbled. “Although the virgin thing is changing.”
“How about this rule, Tony: if you don’t see the body or see them die, then the person is not dead.”
“You can’t even assume they’re dead even if you do see them die sometimes,” Sam added in.
“Is there a reason why you two are talking about death to an impressionable youth?” Steve projected in his best “Captain America voice” as he strolled toward Bucky and company. Steve’s shield was angled just enough in front of his body to show off its design without making him look defensive. He grinned that boy scout smile of his as he shortened the distance between him and Tony.
Bucky bit the inside of his cheek to keep from snickering.
Tony’s eyes sparkled with adoration and hero worship.
It was cute, considering how often Tony and Steve bickered.
“And who are you?” Steve asked Tony.
The words broke whatever spell Steve had on Tony. Tony snapped his mouth shut and glared at Steve. “Tell me about fondue.”
Steve minutely jerked his head back in surprise. His smile dropped and his sight turned inward as he tried to figure out why Tony was asking him about fondue.
Bucky already knew Tony’s motivation.
Steve opened his mouth and Bucky cut him off. “I think he is referring to the incident involving you, Peggy, and Howard.”
Tony tensed in Bucky’s hold. He craned his head up at Bucky, awe and shock written on his face.
“Didn’t think I’d know, did you, squirt?”
Tony flushed red; the color matched the stain across Steve’s cheeks.
Steve pretended to cough and clear his throat. “I don’t think that story is child appropriate.”
“He obviously already knows it, Steve. He’s just asking to make certain you really are Captain America.” Bucky smirked. “Not even ten, and the kid has got some brains.”
Tony scowled. “My IQ has been higher than yours since I was three.”
“Sure thing, doll.”
“I am not a doll.”
“Sure thing, baby doll.”
Tony’s face turned boiling red, and he kicked Bucky as hard as he could. Bucky winced.
“I hate you!” Tony screamed.
Bucky’s insides turned steely.
Steve tensed. He held up his hands in placation. “Uh, Bucky, you know he doesn’t—”
Bucky squeezed Tony uncomfortably tight against his side. “Listen, kid, I’m going to teach ya somethin’ right here and now. Don’t cha ever say somethin’ like that just because you’re pissed and wanna hurt somebody. You understand me?”
Tony stuck his tongue out at Bucky.
Bucky shifted his posture, cooled his expression until he knew his face was an echo of the one he once wore as Hydra’s puppet. The expression was enough to make hardened military personnel feel insecure, to a child it was probably quite terrifying.
Bucky aimed the look at Tony. “You don’t say you hate someone because you want to hurt them, you understand?” Dark, deep, and emotionless: a voice he’d also gained from his past.
Tony didn’t say anything, but the fact that he hung his head told Bucky enough.
Bucky snapped out of his Winter Soldier façade. “So about that fondue story?”
“Man, you cannot put on that creepy face and then switch it off just like that.” Sam snapped his fingers.
Bucky hit Sam with his soldier face.
Sam cringed. “Yeah. Still creepy.”
Bucky rolled his eyes, breaking out of his intense expression. “Fondue, Steve.”
“Right, well, I didn’t know what fondue was, and I heard Howard ask Peggy if she’d like some, so I thought fondue meant…” Steve searched for a child friendly word. “…kissing.”
Tony frowned. “You’re a bad story teller, and my dad said something different. It wasn’t kissing.”
“Was it sex?” Bucky asked. “Because that’s what Steve really thought it was, but he’s too much of a gentleman to tell you that.”
“Bucky!” Steve’s voice rose two octaves.
Bucky shrugged. “What? It’s just a word. I’m not describing in detail what it means. Besides, we knew that word when we were about his age.” Whatever age that was; Bucky would have to inquire about that. Tony had to be younger than ten though.
Bucky grinned. “See. He’s not scarred for life, are you, squirt?”
“Stop calling me ‘squirt,’ Buchanan!”
“Ooh! Calling me by my middle name now. Does this mean I pass the test? Am I really Bucky Barnes?”
Tony scowled. “You’re an asshole!”
“God,” Sam exclaimed. “Did Howard and Maria really have no filter around this kid? He cusses more than me.”
“Listen, Tony, I know this is scary, but I need you to trust us. We think the people who tried to kidnap you might have done something very harmful to you, and we want make sure you’re safe. Will you please let us take you to the medical team? We’ll even take you home afterwards.”
Tony’s eyes filled with hope. “Really?”
Bucky wanted to punch Steve. What Steve considered Tony’s home and what current Tony considered his home were two very different places.
“Really,” Steve answered.
Tony glanced around the group. He frowned.
Bucky could see Steve was struggling to maintain his grin. If Tony refused to go with them willingly things would get uncomfortable real quick. No one wanted to be the asshole who forced a kid to come with them against his will, but they wouldn’t have many options if Tony refused.
Tony elbowed Bucky in the ribs. “If Bucky puts me down then I’ll go with you.”
“Of course.” All signs of strain vanished from Steve’s smile. “But if we do that, I’m going to want to hold your hand. We’re going someplace filled with lots of people and I don’t want to get lost.”
Tony snorted in disbelief. “You’ll get lost?”
Steve made his eyes go wide with innocence. “Of course. I have a terrible sense of direction. Isn’t that right, Bucky?”
“He certainly doesn’t know the difference between his right and left. Never could teach him how to dance.”
“Dad told me that too!” Tony crowed.
Steve’s face pinched. “Great.”
Bucky and Sam fought down snickers.
Tony jabbed Bucky in the side. “Put me down.”
Bucky raised an eyebrow at Tony. “I didn’t hear you promise to hold Steve’s hand.”
Tony flushed and turned his head away. “I-I promise.” Tony glanced up curiously at Steve.
The dusty pink color across Tony’s cheeks deepened into a dark crimson of embarrassment.
Oh lord! Tony had a crush on Steve! He wouldn’t be the first kid, but when Bucky knew how Steve and adult Tony interacted together, it took all of his willpower not to bust a gut laughing.
Bucky put Tony down, but didn’t quite let him go until Tony took Steve’s hand.
Tony glanced shyly up at Steve.
Steve beamed at Tony and squeezed his hand. “Thanks, Tony. I really appreciate the help.”
“It’s…It’s fine. Dad would be pissed at me if I didn’t help you. Do you think you could tell him I helped you?”
Steve chuckled and led Tony down the street. “Sure thing, Tony.”
“Great! He really likes you. It might calm him down if he knows I helped you.”
Steve, Sam, and Bucky stiffened.
Bucky’s fingers twitched at his side. He wanted to snatch Tony away from Steve and cover his mouth. The Avengers were aware that Howard had not been the best father to Tony. That he’d been overly critical and often took out his frustrations on Tony, but Bucky was the only one who knew just how far Howard’s abuse had gone.
Steve glanced over his shoulder at Bucky.
Bucky clenched his jaw. He wanted to say something, but he didn’t know what. He couldn’t ban kid Tony from revealing his adult self’s past, and he couldn’t very well ask Steve not to inquire without causing Tony to become suspicious of him.
“Well then, I’ll be even more thrilled to tell him what a big help you have been,” Steve said to Tony.
Tony beamed and looked up at Steve adoringly.
Sam nudged Bucky.
Bucky turned toward Sam.
Sam leaned into him and whispered, “Are you okay with all of this? Tony bonding with Steve? He is your fiancé.”
“He’s a kid right now, Sam. It’s fine if he idolizes Steve; it doesn’t mean anything other than he has good taste in idols.”
“If you say so.”
Bucky resisted the urge to roll his eyes and make a sarcastic comment. Whatever romantic notion Sam had about Tony being enamored with Bucky in his child state was ridiculous—and arguably creepy. Bucky and Tony were a couple, but Tony had never known him as a child—known of him, granted, but that was different. There was no reason for Tony to instantly bond with Bucky, especially when they had “met” under such dubious circumstances.
Still, just because Tony was more interested in being near his idol right now, didn’t mean Bucky wasn’t looking out for him. He followed behind Tony and Steve, but he always scouted ahead with his eyes, searching for any hidden danger lurking between the buildings of New York. Nothing jumped out, but when he spotted a puddle of blood ahead, Bucky eased himself between Tony and the sight.
Tony frowned at him and scooted closer to Steve.
When they reached medical, Tony was a limpet attached to Steve’s leg.
Doctors and nurses surrounded Steve, inquiring about Tony. They unconsciously drew closer with each question, fencing Tony in.
Tony trembled next to Steve and white-knuckled the fabric of Steve’s uniform.
Steve patted Tony’s head, obviously trying to give Tony some comfort while the doctors talked to him, but he failed.
Bucky had had enough.
Bucky shoved his way through the tiny throng of people and snatched Tony up by the waist and put him on his hip again.
“Bucky!” Tony squawked.
“Let me know when all of you are ready to do a physical examination,” Bucky said to the crowd. He shifted his weight so he could carry Tony better, then walked through the parting crowd. “C’mon, squirt.”
“I’m not a squirt!”
“Once a squirt, always a squirt.”
“You’re an asshole!”
“Whoa! Is that tiny Tony?” Clint rushed out from wherever he’d been hiding amongst SHIELD medical and joined Bucky. “Aw, I was hoping he’d have a goatee even as a child.”
“Tony, this is Clint.” Bucky gestured at Clint. “Never trust him.”
“Hey!” Clint squawked in protest. “I am the most trustworthy person here!”
Tony scoffed. “No one is more trustworthy than Captain America.”
Clint feigned anger. He put his fist on his hips and bent down so he could mockingly glare Tony in the eye. “You calling me a liar, kid?”
Bucky turned himself around so he was between Tony and Clint. “He doesn’t have to; I am.”
Clint threw a hand over his heart. “Oh, Bucky. You wound me.”
“Is that Stark?” Wanda’s voice carried over the crowd.
Natasha and Wanda strolled through the frazzled medical staff that ran around like chickens with their heads chopped off.
Tony was becoming even more stiff, and was curling in on himself.
Bucky huffed in annoyance. He’d been trying to avoid surrounding Tony with people when he’d taken him from Steve.
Bucky shifted Tony around, causing Tony to let out a muffled sound of surprise.
Bucky wrapped Tony’s legs around his waist, and supported Tony’s butt and back with his arms, holding Tony like a baby koala. The new position allowed for Tony to hide his face in Bucky’s shoulder if he wanted. He’d still be surrounded by people, but hopefully the new position would give Tony a better sense of security.
“So he really is a child.” Wanda’s eyes roved over Tony’s smaller form. Her gaze held an element of awe, but she steeled herself against any other emotions.
Natasha’s gaze was curious. Bucky could see the chess pieces in her head moving as she rethought her usual strategy when interacting with Tony.
A second later, Natasha smiled and cooed, “And just how old are you, Tony?”
Tony ducked his head in Bucky’s shoulder and glared at Natasha.
Natasha tensed. The movement was subtle, but Bucky had enough training to notice the slight variation.
“Hey, Bucky!” Sam hollered and waved Bucky over. “Medical is finally ready for Tony’s physical. Bring him back.”
“On our way,” Bucky shouted. He headed over to Sam.
Tony fisted the fabric of Bucky’s protective gear. “She’s fake,” he whispered.
Bucky cocked his head toward Tony. “Who?”
It took all of Bucky’s training not to stop and analyze Tony just then. Adult Tony was able to see through many of Natasha’s masks after living together for several years, but she could still fool him when she set her mind to it. How had child Tony—who had no prior experience with Natasha—seen through her so easily?
“That’s part of her job. She’s a spy.”
Tony frowned harder, but didn’t say anything else.
Bucky handed Tony over to Steve and the medical team. Tony clung to Steve’s hand as the doctors and nurses ran several tests. Tony teared up when a nurse punctured him with a needle and took three vials of blood. Steve rubbed Tony’s back and encouraged Tony with praise and promises that all of the tests should be done soon.
The moment the tests ended, Steve scooted Tony away from the exam tent.
“The basic tests show that he is perfectly healthy,” the doctor trailing after Steve said as she flipped through her medical chart. “We’ll need to wait a few more days for some of our other test results, but as of right now, we suspect Tony is a healthy seven-year-old.”
“Any leads on what happened to him?” Steve asked.
The doctor frowned. “Until we have the results from his blood, we can’t begin to theorize what happened.”
Steve’s face scrunched with annoyance, but he didn’t take it out on the doctor, instead he thanked her and left with Tony.
A black Lexus belonging to SHIELD was already waiting for Steve, Tony, and Bucky (the rest of the group having left during Tony’s exam). Tony vibrated with excitement as Steve helped him into the vehicle.
Tony plastered himself against Steve the entire car ride to Avengers Tower.
Steve accepted Tony’s proximity, but his eyes kept darting worriedly to Bucky.
Bucky rolled his eyes at Steve; people really needed to stop expecting him to be upset by the fact that kid Tony wasn’t gaga over him.
The car pulled up to Avengers Tower, and Tony scrambled toward the door. He frowned a second later when he peered out the window. “This isn’t my home.”
“We’re just making a pit stop,” Steve explained. “The other Avengers and I need to debrief first.”
Fear crept into Tony’s posture. His hand went to the door handle, but the SHIELD agent who had been driving the car, had already stepped out and was opening the door.
Tony almost tumbled to the pavement, but Steve caught him.
Steve used his hold on Tony to escort him out of the car and into the tower.
Bucky gritted his teeth as he trailed behind Steve and Tony.
Bucky understood that these were not ideal circumstances, and getting Tony to the tower where he would be safest was a priority, but he despised lying to Tony. In the short amount of time Bucky had spent with the kid, it was evident that Tony trusted tentatively. He wanted to trust his idol and hero, but already at his young age he’d experienced enough to know not to put his full faith in someone he’d just met.
Bucky didn’t want to see the hurt and betrayal on Tony’s face when he learned that one of his worst fears was true: he couldn’t even trust Captain America.
The three of them took the elevator up to the Avengers’ communal floor.
Bucky noted that FRIDAY didn’t greet them like she normally did; someone must have advised her not to do so.
The elevator doors opened, and Tony mimicked a statue at the sight of Bruce, Natasha, Sam, Clint, and Wanda scattered around the living room.
Steve clamped his hand on Tony’s shoulder and steered him inside.
Bucky followed them and felt the elevator swish shut behind him.
Tony whirled, his eyes wide with fright to see his one and only exit sealed shut. “You lied to me!”
Steve winced. “I didn’t lie. I told you, the Avengers and I need to have a meeting and then—”
“In the living room?” Tony countered. He ducked between Steve’s legs and ran for the elevator. His hand flew up to hit the down button only to stop mid air when he found no such button.
