“JESUS, Natasha, watch it with that needle, wouldja?” Tony yelped after a particularly vicious tug at the thread sewing up his side.
Jan went around locking doors, peeking into rooms, and closing the curtains, hands trailing thoughtfully through the fabric. Bucky had already claimed a room and locked himself in without a word to the others, leaving Tony to Natasha’s gentle ministrations.
“It would be fine if you would just,” another tug, “stop moving.”
“I’m sorry if my concussion-induced dizziness is inconveniencing you.” Tony gingerly repositioned his broken arm to hug his waist and clutched tight to the edge of the table he was sitting on with his free left hand. His bare toes curled up as his legs swung. It was freezing in the newly-claimed safe house; the heating hadn’t kicked in yet. He shivered as goosebumps raised on his skin.
“You should be. Now hold still – I’m serious.”
“You have a horrible bedside manner, you know that?” Tony winced as Natasha knotted the last stitch with what seemed like unnecessary force.
“Big baby. Time for the arm; Let me see it.”
“No way,” Tony said, twisting his body away. “I’m just gonna wait for a licensed medical professional for this one.”
“I just need to look at it to see if it needs immediate attention – I won’t do anything.”
Tony slowly held out his arm towards Natasha, giving her a highly suspicious look.
“I’m going to feel around the skin to see if there’s anything wrong.” She gently removed the improvised splint. Her fingertips lightly brushed up and down Tony’s forearm, causing Tony to start to tense up at the anticipation of pain. She had a soft touch, though, and didn’t so much as jostle the broken limb.
“Ok, sorry,” Tony said, starting to relax, “This isn’t too – GAH!”
Quick as lightning, Natasha firmly grabbed Tony’s wrist and elbow and tugged the break into alignment. Tony only managed a brief shocked glare before the room tilted sideways and went black.
Tony woke up slowly, his head fuzzy and his feet encased in blocks of ice. He tried to kick the blanket down to cover his freezing toes, but stopped when he only succeeded in igniting a fire in his side. His right arm was wrapped in a tough, lumpy, spray-on field cast.
He carefully rolled out of bed, clutching the scratchy wool blanket around him like a cape, and slowly limped out to the main room.
“So sleeping beauty is finally awake,” Natasha commented without looking up. She was sitting in the corner, meticulously cleaning and inspecting her disassembled guns. “You passed out when I set your break. Heads up,” She threw him a bottle of pain medication.
“I did not pass out; it was a strategically timed cat nap.” Tony insisted. He flopped down on the sofa, arranging the blankets around him before fishing out and dry-swallowing two pills.
“You sure sounded like a cat when you squeaked on your way to snoozeville.” Jan added helpfully from her corner. She was perched on a couch cushion next to the lone space heater in the room, absentmindedly mending small rips in her uniform.
“Feeling the love. Where were you keeping that sewing kit?” Tony frowned.
“It’s in my Avengers contract that all safehouses be properly equipped. By the way, that’s for you.” She nodded to the arm of the couch. Sitting there was a hastily-made sling, the dark blue fabric looking oddly similar in pattern to the back window curtains (which were now suspiciously a couple feet shorter).
“Right,” Tony slipped into the sling. “But why do– ”
A blast of cold air and snow blew in from the open front door. Natasha leapt up from her seat, gun in hand, the chair knocking over onto the wood floor with a loud bang.
“All clear,” Bucky’s muffled voice came from behind a layer of black scarves. He was standing in the doorway in full Winter Soldier gear (though missing some of the larger artillery), clutching a small brown paper bag. He shouldered the door closed with a grunt, the motion dislodging the snow that had settled on his shoulders and hair.
“And where the hell did you come from? Wasn’t the idea to split up and stay protected in the safe houses? As in lie low? I know it's the height of irony for me to give a lecture about keeping a low profile, but c’mon.” Tony complained. Bucky ignored Tony’s rant, making his way to the small kitchen and unloading the bag’s contents.
In the meanwhile, Natasha righted the chair and settled back into it, “Like he’s going to be seen on a simple shopping run, especially in this weather. Give the man some credit.”
Tony silently watched Bucky’s progress. A can of tuna. A carton of milk. He grabbed a bowl and plate from one of the cabinets, stacked up the lot, and started to retreat to the bedroom he had claimed earlier. As he passed by the couch, he dropped a soft lump in Tony’s lap.
