[personal profile] alchemyalice
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four


“Don’t you ever do that to me again, you complete bastard,” Bucky says, and bites down on Tony’s lower lip hard enough to draw blood. Tony doesn’t even flinch, just leans into it more while trying to walk backwards down the hall towards the bedroom, Bucky’s hand tangled up in his tie.

This is how it starts.

Well, not quite. If you want to be realistic, it started the second Bucky opened his eyes in the 21st century.

And if you want to be pedantic, well, it definitely started the evening before.


The evening before:

The Trojan horse had been ready by the afternoon: a massive truckload of electrical supplies and arcane bits and bobs piled up in crates, and then sitting tucked between them are Clint, Bucky, and Natasha, dressed as the nightshift at The Suppliers’ warehouse.

“You guys comfy?” Tony asks, as he surveys the inside of the truck, already half-wearing his armour.

“As comfy as we can be when our asses are crammed in between things that blow up and things that can turn us into frogs,” Clint remarks.

“I’m very comfortable, thank you,” Natasha says.

Bucky just flourishes a lazy salute.

“See, that’s what I like to hear,” Tony says, waving at him and Natasha. Then he points at Clint. “You lose, Barton.”

“Fuck you, Stark.”

“You wish you could tap this.” He grabs the two doors on the back of the truck and pulls them together. “See you on the flip side, babe,” he says, winking at Bucky, and then slams the doors shut.

“You guys are just precious,” Clint says into the ensuing darkness.

“I have heat-seeking missiles built in, Barton,” Bucky says, not bothering to hide the smile no one could see but Natasha at least could certainly hear. “Don’t tempt me.”


The ride to the warehouse is uneventful, punctuated only by chatter on the comms, mostly between Tony and Bruce (with occasional interjections from Clint), who are busy speculating about what else The Suppliers could be working on.

“Lycanthropy serum.”

“Why the hell would you want to turn people into werewolves? That’s like, domestic terrorism or some shit. And talk about plans that could backfire on your ass.”

“Definitely likely to backfire. Next.”

“Clone army.”

“Stop watching the Star Wars prequels, Bruce, it’s not good for you.”

“It’s like a train wreck, I can’t look away. Besides, I like to finish the full sets of things.”

“OCD, Banner.”

“There were prequels to the Star Wars movies?”

“No, Steve. No, there weren’t. They don’t exist. Never look for them.”

Clint snickers.

The truck hits a pothole, sending Bucky sprawling across a box of fertiliser. “Hey, watch it,” he says.

“Sorry,” Agent Williams, the SHIELD operative at the front of the truck, says over the comm while not sounding particularly sorry. “Also, shouldn’t you guys be radio silent?”

“Physically impossible,” Tony says, “At least for Clint and I.”

“It’s like you really get me,” Clint simpers. There’s a shuffle in the dark that Bucky has no doubts is Natasha elbowing him in the ribs.

“We’re heading off road,” Natasha says. “Fifteen minutes until contact.”

“How did you…? Never mind,” Agent Williams mutters.

Bucky rotates his wrist, taking comfort in the nearly silent whir of hydraulics, the minute clicks of various weaponry unfurling and retracting in their casements. It’s become part of his pre-mission ritual, which Tony revels in whenever he sees it.

“Ten minutes,” Williams says. “Checkpoint is now visible.”

“Radio silence for real now,” Steve says. “Get ready. Remember—get as far in as you can, but don’t expose yourself to unnecessary danger. You’re going to get found out. But as soon as you are, no heroics—just retreat as quickly and destructively as you can. We’ll get the rest.”

“Our turn to bring the party,” Clint comments. “Got it.”

“Locked and loaded, Cap,” Bucky confirms. “Going dark now.”

The comm goes silent. The truck hits another bump, and then it slows, gradually at first, and then after long minutes, grinds to a halt.

“Here we go,” Natasha murmurs.

Bucky closes his eyes, listening for Troy’s gates opening for them.


It could have gone a lot worse.

It could have gone a lot better.

Bucky contends that it would have gone perfectly, if they hadn’t found out that magical knock-offs and occult tech wasn’t the only thing the Suppliers were supplying, because of course it wasn’t. They just had to have a side business of human trafficking, didn’t they?

They’re three layers deep inside the compound when Clint slips through a side door, comes back out with a dark, tight expression on his face, and turns on the comms only to say, very low and succinctly, “They’re supplying people. There are kids in there. Fuck this shit, we’re taking it all out right now.”

Bucky gets the briefest blast in his ears of Tony saying, “Motherfu—“ and Steve saying, “Hawkeye, wait—“ before Natasha shuts Clint’s comm off.

