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Do Every Stupid Thing

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                Jason doesn’t mean for the Winter Soldier to be a present for Tony Stark. The youngest Stark isn’t supposed to be involved at all.

                The plan is simple: intervene before the Winter Soldier can murder Howard and Maria, tranq the Winter Soldier until he’s sufficiently incapacitated, and then drag him off for further study and let the Starks carry on with their fraught, bourgeoisie bullshit.

                When Jason’s work goes wrong, it’s usually because Jason loses patience or has shitty intel. This time, it’s because the Winter Soldier is fucking amazing.

                Jason hits the Winter Soldier in the neck with a dose of Xlyazine and Norcuron calculated to put him down quick and probably not kill him.  Jason had erred on the side of put him down quick rather than probably not kill him, because, no matter how interested he is in the Winter Soldier, he’d rather leave him scraped across the pavement than let him get away. And also, as the Phantom Bruce who’s always perched morosely on his shoulder disapprovingly intones: Innocent lives are unacceptable losses.

                The dart hits while the Starks are still a quarter mile out. More than enough time to leave him dropped on the side of the road, completely harmless, while the Starks ride by.

                Instead, the Winter Soldier slowly shakes his right arm, jerky and uncoordinated because the Norcuron has probably already numbed it, and then loses his balance on the bike, which starts sliding out from under him, skidding down the street.

                And then, in free fall, the Winter Soldier tosses the gun with his right hand, catches it in his left, and fires one beautiful, perfect shot right into Howard Stark’s skull.

                It’s maybe the hottest thing Jason’s ever seen in his life.

                Although, after a beat, he recognizes that the civilian fatality is unfortunate.

                The car smashes into a tree and goes still. There’s a fire, but Maria’s awful quiet, so Jason’s not sure she’s alive enough to need rescuing. He checks the Winter Soldier first.

                The man’s sprawled on the ground, limbs out at angles just unnatural enough to suggest he wouldn’t leave them that way if he was aware enough to move them. Jason figures, if the Winter Soldier can shoot a man in the head with his off hand while falling off a bike at thirty miles an hour, it’s probably not smart to test his awareness by poking him with a stick. So, instead, Jason flicks a knife at the meat of his calf, where the road’s burned holes in his body armor. The knife sticks, maybe an inch deep into the muscle, and the Winter Soldier doesn’t twitch, so Jason approaches slowly, gun aimed at his head.

                He’s cautious about it. Doesn’t get close enough to get himself killed until he’s sure the man’s not a threat. Jason’s curious about a lot of things, but death isn’t one of them. He’s already tried that.

                The Winter Soldier’s out when he gets to him. Jason checks his pulse, and is pleased to find that he still has a pulse, and that it’s steady. Slow, but that was the whole damn point. Jason checks him for weapons, finds the ones he’s probably meant to find and two knives most people would miss, and then zip ties his hands together and leaves him on the street, tipped over in an approximation of the recovery position.

                Maria Stark, turns out, is still alive.

                “Hey there,” Jason says, as he pries the partially crushed door out of its warped frame. “That’s a nice case of shock you’re working on. Mind maybe not doing that right now?”

                She looks up at him like nothing he’s saying makes any damn sense. “Did you shoot him?” she asks, as he leans around her to cut her seatbelt off. “Did you?”

                “Why? You thinking about a vengeance killing? Gonna hire a hitman? Guess you’ve damn sure got the money. Especially once that life insurance policy kicks in.” Jason’s never been good at small talk.

                He lifts her carefully out of the car, trying not to exacerbate any of her injuries. She just stares up at him, pale but focused, heart beating so hard and fast it feels like a hummingbird is beating against Jason’s chest.

                “No, I didn’t,” he says, finally, cowed by her stare. He walks her several yards out of reach of danger if the gas tank explodes, then remembers who the dead man in the driver’s seat was and triples that distance. He sets her down, careful of where he can see blood coming through fabric. “I didn’t kill your husband. I was just passing by.”

                “We need to call the police. We need to-- Tony,” she says, suddenly, and starts to stand, jeopardizing all the work Jason’s done by carrying her. “What if they’re going to the house? My son’s at the—”

                “No, stop it.” Jason puts his hands on her shoulders and leans just enough weight to push her back down. “Stay down. Your legs are fucked. Think I see bone in that right one. I’ll go to the house, okay? I’ll call. Stay here.”

                He doesn’t see bone, but he knows it’s broken anyway. And she settles after that, stares at the car. This, he thinks, is the sort of moment where Bruce would try to be nice, say something unintentionally horrible, and then disappear into the night when Maria started to cry. Maybe Dick would know something good to say. Meaningless, but comforting.  

                “I’ll check on your kid,” Jason says, because that’s all he can think to say, and she looks at him with so much gratitude that he hates her for it. Which is his shit, not hers, so he walks away before he says something shitty to a woman who just watched her husband die and is now sitting on the road, inhaling the ash of his burning body.

                He pulls his van onto the road and throws the Winter Soldier in the back, sandwiched between his bike and supplies. And then, because the fastest way out of the area is through another road on the opposite side of the Starks’ estate, because he feels a little shitty about letting Howard get killed in the first place, and, mostly, because he’s a goddamn idiot, he goes to see Tony Stark.

                The fact that she’s a mother, worried about her son, doesn’t mean shit to Jason.

                It doesn’t.

 

 

                Jason checks the Winter Soldier’s pulse when he gets to the Stark’s ludicrous mansion, and then zip ties him to the bike a few times, just to make sure he doesn’t wake up and go anywhere.

                When he goes to knock on the door, an elderly man in a suit answers, and Jason almost calls him Alfred before he remembers that he knows better. “Can I help you?” the man asks, just as British, and Jason almost grins, almost asks for dinner and cookies and bitches that Bruce is being a shithead again, Alfred, make him pay attention to me.

                “There’s been an accident,” Jason says, earnest. Widens his eyes so he’ll look scared and young. “I think—they lady said she lives here? And the guy needs an ambulance.”

                The man responds like a more innocent Alfred would: a whirlwind of British efficiency. Jason watches it happen, a little nostalgic, and then, suddenly, the butler’s hanging up the phone and running up the driveway, and Jason’s all alone in the house. And no one’s told Tony Stark anything.

                Goddamn.

                “Baby Stark?” Jason says, loud and little annoyed, as he makes his way into the house. He follows the dulcet tones of some late-70s hard rock band working through their daddy issues and finds Tony Stark at the end of it, hunkered in the garage, welding mask down, bent over a workbench. It’s not a bad view.

                “Baby Stark,” Jason tries again. And then, “Hey,” as he kicks the stereo into silent obedience.

                “What the hell,” Stark says, and shoves the welding mask back.

                It’s no surprise that he’s cute. Jason’s seen the pictures in the newspapers. Bruce studies up on Tony Stark’s antics whenever he feels like his spoiled rich asshole act is getting a little stale. It catches Jason a little off-guard, how much more attractive he is like this, with grease smudged across his face and darkening the beds of his nails. Jason’s never liked things too pretty or polished up. He didn’t think boys like Stark came any other way.

                “Who the hell are you?” Tony asks. “Does Jarvis know you’re here? Jarvis!”

                “Oh, he took off,” Jason says. “There’s been an accident. Your parents got in a car wreck.”

                Tony goes still for a second, eyes gone wide with shock, and then he frowns, sizes Jason up more intently than Jason likes. And then he grabs the welding torch. “Okay, like I said. Who the hell are you? And how the hell did you get in here?”

                “Front door?” Jason tries. “I knocked. Some British guy answered. Are you just gonna ignore the fact that your parents are in a flaming car right now?”

                “My dad’s an excellent driver,” Tony tells him. “And you’re wearing body armor.”

                Jason absolutely does not glance down at himself, because that would be incriminating. “I have a bike,” he says, instead. “This is standard gear.”

                “Oh, bullshit, asshole.” The welding torch comes on with a hiss and a pop, and Jason should absolutely not find this a turn on, being menaced by Tony “Shitshow” Stark with a fucking welding torch, but he absolutely does. “What the hell did you do to my parents?”

                “Okay,” Jason says, because if Hydra wanted two Starks dead, maybe they’ve got eventual plans for the third one. Maybe Tony deserves to know what happened. “Fine. You figured it out. Here’s the thing, Stark. Someone tried to assassinate your parents tonight, and I saved your mom, but your dad caught a bullet with his face. Sorry about that. I didn’t expect the guy to be that good.”

                “What,” Tony says, voice entirely flat. Jason thinks maybe even Bruce would be better at this. At least Bruce probably wouldn’t get a welding torch waved at him. People always take Bruce seriously.

                “The guy,” Jason says. “The assassin. They call him the ‘Winter Soldier.’ He’s just really fucking good, okay? I don’t know why Hydra sent him after your dad.” Tony’s just staring at him, so Jason shrugs. “I mean, I’ll ask him. Let you know.”

                “What do you mean, ask him?” Tony says. He turns the welding torch off and sets it down, braces his hands against his work bench. His hands fumble with the welding mask and then knock the whole thing to floor. He looks like maybe he’s having some trouble staying on his feet. “I thought you said—my mom’s fine, right? My mom is--”

                “Oh, yeah,” Jason says, quickly. “She’s fine. Pulled her out of the car myself. I mean, her legs are fucked up, but she’ll live. Absolutely.”

                “And this guy who shot my dad? He’s—what? Still alive? You have him?”

                Jason hesitates. He sees now that he’s made a misstep. He knew, objectively, that Tony Stark was smart, but he’d failed to appreciate that meant he also wasn’t a fucking idiot.

                “I want to see him,” Stark says, quick, demanding. “The assassin. This Winter Soldier asshole.”

                Jason is fucking flabbergasted by the nerve of this kid. Charmed, too, but that could just be the bone structure. “Absolutely not. You can’t fucking see him. What the hell?”

                “Nope,” Stark says, like Jason is the kind of person who can be bullied by a prep school kid saying Nope at him. “He killed my dad. I’m gonna fucking see him.”

                “What’re you gonna do to him, baby Stark? You gonna feed him his own lunch money? Throw him in an organic waste only dumpster?”

                Stark narrows his eyes at him, and there’s something small and dangerous in there. Jason’s not threatened by it, but he admires it. Same way he admires kittens that swipe with soft claws, hiss at shadows. There’s nothing in Stark that he couldn’t crush or destroy, but he likes finding fight in unexpected places, thinks its sweet that even gratuitous wealth can’t dull every edge it finds.

                “He killed my dad,” Stark tells him. “I’m going to see him. Try to stop me.”

                “I’d love to, but I don’t mix business with pleasure.” Which is so much of a lie that even Jason has trouble saying it without laughing. He wouldn’t do any of this if he didn’t love it, if he didn’t get off on it, on some level.

                Tony moves towards him, folds his hand into a fist exactly like any idiot would do, if they’d never thrown a punch before. “I’m going to see him,” he says, and he probably means for it to sound threatening. Jason thinks it’s cute.

                “You’re going to hit me,” Jason says, and now he is laughing. “God love you, kid. You’re gonna try to hit me.”

                Tony swings from the elbow, doesn’t even engage his shoulder, and Jason catches his wrist before it gets anywhere near his face. “Kid,” he says, almost gentle, because this has been more fun than he thought it’d be, “if you ever try to punch me with your thumb in your first again, I’m just gonna let you break it.”

                “Actually,” Stark says, and sneers at him, and it’s pretty enough that Jason misses the danger in it, “I just needed you to get close to me.”

                The shock, when it hits, sends a truly shitty amount of volts right into him, and he doubts the amperage on that thing is legal. It’s one hell of a kick. Jason can’t tell if he fully loses consciousness or not, but, when he manages to get feeling back in his toes, his gun is missing, and Stark is gone.

                “Son of a bitch,” Jason says and scrambles to his feet, slips dizzily and rams his shoulder, then his face, into two separate walls before he manages to regain his balance. Stark’s little taser is a thing of beauty. He’s going to steal it, once he gets his hand-eye coordination back.

 

 

                When he gets to the van, Tony’s kneeling over the Winter Soldier, and he has Jason’s gun.

                “Aw, fuck,” Jason says, because Bruce is going to get pissy if Jason gets one Stark killed and turns another one into a murderer in one night. Bruce is going to over-identify with this. It’s going to be a goddamn nightmare. “Come on, kid.”

                “I think I’m older than you are,” Stark says. He’s got the safety on, which Jason refuses to find adorable, but his thumb is resting on it, like he’s going to disable it any second now. The muzzle’s pointing right at the Winter Soldier’s forehead.

                The Winter Soldier, for his part, is staring up at him. Quiet, and compliant.

                “Oh, shit,” Jason says. “He was supposed to stay out for the next six hours.”

                The Winter Soldier’s eyes flick his way, and there’s actual, legitimate derision in his gaze. He looks insulted. Then he blinks and stares back up at Tony, and he doesn’t look anything at all.

                “What’s wrong with him?” Stark asks. “He’s not saying anything. He’s not—what is he? I’ve programmed toasters less uncanny valley than this asshole.”

                “Oh, well,” Jason says, circling closer, stepping carefully so his boots don’t crunch on the asphalt. “Some kinda brain damage, maybe. Or chemical dependency. Torture, neural reprogramming. Could be all of the above. Used to be a nice guy, I heard. American hero.”

                “He looks familiar.” Tony says. He’s got his pointer finger curled around the trigger, and Jason can’t tell if he means anything by that or if he’s just got shitty trigger discipline. Rich kids can be hard to read that way. “Why’s he look familiar?”

                “You like history, kid? That guy used to be Bucky Barnes,” Jason says. Talking seems helpful. Tony doesn’t seem to be tracking how close Jason’s getting. “Palled around with no-shit Captain America, back in the 40s. Guess Hydra’s been keeping him in cryo, trotting him out to kill people.”

                “Kill people like my dad,” Tony says. His voice catches, and Jason thinks oh, fuck this, I’m not dealing with this, but then Stark clears his throat, and his hands stay steady. “He killed my dad?”

                “Dad’s die,” Jason says, offhand. He’s never been good with comfort. “Look, I’m not saying you can’t smack him around a little, but I need him for research, okay? Put that gun down. Or at least aim it somewhere non-vital.”

                What the kid does, instead, is click the safety off and swing the gun around to point right at Jason’s heart. “Back off,” he says. “Maybe you killed my dad.”

                “Alright,” Jason says, and puts his hands in the air, because he might as well commit to this farce, if it’s going to happen. “Now don’t get hysterical. It’s not like he got your mom, too.”

                “Yeah,” Tony says, “according to you, my father is dead, and my mother is fine, and Jarvis went to help her. But I haven’t heard anything from any of them.”

                “Well, I wouldn’t fucking hold my breath for an update from daddy,” Jason snaps. “Now put that gun down before you piss me off.”

                “All I know,” Tony says, “is that maybe my dad is dead, and maybe it was you, or maybe it was the shell-shocked amputee you have zip tied in the back of your murder van.”

                Jason can see, spelled out like that, how maybe things look a little questionable. He decides it’s time to play a little desperate. “Okay,” he says, “Kid. You got me. I’m just going to have to come clean here. I’m Batman.”

                Stark stares at him, and then his lip curls up in a sneer. It’s still cute, but Jason’s learned to regard it with a certain amount of respect. “Bullshit you’re Batman. I’m putting both of you in the basement.”

                Jason groans. “God, what is it with you rich kids and your shady fucking basements? Holy shit, it’s an obsession with you people.” He points at Tony, incredulous, indignant. “I’m not putting on tights for you. A man falls for that once in his life, and I’ve hit my quota.”

                Tony jumps out of the van, and Jason almost tackles him then, but the kid’s hands are steady, and he’s still got that finger on the trigger. “You look like you work out,” Tony tells him, and Jason refuses to be flattered. “You can carry the other guy.”

                “This is fucking undignified,” Jason tells him. “I can’t believe I’m being kidnapped by a Stark.” He turns to look at the Winter Soldier, who is still placidly observing everything. “I can’t believe you are being kidnapped by a Stark. No one’s gonna take us seriously after this. We might as well open a fucking dry cleaning business together. A goddamn daycare. We’ll watch the kids while everyone else murders each other.”

                He pulls the knife out of the Winter Soldier’s leg and uses it to cut the zip ties. The Winter Soldier doesn’t flinch or change his breathing when the knife comes out, but Stark makes a noise like maybe he’s going to be sick. A little late, Jason realizes he should’ve played that a bit less brutal, so as to nurture Stark’s positive impression of him.

                “Leave the knife,” Stark says, and Jason could bury the damn thing in Stark’s throat, or his wrist, and be done with this whole mess, but he thinks that would be one hell of a shitty thing to do. Get this kid’s dad killed, traumatize his mom, and ruin that pretty throat of his, all in one night. So he tosses the knife into the van and doesn’t bother to mention that he has three more.

                “Pick him up,” Tony says. “Come on.”

                Distantly, Jason hears emergency sirens. Stark, who probably hasn’t spent his whole life nurturing a healthy Pavlovian anxiety about that particular cacophony, hasn’t seemed to notice.

                God, Bruce is going to be so annoyed. And Dick is going to be so fucking smug.

                Jason’s going to drink bleach if they have to rescue him. He is.

                He goes to sling the Winter Soldier over his shoulder, fireman-carry him so he’ll have one arm free, but the man hisses air in sharp over his teeth, eyes narrowing in the first display of anything resembling a human reaction.

                “What the fuck did you do?” Tony says, instantly suspicious. “You hurt him.”

                “Well, Goddamn, Florence fucking Nightingale, why don’t you get over here and tend to him with your gentle touch?” But Jason changes plans, slings the man around, carries him bridal-style, instead. The Winter Soldier blinks and then shifts, clumsy and uncoordinated, so his weight is dispersed more evenly and he’s not dead weight in Jason’s arms.

                “Un-fucking-dignified,” Jason says, to the Winter Soldier, as he follows Stark’s gesture toward the house. “You’d better put out. And if he’s taking us to a weird sex dungeon, you’re up first.”

Chapter Text

                The convenient thing about getting kidnapped by some shithead rich kid, Jason notices, is that all the hallways are wide enough to accommodate one man carrying another, bridal-style, while a teenager holds them at gunpoint. He only knocks the Winter Soldier against a corner once, and that’s entirely intentional, just to see if the Soldier will give him another one of those bitchy looks.

                The Soldier doesn’t even seem to notice, but Stark shoots Jason a look of suspicious accusation that doesn’t falter a bit in the face of Jason’s wide-eyed faux-innocence. The kid pauses for a second, like they’re going to have a whole fight about what amounts to a love tap, and then he sets off again, jaw notched just a bit tighter.

                Stark walks them through the house, down a series of steps, and through a door that checks his palm, retina, voice, and vitals before it lets him in. Jason stares at him, incredulous, and Stark shrugs, looks cagey and a little persecuted. “My dad,” he says, like that’s a completely reasonable justification for locking down your basement like it’s hiding every nuclear launch code and a truly life-ruining porn collection. “He gets in my business sometimes, you know?”

                “Oh, yeah,” Jason says. “That’s the worst. Good thing you don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

                “I could still shoot you,” Tony tells him. “Somewhere non-vital, right? Like maybe where you fucking stabbed that guy?”

                “I found him like that,” Jason says, and hefts the Winter Soldier, palms a suspicious lump he’s found high up on his thigh. “Also, I hope you’ve got somewhere bulletproof, because this guy’s got either a derringer or a really fucking worrisome tumor on his ass.”

                Tony stares at him and then looks around his basement. “I’ve got—yeah,” he says, and Jason cannot actually believe this. There are a series of three cubes jutting out of the wall, maybe 7’ x 7’ x 7’, constructed of what looks like glass but is probably some kind of high quality polymer.

                “It’s for testing explosives,” Tony tells him, defensively. “This is my lab, not a sex dungeon. Stop looking at me like that.”

                “Sure, kid,” Jason says. He looks down at the Winter Soldier, who looks a little pissy about getting his tumor/derringer outed. Way madder about that than he was about getting his shoulder slammed into a wall, anyway. “Maybe if you’re real sweet, he’ll bury you next to the pretty sorority girls.”

                Tony runs his free hand through his dumb, floppy hair. “Will you just. Will you. Fuck’s sake.”

                “Kid, sweetheart, baby Stark,” Jason says, trying to sound encouraging, “you’re cute. You’re ballsy. I like you, I do. But you’re just not ready for this. Okay? You gotta start in the little leagues. Kidnap an MI6 agent. Take yourself a few Marshals. You are not ready for the shitstorm you’re gonna get if you keep the two of us down here.”

                “Separate ones, right?” Tony says, and squints at the cubes. “The left one’s got some structural damage.”

                Jason heaves a theatrical sigh. “No, by all means,” Jason says, “we’ll take a double. Right, princess?”

                The Winter Soldiers blinks at him with a lazy disregard that suggests he’s going to asphyxiate Jason someday, and that he’ll be yawning with boredom while he does it.

                “Separate,” Tony says, as he approaches a computer. He’s got the gun pointed at Jason’s head now, and he doesn’t even look at the computer as he types, one-handed. “Also, I want you to know, you were x-rayed when you walked through the door.”

                “Son of a bitch,” Jason says. “Okay, the thing up my ass is purely sexual.”

                Tony gives him a truly exasperated look, and Jason winks back, shameless. “There’s nothing up your—God, just shut up.” He waves the gun a little dramatically, and it occurs to Jason that maybe pushing the limits of a completely untested civilian isn’t a good idea. People who do this kind of work respond to pressure in predictable ways. Someone like Stark might just get overwhelmed and shoot him.

                “There’s a chip,” Tony says, after visibly regrouping, “In his chest.”

                Jason looks down at the Winter Soldier, who he’s still carrying, even though there are plenty of flat surfaces to drop him on. There’s still a chance that he’ll be able to get out of this, that Stark’s attention will lapse long enough to get the gun away or maybe knock him out, and, if he gets a chance to run, he wants to take the Winter Soldier with him. The Winter Soldier, after all, was the whole point of this mission.

                “Oh, okay. Like a tracking chip.” Jason nods. “Give me my knife back. I’ll get it out.”

                “The chip’s in his chest,” Tony says, and elbows a monitor around to show him an x-ray image. “Right by his heart.”

                “Oh.” Jason squints at the screen. “Well, let me sharpen the knife first.”

                “You are an actual human nightmare,” Tony tells him.

                “That’s what I’m saying, princess. You don’t want to get involved in all this.” Jason hefts the Winter Soldier a little higher, for inspection. “This motherfucker has been functionally lobotomized. I’m a nightmare, but he’s a robot. You keep him here, and he gets out? He’s gonna kill you, and your mom, and your British manservant, and I’m gonna be in so much shit. They’re gonna stop upgrading my bikes with all the fun tech, and it’s gonna be a Shakespearean Goddamn tragedy, alright? So stop fucking around. You’re out of your league.”

                Tony swallows and just stares at him for a moment, and Jason thinks he’s won, thinks he’s finally talked him around, but then the kid’s eyebrows snap together and his chin jerks up. “I’m Tony fucking Stark,” he tells Jason. “I’m never out of my league.”             

                For a second, Jason’s nothing but charmed by that, by the sheer unmitigated arrogance of it, but then he remembers this whole mess is his problem to clean up, and he groans. “Goddamn teenagers are fucking annoying.”

                “I’m twenty,” Tony says.

                “It’s the same fucking thing,” Jason tells him. “Don’t come at me with the Goddamn numbers, kid. You’re a teenager until you know better than to kidnap the Winter Soldier and the—and me.”

                Stark narrows his eyes. “Oh, you’ve got a cute nickname too?”

                “Yeah, I told you,” Jason says, “I’m the Goddamn Batman.”

                “You are not Batman,” Stark says. “You’re not old enough. He’s been active for at least decade.” He gestures at the lab table between them. “Now put him down. I’ve got a localized EMP device that should disable the chip.”

                Jason huffs another exasperated groan and drops the Winter Soldier, hard, on the indicated table. “You’d better hope that thing in his chest is a tracking chip and not some crazy Commie pacemaker. If you kill him, I’m gonna piss on your servers.”

                “If you come near any of my tech,” Tony tells him, “that jolt I gave you earlier is going to be nothing. I’ll stop your heart.”

                “Kid, it has been tried before,” Jason says. “And let me tell you, it’ll work for a minute, but when I come back, I come back pissed.”

                Tony narrows his eyes at him and considers for a minute. “Alright,” he says, like he’s decided something. “I think I can handle this guy myself. You need to—the testing chamber. Get in it.”

                “Oh, sure,” Jason says. “You’re, what? 5’9? 140 soaking wet? You’re gonna handle this guy yourself, huh? You and what elaborate pulley system?”

                Tony’s grip changes on the gun, and Jason follows the new trajectory. If he fires, the bullet’s going to tear through Jason’s right shoulder, the meaty part, a comfortable distance from major arteries but a bitch to deal with. “Look at you,” he says, approvingly. “Somewhere non-vital. Quick learner.”

                “I’m a prodigy,” Tony tells him, like it’s an inside joke. “But I’ll admit, my first aid skills? Rusty. And if I shoot you, I am not calling an ambulance.”

                “Now you’re threatening me with fatal blood loss. It’s cute. They grow up so fast.” Jason turns around, turns his back to what he’s stubbornly still considering more of an inconvenience than a threat, and ambles toward the chamber on the far right. “You gonna pat me down before I get in here?”

                “No, thanks,” Tony says. “I know what you have. X-ray, remember?”

                Jason cannot imagine why this kid isn’t making him ditch his knives, but he’s not going to fight him about it. Amateur, he thinks, and isn’t even pissed that it sounds almost affectionate in his head.

                “Besides,” Tony says, “I’m not an idiot. I get near you, and you’d just take the gun away.”

                “Oh, baby Stark,” Jason says, low, “that’s not all I’d do.”

                 “Testing chamber,” Tony says. “Now. Your friend’s starting to twitch.”

                Jason’s eyes drop to the Winter Soldier, and he watches the ends of the Soldier’s fingers flex slightly, almost curl. “Oh, fuck that,” he says, and heads toward the chamber, quickly. “If he throws that sedative, you’re fucked. I’m not kidding. You sure you want me locked up for that?”

                “I’ve got no reason to think you wouldn’t help him,” Tony says. “Get in the damn chamber.”

                Jason heaves a put-upon sigh and goes, already trying to figure out how he’s going to explain this one to Bruce. Yeah, all the Starks are dead. Yep, I was there. Well, I saved Maria the first time, but then Tony bamboozled me with his cheekbones and a suped-up taser and then he locked me in a plastic cell in his sex dungeon. Yeah, I saw the whole thing. Winter Soldier smashed his pretty face to pieces. What a waste. I think the kid maybe had something, could’ve been someone interesting someday.

                Tony hits a series of switches behind him, and one panel of the testing chamber slides back into the wall. It’s neat, clean and perfectly engineered. The kind of thing Bruce would set up and secretly play with when no one was around, deny any interest in anything other than its usefulness, Jason, focus. Jason steps inside and then it slides shut behind him, seals up seamlessly. He runs his fingers down where the panels bonded together, and it feels a little hot, smells chemical. That’s expensive, he thinks, but everything about Tony Stark says expensive.

                He turns back to look at Tony Stark and the Winter Soldier, eyes focusing first on the hand the Winter Soldier has let relax. Jason runs his eyes along the Winter Soldier, checking for any other movement, but all he can track is the slow rise and fall of his chest. Jason slows his own breathing to match, gauges that as slow enough, maybe, if Tony gets to work quickly.

                Which, Jason notices with approval, he is. He rattles around the lab for a moment but comes back quickly, small device in hand. He says something, either to the Soldier or himself, and then pushes every one of his tech gadgets a good two yards away from the table, puts the device right on the Winter Soldier’s chest, and flicks a switch. The metal arm jerks, and Tony flinches out of the way, but then there’s nothing, stillness.

                That breathing pattern Jason’s monitoring stops for a moment and then starts up again, faster. The Winter Soldier is looking up at Stark, and there’s an awareness in his eyes there that Jason doesn’t like. It’s sharper than it should be. Slowly, that hand starts flexing again.

                Jason slams his hand against the plastic wall, hard. The wall doesn’t crack, doesn’t seem to give at all, but the noise must have been pretty significant. Stark flinches again, eyes darting up in Jason’s direction, and the Winter Soldier looks over at him, appraising.

                Jason slams his hand against the wall again and makes as violent a gesture as he can, given that he’s safely entombed behind some kind of advanced polymer.

                “Hurry it up, kid,” Jason warns. “He gets any friskier, and you’re gonna be using that family plot.”

                Tony rolls his eyes, but he seems to register the warning in Jason’s body language. He does, Jason notices, pat the Winter Soldier down, finds that gun Jason was talking about, along with a particularly vicious-looking knife, nestled along his back. Jason hadn’t even noticed the knife. Which is too bad, because he kind of wants to steal it.

                Jason is reflecting on his growing list of shit he needs to steal from Tony Stark (the knife, the taser, the Winter Soldier, maybe a quick ass-grab on his way out the door), when an alarm starts up, loud enough that Jason can hear it even in the near-soundproof chamber. Stark’s hands are hesitating over the knife wound (just a puncture, clean, likely to clot up soon, nothing to worry about, or Jason would’ve patched it in the back of the van), but, at the sudden noise, Tony’s face goes tight and serious.

                “Shit,” Stark says. Jason can’t hear him, but he can read that one pretty easily. “Shit,” he says, again, with more feeling, and Jason wonders if he’s just now letting his brain accept what Jason told him, if he is finally entertaining the notion that his father is dead.

                He’d wondered how in the world trim little Tony Stark was going to haul the Winter Soldier, in all his body armor, into one of the cells. As it turns out, there were more muscles under that AC/DC shirt than he’d expected. And, also, Tony doesn’t seem to care too much, in the moment, how many hits to the head the Soldier takes as Tony hooks his hands under his armpits and drags him across the room.

                “Hey,” Jason yells, “he just fell off a bike. You be real fucking careful about second impact syndrome. Turn him into a vegetable, and I’ll kick your ass, Stark.”

                He doesn’t know if Stark can hear him, hasn’t bothered to check for mics or any kind of sensors at all, but he doesn’t let that stop him. If nothing else, pounding on the wall seems to make part of his point for him.

                Stark makes an unflattering face in Jason’s direction, rolls the Winter Soldier into the next cube over, seals it up, and then takes off for the door.

                “I’m thirsty!” Jason yells after him. “I want a snack! Does the Geneva Convention know about this?”         

                He pounds his fist against the wall for every point he makes, but Stark doesn’t even bother looking back. He’s gone, and the room settles into silence broken only by the muffled humming and beeping of all the tech in the lab. Jason sighs and turns to look at the Winter Soldier, who’s sprawled on the ground where Stark left him, still mostly out.

                “Don’t let this whole mess distract you,” he says, pressing a hand against the wall that separates them. “Once I get this whole Stark thing sorted out, you and I have some shit to discuss.”

                The Winter Soldier tips his head in Jason’s direction, and his eyes slide slowly over to look at him. He stares at Jason with a hollow awareness that seems more animal than human.

                Not a lot of higher thought left in him, Jason thinks, and then shrugs and steps back. All he wants from the Winter Soldier is answers. He doesn’t need complicated philosophy. He gets enough of that shit from Bruce.

                The Winter Soldier keeps watching him, staring like he’s waiting for Jason to do a trick, and it bothers Jason, but there’s not a damn thing he can do about it. Not until Stark comes back.

                “These fucking rich people,” Jason tells the Winter Soldier, who damn sure can’t hear him but might be able to read his lips. Seems like the sort of thing that someone would teach their pet sniper before sending him out into the world. “Everything’s gotta move on their schedule. Right? No consideration for other people’s plans.”

                The Soldier watches him. Jason settles against the back wall and watches him right back. There’s an ugly bruise forming on the right side of the Soldier’s head, some swelling that fades into his hairline. Jason’s not sure if that came from the wreck or Stark’s questionable bedside manner.

                “You doing alright over there? Got a concussion?” He leans forward, tries to puzzle out if that complete lack of a response indicates brain damage, incomprehension, or just a shitty personality. “C’mon, work with me. You concussed over there? Blink once for yes, twice for no.”

                The Winter Soldier stares back at him. Jason starts to think maybe no one taught him to read lips after all and then, suddenly, he blinks. And blinks again. And then one more time.

                One blink means yes, two blinks means no, and three blinks, Jason figures, means I am an asshole.

                “Yeah, alright,” Jason says, “fuck you, then.”

                He stands back up and paces the cell, runs his fingers over every place the walls seal together. He can’t find any weak spots, but he has enough experience with things like this to know that almost every spot can be made weak enough, with the proper application of the right kind of force.

                After examining the walls, he goes to the vent built into the ceiling. He figures it can probably be closed to starve the room of oxygen, but he hopes like hell that it’s open now. He could maybe pry the faceplate off with one of his knives, but he doesn’t bother to do it yet. From what he can see, the pipe behind the grate isn’t near large enough to fit one of his arms, let alone his whole body.

                He holds the back of his hand under the grate, feels the faint movement of air over the sensitive skin.

                “Good news,” he says to the Winter Soldier, who is still flat out on his back, but has tilted his head to keep Jason in his line of sight, “we’ve got air circulating. We’re not gonna asphyxiate.”

                He checks out the rest of the cell, examines the sprinkler system and the drain set into the floor.

                It’s not going to be comfortable, staying in here. Seems like it was built for the purposes the kid said. To test explosives, not hold people. But Jason has been in more uncomfortable prisons.

                At least he has a private cell.

                By certain definitions of private, anyway. The walls, after all, are completely transparent. Which makes the Winter Soldier the most entertaining – and easily watched – thing in the basement, and, judging by the way the Soldier keeps his eyes on Jason, the reverse is probably true for him.

                Jason shrugs out of his jacket and some of the heavier body armor. The fact that air is circulating does not mean that it is circulating well, or that this place won’t heat up, with a living, breathing mammal constantly putting out heat.

                He makes a pile in one of the corners, deliberately placing himself so that the Winter Soldier can’t see him, at least not until he regains enough coordination and strength to roll over. And then he flops down, head pillowed on his jacket, and settles in to watch the Winter Soldier.

                He’d put enough Xlyazine and Norcuron in the Winter Soldier to throw a man into a coma. And, instead, it looks like he’ll be moving – maybe even walking – again in a couple of hours.

                When Jason gets out of here, he’s taking the Winter Soldier with him. He’s got more drugs in his van, and, next time, when he puts the Soldier down, he intends for him to stay there.   

Chapter Text

                Time goes liquid. Drips irregularly, instead of ticking resolutely forward. Jason discovers that if he presses himself against what he thinks is the northwest corner of the cell and cranes his neck, he can see a digital display counting up the hours in military time. He watches the clock until he half-convinces himself it’s a torture tactic, something Stark has designed to run backwards or stop altogether just to torment anyone down here, and then he moves to the opposite side of the cell and goes back to watching the Soldier, instead.

                The Soldier throws off the sedative in about four hours. By the two-hour mark, he sits up, but he hits the ground when he tries to stand. By hour three, he’s taking wobbly baby giraffe steps, meat hand braced against the wall, metal arm hanging uselessly at his side, walking himself around and around until his gait evens out.

                At hour four, he does some legitimate Goddamn gymnastics in his cell.

                Jason stands up, leaving his jacket on the floor, and does a few flips himself, just to show the Soldier he can. Just so he doesn’t get too cocky over there, thinking he’s the only one who can defy the physics of the small space. He kicks off one wall, flips off another, lands with his chest inches from the wall. The Soldier stares at him, but he gives absolutely no indication that he’s impressed.

                “Hey, asshole,” Jason says, “blink once for ‘I’m Hydra’s errand boy’ and twice for ‘I got kidnapped by a teenager.’”

                The Soldier turns his back on him, instead, and goes to huddle in the far corner. Jason frowns after him, annoyed more by the Soldier’s dismissal than he was by Stark’s waving a gun in his face. He’s never liked being ignored. Not by anyone, but he’ll admit that he’s got a particular weakness for being ignored by dark-haired, grim-faced, older men.

                He goes up on his toes to see more easily over the Soldier’s shoulder, tries to figure out what the hell he’s doing. “Hey,” he yells, pounding on the wall, “are you jerking off over there?”

                What he’s doing, Jason realizes, is detaching his metal arm. Jason grimaces as it slides free. Even though it’s a prosthetic, there’s something viscerally disquieting about watching someone take their own damn arm off.

                Plus, Jason thinks it hurts. He can’t be sure, but the way the Soldier sits up, stacks his spine in a perfect column, and then takes a deep breath before moving quickly, makes Jason think it’s probably not pleasant. It’s like watching someone pop a joint back into socket, only backwards. Bodies don’t bend that way without lighting up a few nerves.

                Although, for all Jason knows, those nerves are dead already.

                But he can see the slightest hitch in the Soldier’s even breathing pattern, the way he breathes in and holds it for a second after it’s done before breathing out. That’s not what Jason does with pain. He rages at it; he’d curse his way through it, if it hurt. Someone taught the Soldier to acknowledge pain and move on, passive as a dog at heel, and Jason thinks that’s off-putting and grotesque. Better to roar at it than just take it like a bitch.

                The Soldier sits with his back to Jason, doing something to his arm for at least half an hour. Jason figures he’s trying to repair it. He keeps watch, because he wants to know how dangerous the Soldier is, but also because, in the war of Hydra vs Stark, he knows who he’s rooting for, and it’s not just because he and Stark would wave the same flag at the Olympics. It’s not even mostly that.

                Jason likes any underdog, not matter how blue his blood is. Pretty, floppy-haired Tony Stark, trashing Hydra’s pet assassin with random gadgets he keeps in his basement, that’s the sort of American ingenuity Jason can get behind.

                Eventually, the Soldier seems to give up. He leaves his arm on the floor – and that’s disturbing all on its way, the way he just dumps it there, fingers spilled out in Jason’s direction like it’s begging for his help – and does more gymnastics. Jason is troubled, and a little fascinated, to find that the Soldier seems even more bendy now that he doesn’t have that lifeless arm throwing off his balance.

                Jason stays where he is, calculating range of motion, assessing the amount of force the Soldier could put behind those flips. It’s easy to turn a flip into a kick. Same damn motion, really, you just change where you land, brace for a meatier, flimsier kind of impact.

                After the flips, the Soldier starts taking his clothes off, and Jason doesn’t pound on the wall or catcall or anything, because this, he thinks, is the sort of view a man should appreciate in silence, so that the view doesn’t get all bashful or prudish. He watches, silent, as the Soldier strips off body armor and clothing until he’s just standing there in his boring, standard-issue Commie boxers.

                What he’s doing, Jason thinks, is taking stock of his injuries. Or possibly trying to intimidate Jason with his musculature. Which is frankly fucking ridiculous, because Jason’s got about two inches of height and maybe thirty pounds of muscle on him.

                Someone, Jason notes, a little disapprovingly, does not feed their pet assassin very well.

                Whatever the Soldier’s plan actually is, he’s showing each and every one of his injuries off to Jason, who tags them in a growing list he tentatively titles “Places to Hit the Winter Soldier, if Shit Goes Awry.”

                Top of that list is his ribs, at least two of which are broken on his left side. Jason’s even more impressed with the flips now, although he’s not sure if the balance or the pain tolerance is more admirable. He must have landed on those ribs when he spilled off the bike. Could have deflected the impact onto his forearm, where the body armor was better suited for that sort of friction, but he’d been busy shooting Howard Stark in the face.

                Jason would give up two ribs to make a kill. Easy. He’s not sure if he’s impressed or concerned that the Winter Soldier seems to take the same approach. It means that, if they fight, it’s going to be bloody, on both sides.

                Jason catalogs the rest of the injuries, including that cut on the Soldier’s leg that’s been reopened by his gymnastics. He watches as the Soldier digs around in his body armor, comes out with what looks like a rudimentary first aid kit, and stitches himself up, eyelashes barely fluttering as he works the needle in and out of his skin.

                The broken ribs, the skin burned off his back and side. The nasty bruise still darkening on his head. The cut on his leg. More bruises forming along the left side of his body, where he took the main force of his fall off the bike.

                The Soldier puts two stitches into his leg. Jason would’ve put three.

                Those bruises are bad, but not as bad as Jason would’ve expected from someone who fell off a bike at thirty miles per hour and didn’t bother to catch himself properly on the way down.

                Jason wonders, for the first time, if maybe he should’ve spent more time translating those files over from Russian. He’s not sure, looking at him now, that the Winter Soldier is entirely human.

                “Hey, asshole,” Jason says, and pounds his hand against the wall. “Keep your clothes on. This isn’t that kind of prison sentence.”

                The Winter Soldier looks up at him, seems to consider him for a moment, and then puts his clothes back on. All of them. Even the body armor. He suits up like he has something planned, and that doesn’t exactly make Jason nervous, but it certainly catches his attention.

                He scans the Soldier’s cell, looking for weak points not replicated in his own, but he doesn’t see anything.

                The Soldier stops directly opposite Jason, and then they stand, with just the transparent barrier between them, and he stares.

                Jason stares back. Years ago, back when he was just a cheerful little pre-crowbar cherub, he’d had a staredown with Bruce after puking Kool-Aid and Malibu all over the dashboard of the Batmobile. He hadn’t blinked first then, and he’s sure as hell not about to now. He’s not afraid of some shitty Hydra sellout.

                This close, though, Jason finally notices that the Soldier’s not unfortunate looking. He doesn’t blame himself for not noticing before. The Soldier’s attractiveness is far from the most noticeable thing about him. The primary impression he gives isn’t pretty; it’s dangerous.

                The Soldier’s eyes are icy and disquieting, intelligent but not alive. He watches Jason the same way Jason would expect a tiger in a zoo to watch him. There’s no emotion in him other than some base, predatory instinct to get his teeth into something.

                “What the fuck do you want?” Jason says. He doesn’t look away, but he’s the first to move.

                It’s not a weakness. Jason knows that, even if Bruce never figured it out. Jason’s energy, his need to move, it’s not weakness. Standing still and taking it, all resolute and grim, doesn’t make Batman a hero. It makes him a victim. What makes him a hero is when he starts hitting back.

                “What,” Jason says, again, pounding a fist into the wall between them, right over the man’s broken ribs, right where he’d hit if he could, “the fuck do you want?”

                The Soldier brings up his hand and starts tapping against the wall.

                For a second, Jason’s so furious that he doesn’t even realize it’s a message. Tapping meaninglessly against the glass is exactly the sort of shit he’d do, and he’d do it because he knows how quickly it would drive him crazy.

                He swings his fist into the barrier and almost does it again before the Soldier’s furrowed you fucking idiot brow makes him pause and reassess the situation.

                Morse code, he realizes. Of fucking course some ancient Greatest Generation throwback would be talking to him in Morse code when he’s got a perfectly serviceable mouth.

                Not that Jason’s thinking about the Winter Soldier’s mouth. Or its serviceability. Or, at least, he wasn’t.

                He shakes his head, focuses in. He knows the code. Bruce made him learn, no matter how much Jason wailed about it being a waste of his time, and he’s never, ever going to admit to Bruce that it was even once remotely useful.

                It takes a few seconds for it to all settle in his head. Between his temper and being out of practice, he misses the whole first part and just gets: Bucky. It doesn’t help that the Soldier is tapping so fucking lightly that there’s no real noise, just the movement.

                “What?” He says. “No, you’re Bucky. Don’t fucking try to gaslight me, asshole.”

                The Soldier’s eyebrows snap together again, and he starts up another message. Or, Jason realizes, the same message, repeated in full. Who the hell is Bucky?

                “Oh, shit,” Jason says, “Full-on amnesia, huh? They brainfucked the hell out of you.”

                The Soldier starts tapping again, but he only gets through Who the hell—before Jason cuts him off.

                “You are. You’re Bucky. You’re James Buchannan Barnes, and you were born in 1917, and you and Captain America had a whole active duty only thing, I assume, and then you went missing.”

                The Soldier frowns at him, and Jason rolls his eyes right back. He’s starting to feel a little bit aggrieved.

                “Well, I don’t know. Maybe you two were fucking on leave, too. Jesus. It’s not like I stole the Cap suit from the Smithsonian and ran DNA on the crotch. I just pulled some files, okay?”

                The Soldier stares at him like what he’s saying is barely recognizable as human speech, and Jason is about ready to give up this whole enterprise and go sleep in the corner until Stark comes back when he starts up his little Morse Code tap routine again.

                I, he tells Jason, am the Asset.

                “Oh, wow,” Jason says. He grimaces and thinks about spitting on the floor, but he’s not sure it’d do anything about the bad taste in his mouth. “I’m not even gonna touch that one.”

                I am the Asset. The Winter Soldier taps it out again.

                “You’re James Buchannan Barnes, and I wouldn’t want that fucking mouthful either, but that’s who the hell you are.”

                I, the Soldier tells him, am the Asset.

                “You,” Jason counter-argues, slamming his fist against the wall again, just to underscore the point, “are a human fucking being. You don’t get to pretend you’re a piece of tech just to soothe your conscience. I don’t care how many times they broke the Geneva Convention to get you like this. You’re still a person under it, no matter what they did.”

                The Soldier drops his hand to his side and stares at Jason, eyebrows pulled together in vague concern, like Jason’s a tricky crossword puzzle he’s about to solve. Then, after a long moment, he turns his back on Jason and walks away, settles on the ground next to his metal arm, and starts tinkering again.

                Jason shakes out his shoulders and moves to the northwest corner to check the time. It’s been about six hours since Stark left them down here. It’s quiet upstairs, and there’s no reason to think Stark will be back anytime soon, what with his dead dad to deal with.

                Jason sighs and tips his head back against the wall, lets himself sleep while he has the chance.

 

 

                The Soldier wakes him up. There’s a muffled thump and then another, and Jason jerks himself into a crouch, still half-asleep, adrenaline dumping into his system. It takes a moment to realize the Soldier is pounding on the wall, and then he turns to send a scathing look his direction only to find that he’s stopped, is already pulling away from the wall, and is staring resolutely out into the lab, where Stark is standing.

                Standing is a generous interpretation of what Stark is doing.

                Tony Stark, Jason realizes, is pretty fucking drunk. He’s the kind of drunk where every step is that first step off the escalator, where the whole world’s moving, and you’re just trying not to fall on your face.

                He has Jason’s gun tucked into his waistband exactly like someone looking to get their dick shot off. In one hand, he’s holding a bottle of whiskey, and, in the other, he’s holding Jason’s mask. Stark sees him staring at it and then drops it on a workbench, wanders over to one of his computer stations, and toggles a few switches with exaggerated focus.

                Above him, Jason hears some kind of speaker pop and hiss from the air vent.

                “Red Hood.” Tony’s voice comes through the speaker. There’s a slight buzz to his worlds, the hint of a slur. He’s had a lot more practice keeping the booze out of his voice than someone who’s barely twenty probably should.

                Not, of course, that Jason is really in a position to judge him for it.

                “Shouldn’t have made the Batman joke,” Tony tells him. “Made it easy to find you. Well, that and the mask in your van.”

                Jason stands up and smiles at him, tries to strategize. Bruce is going to be appalled if the end of this story is: and then I had to murder Tony Stark because I fucked up the ‘secret’ part of the ‘secret identity.’

                “Stark,” Jason says, “you’ve gotta stop digging your own grave, or someone’s gonna push you in it.”

                Stark squints his eyes at him, and then, inexplicably, hits a few more switches and opens Jason’s cell.

                Jason stares, absolutely baffled, as the wall slides open. Tony hops up onto the workbench, right beside Jason’s mask, and he kicks his legs while he takes a drink from his mostly-empty bottle of whiskey. He makes no move for the gun, and Jason suspects that he might have forgotten about it entirely.

                “Hi,” Stark says, and smiles, lazy and crooked, “hey, hello there.”

                “Fucking rich people.” Jason says. “They even try to outsource their suicides.”

                If he were a better person, maybe he’d stay where he was. Or maybe he’d go for the door, leave Stark and Bucky “Brainfucked” Barnes to sort out this mess.

                But he’s a shitty person. Always has been. So, predictably, he heads straight for Tony.

                Stark rolls his eyes. He doesn’t look even the slightest bit nervous. He’s watching Jason’s approach with the kind of casual, friendly interest sane people save for being approached by Girl Scouts, or pizza delivery guys, or other people’s dogs at the dog park.

                Jason walks right up to him to see when he’ll flinch, and, instead, Tony just kicks his knees out, lets Jason walk right into the vee of his spread legs.

                “Not a crime lord,” Tony says, and Jason can sense a baited hook, but he’s not sure what the hell makes Tony think he’s ready to reel in someone like him. “Never hurt anyone. That whole weapons manufacturing thing’s a family business.”

                “Your point?” Jason says. He is very close to a very drunk Tony Stark. He can smell him. Sweat, and whiskey, and gasoline. The last fading hints of what is probably a stupidly expensive cologne. Can feel the heat of him. He thinks, if he tried, he could hear his heart beat.

                Tony could’ve been a sad drunk. He could’ve been a sleepy drunk. But he’s a suicidal slutty drunk instead. It’s really not fair. Jason is trying not to fuck him up any more than he already has.

                “You’re a vigilante,” Stark tells him, smug. “Not a sociopath. I’m not really your thing.”

                “Is that what you think?” Jason’s tone is lower than he means, harsher, and something like concern flashes across Tony’s face for the first time.

                Jason jerks forward, and Tony’s eyes drop to his mouth instead of his hands, which means he doesn’t notice that Jason’s going for the gun until he’s already got it.

                “Oh,” Tony says, as Jason steps back. He blinks and looks down, taking in the sight of Jason’s gun back in Jason’s hand, and then he sighs. “I thought you were going to kiss me.”

                “Christ, Stark,” Jason says, and he can’t keep the approval out of his voice. Doesn’t even try that hard. “You’re one of the top five most fucked up people I’ve ever met.”

                Stark doesn’t look particularly bothered by that assessment. “I’m usually number one.”

                “Yeah, well. I know Batman.” Jason holsters the gun and climbs onto the workbench beside Stark. “You wanna…” He waves a hand, feels committed to saying something helpful but absolutely clueless as to what that might be. “Talk about it?”

                Tony heaves out a sigh and looks away. Jason catalogues the points of vulnerability, looks for signs of weakness. That’s not a thing he can turn off, even when he wants to. He takes in the red eyes, the sloping posture. The way Tony’s hands are tucked tight into his armpits, probably to hide the way they’re shaking. 

                “Mom’s at the hospital. Jarvis is with her,” he says, after a beat. “She’ll be alright. Gets to keep her legs and everything.”

                “Oh,” Jason says. “Nice. Installing ramps everywhere would be a nightmare in this place. Of course, you’re rich enough. She could probably just pay a bunch of half-naked male models to carry her around.”

                “Oh my God,” Tony says, and then starts laughing. “You're a nightmare. I've known paparazzi more delicate than you. Who the fuck let you wear a costume?”

                “Hey. Your mom is a single woman now, and she’s hot, and she’s rich,” Jason says, defensively. “Half-naked men manhandling your mom is the sorta shit you’re gonna have to get used to. And also, who the fuck do you know that could stop me?”

                Stark makes an odd choking noise, and Jason is terrified that he’s going to start sobbing, but he just laughs harder, doubles over. His fingers lose their grip on the whiskey, but Jason catches it before it can fall. He takes a drink and keeps the bottle for himself. Stark’s clearly had enough.

                “I’m supposed to make arrangements,” Tony tells him, when he gets it together long enough to catch his breath. “So I came home and got drunk instead.”

                “Okay, well,” Jason shrugs and takes another drink. “Looks like we both failed to meet our objectives tonight.”

                Tony is quiet for a moment. Jason’s ready for a fight. He’s ready for it to get ugly. He was here, and he was supposed to save Howard Stark, and he didn’t. He didn’t pull the trigger that launched the bullet that splattered Howard’s gray matter all over the interior of his beautiful car, but he didn’t stop that bullet, either. And he could have. He’d meant to.

                He’s ready for some kind of accusation from Tony, but, instead, like a proper capitalist, Tony keeps it all for himself. “We fought,” he says. “Right before he left.”

                “Oh,” Jason shrugs. “Did he deserve it?”

                “No,” Tony pauses and then tips his head forward. “Well, kinda. I mean, he was always an asshole. Doesn’t mean I wanted it to end that way.”

                “Stark, let me tell you. Unless you pull the trigger yourself, you never get to pick how anything ends. It just fucking happens, and you deal with the fallout.”

                Tony sucks in a breath and lifts his head again, and, this time, he’s looking right at the Winter Soldier.

                “Wait,” Jason says, and he replays what he said in his head. Unless you pull the trigger yourself. “Fuck.”

                Tony doesn’t say anything. But he doesn’t look away, either.

                Jason thinks about what Bruce would do, if he were here. He thinks about what Bruce would say about the value of human life, even twisted, fucked-up, thoroughly brainwashed human life. And then he takes his gun and lays it on the metal between him and Stark.

                “Yeah, alright,” he says. “I get it. If you have to.”

                Tony stares at the gun. He swallows heavily, pulls his shoulders back, and slowly reaches for it.

                Right when Tony’s fingers are about to brush metal, the alarm starts up all over again. Tony flinches and shoves the gun in Jason’s direction. Jason grabs it and slides to his feet, thumbing off the safety as he looks at the door to the lab.

                “Not expecting company?” Jason says.

                “No one’s supposed to be here,” Tony confirms. “Mom and Jarvis know the alarm codes.”

                “Great.” Jason looks over at the Winter Soldier, who’s watching the two of them with a supremely unhelpful blank expression. “Hey,” Jason tells him, “I’m gonna go kill your rescue mission.”

                The Soldier turns around, scoops his metal arm off the floor, and starts the process of reattaching it. Jason decides to take that as a challenge.

                “Okay, Stark,” Jason says, “you stay here, find something to arm yourself with, and, when I come back, don’t fucking shoot me.”

                “Oh, don’t worry,” Tony says, taking the whiskey out of Jason’s hand. “It’ll be somewhere non-vital. Promise.”

                “I appreciate the commitment to the joke,” Jason tells him, as he grabs his mask. “But I’m not fucking kidding. Don’t shoot me.”

                “Should I call the cops?” Tony says. “I can call the---”

                “Sweetheart, let me repeat,” Jason says, as he slips the mask on, “I am trying not to get shot.”

                “Oh.” Tony slips off the workbench. He’s steadier on his feet than he was before, but Jason’s still not counting on his aim to make contact with anything smaller than tank. “Should I…go with you? Do you need help?”

                Jason can’t think of a single nice thing to say to that, so he borrows Bruce’s old fallback and just fucking disappears. Tony doesn’t call anything after him, not even a thanks for taking care of the murder squad I brought down on myself by kidnapping two people I had no fucking business even making eye-contact with, but Jason figures he’ll have plenty of time for adoring gratitude once he’s taken care of whoever’s just broken into the house.

                Of course, then he’ll have to do something about the bodies.

                “Fucking rich people,” Jason grumbles as he kicks the lab door shut behind him. Somehow, he always ends up doing their dirty work for them.

Chapter Text

                Hydra, Jason is beginning to gather, is not to be casually fucked with. They mobilize fast. For an organization that doesn’t seem particularly devoted to the care of their pet assassin, they are damn sure intent on keeping him.

                As Jason sees it, Stark’s got more claim to the Winter Soldier now than Jason does, and Jason has more claim than these assholes. But even if he didn’t, even if Stark was still at the hospital and Jason had all the intel he needed, he wouldn’t let Hydra have their Soldier back.

                It’s not pity. It’s not pity, or mercy, or anything like that. Jason’s not doing this to protect the Soldier. He’s doing this to protect Tony Stark, and the next Howard and Maria Stark, and all the other hapless, helpless little civilians that end up in the crosshairs of an international organization dedicated to no-shit, honest-to-Jesus global domination.

                But he’s meaner about it than he needs to be. Lets himself make gutshots instead of headshots. Takes one of them out with a knife to the belly, disembowels him and doesn’t finish it as quick or clean as he could, because some part of him takes it more personally than he has any reason to. Some part of him wants these people to suffer for being complicit in whatever happened that made Bucky Barnes, Cap’s Best Pal, into the Winter Soldier, Legitimate Goddamn Nightmare.

                Earlier, Jason had been worried about losing both Howard and Maria and turning Tony into a killer. He’d been worried about how Bruce would over-empathize with that. He’s starting to see how he’s maybe over-empathizing with a man who was brought back from the dead, resurrected without consent, thrown back into a world he didn’t ask for, twisted in ways that couldn’t ever be ironed straight.

                Jason’s not the Winter Soldier, but he can see how he could have been, with the right application of someone – anyone – giving a fuck about him.         

                The League of Assassins never wanted to keep Jason. After the Pit, Talia helped him run. But he’d been shaky back then. Confused. Vulnerable. Could’ve been shepherded all sorts of ways, maybe, if someone had made a real effort.

                He’s not sure what happened to make Barnes into the Soldier. But the fucking least these assholes could do, after making someone into a monster, was keep that monster well-fed.

                Nine of them show up to raid Stark’s place. Eight soldiers, who split up, searching the house, and one officer type who hangs back, keeps himself half-hidden behind cover and keeps his eyes on the only entrance. Jason figures the fact that Hydra let that one keep his survival instincts means he’s worth more than the others.

                In his experience, officers always talk more with less effort, so Jason saves the officer for last and hunts the others, one by one. He works his way through four of them before they even know what’s happening. The fifth gives up his chance to go for his weapon to get to his radio instead. He sends out a quick burst of warning before Jason opens his throat for him.

                “Snitches and talkers,” Jason says, soothingly, as he holds the man against him, one hand pressed against his mouth and the other wrapped around his chest, keeping his arms pinned. He jerks back on the man’s head, rips the cut wider, damn near takes his head off.

                Some of the others, he leaves to gasp and gurgle their way out. Leaves them in a state that’ll take awhile to finish, so he can go back for information if the officer doesn’t have anything useful to say.

                But he lets the snitch die quick. He’s always had a soft spot for self-sacrificing loyalty.

                He takes the dead man’s walkie with him, listens as the remaining three coordinate a rendezvous that is meant to call them all back to the officer.

                Hydra meat shields, Jason reflects, are probably the least effective kind.

                If they lined up a crowd of kindergarteners and nuns, maybe Jason would experience some moral distress at the prospect of butchering them. But picking off Hydra soldiers, grouped around their shitty leader, is not the sort of thing that’s going to keep him up at night.

                It takes awhile. They’re not trained like he is, but they aren’t civilians, either. These aren’t muggers and smugglers. Whatever Gotham’s flaws, at least most of its criminal underground doesn’t invest much time training its recruits. Gotham’s a meat-grinder. Hydra, at its core, might not be much different, but they’re better funded and better trained.

                Jason almost gets himself shot in the face by the officer, which is more of a lucky shot than actual skill, but damn sure pisses him off anyway.

                Finally, after Jason’s gun runs out of bullets and he has to use the substandard bullshit he pilfered off the bodies of the men he killed, it’s over. The officer reloads twice, and Jason would feel guilty about the amount of bullet holes punched through Howard Stark’s lovely office paneling, but it’s not like Howard Stark is going to be around to enjoy it anyway.

                When he’s reasonably sure the officer is out of bullets, he moves into the room, jumps onto the wooden desk the man’s hiding behind, and shoots him, twice. Once in the kneecap, and once in his dominant shoulder.

                “Hey,” he says, ditching the gun in favor of a knife, “let’s chat.”

 

 

                Afterward, Jason finds himself considering that that he might have made a slight miscalculation, trying to take the Winter Soldier on Stark’s grounds. He should’ve just waited until it was all over and grabbed the Soldier somewhere else. If Hydra sends another, bigger group, it’s going to be hard to fight in a place like this, that was designed to be impressive, not defensible.

                Hydra, he thinks again, is not to be fucked with.

                The problem is, even in his head, it sounds like a challenge.

                The officer hadn’t had a damn useful thing to say. And the others hadn’t talked either, when Jason went around to see how many of them were still breathing. Jason heads back down the lab with nothing but nine dead bodies, a few shitty guns, and some stupid red book to show for his efforts.

                He stashes most of the guns in inconspicuous places throughout the building, in case he needs them later, and strips out of his bloodstained shirt and jacket, rolls them around the book he stole. He would’ve stored everything in his van, where he has extra clothes, but he couldn’t find the damn thing. He figures that Stark must have put it in some underground garage, but Jason ran into six doors he couldn’t open before he gave up on it.  

                He doesn’t want to spend too much time away, with Stark downstairs with the Winter Soldier, a bottle of whiskey, and a lab full of potential murder weapons. That seems like that’s the kind of equation that could result in monumentally stupid decisions.

                So he finds Tony’s room, instead, and, after getting tased (again) trying to get into his closet, he finds a dirty Metallica shirt on the floor and pulls that on, instead. It’s too tight and too short, leaves a strip of his stomach bare like he’s some idiot teenager at his first rave, but he figures it’s still better than wearing anything of Howard’s. And then he heads back downstairs.

                “Knock, knock,” he says, kicking at the lab door. “Baby Stark, baby Stark, let me come in.”

                The door clicks open but doesn’t swing forward, and Jason does not find that particularly encouraging.

                “Stark,” he says, warningly, “I swear to God. If you fucking shoot me---”

                “What.” Tony says, and Jason hasn’t been around him much, but he can already tell the proceed with caution tone when he hears it. “Why would I do that. That’s crazy.”

                “Okay,” Jason says, “can we talk about why you’d want to shoot me? After I just saved your ass and only broke, like, five to seven family heirlooms in the process?”

                “Did you know,” Tony tells him, “that there are cameras throughout the building?”

                “Oh,” Jason says. “Fuck.” He wouldn’t have been such a dick about all that murdering if he’d known he had a precious, soft-hearted, civilian audience watching him do it. “Okay, but those guys wanted to take our hostage and kill us both.”

                “Our hostage,” Tony says. “Us both. Listen, asshole, I know forced teaming when I hear it, okay?”

                “Aw, c’mon,” Jason says, and hooks his fingers around the door, swings it partially open while keeping his body behind it. “They were just Hydra thugs. I’m not gonna do any of that to you. You’re too pretty to die slow.”

                “Can we talk about the relationship between how frequently you hit on me and how recently you’ve committed extreme violence? Because, frankly, I am a little fucking disturbed by it.” There’s a beat, and then Tony rushes on. “Also, I don’t want to die. Slow or fast. At all, is the point I am trying to communicate. I don’t want to die at all.”

                Jason peers quickly around the door before leaning back. Tony is standing, with zero cover, holding the Winter Soldier’s tiny derringer in front of him. He’s got his hips and shoulders squared up, whole torso bared like he’s never even heard of the concept of presenting as small a target as possible.

                Jason could pick him off with almost no effort at all.

                “I’m not gonna kill you,” he says, instead. “Didn’t you just tell me that I wasn’t going to kill you? Didn’t you have a whole theory about how I’m not a sociopath?”

                “I just watched you rip someone’s head off.”

                “I did not rip—” Jason suddenly remembers that he kind of did and then huffs out a breath, exasperated. “Look, whatever I did to them, I’m not gonna do to you. And they damn sure would’ve done worse to me or you, if I hadn’t stopped them. So instead of questioning my methods, why don’t you just thank me for using them?”

                Tony doesn’t say anything for a full minute, maybe two. And then he asks, “Were those the guys that had my dad killed?”

                “Yeah, kinda,” Jason says. “One of them was the Soldier’s handler, I think. I mean, none of them had the authority to order the hit, but, with how quick they got here, I figure that was their job. Transporting and sending out the Winter Soldier.”

                “So they’ve killed a lot of people,” Tony says, and he’s sounding less and less deadset on trying to shoot Jason.

                “Fuck, Tony. Of course they have. That was their whole job. That was everything they did with their lives.”

                There’s another pause, much shorter. “And my mom. She was supposed to die too, right?”

                Jason clears his throat. The subject of mothers isn’t one he’s particularly comfortable with. “They—I don’t think she was the focus. But they would’ve killed her, yeah. Just for being there.”

                “So she didn’t even matter. She was just—they would’ve killed me, too, if I’d been in the car.”

                “These people don’t give a fuck about civilian status,” Jason tells him. “And they’re probably gonna send another team when they figure out their old one’s gone. So can I come inside, or did you want to handle the next round yourself?”

                Jason hears a sigh and then footsteps, getting closer. “Yeah,” Tony says. “Alright.” He pushes the door open and squints at Jason, drags his eyes up and down his body. “For the record, that shirt looks way better on me.”

                “Bullshit, Stark,” Jason says. He flexes as he slides past him, makes the robed skeleton on the shirt jerk and dance. “Look at that muscle definition.”

                “You’re gonna get it all stretched out,” Tony complains, and his voice is still tight, leaning a little higher than normal, caught in his throat like he’s not getting enough air, but it looks like he’s starting to calm down. “It looks ridiculous on you.”

                “Ridiculously good,” Jason corrects as he walks into the lab and makes eye-contact with the Winter Soldier. “Just try to contain yourself, okay? We’ve got plenty of work left to do tonight.”

                The Winter Soldier looks the faintest bit surprised to see him. His eyebrows move up for a second and his lips flatten out, and then he slips back into blankness. Jason doesn’t know what to make of the fact that he sees surprise but not sadness, nothing like regret or guilt. Jason just killed nine of his people to keep them from saving him, and the Soldier looks about as torn up about that as someone who lost a penny bet.

                Tony puts the gun down by one of his computers, where he’s got the Soldier’s knives and a couple of promising-looking devices laid out in a row. He props his hip against the table and sighs again, chews on his lip as he assesses Jason.

                Jason drops his bloody clothes on the floor in front of the Soldier’s cell, so he can get a nice look at what’s left of his men, and looks back at Tony. “Don’t get comfortable, Stark. We’ve got nine bodies to get rid of. Where’s my van? How many shovels do you have? This shit is gonna take all night.”

                “Oh,” Tony says, suddenly perking up a little. “No, wait. Fuck that. We’re not digging. I’ve got something that’ll work.”

                Jason blinks. “You…have something that’ll work? The hell do you mean, you ‘have something that’ll work?’” Jason does air quotes and everything. Mostly because he can’t imagine a single thing that would’ve pissed him off more, as a teenager. Twenty-year-old. Whatever.

                Tony bats at the air, like he can knock Jason’s stupid air quotes away from clear across the lab. “Just bring them down here. Put them in the testing chamber. I’ll show you.”

                Jason’s just intrigued enough to do it, although he is going to throw a damn fit if he has to carry all of those bodies back upstairs. “Hey,” he says, as he ambles back toward the stairs. “Why do I have to carry all of them down here?”

                Tony rolls his eyes, and the wry expression that flits across his face is somehow reassuring, even though Jason knows, before he opens his mouth, that he’s not going to like what he says. “I dunno, Muscle Definition. What are your theories on that?”

                Jason rolls his eyes and flips him off, and he absolutely does not laugh when Stark catcalls after him, yells, “Why don’t you see if you can find some of my pants, too?”

                But if he grins, wide and smug and secret, only the Soldier’s at the right angle to see, and it’s not like he’s going to gossip to anyone about it.

 

 

                Half an hour later, Jason’s carried nine bodies all the way into Tony’s lab and stacked them in his old cell. “Testing chamber,” Stark reminds him, but doesn’t have a response when Jason pointedly asks what the hell they’re testing on the Winter Soldier.

                The Soldier’s got his arm off, again, and the plight of his brethren seems to have taken a bit out of him. He stands at attention for the first four, studying them intently, but he’s sitting by the time Jason brings down the others.

                Jason saves the officer for last, hoping for something interesting from the Soldier, and he sure as hell gets interesting, but not the kind of interesting he knows how to interpret.

                Jason had worked on the officer for awhile. What he brings down the stairs isn’t pretty, and he shuffles the body around, tries to hide the worst of it from Stark, who, obligingly, takes one look at the mess and finds something fascinating to look at in the other direction.

                “Fuck,” Tony says, quiet, and then there’s the telltale slosh of more whiskey getting tossed back.

                The Winter Soldier stands up when Jason tosses the officer’s body down among the others. He looks at him, intent and focused, and some kind of expression crosses his face, but it’s not one Jason’s seen before. Jason watches as the Soldier’s fingers twitch toward his palms and his tongue darts out, once, to lick at his upper lip.

                Jason knows what it feels like, to see the kind of violence that twists you up all wrong, makes you feel sharp and clear and right, makes you feel jealous. He’s never seen it on anyone else, until now. He’s not sure what to make of the fact that the Soldier is looking at what Jason did to his old comrade like it’s the best, brightest, sexist thing he’s seen in months.

                “Stark,” Jason says, as the cell seals up behind him and he rejoins Stark back on the workbench, “we’re gonna have to do something about that homicidal robot we’ve acquired.”

                “Yeah,” Tony says, agreeably, shoulder pressing into Jason’s and a fair amount of his weight leaning into him. He’s loosened up a lot over the last half hour. Jason’s not sure if that’s because the fear as worked itself out or if he’s just drunk enough not to care anymore. It feels like they’re kids at camp, forging allegiances that won’t hold when they go back to their separate lives. It’s too bad, really. Jason’s having a hell of a time. “In a minute. I wanna see what this does to bone.”

                “Oh yeah?” Jason says, squinting into the testing chamber. “Haven’t tried it yet?”

                “Some roadkill,” Tony says, waving dismissively. “Dad would’ve lost his shit if I started hitting up slaughterhouses for carcasses. Anyway, nothing this big. Nothing human.”

                “Obviously,” Jason says, picking up the bottle of whiskey.