Tony looked down, boggling at the thick wool socks laying there. They were garishly red and looked enticingly warm. He ruthlessly fought down a blush. Emotions .
“Hey, uh, don’t you need a can opener?” Tony recovered.
Without stopping or turning back, Bucky silently held up one of the improbably large knives he kept on his person. He flipped it end over end, one-handed, before smoothly resheathing it. He opened the bedroom door a crack and quickly slipped in.
“Show off.” Tony muttered. The sight of the tuna had reminded him of how hungry he was. Tony heaved himself off the couch and made his way over to the kitchen. A quick inspection of the pantry revealed its meager contents. SHIELD was way too fond of MRE’s and canned beans for their safe houses. The tuna suddenly made a lot more sense.
“The pork sausage and gravy isn’t too bad. Just ignore the lumpy bits.” Natasha called out dryly.
Tony shuddered at the thought of lumpy bits . He decided to risk it. He walked over to Bucky’s door and tried the knob. Locked. He knocked lightly, “Hey, Buck?”
“I’m busy,” came the terse reply.
“C’mon, man. I’m injured. Share?” Tony asked. “Tuna’s got all sorts of health benefits.”
“Fine! ” He thumped his fist on the door one more time in frustration and went back to the kitchen in defeat.
Jan had managed to fix two servings of the vegetarian chilli MRE meals, saving him the trouble of doing it one-handed.
“You’re my new favorite, Jan .” Tony said, making sure to pitch his voice to reach the bedrooms.
“Classy, Tony. Eat your food.” Jan settled at the dining table, and Tony joined her to eat the offered meal.
Tony was jolted out of sleep by a loud thump on the wall next to his head.
“... the hell?” He stared at the wall, and was rewarded with two more thumps, back-to-back like someone was knocking on the wall.
“Hello?” He tried. What the hell was Bucky doing in there? Tony levered himself out of bed, thankful for the socks protecting him from the freezing floor, and walked to the room next door. There was a light shining from under the door, so probably not a nightmare. There was a faint but repetitive noise of ripping fabric. He stood staring at the door for a long while, wondering if he should even bother asking what was going on. He wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep with the thumping noises, but what was a little insomnia between teammates, right? Not like Tony wasn’t used to it anyway.
“You gonna stand there all night? Stop staring and come in already,” Bucky called from inside the room.
“Stupid supersoldier hearing,” Tony muttered under his breath.
“I heard that,” Bucky commented as Tony eased the door open, unsure of what he was going to see.
“Um,” Tony mentally blue-screened.
Bucky was seated on the floor near the bed, legs crossed under him. Long, thin strips of blue fabric ( those poor curtains ) were knotted around his extended metal arm, the tail ends left trailing. A tiny orange tabby kitten was furiously jumping at the fluttering cloth, trying to catch them with sharp claws. It missed and tumbled across the floor, skidding to a stop before puffing up and speeding around the room. It climbed up the front of the dresser, using the molding and handles for traction, before pushing off to continue running. The empty dresser tipped back and whacked the wall as a result. One mystery solved.
“...Cat,” Tony finally managed.
“Yep,” Bucky said. He moved his arm back and forth near ground level for the cat to attack. The cat wildly scrabbled at the knots, claws making clicking and scritching noises against the metal.
Tony took a step into the room, “But wh- HOLY SHIT! ”
A second orange fuzzball took advantage of his distraction to pounce at Tony’s feet, quickly darting off to hide back under the bed. Its green eyes seemed to glow from the shadows. Tony clutched his chest.
“Where… Nevermind, I don’t even wanna know.”
“Found them huddled in the bushes out front when we showed up.” At this point, the first kitten had finally had enough, and curled up in Bucky’s lap. The infamous ex-assassin was slowly stroking the fur on the kitten’s back as it gave a tremendous tooth-filled yawn. It was all too adorable. Tony couldn’t handle it.
“Okay. Um. I’m just gonna…” Tony motioned to the door. He slipped back out and quickly closed the door to prevent any escape attempts.
“Don’t forget to take your pills.” Bucky’s voice called out, unnecessarily reminding Tony of the throbbing pain his arm was still in.
Tony took another moment to stare at the strip of light under the door, then made his way to the kitchen. He slumped down on a wooden chair with a glass of water to wash down the pills. Tony hadn’t bothered to turn on any lights, so the grey pre-dawn streamed in from a gap in the curtains, highlighting his socked feet. The fabric looked maroon in the light. Who the hell randomly buys socks for people? Tony mused to himself. They were very warm though. He lost himself in Deep Thoughts as the room lightened around him.