“Idiot,” she says. “Now they’re really going to come down on us.”

“Cap had to know,” Clint replies, but he’s clearly adjusting his plans as well; Bucky surveys the corridor they’ve touched down in and constructs a route in his head.

“Okay, I’m heading down and out,” he says, “Pretty sure I can get maybe ten, fifteen of them out through the tunnels—“

“Not happening,” Natasha cuts him off, “Best chance is to barricade them in, keep them safe until after we’ve taken the complex out.”

“And risk another Agadir? No fucking thanks,” Clint snarls.

“There were only the two of us then, not three,” Natasha snaps back. She presses her lips together, and then relents. “Fine. Then I say we do it like Budapest.”

“What the fuck is Budapest?” Bucky says.

Clint stares at Natasha. “Fucking Budapest,” he says, “That’s the worst idea ever. Let’s do it.”

“Don’t worry,” Natasha says, a truly terrifying grin turning up one corner of her mouth. “I won’t take you through the floor this time. I’ve got the equipment to add on the Italian Job, anyway.”

“Jesus fucking Christ save us all,” Clint says distantly, and then seems to snap back into action. “Right,” he says, “Budapest, side of a damn Marky Mark movie. Got it. I’ll take the guardsmen and fill the Captain in.” And then he’s heading down the corridor, deeper into the complex.

“Budapest?” Bucky repeats, and Natasha grabs his arm.

“Budapest,” she confirms, “I hope you’re good with a garrotte. Also, maybe a machine gun.”

Bucky scoffs, and unfurls the adamantium cable once more. They sprint for a side passage, away from where they majority of the Suppliers’ forces would be pouring from.

“Right,” Natasha says as they run, “Budapest runs like a plumber’s scam. You ever do one of those?”

“Tunnel under, blast out? Sure,” Bucky replies. “What’s so special about that?”

“What’s special,” Natasha replies, turning a swift corner and then slamming them through a fire door and up a flight of emergency stairs, “Is that start three floors up rather than down, we bring an audience with us, Clint’s the canary, and that with a little luck, we end on Claire de Lune.”

“Oh my god,” Bucky says, understanding only half of that, but that’s more than enough to get the gist. “You’re actually going to get us killed.”

“That depends entirely,” she says, “On whether or not your boyfriend really loves you enough to retrieve us halfway through.”

“How the fuck did you pull this off before with just Clint?”

“We eventually had backup, and Clint was roofied with PCP for most of the mission. He gets very creative under the influence.”

“We’re actually going to die.”

“Eh, we’ll be fine. Bust this, would you?”

Locked door, ridiculous keypad. Bucky focusses, and then points at it with his metal first finger. It turns to slag.

“Still sexy as hell,” Natasha observes, kicking the melted door open. “What else have you got? Also, turn around, we’ve got company.”

Bucky curses and manages to take out a fair number of minions with a spray of defensive fire. They shouldn’t have even bothered with the damn guard uniforms; Natasha looks like she’s craving her usual black leather even as she disables a series of security spreads on the wall and renders a few more guards unconscious.

“Leave a few for the chase,” she instructs, “We need the illusion of getting cornered.”

“Then we should run,” Bucky says, and they do.

There’s a crackle of contact over the comms for a brief second on their way to the third floor. “Goddamnit, Cap’s going in to get you,” Tony says, voice obscured by static. “I’m—“

“Damn it,” Bucky snarls.

“I didn’t specify which boyfriend, I suppose,” Natasha says, and Bucky is going to kill her when this is over, kill her in the face.

“Don’t let Thor or Hulk come in, they’ll get the civilians killed,” Cap says through the static, several minutes later. “And Tony, don’t you dare—“

“You finish that sentence and I’ll end you,” Tony snaps.

“Mommy and Daddy are fighting,” Clint whispers under a burst of distant gunfire, and Bucky can’t suppress a burst of hysterical laughter in the middle of garrotting an officer. Natasha’s snatching the Uzi out of the man’s hands and checking the clip like he’s gifted it to her, and then they’re on their way again. Bucky can here the thunder of steps behind them as they go up, and up.

“Hostages secure,” Cap reports, “Hawkeye, get them out of here.”

“Easier said than done, Cap,” Clint replies, because apparently they’ve all given up on the whole radio silence thing. “I take them out of here now and they’re going to get picked off like flies. We’ve got drones in this joint, and I don’t like the look of them.”

Steve curses like Bucky hasn’t heard him do since they’d been in foxholes, but then Tony’s cutting through.

“Let me at them, Cap, I can take care of that,” he says. “Give me ten minutes and I’ll light them up.”