                “Obviously,” Stark agrees, flashing him a quick smile that’s sweet enough to make Jason want to do something dumb and overeager, like smile back. He takes a drink, instead. “Got your safety goggles on?”

                “Do I need them?” Jason asks, starting to feel like maybe things are less under control than he’d hoped. Safety goggles, he thinks, and puts the bottle down. Fuck.

                Tony just laughs at him. “Do I need them,” he repeats, as he settles a pair of bullshit rich boy aviators over his eyes and then flips the switch on his remote trigger.

                There’s a bright flash of light and a whump that hits Jason’s ribcage like it hasn’t made up its mind about being a sound or a shove, and then the bodies in the cell are gone.

                “Holy shit,” Jason says, jumping to his feet. He’s across the lab in seconds, peering into the cell, but there’s nothing left that’s even vaguely recognizable as a human body. The sprinkler system kicks on, and the powdery remnants start slowly swirling down the drain. “What the fuck,” Jason says, wonderingly, “I don’t even see any teeth.” 

                “Shouldn’t.” Tony wanders up next to him, sunglasses still on. “Although there’ll be some metal left.”

                “You just fucking—you.” Jason is very rarely rendered speechless. He can feel the heat of whatever just happened coming through the cell wall. He presses his hand against the wall, and it’s warm, feels like human flesh. “You built that in your basement?”

                “Oh,” Tony says and then shrugs, “yeah. Dad won’t let me use any of the Stark labs. Says I get in the way. Too young.”

                “Kid,” Jason says, “let me introduce you to Batman. Trust me, he’s got no fucking qualms about abusing child labor laws.”

                “Yeah, I’m actually twenty, remember?” Tony tells him.

                “Good point,” Jason says, rethinking his entire strategy. “I should keep you for myself. Fuck Batman. He’d put you in tights, make you play nice with criminals. He’d never let you blow up bodies in the Batcave.”

                “The Batcave?” Tony repeats. “It’s seriously fucking called the Batcave?”

                Jason needs to get his shit together. It’s just difficult to do that when secret genius Tony Stark just evaporated nine bodies in his hidden basement lab.

                “Are you sure this isn’t a sex dungeon? Cuz I will absolutely blow you for a couple of those bombs. Not kidding. Throw in one of your tasers, and I’ll even let you keep those stupid sunglasses on.”

                Tony clears his throat and takes his sunglasses off. “Fuck,” he says. “That was my only prepped prototype.”

                “Goddamn it,” Jason says. “Goddamn it, Stark, all you rich boys are such teases. How the fuck can show that kinda shit to a guy and then tell him he can’t have it? How do you sleep at night?”

                “Poorly,” Tony tells him, with confidence. “Anyway, I can build more.”

                “See that you do,” Jason says, watching the ashes of nine men being washed neatly down the drain. He can see melted bits of metal catching at the lip, and he wonders what they used to be.

                Metal makes him think of the Winter Soldier. He looks over and sees the Soldier is watching the flushing of his evaporated comrades with a small, mean smile pulling up on corner of his mouth.

                Jason is starting to develop some troubling theories about the Winter Soldier, theories that are going to make putting a bullet in his head less of a justified execution and more of a mercy kill. He’s got nothing against the practicality of the latter, but he’s a little pissed about losing the easy, uncomplicated thrill of the former.

                “Hey, Stark,” he says, quietly, “check out your pet robot.”

                Stark cuts his eyes that way and hisses in a sharp breath. “Is he—what the fuck.”

                “Yep,” Jason agrees. “Now, the trick is deciding if he hated those fuckers or if he just really gets off on death.”

                “Could be both,” Stark says after a beat. “I know Occam’s razor might suggest otherwise, but I’ve found, with people, the most complicated, twisted hypothesis is usually the right one.”

                Jason blinks at that and cants a quick sideways glance his direction. That, he thinks, is not the kind of theory you come up with if everyone’s been playing nice. “Someone fuck you up?” Jason asks. “Want me to bring them down here so you can evaporate them, too?”

                Tony snorts at that and doesn’t look at him. “Did you just offer to kill someone for me?”

                “Absolutely. Or I could bring them down here alive, and you could kill them,” Jason says, because it isn’t complicated. It’s not even necessarily a gift. Violence is what he does. “Whatever gets that next prototype built fastest, sweetheart.”

                Stark glances his way, gives him a look of focused concentration, all furrowed brows and intense, assessing eyes. Jason wants to bite the serious curve of his mouth.

                He is, Jason realizes, working his way into a truly ill-advised crush. Just because some civilian waved a gun at him, temporarily imprisoned him, and disposed of nine bodies with him didn’t mean he’d ever want to see him again. In fact, in Jason’s experience, it usually meant said civilian would go to great lengths to avoid seeing him again.

                Jason’s not a genius. He’s nothing like Bruce or Tony. But even a stupid dog learns after enough negative reinforcement. Jason’s not the type that anybody ever wants to keep. He shouldn’t let himself get attached.

                “Listen,” Jason says, putting some distance between them. “I should go clean up upstairs. And you gotta decide if I’m taking care of the robot or you are. Either way, once I’m done upstairs, I should go.”

                “Oh.” Tony says, and, bizarrely, it looks like, out of everything, this is what hurts him. “Or,” he says, “or, after you’re done upstairs, you could stay the night. And we could sleep. Or we could not sleep.”

                Fuck’s sake, Jason thinks, and makes a note never to let Stark handle any important negotiations. He starts to lose one thing he wants, and he gives up everything he has.

                But Jason can’t for the life of him figure out what it is that Tony’s trying to keep. Right now, Jason can see how he’s company, security, and a distraction. He doesn’t know if Tony wants any of those or all of them or something else entirely.

                But it occurs to him that, if he leaves, he’ll be leaving a drunk Tony Stark, alone, in a house that Hydra’s already hit twice tonight. Even if he takes the Soldier or the Soldier’s body with him, that’s just asking to wake up to the news that the Stark family has been whittled down to one. It also occurs to him that none of that is his problem.

                He sighs and grabs the whiskey bottle off the work bench. “I’m going to clean up. I’m taking this with me.” He points at the Soldier, who’s sitting down, back against a wall, head tilted back so that he’s barely watching them out of the bottoms of his eyes. “Make up your mind about who you want to deal with that.”

                “Okay,” Tony says, seemingly pacified by this. “You know where my room is, right?”

                “Yeah,” Jason says. “I know where your room is.”

 

 

                The sun’s fully up when Jason finishes. Neither the butler nor Stark’s mom have come back. No one’s been around. Jason clears up all the blood and sets everything that isn’t broken back in the right spot, but there’s nothing he can do about the bullet holes. He finds the van the men must’ve arrived in, and he drives it deep into Stark property, hides it in the trees and then walks back.

                He walks through the house one last time, looking for any missed blood splatters or bullet casings, and then he goes down into the lab. The door’s closed, but, when he stands in front of it and knocks, the scanners fire up and then beep in approval. The door opens.

                Jason tries not to read too much into the fact that he’s been granted access to Tony’s secret basement lab, but the truth is that he’s fucking flattered. He checks on the Winter Soldier, half-hoping that the kid had taken care of it while Jason was out, half-hoping he hadn’t, and he doesn’t know if it’s a relief or a disappointment to see the Soldier tipped over, curled on his side, clearly asleep and not dead.

                Jason watches for a moment and then goes upstairs, finds Stark’s room.

                Tony flinches awake when the door opens, but he lays back with a lazy smile when he sees who it is. Jason can’t think of a single other person on the planet who’d react like that to him walking in on them asleep.

                “Hey,” Jason says, as he sits on the edge of the ludicrous bed and unties his boots.

                “Hey,” Stark mumbles. He still sounds a little drunk. “I didn’t kill that guy.”

                Jason thinks about pointing out that thinking of him as a guy instead of a robot or a murderer or a criminal is exactly where Tony went wrong. But he’s stumbled into a weird moment, here, where Tony just keeps lying there, sprawled, belly and neck exposed, hands open and weaponless. He’s not sure why he doesn’t want to ruin it by turning it into an argument. Maybe it’s just the fucking novelty of it.

                “I know,” he says, instead, and he strips off the Metallica shirt, tosses it so that it lands exactly where it was when he’d found it. “I’ll deal with it later.”

                He crawls up the bed and under the blankets, tucks his gun, safety on, under the nearest pillow, and collapses with his pants still on. Smart as he is, he can’t imagine why the hell Tony would need clarification with a message like that, but it looks like he does anyway. Tony rolls over on his side, reaches for Jason’s belt. His hands, which looked competent and clever when he held a whiskey bottle and a welding torch, look strangely hesitant now.

                “You wanna…?” Tony asks, staring at Jason’s chest and his collarbone and his chin. He never quite makes it up to Jason’s eyes.

                “Nah,” Jason says, and, even though he tells himself it’s rude to keep this shit up when he’s in bed with someone, he’s watching carefully,  looking for tells. He sees the way the tension suddenly works its way out of Stark’s shoulders. “I put out for prototypes, remember?” Jason says. “Stop trying to score a freebie.”

                Tony snorts, but doesn’t argue. He closes his eyes and shifts, getting comfortable, and he rolls the slightest bit closer, like he thinks he’s not allowed to touch Jason without the pretext of getting laid.

                “C’mere,” Jason says, and wraps an arm around his waist, pulls him in. Stark learns into him, shudders out a breath. As close as he is, palm spread over his spine, Jason can feel Tony’s pulse, which is kicking along at somewhere pretty far over 100 bpm.

                Doesn’t mean he’s nervous. Could mean he was more into Jason in his bed than his body language implied. Or it could just be that every part of him runs fast, as manic as he is, as quick as his thoughts and moods seem to move.

                Jason tells himself he only starts rubbing Stark’s back because he likes how smooth his skin is. But the kick of victory that hits when Stark settles, muscles losing tension, head lolling forward to rest against his chest, lungs and heart quieting to a slower rhythm, indicates pretty clearly that Jason’s full of shit.

                Fuck, Jason thinks. Fuck everything about this.

                It’s not too late. He could get out of here, grab that Metallica shirt and the Winter Soldier on his way to the door. He could leave his van, steal Hydra’s, and get the hell back to Gotham.

                But when Stark falls asleep, breath ghosting against Jason’s neck, he feels, somehow, that he’s missed his opportunity.

Chapter Text

                It’s been awhile since Jason woke up slow. Last time he shook off a high fever, maybe. Or whenever he last played a role that necessitated taking the drugs he never lets himself take otherwise. It’s a sluggish, sleepy slide to awareness. No threat, nothing to trip him there fast.

                He’s warm, like he’s been sleeping in the sun, and just the slightest bit wrung out from the fights the day before. Tony’s crawled half on top of him in the night, nestled his face right into Jason’s throat.

                Jason thinks it’s real fucking weird, that he didn’t wake up as soon as anything got near his neck. Weird enough that it brings him all the way to consciousness, and he squirms his way out from under Tony.

                “Fuck,” Tony mumbles into the pillow and then rolls over, nestling into the warm spot Jason vacated. “Fuck,” he says, again, and wraps an arm around his head.

                “Told you to drink some water,” Jason says, even though he’s pretty sure he never said a damn thing about it. It’s not like Tony’s going to remember enough of the fine details of their conversations to argue with him.

                “Don’t be a dick,” Tony tells him, and he’s petulant and grouchy. He swings a pillow Jason’s direction and manages to slam it right into Jason’s chest without ever opening his eyes.

                It’s fucking adorable. Jason scrambles out of the bed before he notices anything else.

                “You got any clothes for grownups?” Jason says, looking back at the Metallica shirt across the room. “I gotta shower.”

                “Fuck off, I’m dying,” Tony tells him and kicks another pillow at him. That one misses, but Jason’s on the move, walking silently across the thickly carpeted floor, so he can’t blame him for that.

                “I’m showering,” Jason says. “Be a good host and find me clothes.”

 

 

                Stark’s shower is fucking palatial. Jason spends what has to be a quarter of an hour just fussing with the knobs and dials. Bruce had some luxuries at his place, too, but everything like this was in the guest suites. It was one of the things that pissed Jason off the most about living Bruce, the way he treated deprivation like it was something to be cherished rather than something to be endured.

                It’ll make you soft, Bruce would say, about anything that wasn’t necessary, and, on some level, Jason gets the rationality, because he’s seen the wayward paths people take if things start coming too easy. But the shower’s nice. And it probably wouldn’t kill Bruce to relax at some point in his shitty, high-strung, nauseatingly morally righteous life.

                Bruce is a spoiled rich kid at his core, always will be, no matter how much he disavows that lifestyle. Cutting comfortable things out of his life just to prove that he doesn’t need them is exactly the sort of shit that a rich kid would do to make a point. Jason’s never met a poor kid who turned down a nice shower because of the threat it posed to their moral fortitude.

                Maybe Jason resents that more than he should. Maybe he doesn’t care enough to be reasonable about it.

                Jason dries off and comes out of the bathroom with one of the fluffy, teddy-bear soft towels wrapped around his hips. He finds a lump of clothes on the bed and no Stark in sight.

                The thin t-shirt won’t stop a pocketknife, much less a bullet, but it’ll do for breakfast. Probably. Unless Hydra shows up to gatecrash the coffee bar.

                The clothes fit reasonably well. The shirt’s a little tight across the chest, but Jason doesn’t mind. Tight fabric doesn’t get caught in machinery or other people’s fists. He thinks for a moment about why Stark would have clothes his size and then realizes, abruptly, that it’s not really something he wants to think about after all.

                He laces up his boots and goes to grab his gun from under the pillow. He huffs out an exasperated breath when he finds it isn’t there. He shouldn’t have left it, but Stark had looked real comfortable, burrowing into Jason’s pillow, and Jason had felt a bizarre inclination to let him sleep, leave him to work through the worst of his hangover without someone jostling him around too much.

                This, he thinks, is why mercy is always a shitpoor idea.

                He heads out of Stark’s room and jogs downstairs to the lab. If Stark’s giving the Winder Soldier the Old Yeller treatment, Jason doesn’t necessarily want to be in the room for it, but he’s already resigned to being the one in charge of cleaning up afterward.

                Cleaning up the body and Stark, because Tony strikes Jason as the type who’ll have some kind of dramatic reaction to murdering someone. Even if they deserved it. Even if they needed it. Even if it was a kindness, on some level.

                Jason figures the odds are 50/50 Stark would’ve puked if he’d done it last night. Those odds aren’t improved by the state Tony found himself in this morning. Even Jason gets a little pukey if he does too much butchery when he’s hungover. The smell alone’s going to set Stark off.

                By the time Jason gets in the lab, he’s annoyed about the gun, annoyed about Bruce, and annoyed at the very prospect of having to clean up puke, like he’s one of Stark’s cleaning staff. He is, on some level, looking for a fight. So he’s disappointed as all fuck to find that Stark isn’t there, and the Soldier’s already in the middle of one.

                The Soldier’s belly-down on the ground, shaking hard enough that Jason can see it from clear across the room. His metal arm is completely across the cell, and the other arm is looking almost as useless. He’s scrambling his fingers against the concrete floor like he’s trying to push himself up, but can’t get the strength for it.

                There’s a stain on the floor that runs to the drain. As Jason gets closer, he realizes it’s vomit.

                He knew he’d end up cleaning up puke today.

                The Soldier’s eyes flick up his way, hazy and red. There’s almost no comprehension in his face, not even that calculated, predatory awareness that’s been creeping Jason out since the Soldier came out of the sedative.

                The Soldier blinks once and then kicks and squirms, manages to move himself maybe half a yard farther into the cell.

                He’s running away, Jason realizes. To the best of his ability.

                “Jesus,” Jason says and walks right up to the wall, stares down at him. He’s sweated through his body armor, and Jason is pretty sure there’s puke drying in his dumb, chin-length hair. “Did Stark give you his hangover?”

                It’s hard to believe that this is the same man who dropped off a bike, body half-numb, and still made the prettiest killing shot Jason’s seen in years.

                He looks wrecked.

                The basement lab door buzzes open, and Jason steps back to check who it is, body half-hidden behind a wall in case it’s someone he’s not interested in welcoming.

                It’s just Tony, though, still rumpled from sleep but looking halfway to human again. He’s wearing the same sweatpants he wore to bed last night, and his hair is sticking up a dozen different directions, and Jason can see the butt of his gun sticking out of the pocket of Tony’s MIT hoodie.

                He’s holding an offensively large cup of coffee in one hand and a plate of pop-tarts that is probably supposed to qualify as breakfast in the other. He smiles sleepily at Jason.

                “How’s the convict?” he says and sips at his coffee. “You’re gonna take him with you, right?”

                “Not like this I’m not,” Jason says and points at the Soldier. “Those kinda smells don’t come out of upholstery.”

                Stark wrinkles up his forehead and turns to look. He hisses air over his teeth, looking halfway between concerned and disgusted. “Holy shit,” he says, “it’s me at my first frat party.” He pauses, reconsiders. “No, wait, his pants are still on.”

                Jason snorts out a laugh on instinct and then replays it in his head. “Wait, what the fuck.” He swivels his head Tony’s direction. “What’d you say? Which frat was this?”

                “I’m kidding,” Tony tells him. “Jesus.”

                Jason hums and then nods, slowly. “Right,” he says. “Okay.” He really hopes Stark actually goes to MIT and isn’t just some poser in a sweater. Or Jason’s going to fuck up a lot of innocent frat boys without due cause.

                Not, he reflects, that he’s met a lot of innocent frat boys. In his experience, most of them could benefit immensely from a solid punch to the face.

                Stark drops his plate on the workbench like he’s suddenly lost his appetite and takes a fortifying sip of coffee. “Is this, like. A torture thing? Did you do this?”

                “First of all,” Jason says, “it’s polite to call it interrogation. And second of all, I can’t even get in that cell. And then also, as a point of clarification, it’s real difficult for people to talk when they’re busy vomiting up their stomach lining.”

                “Oh,” Tony says, “yeah, I can see how that would complicate things.”

                “So, no,” Jason says, “This shit is not me.”

                “Right.” Tony bobs his head and drinks more coffee.

                He looks like he’s considering something. He blinks and runs his free hand through his hair, and it doesn’t mean anything. Jason knows it doesn’t mean anything except that, maybe, Stark has a kind of low-level death wish or is just an idiot about everything that isn’t tech. But Jason can’t remember the last time someone was this relaxed around him, especially people who’ve seen him work.

                Jason wants to get his teeth in him, wants to bite at the exposed line of his throat or the soft, thoughtful curl of his mouth.

                He grabs for the coffee instead, pulls it out of Stark’s unresisting hands, and takes a drink. The taste hits immediately, but he swallows anyway. “Jesus, Stark,” Jason says, “there’s alcohol in that.”

                Stark shrugs. “Yeah, Dad keeps it by the coffeemaker.” He blinks. “Kept it. Whatever.” He clears his throat and takes his coffee back. “Anyway, it’s withdrawals. Your hitman, I mean. I’m pretty sure.”

                Jason opens his mouth to tell him to stop projecting, but then he realizes Tony might be right. Shakes, sweats, nausea, weakness. It fits, although Jason’s having a hard time imagining an organization like Hydra letting their pet assassin get himself addicted to anything irrelevant to his work.

                “Huh,” he says, and turns around to reassess the Soldier. “Wonder what he’s into.”

                “Why don’t you ask?” Stark says and smiles, a little crooked. “Could probably help him out.”

                Jason frowns, but it’s not his place, questioning Stark’s recreational activities. It’s not like his own are particularly healthy, either. “Don’t ruin that pretty brain of yours.” He settles on. “It’s my favorite part of you.”

                “Yeah,” Tony shrugs, “but you haven’t seen me naked yet.”

                Jason decides to ignore that, because he can see how it would lead them away from the topic at hand. Which is that maybe neither of them will have to kill the Winter Soldier, because it looks like his body is doing a pretty excellent job all on its own.

                “Okay,” he says, “time to check the manual.”

                “Oh, there’s a manual.” Tony watches him curiously as Jason goes across the room and digs in the bundle of clothes he’d dropped outside the cell the night before. He comes back with the red book, only a little bloodstained. And, to be fair, it’s not clear to Jason that those bloodstains are fresh.

                “Holy shit,” Tony says, sitting up, “there’s really a manual?”

                “No idea.” Jason squints at the star on the cover and then flips through the book. “It’s in Russian.”

                “Oh.” Tony lifts his free hand, palm up. “Gimmie.”

                “Gimmie,” Jason repeats, momentarily appalled. “Wait. You know Russian?”

                Stark raises his eyebrows and holds his hand out farther. Jason rolls his eyes, but he hands it over. He picks up the coffee as Tony traces a finger over the star on the cover.

                “A little,” Stark says, as he starts paging through the book. “Makes it easier to figure out what they’re up to in their weapons research.”

                “No shit?” Jason grins. “Spying on the Soviets, Stark? How far into everyone else’s business are you?”

                Stark pauses and struggles not to look smug. He fails, but his face seems to lean that way naturally, so Jason can see how it’s an uphill battle. Then, after a beat, he shrugs again. “I’m not in Batman’s business yet,” He admits, and it sounds like he takes that personally.

                Jason laughs. “Trust me, kid, you don’t want to be.”

                “Well,” Tony says, “it’s the only way I know to contact you. If I need to. After you leave, I mean.”

                Jason takes a bracing sip of the coffee and tells himself not to be charmed or flattered or pleased. He’s all three anyway. “Or,” he says, “you could just ask for my phone number.”

                “Could,” Tony admits and then frowns down at the book. “This is gibberish.”

                “Is it? Probably coded.” Jason knows a little Russian. The parts that are relevant to his work. But almost everything he knows is spoken. Cyrillic throws him, and translating the Hydra documents on the Winter Soldier has been a damn nightmare. If Stark’s better at this, he doesn’t mind letting him do the work. “What’s it say?”

                “Hm,” Tony squints and then clears his throat. “Longing, rusted. Seventeen. Daybreak? Furnace, nine. Benign.”

                The Winter Soldier’s watching them. It’s the most intense focus Jason’s seen out of him all morning. He’s still lying on the floor, looking more like roadkill than a notorious international assassin, but he’s turned to look at them. He’s staring at Tony.

                “Homecoming,” Stark says. “One. Freight, ah. Something. Freight train? Oh, no. Freight car. The last one's freight car.” He shrugs. “That’s it. No fucking idea. Code, maybe. Yeah. Or really shitty poetry.”

                “Read it in Russian,” Jason suggests, eyes on the Soldier. “Let’s see if it rhymes.”

                Tony shrugs and starts reciting.

                The Winter Soldier, Jason notes, proceeds to lose his shit.

                He heaves up on his knees, pale and sweating, and has the look of someone who’s just been gutshot. Wide-eyed, breath caught, caught in the moment between realizing he’s been hurt and starting to feel it.

                At what Jason thinks is homecoming, he’s shaking his head. Small, ineffectual denials.

                Jason’s not squeamish. He hurts people. It’s what the does. But he does it for a reason, not just for the hell of it. And there’s something sick about this, something wrong. There’s too much fear in the Soldier’s eyes, and it’s fucking disorienting, the way Jason hasn’t seen anything beyond a glimmer of emotion before now and, suddenly, it’s like he’s looking at a rat in a trap.

                “Stark, shut up,” Jason says, right over the top of him. Stark falters and lifts his head to look at him, incredulous. “Shut up, cut it out. Stop reading.”

                Stark purses his lips and then follows Jason’s eyes to the Soldier. “Oh.” He clears his throat. “You think he just really hates bad poetry?”

                “I think,” Jason says, “that we should ask him.”

                Stark considers that for a moment. “Isn’t he supposed to be really dangerous? Didn’t you tell me that if he got out he’d kill everyone in the building?”

                “I said that when I was locked up and couldn’t stop him,” Jason says. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll protect you.”

                “Yeah, great.” Stark takes his coffee and his breakfast and goes to one of the computers. “You want me to open the door?”

                “In a second,” Jason says. He stands and stretches, loosens up his muscles. It doesn’t look like the Soldier is faking, but he might be, and Jason isn’t going to get himself murdered just because someone’s especially good at triggering his own gag reflex. He shakes the lazy morning out of his muscles and then circles around to grab his gun out of Stark’s pocket. “Stop stealing this.”

                “I like it,” Stark tells him, not the slightest bit apologetic.

                “I noticed,” Jason says. “You got any water down here?”

                “What?” Stark says, like he’s never heard a more nonsensical question.

                “Water?” Jason tries again. “That clear liquid that isn’t vodka?”

                Stark gestures at a minifridge, tucked against a back wall. “Should be some in there. Probably.”

                “Thanks.” Jason wanders over and kicks the fridge open, fishes a bottle of water out from the very back. And then he walks over to the cell. “Okay, let me in, and then lock it up behind me.”

                Stark looks like he isn’t thrilled about that, but he doesn’t argue. The door opens, and Jason walks in, wrinkling his face when the smell hits. The whole place smells like a sick ward. Like a sick ward in a plague city where all medical personnel got evacuated awhile back. Stark’s cells might be excellent for testing explosives, but they don’t breathe particularly well.

                Jason stands, back to the door, facing the Soldier, until the door shuts behind him. The click and hum of the speakers above him means Stark’s listening in, which isn’t great, but isn’t surprising either.

                “We finally get to chat,” Jason says. “Hope you live up to all the anticipation.”

                The Soldier is on the ground again. He’s dragged himself over to a corner, back to the wall, and he’s watching Jason warily. Jason can tell, from the way he’s got his feet under him, that he thinks he’s got a chance of defending himself. Or, at least, that he intends to try.

                Jason takes his time wandering closer, watches the tension slowly ratcheting up in the man’s legs and back and arm. He stops near the drain and then steps carefully around the vomit that’s still drying.

                “Having a good morning?” he asks.

                The Soldier locks his jaw and cuts his eyes away. He’s staring at nothing, not even bothering to look to Stark. He’s dismissing both of them, and that pisses Jason off more than he should let it.

                Jason thinks back to Stark, what he’d said, as he read. Those aren’t the sort of words he’d used much in his own interactions with Russians. He doesn’t know them, but he repeats them, carefully, following Stark’s pronunciation. “желание,” he says. “Ржa--”

                “Stop.” The Soldier says. It’s the first word Jason’s heard him speak. It’s rough and hollow, like it was buried somewhere deep and dragged up fighting, like it hurt to say anything at all.

                The Soldier’s eyes shut; his head tips back against the wall, baring his throat. “Just. Stop.” And then, quiet, buried on an exhale. “Please.”

                “What’s it do?” Jason says. He crouches a few feet from the Soldier. He’s close, and he’s a threat, and he could shoot him or stab him, and the Soldier’s vulnerable and complaint. He isn’t fighting, isn’t making it hard to kill him. Jason likes this less and less. “The words, what’ll they do?”

                The Soldier’s eyebrows pull together, and he shakes his head.

                “желание,” Jason says, starting over. “Ржaвый. Семна --”

                “Stop,” he says, and he opens his eyes, looks right at Jason. There’s that fear again. Jason’s never minded when people look at him with hate or contempt or rage, but fear can make him feel wrong, twist him up in ways he’s never really liked. “You brought the gun. Use it.”

                “I don’t kill on other people’s orders,” Jason tells him. “That’s how you and I are different.”

                Although, it’s nice to have permission. It’ll make it easier later, when he does what needs to be done.

                The Soldier gives him a shitty look and then closes his eyes again. His breathing is shallow, like he’s trying to keep pace with a racing heart. “Don’t say them.”

                Jason’s not as much of an asshole as he lets people believe. Not when he doesn’t have to be. But he’s going to find out what the words do, one way or another. “What’ll they do?”

                The Soldier presses his lips together and then takes a deep breath. He’s still shaking, although it’s just small tremors now. “Reset,” he says, finally. He lifts his hand to gesture at his head, and Jason watches the way his fingers shake. “Ready to comply.”

                “Okay,” Jason says, “and from the spectacularly vague comment, I’m supposed to gather what?”

                “It’s.” The Soldier opens his eyes again and looks at Stark. Jason would be offended by that, but there’s a weight to the Soldier’s gaze. Something heavy in the way he’s staring. “It’s how they make me do things. Hurt people.”

                He says it, staring at Stark, and Jason realizes what that look in his eyes it.

                Regret. Guilt.

                Fuck, Jason thinks. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck.

                The speaker clicks. Stark’s voice is tight again, like it got at the worst moments the night before. “Can we.” He says and then stops. Jason doesn’t look away from the Winter Soldier, because, if he looks at Tony's face, he’s going to have difficulty retaining his objectivity. “Can we not kill him? Is that an option? Can we make that an option?”

                Fuck, Jason thinks, one more time.

Chapter Text

                There’s a long moment where Jason thinks about it. The gun’s at his hip, and he could pull it, disable the safety, and bury a bullet in the Winter Soldier’s brain before Tony could do a damn thing about it. Before Tony could put down his coffee or even process what’s happening.

                And Stark would probably be pissed, and horrified, and he’d get sick and feel betrayed and kick Jason the hell out of his house, but it would be done. Jason would take and destroy the body, and he’d make damn sure no one ever brought Bucky Barnes back for round three.

                And then there’d be no more Winter Soldier.

                It’s an easy thing. Jason knows exactly how easy it is.  

                The Soldier is watching him. Compliant again. He’s got his head thrown back against the wall, and Jason wouldn’t even need to get his gun. He could break his neck without having to fight for it. Just lean forward, move quick, and it’d be over.

                This is supposed the sort of thing that’s easy. A justified kill. A necessary one.

                This is supposed to be the sort of death that even Bruce wouldn’t bitch too much about. I killed the Winter Soldier, he’d say to Bruce, and Bruce would just sigh and stare morosely into the middle distance.

                Jason tries to imagine the reaction he’d get if he elaborated. If he told Bruce everything he knows. I killed the Winter Soldier, but Bucky Barnes was in there, too. And Barnes let me do it. He was real sweet about it. Didn’t even try to fight.

                “Hey,” Tony says, over the speaker. “Red Hood. I know you kill people. But you heard what he said, right?”

                Damn right he heard what he said. Jason narrows his eyes at the Soldier, tries to express his full disapproval with the tension in his jaw and the sharp slant of his brows. If anyone ever did to him what Hydra did to the Soldier, he’d eat a bullet the second he came up for air.

                “If you’re gonna do it,” the Soldier says, voice low and rasping, “get it over with. I gotta throw up again.”

                Jason searches his face for arrogance, for the sort of bravado that Jason could answer with violence and not feel shitty about later. Instead, he sees acceptance tinged with the kind of marrow-deep indifference that comes from being pushed past exhaustion. And he sees, buried deep, mostly hidden, the faintest glimmer of amusement, just barely curling up one corner of the Soldier’s mouth.

                “Something funny?” Jason asks, because he doesn’t have anything to say about everything else he can see in the Soldier’s face.

                “I’m gonna get killed by a pair of teenagers,” the Soldier says, that small curl of a smile growing into a full grin. “After all of this. It’s you two.”

                “I’m not a teenager,” Tony says, like that’s the point. “And we’re not killing you.”

                “Well,” the Soldier says, settling back against the wall, “just one teenager then.”

                In a second, Jason’s on him. Leaves the gun, doesn’t worry about his knives, just gets his hands around his throat and his knees on either side of his hips, pinning him against the wall.

                “It was gonna be quick,” Jason tells him, quiet, right into his ear. “I was gonna be nice. Bullet, right to the head. Would’ve been over fast. You wouldn’t even know it was happening.”

                The Soldier doesn’t fight him, but Jason can feel his pulse under his fingers. The rabbit beat of it, fast and light. The Soldier’s legs kick beneath him, weak, reflexive.

                The look in his eyes is pained but not scared enough. Jason wants him to understand exactly how serious he is. He keeps him pinned with one hand and drives the other fist into his stomach, hard.

                The Soldier jerks and then seizes, and Jason can feel it, can see the instinctive panic in his eyes. He’s choking on his own vomit, and he could die like this, easy, if Jason just holds on for a few more seconds.

                “Fucking stop it!” Stark yells, popping the speakers.

                Jason obliges. He takes his hand off the Soldier’s throat, grabs his shoulder, and flips him so he’s belly-down on the ground, heaving.

                “That’s right,” Jason says, soothingly. “Don’t breathe it in.”

                The Soldier pushes himself up with his badly shaking arm and spits up bile all over the floor. When it looks like he’s done, Jason leans in again.

                “You fuck either one of us over,” Jason tells him, soft, so Stark can’t hear, “and I won’t be nice, and it won’t be quick, and you will damn sure know it’s happening.”

                Jason hears the cell door slide open, and he turns, incredulous, to see Stark standing there, looking spitting mad. “Tony--” he starts, standing up.

                “No, fuck you,” Tony yells. “I’m trying to eat breakfast. You’re trying to murder—fuck! I haven’t even finished my coffee yet. I’m revoking your visitation rights. Get out of here. Leave him alone.”

                “It’s all done,” Jason says, hands held out in front of him, trying to make himself seem as unthreatening as possible. “I just had to clarify a few things with him. That’s it. I’m not gonna fuck with him anymore.”

                “You’re damn right,” Tony says. There’s a bit of hysteria in his voice. Jason can see how maybe he’s been emotionally overtaxed recently. “Look at him! How the hell can you do that to him when he looks like that?”

                Jason slides his eyes over and cannot believe the fucking nerve of this asshole, who’s sprawled out on his side like he might literally die any passing second. He has put himself in the recovery position. Jason can’t believe him.

                “Knock it off,” Jason tells him. “Stark, he’s playing it up on purpose.”

                “All I’m saying,” Stark says, “is that I think both of us would feel a lot better if you’d get the hell out.”

                “Both of us.” Jason looks between the two of them, incredulous. “Baby Stark, please tell me that you are not fucking backwards Stockholming yourself. You are not responsible for this asshole. You do not know him. He killed your dad.”

                “Someone made him kill my dad,”  Tony says. “That’s what he said. That’s what you said. And you keep saying he’s a robot. I don’t torture a robot that does something shitty. I reprogram it.”

                “What the fuck,” Jason says. “Robot was a metaphor. He’s not a computer program. You can’t change his nature.”

                “I’m not trying to change his nature,” Tony says. “I’m trying to change his target.”

                “If you’ve got people that you want dead,” Jason says, exasperated, “tell me their names, and I will handle it. You’ve got no business fucking around with the Winter Soldier.”

                “He killed my dad,” Tony says, throwing his words right back in his face. “What business do you have with him?”

                Jason opens his mouth with no plan except to say the shittiest thing he can think of, and the Winter Soldier interrupts him by throwing up again.

                But, this time, he doesn’t even bother to push himself up off the floor.

                Jason blinks and crouches down. “Aw, shit,” he says. “Maybe he’s not faking.” He grabs the back of the Soldier’s shirt and drags him away from his own puke.

                “Oh, really? What was the first indication, for you?”

                “Fuck off,” Jason says, checking the Soldier’s pulse and trying to get a look at his eyes.

                “I’m just trying to figure out what I’m working with,” Tony says. “So, in the future, I can skip to whatever level of really fucking obvious you’re most comfortable with.”

                Jason heaves a sigh and looks up at Stark. He’s tempted to have a full, screaming argument with him, but there seems to be a fair chance that the Soldier will keel over dead in the middle of it, which is likely to piss Stark off even more.

                “Okay,” Jason says, turning back to the Soldier. “The fuck is going on with you?”

                “Dependent,” The Soldier says, working his jaw like maybe he’s going to puke again. “So, if I run, can’t get far.”

                “Huh,” Jason says. “Know what it is?”

                The Soldier gives him a flat look, which Jason figures is more or less fair. After all, what was the point of keeping him chemically dependent if the Soldier knew what the cocktail was? The Winter Soldier just killed Howard Stark in his own driveway. It’s not like the average CVS pharmacist could put up much of a fight if the Soldier dropped by to lift their supply of opioids.

                “Should we take him to a doctor?” Stark asks, chewing at his lip. “I know some that are, you know. Discreet.”

                “Of course you do,” Jason says and ignores the shitty look Tony gives him in response. He considers the Soldier for a moment and then unscrews the cap on his bottle of water and holds it out to him. “Thirsty?”

                The Soldier eyes the water for a second and then takes it. He’s shaking bad enough that he spills a fair amount across the concrete, but gets a few decent sips before he has to set the bottle down and breathe deep, like even that much effort exhausted him.

                “Sets in fast,” Jason observes. “Those guys who came for you yesterday, figure they had something with them?”

                The Soldier thinks about it for a moment and then nods. Jason stands up, leaving the water with him.

                “Okay,” he says, “come on, Stark.”

                “Should we leave him alone?” Tony says. “Look at him.”

                “I’ve gotta go toss a Hydra van,” Jason says. “And you’re not staying in here with him.”

                Stark frowns and stays where he is, arms crossed over his chest. “He doesn’t look dangerous.”

                “Yeah, he doesn’t have to look dangerous.” Jason ushers Tony toward the door. “He looks sick, he acts sick, he might be sick. But maybe he’s not as sick as he seems. And he’d try shit with you that he wouldn’t try with me, so c’mon, get the hell out. He shot your dad in the head, remember? Jesus Christ.”

                “Yeah, I really don’t need you to remind me that my dad’s dead every five seconds,” Tony tells him, but he’s moving while he says it, so Jason doesn’t mind his tone so much.

                “Apparently you fucking do,” Jason argues, as they step out of the cell and Stark heads to the computer to seal the door. “Now, I’m going to go look for whatever he says is in the van. You don’t have to stay here, but he absolutely fucking does, okay? Don’t let him out. I’m not fucking kidding.”

                “Yeah,” Stark says, jaw locked, hand curling around his coffee cup. “I hear you, asshole.”

 

 

                Jason gets about halfway back from the van before it really settles in how easily someone like Stark would get told don’t let him out and translate that as sure, he’s got his shots, he’s ready for a playdate. Jason knows that, because it’s exactly what he would hear, if someone said it to him.

                “Son of a bitch,” he says, and starts running.

                He catches them on the stairs coming up from the basement lab. For a second, he honestly cannot fucking believe what he’s seeing, but then he remembers he’s dealing with Tony “Shitshow” Stark and absolutely believes it.

                The Soldier’s been stripped out of his heavy body armor. He’s in a thin white undershirt, so soaked in sweat that it’s practically translucent, and those same pants, with all the holsters and sheaths gone. His boots are gone. His glove is gone.

                Stark’s got the Soldier’s arm thrown over his shoulder, has his own arm wrapped around his waist, and is dragging him, resolutely, up the stairs.

                “Oh,” Stark says, when he sees Jason. “Shit.”

                Jason gets the sickening feeling that this is what Bruce felt, all those times he caught Jason in the middle of something irredeemably stupid. It is, Jason notes, much less funny from this side of things.

                “The fuck took you so long,” Stark says, going on the offensive. Jason recognizes that tactic; it had always been his favorite, too.

                “If you wanna die so bad,” Jason tells him, “I promise you there are better ways to do it.”

                The Soldier lifts his head to look at Jason. He’s pale, even more so than usual, and he has that special sort of vague, distracted look in his eyes that says he’s about to pass out. Whatever he sees on Jason’s face makes him frown and then shuffle half in front of Tony. “My idea,” he says, wheezing it like he’s just sprinted his way through a marathon instead of climbing about ten stairs. “Told him to.”

                “Like hell,” Tony says.

                “The fuck you did,” Jason says, at the exact same moment. “Don’t think I’m not pissed at you for letting him, but I know a Stark idea when I see one.”

                “What’s that supposed to mean?” Tony asks, chin jutting out like he thinks they’re going to have a fight, right here, with the Soldier a handful of seconds away from toppling over and taking Tony down with him.

                Like that’s how this farce is going to end, with Jason standing at the top of the stairs, Hydra drug bag in hand, while Tony and the Winter Soldier lay sprawled at the bottom with twin broken necks. Like this is some kind of bullshit, Oscar-bait Scorsese movie.

                Jason tromps down the stairs, and the Soldier and Stark start up the stupidest, most ludicrous game of shuffle step, each of them trying to edge in front of the other. Jason cannot fucking believe he’s seeing this. If he weren’t so deeply pissed off, he’d maybe find the whole thing sweet.

                But he is pissed. So, instead, he throws the zippered pouch right at Stark, who fumbles to catch it, and drops the Winter Soldier in the process. Jason catches the Soldier and sweeps him back into the same bridal carry he’d used to bring him downstairs.

                “Let’s play to our strengths, Stark,” Jason says. “You take the drugs. I’ll do the heavy lifting.”

                “Fuck you,” Tony says, but he’s already opening the bag to look inside. “Don’t bash his head into anything this time.”

                Jason rolls his eyes and looks down at the Soldier, who’s holding every muscle in his body tense. “Will you relax?” he says. “Christ, you’re bony without that body armor.”

                The Soldier frowns at him and then closes his eyes. “Gonna puke again,” he says.

                “Shit.” Tony points up the stairs. “Not on the stairs. Come on.”

                “Oh, yeah, that’s an interesting question,” Jason says, as he starts up after him. “Where the hell were you taking him?”

                “Shower,” Tony says, calmly, as if what just came out of his face was a perfectly reasonable proposition and not a death wish.

                “Are you fucking---“ Jason has to take a calming breath to keep himself from swinging the Soldier at the back of Stark’s head like the world’s most puke-inclined bludgeon. “Stark, if you found his hygiene so fucking offensive, there’s a sprinkler system in your testing chamber.”

                “Yeah, but it’s not hooked up to the hot-water line,” Tony says, as if that matters.

                “This,” Jason says, hefting the Soldier, “is a Hydra assassin. He doesn’t need a fucking Jacuzzi. Stop treating him like a guest. He’s a brain damaged serial killer. He’s not some robot you can reprogram, Stark. You can’t fix meat problems.”

                Stark flips him off without breaking stride.

                The Soldier pukes all down the front of Jason’s borrowed shirt.

                Jason thinks, a little desperately, that at least back in Gotham people fucking respected him.

                “Serves you right,” Tony says, when he surveys the damage done to Jason’s shirt. “Brain damaged serial killer. I can’t believe you said that in front of him.”

                “I am trying,” Jason says, as patiently as he can, which, at this point, isn’t especially patient at all, “to keep you from getting yourself killed.”

                “And I appreciate that,” Tony says. “What I’d really appreciate is if you could do that while also not being a complete dick.”

                “Do the Hydra soldiers give you this much sass?” Jason asks, looking down at the Soldier, who blinks fuzzily up at him. “I’m thinking about changing sides. This one’s shaping up to be in-fucking-sufferable.”

                The Soldier seems to consider the question for a moment. “No. Not much sass,” he says. “Think I got my jaw broken once for laughing at a superior.”

                Tony steps wrong on the stairs, and Jason swings the Winter Soldier’s legs around to steady him. Fucking impeccable team work, he notes. He’s always excelled at working with people. Bruce can fuck right off with his opinions to the contrary.

                “That, wow,” Tony says. “Seems like overkill.”

                “Depends on the joke,” Jason says, more magnanimously.

                Tony gives him another irritated look, but Jason really doesn’t know what the hell the kid wants from him. He’s carrying the Winter Soldier upstairs for him, with fresh puke on his shirt, so the Soldier can have a nice bath.

                “Listen, Stark,” Jason says, as he shuffles through the threshold of Tony’s bedroom door, Soldier still safely nestled in his arms, “I’m gonna handle this whole shower bullshit. He’s gotta be dehydrated. He needs fluids. Seems like this is a house that runs on booze. See if you can find him some Pedialyte, huh?”

                “Please.” Stark looks deeply offended. “I’ll just get him a saline drip.”

                “That’s an option?” Jason says, incredulous. He is, for a moment, angrier at Bruce than he has been a long time. “That’s a fucking thing you rich people can do, and he never-- Goddamn it.”

                “Who never what?” Stark asks, because, as usual, he’s paying too much attention to the things Jason doesn’t want him to hear. “And I’m not leaving you alone with him in the shower. You can’t be trusted.”

                “Oh, fuck off,” Jason says. “I’ll be sure to keep my hands above the waist.”

                “See,” Tony says, “I meant you can’t be trusted not to murder him. Worrying about you feeling him up hadn’t even occurred to me. Until now.”

                “I’m not going to do either one. He’s really not my type.” Jason shoulders open the bathroom door and sets the Soldier down on the lip of the tub. “Now,” he says, as he strips out of his puke-shirt and throws it on the floor, “let’s see that bag.”

                Stark stares at him for a moment, and Jason grins, flexes just to show off. That seems to throw Tony right out of it, and he just rolls his eyes, does his best to look unimpressed.

                “We’re playing to our strengths, remember?” Stark says, as he drops the bag on the counter, flicks it open, and starts washing his hands. “How are his veins?”

                Jason stares at the Soldier and then turns back to Tony. “He, uh. Appears to have them.” Tony just stares at him, so he shrugs. “Kid, mostly my experience with veins is opening them up.”

                Stark grimaces and comes across the room with a syringe, a tourniquet, and what Jason figures is an alcohol pad, which he uses to wipe one patch of skin clean. The Soldier tenses up, damn near toppling off the tub before he manages to right himself. He’s looking at the syringe with what appears to be quite a cocktail of mixed emotions.

                “Not all of that,” he says. “Just—half, maybe.” And then, with his eyes skittering to the bag. “How many doses?”

                “Just two,” Stark says, and then shrugs. “Once I find out what’s in here, we can get more, though. Probably. If you need.”

                “You a chemist now, too, Stark?” Jason asks, as he takes the tourniquet and starts tying it around the Soldier’s upper arm. It gives him a chance to gauge the strength there, and, judging by the even look the Soldier levels his way, he’s not as subtle about groping the Soldier’s bicep as he should’ve been.

                “By tomorrow morning?” Stark flicks the barrel and presses the plunger, focused on the syringe in his hands. “Sure. I will be.”

                The Soldier, so damn biddable when he isn’t murdering people or turning Stark against him, is slowly clenching and unclenching his fist. His veins are prominent under his skin.

                Stark sits next to the Soldier, one foot in the tub, one on the tile, and he pulls the Soldier’s arm into his lap. “Gonna be a slight sting,” Tony warns and then ducks his head, studies his target, and sticks the needle right in the Soldier’s vein.

                The Soldier doesn’t flinch, but he eyes the level in the syringe with an amount of anxiety that makes Jason finds fascinating. Tony pulls back at just under halfway, unties the tourniquet, and then stands up, heads back to the bag. “Oh. There’s no bandaids.” He puts the syringe in a clear cylinder, caps it, and throws it on the counter like it won’t shock the housekeeper.

                “’s fine,” The Soldier says, and Jason blinks, watches the way the Soldier’s chest catches a little on the exhale. Whatever was in that syringe started hitting within thirty seconds.

                Not that Jason faults Hydra for moving fast. Howard Stark is dead because the drugs Jason used didn’t move fast enough.

                “Okay,” Jason says. “Bath time for the serial killer, or he’s gonna drown in the bathwater. Why don’t you go get that bullshit rich boy saline drip ready?”

                Stark turns around and crosses his arms over his chest. He looks hellbent on staying exactly where he is.

                Jason heaves a heavy sigh. “Kid. Come on. It’s creepy if we both stay, and I’m not leaving you alone with him again. You can’t fucking stay away from him, and you don’t have the combat experience to stop him if he gets shitty with you.”

                “I can stay away from him. That’s not—don’t make this weird,” Tony says, as if he didn’t make things weird the second he tased Jason and pulled a gun on both of them. “We’ll both stay.”

                “Kid, you are being so fucking weird about this.” Jason frowns down at the Soldier, who’s looking between the two of them with his trademark blank stare. “If you’re just waiting around to see what he looks like naked, I can promise you, it’s not as great as the body armor would have you believe.”

                Tony looks confused for a moment and then shakes his head and gestures at the Soldier. “You pick,” he says. “Who stays?”

                The Soldier blinks three times in a row, like Tony tripped some kind of breaker in his head. He opens his mouth, pauses, and then closes it again. It takes him something like fifteen seconds to say anything, but, when he does, he tips his head Jason’s direction and says, “Him.”

                “What the hell?” Tony says, “Really?”

                “Told you that Metallica shirt looked better on me,” Jason says, not even trying to keep the smugness out of his voice. He doesn’t know why the Soldier picked him, but he’s pleased anyway. He’s always liked winning, even if the prize isn’t exactly worthwhile.

                “He’s probably just scared you were gonna backhand him if he said me,” Tony says, sullen. Apparently, he’s not great a losing. That just makes the victory sweeter.

                “Maybe,” Jason says, not minding if that’s true. “Saline drip, sweetheart.”

                “You are such an asshole,” Tony tells him, but there’s an undercurrent of laughter in his voice. “If you kill him, I’m calling the cops. And Batman.”

                “Not funny,” Jason calls after him, even though it is a little funny. Stark snorts and pulls the bathroom door half-closed behind him, like he thinks hearing a telltale thump or shout would give him a chance of stopping Jason from killing the Soldier.

                “Okay,” Jason says, looking back at the Soldier. “How do you want to do this?”

Chapter Text

                Jason hops up on the marble countertop and watches the Winter Soldier struggle to get out of his clothes. He could help, sure, but he doesn’t see much point in it. For one, it seems like maybe that’s the sort of thing that could offend Tony Stark’s surprisingly delicate sense of decorum. And also, Jason’s interested, always, in the Soldier’s capabilities.

                If he got his hands under that shirt, peeled the soaked cotton free from overheated skin, he’d get maybe half a second to graze the muscles underneath with his fingertips, try to gauge their strength.  This way, he gets to watch, impassive, as he tracks the way those muscles work. Or, more accurately, how well they’re working.

                It’s true that Jason’s always been a tactile learner. That was one of the things Bruce always lamented. Jason could never sit still; Jason could never keep his hands to himself. Jason was always getting himself shoulder-deep in trouble, just to see how it worked. But Jason’s older now. And, however much he resented having to learn, he’s found that there’s some benefit to observing from a distance.

                Mostly what he’s observing now is that the Winter Soldier definitely isn’t fully human.

                Jason’s had his ribs broken more than once. He knows what the healing process is like for that. He knows how bruises bloom and fade. He knows the pattern of it, the colors that indicate different stages in healing. He knows about road burn and knife wounds, and he knows that the Soldier’s injuries are progressing too quickly toward recovery.

                The Soldier sees him looking and tips his head, face going back to that boring blankness that he trots out whenever he’s trying to hide something. After a moment, he arches an eyebrow like he’s tired of waiting for Jason to explain himself.  

                Jason guesses it’s kind of weird, staring at someone who’s stripping naked, but he figured the two of them understood each other. He wouldn’t do this to a civilian. He wouldn’t act this way with Stark. It would be weird, and invasive, and the sort of thing that might get him landed on some sort of registry.

                But the Soldier’s not a civilian. And Jason’s not staring at a human body. He’s assessing the status of a weapon.

                “You done?” the Soldier asks, after a beat of uncomfortable silence. His breathing’s easier, Jason notes. But there’s a slight burr to his words, the first rumbling hints of a slur. “Got what you need?”

                “You heal pretty fast,” Jason says. He doesn’t need to explain himself, and that’s not what he’s doing. But he’s spent enough time around Bruce’s Justice League circus freaks to get tired of coddling the enhanced elephant in the room. “Faster than people should.”

                “Yeah, well,” the Soldier taps his hand against his chest. “Lab rat.”

                “You got any other abilities I should know about?” Jason asks, pleasantly enough, given the circumstances.

                The Soldier smiles, small and crooked and tired. “I might.”

                The amount of sass and shit-talk Jason’s been getting lately is truly unprecedented. He thinks he should probably be pissed about it, but, when it’s Stark, he’s too busy finding it endearing. And this is one of those disorienting moments where some spark of humanity in the Soldier triggers a matching flint-strike in Jason.

                There’s something in the Soldier that Jason could like. Something in the combination of beautiful marksmanship and wry humor and tired eyes that he wants to dig into, bring to the surface.

                It’s not that the Soldier is unsalvageable. Jason doesn’t make calls like that. He doesn’t think anyone should make calls like that. He can see how maybe, in some other world, with different people in different circumstances, there’s a chance that even the Joker could have been saved. Jason understands that. He understands how much that chance of redemption means to Bruce. He knows that it’s Bruce’s weakest point, his one constant vulnerability.

                Jason doesn’t share that vulnerability. Because in this world, with these people in these circumstances, the Soldier is a threat. And whether or not he’s salvageable is ultimately irrelevant.

                Jason doesn’t want to kill him in front of Stark. He thinks, maybe, he doesn’t want to kill him at all. But that won’t stop him from doing it. In the end, however bad he feels about it, the responsible thing to do is to put rabid dogs down. And that’s as much a mercy for the dog as it is for the people that dog could hurt.

                “You gonna take that shower?” Jason asks, kicking his legs a little and smiling wide and friendly. “Or was this whole thing just an excuse to get naked with me?”

                The Soldier blinks at him and then assesses him, eyes dropping to Jason’s boots and working methodically back up to his eyes. “You’re not my type either,” the Soldier tells him, after a moment.  

                Jason’s confused by the either until he remembers telling Stark that the Soldier wasn’t his type.

                The truth is anyone who can drop someone with a single shot while actively falling off of a running motorcycle is absolutely Jason’s type, even when he knows they really shouldn’t be. Maybe especially when he knows that. But Jason doesn’t see a single reason to bring that up.

                “Noted,” Jason says, instead. “So take your damn shower.”

                The Soldier turns to do that, and Jason is gratified to see him struggle with the knobs and buttons. There’s a goddamn plethora, and Jason knows, because he spent a fair amount of his morning doing the same exact thing, but it’s still funny. And Jason still laughs.

                “I know,” he says, as the Soldier’s hand hesitates over all that shining chrome. “Kinda makes you worried you’re gonna launch yourself into orbit if you press the wrong ones.”

                The Soldier ignores him, flips a few switches, tests the water, and then steps under the spray. Jason gets a few seconds of watching the water run over him, and then the Soldier slides the shower door shut and the glass fogs, obscuring him from view.

                Jason takes this opportunity to reflect on what the hell he’s still doing here, and how things have gotten so fantastically out of his control.

                He could take the Soldier and leave. Tony would yell, and he might even put up a fight, but he couldn’t actually stop him. The regrettable part of that is that, if Tony elects to fight him about it, he’s shown himself to be obstinate enough and armed enough that Jason might actually have to fight back.

                Jason works himself through it, imagines slamming a fist into Tony’s stubborn jaw or smirking mouth, and he grimaces. Doesn’t want to. Might have to anyway.

                It wouldn’t be the first time he’d hurt someone he didn’t want to hurt. Wouldn’t even be the first time he’d done it intentionally. And, objectively speaking, roughing up Tony Stark a little is hardly the worst thing he’s ever done.

                But he finds himself hoping, a touch more sincerely than he’s comfortable with, that it doesn’t come to that.

                This, he thinks, is how he lost control of the situation. He let Tony Stark take it away from him, and some significant part of him doesn’t feel inclined to take it back.

                And then, right when he’s mired in increasingly incredulous self-reflection, he realizes that the Winter Soldier hasn’t moved in about ten seconds.

                Jason blinks, straightens up. He’d been subconsciously monitoring the Soldier, registering and subsequently dismissing the regular shower sounds, but the prolonged silence brings him back, makes him focus in. He can’t see detail through the fogged glass, but he can see a human form, slouched against the far wall.

                “Son of a bitch,” Jason says, standing up. “I swear to God, if you drown yourself in the shower, I’m shipping your ass back to Hydra for a refund. What the fuck.”

                Jason shoves the glass door open, and it rattles quietly on its track, but the noise – and Jason’s approach – doesn’t seem to reach the Soldier at all. He’s standing with his back mostly to Jason, head against the wall, and he’s breathing slow and even, but Jason can see his eyes staring at the tiling an inch or two from his face. There’s not a single thing in those pretty blue eyes. All that intelligent awareness is gone. His mouth hangs open, and he doesn’t even flinch when Jason slaps his hand against the glass wall.

                “Shit,” Jason says, not sure if he’s amused or disturbed, “you are fucking out.”

                He reaches out, figures he’ll just shake him a little, and his fingertips barely brush the Soldier’s arm before all hell breaks loose.

                The Soldier, Jason realizes, is fast.

                Maybe faster than he is. And that’s a disturbing thought, because there’s no way he’s at full strength right now, no way that what Jason’s seeing – what he is currently fighting against – is the best the Soldier can do.

                There’s a quick, confusing struggle, made all the more disorienting because the first thing the Soldier does is drag him under the spray of water and slam his head against the stone tiling, hard.

                But Jason’s bigger, and stronger. And healthier. And, although he feels like an asshole even pointing it out in his own head, he has two arms.

                He gets the Soldier pinned against the wall, which is a Goddamn undertaking, since the Soldier keeps swinging at him and is dripping wet and slippery. “Calm down,” he says, loud. And, when that just gets him an attempted headbutt to the face, he crowds him, gets a hand around his throat. He thinks about using the words, reciting that shitty Russian poetry, but he doesn’t. “Calm down. For fucks sake, you are the worst at showers.”

                There’s a pause, and then the Soldier relaxes. “Oh,” he says. He has the nerve to look vaguely embarrassed. Jason loosens his grip but doesn’t let him go entirely. “Sorry.”

                “You hit me in my pretty face,” Jason tells him. He can’t tell if he’s bleeding, but the sting alone says it’ll bruise. “Just cuz you don’t like it doesn’t give you any Goddamn reason to go around ruining it for other people.”

                “It’s a bad idea,” the Soldier says, right over the top of the last part of Jason’s sentence, “to sneak up on me.”

                “I wasn’t sneaking,” Jason says, offended. “I monologued the whole fucking way over.”

                “Don’t touch me,” the Soldier says, too fast, spitting out phrases like he can’t quite find the rhythm of a regular sentence structure. “When I’m not looking.”

                “Sweetheart,” Jason says, and doesn’t mean to. He charges on quickly, hoping they can both pretend he didn’t say it at all. “I’m not interested in touching you no matter where you’re looking.”

                “Doing it at a lot.” The Soldier flexes his chest a little, less like he’s trying to get free than like he’s trying to make a point. Jason realizes, abruptly, that he’s way closer than he needs to be. “Touching me a lot,” the Soldier clarifies, really fucking unnecessarily.

                “Don’t let it go to your head,” Jason says. “I was trying not to get beaten to death in a rich boy’s shower. It may come as a fucking shock to you, given the shitshow of recent events, but I’ve still got some dignity left.”

                “You’re safe now,” the Soldier tells him, and there’s that flash of a smile again, knowing and wry.

                “Yeah,” Jason says, and steps back. “Thanks.”

                There’s a beat where they’re still standing under the spray of Stark’s ridiculous waterfall shower. Jason’s got too much adrenaline and not nearly enough outlet. He’s having a difficult time disengaging from what promised to be a beautiful fight. The comedown’s always the hardest part.

                Jason ditched his shirt awhile ago, and the Soldier’s not wearing a damn thing. When Jason looks at him now, he’s lost some of that assessing a weapon clarity that he had before.

                It’s an odd moment. Jason’s mind is a pack of poorly trained dogs, chasing too many rabbits at once.

                The Soldier’s eyes narrow a little, assessing him all over again, and he steps away from the tiling. He’s breathing harder than before, and Jason wonders if he’s having his own problems with adrenaline. If his brain dumped enough survival chemicals into his system to temporarily shut down or overpower whatever it is that had him dazed and dopey a little earlier.

                “You gonna wash my hair?” the Soldier asks, and there is so much fuck off in his tone that Jason, for a second, really, deeply, desperately doesn’t want to kill him.

                He wants this Soldier around for a while longer. He wants to wind him up and set him ticking his robot way back at his handlers. He wants Stark to reprogram him. He wants to see all that danger, all that safety-off, hammer-back threat unleashed on someone that deserves it.

                Although if Jason gets himself this fucked up over watching the Soldier kill Howard Stark, he can’t imagine how much trouble he’d be in if he ever watched him work on better targets.

                “No way in hell,” Jason tells him, “am I washing that fucking mop. I am not endorsing that decision in any way. Kurt Cobain has better hair than you.”

                The Soldier frowns like he doesn’t get the reference, which is a fucking shame. Jason remembers who he’s talking to, a half-human, 1940s throwback. A robot.

                Talking to him, treating him like a person, it’s only going to make it harder, in the end. That’s true about people he has to kill, but Jason’s starting to think maybe it’s just true about everyone. He doesn’t exactly have a history of benefiting from forming relationships. He can’t think of a single person who ever left him better off than they found him.

                He leaves the shower because he’s got no reason to stay, and because he’s still too worked up. He wants start another fight, just to bleed off all the adrenaline still kicking around in his chest. But he can see how, given that the only other person in the room has a fucking laundry list of untreated issues, it might be kind of shitty to provoke him.

                He unlaces his boots, kicks his way out of his wet clothes, and then throws them across the bathroom so they smack into the bathroom door and send it slamming open.

                He hears Stark’s footsteps – farther away than anticipated, meaning he must’ve left the room – and the Winter Soldier shutting the glass shower door at the same time.

                It occurs to him that it’s odd that he didn’t close the shower door earlier, but then he figures the Soldier’s still a soldier, still trained to assess threat level. And the Soldier’s not the only weapon in the room.

                “Get a good look?” Jason calls out. “It’s polite to tip, you know.”

                The Soldier doesn’t respond, but Jason’s not surprised.

                He barely manages to get a towel around his waist before Stark comes barging in. “Woah,” Jason says, “hey, what’d I say about freebies? Can even one of you assholes respect my human fucking dignity, please?”

                “Why are you naked?” Stark asks and then glances back at the wet clothes on the carpet. “What the hell--- what were you doing?”

                Jason brings a hand to his chest, makes a wounded face. “He lured me in there under false pretenses. Trust me, I’m the victim here.”

                “What happened to your face?” Stark says, and Jason glances toward the mirror.

                “Aw, fuck,” he says. He is absolutely going to have a black eye. The left side of his face is red, and the fragile bone ringing his eye socket took a hell of a hit. “I told you I was the victim.”

                “Are you okay in there?” Stark says, instead of being helpful or sympathetic. He knocks on the shower wall. “Did he murder you?”

                “I’m not murdered,” the Soldier says, and that slurring tone, the slight fumbling of vowels, is back, but worse.

                “Bad trip,” Jason says, when Stark looks back at him. “Turns out, the brain damaged serial killer is actually fucking dangerous.”

                The water shuts off, and the Soldier mumbles something indecipherable. Jason grabs a towel and tosses it over the shower wall. The Soldier catches it before it hits the floor, so Jason figures his reflexes are still quick enough to get Tony killed, if he insists on hanging around.

                “Got that drip ready?” Jason asks.

                “Yeah,” Tony says and gestures over his shoulder. “I set it up in my room.”

                Jason doesn’t put his head in his hands, because he’s fighting, on every level, to not actually become Bruce. But he is finding it incredibly difficult to understand how someone like Stark has survived to semi-adulthood with all the survival instincts of a piece of toast.

                “He should go back to the basement,” Jason says, as calmly as he can.

                “Yeah,” Tony says, “after he’s rehydrated. Sure.”

                 “Do you understand that the better he feels, the more dangerous he’ll be? How much do you want to die, Stark? Are you running some sort of life insurance scam? Because I want to live.”

                “You’re going to live,” Tony says, defensive. “He’s not dangerous to us.”

                “He’s not a person, Tony. He’s a fucking time bomb. He’s dangerous to anyone in proximity.”

                “He’s a person. Don’t be an asshole,” Tony says and shoves the shower door open. “Hey, human being in there, you feel better?”

                The Soldier shuffles his way out of the shower, and he’s got his towel wrapped around his chest like a lady. Jason doesn’t laugh at him, but it’s a close call.

                “He wasn’t this bashful with me,” Jason tells Tony. “I think you make him uncomfortable.”

                “I think you’re a dick,” Tony says, checking the Soldier’s eyes. “This guy’s fucking out of it. You’re telling me he beat you up?”

                “Oh, he’ll fool you. Startle him a little. I bet he can throw you all the way through a wall.”

                “Sedative,” the Soldier says and taps his finger against his forehead, like he thinks maybe they won’t understand the impact of a sedative and that this gesture will, somehow, illuminate them. “Gotta sleep.”

                “Yeah,” Tony says, nodding slowly, “real dangerous.”

                “Oh, fuck off,” Jason tells him. “When he kills you in your sleep, don’t bitch about it to me.”

 

 

 

                The Soldier passes out right after they get him dressed. It’s a group effort, which seems to fuck with Tony way more than it bothers the Soldier or Jason. It makes Jason wonder what gym is like in all those private schools, if everybody gets their own separate dressing room and public nudity is a thing that happens only to the peasant children.

                Of course, the Soldier is not a boy dressing out for gym class, and maybe it’s the wear and tear on the body that’s making Stark so clumsy and weird, and not the body itself.

                “Oh, look,” Jason says at one point, tapping a dimpled scar high up on the Soldier’s chest. “A bullet scar.” He taps another, and another. Together they look like a constellation, scattered from one collarbone to the other. “Here, and here, and here. And say what the fuck you will about blaming the victim, but I’m telling you, you don’t get shot this many times unless you’re some kind of an asshole.”

                The Soldier bats at Jason’s wrist. “Stop,” he says, sleepily. “What’d I say about touching?”

                “What did he say about touching?” Tony prompts, unhelpfully. “Why did he feel the need to have a conversation with you about touching?”

                “Okay,” Jason says, “I don’t know how we got to a place where I’m suddenly a sexual predator, but it’s starting to get a little annoying.”

                “Then keep your hands to yourself,” Tony says, while struggling to get the neck of a t-shirt over the Soldier’s head.

                Jason watches the ripple of tension that starts from the Soldier’s navel and work up to his shoulders, and he thinks he can’t see, blindfolded, doesn’t like it in a scattershot of thoughts and then yanks the shirt down quickly, not giving a fuck if it jostles the Soldier’s potential concussion.   

                “Hey,” Tony snaps, but Jason doesn’t care, because the Soldier breathes out and all that tension bleeds quietly away.

                “Baby Stark,” Jason says, “you have got to be more careful.”

                He isn’t, though. They get that shirt over him, and the Soldier wavers for a second and then passes out between one breath and another. He falls back against Stark’s pillows, and Stark treats him like a doll after that. Doesn’t watch his weak points, doesn’t keep himself out of grabbing range.

                Jason watches, incredulous, as Stark pulls a damn blanket over him before he wheels the IV pole closer and starts the drip.

                “It’s cold,” Stark tells him, nodding to the bag of liquid hanging from the pole. “I didn’t have time to warm it up.”

                “Okay,” Jason says, “walk me through this, because I know you aren’t actually as dumb as you’re acting.”

                “Thanks,” Tony says.

                “Just. Walk me through how we got here. How did we get to you playing Florence Nightingale to the guy who shot your dad in the head?”

                “Know what I’ve noticed?” Tony says. “About guys like you?”

                Jason recognizes deflection when he hears it, but he goes for it anyway. Can’t ignore bait like that. “Sweetheart, you’ve never met anyone like me.”

                “Sure,” Tony says. “Of course I haven’t. Anyway. You look at the worst things people have done, and you think that’s what they are.”

                “Okay, this isn’t like playing mailbox baseball or spray-painting a dick on the school mascot. He’s a killer. I don’t care what else he is. That shit’s irrelevant. He kills people, and he can’t help it, and he’s fucking dangerous.”

                “You’re a killer,” Tony says, quietly, and Jason thinks maybe they’ve been playing chess the whole time he thought they were having a conversation. “You kill people, and you like it, and you’re fucking dangerous.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, “but I kill the right ones. I’m not a threat to good people.”

                “If you can’t tell that he doesn’t want to hurt us, then your interpersonal skills are pretty appalling. And maybe you shouldn’t get to make calls about who gets killed.”

                Jason exhales hard and crosses his arms over his chest. “It doesn’t matter what he wants,” he says. “It matters what he can be made to do.”

                “I think,” Tony says, “that people did this to him. Other people made him into this. And people are, by and large, pretty fucking dim. So whatever they did, we can undo or do better.”

                Jason can’t think of a single thing to say to that, so he keeps his mouth shut. He sees the appeal of it. Some part of him wants the same damn thing. He wants to watch the Soldier rip Hydra to pieces. Because if Bucky Barnes is anything like those rare flashes of humor and rage Jason catches under all that static indifference, than it was a fucking waste, what Hydra did to him, what they stole from the world.

                It’s a dangerous gamble. It could backfire so easily, and, if it does, Jason’s the one who’ll live through it and have to clean up afterward.

                But it goes against Jason’s nature, backing away from something just because it’s likely to blow up in his face.

                And, if it goes bad, he’s pretty sure he can take the Winter Soldier. Maybe it won’t be easy or elegant, but Jason’s bigger and stronger, and he’s pretty sure he’s meaner.

                “Someone told him to kill my parents,” Tony says, and there’s an evenness in his tone that catches Jason’s attention. Jason squints at him, takes in the tension in his jaw, the tightness around his eyes, and he realizes, again, that Tony’s dangerous, too. Not like him, or the Soldier, or even little Tim, but he can see how there are parts of Tony that, with the right application of pressure, could grow into some kind of threat.

                “Someone told him to kill my parents,” Tony says, again. “And he knows who did it, and he knows where they are. He knows what their security systems are like. And I think he wants them dead just as much as we do. So that’s how we got here.  And maybe you’re right, and he is a killer. But so are you.”

                Tony shrugs and looks at Jason. “I’m in the weapons manufacturing business. I’ve made my peace with people dying. We just need to pick the right targets.”

