[personal profile] alchemyalice
Title: Reflexes
Genre/Pairing: Action/Adventure/Romance, Tony Stark/Bucky Barnes, eventually Tony/Bucky/Steve Rogers
Word Count: ~6,500, this part
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: None, this was written pre-Avengers knowledge. Given that, it's also quite AU.
Warnings: This is mainly movieverse, as that's what I'm most familiar with; however, I have picked up some stuff from Marvel-616 as I've read more, so some of that trickles in. 
Summary:  Bucky meets the team and manages to survive the experience, Tony is his usual dysfunctional self, and Steve pouts with deadly force. Also, there is some avenging going on. And tech porn.

Author Note: This is the second part of the Armed and Dangerous 'verse, and as such follows directly after Impulse, so if you haven't read that yet, do so before starting this one. This is a work in progress, though hopefully not for much longer!



When Bucky emerges from the lab, feeling wrung out and smug as fuck about it, Steve is sitting on one of the couches in the living room, reading from a tablet. He looks up, and immediately both flushes bright red and gives him the ultimate disappointed face. Normally, Bucky would feel awful about that, but the endorphins are currently cancelling out all of his shame.

“That was quick,” Steve says, sounding slightly strangled.

“We’re men of action,” Bucky says breezily. “What can I say?” Even his new arm feels well-fucked. The future is fantastic.

“Yeah, well,” Steve mutters, going even redder. Bucky despairs of him, but takes pity anyway.

He lifts the new arm and manages a little wave. It’s a bit unsteady, but Tony is scheduling the neural surgery for next week, so it’s all good. “So what do you think?”

Steve focusses, and then he’s on his feet, all embarrassment forgotten. “That’s…? Wow. Tony wasn’t kidding when he said he could do better than SHIELD.”

“You saw what SHIELD was gonna give me?”

“Yeah,” Steve says absently, taking the metal hand and turning it over to inspect it. It’s still absolutely strange that Bucky can feel his grip; it’s nowhere near as exact as having real nerve endings, but he can feel the pressure and warmth and get a fair reading it. “It was impressive, but nothing like this. I guess I’m not surprised, though.”

“The guy knows his bionics,” Bucky agrees.

Steve looks at him knowingly. “Hm,” he says.

***

Previously:

Bucky doesn’t actually ask until they’re both sprawled out on the floor of the workshop, having slid off the table at some point during the proceedings. He considers briefly tugging his trousers back on, and then decides that dignity can wait. “You gonna tell me about that lantern in your chest?”

Tony doesn’t react for a long second, but then eventually he shifts, one hand coming up to tap on the glass. “Life support,” he says briefly. “Got hit by some shrapnel, near my heart.”

Bucky winces. He’s seen how those kind of wounds work.

“This keeps them from moving. Big ol’ electromagnet, powered by a generator I invented. It’s fairly ingenious. Very impressive.”

He snorts. “So I guess I can trust you with a silly little thing like an arm, huh?”

“I’d say so, yeah,” Tony replies, quirking a smile at him.

Bucky watches him for a second, and then rolls over and up to sling a leg over Tony’s hips and settle over him. Tony’s hands automatically land on his thighs. “Hi there,” he says.

“Why me?” Bucky asks, not lightly, but without pressure. He wouldn’t mind if Tony’s answer was as shallow as his pretty face, honestly, but he can’t help but be curious.

Tony stares at him for a long moment, and then he looks off to the side. His hands stay still, though, which is encouraging. “Dad used to show me all of the newsreels of you guys,” he says. “It was pretty much the only thing we could stand to do together.”

Daddy issues, Bucky thinks to himself, Apparently not undeserved. He just nods and waits, though.

“Cap was my hero, obviously,” Tony continues, his off-handedness just a little too deliberate, and Bucky is pretty sure that Tony’s never told anyone this, ever. But he can relate, so. “But I thought, you know, I could never be like Cap. Cap’s just…”

“Impossible?” Bucky suggests.

Tony huffs and smiles crookedly. “Yeah. I mean, I dreamed of meeting him. But, I guess, you were real? And funny as hell. And a crack shot. And then when I was hacking the SHIELD database—“

“Hah!”

“—and you suddenly just appeared out of the blue under thirty layers of security, black-bagged all to hell, I just thought…I just thought, fuck it.”

Bucky laughs. It’s more than he expected, really. He grins and shifts his hips, enjoying the way it makes Tony’s gaze turn predatory. “I like your initiative, Stark.”