“Iron Man, stand down,” Cap answers, “You come in here with firepower and they’ll light the whole place up.”

“Like they’re not moving towards that already?” Tony counters. “Cap, they know we’re here, we’ve got no stealth left, let’s give ‘em what we got.”

“We do that, and we have no evidence,” Coulson cuts in, sharp and exact like a whip-crack, and clearer than any of them over the static. “You take witnesses, you disable perpetrators, you do not let this place end up a pile of ash, do you hear me?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Tony mutters. “At least let me kill the drones, though, come on.”

“Right, new plan,” Cap says, “Thor? Guard the skies, zap the drones when you see them. Hulk? Guard the perimeter. No one escapes here, but no one dies either, you got it?”

“UNDERSTOOD, CAPTAIN,” Thor confirms, and Hulk makes a noise of grumbling assent.

“Rest of you, let’s disable this place. Yes, Iron Man, that means you can take the drones.”

Tony hisses the verbal equivalent of a fist pump and seconds later Bucky starts hearing some very distinctive explosions.

“We’re going from the bottom up,” Natasha reports, “Send us anyone who looks like they want a good chase. We’ll strand them on the upper floors.”

“You got it,” Cap replies.

Without warning, Tony cuts through on the comm. “Uh, guys? I think we might have a problem.”

Bucky grits his teeth, and can feel Natasha tense at his side. “What is it, Iron Man?” he asks down the comm. “What’ve you got?”


Tony stands in the doorway of the central storage depository. The doorway is…glowing.

“Fucking moonstones,” he breathes.

“Iron Man, report!” Cap barks.

“Well, it appears that this complex is a lot more extensive than we could have predicted,” Tony says carefully.

“How much more extensive?” Coulson asks.


“What the fuck, Stark,” Clint says.

“They’re using their own moonstones,” Tony explains, “To give themselves as many stashes as possible. I just, uh, stumbled onto one. Hang on, I’ll go in here, get a GPS reading and send it back—“

“Don’t you dare, Tony!” Cap shouts, and wow, Tony’s pretty sure that’s the first time Cap’s ever used his real name on a mission.

“You got any other suggestions?” he replies. “Because otherwise we’ve just got to trust that these things stay stable long enough for us to walk through them, and even then, these guys’ll have ready-made backup storage that they can get right back to whenever the legal system spits them back out.”

“You got tracking bugs on you?” Natasha asks.

“Only a few. Can improvise some more.”

“Do it,” Cap orders. “Put a couple in the storage space, find as many others as you can. The rest is a job for SHIELD.”

“Aye aye, Cap.”

Tony fishes a tracking capsule out of some plating along his ribcage and throws it through the doorway. It crackles on its way through the doorway.

“You guys got that?” he asks, looking doubtfully at the sputtering, blinking tab that’s now lying on the ground twenty feet inside the doorway.

“Barely, but yes,” Coulson answers. “Find as many more as you can. Preserving the staff is now paramount; they might know more than they’re letting on about the other locations. Move, Avengers.”

“Moving,” Clint says. “In fact, rather constantly.”

“This is the worst sting ever,” Tony remarks.

JARVIS pings a drone coming up behind him, and he explodes it with a well-placed miniaturised mortar round.

Further up the complex, there’s the growing sound of running feet and shouts. “Your cat and mouse game’s about to get more interesting, guys,” he remarks.

“We noticed,” Bucky says tightly.

“Keep focussed, guys,” Cap says, with a sigh, even as they all hear the distinctive crunch of vibranium against body armour.

Tony blasts off.


Bucky and Natasha acquire a veritable army behind them. That is, if you’d define an army by a whole barrage of drones and officers who are doggedly chasing after them with the full intent to kill them dead.

“Where are we even going?” Bucky demands, in between dodging machine gun fire and sprinting up flights of emergency staircases. Natasha is the one with the floor plan completely locked into her memory, and they’re spiralling upwards and over, upwards and over through passageways of storage and offices and stairwells that are all blurring together in Bucky’s mind. At the centre of every hallway, Natasha has dropped a flattened disk of C4.

“Top floor,” she calls back, “A helicopter will meet us, and the captain’s on board.”

Bucky could just feel their pursuers’ pace and interest pick up at that pronouncement.

“No, seriously,” he tries again, “Where are we going?”

“Don’t ruin the surprise,” Natasha says.

They keep running.

Over the comm, it sounds like complete chaos, even more now that Tony’s started leaving tracking nodes in all of the moonstone doorways he comes across, which are alarmingly numerous.

