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A Matter of Pride(?)

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As far as Tony Stark was concerned, the fucking Winter Soldier was a grade A conceited asshole. It had been nearly a year since the Soldier showed up out of nowhere, attacked the Triskelion, and prevented Project Insight from launching.

To say the world reacted poorly to the news that Hydra was alive and well inside of SHIELD was an understatement. Tony spend weeks data mining the everything the Soldier dumped online, and hooooboy was there some juicy stuff to find. He was a bit ahead of the curve because he had Jarvis to help, but no doubt every first world government on the planet, and a few others too, were all scrambling to gather as much info as they could.

Not that the Soldier was around to care. He apparently had spent the next four months hitting Hydra bases all over the world. Eventually, what was left of SHIELD got a hold of the Soldier and sent him packing to the Avengers.

“Keep an eye on him,” Fury said.

Tony generally tended to ignore anything Fury wanted just on principle, but for the Winter Soldier he made an exception. After some digging, he and Jarvis found out all there was to know about the Soldier. Or, at least, all there was online. Turns out the guy was just a decades old Hydra science project, a brainwashed thug that slipped his leash and was out biting the hand that made him. Normally, Tony would be cheering him on, but amidst all the files was information that Hydra sent the Soldier to kill his parents.

What followed wasn’t some of Tony’s best moments. If the Soldier had been right there in front of him when he found out, things would have ended in a death match. No question. But as it happened Tony had some time to think things through. He spent that time looking over the Soldier’s files from Hydra. In the end…he couldn’t blame the man for something he had no control over. Especially when he was tortured so badly to make him comply.

But that didn’t mean that Tony liked the guy. Not even a little. So while the Winter Soldier was tentatively accepted into the Avengers, Tony kept him under watch.

Well. As much as he could , anyways, which sadly wasn’t nearly as much as he wanted. It turns out that being a century old assassin and ghost story meant that the Winter Soldier was actually pretty damn good at slipping away unnoticed.

The Soldier had rooms in the tower along with the rest of the Avengers, assigned after Fury had polite suggested it might be worth it to keep the Soldier there for “security reasons.” While the Soldier did show up when they needed him, he never stayed at the tower for longer than it took to wipe the gore off of his Kevlar.

It didn’t matter how injured he was. The Soldier just…walked it off. That in and of itself wouldn’t have irritated Tony very much. None of the Avengers were fond of medical attention, to the point where they forced Sam and Bruce to everything but only the most complex of surgeries. None of them trusted anyone else enough to handle it.

What really rankled was the attitude.

The Soldier was ever silent behind his mask. They’d all seen it off of him, but only rarely. Apparently the Soldier preferred it on. Which, creepy. But the first time he’d gotten back from a mission with a broken arm and dislocated shoulder, he nearly stabbed Sam for coming close to him.

Tony knew something was wrong when after the quinjet landed, the Soldier didn’t immediately stand up and leave. It was odd enough that the rest of the team stopped to look at him. They exchanged uneasy glances.

Sam, always the Good Samaritan, walked cautiously up to where the Soldier sat cradling his right arm.

“Hey, man,” Sam said. “Do you mind if I—Whoa!”

Before Sam could get within three feet of him, the Soldier just... materialized a knife out of nowhere. His spine was straight, stiff with outrage probably, and the knife held in that beautiful, glorious cybernetic appendage.

As much as Tony was ambivalent about the Soldier, he really loved that arm.

“You. Will. Not. Touch. Me.” The Soldier’s voice was a scratchy growl, an effect made worse through the mask.

Immediately Sam backed off, hands held up in the universal sign for peaceful intentions. “Easy. I’m just trying to help.”

There were a tense few seconds after that, and if Tony surreptitiously meandered towards his suit, no one would blame him. Certainly not Natasha or Clint, both of whom Tony could see adjusting their hands closer to their weapons. Bruce simply watched with a raised eyebrow, and Thor looked on with crossed arms.

“’Tis no shame to be mended by your fellows, Soldier of Winter.” Thor’s face crumpled into a frown. Good old Thor. Always willing to share the bond of friendship to anyone willing to fight with him. Maybe he missed the memo on the Soldier’s fucked up past.