***

Presently:

“Whoa, someone’s armed and dangerous,” says a voice from down the hall, followed immediately by the sound of a sharp smack and a plaintive, “Ow!”

“I’m embarrassed to know you,” a female voice reprimands, at which point Bucky looks up to see two people in SHEILD uniforms approaching from the hallway. The man is muscular and rough around the edges—undoubtedly a field agent—rubbing the back of his head, looking unrepentant. As for the woman…well, all Bucky gets a chance to register is that she’s a looker, and she has the bearing of someone who can break a man into pieces at the drop of a hat.

Steve sighs, letting go of Bucky’s arm and gesturing. “Bucky, this is Clint and Natasha, part of the team. Guys, this is Lieutenant James Barnes. He’s staying with us.”

“Nice to meet you,” Bucky says.

Clint waves at the arm. “That Stark’s doing? I knew there had to be a reason Fury actually let you out of lockup. Do you know how long I was in the bowels of that building last time I came out of undercover work, let alone spat out into a new century? Consider yourself blessed, dude.”

Natasha rolls her eyes. “What he’s trying to say is ‘welcome’.”

“I figured,” Bucky says dryly. He looks at Steve. “Who else is on this crack team of yours?”

“There’s Bruce; he’s usually in the SHEILD labs, but if you run into him, try not to aggravate him, he has a bit of a hair trigger,” Steve lists, “And there’s Thor. He’s…”

“He’s the God of Thunder,” Clint interrupts, “It’s enough for a guy to feel inadequate, I’m telling you.”

Bucky raises an eyebrow, but Steve just shrugs in agreement. “Okay, colour me impressed,” he says finally.

“And then there’s Stark,” Natasha finishes, “But you’ve met him, of course.”

Bucky can’t suppress the smirk. “Yeah, we’ve met,” he says.

Natasha’s gaze sharpens abruptly on him. “Ah,” she says flatly. “Of course.”

Clint looks between them. “Am I missing something?”

“Nothing you need to know,” Steve says.

“He’s sleeping with Stark,” Natasha says.

Steve splutters. Bucky decides to go with it. “Just did, in fact,” he offers.

Clint’s face goes through a series of contortions that ends in a shrug and his putting one fist in Bucky’s direction.

Bucky tilts his head, and Steve sighs. “He wants you to pound it.”

“Fist of booty-acquisition approval,” Clint says, “Hit it.”

Before Bucky can make sense of that, however, an alarm sounds over the house intercom. “Apologies for the interruption,” JARVIS says smoothly, “But I’m afraid Director Fury is in need of the team’s assistance. Coordinates and intel will be downloaded onto the quinjet’s console.”

“Right,” Steve says, all business in a split second. “Everyone on the roof in three. We’ll need to pick Bruce up from SHEILD on the way.”

“I’ll get him,” Tony says, coming up the stairs, half-in, half-out of the suit. Bucky watches in fascination as the plates roll and lock into place.

“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” Steve counters, “We want the Hulk at the scene, not en route.”

“No fun,” Tony clicked his tongue.

“I don’t think it’s flashy enough, Stark,” Bucky says, but his voice is a little raspy.

Tony grins. “Wanna watch the action? We can drop you at SHIELD.”

“I don’t think Fury will—“ Steve starts.

“Hell yes,” Bucky says.

“Wasting time,” Natasha interrupts. “Where’s Thor?”

Steve steps in. “Thor’s at Jane’s apartment, so he’ll be meeting us at the site. Let’s move.”

Bucky races Tony to the roof, Steve in the lead, Natasha and Clint less than a pace behind.

***

“Ya’ll need to get to 58th and 4th yesterday, and what the fuck are you doing here, Barnes?” Fury demands, with enough resignation for Bucky to take it as encouragement.

“Taking in the sights, sir,” he says, and then adds, “If it’s all the same to you, sir.” He’d passed Bruce Banner for a split second as he’d leapt off the quinjet on top of SHIELD headquarters, and had managed to shake off security for about half a floor before being intercepted and brought to Fury’s central observation room, which was where he wanted to be anyway.

Fury growled deep in his throat. “Jesus, you’re worse than Stark. Fine, you can stay. Business as usual, everyone, I want all eyes on location.” There’s a scramble of agents and technicians. “What’s our ETA?”

“Three minutes, sir,” one of the agents reports, stepping forward and giving Bucky the side-eye.

He nods politely at her. “Ma’am.”

