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Desires

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February 2021 - The Avengers Compound 

Steve dropped down on the sofa, the common room was full of Avengers lounging around. It should have been comforting, but mostly he was remembering what had been compared to how things are now. 

Bucky was sat up on one of the windowsills, high enough up that it would be difficult for a person to join him. Affording him a perfect view over the area and the television. 

Natasha was in the corner of the kitchen, watching over everyone as she finished up making the snacks for the group meeting they had planned. Lately it was more a quiet lunch as they went over what had changed each week. 

Her eyes constantly on Clint who was slumped in the corner, flicking through his phone. Barely noticing what was happening around him.

Sam was flicking through channels on the TV, rarely resting too long on any one channel to hear the bad news.

A feature of the last 5 years is bad news

Wanda is at Steve's side, the most relaxed out of all of them, Reading a book and casually leaning against him. 

This wasn't how it was meant to be. 

At first, high on his victory, he'd taken Bucky and broken his friends out of that horrible, underwater prison. Thanks to T'Challa's kindness, they had travelled to and eventually hidden out in Wakanda. A tech paradise that brought his mind back to one person constantly. No matter how hard he tried not to think of him in those first few weeks. 

After? There had been other things occupying his mind. 

Wakanda was safe, but they couldn't leave. It was the perfect position to watch in horror as the events unfolded, and were unable to do anything

Steve had always maintained in those early days, that something 'bad enough' would happen. Something that would wipe out the Accords. Something that would have people calling for them to be brought home. 

In a way. He was right

In a way. It was their fault

Hydra capitalised on the uncertainty spread from the Civil War at first.

That Team Cap, terrorists in the wind... 

That Team Ironman, shattered like ice... 

The void it created added to the swirling mass of confusion and conflict that was the world without SHIELD. That the Hydra they had taken down had only been a cell, not the organisation. 

The two voices that would have helped guide the Accords, Tony Stark and T'Challa were silenced in different ways. T'Challa was on thin ice after signing the Accords and proving that he would go against the will of 117 countries for his revenge. Making Wakanda's introduction to the world stage rocky at best. 

Tony Stark? Well, he's been missing. Last seen officially at The Raft before the cameras mysteriously cut out.

Steve remembers the bunker...

Of that blue light dimming...

Of walking away and not looking back...

Pepper holds out that he is still alive, running the company as he wanted and has stated that she will block every attempt to declare him dead until 7 years have passed. 

There was no map, no out right declaration of which country had fallen to Hydra's infections. But people knew . Laws started shifting in dangerous directions and the world was seemingly bigger and yet, smaller every day. News articles that looked like features from the past. Countries blacking out all media. People were scared, and they had every reason to be. 

They'd been invited back when the UN started to realise the problem. Which meant the infection was massively out of control because Hydra was rarely noticed unless it was rushed, no, Hydra was noticed this time, only because it wanted to be noticed. 

With no shiny Stark lawyers to argue their side, their pardons came with enough rules and regulations to tie them up in knots and force their hands to sign the Accords.

Accords that were much different than what he remembered Tony talking about. Different to what Natasha had explained to him. Tony's plans had died before they even had a chance to get off the ground. 

He could still see Ross smirking triumphantly as the silver tracking bands snapped into place, tight, flush against their skin. With an end date not until years in the future, that, or jail. The Raft. 

After they returned to America, they were almost immediately dispatched to different crime scenes across the world. The missions varied from assassinations to what looked like utter war and destruction. Refusal of missions was possible, but if they didn't meet a certain amount of hours each month, time was added to their sentence, so saying no was risky and Ross knew it. 

They were barely given a second to get their bearings. 

They worked each case in a subdued manner, the easy joking and camaraderie of the past seemed… hard to find.

Not when Clint was spitting mad about losing his family.

Not when Natasha could barely look at Steve without anger shining in her eyes over bringing Clint in.

Not when Bucky barely spoke, just moved through job after job, a silent wraith in the shadows.

Not when Sam missed his family with a palpable ache that hit him at the strangest times.

Steve wanted his family back, but he didn't know how to get it. Even though they were right in front of him. Wanda was the only one that always smiled at him now. 

None of the cases seemed connected on the surface, but many were pivotal in Hydra movements. They knew they were not even ten steps behind, it was much more and Natasha pointed out after several jobs, that they were likely only seeing what was intended to be seen. Which just made everything that much more frustrating. 

Battling Pepper for more funding whilst filling out seemingly endless stacks of paperwork in between missions. Steve hadn't actually realised how much Tony did for them. They were also battling against Colonel Rhodes cold disdain when it came to equipment. The Colonel had not taken Tony's death disappearance well. Each yeah he seem colder. 

They skipped from disaster to disaster with a feeling that they were not even on the same playing field. Skipping channels as the news reported the grim facts of life of the world, held in a death grip of Hydra's New World Order. 

It was… Disconcerting. Steve felt like his entire world had been knocked off balance. There was no one place to attack. It wasn't like back in the war, of the Howlies going from base to base. The targets never seemed clear cut. It wasn't even like the Battle of Triskelion. He felt like he was trying to catch sand as it slipped through his fingers. 

The maudlin direction of his thoughts were thankfully interrupted by Clint. 

"Wait, go back!" 

Steve snapped his gaze to the TV as Clint pointed, half out of his seat. Sam fumbled with the remote as he flipped back and everyone crowded around. Except Bucky who had a perfect view from his favourite window much to Steve's ongoing irritation, and depression. 

There was rubble and people.. No, bodies lying around, it took Steve a second to realise that they were dead, but not before he recognised the familiar uniform. Wanda recognised the place first with a pained noise. 

"That's … That's Sokovia!" 

Sam turned up the volume, there had been no media, no reports, no anything from Sokovia, for over 14 months now. All attempts at infiltration had been blocked. It was one of Hydra's greatest strongholds. 

 

 

 

"I'm Janet Brice from BBC World News coming to you from Sokovia. We had an invite last night, a red carpet invite. As no one has heard anything from Sokovia is over a year now, we immediately accepted. 

"As you can see, this is a familiar scene from what I've been told. 4 huge strongholds that appear to include factory's have been completely taken out.

"The Joint American and British armed forces have commented that its like Hydra has been removed by a scalpel. The munitions factories have been completely destroyed and looking at the size of them, not a moment too soon. "

"Holy shit, even we couldn't get into Sokovia!"

He nodded along to Sam as he started mentally preparing what they needed. Steve knew the call would come soon, and Ross had ordered them to Sokovia. The horrid man would probably be accompanying them again. Steve hated it when he did that, so many resources were wasted on him. 

 


 

"Do we know who did this?" 

"That's your job Rogers. This isn't the first attack on Hydra by unknown sources, but it is the largest. Who ever can take Hydra down like this is dangerous ." 

"But they're taking down Hydra , surely we should be trying to get them on our side?" 

"Of course, that's why we're sending you to recruit them, if you can find them. They've been active for 7 months now and have blazed a bloody, silent trail through the upper ranks of Hydra. How they got into Sokovia.. I have no idea." 

"Wait, you've known a group has been combating Hydra for months and you didn't tell us?" 

"Need to know Rogers. You didn't. We don't think it's a group, but rather a person. Which means he's probably like you freaks. Find him. We've been calling him Gold." 

Ross smirked as he said the title, it was obviously something the general found amusing. Although Steve had no idea why. 

"Anything else? Sir?" 

Ross sat back smugly as Steve grit his teeth, throwing a folder that Steve barely caught. 

“Bring me him. I want this Mr Gold, and you will get him for me, understood?"

Before he could say anything else, the general stood and sauntered off like he owned the place, his team of faceless, suited supers falling in around him. The man never travelled alone now, he was always protected. His paranoia had worsened over the last year, he noted. That, or his recruitment drive had paid off. Last year he only had 1 super following him, he wonders how many it will be next year. 

He wonders how much good those Supers could be doing if they weren't attached to Ross all the time. 

Clint appeared a few seconds after Ross left the meeting room, along with Natasha and Bucky as he opened the folder. Spreading everything out for them across the table. He didn't bother going over his conversation with the General, knowing that they all heard every word. Sam and Wanda entered last, she hated Ross and they'd learned early on to keep her away from the man after a few to many hints about how easy it would be to have her switched off the team. 

Clint picked up a blurry picture, it was all they had of the apparent individual who was apparently systematically attacking hydra in the places it hurt most and the worst times. With a degree of insight that Steve had to assume that they were once part of the organisation. The face was blurry, long hair and facial hair obscuring what the generally bad quality didn't. He didn't know what he was looking for, but he didn't recognise anything about the man.

The only thing that really showed up on the image was the gold glowing at the man's eyes and the whisps around his hands. One held old in front of him and the other off to the side. Anything else had been cropped out. 

The power reminded Steve of Wanda in a way, and wondered if there had been more like her hidden in the depths of Hydra. Unlike Wanda the gold stayed wrapped around the man's hands and wrists. 

"Is.. Is he like me?" 

Wanda tilted her head, reaching for the picture almost tentatively. 

"It looks similar, do you remember anyone else back when..?" 

Steve tapered off at Bucky's growl as the large man stomped out of the room on the quinjet. He couldn't exactly go far whilst they were in the air and Steve would try and talk to him later he decided. He was still harbouring so much resentment for Wanda and he just didn't understand why. They both came out the other side of Hydra, he'd hoped they could help each other heal. 

"Only me and.. Me and Pietro. We were the only ones to survive the experiments and his abilities were nothing like mine." 

"Hydra works in cells. Just because one unit was creating enhanced individuals doesn't mean a different unit might not do the same thing." 

Clint added absentmindedly as he was reading one of the debriefs. Natasha frowned as she breezed through the files. 

"This.. feels familiar." 

"Familiar how?" 

Clint leaned forward as the rest of them backed off, when Natasha caught a trail that was how it worked these days. The only person she would communicate with was Clint. 

"FRIDAY, bring up the reports for the last twelve operations we were on regarding The Operative." 

"They're being uploaded to your tablet now Miss Romanoff." 

"Thanks Fri." 

She and Clint went through files, talking quietly whilst Steve was itching to question the pair but Sam kept him back. Sam and Wanda were engaging him in banal conversation to stop him from interrupting Natasha. Last time he had, he'd discovered first hand that Natasha was actually enhanced. Via his dislocated, shattered jaw. 

"Shit, Nat your right. It's slight but.. It would make sense. The Operative dropped off the map months ago, around the time that small time technical hydra base was completely wiped out.. Where is the file... I remember that. It was a bloodbath." 

Natasha swiped the screen a few times before handing it to Clint. 

"Here." 

"You think he's gone rogue?" 

He bit his tongue, he hadn't meant for that to slip out, but they'd been chasing The Operative uselessly for years now.

Natasha and Clint snapped to him, glaring slightly before nodding. 

He remembered that mission, vividly. They had thought a unit of supers had been involved. That it was one person? That was definitely interesting. Disturbing, but interesting. How a single person could do that to people though? He had no idea. 

 


 

Sokovia had changed a lot Steve thought when he finally got off of the quinjet, but it had been a long time since anyone had even seen inside the country and longer still since he had been here last. There was no sign that Ultron had ever happened. 

Shockingly General Ross remained behind, and the quinjet was guarded on all sides with units from the army. The team rolled their eyes at the ridiculous nature of it before setting off to gather information. It was normal for Ross to have himself guarded as if he was the most important person in the world. 

Apart from the destruction to the Hydra buildings, the place actually looked better in some ways. Without hydra destabilising the country things had evened out after Ultron. Unfortunately it was under the rule of Hydra. Which from the news and experience, he knew had not been a pleasant time. No matter how many videos turned up online of how 'great' things were. Sokovia had produced a lot of propaganda before it had gone dark. 

Walls that they passed were coated with pictures and notes of separated families trying to find each other. 

Candles and flowers lined the walls too, commemorating those who had died. The wall stretched far beyond Steve's field of vision and it look just as packed. He wondered how many other walls looked like this. 

It didn't take long for them to start feeling a familiar pattern, just like all their other missions chasing the elusive Operative these last few years. They found nothing useful. Nothing at least that Natasha and Clint were not utterly sure they were not meant to find. If they could get a message to this person, Steve was sure that they would come in. Like Wanda and Bucky, they could do real good as an Avenger. They obviously didn't like Hydra, which was a good starting place. They needed help and he wasn't sure Ross was the place for it. 

They were deep in the largest building, Steve was sorting through documentation left behind in an office. He hoped that something useful would be found in the mountains of paperwork. A sardonic part of him was amused that Hydra officers apparently had more paperwork than himself. 

When Natasha signalled them he was greatful to have an excuse to step back. having heard something in the main office, they all gathered to find out what. When he arrived, they were searching for a hidden door before Wanda got tired of waiting. She stood in the centre of the room, eyes closed with an arm out. Red Mist wrapping around her fingers as she span in a slow, lazy circle as the tendrils skated out, brushing across the walls before stopping and pointing at a wall by Bucky. 

"Someone is there." 

It didn't take Bucky long to find the catch and the smell as he opened it was utterly disgusting. It was clear that there was a person in the panic room. Holding his breath he opened the door wide as Bucky had backed off, clipping the muzzle across his face. It always made Steve frown to see him wear it, like all the distance they'd come these years was erased. For this circumstance however. He could understand it. 

There was a man tied to a chair, the chair was.. Melted into the ground and there was no way Steve could see that the man could have escaped. Bucky's eyebrows were raised slightly so he wondered if he'd noticed the same thing. He was both gagged and blind folded, but he'd obviously felt the door open. 

The man stated speaking but his voice was muffled so Steve sent Sam to notify one of the generals people as he undid the bindings of the gag. He knew Sam would take the long route whilst still being able to truthfully say they informed someone as soon as possible. He undid the gag which came away bloody as the man spat something blood covered out. Blood dribbling down his chin. Wanda ducked back out of view, not that he could blame her. 

"Untie me, immediately." 

"Why don't you tell us about how you got here? Your name?" 

The man however ignored Steve, blinking and looking at the others. Catching sight of Bucky and focusing on him. Making Steve want to step in between them. 

"The Asset? Huh. Should have known. We should have given up with you, but no, they wanted to create the perfect asset. So they kept trying . This one, oh he was good too, oh you should have seen him move, like water and completely lethal.. I can tell you all about him, every detail. As soon as you untie me. The longer you wait, the less you'll know." 

Steve touched his com to tell Sam to maybe hurry up, this guy definitely had something but was surprised to find his com didn't work. The few officer the captured always sang a tune that they'd tell all, and then tried to force someone to kill them first change they were able. With him secure like this, they maybe had a chance. 

"Get me out of this contraption immediately if you want to know anything useful." 

Clint smirked, obviously not feeling remotely bad for the man. 

"Or, we could leave you there, you could tell us some things and we might untie you long enough to cuff you.." 

"I'm no use to you dead now, am I?" 

Steve backed up a little, leaving Clint and Natasha to ask questions whilst he backed out of the room, trying his com repeatedly until he finally heard a crackle several rooms away. Wondering what could block their coms. Sure they were 5 years old, but they were still developed by Tony. The idea that the world was catching up on their tech was an uneasy feeling. 

"-EVE, STEVE! He's dead! Fuck, Steve! Answer me! "

"Sam, calm down. Who is dead?" 

"Ross! It's fucking chaos down here man. They told me to tell you to keep the guy where he is. They'll get to him in time.. They're trying to find whoever is in charge under Ross and apparently no one can decide." 

Before Steve has a second to process that someone had apparently killed Ross somehow, Clint came jogging from the office to find him. 

"Cap!" 

Steve sighed, turning to a frantic Clint, this mission was already a mess. But he found himself struggling to find much in the way of pity for Ross. 

"What's wrong Clint, we have a serious issue here." 

"Yeah, well, our Hydra in the hand is dead." 

"What?!" 

He dashed back into the room following Clint and skidded to a halt, finding Bucky stood next to the man that had been alive and talking to him barely a minute ago. Now.. Now he didn't even have a head. 

"What happened?!" 

"Garrot. Timer." 

Bucky pointed out the timer and the contraption that had been concealed at the back of the man's neck. Steve couldn't get his head around it. He'd been alive and yelling and now… Natasha had her gloves on, putting the red thing the man had spat out when they'd ungagged him. Gathering evidence to for later assessment. He heard a soft huh from her that drew his attention. 

"It's… gold?"  

She rubbed the blood of metal through the bag, showing the gold underneath. It was strange, like someone had mashed together some gold jewelry or something, leaving spiky edges that sliced up the man's mouth judging by all the blood. He wondered how long he had been trapped like that. Unable to move, eat, speak. 

"That's awful." 

"He was a handler."

"I know Buck, but he's still human." 

"He. Was. A. Handler." 

Bucky turned on his heal and stalked out of the room, the matter concluded it seemed. Then he remembered what Sam had told him. 

"This isn't our only problem either. Sam says that General Ross is dead." 

"What? Apart from the president, he is the most protected man in America, practically on the damned planet." 

"I don't know, Sam said its chaos down there." 

It took them awhile to be allowed access to the quinjet again. It really was chaos given Ross wasn't exactly one for caring about who would take charge if he wasn't available. 

No one knew what had happened, all of the units guarding the jet and Ross' personal quintet were completely unharmed. None of his personal guard had been bothered, they had been stood outside his room as Ross had gone to make a private call to the president. 

Ross was sitting at his desk, his throat had been slit deep enough to completely sever his vocal cords. Steve could see the white of bone as his head was tilted back, and after the decapitated Hydra officer if left his stomach roiling. 

There wasn't a shred of evidence, not even on Friday. The video didn't so much stop, it played as normal, just one second Ross was reaching for his phone, then it flickered like a bad horror movie and the damage was done. 

The only thing that gave them a clue was the gold that was clutched so tightly in Ross' hand that it was actually stuck. They had to wrench it open.

Later it turned out to be the gold from Ross' watch. Crushed together. That was pretty much all they had, and a small note scribbled and stuck to the generals tie, that read - 'Hate the name.' in a block script. 

Steve didn't know what to make of this, neither did the team. They finished up and returned home on a different jet as the other was officially a crime scene. Leaving with more questions and no answers. 

 


 

For the next 17 months, things followed a pattern as the world watched, holding its breath as Hydra was taken apart as ruthlessly as it was put together.

Whilst some members of his team were impressed, Steve found himself holding back. Some Hydra bases held thousands of people that were alive one day and dead the next as this elusive Mr Gold cut a bloody swathe through the upper echelons of Hydra.

Some bases were simply dismantled, a few times they got a call to a base with hundreds of Hydra operatives handcuffed and waiting for them. 

There was no telling which country he would turn up in next. Even the extremely restricted zones and flights into America didn't seem to stop him. Members of the senate were found dead in their houses with all the evidence of their collusion laid out neatly in front of them. Other governments in different countries faired the same. 

There was never anyol evidence that anyone had set foot in the building. Sometimes it was a single death, sometimes entire buildings were rendered into craters.

More than once Steve wondered if there were multiple people involved. Sometimes there was a pattern, other times even Natasha had no idea what was happening. 

Who ever was doing this had a lot of knowledge of Hydra and was using it with extreme prejudice. 

As they started to draw close to 2 years post the Release of Sokovia, things began to slow down. They were getting less and less work when it came to Hydra. Other bad guys were starting to come out of the wood works now that the megalithic boogeyman of Hydra was being systematically wiped off of the planet. It burned Steve a little that he had no part in it, but looking at Wanda and Bucky. He was just happy it was happening. Even if he didn't agree with the method by which it was being done. 

The Operative. Mr Gold. He returned none of their requests to join them. No more notes, no nothing. 

Natasha posed the question again of did they even know how much this man was doing. In the past, she was sure the only cases that had come to them, was because he had wanted them too. Even though they never found any useful evidence. 

Back then, he had thought The Operative, or Hydra, had been toying with them. 

Now.. He wonders if they were cries for help, but all he could manage in the set perimeters Hydra gave him. Bucky had seemed pained at the idea but agreed at the possibility. They had taken in two former assets, that there might be who knows how many more out there, looking for help. 

They'd been asking The Avengers for help, asking anyone to help, but they'd failed. So now they were cleaning up Hydra on their own. 

Chapter Text

"Captain Rogers, you have your latest equipment delivery, why are you still bothering me?" 

"Rhodes, we just wanted access to Tony's works-" 

"Colonel. And access denied. It will always be denied. You are lucky me and Pepper agreed with the government for you to serve your community service here. Do not ever think that you are allowed in Tony's places." 

"Colonel, it's been over 6 years now, we're nearly at the 7 year mark. He's not coming back." 

Steve looked at the Colonel with pity. The years had been hard on the man, he rarely smiled anymore and only suited up as War Machine separate from the Avengers. Steve was convinced the isolation was bad for the man. 

Anger sparked in his eyes but the rapid clicking of someone running towards them in painfully high shoes drew their attention as Pepper ran straight for Rhodes. Steve heard what she said purely because of enhanced hearing. 

"Code Firebird."

Rhodes looked at her and she nodded minutely before they ran off together as fast as Rhodey was able to go. Not a glance in his direction. The treatments on his spine had come a long way, from the beginnings left on Tony's server. Rhodes and Pepper had given Dr Cho access to it and they had spent years developing the little Tony had managed to get down before he disappeared. 