“Tony,” Steve pleaded.
Tony spun and shoved his back up against the elevator doors.
The boy looked like he was about to have a heart attack, which was why when Steve took a step toward him, Bucky raised his arm and blocked Steve’s path.
“You’re right, kid,” Bucky said over his shoulder. “Captain America misled you to get you in Avengers Tower, but if you give me a few minutes, I can explain to you why.”
“Why should I trust the friend of the guy who lied to me?” Tony challenged, his voice wobbled. Tears had gathered in his eyes, but he was refusing to shed them.
“You shouldn’t, but unless you got an escape plan cooking in that brain of yours, why not pretend to trust me for now, then kick me in the balls later?”
Clint sputtered a laugh, and Natasha elbowed him.
Tony hesitated. Slowly, he peeled himself two inches off the elevator, then nodded.
Bucky internally sighed in relief.
He held out his hand for Tony to take.
Tony jerked his head back, his eyes growing two sizes as he stared at Bucky’s metal hand.
Oh, right. Bucky’s arm was still new to kid Tony.
Bucky wiggled his fingers. “Scared?”
Tony scowled. He slammed his palm into Bucky’s. “Why should I be? You’re just a cheap half-assed cyborg knock off.”
“I’ll have you know, my arm is highly advanced. My mechanic told me so.” Bucky led Tony to the large windows overlooking the city.
Tony upturned his nose and scoff. “Your mechanic is a dumbass.”
Bucky smirked; Tony was his mechanic. “He can be sometimes.” Adult Tony would smack Bucky later for his wiseass comment.
Bucky kneeled in front of the large window and guided Tony the last few steps toward it so he could look down at the city. “What does it look like down there?”
Tony’s nose wrinkled. He frowned and leaned forward until his forehead pressed against the glass. “New York, but it’s different.” Tony pointed at one of the skyscrapers a few miles away. “I recognize that building, but the two next to it are new. And so are those.” Tony pointed out two more. His brow furrowed. “What’s going on? How did those buildings get there so fast? Even if someone paid the construction workers to work every hour of every day, it would take more than a month to complete them.”
“Do you think it’s possible for someone to be de-aged, Tony?” Bucky asked.
Tony’s frown deepened. “I’d need to reread my biology and quantum mechanics books, but I think something like that would wreck havoc on one’s molecular structure.”
Bucky smiled at the answer, finding it adorable. “But do you think it is possible?”
Tony pursed his lips in concentration. “Not without further scientific study, the kind of studying that would take years to obtain and may not be possible for a few years more if the proper tools have not been made in order to study it.” Tony shrugged. “My dad could probably figure something out.”
“And what if I told you that you have been de-aged, Tony, and that this tower is in fact your home?”
Steve’s mouth pressed in a firm line, his face contorted with concern and disapproval. Natasha and Sam appeared intrigued and curious. Bruce was equally curious, but his interest seemed to be more in Tony himself than in Tony’s reaction. Clint just shook his head.
Tony double-blinked. “What?”
“Welcome to the future,” Bucky answered.
Steve groaned and facepalmed.
“I can’t believe you just straight up told Tony he’d been de-aged,” Sam whispered, glancing back at Tony who’d settled on the couch in the living room and was watching Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back while he surfed through the Internet for information.
“You really see no problem with telling a seven-year-old that just a few hours ago he was a mid-forty-year-old?” Steve demanded to know.
“It’s not like I told him he owned the building. Like I’d risk him kicking us out in a temper tantrum.”
Steve facepalmed again, and this time Sam and Bruce joined him.
“The psychological ramifications—” Bruce started, but Bucky didn’t let him finish.
“The psychological ramifications of finding out that not only did your hero lie to you, but he kidnapped you and took you to his tower to play the role of princess in distress with his super powered minions as your only companions, who are hell bent on keeping you locked away from the world forever.”
“Cute,” Natasha said tersely, glancing over at Tony.
“Wanda?” Steve asked.
Wanda eyed Tony. “He’s curious. Scared, but his curiosity is stronger.” She snorted in amusement. “He is fascinated with himself, like always.”
“Can’t really blame him,” Clint said. “Guy has led an interesting life. By the way, did anyone bother to put child safety blocks on his Stark Pad, or is Tony looking at naked pictures of his older self?”
“FRIDAY?” Steve aimed at the ceiling.
“I assure you, Captain, that he will not stumble upon any nude photos of himself or others. However, I would like to go over with you and Mr. Barnes what other information should be blocked.”
Tony twisted in his seat and glanced up from the couch. “So that’s my AI FRIDAY?”
“You know about her?” Clint asked.
Tony rolled his eyes and held up his tablet. “Duh, she’s mentioned in my wikipedia article. Also, ignore any commands by Cap and Buck, FRIDAY. I want to see all the cool stuff online.”
“I’m sorry, boss, but my parameters in this situation force me to default to Mr. Rogers and Mr. Barnes’ demands, with Mr. Barnes’ taking priority.”
“Bucky?” Tony grimaced. “Why the hell would Bucky get primary control?”
Clint chuckled, and Bucky knew in a heartbeat the words that were about to be uttered by the archer. Natasha, Wanda, and Bruce all knew it too, and in what felt like slow motion all four of them lunged at Clint, but he spoke the words before anyone could stop him. “That’s probably because he is your fiancé.”
Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose. Natasha and Wanda glared at Clint, who beamed. Steve and Sam shared confused looks.
Tony blinked then stared at Bucky.
An iron fist clasped around Bucky’s heart as he waited for Tony’s dreadful reaction; he knew enough about Tony’s childhood to know nothing good would come of the revelation.
Tony snickered. “Yeah, right.”
Clint opened his mouth to speak, but Natasha managed to cover his mouth in time to stop him.
No one expected Sam to speak up. “It’s true. You and Bucky have been engaged for months now.”
Steve nodded slowly, uncertainty tainting the action. He’d picked up the negative energy in the room, but clearly didn’t know why everyone was reacting so poorly to Clint’s reveal.
And of course Steve wouldn’t, because while he wasn’t unaware of Howard’s faults, he often forgot the impact those flaws had had on Tony.
The blood drained from Tony’s face. “You’re lying. I can’t—I can’t be engaged to a—to a guy!”
The tears were back in Tony’s eyes and he was trembling.
Bucky’s chest ached with how much he wanted to scoop Tony up in his arms and shield him from his fears, but he knew physical contact right now would be the worst thing he could offer.
The room turned somber.
Tony wrapped his arms around himself. “Dad’s going to kill me. He’s going to murder me. I can’t—not to a guy!” Tony ran for the elevator and FRIDAY threw open the doors.
“Tony!” Steve chased after Tony, but by then the doors had shut on the little guy, and he’d been taken away.
Steve punched the doors. “FRIDAY, bring Tony back.”
“I’m sorry, Captain, but my primary function is to take care of Tony Stark, and my protocols demand that I allow him privacy and sanctuary. Of course, if Mr. Barnes wishes, I can override these protocols and bring Tony back.”
Bucky shook his head. “Let him have his space, just make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.”
“I’m offended you would feel the need to ask me to do so, Mr. Barnes. I have sent Tony to his bedroom and have started playing Star Wars Episode V from where he’d left off. I have also informed him of the candy drawer. If he should need anything else, I will take care of it.”
“He shouldn’t be up there alone,” Steve argued.
“Steve, not only did he just find out he’s been de-aged, but he’s also learned he’s engaged to a guy, which was obviously as big a taboo for him as child as it was for us,” Bucky snapped. “Let him process it. When he’s ready he’ll come to us.”
Steve looked properly chastised, but still muttered, “It’s not right to leave him alone. He’s just a kid.”
Bruce tapped his fingers nervously against his arm. “Actually, it’s perfectly fine to leave children alone to process bombshells such as these. If Tony were down here right now and we were ignoring his emotional needs, then I would see a flaw in what we are doing, but since Tony is the one who has chosen to remove himself, there is no harm in giving him his space. In fact, it’s much better for him. It gives him a sense of control and lets him come to terms with his feelings and thoughts. If we don’t hear from him in an hour or two, I recommend approaching him, but for now it’s fine to leave him alone.”
“Then perhaps we should use this time to discuss who is responsible for what happened to Tony and what we plan to do about it,” Natasha suggested.
“I thought we’d already determined that AIM was responsible?” Sam asked.
“FRIDAY, pull up the SHIELD file on the incident,” Natasha commanded the AI.
Blue holo screens popped up around the room, surrounding the Avengers.
Natasha strolled up to one and pushed aside two articles and pulled up a third. “As of right now, SHIELD agrees that the probability of AIM’s involvement is a high one.” An image of Crossbones popped up and Natasha dragged it to the center of their group. “What is intriguing to SHIELD is the use of Crossbones.”
“He has done mercenary work in the past,” Steve responded. “It is not too farfetched for him to have been hired.”
“No, it’s just weird that AIM uses LMDs to create multiples of the guy, but then all of them are crappy,” Clint pointed out. “Did any of them even give us one of his ridiculous speeches about strength, power, and/or Hydra?”
“I don’t think a lack of speeches is something we should be worried about.” Bruce adjusted his glasses as he leaned in to read the text on one file. “My question is, was Crossbones working with AIM at all, or did AIM find a way to make duplicates of him without his knowledge, and if so: how?”
“Those are the questions SHIELD wants answered,” Natasha stated. “If AIM has found a way to make decoys without involving the original person—”
“They could abduct whoever they want and substitute a fake in their place,” Steve finished.
“And isn’t it just convenient that my fiancé was almost kidnapped today?” Rage percolated inside Bucky, but he kept it down. He’d unleash his fury when they found the rest of the AIM team responsible for de-aging Tony.
“Okay…” Doubt colored Sam’s voice. “But why turn Tony into a kid? Why not just kill him?”
“Why destroy one of your greatest weapons?” Clint shot back. “Tony, no matter what age, is special to all of us. As long as any of our enemies have him, we are limited as to what we can do. He’d also have been an asset to them if they found a way to force him to build weapons.”
Sam scoffed in amusement. “No offense, but that usually doesn’t work out too well for anyone who tries. Tony has managed to save himself more than we’ve managed to save him in those situations.”
“They were going to program him.” Bucky’s chest constricted and his fingers quaked at his sides with anger and fear. He envisioned Tony as he was now, strapped to a table and screaming in pain and panic as AIM experimented on him.
Steve clamped Bucky’s shoulder, drawing Bucky out of his vision. “It’s okay, Bucky.”
Bucky yanked off Steve’s hand. “It’s not okay! They de-aged him so they could kidnap him and mold him into their perfect scientist and weapon.”
“They supplant a fake Tony in the Avengers and SI, controlling and manipulating the two to their ends, and they train and teach the real Tony to do their bidding all while he makes weapons the world has yet to dream up.” Natasha nodded her head in consideration. “It is possible, but not the only possibility for what AIM is up to. We don’t even know if their goal was to de-aging Tony. It may have been a malfunction for whatever weapon they used.”
Bruce groaned and massaged his temples. “Some malfunction. Do you even realize how revolutionary Tony’s transformation is? How many people would kill for it? Let alone how much people would spend to get their hands on it? It is now theoretically possible for people not to die of old age.”
“That’s assuming AIM has the sources and the means to reproduce whatever it is they’ve made that can turn a borderline fifty-year-old into a seven-year-old,” Sam pointed out.
“Sounds like what we need is more information,” Steve said.
“Exactly.” Natasha closed all of the holo screens except for the one Bruce was reading with a swipe of her hand. “Fury thought all of us would have an invested interest in this investigation so he’s letting Steve lead it, and is offering any and all resources SHIELD has.”
“Good.” Steve cast a glance around his team. “Bruce, contact SHIELD’s medical team and ask for everything they have on Tony. See if they can let you take a closer look at any blood or DNA they have leftover. I don’t want to have to put Tony through any more unnecessary medical procedures. If you need more blood or bodily fluids, let me know, and we can hopefully come up with something that won’t be too invasive for Tony.
“Wanda, you’re with Bruce. See if you can detect anything mystical or magical in Tony’s blood.”
“Natasha and Sam, you two are with me. We’ll look into AIM. Bucky and Clint, you two keep an eye on Tony. AIM already tried to abduct him once, whether that was a last minute decision or a long time plan, they know Tony is in no condition to defend himself and they are likely to take advantage. I’ll contact Rhodey in a bit and let him know. I’m sure he’ll be joining you two as soon as he can.”
“Will do, Cap.” Clint mock saluted.
Bucky eyed Clint warily.
With a few more words from Steve, the team broke apart and headed out to prepare for their roles.
Bucky exited the elevator on Steve’s floor, joining his best friend. Steve raised a curious eyebrow at Bucky, but didn’t inquire into Bucky’s reasoning.
Bucky waited until they were in Steve’s private rooms to talk. “I don’t know if leaving Clint with Tony is a good idea.”
Steve frowned. “Clint’s good with kids, and nothing ever escapes his gaze; it will be almost impossible for Tony to get in trouble with Clint around.”
“I’m not arguing against that,” Bucky said. “However, earlier today Clint jokingly got mad at Tony, and Tony took it seriously. He doesn’t trust Clint or feel safe with him.”
“To be fair, I don’t think Tony feels safe with any of us right now.”
“This is different, Steve.” Bucky didn’t want to explain in depth how it was different, but he feared he might have to in order for Steve to understand just how poor a decision it would be to leave Clint with Tony. “I don’t want to go into the details, but you know Howard was very angry later on in life, so for Tony being around someone who is angry terrifies him. And I know Clint isn’t an angry person, but Tony’s first experience with him is that he is, so until Tony has learned just how nice Clint is, their interactions should be short and sweet. Clint should not be one of the adults Tony is going to have to depend on in the next few days.”
Steve’s brow crinkled and his mouth scrunched. “I suppose I could switch him out for Sam, but I’m just concerned that Tony is going to sneak off on you two. He may be a kid, but he’s still Tony, and as Sam said earlier, he’s a bit of an escape artist.”
Steve had a point. “How about Clint stays behind, but keeps to himself for a while? He and FRIDAY can keep tabs on Tony, and I’ll make sure Tony eats, sleeps, bathes, and everything else that goes into taking care of a kid.”
“I don’t know. Kids are handfuls, and if Tony is rambunctious, you might be overwhelmed.”
“I took care of you, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, but you weren’t the sole caregiver.”
“What about Rhodey though? If Rhodey can be here in a couple of days, I say, let me take care of Tony until then. Rhodey and I can shift off and on after that.”