She looks over his head at Fury with a raised eyebrow, and Fury rolls his eye in answer. She shrugs. “Agent Hill will do.”

The three screens out of the twenty surrounding the room have been on and showing what looks at first to be a random assemblage of explosions, but the rest of the screens begin flickering to life one by one until there are about as many angles on the same scene as one could ever want. The explosions, too, resolve into something recognisable—a street corner, a massive corporate assemblage of skyscrapers, and robots that appear to be dressed for a cult meeting.

“Motherfucking Doombots,” Fury says, like that explains everything. Agent Hill nods, looking exasperated, so Bucky guesses that it does.

Over the radios, or whatever they use for communications these days, Cap says, “Right, Hulk will take the lead and clear us a site; Widow, you’re with me. Iron Man, take Hawkeye to wherever he needs to be for point, and then your on aerial.”

“You got it,” Tony confirms.

“You need to build a fucking handle on your suit, man,” Clint complains.

“Yes, fucking up the aerodynamics of a flying suit is exactly what I need to do, Barton, great idea.”

“Chatter,” Cap reminds them, and then in the background there’s a growing whoosh of the belly of the jet opening up.

The quinjet arrives on the scene in sight of the cameras, and the first thing Bucky sees is Bruce as he throws himself out without any chute or anything, and then halfway to the ground something happens, and then he’s green and huge.

“Holy Christ,” he says compulsively.

“That’s the Hulk,” Hill says absently. “Don’t, under any circumstances, upset Dr. Banner.”

“Got it.”

After him, the others spill out, Cap with Natasha, and Tony swooping out with Clint on his back, the two of them making a graceful arc before Clint makes a rolling dive onto the top of a nearby building and almost immediately begins shooting down the robots with a bow and arrows.

The impact of the arrows themselves seem to make little difference. Half a second later, however, they detonate, and that makes a hell of a difference.

Bucky starts to take a liking to Clint.

The Doombots are destructive, but they’re also a bit comical, and as the Avengers fall into rhythm, Cap’s order against chatter starts to be taken less and less seriously.

“That’s seventeen for me, beat that!”

“Hulk smash twenty!”

“I AM SORRY FOR THE DELAY, MY FRIENDS! ALLOW ME TO ASSIST YOU.”

“That’s Thor,” Hill says.

“Yeah,” Bucky says faintly, watching lightning spill across the sky, controlled, apparently, by a gigantic blonde fella with a hammer. “I got that.”

The Doombots keep coming, but they also keep getting smashed up. It would be entertaining, were it not for the massive property damage and the civilians fleeing the scene. It’s bizarre watching from the screen, all of the sounds slightly muted for the sake of the analysts taking readings and monitoring the situation, but Bucky tries to keep track of everything, ignoring the overwhelming presence of too many moving pictures all at once.

“Iron Man, you got a lock on any central control?”

“Workin’ on it, Cap, but there might be more than one. The behaviour’s just a little too erratic to be a single algorithm.”

“Keep looking.”

Tony is making intricate loops around the buildings, clearly scanning for signals or transmissions of some kind while also blasting away at the bots with what look like miniatures of the power source in his chest. Bucky automatically starts looking for patters too, old instincts kicking in. After a second, he blurts out, “Patch me in.”

“You see something, Barnes?” Fury asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Patch me in.”

Hill presses a series of buttons and says, “You’re on.”

“Ton—Iron Man, there’s a bot moving south, slightly apart from the others at your five o’clock, he’s got a weird pendant thing.”

Tony spins in the air, focussing precisely and then making a noise in his throat. “Good eyes, Barnes. I’ll take a look.”

He dives, a long shallow trajectory that puts him nearly parallel to the street and keeps him in the bot’s blind spot, blasting his way through. At the last second, he twists and latches onto the bot by punching straight through a chest panel and clinging.

That particular bot is definitely not like the others. It thrashes, grabbing hold of Tony and wrenching at him with a shriek of metal and electrical equipment. Tony curses up a blue streak but holds on.

“Iron Man, status!” Cap barks.

“Fuck, fine, just, give me a second, this thing is complicated—fuck!

There’s a crackle over the comms, followed by a feedback whine that has everyone in the room wincing. There’s too much debris and dust billowing across the screens to see much, but Bucky catches a quick glimpse of Tony still going head to head with the control bot. He must do something right though, because all at once a whole bunch of the other bots falter, like they’ve encountered a glitch.