That he could walk and run at all was proof to Steve's point. 

If one doctor could take a paralysed man and make him run from a few notes of Tony's. That he hadn't even had long to work on, what else was on the man's servers. In the man's workshop that was being hoarded away. It wasn't right. 

Steve decided that he'd try Potts next. 




The next few weeks had been chaotic, they didn't get a chance to get home, all of them on missions overseas. They arrived to an abandoned base in Denmark, they were unsure why until Natasha finally found her wait into the security system. 

"They have a black out room, but it's nothing like I've ever seen before." 

"Black out?" 

"Like Fury's office. Press a button and any bugs or tech was instantly blocked. This… This is years above what SHIELD had." 

The room only opened from the inside. It took Wanda a good 10 minutes to make a dent. By the time the door was ripped from the hinges she was wavering on the spot. 

They all froze when the dust settled, the room probably didn't smell as bad as it could as it had been pretty well sealed, but none of them really wanted to walk inside. Natasha rolled her eyes and entered. 

Steve couldn't make sense of it. The room was sealed from the inside. 

"Do you think one of them killed the rest and then offed himself?" 

Natasha was at the other end, bent over one of the bodies. 

"No, it wasn't anyone in the room." 

She stood, holding a pen out in front of her, a gold, blood covered necklace hanging from the end of her pen. 

"Can this guy phase through fucking walls or something? 8 bodyguards, 4 hydra officers, no vents and the door was still locked when we got here… Wait, got more jewellery." 

Clint called from the side of the room. Steve moved to the other officers, one had been shot multiple times in the chest, the others neck had been crushed. He recognised the man at the head of the table where Natasha stood. Raylor, currently the number 1 most wanted Hydra Officer in the world and had been on the run for months. Well, he had been at least. 

"No gold on these two."

"Why do these two get calling cards but those two don't?"

Sam was hovering by the door as he asked. Natasha was bagging the pendant. No one answered, because they didn't have a clue. Even after years, they still hadn't worked out why some people were left with gold on them. 

They packed up to head back to the hotel, they had several more locations to hit before they'd get to go back to America this time. He wondered if they'd ever catch a break. This Mr Gold seemed to slide past cameras with the same ease as Bucky and seemed to specialise in getting into impossible situations. They never found any evidence, not even a single fibre or fingerprint, it was impossible. 

 

By the time it was done, he was more than ready to get home. Wanda was sitting with him as the others dozed, Natasha and Bucky were flying and quietly talking to each other. The Tower had undergone some security changes that Bucky was very impressed at, Natasha was just as interested. He didn't know why Pepper had changed security to that level, but the fact Natasha and Bucky were impressed was high praise indeed. 

"Are you still going to try guys talk to Pepper when you get back."

"Yeah, I'm sure she'll see reason now. It's been long enough. It's time." 

"These missions would have been much easier with his tech. Even dead he's selfishly hoarding from us." 

"I don't think he expected to go missing, I'm sure he would have put something in place to have someone safe to go through his servers." 

"Who better than you? There are probably full of bombs and vile weapons. No one can be trusted with that. Definitely not Rhodes or Potts. When we get home, I'll get us into the workshop. Even if Potts says no."

"I'm not sure that's best…" 

"It's not like we can insult the dead guy. Potts is coming up on her time limit. Soon she will have to announce him dead. People stopped pushing when Hydra had the world in its death grip, but now.. Well. She won't be able to hold out much longer." 

"If you say so." 

He smiled as she beamed at him. 

The first thing he was doing was having a shower and getting some sleep, which judging by how everyone scattered the second they got home. Was the general plan. 



He didn't get out of bed until midday and joined everyone for a late breakfast. Everyone was sore and sleepy from the last few weeks, even the supers of the group. The baseline humans were dozing in their chairs. Natasha was cooking breakfast, Bucky was up in his windowsill again, knitting. Steve found it an odd hobby but it was one of the few times he saw the man smiling. 

"Huh, looks like Pepper is having a press conference." 

Sam turned the volume up and they all turned their attention to the TV. Just in case it had anything to do with the Avengers. Pepper was immaculate as always and Colonel Rhodes was with her too, just as smart. Sam focused on Rhodey, the guilt still holding on after all this time

"Rhodes looks happy.. "

"Everyone, I'm happy to tell you all today. I told you so. With the fall of Hydra, we found something else. Rather.. Someone else."

He held his arm out to the side as everyone exploded, reporters surging forward as security tried to get them back in place. Tony however, barely noticed them. He was wearing a sharp, black suit with a red tie and red sunglasses. He looked like he'd stepped out of the past. Young, not a patch of grey in his styled hair or signature beard. 

There was something different about him Steve thought, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Barely giving the reporters a glance before coming to stand in between Rhodes and Pepper. Flashing his trademark smirk, he finally spoke. His voice seemed slightly hoarse from disuse, but otherwise he seemed the same Tony Stark they'd been missing for the better part of the decade

"Did you miss me?" 

"NO!! No this isn't right, he's meant to be dead. Why does he always get to survive!?" 

Wanda stormed off towards her room and Steve watched her go, there was serious irritation on some of the others faces as he was drawn back to the TV. Torn whether he should chase after Wanda or not. 

"Mr Stark, it's great to have you back, where have you been?" 

"With Hydra, unfortunately, I don't remember everything, they… they take your memories when your being uncooperative and when have I ever been cooperative? I'd probably still be there if it wasn't for this Mr Gold I keep hearing about. I'm beyond thankful, he did what no one else could." 

Steve clenched his teeth at that.. They had tried to find him, they had looked for months before Ross pulled them off the case. Natasha had tried to keep working the case on the side. Steve had thought that as they had no new evidence, fighting Ross until he pushed them too far had not been worth it. If they'd have some evidence, then maybe they could have forced Ross' hand. 

"This must be quite overwhelming for you?" 

"Discovering I've been held captive and tortured for several years? Yeah. I'm looking forward to sleeping in my bed and getting back into things. I've eaten like 12 cheeseburgers already. I'm happy no one declared me dead. Luckily, I have the two best friends in the world right here." 

"Getting stuck back in? As Ironman?" 

"I don't know. Maybe? You guys have my Rhodey for that, and I've had lots of time to think. I believe there is a lot I can do as Tony Stark too." 

"So.. What happened with your.. Age?" 

Tony's easy smiled shuttered down, his entire form going rigid and that's when Steve realised something. The entire time Tony had been talking, he was.. Still. His hands didn't move. Not once. They just hung by his sides. He was still joking, but the tone seemed.. detected from his body language. 

"Hydra mad scientists is what happened. Thankfully they didn't mess me too much, up or the DNA tests to prove I'm me might have ended up with Pep having me arrested." 

Steve didn't hear the next few questions over the blood rushing in his ears and Bucky's accusing glare. He'd thought Siberia was behind them, that they'd moved past it. Even if Bucky didn't talk much, he was here and Steve could wait. When Bucky isn't staring at him, he noticed that he was watching Tony with a level of intensity that he wasn't accustomed too. Maybe because Tony was now a POW with Hydra for nearly 7 years and might have experienced the same things as himself? Steve couldn't remember any other questions, his mind was hazy and full of what ifs. 

 

He doesn't ask Pepper for access to Tony's workshop. He does ask FRIDAY to send a message to Tony however, asking him to come to the compound to talk, to see how he is and to welcome him back. He figures after his experiences he would be more sympathetic to Bucky now, and now he was back, he could help with some issues Steve had been struggling with. He mentioned potentially stepping back as Ironman which is fine, he can return to his role of funding and outfitting them. It would be nice to get back to full funding, not these small stipends Pepper insisted they stick to. 

Maybe he could even fix their pardons. They still had at least 2 years of community service before their cases could even be looked at, and whilst things had improved after Ross' death and things definitely improved as Hydra was rooted out piece by piece. He still disliked that they had to fulfil so many hours each month. He could make Bucky a new arm too, as the current one was based on the Hydra design and supplied by the government. Tony could do much better. 

This could be a good thing for them he thinks as he heads for Wanda's room. There were still a few Hydra holdouts, he's sure Tony would be interested in mission after what had happened to him. He mused on how to put the idea forward as he knocked on the door and frowning as he gets no answer. 

"Mr Rogers, please proceed to Boss' Workshop and remove Miss Maximoff before I am forced to enact security measures." 

"Wait, what?!" 

"Miss Maximoff is attempting to break into Boss' workshop. If she does not cease and desist I will be forced to enact security measures." 

He was already running and grinding his teeth and the idea of FRIDAY hurting Wanda for no reason. He wondered if this had anything to do with Tony's return. 

"Don't hurt her FRIDAY. I'm sure this is a mistake."

"She is attempting to use her magic to force the door to the workshop open. I'm not sure how this could be a mistake. I will hold off on security measures on your say so. Unless she takes a single step into the workshop. Agreed?"

He couldn't exactly argue with that so he nodded and put his head down. The lift taking him down to Tony's workshop. The glass had been completely blacked out since they returned to the compound and a small part of him was shocked. Had expected the glass to clear now that Tony was back. He probably just hadn't had a chance to do so. 

Wanda was in front of the door, the red magic spread across the keypay and around the hinges. 

"Wanda, what are you doing?" 

"We don't have much time Steve. This is our only chance to see what Stark has in there before he comes back." 

"Well it is his workshop.." 

"You agreed with me that we needed to see in here!" 

"That was before. When I thought he was dead, he's very clearly alive now which is great Wanda. Just think of all the help he could give up." 

Wanda's magic paused, retreating as she looked at him, head tilted in confusion. 

"Steve. You don't think Stark is going to help you after you and Bucky left him for dead in Siberia do you? He was probably captured by Hydra after that fight where they held him for nearly 7 years Steve. Stark will not help us."

"How did you..?" 

"You and Bucky think about it, I can't always keep myself out. I haven't told anyone that you tried to kill him." 

"I didn't try to kill him!" 

"Steve.. Stark is human. Humans in metal suits with no power don't survive in places like Siberia. Even Stark. Hydra probably saved his life, actually." 

Steve was just speechless as Wanda turned back to the door, he barely had a chance to blink before her magic had seeped into the weak points of the door. He watched in slow motion as he ripped the door clean out of its frame, it smashing against the wall behind her. The glass still not shattering. 

"What the fuck!?" 

His attention snapped back and he moved to see what Wanda was looking at. Trying to remember Tony's workshop the last time he saw it. Chaos with inventions everywhere. Half way through something for all of them at any one time. The blue glow of the holographic displays lighting everything up, giving the concrete floors and chrome tables a shockingly warm feel. 

He blinked a few times as he saw what Wanda was talking about. 

It was empty. The entire workshop was empty, he could see where the tables have been bolted down. Even the end connected to the garage was empty. Not a single car in sight. The place was completely spotless too. If he didn't know any better, he'd say that this room had never been used for anything. No dust, no nothing. 

"Don't go in Wanda, FRIDAY agreed not to use security measures on you as long as you didn't step foot in the workshop. If this even counts as the workshop anymore." 

Wanda rolled her eyes and instead cast her magic across the room, eyes closed as it skated around searching. 

"This was recent. Like, when we were on our last job, recent."

He wonders for a second if it had been intention before pushing the thought away, the jobs were real, that couldn't have been invented. Could it? 

"Come on, let's go and tell the others." 

The others were less than pleased with Wanda's antics, he wished they'd go easy on her, she was still so young. The press conference was over, he just hoped Tony would get back to him soon. Maybe he could find out why the man had moved his workshop. 

They knew where he was staying, recent changes to the tower suddenly made a whole lot of sense. 

The tower however was off limits and their bracelets would register them travelling to a marked place they were barred from. When they'd first returned, after discovering Ross' control over them and Pepper's restriction on funding, they had visited the tower every chance they'd been able. Pepper had wasted no time adding the tower and a 500 foot radius to locations they were unable to approach. The bracelets made a racket even on the approach. Only end of the world/life saving situations allowed them to go near the building. 

So, whilst he knew where Tony was, he was unable to do anything about it. 

Every single day he sent a message through FRIDAY. 

Every single day he asked her if he had anything back. 

The answer was always no.

The only time the saw Tony was on the TV. It was nothing like the old days, his showmanship had been replaced with a degree of seriousness that caught many people's attention. There was just as many shows discussing the change in Tony as his return. 

After a week he started getting to work, Steve didn't quite understand what the man was doing, but Natasha seemed impressed. 




"Found that information for you Cap." 

"That's great Clint."

Clint didn't look thrilled, if anything he looked a little green. It generally took a lot to get to Clint considering how much the man had seen. 

"They, uh. They found him half rabid in a chained solitary cell in a Hydra bunker. It was apparently not a pretty sight. I don't know Steve, maybe he's earned a rest?" 

If anything that increased his resolve. There were a number of pictures, mostly of the base, the pictures taken after everyone had been moved out. There were a number of cells, not just the two solitary ones. He wondered what this base purpose was. 

"Can we find anything about that.. Uh, place?" 

"It's sealed six ways from Sunday Cap. I only got this much because I know a guy, good chap, worked on the Task force that raided the bunker. From what he described, it's as a damned miracle he was smiling on the news. Me and Nat will keep trying." 



10 months of constantly asking to see Tony in between missions that still included tracking Mr Gold and other missions. Steve was starting to get annoyed. 

They had only found references to where Tony had been held, nothing concrete bar a few disturbing pictures. He wasn't found alone, but any interviews were redacted by the time they found them. 

He added requests to see Pepper and Rhodes but when they asked why he wanted a meeting, his reply of wanting to see Tony had the meetings rejected. 

"Take a hint Rogers. The man doesn't want to speak to you. You guys are allowed out for recreation now. Go to the movies. Go to a pub. Get a life, man, and stop being such a stalker." 

Rhodes sounded better he noted as the call cut. Which he would be happier about, if the man wasn't blocking him from speaking to Tony. He wasn't being a stalker, he just needed to talk to Tony so they could put all of this behind them, and then he could get back to work with them as he belonged. Natasha said he was extremely busy, but what was more important than The Avengers? 

Maybe he could go out. 

Bucky had been routinely vanishing in the nine months since they'd been given the green light for leaving the compound for reasons other than work. He'd honestly expected Bucky to stay in, so it had been a shock that he was one of the first of them to start exploring their newfound freedom. 

FRIDAY wouldn't give him access to track the bracelet, which Steve thought was strange. That was the perfect situation for the damned things. Bucky just said he was going out. Running, or walking. Just enjoying that he could really. 

Steve supposed he should be happy that he came back. Even if really, he had no choice. He was happier now. 

Natasha and Bucky occasionally went out together, or alone to bars or something, judging by the smell. Natasha and Clint went out together a lot too. 

Sam visited his family, but he didn't know how well it went as he hadn't wanted to talk about it.

He and Wanda were the only ones who were yet to leave the compound. Maybe he should remedy that, they'd gotten too used to staying in. Take Wanda of for a nice lunch if he had enough of his stipend left. 



Even though he did start occasionally going out with Wanda, he still kept trying to contact Tony. Eventually the man would stop punishing them, he had to. 

He had tried to join Bucky a few times, he had allowed him to join in on his occasional jogs but had said that occasionally he just wanted to get out of the compound alone. Steve had tried to follow him, but Bucky could melt into the shadows and completely disappear practically in front of his eyes. He'd even bought a GPS device from a shop, but considering he was looking at the screen with the tag running around New York whilst Bucky was sat comfortably in his windowsill eating ice cream, he figured he had found it. He wasn't sure why the man was so resistant to him helping. 

Bucky had spent 70 years being tortured, being back out in the world, especially this, new future must be absolutely terrifying for him. So many things were strange and plain wrong compared to the time he and Bucky was from. So he had to help him. He doubted whatever government lacky watched their bracelets really cared about Bucky. 

 

Whilst he couldn't get a hold of Tony, that didn't mean they didn't see him. Mostly on the TV, or via articles. Natasha kept a track of everything and the others pitched in too. Even Sam occasionally joined in if the information was interesting to him. He kept an eye on BARF and other inventions that started coming out again. Bucky and Natasha collected, collated and analysed data with the same ruthless efficiency as they did anything else. 

 

FRIDAY had told him he had no messages again as he flopped on the sofa, next to Natasha and for a change. Bucky was sitting, perched on the back of the sofa cleaning one of his new knives whilst reading over Natasha's shoulder. The others dotted around the room casually. 

Clint was flicking through channels and went through 7 that each had Tony on, discussing this or that. Steve didn't really understand most of it, politics or science. It wasn't that important. Wanda rolled her eyes before talking. 

"God he is on every channel isn't he?" 

"Hm, he got the amendments to the Accords pushed through and has been working with senators from states all over pushing different laws. To keep young supers safe and make the Accords protect Supers too. It'll give us greater control of our missions. Then there are the green initiatives, he's been speaking to the EU too. He had a meeting with Merkel last night. He's in Italy tomorrow and then he's travelling all over Europe. I don't know how he does it. When does he sleep?"

Steve blinked, because Clint sounded impressed . He had thought Clint was still antagonistic towards the man, he wondered when that happened. He also thought about what Clint said, that did seem like a lot… 

"That's barely the tip of the iceberg." 

"What do you mean Natasha?" 

"Tony is powerful Steve. With a capital P, and it's got nothing to do with what Hydra did to him and all about who he is I think. He's dedicated himself to several causes, his businesses are buying up others. Mutant hiring rates went from barely nothing to unthinkable overnight. He's changing and revolutionising industries very quickly, ruthlessly and efficiently."

Steve frowned and looked at the TV which was Tony sat on a children's wards wearing a hello kitty Ironman tshirt, looking utterly ridiculous whilst reading books to children with cancer. The text at the bottom mentioned that Tony's med tech breakthroughs could save their lives.

"He's been playing 3d chess while everyone else is losing at snakes and ladders."

Natasha glanced up from what she was doing and looked up at Bucky, who was reading something on the laptop over her shoulder. The writing in capitals claimed it was unheard of, whatever it was. Steve had no idea about it to be honest, probably something to do with politics again, he found the whole thing dishonest. That was how Hydra had practically taken over without anyone noticing. Natasha's voice was low, not a whisper, but her words were clearly for Bucky alone. Steve couldn't not listen in. 

"It probably wouldn't take much, would it Yasha?"

"To do what?"

"For him to, you know, take over ." 

"Barely a challenge." 

The two of them scoffed and returned to their individual tasks without another word. No one else turned, so maybe it was just Steve who felt like the air had suddenly been ripped out of his lungs. Bucky was running his knife over the whetstone with a repetitive grind, the noise slicing through Steve's mind as clearly as Natasha's fast typing. 

Was that what Tony was doing? 

Chapter Text

He had always worried about Tony, his morals, or rather, lack there off had always been a concern. From reading the files SHIELD had gathered and then meeting him, it had been very clear that the man didn't know the difference between right and wrong. When he had sacrificed himself for New York, he'd known that there was a chance there. That he could do good. He just needed guidance. 

Had he failed? He'd gotten so caught up in his own life, with Bucky. He hadn't had the time to devote his attention. 

Ultron should never have happened, if only he'd been more vigilant! After that, he had watched more, kept an eye on Tony. Watched him in the lab, put restrictions on FRIDAY. He would guide the man and he had seemed to take it quite well. He had been acting strangely, trying to blame Wanda for his dreams when it was clearly just his conscience. If he had had more time, maybe things would be different. 

Siberia had messed things up. Nearly 7 years with Hydra. He was worried about his health, how he was coping with his experiences and if he was getting back to normal? Now he was worried for another thing. What would 7 years of Hydra's care do to an already morally grey person? What if he had actually helped Hydra. Was he an Asset? Did they use the chair? He had mentioned having his memories removed, but he seemed to know who he was. Not like Bucky.. Maybe, now Hydra was gone he thought he'd step into its place? 

Why else would he be doing all this stuff with politics? He should have come back to the Avengers. That way they could watch out for him and make sure what he was doing was right. Potts and Rhodes were enablers of the worst kind, they'd probably let him get away with anything because he was back. 

He started asking FRIDAY 3 to 5 times a day to speak to Tony now. 

He sent Clint off on a side mission to see if he could find anything out. He didn't mention his suspicions of Tony, of course, not with FRIDAY listening. But Clint would periodically use his sources to give them an idea of what the villain underground looked like. Since the fall of Hydra his reports had been simple. Chaos. 

"Hey Cap, things are definitely changing and because of someone we know." 

Natasha and Bucky strolled over to listen, which was strange, but they'd been spending more time with each other lately. He'd been meaning to ask Bucky if they were together or not. He was not sure how much he approved, but he couldn't deny the fact that he was smiling more. 

"What is it?" 

"Mr Gold is back, and he's been slipping into territories that have been left is chaos after The Fall.." 

"Is he here?" 

"No, no, our bad guys are still a mess. He's not made it anywhere near New York yet. He's moving fast though. Thorough, ruthless and deadly efficient. The police hate to say it, but some of the areas he's hit, things have actually improved."

"What do you mean? "

"Some areas have seemingly gone over night from 6 gangs in all out war to cooperation. He's the kind of bad guy they'd arrest if they had to, but grudgingly accept he's not bad for the area. Like Marcone. Word is they've joined forces."

Natasha hummed, nodding as she clearly knew who this man was. Bucky nodded too. 