“One more on this hall,” he announces. “And uh, I think there’s support coming through? Possibly Navy affiliated or trained. Not that I’d know, just, uh—“

There’s a blast of static in their earpieces, followed by Clint cursing.

“Just got them, thanks! Definitely Navy! Goddamn, I do not like these guys,” he shouts, “Douchemobiles by land, and douchecanoes by sea!”

“We have incoming apparently by way of a freighter in the Pacific,” Coulson adds helpfully. “SHIELD has those from the outside, but between that and getting the hostages out, we’re short on manpower.”

“Exactly,” Tony confirms. “Hawkeye, I’ll be on your six in thirty seconds.”

“Thank Christ.”

“Be careful, Iron Man. Bucky, Black Widow, what’s you’re status?” Cap asks.

“Get ready to catch us,” is all Natasha says.

“Shit,” Tony says suddenly, cutting across the comms and derailing a shot Bucky was taking at a drone. He growls and readjusts.

“Come on, Stark,” Clint yells into the comm. “I needed you over here five minutes ago!”

“I’ve gotten a little caught up, precious, but that’s not—shit, what—oh godamni—“

His signal cuts off in a hiss of static.

“Shit,” Steve says fervently. “Someone get a lock on him, now.”


“On your seven,” Natasha says, and Bucky ducks just in time to avoid another burst of gunfire. He throws an answering round back over his shoulder with a flick of his arm.


Bucky freezes. “What?



Tony shakes his head to clear it. Then looks around. The doorway he’d been unceremoniously thrown through winks out of sight like its being slapped shut with wet concrete, leaving him in a nondescript basement full of unlabelled wooden crates that no doubt hold a whole host of unpleasant accoutrements.

“Motherfucker,” he says blankly. “JARVIS, location?”

“It appears that we are currently in Dubai, sir.”

Motherfucker. I officially hate moonstones. Make a note, JARVIS.”

“Duly noted. Recalibrating communications with the team now. We should be back online in two minutes, twenty-eight seconds.”

“Good. And in the meantime, what’s gonna happen if I attempt to blast through the ceiling of this godforsaken basement?”

“According to my scans, sir, you would emerge unharmed, but may disrupt one of the main highways, and therefore cause significant civilian damage.”

“But everyone here is filthy rich, right? So I’ll just be wrecking up overly expensive imported Benzes and Ferraris, right?”

“Not a wholly inaccurate assessment, yes, sir.”

“Awesome. Boot repulsors at maximum, JARVIS.”

“Indeed, sir.”


“They’re closing in,” Bucky remarks, electromagnetic shield at maximum, which is basically the only thing standing between him, Natasha, and complete annihilation.

“Good, audience is a go,” Natasha says, spreading cover fire, “We’re almost there.”

“Almost where?!”

“Here.” She kicks open a door and launches herself up one more flight of stairs, which then open onto a roof pavilion. “Time for the kick.”


The sound of at least sixty guns cocking echoes through the walls of the pavilion.

“Excellent,” Natasha breathes, like they’re not about to get more holes in them than swiss cheese.

“There is nothing excellent about this,” Bucky hisses.

“That’s what Clint said. He was wrong too.” She draws off her back two Uzis she’d collected off of their collection of garrotted officers. “Hulk? In fifteen seconds, I want you to come up to the roof. And smash.”

We’re on the roof!” Bucky protests.

“Not for long.” She presses a detonator on her belt, and the building trembles beneath them.

Then she aims the gun at the floor at their feet.

“Oh fuck,” Bucky says.

“Cap, get ready to catch us,” Natasha repeats.

“On my way,” Cap promises.

“Oh fuck,” Bucky repeats.

Dull bursts of sound shake the floor beneath their feet.

“I always felt a certain kinship with Kate Beckinsale,” Natasha says, as the floor crumbles in a semi-circle around them. It lurches beneath them as she hits the halfway mark around the circle of fire she’s drawing around their feet.

It’s going to give way any second. And then they’re going to fall.

“HULK TO SMASH,” the Hulk announces. Bucky can hear his footsteps resonating as he climbs the building.

“Natasha!” he hisses.

“It could go faster if you helped,” she observed.

“Goddamnit.” Better to fall through an open hole than a sliding gash. He opens fire, following the circle around their feet.

“Brace yourself!” Natasha says loudly.

“I was braced years ago, sweetheart!”

“Wait, don’t—!” Coulson says suddenly.

“Don’t what?!”

The floor gives way.

It figures that even in freefall, Natasha would look completely composed, braced against the circle of floor tile and concrete.

As the floors begin to pass them by, though, and the sound of the Hulk smashing through the troops they’d lured to the roof begin to reach them, she looks up suddenly and her eyes reflect nothing good.