                Jason wants to kiss him. He thinks it’s probably the wrong time for it. “If he goes all weird,” Jason says, and points at the Soldier. “If he’s a threat to you, or me, or anyone who is not a shitty Hydra fuckhead, I’m going to put him down.”

                “Okay,” Tony says. “Fair. But let’s not melt down the robot until we know what it can do, alright?”

                This is stupid. This whole situation is stupid. But Jason’s done stupider things. One of those things got him killed, but he knows, even now, that he’d make the same decision again, if he had to. So maybe there’s some part of him that’s just as stupid about redemption as Bruce is.

                “Fine,” he says. “But I’m still zip-tying him to the bed.”

                “Just remember your good touch and bad touch.” Tony says, and then he holds up the half-dose of whatever it was they’d emptied into the Winter Soldier’s arm half an hour ago. “I’m gonna go find out what this is. Come down if you want coffee.”

Chapter Text

                 The Soldier doesn’t wake up while Jason zip-ties him. Which is surprising, because Jason has to jostle him around quite a bit. He’s disappointed to find that Stark doesn’t keep many anchor points within reach of his bed. From all the fuss in the media about Stark’s exploits, he figured there’d be a streamlined process for tying someone to his bed.

                There’s a streamlined process for tying someone to Bruce’s bed. Although, to Jason’s knowledge, he’s never used that for recreational purposes. Or non-recreational purposes. He’s just insanely fucking paranoid, and Jason never realized it’d be useful until he was tying someone to the wrong rich kid’s bed.

                Fortunately, Jason’s always been good at improvisation. He makes it work, although he’ll grant that it’s no reinforced polymer prison in a hidden subterranean sex dungeon. It’s not something he would trust to hold the Winter Soldier if the Winter Soldier hadn’t already shown himself to be more or less disinterested in escape.

                He could’ve snapped Stark’s neck so fucking easily while Tony dragged him up those stairs. He could’ve killed him a dozen ways over before they even made it out of the lab. He could’ve been gone before Jason finished going through the Hydra van, and he’d stayed instead.

                Jason gets a little twitchy, thinking about that. He figures it’s some aftershocks of the last round of adrenaline or maybe the first hit of a whole new batch, and he reminds himself, forcefully, that the Soldier didn’t hurt Tony. Jason and the Soldier keep finding reasons to smack each other around, but neither of them has gone for Tony yet.

                Which is good. Because, whatever he builds in his basement labs, Tony’s just a civilian. He’s smart, and he’s dangerous, but he’s not in the same business Jason and the Soldier are in. And Jason’s starting to get the distinct impression that he might overreact a little if someone were to hurt him.

                And he still has all those MIT frat boys to deal with.

                Bruce would mumble something dire about losing objectivity, but Jason signed up to be a superhero, not a fucking Jedi. Objectivity was never the point. Fucking up criminals was the point. Negating the threat was the point.

                Bruce wants to protect what’s good in the world, but he never lets himself touch it. Jason wants to stop what’s bad, and he knows better than to let himself get tangled up in anything good. But he’s never been able to leave interesting alone. He’s not sure building an explosive that evaporates human bodies qualifies anyone as good or bad, but it damn sure checks all Jason’s boxes for interesting.

                He should leave soon. He knows that. But he’s known that the whole damn time, and he’s still here.

                He checks the Soldier’s pulse, goes for the neck instead of the wrist. Not as precise, maybe, but Jason’s wary of the IV, doesn’t want to get tangled up in the tubing if the Soldier gets shitty about being manhandled.

                And, also, he likes the idea of the neck more. He’s not reading into that.

                The Soldier didn’t twitch at the zip ties, but he flinches at the fingers on his throat. Instead of letting him, Jason brings his other hand up, grabs his jaw. Not hard, but not exactly gentle, either.

                The Soldier’s eyes blink open, and he looks at Jason. He’s got the hazy, middle-distance stare of someone fighting hard to focus. For a second, he looks at Jason with zero recognition, and Jason can sense the tension build and then, just as quickly, break. The Soldier blinks again and seems to know him.

                He exhales and then tips his head back, leans into Jason’s hand, and bares his whole Goddamn throat. “Really gotta work on the touching thing.” He mumbles, and is asleep again almost before he makes it through the last syllable.

                Jason’s not sure what the hell it is about this bed that makes people feel comfortable falling asleep on him. He’s got some questions for Stark, though. The first of which are: Are you sure you’re an engineer and not a goddamn warlock? What kind of weird dark magic is this? How many small vertebrates did you sacrifice for this shit?

                He tells himself, sternly, not to read into any of this, either. Naturally, that works like a fucking charm.

                He takes the Soldier’s pulse, finds it’s within normal range, and he then runs a fingertip down an exposed artery, just to see if it gets a response.

                It doesn’t.

                Jason’s not sure what the hell it means. The least disturbing theory is that Hydra trained its pet assassin to be bizarrely complaint about being touched unnecessarily while under heavy sedatives.

                That’s the least disturbing theory.

                The most disturbing theory is that he’s trained to react and is capable of doing it but is choosing not to. Because it’s Jason. Or because he’s not the Winter Soldier so much as he’s starting to be someone else.

                Whatever the reason, Jason figures he should probably go check on Stark. Get some coffee, maybe grab something to eat. What he needs to do is get the hell out of this room, because the Soldier is weirding him right the fuck out. 

                If the Soldier slips his ties and runs off, Jason will have to go after him. And it’ll be shitty, and difficult, but at least then all the decisions will be made for him.

And Jason can see how chasing after the Winter Soldier, hunting him down, and killing him would be fun on some level. Would certainly be some kind of interesting. It was fun chasing him down the first time. But butchering him while he’s sleeping, head resting easy in his palm, throat bared, seems like it would just be bloody and messy and a fucking waste.

                As he jogs down the stairs, he practices the future conversation with Bruce. He can imagine it playing out on some shadowed rooftop, with Bruce half-turned away, squinting at the skyline. If they get lucky with their lighting, some part of Gotham will be on fire. If Jason gets really unlucky with his life decisions, it’ll be because of something he did in this house.

                “And when,” Bruce will say, “did you lose all control of the situation?”

                “Well,” Jason will reply, “probably when the Winter Soldier and I had a splash fight in the shower. Or maybe when Stark and I were cuddling, and I thought, ‘You know, fuck it. He can call the shots. I’m fine with it.’ Or, actually. I think probably it was when I went to check the Soldier’s pulse and he fucking nuzzled me like he wasn’t sure if I was gonna pull his hair or kiss him goodnight but was cool with it either way. That’s probably where everything went really tits up.”

                “Yes,” Bruce will say, grim and disapproving. “It was.” And then he’ll swoop off to clean up Jason’s mess, and Jason will scramble after him, not nearly repentant enough.

 

 

 

                Jason checks the lab, but there’s nothing and no one down there. The water bottle he gave the Soldier is empty, abandoned in the open cell, and Tony’s coffee is sitting next to a computer, still half-full. He thinks about swiping that knife Tony took off the Soldier the first night and maybe tossing the place until he gets his hands on one of Stark’s tasers, but the shirt he’s got on is just barely loose enough to hide the gun tucked into the small of his back.

The only place to hide that knife is right down the front of his tight jeans, and that would leave the sort of bulge that’s easy to misconstrue. And would also introduce the potential of guillotining his own dick off.

Jason leaves the knife where it is and heads upstairs.

                “Tony?” He calls out, circling toward the kitchen, because he’s hungry and he figures maybe Stark’s there. “Hey,” he says, when he hears someone moving in the side room off the kitchen, “do you---”

                It’s not Tony.

                It’s Maria fucking Stark, and she’s staring at him like he’s the stuff of nightmares, spat up unexpectedly in her living room. She drops what she’s holding – a coffee cup – and Jason thinks he could’ve caught it, maybe, but not without crowding the hell out of her in the process.

                “You---” She says and then, louder, “What.”

                “Mom?” Tony says, rounding the corner a solid ten seconds too late. His eyes bug out when he sees Jason standing there, and Jason can absolutely get that because what the fuck, but, in the moment, he can’t think of a single thing to say that will soothe this over. “Oh, uh. Shit.”

                Apparently, Tony’s not feeling especially helpful either.

                “Uh.” Jason says. “Let me clean that up for you.” Because, when he can’t think of a single fucking thing to say to rich people, he’s always had good luck offering to do some menial task. Shit’s like white noise to them. They don’t even really hear it.

                The floor is covered in thick carpet, so the cup didn’t shatter when it hit, but the coffee is starting to stain. Jason, who’s never held with Bruce’s suicidal resolve, who has always believed in the value of a tactical retreat, ducks down, scoops up the coffee cup, and starts blotting at the coffee with the sleeve of his newest borrowed shirt.

                Tony shoots him an exasperated look, but Maria takes a breath and seems calmer.

                “Oh,” she says, like she’s figured something out, “it’s your young man.”

                Jason freezes for a second and shoots Tony a surreptitious, incredulous look. Tony, meanwhile, is studiously not looking at him. “Mom,” he begins, but it sounds like an evasion, not a denial, and Jason is fucking flummoxed as to proper protocol at this point.

                “No, it’s alright, Tony. I had Jarvis look in on you, last night. When he came back to pick up some necessities.” She works her mouth briefly into a thin line, but it relaxes quickly into a soft smile. “He mentioned that there was, ah. Someone staying over.”

                There is the briefest of pauses. Jason runs a dozen different scenarios in his head. Surprise boyfriends is fine, he concludes. Surprises boyfriends is totally acceptable. He opens his mouth to affirm his newfound devotion to Tony Stark, but Tony beats him to it.

                “Oh. Well, okay. Not really how I wanted you to find out.” Tony says, and Jason shouldn’t be into the fact that he’s a damn good liar, but he’s always admired anyone who can take up a role as needed. “Kyle,” Tony says, a touch louder than necessary, and Jason cannot fucking believe he’s been saddled with some bullshit frat boy name. Surprise boyfriends is, turns out, a shitty plan. “This is my mom. Mom, this is Kyle.”

                Jason clears his throat and straightens up, coffee cup still in hand. “Hi,” he says, which is what he figures a frat boy would say to his boyfriend’s mom. He looks at Maria, who is looking right back at him. She is, he realizes, on fairly strong doses of pain medication. Thank God for that. He’s never fake-dated someone’s son and lied about it to their face before. “Nice to meet you.”

                “You took me out of the car.” Maria tells him, suddenly. “I remember that it was you.”

                There’s a moment where Jason thinks they might be fucked, but she doesn’t seem angry or suspicious, so he just folds it into the new narrative they’ve picked out for themselves. “Yeah, Tony called when you two left. So I was on my way over, and then I saw the crash. I’m sorry about your husband.”

                Maria purses her lips and tips her head, considering him. “You looked.” She narrows her eyes. “You looked bigger, then.”

                Body armor, Jason thinks.

                He blinks and slides his eyes over to Tony, who pats his mother consolingly on the arm. “Mom,” he says, kindly, “you’re high as fuck right now.”

                She nods slowly and then frowns. “Language, darling.”

                “That’s what I tell him,” Jason says. “All the time.”

                Tony chokes a little and covers it up by clearing his throat. “Mom?” He says. “You and Jarvis need any help? Loading up? Kyle can help.”

                “You’re leaving?” Jason asks, looking between them. “Didn’t you just get back?”

                “I don’t want to stay here.” Maria says, carefully enunciating in a way that makes it very obvious how much concentration is involved. “We’re going to New York. Tony’s coming, too.” She blinks and then makes a sympathetic face. “Oh, sorry, Kyle. It must. Be hard for you.”

                Something happens between it must and be hard for you. Something catches in Maria Stark, like an errant cog that fucks up the whole machine, and she tips her head back against the back of the couch and breathes through it.

                Jason wonders if that’s just a rich people thing. It’s the same shit Bruce does. Something rips into him, and he just holds still for it, lets it eat him alive.

                “Mom,” Tony says, and he looks helpless. His hand wraps so tight around hers that his knuckles bleach white. “Mom?”

                Jason gets the fuck out of there, makes an ungraceful dodge for the kitchen. It’s a shitty thing to do, maybe, but if Jason stays any longer, he’s gonna open his mouth and say something terrible, spew something toxic all over them, just because the only way he’s ever learned to protect himself to is cauterize every wound as it hits.

                But there’s someone in the kitchen, too. Not the butler.

                The man looks like some kind of at-home dentist or emergency accountant. He glances up from where he’s placidly stirring milk into his coffee. He’s wearing a nice suit, a striped tie, and the pleasant, sedate smile of a man whose son has never brought home any delinquent superheroes or Hydra assassins.

                Everything about him seems disarming. But some part of Jason’s mind kicks awake, stirs uneasily. He doesn’t feel threatened, exactly, but he has the oddest idea that, if he threw one of the kitchen knives at this guy’s head, he’d have to be real fucking careful it didn’t end up coming right back at him.

                “Oh,” the man says, and smiles, politely. “Hello. Coffee’s fresh.”

                “Yeah, hi,” Jason says. He puts the coffee cup in the sink. “Are you, like.” He squints at him, sizes him up. “The lawyer? Here to settle the estate?”

                “Something like that,” he says, and his tone is friendly, but Jason catches the way his eyes move. It’s not something he’d notice if he weren’t doing the exact same thing. But when he’s checking someone for the outline of weapons under their clothes, it’s pretty fucking clear when they’re doing the same damn thing to him.

                Jason swings casually around the kitchen island, removes the potential cover the island provides. He leans his hip against the countertop and smiles. The man turns to face him, smiling right back, and it’s only when the counter catches the suit, pulls the fabric briefly tight, that Jason’s sure.

                “You always tuck a handgun under your Oxford when you make house calls?” Jason asks, calm and even, happy to take care of this quietly in the kitchen while the Starks deal with their emotional hysterics in the other room.

                But the man just tips his head to the side, keeps that polite smile in place. “You always bring yours to breakfast?” he asks. “Under a shirt that definitely isn’t yours?”

                Jason’s not sure what to make of that. Acknowledging the threat without posturing means the man’s not scared. Not angry, either. Whatever play he’s here to make, it’s not compromised by someone in the house knowing about it. That means his intentions are either benign, and no one’s supposed to know he’s armed at all, or his intentions are the opposite, and he doesn’t give a shit what Jason knows, because he doesn’t intend on any one of them leaving alive.

                There’s none of the tension that Jason’s come to expect before a fight, but the man’s watching him like he’s ready for one. Like he’s not scared or excited or even intrigued by the prospect, just ready for it, if it happens.

                “You here to cause problems?” Jason asks, because he figures, fuck it, might as well ask.

                “That depend on your viewpoint,” the man says. He drops one hand away from his coffee cup, but it’s the wrong one. The holster’s on the other side. “I’m here to make sure the Stark family doesn’t have any more problems.”

                “Okay,” Jason says, because he’s got some experience in the let’s talk ourselves in circles and say fuck all game, “and do you mean that in a paid security way, or do you mean in that in a bullshit ‘death is the end of all life’s problems’ way?”

                “Technically neither,” the man says. And then his smile curls just a bit more genuine, “Although I suppose, if you allow for metaphors, I’m something of the former.”

                Jason blinks. “You put whiskey in your coffee, too? Or is that just how Stark’s machine brews it?”

                “I’m curious,” the man says, “about what you’re doing here. And about where you come from. That’s not a West Coast accent.”

                Jason clears his throat, loosens up his inflection, changes his vowels. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says. “I’ve lived in Malibu my whole life.”

                “That’s West Coast,” the man says, and smiles, like he approves or maybe like he’s amused. “What you had earlier sounded a bit mid-Atlantic. Northeastern, maybe.”

                Jason’s not sure he likes this game. “You’ve just got New York on your mind,” he says. “Since that’s where the Starks are running.”

                And there’s the danger. Finally. Jason sees it spark awake, watches the subtle shift in balance.

                “Oh,” the man says, still pleasant and soft, like they’re discussing Jason’s 401(k) options, but Jason watches him switch the coffee cup to his left hand, free up his right to hang down near that gun, “they told you where they’re going?”

                Jason grins, sharp and ready. He doesn’t know who this guy is, but he can tell already that he’s good, that this is going to be a fucking mess. He’s sorry that the Starks are probably going to find all of this pretty alarming, that their nice British butler is going to get his pristine kitchen fucking wrecked, but Jason wants this fight, wants to bleed out all of that adrenaline that’s been coiling tight in his stomach, seeking an outlet for hours.

                And then, right when they’re both ready for it, subtly shaking out tension, prepping muscles, stretching trigger fingers, a gunshot sounds, but it’s not from either of them.

                “Son of a bitch,” Jason says, head jerking in the direction of the shot, eyes never leaving the man’s face.

                The analytical awareness on the man’s face is replaced with sudden, sharp focus. He looks away from Jason, and Jason would be pissed about that, but, when he follows the glance out the window, he sees purple smoke in the distance. “One of mine,” the man says, looking back at him, and Jason almost goes for the gun at his back before the man goes on. “It’s a warning. Someone’s here.”

                “Hydra?” Jason asks, testing the waters.

                “Hydra,” the man nods. “They’re late.”

                “Oh, no,” Jason says and grins, shows teeth. “They sent a team earlier.”

                The man blinks and assesses him, eyes him like a professional. Jason thinks, with his mannerisms and his haircut, maybe he’s military, maybe he’s not, but, whatever he is, he’s sure as hell not a civilian. “You take care of that?”

                Jason’s grin just gets wider. “May have.”

                “And what about the man that came before them?”

                Jason hesitates. The man notices the hesitation and tips his head to the side, narrows his eyes like he thinks that’ll scare the truth out of him. But Jason’s fielded bitchier looks from little Tim. On their good days.

                “Do you know the location of the Winter Soldier?” the man asks, abandoning all subtlety in a move that Jason finds himself appreciating but, ultimately, not humoring. 

                “Focus,” Jason says, jerking his chin at the window. “Hydra, remember?”

                The man pauses for a beat, glances back toward the window and the growing cloud of purple smoke, and then nods, slow and a little grudging. “We’ll discuss this later,” he says, and goes for his gun. Jason gets his, too, and then they both head for the door that’ll take them to the Starks.

                “If this is the second team, there’ll be more of them,” the man says, serious and grim, like he thinks he’s delivering bad news.

                “Fuck,” Jason says, eager for it, “you think so? You promise?”

                “Oh,” the man says, pleased. “Gotham. That’s the accent. You’re from Gotham.”

                Shit, Jason thinks. And then, “Focus. Hydra.”

                If, after this is over, he has to put down a government agent, then he’ll deal with it then. But maybe he’ll get lucky and Hydra will handle that for him.

                Or maybe he’ll get real lucky and get to take Hydra and then the besuited spook. It’s important, he thinks, to have dreams.

Chapter Text

                The civilians are clustered neatly together, crouched behind the couch, not visible through any of the room’s windows. Jason’s so pleased that no one’s doing anything suicidal that he could kiss them. Would kiss them, except it might give Maria Stark the wrong message about his passionate devotion to Tony.

                “Ma’am,” the spook says, even and calm, carefully angled so that he’s covered by the doorway, “can you walk?”

                “We can help her,” Tony says, and the butler nods.

                Maria’s not a big woman, but the butler’s not particularly young. Jason sees the man hesitate, assess the butler’s expression, and then nod. Jason, who’s had his dealings with British butlers, keeps his mouth shut, too.

                “Go down to the lab, kid,” Jason says.

                “Let me have your gun,” Tony replies, hand out.

                “The fuck,” Jason says. “Absolutely not.” He’s going to need it.

                Tony’s jaw locks, and his eyes narrow. “This is my house,” Tony says. “This is my mom. Now give me your fucking gun.”

                “Tony,” his mother says, voice faint, “language.”

                If Hydra gets past Jason and this tactical actuary and whoever he brought with him, it’s not going to matter that Tony has a gun. If that happens, the Starks are dead. Tony doesn’t have the experience or the training to save them.

                But this is his house. And this is his mom.

                “I swear to Christ,” Jason says, as he hands it over, “you are developing an unhealthy fixation on this gun.”

                “It’s like borrowing your boyfriend’s sweater,” Tony says, as he activates the safety and tucks the gun into his waistband. 

                “Whatever,” Jason says, because he legitimately has no idea how else to respond to that. “Just get the fuck downstairs.”

                Tony and the butler carry Maria out, staying as low as they can, avoiding the windows, and Jason doesn’t even look over at the spook’s face, because he just really doesn’t want to see what kind of expression he’s getting.

                Voluntarily unarmed by a civilian in a hoodie. Jesus Christ, he’s been in California less than week, and he’s already losing his edge.

                “Be right back,” he says, and ducks back into the kitchen. He digs quickly into the casserole dishes, comes back with a pair of Glocks he’d taken off a Hydra thug and stashed last night. Not his favorite, but they’ll do.

                “Oh,” the man says, when he reappears, “were those in the spice cabinet?”

                “Dishwasher,” Jason says. “I think they just shoot dishes instead of washing them.”

                “Ah,” the man says. “Makes sense.”

                There’s a pause where Jason thinks maybe one of them should go after the Starks, make sure the group makes it to the protection of Tony’s lab, but then there’s another gunshot followed almost immediately by a small explosion.

                “That’d be the gas tank,” the man says. He doesn’t seem surprised.

                “Well, fuck,” Jason says, as he starts running. “We’re missing it. Let’s get out there before there’s nothing left to get.”

                “Yeah,” the man says, following behind, “we are absolutely going to have a talk after this.”

               

 

               

                This time, Hydra sends two vans. When this is all over, Jason figures maybe Tony could open a used car lot with the remnants of Hydra’s failed assaults on his house.

                One of the vans is already on fire by the time Jason and his new sidekick make it to the front of the house, and the Hydra soldiers have spilled out into the driveway, taking cover behind the other vehicle.

                The sniper who blew the gas tank is taking shots at them. He’s perched somewhere in the trees ringing the driveway, and his shots aren’t punching through the van, which is armored, or setting anything on fire, since the diver was smart enough to angle the car with the gas tank on the opposite side, but they’re doing an excellent job of keeping all the Hydra soldiers clustered tightly together in one place. Which is, conveniently enough, directly across from the large bank of windows in the foyer.

                “Fish in a barrel,” Jason says, grinning.

                “Won’t last,” the man says, because he is zero fun. “Make it count.”

                He’s a buzzkill, but he’s a beautiful shot. Jason shows off, just a little, uses both guns at once, and the two of them have picked off half a dozen Hydra soldiers before they regroup enough to get the rest loaded in the second van.

                “Hm,” the man says, squinting at the van. “That’s trouble.”

                “What’s--- aw, fuck.” Jason backs quickly out of the foyer as the van guns its engine. The man follows right behind, and they split up, sheltering against separate load-bearing walls as the van roars closer and then crashes right through the windows, slamming across the foyer before crashing into a wall that doesn’t give.

                No one, Jason thinks, is even going to notice all the bullet holes from last night now.

                The Hydra soldiers empty out, and Jason loses the accountant as he goes after them.

                It’s chaos. He’s not sure what the hell the plan was, although he can see how having one of your vans blown up and six of your men shot in the driveway probably fucked the plan to begin with. And it’s entirely possible that Hydra’s just throwing bodies at the problem, hoping that numbers will win out.

                Jason discovers that, sometimes, if he lures Hydra soldiers to the windows on the east side of the building, that helpful sniper will shoot them in the head. He also discovers that the weaponized accountant is absolutely military, favors that clinical one-two torso kill, bullets landing neatly on either side of the heart, shredding the whole thing with ricochet. Jason keeps finding their kills around the house.

                By the end, it’s like playing a particularly morbid game of hide-and-seek. The Hydra soldiers aren’t stupid or careless or poorly trained, but Jason’s better, and the spook’s better, and the sniper in the trees is better. It becomes a matter of hunting down the survivors and not getting himself shot anywhere inconvenient in the process.

                “You want any of these alive?” Jason asks, when he finds the spook reloading in a linen closet.

                “Yes, please,” he says. “They’re more useful that way.”

                Jason nods and sets off, looking for the dregs.

                He follows a blood trail into what might be a library or reading room. There’s a pale man with his leg up in the window seat, desperately trying to tie a tourniquet around his left thigh. He’s got a hole punched clean through his knee, and Jason can see from here that his hands are too wet, too coated in his own blood, to manage the tourniquet right. His gun is on the floor, far out of reach. He looks about five seconds away from slumping into unconsciousness.

                “Hey,” Jason says, stepping into the room, “keep your hands up, and I’ll do that for you.”

                Several things happen at once. Jason notices all of them simultaneously.

                The man’s eyes dart the wrong direction, away from Jason, toward another corner of the room.

                There’s the softest hiss of moving fabric and a quiet, expectant inhale.

                Jason thinks, The spook favors torso shots, and the sniper likes headshots. And I sure as hell haven’t shot anyone in the leg.

                Trap, he thinks, quiet. And then so loud he almost can’t believe it’s just in his own head, TRAP.

                And then there’s a shattering of glass, that sniper again, but, when Jason turns to look across the room, he sees that the other Hydra soldier, hiding in the corner, isn’t hit. The bullet goes an inch wide, buries deep in the wood paneling beside his head, and Jason’s looking straight down the barrel of a gun aimed right between his eyes.

                He swings around, takes aim, but it’s too fucking late, and he knows it. He maybe – maybe – has a chance of getting the shot, but he’s sure as hell about to get shot right in the fucking head.

                And then, another gunshot, louder, closer, and Jason feels it, whistling right over his shoulder, and he watches his almost-killer catch a bullet with his face.

                Jason turns. The Winter Soldier is standing behind him, and he’s holding Jason’s gun.

                “What,” Jason says, “the fuck.”

                “Those zip-ties,” the Soldier says, aggrieved. “What the hell. You gotta use so damn many of them? You almost got yourself shot.”

                “You just shot a Hydra shithead in the face,” Jason tells him, probably unnecessarily. “For me.”

                The Soldier rolls his eyes. “Well, I thought about flowers, but this was easier.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, pulse in his throat, stomach fluttering with honest-to-God butterflies, “and way fucking sexier, holy shit.”

                The Soldier blinks and grins, crooked and smug and sweet, and Jason feels something hook in his belly and tug. He drops his guns to his sides and takes a step forward, and he knows the aftershocks of adrenaline are wrecking his rational thinking all to hell, but he’s going to make out with the Winter Soldier in Stark’s burning mansion; he fucking is.

                “желание,” he hears, mechanical and faraway, but loud. “Ржaвый.”

                “Oh, shit,” Jason says, as the Soldier’s face falls. “Oh, fucking shit.”

                “Where?” the Soldier says, twisting toward the window. “Where the hell---”

                “It’s the fucking van,” Jason says, as the voice keeps going, keeps reciting its bullshit Russian murder poetry.

                “What fucking van?” the Soldier says, and there’s so much panic in his voice, so much fear. Jason’s had his hands around this man’s throat more than once, and he didn’t even a flinch.

                Fuck Hydra, he thinks. Fuck everything about this.

                Jason charges across the room, grabs the kneecapped Hydra thug, and throws him through him the window. He follows after, and the other man’s body took care of the worst of the glass, but Jason’s not wearing any body armor. He feels himself getting sliced open, but it doesn’t matter. Skin is skin. It grows back. He’ll fix it later.

                He’s not losing the Winter Soldier to Hydra. That’s bullshit. Not after all the shit he’s had to put up with. There’s no way Stark will give him any prototype explosives if he loses his new pet.

                He runs at the van with no real plan, hears the Winter Soldier’s footsteps echoing his own. If he gets them both shot, Stark is going to be insufferable, but at least he’s got the cash to pay the medical bills.

                 “Печь,” he hears, “Девять.”

                The external speakers are on top of the van. Jason doesn’t ask the Soldier his thoughts on the best way to get up there. He just grabs him and throws him, and it’s only when the Soldier’s in midair that it occurs to him that the Soldier isn’t Dick or Tim, might not be ready for all these acrobatics, and also that he only has one arm.

                “Fuck,” Jason says, and then again, with reverence, when the Soldier drops Jason’s gun, catches the lip of the van’s roof, and pulls himself up and over like it’s nothing.

                Jason’s not sure what the Soldier does to the speakers, but there’s a horrible wrenching shriek and then the audio cuts out.

                The back door of the van kicks open, and Jason hears the Hydra shithead continuing the recitation, yelling it out. He’s spitting Russian as fast as he can. 

                Jason figures it’s a trap, that he’s supposed to swing around to the back door and get himself shot a half dozen times. So, instead, he yanks the driver’s side door open and darts in, full speed, just a battering ram. He tackles the soldier, throws him out of the van, and stomps on his jaw, hard enough that teeth scatter like tic tacs across the asphalt.

                That sure as hell shuts him up, or at least ruins the finer points of his pronunciation.

                The Soldier drops off the roof of the van, and he looks pissed. It’s beautiful. He’s so beautiful in that moment that, when he makes a grab for one of Jason’s Glocks, Jason just barely gets away.

                “No, now, our friends wanted one of them alive,” Jason says, holding his guns out of reach as the Soldier comes after him.

                “Not this one,” the Soldier says, biting off each word, making another swipe that Jason narrowly avoids.

                “No one said you got to pick,” Jason says. “Anyway, I think I accidentally killed that other one. So this is maybe the only---”

                “Not one that knows the words.”

                Jason blinks. “Oh,” he says. He can see how that’s fair. How maybe that’s not the sort of information that should fall into the hands of any kind of shadow government agency.

                If there were words that turned him into a puppet, he’d put a bullet through every brain that knew them.

                He thinks it’s odd, in retrospect, that the Soldier hasn’t made any moves to put down him or Stark, even though they know the words, too.

                “I’d appreciate it,” the spook calls from a window, “if you’d put your weapons down.”

                When Jason looks, he sees that the man has the audacity to be pointing a gun at them. At the Soldier, sure, but it’s close enough that Jason still feels a little fucking betrayed. You don’t butcher a van full of bad guys together and then wave guns at each other. That’s such a serious breach of etiquette that Jason thought it was reserved solely for him and the whole Bat-family.

                The Soldier isn’t looking at the spook. He’s looking right at Jason. His eyes are focused and intent. He looks scared again, although he’s more resigned than panicked now. He looks, a little, like he’s asking Jason for help.

                “Not one,” he says, again, “that knows the words.”

                “Okay,” Jason calls back to the government agent in the window, “sure. Yeah, absolutely.”

                Whoever he is, he’s got a gun aimed right at the Soldier’s chest. And that sniper in the trees has a clear shot at both of them. Jason doesn’t have his helmet. He doesn’t have any body armor. He’s fucked.

                The smart thing to do is to comply.

                So, instead, he shoots the Hydra soldier in the head, twice. And then he drops his guns and kicks them away from him.

                The Soldier gives him a look like maybe they’re going to make out after all. Jason’s not against it, although he’s not entirely sold on the location and timing.

                The sniper ruins the moment, anyway, by dropping out of the trees and jogging onto the driveway. He’s got a sleek, pretty rifle aimed at Jason’s head. Jason figures, if he’s got to get shot, he doesn’t mind so much if it’s a gun like that.

                Although it’s a little insulting that he’s going to get taken out by a literal, actual adolescent. He wonders if this is payback for all the shit he talked about Tony’s age, or if the United States government has just suddenly jumped on the child soldier bandwagon.

                “What the fuck is this?” Jason says, incredulous, turning a beseeching look on the Winter Soldier. “Take your kid to work day? What the fuck.”

                “Sorry about earlier,” the sniper says. He’s stocky and blonde and looks not even an ounce apologetic. “New weapon, you know? It’s got some quirks.”

                “Yeah?” Jason says, not moved to much sympathy. “They didn’t let you out of middle school early so you could get some practice in?”

                The Winter Soldier’s doing something interesting off to Jason’s side. He’s not sure what the hell it is, but he figures he might need some room for it. He sidles to the left, watches the sniper track him, finger resting beside the trigger, arms steady and strong despite his age.

                “Does your mom know you’re here? Did she pack you a lunch?” Jason asks. “Do you have to get a special permission slip for murder?”

                “You always talk this much?” the kid asks, casually, like they’re in the same checkout line at the grocery store.

                “Oh, little buddy,” Jason says, teeth flashing, “it’s usually a hell of a lot worse than this.”

                The Soldier moves, fast, and Jason loses the sniper’s attention, but that’s alright. The Soldier’s work is done. He comes out of his crouch with one of Jason’s abandoned guns in hand, pointed at the sniper, and he kicks the other to Jason, who grabs it when the sniper’s distracted, and swings left, tracking the agent making his way out of the hole where the front door used to be.

                The Soldier backs up until his body is blocking Jason’s, and it would be completely – just completely – inappropriate to bite his neck, but Jason wants to so Goddamn bad that he almost does anyway.

                The only thing that keeps him in check is that he’d have to take his eyes off the agent to do it.

                “Fuck,” the sniper says, more annoyed than scared.

                “I see you found the Winter Soldier,” the agent says, as he strolls across the driveway. “Do we really need to do this whole thing with the guns?”

                “You started it,” Jason reminded him. “I thought we were pals.”

                The agent shrugs. “All I know about you,” he says, “is that you lied to Maria about dating her son and lied to me about knowing where the Winter Soldier is.”

                “How dare you,” Jason says. “I didn’t lie. I avoided the question. And Tony and I are deeply in love.”

                “Did anyone check on them?” the Soldier asks, suddenly. His normal flat affect is thrown. He sounds tense, maybe concerned. “The Starks,” he clarifies. “In the basement. Did anyone check?”

                “Fuck,” Jason says. “Listen, Agent 1, Agent 2, we can get right back to this bullshit standoff in a minute, but I gotta go check on my boyfriend.”

                “You’re not getting anywhere near the Starks,” the agent says. “Not until we establish who you are, and what you want.”

                “Is that a serious question?” Jason says. “Have you seen Tony Stark? What the fuck do you think I want?”

                “He’s unarmed,” the Winter Soldier says, which Jason privately acknowledges as a bald-faced lie. Tony Stark is never unarmed, provided physics and electricity are still functioning. “I left them down there unarmed.”

                “I can’t believe he gave you my gun,” Jason says, although he absolutely can. “And I can’t believe you threw it away.”

                “I can’t catch a van with my teeth,” the Soldier points out.

                “Well, certainly not with that attitude,” Jason huffs back. “That’s my favorite gun. We’re getting it back.”

                “Fine,” the agent says, nodding at Jason. “You can go check on him. And we’ll keep an eye on the Winter Soldier.”

                Jason would roll his eyes if it didn’t mean looking away from his target. “Absolutely not. Fuck you two. You can’t have him. I stole him first.”

                “Who are you?” the agent says. “Who do you work for?”

                “I don’t work for anybody,” Jason says, vaguely offended. “I’m just here for the Soldier. And I got here first, and did all the tricky shit, and he puked on me, so fuck off. He’s mine.”

                The agent considers him, and Jason can practically hear his little spook brain clicking through plausible scenarios. “You work for the Joker?” he asks, finally.

                Jason can’t keep his visceral reaction to that off his face. He damn near shoots the guy, just for saying it, just for thinking it. “Shut your fucking mouth,” he says, and that’s maybe unhelpful and certainly not a clear denial, but it’s all he has, in that moment.

                “Hey,” the sniper says, “calm down.”

                “You can shut up too, Jailbait.” Jason doesn’t need to burn bridges quite this spectacularly, but everybody’s got their landmines. It’s not his fault someone tripped the wire. “How about you go do some target practicing with your big boy gun and let the grownups sort this out?”

                “Okay,” the agent says, patiently, “so you work for Batman?”

                “I do not fucking work for Batman,” Jason says. And he’s less pissed by that accusation, but it’s really not by much. “I do, sometimes, work with Batman, but it’s not the same thing. He’s an asshole, and he’s not my boss.”

                The agent stares at him awhile longer, and Jason doesn’t fidget, but he wants to. This is why Batman and the whole damn Bat-family keeps their masks on all the damn time. It’s far less critical for Jason, who is, after all, legally dead, but he doesn’t like the way the man’s looking at him. Like he’s memorizing every visible detail and will run the whole batch through some kind of horrifically expansive database later.

                “Alright,” the agent says, lowers his gun, and holsters it. “I’m Agent Coulson, from the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. I can’t get Batman to return my calls.”

                “Did you put out too early?” Jason asks. “That’s a real turn off for him. You gotta make him work for it.”

                “That would require meeting him,” Coulson says, taking the innuendo in stride, which is just another way he’s zero fun. “Which I haven’t. Because, as I’ve said, he’s ducked every one of our attempts to make contact. I don’t suppose you could help with that?”

                “Depends,” Jason says, slowly lowering his own gun. “What do you want with him?”

                “Hawkeye,” Coulson says, “stand down.”

                And Jason means to give the kid shit for that, because, honestly, Hawkeye, but the sniper checks out the moment he’s told he can. Just drops cross-legged to the ground and starts taking his fucking gun apart, like it doesn’t even occur to him that he might need it again.

                “Does this kid not realize how dangerous we are?” Jason asks, as the Soldier brings his own gun down to his hip. “Hey, kiddo, I could drop you before you get that shit back together.”

                “Coulson’d kill you,” Hawkeye says, head down, examining his weapon.

                “Well, shit,” Jason says, lifting his eyes to Coulson, “kid’s got some faith in you.”

                Coulson just smiles. “This meeting with Batman,” he says, “will you be attending as Robin? Or Nightwing?”

                Jason laughs and comes out from behind the Soldier, who glances at him but doesn’t reposition to provide cover. “Real cute, but no. I told you, I don’t work for Batman. And you still haven’t told me what you want with him.”

                “I want to offer him a job,” Coulson says and then shrugs at Jason’s next burst of laughter. “Or at least propose some kind of mutually beneficial arrangement. Information sharing. Occasional cooperation. That kind of thing.”

                Jason should probably think about it more carefully, but, honestly, it sounds like Batman’s problem, not his. “Sure,” he says, “I’ll set up a meeting with you and Bats, if you let me and the Soldier leave without any bullshit.”

                Coulson tips his head to the side and seems to mull it over or a moment. “They’ll keep coming for him,” he says. “Hydra. They’ll come for him, and they’ll come for you, and they might even come for the Starks, depending on their mood and how they decide to allocate their resources. If you come with us, we can offer you protection.”

                Jason doesn’t laugh again, but it’s a near damn thing. Beside him, he can feel the way the Soldier draws up, shoulders pulled back, and he knows, without looking, that he’s starting to get that blank look he gets whenever he feels trapped. He wonders if the Soldier really thinks he’s just going to bargain him away for a little bit of shady government protection.

                “No offense, Strategic Homeland Whatever, but I don’t know you. I’ve never heard of you. For all I know, you’re just another branch of Hydra. So I’m taking him, and maybe the Starks, and we’re leaving.”

                “The smart move,” Coulson tells him, earnest but still polite, “is to work with us.”

                “Maybe,” Jason says. “But that’s not what we’re doing.”

                There’s a pause, where Coulson looks at him and Jason stares back and Hawkeye looks up from where he’s fiddling with the pieces of his rifle, eyes flicking between the two of them. And then the Soldier clears his throat. “We should check on the Starks,” he says. “I left them down there. Unarmed.”

                “Yeah, buddy, you said.” Jason looks at the two Strategic Homelanders. “You guys wanna see Stark’s sex dungeon?”

                Coulson blinks at him. After a moment, he sighs a little, and nods. “Sure,” he says. “Lead the way.”

                Hawkeye’s on his feet in twelve seconds, rifle reassembled, and Jason thinks it’s sweet, how quick they grow up.

               As he starts walking with the other three following behind, he makes a mental note to tell Coulson to keep Hawkeye in a separate state when he arranges that meeting with Batman.

                Bruce would take one look at that competent youth, that devoted faith in his superior, and he’d kick little Tim to the curb, replace the replacement with something newer and shinier. And Jason doesn’t really give a shit about Tim Drake’s feelings, but he’d hate to see another promising young kid ruined by spending too much time around Bruce Wayne.  

                He picks up his gun on the way past the van, likes the feeling of having two, even if they aren’t a matched set anymore.

                He’s still bleeding from jumping through that window. Not bad, but bad enough that he'll need to look at the cuts soon.

                “Hey,” he says, looking over his shoulder and grinning in the face of Coulson’s focused calm, “you guys mind if we swing through the kitchen? I gotta pick up some band-aids.” He juts his chin in Hawkeye’s direction. “We can get the kiddo a juicebox.”

                “Fuck off,” Hawkeye says, sounding bored. "I can vote. I can enlist. I'm not a kid."

                “There’s pop-tarts, too,” Jason adds.

                “Well,” Hawkeye says, sounding less bored, “if we’re stopping in for band-aids.”

Chapter Text

                The Starks have an obnoxiously civilian first aid kit in the kitchen. Jason’s not exactly enthusiastic about it. He has better supplies in his van, but he’s still not sure where the hell Tony stashed it. And he doesn’t want to take the Strategic Homelanders on walkabout through the Stark’s house, giving them a clear look at every entry and exit point, while he looks for his misplaced van and its far-superior medical supplies.

                “Oh, shit,” Hawkeye says, lost in the walk-in pantry, “he’s got s’mores and strawberry.”

                 “Take what you want, kiddo,” Jason tells him. “I’m not trying to indoctrinate you into a life of crime or anything, but breaking and entering has its perks.”

                “Too late for that,” Hawkeye says. He comes out of the pantry with half a s’mores poptart in his hand and the other half in his mouth. His rifle is slung over his back, and he’s got another silvery package in his other hand. “The life of crime, I mean. I already had that phase.”

                “Did you?” Jason asks, reassessing him.

                “The Starks,” Coulson interrupts, giving Jason a flat look. “We’re going to check on the Starks.”

                Protective, Jason notes, but doesn’t take the time to explore that further. It might be natural, for an older agent to feel protective of a younger one, to take steps to ward off anyone who seems maybe a little too interested in details that could be weaponized in the future. Jason wouldn’t know a damn thing about that.

                He opts to takes off for the basement rather than sticking around to smalltalk with Hawkeye about his criminal past and potentially pissing off Coulson in the process. The Soldier, biddable in the way he tends to get when there’s no murdering to do, tags quietly along behind.

                When they get downstairs, Jason moves quickly through the scanners, but he only gets halfway through them before he hears the door locks rattling. Then, before he’s ready, the door slams open, and Stark grabs him by the collar, drags him into what Jason realizes, belatedly, is a fucking hug.

                “Jesus,” Stark’s saying, mouth pressed to the thin fabric of Jason’s shirt, “I thought we were fucked. I thought we were all fucking dead.”

                Jason is stiff for a moment, caught so off-guard that it takes him a full second to catch up to what’s happening to him. When he gets his thoughts together, he wraps his arms around Tony and tucks his gun into Tony’s hoodie pocket. “Hey,” he says, at a loss, “c’mon. Didn’t I tell you that the Winter Soldier was fucking dangerous?”

                The Soldier slides past them, alert, gun back in his hand. Jason turns, Tony still held against him, so he can watch as the Soldier checks the room and then looks back at Jason and nods. All clear.

                And, behind the Soldier, Jason sees an empty workbench. No sign of his mask. It’s not every day that Jason runs into a civilian sweet enough to hide evidence for him in a crisis.

                “Fuck this,” Tony’s saying, and he sounds pissed now, but it’s the kind of angry people get when they’re terrified. “Fuck them. My mom was here. Her fucking leg is broken in three places, and we had to carry--- who the fuck are these people?” He pulls back, right out of Jason’s arms, and Jason thinks he kind of wants him back, but he also wants to look at the expression on his face, tight with rage and concentration, forever. “Who the fuck are they? We’re gonna murder the shit out of them.”

                Jason’s having a difficult time not following Tony. He wants to crowd him back against the wall in the narrow hallway and kiss him until he can work that rage into something that burns a little sweeter. It’s fucked up, the way he feels. He wants to make Tony feel better, can think of a few ways to manage it, but it’s Tony’s rage that’s pulling him in. He’s always had a thing for people who get their backs against a wall and get mad about it, come out swinging, even when they don’t have a chance in hell of winning whatever fight they’re pitching themselves into.

                We’re gonna murder the shit out of them.

                God.

                Jason’s crush isn’t easing up at all. He should really take steps to distance himself from Tony before he gets absolutely stupid about it.

                “You two done?” Hawkeye says, blandly, as he chews on his poptart. “Or, like. Should I go get more poptarts? Is this gonna be awhile?”

                “Tony, meet Jailbait,” Jason says, nodding to Hawkeye. “And his parole officer,” he adds, gesturing to Coulson.

                “Hey,” Hawkeye says, with a nod. “Sorry about your dad and all.”

                “Thanks,” Tony says, a little blank, caught wrong-footed, and shoots a weighted look Jason’s way.

                “Oh, no, they’re cool,” Jason says. “Absolutely just tried to kidnap your murder robot, but, other than that, they seem alright.”

                Coulson sighs, but he doesn’t look as exasperated as Jason would expect. Jason wonders if Hawkeye trained that patience into him, or if he developed it through whatever military background he’s unsuccessfully hiding behind the world’s most boring suit.

                “We didn’t try to kidnap anyone,” Coulson says. “And, for the record, I maintain that each of you should be under SHIELD protection.”

                “Yeah, worked great for Dad,” Tony says, offhand.

                “Oh, fuck,” Jason says, laughing. “Jesus.” Tony’s hilarious, when all that venom isn’t aimed at him. To be fair, even when it is, it’s still funny. It just also tends to sting.

                 “Your father,” Coulson continues, unflappable, “refused to accept our security or hire his own.”

                Tony stares at him for a moment, still looking a little hostile, and then shrugs and looks away. “Yeah, sounds like Dad.”

                Hawkeye has been shooting increasingly curious looks at the Soldier, and Jason can kind of understand where the kid’s coming from, because he’s spent the last however many hours of his life trying to remind Tony Stark that the Winter Soldier is not a stray dog they’ve taken in off the street. He’s the Hydra assassin who shot his dad to death in their own driveway.

                And it is really fucking ludicrous that they’re standing here, taking about Tony’s dead dad while his murderer is standing ten feet away.

                But, also, Jason finds that he really doesn’t appreciate the way Hawkeye’s looking at him.

                “Hey, kid,” he says, “you gonna ask him on a date or keep looking for free?”

                Hawkeye seems to consider that and then leans a little around Coulson, makes eye-contact with the Soldier. “Hey, wanna get a beer sometime and talk long-range hits?”

                “No, nope,” Coulson says, immediately. “No.” His expression remains even, but the sudden, sharp tempo of his response represents the first crack in that characteristic calm.

                The Soldier blinks, looks from Hawkeye to Coulson, and then, inexplicably, to Jason. He’s got an expectant look on his face, like he thinks Jason’s somehow been elected the manager of his social calendar.

                “You’re not buying him a beer,” Jason says, and he is fucking baffled that he even needs to address this. “You’re buying him a fucking chocolate milk. The kid is twelve.”

                “Jesus,” Tony says, sounding alarmed. He’s staring down at his MIT hoodie. “Jesus Christ.”

                “What? Oh.” Jason grimaces. “Sorry.” Tony’s sweater has a long swipe of his blood soaking into the side of it. The red is much more prominent against Tony’s white hoodie than it is on Jason’s dark shirt.

                Tony looks at him like he’s out of his mind, so Jason hefts the first aid kit a little higher, holds it up like a shield. “I was gonna put some band-aids on that.”

                “On what?” Tony says. “Your exposed spleen? Holy shit.”

                Jason’s not easy to shame, but the incredulous tone of Tony’s voice almost manages it. “Calm down, baby Stark. It’s not that much blood.”

                “Well, could you maybe take a few steps to keep the rest of it inside you? Where blood usually lives?” Tony runs a hand through his hair, and Jason catalogs the tell even while he struggles to accept that concern over him is the trigger. “Could you, I don’t know. Stop policing Barnes’ virtue and get to work on closing your skin back up?”

                “I’m not policing his virtue,” Jason says, aghast.  Tony tips his chin up and narrows his eyes, and Jason throws his hands in the air. “Fine, fuck.”

                He sets off deeper into the lab, grumbling the whole way, and drops the first aid kit down on the work bench. He strips his cut-up shirt off and drops it onto the metal, frowning at the rips and stains he’s collected in a relatively short time. He’s been hell on all the clothes other men have left at Stark’s place.

                He’s not fucking sorry about it, either.

                The Soldier’s been in his old cell, fussing around with his body armor, and he comes up beside Jason as Jason wipes angrily at the cuts on his arms and chest with the tiny alcohol pads in the first aid kit. The cuts are not at the most convenient angles, and Jason has always hated this part. Hates clean up his own messes.

                “Here,” the Soldier says. “Let me.” He’s got his first aid kit in his hands, the small one he’d used to stich up the knife wound in his leg.

                Jason stares at him for a moment and then shrugs. If the Soldier wants to waste his supplies on Jason, he’s sure as hell not going to stop him.

                He climbs up on the work bench and holds still, lets the Soldier work.

                “Look,” the Soldier says, after a second. He’s got Jason’s right wrist held in one hand and is using a pair of butterfly bandages to close up one of the shallower cuts on his forearm. When Jason gives him an inquisitive look, he jerks his chin toward the testing chamber, and Jason blinks, follows his gaze.

                Maria Stark and the butler, Jarvis, are sitting in Jason’s former cell, looking out at them. It’s sealed up, although Tony’s tapping away at his computer like he’s about to open it up.

                “Stark,” Jason says, harsher than he means to, “why the fuck are they in there and you’re out here?”

                “Can’t seal it up from the inside,” Tony says, like it’s nothing. “But it’s bulletproof. Take a long time to break in. I figured, if they got past all of you, I’d call the cops. Or the fucking Marines.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, “sure. But you’d still be dead.” The door to the basement is tricky to get into, but he’s pretty sure it wouldn’t stand up to a decent explosive or two.

                Tony doesn’t look at him for a moment. When he does, he’s got a stupid, stubborn look on his face that Jason recognizes too damn well from every single idiot kid who’s ever put on the Robin mask.

                This, he thinks, is no damn good.

                Jason looks up at the Soldier, who’s set the bandages aside and is sterilizing a needle with a lighter. The Soldier looks back at him, and there’s a new, grim set to his features that Jason figures is probably mirrored on his own face.

                He has no idea what they’re going to do about this shit.

                Jason thinks about Tony, stuck down here, watching the fight on his monitors. He thinks about Tony giving away his gun, putting his mom and butler in the testing chamber, sealing it up. And waiting. With, what? That tiny derringer he took off the Soldier and a handful of his prototypes?

                Fuck.

                Jason wants to tell Tony that people who try to sacrifice themselves usually get their wish. He wants to tell him that dead is dead is dead, and brave men die the same way cowards do, and it’s usually ugly and messy and painful. But Tony’s got his head bowed, typing away, and Jason knows it won’t do any damn good to tell him any of that.

                It wouldn’t have done any good if Bruce told him, either, back when he was just an idiot kid stealing tires off the Batmobile. Not that Bruce was ever inclined to give lectures on the perils of self-sacrifice. Be a bit like a stripper proselytizing on the merits of modest attire.

                Not that he needed the combination of Bruce and stripper in his head, ever.

                “Do it,” Jason says, nodding to the needle. “Let’s get this shit over with.”

                “Do what?” Tony asks, looking over. He blanches as the Soldier starts threading the needle. “Oh.” Tony turns back to his screen. “Fuck that. Shouldn’t I call a doctor?”

                “For what?” Hawkeye asks, sounding mystified. “He needs, like. Six stitches.”

                “You’re all fucking weird,” Tony tells them. “All of you.”

                The testing chamber hisses open, and Coulson goes immediately to Maria, who smiles up at him and calls him Phil. Hawkeye follows slowly after, finishing up the final strawberry poptart as Coulson and Maria talk.

                Tony stays where he is, keeps typing. If Jason tips his head, he can see that Tony’s hands are shaking, but that seems private, all that vulnerability, so he stops looking, turns his attention to his ongoing medical care, instead.

                The Soldier’s putting a neat line of stitches in Jason’s side, in the sensitive skin high up on his ribs. Jason holds his arm out of the way and breathes, even and deep. He focuses on the proximity of the Soldier instead of the tug and pull of needle and thread moving through his skin.

                The Soldier is serious and focused. Competent. He’s done this before.

                “You’re good at that,” Jason says. The pain is manageable, although not exactly pleasant. He doesn’t have to talk, the way he does, sometimes, when something’s gone really shitty and the only trick he knows to keep from screaming is to run his mouth with idle chatter. But he talks anyway, because he doesn’t like the soft sounds the needle and thread make as they work through his skin. “Do it a lot?”

                The Soldier shrugs like he’s not going to answer. And then, after a beat, “It’s easier,” he says, “from this angle. I mostly only do this for myself.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, and nods. He can empathize with that. “It’s easier on someone else.”

                The Soldier pauses, frowning at the stitched-up cut on Jason’s ribs. It’s the worst of the cuts. Clean, which is nice, but deep, and long.

                “You heal different,” the Soldier says, which Jason thinks is fucking rich, because he heals like a human, and it’s the Soldier who heals different from the norm. “That enough?”

                The Soldier runs his thumb lightly under the skin he’s just closed up. He put four stitches, which is how many Jason would’ve done. But, for a second, all Jason feels is that slow trail of warm skin against his own, and he forgets how the hell counting works.

                “Looks great,” he says, a little louder than he expects to. “Thanks.”

                The Soldier blinks at him and tips his head to the side, assessing. He does it again, thumb light and warm against his skin, and Jason almost punches him in the face, because he’s not sure what the hell else to do with all the contradictory signals kicking back and forth in his brain.

                “What’re you---” Jason starts, but the Soldier interrupts him.

                “If that happens again,” the Soldier says, as he drops his hand away from Jason and then starts carefully applying the Starks’ stupid band-aids. “If someone uses the words, and we can’t stop them, I want you to shoot me.”

                Jason sucks a breath in over his teeth and forgets, for a long moment, to breathe out. The longer he spends around the Soldier, the less he wants to put him down. Usually, for Jason, things run the opposite way. He can still walk himself through it, picture putting a bullet right between those pretty blue eyes, but now he gets a twist of regret instead of victory.

                “Somewhere non-vital?” Jason asks, but he knows better. He’s seen how the Soldier moves. And he’s still reasonably confident that he could win the fight, but not if he’s pulling his punches.

                The Soldier shakes his head and finishes his work. He steps back, and he looks determined, serious. “No,” he says.

                “Fuck,” Jason says. But he understands. He thinks, if he were the Soldier, he’d have already arranged that, but maybe the Soldier’s got a higher opinion of the value of his life, maybe, whatever he remembers, it’s enough to make him want to stay. Or maybe he doesn’t have Jason’s anger, doesn’t carry an eternity of fuck you so close to his heart. “Yeah,” he says, because it’s all there is to say. “I will.”

                “Or,” Tony says, and Jason had fucking forgotten about him, didn’t realize he was still close enough to overhear. “Or we can just fucking murder everyone who knows the words. Right? I figure there’s a pretty high level of crossover between people who just tried to murder my mother in her own home, and people who know the shitty Russian brainwashing chant. So let’s just put the whole fucking mess of them on a list. And we’ll work our way through it.”

                “Stark,” Jason says, transfixed by the cold anger on Tony’s face, “can you please save the bedroom talk for when we’re in private? For fuck’s sake.”

                “You’re the one who keeps stripping to the waist,” Tony tells him. “Which is the basest fucking distraction tactic, okay? Really.”

                “You’re distracted?” Jason says, grinning, and Stark rolls his eyes, throws up his hands.

                “It’s risky,” the Soldier says, apparently opting to take the high ground rather than rolling around in the dirt with him and Tony. “Going after them. If I kill one, they’ll just train another. And if I get caught…”

                “No one said go alone.” Jason looks to Tony. “Did we say alone?”

                “This isn’t your fight.” The Soldier says it like he means it, like he thinks he’s doing Jason some kind of disservice, dragging him into a fight with some evil, shadow organization.

                “Oh, sweetheart,” Jason says, “every fight is my fight.”

                “They killed my dad.” Tony says. “They tried to kill my mom. Twice.”

                It’s interesting, the difference between how Tony talks about his father and how he talks about his mother. Jason thinks maybe Howard Stark catching a bullet wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to Tony, but he doesn’t see any reason to ask about that. Especially not in mixed company.

                “So, there you go,” Jason says, to the Soldier. “It’s our fight. They fucked with us. Like Tony said, we’re gonna murder the shit out of them.”

                The Soldier seems completely nonplussed. He looks between the two of them, working his lips over his teeth. The truth is, Jason’s ready to pick fights with a half-dozen international cults if it means he gets to fight alongside this guy a few more times. He’s good, and fast, and brutal. It’ll be like working with a Batman who doesn’t hamstring himself with all that self-defeating moral integrity.

                He’s not at all sure what to do about Stark inviting himself along, but he supposes they could use some kind of tech support.

                Long-distance tech support. Located, preferably, a continent or two away.

                Before the Soldier figures out how to use his words, Coulson and Hawkeye come trotting out of the cell. Coulson looks between them and frowns at whatever it is he sees.

                “Tony, your mother is relocating to a SHIELD safehouse in New York,” he says, and Jason figures relocating and SHIELD safehouse are safe bets, but he’s too casual with that location to really mean it. No way he’d say New York in front of the Soldier – or, probably, Jason – if that was where he was really sending Maria Stark. “You should go with her.”

                “Nope,” Tony says, jerking his chin at Jason. “I’m going with him.”

                Jason snorts at Coulson’s expression and holds his hands up. “Yeah, I don’t know how I became captain of the expedition, either. But the kid’s welcome to tag along if he wants.” He pauses and then points at the Soldier. “He’s coming, too.”

                “Yes, I think we’ve already established that you intend to keep him in your custody.” Coulson assesses all three of them separately and then shakes his head, looks right at Jason. “I can’t compel you to make good decisions. But I want to underscore, one more time, that you’re making a mistake.”

                Jason grins, flashes more teeth than he needs to. “Sweet of you to worry about me,” he says. “But, trust me. I’m going to be fine. We’re all going to be fine.”

                “At least take this,” Coulson says, holding up what Jason realizes is a legitimate, honest-to-God business card. “You find that you’re not fine? Give me a call. We can help.”

                Jason takes the card and tucks it into the front pocket of his borrowed jeans. “Sure,” he says, having no intentions of ever doing that, “thanks.”

                “And you’ll need that,” Coulson continues, “to set up that meeting with Batman.”

                “Oh, right,” Jason says, and bites back a laugh. “You know, he really doesn’t live up to the hype. Guy’s an asshole.”

                “Who isn’t?” Hawkeye asks, and Jason honestly can’t tell if that’s meant to be rhetorical or not. “You think he’d let me borrow one of those bat-shaped boomerang things? Those look fun.”

                Jason likes him, and he thinks it’s shit luck that this kid somehow got suckered into working for the feds. Seems like he could be decent company if he ran with a slightly less straight-laced crowd. “Tell you what,” he says, “I’ll swipe one next time I see him, and send it your way.”

                “Cool,” Hawkeye says, and nods. “Thanks.”

                Coulson looks, for a moment, like he’s going to object, but seems to decide it’s not worth it. Or maybe he just sees the usefulness of getting a close look at one of Batman’s trademark weapons. “Any chance you’ll tell me where you’re heading?” he tries, instead.

                “Yeah, New York,” Jason says, just to be a contrary asshole.

                But he figures Coulson already knows where he’s heading, and is just looking for confirmation. The truth is, Jason has safehouses in a few different states, but there’s only one place he’ll run to when he knows he’ll be dragging a significant threat in his wake.

                He doesn’t want to read too much into it, knows he won’t like what it says about him or how self-sufficient he really is, but when Jason’s in trouble, he always goes to Gotham.

                “Hey, Stark,” Jason says, as he sweeps the medical supplies back into the first aid kit. “Where the hell did you put my van?”

Chapter Text

                Jason’s van is tucked neatly between a Porsche and a Bentley that are tolerating the busted-up peasant in their midst with dignity and grace. Jason kind of wants to run his hands all over the cars, follow their curves until he’s memorized them, but Hydra’s raids have put them on a tight schedule. Jason doesn’t know what Hydra will throw at them for the inevitable round three, but he’d prefer not to find out while he’s still at the Stark’s mansion.

                Maybe Tony will let him take one or two of the cars out sometime in the future. If they ever meet up again after all this settles out.

                And, if they don’t, Bruce probably has similar cars stashed somewhere in Wayne Manor, and he leaves holes in his security that Jason can weasel through. He probably does it on purpose, but Jason tries not to dwell on that.

                It is a forty-one-hour drive from Stark’s place in California to Gotham. Stark laughs when Jason tells him they’re driving and then sobers up when he realizes he’s serious. “Oh, come on,” he says, “we’ll just fly. Forty-one hours? We can be there in six.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, rolling his eyes, “that’s what we’ll do. Log a flight with Air Traffic Control. Real fucking subtle.”

                “Don’t be paranoid,” Tony says. “We can scrub the data afterward.”

                “Kid, they’ve sent two groups after the Winter Soldier already. Trust me, they’re invested. Cars are slower, but they leave less of a paper trail.” He shuffles a few things around in the back of his van, hides the more disturbing weaponry. “It’d be smarter to take public transport up. Or hop a train.”

                “Hop,” Tony says, horrified, “a train?”

                “Yeah, but.” Jason shrugs. “We should be fine in the van. I stole it from some mob guys who took it off a florist. Shouldn’t ping anything for Hydra.” He blinks at Tony’s expression and then rolls his eyes. “And it’s not tied to any active investigations. Jesus. Calm down. It’s clean.”

                “How sure are you? Because I’m not getting arrested in Shitville, Nebraska because some mafia asshole killed someone in this van.”

                “Course you aren’t,” Jason says. “We’re taking I-40, not I-80. So stop worrying about Nebraska. It’s Oklahoma you need keep an eye on.”

                Tony grimaces at Oklahoma, and Jason thinks, disappointed but a little relieved, that Tony’s going to back out, head to some Strategic Homeland safehouse with his mother, but then he shrugs. “Okay. I need to take a few things with me.”

                Jason figures he means clothes, maybe whiskey. But, instead, he means he wants to take equipment from his lab, and so that’s how Jason and the Soldier spend the better part of half an hour hauling shit that neither of them can name up one flight of stairs and down another. Hawkeye helps out eventually, taking the opportunity to harvest more poptarts as he cuts through the kitchen, and his involvement drags Coulson into it, who cradles a phone between his neck and his shoulder the entire time but keeps himself within three yards of Hawkeye, like he thinks Jason’s just going to load him into the back of the van and take off.

                Jason wants to tell Coulson that it’s not that kind of van, but, honestly, he’s not entirely sure what the mob guys got up to before Jason repurposed it. And he could tell Coulson he’s not that kind of criminal, but, honestly, if the kid said he wanted to ditch his babysitter and go snipe some murderers in Gotham, Jason would let him tag along.

                But Hawkeye gives zero indications that he’s looking to be liberated. And, the longer he watches the pair of them tagging along after each other, the less clear it becomes who’s following who. It’s more of an orbiting than a tracking pattern. Seems like, maybe, they’re following each other.

                Jason’s pondering this, comparing that mutual codependency to the one-sided way Robins trail after Batman (and the way missing Robins can wander pretty damn far afield before Batman thinks to look for them), when he spots the Winter Soldier coming down the garage steps, with his own robot arm tossed casually over his shoulder.

                 “Okay,” Jason says, “what the hell.” Because, what the hell.

                The Soldier shrugs and looks the slightest bit cagey. “Says he can fix it,” he admits, a little grudgingly, like it’s something embarrassing. Or maybe like he thinks it’s more than he deserves.

                “Huh.” Honestly, Jason’s not sure he wants the Soldier to have two arms again. That changes his threat level considerably. With two arms, Jason still gives himself 60/40 odds on beating him in a fight, but he’s willing to admit that might just be his ego talking.

                “Well,” he says, because the Soldier is watching him expectantly, seems ready to pitch his arm into a trash can if Jason tells him to, “put it in the van. Try not to let Jailbait see it.”

                The Soldier nods and sets off. It should be disconcerting, probably, how easily he takes to being bossed around, but Jason supposes that’s the sort of thing that’s difficult to throw off, once you let it get ahold of you. He still, sometimes, has to shut down the completely ludicrous impulse to listen to Bruce.

                “Stark,” Jason says, when he walks into the lab, “don’t line-jump the Hydra reject. You’re supposed to be working on my bomb first.”

                “Yeah, okay,” Tony says, rolling his eyes. He’s drinking more coffee, but he relinquishes the cup when Jason reaches for it. “I’ll just go ahead and prioritize your wanton destruction over his actual fucking arm.”

                “Damn right you will,” Jason says, taking a sip. He leans his hip against the desk Tony’s standing near, and is glad that this cup, at least, doesn’t seem to have any whiskey in it. “Especially because we might end up using that wanton destruction to keep him in check once he’s got two arms.”

                Tony rolls his eyes and takes his coffee back. “You have got a really weird thing for him,” he says, and huffs out an aggrieved breath at Jason’s easy, mocking laughter. “I mean it. What’re you, like, actively fantasizing about a cage match?”

                “For fuck’s sake,” Jason says, running a hand over his face. “I wasn’t until you said it.”

                He’s joking, until he isn’t. It would be fun, he thinks, to test all that strength and skill without having to worry about the threat of it. He’s never been interested in putting a leash on anything dangerous; Bruce has that market cornered. But there’s an element of that idea that sparks something curious and hungry in Jason.

                There are a few ways all that energy built up between him and the Soldier could be released. The most likely scenario is still a bullet. Jason’s starting to consider alternatives that he thinks might be more fun.

                “You are so fucked up,” Tony tells him, earnest but not as disturbed or disgusted as he probably should be. “Jesus, I can see you thinking about it.”

                Jason shrugs, refuses to be shamed for it. “You put it in my head. I’m suggestible.”

                “Yeah? Then I suggest you carry this box to the van,” Tony says, kicking a box at his feet before turning back to his computer. He sounds more distracted than annoyed or offended, but there’s an undercurrent of something in his voice that Jason’s not sure bodes well.

                He wonders if Stark’s jealous. He thinks back to how he’d reacted when Jason had tried to leave, that first night. How he’d counteroffered with You could stay the night. And we could sleep. Or we could not sleep.

                He wonders if maybe Tony’s sensitive about that, about feeling rejected or overlooked. It’s hard to imagine people look past Tony Stark very often, but then Jason figures most people wouldn’t look at Jason now and think he was ever weak or vulnerable or desperate. As far as coping mechanisms go, overcompensating for threats and hurts is something Jason’s familiar with.

                He steps up behind Tony, puts himself right against him, and reaches around him to grab for the coffee cup again. Jason feels the way Tony’s breath catches, marvels at how his muscles relax instead of tense, because Stark is exactly suicidal enough to go loose when a gun-wielding vigilante gets in his personal space.

                “Don’t worry, Stark,” he says, as Tony’s grip loosens, lets him take the coffee without complaint or hesitation. “I’d still rather evaporate bodies with you than cage fight with him.”

                Tony breathes again and laughs, shakes his head. His laughter is edged slightly, but Jason can’t get a read on what it’s edged with. “Oh my God,” Tony says. “You’re being sweet. This is how do you sweet. Fuck.”

                Jason snorts and takes a sip of the coffee, presses it back into his hands. And then he kisses the sensitive skin of his neck, right below his jaw. He does it because he wants to, because he’s not used to wanting without acting. He’s not like Stark. He doesn’t make plays to delay the inevitable, doesn’t double down when someone tries to take something away from him. He’d take rejection over not knowing every day of his life.

                That’s the sort of clarify you get, he figures, after you’ve been bloody and gasping and on the way out, feeling all the things you never finished slipping away, circling the drain.

                Tony turns to face him, and he’s got a look on his face that says this is a situation he knows, that, finally, he’s found his footing. There’s a smirk curling up one side of his mouth that’s knowing and the slightest bit wicked, and Jason’s thinking about shoving that computer off the desk so he can get his hands around Tony’s hips, set up him there instead, when he hears the distinct sound of someone clearing his throat.

                They both blink and look over, and Coulson is standing at the lab door, looking exasperated. Hawkeye’s standing just a few steps farther into the lab.

                “Hey,” Hawkeye says to Coulson, with slight reproach, “I was watching that.”

                Coulson raises his eyebrows. “Really not what I had in mind for observational experience.”

                “Has he not had sex ed, yet?” Jason puts on his helpful voice. Coulson’s face turns a shade of politely murderous that even Bruce could learn from. “Kid, there’s videos for that.”

                “I grew up in a circus,” Hawkeye tells him, unimpressed. “Trust me, I don’t need any videos.”

                “No shit?” Jason says. “A circus?”

                “That’s enough,” Coulson says, and even Jason falls quiet at the sharpness of his tone. “We came to tell you we’re done packing up Maria and Jarvis. Tony, if you want to say goodbye to your mother, this would be the time.”

                “Oh,” Tony says, and steps away from Jason. “Shit. Okay. I gotta—yeah.”

                And then he’s gone, and Jason’s alone in the basement lab with the Strategic Homelanders blocking the exit. Couslon is frowning at him, and Hawkeye, God love him, is folding up his poptart wrappers into the shape of tiny darts.

                “Oh, hey,” Jason says, “are you gonna threaten me? Is it that time?”

                “Nah, Coulson doesn’t make threats,” Hawkeye says. “He’s cool about that.”