"Marcone runs a tight ship. No drugs in certain areas too. Chicago has improved with him on top."

Steve frowned has had to jump in, because he was confused. 

"Wait, is this a bad guy?" 

"Minimizing excessive suffering as it is the most efficient way to run a business is practically Marcone's motto." 

Steve just stared at Natasha as Clint clapped him on the shoulder. 

"The world isn't always white and black Cap. Marcone is a killer, earns his livelihood on human misery and suffering, peddling in drugs, flesh and stolen goods. He is also a soldier and a warrior. He has a code, and since he rose to power, deaths and crime are actually way down. He is ruthless with his business and against people who break that code, especially when it comes to kids. From what I've been able to tell, people are putting Mr Gold in the same group as him, it's a very small group.. If they've really joined forces.."

"He might even come our way, we have a dangerous power vacuum after Hydra fell.." 

"Are you guys seriously talking about wanting, what, to invite a killer mobster to set up shop here?" 

"Cap, 4 kids were killed in drive by last night over drug territories. Shit like that wouldn't happen under Marcone." 

"Clint, what? Why aren't we doing something about this?" 

"Because not everything is for the Avengers, some stuff is managed by the police, anyway, we're going to do some research, Tony is speaking at the EU in an hour and I don't want to miss it." 

Natasha waved and Bucky left with her. His shoulder bumping hers and he ached that he was left out such things. At the same time, his head was reeling. He couldn't believe that having crime lords was the best option. 

"Why has this guy gone from destroying Hydra to mob boss anyway?" 

"Who knows? I can't find out much about him. No one remembers his face, even people he spends time with. All they remember is golden eyes, gold mist, just gold in general and that he knows your deepest desires and can give you exactly what you want. Everyone says exactly the same thing, it's creepy, no two people ever give eye witness reports the same."

"Well the last part doesn't sound bad, unless it's bad guys of course. Still, isn't that a bit odd for a bad guy?"

"You're forgetting one thing Cap." 

Clint turns to head off to his room, from the time he assumes its to speak to his kids before coming back to watch Tony. The farm is too far away for his to visit and get back in time because of the bracelets and bringing the Barton's here is far too much of a risk. 

He calls out after him, still so confused by this whole situation. 

"What's that?" 

"The price Cap. There is always a price."




Steve starts to watch more about Tony, not as much as Natasha, and now Bucky it seems, as the pair are usually together after all. He also doesn't quite understand everything happening. He knew Tony had a company that Pepper ran, but he had simply thought that was one thing. He hadn't realised how big it was. Or, how it seemed to be everywhere. With all these other, connected companies spanning many industries he couldn't keep up. 

Tony however after a year of freedom, had completely handed the reigns to Potts, more than before, he didn't even seem to show up for board meetings anymore, although he did still design and the company was still called Stark Industries. To free him up for other endeavours as Pepper followed his wishes apparently. There was a lot of speculation as to why he had placed the entire company in Pepper's hands and it had him uncomfortable. 

But then, he figured that anyone should be uncomfortable with the idea of Tony Stark as president. Hopefully it was just a silly rumour. 

There was a little pushback, but not for the reasons he thought. It was more about having an enhanced person in the role than anything else. 

There wasn't another election due for three years anyway, but he had to agree with the people online, it did seem like Tony was planning something. He had been visiting other countries often, who knows what he was up to. 

He bet that he was doing something shady too. With no one to guide him after all, Steve figured that he would do anything to achieve his goals. This was Ultron all over again, but this time the world was vulnerable. It was still recovering from Hydra. Like Clint had said about Gold taking up territory in the chaos, Tony could be doing the same through politics. He wondered if they'd met, he had mentioned the man a few times in interviews. 

Sure, the things he was trying to get done looked good and beneficial, but unlike Clint, he thought how you got there mattered to. Tony needed to come back into the family so they could watch over him. 

Natasha is unsure about helping him, the team has most ignored his constant messaging of the genius, something that has irritated Steve because he is trying to help. Bucky has told him on more than one occasion that after Siberia, Tony owes them nothing. Which is another reason Tony needs to visit, to apologise to Bucky over Siberia. 

Wanda doesn't want to see him, which he understands because of her parents. But they had a few hard discussions on the subject and she agreed that maybe it was best to have Tony return to the fold. She promised to try and work to forgiving Tony. 

Sam had actually become quite intimidated by Tony, Steve realises. At first he had been quite disdainful of the Tony he had read and heard about, but since he returned from captivity, Sam had been following Tony's political career. He tried to explain it to Steve, the good things, but Steve explained that politics was the reason Hydra lived. Sam didn't agree but the conversation has been dropped. When Steve asked Sam to send messages to him too he had backed out of it. Definitely intimidated. 

Clint just told Steve to attach his name, he didn't care enough either way. Steve would get angry, but it is nearly Nate's 8th birthday and he's only ever seen his father on video chat. Clint is allowed to be annoyed. 

He even considered trying to contact Scott again, but he was also on house arrest, just in California to be near his kid. There wasn't much he could do from there. 



A week later Natasha dropped down next to him, offered a small flash of a smile before sighing. 

"Fine. I will help you. But we do this carefully. I don't want a repeat of what got us into this situation."

Steve nodded rapidly, finding himself smiling widely. He had started to wonder if Natasha would ever forgive him for how the events spiralled during the Civil War. Even all these years old, Natasha was very capable of holding a grudge. 

"You leave Clint out of it." 

"He said-" 

"Those are my terms Steve. You leave Clint out of it. I'm not sure if I will ever forgive you for pulling Clint in. He was retired. So, don't repeat the mistake and I'll start adding pressure to get Tony here. What you do when you get here is all on you. Personally, I don't think it's a good idea. He obviously has not forgotten and definitely has not forgiven."

Steve sighed, Rubbing his temples and wondering how long this mess was going to drag out. They were at the better part of a damned decade now. 

"I'm sure after his experiences under Hydra that he doesn't blame Bucky anymore.. "

"Steve. That isn't just it and you know it. That isn't what started the fight I saw in Siberia." 

"You...you saw? How?" 

“Yes, when I was trying to find Tony back in 2016, I scoured that base. Top to bottom for a shred of evidence and found a recording system that didn't fit, obviously from Zemo. I took the tapes and destroyed what was left because I doubt he had good plans with it. So yes Steve. I watched you attack and beat a grieving baseline human and leave him injured, trapped in Siberia, to freeze to death.."

"He was going to kill Bucky!" 

"Steve, you've seen what the suit can do. You two tag teaming him was great and all, but he has missiles that can destroy tanks on that suit. The only time he used a serious weapon was to stop Yasha removing the reactor. He held back, whereas you did not. You abandoned him without a look back to freeze to death."

"That.. That's not what happened. He was fine, talking.."

"Of course he was, it's Tony. When does he ever pay attention to his body in pain? He was without power. In Siberia and he was a human nearing 50 Steve. He was nearly dead when Hydra finally turned up. It… took a long time. You should watch it and see exactly what you did Steve. "

" I.. Uh.. "

"The reason he won't forgive you is that you knew Steve. For over 2 years, you knew. You used his money to find the man who killed his parents. You knew it wasn't an accident. You even lied to me about telling him.. I suspect he has already forgiven Yasha for his part in his parents' death. I knew Tony quite well, I had to. Not that junk profile for Fury had me write, but the real Tony at his core. He is forgiving and accepting to a fault. No matter how people hurt him, if he takes them in as family, he will be there. That's why, against everything he believed in, he still went to find you in Siberia Steve. "

Steve nods, because he knows this about Tony. Many don't see it. Just seeing the made for TV personality that he shows the world. Under it, he's fiercely loyal, he sees it in their gear, their home. Things he makes. Tony was bad at expressing affection, he had no idea why considering how good of a man Howard was. But Tony was soft underneath everything. He had his faults, but then most people do and friends help each other m that's why he needed Tony back at the compound. Someone could be manipulating him, after what happened to him at Hydra, he needs his help more than ever. 

"You're nodding Steve, so I know you don't get it. Tony would forgive practically anything. But not a personal betrayal like that, which is what you did to him. For years you used him and lied to him. Tony now? He's a lot harder than he was. He will not forgive you Steve."

"It's OK Natasha, I know you had to profile him, but I know Tony as a friend. Not a.. mark, and I think with some prompting, he'll understand why I did it. He'd have done it for Rhodey."

"You could have contacted someone after you left thank bunker Steve. He lay there for a long time before Hydra showed. If you'd told T'Challa when you first arrived. You could have saved him years of hell." 

"Bu-"

"We also have no idea as to the extent of his memory loss." 

He wondered if that could work in their favour. It might even be why he hadn't returned any of his calls. 

"I did some research into the Hydra base he was held, I found out a little more. Do you want to know what it was called Steve? "

His mouth was dry and more than anything he wanted to say no because he could tell it was something bad from the look on her face, he'd been carrying this guilt for long enough. He deserved a break, but he didn't say that to Natasha. He had a feeling that it wouldn't have been received well. 

"The Charnel House."

Natasha just stood and walked away without another word, the Charnel House? That… sounded bad. What did the base do exactly? Clint hadn't found anything useful as to what it did. Did they have him building things? The unknowns were driving him to distraction. 

However he was sure she was reading this situation wrong, he hoped she understood. He knew that the Red Room had damaged her, that made it hard for her to understand things like this. He hoped that she wouldn't stop helping him though. 




Three weeks later, he was still no closer to Tony and in between missions, it felt like all he did was try to get in touch with Tony and track him. Tony was in Hong Kong right now, doing God's know what. He forced himself to make time for the team. Running with Bucky and Sam. Sparring with Natasha and Clint and their dinner outings with himself and Wanda. Group training too. Everyone was slowly starting to use their new found freedom more and Steve found himself anxious when they did. 

He blamed the pardons and this ridiculous house arrest. Before this, them going out had never concerned him. After spending practically all their time together. Missions and then stuck inside the compound for years suddenly having them go out on their own made him antsy. Especially Bucky with his lack of knowledge of this century. He always came back fine, but each time, he wondered. Even if the bracelets forced them all home by 1am.

Pepper turned up, which was strange as she had barely been by since Tony had reappeared. He figured that they had restarted their relationship. She had been sending lackys in her place that refused to take messages to Tony. 

"Good Morning Rogers." 

"Good Morning, what brings you here today?" 

"I'm here to speak to Barton, ah there he is. I'll go and speak to him now."

Clint looked slightly baffled when Pepper began walking over to him, his face switching between several emotions from shock, fear and tentative hope before shutting down completely and leading the redhead away. 

"What's Pepper here for?" 

Steve jumped when Natasha appeared next to him, head tilted, looking in the direction of Pepper and Clint, slightly confused. 

"No idea, didn't say much to me, just said she needed to speak to Clint, I hope Tony but pulling some stunt to hurt Clint. He's been through enough."

"I doubt Tony would do that." 

"Well he's still punishing us by ignoring us for things that happened nearly a decade ago. "

"First, ignoring doesn't mean punishing us Steve. It's completely probable he has simply moved on after our betrayals. Second, to us it's been nearly a solid decade. To Tony.. Who knows what Hydra did to him, but he's basically been on pause for those 7 years." 

He frowned as he wasn't quite sure about all of that, whilst it did make some sense he guessed. 

"We'll wait and see what Clint say. It might have nothing to do with Tony. Pepper runs our funding alone." 

"That's why I need to talk to him. If we could get him back in charge of the funding I imagine things would go back to how they used to be. Pepper's way seems pointlessly complicated." 

"Paper trail. It makes sure that they want to know where the money goes."

"It's not like Tony is in short supply."

"Doesn't mean he has to give us everything we want. Doesn't mean he owes us anything at all in fact. Shush, they're coming."

Clint look ecstatic, he was pretty sure he had never seen the archer smile this hard in his life. 

"Cap, Nat, you'll never guess what. I'm going home!" 

Natasha perked up, moving to hug Clint, who was practically vibrating on the spot. 

"Thats fantastic! Laura will be thrilled and the kids are going to be over the moon!" 

"I suspect I'll be sleeping on the sofa for a bit but I don't care because I'll be home !" 

"What, how? Are you free now? Is that?"

Pepper sorting through her files before handing a manilla folder which he practically hugged to his chest. 

"Clint has agreed to switch his house arrest from the compound to his family home."

"I get an extra year to make up for the lack of community service, but who gives a shit because its with my family. I'd take 10 years. This deal is phenomenal. Thanks Pep, I.. Just. Thank you and who ever swung this."

"Well, I'll be on my way, in one week a van will be by to pick up everything you want to take and take you home."

Clint was so excited he didn't realise Pepper slipped away before he had a chance to talk to her. 

The had a party for Clint, and whilst Steve was happy that he'd get to see his family, he doesn't want to lose such a strong asset to the team. Natasha apparently doesn't have the same contacts with the underground, or whatever it is called, Steve isn't sure. She did have once, before the data dump, but had told him that such activities were no longer safe for her. 

He wished that Clint was staying. They only had a year until they're up for evaluation and the chances are that they will be able to remove the bracelets, and function normally as a supers team under the Accords. Maybe even recruit. 

He waits until after the cake, that Natasha managed to run out quickly and find, has been cut to talk to Clint privately. Well as private as you can get when there are people with super senses in the room. 

"We only have 11 months left until the review, if you waited until then you could go home and return to be part of the team whenever you want you wouldn't have an extra year of being stuck inside." 

"Steve. If that van could arrive tomorrow, I'd take it. If it added 3 decades to my pardon, I would take it. I love the team man. I always will, but I need to see my family. I think over 7 years is enough, don't you? Don't fight me on this Steve. I want to enjoy my week with all of you." 

Steve nodded, knowing that he was beat.

Chapter Text

The day before Clint was to leave, Steve was pretty depressed, so Sam and Wanda were trying to cheer him up with pancakes. He was upset about Clint and thinking about Tony, and Bruce. Another one who ran away from the team. At least Clint and Tony had a reason when they pulled away. 

Tony was trying to make a go of it with Pepper and Clint wanted his family. They both came back when things got hard. He didn't even know where Bruce was. He hadn't even thought about the man in years. 

"Rogers." 

He only just realised that the room had gone quiet when the words finally registered across his mind, people had stopped talking and they were gawking at the door. Even Clint and Natasha looked stunned before their faces switched to the familiar blank masks. Bucky was up in his windowsill, eating ice cream, watching Tony's every move. 

Steve scrambled to stand until he was in front of the man, several feet between them and it was like a punch to the diaphragm. He hadn't realised it, but until right now, he hadn't believed it was real. 

Part of him had still thought Tony had died and was lost after Siberia. 

Now, he was stood in front of him. He'd forgotten how short he was, which was a completely random thing to pop into his head. He was wearing his hair slightly longer than he used to, bordering an edge between styled like that and mess from bed. 

His eyes seemed harder than they used to, rich brown with gold flecks had always made them look amber to him, the yellow lighting up in the sun to shimmer with gold. It was still there, but he scanned the room with a cool analytical look until he locked onto Steve with an intensity he swore he could feel. 

There were a number of silvery scars on his face too, which was new. He knew Tony had scars. His hands had been covered and he'd seen a number of his arms, from working too hard. Only briefly as Tony tended to keep them covered up. But now, there were two larger, thicker ones, one that ran from his scalp, down his eyelid to the middle of his cheek on the left side of his face. Another from the center of his chin, up to below his right eye. He assumed that whatever alteration, serum or something had increased his healing as they had the potential to be two very nasty scars. Yet they had a quality reminiscent more to stretch marks instead. They were barely noticeable compared to what they could be. There were a dozen or so smaller ones on his face and neck. A thick one started on the side of his neck, millimeters from his jugular, vanishing down, into his shirt. 

Why hadn't the cameras picked these up he wondered, or at least he hadn't seen them but then he had always been moving or from far enough away. That and he might have paid them off? Although he didn't seem bothered by these scars, not like he used to be. Maybe he'd just missed them, not wanting to see. 

Everything was jarring, it was like he was here but that he was not the Tony he remembered, coupled with the cool, hard look in his eyes.. Steve had no idea what to say. 

There was just so much similar and different at the same time. Same height, but even through the shirt he could tell he was slightly bulkier, broader across the chest. His eyes scanned the room, hypervigilant, but he was still. Not fidgeting, it was unnerving. Like if he stopped looking at him he'd disappear. There was an… edge to him that had never been there before, like he was waiting but ready to move. His suit still looks expensive and tailored, sunglasses were hanging from his pocket. 

He probably shouldn't be noticing all these things, but it's been so long and so many years that he thought he was dead and gone. That he can at least admit in the space of his mind, that he felt like he'd contributed to this. That he'd carried those years, carried the idea he was part of the events that had taken Tony Stark from the world, and that he'd missed him

Usually, Tony can't abide silence, even as this stretches on, that first word ringing in the air, he remains still. Eyes heavy on him, analysing every detail of him, seemingly unconcerned by the Avengers gawking at him. His eyes don't even flit to Wanda nervously like they used to, which gives him hope. If he had gotten over Wanda, they could talk more. He's sure if Tony apologised a few more times, with more thought into it, that Wanda could forgive him. 

Nat has a look of longing on her face that he can see out of the corner of his eye. Everytime she realises she's slipped she tried to blank her features again. He hadn't realised how much she cared about the engineer, but he supposed it made sense, they had been close friends until what happened at the airport, Steve knows she regrets her decision. Made to potentially save lives but nearly cost Tony his life.

Clint is carefully neutral, which is a huge improvement. 

He sees Wanda slip out of the room, wondering why before realising. Her telepathic ability has a tendency to skim memories of people, Tony had been away long enough that it probably reached out and she got a head full of what happened to him at Hydra.

Sam he sees last out of the other peripheral, and he's gawking at Tony, with a look that Steve is going to tease him for later. 

Maybe if this goes well, he could even stay. 

"Have you been pestering my AI for so long just to stare at me Rogers?" 

"No, it's just a shock all. I didn't think you'd come so soon or.." 

There was something there, but then a blink and it was gone, as a flash of a smile crossed his face. Turning swiftly on his heel in a dismissive gesture, he walks away from Steve without a word to stand in front of Clint and Natasha, shaking hands with Clint first, his blank facade cracking into a smile at the mention of going home to his family. 

"Was in the neighbourhood. Congrats Birdbrain. Hear you're going home?" 

"Yeah, tomorrow, I can't wait to see them."

"Well, pass along my regards. Little Natka, I have something for you."

Everyone tensed as Tony slipped his hand into the inside of his jacket, the edge of his lips quirking in amusement, seemingly at the heightened tension of the atmosphere. He simply pulled out a bag of candies that had Russian on the bag. Natasha's face lit up as he handed them to her, she took them tentatively, full on smiling and Steve realised that Natashas real smile was more devastating than any sexy smirk he'd seen her wear. He caught her right hand and somehow managed to bring it to his lips, brushing a light kiss without looking strange. Steve was pretty sure he'd look like an idiot if he tried something like that. He shot her a quick wide smile, winking as he moved to Bucky's window. 

He snagged one of the stools carelessly with his foot, swiped it across the floor and in a single movement. It stopped right in front of the windowsill, so he didn't even have to pause as he stepped onto it. 

The window was high, so they weren't quite face to face, but he was close enough to offer his arm without having to awkwardly stretch up. Steve thought that Bucky looked a mixture of a deer in headlights and utterly enraptured as he reached to shake his hand, causing Steve to frown slightly. He had worried that Tony would hyper focus on the tech, on his arm, but strangely he wasn't. He focused on Bucky with the same intensity as he had on him, which was definitely strange. He frowned, wondering if he should intervene as Bucky generally avoids speaking to people, and eye contact, yet he seemed okay. He mostly looked confused to Steve, probably wondering why the whirlwind of Tony Stark had landed at his door. 

Tony's voice is low enough, not quite a whisper but maybe quieter and as if he'd dropped a little for privacy, so much that Steve questions if he heard what he said correctly. He did notice the fact that the 'hand shake' had seemingly slowed, and was now more accurately described as Tony holding Bucky's hand more than anything now. He figured Bucky was too polite to pull his hand free and couldn't help but frown. 

"And what do you go by these days darling?" 

"James, or uh, Soldat. Natalia calls me Yasha." 

"Hmm all very fine choices, you enjoying your time at the compound Soldat." 

"More and more every day." 

As Tony was facing Bucky, all Steve can see is the back of Tony's head as he tries to make sense of the interaction. He can't puzzle it out. Still holding hands, he swears Bucky's eyes darkened and for a moment he was concerned the Winter Soldier would make an appearance because Tony was antagonising Bucky. He thinks he should say something but he just feels stuck, like he has no idea what to say. Just as he's about to think of something, Tony releases Bucky's hand. 

"That's great darling. At some point the two of us should get together and sort out that travesty you have been lumbered with, hmm?" 

"That.. would be great, thank you." 

"I'll be seeing you soon then, Soldat." 

As Tony hops down, Steve was utterly perplexed to see Bucky blushing but his face shuts down, leaving him wondering if he'd imagined it. He figured it was the heat in the room or something. Either that or he doesn't like Tony's nicknames and constant flirting. Or calling him darling, where the hell had that come from? 