After another second or two, the knife disappeared and the Soldier carefully unhooked his mask and goggles. The glare he leveled across the room was creepy as hell, but not nearly as unsettling as what happened next.

He looked at them all and curled his upper lip. Maybe a sneer? Maybe a bearing of teeth? Guy was kind of feral as hell, so Tony was betting on a bearing of teeth. Then he grabbed his right arm, his now obviously dislocated right arm, and without even a flinch he pulled it back into place. There was a sickening pop sound that made Tony cringe.

But that wasn’t all. The Soldier then grabbed his right forearm and twisted it. Then there was another, even more sickening pop. His arm had been broken and he just…set it himself. Without a blink. Without a sound. Just snapped it right into place.

“You’ve no right to touch me.” The Soldier’s voice was quiet in the silence. He shouldered his rifle and walked off the quinjet. To say the rest of the Avengers were nonplussed was an understatement.

That pretty much set the tone for how missions went with the Soldier. Weeks turned into months and the Avengers got used to working with the Soldier in their midst. He fought with them, but he never seemed a part of them.

Three months into their arrangement, Tony tried to reach out. What the fuck. Why not? Endless tension and cold looks weren’t doing anyone any favors. He made his move while they were still on the quinjet, headed back from another mission (seriously, fuck Doombots forever).

Careful to keep a safe distance and mindful that the Soldier wasn’t actively injured, because that might hurt his success chances, he sidled on over.

“Hey, Winter.” Tony might call him ‘The Soldier’ in his head, but he sort of hated that epitaph in speech. It implied something awful about the Winter Soldier’s lack of self. Like maybe he wasn’t even a person, just the perfect stereotype of a soldier. ‘Winter’ at least had a little personality to it. “Tonight’s Avenger’s movie night. Why don’t you come? It’ll be good for, I donno. Bonding. Teamwork. Something like that.”

By this point, the Soldier had his goggles off, but not his mask, so Tony could see his brow wrinkle in confusion. No sign of if he was frowning or not. He was probably frowning. Seemed likely.

“I was under the impression that my work for this team was not sub-optimal.”

Really?

Tony rolled his eyes. “Yeah, boo-bear, you’re doing great. But that’s not the point. The point is to go be friendly. Or. I donno, just pretend to be friendly.” He was really trying with this. Magnanimous of him, he thought, especially when Tony considered all the reasons why it wasn’t a good plan to buddy up to the Soldier.

Though, to be fair, there were some compelling reasons to be friendly, too. Not in the least was the fact that they all got into life or death laser fights against megalomaniacal yahoos every other week.

More importantly, Tony still hadn’t gotten a look at that flashy robot arm. It was kind of killing him. He probably would have pressed more about it, but once a month or so Fury would show up and ask for updates on the Soldier’s prosthesis and biology. The Soldier was clearly above-human capabilities, so Tony could see why Fury had his panties in a twist over it. But the mere fact that ol’ One Eye thought he was entitled to the information made Tony want to push back.

“What happens at the movie night?” Suspicion laced every word.

“Movies? Generally?” Tony didn’t even know what to do with this guy. Seriously, what the fuck.

Happily, Bruce jumped in to save him. “Usually we all head to the tower common room, order a bunch of take out and snacks, and then sit and watch bad movies until we all fall asleep. It’s a good time. Calm. You should come.”

The Soldier’s eyes flickered to Bruce, though the scowl didn’t waver.

“A merry time is indeed had by all,” Thor said with joviality. “Though one must be wary not to be the first one asleep. The stealthier members of our group do enjoy marking up easy targets.” There was some snickering as everyone remembered the last time Clint woke up with magic marker on his face. To be fair, it was hilarious, and Tony regularly consumed so much caffeine that he was never in danger of falling asleep first.

The easy laughter must have gone completely over the Soldier’s head, though. Rather than lose the frumpy eyes, he actually flinched . Which was a really odd reaction.

Odd enough that Tony started to frown too. Something fishy was going on here.

“It’s a good time, Товарищ,” Natasha added, clearly trying to appeal to their similar histories working for the Soviet Union in less than consensual ways. She had her patented Charming Smile on, too. “Besides, they can’t blame us spies for everything. The science nerds give as good as they get, and even Captain America unwinds enough to get in on the fun.” She winked at Sam, who grinned back at her.