They smash through the third floor and Bucky catches a blur of Cap rushing through busted doors to throw himself forward as Natasha launches herself off the circle of flooring they’re standing on and runs to barricade whatever doors she can find.

Bucky endeavours to do the same just as a soldier just behind Cap takes aim and fires.

Pain blooms suddenly in Bucky’s thigh. That is not fucking stopping him.

He propels himself forward on his functioning leg, not expecting the other to do much, and catches more than just the edge of the flooring, claws himself forward just as Steve past and grabs his forearm. But where Bucky finds solid ground, Steve finds open air.


There’s a burst of fire over both their heads; Natasha is covering with ruthless efficiency while Clint is still covering the bottom floors and distracting the cavalry. Bucky catches Steve’s gloved hand just as Steve looks down at the chasm below him and his eyes widen.

“Uh, guys? I think we could use some help here.”

Bucky looks over the edge. “Fuck. No way.”

“I can’t retrieve you guys and keep enemy fire off you at the same time,” Natasha says tightly.



“Little tied down here, Cap,” Clint reports.

“Uh,” Bucky says slowly, staring down beyond where Cap’s legs dangle, beyond where his gloved hand grasps Bucky’s forearm. They’re hovering over…nothing good.

So this was what Coulson was yelling about.

“Moonstone?” Bucky asks, almost evenly.

Steve chances a look down beyond where his feet are dangling. “Moonstone,” he confirms. He doesn’t betray a modicum of what he has to be feeling, with that abyssal darkness just beneath him.

“Don’t fall,” Coulson says over the comm, and fucking hell, he sounds concerned now. “It’s a vortex meant to destroy this whole complex in case of emergencies. We’re working to shut it down now.”

“You do that,” Bucky says through gritted teeth. He doesn’t even flinch as Widow lets an empty gun clatter to the ground near his head and opens fire with a second one. He swings his metal arm forward, and clasps Steve’s wrist with it. “Do the override,” he says, meeting Steve’s eyes. “I’m not letting go of you.”


“Do it.”

Steve stares up at him, eyes wide, and recites the code. JARVIS sounds in Bucky’s ear. “Sirs? How can I be of assistance?”

“No matter what my brain says,” Bucky says, “Do not let me let go of him.”

“Sir, that’s an extremely risky—“

“Do it. Do it until we’re both safe.”

“Yes, sir.” And Bucky feels the hydraulics tighten, the grip of his hand coalesce into something unforgiving in its firmness around Steve’s wrist and hand. Steve winces, but doesn’t protest. If either of them slips, this will kill them both.

Bucky doesn’t care, not at all.

The abyss swirls below them as Natasha covers them.

“Some help, someone,” Bucky mutters into the comm.

Faintly, unevenly, he gets an answer.

“I’m on my way, gents.”




“Do what again, exactly?” Tony inquires, almost rhetorically, but betrayed by a hitch in his breath and the way he sways forward. “Save your life? In a very dashing and dramatic fashion, I might add.”

Bucky growls. This is familiar ground.

“Don’t be an idiot again,” Bucky insists. “At least give us some warning before we hear it from JARVIS.”

“Physically impossible,” Tony retorts, “And that’s why you love me, right?”


And that’s the first time Bucky admits it for real.



Tony has never flown so fast in his life.

“JARVIS, we’re covering a third of the globe. Scan for moonstone signatures, help SHEILD out a bit while they’re floundering. But for god’s sake, put the rest of all power towards getting us back there now.”

“Already on it, sir, and have pinpointed three more holding locations for the Suppliers.”

“Good. ETA on the original warehouse?”

“Fifteen minutes, sir.”

“You hear that, guys? I need fifteen minutes.”

“What? Where are you, Tony?”

“Currently over Greece. Why?”

“Gr—just get here. Get here yesterday.”

Tony can feel his hearing narrow into just the dull roar of wind against his helmet. “…What the hell’s happened?”

“We’re severely outnumbered,” Clint says, “SHEILD is occupied with ground forces and clearing hostages, Thor is tied down with a whole bunch of Doom rejects on the outside of the building, and I’m…well. We’re a little compromised here.”

“I can hold them,” Natasha says, “Ten minutes, tops. And then I’m out.”

“Hear that, JARVIS?” Tony mutters, “Give it everything. We need to be there now.”

“Your interaction with the moonstone has made that a risky proposition, sir—“

Do it.”


Much farther before:

What Bucky doesn't know is this—the day he was picked up out of the mountain snow, Tony was browsing the SHIELD alert system. The second Bucky’s face was defrosted enough to get face recognition up and running, Tony knew.