The rest of the team takes advantage of the lapse with destructive glee, but there are still far too many to take down.

Through the static comes through two quiet, carefully-placed words from Tony. “Shit. Okay.”

Bucky feels his grip on the control panel in front of him go painfully tight, and is absently glad that the metal arm isn’t surgically attached yet, otherwise he would have no doubt crushed the entire keypad.

“Iron Man, what’s your status?” Cap shouts.

“All good, Cap,” Tony says, and Bucky knows exactly what that means.

“Fuck that!” he barks into the console, “He’s lying, Cap, he’s about to do something stupid.”

“Shut up, Barnes!” Tony snaps.

“Damn it,” Cap mutters. “Thor?”

Iron Man explodes out of the cloud of dust, clutching a mass of torn up electronics to his chest and heading straight up like an arrow into the atmosphere.

“MAN OF IRON! ARE YOU IN NEED OF AID?”

There’s a hiss and crackle over the comms.

“Stark,” Bucky growls.

“Yeah okay,” Tony says, breathless, half-drowned out by his velocity. “Fifteen more seconds and then I’m letting this sucker go, and Thor, you blast it with everything you got.”

Clint curses.

“You need clear time!” Cap shouts, “How much, Iron Man?”

“Doesn’t matter! Just do it! Dropping now!”

Tony tosses the bundle into the air, and as he speeds away Thor calls down lightning onto it in a roaring crash.

There’s a moment of silence, and then a burst of light that immediately shorts out every screen in the control room.

Fury makes an inarticulate sound of rage in his throat. “Get this shit back online, people!” he orders, “And if they’re out for good, get me satellite imaging, give me fucking cell phone movies, give me some fucking eyes on!

“Fucking hell,” Bucky mutters.

There is complete chaos and radio silence for two agonising minutes. Then finally one analyst calls from the far corner, “Director! We have eyes on the perimeter, and all bots appear to be down!”

A collective sigh of relief is uttered, followed immediately by Fury shouting for security and clean up teams on site. And then the chaos turns into frantic but orderly movement, with Agent Hill taking charger and calling in support.

Fury spares Bucky one glance. “Well spotted,” he says.

“Sniper,” Bucky replies, shrugging.

Fury snorts, and then roams the channels. “Captain, report! Do you copy? Report in immediately.”

A pause, and then, “Sir, everyone is safe and accounted for except Iron Man. Thor’s tracking him down now.”

“Of course,” Fury snarls, and then, off-comm, “Fucking Stark is going to be the death of me.”

Bucky doesn’t reply. But he does think very uncharitably that Steve was right as usual, and that Tony is in fact, a menace.

A stupidly heroic menace.

In retrospect, that does seem to be a theme in Bucky’s life.

***

It’s a bit hilarious having their positions reversed—Tony in a hospital bed in the bowels of SHIELD, Bucky coming by to visit. But Steve is looking constipated in anticipation of having to give the what-the-hell speech to Tony yet again, so Bucky offers to go with.

It actually translates to Bucky going in while Steve hovers in the hallway because, “I don’t know, Bucky, but you actually seem to get him, and I really am not in the right temper to do this just now.” Bucky’s pretty sure the last time he’s seen Steve this frustrated was maybe when Jacques fell for a Nazi spy masquerading as French resistance and nearly got them all blown to pieces out the back of a Vichy whorehouse.

In any case, Bucky goes in, and they look at each other for a second before laughing at the situation, though Tony makes more of a wheezing noise than anything else. Bucky rolls his eyes and snatches the water glass on the side table, handing it over. “You’re an idiot,” he says. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

“Easy,” Tony replies, once he’s taken a few sips of water, “That controller was rigged with enough explosive to level five blocks. Casualties would be unacceptable, even with evacuations. Moreover, it was incredibly unpredictable because Doom likes to bifurcate his signals with magic—have I mentioned to you how much I hate magic?—and so if I triggered any self-destruct spells by accident in addition to everything else, it could have been disastrous. So, up into the atmosphere, no harm no foul.”

“No planes?” Bucky raises an eyebrow.

“Scanned for it. Sent out a message to the control towers. I wasn’t even close to 30,000 feet yet anyway. JARVIS gave me all possible scenarios.”

“And you couldn’t, I don’t know, have tossed it to Thor to take care of it and gotten some distance before getting caught in the blast radius?”

Tony looks at him like he’s nuts. “Thor’s not expendable.”

“Thor is a god. I’m pretty sure he could take it.”