The Soldier’s scowl only deepened though. “You can leave me out of your fun. ” His voice dripped with disdain. He then proceeded to pointedly ignore them in favor of sharpening one of his knives.

Ah. That’s what was going on. The Winter Soldier was just a stuck up dick.

No one bothered inviting the Soldier to anything after that. Communications were kept professional while he was around, but there was a certain amount of bitching behind his back. Tony kind of hoped he was listening in. Might give the guy a clue.

Things went along as normal for many weeks after that.

Right up until the Avengers were called out to deal with some kind of mutant plant creatures. They filled out the monster triple threat: large, strong, and poisonous. The Avengers managed to win the day, but not without taking some massive damage themselves.

Everyone had some kind of injury, from broken bones to lacerations, but the Soldier got the worst of it. It was stupidly heroic, too, which was sort of surprising. Tony had long since come to the conclusion that the Soldier was only around because Fury strong armed him into it, and thus wouldn’t give a shit if any of them actually died. But against all expectations, the Soldier ended up taking a hit meant for Clint and was in bad shape because of it.

Heavy lacerations ran from his right shoulder down to his right knee, courtesy of something that looked like the cross between a T-Rex and an orchid. That alone probably wouldn’t have mattered much. They’d all seen the Soldier walk away from worse, after all. But then there was the poison.

By the end of the flight back to the tower, the Soldier was sweating heavily and breathing like he’d just run a race. He was out of it enough that Clint had managed to get close enough to support his weight down to the medical floor.

Once they hit the main medical area, that’s when shit went sideways.

As soon as the Soldier saw where they were at, he absolutely lost his mind. Faster than Tony would have thought possible, the Soldier had crammed himself into a corner of the room, knives out, and body ready to fight. The mask was still in place, but the goggles were lost somewhere in the battle; they could all see his eyes, white rimmed and dilated with fear. Blood had started flowing freely from his wounds again and there was a rapidly growing puddle flowing down onto the floor under him.

“Get the hell away from me,” the Soldier shouted.

“We don’t have time for this,” Natasha said, and pulled out a tranquilizer gun. “Banner, get ready to take him the moment he’s down. Idiot.”

“Hey! What are you doing?” Sam held a hand out to stop her, but she’d already started firing.

It should have been over then. If she had been firing against anyone other than the Winter Soldier, it would have been over.

But for every shot she fired, the Soldier moved fast enough to deflect the round off of his cybernetic arm.

“First of all, that was hot,” Tony said casually. “Second, what the fuck Miss Rushman? How is that helping?”

“Look at him. He’s unstable. This is for all of our safety.” She shrugged, unrepentant.

The Soldier just growled at her, daring her to try again.

Fat chance. The Black Widow was a badass, no doubt, but she was nursing a broken ankle. Since she didn’t make a move to get closer to him, Tony figured she made the same assessment.

“J, do we have some kind of, I donno, knock out gas? Can we just gas him?” Tony limped over to a monitor and started looking up security specs.

“No, wait!” Sam moved to stand in between the Soldier and the rest of the Avengers. “We can talk this out; we do not need to gas anyone.”

“I’m afraid gassing isn’t an option,” Jarvis said primly. At the sound of his voice, the Soldier jerked upwards to look at the ceiling. Then he curled down tighter, making himself a smaller target. “The Soldier’s mask would filter out any compound I could release into the air here.”

Figures. Nothing ever goes the easy way.

Clint tried to ease his way closer to the Soldier again. “Hey, man, everything is gonna be alright. We just need to check you out. Bruce is gonna whip up something for that poison. You’ll get a couples shots, maybe spend some time in a hospital bed for a while. It’ll be okay.”

As soon as Clint got within range, the Soldier lashed out. Either he wasn’t aiming to maim or the poison was affecting him worse than anyone expected, because the slashes went wide. “Stay back! Don’t touch me! You don’t have the right!”

“Oh for the love of...” Tony rolled his eyes. “Not this shit again. Hey, asshole. We get it. You’re above us pathetic humans. But for the love of fucking god, can you pull that stick out of your ass long enough for us to save your life? Clint, can you just shoot this guy?”