Bucky picked up his ice cream and focused on it as Tony crossed to Sam. Who already looked like a deer in the headlights before Tony even reached him, already seconds away from freaking out and that was before Tony even offered his hand. Which Sam shook with maybe a touch too much force, but Tony offered Sam a warm smile. 

"Birdbrain 2.0, you keeping up on managing the wings? I saw the past mission on the news and was pleased to see them in such pristine condition. I'm impressed." 

Tony raised an eyebrow as Sam nodded rapidly, grinning like an idiot at the compliment which had Buck and Clint snickering. 

"Yeah, they're a beautiful piece of tech, it's very intuitive."

"Not to many people, most people wouldn't have a clue, I do have something for you though. I'm starting to feel like santa here." 

Tony grinned before slipping his hand into the other side from where he had fetched Natasha's sweets from. This time, the atmosphere stayed perfectly relaxed, which he swears Tony grinned at. Pulling out a StarkPad. Steve wasn't sure, but he hazarded a guess that it was a new version, it didn't look like the ones they had nor what Pepper had. It was so thin it was almost like paper. Sam took it tentatively as a holographic image of the Falcon wings hovered in the air above the screen. Sam's eyes going wide as they scanned across the information. 

"This.. This is.." 

"All the information about the Falcon wings from their creation to any new notes I jotted down. I have some equipment being sent to the workshop too, it needs a new owner. So you keep them humming and maybe even upgrade them?" 

Sam blinked up from the screen, settling on Tony's face with a look bordering on awe this time. Steve didn't know why, this just felt like Tony trying to shirk his responsibility for maintaining their equipment onto Sam. 

"Thank you, man, uh, Mr? Dr Stark? This is, just, wow." 

"Call me Tony Birdbrain 2.0. I'd like to see any changes you make too, could be fun, maybe colab." 

Tony winked, leaving Sam stuttering as he cross to the door. Pinning Steve with a hard look and tilting his head towards the hall, the look was all the more noticeable now compared to the interest that had sparked in his eyes when talking about the wings with Sam, or the softness he saw with Clint and Natasha. Tony didn't look back to see if Steve followed the instruction, just passed Rhodes and Pepper into the hall without comment as if he expected Steve to follow. 

He followed, because this is what he had wanted. Tony at the compound, although now he was here all of a sudden, with no warning, he was left floundering. He entered the hall, wondering what Tony would actually say to him after the silent treatment since his miraculous return from the dead. 

These felt like apologies without saying the actual words, which irked Steve somewhat. When apologising, you should actually say the words. He sent Tony an apology note before he realised Tony had not made it home 

The door closed behind him, realising that Pepper and Rhodes had closed it, putting themselves in the common room with the others, and leaving himself and Tony alone in the hallway. The soundproofed hallway that led to the front of the building was very well done, even to his ears, he could hear nothing from the common room. He had his back to him, as Steve couldn't guess his state of mind, but he was completely still again, head raised as if watching something at the end of the hall, his breathes long and measured as Steve couldn't help fidgeting. He never fidgeted before, he used to find Tony's constant movement damned irritating. Now he found himself missing it and his body seemed to want to make up for the loss. 

Tony turned and his eyes were still hard, cold and analytical. There was no smile on his face, it was a mask of disinterest like Natasha and Bucky wore. It was so similar in fact, that it was eerie. 

"So. What do you want?" 

It took Steve a second to parse the question, he had wanted to get Tony here, to bring him home, keep him safe and hold him like a compass pointing true North. 

"None of us had seen you since.. You came back." 

He swallowed thickly at that, he didn't like thinking about where Tony had been all these years. He assumed that Tony probably didn't want the reminder either. 

"We just wanted to make sure you were okay. Was hoping that maybe you'd come back. Stay here occasionally, be part of the family again. I thought you'd enjoy making equipment and stuff, even if you didn't want to by Ironman again, which makes sense. Better than all this politics stuff you're caught up in. You'd be around people who know what you went through. So I could keep an eye on you too, like old times."

He had hoped Tony would smile, remembering the good times. Instead his look sharpened and he took a threatening step forward, so he was as close to him now as he had been with the others to shake their hands. 

"Like old times where you jeered and watched with suspicion, in case I created another Ultron? Like old times when you used me, played me, hid the murder of my parents whilst berating me for having secrets? Like old times where you beat until my bones cracked whilst I was grieving? Like when you left me to freeze to death choking on my own blood with constant panic attacks of drowning? Like when Hydra turned up, I stupidly thought you had come back for me? Like years of pain, suffering, chaos, blood, death and servitude?"

Tony's tone didn't change at any point, it stayed measured and calm as his eyes just looked right through him. Leaving him truly nervous for one of the first times since he stepped into the chamber. He didn't know how to deal with this Tony. He expected shouting, yelling, dramatics. Not this calm, frankly terrifying list of situations. When he did smile it set his teeth on edge for some reason, it didn't match the look in his eyes. 

"My memories might be hazy Rogers. FRIDAYs are not. I will tell you this once Rogers and once will be all. I will never be your whipping boy again. I will not be your cash cow begging for a few seconds of attention that you lavish on others." 

He leaned forward, this time his voice did raise, the shout felt like it shook through him and he felt it in his bones. 

"I do not take orders ! Ponimayu?! "

Steve blinked, not sure if he was more stunned by the sheer power and vehemence in Tony's voice before he went back to that smile than had cold running down his spine. That, or, the Russian . The same way Bucky slipped of something triggered him to remember something about being the asset. Which made connections spark in his brain, wondering if Hydra had used the same chair on him too. He obviously didn't have the same triggers as Bucky. In the beginning his friend had taken comfort from clear cut orders. So he tried to avoid doing it and immediately told everyone else to be careful about it, because Bucky needed to get better , and that didn't seem a good way of doing it. Tony however, seemed to be completely enraged at the idea of an order. The visceral reaction even though Steve had not actually given one, barely even hinted at one. 

"No orders, I wouldn't do that to you Tony." 

"Then, pray tell Rogers, how exactly do you plan to coral me to your view of morality? Hmm?" 

The question was sharp, his voice even again as if the last minute hadn't even happened. He was calm, too calm, head tilted studying him. 

"Suggestions." 

"That I will be expected to follow." 

"It... It's not like that, I'm trying to help!"

"I did not ask for your help." 

"You didn't need to. That's what friends do." 

Steve wasn't sure what had happened, he'd thought he was getting through to Tony, then he was on the floor, his face was on fire and when he touched it he was bleeding. Clearly that was another trigger. He kind of expected something like this, he and Bucky had gone through something similar when working around his triggers. Before Bucky had insisted on seeing the shrink that Sam had recommended. 

Tony stood, giving him his left side as he straightened his tie in the glass frame of one of the pictures of the wall as Steve sees an unfamiliar gold ring on his middle finger of his right hand with a red stone, blood on his fingers. Tony had punched him and the ring had cut his face. 

Tony had punched him and it had been so fast he barely registered the movement, he was pretty sure something was broken too. The idea that Hydra had attempted to make him into one of the other assets, to replace Bucky and the other Winter Soldiers, Wanda too, was growing. He wondered how many of them were out there. Magical ones like Wanda and that Mr Gold, or one's with the serum, or some bastardized version of it like Bucky and maybe Tony. 

There was more of him present that Bucky though, so he wonders how far they got in the process. They had bucky for 70 years compared to Tony's near 7 after all. He blinks as he tried to clear his mind and push back the pain as Tony wiped Steve's blood off his hand with a silk handkerchief that he dropped in Steve's lap. 

"Speak to me like that again and I will not just evict you Rogers. I will ruin you." 

Steve just blinks up at him, Tony used to deal threats either of fiery rage or sarcastic quips. He swallows thickly and thinks that this calm, measured Tony, with a blistering rage and fire moving behind his cool stare, this is terrifying in a way Tony never used to be. Wondering if this was part of Tony from before, thinking of Bucky and realising that yes, it was probably there the whole time. Because the quiet rage Bucky could shift into to cut through people, it had always been there. Hydra had just.. Sharpened it. 

Realising that Tony could have always turned this side on him. That in every argument that Tony had been going easy on him in some way. Like in Siberia. That Tony no longer deemed him a person deserving of mercy. He flinched at the memory of a raised shield as he eyed his neck, before diverting to the arc reactor. Thinking about the sheer force he'd slammed it in. He had decided on no mercy first. Tony.. Was following his lead. He could fix this. He had to. 

"I just want things to go back to before." 

"Of course you do. You were on the top, everything came up Steve and all the blame landed on Tony. You taught me that we were never friends Rogers. Suck it up and stop fucking stalking me. Only contact me if you have a real reason. I won't be here to take the blame for everything. Every further complaint regarding funding will be met with a 50% decrease. The only equipment I have a hand in with be via private offers I make. Understood? "

Steve tried to think of something to say, anything to turn this situation around. There had to be something. But sat on the floor staring up at a disinterested Tony Stark and his mouth was dry. 

"Understood?" 

"Yes."

"Good. Do not push me Rogers. This time, I will push back." 

With that Tony stepped past him to head for the exit as he wiped the blood of his face. Pepper and Rhodes shot him a look that told him that they thought he'd gotten exactly what he deserved. 

They just proved him right all along. 

Enablers. 

Chapter Text

After the door to the building closed and the three people had passed his enhanced senses, he picked himself up and dusted himself down. The break at least felt clean and he could feel it starting to knit itself back together. The cut had already healed and a small degree of telltale redness lingers, but then hiding in the hall would also make it obvious something was up. 

He was trying to work out ways to potentially get Tony to spend more time at the compound, therefore away from the influences of Rhodes and Pepper. He would have to be very careful, as Tony was not at all receptive to the idea of him helping. Especially as he didn't even think they were friends now. 

Of course they were friends. Yes, things had gone sideways, but that didn't mean the two of them couldn't work to bring it back with a bit of effort. He pushes the rest of Tony's words down. They were said in anger to hurt him, that was all. 

Wanda had not returned from her room, Sam was lost in the strange paper thin tablet that Tony had left him. Grinning widely, more than he had seen from the man in a long time. He was happy for Sam, he really was. He hadn't realised how interested Sam was in the technical side of his gear. He wondered how Tony managed to notice despite barely knowing Sam before the civil war and today being literally the first time he'd seen him since.

Natasha and Clint where huddled over his phone, likely going through pictures of the kids, as she hugged the bag of sweets to her chest. Slowly unwrapping each one and savouring it. Clint rolling his eyes.

Bucky seemed lost in his thoughts, eating what looked like a different tub of ice cream. 

"You get everything of your chest? I know you've been trying to get Tony here since we saw that press conference." 

"I think it's a process Sam. I'll give him time, I understand that he is angry. We'll just be to make sure he can visit more often the more time he spends with us the better I think." 

He dropped down on the sofa and Sam tossed him the remote, which was strange. Generally when Sam had the remote wild horses could not tear it from his grasp. 

He didn't feel like doing much for the rest of the day and neither did anyone else really. At around 9pm, Bucky silently dropped down from his windowsill. 

"Where you off to Buck?" 

"Out. Looks like a nice night." 

"Want some company?" 

"Na, I'm fine." 

Steve shrugged, he was quite tired and his face was still hurting a little bit anyway. Running would probably make it worse. Bucky returned about 10 minutes later, changed and wearing a heavy leather coat to protect him from the beginnings of winter. Which told him Bucky was planning on running in the cold for a while and he was quite happy this was a run he fancied doing alone. He knew running helped him sort through things and today had been quite bizarre he supposed from an outside perspective. Tony could definitely scramble your brain. 

Everyone waved as they saw him take off in the direction of the forest jogging and allowed himself to doze slightly on the sofa. Tomorrow they were helping Clint load all of his boxes onto the van. The archer had surprised himself by how much he had. Like Natasha, they tended to live out of a bag under the floorboards, that they could grab and leave with any minute. Discovering he had gathered so much, a lot of it before the years of being legally tied to the compound had been a shock. 

He nearly tried to talk him out of it again, but a sharp jab in the ribs from Natasha had him holding his tongue. 

He didn't get it, his way and Clint could see his family in a year whenever he wanted, without being trapped in or around the house. Where ever the bracelet was set to now. This way, Clint was trapped at the farm for two years and unable to join the team on missions. Although he'd left it open with the end of the world clause. It seemed like a no brainer to him, but it was clear that the others thought differently. 

 

As the van drove away, Clint waving a purple knitted flag out of the window that Bucky made, he felt like his team was slipping away from him again was filled with a sense of foreboding that it wouldn't be the last. 



Things were quiet for the next month, their missions had been pretty simple peacekeeping missions that the UN had requested their help on. 

Steve in particular hated these missions, because if the talks failed and the two sides did end up resorting to warfare, they were ordered to stand down because they couldn't pick a side. 

It irked Steve because he could help and people were dying. The Accords tying his hands, this was exactly the kind of stuff he had warned Tony about. Natasha was rubbing her temples as she spoke to him, clearly irritated at the situation that they were stuck in. 

"Steve, there is nothing we can do." 

"Yes there is, we could go out there and fight." 

"On whose side exactly." 

"The good guys."

"Steve, didn't you actually read the file? These are two neighbouring countries, that were split after Hydra was rooted out. They're both trying to get on their feet but are having border disputes because there are resources close to said border. There are no good guys and bad guys. There are just guys ."

"We help the side that didn't start the fight."

"It's not that simple man and this isn't something we can get involved in. If they come back to the table, then we can help. This kind of stuff happens all the time and it never bothered you before."

"Wait. What? I thought this was cause of Hydra?" 

"Partially in this case, sure. But countries have been having border disputes since the dawn of time Steve. Wars happen. Even before the civil war. It was usually on the news." 

"I've seen how reporters twist information so I mostly avoided it." 

"If it wasn't for the Accords, we wouldn't even have had a chance to help. The last 8 times we've been sent out on these missions it's been successful. There's more to it than just fighting man." 

Sam shook his head and strolled put, leaving Steve wondering just how much he had missed from before the Civil War. He was still unsure of the Accords, the document was two inches thick and he doubted half of it was understandable to people without a legal degree. He brought up his tablet and searched for the Accords amendments and discovered that Tony was in Wakanda at the moment, working with T'Challa on 12 new amendments. 

If a document needed changing as much as people seemed to think then it should just be scrapped. 

He couldn't ignore the fact that people were happy with it however. Even if he didn't understand why. 




"Natasha, where are you going, this isn't the way to the compound." 

"That's because Yasha is going to Stark Tower. He's been granted permission by the parole board because Tony is fixing his arm. Well. The socket this time around I think, what was it Yash?" 

Buck blinked himself awake, flinching slightly as the gears in the arm ground out. It had been doing that a lot since it had gotten damaged on a mission. Tony had dropped by and had been, according to Bucky, utterly appalled. He'd missed the interaction entirely as he had taken Wanda out for lunch, he wondered if Tony had planned it that way. 

"Yeah, Tony got a hold of the original documentation from Hydra about the socket and we spent the last 2 weeks designing a new one. I'll be gone for 2 weeks because of how bad it is apparently. Then I'll be back at the compound because the parole board won't agree to more than 2 weeks. "

Bucky shrugged and returned to dozing as Steve was left blinking slightly. That was the most he'd heard the man say in one go in ages. 

"I wish you would be told me Buck, we could have asked for me to come too so you won't be alone." 

"I won't be alone? Tony is there. Pepper and Rhodey visit the tower a lot, and Vision is there too. Tony has a few others living St the tower too that he's told me about." 

"He can get a bit caught up in the workshop is all. You need someone there to reign him in and remind him there is a human attached to the arm." 

"He's been great developing the socket. I was all go for him to blast ahead and do everything at once. He's the one insisting I go slow and heal in between operations." 

"Operations?!" 

"Yeah, the Socket, its causing serious problems and needs to go." 

"Is that you or Tony talking." 

Steve was getting angry and Bucky just frowned at him, shaking his head. 

"It's me Steve. This thing hurts, it's constantly shredding and scraping at the bone so it won't heal around the socket, Hydra couldn't work out a way to stop it. I trust him." 

"Well, you shouldn't." 

"Didn't you want him to build me an arm? The teams gear?" 

"Yes, but under supervision Buck! You weren't here for Ultron, you wouldn't understand." 

"Ultron wasn't his fault." 

"Of course it was, he built it." 

"Under duress, with Dr Banner. And the code that ran as Ultron wasn't from either of them. I've seen the tapes, Miss FRIDAY showed me, saw you toss your shield at his chest too. You're lucky he called the suit in time or you would have killed him."

With that, Bucky closed his eyes, signalling an end to the conversation. Steve was left unable to do anything about it as they carried on. Wanda gave him a pointed look, she was suspicious of Tony and he had to admit, this was odd. He had shown little interest in getting back to work with their gear, but all of a sudden was fixing Bucky's arm? 

Steve closed his eyes and tried to calm down as all of their bracelets immediately turned red. They'd clearly come close enough to the tower, and it felt barely like seconds later and they were landing. A timer popped up on his band he noticed. Everyone else had one too, except Bucky. 

It signalled that they'd been given 15 minutes to drop Bucky off and then they had to get 500 metres from the tower. Bucky's bracelet suddenly flashed green, and then beeped several times. Indicating that he was now bound to this new location. Steve hated it and there was nothing he could do.

Natasha helped pull Bucky to his feet and they moved to disembark, pulling a black gym bag from one of the storage compartments, Steve decided that the least he could do was follow. Say goodbye on top of the tower, even though it was going to be windy and freezing. 

Which left him thrown when the jet opened and they were inside. That.. was different. He wondered when Tony had made these changes, and why. It wasn't like the Avengers lived here any more, what use was there for a hangar? 

Tony was leaning against a wall, dressed in a different sharp suit that again, was tailored perfectly, but missing his tie and jacket today. The buttons were undone at his throat. Given off a more casual feel

He never knew how Tony did it, but he could seemingly just lean against things and somehow look like a perfect piece of artwork or something. It had always amused and irritated Steve as he occasionally felt too big. Even after all these years of adjustment to the serum. It was like he didn't know what to do with himself where Tony seemed to be able to perfectly drape himself artfully across chairs with complete ease. 

Seeing Natasha and Bucky disembark, he pushed himself to standing, walking over to them both, not seeing him yet as he'd not exited the jet. He hung back waiting to see how he received Bucky. 

"Ah darling Soldat and my little Natka, I assume the UN didn't give you too much trouble? How is the arm, still shocking you." 

"After a mild conflict we got the parties back to the table, good mission in all." 

He frowned, annoyed that Natasha seemed to be giving Tony a debrief for their mission, when he hadn't even been involved. Tony's attention was completely on Bucky, which he supposed was a good sign when it came to treating him. 

"S'not too bad, bit zappy. "

"In other words you are in moderate to severe pain all the time, yes?" 

"Maybe?" 

"You don't have to hide your pain here darling, why don't we pop down to my lair and see if there is anything I can do tonight hmm? Good evening Rogers."

He startled, straightening up before he stepped out from the quinjet, surprised that Tony had actually spotted him. He thought he'd been stood in a location that concealed him. At least it gave him an opening to make sure his concerns were addressed. 

"Tony, just don't forget he is a person as well as tech?" 

"What did you just say to me Rogers?" 

"It's just.. He's been through a lot when it comes to the arm. I don't want you to get carried away like you do." 

"Get on the Quinjet and leave my premises right now." 

Tony glared at him but he wasn't sure what he'd done to anger him so much, and as Natasha practically hurled him onto the quinjet he couldn't clear things up. Bucky watched him go, shaking his head. He had thought he was shaking his head to Tony's attitude, but he had put a hand on Tony's shoulder to comfort him , so it was obviously directed at him. He sat in the co-pilot seat next to Natasha as she quickly and efficiently got ready to leave. He noticed her movements were jerky too. 

"What did I do? Everyone knows Tony tends to get carried away in the workshop. He even forgets to eat. It's not exactly beyond the realm of possibilities that he'd do it with someone else. I'm just worried about Bucky, he's been through so much." 

"And Tony is uniquely equipped to help him with this. Better than you or me could ever manage." 

He scoffed at that. 

"I doubt that." 

"Tony has actually experienced something close to what Yasha is going through. He had his body altered without his consent. He was operated on without anesthetic and had something implanted in his body without his consent. On top of the non consensual body modification, he has likely experienced a lot of the same things Yasha went through. Except by the time they got to Tony they had likely perfected and sped up the process. He is also a genius who can fix the mess Hydra left and build something better. "

"Oh. I ah, didn't think about it like that. What do you mean Tony was operated on? Was that with Hydra?"

"Wait, Steve. What do you know about how Ironman was created?"

"Just what SHIELD told me, he's rich and made a suit."

"O Bozhe, never just trust SHIELD Steve! Tony's godfather tried to have his assassinated in Afghanistan. A bomb went off in front of him, but did not kill him. When they realised who they had been paid to kill, they decided that having him alive was more profitable. So they forced a doctor to try and heal him. The shrapnel around his heart could not be removed, especially not in a cave in Afghanistan by one man. So they stuck a large electromagnet in his chest, removed some ribs, part of his sternum and it crushed one of his lungs, and then it was hooked up to a car battery, that Tony had to carry to and from his torture sessions. "

He was blinking as he absorbed that horrific amount of information that he had never known about his friend. He realised that Tony was likely under the impression that he knew about it. 