“Wasn’t willing to take that chance. Not without better odds or better data.”

Bucky stares at him, and then yells over his shoulder, “You’re right. He’s impossible.”

Steve appears in the doorway, arms crossed, and wow, that disappointed face is worse than any Bucky has ever received. “Stark,” Steve starts.

“Think as a team, report more frequently, stop, collaborate and listen, I got it, Cap,” Tony snaps. “I was acting in the best interests of the team, okay?”

Steve visibly collects himself. “You do realise you’re part of the team too, right?” he says. “Anything that ends in you dying is not in the best interests of the team.”

Bucky watches Tony’s reaction, and it’s kind of, well, awful.

It’s more than clear that Tony doesn’t believe Cap at all.

Steve must see it too, because he just shakes his head and says, “You’ll be debriefed when they let you out. In the meantime, try and get some rest.”

“Everyone else is okay?” Tony asks.

Steve pauses, nods assent, and sees himself out.

Bucky nudges Tony with his hip. “You’re pretty fucked up.”

Tony looks up at him and smiles ruefully. “Now you’re getting it.”

***

The whole team is granted some down time for a few days after the Doom incident, so while Tony recovers and complains and designs narcotic-induced mechanical monstrosities on the one Stark tablet he’s allowed in the medical centre, Bucky settles himself more thoroughly into the Avengers mansion. He seems to have gotten blanket approval for his good eyesight, which helps, and after the first 24 hours or so wherein most of the Avengers pretty much just eat and sleep and make non-verbal noises at each other, they start talking to him in passing.

Clint discourses on the state of movies in this century, something about godfathers and a farce on an airplane and ‘yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!’ Thor offers him poptarts out of the largest box he’s ever seen, but he can’t quite stomach the sheer quantity of artificial flavours that involves, so he politely refuses.

Maria Hill comes by once with paperwork for everyone, and grants him a very small smile that Bucky guesses means she approves of him, though probably only on a probationary level.

“Stark must really like you,” Natasha says one morning, peeling a hard boiled egg with the sort of aggressive meticulousness that made Bucky think of knife work.

Bucky cocks an eyebrow in inquiry, and she nods at his arm. He looks down at it. It’s currently engaged in holding a fork delicately between three fingers. Tony had to push back the bionic surgery because with him away from the workshop he can’t finish the final arm and prep it for the grafting, so Bucky has been getting used to manipulating the net of electrodes on his shoulder to make the arm he has do simple things like wave and pick up a cup of coffee without shattering it. He marvels at it, really, because even when the muscle movements he’s trying to control feel jerky and uncoordinated, the arm makes it all look deliberate and smooth.

“Why?” he asks. “He builds stuff for all of you.”

She shrugs, tilting her head. “Takes him a while to get it right, though,” she says, “To get the tech to fit the user. Clint’s had five bows in the last month and he’s just beginning to really fall in love. That,” she nods at the arm, “Near perfect on the first try.”

“Huh,” Bucky says, and tries not to think about it.

Colonel Rhodes shows up a few days later and goes into some highly controlled hysterics about Bucky’s return to the land of the living, which Bucky can’t help but find endlessly funny.

“Sir, with all due respect, I don’t think you understand. We used to study you’re technique back at the Academy. There are pictures of you and the Commandoes all over West Point, diagrams of your ambush stratagems. I just, I—it’s a real, real honour, sir.”

“You need to stop calling me ‘sir’,” Bucky says. “Barnes’ll do, since I hear you’re Stark’s friend.”

Rhodes closes his eyes. “You’ve met Tony. Of course you’ve met Tony. I apologise on his behalf for everything.”

Bucky tilts a smile at him. “I’ve got no complaints, actually.”

Rhodes stares at him. “Then I should buy you a drink,” he says. “For achieving the impossible.”

***

Bucky gets drunk for the first time in the modern world with Rhodes, plus Clint and Natasha, because they were in the house at the time and wanted out. Natasha slams back vodka like it’s water, Clint opts for tequila and starts singing country songs halfway through the evening, and Rhodes buys rounds of whatever anyone else calls out at random, which leads to some truly unholy drinks being distributed to their table at inopportune moments.

Most of the night is blurry at best, but at some point Bucky distinctly remembers Rhodes slinging an arm around his shoulders saying, “I respect you, man, for just being you, you know, but I love you, see, because you understand the meaning of bein’ in Tony’s orbit, you know? It’s like, it’s great, but goddamn he breaks my heart more than any woman I’ve ever been with.”