“Dude saved my life. I’m not shooting him. We should all just back off.” Clint shook his head stubbornly.

“It’s for his own good,” Natasha said.

“You know, I kind of hate those words,” Bruce added quietly from behind the group.

“No one is shooting anything.” Sam held his ground. He didn’t go so far as to pull his shield, but he made himself a big patriotic roadblock between the Soldier and everyone else.

“You’re damn right, no one is shooting anything.” That…wasn’t the voice of an Avenger.

A tall blond man, built like a brick shithouse and dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, pushed through them. Tony was willing to attribute the reason none of them made a grab for him down to shock, because who the fuck had the balls to sneak into Avengers Tower?

“Jarvis? Who the hell is that? And how did he get in here?” Right as the words left Tony’s mouth, the man dodged around Sam and headed straight towards the Soldier.

“Shit! Stop him! He’s gonna get himself…killed?” Sam’s protests died on his lips as he took in the scene before him.

The blond man dived straight towards the Soldier. But instead of getting impaled like everyone expected, the Soldier just curled right into the man’s chest. Great, heaving gasps made the Soldier’s whole body shiver and he clutched the blond like he was a life raft.

“Shhhh. Everything is alright.” The blond curled the Soldier’s head under his chin, one hand running soothingly through the Soldier’s hair. “I’ve got you, baby doll.”

Baby doll.

Silence hung in the air for a moment as the Avengers all clocked that last word.

“This is the Winter Soldier’s emergency contact, Mr. Steve Rogers.” Jarvis’s calm voice prodded Tony out of his shock induced stupor.

“Wait, emergency contact? How did I not know about this?” Tony was offended on two levels. First, that there was a thing about the Soldier that Jarvis knew and hadn’t shared. And second, that the Soldier was person enough to actually have an emergency contact, despite all evidence to the contrary.

“He requested that the information remain private for security reasons. It is part of my programming to respect such wishes, as long as they do not pose a threat to anyone else.”

Shit. That was true.

In the meantime, Mr. Steve Rogers had worked the Soldier’s mask off, and was running his hands across the Soldier’s cheeks. “You’re fine, my little Bucky. I’ve got you.”

“Stevie.” The Soldier’s voice was a ragged gasp and tears were flowing down his cheeks. “They’re gonna take me. They’re gonna cut me up and knock me out and do things to me. They can’t. I don’t want it. Please. I’m not theirs and I don’t want it.”

“Hush now, sweetheart. I know. You don’t belong to them. They ain’t got no right to touch you if you don’t want it.” Steve’s voice was all sweet reassurances, but his eyes glared daggers at the Avengers. “Fury’s dogs won’t every touch you. Not while I’m around to stop them.”

“Excuse you. Fury’s dogs? That’s offensive. I’m offended.” Tony started to discreetly pull up everything he could on Steve Rogers while he bitched.

Steve just snorted in contempt at them, and then turned to examine the Soldier’s injuries. “Alright, baby. I’m gonna help you get up and we’re gonna go over to that bed. It’s a nice soft bed. Nothing like a hard table at all, I promise. Then I’m gonna get you all stitched up and you’re gonna sleep.”

With that, the Soldier started to shiver even more violently, shaking his head back and forth. “No, no, no, no, I can’t sleep here. They’re gonna take me. Fury said. Fury said.

“Shhhh I know, sweetheart. But I’m here. I’m gonna keep watch the whole time. No one is gonna touch you but me. Bucky. Bucky. I won’t let anyone hurt you.” Steve raised the Soldier’s head so they were looking eye to eye. After a moment, the Soldier nodded and slumped against Steve.

It took a few minutes, but the two of them made their way towards the closest medical bed. To Tony’s vast surprise, Steve managed to deadlift the Soldier onto it. With another warning glance to the Avengers, Steve proceeded to cut off the Soldier’s gear, clean him up, and stitch him up. Through all of it, the Soldier lay docile as can be, one hand gripped hard into Steve’s shirt. Tears streamed silently down his face and his breath came out in shuddering pants, but aside from that he was the perfect patient.

In the meantime, Sam and Bruce got the rest of them herded over to the other side of the floor for their own checkups.