"Torture?"

"They wanted him to build bombs. "

"Then why torture him?"

Natasha gave him a strange look before turning her attention to navigating the jet. 

"Because he said no. Obviously."

"Why did he say no?"

"Because he was very against terrorists having his bombs. His first year as Ironman practically revolved around getting weapons away from terrorists. It was bad enough that his godfather was dealing under the table. It was finding his bombs in the hands of terrorists that made him shut down all weapons manufacturing. They waterboarded him, attached to the car battery."

"Thats why.. "

"What? "

"When we spoke in the hall, he said in Siberia he had a punctured lung."

"I guessed as much when I watched the video." 

"He said he had panic attacks from the feeling of drowning. I… never knew why. Is that why he never came in the pools or ocean?" 

"Mmhmm. He constructed the miniaturised arc reactor in the cave. Implanted it in his chest and then built the Mark one in that cave. Blasted his way out. Then walked in the desert until Rhodes found him. The first reactors ran on palladium, that was poisoning him his first year as Ironman he was dying and it was made worse each time he fought someone in the suit until he made a new element."

"Why didn't SHIELD tell me all of this."

"To manipulate you. That's what SHIELD does and you fell for it. So, now do you understand why he is the best for this job."

"Yeah, I get it."

"Then understand that you just accused him of being like Hydra, or the people who attached him up to a car battery."

She couldn't have stunned him more if she'd punched him in the chest. He ran the words back in his head before closing his eyes and bashing it against the seat. 

"Damn it."

She didn't answer him, but she was practically radiating anger towards him. Not that he could blame her. In his defence. He hadn't known any of that. He hadn't known that the arc reactor was in his chest, or that deep. The idea of something that large inside him, crushing his organs. Or just being operated on in a cave, it gave him shivers. His brain supplied him with a flash from Siberia again and he had a horrible feeling. 

"In Siberia… Was… was it still in his chest?"

"No, he'd had the shrapnel removed by then, but in high stress situations his brain still protects it like it is still in him. So yes, there is another added layer of horror from what you did. He told me once that he'd occasionally wake up with everything dark and panic, thinking it had been taken again."

Again? How much didn't he know? Steve didn't say anything after that. He didn't think he could.

This was why secrets were so dangerous in the team. If he had been told about these things, maybe some events would have worked out differently. 

Chapter Text

Over the next two weeks he started doing more research on what Tony had been doing since he had returned to the world of the living. That joking conversation Natasha had had with Bucky would not leave him alone. Especially now that Bucky was in the tower and he had no idea what was happening. 

He shared his concerns with Wanda who had agreed that he did seem to be acting suspiciously compared to before his time at Hydra, especially with how much he was doing not just in their own countries politics, but in many others. 

He seemed to be moving into a position where he could affect change to more than just the Accords and he didn't like it. 

"Steve, we have to do actual work too. Without Clint we don't know as much, but that's not an excuse to slack off. We have actual work, that has nothing to do with Gold or Tony. Tony is not even a case, everything from the place he was discovered is Classified way above our clearance."

"I know, but this is important. We haven't even gotten a glimpse of this Mr Gold, we don't even know what he looks like. Where as we know Tony and the potential danger he poses!"

"I don't know man, all I'm seeing is good things. But I'll be here, just.. Make sure this isn't going to blow up in our faces like last time?" 

"Is this just you making a case whilst Yasha is gone? Because I spoke to him last night. He's having an awesome time. He's already completely healed from the first surgery and they're organising the next. They even went out for laser tag." 

"He is why I'm doing this, I have to be sure he's safe." 

"Just be careful Steve. He likes Tony, he makes him smile." 

If Natasha meant to encourage him with that it did the opposite, he couldn't handle the idea of Bucky slipping away. 

 

When Bucky came home, he had expected him to come alone. Two voices filtered through that had the lounging Avengers sitting up like meerkats. 

"I can carry that you know, I have two arms." 

"You are already carrying two, it's the least I can do." 

"Oh don't start that again darling." 

Steve grit his teeth, he didn't know why, but everytime Tony called Bucky darling it irritated him. Worse than when he actually called him Soldat. The man seemed incapable of using his damned name. 

"So where is your room here? I had scoped out most of the compound when I moved in." 

"Hmm, ever counted the windows outside and the number of floors..?" 

"No actually. Although that does sound like something I'd do." 

Tony's and Bucky laughter filtered through and Steve stuck his head into the inner hall, briefly seeing them stood in the elevator practically surrounded by suitcases. Which was odd as Bucky only took one case. He guessed this meant that Tony was going to be staying with them for a stretch. Even though it was what he had wanted not long ago, now, Steve was… not so sure. Thinking he might not be the best influence. 

He couldn't see the new socket, Bucky was wearing a red long sleeved top that covered it, the empty, pinned left sleeve gave him chills and a small part of him wondered if Tony was drawing it out on purpose. He couldn't imagine it would take long to sort it out, the previous one that the Accords Councils financed hadn't taken long to be installed at all. 

Tony revealed a panel that he hadn't known existed and pressed him palm to a screen as Bucky expressed his excitement. He had forgotten how much Bucky loved anything tech and futuristic. Pretty much everything Tony was. The doors slid shut and the lift ascended. Steve had also forgotten about Tony's floor, he had barely stayed there before he had backed off from the Avengers for Pepper. Sam came out of the kitchen, pulling apart a grilled cheese sandwich to dip in what looked like a jar of salsa. 

"Who was that?" 

"Bucky's back. And it looks like Tony has come with him too. I'm guessing he's crashing here for a bit to help with Bucky's arm, given he was only authorised to stay at the tower for two weeks." 

"Cool, I'll go and clean up the workshop, clear him a corner? That'll probably be helpful, right? I can show him my new ideas for our gear too." 

"You know you don't have to do that Sam, Tony should be the one doing that." 

"Well, it's not his job anymore? He's busy doing other things, and I like it. It started with the wings, but he encouraged me to try other things and has been teaching me how to use his software. It's awesome." 

"Wait, when has all this been happening? Has he been here?" 

"Na man, did most of it on video chat. He also sent little instruction booklets on each piece of tech. I got him to send me like, older iterations of everyone's gear? So I could practice, you know. Plus, gotta stay in budget specifications. It's fun." 

Steve wrinkled his nose slightly. That did not sound like fun to him.

"If you say so." 

 

He practically watched the lift for Bucky to come back down. How long did it take to put some suitcases down? 

The answer was apparently 4 hours and 54 minutes. The doors opened and Tony came out chuckling to himself. Walking confidently towards the kitchen as if he owned the place. 

"Did my delivery come?" 

Steve blinked, he hadn't seen a delivery, Natasha spoke up before he had a chance. 

"Sure, came this morning, I put everything away." 

"Awesome, I'm cooking as our darling Soldat here wants me to teach him to make pasta." 

Natasha perked up immediately. 

"You're cooking?" 

Tony chuckled, pointing at Natasha. 

"See, there is a resounding vote of confidence if I ever saw one. You know how high my little Natkas standards are." 

Bucky hummed and Tony pulled Natasha in for a hug, Sam looked a little nervous but poked his head into the kitchen. 

"Did I hear fresh pasta?" 

"Yup, Pappardelle with Beef Shin and Barolo Wine Ragù. Sound good?" 

"I'm just going to say yes?" 

Tony chuckled before getting ingredients out and started a few things going before making the pasta as if he was hosting a class. Considering Sam, Natasha and Bucky were watching quite intently, he practically was. 

"Tomorrow when we aren't starving, I'll get all three of you making some." 

"Can I use a bowl, the idea of mixing it on the bench seems nerve racking."

"You'll be fine Sam, if I can not make a mess then you'll be fine." 

"What's going on?" 

Steve jumped as Wanda came up behind him. His attention had been so focused on what was going on in the kitchen that he hadn't heard her come up behind him. 

"Bucky came home, I think Tony is staying to finish his arm." 

"He can't just walk into our home and stay without consulting us!" 

"I was going to say something, but who knows if Bucky will get permission to go to the Tower again? I don't want him stuck with one arm." 

He glanced back at the four in the kitchen, surprised to find Tony watching him. Head tilted with a look of irritation on his face and then he remembered that Tony had been enhanced. That if he had the serum like Steve presumed, then he could hear them as clearly as he'd heard the people in the kitchen. 

"Right my beautiful assistants, I'm going to go and get changed into something more comfortable. Can you be trusted not to burn dinner in the 10 minutes I will be gone for?" 

Tony sounded stern but playful at the same time, eyebrow raised as Bucky and Natasha laughed at Sam who was freaking out slightly. 

"Don't worry Birdbrain, Natka won't let you burn anything, she's my taskmaster you see. No one better."

It was the contact, Steve realised, that was what was annoying him. How he casually hugged Natasha or ran his hand down Bucky's back. He seemed to constantly making these little brushes of contact between them. Not to Sam though, so there was at least that. Although he did pat him on the shoulder as he strolled away from the kitchen towards the lifts at the far end of the hall. When he was waiting for the lift, Tony spoke which made Steve jerk. He was too far away for any one in the kitchen to hear him and Wanda didn't have enhanced hearing, meaning only Steve could hear him. 

"You might want to remind your pet witch that you do not own this building, nor this land. I allow you to live on my property, in my building, that I furnished. For free might I add. Food for thought Roger's, don't piss off the landlord. Especially one who doesn't charge rent and pays all of your utilities."

He heard the doors close and Steve clenched his fist, timed perfect so he couldn't even respond. Even if he had no idea what he would have said. Worst thing was, that he was right. Tony owned the entire plot of land and built all of the buildings on it, he paid for their furniture. He hadn't even thought about rent or bills, he'd hadn't had to think about electricity, gas or water bills. The TV and Internet too. They got a government stipend but none of it went towards bills. Even the groceries delivered wasn't paid for by them. 

He sighed and tried to let the irritation go. He should be happy, Bucky was in the kitchen, cooking a meal, smiling, laughing, joking around. Following Natasha instructions that Tony had left whilst Sam fretted endlessly about each step. Much to their amusement. 

He was definitely sure Bucky and Nat were dating now, he wondered when they'd tell him about it. 

The elevator dinged and Tony padded out, the sharp edged suit had been traded for a faded t-shirt. He'd always liked it when Tony dressed down, it made him seem more approachable somehow. He was also wearing a pair of charcoal gray trousers that added to the soft, comfortable look. They were a little long so they dragged a little at his bare feet. The only oddity was that he had a black bracer of a sort wrapped around his left forearm which was strange, he wondered why he was wearing it. 

Steve hadn't actually seen Tony dressed in anything but his suits since he had returned, so the whole thing was a bit of a shock to the system. He'd brushed whatever product he put in his hair out as well, it was still longer than Steve remembered Tony keeping. He'd never noticed before that Tony's hair had quite a curl to it. Sam gawked at the change, prompting more amusement from Bucky and Natasha. Tony seemed completely oblivious as he joined them. 

Checking on their individual progress, tasting things here and there. He was a good teacher Steve had to admit. He didn't just do things. If he tasted something, he made them all try it. Then follow up with what it was lacking. 

"We definitely need to get you some practice with your knife work Sam." 

"I'm pretty sure mine only looks bad because I'm up against the assassin twins." 

Bucky and Natasha picked that moment to started spinning blades whilst attempting to look perfectly innocent. He found himself smiling along even though he was quite separate at it. 

"That your knife is dangerously blunt isn't helping. By the time I'm finished with you Sam you'll be just as good."

"I'm not sure if that's a threat or a promise?" 

"Why can't it be both?" 

"Hear that Barnes, I'm gonna kick your ass at dicing tomatoes!"

"Sure you are buddy, you might even have a chance whilst I only have one hand. It's quite hard to chop things you can't hold." 

"Don't worry darling, I'll quite happily stand in for your left hand." 

Tony winked at Bucky and he was sure he saw the man blush before he turned, chuckling to focus on what he was stirring. 

"That is nearly finished, so move it to the back and get the pasta ready, it only takes 4 minutes to cook."

Bucky nodded and immediately focused on the task and Steve rankled, he realised that he hadn't had that conversation with Tony yet. That he needed to avoid anything sounding remotely like an order. He wasn't looking forward to that conversation, especially when Tony had thought he was giving him orders. Considering his strong response, he had honestly assumed Tony would just automatically avoid it. Bucky didn't have the same reaction to Tony, that was true, but he couldn't let his friend back slide. 

Tony seemed to be used to barking orders in the kitchen however and soon had Natasha and Sam jumping around, Sam ended up setting the table whilst Natasha was plating up and Tony and Bucky finishing the pasta for each plate. 

Even though he and Wanda hadn't requested any food, he could see that place settings had been set. Wanda looked wary. 

"I know you aren't a big fan of new foods, but I remembered a few dishes you liked and this was similar." 

Wanda actually seemed a little taken aback that Tony had gone to the point of making something she could eat. She was still Rubbing her temples as she sat down, which was worrying. He noticed that Wanda seemed to focus on the strange sleeve Tony was wearing too, he wondered if she knew what he was hiding beneath it. 

Bucky watched the interaction between the two with a mask of careful disinterest bordering on what Sam had dubbed 'Resting Murder Face'. He  sighed, shaking his head.

He had thought the pair had started to get on the last few months, but it seemed like they were back to cool, distrusting looks again. He wondered what had caused that? Something from his time at the tower maybe? That had to be it. He tried to convey that Bucky didn't have to worry about Wanda without saying the words, and he didn't know if he understood, but he did seem to soften slightly, shrugging before focusing on his food. 

 

If he'd been able to sit next to Bucky he could have spoken to him, but the table being closer to the kitchen meant he and Wanda had been last to sit. Bucky was in the middle with Tony and Natasha on either side. He had sat next to Sam, opposite Bucky and Wanda was opposite Natasha. If Clint had still been with them, the table would have been uncomfortably cramped. 

When all of this nonsense with their parole was up Steve was hoping to potentially interview some new people. They'd have to make sure that they'd fit into the family before extending the invitation. 

He shook his head when he realised he had phased out slightly. Natasha was collecting plates with Sam, Wanda was making a dash for it before anyone suggested washing plates to her and Bucky was pleading at Tony for some reason. He finished up his food and wondered what else he had missed as he listened in to their conversation. 

"Please, the chocolate pie thing was so good, I've been dreaming of that pie Tony. It haunts me, taunting me." 

"I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot of cooking on my little vacation, aren't I?" 

"Definitely, especially if you make that dessert." 

"Hmm, I shall check what ingredients we have and then we work out what I'm getting in return." 

Tony smirked, standing and walking backwards into the kitchen, winking at Bucky before busying himself searching the cupboards. 

"You done Steve? I'll take that through." 

"I can take it." 

"I'm already up, it's fine." 

Bucky grabbed the remaining cutlery and scooped up the plates with surprising ease considering that he did it with one hand. Passing them to Natasha who was washing as Sam was drying. 

"So, are you going to make all my dreams come true doll?" 

"Of course I am darling, it's what I do isn't it? You going to be my beautiful assistant again." 

"Of course, it's not going to be Sam now is it?" 

"Hey! You two are a nightmare, your as bad as each other. Keep this up and I'll find a newspaper to roll up and whap you with." 

Tony and Bucky snickered whilst Natasha dried her hands, switch to whipping it at all three of the men. 

"Natka, your aim is lethal, but if you want some of this, redirect it at Sam." 

"Huh, what? No!" 

It surprised Steve how adding Tony to the group seemed to lighten things to the point they were playing like teenagers instead of acting like adults. He remembered, back in the early days when they all lived at the tower, how Clint and Tony usually egged each other on doing stupider and stupider things. It was different now, Tony didn't have the same easygoing smile, Clint and Bruce were gone. But Sam seemed to fit in easily. Wanda seemed unsure of her place, which he thought was potentially Tony's doing, if he was planning on staying he'd definitely need to apologise to Wanda properly for her to stay feeling more comfortable. Plus, he had noticed any time they were in the same room, she was rubbing her temples as if in pain. 

Tony might own the place but this was Wanda's home

He had to admit that the pie Tony made really was good, and he understood when Bucky was so enamoured with it. Chocolate had been rare for them as kids but it had been Bucky's favourite thing. The pie was basically chocolate with more chocolate, sprinkled with chocolate and Bucky ate each bit like it was the best thing on the planet as they settled around the TV to watch a movie. He hadn't expected Tony to stay, thinking he would head to the workshop or his room and he was convinced his presence kept Wanda away. 

He decided to go and check on her, he had no idea what was actually happening in the film as he'd been so distracted so it wasn't like he was missing something. 

He knocked on her door which was opened with her magic. She was lying on her back with a book floating about her. 

"Why didn't you stay to watch the movie?" 

"I can't, not with Tony there." 

He had thought so. 

"Did he do anything?" 

"No, I don't think it's actually his fault. But I keep getting, feeling flashes of what happened to him at Hydra… I don't like him Steve. And I don't want to feel sorry for him, but watching that. It's hard sometimes."

"What are you seeing? I know you usually keep things get because of privacy reasons, but.." 

"It's jumbled, chaotic. His mind.. There is so much Steve. They experimented on him for … I have no idea how long. It wasn't like me and Pietro.. The Hydra cell he was with was very different. It's mostly all black too strangely, so my brain seems to interpret it through my other senses. That's what is really getting to me." 

"He should be more careful. It's not right that he's inflicting such things on you." 

"I really don't think he can control it. If he could, do you think Tony would really let me see, well, feel something like that?" 

She had a point there. Tony was a very private person about some things, he'd found practically nothing about where he'd been kept, he wouldn't probably be mortified at the idea of it happening. He figured he would keep that in mind for. If it didn't stop he might tell Tony anyway and he might avoid the common areas during his 'vacation'. 

"Did you get anything that maybe we could use? Finding information from that facility has been very difficult." 

"I don't know, everything was black. There were people talking, fight, pain. But everything was pitch black. It makes it hard to interpret." 

"That's weird, has that ever happened before?" 

"No, I always get visuals. It's like my other senses are trying to compensate but they don't know how and it makes it harder to track. None of it makes sense. His mind feels.. Weird." 

"Weird how?" 

"There was a word. Fractured. And music.." 

She shook her head, rubbing her temples again. Visibly uncomfortable with what she'd seen. Or, rather not seen. He wondered what was actually going on in Tony's mind, because that didn't sound right. If that's what his mind was like? But he was acting fine? He'd definitely need to keep an eye on him. 

 

He headed back, trying to remember the name of the movie, surprised to find people had shifted when he'd been gone. His spot next to bucky on the long sofa was now taken up by Natasha who was lying down, curled up with her head in Tony's lap, with Tony running his fingers through her hair. Tony had taken Bucky's seat who was now perched on the back of the seat, giving Tony a massage who had his eyes closed and was smiling. It was completely random for him to run in on and it took him completely by surprise. Sam was in an armchair next to the, seemingly unconcerned, only shushing Tony if his appreciation for Bucky massage was too loud. Tony replying by flipping him off, commenting it was his payment for making the awesome pie. Steve decided to back out, waving and heading to bed. Getting nods from most before their focus was distracted again. 

He didn't sleep well that night, well, he didn't sleep. His mind just wouldn't stop working and it seemed to take forever for the sun to start coming up. He waited, so as not to ambush Bucky and put him off their morning run. Which had happened a few times when he had tried to push a topic. He'd learned to avoid that now. He hoped that maybe they could come up with an idea to help Wanda.

Chapter Text

He waited outside, the crisp, cold air that had the strings of Winter would be wonderful when he actually started running. Whilst he was standing still? Not so much.. Bucky seemed to feel similar about the cold, with an oversized hoodie on top of his baggy combat trousers. It was surprising how young the quite ridiculous outfit made him look. He'd probably regret the hoodie when they started running. 

He nodded before taking off, not wanting to stand around in the cold. He waited until he started to warm up a bit before talking. 

"So, how long is Tony staying?" 

"Two weeks maybe?" 

"That long?" 

"He wants me to have an arm that can last and that will actually be fine. Not just some Hydra knock off. I thought you'd be happy for me." 

"I am, it's just, he kinda just showed up." 

"I invited him, I asked him to come. He took time off specifically to help me and came even though he knows Wanda despises him and you want to control him. He still did that for me . Putting himself into an uncomfortable situation and making nice, he's doing that for me Steve. "

"I get that Buck, Wanda is just uncomfortable around him is all. "

"I'm uncomfortable around her and you don't see me whining about it. Tony hasn't even done anything to her, if anything he was overly nice. Went to lengths to make her food she'd enjoy."

"She is getting uncomfortable memories from him, about his time at Hydra. Completely at random. "

"Then she should learn to stay out of people's minds. "

"She can't help it Buck. That's not fair. "

"She's had her abilities since she was what, 15? She's had 9 years to learn how to use them. She should know how to not go digging in people's heads, she might find something she doesn't like."

"Come on, she's trying, she's just a kid. His memories are strange, she's not getting a visual, everything is dark and causing her other senses to make up for it."

"She's not far off my age when I was drafted. If she doesn't like what she sees if people's mind, she shouldn't look. This sounds like a Wanda problem. Not a Tony problem.."

"I was going to see if Tony could try and think about different things." 

Bucky slowed, pinning him with a hard loom. 