“Or… if Clint and you are providing defense, perhaps we could bring in someone solely for care giving?”
Pepper shoved her sleepover bag at Steve. “I’m insulted you did not call sooner, I hope you know.”
Steve grunted as he took the bag that reeked of perfume, hair products, and a smell that was distinctly Pepper. The contents jiggled as Steve adjusted his hold, and Bucky wondered what the hell Pepper had brought with her.
“Sorry.” Steve lowered his head in shame, even though he had nothing to be ashamed of. Until the Avengers knew what to do with Tony, it would have been unwise to get anyone else involved.
Bucky didn’t know if it was just Steve’s humble nature around women (when he wasn’t running around acting as Captain America) or if it was just Pepper’s presence that made him demur and apologetic.
Bucky could believe either.
Pepper waved off the apology and strolled into the common room and looked around. “So where is he?” Pepper narrowed her eyes at Steve and Bucky. “You two didn’t leave him alone, did you?”
Steve ducked his head sheepishly.
Bucky internally sighed at Steve’s behavior and stepped forward. “Yes. Tony knows what happened to him, and he needs time to process it. We have FRIDAY monitoring him until he’s ready to talk to someone.”
Pepper expression softened. “I see. So I suppose in the meantime, I should settle in and the two of us will discuss babysitting schedules.”
Bucky nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”
It was three in the morning and Bucky could not sleep. Bucky wasn’t ashamed to admit that since Tony and him had started sharing a bed the nights when they were apart were always a struggle when it came to falling asleep. During his time in the army and as the Winter Solider for HYDRA, Bucky had had to learn to fall asleep at a moments notice, something he still carried with him, but during the nights when Tony was away and he was left in the tower, Bucky found himself needing half an hour before he could find slumber.
Tonight not even a half hour of tossing and turning had put him to sleep. Tony still hadn’t come out from his room; although, FRIDAY reported that Tony had found Bucky’s secret stash of saltines and had snacked on them.
Bruce had also made some curry and placed a small portion in front of Tony’s room.
When Steve had gone up to check if the food had been taken, he came back down with an empty bowl.
Bucky had been relieved to know Tony was eating, but the longer Tony stayed locked in his room, the more concerned Bucky became. He knew he could enter the bedroom at any time—it was his bedroom too—but he didn’t want to break what little trust (if any remained) that Tony had in him.
So Bucky had resigned himself to a guest room, spent an hour rolling around and staring at the ceiling as his brain ran through all the likely scenarios that could occur tomorrow with Tony, gave up on sleep, and went to the kitchen to finish baking the apple pie he’d started before this de-aging fiasco.
Baking was hypnotic. He didn’t think about Tony or AIM as he pressed the crust into the tin pan, or as he made the sweet apple and cinnamon center of his pie. It wasn’t until he put the pie in the oven that Bucky found himself twitching for action. So he set up making chocolate chip cookies.
Bucky had just finished making the dough when he heard light footsteps headed his way.
Bucky frowned. The rhythm and volume of the footsteps did not match anyone’s in the tower.
Bucky pulled out a knife from the block on the counter and waited for the new arrival.
“Are you baking?” Tony’s high-pitched voice asked from the doorway.
Bucky slid the knife back into the block, and smiled over his shoulder at Tony. “Ah, so the squirt emerges. What are you doing up so late, Tony?”
Tony scowled. “Stop calling me that.”
“You don’t want me to call you ‘Tony’? Well, okay.”
Tony’s cheeks puffed up and turned cherry red. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Bucky washed his hands in the sink then wiped them off on a dishtowel. “So you feelin’ better?”
Tony, who had yet to remove himself from the doorway looked away and gripped the frame tightly. “I can’t marry you.”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “Of course you can’t; you’re too young.”
“No! I can’t because you’re… you’re…” Tony bit his bottom lip. His fingers trembled.
Bucky strolled over to Tony and crouched down so he was eye level. He ran his fingers through Tony’s hair, projecting his movement so he wouldn’t startle the kid. “I know, Tony. I know. And it’s okay.”
Tony shuddered, and Bucky removed his hand, worried that his touch had been unwelcomed.
“I’m sorry,” Tony whispered.
Tony’s voice was broken, and it ripped Bucky’s heart to shreds. He wanted to scoop up Tony and hug him, but until he could determine how well received the touch would be, Bucky didn’t want to even risk asking and putting pressure on Tony. “I told you, it’s okay. I get it. You know, my mother would have fainted if she knew I had feelings for a guy. My dad probably would have taken me out back and smacked me around until he felt he’d hit it out of me. Then they’d take me to church just to be sure I got all of the impureness out.” Bucky frowned. “You know, I think my mom took me to church a few times for that very reason. I think she was worried after the waterhole incident with Tom.”
Tony stared up at Bucky, wide-eyed. “What happened at the waterhole?”
Bucky shrugged. “I was roughhousing with Tom and I yanked his shorts off. I might have stared at his ass longer than necessary.”
Bucky smiled and stood up. “So you want some apple pie? I need to take it out of the oven and let it cool, but if you can wait a few minutes, you can have as much as you like.”
“Really?” Hope sparkled in Tony’s eyes.
Bucky chuckled. “Yeah, kid.” He led Tony to the kitchen table and helped Tony climb onto the tall chair.
He took out the apple pie and sucked in a deep breath of the rich and sweet smell of the dessert. He placed it on the counter to cool then grabbed two cookie trays from the cupboard. He set the trays down in front of Tony, and then fetched the bowl of cookie dough he’d made. He set the bowl down in front of Tony.
“So how do you feel about helping me make cookies while we wait for the pie?”
Tony frowned and cocked his head to the side. “None of the things I read said you were the Jarvis of the Avengers.”
Bucky guffawed. “I’ll take that as a compliment, but no, I can’t imagine any file making that comparison. That’s something only you would say.”
Tony pouted. He tapped his fingers nervously along the tabletop. “Is that why older me loves you? Because you remind me of Jarvis?”
Bucky mulled over his answer. “I think older you loves me for quite a few things, but my cooking is definitely one of them. You know, I was very mean to your older self when we first met.”
Tony went bug-eyed. “Really? Then why would I love you?”
Bucky grinned and gestured to the sink. “How about you wash your hands and help me with these cookies, and I will tell you all about it?”
Tony hurried to the sink and washed his hands in under ten seconds.
Bucky internally chuckled at Tony’s inquisitive nature as he helped Tony back on the chair.
Tony grabbed a handful of dough and rolled it into a two-inch ball and set it on the tray.
“So you’ve been reading reports on the Avengers?” Bucky picked up a glob of dough and mimicked Tony’s rolling motions.
Tony’s face turned pink, and once again he bowed his head in shame. “Yeah… Jarvis and my parents…”
Bucky’s heart lurched. He waited for Tony to decide whether he wanted to talk about his family (because Jarvis was Tony’s family no matter what others said).
Tiny tears gathered in Tony’s eyes, but he wiped them away. “Jarvis was old. Dad told me I shouldn’t get too attached, so I’m not too surprised. Mom and Dad though…” Tony sniffled, and then sobbed. “Is it wrong that I’m more sad about Jarvis?”
“No, Tony.” Bucky clenched his fist and reminded himself not to touch Tony until Tony gave him permission. “You and your dad have always had a complicated relationship, and your mom loved you, but the person who was always there for you was Jarvis. Honestly, if there was any way I could bring him back to you, I’d do it.”
Tony breathed deep as more tears fell from his eyes. He tugged on his shirtsleeve (one of adult Tony’s ACDC shirts, which pooled around kid Tony’s frame), and used it to wipe away his tears. He put on a smile and picked up another chunk of dough. “You said you were going to tell me how I fell in love with you,” Tony reminded Bucky.
The sudden change in emotion caught Bucky off guard, but he quickly recovered. Bucky’s hatred for Howard increased at that moment. A seven-year-old should not be so swift to hide their emotions like that—should not feel the need to, yet that happy façade Bucky had grown so used to seeing on older Tony’s face was there and almost as flawless as older Tony’s.
Tony gently kicked Bucky’s shin under the table. “C’mon, Buck. Tell me!”
Bucky pushed down his feelings of anger, frustration, and sorrow. He’d follow Tony’s lead for now; if and when Tony was ready to talk more about his family then Bucky would be there for him. “All right, so since you’ve been reading the files, do you know about Hydra and me?”
Tony nodded and glared. “Yeah, but FRIDAY blocked me from a lot of information. She said it contained too much gore.”
Bucky silently thanked FRIDAY for censoring the file on him. “It does. My history isn’t a happy one.”
Tony scoffed. “Duh. You were a prisoner of war.”
Bucky smiled at the simplicity and familiarity of Tony’s response. Tony had always insisted Bucky was a prisoner of war, even when it was Bucky who was fighting him on it. “Yes, and while I was a prisoner of war, Hydra did a lot of things to change me, make me not so nice and friendly. So when Steve finally found me again after all those years. I wasn’t the warmest person to be around.”
That was an understatement. There had been days when Bucky had been downright violent towards the Avengers. There were many days in which Bucky had physically lashed out at the others and Steve had been forced to hold him back as Bucky cursed out his victim in Russian or German.
“We didn’t hang out around each other a lot during those early days. I think part of that was just you preferring to be in your workshop or with Pepper—”
“She’s my ex-girlfriend, right?” Tony pursed his lips. “Why did I give her the company? It’s mine.”
Bucky smiled. “Because you liked being Iron Man more, and Pepper is excellent at her job. Besides, the company is still yours, Pepper just runs everything with the help of FRIDAY.”
Tony nodded in satisfaction. “I still don’t get why I would let my ex have anything of mine. It’s mine, and she was obviously mean to me if we broke up.”
“You two are still friends.”
Tony sneered. “And I don’t get that either!”
Bucky snickered. “Pepper’s actually here right now. How about you ask her about it later, and see if she can explain it better?”
Tony pouted but nodded.
“Now, as I was saying, we didn’t hang out a lot at first because I was very mean. I’m pretty sure Steve actually went out of his way to make sure we didn’t see each other a lot.” Tony was the only one of the team not trained in hand to hand combat or with special abilities, and so he’d be the most vulnerable—assuming he couldn’t get to his suit in time. Also, there was the whole Bucky being responsible for Howard and Maria’s deaths thing (which FRIDAY must also be hiding from Tony if Tony was even talking to him). “So it really wasn’t until months after I moved in here that we really talked, and it was mostly to call each other names and razz each other.”
“Like how you call me squirt?” Tony inquired.
Bucky smirked. “Exactly.”
“But if I didn’t like it then, why would you do it now?”
Bucky’s smirk grew. “Does the phrase ‘pigtail pulling’ mean anything to you, because we’ve never grown out of that stage with each other.”
“Oh.” Tony’s cheeks turned pink. “So when you call me names…?”
“It’s cause I like ya.” Bucky winked.
Tony’s pink flush turned crimson and he ducked his head between his shoulders. “I don’t like squirt, but you can call me other things.” Tony’s head shot up. “But it can’t be romantic! I can’t marry you, remember?”
Bucky nodded and held up his hands in placation. “Of course. Just a little friendly name-calling.”
Bucky finished placing balls of cookie dough on his tray and set the sheet aside. “Anyway, you and me used to argue and call each other names all the time. You like to joke a lot, and back then I didn’t see that sometimes you were joking because if you didn’t laugh about what was bothering you, you’d feel sad. You also were the one who was always fighting with Steve, and Steve was my rock—my only friend—and even though there were many times when you were right to argue with him, I fought against you just because you opposed him.” Bucky’s face crinkled at the memories. “I never realized that you rarely fought back—really fought back. You’d make smart comments and sass me, but anyone who knew you would’ve have recognized that you were not trying as hard.”
“Did I like you?” Tony asked. “Is that why I wasn’t so mean?”
Bucky shook his head. “I think you just knew I wasn’t all there yet. Then one day you came into the kitchen while I was cooking and asked for some of my food and I rejected you.” Bucky sighed and shook his head. “You had the saddest look on your face, and I felt like the biggest dickbag to ever walk the planet.”
“Did I look like this?” Tony made puppy dog eyes at him.
Bucky let out a bark of laughter. “Cute, but no. Trust me, Tony, it’s something you can only do when you’re really sad and disappointed.”
Tony’s face scrunched with determination. He pinched himself and made his eyes water.
Bucky chuckled and shook his. “Nope. Not that.”
Tony huffed and pushed the tears away with the heel of his palm. “I’ll figure it out someday.”
“I hope you don’t. I’d be at your mercy and always feel utterly miserable.”
Tony jumped a tad. “Why?”
“Still haven’t figure it out?” Bucky stood and picked up his tray of uncooked cookies. “Because I don’t like it when you’re sad. It makes me sad.”
Tony scrunched his nose. “But why? I’m not that special.”
Bucky opened the oven and shoved the sheet of dough inside. “You’re asking the wrong person, buddy, because as far as I’m concerned, you’re pretty damn special. Smartest person I know. One of the kindest and bravest ones too. Also, there is nothing you cannot do once you set your mind to it, so yeah, Tony, I think you’re special.”
“That’s older me though.”
Bucky shrugged and took the tray Tony had finished. “Trust me, you two may have different experiences, but at your core the two of you are the same, I can tell.”
“How? You barely know me?”
“Except that’s not true. Older you has told me all about you, and I’m not blind either, Tony. We may have only gotten to know each other for a short amount of time, but I can see the same fire in your eyes.” Bucky stuck Tony’s tray in the oven and shut the device. Bucky reached for the pie on the counter and pulled out a knife. “Now, do you want whipped cream on your pie?”
“Yes, please!” Tony sat up straighter.
Bucky grinned to himself. Whipped cream and apple pie? That was his Tony all right.
“Hmm, I still think I should have kept the company, but if you say so.” Tony slurped up the milk from his bowl of cereal as he eyed Pepper warily.
Pepper, to her credit, just smiled and went along with Tony.
Bucky was curled up on the couch, feigning sleep, but rest had yet to take him. He was too curious to hear how Pepper and Tony interacted. He didn’t want to leave Tony alone with anyone who made him uncomfortable.
“I want to see my workshop today. FRIDAY let me see footage of myself in it, and it looks cool.”
“Has she?” Pepper inquired.
“Yup.” Tony giggled. “I got to see the footage of me being thrown into a wall when I was making the Iron Man suit. I also got to hear JARVIS’ voice too! He’s Vision now, right? When do I get to meet Vision?” Tony kicked his feet excitedly against the table. “He’s just like JARVIS, right? He seems a little more mellow and like he has a crush on that Wanda chick, but he’s still JARVIS, yes?”