As a result, the third and most miserable fight Tony and Steve ever had? Was over him.

The Wednesday after the alert, Steve came in to the mansion white-faced and hard-shouldered, and shoved a page of classified file in tony's face.

“Did you know?" he demanded, so quiet it was almost a hiss.

Tony looked at the page for less than a minute before his lips thinned. That was more than enough for Steve.

“You’re a bastard," he spat.

"I didn't know he was alive," Tony said, but he had already flinched, and that was as good as a confession.

“He’s my best friend, the only person I had then and the only one I have now and—“

“And what?" Tony snapped, recovering. "I thought he was dead, Steve. And god knows how well you've been dealing with trying to let go of the past without something like this cropping up, so what the fuck difference should a day make? You think I wanted to be the one to break the news to you, the one to put you right back in the 40s like it was yesterday--"

“It was yesterday for me, Stark," Steve snarled, “And the next time you make a call like that without thinking of the consequences for anyone but yourself, I will personally see to it that you are off his team."

Tony stared at him. "Excuse me?" he asked blankly, even as he could feel the colour rising to his face. “Who the fuck do you think I was thinking of, Rogers? And I repeat, I thought he was dead. Who wouldn't? He's not like you. He's not a fucking super soldier.”

Steve's jaw was clenched so tight Tony could see it in he straining muscles in his face. He seemed to coil for a long awful second in which Tony almost expected to get punched.

Then he repeated, low and cutting, “He was my best friend. Is my best friend. Do you even understand what that means?”

“Wouldn’t my therapists like to know," Tony sniped, and he could hear his voice go flat and hard even as he felt the rest of his body go numb. Rage was always a great focusing point for him. “And maybe you should go and demonstrate what friendship means to little old me by getting the fuck out of my house and visiting your improbably alive brother-in-arms instead."

Steve reeled like he'd been struck. “Stark—“

“Get. Out."

He’d left, just as pale and stiff as he’d entered.

And Tony had sat for long, long time looking at the file page Steve had slapped down in front of him. It was fairly sparse, just a fragment of what was no doubt an extensive and exciting dossier.

James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes
Sergeant, 107th Regiment
POW at HYDRA encampment, recovered by Captain America
Recruited as special agent for sabotage and assault team, working alias “The Howling Commandoes“…

There followed commentary on his condition when they'd found him, and then a comment from a shield psychiatrist, scrawled at the bottom:

Exhibits signs of PTSD exacerbated by his altered timeframe, possible consequences of which could include depression, withdrawal, anger disorder, and refusal to engage with the outside world. Further observation and evaluation is strongly recommended.

Finally, Tony balled the sheet up in his fist. It was pretty clear that shield psychiatry hadn't done shit for Rogers, at least from where Tony was standing.

And Bucky had always been real to Tony.

Tony knew that it was often his place to ruin things, especially when he tried to fix them. Pepper was proof enough of that.

But when things were about to go to shit all on their own, well.

He was pretty good at getting out of dark places.



Tony flies, breaking the sound barrier and more, streaking faster and faster, and watches with detached concern the way the reactor’s power level dips lower and lower.

“JARVIS, make a note,” he says breathlessly, “Moonstones and arc reactors don’t mix.”

“Please stop talking, sir,” JARVIS says, and man Tony hates it when even his AI sounds worried.

“Faster,” he murmurs. “We need to go faster.”

The suit presses forward. They’re over the Atlantic.

Not long now.



Bucky comes forward, and Tony meets him halfway.

“You need to understand too, you know,” he murmurs, hands scraping up Bucky’s ribcage and pulling him in by the shoulder blades. “Losing the both of you, like that? Not happening on my watch. You’ve earned a dubious honour, Barnes, James,, you’re important now, important to me, so get that through your noggin before you go lecturing me about risks.”

“Important, huh? Got it.”

That’s about as close as Tony’s going to get to admitting it too.

It’s pretty damn close, to be fair.



Bucky’s leg has started to really, really hurt.

Natasha makes a surprised noise of pain somewhere behind him and the gunfire falters.

Steve’s hand spasms around Bucky’s metal wrist, and the leather slips, just slightly.

The vortex is strengthening. Steve’s wrist could dislocate any second now.

They’re out of time.

“Get to safety, Tasha!” Bucky yells over his shoulder. “We’ll be fine.”

It’s a lie, and they both know it. But Natasha’s smart, and she’s hurt, and Bucky can shield himself for a good couple of minutes with the electromagnetic field.

She runs, bloody shoulder hunched.