"Dear Gods Steve, how can you not get that the person mind reading someone else, without consent, is the one in the wrong? About their trauma? And you wonder why I don't want her near me? I don't want her fucking with my head." 

Bucky shook his head and took off faster, leaving him lagging behind trying to play catch up. Probably too far ahead to hear him in the wind. When he got back he was nowhere to be found. Natasha handed him a plate of breakfast, eyebrow raised.

"What did you say to him? He took his and Tony's breakfast and headed straight to the workshop with saying a word."

"We were talking about Wanda, she's having some trouble adjusting to Tony being around. She keeps getting images of what happened at Hydra." 

"What the fuck Steve." 

"Exactly, she shouldn't have too see that it probably brings back memories of her own treatment at Hydra." 

"I somehow suspect it was very different, and you mistook my meaning. She needs to stay out of Tony's mind. Going into people's thoughts without permission is wrong, I don't want to be around someone who is sifting through my mind." 

"It's not like that Natasha."

"That's exactly what it's like, excuse me I have a few phone calls to make." 

Feeling slightly off balance when it came to these conversations, he tried to speak to Sam next, but his response was nearly worse that Bucky's, angry at the violation of his mind. Wanting to know why he wasn't told about this sooner. 



A few days later, Tony and Bucky headed out, skipping lunch which left Natasha and Sam cooking. Everyone had been on edge since the discovered Wanda was going through everyone's thoughts whenever she wanted. No matter what Steve said, no one seemed to believe him that she couldn't control it.

He was waiting up in the common room when  Tony and Bucky returned 3 minutes before 1am, cutting it extremely close to the time limit. He wasn't sure where they had been, but he smelled alcohol on them, but it seemed more atmospheric than what they had been drinking. 

"Where you been Buck?"

"Just fetching some parts, then thought I'd show Tony this club I occasionally pop into when I wanted to dance some." 

"It was fun. I'm going to play father Christmas. Night Rogers, night darling." 

Tony winked before heading to the elevators, leaving him frowning. 

"Father Christmas?" 

"Hm? Oh. I told him about Wanda and he spoke to this wizard guy to find a fix. This amulet means Wanda can't access my mind, or anyone really, at least not surface telepathy is how he explained it. The others wanted one too." 

"Wait, you told him? Buck, that's.. You can't just tell people private things about Wanda." 

"I don't see why not, seeing as Wanda told you private details of his memories, didn't she? She won't respect his privacy, he deserves to be able to protect himself." 

"He doesn't need to protect himself from Wanda." 

"She's slipping into his mind without permission Steve, that's wrong and the others agree. It's why they want amulets. So, do you want one?" 

"Of course not. It's not something she does on purpose, she can't help it." 

"Then were doing her a favour aren't we? By wearing these, she doesn't have to worry about being assaulted by our bad memories. I'm going to bed. Now she won't have to deal with what me or Tony went through."

Bucky stalks off towards the elevators and as the doors close, Steve wasn't sure what to do. 



When he comes down the next morning for breakfast, Natasha and Sam are cooking but the breakfast table is covered in large papers that Tony was heavily focused sketching on whilst Buck was sat next to him, his hands flicking through images on the huge holographic display that had covered the table. 

"Isn't there a better place for this than our only big table?" 

Tony didn't look up, too engrossed in what he was drawing to comment but Bucky looked up sheepishly. 

"Sorry Steve, there wasn't space big enough in Sam's workshop and we needed the open area." 

"There, Fry, scan pages 4 through.. 16."

Tony started laying the papers out, hyper focused that he hadn't actually even paid attention to Steve. He repeated that several times and Steve sat on one of the tall stools at the breakfast bar. Noticing that both Sam and Natasha seemed to be wearing new necklaces. 

"You two wearing those things Tony brought in?" 

"Yeah, I figure, I like having my brain to myself and as you explained, Wanda can't control it. I'm sure she'll be happier we are wearing them." 

"I agree with Sam. I'm uncomfortable that no one mentioned this before now and think we need to have a team meeting about boundaries." 

Steve scratched the back of his neck, not sure what to do about it, because it made sense. At the same time, to him it felt like Wanda was being excluded in some way. It wasn't her fault that that was how her abilities worked after all. 

Tony jerked him out of his thoughts all of a sudden as he turned around. Eyeing the holographic display. Instead of the random shapes, there was now an arm floating above the table that Bucky was manipulating as Tony collected the large sheets of paper. It looked like each was a splice or a cross section. 

"Like it?" 

"It's awesome, I can't believe you finished it already." 

"Well I had my awesome assistant. Although I might need to sleep soon. You kept me up all night." 

"Like you were complaining." 

Tony snorted as he staples the large pile together. 

"True, some of the best ideas are had at 4am. This entire section on the wrist, I bet we wouldn't have come up with that if we hadn't been sleep deprived and pounding cans of red bull." 

He had to admit, it looked good. It was much less bulky that the arm Hydra had originally given him, or the replica that he had been stuck with until recently. 

"So you happy with what we got Snowflake?"

"Yeah, it's perfect. "

"Awesome, I have the materials coming in tomorrow, I'll start machining what we can with what I've already bought, FRIDAY, do we have the equipment in Sam's workshop the machine a replica."

"Sure do Boss."

"Start it, I'd like to see how it moves out together with the titanium alloy before I finish up."

"What are you going to make it in? I thought the titanium alloy we picked up was it?" 

"Darling, have you seen how battered my suits get? You'll find out soon enough, let me surprise you."

"So I'm going to have two arms again? How long?"

"Depends how your healing, I can check now, we can..?"

"I'm fine."

Steve was a bit lost with how fast the conversation was moving and was more than a little shocked when Bucky pulled his shirt off. Sam wolf whistled  which Bucky responded by flipping him off. The socket was much different, it didn't look bolted on and look more natural. He hadn't noticed that the skin around it had looked red and pained until seeing it healthier looking now. He sat in a chair in front of Tony who started assessing it. To him, it looked better but he figured Tony saw more. To him it just looked slightly different, with the bright shining metal had been swapped by a matt black. 

"How does that feel?"

"Good, no more pain."

"None at all? This is an actual zero now. Not a you zero." 

Bucky chuckled softly at that before looking up at when Tony was glaring at him and Steve was not for the first time, shocked with how far they'd come since Siberia. He'd known they would have gotten along, he just wish Siberia had not have happened.

He didn't know how he would have told Tony, he would have carried it with him to save them both the pain of confronting it. He'd been willing to do that for them. 

Having Tony forced to watch it as they both stood there. Then he had been pushed to admit that he'd known. The only thing Tony didn't seem to know, was exactly how long he'd known, he didn't know how good his memory was. He'd probably guessed that it was a little while. He knew that Steve had been using the Avengers resources to track down Bucky. 

After how Tony had reacted in Siberia? How Tony had reacted at his comment about being friends again? Steve was thinking that it was better to stay silent on the matter. 

"Actual zero. It's great, I can stretch and run and it doesn't hurt anymore. Even showering doesn't hurt and it even looks better… I didn't think I'd be able to look at it with anything but disgust. Now, I'm hopeful." 

"Now, that is what I like to hear darling. You have healed from the surgery in record time. I think so much of the serum was lost in trying to heal the constant damage, that was why you didn't heal as fast. Now we got rid of all that crazy, you are in top shape. I think you heal nearly as fast as me. "

"Hmm, when I am fully armed you still owe me a sparring session."

"I can't believe you just said that. Fully armed. We can give it a shot, I don't want to hurt you, but for that pun, we'll risk it.."

Steve found himself turning at that, and looking for Natasha, too see what her reaction was to what was going on not ten feet behind them. Because it was definitely leaving him slightly uncomfortable. 

"Boss several parts are complete. Enough to start putting the test pilot together soon." 

"Come on darling, lets see what your arm is going to turn out like. Sometimes you notice things when you actually can hold it, so we can see if you want to change anything." 

Steve waited until the elevator doors slid shut and Sam had started flicking through channels before talking. 

"Uh, are you okay Nat?"

"I'm fine Steve. Why wouldn't I be?" 

"Well, Bucky and Tony are kinda.. Close? I don't know, I just thought that was kind of weird." 

"Still not sure what the two of them have to do with me?" 

"Well aren't you and Bucky..?" 

"Me and Yash are what..?"

"I've been waiting for the two of you to decide go tell me." 

"Steve, I have no idea what you are talking about." 

"You and Bucky are dating."

Sam had been taking a sip of his drink at that moment started violently coughing and Natasha crossed the room to check on him, which he thought was nice of her. 

"Steve, why do you think I'm dating Yasha?" 

"You two have been getting closer and.." 

"Steve, I see Yasha as a brother. We are not dating. Just… Ew."

"I can't believe you thought they were dating." 

Sam was switching between laughing, gasping and coughing and Natasha was watching him in amusement. 

"I think you killed Sam." 

"I'm fine, it's just the idea of you… and Barnes… dating. That's some Lanister shit right there." 

"Sam, don't make references that will confuse Steve." 

"Fine. It would be like Steve and James dating. But they're like.. twins. So it's worse somehow." 

"I'm not even going to question that logic. FRIDAY can you ask Tony if he's planning on cooking dinner today, otherwise I'm thinking of going out for lunch." 

"Sure thing." 

Steve still isn't actually sure what just happened, he'd been so sure that the pair of them had been dating. 

"Nat, you don't think..?" 

"Don't think what Steve?" 

"Never mind." 

He couldn't bring himself to voice it. If he was getting things mixed up between Natasha and Bucky, then who knows what else he was messing up. 

"Boss says he had been considering going out for dinner, that if you are then he will escape cooking duty." 

A small dinner with just him, Bucky, Wanda and Sam sounded quite nice actually. 

 

 

It was several hours later when Tony and Bucky returned from Sam's workshop, holding a metal arm, oil was smeared on Bucky's arm and somehow on Tony's forehead. There was one thing that he remembered from back when he had occasionally accompanied Tony in the workshop, and that was that grease had a tendency to get practically anywhere. There was no rhyme nor reason behind it. Some days he had merely sat on the sofa drawing and later when he had changed for bed there had been a streak of grease along his bicep. So, seeing the two streaked in grease wasn't a shock. 

"We thought we'd show everyone my new arm." 

"That's amazing Buck, so are you going to try it on?" 

"Na, this doesn't have the fine connection points I'm going to have to start building tomorrow morning. The rest of my material should arrive tomorrow. This is so he can get a real feel of it. We already made several changes after he held it." 

Wanda entered when Tony had been explaining, and he could pinpoint the exact moment she realised that she couldn't hear anyone. Her eyes narrowed on Tony first before skating across to Bucky, then Nat and Sam. Finally she reached him and there was some relief there. Just as he thought, it was cruel to cut her off so suddenly. 

"Can I see it?" 

"Sure." 

Bucky handed over the arm as Sam was eyeing it up, the man had really gone head first into that side of making. 

"You know James, you should call her Tash instead of Natalia. Then you would actually sound like twins Yash and Tash. No one would mistake you for dating then." 

Sam also had timed it perfectly for what Bucky had been drinking. Causing the man to start choking as he sent Sam a glare, Sam just grinned smugly. He was going to see if Bucky was okay but Tony was already there. Even though he had been sure he had been stood with Sam and Natasha when he was checked. He was now perched on the arm of the armchair Bucky was sat in. Rubbing his back. 

"You alright there darling?" 

"Yeah, Sam's just a jerk. Me and Tash? That is ridiculous, who do you think we are, sodding Lanisters." 

Tony was caught off guard by his own laugh that he lost his balance on his perch on the chair, Bucky right arm steadied him. Tony had his arm across Bucky shoulders to keep himself stable as he chuckled. 

"Hey, if I'm not allowed to make Lanisters jokes, then James definitely isn't allowed! When did you even watch Game of Thrones anyway." 

"Tony told me there were cute wolves in it." 

"Dude, how can you do that to the man!" 

"Hey, I gave him a full disclosure warning. He's only seen season 1, we have more to watch. Anyway, I have to scrub this off before we can head out." 

"Me too." 

Tony hopped up with surprising grace, a change that Steve couldn't quite get his head around as Bucky followed Tony into the lift. When the doors closed, Wanda spoke up. 

"Why can't I hear you guys anymore?" 

"We didn't know that you were still struggling with your abilities." 

Steve could see Wanda bristling at the implication. Sam responded using his calmest voice. 

"I am not struggling!" 

"Well, you not being able to turn off the telepathy is an issue. You should only read something from someone's mind with their express permission. We didn't know that you had even been reading our minds." 

"I don't understand why there is a problem, unless you are hiding something from me?" 

"Wanda, just because we want to be secure in our minds doesn't mean we are hiding things from you. Something's should be private. I don't want anyone but me having access in my mind. When you have gained more control that you can turn off your telepathy, we won't need to use the charms."

"Until then I will be wearing this permanently. You should have told us that you were unable to turn off your ability."

Wanda was definitely irritated, and Steve understood why it must be stressful learning to control forces like those that had been forced on her. He doubted they were the kind of thing that you just automatically knew how to use. They could up their training of her abilities. Hopefully she'll learn to turn the telepathy off without the use of these magical devices. Maybe he could find out the person the amulets were from, they clearly had magic and who better that another magic user to help Wanda train? Then she could protect herself from Tony's memories. 

"We need to have a meeting about privacy too. Wanda, have you told anyone about what you've seen in our minds?" 

"No, of course not, that's private."

"But you told Steve about what you saw in Tony's mind." 

"That was my fault Nat, I asked." 

"It was wrong of you to ask Steve, but that doesn't absolve Wanda. She shouldn't have told you, no matter who was asking as it clearly was not mission relevant. Wanda, anything you have learnt from our minds should remain secret. Only tell the person who the memories belong to. Steve, no more asking Wanda about other people's memories unless it's relevant for a mission. "

He found himself bristling right along with Wanda as Natasha gave them a verbal dressing down. 

"I was only trying to help Wanda."

"You didn't need to know the content of the memories. Just that they were traumatic. If Wanda had told us in the beginning that this was a problem, it could have been cleared up long ago." 

Steve practically heard the words in his head as Natasha glared at him. She was unimpressed with his focus on Tony and where he had been in those 7 years. 

"I think that covers it. Sam and I are going to get ready to go for lunch. You two have fun now."

That.. hadn't been what he was expecting, after confirming the the four of them were in fact heading out, he decided that he and Wanda should do the same. It wasn't the usual day he took her out, but as everyone seemed to be going out, he figured they might as well. Plus, after the shock of the day and the meeting, he figured she deserved something nice.

Chapter Text

The next few days followed as much of the same. Tony and Bucky spent a lot of time in Sam's workshop. Sam occasionally joining them to work on his projects, probably happy to make use of the resource of Tony while he was here and Natasha tended to lurk around them. Wanda had been more thrown by the amulets than he had suspected and part of him couldn't help wondering if it was something Tony had done on purpose, the balance of their little unit, which had been finally starting to correct after Clint left, was thrown off base again. 

Sam had been avoiding him too, only joining when the entire group was there. It was surprising that having the workshop and him dabbling more, seemed to have him picking up habits that Tony had from before. Namely spending an inordinate amount of time in the workshop. 

Even with him living in the same building for over a week, Steve still isn't exactly sure about Tony. Part of his worries are pretty simple, that he came back… wrong somehow. 

Clint was still trying to find him information about the Charnel House but it has been classified to the point they could barely get any information, Clint was also questioning why he was trying to find out via other means when he could just ask Tony

He was still trying to get information to the regarding the underground and the intricate politics that are just a little bit more lethal and deadly, according to Clint. He is still trying to find information about this Mr Gold and still finding aggravatingly little. Being stuck on house arrest wasn't helping as they couldn't exactly travel far. But he'd found more about Gold than the Hydra facility, which he'd only gotten more empty photos for. 

He does not tolerate betrayal, loyalty is very important, but from what Clint claimed, that wasn't exactly strange. Steve finds it strange considering they're discussing career criminals after all. Words like loyalty don't belong to criminals in his world. 

One thing that stood out what that he can read your desires, he can give you exactly what you want, for a price . The prices are as individual as the desires, so no one knows them. No one was willing to say what they paid, or for what. 

He had a habit of making deals in open places, art galleries, clubs and the like apparently. Which again, just seemed very odd for Steve, and made him wonder how more people hadn't seen him. More territory seemed to have been consolidated, and Clint confirmed that New York definitely had been changing. He had a report on Marcone too added to the mess. 

He had gotten so completely lost in his work that the elevator jars him, sitting up and blinking at the hall. Wanda had long left for bed he thinks, noticing it was 3am. The table was covered in papers and photos and he can admit, it's a mess. He doesn't even know where to start making heads nor tails of this. Clint, Natasha and even Tony are the ones who excel at this kind of work, Buck too. He doesn't know how they do it. Natasha just looks at files and sees connections. He tried to do that, and just laid everything out, on Tony, Gold, Marcone, everything basically, hoping that he might get an idea from something on one of the cases. 

"Rogers, we didn't think you were still up, we were running diagnostics on Soldats new arm and decided hot chocolate was an immediate requirement, want some?"

"Sure, might clear my head. Wait, you have the arm on." 

"Steve, I think you need to go to sleep if you only just realised I have two arms."

He got a better look now, the matt black from the socket continued and it looked absolutely nothing like the old one, but he supposed that was the point. There was some decoration on it that looked like gold letters, but not any that he recognised. It was strange. Both of them were wearing black t-shirts and soft looking lounge wear, except Bucky had thick, fluffy socks on which was odd and Tony's left forearm was covered again. 

"Did you pick that decoration Buck?" 

"Yeah, I thought they looked interesting and I talked Tony around to it. I think it gives it an interesting edge. I like them." 

He had wondered for a moment if it had been Tony that pushed him into getting it. Before wondering why his impulse is to blame the man for practically everything, but then his instincts had not lead him wrong so far. 

"You should consider putting this up on a board Roger's. Like the old fashioned red wire connecting deaths. What is all this for anyway?" 

Bucky answered before he can say its confidential and Tony shuffled around some pieces so there was space for their hot chocolates. 

"The guy who took down Hydra, Mr Gold. Stevie here is a bit obsessed with the guy." 

"Huh, if you find him give him my thanks. Who knows where I'd be of it hadn't been for him." 

"Nat thinks he and the Operative are the same guy." 

Tony places a hot chocolate in front of him, it had marshmallows floating in it and more surprising was that Tony still remembered that he liked cinnamon in his hot chocolate. He was thrown enough that he didn't remind Bucky that technically they were not allowed to give such information out to the public, Tony was a… well. He wasn't really a civilian. But he wasn't an active Avenger either. 

"Who is the Operative? Sounds creepy, and not very imaginative." 

"I think he was my replacement, or one of them, Hydra apparently went on an Asset binge when they were in control. The Handler we spoke to in Sokovia, he said they were still trying to create the perfect Asset after me. Who knows how many other Assets are out there." 

Bucky squeezed Tony's shoulder as he was looking deeply into his hot chocolate, watching the marshmallows melt and Steve only just remembered that a Hydra cell had probably been trying to make him into an Asset, even if he'd never confirmed as such. 

"Do you remember anything like that Tony, anyone else called The Operative?" 

"They didn't exactly bring us together like Asset daycare Rogers. When we came together, we didn't swap names or hobbies." 

His tone was sharper than usual and when he looks at him, Steve seems that cold, darker thing in his eyes that never used to be there. Tony had always been analytical, had been able to shut off his emotions of the situation called for it, but there is something else there now. He struggles to pin it down, to put a name, beyond hunger, maybe. Predator. 

"They blindfolded me." 

It was do quiet Steve wonders if he imagined it, but Bucky's rigid posture tells him otherwise. 

"What?" 

"I've got a reputation don't I Rogers. I escape. It's what I do . So, I never saw a single person. Even with the chair. They blindfolded me. They'd have actually blinded me if they didn't occasionally need my eyes for missions." 

Wanda had mentioned that everything had been dark in his memories. The idea of spending years like that? That sent a chill down his spine. 

"Anything to keep you contained."

Tony switched his gaze to Bucky, giving him a sharp nod. It's times like this that they both feel so far away. A gulf of experience that he can't hope to understand. 

"Fighting, training, bathing, eating. Everything in darkness. For missions and certain situations, the handler would stand behind me and take it off. Whispering that the chair will take it all and the darkness will return. Those are memories I could do without."

Steve blinked a few times, because he didn't know that Tony had gone on missions as an asset. He had assumed that hydra had still being trying to break him considering it too 20 years for them to break Bucky after all. 

"You.. Went on missions?"

"Yes. If you are thinking I broke easy Rogers, they had perfected the process. Shortening it, building and breaking in new assets at record speed. Surgically removing my personality." 

Bucky noticed his frowning and even though his attention seemed aimed at Tony, his metal hand squeezing his shoulder with enough force the Steve is pretty sure that it would break something. 

"Those are things handlers hold him."

"How do you know..?"

He wondered if they'd already had this discussion before but the shake of Bucky's head tells him that he's on the wrong track. 

"Because I know what Handlers sound like, and that shit is exactly what they'd say. I've seen several types of Assets, the other Winter Soldiers, failures, too much rage. The Enhanced, well, they left a trail a mile wide. Not loyal though. There were others with different serums, X genes. Hydra was always trying to make the perfect asset. The perfect operative, he might have even been one I trained, but even he went rogue. "

He was however more stuck on Tony's missions, he wondered if he had gone through them all with someone to find out what he had done whilst with Hydra. 