Bucky is vaguely amused, through the misery of the next morning (he wakes up in SHIELD, which…what?), by how he managed to accrue all the warning signals about Tony after he’d already thrown in his lot with the guy. That had probably been Tony’s intention all along, but really, it was an unnecessary precaution. Bucky’s always had a tendency to look at danger signs and then plough right past them. Sure, it’s gotten him into trouble a few times, but often enough, the end game’s worth it.

***

“You look hungover.”

“You need to talk quieter. Have some damn sympathy.”

Tony mimes zipping his lips but doesn’t stop smiling. Bucky slumps onto the edge of the hospital bed and momentarily considers just draping himself over Tony’s calves, but then remembers that one of his ankles is twisted, and refrains. He lists to the side instead, propping himself up on his elbows so he’s facing Tony at the foot of the bed. “So your friends are kind of nuts,” he says. “I think I like them.”

“They’re not really my friends,” Tony says. “Natasha spied on me for SHIELD and stabbed me in the neck, and Clint’s just kind of an asshole.”

“I met Rhodes.”

“Okay yeah, Rhodey’s good people.”

“He had some interesting things to say about you.”

“Don’t believe any of it. Except for the tragi-comic disco debacle of ’97—that definitely happened and I have pictures to prove it. For a brother, he has very few moves.”

“I really don’t know what you just said.”

“Never mind, hardly matters. How’s the arm?”

“Functional. Get better so it can be better.”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

“I do get it, you know,” Bucky says, “Why you take the hits.”

Tony blinks, but his expression doesn’t change. He’s great at defence; it’s lucky that Bucky’s best at offence.

“Steve doesn’t get it, because he doesn’t know what it’s like not to be good. But what you’ve gotta understand is, being good doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not you’re important. You don’t have to be good to be invaluable.”

Tony stares at him for a long second. Then he says, “You’ve got a strange gift, Barnes. You say shit like that, and I don’t automatically want to punch you in the throat.”

Bucky smirks. “That’s ‘cause you know exactly what kind of noises you like to hear from me, and they ain’t wheezing and coughing.”

“Oh come on, I’m bed ridden,” Tony complains. “Not fair to say things like that when I can’t follow up.”

“Like I said. Get better so it can be better.”

Tony salutes. Bucky makes a move to leave, but his hangover catches up with him again. He makes a face.

“If you hurl on me, I’m gonna have to hurt you,” Tony warns.

“Won’t.” He squeezes his eyes shut.

“Oh for Christ’s sake, you’re pathetic. Giving me pep talks on a morning after, what were you thinking? Come here. Slowly.”

This is how Bucky finds himself snuggling on a hospital bed. It’s a ridiculously tight fit, but Bucky’s pretty sure he will actually hurl if he attempts to get in a taxi to get back to the mansion, and he’d really rather not. They manage to arrange themselves without jostling Tony’s ribs or Bucky’s head too much, and once they’ve settled it actually feels pretty damn good.

He’s not even aware of time passing until he opens his eyes to find Steve sitting in the visitor’s chair wearing an odd expression. He shifts just enough to get a look at Tony’s face, but he’s dead asleep, so he settles back down and before murmuring, “Hey Steve. You looking for me?”

“Yeah. Natasha told me where you were. I didn’t expect…do you want me to go?”

“Nah, it’s fine. My headache’s gone I think, so if you wanna grab a bite…?”

“Sure.” Steve looks relieved that they’ll be leaving Tony’s company, conscious or not.

Bucky extracts himself from the hospital bed carefully, and follows Steve out and up to the headquarters’ canteen.

“So,” Steve says reluctantly, “How’s Stark?”

“On the mend. I’m surprised he hasn’t started climbing the walls, honestly, but I’m betting the nurses are keeping him pretty sedated most of the time. Don’t want to deal with him otherwise.”

“That’s…practical.”

“Mm,” Bucky says. Then after a second, “You don’t have to ask after him for my sake, you know.”

“I—“ Steve stops, seems to reconsider, and then says, “He’s my team mate, I ought to ask after him. But I guess, I don’t know, maybe I’m a little frustrated that you’ve apparently seen something in him that I haven’t.”

They grab sandwiches and coffee from the buffet line and sit at the far corner of the concourse. Bucky takes a tentative bite of his ham and cheese, and when he doesn’t feel nauseous, takes a couple more. Then he tilts his head. “I think your eyesight’s fine,” he says. “Stark’s probably the problem. But I guess that’s not helpful unless he’s gonna change at some point.”