The Hulk roars outside in time with lightning crashes from Thor’s hammer. Drones whiz overhead, pursuing SHIELD planes and exploding in the sky.

Bucky can’t pull Steve up without risking wrenching his whole shoulder out of its socket, and Steve is strung out too far below. They’re in an awful reversal of what happened before, and they both know it. Bucky can feel the bones in Steve’s wrist creaking beneath his fingers, but JARVIS won’t let him give way, and as debris from Natasha’s fight hails down on his back and the smell of burning ozone assaults his nose he knows they're neither of them in 2012 right now, they're right back in the 40s again, right back in their shared worst memory.

And then they’re jarred back out of it by the best possible voice, for all that it’s breathless and frantic.

“JARVIS, override fifty-six oh-niner Echo Lima, disable his shield now, I need to grab him! Barnes, you better brace for impact, this is gonna hurt like a motherfucker. You too, Cap.”

Tony is here.

The shield dissipates over Bucky’s arm, and Bucky looks down just in time to see Steve, dangling over the gaping maw of the vortex, flash a wondrous, terrified grin, and to reflect it right back at him before getting bowled over by what feels like a semi truck.

He’s coming away, up off the floor, Steve still clinging on, and fucking Christ it hurts, Bucky is going to hurt everywhere when they touch down again, but—

Tony is here. And he catches them both.

Bucky breathes, and holds tight.



“Don’t think I’ve forgiven you yet.”

“…Let me make it up to you?”



Tony clears the warehouse, wind whistling in Bucky’s ears, Steve feeling the pull of the vortex gradually get weaker beneath his feet. Bucky clings to Tony’s front, the metal suit bracing and warm, and Steve is still there, they both still have him, Bucky’s arm is still locked tight around his wrist.

“Miss me?’ Tony says, still sounding breathless.

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Bucky says. “Where the fuck were you?”

“Ended up in Dubai. I think I owe some Saudi princes some new sports cars. It’s cool, I’ll take them shopping for it, we’ll have fun. Hey, nice work on the complex, it looks nice and destroyed. Also, was that a singularity you were hanging over, Cap? Because seriously, I’d like to take a look at it before SHIELD shuts it down if that’s the case—“

“Sir,” JARVIS cuts in, sounding stern.

“Yeah,” Tony breathes. “Hey, we’re almost in the clear. Where’s the rest of the team?”

“I’m clear,” Natasha reports. “Coulson’s retrieving Clint now.”


“Hulk giving bad men to Eyepatch!”

Tony snickers. Bucky has to force himself not to do the same, just for sake of his battered ribs.

“We’ve cleared the entrance gate and secured a perimeter,” Maria Hill announces over the comm. “Iron Man, you’re cleared to land outside it. Pacific imported forces have been dispatched back to their ship. Teams Delta and Beta are clearing all other moonstone doorways now.”

Tony had slowed his flight significantly to avoid obliterating Bucky and Steve on impact, and now he slows even further, readjusting his course for the largest concentration of SHIELD forces outside the Suppliers’ complex. There’s a slight tremor that Bucky feels through the plating that he assumes is evidence of a weak flight stabiliser or something.

They land somewhat ungracefully, JARVIS finally relinquishing Bucky’s hold on Steve and leaving him to land first, staggering a couple of paces before getting his bearings again. Then Tony sets down as gently as he can even as he wobbles, and it jars Bucky’s leg just enough for him to hiss.

“You’re hurt,” Steve notices, jaw going tight, “You should have said something, I’ll get the medical team—“

“No need, I’ll get them over here,” Tony says, and between the two of them, Bucky gets eased to the ground with as little further jostling as possible. Steve follows him down, so that Bucky ends up with his shoulders in his lap, which is really only marginally comfortable, but probably an improvement on just being flat out on the ground.

Steve frowns at Tony over Bucky’s head. “Are you alright? You look pale.”

“Right as rain, Cap. Be back in a jiff.” Tony clasps Bucky’s shoulder before straightening, and then takes off with a stuttering repulsor burst to track down the staff.

Bucky looks up at Steve, whose pained, worried expression is visible even from beneath his cowl. “Your wrist okay?” Bucky asks in concern.

“My wrist—? Jesus, Buck,” Steve chokes, looking back down at him, “That hardly matters, you saved my life. How’s your breathing, is this comfortable?”

Bucky made a weak dismissive motion with his metal hand. His real one was way too tired. “You might have a broken wrist, excuse me for finding that important.”

“Don’t worry about my wrist,” Steve says firmly.

“Then don’t worry about me either,” Bucky retorts.

“You know me,” Steve smiles crookedly, “I always worry.”