"Tony, have you gone through what you remember about the missions?"

Tony turned to him slowly them, he knew Tony was angry, but this was different that how he'd been in the hallway. He had burned in his rage but Steve now wonders if Tony was part of the Winter Soldier program because he seems to be made from ice. Tony's eyes were hard on him, but it was like he wasn't seeing him. 

"Did you do that with Bucky?"

"Of course not!" 

"Then why do you expect me to do it?" 

"Hey Tony, Tony look at me." 

Tony has to practically pull himself away as if he was stuck, his eyes seemed far away, as he turned he listed slightly towards Bucky, he took his face in his hands and Steve doesn't dare speak. Bucky runs his fingers over his face and Tony's eyes drift to half closed. 

"Steve, be careful for fucks sake. I'm 9 years free of Hydra. Tony isn't. What did you do when people trying to talk to me when I was 2 years free. Back off, you sound like a handler." 

Tony raised a hand smoothing down Bucky's arm. 

"I'm okay darling, just caught me off guard. Rogers, you got a precedent set with Bucky that I couldn't be tried for what Hydra forced me to do." 

"So why does Bucky have a tracking bracelet and you don't?" 

"Because when I was found, I came quietly. There was no chase through countries, no illegal border crossing, no exploding bridges and destruction of airports and then I didn't vanish with my friend for several months as a fugitive. I stayed in a cell in a fucking straight jacket bolted to the floor whilst Pepper proved who I was. I stood in court next the Rhodey and went over some of what I remembered and then the three of us left with Happy and went to Stark Tower where I finally slept. Pepper organised the press conference and I changed the security on the tower. You know the rest."

"So because you had better resources-"

Tony slammed his fist on the solid wooden table that creaked under the strain. 

"You had access to them. You threw away the deal I had put together for Soldat because you thought I was imprisoning the witch."

"What?!"

"Calm down Buck, you were triggered because of that doctor." 

"Pepper told me what happened. The doctor I sourced was murdered. Don't you fucking dare try to use the gaps in my memory to rewrite history your way." 

He wonders what memories Tony has lost, because Bucky still has gaps and holes. The memories he recalled, he says they don't even feel real to him. Like someone else talking. Maybe he can salvage this conversation, especially the way Bucky was glaring at him. He had to switch tactics before something worse that a strain to the table happened. 

"Have you lost many memories Tony?" 

He wonders if he'll answer him, he does but Steve has a feeling that he isn't so much a part of this conversation anymore, even though he asked a question Bucky probably never would. He answers it as if Bucky asked. Focused completely on Bucky, his hand hand slipped down, instead of cradling his face now they're bracketing his neck. They're close enough together that Steve feels like a third wheel even though he knows that he is not. 

"Yes. At first I didn't know who I was. I saw myself for the first time and wondered who the fuck was that. Because I'd had that fucking blindfold on so long. At first.. I'd never seen my reflection. Slowly, so slowly bits came back. Rhodey's voice, a flash of Peppers hair, Happy's hands. Little bits of people that I tried to put together. Failed a lot at first too."

"I remember that. I would write down every single scrap in these notebooks. Half of it didn't make any sense. It was like I was trying to jam together different pieces of a jigsaw, and it just made a mess."

Bucky chuckled slightly even though Steve isn't quite sure what at but its a laugh that Tony shares. 

"I hadn't been in the chair for as many years as you had, so the damage… healed faster. Plus my serum wasn't compromised trying to heal that mess they made of your shoulder. I found my file, they used the chair more for me than on other assets, constantly worried that I'd remember like you did, I think. I remember snarking at the handlers intentionally, not knowing why I was doing it. Knowing what it would lead to. I never stopped. I always knew what buttons to push."

"I killed so many handlers even though I knew it meant the chair."

"The longer between wipes the more that comes back. So why did we do things that trigger wipes?"

"Being blank was easier."

The idea of both of them forcing the situation to go back to the chair baffles him because he knows how terrified Bucky was of the chair. They seemed to pick up on his confusion as Tony continued. 

"Conflicting nature. Behave, evade punishment. Stay away from the chair. Remember, remember you are a person, not a weapon." 

"That's when the chair called to you." 

"Weapons don't feel. Can't feel." 

Tony nodded to that whilst shivering slightly, he still had a faraway look on his face that he couldn't explain. Steve stayed quiet, because this was the most Bucky had spoken about his time at Hydra in years and he didn't know anything about Tony's time. Tony dipped his finger in the melted goo of the Marshmallows, just staring, face blank and Steve wondered where his mind was. His voice was just as blank when he started talking. 

"The tests were the worst. The handlers the feign stupidity, to see if you'll try and escape. Stay and be rewarded for being a good little asset." 

"Run and find yourself in pain." 

"Sometimes you just stare at an open door, not knowing if it's a trick. Makes you doubt everything but the orders." 

"Everything but orders." 

The difference in their voices when they say orders is night and day, Tony almost snarls the word first, whereas Bucky seemed more.. sad than anything else. Mournful. 

"Come on darling, we have some more diagnostic tests to run before I can release you to bed. Night Rogers, enjoy your hot chocolate." 

The two stand with a synchronicity that sends a chill down Steve's spine for some reason, as they wander back towards the elevator, hot chocolate in hand. He starts gathering the files together and slotting the back into order, sipping his drink as he thinks about everything they would have gone through. He doesn't know exactly, but he never looked at the Winter Soldier file, figuring that if Bucky ever wanted to tell him then he would. He wonders if that's a mistake. He paused over the Charnel House pictures and wished he had more information. 

He knew that it was bad, it was brainwashing under Hydra, it wasn't exactly going to be a holiday. But all the bad stuff he'd imagined, the beatings, the torture, the medical experimentation. Those were not the things that Tony and Bucky seemed to be plagued with. 

It reminded him of Sokovia again. Bucky stood next to the man who had been bound, gagged with metal in his mouth tearing the skin. With a garrote around his neck, knowing that it was set to go off, what it would do. For days. At the time he had been horrified that a human could do that to another human. 

He'd been equally horrified that Bucky could stand there, calm and be completely fine with it. He had the muzzle on, but looking back, Steve wonders if he was smiling. 

Out of everything, out of all the memories they lost, out of everything they were forced to do. He hadn't realised it until this night, that the memories that stayed, with startling clarity, seemed to be the ones of the handlers. The ever changing faces and names that held the leashes. 

He takes a long sip of the hot chocolate chasing the heat and chills set in his bones. 

He used to know where that line was, between good and evil. It was. Thick, bold line, separating different lands that were as different from each other as they could possibly be. 

Now though, now he looked and all he saw was grey. 



Tony eventually leaves, and Steve isn't sure if he is happy to see him go or upset. He did pull some of them together. Bucky and Natasha probably spoke more in those 2 weeks that in the months prior. Sam had been throwing himself into the joy of building. 

The Air Force chose him to use the falcon unit as he was one of the few that could not only pilot it, but handle the upkeep too. Tony noticed that and nurtured it into something more. 

Wanda had asked them to remove the amulets when Tony left, which they had been confused about. They were not wearing the amulets because of Tony, but because they didn't want Wanda inside their minds. As she still could not control herself not to slip into their minds.. Steve had a feeling even if she said she had gained such control tomorrow, that they would not stop wearing them. Bucky avoids her the most. 

Bucky moved from the chairs back to his windowsill, Steve tried to talk to him again, about what happened to him. Thinking it would be good to talk about it. About the Handlers. After the discussion with Tony he's been harder, almost angry but he isn't sure why. 

Bucky walks out of the compound without a single comment at doesn't return until a minute to 1am.

Steve decides its best to not bring up the handlers again. 

Chapter Text

Steve had been suspicious of their orders for a while now. The focus had switched from Mr Gold or even as The Operative as separate people. He felt like someone was manipulating them. He had a feeling he knew who by. He still searched though, he even had good information that the man was going to be at an Art Gallery soon, but with no orders, checking it out would be very tricky. As it was quite far from the compound, the only way to get to it and back in time would be in a quinjet, which they couldn't use for personal use. He tried to get it sanctioned as a mission but were denied which seemed odd really, unless someone didn't want them to catch this guy. 

It wasn't like they were not busy, they were definitely busy. It just didn't seem to be connected to the bigger things that were going on. From Clint's occasional snippets of information he had been discovering a side to the country that he hadn't even known about before and he wanted to do something about it. 

Wanda agreed with him and when they're picking up orders he had started to make a point of taking her with him, so she could get an idea of what was going on. If someone was pushing behind the scenes. 

His mind kept coming back to what Natasha said back when Tony first came back, how he seemed to be positioning himself or his company into strategic positions. He learnt a little when he was watching Tony. Albeit, he can't spot the patterns like Natasha seems to be able to, or like Tony himself. The two of them seem go see connections where others don't have a chance. 

It did teach him where to look, how to search for these patterns and he started using it elsewhere, not that he had stopped looking into Tony too. 

Although he had to be careful about that. Tony had made it abundantly clear to him what would happen if he pushed too far. Although he wasn't actually sure what the push back would be, some things he'd made obvious, if they continued to contact Pepper or Rhodes regarding funding he would half it, eviction was on the table too. He didn't know what Tony had meant by ruin him. 

These threats however proved to him that there was a need for Steve to keep an eye on him. 

He never had any plans of giving Tony orders. He tried with emails first to the man, with just suggestions for what he could be doing with his time now he was free of Hydra and they had not been received well. It might be easier just to get Tony spending more time with the team first. In small bursts, he seemed to be willing to spend time with them, even if he was still cold on occasion. 

"Hey Bucky, why don't you invite Tony to training this weekend? You mentioned giving him an idea of how the arm worked during sparring?" 

"I'll text him." 

Bucky was lying on his back on his windowsill today, with his legs resting up against the wall. Steve wasn't sure what it was about the window that seemed to draw him in, he currently looked bizarre. He rarely came down now, but then everyone seem slightly off balance these days. Everytime he tried to course correct, it got worse. 

"He says he'll try to make it." 

"Tell him we'll be glad to have him back around." 

Maybe this could be a good start if his other plan came up dry. 

"Heck yes, ask him if he's cooking when he visits." 

Bucky snorted before firing off another text, his phone buzzing a few seconds later. Sam was looking a little more alert now. 

"He said yes, and he'll expect his kitchen staff to be on top form. I think that's us." 

"Hey, I get to eat the food, I'm fine with this." 

Steve busied himself with information sent from Clint's contacts about Mr Gold. Technically they were not on the case anymore but he couldn't exactly let it die. Not when the man was still out there. He had forced Wanda to witness a man being decapitated, Steve isn't sure he could after that. 



Saturday rolled around quicker than he expected it too. He had expected Tony to be too busy or decide not to visit which would have made his job harder that it had to be. Apparently he had arrived without him knowing as he left the elevator not in his usual suit. 

Instead, Tony was dressed in a soft long sleeved top this time  and matching trousers. They looked like - ridiculously expensive sports gear. He was barefoot again, which was something he was still not used to seeing and he snapped his fingers as he walked through to the kitchen. Bucky and Nat hopped up immediately and followed him, Sam was already in the kitchen. The action rankled, he didn't look to see if people followed, it was assumed that they would. It was also early to start cooking dinner, they usually ate after sparring. He twisted on the sofa, as much as possible with Wanda dozing in his lap. 

"You guys cooking lunch early?" 

"Making lasagne, that way it will be ready by the time we're finished rough housing and are starving. Right, Sam, you want that dicing lesson? Nat and Soldat, you know your jobs." 

"Are ya sure about this Tony, you're not even making backup noodles?" 

"I have the utmost faith in you darling." 

Tony pulled out a black case he didn't recognise and was slightly confused to find it full of knives as he took a few out and started to teach Sam how to slice vegetables? Steve didn't quite get it, you just cut them? Apparently it was more complicated than it looked, but like last time, Steve had to admit he was a good teacher. He was focused on Sam but he checked in on the others too. After a while, everything assembled and in the oven for FRIDAY to start about half way into their training, everyone cleaned up in the kitchen. Steve gently woke Wanda who seemed unimpressed but left to get changed as he did the same. 

Natasha was taking the three men through a series of complicated stretches that Sam was woefully unprepared for. Judging by the fact was was wavering awkwardly on one leg as the other three held it effortlessly. 

Which was a surprise, because Tony had been about as bad as Sam when she decided to force them into yoga back at the tower. Now he was holding the strange, painful looking positions with the same ease as Bucky and Nat. 

"Does Hydra have a yoga program or something."

Tony chuckled as he relaxed and moved to Sam, poking his back straight and moving him around and bracing him. 

"Ow! Oh, okay, that.. that was easier." 

"You'll get it Birdy. Natka won't have it anyway. So what's the drill here, we sparring one-on-one or do you guys have something special."

He frowned, because he had expected Tony to bring the suit, he didn't really spar outside of it. Although it did make this much easier. 

"One on one sounds good Doll, let's see what you got."

"Where is the suit?" 

"Didn't bring it, you just got little ol me. Nat, if you need to intervene, do it." 

"I will Tony, you'll be fine." 

Tony and Bucky stepped onto one set on matts and instead of another pair taking the other side, every one came to watch, even if Wanda looked bored. He stepped up to Natasha who was watching the two men circle each other. It was nothing like how Tony used to fight, he was silent, moving with purpose with only purposeful movement that matched Bucky perfectly like a mirror. 

"What did he mean Natasha?" 

"This is the first time Tony has sparred with a person since he was freed. You remember how nervous Yasha was of sparring in those first years? That is where Tony is now. It's why Yash is perfect really." 

"But what if he hurts him?" 

"I will be watching if Tony looks like he's slipping." 

The sound of flesh fitting flesh drew his attention to the ring and Tony and Bucky had started in earnest now. Bucky was faster than when he sparred with them, he even used his left hand on occasion. Tony slipped and danced out of reach. Bucky mostly used his upper body, rarely kicking but had more force, more power between hits when he did. Where as Tony seemed to use everything with a grace he definitely hadn't had before. 

"Tony wasn't so… graceful before was he? He only really trained in the suit."

"Me and Tony sparred occasionally and he was good, slippery and flexible but this.. This is much different." 

"Shit, never seen Barnes move like that. Didn't think Tony could move like that." 

They were silent watching as they sparred and he had to admit, it was impressive, if a little unsettling seeing they quite perfectly matched. Bucky was stronger with a longer reach, Tony was faster and slipped in and out for Bucky's guard. He thought it was over when Bucky slammed Tony down hard on the mat but some complicated move ended up with Tony on top. After another 20 minutes of watching the two men repeatedly pin each other, although now they were actually laughing as they did. He was happy when Natasha called it. 

"Time, because if you two keep at it, no one else will actually hit the mats." 

"Guess this means I win darling." 

Bucky smirked before standing up, taking Tony with him who yelped when he found himself over Bucky's shoulder. 

"Sure thing Doll. Well have a rematch some time. Wings, you up?" 

"Sure, you ah, gonna fight with Tony on your shoulder?" 

"Yeah darling, you going to leave me hanging? Although, can't complain about the view." 

Bucky placed Tony down next to Natasha before saluting and moving off to the mats with Sam. 

"See Tony, I told you it would be okay." 

"Yeah, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Actually seeing I think made the difference. If I was blindfolded again.. I think there would be issues." 

"Do you fancy going up against me Tony?" 

"Uh, yeah. Sure thing Rogers." 

Tony looked a little dubious as they headed to the ring. He was going to attempt to loosen the cord around his neck. Get the amulet to fall so Wanda could get a look and see that he wasn't up to anything. He hadn't been sure about the plan, seeing how Tony's chaotic memories of Hydra had hurt her last time, but she was sure she could manage it. After seeing him fight Bucky, he knew he had his work cut out for him just catching Tony. Everytime he thought he had him, it was like he slipped away. When he caught the clasp it was an utter fluke actually, the clasp broke and the amulet slipped to the floor and Steve knocked it between two of the matts. Even though Tony beat him, he took it as a win. 

Like Bucky, Tony refused to spar with Wanda. Claiming he didn't want to accidentally hurt her, but he figured it was her abilities that scared him as he never touched her. Not like the casual touches between himself Bucky and Natasha. Even Sam now. They continued Swapping partners for a while, Sam was nervous to go up against Tony, but Tony spent more time teaching than sparring, he really did seem to be taking on a mentor role over Sam lately, he didn't know why, but he found it very annoying. 

"Food will be ready in 20 minutes." 

FRIDAY called out and most of them perked up at that, starting to flag slightly. Tony hopped and started heading towards the elevator instead of the gym showers, turning to talk as he walked backwards. 

"That's our cue for showers, no stinky people at my dinner table." 

Bucky headed in the same direction as Tony too. 

"Showers this way Buck." 

"I forgot to bring down my conditioner, my hair is a rats nest without it, so I'm going to shower in my room." 

He jogged to catch up with Tony as the vanished around the corner. The rest of them used the gym showers. They were not like any gym showers Steve had ever seen, practically the same as the ones in their rooms, he didn't see the point of going back to their rooms. 

He met up with Wanda after, taking a little extra time so Sam and Natasha had gone. 

"Was it too bad for you?" 

"Very chaotic, it's like he thinks about 5 things at once, there was a lot about how they trained him to fight. Along with more of them experimenting on him and punishment for going easy on another experiment." 

She scoffed, rolling her eyes whilst rubbing at her temples. It had definitely taken a toll on her, he wondered why Tony's mind was still focused on things like that to the point it hurt Wanda. Even after all of this time. 

"Utterly idiotic if you ask me, he deserved getting lashed for being stupid... I got some things between the memories however. Nothing useful or important. He's meeting someone called Dax tomorrow and just going to some gallery auction thing in 3 days that he's helping to set up and-." 

"Wait, gallery auction? Did you get an address?" 

"I saw the building name? I'll have a look." 

Wanda pulled it up the address she'd seen on her phone and Steve instantly knew something was up. This was where he had wanted the team to go on a mission! Now he was completely sure that Tony was manipulating their orders. 

He grabbed the amulet, because Wanda shouldn't have to deal with his traumatic memories throughout dinner. As they headed up for dinner and he started planning how they could go to this auction without getting into trouble. 

Everyone was already sat, in a similar way as last time, Tony in the middle of Bucky and Natasha, with Sam opposite Natasha this time. He sat next to Sam as Bucky was plating up at the table. He had to admit, it smelled very good and better than the takeout they resorted to often. Everyone was changed from earlier and he couldn't help that his eyes went for Tony's left arm, which was again covered up with a long sleeved top. 

"Did someone lose a necklace? I found it in-between the matts?" 

All of their hands immediately jumped to their necks, the relief that nothing had happened was a bit over the top he thought. 

"Huh, I didn't even feel it. Thanks Rogers, that was very nice of you." 

Tony reached out to accept it, smiling, pulled a pack of tiny screwdrivers out of his pocket strangely and had the clasp fixed and amulet on before Bucky had finished plating everyone up. He hopes this is just a coincidence, but he doubts it somehow. 



When Natasha and Sam were washing up, Wanda came over to him, speaking quietly outside of the range of the team. 

"Why do you keep looking at his forearm?" 

"He keeps it covered all the time, I was just wondering why." 

Wanda nodded and moved to the kitchen, he didn't know what she was up to, but she couldn't just pull his sleeve up. Instead she was making tea and he felt a bit silly for thinking she was planning something. Tony was just turning around however when she tripped. Her cup of scalding hot water getting dumped on Tony's chest. 

The man hissed but didn't do much more, didn't move to remove his shirt, it was Sam who jumped into first aid mode. Practically yelling and tugging Tony's shirt off himself and Steve swore he looked more resigned than anything as he did. Bucky immediately moved in with a towel to dry him off. Steve couldn't see anything because Sam had frozen, staring and blocking his view. Wanda had backed out of the kitchen, looking pleased with herself before schooling her face. He wished she'd spoken about her plan, they could have come up with something that didn't injure people. Natasha was staring at Tony too but behind him. The only person who didn't seem fussed about it was Bucky as he dried him down gently. Tony's eyes were closed and he just looked… very tired more than anything else. 

"Man, I'm sorry, I just.. I didn't want you to burn. Which I realise is kind of dumb because of how you heal but I still didn't want you to get burned just because you could heal and I-" 

"Hey, Birdy. It's fine. All this doesn't really bother me much, I'm pretty used to it by now. It just… freaks people out." 

"I'll get you another shirt doll." 

Bucky jogged off and that gave Steve a view of his right side and he was taken aback by the amount and severity of the scars. Tony then turned to continue what he'd been doing before, getting ingredients for dessert. Giving Steve and Sam a view of what Natka had been staring at, which was his back. Sam sucked in a breath and Tony turned back to him. Squeezing his shoulders. 

"I'm OK man. Really." 

Sam didn't look even remotely convinced. However the movement allowed Steve to catch a flash of what had been inked and if he saw correctly, possibly branded into his arm. He didn't know what the numbers meant, but the Hydra Property was obvious and he couldn't take his eyes off it. Even when Bucky returned with a long sleeved shirt. Sam's eyes kept flicking to it as well. 