Steve wolfs down one sandwich and starts on another; Bucky wonders how long he waited for him to wake up. After a few minutes, Steve says, “It’s not as if he isn’t capable of change. His file says as much. But changing one’s principles is one thing; changing one’s nature is completely different. I don’t know. You don’t need to worry about it.”

“If it’s the difference between him getting himself killed and not, I kinda do,” Bucky says dryly.

Steve looks at him. “You really do like him, huh?”

Bucky shrugs. “Yeah, I do.” He studies Steve for a moment, and then asks, “How are you doing, anyway?”

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”

“I think you asked me more than enough while I was still holed up in SHIELD.”

Steve snorts, and then manages a crooked smile. “I’m better now that you’re around,” he says quietly, looking down at the table.

He’d said that once before, when Bucky had first woken up. Bucky can’t tell whether he sounds more sincere this time around, or less.

“Would you want to go back?” he asks. “If you could?”

“Would you?” Steve counters.

Bucky considers. “I dunno,” he says. “I mean, I miss the people—I miss us, you know? Dum-Dum and Jacques and the rest of those bastards. But I look around, you know, now, and it’s not bad here. It’s complicated, but so was before, just in different ways. I guess it’s always complicated, really. No worse and no better. Still people bein’ people.”

“People with more super powers,” Steve points out.

He shrugs. “Still people. Zemo had plenty of power. He was crazy, but he was people, and so’re the clowns you have to bash nowadays. At least, I assume the guy running all those Doombots was,” he adds, frowning.

Steve chuckles. “Yeah, von Doom is people, of a sort.”

“There you go. So I guess I don’t mind either way. You’re my only family, and you’re here, so I guess I’m content to stay.”

There it is, a genuine Steve Rogers smile. Bucky hadn’t realised just how much he’d missed it.

They finish their lunches, and Bucky keeps Steve company while he fills out mission reports. It feels almost like home.

***

Tony claws his way out of the medical ward in less than a week by being too obnoxious to keep down. Along with developing another prototype for Natasha’s wrist darts and expanding trouser material for Bruce, he immediately sets to work on preparing the arm, the final draft where the one Bucky’s wearing was just a prototype.

He ambushes Bucky at all hours in the mansion with new improvements and attachments to swap out according to circumstance, and if it’s the middle of the night when that happens, Bucky pulls him into bed and doesn’t let him go back to the workshop until the next morning. It works out well—they both have nightmares, and they tacitly agree to wake each other when it happens, and not talk about it.

There are two Avengers emergency call-outs of middling seriousness that leave Bucky staring at the screens JARVIS puts together, one finger on an extra comm just in case he spots anything. He tries not to interfere in the team dynamic, but he doesn’t like being on the sidelines at all.

He goes to the firing range at headquarters, managing a handgun one-armed, and blows off as much steam as he can sparring with Steve, which only helps somewhat because Steve is far too conscious of the limitations of the artificial arm.

Fury somehow gets a hold of Tony’s schematics, and several days later he calls Bucky into his office.

“I already know all of the field experience that you have listed in your file. What’s been left out?”

Bucky takes the thick dossier and flips through it. “The fun stuff,” he says finally. “Espionage.”

Fury grins. “Good.”

Bucky tries not to feel too much anticipation about that.

***

The day of the operation Tony wakes him up with a blowjob and a half-mad grin, and Bucky’s pretty sure he should feel nervous about undergoing an entirely untested surgical procedure that will latch a hunk of metal onto his body for life, but what he’s mostly feeling (through the post-orgasm haze) is a jangling, savage sort of expectation.

“Still sure about the bare metal?” Tony asks, as Bucky reaches down to return the favour. “No skin grafts at all?”

“None,” Bucky affirms. “Besides, that’ll make changing out parts and stuff a lot easier, right?”

“True, but I’d be the one to worry about that, not you.”

“Nope, I’m good. Just metal. Maybe a paint job at some point, if I’m feeling fancy.”

“Red and gold?”

“Fuck you, Stark.” He twists his wrist sharply.

Tony exhales in a shaky rush, and says hoarsely, “All right, all right. Just metal.”

They don’t do a lot of talking after that.

When they emerge, Steve and Bruce are at the kitchen table, Steve looking like he’s making a concerted effort to not be anxious and failing. “Relax, big guy,” Tony says breezily, “I flew in the best surgeons the world’s got to offer for this thing. Barnes is gonna be fine. Better, in fact.”