“I don’t think he thinks of himself as JARVIS, but you know what?” Pepper lowered her voice like she was telling Tony a secret. “I think he’s a lot more like JARVIS than he likes to let on. I know he watches out for you, and FRIDAY has reported that he’s given her a few tips about how to take care of you every now and then.”
“Really?” Wonder filled Tony’s voice.
“What about, Rhodey? He’s supposed to be my best friend, right? Will I get to meet him?”
“He should show up sometime tomorrow. He’s an Avenger now, but he’s still involved in the military. He runs secret missions for them, and he’s just about done with the one he is on. He’s very excited to meet you too.”
“Awesome. So when do I get to go down to the workshop?”
“I don’t think that’s such a smart idea…”
“Let him,” Bucky said from the couch, keeping his eyes closed even as he revealed himself to be awake.
“James, he’s just—”
“He can look around. Heck, Tony set up his workshop long ago so that if he wants to he never has to touch a tool. Let little Tony design a few things and if they look safe have FRIDAY put them in production.”
“Are you serious?” Pepper and Tony said at once.
Bucky grunted and snuggled deeper into the couch cushion. “Not like Tony is unfamiliar with workshops and labs—Howard had plenty. As long as someone supervises, he’s probably better off than most people who wander into Tony’s workshop for the first time.”
Scampering footsteps headed toward Bucky. Bucky grunted as Tony threw half his weight on top of Bucky and wrapped his arms around Bucky’s head for a hug. “You’re the best! No wonder older me wanted to marry you.”
“Ugh. Such an octopus.” Bucky grinned and wrapped his arm around Tony’s waist, pulling the kid in closer. He ruffled Tony’s hair. “If Pepper tells you not to touch something, listen to her. If you don’t listen, the workshop and lab are off limits.”
Tony nodded enthusiastically, then ran out of Bucky’s arms and away. “Hurry up, Pepper.”
“Tony, I swear if you make anything explode—” Pepper’s heels clicked as she chased after the rugrat.
Bucky sighed and went back to trying to get some sleep. He’d stayed up with Tony until 4:30 a.m. before he put the kid to bed, only to be awoken by Pepper and Tony two hours later. He could run on two hours of sleep, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t try to sneak more sleep in if he could.
Someone entered the room.
Bucky listened to the footsteps.
“I thought you were watching the monitors?” Bucky said.
“I was, but now FRIDAY is.” Clint was quiet for a moment. “So… I really scared Tony?”
“I thought you were supposed to be perceptive?”
“I am, but I just assumed the kid was freaking out because of strangers, didn’t realize he’d taken me seriously.”
“So you and Tony ever going to come forward about just how much of a shitty parent Howard was?”
Bucky cracked open one eye. “Not my story to tell.”
“And what if Tony stays a kid for a long time? We have to know his triggers. None of us want to be responsible for sending him off to his room again.”
“I get that, but it’s still not my story to tell, and especially based on a ‘what if’ scenario.” Bucky closed his eyes and sunk deeper into the cushions. “Besides, other than the temper thing, I’m positive none of you are going to pull any of the shit Howard used to do. Although, just to be safe, don’t drink in front of Tony.”
Clint scoffed. “I didn’t plan to.”
“I assume it is too soon to ask if any of the others have learned anything?” Bucky inquired.
Clint. “Dead silence, which means they are all knee deep in their duties. We’ll probably hear something from Banner and Wanda tonight though.”
“Let’s just hope it’s something good.”
“So I hear you’re marrying a five-year-old?” Rhodey teased as entered the common floor through the elevator.
Bucky turned his head around so he could look over the back of the couch where he was watching the Stark Trek movies with Tony.
Tony popped his head up from the tablet he’d been playing on ever since he’d come back from the workshop with Pepper. It took bribery and promises of many returns to the workshop to get Tony to finally leave and have lunch.
Tony poked his head up over the couch, then it ducked down again. He mouthed, “Rhodey?”
Bucky nodded. “Hey, Rhodes, I wasn’t expecting you for a few more hours.”
“Finished the mission and booked it out of there a moment later. I’ve been flying War Machine ever since. Now where is your child bride?”
“We’re not getting married,” Tony grumbled.
“Rhodey is just stupid and a pervert for thinking I’d marry a kid.” Bucky made a show of wrinkling his nose in distaste. “Really, Rhodey, I would have thought better of you than to make such an abominable joke. It’s disgusting.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes as he strutted over to the couch. “Save the lecture, especially since you’ve been known to throw out just as many insensitive jokes as To—hey, Tony,” Rhodey caught the slip just in time.
Tony stared at Rhodey.
Rhodey smiled. “Not much of a talker. That’s surprising.”
Tony gulped. “So you’re my best friend?”
Rhodey folded his arms atop the couch and leaned over so he was at Tony’s head level. “I am; although, I think Bucky here holds the spot of your bestest.”
Tony wrinkled his nose. “’Bestest’ is not a word.” Tony turned to Bucky. “I thought he was supposed to be smart. He went to MIT.”
Rhodey sighed. “Yup, that is Tony all right.”
“Adorable, right?” Bucky chuckled.
Tony pouted. He flopped back down on the couch and curled around his tablet.
Bucky nudged Tony. “What’s wrong?”
“Doesn’t look like nothing.”
“You’re mean.” Tony became an even smaller ball.
“I agree,” Rhodey said. “Bucky is the meanest.”
“No, he’s not,” Tony argued, heat in his voice.
Rhodey blinked, taken aback. “Okay, Bucky is nice.”
“You’re just saying that to make me happy.”
“Did it work?”
Tony pinched his fingers, indicating the marginal impact of Rhodey’s words.
Bucky wrapped his arm around Tony’s shoulders. “What’d I do wrong, kid?”
“You made fun of me. You don’t really think I’m adorable. I know sarcasm when I hear it.”
Rhodey burst out laughing. “Oh, Tony, you have no idea just how adorable Bucky finds you. We could have FRIDAY make a compilation video of all the times Bucky has swooned and gushed over you. He loves you to bits, so don’t let any of the tough guy persona fool you. I swear, if you were to get a paper cut right this second, Bucky would track down that sheet of paper, burn it, and bury its ashes in the ocean.”
Tony chuckled and leaned into Bucky. “Honest?”
Rhodey held up his hand as if swearing an oath. “Honest.”
Tony looked up at Bucky expectantly. Bucky hugged Tony to his side, grateful that Tony felt comfortable around him to be physically close after all (his scare the other night had been just that: a scare). “Yeah, Tony. Cutest kid and adult I know. If a piece of paper messes with you, I’m burnin’ it dead.”
“You can’t kill paper.”
“Oh yeah?” Bucky quirked an eyebrow at Tony. “Just watch me.” He tickled Tony’s sides.
Laughter rippled through Tony, and he squirmed against Bucky.
Bucky mercilessly attacked Tony’s sides until tears were pouring out of Tony’s eyes and he was gasping for breath. Tony collapsed against Bucky, his hand fisting Bucky’s shirt as he clung on tight.
“I really hope FRIDAY has been taking pictures of you two,” Rhodey said.
“I already have pictures set aside for Mr. Barnes and Tony’s scrapbook.”
“We don’t scrapbook,” Bucky protested.
“Forgive me, allow me to rephrase my sentence,” an edge of sass entered the AI’s tone. “I will be creating the scrapbook, and Tony will hide it amongst one of his many shelves to look at when Mr. Barnes is away.”
Tony wrinkled his nose, reminding Bucky of a bunny. “I won’t do that.”
“Perhaps not,” FRIDAY conceded, although Bucky suspected that was to avoid an argument and not because she really believed Tony wouldn’t look at a scrapbook of him and Bucky. “Nonetheless, I will have one prepared just in case.”
“Hey.” Rhodey reached over the couch and picked up the tablet Tony had left by the wayside. “What’cha working on, Tony?”
Tony scuttled away from Bucky so he could touch the tablet and move things around on its screen. Tony tapped the screen and enlarged the blueprints on it. “FRIDAY let me see the design of my Iron Man suit, so I’m going to make one for me.”
“But you already have multiples,” Rhodey argued.
Tony huffed and pointed to something on the tablet. “Not for adult me, see? It’s for me-me. That way I can still be a superhero.”
Bucky and Rhodey shared a look. In an instant they had a silent discussion on who should break the news to Tony that he would not be fighting any baddies any time soon.
Bucky patted Tony on the back. “I think it’s great you want to help us fight on the field, Tony, and if you want to make a suit too, that’s awesome, but I don’t think SHIELD is going to let you fight.”
Tony sneered. “SHIELD is not the boss of me.”
Rhodey snickered. “Well, can’t say your older self wouldn’t agree.”
“Yeah, and older me is the smartest person on the planet.”
“Whoa!” Bucky threw up his hands exaggeratedly and leaned away from Tony. “Where did this attitude come from? Someone’s cocky.”
Tony flushed and bowed his head. He grumbled an apology.
Bucky ruffled Tony’s hair, “Just teasing, Tones. Your older self is pretty smart, but you are too.”
“Not as smart as Dad,” Tony grumbled.
“Yeah, well your dad can go fuck himself.”
“Bucky!” Rhodey chastised out of shock.
Bucky shrugged. “What?”
“Don’t swear in front of a kid,” Rhodey reprimanded.
Bucky acted mock offended. “But Tony gets to swear in front of me?”
“Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.” Tony grinned cheekily yet shyly up at Rhodey. “I like tits. It has a nice sound.”
Bucky laughed and threw himself at Tony, wrapping Tony up in a bear hug. “I love this kid. You are amazing, Tony. Don’t ever change.”
Rhodey mimed washing his hands then threw them up. “Done. I am done with this. I had nothing to do with this, and if Pepper finds out that someone has been encouraging Tony’s foul mouth, I officially had nothing to do with it.”
“You’re no fun.” Tony stuck his tongue out at Rhodey.
Bucky chuckled and hugged Tony closer. “Yeah, Rhodes, you’re no fun.” He stuck out his tongue too.
Rhodey shook his head. “I should’ve stayed with the military.”
“We still have a few more tests to run, but as you can see, so far nothing is showing up, medically speaking.” Bruce circled the desk where he had a projection of Tony’s test results on display for Bucky and Clint to see. Wanda stood at the other end of the desk, waiting patiently for her turn to speak.
“You have to have found something,” Clint argued. “He’s a kid; there has to be signs of physical change showing up.”
Bruce nodded. “Of course, but they are not causes; they’re the effects of Tony being younger.”
Bucky squinted at the display, not fully understanding all of the medical jargon on the projection, but he trusted Bruce. Bucky turned to Wanda. “And you?”
Wanda smirked and straightened with pride. “It’s not much, and I don’t have any fancy readouts for you, but I was able to detect something from Tony’s blood.”
Bucky was intrigued. “And?”
“It’s hard to describe.” Wanda held up her hand, curling and uncurling her fingers slowly like there was something in the air only she could feel. “It’s an energy, like Vision, like the mind gem.”
“You’re saying we might be dealing with another mystical rock?” Clint asked.
Bucky scowled. “And AIM has it.”
“Fuck,” Clint cursed.
Bruce nodded his head sympathetically. “There is no guarantee we’re dealing with another Tesseract or Mind Gem, but unless I can find something in Tony’s blood or cells that could be the cause, it’s our only working theory for now.”
“We need Thor and possibly Vision.” Bucky ran his hand through his hair, trying to keep himself calm.
“Unless you know how to communicate with Asgard, we’re kind of stuck with just Vision,” Clint pointed out. Clint huffed. “Why hasn’t Tony gotten on that by the way? You’d think he’d try to be the first one figure out interdimensional communications.”
“And have Thor use whatever he creates to spend all day talking to Jane? Yeah, Tony may like to build things to help us out, but even he has to draw the line somewhere,” Bucky said. He turned to Bruce and Wanda. “So have you two sent Steve your information?”
Wanda and Bruce nodded.
“I also contacted Vision,” Wanda said. “He’s on his way as we speak.”
Bucky hated that the phrase “evil never sleeps” was true. At four in the morning an alarm had sounded and Bucky threw himself out of bed. In seconds, he and the Avengers had assembled and were receiving orders and information from Fury about what looked to be another AIM attack with LMDs of Crossbones in addition to LMDs of a crime group called the Wrecking Crew.
Personally, Bucky would have been more impressed if AIM had just stuck to Crossbones.
Rhodey took off with Clint through the air, while Wanda followed Bucky to get his motorcycle—Bruce stayed behind to monitor the fight and protect Tony and Pepper if needed.
“Mr. Barnes,” FRIDAY’s voice came from the ceiling. “Tony would like to know what is happening?”
Bucky clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth in frustration. Of course Tony had heard the alarm and was curious. The elevator doors opened into the garage where Bucky’s bike was stored. He ran over to the beauty, Wanda on his heels. “Tell him it’s a practice drill.”
Bucky climbed onto the bike and waited for Wanda to join him. The second she was on, he revved the engine and the garage door leading to the outside opened.
“Tony says he does not believe you, Mr. Barnes. He says he already checked the news.”
“Wake up Pepper and tell her to take care of Tony,” Bucky hollered over his engine and sped out into the dark morning.
Bucky cut through city streets and dark alleyways to make it to where the LMDs were running amok. Clint and Rhodey were already on the scene, escorting people out of the sector and fending off the LMDs, which were as useless as ever. Seriously, AIM might as well have made the droids from the Star Wars prequels. It might have taken them less time, money, and energy to do so.
“Wanda, do your thing.” Bucky drove through a cluster of Wrecking Ball Crew LMDs.
Wanda raised her hand and waved her wrist. “Gladly.”
“So this is what Steve’s report meant when he said you guys cut through these LMDs like butter last time,” War Machine’s voice came over the comms.
“AIM really isn’t stepping up their game,” Clint agreed.
Something didn’t sit right with Bucky. This was AIM, an organization of geniuses. What the Avengers were up against now was not the work of geniuses. It was sloppy and there was seemingly no goal to the destruction except destruction itself. “Bruce,” Bucky murmured into his comm.
“Everything is fine here, Winter. No attacks. Tony and Pepper—”
“Tony has taken his suit out for a test ride,” FRIDAY stated over the comms.
“What?” Bucky squawked and pulled out a pistol from his thigh and shot at one of the LMDs Wanda had missed as they drove through the city.