                It occurs to Jason to wonder who the hell has been threatening Hawkeye, if Coulson neglecting to do so makes him cool, but he’s full up on tragic backstories to set right at the moment. Taking out Hydra and beating up every MIT frat boy is going to be time-intensive. He doesn’t need to take on some circus, too. And, anyway, he can see how Grayson might misread that, opt to take it personally.

                “There’s no protocol for this situation,” Coulson tells him, in a way that heavily implies he will be drafting one as soon as he leaves the building. “And, if there were, Hawkeye and I wouldn’t be here to carry it out. We happened to be in the area.”

                Jason hears what he’s not saying. That Jason’s lucky Coulson and Hawkeye were sent to respond, that it shouldn’t have been them, that there’s some mitigating factor that’s granting Jason (or, more likely, the Winter Soldier) more mercy than they would otherwise be afforded. If he had to guess, he’d pin that responsibility on Hawkeye. He’s young, and maybe he’s not supposed to be here. Maybe picking off Hydra soldiers is the sort of easy work he’s suited to, but the moral gray area of necessary execution is scheduled for later on in the training program.

                Back when Jason first took the Winter Soldier, he’d been prepared to kill him, after he was done questioning him, but he hadn’t been excited about it. There’s a scale of capacity when it comes to murder, and everyone falls somewhere on it, but maybe Hawkeye’s still shy about it, is still lingering in the shallow end of the pool, where self-defense and in protection of others who are in imminent danger live.

                It’s a different thing, putting a bullet through the head of someone who isn’t fighting, who maybe isn’t responsible for the threat they represent. Jason figures Coulson could do it, but, considering how close Hawkeye keeps to him, he’d have to do it in front of the kid.

                So maybe that’s why Jason’s walking out of here with the Soldier. Or maybe it’s because Coulson wants that meeting with Batman. Or maybe Coulson’s genuinely not in the habit of killing people unless he’s pushed to it.

                “Okay,” Jason says, after a pause. “Well, I appreciate you guys showing up. We had a great time. Don’t forget to write.”

                “I need you to understand. You’re taking a significant threat to our national security and one of our brightest minds, and you’re putting them in a van together. You’re driving them to an undisclosed location. You won’t accept help, and all of Hydra will be looking for you.”

                Jason hadn’t thought about all the ways national security stood to benefit from Tony’s brain. But national security can get in line, right after him and the Winter Soldier. Tony Stark’s got prior agreements to honor.

                “Yeah,” Jason says, when it becomes clear that Coulson’s waiting for a response. “That’s the plan.”

                “I’m making a call,” Coulson tells him. “I’m letting you do this.”

                “You’re real fucking welcome to try to stop me,” Jason says, rankling instinctively at the implication that anyone is letting him do anything. 

                Coulson blinks, and he doesn’t roll his eyes, but his eyebrows twitch in a surprisingly eloquent way. “I’m not interested in trying to stop you. I don’t see any benefit in making an enemy out of you, or Tony Stark. But I am asking you to be careful. And I’d appreciate you setting up that meeting quickly. If I have to come to Gotham to remind you of our agreement, I’ll take it personally.”

                “And what does that mean?” Jason says, sidestepping the comment about Gotham, because, honestly, New York hadn’t been much of a cover to begin with. “You taking it personally?”

                “It means,” Coulson tells him, in that same even, polite tone he always uses, “that if you prove to be unreliable and untrustworthy, I’ll take Tony Stark and the Winter Soldier away from you, and I will be exactly as harsh about that as I need to be.”

                Jason tips his head to the side and frowns. He wants to say something shitty, but he doesn’t see much point it in. It doesn’t seem like mean, shitty words upset Coulson all that much. And if they can separate without a fight, Jason can see – just barely – how that’s the best way to let things play out.

                “Have a nice trip,” Coulson tells him, and then turns to leave.

                “Huh,” Jason says and looks to Hawkeye. “Thought you said he didn’t make threats.”

                Hawkeye shrugs and flicks one of his little poptart wrapper darts Jason’s direction. Jason bats it out of the air, but he has to admire Hawkeye’s aim. If he hadn’t knocked it aside, it would’ve hit him right in the center of his forehead.  

                “I said he doesn’t make threats. Didn’t say anything about him not giving fair warning.” Hawkeye smiles, casual and friendly, and waves as he turns to follow Coulson, that three-yard leash pulling tight and tugging him along. “See you later. Don’t forget my bat boomerang.”

                Jason watches the two of them leave, and he can barely believe it, but he’s a little sad to see them go.

 

               

 

                When Jason came down from Gotham, he made the forty-one hour drive in two and a half days, but Tony seems to actually start losing his damn mind if he stays cooped up in the van for longer than five hours at a time, so Jason has to break the whole thing into more reasonable chunks.

                Not that Tony has any real excuse to be bored, because he spends the entire time in the back of the van, working on some project or another, while Jason plays with the radio and tries to limit the time he spends watching the Soldier in his peripheral vision to ten seconds out of every sixty.

                The Soldier takes the boredom and the distance like he takes almost everything else: quietly, competently, and without any visible reaction. When they stop for gas in Barstow, he empties out of the van and tags along after Tony as he bounces into the gas station. Tony comes back with candy and beer and coffee. The Winter Soldier, for his part, is holding a package of Hostess cupcakes like he’s not entirely sure what he’s meant to do with it.

                “Are you fucking kidding?” Jason asks, incredulous. “Don’t feed him that shit.”

                “You want a voice in the snack acquisitions,” Tony tells him, “then you buy them.”

                Jason sighs and pays for the gas, and they leave without incident. Tony hops immediately into the back of the van and starts working again on whatever the hell it is he’s working on, and the Soldier carefully runs his hands over the plastic wrapper half a dozen times before he opens it, takes neat, hesitant bites until the first cupcake is entirely gone. And then, seeing Jason watching, he takes the other one and hands it to him, without comment.

                The Soldier has to be hungry. After all that vomit earlier, there can’t be much in his stomach. But he gives half his food to Jason, anyway, and Jason takes it because it’s a real shitty thing to do, rejecting a gift from someone who has almost nothing.

                They’re barely in Arizona when Tony pops his head into the front of the van, looks at the Soldier for a second, and then tips his head toward Jason. “Okay,” he says, “find me a pharmacy and a pet hospital. Do you have a lighter?”

                Jason cannot believe the shit that comes out of his mouth, sometimes, but he immediately looks for an exit, because Kingman is five miles back, and he’d seen both. “Alright. Do I get an explanation?”

                Tony shrugs and side-eyes the Soldier again, who’s now looking steadily back at him. “Yeah, I figured out what they put him on.” He drums his fingers against Jason’s seat and then settles back a little, putting space between him and the pair of them. “Figure we can replicate it and nurse him off of it.”

                “A pet hospital,” Jason says. “Jesus.”

                Tony grimaces and nods. “It’s, uh. Yeah. It’s pretty shitty. I don’t think they meant for him to survive coming off of it all at once. Although, I mean, technically it’s medically improbable that he’d survive the dosage to begin with, but clearly he can.”

                The Soldier clears his throat, and Jason looks over, sees the way he’s looking carefully out the window. “Probably be fine,” he says. “If I stop. Just be sick for awhile.” There’s a long silence where no one says anything, and the Soldier finally looks over, blinks at their looks of clear skepticism. “I’d need to stay hydrated,” he adds, finally.

                He says it slowly, doubtfully, like he’s testing the waters, trying to say whatever it is they’re clearly waiting to hear.

                “Yeah,” Tony says, slowly, “okay, he gets to make none of his own health decisions for awhile.”

                “Yeah,” Jason agrees. “Okay, I saw a CVS a couple miles back. Should close around 10. Let’s get something to eat, make a list of what we need, and we’ll get it on our way out of town.”

                And so that’s how Jason ends up across from Tony Stark and the Winter Soldier at a diner in Kingman, Arizona, watching Tony consume his approximate body weight in pancakes. Jason orders for the Soldier, who seems completely at a loss over the menu, and the Soldier seems to appreciate it, but, when his food shows up, he just stares at it instead of eating it.

                Jason’s frowning over that, trying to figure out what the hell’s so objectionable about bacon, toast, and eggs, until Tony, feverishly singing the praises of his syrup-coated pancake disaster, pushes half a pancake over onto the Soldier’s plate, and the Soldier immediately sets in on it, eating the whole damn thing in three bites.

                “Oh, Goddamn it,” Jason says, loud, and the trucker at the next booth eyes them for a second before Jason’s scowl convinces him to redirect his attention.

                “What?” Tony asks, sugar and strawberry jam smeared across his mouth.

                Jason reaches across the table, tugs the Soldier’s plate to him, and quickly, methodically takes bites out of the bacon, the toast, and the eggs, and then he shoves the plate back over. “Eat,” he says.

                Eyes down, chin tucked, the Soldier finally starts eating.

                “What,” Tony says, “the hell.”

                “Do we have to give it to you?” Jason asks, ignoring Stark, because he can deal with how weird this is, but not if he stops to think about it. “Is it a permission thing? Or do you have to know it’s not poison?”

                The Soldier shrugs and keeps his eyes down. Jason thinks that’s fair. If he couldn’t fucking eat on his own, maybe he’d be a bit contrary about being questioned about it, too, but then he lifts a hand and wavers it back in front.

                “Both,” Jason says. “Okay. Well. We can work with that.” He takes a breath and takes another bite out of his burger, because it’s 9:30 at night, and he’s not a heathen. And he’s never liked breakfast food all that much anyway. “Stark,” he says, “don’t be weird about this.”

                “Hey,” Tony says, fork up, innocent, “I’m not being weird. No one’s being weird. But when we get to Hydra, can we fuck with them a little extra? Because every time I think I understand how fucked up they are, someone can’t eat his damn breakfast platter.”

                “Oh, sure,” Jason says, because fucking with Hydra is slowly working its way up his list of priorities. “Absolutely. I’ve cleared my calendar for this. We can fuck with them til we get bored.”

                “Super,” Tony says, and bats the Soldier’s water glass over, takes a quick sip through the straw before passing it back.

                Still not looking at them, the Soldier drinks half the glass in one long pull. Jason makes a note to pay more attention, because there’s no way he’s going to kill the Soldier through sheer negligence, not after all the shit he’s gone through to catch and keep him.

                He watches the Soldier eat for a few more seconds, verifying that he’s fine now, that he can eat everything on his plate, and then looks over at Tony, who’s doodling schematics on the napkin with his right hand while he eats with his left, never even looking at the plate.

                He acknowledges, reluctantly, that Coulson may have been right about him being a little out of his depth.

                But the landscape will change when he’s back in Gotham. Home turf advantage. Jason knows Gotham. He knows how to use it, how to disappear into it, how to weaponize all its edges and traps.

                And however unreliable Bruce has shown himself to be, at the very least Jason knows he can count on the Bat family to draw fire.

Chapter Text

                Tony drops cash on the table when they’re ready to leave the diner, and Jason lets him, because he’s a vigilante without a trust fund, and that’s not the sort of savings plan that leaves him inclined to turn down people who try to buy him dinner.  

                “Thanks, sweetheart. Just add another blowjob to my tab.” He chirps it, bright and cheerful, and Tony’s grin of wry amusement is almost as rewarding as the wide-eyed look of alarm he gets from the trucker at the next booth.

                Bucky doesn’t say anything, but he grabs Tony’s last, half-eaten pancake on his way out of the booth, folds it up like a sandwich and eats it with his hands as they walk out. He’s licking syrup off his fingers when they pass the nosy trucker, and Jason chokes when the Soldier honest-to-God winks at him.

                “You’re rubbing off on him,” Jason tells Tony, accusatory.

                “Not yet I’m not,” Tony counters, glancing back to watch the Soldier sauntering along behind them. “And I think you’ve got better odds than I do.”

                “You can’t act like this in Oklahoma,” Jason says. “We’re gonna get arrested.” He’s not actually sure what the laws are in Oklahoma – and they have to make it through a stretch of Texas first, which is likely to present its own obstacles – but Jason figures people like Tony Stark are probably outlawed in most of the Southern states.  

                He takes a moment to be grateful their route doesn’t cut through Mississippi.

                “Better make sure we aren’t,” Tony says, as they climb into the van. “My plan is to tell the officers I’ve been kidnapped and held against my will.”

                “No one’s going to believe that,” Jason says, although Jason can see how it might be more believable than the truth. He and the Soldier share some of the same mannerisms, the same general way of assessing their surroundings. Tony Stark screams civilian the same way they scream something else.

                “Oh, Officer, help,” Tony says, in a half-assed attempt at a terrified falsetto. “My dad’s dead, and I was taken by these armed thugs who broke into my house.”

                “Armed thugs,” Jason says, as the Soldier buckles himself into the passenger seat. “Are you hearing this shit?”

                “Been called worse,” the Soldier says, magnanimously. “By you,” he tacks on, after a beat, possibly just to be an asshole.

                Jason tries not to be charmed by either of them as he backs up the van and turns out of the parking lot, heading for that CVS they’re going to rob. Because, apparently, robbing a CVS for opioids and what-the-hell-ever to keep a Hydra assassin off withdrawals is a thing he does now.

                Bruce is going to be so Goddamn proud of this one. Hell, he might even take down the creepy Jason Todd death shrine he keeps in the Batcave.

                “Oh, hey,” Tony says, suddenly popping into the front section of the van. “I made you something.”

                Jason is driving, crossing three lanes of traffic, so he can’t actually grab the Soldier’s metal arm and throw it out the window. Somehow, he suspects Tony’s picked this moment on purpose.

                “What the fuck,” Jason says, instead.

                “I fixed it.” Tony holds it out to the Soldier, who doesn’t move to take it. Instead, he slides his eyes over to Jason.

                “Okay,” Jason says, cutting off a minivan, “let’s clarify right now that I’m not whatever you think I am. I’m not your commanding officer, or your puppetmaster, or whatever. I’m not. Stop looking at me like I’m supposed to make all your decisions for you.”

                “Hey, you know what I’ve found really nurtures an equal relationship?” Tony says, tone pitching right past proceed with caution to fuck off, dumbass. “Never using someone’s fucking name. That’s really how I show people I respect their ability to make their own decisions.”

                “Oh, cut the self-righteous bullshit.” Jason rolls his eyes. “He hasn’t given us any fucking name.”

                “Have you asked?” Tony says, and Jason realizes at that moment that he’s wandered into a trap. He’s got to get better at this. He keeps walking right into every snare Tony sets. “Because I have.”

                Jason drums his fingers on the steering wheel, and tries not to think about what it means that the Soldier wants to be called by a dead man’s name. “Christ. Fine.” He throws his hands up. “Put his fucking arm on so we can steal his drugs.”

                “Don’t be such an asshole,” Tony advises as he crawls entirely within the Soldier’s personal space to start making adjustments. “What the hell did you think I was doing back there anyway?”

                “Something other than the exact thing that I told you not to do?” Jason says, as he pulls into the parking lot and cuts the engine.

                Tony looks over, eyebrows raised. He’s practically in the Soldier’s lap, and the Soldier’s starting to look like a flight risk.

                “Looking back on it,” Jason says, “I can see exactly how stupid that is.”

                “I’d fucking hope so,” Tony says.

                “I’m fine with one,” The Soldier says, suddenly. He’s looking at Tony, who’s still fiddling with the metal arm and his shoulder socket. “Arm, I mean. And you can call me whatever you want. I don’t care.”

                The pendulum of the Soldier’s mood is fucking impossible to parse. He winks at a trucker as they walk out of a diner, and, five minutes later, he’s ready to give up a limb so Jason doesn’t get mad at him.

                It’s not conflict he’s scared of. It’s conflict with Jason that makes him squirrelly, makes him inclined to acquiesce to whatever idiotic thing he thinks he’s being asked to do. Jason’s seen that kind of behavior before. Hell, he’s acted that way before. But never in his life has he been on this side of it.

                It’s not the kind of trust he’s used to. When people trust Jason, it’s based more on calculated risk than actual faith.

                “Okay,” Jason says, “fuck off. You’re keeping the damn arm. Tony made it for you.” He refuses to acknowledge the way the Soldier nods, immediately assenting, or the way Tony fucking preens. “But you’re staying in the car. Somehow I think Hydra’s gonna figure it out when the ‘Man with Metal Arm Steals Oxy’ headline hits.”

                He tosses the keys to the Soldier, grabs Stark by the back of the shirt, and hauls him out of the Soldier’s lap and into the back of the van. “Here,” he says, handing him one of the black ski masks he keeps on hand for whenever he’s about to do something he doesn’t want to hear Bruce bitch about later.

                “Oh, how traditional,” Tony says, as he pulls it over his face. He looks absolutely ridiculous. Small, and young, and grinning, game even though he has no idea what he’s doing. Jason wants to kiss him, but that seems less and less like a reaction to what Tony does and more and more like a reaction to what he is.

                They rob the CVS, and then they hit the pet hospital on the way out of town. Both times, the Soldier stays behind. And, both times, Jason expects to come out of the building to find the van and the Soldier gone.

                He’s not sure he’d even be all that pissed. He’d certainly understand it.

                But the Soldier waits for them, and, afterward, with Jason being real fucking careful about potholes, Tony injects half of the remaining Hydra dose into the Soldier’s arm. The Soldier goes loose and sleepy pretty soon after, and Tony drags him out of his chair, takes him to the back of the van, where he’s shoved all his equipment aside and made a nest out of Jason’s sleeping bag and spare blankets.

                Jason adjusts the rearview mirror so he can see them, napping with a thin line of space between them that slowly erodes to nothing as Jason gets them through Arizona.

                He pulls over in Gallup, New Mexico to refuel. When he comes out of the gas station, Tony’s at the wheel, two cups of coffee in the cup holders and one in his hand. “I’m driving,” he says. “To Albuquerque. And then we’re finding a hotel. We’re not animals, for fuck’s sake. And, anyway, it’s not always a good idea to fuck around with chemicals at high speeds, you know?”

                “I know,” Jason says. He’s tired. Not so tired that he couldn’t get them to Albuquerque, but tired enough that he doesn’t want to. If they run into Hydra again, it won’t be Stark that’s fighting. So if Stark wants to wear himself out, the smart option is to let him. “Thanks,” he says, as he heads back.

                “Sleep well,” Tony calls back. “He’s a cuddler.”

                Jason watched them enough in the mirror to know it’s Tony that can’t keep to himself. But he doesn’t bother to point that out. He is, for once, too tired to take a cheap shot.

                He lays down next to the Winter Soldier, careful about space and the stitches in his side. It’s bizarre, lying next to him. His brain can’t stop buzzing with the danger of it, and it can’t seem to make up its mind if it’s interested in that danger or not.

                He thinks about what Tony said, about being stuck in some metal cage, fighting the Soldier, and it’s all mixed up in his head, the threat and thrill of it. He smothers an irritated groan into the makeshift pillow. He needs to sleep.

                The Soldier blinks his eyes open briefly when Jason rolls over to look at him. After a moment, he closes his eyes again, and his breathing evens out almost immediately.

                Jason doesn’t know what to do with this kind of trust. He hadn’t known what to do with it when it was Tony, who was just some bullshit civilian with no idea how easy it is to hurt someone irreparably, how quick it can happen, how little effort it would take someone like Jason to break a vulnerable person to pieces.

                He can’t understand how he’s earned this.

                He sleeps fitfully, jerks awake at every sudden shift in speed or trajectory. Anxious as a Goddamn mother hen. Next to him, the Soldier sleeps easy and deep.

                When they finally stop, Tony goes in to get them a room, and Jason grabs one of his jackets. “Hey,” he says, to the sleeping Soldier. He doesn’t want to touch him without warning, doesn’t want to trigger any of his more dramatic reactions.

                “Bucky,” he says, after a moment. The name feels strange in his mouth, heavy with implications he’s not sure he’s ready to commit to. “Bucky, get the fuck up.”

                The Soldier’s eyes open, and he looks around for a moment before his eyes settle on Jason’s face. He smiles, and there’s something weirdly gratifying in how immediate it is, how much it’s clearly a reaction to seeing Jason there, hovering over him, waiting.

                It’s nice, Jason realizes. It’s nice to be looked at like something welcome instead of something troublesome and threatening.

                “Put this jacket on,” Jason says, shoving the jacket his direction. “Your cyborg bullshit is gonna scare the locals.”

                Bucky rolls his eyes and shrugs the jacket on, and, after that moment, Jason brain makes the switch from the Winter Soldier to Bucky, and he never quite goes back.

 

 

 

                Tony gets them a room with two beds, dumps a few bags on one of them, ad then orders room service when Jason’s in the shower. The sound of an unexpected male voice brings Jason out quickly, towel around his waist, and he must look some kind of inhospitable, because the older man delivering the food abandons the cart and disappears back outside without a word.

                “Thanks for the rescue,” Tony says. “I was super worried that octogenarian had an Uzi hidden down his pants.”

                “He didn’t,” Bucky says, promptly, and then blinks at their expressions. “Right,” he says, quietly, almost to himself, “that was a joke.”

                “Hey, thanks for crotch-checking everyone who comes within shooting distance,” Jason tells him. “I appreciate that.”

                “Put some clothes on,” Tony says. “We’re gonna watch the news. See if we’re on it.” He pauses, looks Jason over, and then shrugs. “Or, hey, don’t bother. Either way’s fine.”

                Jason rolls his eyes, and goes to put on some of the spare clothes he’d taken from his van. When he gives Bucky a few things to change into, he trots obligingly off to the shower, but leaves the bathroom door open.

                “Are we supposed to follow?” Tony asks, staring at the half-open door. He’s sprawled out on one of the beds, barefoot, propped lazily against the pillows. He looks ready to be halfway across the room, headed for the bathroom, the moment Jason gives any indication it’s a good idea.

                “No, dumbass,” Jason says, as he falls into bed beside him. “We’re supposed to make sure he doesn’t have a bad trip. Or maybe he left it open so he can listen in on our titillating conversation.”

                “Could get a whole lot more titillating,” Tony says, offhand, not looking up from the remote he’s fussing with. “Just let me know.”

                Jason sighs and pulls his pillow flat against the sheets. “Too tired to fool around.” And he is, but he could probably find the energy if they were alone. He rolls over, wraps an arm around Tony’s hips, and buries his face in Tony’s side.

                “That,” Tony says, “is a Goddamn shame.” He runs his fingers through Jason’s hair lightly, almost experimentally, and, when Jason hums in approval, it becomes a repeating, regular thing.

                It would be weird, and maybe Jason wouldn’t like it, but Tony’s got calluses on his fingers that catch, sometimes, and it’s that combination of soft and sweet and just the slightest bit rough that soothes him to sleep.

 

 

 

                He sleeps through the rest of the morning, and Tony wakes him up around noon by blowing coffee steam in his face. “Hey,” he says, “get up and take Bucky shopping. I gotta synthesize some shit.”

                “What?” Jason pushes himself up on his elbows and blinks. Tony’s got all the drugs dumped and sorted on the dresser. He has done something unholy to the coffeemaker. It looks like he’s been working for a while.

                Bucky’s on the other bed, wearing a pair of Jason’s sweats and one of his white t-shirts. He’s got his eyes open, but he still looks sleep-dazed.

                “He needs clothes that fit,” Tony says. “Neither of us quite match his measurements.”

                “Mine are fine,” Jason says, rubbing at his face. “He looks great. You’re fine in those, right, Buck?”

                Bucky frowns at the nickname but then he smiles a little, looks away like it’s something he’s decided to be shy about. “They’re fine,” he agrees.

                “He says he’s fine,” Jason says, pointing Bucky’s direction.

                “Those sweats,” Tony says, “are clinging to his ass in defiance of physics. Take this, and go get him some real clothes.” He shoves a fistful of money at Jason, and Jason takes it, on reflex.

                “Goddamn it, Stark.” Jason rolls out of bed and stretches, yawning. “You can’t just throw money at people every time you kick them out of bed.”

                “You feel like earning more,” Tony says, waving in the snottiest possible way, “just let me know.”

 

 

 

                Jason takes Bucky clothes shopping while Tony turns their hotel room into a makeshift drug lab. Bucky seems at a loss the whole time, and Jason catches him running his fingers over the thin fabric of a t-shirt and then holding it up to the light like he thinks he can see through it. “Yeah, I know,” Jason says, “wouldn’t stop a butter knife. Don’t worry. I’ve got some body armor you can borrow if we get into shit.”

                Bucky looks relieved. The retail worker stocking shelves a few feet away suddenly finds something to do in the back.

                It only takes them an hour or so to find what they need. They’re practical. They’re looking for sturdy fabrics in dark colors, and the only unknown variables are the sizes they need, which are easy enough to figure out. They get what they need, and they head back to the hotel. It’s dark; they slept through most of the day. So they pick up dinner on the way, and then all three of them sit around and eat, half-listening to the news, half-listening to Tony’s explanation about what he plans to put in Bucky’s arm next.

                He uses a lot of words Jason could probably understand if he bothered to focus. “Highlights, boy genius,” Jason says, finally. “Just give me the fucking synopsis.”

                “You don’t appreciate me,” Tony says, with a sigh. “He’ll be less sleepy. There might be some discomfort. Shit’s not nearly as strong.”

                “Good,” Bucky says. It’s the first thing he’s said since Tony started up. “I don’t.” He flounders for a second and then shrugs. “I hate it.”

                “We’ll get you clean,” Jason says. Bucky works his jaw a little and looks down at his food, and Jason wishes he’d run his mouth a little more, pick up some of Tony’s habits. Most of the time, Jason has no idea what’s going on in his head.

                “Let’s pack up,” Jason says, breaking the sudden silence. “Drive overnight. C’mon.”

 

 

 

                Three days into the trip, they’re in some shitty, small town in Missouri, and Tony glances out the window of their hotel room and freezes, like a dog at point. “Bar,” he says, suddenly. “That’s a bar.”

                Jason looks over and blinks at the glowing neon. “Oh, shit,” he says, appreciatively. “So it is.”

                An hour later, Jason’s working on his third beer, and Tony and Bucky are playing pool.

                Originally, Jason and Bucky were playing, since Tony claimed to not know the rules, but, half a round in, he’d shouldered Jason out of the way. “Got it now,” he’d said, passing his whiskey to Jason. “Thanks.”

                Stark’s competitive. It’s not surprising. But it’s funny, watching Bucky weigh out exactly how much he’s going to humor him. It’s damn impressive, how good Tony is at calculating angles and trajectory, but Bucky’s not calculating anything. Bucky just knows.

                Jason’s not as competitive as Stark. He’s spent a lifetime learning he doesn’t always get to win, but he doesn’t like to lose, either. So he leaves them to their game and ends up at the bar, sweet-talking the bartender. Her name’s Rosa. She has a voice like she’s got a mouthful of ash and gravel, and she hails from somewhere just shy of Alfred’s generation.

                She pours generously, possibly because she does everything one-handed, keeps a lit cigarette balanced neatly between the middle and forefinger on her other hand at all times. She is so endlessly unimpressed with Jason that some part of him falls a little bit in love with her.

                “Your boys,” she rumbles at him, eventually, staring over his shoulder while she sucks at her cigarette so hard that a solid quarter inch goes immediately to ash, “are about to start trouble.”

                Jason turns to see Tony bending over the pool table, in a pose that is both impressively suggestive and entirely unnecessary for the shot he’s taking. He’s showing off, maybe, but there’s an edge to it that leans more fuck off than fuck me.

                Bucky’s leaning a shoulder against the wall, languid and calm, blinking casually at the two rednecks who are clutching their pool cues like they wish they were baseball bats.

                “Aw, shit,” Jason says, noticing the stack of bills piled up on the side of the table. “Rosa, I can’t believe you allow gambling in this establishment.”

                “Hate to disappoint you, sugar,” Rosa says, dry as all that desert they drove through a couple days ago. “Got a few rules about fighting, though.”

                “You know those guys?” Jason asks, as he finishes off his most recent beer.

                Rosa gives him a sympathetic half-smile. “Petty little shitheads. But they can get mean.” She shrugs. “If you don’t like your friends so much, maybe stay out of it.”

                “You’re a hard woman, Rosa,” Jason tells her. “I admire that kind of cutthroat practically, I really do.”

                Rosa squints at him for a moment and then looks between Jason and the growing tension over at the pool table. Bucky’s standing straight now, pool cue held lightly in one hand, and Tony’s sauntering stupidly close to the rednecks like he thinks getting his pretty face smashed against a dirty pool table is going to prove something to someone.

                “Oh, honey,” Rosa says, surprisingly gentle, “if you’re that soft on them, just go handle it.”

                “I’m not soft on them,” Jason says, defensively. “I don’t even like these guys. We’re on a road trip for work.”

                “Yeah,” Rosa says, pouring him a shot of whiskey he hasn’t asked for. “Don’t like ‘em one bit. I can see that.”

                Jason huffs an incredulous, persecuted breath, and downs the shot quick, before she can take it back. “Rosa, I’m leaving now. Not because you’re right. But because I can’t stand to see you wrong.”

                “Sure thing,” Rosa says, as Jason drops cash on the bar. “Don’t let ‘em break your heart. That small one’s kinda flashy.”

                Jason lets that echo in his head – that small one’s kinda flashy – and reflects on how it’s a perfect summation of Tony Stark, really, as he makes his way over to the pool table. He’s a little drunk, he realizes. Not so drunk he can’t handle a couple late-30s throwbacks in a small town bar, but drunk enough that his steps are loose, relaxed. He’s already grinning as he gets close, ready for the fight. Hungry for it, a little.

                “Oh, hey,” Tony says, dropping his pool cue on the table as Jason gets close. He doesn’t even watch as the eight ball sinks neatly into a corner pocket.  “I missed you.”

                Jason’s drunk, but Tony’s gone. Jason hasn’t been keeping track of Tony’s drinks, in part because Tony keeps slipping locals twenty dollar bills and sending them to the bar with his order. There’s a line of empty tumblers on the counter behind them, and Jason can’t decide if he’s dismayed or impressed by the amount of whiskey Tony can drink without losing his ability to calculate highly improbable pool shots.

                “Yeah,” Jason says, wry, “I can see that. Good thing you had all that whiskey to keep you company.”

                “Rather have you,” Tony says, warm and bright, and then almost immediately corrects himself. “Rather have both.”

                 Jason laughs, because he can’t help it, struck by the honesty and thrown by what seems like Tony’s genuine fondness. He’s still laughing when Tony fists his hands in Jason’s shirt and kisses him, full on the mouth and shameless, in front of God and Rosa and everyone else in this small Missouri town.

                Jason hears some kind of outcry, and his brain processes danger but, for once, doesn’t prioritize it. He shifts Tony so he’s got his back to the wall, Jason between him and the rest of the bar, but he keeps kissing him. Tony tastes like whiskey and cigarettes and coffee, something sweet layered under all that, and he’s practiced and clever and a little over-eager, messy with how much he wants it.

                There’s some more yelling, and then a few quick cracks, and Jason comes out of it, a little dazed, to find Bucky standing, innocent as baby Bambi, with two unconscious rednecks at his feet and a broken pool cue in his hand.

                “Oh, my God,” Tony’s mumbling, “I can’t believe you missed that.”

                Jason had kept his eyes closed. But, even if he hadn’t, he would’ve been facing the wrong direction to watch the Winter Soldier wreck two men who outweighed by a solid thirty pounds each.

                “We’ve gotta keep him,” Tony says, quiet. “That was so hot.”

                “I, ah.” Bucky blinks, holds both halves of his pool cue up. “Broke this.”

                “Time to go, boys,” Rosa says, from behind the bar. She sounds like she means it, but a little like she regrets having to say it. When Jason looks over, she’s got a baseball bat over one shoulder and that lit cigarette between her teeth.

                “Rosa,” he calls out, as he drags Tony and Bucky to the door, one hand wrapped around Tony’s wrist, the other caught tight in Bucky’s shirt, “are you single? I know this guy, Alfred, you’d be beautiful together.”

                Fuck Bruce. Rosa and Alfred could topple empires.

                “Not so much into the males,” Rosa tells him, matter-of-fact. “You boys stay out of trouble.”

                “Rosa,” Jason says, as he pushes the door open and shoves the pair of them through it, “we are trouble.”

                “I can see that,” Rosa says, nudging one of the men with her shoe. She is wearing actual combat boots. Jason wants to be her when he grows up. If he ever does.

                Jason waves at her and then follows the others out. He kicks the door shut behind him, and checks up on the other two. Bucky is wide-eyed but loose-limbed, smile caught somewhere between cautious and cocky, and Tony is outright laughing as he jogs backwards across the parking lot.

                “Missouri,” he says. “Who the fuck knew?”

                “First time you ever got shitfaced and started a fight, Stark?” Jason asks, but he can’t quite get his tone as shitty as he means it. Tony’s enthusiasm is infectious. Jason finds himself grinning back.

                “Absolutely not,” Tony calls back. “First time I ever won, though.”

                “Yeah, you didn’t win shit,” Jason says, jerking his chin at Bucky. “He won for you.”

                Tony beams and throws an arm around Bucky’s shoulders. He waits until Bucky smiles back and then he leans in and plants a loud, smacking kiss on his cheek. “My fucking hero,” he says.

                Jason watches the two of them as they make their way back up the road toward the hotel, Tony, staggering and laughing, and Bucky, sturdy and capable. He takes in Tony’s affectionate arm around Bucky’s shoulders, and Bucky’s steadying arm around Tony’s waist, and he realizes, suddenly and a little sickeningly, that he is absolutely fucked.

                “Shit,” Jason says.

                He thinks he understands now why Rosa gave him that free shot of whiskey. Frankly, he’s a little bitter that she didn’t just hand him the whole damn bottle.

Chapter Text

                When they get back to the hotel room, Jason sits on the edge of one of the beds and starts untying his boots. Bucky launches immediately into his regular nighttime routine, which involves a thorough check of every window, air vent, door, and drain, and Tony, never one to stick to any discernable pattern, shoves Jason flat against the bed and climbs on top of him.

                “Jesus,” Jason says, hands settling instinctively on Tony’s hips, “hi.”

                “Hey,” Tony says, flashing a Cheshire grin. “Got interrupted earlier.”

                Jason laughs. “Yeah, I think Rosa might’ve smashed our heads in if we tried to make out on her pool table, Stark.” Jason can hear Bucky clattering around in the bathroom, taking the air vent off the wall so he can check behind it for whatever the fuck he thinks might be there.

                They don’t have much time for whatever Tony’s after. But with Tony on top of him, knees bracketing his hips, eager grin on his face, Jason finds that they have a little time.

                “Might’ve been worth it,” Tony says. He grins, happy and crooked, ducks his head, and kisses him.

                It’s quick, just a soft brush of his mouth against Jason’s, but then he tips his head a little and they’re kissing like they mean it, like they have the time for this to go somewhere. Tony licks at his mouth, and Jason nips at his bottom lip, chases the sharp, muffled inhale. He feels Tony’s hands worrying at the hem of his shirt and then slipping under it, running up his ribs and then across his stomach.

                He slides his hand into Tony’s hair, curls his fingers, tugs just hard enough to get Tony to tilt his head back, expose his throat. Tony hums and then tips his head back, breathes while Jason plants a line of gentle kisses all down his throat and then bites at the join of his shoulder.

                “Fuck,” Tony says, shifting his weight. They’re still on the edge of the bed; it’s awkward. They can’t spread out like both of them seem to want to.

                “Gotta do all the work,” Jason mumbles against Tony’s throat and then hooks his fingers through Tony’s beltloops, drags the both of them up the bed, and tugs Tony’s hips down so they’re pressed tight against his own. Tony makes a quiet, choked-off noise that’s not quite a whine but promises to get there, quick, if they keep this up.

                Jason glances over Tony’s shoulder, and his eyes catch on Bucky.

                He’s standing just outside the bathroom door, perfectly still. There’s a look on his face that Jason isn’t sure he likes. Jason’s hands go loose on Tony, and Tony pulls back, frowning, and then follows his stare.

                “Oh,” Tony says, and laughs. “Fuck. Shit, sorry.”

                Bucky pauses and then shoves his hands in his pockets. It’s bizarrely transparent body language, considering the source. He clears his throat. “I can, uh.” He nods over his shoulder. “Go. I can go.”

                Jason is beginning to feel alarmed. It’s that uneasy, unsure feeling that hits when a mission is fucked but he’s not sure why yet. Like he’s bracing for the impact of a punch that hasn’t been thrown.

                Tony doesn’t seem to notice. “Yeah, you could go,” he says, with a shrug and a smile. “Or. You could stay.”

                “Jesus Christ,” Jason says, and covers his face with one hand. “I’m not objecting,” he clarifies. “I’m just appalled.”

                “You miss 100% of the threesomes no one initiates,” Tony tells him, matter-of-fact.

                “You are a menace,” Jason says.

                Bucky doesn’t say anything. When Jason looks over at him, he’s resurrected that Winter Soldier blankness. He’s standing, still and unexpressive, waiting for someone to give him an order.

                “Damn it, Tony,” Jason says, “you regressed the shit out of him.”

                “Fuck you,” Tony says. “I did not.” But he looks troubled, and confused. He keeps shooting Jason expectant looks, like he thinks it’s somehow Jason’s responsibility to fix this.

                That, Jason figures, is because it is somehow his responsibility to fix this. He sighs and tightens his hands around Tony’s hips, lifts him up and off of him, and sets him beside him on the bed. “Yeah, okay, stay here and try not to molest anyone.”

                “Yeah, you seemed real broken up about it,” Tony says, but he sounds off, suddenly closed down, and Jason cannot fucking believe that this is his life, but he doubles back anyway.

                “It was great,” he says. “You’re great. Don’t get fucking weird.” He kisses Tony once, and then again when the first one doesn’t seem to take, and finally, after the third one, he gets a smile, small and uncertain but present, and then he goes to check on Bucky.

                “Hey, Buck,” he says, stopping a few feet away from him. “What the fuck’s going on in your head right now?”

                There are probably more delicate ways to put it. Grayson would no doubt be great at this. Bruce, of course, would be a Goddamn nightmare, but no one’s trying to have threesomes with Batman anyway.

                Not that a threesome is necessarily Jason’s end goal either, but he wouldn’t mind.

                Bucky’s still hiding behind that indifferent attentiveness, but there’s something squirrelly about the way he’s standing, the way he has subtly oriented himself toward the door.

                “Bucky,” Jason says, a touch impatient, “will you fucking talk to me? Tony promises not to stick his tongue down my throat in front of you again.”  

                “Not tonight, anyway,” Tony says. “Not unless you ask nicer than that.”

                “I don’t,” Bucky says and then pauses. He takes a breath, and then another. “I don’t think.”

                “You fucking broke him,” Jason says and then, seeing the stricken look on Tony’s face, he corrects himself. “We did. We broke him.” It doesn’t seem to help much.

                “I don’t think,” Bucky says, edged now with something Jason hasn’t heard before, “that I want to.”

                Jason blinks. “Okay,” he says, careful and a little slow, drawing it out so Bucky has no chance of missing what he’s saying. “So, that’s a no. That’s real easy, Buck. Then it’s a no.”

                The look Bucky gives him hurts somehow. Takes the breath out of him. There’s too much in it, and Jason wants to see exactly none of it.

                “I don’t have all of it,” Bucky says, and it makes zero fucking sense. He exhales hard and shifts without purpose. The Winter Soldier, Jason realizes with a kind of stunned dismay, is fidgeting. “I don’t remember all of it. Or much of it, even. Of me, before I was—before I wasn’t me. But back then, I don’t think I ever—you didn’t, back then. With men. You didn’t. I didn’t.”

                “Oh,” Jason says. He forgot, somehow, or just didn’t think about all the things that would be different for him. Bucky does so well, usually. Understands and uses technology, blends into society. But he would blend in, of course, because Hydra would want him to. Doesn’t mean it feels right, the way cover never really does. “Fuck.”

                “What,” Tony says, flat, confused.

                “But,” Bucky says. “I wanted to, I think.”

                Jason opens his mouth and then closes it. He thinks back to his shitty joke about active duty only with Captain America, and he wants to ask, but he can see how now is maybe not the optimal time.

                “Okay, but,” Jason is so underqualified for this discussion that it’s almost funny. Is funny, in a sort of desperate, hysterical way. “Just cuz you wanted to fuck some guy in the 1930s doesn’t mean you want to fuck every guy ever, Bucky. It’s a no for us, and that’s fine. I’m a niche market. I get it.”

                “You’re everyone’s market,” Tony says, sounding inexplicably outraged. “Shut the fuck up. I know who the problem is.”

                “There’s no problem,” Jason says, throwing his hands up. Bucky sidles sharply left, farther away, and his eyes follow Jason’s hands in a way that Jason finds very disquieting.

                Jason’s hit him before, of course. He’s choked him. Twice. But he doesn’t like the implication here. That he would hit him for...what? Not wanting to participate in an admittedly ill-advised threesome? Jason decides, optimistically, to take it as an indicator of Bucky’s discomfort, rather than a character judgment.

                He sighs and rubs his face, careful to keep his gestures even and slow. He is, objectively, too buzzed for this conversation, but, if he wasn’t at least a little bit drunk, he’d never have made it this far to begin with.

                “Can we go back to fighting rednecks?” he asks, hopeful. “We were excellent at that.”

                “I think I might,” Bucky says, heedless, like he’s in the middle of an entirely different conversation. “Want to. With men, I mean. With you. The both of you.”

                “You, um.” Jason takes a breath. “You what?”

                “I don’t know,” Bucky says. He jerks a hand at his head. It’s the most visibly frustrated Jason’s ever seen him. “Want is--- they train it out of you. It’s…complicated. Making it come back. I’m working on it. But I don’t know this yet.”

                Jason lets that settle for a few seconds. He thinks about the implications of it, what it must be like, to have that stripped away from you. Jason’s whole life (and the one before it) has more or less consisted of him trying like hell to get what he wants and never quite managing to make it happen. But he’s always known what it was. Always had some kind of direction, some distant hope tugging him along, even if it was just leading him to another fuck-up.

                Bucky isn’t saying he doesn’t want this, or them. He’s saying that he isn’t sure. That he’s still working on the difference between wanting something and knowing that someone else wants him to want it.

                “Tony,” Jason says, very carefully, “that is not an invitation to seduce him.”

                “Fuck off,” Tony says, “you’re the one walking around half-naked all the damn time.”

                “That’s tactical,” Jason says.

                “That’s teasing,” Tony counters.

                “I can multitask,” Jason agrees.

                In the twenty seconds of back-and-forth, Bucky’s shoulders have dropped closer to level. He looks far less tense. Jason and Tony shit-talking each other is what passes for normal for him, and normal is safe, or has been safe, for a few days. Jason can imagine that, for Bucky, any hint of something he recognizes as normal might be incredibly stabilizing.

                Jason sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “Listen, Bucky. So you’re a little fucked up. That’s fine. You may have noticed we’re traveling with Tony Stark.”

                “Hey,” Tony says, but Jason can hear the laughter in his voice. “This from the guy with trust issues so deep he still hasn’t given us his name.”

                “The point is,” Jason says, looking at Bucky, “that there’s no rush. You take as long as you need to figure out what you want. From what I’ve seen so far, Stark over there is gonna be horny forever.”

                “Sure fucking feels like it,”  Tony says, a little mutinous.  Jason shoots him a look, and Tony heaves a sigh of despair and throws himself back against the bed. “Yeah, no, take your time. My youth and beauty’s not wasting away, unappreciated, or anything.”

                “Forever,” Jason repeats, solemnly.

                “I can still go,” Bucky says, but he seems calmer now, fits easier in his own skin. He’s stopped wielding that blank, robotic expression like a shield designed to keep them out of his head. There’s still tension in the line of his jaw, in the way he’s holding his shoulders, but there’s a small smile curling at the edges of his mouth. “Give you two some room. Help that bartender clean up the mess we made.”

                Jason thinks about it. He very carefully does not look at Tony, because he can see how that might bias him pretty severely.

                “No, stay,” Tony says, without any real hesitation at all. He rolls his eyes at the looks they give him. “Oh, fuck off. How many times do I have you tell you two that I’m not a teenager? I have some self-control.”

                Bucky looks to Jason. He shifts his weight, leaning toward the door, ready to turn and disappear.

                Jason shakes his head. “Stark’s right,” he says. “You should stay.”

                Bucky pauses for a second and then shrugs. He walks deeper into the room and seems at a loss for a moment before he goes to check the air vent, climbing easily on top of the dresser to do it.

                “You should drink some water,” Jason tells Tony, who flips him off with casual disregard.

                Jason rolls his eyes and makes his way back to the bed, depositing his knives on the bedside table and sliding his gun under the pillow before he climbs back in beside Tony. “Then don’t be shitty about your hangover tomorrow. We don’t have any fucking saline drips on hand.”

                “Yeah, fuck off,” Tony says and curls against Jason’s side, head resting on Jason’s chest.

                Jason slides his eyes over to Bucky. Sometimes, if he catches him at the right moment after Tony does something especially ludicrous, they share a can you believe this fucking civilian? look that Jason finds endlessly validating. But Bucky’s hovering at the window, checking the locks again, and he has a different kind of look on his face.

                Jason reflects on how he’d felt, coming out of the bar, looking at these two idiots, and compares it to what he sees on Bucky’s face now. He thinks, maybe, he’s not the only one who’s fucked.

                Bucky looks at them for awhile and then grabs some clothes, goes to the bathroom to change. When he comes back, he’s in what he usually wears to sleep, and he has a cup of water in his hand. He quietly sets the water on the bedside table next to Tony and then climbs in the other bed, rolls over on his side, facing away from them.

                “Fuss, fuss, nag, nag,” Tony grumbles, but he levers himself up, elbow right in Jason’s stomach, and drains the cup before resettling against Jason.

                 Jason shakes his head and smiles, reaches over to turn the lights off before either one of them notices the stupid look on his face.

 

 

 

                Predictably, Tony’s hungover in the morning, and it makes him petulant and sleepy. Jason and Bucky get everything loaded in the van, herd Tony in last, and make excellent travel time while Tony sleeps through his hangover until the early afternoon.

                They’re in Ohio when Tony starts getting restless. “Let’s stop,” he says, pushing his way into the front of the van. “C’mon. It’s dinnertime, right? Almost? Let’s call it. Find a hotel room.”

                “We’re eight hours out,” Jason argues. “Let’s just finish it. Get to Gotham tonight.”

                “We,” Tony says, irritated, “have been in this car all day.”

                “There’s a sensor malfunctioning,” Bucky says. He swivels his metal arm up, and it lags as the elbow bends past a certain angle. “I’ve lost part of the range of motion.”

                “You what?” Tony says, and narrows his eyes. Jason can actually watch his brain weigh out the relative merits of winning the fight with Jason or winning the fight with the machinery attached to Bucky’s shoulder. “Get back here,” Tony says, finally, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “Bring your shit. Let’s go.”

                Bucky unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs over the console. On his way past Jason, he looks over, catches Jason’s grateful expression. He grins, and winks, and he’s gone.

                Jason hears them clattering around behind him for hours. He stops at a gas station midway through Pennsylvania and throws snacks in the back like he’s feeding animals at a zoo.

                “Thanks,” Tony calls up, and his voice is accompanied with the echoing pop of an energy drink – or, possibly, a beer – cracking open. “Hey, we’re upgrading shit back here. Kinda sensitive. Maybe don’t go over any potholes at excessive speed.”

                “You working on my taser?” Jason asks, as he pulls back onto the highway. “I’m owed a taser.”

                “I never promised you a taser,” Tony says. “I promised you an explosive. And you might fucking get one if you’re not careful about potholes. I’m serious.”

                “Yeah, yeah,” Jason says. He’s ready to ignore him until he catches the distinct scent of hot metal. “Hey, what the hell is that? What’s that smell? No welding torches in the back of the van, Tony.”

                There is a long, incriminating silence.

                “Stark,” Jason says, appalled.

                “It’s a soldering iron,” Tony says, defensive. “It’s safe.” There’s a brief pause and then, exasperated, like Jason’s been hassling him about it for hours, “Maybe open a window.”

                “Don’t let him blow us up, Bucky,” Jason says, as he rolls down the driver’s side window. “I promised Jailbait a Batarang.”

                “Got it,” Bucky says. He sounds amused, but not nervous or concerned. Jason figures Stark’s made it two decades without losing any fingers, and Bucky’s made it most of a century without losing more than just the one limb. Their survival instincts, however circumspect, have to be pretty decent.

                Jason, after all, is the only one who managed to get himself murdered before he was old enough to vote.

                “You idiots be careful,” Jason says, and cannot believe that he has become this. Has become, somehow, their minder.

                “Jesus, what a buzzkill,” Stark says, pitched low, like he thinks Jason can’t hear. And then, louder, “Yes, OSHA. Complying with all safety regulations, OSHA. Wearing a helmet and safety goggles, OSHA.”

                Jason shakes his head, but he’s laughing.

 

 

 

                It’s just after 2:00am when they arrive in Gotham, but they don’t make it to the safehouse until almost an hour later. Jason doesn’t visit this particular safehouse often. Bruce and Tim patrol here, and Jason keeps it secret by staying the hell away from it. But it’s big, and safe, has a bed and a couch and a semi-functional kitchen.

                He’d set this place up as an emergency hideout to retreat to when he gets seriously injured. He’d figured, with both Bruce and Tim around, it’d be reasonably secure. But he doesn’t want them to know he’d banked on their presence to offer any kind of protection, so he’s cagey about getting in and out of the place. He turns on the police scanner when he gets close and circles the area until there’s something loud enough – a shootout, with drunk civilians flooding out of a club caught in the kill zone – to drag in any costumes nearby.

                He pulls up next to the garage entrance, and idles for a few minutes, scanning the street. Eventually, Tony and Bucky notice they’re not moving anymore and crowd forward, peering inquisitively through the windows.

                “You two stay here,” Jason says. “I’ve gotta open it.”

                “The garage door doesn’t open?” Tony says. He’s got grease on his face, and in his hair. He looks a little wild around the eyes. “How’re we gonna get the van inside? I’ve got equipment in here.”

                “No, it’ll open,” Jason says. “I just gotta do some other shit first. Don’t touch the garage door until I get back.”

                “Did you booby-trap the garage door?” Tony asks. He sounds entirely too interested. “Did you really?”

                “Of fucking course I did,” Jason says. “This is Gotham.”

                “Need any help?” Bucky asks. He’s eyeing a cluster of young men loitering at the end of the street, trying to act like they haven’t been watching the van since Jason pulled up.

                “Nah, don’t worry about them,” Jason says. He leaves the key in the ignition, engine running, and climbs into the back to pull his mask and jacket on. “They know me. They’re fine. Just don’t let Tony talk to them.”

                “What the hell?” Tony looks offended. Left to his own devices, he’d probably go marching right up to them. But Jason isn’t going to leave Tony Stark alone in a shitty, high-crime area of Gotham.

                “You talk like money, sweetheart,” Jason shrugs, not at all apologetic. “So you’re gonna need to be careful who you talk to around here.” He checks his gun, his knives, and stretches briefly, grinning in the face of Tony’s rebellious resentment. “Don’t worry, Stark. I’ll introduce you to all the handsome criminals later. I know you’ve got a type.”

                “We can take this van to New York once he’s gone,” Tony tells Bucky. “You and I could have a great time.”

                Bucky grins and shakes his head. He’s relaxed, just tired enough to lose some of those sharp edges, but he’s watching their surroundings, eyes going regularly to the windows and the mirrors, and Jason can leave him here with Stark and know, when he comes back, that they’ll both still be here.

                That’s weird. Jason’s not sure how he feels about it. Reliability is not a common quality in his associates these days. Or, hell, ever.

                “When you two are done flirting,” Bucky says, “I’d like to get inside.”

                Jason snorts and leaves out the back door of the van, slamming the door shut on Tony’s loud denial. He nods to the kids on the corner, who hesitate a moment before nodding back. They’re not as much trouble as they look, happy to mind their own damn business now that they’ve seen him, but they’d strip the van in five minutes flat if it wasn’t owned by someone who belonged here.

                Technically, all the safehouse’s entrances have traps, but the friendliest one is on the second story, right off the fire escape. Jason crouches on the windowsill and tugs the window up just far enough to slip his hand in. He feels carefully along the sill until he finds the keypad, and then he punches in the combination and waits for the chirp that means the explosive is disarmed. He crawls inside, ditches his helmet on the counter, works through the other traps, and gets the garage door open.

                Bucky drives inside and parks. Tony throws himself out through the passenger door and starts tromping around, looking at everything.

                “Do not,” Jason says, with emphasis, “touch any of the windows. Okay, Stark? Or the doors. If you gotta get out, leave through the garage. I’m fucking serious.”

                “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Tony says, waving him off.

                “I’ll watch him,” Bucky offers as he passes by Jason, arms already loaded down with machinery he’s pulled out of the back of the van.

                “Stark,” Jason says, as Tony bounds up the stairs. “This is Gotham.”

                “Yeah,” Tony says, looking over his shoulder, a sort of baffled, incredulous look on his face, “and I’m with you. I’m fine. What do you want me to do? Wear a helmet?”

                Jason rubs under his eyes and reminds himself that he’s lived most of his life without Tony Stark. He tells himself that, if the idiot gets himself blown to pieces for no damn reason, he probably won’t even miss him.

                Somehow, it doesn’t feel completely accurate.

                “Kinda,” he says, after a moment. “I kinda do want you to wear a helmet.”

                Tony just laughs and turns, bounding up the stairs. Jason has no choice but to go after him, to make sure he doesn’t trigger any explosives. Stark finds the liquor first – because of course he does – and then he goes around the whole damn place, cup of exceedingly high proof vodka in hand, examining all the traps.

                “This shit is toxic,” Tony says, holding the vodka up. “You drink this?”

                “Sometimes,” Jason says. “Mostly I clean wounds with it.”

                “Oh,” Tony takes another sip. “It’s medicinal. Great.”

                Jason sighs. He’s not sure if Tony always drinks this much, or if he’s just using it to drown out whatever he might be feeling about his dead dad.

                Bucky steps up next to him, watches Tony for a moment, and then goes to examine the label on the vodka bottle. His eyebrows shoot up when he notices the proof, and his eyes dart to Tony and then back to Jason.

                “I didn’t give it to him,” Jason says, defensive. “He found it.”

                “I remember this brand,” Bucky tells him. He says it slowly, like he’s putting the puzzle together as he speaks. “I used it clean out a knife wound once.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says. “Exactly.”

                “I didn’t realize it was rated for human consumption,” Bucky adds, thoughtful.

                “You two sound just like my freshman RA,” Tony says. “Hey, Red, I can totally fix these for you. Make them better.”

                “Honestly, Tony, it’s three in the fucking morning,” Jason says, “I’d really just be happy if you could keep from triggering any of them until after I’ve slept a little bit.”

                “Sleep,” Tony says, nodding. “Okay. Sure. We can sleep.” He knocks back the rest of the vodka in one long swallow. Jason knows exactly how foul that shit is, but the distaste doesn’t show on Tony’s face. Jason has no idea how a rich kid like Tony learned to shoot Russian gut rot without flinching, but he is, despite himself, more than a little impressed.

                “Don’t look at me like that,” Tony says and waves the cup. “I’m just a little wired. This’ll help me sleep.”

                Jason shakes his head and goes to grab one of his bags out of the van. When he comes back up, Tony’s in sweat pants, t-shirt dropped on the floor exactly like someone who’s used to having a personal cleaning crew, and Bucky is taking a swig of vodka right out of the bottle.

                Bucky doesn’t flinch, either. Jason really has to stop racking up reasons to find these two charming.

                “Oh, now he’s got you doing it,” Jason says. He’d seen Bucky take exactly one sip of whiskey back in Missouri, when Tony handed his tumbler to him, but, as far as he knows, that bit of whiskey and this gulp of vodka are the only alcohol he’s had since he can out of the Hydra assassin brainfog. “Sure you should be mixing that with whatever Stark keeps putting in your veins?”

                “He said it was fine,” Bucky says, gesturing at Stark, who looks over at them, blinking guilelessly. He frowns at the bottle and then takes another drink, longer this time. When he’s done, he puts it back on top of the fridge. “Not sure I like that very much.”

                “Give it time,” Tony says and stretches. He’s lean, pretty in the filtered light of the streetlamps outside, and Jason looks away before he gets caught up in noticing too much.

                “Sleep,” he says, ditching his jacket and shirt on the other side of the mattress. He starts on his boots. “We’re sleeping. It’s three am. Get shitfaced if you want to, but do it quiet.”

                “Yeah, exactly like my freshman RA,” Tony says, but he flops down onto the mattress. “Can I ask why you don’t have a bedframe?”

                “I come here when I’m injured,” Jason shrugs at Tony’s blank look. “It’s easier to crawl into if it's low.”

                “There are these places,” Tony tells him, tipping his head over to look up at him. “They have paid medical professionals there. They’re kind of a new thing, but they’re called ‘hospitals.’ Maybe look them up when you’ve got time.”

                “Yeah, they tend to report gunshot wounds. And, anyway, I don’t have insurance. Or a Social Security number.”

                “I can get you insurance,” Tony tells him, easy and earnest. “And a Social Security number.”

                Jason doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just kicks his boots off and climbs into bed. He’s bullying the pillow into a reasonable shape when he looks up to find Bucky standing over them, that blank expression back on his face.

                “Need something, Buck?” he says, after a moment.

                “Can I sleep here?” Bucky asks, suddenly. He follows Jason’s glance toward the couch and tips his chin up. “That couch faces a window.”

                They could move the couch to a covered position. Hell, Bucky could do it by himself. It’s not heavy.

                Tony crowds up against Jason to make room. “Yeah,” he says, sounding inordinately pleased with himself, “absolutely. Hop in.”

                “Hop in,” Jason repeats. It’s disturbing, how he’s not even surprised by the shit that comes out of Tony’s mouth anymore. He watches the careful way Bucky climbs in next to Stark, fully clothed and mindful of space. “You know, you don’t have to be drunk to sleep with us, Buck.”

                “Although,” Tony interjects, happily, “it is, traditionally, a requirement for sleeping with me.”

                “Everybody shut up,” Jason says. “I swear to God, if I’m not asleep in ten minutes, I’m going to blow this whole fucking warehouse up myself.”

                “Yeah, Bucky, shut up.”

                “Sorry,” Bucky says, quiet, a little muffled. It sounds like he’s biting back a laugh.

                There’s rustling next to him, the shifting of bodies. Jason determinedly closes his eyes. He needs to sleep. He’s going to have to deal with Gotham, and all its accompanying bullshit, in the morning. Looking over to see the way Tony and Bucky are curling around each other might prompt any number of reactions, but Jason knows damn well that absolutely none of them will help him sleep.

                After a few seconds, everything goes quiet. Jason runs through all the traps in his head, reminds himself that his gun is under his pillow and there are a half-dozen others stashed through the warehouse, and then, finally, he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

                Jason comes awake all at once, a lurch of awareness that dumps too much information and leaves him frozen, perfectly still, trying to piece together what the fuck.

                He hears the quiet, hissing exhale of someone forcing air through clenched teeth. He feels the mattress shake underneath him, feels Tony shifting, languid and dazed, against his side.

                And then, suddenly, he hears the sound that must’ve woken him. It’s a cry, caught so deep in someone’s chest that it’s almost a growl. Someone is having a hell of a bad dream, and Jason can tell from the loose grip of Tony’s arm around his chest that it isn’t him.

                “Fuck,” Jason says, and shoves himself up on his elbow to look at the Soldier.

                “What’s?” Tony says, yawning his way through it. He rolls over, on instinct, and reaches for Bucky.

                They’re too crowded together for Jason to stop him, so he does the next best thing. As Tony’s fingers brush against Bucky’s arm, Jason grabs Tony around the waist and pulls, rolling him right over the top of him and throwing him out of bed, where he lands, hard, on the floor.

                “What the fuck,” Tony says, more confused than angry, and Jason wants to explain, but Bucky’s up, and moving, and he’s still not awake.

                Jason doesn’t have time to get himself out of the bed, so he ends up pinned down, Bucky on top of him, flesh hand braced against Jason’s collarbone while his metal one pulls back, looks ready to punch half of Jason’s face in.

                “Fuck, shit,” Jason says, one arm coming up to guard his face as the other reaches behind him for his gun. “Wake the fuck up.”

                There’s nothing in Bucky’s eyes except anger, and fear. He throws a punch, and Jason just barely manages to get out of its way. He’s heavier than Bucky. Not heavy enough to throw him off at this angle, but heavy enough that he can move them, a little.

                In response, Bucky’s hand shifts from his collarbone to his throat, and Jason curls his hand around the gun under his pillow, thumbs the safety off. He doesn’t want to shoot Bucky, but wants, even less, to die gasping in his own bed, murdered by one of the idiot strays he’s taken in.

                “Bucky,” Tony says, loud and panicked. Scared.

                Bucky’s head swivels immediately to Tony, and Jason feels the pressure on his throat lessen and then disappear. Bucky turns to look down at Jason underneath him and goes immediately pale.

                “Fuck,” he says, soft but earnest. “Oh, fuck.”

                “It’s okay,” Jason says, quickly. “You’re alright. Don’t fucking freak out, Buck. It was just a bad dream.”

                “I hurt you,” Bucky says, like it’s the worst thing he’s ever done. He’s staring at Jason’s throat. “Did I—Tony--?”

                “Nah, Stark’s fine,” Jason says. “You didn’t do anything to Stark, Bucky. Calm down.”

                Bucky shakes his head and climbs off Jason. He is, despite Jason’s advice, freaking the fuck out. He’s off the mattress and walking, like there’s anywhere in this warehouse to hide from what he just did.

                “I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t—I wasn’t--“

                “Yeah, shitty dreams,” Jason says, with a shrug. He comes up on his elbows, but doesn’t make any move to get out of bed. Doesn’t want Bucky to feel followed, or trapped. “I know. Bucky, it could’ve just as easily been me. Don’t lose your shit over this. It’s fine.”

                Jason does not look at Stark. Tony, as much as he tries to act like he’s game for anything, can’t be used to the way these things can manifest, how violence bleeds from one area of your life into every other one. This isn’t something he’ll understand. Jason will have to deal with Tony at some point, but, right now, his focus is on Bucky, who’s pacing the kitchen, metal hand clenched into a tight, shaking fist.

                “Fuck.” Bucky braces himself against the sink, hands curled around the counter, and takes a deep, steadying breath. He’s still entirely too tense, but he’s steadying, finding his balance.

                Jason climbs out of bed and walks toward him. Bucky twists to face him, but keeps his hands on the counter, like he doesn’t trust them anywhere near Jason right now.

                “Bucky,” Jason says, “listen. You didn’t hurt Tony. You only barely hurt me. You didn’t mean to. It’s fine.”

                “At some point,” Bucky says, “I didn’t mean to is gonna stop qualifying as an excuse.”

                “You were brainfucked by Hydra for decades, Bucky. Cut yourself some Goddamn slack.” Jason finds himself wishing, again, that Grayson were here. Or that he had an ounce of Grayson’s easy charm, just for emergencies.

                “I’m sorry,” Tony says, suddenly. “This is the touching conversation I missed, isn’t it? Back home. There was a conversation about not touching.”

                Jason remembers the shower, and the way Bucky had reacted. He’d been worse then. Jason’s black eye from that episode is still fading. This time around, Jason doesn’t even think he’ll bruise. Bucky’s getting better, veering away from the most destructive of his instincts. But Jason can see how that might now be much comfort, given that he’d just woken up to himself choking Jason out.

                Jason shrugs and concentrates on using a tone that is not openly accusatory. “Yeah, Stark, next time he’s having a shitty dream, try using your words first.”

                “It’s not his fault,” Bucky says, and he doesn’t work half as hard to keep the accusation out of his voice.

                “It’s no one’s fucking fault,” Jason says, loud. “Jesus Christ, it was just a bad dream, and it wasn’t handled right. You didn’t do any damage. Everyone just fucking calm down.”

                “You’re the one yelling,” Tony points out, but he seems a little pacified. He fidgets uneasily on his feet, and he keeps shooting Bucky these weird, sideways looks.

                “I’ll take the couch,” Bucky says. “Tonight. Or whenever. I’ll take the couch.”

                “Do whatever the fuck you want,” Jason says, because he’s not going to have a fight about this. If he’d woken up with his hand around Bucky’s throat, he’d be feeling a little squirrelly, too, but he wouldn’t know how to make that right, either. “I’m gonna go get breakfast.”

                “You’re leaving?” Bucky demands, suddenly tense. He only glances Tony’s way for half a second, but it’s long enough for Jason to figure out what’s bothering him.

                “I cannot fucking believe,” Jason says, with feeling, “that I’m the one saying this, but, Bucky, you are in no way a threat to Tony right now. You had a bad dream. For fuck’s sake. You’re awake now. It’s done. I’m getting breakfast.”

                It’s maybe not the smartest move, leaving, but he has to. He can’t stay here. Jason’s always had a problem keeping his head clear; he’s always been – as Bruce would intone, grim and permanently disappointed – emotional. But it’s rage, with Jason. It’s almost always rage. And rage, he knows how to handle.

                That’s not what he’s feeling right now.

                He feels sad. Sad for Bucky, whose monsters run a little close to the surface. For Tony, who’s maybe finally figuring out why it’s dangerous to be around them, why he should go running to Coulson and his juvie refugee sidekick at the earliest opportunity. For himself, because he’s only just realized what it’s like, having people around he can trust to be around, to stay, to not leave him whenever it’s easy or convenient, and now some bullshit nightmare, some stupid accident, is threatening to take it away.

                He leaves. He slams the door behind him. He tells himself he doesn’t care if he comes back to find the whole place empty.

 

 

 

                He goes to the bakery eight blocks away. There’s one five blocks closer, but he likes this one better. And, anyway, he’s not so blind or stupid that he can’t see he’s buying himself time. When he gets like this, edgy and restless and ready to throw a punch at damn near anyone just so he won’t have to weather the surprise of getting hit first, it’s best to run himself out, bleed off some of that energy so he doesn’t explode.  

                The older couple that runs the bakery smiles when they see him. The grandfather comes out from behind the counter to hug him, and Jason lets it happen. He lets the grandmother call him something sweet in Czech, too. He thinks, while it’s happening, that it might be why he came here in the first place.

                Years ago, when Jason was still a mostly-feral, half-lunatic daydreaming about murdering Bruce with his hands, a group of men came around and hassled Julia, their granddaughter. She’d been maybe fifteen at the time. They’d trapped her in the alley behind the bakery, and her screams had caught his attention. Jason hadn’t done it for the right reasons, but he’d still done it. He’d beaten all of them unconscious, got the girl to the hospital.

                He’s noticed that, sometimes, if you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, it still counts. Not with Bruce, but with people like this. And Bruce can fuck off anyway, because his approval doesn’t come with free kolaches, or his body weight in cinnamon rolls.

                Still, even with free pastries on permanent offer, Jason doesn’t stop by that often. Their affection feels wrong. Cheap, somehow, to come around looking for hits of something he hasn’t really earned. But he’ll take it anyway. He’s never really been a good person, and selfishness is one of his lesser sins.

                He gets two boxes of pastries, grinning wide and just a little wicked when Vera clucks and says, “Two today. Must have someone to feed at home.”

                He hopes so. And if he doesn’t, if they’re gone, he can take the extras to those kids he saw on the street last night.  

                Or maybe he’ll just eat eight pounds of pastries alone, because he’s had enough of taking care of strays.

 

 

 

                When he gets back, Bucky is sitting in a kitchen chair, docile and quiet, staring out the window while Tony cuts his hair.

                “What the fuck,” Jason says, ignoring the happy curl of relief in his chest, “are you two doing?”

                “We,” Tony says, with the slightest edge to his voice, “are being calm. Like you suggested.” For a second, it seems like that’s all he’s going to say, but then, because he’s Tony fucking Stark, he goes on. “We sure as hell aren’t running away from our problems.”

                “Fuck you,” Jason says. “I brought you breakfast, and all you’ve brought is shit-talk.”

                “Smells good,” Bucky says. He’s got his head tipped back in Tony’s hands. His eyes are closed. All that tension from before has eased out of him, and Jason wonders how the hell Tony managed it.

                “Did you two fuck it out while I was gone?” Jason says, because it feels a little like the ground is slipping out from under him, and the only way he knows to regain his footing is to get aggressive.  

                “Oh, yeah,” Tony says, running his hand through Bucky’s hair, “we definitely did. On your bed, too. Cleaned up with your pillowcase.”

                Jason’s eyes cut to the bed, and Tony snorts and then laughs at him. The bed is exactly how it was when Jason crawled out of it. His pillowcase looks unmolested.

                “We used our words,” Tony tells him, throwing Jason’s comment right back in his face.

                “Well, I used kolaches,” Jason says, a little mutinous. “Feel free to skip breakfast if you’re still full from all that dick.”

                “It’s amazing,” Bucky says, lightly, “how people speak to each other these days.”

                “Sorry, Greatest Generation,” Jason says, as he drops the boxes on the kitchen counter and flips one open. “Am I shocking you?”

                “A little,” Bucky admits and then goes quiet again when Tony uses the towel around his shoulders to fluff his hair up and then finger-combs it back into place. There’s a whole mess of hair by Tony’s feet, like some fluffy rat met its inglorious end on Jason’s floor.

                Jason grabs the broom and a kolache and heads over.

                “Oh,” Tony says, sounding surprised. “You’re going to be useful. Isn’t that--”

                Jason shoves the whole kolache in Tony’s mouth, which frees up his hands to use the broom and dustpan.