“So, how long are you gonna sit there moping?” Jan walked to the pantry to look for a serving of SHIELD’s idea of breakfast.
“You should just go talk to him,” Jan continued to rummage.
“Who?” Tony tried.
Jan looked at him, unimpressed.
“Do you know he has kittens in there with him?”
“Adorable,” Jan allowed, “but not the issue at hand. Focus.”
“How is that not an issue? You have zero questions about this? Did you and Natasha already know?” Tony watched Jan pour cereal into a bowl and start eating it dry.
“I did not. But really, how long are you gonna avoid him? Go talk,” Jan said.
“I’d rather stay away from the little fluff-monsters, thank you. I’m not that curious about them.”
“That’s not what I meant; don’t be stupid,” she took another bite of cereal. “Y’know, we actually have canned tuna in the pantry. Guess it has a pretty long shelf life. Wonder what he really went out into the elements for?”
Tony stubbornly did not look down at his feet. He also did not feel warmth bloom in his chest. Nope.
“Ok, that’s it,” Jan said. She grabbed Tony by the back of his shirt and hauled him up from his chair. Short jabbing shoves to his back got a bewildered Tony moving across the living room, before a hard push made him stumble and land against Bucky’s door with a loud thump.
Just as Tony regained his balance, Bucky opened the door a crack, leaving an opening for Jan to shove Tony through. Thankfully, Bucky managed to catch and stabilize Tony before he could fall flat on his face. Bucky calmly closed the door again, looking at Tony expectantly.
“So, cats, huh?” Tony said, immediately wincing at the lame opening. He sighed and carefully folded down to sit on the floor. Bucky sat as well, facing Tony from a respectable distance away.
Bucky seemed willing to humor him. “Well, I couldn’t leave them out in that weather. You know Steve would somehow find out and we’d get the disappointed face.” He tossed a bundle of rags to Tony. It looked like several long strips had been tied into a crude octopus shape. Tony only had a moment to wonder at it before a curious and daring cat stalked towards him, butt wiggling and pupils blown wide.
“Yeah, that would be just tragic,” Tony said. He waved the bundle enticingly. “I can almost see it now. At least I have the battle-injuries excuse to use. The rest of you would be screwed.” Another twitch of the wrist.
At that, the cat made its move. Unfortunately, that move wasn’t well executed. Tiny claws and needle teeth bit straight through Tony’s sock. At the sharp pain, Tony reflexively made a full-body jolt, accidentally kicking the cat and slamming his cast against the nearby bed frame.
“Shit! ” Tony yelped. He curled over the arm and panted for a few seconds. “Is it - is the cat okay?”
“He’s fine; already coming around for another go. Are you okay? Let me see,” Bucky knelt down at Tony’s side, gently pulling at the injured arm.
“Stupid cat,” Tony griped.
“You know you love them,” he bent Tony’s fingers, inspecting the color, even going so far as to press down on a nail to check circulation. “Anyway, I think your arm looks fine. No cracks in the quickplaster. How’s it feel?” Bucky looked up into Tony’s eyes.
“I, um. It’s fine. Think it’s just– just sensitive.” Tony stuttered. Something tickled at his exposed ankle and he almost jumped again, saved by Bucky’s hands still holding his arm. It was the same kitten, sniffing delicately at Tony’s skin. Bucky released his arm and scooped up the cat, depositing him in Tony’s lap.
“Meet Hoboken. More curiosity than sense. You should get along just fine.” Bucky lightly bumped shoulders as he settled in next to Tony.
Hoboken’s fur was soft and silky under tony’s fingers; Bucky was warm against his side. Tony felt like he was in a furnace, between the cat’s weight in his lap, Bucky pressed to his side, and those crazy red socks. The blizzard happening outside definitely wasn’t a problem anymore.
Bucky softly hummed a familiar tune as he watched Hoboken fall asleep. A thought occurred to Tony.
“Wait. Please tell me the other one is Spokane.”
“Of course,” Bucky smirked. “If memory-Steve gets to guilt me into helping kittens, I get to have payback in the form of subtle teasing.”
Tony’s hearty laughter filled the room, ending with a squeak as Bucky leaned over to land a peck on his cheek.