“Tony finished blueprints of a child-sized suit before bed this evening and put it on the production line while Ms. Potts and Mr. Rhodes tried to find the tablet Tony had claimed to have lost; this was during your meeting with the Avengers this evening. His suit was completed an hour ago, and he is now testing it.”
Bucky growled and swung his bike into a Crossbones decoy. “Cut the power on his suit this second.”
“I’m sorry, I cannot do that, Mr. Barnes. To do so would result in paralysis or death for Tony since he is currently in flight.”
Fuck, and Bucky knew exactly where Tony was headed. “Is there any way you can take over the suit and fly him back to the tower?”
“Negative,” FRIDAY answered. “Only if he switches to autopilot mode, and even then, I cannot stop him if he switches back to manual.”
“Damn.” Clint whistled in appreciation. “Even when he’s a kid, Tony refuses to be left behind.”
“Clint, can it,” Bucky snapped. Bucky was doing everything in his power not to envision seven-year-old Tony getting shot out of the sky or exploding because something had gone wrong with the latest version of the Iron Man suit.
One of the LMDs slung a wrecking ball at Bucky and Wanda, and Bucky veered low to the ground just inches out of the way of the oncoming attack.
Wanda switched her attention to the new LMD and ripped it apart with her powers.
“Looks like we have some civilians getting terrorized by a Crossbones one road north from you two,” Clint said over the comms. “War Machine and I are a little busy over here, think one of you can deal with him?”
“Sounds like this is your stop Wanda, unless you want Crossbones.”
A bullet zoomed through the air, but Wanda caught it with her powers and sent it back toward the LMD who had fired it. “What are you talking about?” She grinned. “I have one of my own here.” She got off the bike and charged at her target, knocking back another Wrecking Crew LMD coming at her with a crowbar.
As Bucky headed toward the civilians and away from Wanda, his gut churned once again with the sense that something was amiss.
Crossbones was terrorizing a group of teenagers by a pharmacy. They had ducked behind some cars as Crossbones shot at them; the LMD wasn’t even trying to hit the teens.
Bucky frowned and aimed his pistol at the LMD. He blasted the LMD’s head in, and slid to a stop on his motorcycle in front of the teens. “Any of you need medical attention?”
Two teens popped their heads up from behind the cars. They shook their heads.
Bucky nodded and scanned the area. He didn’t see any other LMDs running around, but that didn’t mean they weren’t in hiding.
Bucky looked at the pharmacy and scowled at the number of windows it had. Three buildings down was a tattoo parlor with only one small window.
Bucky parked his bike and hopped off it. He unhooked his modified Glock from his back and nodded at the teens to come out and follow him.
The teens scampered and did as silently instructed. After securing the area, Bucky signaled the kids to hide inside the parlor. With a few instructions on how to barricade the place, Bucky left the teens to their own devices until he could be sure that he or a SHIELD agent could escort them to safety later.
Bucky heard an explosion and a woot of joy.
Bucky’s head shot up. In the sky was the child version of Iron Man firing off repulsor blast after blast.
Bucky opened his mouth to holler at Tony to get his ass down there so Bucky could properly chastise him and send him back to the tower, when an electrical discharge filled the air.
Bucky’s heart stuttered as he watched the lights of the Iron Man suit flicker then die. His body was moving toward Tony’s just as the suit toppled through the sky. The world narrowed to nothing, but Tony and his quickening descent. All Bucky could hear was the muffled cry of shock and fear from Tony within the armor.
Bucky leaped and twisted through the air, catching Tony four feet from the ground, and clutching the miniature Iron Man to his chest.
Bucky hit the ground hard, the cement splitting under the impact of his skull, a blow that would have killed him if he didn’t have his own super soldier serum running through him. Bucky groaned and hissed as the pain lanced through his skull. All he saw for a few brief seconds was white.
Tony squirmed on top of him. Adrenaline shot through Bucky’s system fast and had him seated upright in milliseconds with Tony clutched to his chest. “Tony, what the—”
Bucky hissed in pain again and hugged Tony tight, as a bullet lodged itself where his cybernetic arm and flesh met.
Dozens of feet raced toward him, and Bucky scowled. Not the LMDs—the EMP that had knocked Tony out of commission had been large enough that any LMD in a block would have been taken out as well, which meant Bucky might actually be meeting the mad people behind what was going on.
“Bucky, are you—” Tony gasped as Bucky rolled them to the side, avoiding a shower of bullet fair.
Bucky kept one arm wrapped around Tony’s waist as he holstered his Glock and pulled out his pistol—the smaller gun much easier to shoot with one handed. He used the trajectory of the bullets shot at him to aim at his incoming attackers and fired.
He heard two cries of pain, but the footsteps were still coming toward him and they were coming from multiple directions.
Bucky glanced at his bike. It wasn’t too far away, but reaching it still wouldn’t be easy.
“Just give me a moment.” Tony popped open a panel on his gauntlet. “I can get my gauntlets up and working again. We can fight them together.”
Bucky gritted his teeth and strengthened his grip on Tony.
God, even with all his kidnappings and the shit Howard had put Tony through, Tony was still too young and naïve to realize just how much danger he was in. He probably thought of this as some superhero game, even if he’d protest it when called on it. Tony was the hero in his mind, and as long as he had someone to back him up, then why wouldn’t the bad guys be defeated?
Bucky could see it all in Tony’s head.
It terrified and pissed him off.
AIM agents in ugly yellow suits and goggles appeared, aiming guns at Bucky and Tony.
Bucky contemplated putting Tony down. The kid had more armor than Bucky, and a few bullets weren’t going to do a lot of damage. Bucky could put Tony down and use one of his better guns to take out the agents.
He was just scared that when he put Tony down the kid would go charging at the agents and get himself kidnapped.
“Hand over the child and we won’t fire,” one of the AIM agents said.
Bucky scoffed, feigning nonchalance. “Don’t tell me all this destruction was done just to get one kid? Most people just use candy.”
The same agent who had spoken fired a warning shot at Bucky’s feet.
Bucky raised an eyebrow at the agent. “Wasting bullets?”
Bucky shot the man in the head, clean and through.
The man didn’t even have time to holler before he died and hit the ground. The agent beside him tensed and fired at Bucky, but missed.
All the remaining agents were tense, but not firing.
“So you fellas want to tell me who your ringleader is? Because no offense, but I recognize peons when I see them, and you’re just one level above the crappy LMDs you guys have been sending out.”
Loud barking laughter came from behind Bucky, accompanied by the thumping of military boots.
Bucky’s shoulders bled together; he knew that laugh.
Bucky held down a growl as he slowly turned to face Brock Rumlow in all his Crossbones gear, minus the helmet. A sadistic glint sparkled in the man’s eyes as he strolled down the street like a celebrity walking the red carpet.
With the real thing in front of him, Bucky found the LMDs lacking far greater than he’d originally believed. The LMDs were supposed to be perfect replicas—he’d seen first hand how perfect they’d been in the past. The Crossbones LMDs lacked the same energy and malicious joy this man had.
“Long time no see, Winter Soldier.” Brock greeted. The man hadn’t even pulled out a weapon yet, which put Bucky on edge.
“Would have preferred to keep it that way, but it looks like AIM is trying to show off your ugly mug to everyone these days. What happened? Realized the only person who’d ever love you is you and went to AIM to make a few copies of yourself? They’re complete shit, I hope you know. Then again, so is your personality.”
Brock chuckled. “Ah, Hydra really missed out on your sense of humor by wiping that messed up brain of yours.”
“A true tragedy,” Bucky let the disgust flow into his voice. His fingers wrapped tighter around his pistol then released his grip just a tad. Brock wasn’t projecting any attacks, which meant either Bucky would have to make the first move, or wait blindly for Brock. Normally he could out wait his opponents, but his fear for Tony made him want to rush.
Bucky was tempted to glance around and see if any of the other Avengers had shown up, but he didn’t want to show weakness in front of Rumlow. “So are you going to gloat about Hydra or AIM this time?”
“You should know Hydra and AIM often align themselves. They do have history. Hydra was very intrigued in AIM’s recent experiments, so AIM gets to have me on loan.”
“I hope Hydra won’t be too mad at AIM then when you come back in pieces.”
Brock laughed. “Cute. Really. You’re absolutely adorable, Soldier. It’s easy to see you’re uneasy. You’re surrounded, but no one is attacking, not even me. And you want know why?” A shark like grin broke across Brock’s face. “Because I am reveling in what you already know, which is the moment I come at you, you’re going to have to let the squirt go if you even want to stand a chance against me, and the moment you let go, one of these agents is going to swoop in and take the little brat.”
The sound of gears shifting and whirs from the Tony’s gauntlet stole Bucky’s attention.
“Don’t call me squirt!” Tony fired a repulsor beam at Brock.
With a grunt, Brock was thrown back.
All hell broke loose. The agents unleashed a barrage of bullets and Bucky retaliated as he ran for his motorcycle.
Tony shot blast after blast at the agents.
“There,” Bruce’s voice was suddenly in Bucky’s ear. “That should have fixed the comms. Everyone there?”
“Trying to fix my suit,” Rhodey answered.
“Providing cover,” Clint stated.
“LMDs stopped in my area, searching for any remaining,” Wanda answered.
Bucky hopped onto his motorcycle, placing Tony on his lap and in front of him. “I got Iron Kid, and we’re being attacked by AIM agents and the real Crossbones.”
Brock was getting up from where’d been knocked down.
“Taking Iron Kid to safety, need back up and cover.”
“Roger!” All three said in unison.
Tony wiggled and tried to get off the bike before Bucky could start it. “But Bucky we can take them. I have my—”
“Not now,” Bucky barked.
Tony froze and went silent.
Bucky revved the engine.
Rumlow was charging at them with his gun raised and poised to shoot out the tires.
Bucky sped off, the bullets just missing his wheels.
Bucky sped past Wanda on her way to cover his tail as he retreated with Tony.
She’d give them hell.
Bucky muttered to himself as he hauled Tony into the common room of Avengers Tower. He was furious and his fist curled with the need to punch something, which he had already done quite a bit upon arrival at the tower. When Bucky had driven up to their home, a group of AIM agents had tried to take him by surprise and steal Tony from him, but he had knocked them flat on their asses and ran inside. FRIDAY had already contacted SHIELD to capture the agents for interrogation.
Bucky shoved Tony onto the couch and paced the room.
“Ms. Potts is on her way to retrieve Tony,” FRIDAY said.
“Tell her that won’t be necessary, and that Tony and I need to talk.”
There was a pause, then, “Understood. Ms. Potts would like you to inform her when you are done speaking.”
There was a click as Tony unlatched his helmet. Tony stared up at Bucky with big amber eyes full of concern. “Bucky?”
Like Tony had pulled a trigger, Bucky whirled on Tony and stormed over to him. “What the hell were you thinking? Didn’t I tell you to stay behind? Didn’t I say you weren’t allowed to fight?”
“I don’t care what SHIELD said! And frankly, I doubt SHIELD told you to do anything!”
“No, that’s not what I—”
“God damn it, Tony! You don’t even realize how many people you may have put in danger today. Not just you, but civilians and myself! I can’t fight to full capacity if I have to watch you, and the same is true for the rest of the Avengers! God, and what if your suit had crapped out halfway to the battle? You’d have been defenseless! There were AIM agents waiting outside the tower! They could have been put there to follow you! They were certainly there to capture you upon re-entry. Just think what would have happened if I hadn’t been with you and your suit hadn’t been working. Jesus!” Bucky yanked on his hair and paced again. “Fuck! Do you know just how incredibly stupid that was? Do you? Do fucking realize!”
Bucky turned on Tony again and froze. Shards of ice pierced his heart at the tears pouring down Tony’s face.
Howard had always yelled at Tony and made him feel like shit.
Bucky felt like a bug that needed to be squashed. How could he lose his temper like that when he more than anyone knew how Tony would react?
Bucky reached out to touch Tony. “Tony, I’m sorr—”
Tony cowered. He curled up in a ball and covered his head, his limbs trembling with fear.
The sight socked Bucky in the gut and he stepped back.
Bucky would never forgive himself.
For a minute Bucky stood there, watching as Tony waited for Bucky to strike him. Each second was like a knife to his stomach. He hated himself so much, he wished he could go back in time to when he had started yelling and punch himself in the face.
Tony peeked out from behind his arms, and flinched. He waited another five seconds before he looked again. His eyes darted to the elevator then Bucky. A moment later, he sprinted across the common floor to the elevator.
Bucky didn’t give chase, just gritted his teeth and curled his fists at his side.
He had no idea how to fix this.
“He still won’t come out?” Clint asked as Pepper returned to the common floor with a bowl of untouched Macaroni & Cheese.
Pepper shook her head. “He’s not eating either. I left him the fried rice and teriyaki, just in case, but I have a feeling he’s not going to eat that either.”
Bucky buried his face in his palms and envisioned kicking himself. Damn it, why’d he have to make such a boneheaded move? Why couldn’t he have controlled his temper? It was Tony! He knew screaming would have scared Tony, yet he’d done it anyway.
But maybe that was the problem; it was Tony. Tony was one of the few people that if Bucky ever lost, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself. His future was with Tony, and if Tony were to die that would be it, he’d have lost the happy future he’d finally allowed himself to have.
It didn’t make yelling at Tony right, though, especially not in Tony’s current condition.
God damn it. Tony had always been afraid that he’d end up like Howard. Bucky had always told Tony he wouldn’t; that the two of them might share some qualities but they were two vastly different people. Who’d have thought Bucky would be the one to end up like Howard though?
“You gotta stop beating yourself up,” Rhodey’s voice penetrated Bucky’s guilty conscious. “You got scared and you lost your shit; it happens.”
“But it shouldn’t have happened around Tony.” Bucky thunked his head against the back of the couch.
Wanda perked up from her corner of the room and headed toward the elevator. “Perhaps not; however, perhaps there is someone who can help us explain to Tony what happened.”
Bucky scoffed. “Like who?” Tony had barely bonded with most of the Avengers. He doubted Tony would open up to any of them when he felt so scared and vulnerable.
“Like him.” As Wanda spoke, the elevator opened to reveal Vision.
Vision looked around the room with curious eyes and a small smile on his face. He floated out of the elevator and bowed his head in silent greeting. “I hope I am not interrupting anything. I arrived a few moments ago, and FRIDAY informed me that all of you were here with the exception of Tony.”
Clint and Pepper straightened, shimmers of calculations in their eyes.
“Not interrupting,” Clint said. “In fact, you may have perfect timing.”