                “Feeling better, Barnes?” Jason says, as Tony grumbles around his breakfast.

                Bucky looks up at him. With his hair cut short, he looks less like a Hydra pet and more like he used to, back in those pictures with him grinning, arm wrapped around Captain America’s ridiculous shoulders. His smile is smaller these days, and his eyes don’t light up quite as bright, but the resemblance seems to get stronger every day.

                “Feeling better,” he agrees. He looks toward the mattress, that smile curling soft and private at the edges of his mouth. Jason looks back, thinking maybe he missed it, maybe there are rumpled sheets and a ruined pillowcase, but he can see, from this angle, that someone’s taken one of the pillows and several off the blankets off the bed, made a sort of nest beside it.

                A makeshift bed for a recovering brainwashed serial killers. What the Christ is Jason’s life?

                “I’m making a gallon of coffee,” Jason tells them, abruptly, turning back to the kitchen. “So if you two assholes want any, you’re gonna have to wait for the next pot.”

 

 

 

                After breakfast, Tony wants to fiddle with the traps, and Jason invites him to fuck off, but Tony, unsurprisingly, interprets that as blanket permission to do whatever the hell he likes. He gets Bucky to help him. He doesn’t even have to work that hard to make it happen. Jason wants to tell Bucky that he’s a grown man, and a dangerous international killer, and he shouldn’t let Stark bully him around, but he knows exactly how hypocritical it would be for him to bring that up.

                After all, at one point in the not-distant past, he carried the Winter Soldier up a flight of stairs because Tony wanted to give him a bath.

                So, instead, he checks his stitches and his weapons and then, somehow, he gets suckered into helping Tony take apart his favorite bike and put it back together again.

                “There you go,” Tony says, when they’re done. “That’s more fun.”

                Jason’s pretty sure he can outrun Bruce now. “Thanks,” he says, rubbing his greasy hands against his jeans. He tries to keep the approval off his face, but Tony beams at him and even Bucky looks amused.

 

 

 

                “So, what’s step one?” Tony asks, later, when they’re all eating the Greek takeout Jason brought back for dinner.

                Jason’s found that family-style orders usually prompt less weirdness as far as Bucky actually eating goes. If Jason buys tubs of food and hauls it all back, fill his plate first, and then pushes the food Bucky’s direction, no one has to eat off Bucky’s plate first. They can almost pretend they’re all normal. Normal enough that no one seems to notice, anyway, when they do this in public.

                Jason’s life has given him a lot of experience in hiding his weaknesses, downplaying whatever’s broken or hurt so no one will notice the vulnerability. It’s weird and backwards, having to figure out how to do it for someone else.

                “Step one of killing all these Hydra assholes,” Tony clarifies, when they both just blink at him. “Where do we start?”

                “Oh,” Jason says, and shrugs. “Information first.” Because, however obnoxious it is to agree with Bruce on any point, he is, sometimes – possibly just by benefit of running his mouth so damn much – not wrong. Going in without information means he does half the work but takes twice the bullets. He’s past the point now where that seems like a fair trade. “I’m gonna patrol later, find out what’s happened in Gotham while I was gone.”

                “Patrol,” Tony repeats, eyebrows pulling up. He’s got a mug of coffee by his plate, and Jason would bitch at him about drinking coffee this late, but he is not Stark’s mother, whatever evidence may be accumulating to the contrary. And, honestly, he’s mostly just glad it’s not a mug full of vodka. “What do you mean, patrol?”

                Jason pauses and then shrugs. “Run my area of the city. Make sure no one’s done anything especially fucked up while I was out. I was gone longer than I figured I’d be.”

                Tony and Bucky share a look that Jason can’t read, although he gets the vague idea he doesn’t like it much. “You want me to go with you?” Bucky asks. “Backup?”

                “Nah,” Jason says, shaking his head. “I want you to stay here and make sure Stark doesn’t blow up anything important. Or talk to anyone.”

                Tony flips him off. “I can talk to people,” he says. “People love it when I talk to them.”

                “Great,” Jason says. “You and Bucky can chatter away all night, and I’ll be back when I’m back.”

                Tony considers him for a long moment, and Jason refuses to feel nervous, but there’s something in the steady calculation in his eyes that Jason knows doesn’t bode well. “You got any Valium?” Tony asks, finally.

                “What?” Jason frowns. “Do I have any Valium?”

                “If I’m gonna be stuck at home while you get to have all the fun, I want the fucking bonuses. I’m not gonna be a housewife without Valium. That’s the shittiest thing I’ve ever heard.”

                “No one’s asking you to be a--- Jesus, Stark, I just gotta run patrol. It’s got nothing to do with Hydra, or you. It’s just a thing I have to do.”

                “Seems like,” Bucky says, slowly, “if it’s a thing that could get you injured or killed, it’s got a lot to do with Hydra, and a lot to do with us.”

                Jason huffs and crosses his arms over his chest. “If you two are fishing to come along---”

                “Yeah, thanks,” Tony says, smiling. “Love to. Let me find some active wear.”

                “Active wear,” Jason says, pointing at Tony but looking, beseechingly, to Bucky. “He wants to go fight crime in active wear.”

                “Well, I’d do it in a leather catsuit,” Tony says, “but I’d need to custom order one that fits my measurements.”

                Jason scowls and looks between the two of them. He can see taking Bucky. The Winter Soldier can keep up with him, and Bucky would be useful. Plus, it’d be good to see what he can do, to test the limits of his skill before they really start going after Hydra. He does not want to take Tony, but he wants, even less, to leave him here, alone, without anyone to watch him.

                If he were on better terms with Bruce, maybe he could arrange dropping Tony at the Batcave before patrol and picking him up after. With all those expensive toys to play with, Tony probably wouldn’t even mind getting left behind all that much.  

                But the second Bruce figures out Jason’s got Tony Stark slumming it in his safehouse, he’s going to start throwing one of his fits about it. He’s sure as hell not going to agree to let Alfred and the experimental tech babysit him while Bucky and Jason handle shit.

                Plus, it might do the kid some good, to see the parts of the world he’s been sheltered from. Especially if those parts of the world might be currently conspiring to kill him.

                “Tell you what, Stark,” Jason says, “you two stay here tonight, let me see how things are, and then maybe I’ll take both of you out.”

                Tony grins at him like he’s promised him a nice dinner or a trip to the National Air and Space Museum or whatever it is that people who know how to date Tony Stark would do. “Yeah?” he says, biting the corner of his mouth to keep his grin back. “You’re taking us on a field trip?”

                “Sure,” Jason says. “Especially if you get that catsuit. Batman’ll fucking love it. He is – and I’m saying this as an objective observer, okay, just tracking patterns – weirdly into that shit.”

 

 

 

                Jason heads out just after midnight. Bucky and Stark have cleared a space in the living room, and Bucky’s teaching him how to throw punches without breaking his own thumbs. Jason’s not thrilled about leaving them like that, but he figures Stark’s not going to manage anything dangerous enough to trip Bucky into a Winter Soldier freakout.

                And, anyway, it’s fucking cute. Stark bobs around, fists up, eyes focused, and Bucky watches, careful and attentive, and it’s fucking adorable. Jason leaves quick, before he can get caught staring.

                He’s out until just before dawn. There’s a lot to catch up on, but nothing that suggests Hydra or SHIELD’s been sniffing around. Jason sorts out a pimp who’s been intimidating the girls who work on the border of Jason’s territory, makes a note to yell at Tim about letting his shit bleed over into his area in the first place, and then gets into a bit of a commotion with some idiots who viewed his unusually prolonged absence as a power vacuum, some bullshit excuse to start extorting money from people for “protection.”

                He comes back in through the garage entrance, sheds his body armor and sweat-stained clothes and drags himself into the shower. Normally, he’d just collapse into bed and wash the sheets later, but Tony seems like the type to wake up and get a bit hysterical about bloodstained sheets without bothering to notice that it isn’t Jason’s blood.

                When he finally dumps himself into bed next to Tony, he’s loose-limbed and dazed from well-earned exhaustion. Bucky pushes himself up from his nest on the floor long enough to look him over, and, on the other side, Tony rolls in close and runs his hand down Jason from neck to hip, like he’s feeling for bloodstains.

                “How’d it go?” Tony says, and then yawns, presses his face into Jason’s back.

                “Fine,” Jason says. “I didn’t get shot, Tony. Stop feeling me up unless you’re going somewhere with it.”

                Tony snorts and gropes him, quick and light, just fucking around, and Jason huffs out an exasperated breath and can’t decide if he wants to laugh or yell about who’s forgetting their good touch, bad touch.

                “You got a plan for tomorrow?” Bucky asks, his voice pitched low and gone a little gravelly with sleep.

                Jason clears his throat, and tries not to get distracted by the way Bucky sounds or the way Tony feels, pressed up against him. “Yeah. Figured I’d check up on a couple people I didn’t see tonight. And then I figured I’d go get Dick.”

                There’s a long, weighted pause. Tony makes a quizzical noise. “You don’t think that’s something that could be handled in-house?” he asks, his voice bright with all the laughter he’s holding back. “I mean, between the two of us, I’m sure we could sort that out for you.”

                “Might be willing to help out,” Bucky agrees, with a casual shrug. “If you asked nicer than that.”

                Jason blinks, replays the conversation in his head, and then sighs, exasperated. “Dick,” he says, with all the dignity he can gather, “is a person.”

                Normally he wouldn’t have used his name, even if he doesn’t much care about the sanctity of Grayson’s secret identity. It’s an interesting slip-up. He’ll have to keep an eye on that. He’s getting too comfortable with them.

                “Well, I’d fucking hope he’s a person,” Tony says, and then he starts laughing.

                Jason makes an aggravated noise in the back of his throat, but he’s smiling, and he can’t quite make himself stop. “You two,” he says, “are fucking unprofessional. I’m not telling you any more of the plan.”

                “Better not,” Tony agrees, still laughing. “Or none of us are gonna get any sleep.”

                Jason grumbles and rolls over, punches his pillow a little to get it into a good shape, and then closes his eyes. He can hear Tony breathing, can feel the warmth and weight of him. He can’t hear a damn thing from Bucky, but he knows he’s there, positioned between them and the window, the Goddamn Winter Soldier.

                It’s dangerous. He shouldn’t get used to this. He knows that.

                But the longer the spends with them, the less reason he sees not to enjoy having them around, while they’re here.

Chapter Text

                Jason wakes up to the beautiful sounds of coffee percolating. He blinks his eyes open to see Bucky, standing in the kitchen, stirring something on the stove. Jason yawns, stretching out the muscles that got an extra workout last night, as he wonders what the hell Bucky’s up to over there.

                Tony shifts against him and grumbles a complaint against Jason’s collarbone. “Yeah, yeah,” Jason says, rolling over on his back to put some space between them. “You’re a damn princess in the mornings. Everyone knows.”

                “Cream of Wheat,” Bucky says, when he glances over and catches Jason watching him. He looks weirdly pleased about something. “It’s the same. I remember my mom making it. Same guy on the front and everything.”

                Jason snorts and pretends not to notice the way Tony is sabotaging his attempt to get out of bed by crawling on top of him all over again. “With the shelf life on that shit,” he says, “it might be the same box.”

                Bucky laughs, so quiet it’s almost soundless, and nods. It’s nice, seeing him like this. They’re good for him, Jason realizes. Not in the sense that anybody would be good for him, provided they weren’t a Hydra agent, but they - the two of them, the bizarre, damn near unholy combination of Jason and Tony - are good for him. With his haircut, his smile, and his easy stance, the way he’s got his back to a window for fuck’s sake, he looks more like Bucky Barnes than ever.

                Back when he first realized how dangerous the Winter Soldier was, Jason almost put a bullet in his head. He’d been so damn close to it. And he knows, if he has to, he’ll still do it.

                He’s starting to appreciate how much it’ll fuck him up, if he has to. But he’ll do it.

                He remembers the promise he made. He remembers sitting on Stark’s workbench while Bucky sewed up the cut in his side.

                If someone uses the words, and we can’t stop them, I want you to shoot me.

                Yeah. I will.

                He will. If he has to. But he’s growing increasingly partial to Tony’s solution, instead.

                The more he sees of Bucky Barnes, the more committed he is to hunting down every Hydra agent who had a hand in turning him into the Winter Soldier and, in Tony’s words, murdering the shit out of them.

                Bucky turns off the stovetop, moves the pot to another burner. He fusses around in the kitchen for another minute or two, and then he ambles over, coffee in hand.

                “Wake up,” he says, looking down at them. “There’s breakfast.”

                He takes a sip of his coffee cup and looks, in that moment, entirely too relaxed. Jason comes up off the bed far enough to hook an arm around Bucky’s knees, and then he tugs. He moves fast, but not so fast that Bucky couldn’t get out of the way, if he wanted to.

                Instead of dodging it, Bucky folds, landing on the mattress hard enough to startle a squawk of protest out of Stark and only barely managing to avoid spilling his coffee. Jason swipes the mug out of his hand now that it’s within reach and blows across the surface, cooling the coffee to a more reasonable temperature, before he takes a drink.

                “Thanks, Buck,” he says, with a smug smile in his direction. Bucky rolls his eyes, but smiles back at him.

                “Coffee?” Tony says, suddenly sitting up, eyes zeroing in immediately on the mug in Jason’s hand. He reaches out, and Jason lets him take it.

                Tony closes his eyes when he drinks, like he’s having some kind of religious experience. His hair is everywhere, and he’s wearing one of the shirts Jason remembers buying for Bucky. It’s loose on him, collar hanging down to flash an intriguing expanse of collarbone.

                Tony passes the coffee back to Bucky and then stretches out, his head on Jason’s chest and his legs kicked out across Bucky’s lap.

                Jason thinks maybe he should remind Tony about how they aren’t supposed to be seducing him, but, less than two minutes ago, he’d literally wrestled Bucky into bed. Anyway, Bucky doesn’t seem to mind. He’s taking a sip of coffee, watching the both of them over the rim of the mug, looking for all the world like someone who doesn’t double-check every single entrance and exit before he goes to bed at night.

                Jason’s not sure what it is about this that’s working for him. Some combination of dragging the Winter Soldier around, of being allowed to drag him around, of Bucky Barnes making breakfast, and of Tony Stark soaking up every spare bit of easy morning affection that he can find.

                “We,” Jason says, as Bucky passes the coffee back to him, “are going to murder the fuck out of Hydra.”

                They have to. Jason’s going to call in every favor he’s owed, make up a few just to pressure anyone who seems likely to play along. He’s not losing Bucky or Tony to them. He’s not losing this – whatever it is, and however long he gets to have it – to some bullshit ex-Nazi crime group.

                “Yeah,” Tony says, tipping his head back to smile up at him. His mouth is inches from Jason’s. He’s grinning, slow and languid and a little bit wicked. “We are.”

                Bucky doesn’t say anything, and he’s not smiling, but there’s something in his eyes that Jason likes. Some kind of rage that Jason can identify with, but, layered under that, that sort of cold, dispassionate determination that Jason hasn’t felt since he gave up on his plans to kill Bruce.

                It’s nice, Jason thinks, to have some kind of direction again.

                Nicer, in its way, to have someone traveling the same way this time.

 

 

 

                He keeps his promise to take Tony and Bucky out, but he and Bucky fuss for half an hour, suiting Tony up. “Look,” Jason says, “just hang back, okay? If we get into any shit.”

                “Yeah, sure,” Tony says, holding still while Bucky adjusts the shoulder holster they’ve found for him. “I’ll just swoon somewhere soft, right?”

                “I’m not fucking around,” Jason says. “Don’t get into any shit. Don’t try anything stupid. Don’t break our focus by getting yourself into trouble. You’re on a nature walk, okay? You’re a tourist.”

                “My favorite thing about him,” Tony says, to Bucky, “is how much of a sweet talker he is. Right?”

                “Definitely,” Bucky says. He’s standing behind Tony, fixing the straps on the holster. He looks over Tony’s shoulder to make eye-contact with Jason, a small smile curling up the side of his mouth and an unusual weight to his gaze. “I’ve been soft on him since he called me a brain damaged serial killer.”

                Jason grins and thinks about stepping forward and hooking a hand around the Bucky’s head, fingers slipping through the now-short hair at the back of his neck. He thinks about kissing him, with Tony trapped between them.

                “How’s it look?” Tony asks, tugging at the holster.

                Jason blinks and looks down at him. “Adorable,” he says, honestly. “Here, I know this is your favorite.” He passes him the gun he’d used in California and helps him get it holstered.

                “Don’t draw that,” he says. “Unless we’re both dead.”

                “Or about to be dead,” Bucky amends. He’s backed away from Stark and is double-checking all his gear. He’s suited up in a mishmash of Hydra gear and Jason’s extras, and it is going to be a problem for Jason, watching him move around all night in those pants.

                “About to be dead is also fine,” Jason agrees, somewhat reluctantly. “But don’t good cop, bad cop him on this shit, Barnes. We need to set some ground rules.”

                “You two are gonna be so fucking embarrassed when I have to save your asses,” Tony tells them. He’s taken their shit-talk with good grace. He seems fucking thrilled about being included. Jason’s starting to wonder exactly how deep those rejection insecurities run and who the hell gave him those to begin with.

                “Mortified,” Bucky agrees with a smile so sweet that it makes Tony honest-to-God blush.

                “Hey,” Jason says, suddenly. “My name’s Jason.”

                Bucky and Tony both turn to look at him. Jason’s not sure why he said it now, although he’s been thinking about doing it for awhile. He’s not sure how he feels about the way they look at him.

                “Alright,” Jason says, before either of them can say anything, “that’s done. Now let’s get out of here.”

                He lets Bucky take his second favorite bike and puts Tony right behind him, hands wrapping around Bucky’s waist with a complete lack of shame. They aren’t wearing masks, and their weapons are hidden. Jason rides out in front of them, masked and suited up, dressed to draw fire.

                He could give them a tour of his patrol, but it’s still a little wild from his absence. He takes them to Blüdhaven, instead.

                If he’s going to take on Hydra, he’s going to need allies. And, as much as he might not want to, he knows exactly where he can scare up a few worthwhile options.

 

 

 

                Three hours later, Grayson comes winging in, lands lightly on the fire escape next to Jason. He nods at Jason’s quick look, and then stares down at where Bucky’s dispatching a few street muggers who really picked the shit side of a bad plan when they went out to harass the street corner girls tonight.

                “Wow,” Grayson says, as Bucky flips himself around, smacks one dumbass into the other and takes out a chunk of the brick wall in the process.

                “Yeah,” Jason agrees. He’ll get to Grayson. They’re going to have a whole discussion. But he wants to watch this first.

                Grayson, apparently, does not object. He settles in, eyes on the fight below. He makes a low noise in his throat when Bucky grabs the knife out of one man’s hand, cuts the man’s holster off with his own knife, and catches the falling gun with his free hand.

                “Shit,” Grayson murmurs, approvingly. “He single?”

                “Are you?” Jason shoots back, harsher than he means to.

                Grayson glances away from the fight, eyes Jason’s crossed arms, and grins, big and amused and, worst of all, proud. “Jaybird,” he says, like someone threw him a surprise party, “did you bring a boy home to meet the family?”

                “I’m gonna knock every single one of your teeth down your throat,” Jason tells him.

                “The better to blow your boyfriend with, kiddo,” Grayson says. And then he fucking winks.

                Jason opens his mouth to tell him to go fuck himself but has to close it to again before he laughs. Dick could always make him laugh. Weird, circus freakshow that he is.

                “Whoops,” Grayson says, refocused on the fight, “gotta shut this down. Sorry about how handsy I’m about to get with your man. Don’t bring him around in leather pants next time.”

                “Hey,” Jason says, “the fuck--”

                But Grayson drops, faster than Jason can follow, and he lands a kick right between Bucky’s shoulders blades, knocks him away from the mugger he’s been menacing with the gun he picked up during the fight. Bucky stumbles forward, and Grayson has a chance to follow up while he’s still off-guard, but it all goes awry for him because Tony, blessed fucking Tony, disregards every single rule Jason and Bucky gave him and hits Grayson with a taser shock that leaves him twitching on the ground.

                Before Jason can even yell out that Grayson is (maybe, technically,) on their side, Bucky regains his balance, turns around, and aims the barrel of his gun right at Dick’s domino mask.

                If Jason’s going to keep watching them do this, he’s really going to need to wear looser pants.

                “Hey,” he calls down, finally, “don’t shoot him. Not anywhere serious, anyway.”

                Bucky complies immediately, swings the gun around to aim at Dick’s right shoulder. Tony pokes his head out of the alley, rearming his little taser gun, and checking his watch to see how long Grayson twitches.

                The criminals that are still capable of walking choose this moment to get the hell out. Bucky glances up at Jason, registers Jason’s relative lack of concern, and keeps his gun trained on Grayson.

                “Thirty seconds,” Tony says, when Dick takes a deep breath and goes still. “Shit.”

                “Nah, kid,” Jason says, comforting, as he drops onto the sidewalk. “This asshole’s got a tolerance. He’s not a good test subject. He’ll skew your results.”

                “What the hell,” Grayson says, coming up, springing off the sidewalk with a little extra flair in his movements, like maybe his nerves are still lighting up from the dump of electricity, “was that?”

                “He made it,” Jason says, nodding at Tony. “He’s been upgrading all my shit.” He doesn’t need to tell Grayson that, but he wants to. Wants to show off, maybe, although Jason’s not sure whether he’s showing off the tech or its creator.

                “Well, shit,” Grayson says, clearly impressed, “I still can’t feel my toes.” He shakes himself a little, stretches, and then double-takes at Tony. “Wait, you made that?”

                “Yeah,” Tony says, and shrugs. “When I was fourteen. I’ve been reworking its design lately.”

                “Are you single?” Dick asks, and Jason can tell, this time, that he’s just kidding. But Bucky can’t, apparently, because the gun swings low, and suddenly he’s aiming right at Grayson’s dick. “Oh, woah,” Grayson says, hands up. “Got it. Okay. No one’s single.”

                “Who’s not single?” Tony asks, breezily. “Take me to dinner, and I can do something about that antiquated tech on your belt.”

                “No, he can’t,” Bucky says, before Jason has a chance to do the same thing. “Red, who is this?”

                “Well,” Jason says.

                “Family,” Grayson says, stubborn, like he’s ready to fight Jason over it already.

                “Coworker,” Jason offers, instead.

                “It’s a family business,” Grayson counters, and Jason shrugs, because, fine, fuck it. He guesses maybe it is. “Speaking of.” Dick looks at him, suddenly serious. “You let B know you’re back?”

                “No,” Jason says, determinedly ignoring the looks he’s getting from Tony. Bucky, the sweetheart, is keeping his eyes – and his gun – on Grayson.

                “Should think about it,” Grayson says, squinting casually at the streetlights as if that’ll somehow make it all more palatable.  It puts his face in profile, lights up his cheekbones, and Jason can see how, with most of the population, that might tend to get him what he wants. “He’s about to go down to California looking for you.”

                Jason scowls. “Who the fuck told him I was in California?”

                Dick clears his throat. “Oh. Well.”

                The sidestepping Grayson’s doing looks distinctly like someone who’s prepping themselves for a quick getaway. Jason doesn’t like it at all.

                “C’mon, Jaybrid,” Dick says, plaintive, “you disappear. You didn’t ask anyone to cover your patrol. You’re just gone, and there’s no word. Weird shit’s going down in California, and Howard Stark is dead, and there’s all sorts of bizarre chatter about Hydra and some homeland defense agency. It was flashy, and it was loud, and--- oh, and holy shit.” Dick stops and then turns to Bucky. “You’re the Winter Soldier.”

                “Can I shoot him now?” Bucky asks, jaw tight, gun aimed at Dick’s face all over again.

                Jason sighs and rubs his temples. “No.”

                “Jay,” Dick says, wonderingly, “you’re fucking the Winter Soldier.”

                “I’m not—would you. Goddamn it,” Jason says. He should’ve gone to Tim. Tim would’ve ratted him out to Bruce immediately, but at least he would’ve had the decency to be a fucking professional about the whole thing.

                “His name,” Tony says, “is Bucky Barnes. Don’t fucking call him that. That’s not who he is.”

                “Shit, sorry,” Dick says. “I didn’t know the semantics were so charged here. Nice to meet you, Bucky Barnes. I’m Nightwing. What are your intentions toward Jay? You plan to treat him right? He’s sensitive, has some deep-seated abandonment issues that the citizens of Gotham and I would thank you not to play into.”

                “I swear to God,” Jason says, “I will shoot you and go to the replacement instead. I will.”

                “You’re not bringing these two around the kid,” Grayson says, suddenly serious. “What do you need?”

                “I need you to keep an eye out for any Hydra activity in the area. We’re gonna be pissing them off kind of a lot, and I need you to make sure they don’t follow us home through Blüdhaven.”

                “Home,” Grayson says, rolling the word around in his mouth. “Us, we. Wow, Jay.”

                “Shut up.” Jason’s not going to discuss this shit with Dick Grayson. He is not. “And I need you to set up a meeting with Batman.”

                Grayson frowns at him and tips his head to the side. “Jaybird,” he says, tone gone almost gentle, “you could ask him yourself. He’d show.”

                Jason shakes his head. That’s maybe true, and it maybe isn’t. But if Grayson’s brokering the meeting, if Grayson is there, too, Bruce will be less shitty about the whole thing. Still a suspicious, difficult, obnoxious son of a bitch, but a little bit less of one.

                “No, thanks. I need him to actually show up. Appreciate it if you showed, too.”

                Grayson nods, easy as anything. But then Dick’s always been damn near every kind of easy.  “Sure,” he says. “You got a time and place picked out?”

                “You pick,” Jason says. “Somewhere neutral, sometime soon. I don’t need him getting shitty before I’ve even asked for a favor. I’ll call you tomorrow to see what he says.”

                “Okay,” Grayson says. He looks to Tony and then Bucky and then back to Jason. “You, uh. Expect me to keep quiet about the company you’re keeping?”

                “Jesus Christ, I went on vacation. I didn’t get a fucking lobotomy. I know you’re gonna tell him.” Jason pauses and then shrugs. It doesn’t matter, really, what Grayson tells Bruce. And Jason doesn’t expect him to pass along his version of things out of the kindness of his heart, but he guesses he doesn’t stand to lose much by asking. “Just tell him it’s Barnes, okay? Not the Winter Soldier.”

                Grayson hesitates and looks to Bucky, who’s still got that gun pointed right between his eyes. They look at each other for a moment and then Bucky slowly lowers the gun, ejects the magazine and clears the round from the chamber, leaves everything on the ground at his feet.

                “Yeah,” Grayson says. “Sure. Bucky Barnes is visiting. And—sorry, what’s your name?”

                “Tony Stark,” Tony says, brightly.

                “Tony,” Grayson says. “Stark.” He looks, wide-eyed, to Jason. “Jay, what the fuck?”

                Jason shrugs and regrets that Grayson can’t see the shit-eating grin on his face under his mask. “I’m a sweet-talker. Just ask them.”

 

 

 

                After the meeting with Grayson, they leave Blüdhaven. There’s an easy route back, but Jason doesn’t take it. He cuts through some of the rougher areas of Gotham, wants Tony to see it, wants Bucky to know how to get through it. He goes fast, a little reckless, and Bucky keeps pace easily. They speed through, cutting a few sharp corners, backtracking a couple times, and then Jason hops off his bike to get the garage door open, and they stash the bikes and start ditching body armor and weapons.

                “That,” Tony says, half-muffled, talking before he’s even got his helmet off, “was amazing. Can we do that every night?”

                “What did I say about us being dead?” Jason tugs his helmet off and drops it on one of the rickety tables he keeps in the garage.

                “Or almost dead,” Bucky adds, climbing off the bike.  

                “You said not to draw the gun,” Tony says, with the kind of wide-eyed innocence that people only trot out when they know they’ve found a loophole. “I didn’t touch the gun.”

                Jason gives him the single most incredulous face he can manage.

                “Well,” Bucky says, laughing a little. “He didn’t.”

                Jason doesn’t see how that’s the point, and he sure as hell doesn’t see why Bucky’s encouraging him. “Damn it, Buck. Cut the good cop, bad cop shit,” Jason says. “Stop trying to be his favorite.”

                Tony hums, fake-thoughtful. “I dunno. I gotta say, Barnes has launched a very effective campaign.”

                “Because he made you coffee?” Jason says. “I brought you kolaches.”

                “Yeah, but,” Tony shrugs, biting back a smile. “I just spent half the night straddling him, and you didn’t even let me on your bike.”

                “That was for your personal safety,” Jason tells him, outraged. “Straddle me any Goddamn time, Stark. You don’t need a bike as an excuse.”

                Stark’s eyebrows twitch upwards, and he starts across the garage like he’s decided that’s some kind of invitation. Jason’s not sure what his intentions are, but that table he’s dropped his gear on sure as hell isn’t going to hold their weight.

                When Stark gets close, Jason doesn’t give him a chance to wreck any of his secondhand furniture. He just grabs him, hands around his hips, and lifts, and Tony obliging wraps his legs around Jason’s waist, and then they’re making out again, still sweaty from the fights they’d picked in Blüdhaven. Jason knows enough about Stark’s reaction to danger to figure it’s probably the fight they picked in Blüdhaven that has him climbing Jason like this, but he can’t blame him, because it always works him up, too.

                Bruce comes back from every patrol like he’s been at a funeral for his firstborn. But Jason always comes back feeling like he just left a party with an open bar.

                Tony’s figuring him out. He’s still sweet, maybe can’t help being sweet, with how soft his mouth is, but he bites Jason’s lip, hard, and Jason groans into his mouth, starts to think maybe that table will hold their weight after all.

                “This,” Tony says, suddenly, pulling back, “is your fault. I told you. I said you were the one doing all the seducing. Your fault. I bear none of the responsibility for this.”

                “What?” Jason says, and then remembers. “Aw, shit. Sorry, Buck.” Jason’s really got to work on this. The difficulty is that Tony’s a hell of an enabler. “Are we traumatizing you?”

                Bucky does not look particularly traumatized. He’s watching them again, and his expression is hard to read, but it’s nothing like that Winter Soldier blankness. After a beat of silence, he straightens up and walks over.

                He kisses Tony first. He’s gentle, a touch hesitant, keeps his hands to himself and his eyes closed. Tony, because he’s Tony and has no self-control, leans into it, puts a hand on Bucky’s shoulder to steady himself. When Bucky breaks the kiss, Tony makes a noise like he’s hurt, and Jason would feel bad for him, but he’s too distracted by the fact that Bucky is kissing him now, instead.

                He’s not as gentle as he was with Stark. Jason appreciates that. He’s still a little cautious, pulls away when Jason starts to get aggressive, licks at the seam of his mouth.

                Bucky stands there for a second and then slowly traces his tongue over his lip, licking the taste of them off his mouth.

                “Yeah,” he says. He’s thoughtful for a moment, and then he smirks at them. “Not traumatized.”

                “Holy shit,” Tony says. Jason agrees, but he’s not going to say it out loud. He has some dignity left.

                Bucky’s smirk twists up wider and then he shakes his head, steps away from them. “But that’s what I’ve got for tonight. I’m going to bed.” And then he turns and leaves them, jogs casually up the stairs.

                “What a fucking tease,” Tony says, when he’s out of hearing range. “Can I call him a tease? I know he’s got all that brainwashing shit, but he just—can he—I mean, what the fuck.”

                Jason heaves out a caught breath and sets Tony back on the ground. “Yeah, he’s from the 40s, Stark. Remember? He’s probably got all these rules about putting out on the first date. We’re probably gonna have to buy him flowers.”

                “I’ll buy him flowers,” Tony says, still staring after Bucky. “I’ll buy him a personal florist.” Then he blinks and swivels his head to Jason. “Wait, this was a date? You’re counting that as a date?”

                Jason blinks and does not fidget. “You got butterflies, didn’t you?”

                Tony opens his mouth and then slowly closes it. He thinks it over for a second and then shrugs. “Yeah, alright. Fair point.”

                Jason snorts and runs a hand over his face, rubs under his eyes. He thinks about what Grayson said.

                Jaybird, did you bring a boy home to meet the family?

                Home. Us, we. Wow, Jay.

                And then he thinks about Rosa, in Missouri. Don’t let ‘em break your heart.

                “Yeah,” he says, turning toward the stairs. “I’m going to bed, too.”

                “It’s both of you,” Tony says, as Jason leaves. He sounds shocked. “You’re both like this. I’m going to die. I’m going to actually fucking die.”

                But Jason spends about five minutes in an empty bed before Tony flops down beside him, grumbly and righteously offended but still pretty damn handsy, so he figures, however close to death Tony might be, it’s not so close that he feels inclined to leave yet.

Chapter Text

                They run out of coffee in the morning. Jason’s not overly concerned about it. Bucky splits what they have between three cups, and Jason watches him tip some of his coffee into Tony’s cup before handing it over. Jason wants to mock him for it, because that is exactly the sort of shit that will make Tony even more unbearable than he already is, and, honestly, Bucky shouldn’t indulge him as often as he does, but the horrifying truth is that Jason’s already done the same thing. He’d just worked hard to hide it, and Bucky had done it right out in the open, where anyone could see.

                So Tony gets more than either of them, and it’s still not enough. He drinks his cup happily enough, tinkering away at what Jason’s pretty sure used to be his toaster oven, but, eventually, he finishes that cup and goes to refill it. He studies the coffeepot and then, slowly, lifts his head to look at Jason.

                “Where’s the rest of the coffee?” Tony asks.

                “In this cup,” Jason says, cradling what remains of his own coffee to his chest.

                Tony’s confused expression turns downright mutinous in the handful of seconds it takes him to fully process that the coffee pot is empty and they lack the supplies to brew another.

                “Should get more coffee,” Bucky advises, as Tony’s mouth goes flat and even in a way Jason’s never quite seen before.

                “Stark--” Jason begins, already defensive.

                “How,” Tony says, “is there no more coffee?’

                It’s an interesting question. The phrasing of it. How instead of why. Like the concept of scarcity is so foreign to him that he needs an explanation for its existence. Like it has never once occurred to him that he might live in a world where coffee is a finite resource.

                Jason could launch into a diatribe about rich kids and their fucking entitlement problems, about how absolutely ridiculous it is that Tony Stark is about to pitch a fit about not having coffee when Jason once had to suck it up and commit tire theft because there was no food.

                Jason’s good at yelling about rich people and their bullshit. He’s had a lot of practice. He enjoys it. He’s so good at it that he can make Bruce jump off rooftops to get away from him. Once, when he was especially worked up and Drake made the mistake of speaking in front of him, he got little Tim to throw a brick at his head. It had been Goddamn beautiful.

                He likes it, is the thing. Feels justified in it, always.

                But standing there, mostly-empty coffee cup in hand, he realizes that he can have the fight or he can hope to get laid at some point in the near future. And, viewed that way, he can see how the fight isn’t worth it.

                “Yeah, fine,” Jason says. “I’ll go get more fucking coffee.”

                “You’re a peach,” Tony tells him, smiling beatifically. It’s no brick launched at his head, but, weirdly, it hits a little like one anyway.

 

 

               

                There’s a TV on at the nearest corner shop. The clerk seems fucking entranced by it, although it’s just the news. He pointedly ignores Jason as he prowls through the shop, throwing groceries into a basket with what even he acknowledges is a bit more force than necessary.

                Bucky had offered to come with him, but Jason feels weird about leaving either one of them alone. They’ve both got their vulnerabilities. Bucky with his shakey, recently-reclaimed independent mind, and Tony with his absolute phoning in of even the most basic survival skills. He figures, if they’re together, they’re more likely to get into trouble, but they’re also more likely to get out of whatever they hell they get into. Still, he’s keyed up the whole time he’s out, feels like he’s rushing to get back even when there’s no Goddamn reason for it.

                When his basket is full of enough supplies to get them through the next few days, he walks over to the clerk and drops everything on the counter. The clerk responds slowly, eyes still on the screen, and mechanically scans everything without bothering to see what it is. Jason’s not sure if he’s impressed or disturbed by the man’s unerring ability to locate a barcode without even checking the packaging.

                The man looks at him, briefly, to announce a total, and then his eyes go back to the TV as he soon as he scoops up the money Jason puts on the counter.

                Jason’s ready to walk away, to ignore the clerk just as much as the clerk is ignoring him, but the news story on the TV catches his attention.

                Or, more specifically, Tony’s face on the TV catches his attention.

                “---diah Stane, interim CEO of Stark Industries, announced last evening that he’s had no contact with the missing Stark heir,” the woman says, serious and grim.

                Missing Stark heir is not a phrase that Jason feels especially comfortable with. He frowns and shifts so he can see the TV better.

                The camera cuts away from the anchor, and a clip plays of an older man in a suit standing at a podium, facing what appears to be an orgy of reporters, climbing all over each other to get their mics and cameras closer than anyone else.  

                The man looks tired, and concerned, and slightly overwhelmed. He’s holding his hands out and away from his body, placating. “Maria,” he says, “assures me that Tony is safe.”

                “But, Mr. Stane, is Tony with his mother?”

                The man hesitates, which is exactly the wrong move. It’s like opening a vein before jumping into the water. The sharks around him kick themselves into a frenzy, and, suddenly, all the reporters are yelling over the top of each other.

                “Is he safe?”

                “Is he under federal protection?”

                “Was he hurt in the attack? Is he undergoing medical treatment?”

                “Is he alive?”

                “Where is Tony Stark?”

                Stane takes a step back, giving up ground. His hands come up again, like he thinks somehow, this time, it’ll soothe them. “Tony Stark declined federal protection, and he left the Stark residence in the company of. Friends.” There’s another pause, a small space between of and friends that casts unpleasant connotations on the word friends.

                “Where is Tony Stark?”

                “No further questions. Thank you,” Stane says, stepping away from the podium as an exceptionally well-dressed woman moves to take his place. She eyes the reporters with the steely gaze of a professional, and the clip ends as the reporters settle, sensing that the feast, such as it was, is over.  

                “Stark Industries has issued no further information,” the anchor says, nodding grimly at the camera. “Tony Stark’s whereabouts remain unverified. He has not appeared in public since the death of his father.”

                “You want your change?” the clerk asks, as he shoves a handful of coins across the counter.

                “Son of a bitch,” Jason tells him, angrily.

                “I mean, you don’t have to take it,” the man says, furrowing his brow a little. He jerks his chin in the direction of a little tray to the side. “Take a penny, leave a penny, you know?”

                Jason stares at him for a second and thinks about throwing the change tray across the store, but he can’t see how that would do any good. “Keep it,” he says, as he grabs his groceries.

                The clerk sighs, like funneling the change into the tray is more trouble than he wants to deal with, and Jason rolls his eyes, but, honestly, he can empathize.

 

 

 

                “Hey, Stark,” Jason says, when he walks into the safehouse and finds Bucky and Tony wrestling on the floor. Tony’s got Bucky in the world’s gentlest chokehold, and Bucky’s halted the process of explaining to Tony that chokeholds require choking so that he can stare expectantly up at Jason.

                It’s sweet, really, Bucky’s newfound hobby of teaching Tony basic self-defense, but it is also distracting.

                “Jesus, okay, you two,” Jason says, and waves his hands at them. “Disentangle.”

                “Bucky says I should know this,” Tony says, earnestly, and doesn’t move.

                He’s pretzeled his limbs around Bucky like a particularly aggressive sloth, feet hooked inside his knees, arm wound around his neck, and Jason knows what he’s seeing, would make a joke about it – because, honestly, rear naked choke is just asking for it – but he is trying, desperately, to remain focused.   

                He shakes his head. “Yeah, chokes later. We’ve got a PR problem.”

                “What?” Tony finally opts to unhook himself from Bucky, but he stays on the ground, legs on either side of Bucky’s hips. “Who’s got a PR problem?”

                “We do,” Jason says, gesturing between the three of them. “Your buddy Stane is telling the press you’re missing or kidnapped or some shit. Do you know how much I don’t need Batman tearing in here to liberate you? He would be such an asshole about it. And who the fuck knows what he’d do to Bucky.”

                “Do to Bucky?” Tony frowns and stands up, stretching for a moment before he reaches down a hand to help Bucky, who looks, in Jason’s opinion, unreasonably fucking charmed by the gesture. “He’s Batman. He’s not gonna do anything to Bucky.”

                “You know,” Jason says, “you might find this a little fucking difficult to believe, but not everyone’s as sweet and forgiving as I am.”

                Once Bucky’s standing, Stark’s hands settle on his hips, like he thinks Jason’s the one he needs to pick a fight with right now. “Yeah, you’re right. That is pretty fucking difficult to believe.”

                “Look. Batman’s got some pretty unambiguous moral lines. You and I know that Bucky and the Winter Soldier are not the same person, but they wear the same fucking meat suit.”

                Bucky doesn’t seem worried. He seems attentive. He’s looking to Jason like he’s waiting for him to tell them the plan.

                Somehow, that doesn’t make Jason feel any better.

                Jason points at Tony. “You need to call this Stane asshole. He’s holding press conferences and scaring the shit out of people.”

                “Okay,” Tony says, with an insultingly casual shrug. “Sure, fine. I’ll call him. You got a phone?”

                “Not from here,” Jason says. He shoots an exasperated look at Bucky, who gives him a very validating this fucking civilian look in return. “We’re going to a payphone.”

                A payphone in Tim’s territory. Because Jason figures he’s fucked with Grayson enough, and Bruce, for all his insistence on professional detachment, always takes everything so Goddamn personally. If Jason brings a troop of reporters and cops and SI investigators into his area of Gotham, Bruce is going to get real fucking petty about it.

                Tim can get shitty about things, too. But, to be fair to Drake, Jason’s pretty sure shitty and petty are just Tim’s default settings. And Jason’s never really cared much about pissing him off.

 

 

 

                After Tony makes another pot of coffee and drinks half of it himself, he declares himself ready to call Stane. Jason doesn’t bother to hide his exasperation, but is a little distressed to find it doesn’t run as deep as he’d expect.

                He brings Bucky along, too. He’s not entirely sure how things would play out if Bruce came broke into Jason’s safehouse to find Jason and Tony missing and Bucky sitting around, drinking coffee and studying one of Jason’s maps of the city, but he can’t imagine it would go well. So, Bucky comes, too.

                Tony assures him that he can handle a bike, so he puts Tony on the one Bucky rode through Blüdhaven and watches him in his rearview for the first half mile to make sure it wasn’t just Stark’s ego talking.

                Jason would’ve felt better if he and Bucky were driving, but, until the missing Stark heir story gets sorted out, he wants some space between Tony and him and Bucky in public. He’s going to be absolutely pissed if Tony’s location gets leaked to Hydra through the Goddamn paparazzi, but it’ll be even worse if there’s photographic proof that he’s with the Winter Soldier.

                Bucky voices no complaints about the new arrangement. He just settles easily behind Jason and balances so well that it’s almost like he’s not back there at all. Jason could forget, maybe, if Bucky weren’t warm and solid, a steady weight pressed up against his back.

                It’d be more of a problem, having Bucky this close, if Jason weren’t preoccupied with all the plans he has already in motion and the potential this latest news has to fuck everything up.

                When they make it across town, Jason sends Bucky into a diner across the street to get lunch. Bucky sizes up the building and then he nods Jason’s direction before setting off. Jason knows, without asking, that Bucky will be in position at the breakfast bar facing the window within five minutes, food ordered, eyes on them.

                Having backup, Jason can already tell, is a dangerous, insidious thing. He can see how easy it would be to fall back into the trap of relying on it.

                “Why don’t we just wait until after?” Tony says, frowning a little. “We can all eat together.”

                “Yeah, that’s what Bucky needs,” Jason says, rolling his eyes. “He needs some well-meaning citizen to walk by and recognize you and see two guys standing right by you while you make a supervised call to Stane. That’s exactly how he needs to get his face on the evening news. ‘Unknown Creeps Keep Missing Stark on Short Leash.’”

                Tony raises his eyebrows. “You been this paranoid your whole life?” he asks, like he’s weighing out whether he’s impressed or amused or horrified.

                “This one, sure,” Jason says, with a shrug. “You know what really helps an idea get through? Multiple skull fractures. Now hurry the fuck up, Stark. The less time we spend here, loitering on the Goddamn street corner, the better.”

                “What do you mean, multiple skull fractures?” Tony says, mouth tugging immediately down. “When did that happen?”

                “Is this how people hurry the fuck up in your tax bracket?”  Jason says, and gestures at the bank of payphones. “Jesus, Stark, get moving. Bucky’s gonna marry one of the waitresses and have his second kid in college by the time you get through dialing the area code. Come on.”

                “I,” Tony says, with clear annoyance, “am choosing to let you to dodge the question, but I’m not forgetting it. We’re coming back to this. Multiple skull fractures. What the fuck.”

                Jason makes an unpleasant face at him and shoulders into one of the phone booths. Stark makes a face right back as he steps into his own booth, a few feet down from Jason, and Jason picks up his phone and points at it, mouths, “Make the fucking phone call.”

                Stark flips him off, but he feeds quarters into the phone and starts dialing.

                Jason turns his attention to his own task and dials Grayson, who picks up with a cheery, “This is Dick.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, “listen, you gotta get a better nickname. It’s really just now occurring to me how fucking weird it is that Bruce calls you Dick.”

                “Hey, Jay,” Grayson says, taking Jason’s life advice in stride. “Glad you called.”

                “Oh, bullshit.”

                “I got ahold of B last night, after we ran into each other,” Grayson says. “He says he can be in Blüdhaven around eleven tomorrow night.”

                Meeting in Blüdhaven is a shitty thing to ask of Jason, because it guarantees that Jason will be in territory he doesn’t know well, outnumbered by Bruce and Grayson. But it’s closer to neutral ground than most places in Gotham, and, more importantly, it is geographically a reasonable distance away from Gotham. Which is probably why Bruce picked it. If things get aggressive between the three of them, the damage Jason can do will be limited by the fact that he doesn’t know the terrain well enough to effective weaponize it.

                “Yeah, sure,” Jason says, after a beat. “Sounds real fucking swell. Where?”

                Grayson rattles off an address, which Jason is pretty sure will place them directly in the middle of a run-down set of warehouses in the industrial sector of Blüdhaven. Far away from residential areas, unlikely to house any expensive or valuable merchandise.

                It doesn’t sting, exactly. Jason understands that Bruce plans for every eventuality. He understands that Bruce doesn’t trust him. He can even – if he sets aside the useless, lunatic part of him that screams he abandoned me on loop every time he even thinks about Bruce – understand why Bruce would feel the need to take precautions to protect himself and others from Jason.

                But Jason’s never been a threat to civilians. There’s no fucking need to quarantine him.

                “Great,” Jason says, voice tight. He clears this throat and works his jaw to keep from yelling at Grayson that Bruce’s inaction has killed a hell of a lot more people than Jason’s bullets ever have. That sort of shit, however true, isn’t going to help him right now. “See you tomorrow, Grayson.”

                “Hey, Jay,” Grayson says, quick, before Jason can hang up on him. “Does your mad scientist know he’s been kidnapped?”

                “Oh, Goddamn it.” Jason huffs out a breath and looks over at Tony, who is lounging against the phone booth with the kind of impatient indolence that suggests some idiotic soul has actually put him on hold. “I’m handling that, okay? It’s fine. Did you tell Bruce it’s fine?”

                Grayson laughs, a little rueful. “I told Bruce that I was absolutely wiling to sweep him off his feet and rescue him, and he tased the shit out of me, instead.”

                “Yeah, you keep that sweeping bullshit to a minimum, okay? Because, next time, I’ll just let the other one shoot you in the dick.”

                “A minimum, sure,” Grayson agrees, more jovially than Jason feels is strictly necessary. “See you, Jaybird.”

                Jason hangs up on him as loudly as he can and then takes the business card out of his pocket and makes his second call. The phone rings twice and then even, measured tones announce, “This is Coulson.”

                “Hey,” Jason greets. He makes eye contact with Tony, who mimes something graphic at him. “I’m calling to see if you’re interested in paying a ransom for Tony Stark? His coffee habit is fucking expensive.”

                “Oh, good. You called,” Coulson says, tone warming slightly. “I was just about to fly out to Gotham to come find you.”

                “No, do that. Fly out here. You’ve got that meeting I promised you. It’s tomorrow night.”

                There’s a brief pause. “Do I?” Coulson asks, carefully. “Have that meeting?”

                “Yep,” Jason says, and smirks. “Didn’t think I’d come through, huh?”

                “I think, if you take a moment to reflect on the situation, you’ll appreciate exactly why I was not especially optimistic,” Coulson says. There’s a bit of background noise, and then, faintly, the sounds of what might actually be gunfire.

                “Are you--- holy shit, Coulson, are you working right now?” Jason asks, incredulous. He looks over toward Tony, and is momentarily distracted by the happy expression on his face, the easy, animated way he’s talking.

                “Might be,” Coulson says, evasively. “Tell me about this meeting.”

                “Jesus, Coulson, I can call back. Why the hell did you even pick up the phone?”

                “Because it’s my job to answer this phone,” Coulson tells him, like that isn’t a completely fucking ludicrous thing to say. Like men who are actively engaged in a gunfight are still somehow obligated by professional secretarial phone-answering rules. “And also because we’re almost done here. Tell me about the meeting.”

                “Tomorrow night, eleven. Blüdhaven.” Jason repeats the address Dick gave him. “Can you make that? Or are you gonna be busy getting shot at?”

                “Oh, the shooting should be done momentarily. I can make that,” Coulson says, without hesitation. There are, Jason notices, no more gunshots in the background. “And he’ll be there? The one I asked about?”

                “Oh, yeah, absolutely,” Jason says. “He’ll be there.”

                “Excellent,” Coulson says.

                “Is Jailbait there?” Jason asks. “Put him on the phone.”

                “Absolutely not,” Coulson counters. “He’s busy, and you’re a terrible influence. He brought Pop-Tarts into the field.”

                “But you’ll bring him to Gotham?” Jason says, wheedling. “I made a promise.”

                Coulson sighs, which means Jason’s already won. “Yes, he’ll be there.”

                “Great,” Jason says and grins. “You’re welcome, Coulson.”

                He hangs up before Coulson can tell him to go to hell, and he goes outside to stand where Bucky can see him clearly through the diner window. He makes a quick, subtle gesture with his hand, figures Bucky’s smart enough to puzzle out that it means it’s time to leave.

                He’s smoking when Tony comes bouncing up next to him, looking unusually cheery. He steals Jason’s cigarette and examines it. “Is this actually a cigarette? Or some kind of neurotoxin?” Tony lifts it to his mouth and breathes in before he gets an answer, which Jason thinks is a pretty fucking ballsy thing to do. “I didn’t know you smoked.”

                “I smoke sometimes,” Jason tells him, taking his cigarette back. “When I’m bored. Or about to do something stupid.”

                “Oh. Huh,” Tony says. “So which is it this time?”

                “Something stupid. Definitely something stupid,” Jason says and looks up as Bucky approaches, bags from the diner in hand.

                “Meeting set?” Bucky asks and then cuts his eyes to Stark. “You talk to Stane?”

                “Oh, yeah,” Tony says, and waves a dismissive hand. “Obie just worries, you know? Hysterical old man.” He says it like it’s embarrassing, but there’s a strange note to his voice, a weird, almost shy smile hidden at the edges of his mouth. Like he’s pleased that Obie was worried, like it was a surprise that anyone would be at all.

                It is, Jason thinks, too fucking bad that Howard Stark is dead, because Jason’s starting to feel like he wants to ask him some questions.

                “The meeting?” Bucky prompts again.

                Jason laughs and finishes off his cigarette, drops it onto the concrete and grinds it out. “Yeah,” he says, “it’s in Blüdhaven. We’re not going. We’re gonna break into the Batcave while he’s out.”

                There’s a pause. Bucky rocks his head back a little and then immediately nods, committing to Jason’s plan without even bothering to consider the very real objection that it is actually fucking insane.

                “Holy. Shit.” Tony's whole face lights up with glee. “That’s amazing.”

                “Glad you think so,” Jason says. “I need you to get into his databases. We need his Hydra intel.”

                “Holy fuck,” Tony says, voice gone soft and faint, eyes bright, “just fucking—I mean, for fuck’s sake. Give me some warning before you say shit like that, and I’ll buy a ring next time. Fuck.”

                Jason shakes his head, but he’s already grinning. He can’t think of anyone else who would react to We’re gonna break into the Batcave the same way. But, then again, he can’t think of anyone else he’d want to come along.

Chapter Text

                The most direct route into the Batcave is through the Manor. That’s not the one they take. Alfred’s in the manor, and Tim sometimes is, too, and that means Bruce takes security pretty fucking seriously.

                It’s not that Jason couldn’t get in through the Manor. But it would not be subtle, and Bruce is going to be shitty enough about this as it is. Jason’s doesn’t need to rip his way through a few walls and add extensive construction in Bat-sensitive areas of the Manor to the ever-growing list of reasons why Bruce is pissed.

                They go in through the dry well, instead. Jason doesn’t really want to see all that palatial Wayne Manor bullshit anyway, and it’s not like any of it would impress Tony. Besides, it’d be a bitch of a thing to explain to Alfred, if they ran into him.

                Hey, Alfie, Hydra’s after this guy I picked up, so I gotta hack Bruce’s shit. Can we get some cookies?

                Jason goes in first, climbs down a rope that Bucky anchors to a nearby tree. He looks around a bit after he’s got his feet on the ground. It’s musty and dark, and he thinks there are probably rats, but he’s definitely dealt with worse.

                Bucky lowers Tony down in a harness, which is fucking hilarious, but Jason opts to keep his mouth shut about it. Some people live their lives in ways that don’t require enough upper-body strength to lower themselves hand-over-hand to the bottom of a one-hundred foot well. And while Jason can’t imagine living that kind of life, he can see how, maybe, he lives his life the way he does so other people can choose not to. 

                Anyway, Jason can’t make fun of him for it, because Stark handles the indignity of a harness with good grace and hits the bottom with a big, shit-eating grin on his face. “The fucking lair,” Tony enthuses. “Batman’s lab.”

                “Yeah, he’s not like you,” Jason says, as he unhooks the harness and tugs on the rope three times to tell Bucky everything’s sorted. “He outsources a lot of his R&D.”

                “Don’t care,” Tony says, bouncing up on his toes. “He’s got all the stuff here, right? All that weird shit he uses?”

                “Most of it,” Jason says. “Listen, I’m not sure how much time we’ll have for you to play tourist. We need all that Hydra in--”

                “Right, right,” Tony says, waving him off. “I get it. I gotta work before I get to play. I remember the plan.”

                Jason wishes, suddenly and unexpectedly, that things were a little better between him and Bruce. He wishes he could drop Tony off at the Batcave for a few hours, let him and Bruce or him and Tim pour over what-the-fuck-ever. It would be, he thinks, a mutually beneficial arrangement. Everything Tony touches, he makes better.

                But Bruce doesn’t trust Jason, and this bait-and-switch bullshit isn’t going to help that. If he drops Tony off, there’s not guarantee he’ll get him back. And even if Bruce did let Tony fuck around with his equipment, he’d just take everything apart again to see what he did and evaluate its effectiveness. There’s no way he’d trust someone Jason brought him.

                It’s shitty, because someone like Stark deserves a real lab. And Jason doesn’t have access to one, which means Tony’s eventually going to have to go back to his own. And it’s hard to imagine that once Stark is back in his proper place, with all that potential and shiny metal, he’ll even remember who Jason is.

                Bucky drops next to them, almost soundless, and looks around briefly before turning to Jason. “Ready?” he asks.

                And, fuck it. Sure. Jason’s ready. This is hardly the worst thing he’s ever done to Bruce. It’s not like anybody’s going to die.

                “Yeah,” he says, “c’mon.”

 

 

 

                The first indication that something’s wrong is the smear of blood on the ground. Jason spots it almost immediately after he enters in the Batcave. It’s still fresh, a bright crimson smear of red against the gray concrete. He puts a hand out, blocking Tony, and stares.

                “Shit,” Jason says. It’s not a body’s worth of blood, but it’s enough that whoever it used to belong to probably isn’t doing too well.

                The pattern of it – the drip, drip, drip that leads up to it and then the splattered smear that follows – suggests someone was walking and then toppled over. Slipped, or lost consciousness, maybe. There’s another trail of drips that leads away, the relatively short tails of the splatters meaning someone was moving, but not fast, and showing clearly which direction they were headed.

                Jason looks up, across the Cave, and sees a figure slumped over a table near where Bruce used to keep the medical supplies. A small figure, slender, lean. Young.

                “Fucking shit,” Jason says, with feeling.

                “What’s—oh, shit. Who’s that?” Tony’s pressing up against his back, staring over Jason’s shoulder. “Is he okay?”

                “Goddamn it,” Jason says and then sighs, shakes his head to clear away all the distracting thoughts so he can focus. “Okay.” He turns, gets his hands on Tony’s shoulders, and pushes him gently in the direction of Bruce’s servers. “You, that way. Get the Hydra shit.”

                “But should I---”

                “Trust me, Stark,” Jason says. “Buck and I have better first aid skills than you. And we’re gonna need to get out of here fast. So just go get the shit we need, and I’ll deal with him.”

                “Just.” Tony frowns, still staring over Jason’s shoulder. “That looks like a kid.”

                Jason heaves an exasperated sigh. They don’t have time for this.

                “That’s not a kid,” he says. “That’s Robin. You think the Hydra soldiers at your house were a problem? Waste some more time, and we’ll get to see what happens when Batman catches us in the Batcave with a fucked up Robin.”

                Tony thinks that over for a second and then blinks. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “I’ll get to work.”

                “I appreciate that,” Jason says, and it comes out angrier than he means. He’s not mad at Tony. He is mad that Tim is, yet again, complicating what could have been simple and making a shitshow out of Jason’s life in the process. “C’mon, Bucky.”

                Bucky follows him over, a half-step back and to the side of Jason, and there’s a dark, closed-off expression on his face that Jason can’t quite puzzle out. He looks pissed, maybe, but it’s a different kind of anger than Jason’s seen from him so far. And Jason’s not sure what the hell he has to be pissed about, because it’s Jason’s plan that’s getting fucked all to pieces.

                “Hey,” Jason says, as he gets close. “Replacement.”

                Tim doesn’t move. He’s so still that Jason thinks maybe he’s dead, maybe Bruce got another one of his ducklings killed, but, when he’s within reaching distance, he can see the fog of Tim’s breath on the metal table.

                Tim still has his stupid domino mask on, but he’s worked half his torso out of the Robin uniform, probably to get at the wound high up on the underside of his left forearm. Jason’s not sure what happened to his arm, because there’s a compression bandage wrapped – sloppily – around it, but there’s a long line of skin missing from his side that looks like a bullet graze. And, right on his neck, where his stupid high collar doesn’t reach and he’s got no mask or helmet to cover, there’s a small, bright red puncture wound.

                “Watch his hands,” Jason tells Bucky. “He’s an asshole.”

                Bucky nods and shifts around, crowds on one side of Tim while Jason stands on the other.

                Carefully, Jason reaches over and rests his fingers on Tim’s neck, feeling for his pulse. It’s there, but it’s faster than Jason’s expects, especially given that Tim isn’t even awake.

                “Well, fuck,” Jason says and steps back a little, trying to figure out how he’s going to get Bruce here fast without implicating himself in whatever trouble Tim got into.

                And then, without a single intake of breath or rustle of fabric to warn him, Tim sits up so Goddamn fast he almost topples off the bench he’s sitting on.

                Bucky moves to catch him, hands going to Tim’s back and his uninjured arm, and Tim flinches, slams his head back in a headbutt that Bucky only narrowly avoids.

                “Replacement,” Jason says, and grabs Tim’s wrists. Tim swivels his direction, tries to get his feet out from under the table, squirms like a fish that knows what’s on the other end of the line, and so Jason gives up one wrist and flicks his index finger, hard, against the puncture wound on Tim’s neck.

                Tim heaves like he’s going to be sick and then slumps forward, gasping in air. 

                “I told you to watch his hands,” Jason says, a little reproachfully.

                Bucky works his jaw, but stays silent. He doesn’t, Jason notices, look any less pissed.

                “Jay--- Red Hood?” Tim says, eyes finally focusing on Jason with something other than absolute panic. “What’re you—what?”

                “That’s my line, asshole,” Jason says. “What the fuck happened to you?”

                Tim takes another deep breath and then groans a little and looks around. Now that he’s sitting upright, Jason can see an ugly bruise forming at his hairline and a collection of scratches down his face.

                “Hey,” Tim says, eyes narrowing at Tony’s back. “What’s he doing?”

                “Nothing,” Jason says. “He’s sure as hell not bleeding to death on B’s doorstep. What, you gotta outdo me in every possible way? You gotta die in his home?”

                “Don’t be dramatic,” Tim tells him, sternly. It’d be more impressive if he didn’t have to take a deep breath afterward, like the effort of sassing Jason was too much for him. “No one’s dying.”

                “Well, I’m not,” Jason says. “But I’ve started this new thing where I try to keep all my blood on the inside. Does some serious fucking wonders for the blood pressure, Replacement. You should try it.”

                “Sounds innovative,” Tim tells him and jerks his chin over Jason’s shoulder. “Why don’t you get me some more, and I’ll try it out?”

                “B keeps blood down here now?” Jason asks, once again exasperated by the fluid replacement options of the upper class.

                “Yeah,” Tim says, with a small shrug. “Was going to get it myself in a minute. Just…gathering myself, a little.”

                “Bullshit,” Jason says, laughing. “Gathering yourself. You were passed the fuck out. You weren’t gathering shit.”

                “Where’s the blood?” Bucky says, and, yeah, wow, he’s absolutely not in a joking mood. Jason raises his eyebrows, and Bucky actually scowls at him. “Jason. Where is it?”

                “He knows your name?” Tim says, a little wonderingly. “You have friends?”

                “Alright, asshole,” Jason says, but he gets distracted from the rest of it because Bucky shoulders past him and starts across the Cave, headed in the direction Tim indicated. “I’m just gonna,” Jason says, gesturing toward Bucky. “Be right back.”

                Bucky’s walking with purpose, so it takes Jason a couple seconds to catch up. “You alright?”  Jason asks. “Seems like maybe you’re not having the time of your life right now.”

                “How old is he?” Bucky says.

                Jason blinks. “What, Robin? Jesus, I don’t know. Sixteen, probably.”

                “Why does he have bullet wounds?”

                Jason blinks, surprised by the question and the anger clearly evident in Bucky’s voice when he asks it. “Because he’s Robin,” Jason says, confused. He says it slowly, so Bucky can follow. “People always fucking shoot at Robin.”

                Bucky stops to look at him, jaw locked and mouth a thin, flat line, and Jason throws his arms out, defensive. “Well, what the fuck do you want? You asked. I’m not shooting at him.”

                “Did once,” Tim calls out, because he’s absolutely the most unhelpful little shithead on the planet, and because, apparently, he’s not so concerned about his own medical care that he won’t happily sabotage it to prove a point. “He shot me once.”

                “You can shut your Goddamn mouth about that, Replacement,” Jason calls back. “We don’t talk about that time. It wasn’t a great time for me.”

                “Wasn’t a great time for me,” Tim says, obstinate. “I got shot.”

                “You wanna get shot again?” Jason asks, hand going to rest, pointedly, on one of his guns. “How many bullets are you looking to catch tonight?”

                “You’re not shooting him,” Bucky says, loud.

                “Christ,” Jason says, starting to feel a little persecuted, “of course I’m not gonna shoot him. For fuck’s sake, Bucky, if I wanted him dead, he’d be dead.” He raises his voice, so Tim can hear. “I could’ve shot him in the head two minutes ago, when he was passed out in his own drool.”

                “Oh, Red Hood, what a hero,” Tim says. “He could’ve murdered an unconscious teenager, and he chose not to. Let’s have a parade. Someone get the key to the city.”

                “Do you see,” Jason bites out, “why I shot him that first time?”

                “No,” Bucky says, low and serious. “I don’t.”

                Jason looks between Tim and Bucky and then shakes his head and turns away. Whatever Bruce or Grayson or the fucking Joker might claim, Jason knows a lost cause when he sees one. And Bucky has no way of knowing what an asshole Tim is, given that Tim’s helpfully introduced himself bone-pale and bleeding out, like some kind of wretched, pitiful victim instead of an upstart teenager who took Jason’s place and kept it, even after Jason came back.

                Jason stomps his way over to the metal storage unit Tim had nodded at, tugs it open, and finds refrigerated blood, hanging in bags. He frowns for a second and then looks back at Tim. “What’s your blood type, asshole?”

                “O-,” Tim says, and Jason rolls his eyes. Because of fucking course Tim Drake is a universal donor. Of course he is.

                Jason grabs two bags and throws them to Bucky, rampages through Bruce’s neatly kept (and disturbingly thorough) first-aid cabinet to find the shit he’ll need to start an IV, and then scatters the whole mess on the table in front of Tim.

                “Alright,” he says, “let’s see your arm.”

                Tim considers the supplies for a second, considers Jason for quite a bit longer than that, and then shakes his head. “No, thanks. I’ll do it myself.”

                “Great. Brilliant plan,” Jason says, as agreeably as he can. “Shaky hands like that, I’m sure you’ll hit a vein on the fifth or sixth try.”

                Tim narrows his eyes and straightens up, sets his chin like it’s easier to punch himself full of holes than it is to let Jason help him.

                Which, Jason guesses, is how he’d feel, if their positions were reversed.

                “Let me,” Bucky says, as he settles on the bench beside Tim. “Steady hands,” he offers, holding them up for inspection.

                Tim frowns at him, eyes dropping over Bucky’s body armor and then dodging to Jason. “Fine,” he says, after a beat.

                “Oh, suck a dick, Replacement,” Jason says, deeply offended for reasons he sees absolutely no reason to enumerate or identify. “I hope you get blood poisoning and die.”

                “Hate to disappoint you, but I’m unafraid it’s unlikely to poison me,” Tim drawls, “as it is my own blood.”

                Jason snorts and crosses his arms over his chest. “So, it’s, what? Half bullshit, half venom?”

                “Does B know you’re here?” Tim asks.

                Jason shrugs, like he’s not worried about it either way. “Why, you jealous? Feeling overlooked? You stage this whole thing to get a little attention?”

                “Oh, be serious,” Tim says. “If I wanted his attention, I’d just wave a gun around, threaten a few innocent people, and fail to kill the Joker.”

                “As soon as you’re walking,” Jason says, “I’m gonna break both of your fucking knees.”

                “As soon as I’m walking,” Tim tells him, “you’ll do absolutely nothing.”

                The muscles in Jason’s arms are so tense that he crosses them over his chest to keep them out of trouble. He wants to grab Tim by the back of the head and bash his stupid, stubborn, self-righteous face into the metal. He wants to flip the whole damn table, send that blood flying clear across the Batcave.

                But he’s willing to admit that, when it comes to Tim, he’s maybe a bit oversensitive.

                And he can even see – kind of, if he squints at it sideways and doesn’t think about it too much – how it’s possible that the shit between them isn’t all Tim’s fault. Or even mostly Tim’s fault.

                “What the fuck happened to you?” Jason asks, finally. He bites back the Replacement he wants to tack onto the end of that.

                Tim’s quiet for a moment and then shrugs, glances between Jason and Bucky for a few seconds. “Is that supposed to be funny? It’s blood loss. Not brain damage.”

                Jason throws his hands up and turns to Bucky. “Now do you see why people shoot him? Are you there yet, or should we let him shit-talk some more?”

                Bucky doesn’t look amused. He’s watching the slow flow of blood into Tim’s vein, and his eyes keep going to the compression bandage, like he wants to take a look at whatever’s underneath.

                “I recognize the body armor, Jason,” Tim tells him, like that’s supposed to trigger some kind of revelation. His a-ha! moment is undercut, a little, by the fact that Jason has no idea what he’s talking about.

                “You sure it’s not brain damage?” Jason asks. “Because a whole mess of what the fuck just came out of your mouth.”

                Tim pauses and looks at Bucky again before glancing back toward Jason. This time, there’s a hint of confusion settling over his face. “The redhead,” he says. “I saw it, under her coat. Same as his.”

                “Okay, so, walk me through this,” Jason says. “You were out. You saw some redhead. You peeked under her clothes, and---what? She beat the shit out of you for being a fucking creep?”

                “How well,” Tim says, pointing at Bucky, “do you know him?”

                “Well enough, asshole,” Jason says, instinctively defensive. A second later, the realization hits. “Oh, shit, you got beat up by Hydra. Bucky, you know any redheads?”

                The look on Bucky’s face indicates that he does, in fact, know a redhead. He’s quiet for a moment and then nods toward the puncture wound on Tim’s neck. “You’re lucky she wanted information.”

                “Yeah, that’s how I feel,” Tim says. “Lucky.”

                Jason absolutely does not smile or laugh at the dryness of Tim’s tone. He’s not going to encourage the little menace. “You got drugged by a redhead, huh?” he says, instead. “Dick’s gonna be pissed. That’s gotta be his ideal date.”

                Jason thinks about the phone calls they made two days ago, in Tim’s territory. He wonders if it was him or Tony that brought Hydra running. He’s not sure who Hydra would be watching more closely, Stane or SHIELD.

                “She was getting attacked. I dropped down to help, and she—it was a trap.” He grimaces and then rubs at the raised bump on his neck, where the needle must’ve gone in. “It’s some kind of hallucinogen. Paralytic properties. My tolerance wasn’t optimal, but higher than they seemed to anticipate. Anyway, I made it back here.”