Bucky snorts, and feels sore down to his bones all of a sudden.

“Sergeant Barnes? Sergeant Barnes, we need you to stay awake.”

Bucky blinks to find one of the med team leaning over him, with Tony standing off in the background. He looks as though he’s listing to one side slightly. Steve is still hovering close, but the wrist that Bucky had hung on to stuck in a brace, and when did Tony get back here exactly?


“You passed out from blood loss. Also, shock,” the medic says shortly, “Hold on for just a few more minutes and we’ll have you strapped up.”


Bucky loses track of things for a little while.

By the time he next starts to regain focus, and the soreness in his ribs and legs has receded to a dull roar, the rest of the team has apparently been patched up too, and after escaping the med team they all congregate just outside the combat zone, their part of the mission done, but forced to wait on SHIELD to get transport freed up enough to take them all home.

“Shoulda brought the quinjet,” Tony observes. “Whose idea was it to take a truck here?”

“Yours,” Natasha says dryly.

They watch SHIELD agents load up duffle bag upon duffle bag of hazardous magical and technological material. Bucky’s got a crutch, strapping on his leg, and a blanket slung over his shoulders, Natasha’s got a bandage over her shoulder, and Clint seems practically swathed in plaster, despite all of his various injuries being superficial (or so he claims).

Steve just looks tired, his shoulders slumped even while he continues to watch the action carefully for signs that they may need to step in and help.

Bruce and Thor are apparently fine, as per usual. Sometimes, Bucky doesn’t like them. Though at least Banner remains more endearingly frazzled and sleepy, having been abandoned by the Hulk once more.

Still, Bucky supposes that for tackling a group of maniacs who thought a self-destruct button should house a goddamn black hole, they did pretty all right.

After a long second, Natasha starts whistling Debussy.

Claire de Lune?” Steve says, frowning.

“Ocean’s Eleven?” Tony cuts in, even more incredulous. “That’s what you were going for?”

“You have to admit, it kind of works,” Clint reasons. “Infiltration, everything going nuts, and then walking out with duffles full of fun stuff.” He waves at the SHIELD agents. Then he seems to take a second to think. “Wait, so Steve’s Danny, obviously, which makes Tony Rusty—“

“Hey, I have a way better wardrobe than Rusty. Ted Nugent’s got nothing on me.”

“Thor is Reuben, Bruce is Basher, and Coulson is Livingston,” Natasha lists. “Maria is Frank Catton, Fury is Saul, and Nancy and Agent Williams over there are the Malloy twins, in lieu of Darcy and Jane being not here. You,” she prods at Bucky, “You don’t fit. But you could probably be Toulour.”

“He’s a bad guy!” Bruce protests. “Also the sequels were terrible, why are you recognising that they exist?”

“Says the OCD watcher of sequels,” Clint snorts.

“He’s a magnificent thief, and a very good dancer,” Natasha says firmly, ignoring the second question entirely. “And who knows what might have happened if SHIELD hadn’t unfrozen him first?”

Bucky tries valiantly not to be pleased, despite not knowing what the hell she was talking about.

“What does that make me?” Clint demands.

“That makes you Linus, Barton,” Tony says breezily. “Have fun with your boring striped college shirt.”

“Hey, Matt Damon’s hot, I got no beef with that. He’s Jason fucking Bourne.”

“Who does that make you?” Bruce asks, pointing at Natasha. “Julia Roberts?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Natasha says, smiling slightly. “I’m the Amazing Yen.”

“Boom. Nailed it,” Tony says. “Also, you’ve thought about this way too much.”

“The trilogy was the only thing worth watching on TV when I was stuck in a hotel room for three days in Vietnam,” she replies. “These things happen.”

“I am so confused right now,” Steve says finally.

“Right there with you, pal,” Bucky says, bumping shoulders with him.

The rest of the Avengers all stare at them.

“Right, we’re watching the first one when we get home,” Tony states. “No discussion.”

There’s a pause, in which everyone mostly just nods in acquiescence, which is suddenly cut short by an urgent beep from the Iron Man suit.

“Sir, you have twenty seconds before emergency power is engaged.”

This time, everyone swings back around to look at Tony.

“Oh damn,” Tony says, almost absently. “I could have sworn I had more time than that.”

“Are you going to need a new reactor?” Bucky demands.


Steve curses.

“Jesus, Stark,” Clint says. “You’re an idiot.”

Tony opens his mouth to protest—

—And then abruptly passes out.

Bucky growls, as Steve calls Coulson and the medics start to rush over, “We are having a long talk after we fix this, Tony.”

Because goddamn are they ever.

And that’s how it starts.

Chapter Six

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