Pepper nodded enthusiastically. “Vision, forgive me for bombarding you as soon as you arrive, but how much of JARVIS’ memory and programming do you still possess?”
Vision lips pursed in a small frown as he mulled over his answer. “I am I, Ms. Potts. Though I may have been formed by Ultron and JARVIS, I can no more say where they end and I begin. However, I do possess some memories of Tony during his interactions with JARVIS, but they are quite fragmented and very few.”
“But you still care for him, right?” Rhodey pressed.
Once again, Vision frowned. He looked to Wanda for guidance.
“Tony refuses to come out of his room because Bucky scared him. We were hoping you might be able to lure him out or comfort him at least.”
Vision shifted with uncertainty. “I suppose I could try, but I am not JARVIS, and even if I were, Tony in his current state would prefer the human Edwin Jarvis.”
“Well, you’re all we got.” Bucky shoved himself off of the couch and strode toward Vision. “I know you are your own person Vision, but at this point I’d try anything. I’d leave this tower if that was the only way to make Tony feel safe again, but I can’t even do that if he won’t talk to someone to tell them that, so please, just try? He was so excited to meet you when he learned about you.”
Vision bowed his head, his lips curled in a fond smile. “I must admit; I was excited to meet him too once I learned of his current state.” His smile vanished. “It is unfortunate that we must meet under these circumstances.” Vision met Bucky’s gaze. “But I will do so nonetheless. I cannot promise you anything, but I do hope my presence will aid in your endeavors.”
Bucky swallowed the lump of guilt in his throat. “Me too.”
Steve, Natasha, and Sam returned a few hours later, scraped, dirty, and sweaty, but in one piece. All of the Avengers (minus Vision and Tony) were called to the conference room for debriefing over the events of the last few days.
Natasha held an ice pack to her neck, while Sam took an ice pack to his lower back and a heating pad to his abs. He smiled in bliss at the dual sensations.
Steve’s brow was furrowed as Bucky and his team relayed the attack on the city.
“The LMDs are just a distraction, and not a high quality one,” Natasha cut in during the middle of Bucky’s tale. “We were able to confirm that with our search.”
“Yeah.” Sam cracked his neck. “AIM may be super high tech, but even they don’t want to waste high quality resources on something they plan to have destroyed.”
“Which explains the EMP blast once Tony arrived at the scene. They had been prepared to sabotage their LMDs in order to capture Tony,” Steve added. “We can also confirm that Tony is indeed their target.”
Clint and Rhodey rolled their eyes.
“I think everyone can agree that Tony is their target without needing to break into any AIM facilities to get the information,” Rhodey said.
Natasha quirked an eyebrow. “While we did find that in our information gathering, SHIELD cracked that shell open hours ago through many of the AIM agents that were captured.”
“Still, I don't think we needed an agent to tell us that after today,” Rhodey said.
“Whether or not it needs to be stated; it is still good to have it confirmed,” Bruce added in his two cents. “Now, back to the matter at hand.”
“Thank you, Bruce.” Steve nodded in deference to the man. “FRIDAY, if you could assist? The files I uploaded an hour ago?”
“Yes, Captain,” FRIDAY chirped and displayed Steve’s file around the room.
“Thank you, please bring up the section on the weapon that we believe was used on Tony.”
All of the other files shrunk, and moved to the background as another grew in size and took up the center of the room.
A gun Bucky had never seen before appeared next to the text of scientific babble.
Bucky narrowed his eyes at the lack of chamber on the gun or a place to insert a magazine.
“This, in simple terms, is a de-aging gun, which AIM has been designing for months now. However, it appears de-aging was not its original intent.” Steve pointed to a section of the hologram and had it enlarged. “The gun was originally based off of Tony’s arc reactor in an attempt to make some sort of ray gun.”
Bucky and Natasha snorted in amusement.
Steve raised an eyebrow at them. “You two have something to say?”
“Was ‘ray gun’ the phrase AIM used?” Bucky smirked.
Natasha shared the grin.
Steve raised a challenging eyebrow. “Would you like to read off and explain in depth the mechanics of the Iron Man suit?”
Bucky raised his hands to show he yielded.
“Sounds like fun,” Natasha teased.
“Excellent, I’ll set a date for it,” Steve sassed back at Natasha.
“So AIM was making some sort of ray gun based off Tony’s tech?” Clint shrugged. “Sounds pretty standard.”
“Not so standard when you realize they made a mistake somewhere and stumbled upon a way to de-age their enemies.” Steve touched the hologram again and pulled up a video of an AIM scientist shooting a lab rat with the gun, and then cursing when it seemingly didn’t work. Steve sped up the footage to a few minutes later when a scientist off screen readout that the rat’s biological scan had come back showing the rat was younger.
“So at least it’s not one of the Infinity Gems Thor told us about after Ultron,” Rhodey said as the footage ended.
“Close enough, though,” Sam added.
This time Natasha was the one to pull up a file that contained images of wavelengths and graphs. “AIM’s main goal was to recreate something similar to Tony’s Arc Reactor, but that’s not where they started. They got their hands on Hydra’s information on the Tesseract and learned that the Arc Reactor and the Tesseract share similar wavelengths. They’ve also been looking into Vision’s mind gem, which also has similar readings.”
Clint groaned. “So they were looking into the gems, realized Tony had somehow created something similar, thus they tried to copy the copycat, and ended up creating that.” Clint gestured to the de-aging gun.
“At least now we know why Hydra would be interested in AIM’s findings,” Bucky muttered, recalling what Rumlow had said.
“But why Tony?” Wanda spoke up, having been silent the whole exchange.
“They needed to test the gun on a human,” Natasha answered. “Tony was selected because if he died: they killed Iron Man, and if he survived—”
“They’d have a shield against the Avengers and a kid they could manipulate into building weapons,” Bucky completed without having to read the file that contained the answer.
“So now they want their child genius, first to see the exact effects the gun has on the human body, and then to use him,” Steve added.
“Please tell me we have enough information to reverse what they did to Tony,” Rhodey said.
Steve shook his head. “We were interrupted during our mission.”
Sam chuckled. “More like one of the AIM agents recognized Steve’s face, had a bit of a fanboy moment, and then called security on us.”
Bucky quirked an eyebrow at Steve. “’Fanboy moment?’”
Steve blushed. “I guess even some of our enemies have their favorite Avenger.” Steve squared his shoulders. “That being said, while we do have some of the schematics on the gun, we will need to work on getting the rest of the information, and we must also obtain that gun. It may not be a lethal weapon, but it can still cause a lot of trouble in the wrong hands. Also, if we can get hold of the gun we may be able to reverse the effects if we are unable to find the remaining schematics.”
Natasha snorted. “I’ll find them.”
“In the meantime,” Bruce began. “Have FRIDAY send me over what you’ve found. I’ll go over it with Vision. We may be able to find a cure even with what you have.”
“You hear him, FRIDAY?” Steve hollered at the ceiling.
“Yes, Captain, and the information has been sent.”
“All right, then unless someone has something else to add, I’m going to call this meeting to a close.” Steve waited to see if anyone would jump in with something. When the Avengers remained quiet, Steve nodded. “Meeting adjourned for tonight. We will meet up tomorrow at ten hundred hours to discuss strategy.”
There was some muttering about drinks, movies, and food as the team broke apart for the night and exited the conference room, leaving Bucky and Steve behind.
Bucky stared at the conference table, lost as to what to do. He wanted to check on Tony, but he knew he wouldn’t be welcomed, and it tore him up inside.
Steve clamped Bucky’s shoulder and took a seat next to him. “It’s going to be all right.”
Bucky shook his head. “I scared him.”
“You thought he might die or be kidnapped out there.”
“I made him think I was going to hit him,” Bucky snapped, pure venom in his voice. “He thought I was no better than Howard! I would never intentionally hurt Tony, and he—”
“What do you mean ‘no better than Howard?’” Steve’s gaze narrowed, picking Bucky apart until he found his answer. His eyes widened. “Bucky, did Howard—”
Bucky cursed and slammed his fist on the table. “I didn’t say anything, Steve.”
“But you said—”
“I promised Tony I would never say anything, that he gets to decide who to tell.”
Steve clenched his jaw and looked away from Bucky. His fingers flexed, revealing just how much he wanted to fight someone or punch something. “I always wondered, but Tony always made it sound more like Howard was just distant and an asshole.”
Bucky glared. “Yeah, well, he was a fuckin’ asshole, and one of the few people that I have mixed feelings about when it comes to my actions as Hydra’s puppet.”
Steve flinched. He looked at Bucky like Bucky had peeled his face off to reveal a red skull underneath. “Bucky…”
“I know, Steve.” Bucky turned his head away from his friend, unable to face Steve’s reaction head on. “And Tony does too. I fuckin’ broke down in front of him when I confessed that. He still wanted to be with me even when I admitted something so terrible.” Because Tony had just as many conflicted feelings when it came to Howard; he’d understood, and didn’t blame Bucky for his emotions. “And now I’ve fucked up so bad.”
“He’s just a kid now, Bucky,” Steve spoke softly and encouragingly. “He doesn’t understand you were terrified and let it get the best of you. When Tony’s an adult, if he remembers any of this at all, he’ll understand. He won’t think you’re Howard—”
Bucky shot up. “You don’t get it. I know adult Tony will forgive me and understand, but what I can’t stand is that I hurt my fiancé—no, not that. Because I hurt a kid—that I let my emotions get the better of me. I don’t need adult Tony to forgive me; I need kid Tony to, and I just don’t see how that is possible.”
Slowly, Steve stood up from his chair and looked Bucky dead in the eye. “Then you’re going to have to talk to him.” Steve held up a hand to silence the protest Bucky was about to unleash. “I know Tony has locked himself away, but let me ask you this: when adult Tony is upset or afraid and he locks himself away in his workshop, what do you do?”
“I go down there and I force him to talk to me until we fix things or I at least understand what’s got him so riled.”
“So do that now. You’ve given him time to process, now it’s time talk.”
“I don’t think it’s that easy.”
“Why?” Steve asked like it really was so simple. “You saying Tony and you haven’t ever had huge fights or misunderstandings?”
“No, but he’s a kid.”
“Who built a child version of the Iron Man armor. It may be harder for him to understand the emotional and mental aspects of the situation, but he’s still a genius. Give him a chance and he might surprise you.”
“You really think that?” Disbelief coated Bucky’s voice.
“Yes, and the worst thing Tony is going to do is turn you away, so…” Steve whacked Bucky on the shoulder. “Suck it up and go talk to Tony.”
Steve beamed at the nickname and left Bucky alone to mull over his next move.
Steve was right, and damn it all if it didn’t irk Bucky to admit it. He couldn’t make things right with Tony if he never talked to him.
Taking a deep breath, Bucky headed out of the conference room and took the elevator up to Tony’s personal floor.
As he stepped off the elevator, he heard murmurings from Tony’s bedroom.
Bucky headed toward the sound.
“I assure you, Tony, the discord between you and James is the result of a miscommunication. As I have admitted to you many times already, I am not the best when it comes to understanding human emotion, but I believe James’ reaction was caused by love and concern.”
“But it doesn’t make sense, and he called me stupid. Like my dad,” Tony grumbled the last part.
Bucky’s heart felt like it was being strangled. Had he done that? He didn’t remember saying that, but—
“Tony, you had FRIDAY show me James’ reaction to your courageous yet impetuous actions. He never called you stupid. He called the situation stupid.”
“Surely you must know the difference. Although, I do believe ‘foolhardy’ would have been a better choice of word.”
Tony huffed. “Same difference.”
“Oh no, the words are very different in their nuances.”
“He still hates me.”
Bucky’s lungs were being crushed.
“Has FRIDAY not provided enough video and photographic evidence to prove otherwise? Have I not recalled enough instances of companionship between you and James?”
“That’s old me.”
“But it is still you. Isn’t that correct, James?” Vision raised his voice.
Bucky jumped in his skin, surprised to be called out on his eavesdropping.
Tony sucked in a sharp breath.
Bucky winced, hoping that sharp inhalation wasn’t brought upon by fear. Slowly, Bucky pushed open the door to Tony’s bedroom and poked his head inside.
Wide amber eyes filled with fear and hope greeted him.
Bucky bowed his head in shame. “Hey, can we talk?”
“Nothing good happens after those words,” Tony said. He bowed his head too. “That’s what TV says, at least, but Jarvis says the TV lies, so…” Tony shrugged then glanced up at Bucky. “Can Vision stay?”
Bucky glimpsed at Vision to see if the man was willing to stay. A subtle nod was Visions answer.
Bucky forced himself to smile wide in hopes of easing Tony’s fears. “Of course Vision can stay.” He’d rather not spill his guts in front of someone other than Tony, but after what he’d done, Bucky would do whatever it took to earn back Tony’s trust. And truthfully, Bucky trusted Vision not to blather anything personal to the other Avengers.
Bucky sat on the floor across from Tony, who was fiddling with what was once a TV remote, but now looked like something else that Bucky couldn’t identify—maybe a laser? “Tony, I’m so sorry for yelling at you earlier. I lost my temper.”
Tony shrugged and looked at the carpet. “S’okay.”
Bucky shook his head. “No, it’s not. I’m the adult. I should have remained in control.”
“It’s fine. Adults get mad all the time.” Tony’s hold on the remains of the remote tightened. “It’s no big deal.”
“It’s a very big deal. I was being stupid, but you scared the shit out of me, Tony. I don’t even know how to describe the feeling.” Bucky pushed down a frustrated growl; why did words have to fail him when he needed them most? “Have you ever lost someone or something before?”
Tears formed in Tony’s eyes. “Jarvis.”
Bucky choked on his breath. He felt like he was back in cryo. He’d been expecting a story about a lost toy or a friend who Tony had met one day at the park and then had never spoken to again; Bucky had forgotten about Jarvis entirely.
Bucky put his hand over his heart, and screwed his eyes shut against the pain he felt for Tony. “It really hurts, right? And you were really scared when you learned about Jarvis, right?”
Tony nodded, more tears pouring out of his eyes.
“Felt lost too, right?”
“Now what if I told you everyone in this Tower was going to be gone tomorrow and you would feel that pain and loss again?”
Tony jolted, and the fear in his eyes increased. “You’re not all going to leave because of me, are you?”
Bucky’s fingers twitched with the urge to take Tony’s hand and comfort him.
“Never, but that fear you felt? That’s what I felt the moment I saw you fall out of the sky, and what I continued to feel until I got you to the tower. Same with the sense of loss and pain, even if I hadn’t lost you yet, I could feel it there, just waiting to pounce the second something went wrong and I lost you.”