                “And then I showed up,” Jason says and jerks his chin at Bucky. “And you see his body armor and think, what? I set the whole thing up? That I sent in some ginger to take you out instead of doing it myself?”

                “Vigilante isn’t that far from mercenary,” Tim says, with a shrug. “You used to commit crimes for money.”

                “Is there any particular reason,” Jason says, “that you’re trying to piss me off right now?”

                “There are limited options, Jason.” Tim shrugs with his good shoulder. “Either you’re working for them, or you’re running from them. Either way, you’re putting all of us at risk.”

                “That’s not his fault,” Bucky says, finally bothering to open his mouth. Jason immediately wishes he’d kept it shut. “It’s mine.”

                Tim tilts his head to stare at Bucky, and he gets that focused, evaluating look he always gets on his face right before he outthinks everyone in the Goddamn room. Jason hates that look. He shifts his weight, wants to smash Tim’s face in all over again, just in case his assessment comes up as something Jason doesn’t want to hear.

                “You’re the Winter Soldier,” Tim tells him. And then, before Jason can correct him, he goes on. “Or you were. I guess you’re something else now.”

                Jason can respect Tim, sometimes. And he’s been hit with the odd moment of admiration when Tim pulls off the kind of ridiculous shit that – in Bruce’s opinion, at least – earned him that Robin uniform. But he’s never liked him.

                He likes him, a little, in that moment. It turns his fucking stomach, but he likes him, anyway, for recognizing the difference between Bucky and the Winter Soldier.

                “Jason brought you to Gotham. That’s on him.” Tim gestures at himself, at the blood and the bandage and the cuts. “The both of you better make sure this is the worst thing that happens to anyone from Gotham because of the two of you.”

                “The three of us,” Tony says, as he drifts up, looking immensely pleased with himself. “Sorry to interrupt. You can get back to threatening each other if you want. But I just wanted to let you know I got the shit we came for.”

                “What were you doing over there?” Tim says, and cranes his neck back at the tech like he’ll be able to see physical marks of what Tony did to his precious databases.

                “Oh, don’t worry about it,” Tony says, waving a hand dismissively. “Nothing worth mentioning. Incidentally, did Batman program that? Because I might leave the both of you for him.”

                “The kid probably did it,” Jason says. “And he’s too young to date. Can’t stay out past 10pm unless he’s fighting crime.”

                “Shit, really?” Tony says, and then levels a winning smile Tim’s direction. “Well, Robin, if you’re ever looking for a more profitable line of work, let me know. Tony Stark, from Stark Industries. Compared to this whole Batman business, our employees have incredible life expectancies.”

                Jason chokes a little, but even Tim misses how hilarious the life expectancies joke is, given present company. Or maybe he just doesn’t find it funny.

                Tim stares at Tony for several seconds, seemingly stunned into silence, and then he sighs and slumps against the table. He cradles his face in his hand, and Jason thinks he’s having some kind of moment, that Tim Drake is, horrifically, breaking apart right in front of him, but then he straightens up and glares at Jason.

                “I’m over you shooting me,” he tells him, which is fucking news to Jason, since Tim was literally bitching about it ten minutes ago. “But I’m never going to forgive you for bringing Tony Stark down here while I’m down three pints of blood. You are such an asshole.”

                “Language,” Jason says, a little taken aback.

                “Oh, hey, don’t worry,” Tony says, encouragingly. “Happy to come back. Though, really, we should just meet at SI. We can tour the fun labs. You can sign all the paperwork. We’ll get you a nametag and keycard. It’ll be great.”

                “Stop trying to recruit him,” Jason says. “He just threatened Bucky.”

                Tony smiles at him with barbed patience. “Yeah, but he kept his hands to himself the whole time, so I figure he’s still several laps ahead of you.”

                “Can I see the gunshot?” Bucky says, breaking through their chatter. He points at Tim’s arm. “I’d like to look at it. Clean it up a little, if it needs it.”

                Tim hesitates. Jason doesn’t blame him for that. He has the same instincts. But Tim’s got the sweeter nature, so he just nods and straightens up, lays his arm out against the metal table. “Yeah, alright,” he says, “I wasn’t at my best when I put that on.”

                With his arm out like that, Jason notices for the first time that he’s shaking. Could be the blood loss, or could be the cold from the refrigerated blood emptying into him. Either way, it makes him seem young and vulnerable in a way Jason doesn’t usually connect to Tim. It’s disturbing. Disorienting.

                It kills the urge Jason had been fighting to tell Bucky to stop playing nurse. He keeps his mouth shut, and Bucky gets to work.

                Jason sticks around for the unwrapping, but the meat underneath seems to turn Tony’s stomach, even if it’s just a simple through-and-through. Jason herds him off deeper into the Cave, but stays within Bucky’s line of sight.

                By the time they’re done, Jason’s pocketed two Batarangs, a handful of flash-bangs, and what he’s pretty sure is an updated rebreather. Tim keeps yelling at him to cut it out, but he’s only barely starting to get actual color in his face. There’s no way he’s going to get up, come over, and make him.

                “I’m cataloging everything you’re taking,” Tim tells him.

                “Gonna tattle, Hall Monitor?” Jason says, sauntering back over to the two of them now that Bucky’s finishing up. “Color me fucking shocked. Tell the principal he can blow me.”

                “You’re this charming with everyone?” Tony asks, feigning surprise. “And Bucky and I felt so special.”

                “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I save my best shit-talk for you.” Jason looks to Bucky, who’s carefully replacing all the unused medical supplies. “Buck, you done working through all that guilt? We’ve gotta get out of here.”

                Bucky makes an unpleasant face at him, but he’s lost some of that tension that’s been keeping his shoulders up near his ears. “I’m ready.”

                “Great.” He nods at Tim, who’s glaring at him. “Been real swell seeing you again, Replacement. In the future, leave the redheads to Grayson. He handles it better. They almost never shoot him.”

                Tim rolls his eyes. He’s still shaking, tiny tremors that it looks like he’s trying to suppress, but he doesn’t look as creepily pale as he did when he first woke up. Jason can leave him here without worrying that Tim will die off before Bruce gets back.

                Not that he was worried. Or planning on being worried. Or would ever waste his time being worried about Tim fucking Drake.

                “Okay,” he says, to Tony and Bucky. “Let’s go.”

                They leave out of a different entrance and then circle back and gather up the rope they left hanging in the dry well. It’ll probably take Bruce about five seconds to figure out how they got in, but Jason doesn’t see any reason to make that any easier for him than necessary.

                “We should talk,” Bucky says, as they’re settling onto their bikes. “When we get back.”

                Jason shrugs and then nods. Tony frowns over at him from Bucky’s bike, looking troubled and confused. Bucky’s face is empty. He doesn’t look a single Goddamn thing.

                Trust Tim Drake to fuck this up for him without even trying. For a second, as they’re leaving, Jason regrets that, when he shot Drake, he didn’t aim for his fucking heart.

Chapter Text

                The whole way back to the safehouse, Jason keeps hoping for some kind of obliging natural disaster. He’s willing to settle for a riot, or a break-in, or a shootout. Hell, he’s ready to ditch his bike and run off into the night chasing down a damn purse-snatcher. But Gotham, because it’s the single most uncooperative city in the world, is uncharacteristically peaceful.

                They get inside, climb off their bikes, and Jason starts ditching body armor and stolen Bat-tech with his back to the other two. He remembers a couple days ago, when he’d picked Tony up, and Bucky had kissed both of them. The atmosphere had been a little different then.

                He tugs his last glove off with unnecessary force, drops a Batarang on the metal table so hard that it leaps and rolls, almost falls to the floor.

                “You two,” Tony says, sounding wary for maybe the first time since Jason’s met him, “have some shit going on.”

                “What shit?” Jason asks, turning around. He crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the wall, gets himself grounded. “There’s no shit. I have zero shit.”

                “So, just,” Tony says, working a hand through his hair, “like, a whole lot of shit. Great.”

                “It’s him,” Jason says, selling Bucky out in a heartbeat. He waves a hand at Bucky, who’s standing there, silent, frowning at him. “He’s the one with shit. Talk to him about it.”

                “Bucky?” Tony says, looking to Bucky. “Jason’s regressed to toddler-level debate tactics. You wanna weigh in here?”

                “I want to know,” Bucky says, slowly, without a single stressed syllable or facial expression to give away any emotional leanings at all, to reveal the weakness Jason could sidestep or exploit, as needed, “why there’s a teenager with a gunshot wound working for Batman.”

                “Yeah,” Tony says, turning back toward Jason, “he did seem a little young for that. I figured Robin was young, but…that’s really young.”

                Jason shakes his head. He doesn’t want to talk about this.

                He doesn’t want to talk about anything Bat-related with anyone. But he sure as hell doesn’t want to have an entire conversation about Robin with these two.

                “He’s not that young,” he says, finally. The face Bucky makes doesn’t exactly bode well, but Jason carries on anyway. “I told you, he’s gotta be sixteen or so by now.”

                “Robin’s been active for over a decade, though,” Tony says, and Jason loves his brain, but not when it’s turned against him. “I would’ve noticed a crime-fighting first grader. So, there’s—what? Multiple ones? He just rotates them out?”

                “You kept calling him ‘Replacement,’” Bucky says. “What happened to the one he replaced?”

                Jason doesn’t like Bucky’s brain when it’s turned against him, either.

                “He died,” Jason says, offhand. “And the one before that graduated. He’s Nightwing now. You met him, remember? He seems fine, doesn’t he? I mean, an obnoxious, loud, nosey shithead, but not permanently fucked up or anything. Jesus, Buck, get that look off your face.”

                “How old was this Robin when he became Robin?” Bucky asks. He keeps that shitty look on his face, possibly just to piss Jason off.

                “Fuck, I don’t know. I didn’t pull his birth certificate.” Which is a lie, because Jason absolutely fucking did, but details don’t stick in his head the way they stick in Bruce or Tim’s. He doesn’t remember how old Tim is. Maybe he doesn’t want to remember.

                “And how old was the other Robin?” Bucky asks. “When he died?”

                Jason goes still for a second. And then, because he doesn’t know what else to do, because he never sticks to a plan when his back gets pressed to a wall he doesn’t like, he goes on the offensive. “Christ, Bucky, what’s it matter? What’s all this shit about Robin? Don’t tell me Hydra never sent any kids to fight.”

                Bucky’s eyes narrow, and he moves forward. There’s something in the way he moves, the deliberate pattern of his steps, that has Jason straightening up, dropping his hands to his sides.

                “Batman isn’t Hydra,” Bucky says. “Explain to me why he’s using the same tactics.”

                “It’s not the same—Stark, will you fucking jump in here?” Jason says, turning to Tony.

                “I mean,” Tony says, expression troubled. “He’s got a point.”

                “You ask any Robin,” Jason says, turning back to Bucky, “if they feel used. In fact, just go fucking tell the one we met tonight that you’re here to rescue him, that he doesn’t have to fight anymore. He’s too fucking civilized to spit in your face, but that’s what you’d get from any of the others.”

                “He’s sixteen,” Bucky says. “You can make a sixteen-year-old do anything. That doesn’t mean they aren’t being used.”

                “Oh, bullshit,” Jason says. “He knows what he’s doing. Every Robin knows what they’re signing up for.”

                “They think they do,” Bucky counters. “You think, when I was following Hydra’s orders, that I had any idea that I was being used? You think--”

                “Oh, fuck you,” Jason says, loud enough that Tony flinches. “Batman isn’t brainwashing anyone. He’s not lying to them. He’s not drugging them. The only fucking needlemark I saw on Robin was put there by your people, not his.”

                “Hey,” Tony says, suddenly deciding he wants to be in this fight.

                “My people,” Bucky repeats, and it’s only then that Jason even catches what he said.

                He hadn’t meant it. He knows that Bucky isn’t Hydra. He knows it’s wrong, and careless, and cruel to imply that he is. And he’d take it back, if he could, but now that he’s said it, he’s too pissed, too defensive, to apologize for it.

                “What about the dead one?” Bucky says, and Jason doesn’t flinch, but his heart thuds hard against his chest, like it can tell the ship is sinking and wants to make a break for it. “You think he knew what he was signing up for? Think he would’ve spat in someone’s face if they came along to rescue him?”

                It hurts. It’s unexpected. His chest seizes. He is, for a split second, a fifteen-year-old version of himself, hearing the crowbar hit but not feeling it, not feeling anything anymore, and then he’s dragging himself across concrete, untying his mother, stumbling to the locked door. He sees the explosion but doesn’t hear it. Puts himself in front of her body, but doesn’t save her.

                He thinks about what it would have been like, if someone had rescued him. Bruce, or Dick, or fucking Alfred. Anyone.

                “Yeah,” Bucky says, with a sharp nod. “Exactly.”

                The bands around his ribs unhitch, and rage kicks awake in Jason’s stomach, his heart, the back of his throat. “Shut your fucking mouth,” he says. “You don’t know a Goddamn thing about it.”

                “Why are you defending him?” Tony asks. He looks genuinely confused. He’s got his head tipped to the side like he’s working through a problem. “What’s your connection to Batman, anyway?”

                “I’m not defending him. I don’t give a fuck about Batman. He can suck every dick in Gotham. I’m defending them.” He realizes, as he says it, that it’s irrational. But he means it, anyway. He believes it. He just can’t find a way to articulate it. “You don’t get to fucking dismiss the shit they did. None of them were brainwashed into it.  Batman didn’t make them fight, and he couldn’t have fucking stopped them if he’d tried. They wanted to.”

                “Even the dead one?” Tony asks, the corner of his mouth twisting in a mean, ironic smile.

                “Yeah, even the dead one,” Jason says, yelling again. “Especially the fucking dead one.”

                “How do you know that?” Bucky asks. “How could you possibly--”

                “Because I’m the fucking dead one!” Jason says, right over Bucky. “I was the second Robin. I fucking died. I came back. And, trust me, I’m pissed as hell about it, but I always fucking knew it was a risk. Br—Batman was real fucking clear about that being a risk. He didn’t make me do shit.”

                “You’re not dead,” Tony says, flat. Then his brow furrows and he rocks on his feet a little. “Were you, like—did you flatline? You had to be resuscitated?”

                “No, I was fucking dead. They buried me. I have a grave, you can visit it, and it’s real disturbing, but we can all take a fucking field trip to see it if you really want to.”

                “How is that possible?” Bucky’s eyes drag over Jason’s body like he’s looking for a reset switch. “How could you be here if you died?”

                “Oh, please,” Jason says, incredulous. “You get to die and come back, but no one else does?”

                “That’s different,” Bucky says. “I never died.”

                “Well, then what the fuck happened?” Jason asks. “You fell off a fucking train, and no one sees you for years. And then you show up as a Hydra puppet? What the fuck happened to you?”

                Bucky pauses. He presses his mouth into a thin, flat line, and Jason thinks he’s not going to answer, but then, finally, he does. “I was—I got captured. During the war. One of the doctors experimented on me. It’s been…hard to kill me ever since.”

                Jason huffs out a heavy breath and rubs at his face. “So you didn’t even die?”

                “No,” Bucky says. “I lost the arm in the fall. They recovered me, after. I never died.”

                “That,” Jason says, “is the whole fucking reason I tracked you down. I thought you died and came back, like me.” This night gets worse and worse. Jason’s starting to think longingly of that medicinal vodka he keeps upstairs.

                “Sorry to disappoint,” Bucky says, and there’s an undertone in his voice that catches Jason’s attention, brings his eyes back to Bucky’s face.

                “Okay,” he says, “that’s not what I meant. For fuck’s sake, Bucky, you’re not a disappointment.”

                “Can we get back to the part where you died?” Tony asks. “Sorry, Buck, I’ve got some feelings about the whole child soldiers bullshit, too, and don’t think I missed that you just said someone experimented on you, but what I’m really stuck on is the fact that Jason’s a zombie.”

                “I’m a revenant, asshole,” Jason tells him, defensive. “I don’t eat brains.”

                “Okay,” Tony says, waving his hands, “whatever. We can discuss vocabulary later. Just, please, explain to me what you mean when you say you died.”

                Jason frowns and shifts his weight. He doesn’t look at either of them. “I died. Jesus. What do you want?”

                “How?” Bucky asks. “How did you die?”

                Jason heaves out an exasperated breath. “I did some stupid shit, and the Joker got me. He beat the shit out of me with a crowbar. And then there was a bomb, and no one ever taught my mom how to pick locks, so—boom.”

                They don’t say anything. Jason doesn’t look at them. After a second, he goes on.

                “I don’t remember the next part. They said I came back, crawled out of the coffin, and hung around Gotham until I got picked up by T—someone who knew Batman. I think she mostly did it to fuck with him, but I don’t know. She dumped me in a Lazarus Pit, and I got my brain back, and—look, it sounds fucking stupid and crazy, but that’s how it happened.”

                They still don’t say anything, so Jason swings himself around, looks up the stairs. He can probably make it to the vodka before either one of them manages to pick their jaws off the floor.

                “Jesus,” Tony says. “Multiple skull fractures.”

                Jason remembers saying that, when they went to call Stane and Coulson. Tony hadn’t brought it up again, so Jason had figured he’d forgotten. He pauses and then nods. “Yeah.”

                “Jason,” Tony says, and he sounds wrecked. Sounds sad, and hurt. Jason has to look at him, can’t suppress the instinct to scan him for injuries, and the look on his face isn’t much better. Jason feels like a complete shithead, telling him all of that. “How old were you?”

                Jason pauses and then shrugs. “Fifteen.”

                Tony’s face pales out further, and he looks to Bucky, who’s regressed back to full Winter Soldier blankness all over again.

                However much Jason wants to deny it, he knows he’s one of the Bats. He’s got the Bat family trademark: he fucks up every Goddamn thing he touches.

                “You asked,” he says, to Bucky. “I didn’t want to tell you any of this shit.”

                “So what the hell was your plan?” Tony says. “Just lie to us forever?”

                “Who the fuck said anything about forever?” Jason asks, incredulous. He’s starting to feel persecuted. He’s never been good at taking criticism; Bruce can vouch for that. Hell, anyone who’s ever met him can vouch for that. “I’m here to kill Hydra shitheads. You wanna talk about shit that fucked us up as kids, Stark, then you can tell us why you aren’t all that sad that Daddy’s dead.”

                Tony goes completely still. He doesn’t even breathe. Jason takes that moment to reflect on how much of an asshole he is, how he can’t spot any vulnerability without, somehow, trying to exploit it.

                And then Bucky shifts, one foot falling back, one arm coming up, and Jason knows he’s about to get punched in the face.

                He’s deciding whether to take it or dodge it when Tony, in a timely display of those A+ survival instincts of his, steps between them. “Hey,” he says, loud. Right in Bucky’s face. “Stop it. We’re not doing that.”

                “Jesus, Stark,” Jason says, crowding up behind him, ready to drag him out of the way if he needs to.

                Tony reaches behind him to shove Jason back. He doesn’t have the leverage or the upper body strength to move Jason a single inch if he doesn’t want to be moved, but it’s surprising enough that it stops Jason, keeps him from pushing Stark out of the way.

                “Bucky,” Tony says. “We’re not doing that. I don’t care what he said. Relax.”

                Bucky blinks, and the tension goes out of him. He drops his arm to his side. Jason figures, if he’s looking for proof of Bucky’s affection, he doesn’t have to look any further than the fact that, when he said something absolutely worth getting hit in the face, Bucky was going to use the fist that wouldn’t shatter his jaw.

                “Sorry,” Bucky says, looking a little wide-eyed. “I don’t— hell. I’m sorry.”

                “It’s fine,” Jason says, waving him off. “I get it.”

                “It’s not fine,” Tony says, and levels an actual glare up at Bucky. That hurts, too, for some reason Jason can’t quite figure out. Aches, deep in his chest. “Bucky, it’s not fine. Hitting people in the face doesn’t encourage dialogue. Someone says something shitty, you say something shitty back. That’s how it works.”

                “I know,” Bucky says. “I know that.” He looks at Jason, frowning, like he’s honestly sorry about a punch he didn’t even throw.

                “Everyone, calm the fuck down,” Jason advises. “It was a shitty thing to say. I get it.”

                Tony turns to face him, and Jason understands, suddenly, why that look so effectively cowed Bucky. Tony looks at him like he might unhinge his jaw and spit venom right in his face.

                “Yeah, it was. It was a really shitty thing to say,” Tony agrees. “But, fine. You don’t wanna talk about it? Great. Next time, just say that, instead of being a fucking asshole about it. You don’t get to turn everything into a fight just because that’s what you’re good at.”

                Jason shrugs and crosses his arms over his chest. He’s guarding his weak points. He’s not ashamed of that. “Yeah,” he says. “Sure, fine. I’ll use my words. Okay, Stark?”

                Tony looks between them and then shakes his head, sharp and angry. “I need a drink,” he says. “If you two are gonna keep fighting, keep it quiet. I don’t want to hear any of it.”

                He turns and heads for the stairs, leaving the two of them down in the garage.

                Jason shifts uneasily and waits until he’s certain Stark’s out of hearing range before he says anything to Bucky. “A little squirrely about people fighting,” he notes. “About people being hit.”

                It’s not true, exactly. Tony lit up like Christmas after that bar fight in Missouri. It’s not people being hit, exactly. It’s something murkier than that.

                Bucky blinks and glances over at him. He’s lost that blank look, and now he just looks tired and guilty. “I’m sorry,” he says, again.

                Some part of Jason wants to be shitty about it, just to see how deep he can twist that knife. But he knows what it’s like, to drag a mind back from wherever it had fucked off to, to try to fit all that free-roaming rage back under his skin and keep it contained.

                He fucking shot Tim Drake. He knows what it’s like to do something that feels perfectly justified in the moment and then wonder, hours, days, weeks later, what the hell kind of demon he’d been possessed by.

                He wouldn’t have blamed Bucky if he’d hit him, and he’s not upset about how close it was. He gets, though, that it’s something that has upset Bucky, and Tony. Bucky, because it represents a loss of control, when he’s lost enough control to fill a dozen lifetimes. And Tony, for reasons Jason doesn’t know, but could guess, probably, if he thought it was a good idea to let his thoughts run down that path right now.

                “Buck,” Jason says, “I get it. Okay? You’re still shaking all that shit out of your head. You’re gonna react to threats the way you were taught. Not your fault. It’s not like you were gonna hit Tony.”

                Bucky’s jaw tightens for a second and then he closes his eyes. “Jason,” he says, after a moment, “fifteen is too young.”

                Jason understands that, now. But he’s a realist. “If Batman hadn’t taken me in,” he says, “I would’ve died around then anyway. I was a fuck-up, Buck. At least I did some good with that life before I threw it away.”

                Bucky opens his eyes, and stares at nothing, gaze dropped to a floor he isn’t seeing. “They wiped most of the memories. Or they tried. The technology’s still in development. The longer I stay out, the more I get back.” There’s something awful in Bucky’s eyes, something Jason doesn’t want to see. “They used to train kids. As young as you were, and years younger than that. And I helped them do it.”

                Jason lets that hang between them for a moment and then shakes his head. “It’s not the same thing. And it’s not your fault, what you did back then.”

                “Hitler did it, too.” Bucky says. “When he was running out of men, he sent boys. Word kept coming out, boys younger and younger. Last I heard was twelve, manning artillery units.” He takes a breath, flicks his fingers like he’s caught in some memory, like he’s meant to be holding a cigarette. “You know why it’s a bad idea, to send kids to war?”

                Jason feels trapped. Knows there’s a right answer – for fuck’s sake, there are probably a hundred right answers – but can’t for the life of him figure out which one Bucky’s fishing for. “Because you have to special order the body armor?” he hazards, after a few seconds tick by.

                Bucky’s mouth screws up into something ugly. He shakes his head. “Because they’re children. They aren’t ready. Their brains are still--- you fight a man, and you know what you’re getting into. Those boys shot prisoners. They wouldn’t surrender. You outmaneuvered them, and they’d keep fighting. Had to put them down, like sick dogs.”

                Jason thinks, if you asked Bruce about what he was like, toward the end, you’d get an answer like that. Sick dog.

                Jason doesn’t even think he’d be wrong to say it.

                “If you send a man to war,” Bucky says, “he can choose if you’re worth dying for. But kids don’t choose. They’ll die for you, and they’ll love you for it.”

                “Okay,” Jason says, “as much as Batman pisses me off, I really don’t think it’s fair to compare him to Hitler. Or Hydra. Batman won’t even kill anyone.”

                “But he’ll let kids die for him?” Bucky asks. “He’ll let you die?”

                “Actually, I managed that shit on my own. We’d sort of gone our separate ways by then.”

                “Then why are you so angry? And why did you shoot that kid who took over?”

                Jason rolls his eyes and throws his hands up. “Jesus Christ, Bucky, if I had answers for either one of those, I would be happy to fucking share. I don’t know. I’m fucked up, alright? I was pissed, so I shot the kid. I didn’t kill him. It’s just a bullet. Robins get shot, okay?”

                Bucky shakes his head. His jaw is locked tight, and that ugliness has spread from his mouth to his eyes. Jason still can’t stand to look at him. “You don’t send boys to war,” he says, “because once someone learns to fight like that, they never unlearn it. They’re always going to shoot prisoners. They’re never going to know when to surrender. They’re never going to fight like a man.”

                Jason almost hits him, then. His fingers wrap themselves into a fist, and he rolls his shoulders, quick, testing, warming up.

                But he hears Tony, in his head, We’re not doing that.

                He thinks, if he hits Bucky now, they’re going to tear this whole fucking safehouse apart. This whole city apart.

                We’re not doing that. It’s not fine.

                “Fuck you,” he settles for. It’s a pale, shitty substitute. “Hydra puppet for how many fucking years? Don’t tell me you never learned to fight dirty.”

                Bucky just looks at him. After a long moment, he sighs and reaches up to rub at his eyes. “Sending someone out too young isn’t the only way to ruin them, Jason. It’s just the one we’re talking about right now.”

                There’s a beat, and then Jason nods. “Okay,” he says, liking that better. “Okay, so we’re both fucked up.”

                “Yeah,” Bucky says. “We are. I just wish like hell it hadn’t happened to you when you were too fucking young to fight it.”

                “Batman didn’t teach me that. I learned it way before him.” Jason shrugs, uncomfortable, confused. He feels wrong-footed, all geared up for a fight that isn’t happening. “I wish like hell it hadn’t happened to you when you were a fucking prisoner of war.”

                Bucky’s mouth flattens out. He’s tense for a second, and then he nods. They stand there, quiet. Jason’s not sure what to do or where the hell this leaves them. He thinks he could get on his bike and get out of here, leave this part of Gotham, go hide out in Blüdhaven until he feels better, but he doesn’t want to.

                His whole life has been a lesson in leaving before he gets left, but he still hasn’t quite managed to take that lesson to heart.

                “We should check on Tony,” Jason says, and he’s pissed all over again at the hesitation in his own voice.

                “Yeah,” Bucky says. “We should.” He sounds exhausted, and Jason commiserates. Somehow, this fight has taken more out of him than any fistfight in his memory.

                As they turn to head up the stairs, Bucky’s hand lands, feather-light and cautious, on Jason’s shoulder. Jason leans into him, grateful and absolutely shameless, and Bucky’s arm settles, tugs him in closer.

                Jason thinks it’s a weird, shitty, bloodless way to fight. And he fucking hates it. Hates having to keep his hands to himself and his tone even, take the fair shot instead of the cheap one.

                But he doesn’t mind the ending so much. Doesn’t mind a cessation of hostilities that’s something other than the burned out nothing that follows a war of attrition.

                “We really gotta figure out what the fuck his dad did to him,” Jason says, as they start up the stairs.

                “Yeah, that’s romantic,” Bucky agrees. “We’ll get in a fight in front of him and then pester him about his daddy issues.”

                “Don’t know why you’re being shitty about it,” Jason says, rolling his eyes even as an unsteady smile hooks up one corner of his mouth. “That’s how I got my last three girlfriends.”

Chapter Text

                Jason lets Bucky go in first.  He’s not proud of it. But if he’s learned anything from getting his skull spiderwebbed with fractures by the Joker’s crowbar, it’s that, sometimes, when infiltrating a location under the control of a potentially hostile force, a little bit of recon can prove fruitful.

                Bucky gives him a single, merciful raised eyebrow before stepping into the living area of the safehouse. “Tony?” Bucky says, and Jason steps up behind him, lets his gaze sweep left while Bucky looks right.

                Tony’s standing in front of one of the windows, cup in hand. He’s got his back to them, and he doesn’t turn around, doesn’t acknowledge them at all. The tight, straight line of his shoulders is a sharp contrast to the way he normally slouches his way through his whole damn life. Jason can see the tension in him, the way it’s stacked his spine in one tall, vertical column.

                “Hey, Stark,” Jason says and edges up even with Bucky. “Fight’s canceled. We kissed and made up.”

                There’s another beat of silent non-reaction and then Tony turns to consider them. His expression is troubled but strangely distant, unfocused. Distracted. He looks at Bucky, and then Jason, and then his eyes drop to their hands.

                Jason scoffs and holds his hands up, knuckles toward Tony.

                “We kept our hands to ourselves,” he says. “So you can shelve whatever self-righteous speech you were up here practicing.”

                Jason sees no reason to mention how close it had been. Grayson once told him, When you’re losing, stop losing. And Grayson says a lot of truly useless shit, but that one, at least, had always made sense to Jason.

                “That’s not what I was doing,” Tony says. He starts walking, but veers toward the kitchen instead of toward them. He pours vodka into his cup and then rustles through the freezer to drop an ice cube or two in with the vodka.

                Jason cannot fucking believe that he’s trying to save that bottom shelf bullshit with anything other than a lit match. When Stark catches him looking, he makes an irritated face and then reaches into the fridge and pours what Jason optimistically guesses is about two tablespoons of orange juice into his glass.

                “Oh, a mixed drink,” Jason says, fake-approving. “Yeah, that’s much better than shooting back rubbing alcohol like the sad aunt at the reunion. Way to class it up, Stark. You rich people always do it right.”

                Tony flips him off with one of his clever, elegant hands and swirls the cup with the other. After a few seconds, he seems to judge the drink sufficiently mixed and then knocks back what has to be half of its contents in a single go.

                “If you puke on the bed,” Jason says, “you’re buying me a new mattress.”

                “I’ll buy you a penthouse,” Tony says, but it’s offhand, lacks any trace of his normal venom. He still doesn’t really seem interested in the conversation. Or them.

                Jason’s seen him drunk before, but he’s not sure he’s ever seen him this particular kind of distracted. He’s only ever noticed Tony’s focus in the context of it causing problems. He hadn’t realized he liked it until Tony took it away.

                “Are you,” Bucky says, and pauses. He flounders exactly where Jason would’ve, if he’d asked it first. “Alright?” He settles for, after another beat or two of silence.

                At first, it seems like he’s going to ignore the question. Then he shrugs, presses his mouth into a flat line. “I am sad my dad’s dead,” he says, defensively. It sounds like he’s trying to convince everyone in the room, including himself. “I am. Howard was—he was brilliant.”

                “Yeah, that’s what all the little orphans pray for,”  Jason says. He crosses his arms over his chest, and he knows he should be kinder about this. But he’s never been good at leashing his anger. Or directing it at the right targets. “Please, Santa, send me a dad who’s really smart.”

                Tony makes a face at him, and Jason doesn’t even mind, because it’s nice to have his attention again. “He was. He was a…genius, I guess. In his way. He made SI what it is. He built Captain America’s shield. He was a real, no-shit war hero.”

                Jason snorts and rubs at his mouth, tries to buy himself time to think of something soft to say but gives up, because he knows a lost cause when he meets one. Hell, he’s been a lost cause.

                “You’re a science guy,” he says, instead. “Why don’t we draw a Venn diagram of traits that make a good war hero and traits that make a good father and see how fucking many show up in the middle?”

                Tony snorts. He’s staring at something on the kitchen table. It looks like a stack of papers, but Jason’s not going to interrupt this conversation to get curious about some unidentified documents. He’ll have time for that later. Or, alternatively, he can redirect to those papers if things gets a little too heated.

                Contingency plans, he’s learned, are important.

                “Venn diagram,” Tony repeats. A slow smile starts curling up the edge of his mouth, and he finally looks up at the two of them and really seems to see them. He shakes his head and takes another, smaller sip of his drink. “Who taught you about Venn diagrams?”

                “Alfred,” Jason says, easily. It doesn’t occur to him that Tony won’t know who that is until he sees the question forming on Tony’s mouth. He waves it away. “A guy who looked after me, when I lived with Batman and he was off being Batman.”

                “You lived with him?” Tony says, voice sharper than Jason expects. There’s a really unpleasant accusation forming in Tony’s mind, and Jason can see it coming. He waves that away, too.

                “No. Jesus,” he says. “I mean, yes, I did. But not like—Batman’s a jackass, not a pedophile.”

                “That cave had a few structural irregularities,” Bucky says, idly. “Could bring it down, if you wanted.”

                “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Jason says, and he shoves his hands in his pockets to keep them from going right down Bucky’s pants. Because he just offered to bomb the Batcave for him, and Jason didn’t know that was a thing that worked for him, but it is, and, wow, it really does. “Stop it, both of you. Batman’s not into kids. He’s into—well, shit, I don’t know. But, usually, there are tits involved. Full grown lady—you know what, we’re not having this conversation. God. He was—he tried to raise me into something better than I was. It didn’t work out because he’s a shithead who doesn’t know anything about human beings.”

                “Hm,” Bucky says, noncommittal. Jason’s explanation certainly hasn’t made him seem less likely to plant explosives in the Batcave. “Maybe we should be talking about your daddy issues.”

                “Who has daddy issues?” Tony asks, so fucking guileless that even Jason can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic.

                “Exactly,” Jason says, pointing at him. “No one has daddy issues, and no one’s talking about it.”

                “Great,” Tony says and then steps up to the kitchen table and squints at his paper. “You wanna talk about the nearest substantial Hydra base instead?”

                “God,” Jason says, moving toward him, “that’s exactly what I want to do, yes.”

                “In my experience,” Bucky says, and Jason can tell from his tone that he’s not going to like whatever practical, logically sound bullshit he tacks on to the end of that, “problems don’t go away just because you stop talking about them.”

                Jason and Tony share a brief, exasperated look, but Tony breaks first. He nods in agreement and then puts the cup of the world’s lowest Vitamin C screwdriver in Bucky’s hand.

                “You know what makes problems go away?” he says. “That.”

                “Is it a good idea for me to drink this?” Bucky asks, frowning down at the cup. “I’m still on medication.”

                “You’re on very low concentrations now. It’ll be fine,” Tony says, helpfully. “You’ll sleep great.”

                Jason swipes the cup out of Bucky’s hand and knocks the whole thing back before either one of them can do any irreparable damage to themselves or the tentative ceasefire they’ve found.

                “Ugh, shit,” Jason says, working his jaw and sending a heartfelt apology to his stomach. And his liver. And every single one of his taste buds. “Jesus, Stark, that’s vile.”

                “Well, princess, if I’d known you’d be drinking it, I would’ve poured it differently,” Tony says and then taps at one of the papers on the table. “Here’s the list of the nearest Hydra bases.”

                “Are there any in Gotham?” Bucky asks. Jason’s grateful for that, because he’s still busy trying to convince his central nervous system that he isn’t being actively poisoned.

                “No,” Tony says. The list, Jason notices, is hand-written. “I found a couple listed in the historical records, but it seems like Batman tends to shut them down.”

                “Of course he does,” Jason says, having recovered enough to produce human speech. “He never learned to share.”

                “Oh, I don’t know,” Bucky says. “Seems willing to share fatal risks with teenagers.”

                “That’s hilarious,” Jason says. “That’s real great. I’m glad you’re getting your own sense of humor, Buck, but please don’t pick up Tony’s. The world’s already got one. We’re at capacity.”

                “That was definitely you,” Tony argues. “I joke about sex. You joke about death.”

                “I say shit that’s funny,” Jason counters. “You say shit that’s got about a dozen hidden meanings, all of which are fucking mean and uncalled-for.”

                Tony rolls his eyes, but seems pleased. “Closest bases are in New York and D.C.” He considers his notes and then looks to Bucky. “D.C. seems to be bigger.”

                “It is,” Bucky says, slowly. He’s got a hazy look on his face, eyes rolled up and to the side like he’s trying hard to remember something that’s not coming as clear as he would like. “I remember D.C.”

                “Yeah?” Jason asks. “You remember anything about the kind of security they’re running there?”

                “I’ve got some of that,” Tony says, shuffling his papers around. “I don’t think Batman’s ever been inside. He’s got some of the blueprints, but the center of the structure’s just blank.”

                “Do you have the blueprints?” Bucky asks. “I think I could draw in the interior.”

                “Yeah, you know what Batman doesn’t have?” Tony says, sounding deeply aggrieved. “A printer.” He pauses and then waves his hand, fast and dismissive. “I mean, he does, but it’s locked down. We’d need to take his eye and at least one thumb to access it.”

                Jason laughs out loud and then immediately cuts himself off when they turn to look at him. He shrugs, trying only half-heartedly to suppress his smirk. “Yeah, sorry. You know you can print IDs on that thing?”

                Tony stares at him for a second and then rolls his eyes. “You printed a fake ID? When you were, what? Fourteen?”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, “I had a lot of political opinions I wanted to express at the polls.”

                “Very patriotic,” Bucky observes, droll, and then nods at the documents spread out across the table. “You wrote all of this down? After we got back?”

                “Well,” Tony says, with a shrug, “I saved the files. I just wrote down what seemed relevant. There’s a lot more, obviously.”

                “From memory?” Jason says, suddenly catching on to why Bucky sounded impressed. “You wrote this shit from down from memory?”

                Tony blinks up at the two of them for a second and then heaves a heavy, dramatic sigh. “I’m not appreciated. You two don’t appreciate me,” he tells them, earnestly. “I’m a genius. I’ve been a genius this whole time. I synthesized a detox solution from substances we could find at Walgreens and a pet hospital. I patched Bucky’s arm in the back of a van. I hacked Batman. Are you honestly telling me that all I needed to do to impress the two of you was remember a few data points?”

                “I was impressed that first night,” Bucky says, because he’s a shameless suck-up, and a coward. “When you had both of us, and didn’t kill either one of us. I was impressed then.”

                “I was impressed by your ass and that welding torch way before Bucky even saw you,” Jason says, because he’s just as shameless and way better at being an asshole. “Like, half an hour before he even saw you.”

                “Somehow,” Tony says, tone dry but mouth forming into a smile, “Bucky seems a bit more genuine right now.”

                “Well, fuck you, Greatest Generation,” Jason says. He tells himself he’s annoyed to find that Bucky’s only reaction is a quick, triumphant grin his direction, but the answering grin that forms – unauthorized – on his own face indicates it’s not as true as he would like. “Alright. You two can just hang out and color in the blueprints together, and I’ll go do some real work.”           

                “What real work?” Bucky asks.

                “You’re not going back to that cave, are you?”

                Jason gives both of them an incredulous look. He’s not charmed that they’re checking up on him. It doesn’t mean anything to him that they’re invested in what he’s doing, worried about how safe it is. He isn’t, and it doesn’t.

                “Why the fuck would I go back there?” he says. “Batman’s gonna be pissed. No, I’m gonna go call our D.C. contact, and I need you two to figure out how we’re gonna attack this base. And by ‘we’ I mean Bucky and I, because, you, Stark, are on tech support.”

                “Tech support,” Tony says, like Jason’s just accused him of doing something illicit with his own mother.

                “Yes, Stark, because people will be shooting at us,” Jason says, feeling absolutely no inclination to compromise or apologize for this. “Well-armed, well-trained men will be actively trying to murder us, and Bucky and I will be a lot more efficient at murdering them back if we aren’t having to worry that you’re gonna walk into a headshot.”

                Tony settles into a mutinous silence, and Bucky, after a long, tense moment, gives Jason a curious look. “Who’s our D.C. contact?”

                Jason snorts and shakes his head. Sometimes, he honestly can’t believe how quickly things turn around on him. It’d be hilarious, if it were someone else. Hell, it’s still funny, even though it’s him.

                “Phil Coulson,” he says.

 

 

                Jason calls from the outskirts of Tim’s territory, right where it backs against Bruce’s. He doesn’t feel bad about it. It’s not like Tim’s going to be running his own patrol for awhile. And Jason wants to see what happens if Bruce finds Hydra sniffing around the area where Tim just caught a bullet.

                Phil answers on the second ring. “This is Coulson,” he says, prompt and professional, like he’s someone’s car insurance agent instead of an operative for a shady intelligence agency.

                “Yeah, hey, Philly,” Jason says, deciding to go all-in on being an obnoxious shithead. Sometimes, if he’s annoying enough, people choose to fight about his current behavior instead of how thoroughly he screwed them over in the past. “How’d the meeting with Bats go? You guys hit it off, or is he playing coy?”

                “Oh, hello,” Coulson says, pleasantly enough. He doesn’t seem the least bit thrown by Jason’s antics, which is disheartening. “You’d know how the meeting went if you’d bothered to show up.”

                “I figured I’d just check in with you after,” Jason says. “Get the notes.”

                “Right,” Coulson says. “Well. Once I’d assured him that I wasn’t holding you or Tony Stark hostage---”

                “Wait, what?” Jason says, so deeply offended that he can’t even operate his jaw for a moment. “He thought you had kidnapped me?”

                “I’m going to assume that all of that clearly discernable astonishment,” Phil says, “is based on your knowledge of my upright moral character rather than a deeply flawed assessment of my professional capabilities.”

                “Oh, yeah? You saying you could kidnap me?” Jason asks, amused. “Are you threatening me, Phil?”

                There’s a quiet exhale of breath, and Jason can almost visualize him pinching the bridge of his nose. “Of course I’m not threatening you, Red Hood.”

                Jason blinks and straightens up. “Oh,” he says, “figured out who I am, huh?”

                “Yes,” Coulson says, “about three hours after I left Malibu. Of course I figured it out.”

                “And you still wanted to meet with me?” Jason asks, baffled. “You didn’t send out your weird shadowy SHIELD troops to herd Stark to safety?”

                “Stark’s safe with you. There’s nothing in your record to indicate you were ever a danger to Tony Stark. There’s plenty to indicate you’re a danger to the Winter Soldier, but, as you can imagine, that was not exactly a point against allowing you to stay in Stark’s company.”

                “Allowing me,” Jason says, no longer amused. “Wow, Phil. You sound more and more like the vice principal I never wanted.”

                “You seem to be confused about a few things,” Phil tells him. “You’re dangerous. I know that. You’ve executed quite a few incredibly dangerous criminals.”

                Jason sees nothing in that to argue against, so he stays quiet. He bites at the inside of his mouth to keep from firing back some kind of insult, presses his hands against the warped plastic of the phone booth to keep from hanging up, but he stays quiet.

                And Bruce always tells him he’s never grown up.

                Well, what the fuck would Bruce know about it, anyway?

                “Gotham has a history of cleaning up its own messes,” Coulson continues, “which is one of the reasons SHIELD has only a token presence in the area. But Tony Stark is the son of one of our founders, who was murdered while conducting business on our behalf. If I had believed at any point that you were a danger to him, or that you were working counter to our interests, we would have intervened.”

                “You and your SHIELD army, huh?”

                “Yes,” Coulson says, flatly. Somehow, he still doesn’t sound like he’s trying to start a fight, which makes it difficult to throw one back at him.

                Jason, fortunately, is an expert at starting fights no one wants to have. “You bring your SHIELD pals to Gotham, and Batman will stop them for me. He gets territorial.”

                “Not about this,” Coulson says. “Not about Tony Stark. We discussed that, tonight.”

                “Oh, did you?” Jason says, frowning up at the Gotham skyline. He can see how Bruce would want to get rid of him. But it stings anyway. Everything related to Bruce always seems to sting somehow.

                “Yes, exactly. This is exactly where you’re confused,” Coulson says. He sounds, finally, a little exasperated. Like Jason’s finally managing to break through that iron composure. “It’s impossible to communicate with you. I’m trying to offer a vote of confidence, and all you hear is me threatening you.”

                “Well, what the hell else am I supposed to hear, Phil? You’re just chattering on about your SHIELD army and how Batman sold me out and--”

                “What I said,” Coulson says, “is that, if I were worried about you being around Stark, I would have intervened. I didn’t. He’s safe with you. Again, just for the sake of clarity, let me verbally acknowledge that I, Phil Coulson, representative of SHIELD, know that Tony Stark is in your company and trust that he is safe with you.”

                Jason blinks. The silence stretches too long. He is, distantly, aware of that, but he finds that he has nothing to say.

                “And so, if possible,” Coulson continues after he seems to feel that his point has been made, “I would like to professionally request that, in the future, you view me and the rest of SHIELD as potential allies. And, personally, for the sake of your mental and emotional wellbeing, I would like for you to spend some time reflecting on the idea that not everyone in the whole world is out to get you.”

                Jason clears his throat and feels bizarrely chastised. “Well, Jesus, Coulson. Didn’t know you cared.”

                “You may have noticed,” Coulson says, and his voice is twisting up now, lighter and dryer, like he’s laughing at himself, “that I’m currently responsible for the wellbeing of one alarmingly dangerous adolescent. It’s not out of my way to worry about you, too.”

                “I’m not a teenager,” Jason says, defensively. “And how is Jailbait, anyway? Did he get to meet Batman?”

                “He says,” Coulson says, sounding long-suffering now, “that Batman’s a complete prick. And that you’re much cooler.”

                “Well,” Jason says, unreasonably charmed, “look at that, Coulson. You got the smart kid. Hey, tell him I got that Batarang for him.”

                “Oh, did you?” Coulson says. Oddly enough, he doesn’t sound especially enthused.

                “Yeah. I broke into the Batcave while you were talking to Batman.”

                There’s a long moment where all Jason can hear is Coulson taking in a single long breath. “You,” he says, finally, “are a nightmare. I don’t suppose you’re looking for long-term employment?”

                Jason laughs aloud and shakes his head. He likes Phil Coulson. It’s weird, but he’s liked stranger people, he supposes.

                “Listen,” he says, “the reason I called is we’re gonna relocate to D.C. for a weekend. I figure that’s gotta be your homebase or whatever, right? Isn’t that where all you spooks hang out?”

                “I have an office there, yes,” Coulson says. “Can I ask why you’re visiting D.C.?”

                “Sure,” Jason says, agreeably. “We’re gonna fuck up some Hydra shitheads in the area. Don’t worry. We’re gonna leave Stark somewhere secure. But if something happens to Buck and me, I’m gonna have Tony call you. So if I give you the dates, will you make sure you’re around?”

                “I could work with you,” Coulson offers. “I could bring agents. We could do this together.”

                “Yeah, no thanks,” Jason says. “Trust me, you don’t want the paperwork.”

                “I’m very good at paperwork,” Coulson says, casual and calm, like he’s discussing stock options instead of offering Jason federal agents for a decidedly non-governmental operation.

                “Cut it, Coulson,” Jason thinks it’s sweet, almost, but doesn’t need to scandalize any nice agents with his methods. “I’ll call you when we’re headed up, okay? I’ll make sure Stark’s got your number.”

                “Fair enough,” Coulson says. “For what it’s worth, I’ll have people on standby. If this Hydra raid goes wrong somehow, if you need us, we’ll help.”

                Jason hangs up. It’s a reflex. He’s aware, as he’s doing it, that he should keep his shit together a little better than this.

                It’s salt rubbed in all the wounds he’s reopened by talking to Bucky and Tony about the way he’d died, how Bruce hadn’t been there. It’s nothing. Coulson probably doesn’t even mean it. He’s just trying to work his way into Jason’s life, so he can keep a closer eye on Tony.

                It doesn’t feel right, though. Those assumptions don’t match Coulson’s behavior. Manipulation doesn’t seem to be what Coulson’s after.

                But if that isn’t it, Jason doesn’t know what the hell it could be.

Chapter Text

                The morning they’re supposed to leave for D.C., Tony wakes up first. That’s unusual enough that it drags Jason out of his dreams, makes him prop himself up on one elbow and squint in Tony’s direction. Tony doesn’t sleep much, and it’s not uncommon for him to be the last one in bed, but he’s almost never the first one out of it in the morning.

                Tony’s cursing at the coffee machine, which isn’t exactly out of character, but there’s desperate, feverish undertone that’s definitely new. He’s nervous, Jason realizes.

                “C’mon,” Jason says, voice still slurred with sleep. He leans over to peer down at where Bucky is fast asleep, curled on the floor next to the mattress. “Buck, get up here. Need a consultation.”

                Bucky blinks awake at his name and slides his eyes up to look at him. For a half second, he’s the Winter Soldier, stoic and assessing, and then he blinks again and he’s Bucky, brow furrowed, lips pushed together, petulant and annoyed about being woken up.

                Jason’s horrified to find that he thinks it’s cute, how Bucky’s loosening up enough to get cranky in the morning.

                “What,” Bucky says, not even a question.

                Jason huffs and throws an arm off the side of the mattress, grabs Bucky by the shirt, and hauls him up on top of him. “I need,” he says, with more force, “a consultation.”

                Bucky grumbles a little and rolls off of him, but he stays pretty fucking close, burrowing his face into Jason’s shoulder for a second before yawning and looking up at him. “What?” he says, again, with just a little bit less of a growl.

                Jason jerks his chin toward Tony. “I think he’s freaking out.”

                Bucky raises his eyebrows and then looks over at Tony, who is now pouring a healthy amount of whiskey into his coffee. They’d burned through the vodka days ago, back when they were first starting to put together fleshed-out blueprints of the D.C. Hydra base, and Tony had sent Jason out with a handful of cash and a list of acceptable options.

                Jason had bought the cheapest shit he could find, just to piss him off. And to, maybe, discourage him from taking to their new liquor supplies with unnecessary enthusiasm.

                “Oh,” Tony says, finally seeming to notice they’re awake. His grin flashes far too many teeth. “Morning, sunshines. You want good coffee, or shitty, terrible, sobriety coffee?”

                “Huh,” Bucky says, considering. “Yeah, absolutely freaking out.”

                “Am not,” Tony says, defensively. And, sure, he’s always a little manic, but not quite like this. “Do you want coffee, or a fight?”

                “Both, please,” Jason says, and stretches out. He drops his arm over Bucky’s shoulders, like a twelve-year-old at homecoming, and presses a loud, smacking kiss to Bucky’s cheek. “Come back to bed.”

                Bucky gives him a brief, pitying look, and Jason’s about to get offended – just on principle, because he has no idea what he’s done that’s earned him a face like that – before Bucky leans in and kisses him properly.

                Jason is starting to realize that he is a little outclassed. He’s earned a reputation for being pretty casual with people, and he is, but the truth is he doesn’t fall into other people’s beds all that often, and he damn sure doesn’t invite very many back to any of his safehouses.

                Jason learned young to regard touch as a threat, physical proximity as intimidation, and his heart kicks up fast whenever people get too close. He doesn’t always like the way it makes him feel.

                Stark’s managed to win some kind of free pass from his subconscious. Nothing he’s ever done has registered as a real threat. That’s good. Jason’s grateful for that, because Tony seems to spend half his life crawling all over Jason to get to outlets or tools or guns or Jason’s blankets.

                Bucky doesn’t get a free pass. His presence can light up all the same parts of Jason’s brain that danger does, but it bends in a different direction, hums in his chest in a way that’s never unpleasant, even if it sometimes makes it a little hard to breathe.

                Jason’s not inexperienced. But he spent his early adolescence in tights, bumbling after Batman like a deranged duckling, and then he spent some time being dead, and then he was busy, murdering his way through various mentors.

                There’s never been a whole lot of time in his life for fooling around.

                Bucky, however, seems like he maybe found the time.

                He moves his mouth against Jason’s, slow but not cautious, thorough and attentive. Jason moves to sit up so he can touch more of him, and Bucky swings one leg between Jason’s knees and puts a hand low on Jason’s side, fingers curling around the curve of his hip, pinning him down.

                “Fuck,” Jason mumbles, and Bucky licks his way into Jason’s mouth.

                “Fuck,” Jason says, again, a minute or two later when Bucky’s hand moves, running up Jason’s stomach and then dragging low across his belly, sliding under the hem of the sweats Jason wore to bed.

                “Okay,” Tony says, sounding a little strangled. “Okay, fine, I’m coming back to bed.”

                A half second later, he collapses between them, barely managing to keep the three cups of coffee aloft and unspilled.

                Bucky swoops the nearest cup out of Tony’s hands and leans back against the wall, looking inordinately pleased with himself.

                Jason’s heart is beating a little hard in his chest. He clears his throat, rolls his eyes at the smirk Bucky levels his direction, and claims his own cup of coffee.

                “That’s mine,” Tony says, right as Jason swallows a mouthful of coffee-flavored whiskey.

                “So it is,” Jason agrees, and swaps it out for the other one. “Wanna talk about why you’ve chosen today to resurrect your dad’s coffee habits?”

                “Resurrect,” Tony says, wonderingly. “Wow.”

                “Shit,” Jason says. “That’s not what I meant. It’s his fault.” He jerks his chin at Bucky. “He came at me with his mouth. I’m still asleep. I was sabotaged.”

                “He was sabotaged by my mouth,” Bucky says, solemnly, and that stupid smirk has taken over his whole face now.

                “I could do with some sabotaging,” Tony says, entirely too earnestly. “If there’s enough to go around.”

                There’s a brief bit of silence. Tony shifts between them, eyes dropping to his cup before moving, almost hesitantly, back to Bucky’s face.

                Bucky’s watching him, and that smirk shifts the slightest bit, picks up undertones that Jason’s starting to recognize, and Jason puts his mug on the floor and has just enough time to grab the cups out of Tony and Bucky’s hands before their hands are occupied with each other.

                Jason watches them, and the sight of them together – Bucky’s hands in Tony’s hair and at the small of his back, Tony settling over him, hands everywhere – does absolutely nothing for the racing of Jason’s heart.

                He takes a few more sips from Tony’s cup, and tells himself it’s just to spare Tony’s liver.

                By the time Tony’s got Bucky’s shirt rucked halfway up his chest and is all but grinding against him, Jason’s willing to accept that he’s downed half of Tony’s coffee because he’s hoping the caffeine-alcohol ratio will fall in favor of the depressant. He needs something to settle his nerves.

                Tony makes a quiet noise in the back of his throat, needy and almost anxious, and Bucky pulls back, eyes blown a little wide. He looks to Jason, and there’s nothing uneasy or worried in his face, but there’s a question that Jason recognizes from the earlier days, when Bucky was constantly turning to him for direction.

                He’s in over his head, looking to Jason for some kind of guidance, and Tony buries his face in the crook of Bucky’s neck and makes a sound like he might actually die if they have to end this.

                “Yeah, my turn,” Jason says, and sets Tony’s mostly empty coffee mug on the floor beside the other two.

                He reaches over, loops an arm around Tony’s waist, and maneuvers him around so he’s straddling Jason, instead. Tony takes to swapping partners with an ease and eagerness that makes Jason think frat boys and hit list and then nothing at all, because Tony’s hips shift against his own, and he realizes, with a stab of sudden clarity, exactly how worked up Tony is.

                “Jesus, Stark,” Jason says, and he doesn’t mean it as a joke or accusation, but Tony frowns and an embarrassed blush blooms across his cheekbones.

                “You try living with you two,” he says, leaning back, putting space between them. “It’s really—it’s fucking hard, alright?”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, eyebrows arched. “I noticed it’s fucking hard.” And this time, it is a joke, but he softens the bite of it by running a hand down the front of Stark’s very obviously tented jeans.

                Stark’s got his mouth snarled up like he’s going to say something mean, but his jaw goes lax and his eyes close when Jason feels him up. He looks like the words – any words, all words – just disappear from his mind. Jason draws the sweetest, softest whine out of him when he lets his hand rest there, applies the lightest bit of pressure.

                “Don’t do that thing where you stop,” Tony tells him, desperate, eyes still closed, the last bit of that blush still darkening his cheeks. “I hate that thing. I really, really hate it. Don’t do it again. Please.”

                Jason thinks Tony could ask for anything in that tone, with that little please stuck on the end, and Jason would give it to him. That realization should worry him. Will worry him, probably. But right now, there’s no room in his head for any kind of worry.

                “Bucky,” he says, as he settles his hands on Tony’s waist and tugs him down, presses their hips together. “Now might be a great time to check the bikes, if you don’t want to get all traumatized or turned on or whatever.”

                There’s a pause just long enough to get Jason to glance over. Bucky’s watching the two of them, a foot or two of space between him and them, and there’s a look on his face that Jason can’t quite read, but it sure as hell isn’t robotic blankness.

                “No,” Bucky says, after another beat, “I’m good here.”

                “God,” Tony says, another whine caught in the back of his throat, and he grabs for the front of his own pants, thumbs open the button before Jason can knocks his hands away. “Christ, c’mon,” Tony says, sounding legitimately wounded. “I’m just—I need—for fuck’s sake.”

                “See this, Buck?” Jason says, while he flips the zipper pull between his fingers. “No one ever teaches rich boys about the joys of delayed gratification.”

                “Delayed,” Tony says, incredulous, “gratification.” He makes an amazingly scornful face down at Jason. “Don’t talk to me about delayed, asshole. It has been delayed since the night we met.”

                “Wow,” Jason says, grinning up at him, completely unrepentant. “This whole time you wanted to fuck? And here I thought we were building a real friendship.”

                Tony stares down at him for a long second. “Bucky,” he says, finally, “don’t watch. I’m going to murder him.”

                “Jesus, Stark,” Jason says. “Didn’t know that’s what you were into.”

                “What I am into---” Tony says and then cuts himself off with a sharp, hissing intake of air as Jason shoves the zipper down and slips his hand right into Tony’s pants. “Is that, yeah. That’s it. Look at you, fast learner.”

                “Well, I’m no genius,” Jason says, magnanimously. “But I like to think I do alright.”

                He expects more shit talk from Stark, but he goes non-verbal when Jason finishes shoving his jeans – no boxers, which is going to fuck with Jason’s head for approximately every waking moment going forward – out of the way and gets his cock out where he can see it, drags an inquisitive hand down the length of it.

                “Good for you, Stark,” Jason says, leaning up to press a kiss to the underside of Stark’s jaw. “You’re pretty everywhere.”

                “Fuck,” Tony says, speaking on the exhale like he’s forgetting how to talk, “you.”

                “No, not right now,” Jason says. “You’d last five seconds.”

                “God,” Tony says, head slumping forward to rest on Jason’s shoulder. “Fuck you, you are such---”

                Tony cuts himself off with a noise like he’s been gut-punched when Jason drags his thumb through all that gathered precome and jacks him, slow and lazy, teasing.

                “I’m what?” Jason prompts, helpfully. 

                Tony makes a confused noise and shakes his head. “Beautiful?” he tries. “Amazing, perfect. Can you do more of that, with your hand, please? So much more of that.”

                Jason smirks and then glances over at Bucky, to make sure he’s still checked-in and aware and hasn’t disappeared into the mire of Hydra brainfuck territory. Bucky’s watching, neck craned in what seem like an uncomfortable angle, and Jason deserves a global sex award, some kind of international recognition, because he willingly takes his hands off Stark.

                “What? No.” Tony sounds horrified. “What’re you doing? Come back here. Jesus, not everyone comes back when you kill them, okay, and---”

                “Calm down, sweetheart,” Jason says, rolling his eyes a little. “Bucky can’t see. C’mere. We’ll do it this way.”

                He sits up, sliding out from under Tony and getting his back to the wall. Tony frowns distrustfully down at him, and Jason snorts out laughter and then gets his hands on Tony’s hips, turns him around and tugs, so Tony’s sitting between the vee of Jason’s legs, back to Jason’s chest.

                It puts Tony on full display, which Jason might be worried about, if Tony didn’t immediately make eye-contact with Bucky and then squirm against Jason, a soft, needy sound catching in his throat and reverberating in Jason’s chest.

                “Yeah,” Jason says, sliding a hand down Tony’s chest and stomach so he can get a hand around his cock again. “Figured you’d like this better anyway.”

                Bucky sits up to see better, and Jason obliges with a show. It’s not difficult to get Tony to show off. He tends to go that way naturally, and he’s keyed up enough from waiting or from freaking out about D.C. that it doesn’t take much to wring some truly flattering noises out of him.

                It’s easy to tell when Tony’s getting close, because he rediscovers the English language and starts telling Jason about it, earnestly and loudly and frequently. “I’m gonna—Jason, fuck. Don’t stop. That’s—yeah, that’s—don’t stop, okay? It’s not fucking funny. Don’t. Please.”

                Jason laughs, mouth pressed into Tony’s neck, and speeds up. Over Tony’s shoulder, he can see Bucky sit up, attentive, eyes flicking between Tony’s face and Bucky’s hand.

                “C’mon, Stark,” Jason says, low and encouraging, right into Tony’s ear. “Give it up. Bucky’s waiting. C’mon. Look at him.”

                Tony lifts his head and makes a wrecked noise when he finds Bucky staring. “Buck,” Tony says, plaintive, and Jason can hear it in his voice, the stuttered syllable that means he’s tripping over the edge.

                He bites down, hard, on Tony’s neck, and Tony cries out, jerks, and comes apart. Jason works him through it and then drags Tony’s shirt up and off of him, cleans him up.

                “Oh, fuck you,” Jason says, when he realizes. “This is my shirt.”

                “Smelled like you. Liked that.” Tony says, boneless and a little hazy. He’s got his head resting on Jason’s shoulder, and he smiles up at him, dumb and smug and really, unfairly gorgeous. Jason tips his head down so he can kiss him, gentle and almost sweet, and it weirds him out enough that he pulls back and looks to Bucky.

                Bucky’s still watching the two of them, and Jason can see from here that he’s not exactly unaffected. There’s some kind of alarm caught in the tight line between his brows, and he looks…not disturbed, exactly, but certainly unsettled. There’s a flush on his face and a suspicious bugle in his sweats, and he notices Jason noticing and then, suddenly, is off the bed.

                “I’m gonna shower,” Bucky calls back, over his shoulder, and the door shuts before either one of them can figure out how to call him on his bullshit. A second later, they hear the shower turn on.

                “Goddamn it,” Jason says, and resettles Stark so he can reach for their coffee cups. “I told you to stop trying to seduce him.”

                “He came at me with his mouth,” Tony tells him, repeating Jason’s words from earlier. “I was sabotaged.”

                “Oh, real fucking funny,” Jason mutters, battling to keep the smile out of his voice and off his face. He hands Tony his coffee cup, and is endlessly flattered when Tony sips at it without even seeming to realize how much is missing.

                “He’s definitely jerking off in there, right?” Tony says, after a long moment. He sounds torn between being turned on and personally offended.

                “Mhm,” Jason says. He’s hoping, maybe, that if they keep their mouths shut, they’ll hear something interesting.

                Tony, who does not seem to have caught onto the plan, heaves a heavy sigh. “Think he’s ever gonna let us see him?” There’s an odd, dejected look on his face that Jason doesn’t like very much.

                Tony Stark, Jason has noticed, is very sensitive to rejection. But that’s not what this is. Jason figures Bucky just got overwhelmed, sought out cover so he could get his brain settled. But he can see how someone like Stark might read it that way.

                “I think,” Jason says, pulling Tony against him, “that he almost came in his pants.”

                “Think so?” Tony says, leaning into him, sounding hopeful.

                “Yeah,” Jason says, and kisses him on the neck, presses his lips right over the bite mark he left. It’s darkening nicely, will probably be there for days.

                “Hm.” Tony shifts around and gives him a speculative look. “I think I could probably blow you before he gets out of that shower.”

                Jason’s breath catches in his chest, and he thinks about it. For several long seconds, he thinks about it.

                But it feels odd. The timing of it, somehow, isn’t right. The look on Tony’s face is the wrong kind of desperate.

                “You think I’m gonna die, Stark?” Jason asks, instead. “Is that what this whole thing was about? You wanted to hand out goodbye blowjobs?”

                Tony huffs a breath at him and drains the rest of his coffee. He doesn’t look at Jason. “No,” he says, stubbornly. And then, “That’s not all it was about.”

                Jason sighs and shakes his head and trades Tony his mostly-full coffee cup for Tony’s empty one. “Tony,” he says, as seriously as he can, “we’re ready for this. This is what we do. We’re going to be fine.”

                Tony’s silent for a moment. And then words come tumbling out of him, like some kind of dam broke inside him. “If you’d just—if you would wait, if you could wait, and if I could get back to my lab or even the SI labs, I could— you should be better equipped. I can make you better equipped. We could bomb the whole place remotely. You don’t have to go in there with your shitty civilian market guns and---”

                “Hey,” Jason says, softer than he means to, but it quiets Tony anyway. “We are going to be fine, Tony. We’re ready. And those aren’t civilian market guns.”

                “I know we don’t talk about this,” Tony says. “But I’m not—people don’t usually…stay. Around me, I mean. You may have noticed that I can be a little—anyway, it would just be really shitty. It would be really fucking shitty of you two to go off and die.”

                “Anyone who leaves you,” Jason says, “is a fucking idiot. Don’t fuck yourself up over this. This is what we do, Stark. Let us do it, and then we’ll come back, and then you can blow me.”

                Tony thinks that over for a second and then sighs. “Yeah,” he says. “Alright. But I’ll be really, really pissed if you die.”

                “Well, shit, Tony,” Jason says, “so will I.”

                The shower stops, and they both turn to watch the door, casually trading the remaining coffee back and forth while they wait. A few minutes later, Bucky comes out, towel around his hips, and there’s a suspicious flush running halfway down his chest, but there’s a chance that’s due to the heat of the shower.

                Bucky’s got plausible deniability, anyway, which was probably the whole point.

                “Feel better?” Tony asks, innocently.

                Bucky stares at them for a second, something on his face that isn’t quite guilt or embarrassment but has hints of both, and then clears his throat. “That was,” he waves a hand, shrugs. He looks momentarily lost for words. “A lot,” he says, eventually.

                “You’re welcome,” Jason says.

                “Sorry,” Tony says at the same time.

                Jason shoots Tony a dubious look. Tony gives him a skeptical one in return.

                “Nothing to be sorry for,” Bucky says and runs a hand through his hair so that it spikes up in different directions. He still seems a little squirrelly, but his voice is even. “It was—I didn’t. Mind. I liked it, but I just…couldn’t stay.”

                Bucky works his jaw and looks away, like he thinks he’s done something wrong, and Tony’s got a look on his face that says he thinks maybe he did, too, and Jason doesn’t really know how to fix things, so he makes a desperate play for redirection.

                “Tony thinks we’re gonna die raiding Hydra,” he says, and isn’t even sorry about it. Not even after Tony gives him a look of stunned betrayal.

                “What?” Bucky says, sounding genuinely confused. He lifts his eyes to Tony’s face, and his expression softens. “Tony, it’s a good plan.” He takes a few steps toward them. “Don’t worry. I’ll look after Jason.”

                “Hey,” Jason says.

                “Hydra is everywhere,” Tony tells them, sounding a little stricken. “I’ve be working through the files we took. They’re everywhere.”

                “I know,” Bucky says, jaw tightening all over again. “Trust me, Tony. I know that.”

                “They’re in SHIELD,” Tony says.

                “Wait, what?” Jason says, swiveling his head to look at him.

                “I know that, too,” Bucky says, calmly.

                “Wait, what?” Jason repeats, looking quickly between the two of them. “Wait, fuck off, both of you. Are you telling me Phil Coulson and Jailbait are Hydra agents? And you two knew this and just decided, what? It was funny not to tell me? Is this a joke?”

                “No,” Tony says, shaking his head. “Coulson’s name isn’t on there. If he’s compromised, Batman doesn’t know about it. And Hawkeye isn’t listed, either, although some of the information’s missing, so he could by listed by something other than that alias, and--”

                “Bucky,” Jason says, looking over at him, instead. “Is Phil Coulson a Hydra agent?”

                Bucky hesitates, but it’s not the sort of hesitation that means he knows the answer and doesn’t want to give it. He’s thinking it over, carefully, and Jason appreciates that. Because it matters, somehow. It matters more than it should.

                “No,” Bucky says, finally. “I don’t think so. But my memory isn’t—I still don’t have all of it. Most of it, even. We shouldn’t rely on it.”

                Jason hears him say We shouldn’t rely on it, and it sounds a hell of a lot like Bucky’s really saying We shouldn’t rely on me, but he doesn’t have time to deal with that. Anyway, he figures things like that have to be handled internally. There’s not much Jason can do to fix Bucky’s brain from the outside.

                “I told Coulson we’re going to hit the D.C. Hydra base,” Jason says. In retrospect, he can see how it was stupid, but he’d wanted Coulson to know. He’d wanted Coulson to keep SHIELD from interfering, because he didn’t like the idea of having to shoot Jailbait, or Coulson. “If he’s Hydra--”

                “Did you tell him when?” Bucky asks, and Jason is grateful to him for not pointing out how much of an idiot he is, but it doesn’t do much to take the sting out of it. He should’ve known better. He should’ve kept his mouth shut. All this collaboration he’s doing with Bucky and Tony is really starting to fuck with his edge.

                “No,” Jason says. “I said I’d call before we headed out.”

                “And you haven’t?” Bucky says.

                “And I haven’t,” Jason agrees.

                “Okay,” Bucky says. “Then, if he’s Hydra, they know we’re coming, but they don’t know when. And they expect warning.”

                Jason thinks it through and then nods. “Fine. So we stay to the plan. We go tonight, and don’t tell Coulson anything.”