“The fuck is going on here,” Clint said, tight lipped. “’Tasha, you know anything about what he was babbling about?”

She bit back a noise as Bruce set her ankle. “I don’t. Maybe. I know Fury put pressure on the Soldier to join up and I also know he’s been curious as hell about why the Soldier is so strong. Every time we get in touch, he asks for an update on what I’ve found out.” She shrugged. “Didn’t really strike me as unusual though. Fury has his fingers in a lot of pies, especially after Hydra went down. He’d want to know everything he can.”

While they talked, Tony perused his search results.

Steven Grant Rogers. Licensed EMT for the City of New York. MFA with a focus on painting. BA in Fine Arts with a minor in history. GED on record, no k-12 schools listed. No criminal record, not even a parking ticket.

The fuck is the Winter Soldier doing hanging around a painter-turned-EMT?

“This really doesn’t bode well,” Bruce mumbled. Sam nodded.

“Yeah, ol’ Saint Nicky keeps bugging me for specs on the guy,” Tony added absently.

“Actually…” Bruce paused his wrapping for a moment to clench and unclench his hands. He bit the inside of his mouth and his gaze darted around the room, then rested to focus on his hands. “Fury talked with me too. Suggested that the Soldier’s enhanced…whatever could be the missing step to helping me with the Other Guy. Said he was willing to supply a lab if I needed it.” He tossed an apologetic glance at Tony. “He just wanted a copy of my notes in return. I declined.”

There was an awkward moment where everyone kind of looked at each other. The only sounds in the room were the Soldier’s terrified breaths and the soft whispered assurances from Steve.

“You know, he talked to me too,” Sam said quietly. “I kinda brushed it off as the typical ‘help a fellow soldier out by getting him to open up a bit’ routine. But after hearing you guys…”

“Chances are good he’d have you bugged. Have us all bugged if he could get past Jarvis.” Clint shrugged. “Kinda part of the spy life, you know? I do regular sweeps on all of my crash spots. Just as likely that it’s friendlies as it is not.”

Sam pursed his lips and shook his head. “So what we’ve got here is a guy who we know spent decades as a brainwashed slave. And as soon as he gets free and starts killing his captors, the authorities show up and gang press him into service. If Fury was trying to tap us for information about the Soldier, you can bet he took the direct route too.”

The implications of that started to sink in.

“But, why?” Thor sounded genuinely confused. “What would Fury have to gain from this course of action?”

“The super soldier serum,” Steve said quietly from across the room. He was sitting upright on the bed with the Soldier, back to the headboard. The Soldier lay on his good side, eyes closed, and curled into Steve’s waist. One of Steve’s hands combed through the Soldier’s hair and the other held one of the Soldier’s Skorpion automatic pistols. He wasn’t aiming at them, not yet anyways, but he was clearly ready to. “Fury wants what they all want. The perfect weapon. He didn’t tell you?” There was a bit of a sneer in his voice.

“Look buddy, I don’t know what you’ve heard but---” But before Tony could get any further, Steve interrupted him.

“What I’ve heard? Sure. Let’s talk about what I’ve heard.” Steve’s hands stayed slow and gentle, and his voice quiet, but in every other respect it was clear he was spitting mad. His face was flush, his teeth were bared just like the Soldier, and there was a nasty glint in his eye that promised nothing good.

“Let’s talk about how Bucky saved the world when he hunted down Hydra. The same Hydra that your boss was working with for years, completely aware of their grand masterplan to shoot anyone who might one day think about resisting their rules. Fury only got pissed when he wasn’t in control of it any more. The same Hydra that held Bucky captive, routinely tortured him, and burnt out part of his brain with massive doses of electricity.” Most of the Avengers winced, or at least flinched at that. At this point they all had experience with being captured by enemies. That kind of thing left lasting impressions. “But Bucky stopped them. Stopped three different carriers from flying off and killing millions in minutes.”

“Why didn’t he come find us? We’re the Avengers, that’s the exact thing we do. We could have helped.” Sam gestured at all of them, as if to encompass their whole purpose in the motion.

“Why would he?” Steve shot back. “You were put together by Fury. For all Bucky knew, you were all Hydra, too.”