Tony double-blinked. His tears stopped as he stared at Bucky in shock.
“I’ve felt that pain and sorrow enough times in my life, Tony, that I don’t ever want to feel it again, but especially with you. And it doesn’t matter to me if you’re a kid or you’re an adult, as long as you’re alive and well, I’m happy, but the moment—“ Fuck. Bucky’s throat closed. He couldn’t bring himself to say the alternative. His body was shaking at just the thought.
Bucky inhaled deeply, but before he could try again to speak, Tony flung himself at Bucky and wrapped his arms around his neck.
Sobs wracked Tony’s small frame.
Relief flooded Bucky and he wrapped Tony up in a hug.
“I’m sorry.” Tony rubbed his nose against Bucky’s neck and shoulder, getting snot everywhere, but Bucky couldn’t care less. “I just wanted to be a superhero like you and Captain America.”
“You still don’t get it, do you, shortstack?” Bucky tucked Tony’s head under his chin. “You’re my superhero, no matter what age you are.”
“And we’re sure the gun is located at this base?” Bucky pointed to a section of the map that Steve had marked.
“We’ve narrowed it down to that one and two others, but between the three, it is the one that is the most guarded, and from what SHIELD intelligence has gathered, it’s where the gun was last seen.” Steve smirked. “Don’t trust me?”
“Well, considering how many Hydra bases you went through to get Loki’s staff…” Rhodey sassed.
“And there were many, I can assure you,” Wanda joked.
Steve faked shock and hurt. “My own team turning against me? What is this world coming to?”
“Don’t take it personally, Cap.” Clint twirled an arrow between his fingers. “They’re all just growing up and trying to find their own identities. Once they’ve left the nest and matured, they’ll come back to you and love you even more.”
“I think Bucky is the one who needs to hear that speech,” Sam jested.
“I do not want to hear any jokes about Tony and puberty,” Bucky said.
“Can you imagine if he has to go through it again?” Clint snickered. “Poor bastard.”
“If that does happen, I’ll pray for you,” Rhodey whispered to Bucky. “Tony was spunky as hell when he was a teenager.”
“Tony is not going to go through puberty again, because we are going to get that gun,” Steve spoke with finality.
“Although, it would certainly make for an interesting age disparity between Bucky and Tony.” Natasha smiled coyly. “Bucky’s always been older, but this is the first time he physically is, and if Tony has to grow up naturally, Bucky will be the one in his forties while Tony’s twenty.”
“Yet he still won’t be a sugar daddy,” Clint quipped.
“You know what, you two.—” Bucky started.
“Everyone!” Steve barked, silencing the group. “We are supposed to be planning our next move, not making horrible and inappropriate jokes at Bucky’s expense.”
“Thank you,” Bucky said.
“Besides, you never know what Bucky could accomplish in the next decade. He could be make a fortune in that amount of time.”
Bucky threw his head back and groaned. “Traitor.”
Steve grinned. “As I was saying, we need to infiltrate the base , and—”
“Perhaps it would be wiser to wait until we know for certain that is the base,” Rhodey interrupted.
“AIM already knows we want the gun,” Sam responded. “We have to move before they relocate it.”
“No, they know we stole information—”
“Regarding the gun. It’s not hard to figure out why.”
“But they don’t know how much information we have, do they?” Bruce asked.
“We can’t risk it,” Natasha threw in. “They have skilled operatives who can—”
“But we can risk being wrong about which base it is and ensure they know what we’re after?” Wanda interjected.
From there the discussion turned into a heated debate that left Bucky irritated and fighting a headache. Some days being on a team was great; today was not one of those days. Bucky glanced over at Vision who watched the debate with intrigue, never once voicing an opinion one way or the other. Bruce spent the first half of the meeting standing in his corner and tossing in one or two lines, but after a while Bruce excused himself.
After another ten minutes of arguing, Bucky decided Bruce had the right idea and stood up to leave.
The room went silent.
“Is everything okay?” Steve asked, his voice laced with worry.
Bucky internally rolled his eyes. When he’d first joined the Avengers and the meetings got too intense or he felt an episode coming on, he would step outside. His teammates must have thought he was backtracking or something equally unrelated as to his real reason for leaving. “No matter what you choose to do, someone has to stay with Tony in case AIM attacks the Tower or does something else to get to Tony. I’m staying behind.”
“Bucky,” Steve began, but Bucky refused to listen.
Bucky marched out of the conference room, entered the elevator, and had FRIDAY take him to Tony’s current location.
When the elevator doors sprang open to Tony’s lab and he spotted Tony showing off the beginnings of a robot dog to Pepper, peace fell over Bucky.
Tony must have caught sight of Bucky from the corner of his eye, because he turned and beamed at Bucky as he waved his robot dog in the air.
Bucky smiled and waved back.
“'Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father,'” Bucky quoted as he fended off Tony’s “lightsaber” attacks with a “lightsaber” of his own. Tony offered to build real lightsabers, which Bucky had been tempted to let him do—just so he could see if Tony really could make good on such a promise—but being forced into the responsible adult role, Bucky had convinced Tony of the danger of real lightsabers and they bought toy ones.
“'He told me enough!'” Tony whacked at Bucky with a toy lightsaber, the two of them having forgone the cutting off the arm scene, so Tony could still swing at Bucky. “'He told me you killed him!'”
Bucky winced. Okay, maybe not the best scene for him to be reenacting with Tony, considering how close to home the quote hit.
Bucky knocked back Tony’s attack with a plastic saber of his own. “'No. I am your father.'”
Tony gasped and lowered his weapon. “'No. No! That's not true! That's impossible!'”
“'Search your feelings; you know it to be true!'”
Tony threw back his head and bellowed. “NOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOO!!!” He then rushed forward and hacked at Bucky.
Bucky laughed and jumped away from the blows. “Hey! That’s not in the script. You’re supposed to fall now.”
“Only after you say your line.” Tony giggled.
Bucky dropped his lightsaber and scooped Tony’s up into his arms. Tony squealed and tried to smack Bucky in the face with his lightsaber, but Bucky knocked it away. He placed his hand around the back of Tony’s neck for support and dipped Tony, causing Tony to whoop with joy. “It is your destiny!” Bucky cried.
Bucky swung Tony back up. “Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as Bucky and Tony! It is the only way.”
Tony poked Bucky’s nose. “That’s not the line.”
Bucky shrugged. “So I made it my own.” Bucky dipped Tony again, earning another round of giggles before bringing Tony back up. “You going to complain?”
Tony laughed and hugged Bucky. “Nope.”
“Good.” Bucky returned the hug, feeling content.
It was strange. Two days ago the team had left to fetch the gun and any other information they could obtain from one of AIM’s bases. Even though Bucky had decided to stay behind, he’d suspected that he’d feel more antsy as he waited for his friends’ return, but guarding and playing with Tony was proving to be a marvelous distraction.
Tony’s tiny arms tightened around Bucky. “Hey, Bucky?”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
Bucky rubbed Tony’s back encouragingly. “Of course, buddy. What’s on your mind?”
Tony didn’t answer right away. He buried his face in Bucky’s neck, unintentionally nuzzling Bucky. “I really like Han Solo.”
“Well, he is a lot of people’s favorite character.”
“No, I mean, I really like him, Bucky. Is that okay?”
Bucky squeezed Tony tight. “Yeah, Tony.”
“My dad wouldn’t think so.”
“Well, we know what I think of your dad.”
“Yeah… he’s a shit head.”
Bucky chuckled. “Just don’t let Rhodey hear you say that. He’ll think I’m teaching you bad words.”
“Okay.” Tony squirmed and pulled back so he could look at Bucky. “Hey, Bucky?”
“I like you too.”
Bucky grinned. “Good, because I like you also.”
“I still can’t marry you though.”
“Aw, shucks, and here I’d already picked out a purple tux for myself.”
“You can wear a purple tux to a wedding?” Amazement colored Tony’s voice.
“Darling, you can wear a rainbow tux with feathers if you want.”
“Wow!” Tony’s brow furrowed with thought. “But I want the purple tux.”
Bucky chuckled. “Okay, when you get married we’ll find you a purple tux to wear.”
“Yay!” Tony pumped his fists in the air. “Now get me lunch! Battling the forces of evil make me hungry.”
Bucky mock pouted. “I’m not evil.”
“But Vader is, and you were pretending to be Vader,” Tony pointed out.
“Oh, fine. Anything you want in particular?”
“Cheese burgers!” Tony cheered.
Bucky frowned. He didn’t recall seeing any beef or instant patties in the freezer. “We might need to do take out. Hey, FRIDAY what’s the patty situation in the freezer?” Even as Bucky asked, he headed toward the penthouse’s kitchen.
FRIDAY didn’t respond.
Bucky stopped at the edge of the kitchen and frowned. “FRIDAY?” he prompted.
“What’s wrong with FRIDAY?” Tony asked.
“Don’t know, but I don’t like it.” Bucky whirled and headed toward the bedroom.
Tony wiggled in Bucky’s arms and pointed at the kitchen. “The cheese burgers are that way!”
“Just give me a few minutes, Tony. I need to check on FRIDAY.” Bucky hip-checked the bedroom door closed and set Tony on the bed. He hurried to the closet where he kept spare gear and armor. In lightning speed, he switched out of his casual wear into his Winter Soldier uniform—mouthpiece included.
He pulled out a locked, metal suitcase from under the closet rack. With a few spins of the dial he unlocked it to reveal one of his guns and bullets. He loaded the gun and holstered it to his hip, right next to one of his knives.
Footsteps echoed inside the penthouse.
The only other person who should be in the tower was Pepper, and she’d left several hours ago to run Stark Industries. She wasn’t expected back for at least another five, and she would have called ahead if she were returning early.
“Bucky,” Tony’s small, nervous voice filtered into the closet. “What’s going on?”
Bucky emerged from the closet and headed for the drawer on Tony’s side of the bed where a spare Iron Man gauntlet was kept. He fitted the gauntlet onto his right hand. “Not sure, but we’re going to stay quiet, and I want you to follow my lead. Understood?”
Tony nodded, his eyes darting to the door when a loud, shattering crash from the other side of the door startled him.
Muffled cursing could be heard.
Bucky grabbed Tony’s hand with his metal one and pulled Tony against the wall. They sidled down it until they reached the window. Bucky checked over his shoulder to see if the coast was clear, then tugged Tony past it.
Tony coughed and covered his mouth. “The air tastes funny,” Tony whispered.
Bucky cursed. His mask protected him from whatever must be coming in through the vents, but Tony was still vulnerable. Bucky scooped up Tony, and plastered the kid to his side. He held Tony in his metal arm, choosing to be ready with a repulsor blast instead of his preferred weapon: a gun. There was no denying that the repulsor had more of a kick, and if he had to rely on one weapon so he could carry Tony, the gauntlet was a better choice.
Bucky carried Tony over to a bookshelf that Bucky had convinced Tony to modify after they had moved in together. Bucky yanked one of the books out from its perch and flicked a switch on the back of the shelf.
The shelf slid away to reveal a secret elevator.
“Cool,” Tony whispered.
The window shattered. Bucky spun and shot a repulsor blast at whatever, or whoever, had broken into the room.
The figure in black rolled out of the blast’s field just in time, then jumped up and barreled at them.
Bucky fired off another shot as he backpedaled into the elevator. He hit the manual button to take Tony and him down to the garage, where Bucky could escape with Tony.
Rumlow dropped to the ground to avoid the hit, but kept his momentum going by rolling forward.
The elevator doors began to close, but not before Rumlow shoved himself inside.
Tony cried out in shock as Bucky shifted and blocked a fist from Rumlow with his free arm.
Rumlow grinned. “Not so easy fighting when you got to carry the squirt.” Brock kneed at Bucky’s solar plexus.
Bucky blocked with his leg, and Rumlow used the distraction to punch Bucky in the face.
Or so was his plan. Bucky tilted his head to the side and slammed his knee into Rumlow’s ribcage, causing the man to stumble in the enclosed space.
Rumlow lunged, and the exchange of blocks and attacks continued with Bucky doing everything he could to keep Rumlow away from Tony, who screamed and shouted every time Rumlow made a move at them.
The elevator doors split apart behind Rumlow, and Bucky used the opportunity to jump and kick Rumlow square in the chest, sending the agent stumbling backwards into the garage.
Before Rumlow could recover, Bucky shot a blast at Rumlow that also knocked back one of Tony’s vintage cars.
Bucky ran for the closest car he could get to, and threw Tony inside.
“Look out!” Tony screamed as Bucky slammed the door shut.
Bucky dropped into a crouch, a bullet just missing his head.
Bucky unholstered the gun from his side and shot Rumlow point-blank in the chest.
Rumlow stumbled a step back, but his bulletproof armor protected him from the kill shot.
Bucky cussed and fired at Rumlow just as the man ducked behind one of the vehicles for cover.
Bucky held his gun at Rumlow’s location and sidled over to the driver side of the car.
The second elevator leading into the garage opened, and six AIM agents with weapons marched out.
All hell broke loose.
Repulsor blasts, poisonous darts, electro guns, and guns that just did the weirdest shit fired through the air. Bucky switched seamlessly between hand-to-hand combat and shooting, but every time he felt like he’d cleared the room, either Rumlow would join the fray and give the AIM agents enough time to recover, or more agents poured in from the upper levels.
He was one man going against an army it felt like, and when the last agent fell, Bucky felt so relieved, he took a deep breath.
That’s when Rumlow rammed a fucking machete through Bucky’s back.
Bucky dropped to his knees.
Tony screamed and pounded on the car’s window.
Rumlow pressed his boot on Bucky’s back and shoved Bucky off of the blade and flat on his face. “Not bad, Winter Soldier. Too bad—”
A car engine roared, and Tony reared the car into Rumlow, knocking Rumlow off his feet.
Tony threw open the driver’s door and scurried over to Bucky. “Bucky! Bucky! We need to get you to a hospital!” He tugged on Bucky’s shoulders and tried to lift Bucky into the car. C’mon, Bucky.” Bu—ckyyyyyyy!” Tony cried in pain and was dragged by his hair away from Bucky.
“Damn, brat!” Rumlow punched Tony across the face.
And Bucky saw red.
Bucky didn’t know if he’d reverted back to his Hydra programming or if it was the shock and blood loss that did it, but one moment he was shoving himself off the ground with a knife in his hand, and the next he was holding a sobbing Tony to his chest as he carried him to the tower’s medical room—Rumlow unconscious and bleeding out on the garage floor.