“He doesn’t need improvement,” Steve says, a little testily.

Bucky slides in between him and Tony with a glass of water—no food allowed, per the surgeons’ instructions. “Don’t need it, sure. Want it? Absolutely.”

In reaction, Steve actually has the audacity to use the cow eyes on him. He doesn’t say a word, either, just turns them on him like a goddamn laser of woe.

It’s a really good thing that Bucky inured himself to that shit back when Steve was tiny and the look was even more deadly than it is now. Unfortunately, Tony has no such defences, but considering how he and Steve get on about as well as cats and dogs do, Bucky doesn’t think it’ll matter.

Tony, however, makes a small noise in his throat. “I don’t—Steve, I mean, look, you know I’m gonna be watching the whole time, you know? It’s gonna be fine, I going to—“

“Oh my god,” Bucky says. “Shut up, Tony, get a grip. Cap, put that damn face away, I swear to Christ. You are not my mother, god rest her soul.”

“I’m not doing anything!” Steve protests.

“That is such a lie,” Bruce says from across the table. “You didn’t even look at me and I felt like I was being a terrible person.”

“Is that your actual superpower, you just frown Nazis into submission?” Tony peers at him. “Because seriously, I need to bottle that and sell it to antiterrorism groups.”

“I hate you both,” Steve mutters.

‘Come on, Cap, I’ll let you supervise too, so long as you keep the hand-wringing to a minimum,” Tony says.

“Don’t I get a say in this?” Bucky demands.

“You’re going to be knocked out and medicated up to your eyeballs. I didn’t think you’d care either way.”

He sighs. “Fine. What’d you say, Steve?”

Bucky suspects that that was what Steve had been going for all along, considering how quickly he agrees. Bucky should really know better by now.

Bruce just shakes his head at them.

***

Steve is pacing in the living room a half hour before they’re about to leave for the hospital. Bucky comes in while pinning the sleeve of his jacket up—the old arm is coming off as soon as he goes into surgery, so he figures he’d best just leave it at home. He raises an eyebrow. “Why are you so stressed about this, Steve? I feel like I should be the one acting all cagey in this scenario.”

Steve stops wearing a hole in the floor and sighs. “You know Fury’s going to try and recruit you after this, right?”

Bucky snorts. “Well, yeah. That was pretty clear from the way he called me in to ask me about my field experiences.”

“He called…? Oh. And you’re okay with that?”

“Would have told him to stuff it if I wasn’t.” He narrows his eyes. “Are you saying you don’t want me in the field, Rogers?”

“No! No, I wouldn’t presume—“

“Good. Because if that were the case, we’d’ve had to have some strong words.”

“It just seems like you haven’t been given that many choices since you woke up,” Steve says quietly. “About what you want to do now, I mean.”

Bucky exhales very slowly. “We talkin’ about me or you?”

Steve gives him a chastening look. Bucky isn’t swayed. “I’ve had more than a few opportunities to bow out,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about me, Steve.”

“Have you?” Steve asks, a flicker of confusion in his expression.

Bucky casts a quick look back at the hallway leading back to Tony’s bedroom. “Yeah,” he says. “I have.”

Steve cocks his head. “Tony offered…”

“Right before I got out of medical. Knowing him, I coulda probably disappeared and had at least six months head start on SHIELD if they decided I was worth tracking down. So yeah, I’m here because I want to be. But I mean, come on, Steve, when have you ever known me to turn down the good fight?”

“I guess that’s true.” Steve smiles, looking far more at ease, and then his eyes go a bit thoughtful. “I should thank Tony for that, I guess.”

Bucky looks at him suspiciously. It clicks.

“You’re thinking about giving him the talk, aren't you? While I’m in surgery? That is low, Rogers.”

Steve doesn’t even have the good grace to look repentant.

“He does has a reputation, you know,” he says.

“So do I," Bucky says, affronted.

“Yes, but—“

“No buts, Steven. I can fight my own battles."

Steve sighs. “Fine.”

“We ready to rock and roll, gentlemen?” Tony says, coming into the room. He looks up from buttoning his cuffs and looks disappointed at their blank faces. “Right. Remind me to create a history of music playlist for you both. Shall we?”

Steve looks at Bucky, and Bucky quirks a smile. “Let’s do this.”


Chapter Two

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alchemyalice

March 2013

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