The Soldier stirred, his face scrunched down in distress. The saddest, tiniest whimper Tony had ever heard came out of his mouth. It was so distraught and needy that Tony had to blink. This was the Winter Soldier. The guy who walked off broken bones. The dude who wouldn’t take even a bottle of water in from them because it would be admitting weakness.

Steve shushed him back to sleep. Once the Soldier had settled back down, Steve picked back up where he left off. “So then Bucky starts cleaning up, because no one else can be trusted to do the job. He knew that if he left it things as they were then Hydra would just spring back up again in another ten or twenty years, ready to start all over again. Eventually Fury got his head out of his ass and by pure fucking luck managed to capture Bucky.”

“Fury said he brought him in from the cold.” Natasha’s voice was her patented neutral interrogation voice.

“If by ‘bring in from the cold’ you mean ‘drugged him into submission and locked him in a tiny cell’, then, yeah, that is what happened. They tried every trigger word they could think of, every scavenged up piece of old programming.”

“That’s standard procedure for deprogramming,” Natasha said dismissively.

The Skorpion’s grip creaked dangerously as Steve tightened his hand on it. His grin held no humor at all. “Sure, maybe, if they had done any follow up. Made even a token gesture at rehabilitation. But, no, that would have been a waste of an Asset. Instead they kept him chained, drugged, and in isolation, digging around for anything they could get to turn him back into an obedient slave. Didn’t matter if the triggers left him a shaking terrified mess, it only mattered if he’d comply. And when he’d fought off the triggers, when he couldn’t be controlled that way, they show’d up with fancy speeches about serving a greater good and changing the world for the better. Funny thing, those speeches. Bucky’s old handler, Alexander Pierce used to say the same damn things. Generally right before they wiped his memories.”

The thing was, even though Tony was somewhat appalled, he could see what Fury’s rational was. The Winter Soldier was dangerous and clearly ready and able to use his abilities to sew chaos. The most logical step would be to either get him under control or contain him, because what happened if he stopped going after Hydra and started going after someone else?

“But Fury let him out eventually,” Sam said.

“Ha. No. Bucky escaped.” There was an odd gleam in Steve’s eye.

“He had help.” It was a wild guess on Tony’s part, but from the slight smirk on Steve’s face he hit the mark.

Steve just shrugged minutely. “He got out. Approached Fury later on his own terms.” Whatever traces of amusement were in Steve’s demeanor fled as if they never existed. His shoulders slumped and he stared at the Soldier’s sleeping form. “Somewhere along the way they’d found out Bucky and I were together. So Bucky cut him a deal. Fury stayed away from me and Bucky would join you all.”

“…Alright. I’m still not seeing where this is all leading. Sure, Fury is a dick. Water is wet, what else is new? But what’s the beef with us?” Tony asked, not bothering to hide his confusion. While he waited for a response, he leaned back onto a table and discretely checked out his search results. Nothing new on Steve Rogers. No family ties, no school photos, no nothing beyond legal documents prior to two years ago.

Well that clearly screamed fake identity. Made him wonder what Fury found out about Stevie there.

“Fury still wants his weapon. Either the serum that enhanced Bucky, or Bucky himself under control. Ideally, probably both. He made it clear that the Avengers were his agents and he was expecting regular evaluations from you all.” Steve shook his head and just looked tired . “I wish Bucky had just killed him. He’s Hydra in all but name. If they’d had a Chair, they would have wiped him, but they don’t so instead they’ve threatened me. Comply or they’d kill me. Or worse, turn me into ‘something useful’. Kept dropping hints about how Bucky wouldn’t need to worry about invasive testing, you all would just do it once he fell asleep. Apparently your AI is quite advanced, Mr. Stark.”

The smile Steve shot Tony was bitter as hell. “When Bucky refused to sleep here, Fury started suggesting alternatives. A little bit of sedative and a few days testing, not more than once a month. He could just have a drink with the team and then wake up a few days later, right as rain. You all would take care of him. Or maybe you would just take a peek at his blood and body while he was injured. Why not? He’s already open and bleeding, what would stop you from taking some blood? Or more? And a few tests always turn into more. Blood samples turn into a tissue samples turn into exploratory surgery, and who knows where it would end.”