Bucky set Tony down on one of the medical beds. He cupped Tony’s face and stroked his cheeks where the tears fell. “Shh. It’s okay, you’re safe now.” Bucky pressed his forehead to Tony’s. “I got ya. Nobody’s taking you away. You’re safe.”
Tony sobbed and hugged Bucky. “You’re hurt.”
“I heal quickly.”
“That doesn’t make it better.”
Bucky smiled fondly. That’s exactly what older Tony would have said. He hugged Tony. “I’m going to contact SHIELD and have them clean up this mess.”
Tony clung to Bucky. “Don’t go.”
“Promise I won’t.”
Three days later, Bucky and Tony had relocated to Tony’s Malibu home, and the Avengers had joined them there until they could figure out how AIM had managed to get past the Tower’s security system. While Rumlow had led a team of AIM agents into Avengers Tower, the Avengers had snuck into one of AIM’s stronghold’s and stolen not only the de-aging gun, but also the remaining blueprints.
The team had been using the last few days to heal and prepare themselves in case AIM tried to attack again. Bruce was also working on a way to reverse the effects of the gun.
Bucky was seated on the couch. Tony was curled against Bucky’s side and dozing as Lord of the Rings played in the background when Bruce joined them.
“With Vision and Wanda’s help it shouldn’t be much longer before I can reverse the de-aging gun’s effects,” Bruce said from the loveseat next to Bucky’s couch.
Bucky nodded and played with a brown curl on top of Tony’s head.
Bruce frowned. “You two have been almost inseparable since the Tower attack.”
Bucky didn’t say anything, just kept playing with Tony’s hair.
“You know we’re not going to let anything happen to him while we’re here, right?”
“I know.” Bucky stopped twirling the curl. “He doesn’t want to be alone, and I don’t want to leave him alone for now.”
Bruce shook his head, but didn’t voice his thoughts on the matter. “It will take at least two more days before we can change Tony back. In the meantime, try to relax and enjoy yourselves.”
Bucky snorted. “The man with rage issues is telling us to relax.”
Bruce grinned as he stood up to leave. “Yeah, which really says something about your mental state if I’m the one advising relaxation.”
Bucky contemplated Bruce’s words, but not the ones the older man had probably wanted him to. In just a few days he’d have adult Tony back—he’d have his fiancé back, and Tony would be out of danger. He’d miss kid Tony though. He’d grown fond of the little rugrat.
“Bucky?” Tony whispered, his eyes still shut. He burrowed closer.
“I’m going to be an adult again soon, right?”
“Sounds like it.”
Tony bit his bottom lip.
“Scared?” Bucky asked.
Tony shook his head. “It’s like you said. I’ll still be me, just older.” Tony pushed himself off of Bucky and stared at him.
Bucky cocked his head and tried to read the emotion on Tony’s face, but he couldn’t quite place it. It was borderline contemplative, but just a tad off from the usual expression.
“If I’m an adult no one can tell me what to do, and no one can hit me if I do something they don’t like.”
“No one can hit you, period.” Bucky pulled Tony to his side.
Tony nodded half-heartedly and pulled away from Bucky again. “If I’m an adult no one can stop me from marrying you, right?”
Bucky blinked, caught off guard by the question. “Yes.”
Tony bit his bottom lip. He grabbed Bucky’s hand and held it between them. “So will you marry me? Tomorrow?”
“Uh…” Bucky’s brain was dead. Really? How the heck was he supposed to respond to that? Especially when Tony was being so serious?
Tony squeezed Bucky’s hand. “Please? I want to get married before I become an adult again.”
“Why?” was the only thing that came out of Bucky’s mouth.
“Because I want to.” Tony squared his shoulders. “You play with me, and you protected me. I want to marry you before I’m old and ugly.”
“You’re not ugly.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “I’m your hero at any age, right?”
Bucky nodded, not sure what he was walking into.
“Well, you’re my husband at any age.”
Bucky almost choked on air. “Um… Tony, I wasn’t joking when I said marrying you right now would be illegal.”
Tony glared. “But you’re the love of my life.”
Bucky’s face flushed. Shit. When did Tony learn to say things like that?
“Please, Bucky?” Tony bowed his head, and the eyes came out. “I know I’m stupid and I almost got myself kidnapped, but I love—“
“You are not stupid.” Bucky threw his arms around Tony and hugged him close. “And I love you too. We’ll talk to the others and see what we can do about setting up a wedding tomorrow.”
After ten minutes worth of jokes and teasing at Bucky’s expense, the team agreed to help Bucky and Tony throw a wedding ceremony in the Malibu house the next day. Rhodey convinced Tony if he was going to have a wedding then he also needed a bachelor party too. So much to Bucky’s chagrin, Rhodey and Sam took Tony out to the arcade. Tony almost looked like he was going to cry when he learned Bucky couldn’t come to his bachelor party, but Bucky sucked down his own conflicting feelings about being separated from Tony and encouraged Tony to hang out with Rhodey and Sam.
The rest of the team split up and went out to fetch what was needed for the mock wedding—not that Bucky had told Tony it would be a fake one. He had not wanted to get in the debate with Tony about how just because Captain America would be marrying them, that didn’t mean the law would magically change and Bucky would be legally allowed to marry a seven-year-old.
Steve and Bucky shopped for food and baking supplies (Bucky had special plans for the cake). Clint volunteered to find a purple suit in Tony’s size, while Natasha and Wanda agreed to look for decorations.
Vision and Bruce stayed behind to work on reversing the de-aging gun.
Bucky and Steve probably had bought more food than was necessary for a mock wedding. They had filled two shopping carts with nothing but food and ingredients.
It took them a half hour to put away the food that would spoil overnight if left out. Bucky started baking, while taking phone calls from Natasha and Wanda to approve or deny a few decorations.
Both held back snickers when Bucky encouraged them to buy boxes of Star Wars Lego sets they’d sent pictures of to him as a joke.
When the two ladies arrived back at the house, Bucky called Steve up from wherever he’d been hiding and forced Steve to help Natasha and Wanda assemble the Lego sets. Clint returned soon after with a purple tux and helped the trio build Death Stars and Millennium Falcons. When they were done, they hid the Legos in the closet so Tony wouldn’t see them until the wedding.
Rhodey and Sam returned home with Tony soon after.
Tony had fallen asleep and Rhodey carried him up to the penthouse to slumber for the rest of the night.
That’s when the real decorating began.
Bucky didn’t fall asleep until 3am, and when his body hit the mattress he was covered in flour, sugar, green vanilla frosting, and spices from cooking a few of the dishes for the wedding.
He was exhausted and it was a miracle that he’d even managed to crawl out of bed just four hours later so he could finish cooking.
His breath was stolen when he stumbled into the living room and found it decorated just the way he’d discussed it with his friends the other night.
Blue streamers of various shades had been strung across the ceiling. Gold and silver stars, planets, and the Lego Star Wars models hung from the ceiling. All the furniture in the living room had been removed and replaced with two small, white benches and a white arch decorated in satin, blue flowers, and faux stargazer lilies. Thumb-size silver stars had been sprinkled toward the arch, marking the aisle where Bucky or Tony would walk down.
Bucky rubbed his eyes, not sure if he was really seeing the beautiful sight.
A loud yawn from the corner of the kitchen stole Bucky’s attention.
Clint lay half asleep on the kitchen floor and grinned up at Bucky’s approach. “Hey. Had trouble sleeping last night, so I figured I’d finish decorating.”
“You are my favorite person right now,” Bucky answered.
Clint’s grin grew. He laid his head down with a thunk. “Good, because I need to nap for fifteen more minutes. Mind walking around me as you finish cooking?”
“You sure you don’t want me to carry you to your room, or at least move you to a chair?”
Clint waved his arm. “Nah. It’ll just wake me up more.”
“Okay.” Whatever Clint wanted, Clint would get.
Bucky finished the last of the cooking and set the tables. He had to ward off sleepy and hungry Avengers as he did so, but he succeeded.
When Tony woke up, it was a constant struggle to keep him from coming out his room and ruining the surprise. It was during those times that Bucky wished Pepper had been able to fly across the country for their wedding, if only to keep Tony distracted, but sadly, while Pepper had been able to shuffle things around in New York, SI needed her in the aforementioned state and couldn’t have her flying off to California.
Bucky and Steve had already discussed the number of photos and videos they would have to take for Pepper.
It was almost noon by the time everything was ready. Bucky had cleaned himself up and put on a back up tux Tony kept at the Malibu home.
Bucky surveyed the room as all of the Avengers took their stations.
The wedding was in no way the five-star event of the season older Tony had been planning, but there was something so lovely and grand about it in its simplicity that Bucky’s heart warmed just looking at it.
Bucky took his spot just a tad off from the center of the arch, which was where Steve stood in his Captain America regalia.
The classic wedding march song began to play, signaling the beginnings of the wedding.
Rhodey led Tony out of his room to the living room. The second Tony saw the decorations, he gasped and looked around with wide-eyes. He spun in circles with his head tilted back as he examined the stars, planets, and Legos on the ceiling. When Tony finally stopped studying the ceiling and turned to look at Bucky, Bucky knew Tony was using all of his willpower not to run at Bucky and tackle-hug him.
Bucky beamed, proud with himself that he’d amazed and delighted Tony so much.
Rhodey led Tony down the aisle then took a seat on one of the benches.
Bucky kneeled so he was at Tony’s level. He took Tony’s hands in his and listened as Steve recited a few biblical passages. Then came the rings. Bucky produced from his pocket two slender, faux silver bands. Steve recited the standard wedding vows as Tony and Bucky took turns putting their rings on each other and repeating the vows.
“I now pronounce you, husband and husband. You may kiss.”
Tony dove forward and kissed Bucky on the cheek.
Bucky chuckled and returned the kiss with a sweet peck.
Their friends cheered.
“Cake!” Tony cried out excitedly.
“I’ll get it,” Sam said and disappeared into the kitchen. When he emerged, it was with a tower of carefully placed Star Wars themed cupcakes that were stacked so they resembled the shape of a traditional wedding cake.
Tony’s jaw dropped.
Bucky leaned down and kissed Tony on the cheek again. “Bet you’re really glad you married me now, right?”
“I love you!” Tony hollered and raced toward the cupcakes.
“Was he saying that about Bucky or the cake?” Wanda asked.
“I think both,” Vision answered.
The rest of the day was spent celebrating and enjoying themselves. Pictures were taken, and as the party died down, the furniture was slowly brought back into the living room so everyone could curl up on the couches and watch a movie—Tony’s choice of course.
When night came and Tony began to yawn, Bucky escorted Tony to the bedroom and tucked him in. Bucky turned to leave when Tony’s hand shot out and grabbed Bucky’s wrist. “You can’t leave.”
Bucky gently shook his wrist in an attempt to get Tony to let go. “I have to if I’m going to get any sleep tonight.”
“But it’s our honeymoon. You have to sleep with me tonight.”
Bucky went ramrod straight. “And by sleep with you mean…?” Tony couldn’t possibly know what really happened during honeymoons, but that didn’t mean Tony didn’t have his own interesting interpretation, such as spending the whole night kissing. Bucky was fine with a peck here and there, but if Tony tried to latch onto his face, he was going to have to break the kid’s heart.
“We share the same bed, duh? What else could I mean?”
Bucky breathed a sigh of relief.
Bucky smiled. “Okay, but I still need you to let go so I can switch into something more comfortable.”
Tony glared. “You promise you’re coming back?”
Tony held up his pinkie.
Bucky grinned and hooked his pinkie around Tony’s. He kissed Tony on the forehead before searching the room for sweats or pajama bottoms. When he found a pair of sweats, he changed, then hopped into bed next to Tony.
Tony immediately rolled over and curled into Bucky’s chest. “Best husband ever.”
Bucky chuckled. “You’re not so bad yourself.”
Transformation day had come.
Bucky and Tony had woken and had breakfast together, enjoying each other’s company. The other Avengers slowly wandered out of their rooms, and a big group breakfast was had.
And at the end of it, Bruce announced that he had finished redesigning the original gun so it would reverse the de-aging process, and that he had also completed the tests to ensure it was safe.
It felt like someone had dropped an anchor in Bucky’s stomach. His heart soared at the thought of having a Tony who he really could marry, who could take care of himself and be Bucky’s rock when Bucky needed support. He needed that Tony in his life, but it didn’t change the ache he felt at the knowledge that he was about to lose this facet of Tony; that he’d never get to see Tony so young, sweet, and naïve again.
Bucky was shocked when Tony reached out and squeezed his hand. Tony grinned up at Bucky. “It’s okay. I’m still going to be me, remember? And you said it too! Adult me and me-me are a lot alike.”
Bucky squeezed back and pulled Tony into a hug, loving the little guy all the more. “Yeah.”
Bucky, Bruce and Tony went to the lab.
Tony stood in an isolated section of the room, and Bruce aimed the modified gun at Tony. “Tell us when you’re ready.”
Tony huffed. “I’ve been ready.”
Bruce and Bucky shared a look.
Bruce shot Tony.
Tony gasped and hunched over like he was in pain.
Bucky’s heart jumped in his chest. He moved to launch himself at Tony, but Bruce grabbed him.
Tony’s body shifted and grew. Tony groaned like he was stretching a really sore muscle. The clothes he’d been wearing ripped and fell to the ground like autumn leaves.
A very naked and adult Tony stood in front of them.
Tony blinked, in a daze. He swiveled his head then looked down at himself.
The faux silver band that had once been on his finger lay on the ground and caught Tony’s eye.
He bent down and picked it up.
Recognition lit up Tony’s face.
He looked at Bucky.
Tony beamed and raced toward Bucky, throwing himself into Bucky’s arms.
Bucky caught Tony, no hesitation. He wrapped up Tony as tightly as he could without breaking him and buried his face against Tony’s neck. “I missed you so much.” He kissed Tony where his shoulder and neck met.
Tony laughed, and it was the most beautiful and glorious sound Bucky had heard in days. “What are you talking about, babe? I’ve been here this whole time.”
Bucky shook his head. “A part of you, but not all of you.”
“Aw,” Tony cooed, and kissed Bucky’s temple. “I love you too, and thank you for the space and Star Wars themed wedding. It’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me.”
“I told you, I don’t care if we get married in paper bags, just as long as you’re there.”
Tony cupped Bucky’s cheek and guided Bucky’s head so they were face to face. “You know what, Bucky? After all this, I couldn’t agree more.”