                “What?” Tony says. “Why? There are other bases. We should--”

                “We should eliminate the closest threats before they have a chance to reinforce them. That means New York or D.C., and we have a plan for D.C.,” Jason says. “We’re hitting D.C.”

                “He’s right,” Bucky says. His tone is gentle. He’s looking directly at Tony. “Even if they’ve brought in more people, it won’t be enough.”

                “And, honestly, the more Hydra fuckheads we kill,” Jason says, “the better.”

                Tony stares at them. After a few seconds, he stands up, jerking his pants up with an urgency and a carelessness that makes Jason wince. “I’m gonna go work on the bikes,” Tony tells them, voice and face closed off like a door he’s slamming in their faces, and he grabs the whiskey and the entire coffee pot on his way downstairs.

                Jason heaves a long, heavy sigh as Stark disappears from sight and then looks up at Bucky, who’s still standing there in his towel.

                “Told you he was freaking out,” Jason says.

Chapter Text

                In general, Jason does not excel at plans. Strategy has never been his strength. He’s been bored half out of his mind while Tony and Bucky spent day after day planning, hunched over the kitchen table, painstakingly penciling in what Jason privately thought were entirely unnecessary details on the blueprints.

                “Do you remember when the shift change is?” Tony asked, once, and Bucky tipped his head back to consider it.

                “I’m going out,” Jason said, and left to patrol for hours. He ran his territory and then Tim’s, too, just for kicks.

                When he came back, they hadn’t moved. It was – terribly, unreasonably, unfairly – tedious. But he’d let them pour over all the details, and he’d listened to the plan, offered what critique and insight he could, petitioned for more hands-on work and less of a hellfire and scorched earth approach.

                “How are we gonna know,” Jason protested, at one point, “that we’re even getting any work done if we don’t do it ourselves?”

                “A well-distributed array of explosives,” Bucky had said, with obvious patience, “is a perfectly valid way to accomplish what we need to do.”

                “It’s cheap,” Jason says. Which isn’t his problem with it, exactly, because Jason’s never shied away from taking the cheap shot when it’s the most fun on offer. But this plan isn’t fun. It’s efficient. “They won’t even know it was us.”

                “We don’t want them to know it’s us,” Tony had given him a weird look, then. Had stared at him like he was just starting to realize something about Jason he didn’t particularly like. “Don’t you people deal in subterfuge?”

                And after that truly baffling question, Jason had given up and let them make whatever plan they wanted.

                He’d stopped patrolling in the last few days, redirected his attentions to breaking into a few Wayne Enterprises storehouses and one Stark Industries lab for supplies, while Tony and Bucky built the explosives. He’d stayed at the safehouse whenever possible, checking and rechecking everything they’d need to take with them as the other two put together their beautiful, perfect plan.

                He could’ve told them, if they’d asked.

                He could’ve told them that the reason he never makes plans is the same reason he doesn’t wish on stars: that shit never, ever comes true.

 

 

 

                “Something’s wrong,” Bucky says, finally.

                They’re about a quarter of the way through planting the explosives near load-bearing walls, and they’ve passed two guard stations with half personnel. Jason and Bucky have cut two throats each. They were expecting eight.

                “What?” Tony says. His voice is immediately anxious, sounding tinny through the speakers of their earpieces. “What’s wrong?”

                “We must’ve hit during the monthly safety meeting.” Jason says, frustrated and keyed-up. Not nervous, exactly, but agitated. Hyperaware. “No one’s here.”

                “Oh,” Tony is quiet for a second. “That sounds…alright.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, as encouraging as he thinks he can get away with. “Lucky us.” He wraps his hand around the mic jutting toward his jaw, and looks to Bucky. “Ambush?”

                Bucky pauses and then does the same to his own. “We may want to take separate routes out.”

                It makes sense, objectively. Of course, objectively, it made the most sense for them to be split up the entire time. They can work faster if they work alone.

                But when Tony had brought up this part of the plan – the part where Bucky and Jason are never more than a few yards away from each other – Jason hadn’t felt inclined to protest.

                Bucky’s vulnerable here. There are people in the building who can take his brain away from him with a few uttered words. Jason knows what he promised Bucky. He’s ready to shoot him, if he has to. But it’ll fuck him up, and it’ll fuck Stark up, and there’s no guarantee, now that Bucky has filled out from relative sobriety and regular feeding, that Jason would win that fight, if it came to it.

                Jason has no intention of leaving Bucky. If he has to, he’ll rupture Bucky’s Goddamn eardrums. But he’s not letting anyone hijack his head.

                “Fuck that,” Jason says. “We’re staying together.”

                “It’s easier to pull off a rescue,” Bucky says, “when there are still people left on the outside.”

                “I can tell you’re blocking me,” Tony says, loud, right in their ears. “What the hell is going on?”

                “Nothing,” Jason says, dropping his hand away from the mic and making a warning face at Bucky. “Just trying to decide what to grab for dinner after this. I’m feeling Indian. Bucky wants sushi.”

                “If you two assholes,” Tony says, warningly, “deviate from the plan without telling me---”

                “What,” Jason says. “Why would we do that? It’s such a great plan. You guys spent so much time on it.”

                “I swear to Christ,” Tony says, low and dangerous.

                “We’ll stick to the plan,” Bucky says, reassuring. He gives Jason a look afterward that tacks a pretty clear unless shit goes awry to the end of that. Jason nods and then follows him as they head further into the building.

                It’s 3am. They’d expected low personnel levels; they’d chosen this time specifically for that. But the place is almost deserted. Jason’s starting to wonder if the number of bodies they’ll make out of this mess is worth the work it took to steal from Bruce and Tony’s respective companies. Breaking into SI had been exponentially more difficult than breaking into this Hydra base.

                He wonders if Coulson is Hydra after all. If he warned them that Jason was headed this way, and so they’d emptied out the base, left a skeleton crew and maybe a few proximity-triggered bombs behind.

                “We’re gonna need to talk to our SHIELD friends,” Jason says. As he says it, he realizes he cares enough about them to keep their names off the comms and out of a Hydra base.

                That affection is not good news. It’ll make it a hell of a lot harder to kill Coulson and Hawkeye, if he needs to.

                And he might need to. Because, in retrospect, that shit Coulson had said the last time they talked - If this Hydra raid goes wrong somehow, if you need us, we’ll help – makes a hell of a lot more sense as an attempt to manipulate and distract him than it does as a legitimate offer.

                “Yeah,” Bucky say, after they work through another guard post, snap two necks that should’ve been four. “We are.”

 

 

 

                It makes one hell of an explosion. The ground seems to open up and swallow the whole facility. The resulting fire is so bright that Jason can’t see a damn thing for thirty seconds afterward.

                “Goddamn it,” he says, feeling cheated. If everything had gone according to plan, they’d be celebrating. But they’d been outmaneuvered, somehow. And the fact that there wasn’t an ambush waiting for them, that they just got in and out with no problems but no real victories, either, means that they’ve been outmaneuvered so well they’ve been left behind.

                “I cannot believe,” Tony says, sounding incredulous, “that you two are upset that wasn’t harder.”

                “It’s never a good thing when your enemy isn’t where you think they are,” Bucky says. He’s scrubbing blood off his hands, ditching his outer shirt that got a bit mucked up by the knife work they did.

                They hadn’t even had to use their guns. They are fucked.

                “Because if they aren’t here,” Jason says, “then they could be fucking anywhere. And if they knew not to be here, then their intel is better than ours.”

                “Okay,” Tony says. “But if they aren’t here, they have to be in New York, right? Where else would they put that many people?’

                “That’s exactly the fucking problem, Stark. We don’t know where they fuck they’ve run to,” Jason says. He’s trying to keep calm, knows there’s nothing to be gained by yelling at either one of them, but, if they hadn’t fucking waited, if they’d just gone immediately, him and Bucky, they could’ve cleared this place back when it was full of Hydra shitheads.

                Now there are at least a hundred missing Hydra agents, gone to ground or rallying somewhere unknown, and they know they’re being hunted.

                Kidnapping the Winter Soldier was supposed to be easy. It wasn’t supposed to leave him in a situation like this, where he’s acquired an unknowable number of new enemies and two new weaknesses.

                This is why Jason doesn’t work rescue missions. He leaves that to Dick, who loves to feel needed, and Bruce, who knows how to weasel himself out of any and all social obligations.

                Bucky’s watching him carefully. He’s keeping him in his peripheral vision, eyes just slightly averted, like he’s trying not to piss him off or call too much attention to himself by looking him right in the face.

                Tony’s silent on the comms. He’s waiting for instruction. He must, finally, be realizing that he’s in over his head. That he’s been in over his head since Jason walked into his house to tell him his dad was dead.

                “Okay.” Jason says. This is his mess. He needs to clean it up. Getting pissed at these two isn’t going to make anything easier. “Can I make a call on these comms? To our SHIELD friend’s phone?”

                “Can you make a call,” Tony repeats, “on the comms.” Jason hears a soft, exasperated sigh. “Yes, of course you can make a call. And no one’s getting this, so you can say his name.”

                “Yeah?” Jason says. He uses a tone that’s more hesitant than he feels, just to rile him up a little bit. “It won’t be traced? Or overheard?”

                “Actual genius,” Tony reminds him. “I graduated MIT at seventeen.”

                Jason is smirking sidelong at Bucky, pleased about the audible annoyance in Stark’s voice, when the full implications of that set in. “At seventeen? Wait, what the fuck do you mean—when did you start? How old were you when you started passing out at frat parties?”

                “I cannot believe,” Tony says, “that you’re still fixated on that.”

                Jason rolls his eyes, even though Stark’s not there to see it. “I cannot believe that it keeps getting worse.”

                Tony huffs into his microphone. “For fuck’s sake. I was a teenager at a party. I got shitfaced. It’s what teenagers do. I’m not sorry about something that happened five years ago.”

                “So you were fifteen,” Jason says. “You were fifteen.”

                “You were fifteen when you died.”

                “I don’t fucking see how that’s relevant. I died with my pants on.” He turns to Bucky, hands out, imploring. “Were we talking about me? At any point, were we talking about me?”

                Bucky raises his eyebrows, but he looks, horrifyingly, fond. “I think we should call Coulson.”

                Jason pauses, eyes narrowed, and tries to find a way forward that doesn’t involve acknowledging that he’s right.

                “Connecting you,” Tony says, and Jason hears the phone ringing in his ear.

                “We’re coming back to this,” Jason says. “Fifteen. What the fuck.”

                “Coulson.” Coulson’s voice sounds a little breathless. Not at all groggy, like Jason would expect from someone being woken from a deep sleep.

                “Oh, hey, you’re awake?” Jason says.

                “Red Hood?” Coulson asks, sounding surprised and something else, something Jason can’t quite identify. “Is that you?”

                “Yeah,” Jason says. “It’s the middle of the night, Coulson. Why are you awake?”

                “Because something just blew up in my city,” Coulson says. That’s relief in his voice, Jason realizes. That’s weird. “I don’t suppose you know anything about that?”

                “Sure might,” Jason says. “Why don’t we meet and talk about it?”

                “Are you hurt?” Coulson asks, voice suddenly sharper, and he sounds so earnest about it that Jason almost rips the comm out of his ear. “Should I bring medical--”

                “Coulson, we’re professionals,” Jason says, instead of all the other, terrible things that want to come out of his mouth. “We’re not hurt. I need to give Jailbait his Batarang. You wanna meet, or not? We’re headed out of here in less than an hour.”

                “Yes,” Coulson says. “Of course. Where?”

                Jason pauses for a second, and Bucky speaks up, lists a destination Jason’s unfamiliar with.

                Coulson hesitates for a second. “Sergeant Barnes,” he says, in cautious greeting.

                “Not a sergeant,” Bucky says. “Not Army, not Hydra. Not anything anymore.”

                There’s another pause, and then Coulson makes a quiet, affirming noise. “Alright. When?”

                “Half an hour,” Jason says. “We’re on a tight schedule. If you miss the meeting, I’m keeping the Batarang.”

                “I’ll be there,” Coulson says. “Don’t blow up anything else without twelve hours’ notice. I’ll be filling out paperwork for weeks.”

                “Months, probably,” Jason says, not at all apologetic. “See you in thirty.”

                There’s an audible click as the line is dropped. “He’s gone,” Tony says. “Why are we meeting him at a bar?”

                Jason looks to Bucky who shrugs, easy and calm, and checks his rifle. Of the three of them, Jason begrudgingly acknowledges that he’s the only real professional. “I know a spot. I can watch the meeting.”

                “What’s that mean?” Tony asks. “Watch the—why?”

                “He’s a sniper, Tony,” Jason says, harsher than he probably needs to. But he doesn’t like the idea of putting a bullet in Coulson’s head. Likes even less the idea that it’ll be necessary. That Coulson has played him so easily, using all those shitty absent father figure issues Jason definitely doesn’t have. “He’s gonna watch so if shit goes wrong, he can shoot Coulson in the head.”

                “Oh,” Tony says. “Shit.”

                “Yeah,” Jason climbs on his bike, watches Bucky doing the same. “We’re on our way. Bucky’s gonna pick you up. Make sure you’re ready.”

                “Yeah,” Tony says. He sounds a little distant. A little fucked up, probably. They’re going to need to have a whole conversation about this, if they have to put Coulson down.

                Fuck Hydra, Jason thinks, as they leave. Fuck Hydra for being one step ahead of them. Fuck Hydra for surviving. Fuck Hydra for ruining Tony and Bucky’s beautiful plan.

 

 

 

                They meet at a rooftop bar. It’s empty, since it’s past four in the morning. Even the cleaning staff has gone home. Jason gets there before Coulson and helps himself to a tumbler full of top-shelf Scotch.

                He doesn’t even like it.

                He’s drinking it, he realizes, because this is the sort of thing he’d drink if he wanted to impress Bruce. And after he realizes that, he has to throw the whole glass off the side of the building and pour himself bottom-shelf vodka instead.

                “I hope you intend to pay for that,” Coulson says, as he comes up out of the stairwell, eyes falling immediately to the glass in Jason’s hand.

                “It’s a SHIELD meeting,” Jason argues, although he’s not sure that it is. “You pay. Don’t you have a form for this?”

                “There’s a form for everything,” Hawkeye says, sounding dismayed, and something kicks in Jason’s chest like anger when he sees him. Not anger, though. Regret, maybe. Surprise.

                “Are you sleeping with him?” Jason asks. He should maybe phrase it with more grace. Coulson blinks at him, a stutter in all that endless calm, and Jason gestures between the two of them, like he thinks Coulson needs clarification. “Are you fucking Jailbait? Is there a form for that? Did you submit a requisition form for a teenage--”

                “Stop,” Coulson says. He doesn’t even raise his voice. If anything, it drops lower than normal. The expression on his face has chilled somehow, although Jason’s not sure he could describe exactly what changed.

                “You stop,” Jason says. “I called you at 3:30 in the fucking morning. You explain how the hell else he’s here.”

                Hawkeye, Jason notes, is blushing.

                “Why did you ask for this meeting, Red Hood?” Coulson says. He squares his shoulders up, shifts his weight. “Why didn’t you tell me when you left Gotham?”

                Jason tightens his jaw and looks between them. Hawkeye’s giving him one hell of a shitty look, but Jason knows people get that way, sometimes. Get protective of whoever’s been hurting them, because a pain you know is a pain you can brace yourself for.

                “I told you,” Jason says. “I brought the Batarang for Jailbait.”

                “If you’re gonna run your mouth about Coulson,” Hawkeye says, chin jutting up, vowels dragging slower, accent going significantly more rural, “you can shove that thing up your ass.”

                “Hawkeye,” Coulson says, warningly. He’s giving Jason an odd, weighted look. His eyes go over Jason’s shoulder to the buildings behind him. “Red Hood, where is Sergeant Barnes?”

                “He’s not Army,” Jason says. “And he’s not fucking Hydra. He’s never going to be Hydra again.”

                Coulson blinks and looks back toward him. He looks thoughtful. Not afraid, which indicates some relatively poor survival instincts, but hesitant. More like he’s trying to find exactly where to put a puzzle piece than a man who was just scanning the skyline for a sniper.

                “What happened?” Coulson asks. “You’re angry. Was Barnes hurt? Was Tony---”

                “No,” Jason says, sharp. Even if they were, he wouldn’t tell Coulson. He doesn’t want to give any indications that they’re weak, or vulnerable.

                “Then what happened?” Coulson says, again. And then, sharper, finally sounding a little worked up. “Hawkeye, stop it. Get back over here.”

                Hawkeye, Jason realizes, has sidled up and beside Coulson, putting himself right in the path of the bullet Bucky’s ready to put in Coulson’s head.

                “Nah,” Hawkeye says, mutinous and anxious in the way only a teenager trying to get himself martyred can be. “I’ve got better body armor.”

                “Yeah, but no helmet, kid,” Jason says. “Step the fuck back.” He’s impressed by Hawkeye’s instincts. Very impressed, if he’s honest, with the way he’d been able to sniff out the sniper, put himself in harm’s way. But Bucky will shoot right through him, if he has to. If Jason tells him to.

                “No,” Hawkeye says, soft but serious. He must have borrowed that tone from Coulson. Jason can see from here that his hands are shaking.

                “Fuck you,” Jason says, to Coulson. “You’re fucking him, and you’re gonna let him die for you?”

                “I’m not doing either one of those things,” Coulson says. “He lives in my house, because he has to remain in federal custody for the next five years. It was live with me, or live on base. He chose me. And he’s not going to die for me, because there’s no reason to kill either one of us. Barnes isn’t going to shoot us, because you’re not going to ask him to. Now, with all due respect, you can either watch your mouth, or you can finish this meeting alone.”

                Jason frowns and looks over at Hawkeye. He recognizes that blind, feverish devotion. He’d seen it on Tim’s face a lot, at the beginning. “Federal custody,” he repeats.

                “I told you,” Hawkeye says, and shrugs. “I already tried a life of crime. I like this one better.”

                “If you want out, kid…” Jason says, without a clear idea of where he plans to end that sentence.

                “I don’t,” Hawkeye says, resolute. And it’s probably for the best, because, honestly, Jason’s not sure he has a safehouse big enough for four, even with three sharing a bedroom.

                “Why the aggression?” Coulson says, once the silence has stretched long enough to get awkward. “I was under the impression that we were on decent terms.”

                Jason pauses. He focuses on Coulson, but keeps Hawkeye in his peripheral vision. Coulson’s more likely to know, but Hawkeye’s more likely to give it away. “There’s Hydra agents,” he says, “in SHIELD.”

                Coulson tips his head to the side, brow furrowing. For a second, he’s quiet. And then, “Are there.” He says it so flat and even that it’s almost like he’s ordering supplies for the staff breakroom. “What’re their names?” he asks with the same tone, and Jason can almost hear it in his head: Two more boxes of Splenda, please. And some sodium pentathol.

                “Not sure I should tell you, Phil,” Jason says. “I’m not sure you’re not one of them.”

                “Ah,” Coulson says and then slowly nods. “Thus, the aggression. I see.”

                “Coulson’s not a fucking Hydra agent,” Hawkeye says. He looks about ready to spit in Jason’s face. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

                “Hawkeye,” Coulson says. “He’s right to be suspicious. You should be suspicious.”

                “Sure,” Hawkeye says, gamely. “And I am. But not of you.”

                Jason looks at Hawkeye, at the serious set to his mouth and determination in his eyes, and he thinks if Phil Coulson is very, very lucky, Hawkeye will only catch one or two bullets for him over the course of their careers.

                “Sorry I said that,” Jason says, suddenly. “About the—you know, the fucking. That was out of line.”

                “It was,” Coulson says, but he doesn’t sound angry. He sounds distracted. Jason wonders how many faces he’s imagining, how many personnel files he’s reviewing his head. “Do you have proof?” he asks. “Of Hydra in SHIELD?”

                “Maybe,” Jason says. Bucky and Tony are silent on the comms, waiting for him to make this call. Jason’s less and less sure that’s a good idea. He’s starting to see that he might be too naturally inclined to believe the worst in Coulson, just because he’s not sure what the hell else to do with a man like him. “Could maybe give it to you.”

                “If you trusted us,” Coulson says. “Right.” He tips his head like this is a perfectly reasonable problem, and he thinks he can ponder his way to a rational solution.

                “The Hydra base we hit,” Jason says, hesitantly. “It was empty.”

                “Yes,” Coulson says, immediately. “We’ve been drawing them out.”

                “You--” Jason’s mind blanks for a second. “What?”

                “You didn’t contact us,” Coulson says. “I didn’t hear anything from any of you. For the past four days, you haven’t even been patrolling Gotham. I thought you’d gone in already.”

                Jason blinks. He tries to follow that line of thought through to its ending, tries to see how I thought you’d gone in already would lead to We’ve been drawing them out.

                “He thought,” Hawkeye says, sounding annoyed, but looking almost sympathetic, “that they had you.”

                For a second, Jason doesn’t think anything at all. His jaw locks up, and he wishes he’d brought his mask.

                Coulson had thought he and Barnes and maybe Tony were being held captive by Hydra. And he had been trying to help them.

                “I couldn’t get clearance to go in,” Coulson says, with a small shrug. “But I thought, if we could pick them off to a reasonable number, I could get a few volunteers to take an off-duty walk.”

                “An off-duty walk,” Jason repeats. A fucking rescue mission. For him.

                “And you were gonna shoot him,” Hawkeye says. He sounds deeply aggrieved. Jason’s willing to admit he’s got the right. “You’re such an asshole.”

                Jason takes a deep breath and shakes his head and realizes, abruptly, that he is not emotionally prepared for this. “Alright,” he says. “Meeting adjourned. I’m going back to Gotham.”

                “Yeah, take your fucking sniper with you,” Hawkeye says, and looks in Bucky’s direction, flips him off with both hands.

                “You take care of Jailbait,” Jason says, as he hands the Batrang to Coulson. “He’s a national Goddamn treasure.”

                “I know,” Coulson says, like he appreciates the full weight of that responsibility. Jason wants to throw him off the building, but he can see, objectively, how that has a lot more to do with him than Coulson.

                “Red Hood,” Coulson calls out, as Jason gets near the stairs. “I want those names. Descriptions, pictures. Whatever you have.”

                Jason waves his hand over his shoulder. He should stop and talk about this, but, honestly, he’s mostly just proud he hasn’t already broken into a run. “Yeah,” he says, as he goes. “I’ll be in touch.”

 

 

 

                The sun is up by the time they get to Gotham, and they are all exhausted. Jason’s been worrying for the past half hour that Tony’s going to pass out and fall off the bike. When they finally stop, Tony’s almost limp against his back.

                “Here,” Jason says, exasperated and fond, as he passes Tony to Bucky. “Hold this.”

                Bucky snorts and wraps an arm around Tony’s waist to keep him upright while he watches Jason go for the safehouse garage door.

                If he were sharper, if he were more focused, if he hadn’t spent the whole ride back twisting himself up over we’ve been drawing them out and an off-duty walk and I thought you’d gone in already, he maybe would’ve noticed.

                But, then again, it’s Hydra he’s dealing with, and Hydra is not to be casually fucked with. Maybe he wouldn’t have noticed at all.

                There’s a second where there’s a series of small, overlapping noises, a beep and a click and something like a hiss, and Jason’s brain thinks oh fuck. He doesn’t run or throw himself away; he turns to look at Tony and Bucky.

                Bucky, in that moment, is better than Jason.

                He throws Tony with his metal arm, heaves him clear across the fucking street, and then he jumps for Jason, hooks a hand in his shirt and throws, and Jason is flying backwards, away from Bucky, when the explosive detonates.

                In the flash of light, he sees Bucky, a shadow against an expanding brightness, hand still thrown out like he’s reaching for Jason, and then there’s a burst of pressure and sound and heat, and then there’s nothing at all.

Chapter Text

                It’s the noise that brings Jason around. Sirens have a way of breathing life back in him, no matter what condition he’s in. That the authorities are coming wail opens up every floodgate in his brain, empties all the adrenaline he’s got left into his bloodstream.

                He’s half-convinced that he could’ve clawed his way through the Joker’s bomb if only someone had sent in the cops. This time, at least, he’s thankful he managed to get himself blown up in a place with prompt emergency services.

                He shoves himself up on his elbows, cataloging the worst starbursts of pain – wrist, elbow, shoulder, and half the ribs lining his left side – and shaking his head, once, to try to clear away the worst of the fog.

                The whole street stutters, colors smearing together and flickering briefly black, and he thinks oh, fuck, don’t do that again, and he’s so nauseous that he almost throws up, right then, all over himself.

                “Fuck,” he says, and realizes that he can’t hear it. He can feel it, in the way his throat moves and his mouth shapes it, but he can’t hear it.

                And if he can’t hear himself talk, then those sirens have got to be a lot closer than they seem.

                He drags in air, ignoring the way it lights up every single nerve on his left side from hip to shoulder, and tips his head, and he blinks, hard, and things settle into something that makes sense.

                The ambulance, he sees, is right fucking there. A couple yards away, maybe. The back’s open already, and there are two paramedics, walking carefully through the area, shining flashlights on debris.

                Jason thinks, distantly, that it’s fucking weird that the paramedics beat the fire department and the cops. Ambulances generally run a little slow to this neighborhood.

                He swallows and tries to focus, tries to figure out what’s next, and he thinks Tony and then Bucky, and he’s about to force himself upright, about to get moving, when his eyes catch on movement over to his side.

                It’s Tony. He’s crawling out of a dumpster, and Jason thinks Bucky’s aim is a Goddamn thing of beauty until he sees all the blood.

                It looks like Tony’s whole arm is opened up, from elbow to wrist, and he drags himself out of the dumpster and then falls, landing hard on the concrete below.

                “Stay still, asshole,” Jason advises, but Tony doesn’t seem to hear.

                One of the paramedics breaks away, heads toward Tony, and he seems pretty fucking casual about the whole thing, but, in this area of Gotham, this probably isn’t the worst thing he’s been called to tonight.

                Jason cuts his eyes back toward what remains of the safehouse, and he tries to find Bucky. He can see what is maybe a figure, slumped on the ground underneath a car.

                When Jason looks back toward Tony, the paramedic is standing over him, foot on Tony’s chest, gun pointed at his face.

                “Fuck,” Jason says, so loud he can almost hear it, and the paramedic pauses, looks up and over.

                There’s a long moment where the man just looks at him, assessing, and then he starts to look back down toward Tony. His hand tenses up around the gun, finger moving to the trigger. Jason’s scrambling up, trying to get there in time, knowing he won’t, when a Batarang comes winging out of the dark and opens the man’s throat.

                The paramedic falls to his knees, dropping the gun so he can get his hands around his neck, and Tony grabs the gun, swings it up, and shoots him right in the face.

                Jason watches long enough to see the back of his skull blown open, and then he’s up, careening toward the lump he thinks might be Bucky.

                The other paramedic gets there first. He’s dragging Bucky out by his collar, and Bucky’s limp, pale. Breathing, though, which is better than Jason had expected. There’s a smear of wet darkness of the pavement below him that Jason figures is probably blood.

                “Fuck off,” Jason says, and hurdles over the hood of the car, manages a decent kick to the man’s side before the quick spin of it levels him, disoriented and dizzy.

                The man comes up snarling, gun trained on Jason, and Jason figures, fine, fuck it, at least this time he’ll die for a reason. He’s crouching, ready to tackle him, when someone grabs him from behind, arms around his chest, and starts dragging him back and away.

                Jason reaches behind him, trying to get his hands on whoever has him, fingers scrambling for eye sockets, and the asshole slams a hard punch into the side of his face.

                Jason’s not sure if he loses consciousness or not, but, by the time he’s got his eyes open and his feet back under him, they’re dragging him into the ambulance. He gets his fingers hooked in the door frame, tries to haul himself away from them and back into the street, and the one carrying him drops him onto the floor of the ambulance.

                There’s a second where Jason thinks he’s going to get away, and then the man kicks him, hard, in the side of the head, and all of Jason’s muscles revolt against him, and he goes limp, tries to drag his brain past the useless wail of pain and confusion.

                A woman darts in beside him, a flash of dark clothing and red hair, and he feels a quick pinprick on the exposed skin of his throat.

                “Shitfuck,” he says, and swings an arm at her, uncoordinated and weak. She pulls back, and Jason tries to go after her, but he can feel it, the numbness creeping from one side of his body to the other, and there’s nothing, there’s not enough time.

                The two people in the ambulance look out, and Jason does too, and he sees the second paramedic, the one Tony didn’t shoot, making his way toward them, dragging Bucky behind him.

                Jason works his jaw around a no, but can’t make the muscles in his chest and throat give it any weight. Can’t sit up, can’t speak. The panicky part of his brain – that stupid, childish part that always, always wants to live, no matter what it costs – wonders if it’s going to shut him down completely, if it’ll stop his lungs and heart.

                The man’s a yard away when Tony shows up, looking almost as pale as Bucky. He raises his gun, and it’s too slow, and Jason tries to tell him, but he can’t, and he watches, fingers scrambling against the metal floor, as the man lifts his own gun, faster, better.

                And then, like a miracle, like the kind of mercy Jason’s never done a damn thing to deserve, an actual fucking arrow sprouts out of the man’s neck. He drops the gun, and Tony kicks it across the street and then swings to face the ambulance, whole fucking body exposed, just begging for a gut shot, and Jason is relieved – is actually fucking relieved – when the woman steps forward and swings the ambulance doors shut.

                “Let’s go,” she says, and Jason can hear her. She looks down at Jason and then up at the other agent. She shrugs. “We have one. That’s enough to get the others.”

                She pounds a fist against the side of the ambulance, and it immediately jolts forward.

                Jason hears a series of faint bangs and realizes that Tony’s emptying the clip into the side of the ambulance. It doesn’t help. It sure as hell doesn’t stop them. But it’s comforting, somehow. It makes it easier to slip away.

                This time, at least, someone noticed. Someone out there knows he’s being taken away.

 

 

               

                Jason struggles to wake up. He almost surfaces once, when a sharp sting of pain kicks his thoughts into something like a useable pattern, but the drugs soothe him back to sleep with all the resolute inevitability of a pillow over his face.

                There’s some confusion, thoughts like smeared paint, half-formed memories disappearing like soap bubbles down a drain. He can’t hold any of it together.

                When he finally makes it back to consciousness, there’s a blindfold over his eyes and the harsh, clinical smell of bleach overpowering everything else. He can hear a machine beeping out a slow heartbeat, and, after a few seconds, he realizes it’s his own.

                He takes a deep breath and tries to get a sense of where he is. Somewhere clean, somewhere with medical equipment. Somewhere where they tie their patients to the bed with enough restraints that Jason knows, after tugging twice, that he won’t be getting out anytime soon.

                “Nurse,” he says. His voice is raspy, so he clears his throat. He’s thirsty. That is, he acknowledges, probably the least of his worries. “Hey, nurse, the morphine’s wearing off, and I gotta piss.”

                For awhile, Jason doesn’t hear anything. And then there’s a slow, unimpressed exhale and the sound of someone walking closer.

                “You,” a voice says, male, within reaching distance, “have a very interesting physiology.” There’s a faint accent Jason figures is some of kind Eastern European, heavily muddled from years on American soil.

                “Well,” Jason says, thoughtfully, “honestly, I’ve fallen for worse pickup lines. But get rid of this bondage shit. That’s not first date material.”

                “Oh, lovely,” The man says, with another persecuted sigh. “You’re in a joking mood.”

                “The hell I am. There’s nothing funny about this,” Jason says. “I mean, you didn’t even ask if I have a safe word. I do, by the way. It’s ‘fuck Hydra.’”

                “Charming,” The man says. “If you’re quite done, I’d like to continue the experiment in peace.”

                “You’re right,” Jason concedes. “That’s a bad safe word. It comes up too much in natural conversation.”

                There’s some kind of whirring noise that Jason figures does not bode well. The man doesn’t reply.

                “Hey, you wanna know why the hydra has so many heads?” Jason says. “So it can suck every dick in Gotham.”

                “Yes, very funny,” the doctor says. He rubs something on Jason’s arm. It’s cold, and it smells like alcohol. If they’re bothering with disinfectant, maybe they want him to live. Jason decides to be optimistic. “Please let me know if it becomes difficult to swallow.”

                “Is that—what is that?” Jason asks. “Are you trying to set up another blowjob joke? Look, you’ve gotta be a bit clearer about where you’re going with things if you expect me to---”

                “As I said,” the man says, over Jason, “you have an interesting physiology. If it becomes difficult to swallow, it’s because your throat is swelling shut. This would cause problems for me. No doubt they’d prefer that you can breathe.”

                “They, huh?” Jason says, as the doctor shoots another round of Hydra bullshit into his arm. “Hey, doc? Do me a favor. Tell them I said, out of everyone in Gotham, Hydra can blow me first.”

                “Yes, I will tell them you’re feeling amusing,” the man says. “What with all the trouble you’ve been causing, there are quite a few of us who could use a laugh.”

                Jason snorts and bites back a slightly hysterical cackle. He rolls the back of his head against the cold metal of the table. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says. “I’ve never been in trouble in my life.”

                He’s not in trouble. He knows that. He’s fucked.

 

 

 

                There’s a long stretch of time where Jason’s pretty sure he’s awake, but he can’t seem to control anything his body or mind is doing. He should be more upset about this than he is. Instead, he spends the time trying to curl his fingers into fists and laughing at the way his feet kick against the restraints, instead.

                “Doc,” he says, as he feels the restraints loosening. “You fucked me up.”

                It comes out a garbled mess.

                “Is your throat swelling shut?” the doctor says. “Swallow.”

                “Buy me dinner.” Jason says and laughs so hard he almost rolls off the table. He can roll off the table. He’s not tied to anything. But he can’t make himself move. His whole body’s filled with a buzzy, humming, stuffed-cotton numbness.

                “He is funny,” a new voice notes, not approvingly.

                Someone grabs Jason by the shirt and drags him off the table. Jason barely gets his feet under him, and then almost face plants anyway because it’s cold. He’s barefoot. They took his fucking boots.

                “Where’re my shoes?” Jason huffs and throws an elbow back, jabbing at whoever’s got his shirt. He makes contact with something sturdy that does not move.

                “Always bitching about your shoes,” the man says. He grabs Jason’s arm and pulls, drops it over his shoulders. “C’mon. You’ve got a meeting.”

                “Fuck your meeting,” Jason says. His tongue feels about three sizes too big. He swallows, just to be sure he can, and, while he’s pulling his entire brain together to accomplish that complicated task, the man starts dragging him along.

                “Asshole,” Jason says, and struggles to keep his feet underneath him as they go. The go down several hallways and through a series of doors, but Jason knows he’s not in a good room when the floor changes abruptly from carpet to concrete.

                He bets there’s a drain set into the floor. That’s a little unsettling.

                Seconds later, he’s dropped into a chair.

                “What’s wrong with him?” someone asks. “Where’s all that rage?”

                “Show you rage,” Jason mutters, and rallies his shit together long enough to push at whatever’s around his eyes. It’s just gauze and cotton, taped down, but it takes a few seconds of uncoordinated scrambling before he manages to pull it off so he can glare around the room.

                There’s a grim-faced man in a suit, and two bored men with guns and body armor, and one squirrelly looking asshole with a clipboard and glasses.

                “Doc,” he says, to the squirrelly one, “what am I on?”

                “I wanted him to be compliant. I haven’t been getting accurate readings,” the doctor explains, to the suit. “It shouldn’t interfere with the procedure.”

                “Procedure,” Jason repeats and looks around with a bit more focus.

                The chair he’s in is weird. It’s built like he’s meant to lean back, and the whole thing’s metal. There are two vertical metal arms on either side of him that hold a metal halo above his head. Beside him, he can see monitors, but he’s not sure what to make of the displays.

                “What’s this?” he asks.

                “He’ll live through it?” the suit asks, studying Jason. “He seems weak.”

                “Oh, yes, he should,” the doctor says. “There’s a decent chance his heart will stop, but that’s fixable.”

                “Shit,” Jason says. He tries to sit up, but can’t coordinate it. He slumps back against the seat. “Aren’t you gonna ask questions?” It seems like that’s the usual pattern. Questions, then pain.

                The suit presses his lips together and gives him a brief, bored look. “Why would I bother asking questions until I know you won’t lie to me?”

                He has a point, but Jason doesn’t like how calm he is about it. In fact, he’s starting to get nervous about the atmosphere in general. He never likes this part, but it usually follows an order he can predict and brace himself for. He’s never been much for tradition, but he’s starting to see it has its uses.

                “Tell you who Batman is,” Jason offers. He swings his legs a little, trying to get some control over his body back. But nothing works right. And even if he manages to stand up, he couldn’t fight the doctor in this condition, much less the burly assholes with their rifles.

                “You’ll lie to me about who Batman is,” the suit says. He looks back toward the doctor. “What percentage are you running?”

                “Nearly what we’d planned to use on the Asset,” the doctor says and goes to some terminal, starts tapping away at the keys.

                The suit nods. “Good. Expected side-effects?”

                The doctor shrugs. “There’s some risk that running the machine at this strength will functionally lobotomize him. But, otherwise, there’s the normal risk of moderate soft tissue damage.”

                “Functionally—the fuck?” Jason manages to sit up. It is a Herculean effort managed, primarily, through desperation. “Fuck your lobotomy.”

                One of the armed men moves forward and pushes him back down with a hand around Jason’s throat. Seconds later, metal restraints clank out of the arm rests and wrap around his biceps and wrists. He can’t move. He thrashes, to the best of his ability, but nothing gives at all.

                “Here,” the other guard says, holding up a rubber mouth guard.

                Jason spits at him. “Fuck off.”

                “You want to keep your tongue?” the guard asks.

                Jason pauses to think about it and then opens his mouth to tell him to fuck off all over again, and the man shoves the mouth guard into his mouth. Jason thinks about spitting the whole thing at his face, but, honestly, he does want to keep his tongue. He uses that to tell people to fuck off. It’s important to him.

                There’s a series of unwelcome clicks and whirs, and the halo comes apart and swivels down as two separate metal plates that bracket his face.

                Something kicks in his gut. It feels a lot like panic. It feels like learned panic. There’s something in the back of his head, shouting over and over, and it won’t resolve into words, and then the machine kicks on and there’s nothing left in his head.

 

 

 

                When it’s over, the guards each grab an arm and drag him away from the machine. He can’t move his legs at all. He feels like he’s not breathing, although he knows he is. His vision stutters, and he can’t hold his head up. He ends up watching the lights as they haul him along, and he thinks maybe he should count them, but he doesn’t know why he thinks that, or where he is, or what number he’s on.

                Every nerve aches. His teeth feel too big for his mouth. His throat hurts. Probably from all the screaming.

                They drop him back on the doctor’s table, and the doctor starts carefully checking him over.

                Jason tries to hold onto the path to the machine, tries to focus on how many lefts and rights, but his thoughts are like half-chewed alphabet soup that some toddler threw up. Nothing makes any Goddamn sense.

                “Terrible ride, Doc,” Jason says, finally. His voice is even raspier now. “Want a refund.”

                “Well, look at that,” the doctor says, and, despite his words, he doesn’t sound the least bit impressed, or even all that interested. “You still feel like joking.”

                “Sure,” Jason says. He’s having trouble holding everything together. It’s like waking up from a dream and losing all of it, fog fading on a mirror. No way to hold it together, and no way to rebuild what’s lost. “Here, I got a joke. ‘s my best one. Really funny. Ready?” The doctor doesn’t look up from his notes, but Jason goes on anyway. “Hail Hydra. That’s a fucking joke.”

                “Yes, very good,” the doctor says. He writes something down in his notes and then finally looks up at him. “You’re adapting very quickly to the machine. Usually, you don’t seem to feel up too much joking at all, after. You’re usually very quiet.” He shrugs. “Sometimes you ask for your friends.”

                Jason blinks. He loses more, and now he can’t even fully remember what had happened to him, what the machine was. The fear and anger is left, burned deep enough to linger even after he’s started to forget the process. He knows he doesn’t want to go back. But he couldn’t say why, if asked.

                There was a concrete floor, and a man in a suit, and a halo, and pain.

                But, as he lays there, it seems like maybe the halo was made up.

                “What d’you mean,” he asks, finally, “usually?”

                The doctor smiles down at him.  “Yes, yes, excellent.” He makes more notes. “So you don’t remember the other experiments at all?”

                “I just woke up,” Jason tells him. “I just woke up and then you—the machine. And there was—wasn’t there someone else?” He kicks his feet. He’s cold. “Where are my fucking shoes?”

                “Always with the shoes,” the man says.

                “What do you mean always?” Jason’s starting to panic. It’s shitty, and stupid, and self-defeating. There’s nothing to be gained by letting them know they’re getting in his head.

                He’d just woken up. There haven’t been other experiments. There hasn’t been anything.

                “Jason,” the doctor says, smiling all over again, “you’ve been complaining about those boots for weeks.”

                It hits like a hammer to the chest, shatters all the tiny shards of memory he was clinging to, and he wants to argue, wants to point to the fact that he has no memory of other experiments to tell him that he’s a fucking liar, but he knows – he can tell – that there’s a gap in his memory, and it’s not getting better.

                It’s getting worse.

                And they know his name. When did he tell them his name?

                He knows he was somewhere before he was in this room, but he doesn’t know where. Something happened to him, and he hurts, so it probably wasn’t good, but he doesn’t know. He knows he used to know, and he knows it’s gone.

                They took him away from Tony and Bucky. He woke up in this room. He left. He came back. He has no idea what happened between any of those memories.  He doesn’t know how much time he’s lost.

                “What the fuck are you doing to me?” His voice is raspy, so he clears his throat. He’s thirsty. He wonders if the scratch in his voice is from thirst or whatever drugs he’s on.

                Was he screaming? He gets, suddenly, a sense-memory of screaming, teeth locked around something soft, and then it’s gone, and he doesn’t know if he made it up or not.

                “Don’t get so upset,” the doctor advises. “Now that we know you can tolerate the machine at a reasonable level, we’ll take more. And then, trust me, you’ll be quite happy here.”

                “Fuck you,” Jason says. Something in him cringes at the machine, but he doesn’t know why.

                “We were only going to keep you short-term, you know,” the doctor says. “We thought the Asset would try to claim you back. But it seems not.”

                Jason closes his eyes. He takes a steadying breath.

                It has been less than a day since they took him. The doctor, Jason tells himself, is lying.

                He runs his thumbs over his fingernails, checks to see if they’ve grown. He doesn’t learn a damn thing about how long he’s been here, because they’ve cut his nails short, but he realizes, as he’s checking, that he’s already given up. He’s already lost faith.

                “But it’s not a total loss,” the doctor says. He’s injecting something else into Jason’s arm. “As I’ve told the others, you’re no Winter Soldier, but you’ll do. You have usable skills.”

                “Fuck,” Jason says, “you.”

                “Get some rest,” the doctor advises. “Tomorrow, we’ll take the last six months.”

                Jason takes a deep breath and tries to sit up, tries to fight, tries to throw this lying shithead doctor right through the wall. He doesn’t do anything. He feels himself slipping, and he fights, but it doesn’t do any good.

                The last six months, he thinks.

                If they take the last six months, he won’t even know who Bucky is.

                If they take the last six months, they can take anything, and then he won’t even know who he is.

                Get up, he thinks, desperately. Get up, get up, get-up-getup.

                For a second, he feels the muscles in his chest respond, feels himself starting to lift off the bed. But then he goes limp, and he’s out, all over again.

Chapter Text

                The next time Jason’s aware enough to know what’s happening, he’s being dragged down a hallway. “The fuck,” he says, slurring it a little as he kicks his feet underneath him. “Stop.”

                “Yeah,” one of the guard says, tightening his grip around Jason’s wrist. “The doctor said you’d probably wake up on the way.”

                 Jason shifts his weight, puts his feet down like he means it. They drag him anyway, but it’s slower, and there’s something bizarrely reassuring about the burn of carpet taking the skin off his feet.

                Carpet, he thinks, is better than concrete.

                And that’s a weird fucking thought, but Jason decides to heed it anyway. He’s not sure what all has been taken away, if the memories are gone or if his brain has just lost the path to them, but he’s happy for whatever hints he gets.

                “We still in Gotham?” Jason asks, twisting his legs up to test his dexterity and just to fuck with them, making them swerve from one side of the hallway to the other.

                “Not gonna answer that,” one of them says and jerks, hard, on his arm. “Stop it.”

                “You fucking stop it,” Jason says and tugs back, as hard as he can. The guard doesn’t drop him, but he stumbles, just a little.

                It’s coming back. He’s coming back.

                The doctor had said he was adapting to the machine. And Jason’s not sure what he meant by that, what exactly the machine does, but if he’s adapting to that, maybe he’s adapting to the drugs they’re giving him, too.

                Maybe there’s a chance he’ll get out of here after all.

                “You wanna cause us problems?”

                Jason looks up at the guards above him, and he knows, in that moment, that there’s not a Goddamn thing he wants more in the world than to cause these two shitheads a few problems.

                “Nah, absolutely not,” he says. “I’m a very agreeable person. Real team player. Everyone says.”

                The guards share a look over his head, and Jason goes limp, lets them haul his dead weight along while he tries to focus, tries to drag up some idea of where he is and how to get out.

                There’s nothing. There’s a sense that maybe there used to be something. He gets a flash of lights passing overhead and the idea that he might’ve been counting them, but it’s gone almost before he can decipher it, and there’s no real information there.

                He’s lost memories. His whole body aches. He’s barefoot, and they’ve taken away his body armor and his weapons. He’s thirsty, and hungry, and weak. And exhausted, like they’ve kept him up for days on end, hollowed out all the reserves he had.

                But he’s got slowly increasing strength and dexterity and the thought that carpet is better than concrete, and so he’s better now than he was.

                He’s trying to think of a plan, trying to piece together what the next step should be, when they pass through another threshold and his feet move from worn carpet to cold, cracked concrete.

                He looks up, and there’s a weird chair, metal halo hovering behind it, and monitors to the side. There’s a man waiting, wearing a suit and a bored expression, and the rage, the panic that rises up from somewhere deep overwhelms every other thought in Jason’s head.

                He fights. It’s a mess. It’s a desperate, mangled, fucked-up mess. Every single one of his teachers would’ve despaired at the spectacle of it.

                He drags one guard into the other, makes a grab for a rifle and gets the butt of the gun slammed into his face, instead. He feels his lip split open and gathers the blood in his mouth, spits it right in the eyes of the bigger guard and gets his hands on the other guard’s face, hooks his fingers behind his ears and digs his thumbs right into his eyes.

                He’s loose, and he should go for a weapon, run toward the threat rather than away from it, but he hasn’t been scared like this in this lifetime. He’s getting echoes of the last time he died, hears laughter and the whistle of a tire iron rising up, and every single one of his senses is screaming danger at him.

                He runs. It works about as well as it always does.

                “Thought you weren’t gonna cause any fucking problems,” the bigger guard says, as he hauls Jason back down the hallway. Jason’s blood was all over his face when he caught him, and now it’s all over his hands, too.

                Jason doesn’t say anything, because he’s sucking blood out of his busted lip, trying to get a good mouthful to projectile all over that besuited son of a bitch, if he gets close enough.

                At the rate he’s regaining muscle control, he needs about five more minute to beat this guy into a coma. In ten minutes, he could snap his neck without breaking a sweat.

                He’s not going to get five minutes.

                The guard’s dragging him along by a single wrist, damn near pulling Jason’s arm out of socket in the process, and, if Jason could catch his breath or get himself reoriented, if he could get his feet under him, he could maybe handle things.

                The second guard is gone. They’d passed him on the way back, fumbling his way to medical, both hands curled around the bloody, ruined mess Jason had made of his left eye.

                The guy in the suit has the guard’s rifle, and it’s pointed right at Jason’s chest, but Jason doesn’t care. He’s fine with it.

                He’s not sure. He doesn’t know. But there’s so much fear in him, when he looks at that machine. It’s hardwired into him. Whatever it is, it’s bad enough that the fear of it lives in his brainstem, and he thinks this is thing they’re using to take away his memories.

                If his choices are to get a dozen holes punched through his vital organs and bleed out on a Hydra floor or get put back in that chair, everything in him is pulling for the bullets.

                “You sure he’s worth it?” the guard says to the suit.

                “Were you watching the same fight?” the suit asks, casual, like he doesn’t even care that one of his own men just lost an eye. “He’s worth it.”

                “I liked the other one better,” the guard says. “Not as mouthy. Or heavy.”

                They’re crossing from carpet to concrete again, and Jason hooks his free hand around the doorframe.

                “Are you fucking kidding?” the guard says, and yanks, with all his strength.

                Jason lets go and swings his legs around in the same movement, lets the guard’s momentum drag him in so Jason can kick him directly in the balls.

                The guard crumples, fingers loosening on his wrist, and Jason scrambles on top of him, slams his forehead right into his nose, breaks it beautifully. He goes for the rifle, but the guard won’t give it up, and they’re wrestling on the floor when Jason hears a clatter of footsteps behind him and then there are strong arms wrapped around his throat, pulling him away.

                “Fuck,” Jason says, yanking at the wrist, dropping his weight, trying to open up enough space to get himself out of the headlock. But the arms won’t move. Jason doesn’t have enough strength for that, yet.

                He can’t fucking breathe.

                He struggles, a fish on a line, and then the guard gets to his feet and slams the butt of his rifle into Jason’s ribs, and he knows he’s done when he feels them crack.

                The pain lights up too much of his brain, and the combination of the broken ribs and the blood choke finishes off all the fight he’s got left.

                His brain switches off, and he’s out.

 

 

 

                He comes up for air as the metal restraints rattle closed around him. He’s in the chair, and he’s swallowing his own blood.

                He chokes and coughs, spits up foamy red mess all over himself, and he gags when the guard shoves the mouth guard over his tongue and about halfway down his throat.             

                “Fuck you,” the guard snarls at him. He sets his nose and glares at Jason while he does it. Jason wants to laugh at him for being so petty about a little broken nose between enemies, but he’s trying not to asphyxiate on his own fucking blood.

                “Yes,” the man in the suit says. He looks pleased, and it seems like he’s mostly talking to himself. There’s blood down the front of his suit, but it’s hard to see against the black fabric. “He’ll be useful.”

                Jason slams his wrists against the restraints, seeking a sharp edge, trying to open up any artery that’ll get him out of this.

                He doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want to be a weapon in someone else’s hands. He knows exactly what he’s capable of, knows exactly who and what he is, and the only saving grace about being a monster is that he’s only ever been the kind that hunts other monsters.

                He fights, thrashing and flailing and hoping something will give, but nothing does.

                The suit watches him for a few seconds, observant and attentive and vaguely amused, and then he goes to the monitors and starts typing something. The metal halo pulls apart and rotates down. Jason feels two metal panels bracketing his face, and he doesn’t know what to do or think.

                He can’t get images of Tony and Bucky out of his head.

                He sees Bucky sick and weak, half-dead on the floor of Stark’s testing chamber, saying, It’s how they make me do things. Hurt people. And then stepping away from Jason’s side, looking down at him, If someone uses the words, and we can’t stop them, I want you to shoot me.

                Bucky, grumpy in the mornings, pissed off about how young Tim is, dropping a Hydra soldier that he been about to kill Jason. Bucky, aiming a gun at Dick Grayson. Bucky, with his mouth twisted into a frown or drawing up in a small smile or pressed against his Jason’s, teeth catching his bottom lip.

                And Tony, genius, naïve, stupid brave Tony, who’d killed a man the last time Jason saw him. Tony, who hadn’t fucking asked for any of this, who drinks too much and talks too fast and gets his feelings hurt over nothing at all. Tony, hauling the Winter Soldier up the stairs, out of his lab, so he can have a shower.

                They’re good, both of them. They’re better than Jason deserves.

                Jason doesn’t ever want to hurt them.

                He throws everything in him against the restraints, disregards all the stupid, hysterical signals his nerves send him, and it’s not enough. He feels the machine humming awake around him. The man in the suit stops typing and looks up, expectant.

                There’s a moment where the only thoughts in Jason’s head are two names. He thinks, desperately, that maybe if he just focuses on those two names, he’ll get to keep them. He’s ready to give up everything else.

                If he has them, he’ll be alright.

                If he has them, they can fix the rest.

                Everything goes dark around him.

                It takes several long seconds of panicked breathing before he realizes that it didn’t just go dark for him. The whole room’s dark. The power’s out.

                “What,” the suit says, confused. “What was that? Where’s the backup power?”

                “I don’t know,” the guard. “The generator should have---”

                Jason hears a distant explosion and feels the machine shake. He knows, in the second, what’s happening. He starts to laugh.

                “What’re you laughing about?” the guard says. “What the fuck is he laughing at?”

                “You’re so fucked,” Jason says, still laughing. “Holy shit, you’re so fucked.”

                Something is kicking in his belly, impossibly giddy. He wonders if this is what all those bullshit commercials, all those sappy movies, have failed to portray. He feels like he could light a solar system with whatever’s buzzing under his skin.

                “Shut the fuck up,” the guard says. Jason feels his hands move across his chest, to his throat, and then he feels the barrel of the rifle pressing right into his face. “Shut up.”

                Jason jerks his head to the side and spits the mouth guard in what he hopes is the right direction.

                There’s a splatter and a yell, and Jason’s trying not to start laughing again when the door kicks open and a shadow moves inside.

                Jason can barely see him in the darkness, but he knows by the way he moves that it’s Bucky. The guard’s dead in seconds, a neat spray of his own bullets opening up a half-dozen holes in his chest, and then Bucky gets his hands around the suit and breaks his neck, easily, drops him to the floor like he’s nothing.

                “Buck,” Jason says, trying to sit up and coming up against the restraints. “Bucky, Jesus fuck. Is this a rescue mission? I can’t fucking believe---”

                Bucky’s got a look in his eyes like rage is a living thing inside him. Jason wants to lick that expression off his face.

                Bucky jerks the metal pieces away from Jason’s head, sends them crashing to the ground, and then wraps the fingers of his metal hand around the restraints and rips them clean off, one by one.

                “Can you walk?” Bucky asks him. “Evac’s in ten minutes. Or whenever Tony finishes up.”

                “Are you fucking kidding?” Jason says, incredulous. There’s a giant, stupid grin on his face, and he knows that, but he can’t make it go away. “This is a fucking rescue mission,” he tells him, like there’s a chance he didn’t piece that one together on his own. “Where’s my rescue kiss?”

                For a second, Bucky looks genuinely shocked. He blinks at him. Twice. “Jason,” he says, low and serious. He sounds guilty. “Are you---”

                “Fine,” Jason says, with a shrug. “I’ll do it myself.”

                He grabs Bucky by the front of his tac vest and drags him in. There’s a split second of resistance, and then Bucky is plastered against him, hip to chest, hands running down Jason’s side like he’s checking from injuries while he presses his mouth against Jason’s.

                “You’re bleeding,” Bucky says, drawing back. His mouth is red with Jason’s blood. Jason recognizes, objectively, that it shouldn’t be nearly as hot as it is.

                “You’re here,” Jason tells him. He pulls him back in and licks his blood off Bucky’s mouth.

                “’course I’m here,” Bucky says, against his lips. He pulls back, still looking guilty, and rests his forehead against Jason’s, stares at what Jason’s sure is one hell of a busted lip. “Jason---”

                “Hey, woah,” Grayson comes skidding into the room, in full Nightwing getup. He’s backlit, but Jason can tell by his body language that he’s scandalized to find them like this. “Are you two making out? Are those dead bodies?”

                “Nightwing?” Jason says, incredulous. He tries to shove himself up on his elbows, but his arms aren’t strong enough to hold him. He flops back on his back and laughs at the wreck Hydra and adrenaline have made out of him. “What the hell are you doing here?”

                “Getting you,” Grayson says and turns to Bucky. “The agreement was we wouldn’t kill people.”

                Bucky shrugs. That rage is back on his face. “Those weren’t people.”

                There’s a brief silence, and then Jason grabs at Bucky’s shirt, uses it haul himself up. He thinks it’s funny how he can pull himself to Bucky, even when he can’t sit up, but he guesses he’s always worked better with proper motivation.

                “If you keep talking like that,” he says, as seriously as he can, “we’re not gonna make it out of here in ten minutes.”

                “You two are fucking weird together,” Grayson says. He doesn’t sound like he disapproves. “Let’s get out of here. Stark and Robin are done. We’ve gotta go.”

                “Robin?” Jason says, voice climbing higher. Bucky helps him up, and it looks for a second like he’s thinking about trying to haul him out of here bridal style, but Jason squirms away, gets his feet under him. “Has anyone seen my shoes?”

                “We’ll get you new shoes,” Nightwing promises.

                “Those might fit,” Bucky says, pointing at the boots on the dead guard’s feet.

                “Hey,” Jason says, considering them, “they might.”

                “We are going,” Grayson says, ducking under Jason’s other arm, wrapping one arm around Jason’s waist, overlapping Bucky’s. “We are not gonna stand here and loot the bodies that we’re definitely not telling B about. Let’s go.”

                “He’s always like this,” Jason tells Bucky.

                “Worse ways to be,” Bucky says. “I guess.”

                Jason laughs and then catches his breath as they start walking. “Nightwing,” he says, through clenched teeth. “Arm higher.”

                “What?” Grayson says, immediately dragging his arm higher up on Jason’s side. “Why?”

                “What happened to your ribs?” Bucky says, and now they’re stopped, all three of them, and it’s fucking ridiculous.

                “Nothing,” Jason says. “Let’s go. Time crunch, right? Evac’s in ten minutes, you said.”

                “Now he cares,” Grayson mutters, only half under his breath.

                “No, he doesn’t,” Bucky says and gives Jason a narrowed-eyed look of suspicion before he reaches down, grabs the hem of Jason’s shirt, and tugs it up.

                “Hey,” Jason says, batting at him. “Inappropriate. Don’t flash my nipples to Hydra. They’ve got enough of a hard on for me already.”

                “Those ribs are broken,” Grayson announces, because he’s a shithead and a sellout. “Those are absolutely broken. And fresh. What the hell were they doing to you, Jaybird?”

                “Tickle fight,” Jason says. He’s embarrassed. He knows that’s stupid, but he’s embarrassed anyway. He tugs his shirt back down. “They slumber party hard, okay? But I still won.”

                “Of course you did,” Grayson says, placating.

                “Alright,” Bucky says, which is the extent of the warning Jason gets before he’s swept off his Goddamn feet and right into Bucky’s arms. “Let’s go.”

                “Uh,” Grayson says. But, Jason notices, he says it from a safe distance. “Shouldn’t I do that? How many stitches are in you right now?”

                “Yeah, what the fuck? Weren’t you blown up?” Jason says, to Bucky. He wants to struggle out of this absolutely ridiculous bridal carry, but he’s not sure where Bucky’s injured. And, also, it’s going to hurt like a bitch if he tries squirming around with his ribs in their current condition.

                “We’re going,” Bucky says, as he starts walking. “And you’re not touching him. Thanks. I’ve got it.”

                There’s a brief, awkward pause, and Grayson punches Jason in the shoulder, lightly, and beams down at him. “Good for you, Jay. I like this guy.”

                “Hey, Buck,” Jason says, lolling his head back against Bucky’s arm so he can stare up at him. Bucky looks down at him, face creased along serious lines, and Jason jerks his chin Grayson’s direction. “Murder him.”

                Bucky looks like he’s considering it and then his focus suddenly shifts. He pauses and tips his head toward Nightwing, who nods and thumbs at the earpiece Jason’s can barely make out against his dark hair.

                “Yeah, no,” Nightwing says, “No need. We’ve got him. We’re on our way.”

                Jason wonders who the hell Grayson’s talking to, and he thinks about asking, but the adrenaline is wearing off, and he’s spiraling into the kind of exhausted pit that means he’ll be out for awhile, once he goes.

                “Tony’s okay?” he says, leaning his head against Bucky’s chest.

                “Yeah,” Bucky says. “Cut himself on some glass. Stitches. He’s fine.”

                Jason nods. “You’re okay?”

                There’s a longer pause. Bucky looks guilty all over again, and Jason wants that look off his face, but he can’t figure out the source of it. “I’m fine,” he says.

                “Liar,” Jason says.

                “Not wrong,” Grayson offers, a little too jovially for Jason’s taste. “I heard some of the shrapnel’s still in him.”

                Jason stares up at Bucky accusingly, but Bucky just shrugs, looks resolutely unapologetic. “It’s fine where it is for now. Figured we’d get to the surgery after we got you. The doctors cleared it.”

                “Which doctors?” Jason says. “Whose doctors?”

                “SHIELD’s,” Bucky says. There’s a rattle and a pop, and Jason realizes Grayson’s breaking open a door. Seconds later, they’re stepping outside, and Jason knows just from the skyline that they’re still in Gotham.

                It’s dark. Probably closer to dawn than sundown. But the whole damn parking lot is lit up by headlights.

                “What the fuck is this?” Jason says, and he struggles so much that Bucky finally sets him down, lets him lean into his side and stare at the mass of vans and dark-suited personnel swarming the place.

                “There you are,” Coulson says, stepping out of the nearest van. “All clear?”

                “Yeah,” Bucky says. “You can have it.”

                Coulson nods and gestures across the parking lot, and suddenly all of the people waiting in the parking lot are streaming into the building at Jason’s back, guns out.

                “The fuck is—does Batman know about this shit?” Jason says, turning to Nightwing. “What the fuck?”

                “Batman gave us the location,” Coulson says. He tips his head to Nightwing, a certain amiable smile on his face that Jason’s learning to regard with respect. “We’re using nonlethal ammunition.”

                Batman gave us the location

                Jason doesn’t even know what to do with that shit.

                “Hey.”

                Jason swivels around, nearly overbalancing, and he sees Tony shoving his way out of another van, dashing across the parking lot. He skids to a stop – Bucky hooks an arm around both of them, steadies them – and then grabs the front of Jason’s shirt and kisses the hell out of him.

                “Shit, Stark,” Jason says, when Tony finally pulls back far enough for him to breathe. “You’re gonna kill me.”

                “Told you it was both of them,” Hawkeye says, skulking out of the darkness with a very self-satisfied look on his face. He’s got one hand held out to Grayson, like he expects money, and an actual fucking quiver on his back.

                “Kid,” Grayson says, “if you think I can hide cash anywhere on this suit---”

                Hawkeye blinks, considers him, and then shrugs. “I’ll take another Batarang.”

                “That’s not--”

                “You’ve got one right there,” Hawkeye says. He points, helpfully, to Grayson’s belt.

                “Absolutely not. You shouldn’t have been given the first one.”

                Jason knows that voice. He just can’t quite accept that it’s here.

                He shifts, slowly, leaning harder into Bucky, and there he is, Batman, Bruce fucking Wayne, with Robin beside him, arm in a sling.

                “Red Hood,” Batman says, evenly. He nods, like they have the sort of relationship that invites casual greetings.

                Jason opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He tries again. “Nice of you to come to my surprise party, Bats,” he says, a little faint.

                “Coulson wouldn’t let us bring balloons,” Tony says. He’s got some of Jason’s blood smeared across his face, but he doesn’t seem to notice or care. He’s grinning up at Jason like he’s the best thing he’s ever seen.

                “You asked for strippers,” Coulson says, stepping closer. Behind him, Hawkeye’s pocketing a Batarang, and Nightwing’s standing with his arms crossed, looking innocent, but Jason doesn’t see any reason to call attention to that.

                “To hold the balloons,” Tony says, a touch defensive.

                Somewhere between the SHIELD vans and Tony kissing him breathless, Jason lost the ability to process new information. His head is filling up with static. He swallows, still staring at Batman.

                “Hey,” he says, “not to be a buzzkill, but I think I’m about to pass out.”

                “Classic buzzkill,” Grayson says, but he sounds worried.

                “Medical’s waiting.” Coulson nods toward one of the waiting vans. “Let’s get you loaded up.”

                Bucky acts like maybe he’s going to try to pick Jason up again, but Jason shakes his head. No way in hell is he going to let anyone carry him. Not in front of Bruce Wayne.

                Bucky frowns at him, but he doesn’t fight him on it. Instead, he drags one of Jason’s arms over his shoulders, takes most of his weight as they make their way across the parking lot.

                Jason looks behind him as Bucky all but lifts him into the waiting arms of the SHIELD medics, and Batman’s already gone.

                Drake and Grayson are standing together, talking to Coulson, and they both look up, catch Jason watching them. Grayson waves, and Drake nods, and Jason falls back against the gurney. “Close the door,” he says, to the medics. “There are some fucking weirdos out there.”

                Bucky and Tony pull the doors closed, and settle on a bench that runs parallel to the gurney. Under the bright lights of the van, they both look exhausted. Jason stares at them for a second, studying the way the lean into each other, and then he gets distracted by the medics, who start cataloging his injuries.

                It’s warm in the van. And the SHIELD medics are talking to him, narrating what they’re doing as they do it, and Jason knows exactly where he is and what’s happening to him and who he’s with.

                Batman gave us the location

                “Hey,” Jason says, struggling up out of the marrow-deep fatigue that had almost dragged him under. “How long did they have me?”

                Bucky frowns. “Four days,” he says, like it’s an apology.

                Jason barks out a sharp, mean laugh, and shakes his head. “Weeks,” he says, still laughing. “They told me weeks.”

                Tony blinks and looks at Jason and then back to Bucky. “Is it too late to tell the SHIELD guys to change their ammo?”

                Bucky shakes his head. There’s too much tension in him. Jason’s going to have to do something about that, but right now there’s nothing left in him. He needs to sleep. He needs to get some shoes. He needs to get his head back together.

                “We’ll do it ourselves,” Bucky says. “When we’re better. We’ll handle it.”

                The doctor, and the guard who lost an eye, and the MIT frat boys, and everyone who knows the words, Jason thinks. It’s a list that just keeps getting longer.

                But they’ll get there, when they’re better. They’ll handle it.

                Jason remembers what he’d held in his head, when he thought Hydra was about to empty him out. The names, the people he wanted to keep. Some part of him wants to be embarrassed by that, wants to warn him away from investing too much, getting attached. It’ll just hurt more, he knows, when they leave.

                But they hadn’t left.

                A fucking rescue mission, he thinks. Coulson and Hawkeye, and Batman, Drake, Grayson, and Tony and Bucky, pulling him out of the machine.

                He’s smiling again. He probably looks like an absolute fucking idiot. But he doesn’t care.

Chapter Text

                Jason flinches awake and is halfway off the hospital bed before he realizes Tony’s sitting beside him. “The fuck are we?” he demands, and it comes out a weak, raspy growl. He clears his throat and swipes the paper cup off the stand next to him. “Can I drink this? What is this? Is this water?”

                “Wow,” Tony says. He blinks at him, a little sluggish. The bags under his eyes have only gotten worse. One of his wrists – his left – is wrapped in bandages. Jason keeps cataloging details in sharp bursts, but he’s having difficulty threading them all together. “You need to lay back down.”

                “Why?” Jason says. Tony gives him a sort of baffled, unsteady look, and Jason decides he’s definitely on something and drops the cup back on the tray.

                He looks over Tony’s shoulder, toward a closed door and the window set into the center of it, the white hallway he can see outside. “Where are we? Who has us?”

                “This,” Tony tells him, “is a hospital.”

                Jason makes a face at him and then examines the bed. He sees restraints, but they’re fabric, and they aren’t attached to him. “Did you get me out of these?” he asks, assessing his wrists. The deep, angry bruises halfway up his forearms are probably from thrashing against the machine, but the red, irritated skin ringing his wrists looks fresh.  

                “Well, yeah,” Tony says and shrugs. “You didn’t like them. You were—you were kinda flailing a lot. Yelling. It was upsetting.”

                “I wasn’t upset,” Jason says, to clarify.

                “Sure,” Tony agrees, unnaturally amiable. “It was all me. I was the upset one.”

                “Who has us?” Jason repeats. “Where are we?”

                “No one has us,” Tony says, confused. He blinks. “Oh. Wait. You think--- no, we’re fine. SHIELD has us. It’s fine, Jason. Coulson’s here and everything.”

                “Coulson,” Jason repeats. Coulson brought a team of SHIELD agents to drag him out of a Hydra facility. Jason’s not sure what his motives are.

                “Where’s Bucky?” Jason asks, shoving himself up on his elbows. “Is he— where the hell is he?”

                “A couple rooms over,” Tony says. He grimaces and shrugs. “He’s not—I mean, they were pulling shrapnel out of him for awhile. But he’s gonna be okay. They think. He hasn’t woken up yet.”

                “Why aren’t you with him?” Jason asks, maybe a touch more accusatorily than necessary.

                Tony rolls his eyes. “Because, until five minutes ago, you hadn’t woken up either.” He glances over his shoulder, toward the door. “Anyway, Hawkeye’s with him. He, Coulson, and I’ve been taking turns.”

                Jason drags himself into a sitting position and clears his throat to keep from hissing at the pain. He points at the cup. “That water’s safe?”

                “God,” Tony says. “You got a whole checklist you’ve gotta run through?”

                “Don’t shit-talk my necessary precautions, Stark. You and I have very different memories of waking up in places we didn’t leave ourselves, okay? Fuck.” He grabs the cup and drinks it in slow, even sips. He swishes some of it around in his mouth, knocks that medicinal film off his teeth, and then nods toward the door.  “Let’s go.”

                “Let’s go?” Tony repeats. “Let’s go where?”