“Holy shit,” Clint whispered, and a grimace twisted up his face.

“And all the while, that asshole just kept whispering, just give in. Let us take what we want and then you can retire. Hurry up, before you don’t even get that option anymore.” It was if this vast heavy weight rested down on Steve’s shoulders. The look he gave them all held no hope, but there was a bitter stubbornness to the set of his jaw. Steve thought they wouldn’t win this fight and he didn’t care one single bit.

“He won’t eat or sleep or do anything near us because he thinks we’re on board with all this.” Sam shook his head and swore under his breath.

Tony could see it. Every instance, every moment, stretching back for months. How the Soldier freaked out whenever they got close to him.

Fuck. It wasn’t pride or arrogance. It was fear.

“Gotta keep you safe, punk.” The Soldier, no, Bucky, mumbled. He tightened his arms around Steve’s waist. “They can have me, as long as you’re safe.”

“But you don’t want them to have you,” Steve said quietly back.

Bucky hid his face behind his hair and started to shiver. “No. I don’t wanna go back. I don’t want to be a thing anymore. But it’s better than them turning you into a thing. A weapon, like me.”

Steve bowed his head and pulled Bucky close, careful of his wounds. The two of them sat huddled together. Tony had to turn away. The rawness of it was too much.

Instead, he looked around to the rest of the team, gauging their reactions. Seemed like they were right there with him on the whole emotional rollercoaster.

Right. Time to get this shit taken care of.

“Romanov,” Tony said.

Before he could say anything else, she stood up and nodded. “I’ll handle Fury.” Then she grabbed a crutch and limped out.

“I’ve got security sweeps,” Clint said. “Agents, trackers, bugs…I can see that crap from a mile out. I’ll clear us some space.”

“Good shit, Robin Hood.” Tony shot finger guns at him, and then turned to Thor. “J and I usually have tower security covered, but I’m feeling like we might have some unhappy visitors soon.”

Thor grinned. “It would be my honor to stand guard.”

“I’ll team up with Pepper to start tackling any leftover political connections.” Sam smirked. “Being Captain America has some perks, and one of those is every sleazeball in DC wants to get a picture with you.”

“J, can you make some time in Pep’s schedule for Sam?”

“Already done, Sir.”

Bruce looked over to Steve and Bucky. “I can pick up some info on actual recovery for POWs. Non-invasive stuff, things you can talk about together. If you two want. I know what it’s like to need to handle a problem yourself.”

“Good man,” Tony said with a smile.

“What are you all doing?” Bucky sounded so lost that it made Tony’s heart break a little. Jesus, he looked young. How the fuck old was this guy when he was captured? Hell, how much of the past seventy years did he even remember?

Tony shook those thoughts off.

“You’re an Avenger, Buck-o, and we look out for our own.” Steve and Bucky exchanged a look, but then went back to staring at Tony with deeper confusion. “Let me break it down for you. No one gets to threaten you. No one gets to do anything to you that you don’t want. Not even us. That’s not how we roll.”

Big, fat tears rolled down Bucky’s face. He licked his lips. “But. Why? Why would you bother?”

“Because us? This?” Tony waved his hand between all of them. “We’re more than a team. We’re…family. And family looks out for each other.” They both stared at him with jaws dropped. “We do, however, require you to come to movie night. No games if you fall asleep. Nothing worse sugar and salt in your food. Just, movie time with the group.”

That, at least, was absurd enough to startle Steve into a short laugh. Bucky shook his head again, and then looked at Tony with a mix of hope and fear. Maybe it was the injuries, or maybe it was being wrapped around Steve, but just for a moment he wore his heart on his sleeve.

That look made Tony want to make Fury bleed. Damn the man for fucking with them, all of them, but Bucky especially. How dare he turn the Avengers into his personal boogieman for someone who spent all his free time trying to save the world.

“You’re not gonna hurt us?” It was if Bucky couldn’t actually understand the concept. Given the guy’s life, maybe he couldn’t.

Seriously, fuck Fury with a ten foot pole.

Tony put on his best comforting smile and hoped it would be enough. “No, kid. We’re not. Not now, not ever.”