                “To Bucky, asshole,” Jason says. “Where we should’ve been this whole fucking time. Rule number one of getting abducted: never let them split the group. Okay? Write that shit down in your genius brain.”

                “We weren’t abducted,” Tony says. “We were taken to a hospital.”

                “Okay, sure,” Jason says, “we’ll see who’s right when it’s time to leave.”

                Tony just rolls his eyes again, so Jason takes a moment to assess his motor control, and frowns at the way his whole body aches when he stretches. “Fuck,” he says, a little taken aback by how much everything hurts. “Am I on painkillers?”

                Tony snorts out a dry chuckle. “Haha,” he says, like it’s not funny at all. “No, you are not. You throat-punched the nurse that tried. You wouldn’t even let them put stitches in, at first. I had to hold you down.”

                Jason double-takes. “You held me down?”

                Tony pauses for a second and then waves his hands in a really unclear gesture. He is, Jason notices with growing unease, suddenly disinterested in making eye-contact. “Held you down, held your hand. Whatever. Point is: you calmed down.”

                Very calmly, Jason takes his pillow and presses it over his own face. It doesn’t help much.

                “Anyway,” Tony says, loudly, “anyway, your cover is blown at this hospital. Everyone knows you’re into me.”

                Jason gives up on a good death and drags his legs over the side of the bed, hooks his hands around the mattress, and heaves himself to his feet. For a second, the whole world wavers into shades of gray and starbursts and then, slowly, it rights itself.

                “Are you on painkillers?” Jason asks, as he tries a slow step forward.

                “Oh, yeah,” Tony says, “fucking absolutely I am. You would not believe what they just hand out at this place.”

                “Rule number two of getting abducted,” Jason says, gritting his teeth and forcing himself to walk faster. He’s lucky he was wearing body armor when that explosive went off. He’s less lucky that it feels like Bucky maybe threw him into an oncoming train. Although, to Bucky’s credit, it’s not clear how much of the damage was acquired due to Hydra’s blanket rejection of the Geneva Convention. “When the abductors offer you drugs, the answer is no.”

                “Okay,” Tony says, “I’ll repeat: this is a hospital.”

                “Don’t be so fucking naive,” Jason says, as they make their way into the hallway. “Has anyone asked for an insurance card yet?”

                “Well,” Tony says. “No.”

                “Abducted,” Jason says, as he pushes open the door. At the end of the hallway, a nurse swivels to face them and frowns like she’s trying to decide whether he’s her problem or not. There’s a nasty bruise peeking out from the collar of her scrubs.

                “Shit,” Jason says, “Tony. Is that the nurse I punched?”

                “Yep,” Tony says, and waves at her. She does not wave back. “Yikes,” Tony says, and settles an arm around Jason’s waist. “I’m just gonna hustle us up a little bit.”

                “Don’t fucking hustle me anywhere,” Jason says, but he lets Stark drag him along. “I can walk.”

                “Sure,” Tony says. “But can you outpace Grudge Match back there?”

                Jason’s trying to think of the best possible way to invite Tony to go fuck himself when Tony kicks open a door and drags Jason inside another hospital room.

                Bucky’s on the bed. He’s hooked up to maybe a half-dozen beeping, scanning machines, and he looks exactly like a jackass with heroic delusions who took a shrapnel bomb to his back and then set off on a rescue mission without getting proper medical clearance. 

                “Fuck,” Jason says, with feeling.

                “Oh, hey, asshole,” Hawkeye says. He waves from where he’s sitting in the chair next to Bucky’s bed. He’s got a stack of papers and a clipboard, and there’s a set of pencils buried in the wall across the room, clustered in a neat ‘x’ pattern. “You know how much it sucks to write two separate mission reports at once? A lot. It sucks a lot.”

                “Oh, hey, Jailbait,” Jason says. “Someone taught you to read?”

                “That’s real funny,” Hawkeye says, narrowing his eyes a little. “Coming from a fellow intellectual and all.”

                “How is he?” Jason asks, jerking his chin toward Bucky. “I mean, he looks like shit. Do you people even have doctors here?”

                “Sure we do,” Hawkeye says. “That’s why he got to keep his insides on the inside.”

                Jason swallows and looks across the room, at a second hospital bed, currently devoid of patients. “Tony,” he says. “C’mon. Help.”

                “Help what?” Tony asks, sounding genuinely baffled. “What’re you— I’m pretty sure they left that there for a reason.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, as he starts dragging the bed across the floor. “Fuck their reasons.”

                Tony sighs and moves over to help them, hooking his one good hand around the bed frame and tugging until they get the bed pressed up against Bucky’s. Jason climbs in, careful of all the places that seem the most sensitive, and Tony climbs in beside him.

                “Pretty sure that breaks some kind of hospital regulation,” Hawkeye says. Jason looks over at him and notices he’s flipping a Batarang up and catching it, over and over.

                “You gonna rat us out?” Jason asks.

                “Nope,” Hawkeye shrugs. “Just covering my ass so I can say I told you not to.”

                Jason blinks and then nods. “Proud of you, kid,” he says.

                “Your grasp of bureaucracy,” Tony tells him, “is downright precocious.”

                “Thanks,” Hawkeye says.

                “Where are we?” Jason asks, as he bullies the pillows into a decent arrangement and then gets Tony settled against him. “Are we still in Gotham?”

                “Ugh,” Hawkeye says, with feeling. “Yeah.” Jason can’t tell if he’s offended on Gotham’s behalf or proud of the obvious disgust on Hawkeye’s face.

                “I thought you said SHIELD didn’t have any facilities in Gotham,” Jason says. Tony props his head on Jason’s chest and hooks one ankle around Jason’s calf. There’s no way, entangled like they are, that anyone could drag one of them away without waking up the other.

                Hawkeye shrugs. “We don’t have any offices here,” he says. “But we’ve got a hospital. Your town fucks people up, Red.”

                Jason smirks, and that’s definitely pride. Other cities might have their charms, but no city on earth fucks people up like Gotham does.  

                Hawkeye rolls his eyes at the look on Jason’s face. “You guys should probably get some rest,” he says. “You’ve had some excitement. You know you got kinda blown up a few days ago?”

                “Had no idea,” Jason says. He glances down at Tony, who lifts his head just long enough to kiss him, soft and sweet and little uncoordinated, lips catching only the corner of Jason’s mouth.

                “Don’t make out,” Hawkeye warns. “I fucking mean it. I’m not even getting hazard pay for this shit, so you two better keep it PG rated.”

                “Whatever,” Jason says, but he relaxes against the hospital pillows, and Tony drops his head back against Jason’s chest.

                Jason points at Hawkeye. “You let anyone in here to fuck with us, and I’m breaking your neck first.”

                “Yeah, sure,” Hawkeye says, and he pauses in his Batarang-flipping to salute him lazily. “I’m on watch. Got it. Rest up.”

 

 

 

                Jason wakes up some time later, when Tony’s slipping out of bed. “Gotta go see someone,” Tony says, when Jason’s hand catches the back of his shirt. “Keep an eye on Bucky.”

                “Stay here,” Jason says, still dazed from sleep. “First rule of getting abducted.”

                “My mom might be here,” Tony says, and Jason’s fingers go slack just long enough for him to get away. He comes back to kiss him, presses a stupid kiss right to the center of Jason’s forehead, and Jason’s too floored by how sweet it is to get his hands around him.

                Tony’s gone, disappearing out the door, and Hawkeye’s still sitting by the bed, filling out paperwork. He tips his chin up when Jason looks at him. “Yeah?” he says.

                “He doesn’t come back in fifteen minutes,” Jason says, “you wake me the fuck up.”

                “Sure thing,” Hawkeye says. “You want me to help you make a Valentine’s day card, too? I’ll make the little paper arrows if you cut out the heart.”

                “Blow me,” Jason tells him, letting his head fall back against the pillows again.

                “Seems like there’s kind of a line for that,” Hawkeye says, laughing a little under his breath.

                Jason means to flip him off as soon as he stops smiling, but he falls asleep, instead.

 

 

 

                “---told him I would. Hey. Hey, Red.”

                Jason startles awake, and Hawkeye backpedals, puts a solid yard of distance between them. Jason drops his fist back to the bedsheets. He hadn’t even gotten close to the kid. He’s not sure if he’s impressed or concerned about those reflexes.

                “What?” he says, instead of making up his mind.

                Hawkeye nods at the door. “Tony’s been gone fifteen minutes.”

                “He’s with a friend,” Coulson says. He’s standing just inside the room, looking tired but just as competent as ever. He has, Jason notices, lost his tie and his jacket. He’s got his sleeves rolled up to his elbows.

                “The hell is this, Coulson?” Jason says, openly staring. If he’d seen those forearms the first time he met Coulson, Jason never would’ve mistaken him for an accountant. “Casual Friday?”

                “Hm,” Coulson takes a sip from the coffee cup in his hand. “Something like that.”

                “Once he hits that seventy-two hour mark,” Hawkeye says, “he starts getting pretty casual. One time, we got dropped in Somalia, and he ended the op in a t-shirt.” He’s grinning at Coulson, amused and fond, and it reminds Jason a little of how he used to look at Bruce, except Coulson’s look of wry, affectionate tolerance is nothing like the way Bruce used to look back.

                “A t-shirt?” Jason says, sizing Coulson up. “And the earth spins on?”

                “Yes, outstanding,” Coulson says, taking another sip of his coffee. “I can see that allowing you two to spend more time together was an excellent decision on my part. How’s that mission report going, Hawkeye?”

                “Oh, great,” Hawkeye says, dutifully checking another box. “I just got to the part where Red Hood asked if we were sleeping together, so expect another call from that pervy lady in HR.”

                “Outstanding,” Coulson repeats, and turns a dark look on Jason.

                “So,” Jason says, pushing himself up. “Where’s Tony, again?”

                “Down the hall,” Hawkeye says, helpfully. He points to the left with the lead of his pencil. “There’s a little waiting area. The coffee’s free.”

                “Super,” Jason says, and squirms out of bed. He feels a little steadier on his feet this time around. “Keep an eye on Bucky, okay?”

                “Yeah, we got him,” Hawkeye says.

                It’s weird. As Jason makes his way past Coulson and out into the hallway, he realizes he’s not worried. Bucky’s in a room with Coulson and Hawkeye, and so Jason figures he’s safe.

                It’s starting to get embarrassing, how much he likes those two.

 

 

 

                Tony’s sitting on a couch at the end of the hallway, legs drawn up against his chest. There’s a man sitting next to him, young, dark-skinned, handsome, and Tony’s got his head tipped over onto his shoulder. Jason’s surprised by the stab of jealousy he feels. There’s nothing sexual or even necessarily romantic about how close they are, but there’s an intimacy that Jason’s not sure he appreciates.

                Tony’s eyes are closed, so the other man, the stranger, notices him first.

                He levels a look Jason’s direction that is assessing, alert, and not entirely welcoming. He murmurs something to Tony, too quiet for Jason to hear it, his mouth hidden by Tony’s hair so Jason can’t read his lips, and Tony jerks, sitting up immediately.

                He’d been asleep.  Whoever this guy is, Tony knows him well enough to fall asleep on him.

                “Oh, hey,” Tony says, yawning. He shakes his head and grins up at Jason, sluggish and a little crooked. “Fifteen minutes?”

                “Past it,” Jason says. “Who’s your friend?”

                “Rhodey. James Rupert Rhodes, best human,” Tony throws a smile Rhodes’ direction and then puts a hand on his thigh and uses it to lever himself into a standing position. Rhodes climbs up after him, steadies him, and Tony squints over Jason’s shoulder. “Barnes awake?”

                “Not yet,” Jason says.

                Tony nods, squeezes Rhodes’ shoulder briefly, and then starts shuffling his way down the hallway. He looks exhausted, emptied out of all his manic energy. Jason wonders how long he’s been up, how much he slept those four days Jason was missing. How long he was awake, moving from Jason’s bedside to Bucky’s, waiting for one of them to wake up.

                “Hey,” Tony says, coming to a stop right next to Jason. “Bring me coffee when you come back?”

                “Yeah,” Jason says, immediately. “Okay.” There’s a table past Rhodes with a coffee pot and a carafe and sugar, but Jason realizes that he’d probably search the whole hospital if he had to. He’d take the cup right out of Coulson’s hand, if he had to.

                Tony beams at him. “My fucking hero,” he says. He grabs Jason’s shoulders and pulls, and Jason goes, and then Tony kisses him like they aren’t standing in the middle of a hospital hallway.

                When Tony finally pulls away and starts back toward the room, Jason turns to look at Rhodes, who’s staring at him, eyebrows arched, categorically unimpressed.

                Jason makes coffee, then a second one for Tony, and then, when he’s sure Tony’s safely out of hearing range, he turns to the new guy. “So,” he says, “how does Tony know you?”

                “Why?” Rhodes says, still looking fairly unenthusiastic about Jason’s existence.  “You wanna fight about it?”

                “Kinda,” Jason says, because, if they’re doing honest and direct, he can absolutely manage that. “You wanna answer the question?”

                Rhodes snorts and shakes his head. “We went to college together.”

                “Oh, did you,” Jason says. Coulson’s probably going to get pretty pissy if Jason picks a fight in a SHIELD hospital, but it might be worth it to get started on his list a little early. “You join any fraternities at MIT?”

                “What?” He asks, frowning. “What the hell are you—no. Not that it’s any of your business, but no, I did not join any fraternities.”

                “Huh,” Jason says. He’s not sure about the rules, but he thinks you probably don’t have to join the club to go to the parties. “You and Tony have a thing?”

                “Okay,” Rhodes stands up, and he’s taller than Jason expected. Fills out that shirt a little better than Jason hoped, too. “Listen, asshole--”

                “Oh, good,” Jason says, putting the coffee down. “I thought we were gonna have to be nice about this.”

                “He’s my friend,” Rhodes says, stern, like this is some lecture he memorized years ago. “He’s my best friend.”

                “Oh.” Jason flounders. “As in you’ve always had a thing for him, but he never--”

                “No. As in, he’s my best friend.”

                Jason blinks. He’s starting to feel like he may have miscalculated at some point. “Okay,” he says, carefully. “Shit. Wait. Now I’m confused. Why are we fighting?”

                “Tony picks bad boyfriends,” Rhodes says, blunt and serious. He assesses Jason and then makes eye-contact again, eyes narrowed, chin tipped up in challenge. “You know what you look like?”

                “Hey,” Jason says, “fuck you.”

                “He’s got a point, Jaybird,” Grayson says. Rhodes turns to face him, clearly startled, but Jason just heaves a heavy sigh as he pivots to take in the sight of Nightwing leaning against a wall a few yards away. “Sorry, but you do kind of look like an asshole. I think it’s just your face. Maybe put that mask back on?”

                “Thanks,” Jason says. “Wow. Real touching.”

                “What the hell,” Rhodes says, openly staring. “Are you Nightwing? What is this place?”

                “Oh, a fan,” Grayson says, perking up.

                “I wouldn’t say that,” Rhodes counters, crossing his arms over his chest.

                “Shit, maybe I’m a fan,” Jason says, reassessing Rhodes.

                “Maybe someone should explain to me,” Rhodes says, “why my best friend has been admitted to a hospital that no one will even confirm actually exists?”

                There’s a brief pause. Jason’s mind kicks that back and forth and then comes up with nothing but a series of questions marks. “You know what,” he says, picking up the coffee, “let me just go get someone for you. He’s great at questions.”

                “Red,” Nightwing says, as Jason makes his way past him. “We should talk.”

                “Oh, swell,” Jason says. “Yeah, get right back to you on that.”

                “I’m sorry,” Rhodes says. “Do you know him?”

                “Afraid so,” Grayson confirms. There’s a brief, awkward pause. Jason keeps walking, making his way resolutely down the hallway. “Hey,” Dick says, slowly. “Which one are you here for? You know that Stark kid? Cuz I gotta say, he seems a little--”

                Jason shoves the door open and drags himself inside. Coulson and Hawkeye look up from where they’re both hunched over one of the mission reports. “Hey,” he says. “Red alert. Unsupervised visitors at the coffee station. At least one of them probably broke in.”

                Coulson stares at him for a second and then sighs. “One of yours?”

                “They aren’t mine,” Jason says, happily disavowing every costume he knows. “It’s Nightwing.”

                “Oh,” Hawkeye says, climbing to his feet. “He’s cool.”

                Coulson rubs at his face and mouths “he’s cool” to himself before climbing to his feet. “Alright,” he says, following Hawkeye out. “I’ll handle it.”

                “You’re a saint,” Jason calls after him.

                He puts the two coffee cups on the bedside table and checks Bucky’s chart and vitals before climbing into bed beside Stark. Tony rolls over when Jason settles beside him. There’s a strange, hollowed-out look on his face.

                “You alright?” Jason asks. “I brought coffee.”

                “Thanks,” Tony says. He drums his fingers on his chest and stares up at the ceiling for a long moment. “Hey,” he says, finally, “if I’d done something shitty, would you want to know about it?”

                Jason thinks it over. “Well,” he says, “how shitty?”

                “Real shitty,” Tony says, immediately. “Like, incomprehensibly shitty.”

                Jason props himself up against the pillows and reaches for his coffee. “Okay,” he says, and takes a steadying sip. “And who’d you do it to?”

                “You,” Tony says. It sounds wrenched out of him. It sounds like a confession. He takes a breath, and there’s something scared and unsteady in the way he breathes it back out, the way it catches in his throat. “And Bucky.”

                Jason’s brain fills up with theories, and he sets the coffee back down. Tony rolls away from him, curls in on himself.

                “Tony,” Jason says. He feels helpless, confused. “Hey. Come on. Talk to me. What did you do to Bucky?”

                Tony’s staring at Bucky, and there’s so much vulnerability in him that Jason almost can’t look at him. “This,” Tony says. He reaches out like he’s going to touch Bucky, and then pulls back at the last second. “I did this.”

                “Tony,” Jason says, exasperated. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

                “The shrapnel bomb,” Tony says. “I recognized it. I made it. I designed it. That fucking thing, the thing they used, the shit that should have killed us. I made it.”

                Jason hisses his breath in over his teeth. For a moment, all he can think of is the shock of the explosion, the way Bucky had been backlit by the flash. But then he’s back, and he just feels tired, and sick, and sad for Tony.

                “Aw, shit,” Jason says. He hooks an arm around Tony’s waist, and there’s a second where Tony resists, but it’s just a second. The heartbeat after that, Tony’s pressed tight against him, hands fisted in his shirt, face buried in his neck. “Stark,” he says, rubbing a hand down his back, “this isn’t on you. You didn’t plant the bomb. You didn’t make anyone use it. It’s not your fault.”

                “Why did they have it?” Tony says. “If they have that, what else do they have? Fuck, Jason. Who else have they used my projects against? Who else have I hurt? Who have I ki--”

                “Not you,” Jason says, cutting that off before it can take root, burrow deep, start spreading and necrotizing all that good, bright, fearless shit in Stark’s soul. “Stark, you haven’t hurt anyone. It wasn’t you.”

                Stark takes a deep breath. His hands are curled so tightly in Jason’s shirt that he’s shaking. “I hurt that one guy,” he says. “I shot him in the head.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says. He wants to lean back to get a look at Stark’s face, but that would mean loosening his hold around him, and he can’t quite convince himself to do that. “Are you fucked up about that?”

                “Yeah,” Tony says. “No. I don’t know. I think I should be?” He shakes his head. “I’d do it again.”

                “Good,”  Jason says.

                Tony takes a breath. “I didn’t like it,” he admits, small and confused, like it’s something he’s ashamed of.

                “That’s good, too,” Jason says. As much as he likes it, as right as it feels to put evil people down, Jason’s glad that it feels wrong for Tony. He wouldn’t wish the way his head works on anyone.

                “They almost killed Bucky,” Tony says. “And they took you. And they used something I dreamed up to do it. How fucked up is that? I made the thing that almost killed you.”

                “Hydra almost killed us,” Jason says. “And, trust me, we’re gonna deal with them. But the shit Hydra does is on them. The shit they made Bucky do is on them, and they shit they took from you and used against you is on them. Don’t let them do this to you, Tony. Don’t let them in your head. It wasn’t you.”

                Tony takes a deep breath. And then another. A few minutes pass like that, with the two of them pressed together, and then Tony shifts in his arms so Jason’s at his back. He stares at Bucky, still asleep, breathing slow and even and deep.

                “We’ve gotta kill them,” Tony says. He sounds resigned, but, underneath that, he’s starting to sound pissed. Jason wants to kiss him, wants to yell in victory. “We’ve gotta kill all of them, and take everything back. Take all my shit away from them.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says. “We will. I promise. We will.”

                Tony takes another breath. It only shudders a little in his chest. He’s quiet for a second and then he nods, serious, businesslike. “Okay,” he says, and reaches back toward Jason. “Pass me that coffee. We’ve gotta plan this shit out.”

Chapter Text

                Tony’s been drifting in and out, head propped against Jason’s shoulder, surfacing occasionally to mumble more about their plan to take down Hydra. Jason’s trying not to be charmed by it, but he’s fascinated by the way Tony’s mind works, how it keeps kicking theories and thoughts and plans back and forth even while he’s clearly out, forehead resting against Jason’s neck, breath ghosting soft and even against Jason’s throat.

                Tony’s brain, Jason thinks, with a stab of regret, has got to be exhausting.

                Tony’s out again, dropping off in the middle of a sentence about weaponizing an HVAC system, when the next round of visitors arrives.

                It happens fast. Jason’s checking on Bucky, scanning the monitors to make sure nothing has changed, when the hospital door swings open, and Obadiah Stane and Maria Stark are suddenly in the room.

                “Oh, Tony,” Maria says. She’s leaning into Obadiah, and there’s something in her voice that makes it impossible for Jason to look directly at her.

                “Hm?” Tony says, into Jason’s neck. He startles a half second later, lifting his head. “Mom?”

                Whatever’s in Maria’s voice is in Tony’s now, and Jason forces himself hold still and be steady, because he has the most ludicrous urge to flee the room.

                “Oh, hey,” Tony says, scrambling out of the bed. “Mom,” he says, reassuringly, “it’s not as bad as it looks.”

                “Phil says you were in some sort of explosion.” Maria says, eyes darting all over Tony, cataloging every visible injury. Somehow, watching them register on Maria’s face makes Jason feel every one of them all over again, and worse than ever before.

                It is a weird, disorienting thing, seeing all of that parental concern on her face. Jason looks back toward Bucky.

                “Only barely.” Tony says, waving it off. “Like, peripherally. I was peripherally involved in an explosion. Hey, Obie. Good to see you. You doing alright?”

                “Well, Tony,” Stane says, a little exasperated, “I’ve been fine, but, then, no one’s been trying to blow me up.”

                “Trying to blow me up?” Tony says, and now he’s herding them toward the door. He gets a careful hand around his mother’s elbow and starts leading her out. “As in, I was specifically targeted? Where did you get that idea? Did Coulson say that? You know, he exaggerates. He’s got a very anxious temperament. Very Chicken Little.”

                “Is Kyle alright?” Maria asks, craning around to look at Jason. “Oh, Kyle, what happened to your face?”

                “That’s just how he looks, Mom.” Tony says. “It’s a birthmark. How dare you. Where are your manners? Obie, c’mon.”

                Obadiah steps out, holding the swinging door, and Tony shoots one look over his shoulder, eyes wide but not especially troubled, and Jason lets him go. As far as he knows, Grayson, Coulson, and Hawkeye are still out there, and, as much as Jason might despair of Dick’s temperament and nosiness and general existence, he doesn’t have much reason to fault his dedication to protecting civilians.

                And, anyway, even if Grayson fucks it up, Coulson and Hawkeye are out there, too.

                Jason looks to Bucky instead, and finds him staring right back at him.

                “Fuck,” Jason says, startling a little. “You’re awake.”

                Bucky closes his eyes briefly and then opens them again. He nods. “Guess so.”

                Jason drags himself across the bed and props himself up on the metal railing. “How do you feel?” He asks. “Pretty shitty?”

                “Felt worse.” Bucky says. He hooks his fingers around the IV line and follows it down to his elbow where it sinks below his skin. “Help me get rid of this?”

                “Supposed to keep it in.” Jason says, noncommittal. “That’s how they’re giving you the morphine.”

                “Figured.” Bucky says, and peels back the medical tape before he pops the whole thing out and drops it off the side of the bed. “Don’t want it.”

                Jason shrugs and crawls from one bed to the other, sets to work stripping all the medical equipment away from him. “When the nurse comes in ready to fight, I’m pointing her your direction.”

                “That’s fair.” Bucky says. After a few seconds, he rolls carefully over onto his back, and Jason wants to tell him to cut it out, to stay on his stomach, to avoid reopening all the cuts on his back, but he’s doing his best not to acknowledge verbally or mentally that Bucky took a back full of shrapnel so he could throw Jason to safety.

                When he first met him, Jason almost put a bullet in Bucky’s head. And Bucky’s saved his life three times since then. Jason’s maybe having some trouble reconciling that.

                “You know,” Jason says, “you’ve really gotta get your shit together.”

                “Do I?” Bucky says, smiling a little. He’s quiet, and that could be the extensive medical care, but the way he hasn’t really made eye-contact since he woke up indicates there’s some other underlying issue. It makes Jason think of all the guilt he’d seen on Bucky’s face, when Bucky had dragged him out of that Hydra facility.

                “It’s not your fault.” Jason tells him. Bucky snorts, that sweet smile twisting into something thin and angry, and Jason shakes his head. “I knew what I was signing up for. You don’t get to lay there and blame yourself for what happened to me because of my decisions. That’s not---”

                “Your decisions?” Bucky finally looks at him, but it’s only for a second before he redirects his gaze over Jason’s shoulder. “Your decision to, what? Help me? Keep me? Let me follow you around, dragging you into this fight that’s not your fight, was never your fight?”

                “Hey. Asshole. Listen to my words.” Jason knows he should be kinder about this, but he never learned how. “I was fighting dangerous people a long time before I ever met you. You gave me a new target, but I’ve always been in this fight.”

                Bucky doesn’t look like he believes him, so Jason hooks his hands around Bucky’ shoulders. He means to give him a little shake, to make sure he’s paying attention, but Bucky’s eyes flick up to him as soon as Jason touches him, so he figures the shake is unnecessary. He leaves his hands there anyway.

                “And, frankly,” Jason says, after a second, “this is the first time in awhile that I haven’t been in a fight alone. So, if you want to blame yourself for something, you can blame yourself for the fact that I’m still here. Because that’s the only part of this that’s on you.”

                Bucky grimaces and looks away. “I know,” he says, quiet. Another confession, Jason figures. This SHIELD hospital must spike their water with sodium pentothal. “I know what they did to you.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says. He swallows, some part of him flinching away from what he only barely remembers. “I’m sure you do. Because I’m sure they did the same shit to you.”

                Bucky’s jaw tightens, the muscle jumping against the skin. He’s still staring, and Jason would turn to look, but he figures they’re both already seeing the same thing. That machine. The chair, with its metal restraints. The way the doctor took notes, eyes moving over his face, looking right at him and never seeming to recognize or care that he was looking at another human being.

                “Jason,” Bucky says. He brings his hand up, curls it around one of Jason’s, where it’s still resting against Bucky’s shoulder. “You’re shaking.”

                “Fuck you.” Jason says. His mind slams back into his body, and all the muscles in his arms lock up, go still and obedient, stop handing away all his secrets like he’s been chugging that truth serum water, too. “I’m in bed with you. I’m just excited. Anyway, I’m not shaking. You’re drunk.”

                “Jason.” Bucky says, again. “They’re going to keep coming. And now that they know about you--”

                “If they want me,” Jason says, snarling it, happy to redirect that nameless, screaming feeling in his chest into the familiar burn of rage, “they are welcome to come try and take me.”

                “They will.” Bucky says. He doesn’t sound angry. He sounds tired. “They’ll come for you, and Tony, and anyone who’s around me. It’s not sa--”

                “If you try to tell me it’s not safe,” Jason says, “I am actually going to kick your ass.  I haven’t been safe my whole Goddamn life.”

                “I don’t want to be responsible for more people being hurt.” Bucky says. He’s still got Jason’s hand trapped, caught between Bucky’s hand and his shoulder. “For you being hurt. Jason. I don’t want that.”

                “Well, jackass,” Jason says, “that seems real fucking irrelevant to the conversation at hand, because, for fuck’s sake, let me just point out here that you are not responsible for the actions of a murdering deathcult.”

                “Jason,” Bucky says. There’s a moment where they’re both caught, tangled together on a hospital bed, silent and waiting, and then Bucky goes on. “I’m sorry.”

                “What the fuck does that mean?” Jason says. That comforting rage disappears suddenly, leaving him with a stinging sense of panic. “What the fuck do you mean, I’m sorry?”

                “They’re always going to come after me.” Bucky tells him. There’s something in his eyes that Jason really doesn’t like. “They’re going to come after me, and anyone around me. And it’s not fair. It wasn’t fair to ask in the first place. I never should’ve asked, but I didn’t want to go back, and I know you’d do it. If you had to. You’d pull the trigger.”

                Jason would. Even now, he thinks. He knows most of the world would look at that and see heartlessness, and maybe it is, but he’d do it. When that machine had started up, humming around him, he’d tried to rip himself to pieces just to make sure they couldn’t have him, couldn’t make him into a weapon.

                Bucky’s got blood on his hands. Jason knows how that feels. It’s his right not to want more.

                “It was selfish. Weak. I put you in danger.” Bucky says. “I’m better now. I can handle it on my own, if I need to. You don’t have to—it’ll be better this way.”

                “What fucking way?” Jason says. Suddenly, he’s entirely too close to Bucky. He rips his hand away from Bucky, shifts himself back. He thinks, ludicrously, of how vulnerable to attack he is. How many soft parts of himself are within Bucky’s reach, how many arteries he could open without having to move much at all.

                Bucky’s not going to attack him. He knows that.

                “Jason.” Bucky says, again. “I’m sorry. It’ll be better with me on my own.”

                That stinging panic hits a fever pitch. For a second, Jason can’t coordinate the muscles in his chest, can’t quite figure out how to take a breath. Bucky drops his eyes, stares at the way his metal fingers are spread across the hospital blanket, and Jason is breathless, like a heavy weight dropped out of nowhere and knocked every scrape of air out of him.

                He’s frozen, for one heartbeat, two, and then all that rage comes back, roaring, and he doesn’t need oxygen anyway.

                “Listen, motherfucker,” he says. Usually, he’d be running at this point. Bucky had one panicky freakout and Jason fled the safehouse, went blocks and blocks away for kolaches, but this is different. He reclaims all that space he gave up, gets his hand fisted in the front of Bucky’s shirt, scowls in the face of the surprised look Bucky gives him. “You don’t get to be sorry about this. Okay? I don’t need your Goddamn sorry. I need you to stay. I don’t give a fuck who got me into this fight. It doesn’t matter. I need you to help me finish it.”

                Bucky shakes his head. “They’re just going to keep coming. They’re going to take you again. They’ll--”

                “Then take me the fuck back. Don’t leave me for this. I’m not the problem. Hydra’s the problem.” Jason shakes his head, still holding tight to Bucky’s shirt.  “The solution is to murder the fuck out of the problem. And I will follow you into every Hydra base on every continent, and we are going to solve the problem. Together. So, seriously, honestly, Bucky, fuck your sorry. You’re not leaving.”

                Bucky stares up at him, finally really looks at him. The expression on his face is muddled, sad and guilty, haunted. Jason wants to break every Hydra soldier to pieces, wants to rip into them with his bare hands.

                Before either one of them can say anything, the door swings open behind them. Jason turns quickly to assess the threat, and Tony’s standing there, looking tired and worried. “What,” Tony says, “the hell?”

                “We’re talking about how Bucky’s not leaving us.” Jason says. “Feel free to jump in here.”

                “Oh.” Tony says. He rubs at his face. “Fuck.”

                “What’s wrong?” Bucky says. He sits up a little, and Jason would yell at him – because, honestly, shrapnel, embedded in his back, surgically removed shrapnel – but it puts Bucky’s chest right up against Jason’s shoulder, and it feels nice, having him close.

                “Uh.” Tony says. He shifts his weight, presses his mouth into a thin line, and Jason reads it, all of it, in a single look.

                “You’re leaving too.” He says. “Holy shit, it’s both of you. You’re both leaving.”

                “I am not.” Tony says. “Fuck. I just. Okay, fuck this.” He moves quickly, climbs right up with them, and there’s no room, but Jason doesn’t care. He can feel it all falling apart, and he’ll take these last scraps, if that’s all he’s going to get.

                “Look,” Tony says. He drops himself between the two of them, shoulders pressed up against Jason’s and Bucky’s, and he stares up at the ceiling. “I’ve been out there, talking. To Mom and Obie, and it’s just—it’s my dad’s company, you know? It’s my company. And I told Obie about the shrapnel bomb getting leaked, and he said there’s gonna need to be a whole internal investigation. It’s not something we can handle from the outside. And it’s mine. It’s my responsibility. They’re my weapons.”

                “I always knew,” Jason says, bitter and mean, “that you were gonna leave us for a lab.”

                “Oh, fuck off.” Tony says. He sounds hurt, which Jason appreciates. At least, with Stark, he can tell that leaving him isn’t easy. “I’m not—I have to do this, okay? What if it isn’t just Hydra? Stomping out Hydra isn’t going to take care of an internal leak. They’ll just sell to another buyer. I have to go back. I have to fix this.”

                “You’re going to make yourself a target.” Bucky says.

                “Oh, right,” Jason says, “you get to fuck off and martyr yourself, but when Tony tries it, suddenly it’s not fine.”

                “I’m not martyring myself.” Bucky tells him, jaw tight. “I’m trying to help.”

                “Fuck your help.” Jason snaps. “At least he has an excuse.”

                “Okay. What the hell is going on?” Tony says. “Bucky, what are you trying to do?”

                “Bucky thinks he’s going to rescue me by drawing fire.” Jason says, rolling his eyes so hard it almost hurts.

                “Huh.” Tony says, brow furrowed. “I think you two are probably safer together. Right? Safety in numbers?”

                “We are all,” Jason says, “safer together.”

                “So, come with me.” Tony says, and there’s that hurt all over again. “I have to go back, but who says you have to stay? Come with me.”

                “And live at your mansion eating poptarts and drinking whiskey?” Jason says, incredulous. “Stark, we’re killers, not mistresses.”

                “Is that what you think mistresses do?” Tony says, staring at him. “Eat poptarts and drink whiskey?”

                “I sure as fuck hope so.” Jason says.

                Tony shakes his head, and there’s a smile on his face, but it’s a sad, stunted thing. “I have to do this.” He says. “It’s Stark Industries. Do you know how many people we employ? How many people depend on us? And they’re my weapons. I have to. Don’t--” He cuts himself off, catches a breath like he thinks he’s going to need it. “I don’t want this to end. This thing. Us. But I have to go back, so come with me.”

                Jason looks away. He hears his own voice layered over the echo of Stark’s. I don’t need your Goddamn sorry. I need you to stay.

                I have to go back, so come with me.

                “Well,” he says. “I’m gonna fuck up Hydra. But if you buy me a jet, maybe we can do the long-distance bullshit, and I can come back for the weekends.” There’s a quiet pause, and then Jason snorts, shakes his head. “Bucky’s in, too.”

                “Hydra’s going to come after you.” Bucky tells him, exasperated. “Both of you. They will.”

                “Well, then, sounds like you’d better stick pretty fucking close to the both of us.” Jason says. “Because you’ll do a lot better job of stopping them when you’re right next to us than you will if you’re hiding out in some dumpster in Romania.”

                “It’s not safe.” Buck says.

                “It’s never going to be.” Jason tells him. He’s tired, suddenly. All that rage has slowly bled out of him, and left him hollowed out, exhausted all over again. “Jesus Christ, Bucky. You don’t make the world safe by running away from it. You make it safe by eliminating threats. And that’s what we’re good at. So let’s do it together.”

                “I’ll buy you a jet.” Tony promises. “I’ll buy you a whole fleet of jets. I’ll buy you an airline.”

                “You gonna break his heart?” Jason says, to Bucky. “Tony Stark wants to buy you an airline and set you up as his poptart-eating, whiskey-sipping mistress, and you’re just gonna walk away from all of that?”

                Bucky rubs at his eyes with his metal fingers and looks beseechingly at the ceiling. Jason realizes, suddenly, that Tony and Bucky are holding hands, and he wonders how the hell long they’ve been doing that. “I don’t want to leave.” Bucky tells them. “Either one of you. I don’t. But if they come after you again--”

                “We will murder them.” Jason says.

                “Annihilate them.” Tony agrees, instantly. “Murder,” he adds, “the shit out of them.”

                “God.” Jason says, feeling it twist in his stomach, neat and clean as a surgical blade, and maybe twice as dangerous. “God, I fucking love you.”

                No one says anything for a second. Jason feels dumb and clumsy, young and vulnerable, like a baby Robin that hasn’t learned to guard their weak points yet.

Then Tony sits up just far enough to get a hand around the back of his neck and pulls him down, presses his lips against Jason’s and licks into his mouth.

                “Don’t leave,” Tony says, right against Jason’s mouth, when he finally pulls back.

                “Okay,” Jason says, helpless.

                “You either.” Tony says, turning toward Bucky.

                Bucky looks torn. He just stares at them, almost pleadingly, and then, finally, he sighs and nods. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.”

                “I want the best jet, Stark.” Jason says, suddenly stupid with how giddy he is. “The best one. Alright? All the amenities. I mean, I want a plane with a stripper pole.”

                Tony purses his lips together, quirks his eyebrows up. “A stripper pole,” he repeats. “And who exactly is going to strip on it?”

                “You are.” Jason says. “Obviously. Bucky can too, if he wants, but, really, the obvious answer is you.”

                “And why,” Tony says, “is the obvious answer me?”

                Jason blinks, stunned by the question, and looks to Bucky, who just stares back at him, eyebrows raised, offering no help even though there’s a look in his eyes that says he agrees.

                The door swings open, and Coulson walks in, trailing Hawkeye behind him.

                “Hey, Phil,” Jason says, turning to them, “Stark’s the stripper, right? Out of the three of us? I mean, with his ass and his—I mean, right?”

                Coulson comes to a complete stop, mid-step. He pauses, looks between the three of them, and then pivots slowly to look at Hawkeye. “I think,” he says, calmly, “that we’ve made a miscalculation.”

                “No, nah,” Hawkeye frowns at him. “What’re you talking about? That’s completely fair. I’d put way more cash in Stark’s g-string.”

                “Well,” Jason says, “hold on.”

                “We are not having this discussion.” Coulson says, with finality, and Jason settles against the bed, grinning. “Stark,” he says, looking to Tony, “I hear you’re headed back to California.”

                Tony shrugs. “Yeah.”

                “Good.” Hawkeye says. “I’ve got SI stock, and, holy shit, do they ever need you back.”

                “Why do you have SI stock?” Jason says, incredulous. “Who the fuck gave you stock?”

                Hawkeye shrugs like what just came out of his mouth is completely reasonable. “I bought it after I met Tony.”

                “Did you? Holy shit.” Tony says. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

                “I can’t believe you own stock.” Jason says. “Are you even old enough to have a bank account? What the fuck is this?”

                “You know,” Hawkeye says, even-toned, but with a wry look Coulson’s direction, “it’s very important to start saving for retirement early. That way you can take advantage of compound interest.”

                Coulson looks long-suffering, but there’s a smile hiding in the slight upward slant of his mouth. “Exactly.” He says, and looks to Jason and Bucky. “Which is what I’ve come to talk to you two about.”

                “Our retirement plans?” Jason says, completely baffled. “I mean, I don’t have one. I figured I’d just get shot to death eventually and stick the state with my funeral costs.”

                “Excellent.” Coulson says, in a way that implies, mystifyingly, that it is not. “I see you’ve considered this carefully. Would you instead consider full-time employment with SHIELD? We cover all funeral expenses.”

                Jason’s jaw falls open. He looks to Bucky, who’s staring back at him with an expression that’s just as confused as Jason feels.

                “I. You. What?” Jason says, looking back to Coulson. “Are you serious?”

                “We’re forming a new subunit.” Coulson tells him. “You’d have to be discrete, as you’d be working in a unit that, officially, does not exist.”

                Jason scoffs. “I’m not working for some shadowy bullshit group of--”

                “It’s my unit.” Coulson says, which, somehow, shuts Jason right the hell up.

                “We’ve got Hydra in our ranks.” Coulson explains. “I’d prefer that we didn’t. In fact, I’d prefer that Hydra be eliminated altogether. So I'd like for the two of you to work with us until that's accomplished.” He tips his head to the side, and, in that moment, there’s something in him that reminds Jason of Bruce. They’ve got that same sort of relentlessness, he thinks, even if it’s blunted and buttoned-down in Coulson.

                Jason drums his fingers on his chest. He doesn’t work well with others, traditionally, but he thinks he could work with Coulson and Hawkeye, knows he can work with Bucky. And it doesn’t have to be forever. It just has to be until Hydra’s gone, and Bucky and Tony are living in a safer world.

                He’ll have to give up his area of Gotham. But, somehow, that doesn’t seem too much of a sacrifice. He knows now that the others will look after it.

                He looks to Bucky, who’s looking right back at him.

                They could do it alone, probably. He thinks the two of them could probably do anything, especially with Stark’s help. But it’ll be harder, just the three of them.

                Jason thinks of the flood of SHIELD personnel in the parking lot, of the arrows that had sprouted out of the throats of the Hydra agents who’d tried to take Tony away from him. He thinks about Phil Coulson, answering his phone in a firefight, of the calm, serious way he’d sounded when he said If you need us, we’ll help.

                “Are you telling me,” Jason says, slowly, “that I get to kill Hydra shitheads with full government benefits?”

                Coulson and Hawkeye exchange a brief look. Hawkeye shifts, bounces on his toes, a grin slowly spreading across his face.

                “Well,” Coulson says, “yes.”

                “Fuck.” Jason says. He’s grinning back. “I’ve never had dental in my entire life.”

                “They need the weekends off,” Tony says, suddenly interrupting. “They’ve got plans in California.”

                Coulson raises his eyebrows. “There’s training.” He says. “And there will be missions that mandate travel, with weeks if not months in the field. I can’t promise every weekend. But there will be extended breaks, between missions. There’s no reason they’d need to stay in-state for that.”

                “I’m an international criminal.” Bucky says. He sounds like maybe he’s lost of the thread of things and is desperately trying to regain his footing. “I have active warrants in several countries.”

                “Ah.” Coulson says. That long-suffering look is back on his face. “Yes. I believe you’ll find all records of you have been wiped from every relevant database.” He turns an especially disapproving look on Tony, and Jason is pleased and also somehow disappointed that Coulson hasn’t turned that particular look on him yet. “I would like to formally request that you and Robin never work together ever again.”

                “Sure thing.” Tony says, smirking. “You’ll definitely never have any record of that happening.”

                “You and Robin?” Jason says, staring at him. “Working together? What the hell?”

                “I tried to stay busy,” Tony says, evading his eyes. “While you were gone.”

                “So you hacked a few countries?” Jason says. “God, how are you real? Buck, how did we get this lucky?”

                “No idea,” Bucky says, soft. He’s staring at both of them, Jason realizes, with the kind of open, vulnerable look on his face that Jason wants to hide away, before someone sees and uses it against him. Instead, he just leans forward and kisses him.

                He feels Tony’s fingers threading through his own, and he hopes Tony’s other hand is still tangled up with Bucky’s.

                This is it, he thinks, still kissing Bucky while he squeezes Tony’s hand. This is worth it.

                Every Hydra base on every continent.

                Hydra, Jason thinks, giddy and grim all at once, has no idea what kind of reckoning is coming for them.  

Chapter Text

May 29, 1992

 

                The plane that Tony gives them is a prototype he’s rushed through production. It’s beautiful. Even Jason can tell that, and planes aren’t really his thing. Bucky practically proposes to it the first day they get it, runs his hands along all the outside curves and touches every switch and display, learns it with something like the dedicated, attentive physicality he’d learned Tony and Jason, once he started really touching them.

                There’s no stripper pole, but there is an actual, no-shit Gatling-gun, so Jason’s willing to overlook it.

                Jason’s trained to fly it, but he almost never does, since Bucky likes it so much. He mostly sits in the co-pilot seat and hassles Coulson over the comms or cleans whatever weapons they used on their latest op. Or, sometimes, when they have a short turnaround between missions and he’s feeling collaborative, he’ll work on mission reports.

                In forty-eight hours, Jason and Bucky will be in Tianjin. Officially, they aren’t even supposed to be in the United States, much less off SHIELD property. Jason should absolutely be working on mission reports, but Clint had caught up with them as they ducked out of the barracks and headed for the hanger.

                “I’ll write your reports.” He’d said, hands in the pockets of his ridiculous civilian jeans. “Just remember to sign your names this time. Fury made me go to a ‘Bullying in the Workplace’ seminar after Chicago.”

                “Barton, you’re an absolute fucking saint.” He’d ruffled his hair up in every possible direction, and Clint had slapped at him, open-handed and not gentle, but he’d been grinning a little as he ducked his head.

                “Yeah,” he’d called back over his shoulder, as he trotted off toward Coulson, who was maintaining plausible deniability by studiously not looking at any of them, “fuck off. Tell Stark I said hi.”

                So, Jason should be working on mission reports, but he isn’t, because he’s been blessed with a teammate with vicious aim and a sweet soul. Instead, he’s working a decent edge back onto one of Bucky’s throwing knives when the call comes in.

                “Got it,” Jason says, swiping the phone. “Hey, Maria,” he says, sticking the phone between his head and his shoulder so he can get back to the knife. “Everything good on your end?”

                “Oh, hello, Jason,” she says, in that careful way she talks, all the Goddamn time, about everything. “Yes, everything’s fine. And you?”

                “Yeah, we’re about,” Jason squints at the display and then does some math in his head, “half an hour out or so. About to land. He’s still at home?”

                “Yes. I told him I had to make an early evening of it.” There’s a heavy pause, where Jason figures Howard would’ve said something shitty about having to cancel after all, and then she finds her footing again. “It’s very thoughtful of you. I know you’re busy.”

                “Not that busy.” Jason says. Allegedly, Maria Stark has no idea what they do. But she’s Tony’s mother, and Jason doubts she’s half as blind as she obligingly pretends to be.

                “Wouldn’t miss it.” Bucky says, suddenly. Jason blinks at him, and Bucky tips his chin. “Tell her we wouldn’t miss it.”

                Jason rolls his eyes, but dutifully parrots it back to her. “Buck wants you to know that we wouldn’t miss it.”

                Maria hums into the phone. “Well,” she says, clearly charmed, “that’s very sweet.”

                Fucking suck-up, Jason mouths to Bucky, who has the gall to wink back at him.

                “I haven’t told him.” She says. “I just thought—things come up.”

                There’s Howard’s ghost again, Jason figures. He wonders if all the Robins will still have tells like this, once Bruce finally kicks it. Maybe they’ll all be side-stepping the Bruce Wayne-shaped landmines for the rest of their lives, years after he’s gone.

                If he ever dies. Ornery bastard that he is, Bruce will probably outlive all of them.

                “Oh, a surprise party,” Jason says. “Fun.”

                Fucking suck-up, Bucky mouths at him, and Jason kicks him in the shin, hard.

                “So he won’t be dressed for dinner.” Maria tells him. “He’s—well, you know what he wears. He’s been in his lab all day.”

                Jason lays the knife in his lap so he can flash double thumbs-up at Bucky, who just gives him a confused look in return. They’ve tagged along with Tony to a few of his fancy events – generally while posing as his security team – and Tony is almost unbelievably pretty, all dressed up, but Jason’s always preferred him fresh from the lab or the garage, smeared in grease, smelling like sweat and coffee and sometimes vodka and smoke.

                He clears his throat and redirects his thoughts, because he is talking to Tony’s mother.

                “That’s alright,” Jason says. “We’ll probably go somewhere casual anyway.”

                “Oh,” Maria says, like casual dining is something she’s never had to really consider before. “Oh, you know, he’d probably like that.”

                The plan, last Jason checked, is to grab pizza on the way and then not leave the house until they have to get back on the plane. But Jason sees absolutely no reason to tell that to Maria Stark.

                “Well,” Maria says. There’s another unwieldy pause. Jason used to wonder about those, because he’d seen her work a room full of arrogant, dismissive rich assholes before, without hesitation or misstep. But, over time, something about him and Bucky seemed to knock her out of her careful orbit.

                He figured, for awhile, that she just didn’t like them, that she didn’t want them anywhere near her son. But they’d taken Tony on a week-long trip to New York once, and he’d watched her put an awkward hand on Tony’s shoulder before pulling him into a clumsy hug, and he’d realized that it’s affection that throws her, not dislike.

                “I appreciate that the two of you made the trip.” She tells him, finally. She slots the words precisely into place, perfect again. “I know Tony will be thrilled to see you.”

                “It’s no problem.” Jason says, like they didn’t just cram an emergency five-day mission into a hellfire two-day speedrun. “Sorry we missed you this time. See you in July?”

                “Yes,” she says, “the Fourth. Tony’s planning a lightshow.”

                “Of course he is.” Jason says, and absolutely doesn’t give anything away by looking at Bucky.

                Bucky, who doesn’t always react well to the sound or smell of fireworks. A lightshow. For fuck’s sake.

                “Of course he is,” Maria agrees, and she sounds so proud and so fond that Jason has to put the knife down and take a breath, get his head right.

                “I’ll see you in July.” She says. “Have a good trip. And, both of you, be careful.”

                “Yes, ma’am,” Jason says, and hangs up before she can tell him, again, not to call her ma’am. He’s quiet for a second and then looks over at Bucky. “You know,” he says, “that woman’s a Goddamn treasure.”

                “I know,” Bucky says. There’s a moment where he looks sad, like he’s about to run himself down the rabbit hole of I killed his father, and I almost killed his mother for the thousandth time, but then he just looks over at Jason and smiles. “You’re her favorite.”

                “Oh, fuck you.”  Jason says. “Tell her we wouldn’t miss it. Fuck’s sake, Barnes. You gotta charm everyone we meet?”

                “Just trying to keep up with you.” Bucky says, only smirking a little, and Jason rolls his eyes and goes back to his knife.

                They land ten minutes later in an SI airfield outside Malibu. They tuck the plane into their designated hanger and find that Tony’s left them gifts.

                “Holy shit,” Jason says. He feels like he’s just been suckerpunched. “Bucky, it’s a fucking Ferrari. He left us a Ferrari.”

                “Hm.” Bucky says, rubbing at his mouth, trying to hide a smile. “Maybe you’re Tony’s favorite too.”

                “That’s cuz I suck more dick than you.” Jason says, still not quite sure how to breathe.

                “That’s definitely it.” Bucky agrees, grinning. “You gonna drive us home in this thing, or did you want me to leave the two of you alone?”

                “I want to suck your dick in this thing.” Jason says. “And Tony’s. And then maybe yours again. And then both of you can--”

                “Okay,” Bucky says, and reaches for the driver’s side door. “I’ll drive.”

                “No, no, fuck you.” Jason says, elbowing him out of the way. “This is for me. You got the fucking plane. Get in the passenger’s seat. Put on a helmet. This thing does 0-60 in under four seconds. Holy fuck.”

                Bucky laughs all the way through getting buckled up and pulling out of the airfield. But when they hit the highway and Jason shows him what the car can do, he stops laughing.

                Jason looks over at him once, when he’s guiding the car through exactly the sort of not-at-all-legal maneuver that would have Bruce and Coulson preaching the California traffic code at him, and he catches Bucky looking at him like, if Jason were to pull over right now, Bucky would probably get handsy with him, even though they are very much in public. And that’s a thing that Bucky is almost never up for, so Jason is very, very tempted.

                But he thinks about what Bucky said you gonna drive us home? and he refocuses on the road, gets them tucked back into the right side of the highway. There will be other opportunities, and, anyway, they have somewhere they need to be.

 

 

 

                They pull up to the Malibu house at sunset. The garage door rolls open as the car approaches, and Jason thinks he’s going to need to have a word with Tony about security, but the door shuts quickly behind them, and Jason thinks, Oh, a trap.  

                “He’s gonna ruin his own surprise.” Jason says, as he climbs out of the car, grabbing the bags from the tiny trunk while Bucky balances the boxes of pizza.

                “I know.” Bucky says. “I’m proud of him, too.”

                Jason rolls his eyes and makes a face, but he is reassured to see another sign that Tony’s built himself a house that can keep him safe, when Jason and Bucky aren’t around.  

                He’s looking around, bags still in hand, trying to spot any weaknesses he could exploit, when the only door slams open and Tony comes careening through it, hanging into the garage with one hand wrapped around the door frame and one locked on the doorknob.

                “Holy shit!” He says. “What are you two doing here?”

                “Hell of a greeting, Stark,” Jason says, eyebrows raised.

                “Happy birthday!” Bucky says, because he’s a fucking suck-up.

                There’s a second where Tony just blinks at them, uncomprehending. “You’re supposed to be in China,” He tells them, a little helplessly.

                “Yeah, let’s repeat.” Jason says. “It’s your birthday.”

                Tony stares at them, completely nonplussed, and Jason realizes he’s wearing what is definitely one of Jason’s shirts, collar hanging low enough to flash a good expanse of collarbone, over ripped, grease-stained jeans, and Jason’s dropping the bags (carefully) to the floor before he even realizes what he’s doing.

                “You’re in China,” Tony repeats.

                Jason rolls his eyes. “Hey,” he says, and picks him up, hands caught around Tony’s waist, and hauls him down the three steps into the garage so he can kiss him. “Happy birthday,” he says, when he finally pulls back.

                “We brought presents.” Bucky says. “And pizza.” He’s picked up all the bags Jason dropped, and he’s still holding the pizza, because he’s a suck-up and a show-off. “Jason really likes the car.”

                “God.” Jason says. He’d forgotten about the car, somehow. “God, it’s fucking amazing.”

                “Fast, right?” Tony says. He’s grinning, but there’s still something a little uncertain about the look in his eyes. “I thought you’d like it.”

                “He propositioned me immediately.” Bucky says, and, Christ, Jason can hardly even keep up with his flaws now. Suck up, show off, and sell out. “Well, and you. But you weren’t even there.”

                “I could be there.” Tony says, peering over Jason’s shoulder, toward the Ferrari, before looking back and forth between the two of them. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

                “It’s your birthday, Stark,” Jason says, and kisses him again.

                Tony’s still for a second, and Jason goes to pull back, check his face, try to divine what’s going on his head, but then, suddenly, Tony’s got his hands fisted in Jason’s shirt and is pulling him in, hard, dragging him in, really, and his mouth moves so insistently against Jason’s that he almost splits Jason’s lip.

                “Oh shit,” Jason says, approvingly. “Bucky, he’s into birthdays.”

                “Yeah,” Bucky observes, “that’s definitely what he’s into.”

                “Fuck you.” Tony says. “Fuck both of you. Presents.” He shakes his head, grins so big that it barely fits on his face. “You honestly just came back for my stupid birthday?”

                “Just for your stupid birthday.” Jason agrees. “Here.” He digs into one of the bags Bucky’s holding, and comes back with a wrapped box he hands over to Tony.

                “Who wrapped this?” Tony asks, incredulous. He stares at the neat corners like he’s never seen anything like them before in his life. 

                “I fucking wrapped it.” Jason says, defensively. Granted, Coulson had showed him how, but he’d still done the actual work. “The ribbon was Hawkeye. He says hi.”

                “I am going to give him his body weight in poptarts.” Tony says, as he rips into the package.

                Inside, in a neat black box Bucky had picked out while Jason was busy casually interrogating the hatchet-faced bruiser who ran their local gunstore, was the gun Jason had brought with him when he first showed up to kidnap the Winter Soldier, the one Tony has been stealing, sometimes for weeks at a time, ever since.

                “Coulson’s been explaining to me,” Jason says, with a shrug, “about the concept of graceful defeat. I figured, if you were just gonna keep taking it anyway, I might as well officially make it yours.”

                “Well.” Bucky says. “Not officially officially.”

                “Oh.” Jason says, with a nod. “Yeah, hell no. That shit’s untraceable, Stark. You need to use that, use it and get rid of it. Won’t come back to me, or you, or anyone we care about.”

                “You’re giving me an unregistered firearm.” Tony says, staring at the gun. “For my birthday.”

                “Well, yeah,” Jason says. “Also, we broke into Wayne Enterprises and stole everything that looked cool in their R&D Department. Everything we could fit into two duffle bags, anyway.” He gestures at the bags Bucky’s holding. “Happy birthday.”

                “Happy birthday.” Bucky repeats, hefting the bags.

                “I just. I. What.” Tony blinks a few times, like he’s struggling to process what he’s seeing. He shakes his head, clutching his present to his chest like they’d given him a teddy bear instead of a gun. “I just fucking love you two assholes, okay? I fucking do.”

                “Love you too, sweetheart,” Bucky says, and presses a quick kiss to Tony’s temple.

                “Okay.” Jason clears his throat. “We gotta get out of here, or we’re gonna fuck on the Ferrari, and that paint job is Goddamn pristine.”

                “No shit,” Tony says, and hooks one hand around Jason’s wrist and another in the front of Bucky’s shirt. “Let’s go.”

 

 

 

                Bucky had been shy, at first. Jason remembers it. To be fair, he’s still shy, sometimes, around other people. Jason and Tony can’t kiss him or each other in a bar without Bucky tensing up, shoulders pulling back, eyes scanning the room for anyone who might have a problem with it. Bucky gets skittish at SHIELD, even, doesn’t like it when Jason’s too open about what they mean to each other.

                It’s funny, in a sad, stinging way, because, when it’s just the three of them, Bucky’s not shy at all.

                Jason watches him, when they’ve been in bed for half an hour already, and no one’s even touched the pizza, because their hands – and mouths – have been all over each other, instead. Tony was riding Bucky for awhile, showing off, because they’re all show offs, really, until Bucky got too worked up for it and rolled them over. Now he’s sliding in and out of Tony, slow, almost teasing, and whatever he’s saying to Tony, murmuring into his ear as he fucks him, has Tony honest-to-God blushing.

                “Share with the class,” Jason says, elbowing Tony in the ribs. He’s spread out next to him, pleasantly warm and still a little lazy from getting off a few minutes ago, when Tony had tackled him onto the bed and yanked his pants open, got his mouth around Jason’s cock like he was starving for it.

                Tony turns ever redder, and Bucky pulls back, “I said--”

                “I wanna hear him say it.” Jason says, right over him. Tony makes a stubborn face, so Jason reaches down, curls a hand around Tony’s cock, and starts jerking him, just as slow as Bucky, matching patch. “C’mon.” He says, encouraging, as Tony throws his head back against the pillow and whines. “Tell me what he’s said to you.”

                “You’re gonna kill me.” Tony tells them. His voice is twisted up tight with need, and he’s so beautiful and so desperate that Jason has to fight the urge to just give him what he wants. “I’m gonna die. It’s my birthday.”

                “Yeah, we’ll sing to you later.” Jason says. Through an act of sheer, unmitigated will, he convinces his hand to stop moving.

                “God,” Tony says. “Come on.” His hips jerk up, chasing the sensation, and Bucky makes a soft, gut-punched noise and bites at Tony’s throat.

                It is, Jason notes, getting increasingly difficult to concentrate.

                “Tell me,” he says, rolling over a little so he can nip at the opposite side of Tony’s neck and then lick at the bloom of red against his skin, work kisses lower and lower until he’s tracing his tongue around Tony’s nipple.

                “Fuck,” Tony says, working his hips again and then biting back another low, frustrated noise when Jason takes his hand away altogether, uses it to hold Tony’s hips against the bed. “Fuck,” he says, breathy, “please. Come on. Please.”

                “So fucking hot when you beg.” Jason tells him, because it is, and because Tony never knows what to do with praise. “But you gotta tell us what you want.”

                Tony shakes his head and presses his eyes closed, and he’s beautiful, all frustrated and flushed, but Jason’s worried, a little, that they’re going to push him too far. Tony has so much Goddamn bravado that, sometimes, too much and just right look exactly the same.

                “Stop fucking around.” Tony says. “Bucky, cut it out. Fuck me, for fuck’s sake.”

                “Bossy.” Bucky says. There’s a line of sweat forming at his hairline, and he’s right on the edge of out of breath. Jason figures it’s not any easier for him, holding back like he is, but the way he’s chewing at his own bottom lip, running his hands down Tony’s sides, makes it pretty clear he’s having a good time.

                “Tell me what he said.” Jason says, encouragingly. He flicks his tongue over Tony’s nipple, and Tony cries out, arches his back and works a hand into Jason’s hair, like he’s thinking about pulling it. “Tell me what he said to you, and I’ll work on getting him to fuck you like you need.” And then he latches his mouth around Tony’s nipple, sucks and pulls, and Tony does tug at his hair, and Jason already got off once, but the kick of interest low in his belly says his body’s already considering a second round.

                Of course, with these two, he kind of feels like this all the time.

                “He said I feel good.” Tony says, finally. The words tumble out of his mouth, rushed along, like he had to take a running start at them and thinks everything will come apart if he stops. “Said I feel good. And I’m…beautiful. Or whatever. Perfect. And then—and he said he wanted to keep me like this for hours, which is fucking unconstitutional. I’m pretty sure.”

                “Oh, yeah,” Jason says, laughing a little, breath ghosting against Tony’s skin, making him writhe all over again, “Thomas Jefferson was real fucking concerned about the constitutionality of edging.”

                “That was John.” Bucky says. There’s a pause where they all look at each other, and Bucky gets a sort of punch-drunk, shit-eating grin on his face. “Hancock.” Bucky clarifies. “John Hancock.”

                “Oh my God,” Tony says. “Oh my God, Bucky, not right now.”

                Jason cackles and sits up so he can kiss Bucky. “Hancock,” he says, marveling. “Jesus, Buck, I’ve heard about getting fucked stupid, but I didn’t know it worked in reverse.”

                “Shut up,” Bucky says, panting against Jason’s mouth. “You laughed.”

                “Out of pity.” Jason says. “I’m embarrassed to know you.”

                “Yeah, really seems that way,” Bucky says, arching his eyebrows, and Jason becomes abruptly aware that he’s got his hands on Bucky’s stomach, is following the lines of muscle definition with his hands.

                “Oh, fuck off,” Jason says, pulling his hands back.

                Bucky laughs again, and Tony heaves a heavy, long-suffering sigh. “I’m dying,” he reports, dolefully, as he stares up at the ceiling. “On my birthday. And nobody cares.”

                Jason snorts and shakes his head, shares a sidelong look with Bucky. “Well, how do you feel about it, Bucky? Wanna save a life?”

                Bucky shrugs and grins, flashes the sort of predatory smile he doesn’t let out very often. “If that’s what we’re calling it.” He says. He snaps his hips forward suddenly, deviating from the slow, teasing rhythm he’s established, and Tony moans. Jason is struck by the sudden, pressing need to get his hands on him immediately.

                Tony cries out again when Jason gets his hands around his cock, and he knows it’s not going to take much time. Tony got one hand fisted tight in the bedsheets and the other wrapped around the back of Bucky’s neck, and he’s making the best, prettiest noises like they’re being wrenched out of him, like he can’t stop. Jason leans in and kisses him, feels the way Tony’s breath stutters against his lips.

                Tony pulls back to breathe, takes a deep breath like he’s forgotten how. He’s got his head tipped back, throat exposed, begging for more bite marks. He makes a choked-off noise when Jason obliges, scrapes his down the long line of his neck, and his whole body jerks, and Jason feels him spill out across his stomach and Jason’s hand.

                Jason works him through it, gentling his kisses to match the comedown, and Bucky finishes a handful of seconds later, biting his lip against the last, quiet moan.

                Jason leaves them to catch their breath and comes back with a towel, cleans them both up and then collapses next to Tony, lets him curl in close.

                “I can’t believe,” Tony mumbles a few minutes later, with his head pillowed on Bucky’s chest while his hand cards idly through Jason’s hair, “that you two came back for my birthday.”

                They’re quiet for a second. Jason’s glad that Tony’s happy, pleased that he played some role in that, but he thinks it’s sad and shitty that all it took was showing up.

                “I can’t believe,” Jason says, suddenly remembering, “that I brought all that pizza, and no one’s had any.”

                “Well, go get it, then.” Tony says, dropping his hands out of Jason’s hair and shoving his shoulder. “Go get the pizza. And bring back some whiskey. The good whiskey.”

                “You always say that,” Jason says, “and I always bring back the one with the best picture on the front. And then you bitch about what I bring back. So I don’t know why the fuck you send me to do this shit.”

                “Because I’m hoping you’ll learn through experience.” Tony says.

                “Yeah, Batman used to have hopes like that, too.” Jason says, but he climbs out of bed. He finds boxers on the floor and pulls them on. They aren’t his, but they fit reasonably well, so he figures they’re Bucky’s.

                “Hurry back,” Bucky calls after him.

                “With pizza!” Tony adds. “And whiskey.”

                Jason flips them off and leaves the door wide open behind him. The staff empties out at six every night, which is the kind of detail Jason had learned from experience. Not that he’s interested in pointing that out to Tony.

                He comes back with pizza and whiskey and sets both on the bedside table before climbing back into bed. Tony props himself up against the pillows and snags a slice of pizza, which he hands to Bucky, and the bottle of whiskey, which he keeps for himself.

                “Buck says you guys have to leave in the morning.” Tony says. He waits for Jason to settle and then curls against him, chest pressing against Jason’s shoulder while his legs tangle up with Bucky’s. He’s always like this, afterward. Gets twitchy if either one of them try to move.

                Frankly, Jason thinks it’s a sign of great personal growth that Tony even let him leave bed to get dinner.

                Great personal growth, or maybe he was just really hungry.

                “Yeah,” Jason says, grimacing a little. “Gotta get back to China.”

                Tony hums and shifts a little, burrows tighter against Jason’s side. “Nice of you to come,” he says.

                “Well, Stark,” Jason says, “with a mouth like that, you shouldn’t be surprised.”

                Tony snorts and knocks his shoulder against Jason’s. “You know what I meant.”

                “Yeah,” Jason agrees, after a moment. “I know what you meant.”

                “We’ll be back again soon.” Bucky says. He sounds sleepy, which isn’t unusual. Jason figures he’ll shake it off in a few minutes, but they’ve been running themselves a little ragged, so maybe he won’t. “Another week or two in China, and then Coulson’s promised us a month off.”

                “Promises, promises,” Jason says, because he feels obligated to. It’s a little weird, he thinks, that Coulson’s never broken a single promise to them. But he’s stopped making bets about it with Bucky, because he’s tired of losing money.

                “A month,” Tony says, smiling. “We should go somewhere. A trip. Vacation, right? That’s what people do.”

                “Yeah,” Jason says. “Or we could stay in bed the whole time.”

                “We could do that somewhere tropical.” Tony says. “I could get an island somewhere.”

                “Get an island somewhere.” Jason says, exasperated. “Bucky, do you hear the elitist bullshit that comes out of his mouth?”

                “That bullshit got me a plane.” Bucky says, with a shrug. “Can’t say I mind it too much.”

                “Traitor.” Jason tells him. “You are a traitor in the class war.”

                “If I get a whole island,” Tony says, pensively, “then the whole island is our bedroom.”

                Jason blinks. “Let’s get an island.”

                “Traitor.” Bucky accuses, and rolls his eyes like he’s trying not to smile.

                “I want to get a blowjob on the beach at sunset while drinking one of those stupid umbrella drinks, Bucky, and, if you’re not on board with that, then you can stay home.”

                Bucky laughs and then leans over to kiss him, sweet and unexpected. Of the three of them, Bucky’s the best with affection. Tony gets greedy and overeager and fucked up about it, and Jason only sometimes remembers it’s a thing that the others like, but it’s easy for Bucky, second-nature.

                Every time Bucky kisses him like this, Jason gets mad all over again, that Hydra took someone like this out of the world for fifty years.

                “Happy birthday,” Bucky says, and kisses Tony, too, who chases him halfway across the bed and straight into his lap to keep it going. Greedy and overeager, Jason thinks, but it sounds obnoxiously fond in his head.

                “You’re staying the night?” Tony says, and he gets halfway through before bending it up into a question, which is progress, for him. Jason remembers, months ago, that first night, when Tony hadn’t wanted to be alone and couldn’t figure out how to ask for that, had thrown You could stay the night. And we could sleep. Or we could not sleep, at him like that was a reasonable thing to say to a strange man with a loaded gun.

                “Yeah,” Jason says, crowding up behind Tony so he’s caught between the two of them. “Need to be at the SHIELD base in Mojave by eight. But that’s only a thirty-minute flight from your airfield. Twenty-five, if we feel like pissing Coulson off.”

                “He always feels like pissing Coulson off.” Bucky notes, not without justification.

                “And by the time you’re done taking apart and improving all that Wayne Enterprises shit,” Jason says, “we should be back.”

                “Yeah,” Tony says, and tips his head back against Jason’s shoulder so he can grin up at him. “And I’ve got to pick out an island.”

                “Get us an island.” Jason says, and kisses him. He’s not as sweet about it as Bucky, but he’s learning. “We can store weapons there.”

                “Hm.” Bucky says, hands moving to Tony’s waist. “And more planes.”

                “Yeah,” Tony says, a little breathy, starting to fidget under their attention. “I’ll build you an arsenal.”

                “Goddamn, Stark,” Jason says, dropping his mouth to one of the marks Bucky left on his throat. “You always say the sweetest things.”