 

Wanda said he was probably hiding it for other reasons but didn't elaborate as to what. Steve felt… He didn't know if he was guilty. He didn't understand why Tony would hide it if there wasn't a reason . It added to the pile of things that had him feeling uneasy. 



It takes some convincing to get the team to agree to the mission. 

He doesn't mention anything to do with Tony, just Mr Gold. Especially after the incident in the kitchen, Sam had become.. quite annoyed at any mention of tracking Tony. 

Wanda immediately said yes, Sam was against it, but then Sam has been a bit strange about anything regarding Mr Gold for a while now too, after Clint started explaining more about the underworld as he called it. Sam deemed him a benign villain that had done more good that some good guys. Which was ridiculous. 

He focused on Natasha next who finally caved and he tells Bucky that it was a sanctioned mission. He hated lying, but Bucky had seemed… impressed with the man, especially after he'd slaughtered his way through Hydra hierarchy. After everyone was on board. Sam grudgingly agreed to keep them out of trouble. 

They swapped their usual gear for what Nat said would be acceptable for an auction of the caliber that Steve has shown her. It meant he was in a fussy suit and couldn't take his shield, he declined Natasha offer of a gun. The suit was uncomfortable and Steve was pretty sure if this came to fighting, it would tear. But this was reconnaissance only, he wanted to get eyes on Mr Gold, see who he actually was instead of all these weird witness reports. Steve had over 50 of them now and Clint was right each of them was eerily identical. He suspected magic was the cause. 

Bucky has a smart looking suit on and Steve wonders where he got it from, because it looked a lot nicer and better fitting than his. Sam dressed up smartly but with his own flare and Steve definitely felt the odd one out of the three. Wanda came out in a knee length red dress, Natasha had a black dress about the same length, but it flared out at the bottom. They both carried small bags. Natasha and Bucky didn't look harmless, but they somehow didn't look like the walking armouries they were. 

Natasha paused before entering the quinjet next to him, the others had already entered. 

"Are you sure you want to go down this path Steve? Sure that you want to go against Tony." 

"Wait, what? This is about Mr Gold…" 

"Dont treat me like I'm stupid Steve. You broke Tony's necklace specifically so Wanda could go digging in his head and suddenly you have us on an unsanctioned mission." 

"I…" 

"Don't lie. You are bad at it. Are you sure you want to head down this path Steve? That you accept the consequences for what will happen? Because you chose this ." 

"Yes. I'm sure." 

He nodded, feeling a lot better now Natasha had spoken to him, giving her a smile as he followed her onto the quinjet. The trip is short, it isn't too far out when travelling by Quinjet. They land on the roof because they don't actually have invitations and entering via the foyer is a bad plan. 

The building is a ridiculously tall, the front is all ceiling to floor glass windows so they could land with no one really seeing them.

Wanda opened the fire escape door after disconnecting the alarm, allowing them entry without anyone realising their presence. Most of the building seems to be office space thankfully. Which means at gone midnight, no one is here. Why people have art auctions past midnight, he has no idea. Rich people are a strange breed. 

The lift is big enough for all of them to fit in as Steve presses the button for floor 45. It's fast and smooth, but not as good as the one they have back home he thinks amusedly. 

The doors open and this time the lights are on, even though there are no people milling around in the foyer, there is light music is coming from the large room. There are signs directing them, even explaining what the auction is for. Steve had little interest in that

He hoped that they'd be able to dodge Tony until they find the other man. Although he wouldn't be surprised if he found them together. He did thank the man on live TV after all. Told Steve to give him his thanks. It seems suspicious to Steve that they would both be here and not be together. 

He and Wanda walked in first, Sam behind them with Natasha and Bucky at the rear. If the space had more than one entrance, they'd have split up, but even the stairwell opens into the same hall as the elevators. 

He realised something was up as soon as he opened the doors. It's dim, but not dim enough for Steve to notice that it is utterly empty. 

Barring a single, large chair that had its back to them. There is a person sat in the chair, he can see the person, possibly a man judging from the shoes, that are kicked up on a small table. The chair facing the windows and a striking view. He can also see some of their arm. Their elbow resting on the arm rest on the chair, golden whisps curling around his fingers as they move, twisting and slipping around his fingers and his wrist, dipping into the black shirt. 

This… wasn't quite what Steve had been aiming for, but it meant that this will be faster which was good as they were on a deadline to get home by. The figure snaps his finger and the gold threads dissipates into gold dust. It also makes him jump. Wanda stands at his left, Sam at his right. Bucky and Natasha hang back in the shadows which is good. The music catches his attention before the figure, Mr Gold, speaks. 

I am flesh and I am bone

"Well this was almost too easy." 

Steve snaps his head up, gaping slightly. 

Arise, ting ting, like glitter and gold

"What?" 

I've got fire in my soul

Tony span the chair around, smiling slightly to himself with his head tilted as he analyses them in the cold fashion that never fails to give Steve chills. He crossed his legs, ankle to knee, hands resting casually on the arm rest, but he didn't give off a casual feel. It was more like he was ready, ready for action, although of what, he had no idea. Steve's brain was trying to catch up. 

Arise, ting ting, like glitter and gold

"I've always wanted to do that." 

Like glitter and gold

Steve had no idea what Tony was talking about as his eyes locked on to his own and Steve sees gold spark in his eyes. He ended up looking away first. Completely unsettled by how Tony just looked… through him. 

Like glitter

"I should have known it was you!" 

Wanda snarls, send a burst of magic straight at Tony before Steve can even consider stopping her. Tony, who had once been utterly terrified of Wanda's magic, who he thought was still terrified.

Is completely unconcerned. 

He doesn't even take his eyes of Steve as he raised his left hand, splaying his fingers as the red tendrils coming his way. They seem to slow down, or Wanda is drawing this out. He isn't sure, but then Tony snaps his fingers again, this time gold sparks from the snap like a burner. Where each spark meets red tendril... It ignited. 

The gold sparks surge towards Wanda down her own magic, crackling and sending molten gold sparks to the floor that dash into golden dust, until it reaches her hands. Steve is stunned watching as Wanda drops to the floor, a scream of agony is torn from her throat as Tony remains sitting, smiling, it seems off somehow. Like he isn't there, that cold, hard look is on him the entire time, not even sparing Wanda a single glance. 

"Didn't take much, did it?" 

"What? What did you do to her?" 

"I said, it didn't take much. To make you think I'm planning some global dictatorship and for you to launch an illegal mission with zero information! As for the Witch, she should know not to send her core essence so far from her body. Especially to another magic user. Sloppy."

He waved a hand passively that had Rogers flinching despite his hands are clear of magic. Yet he is very clear in his distaste for Wanda's magic. 

"You… You've been forcing us to do your bidding, changing our orders! Making us stop searching for Mr Gold.. You."

"Actually. I really haven't. Haven't touched a thing, well, except getting Clint his discharge notice. Now, that was all me."

"No, you've been.."

"Any proof there Rogers? Any at all? I'd barely given you a thought. I don't even have a line of contact with the people who decide your missions. Just a few little words was all it took, I wasn't even going to do much about it. You just had to push, didn't you? Do you even know where you went wrong? Where you pushed too far? Pay up my Natka, I told you we wouldn't need your plan.." 

"Yeah yeah.. I thought it would take more."

Nat sighs as she stalks past Steve, stepping over Wanda who is still whimpering on the ground, leaving Steve staring as she hands some money to Tony, who folds it neatly and tucked it into his pocket. She stands on his right hand side, slightly behind the chair. Leaning against it in an artful manner the two of them seem perfectly posed for a damned magazine cover and Steve… has no idea what is happening. 

Tony is still staring directly at him he notices, smirking now Natasha is by his side and he thinks about that conversation again. The conversation that had been going around and around in his head. 

"It probably wouldn't take much, would it Yasha?"

"To do what?"

"For him to, you know, take over." 

"Barely a challenge." 

Steve replays it over and over as he meets Tony's gaze again. Wondering if the man can hear his thoughts like Wanda, he doesn't react to what he's thinking thought, so he figures his powers are different maybe, and he's doing everything right now to think that that conversation didn't have two people in it. No. 

"Payment acceptable my Stella Dorata?" 

Steve finches as he feels Bucky move from the shadows behind him. He feels glued to the spot. Like everything is happening in slow motion as he pulls his eyes from Tony's gold tinted eyes to see Bucky pick Wanda up like a ragdoll. His metal hand going around her neck as the gold symbols burst to life. Wanda thrashed and kicked, but her strength was nothing against Bucky without her magic and apparently she can't access it. 

"Magic nullification wards worked into the Vibranium. I make sure my people are safe and well cared for you see Rogers. My Soldat was in enemy territory with a little Ved'ma playing with his mind. One of his requests was to combat magic, the only magic that can be cast upon him now requires express consent ."

Steve opens his mouth but doesn't know what to say, the way Tony's gaze has shifted to Bucky throws him. Leaves him feeling dismissed somehow. 

"Payment Accepted, Zolotaya Iskra." 

"Mmm bring her over her darling. I'd like her a little bit more unconscious for transportation, don't you think?" 

Tony holds his right hand out, with a come here gesture. Bucky takes the still struggling Wanda forward and Steve goes to follow. To do.. Something. To stop him. Just… Something

"Ah ah ah now. You two wait there." 

A wave of his hand and a gold symbol flashes to life under his and Sam's feet and Steve finds himself unable to move his feet and his voice silenced when he tries to shout and Bucky drops Wanda at Tony's feet. She crumpled to the ground as a gold symbol lit up where she fell. Tony catches her face easily with his right hand, holding it in a vice like grip before looking at Bucky. Ignoring the ongoing snarls and weak struggles from Wanda. 

"What we talked about?" 

Bucky dropped down to his knees on Tony's right hand side, no gold symbol flashes to life but that doesn't exactly comfort Steve, as he's still kneeling. Tony reaches out with his right hand to gently run it through Bucky's hair, small flashes and sparks of gold light up. 

"Oh Wanda, how many nightmares did you pollute my Soldats mind with? How many times did you force your twisted visions into his mind? How many times did you use him for training back at Hydra? Gleefully playing with him and the people they brought you. Discarding them like broken toys when you were finished."

He flicks his eyes to bore into Steve who flinches under the intensity. He has to be lying. Wanda wouldn't do that, she was probably forced by Hydra. 

"That's right Rogers, I can even send you actual evidence too. You see, I act on facts."

He turned his attention back to Wanda, his smirk turning sharp and dangerous and his eyes lighting up, steadily, brighter with gold sparking and shining. 

"Well little Ved'ma, I'm sure you've forgotten all of your torments. Not to worry deary, you'll remember soon enough." 

There was a bright flash of gold then, so bright that Steve's eyes were stinging and he was blinking back spots as Wanda keeled over. Bucky watching with a smirk of his own. 

"She's going through what she put me through?" 

"Yes, for as long as you desire darling." 

"Good." 

Bucky gave her one last glance before gracefully standing, Tony's hand slipping from his hair and sliding down his arm, leaving a trail of gold dust glittering in the low light. Holding his hand lightly as he moved to stand in the mirror position to Natasha. At his left hand side. They're still holding hands when Tony finally pulls his attention away from him and back to Steve and Sam. Wanda seemingly forgotten on the floor.  

"Well, gentlemen, this has been delightful, I'm sure you'll agree. You have 36 minutes to return to the compound before someone realises you have broken the terms of your parole. Sit tight boys." 

He waved his hand casually and the gold light at their feet fades away, causing them both to stumble slightly as they were no longer stuck to the floor. 

"Tony, what are you doing? Bucky, what's going on." 

Tony shrugged at Steve, as Bucky pulled him up gracefully to stand, Tony steps closer to him, Tony's hand slipping around his waist, at the same time as Bucky's arm pulled him closer. Tony tipped his face up to nuzzle into his neck, smirking as Bucky's metal hand runs through his hair. 

"I gave him what he desires most. What is it that you desire most Sam? Want to be able to help your family? Help your sister out of debt? To… have your own set of superpowers? To be free to build? Mm veritable gold mine. Think on it Birdie. My door is always open." 

He raised his hand not currently being occupied with Bucky, a smaller, but equally bright flash of gold leaves a white card held lightly between two fingers, another flash and it disappeared again, leaving Sam staring at his pocket slightly dumbfounded. 

Bucky detached from Tony to grab Wanda, carelessly tossing the unconscious woman over his shoulder. Tony strolls off at a slow pace in the opposite direction that they came in, towards a solid wall, humming to himself. Looking like he was moving to music only he could hear as the room had dropped into silence. Nat falls in at his right and Bucky at his left and Steve notices the synchronicity of the entire display is smooth. Too smooth to be new. 

The wall opens up and the step into another lift, turning to face them as Tony raises both of his hands. Natasha and Bucky hold put their left wrists. Two small wisps of gold curl out from Tony's hands and the tracking bands open and clatter to the floor. Natasha picks both up, pocketing them. 

"Ciao." 

Steve stumbles forward as Tony smirked at him, wide and full of teeth as the panel slides shut. Hiding the other lift and whisking away 3 members of his team whilst he stood there dumbfounded. 

"What the fuck just happened?!" 

"I… I don't know Sam." 

"Well, let's get going, don't want to add going to going jail into this cluster fuck. Shit. I can't believe this. You told me this wouldn't backfire on us Steve!"

The trip back to the compound is done in silence. He almost expected to be arrested or.. Something, but there is no one waiting for them as they get back. But there are two signed contracts on the table which after a quick glance over, are for Bucky and Natasha switching their parole to the private employment of Mr Stark. There is no mention of Wanda. He sees Sam looking at a white card as he pretends to read the contracts. He finds himself numb and unsurprised as Sam slips it back into his pocket instead of the bin. 

 

He tries to report what happened. 

But everything he found online and saved about the auction is gone, as if it never existed. There is no CCTV of Tony, the cameras for the building went down as he landed the jet, which is actually taken as Steve's doing. 

FRIDAY played the song Tony had been humming after the second time he failed to contact someone. The lyrics stuck with him. 

'I will burn your kingdom down, if you try to conquer me and mine.'

They look at him like he's crazy saying that Tony is Mr Gold. That Tony is Hydra's Operative. Explaining that all the memories Tony gave then don't remotely match up to the operative. The times are wrong. Tony was still a captive when Gold was winding down. It's impossible. 

'I will burn your kingdom down.'

He ends up being informed that he is lucky that time doesn't get added to his parole for going off on unsanctioned missions.

'If you try to conquer me and mine.'

Wanda was declared AWOL. 

Sam was.. strangely quiet.

Steve just doesn't understand. When did all this happen? 

When did everything go wrong? 

"You chose this." 

 

 





"Well, I just think that maybe he's tired? The guy deserves a break after all he's done, don't you think?" 

The presenter leaned forward, giving Tony a look that clearly said he was being too kind as Tony turn to speak at the audience and into the cameras. 

"Doesn't he look tired guys?"

"I'm surprised you'd say that, everyone knows that he was constantly trying to pull you back into the Avengers. Now he's spreading rumours? I'd definitely be angry. "

"Deary, I have bigger things in my life than 1 tired super soldier." 

"That is true! We heard about the switch of two former Avengers to Stark Tower. Are you starting up your own team?"

"Well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?" 

Chapter Text

They had been given the greenlight for being allowed to leave the compound, and James was pretty thrilled by the idea. It seemed Ross had been the one keeping them completely locked down and with his removal, people had decided that they deserved a little freedom. Plus, no one actually seemed sad that the man died, even though he had been scratching his head slightly as to how a person even got on the quinjet without being seen. 

Especially after Natalia showed him that Stark was a paranoid bastard and even factored in people turning invisible . Who does that? Well. Apart from rich, overly smart, billionaires. 

The first time he'd headed out alone, with no mission, he nearly had a panic attack. 

Each subsequent time he got further and further from the base. Oddly the tracking bracelet acting as a tether , made it easier than he suspected to be able to move around outside of the watchful, comforting presence of FRIDAY. She'd been so good to him recently. 

Some days he just went into shops, buying things that were different to what they had at home, trying new things. Sometimes he barely lasted 40 minutes but one time he'd just walked for hours. 

Then, one time, he saw Tony Stark. 

He was stood outside of one of the city buildings, standing a few steps up, 3 men were looking up, hanging on his every word and he found himself unable to look away. Because of the position, he couldn't get close enough to hear what was being discussed without being noticed, so he watched. Slightly baffled that the man Steve was so damned desperate to speak to was just.. There. Right in front of him. 

It seemed surreal and he found himself wondering if it was real, but it was definitely Stark. Although he had no idea why he was there. 

 

The next time was just over a week later and James was starting to pick up on the subtle signs in the city that seemed to change when he was around, he couldn't pinpoint it, but there was a feeling and the city buildings seemed to have less cars in the car park. Odd, little unconnected parts of a pattern that most people wouldn't notice, but the Winter Soldier was trained to. Stark was the kind of person that affected the world around him effortlessly. 

He was back at the city planning buildings again. Which was strange because he had looked online for a reason for Tony to be visiting these buildings here but there had been nothing. Not that it was hard to find, there was just nothing, not even the mention of Tony being so close to the compound, something the news would pounce on like a pack of starving wolves because by now, everyone knew Steve was desperately trying to contact the billionaire. Failing too. 

He didn't quite know why he was tracking Tony, via his business online or in person on the odd occasions he visited, but he did it anyway. Some of the times he spotted him were as he just so happened to be reading papers about the man being in Germany, which had really underlined the point that Stark only ended up in the media these days on his terms. 

Natalia knew something was up, so when things started to pick up again, he invited her out. She agreed, although he could see that she was confused but not showing it. If he had timed it right, this was going to be amusing. They were eating burgers from a van opposite the city planning building when Tony strolled out as if he owned the place. Running a hand through his hair casually in a suit that looked damn near painted on. He couldn't help the smirk when she choked on her burger as he slipped behind the wheel of a black Audi and sped off. 

"So. This is what you've been doing? I didn't even know he was this close.." 

"He isn't always, I've gotten good at reading the area. How it changes when he arrives." 

"What is he doing at city planning?" 

"Why, Romanova. How would I know that? That's private information!" 

She snorted and elbowed him in the ribs while he fished the plans out of his bag. That were obtained by completely legal means. Of course. 

"Why is he building a club?" 

"No idea. But it had already broken ground weeks before these were actually signed." 

"Why are you watching him anyway?" 

"I… Don't know?" 




Sometimes he just wants an excuse to leave the house. 

The tension is usually uncomfortable and his nightmares had taken an edge towards the more violent again. 

He knew what it was, he just doesn't get how Steve doesn't see it. He had thought something had gone very wrong the first time he dreamed about her. Thought maybe his mind was just inserting people from the day into the nightmares. It didn't take him long though remember that they were memories. She was still oblivious, he knew how to bury information from her. He remembered how he learnt how to. It gave him chills just thinking about it. 

If she specifically touched him and went searching, that was a different story. She didn't seem to have realised that he'd remembered either, so he kept it buried. He rarely sat where a person could sit next to him, the huge window that even Steve couldn't reach without jumping worked perfectly. Plus, it was was comfortable and he liked heights. 

He didn't know why she was doing it. He hadn't done anything to her, sure he avoided her, but he avoided everyone. Occasionally he'd speak with people, but he hadn't actively singled her out. Sometimes he went weeks without speaking to anyone. But he remembered what she was like now, she is probably doing it out of boredom, just to see him suffer. He had found an abandoned house that he headed to on some days the second they were allowed out and didn't return until midnight. Sleeping there and remaining awake at home. 

 

He wanted her out of his head. Not only that, he wanted her to fucking suffer. She wanted her to feel every single thing she has forced into him and he wanted to watch. He couldn't even bring himself to feel bad about it. 

She had dealt out enough of it, spread enough pain and suffering, she deserved to have some of it come back on her. With Steve at her side, he just didn't see it happening. She was protected

 

He stepped out of the compound to do his rounds as he called them, it was around 2pm when he passed the club Tony had been working on. It managed to look both shiny and new and like it had been there for years somehow. The weirdest thing about it was that it didn't actually have a name. He carried on but altered his route that night, to see how busy it was. There was nothing in the news about Tony still, so he wasn't the draw. It was packed, he figured that it was a fluke of a new business that it already had lines stretching down the road.

He still didn't know why he was watching the town, or why he watched Tony. And now why, a few weeks after opening, he was watching the club. He was in the perfect position for a sniper nest, he had a direct line of sight to the VIP seating area of the club that was often empty. He figured the perfect nature of his position was why this ancient, dilapidated building that had been up for sale for 16 years, suddenly had a shiny sold sign slapped on the faded for sale one. 

Tonight was slightly different as the vip section actually had people in it. But they didn't look anything like what he'd expect. There were 4 people who looked like they were in a meeting rather than a very loud nightclub. They had assistants and everything. It was a normal scene, but the setting was.. Jarring. It was normal for a boardroom. 

He hadn't gone as far in this strange new hobby of his as to bug the place, so he had no idea what they were discussing. Tony entered after a while and it really did proceed like a meeting, the setting was odd. He figured that Natalia might be amused at least as he sent off a text about what was going on. Neither of them had mentioned to Steve yet what was going on. He wanted to keep this as his. 

When he glanced back up the meeting seems to be finished, and Tony was sat back and if he didn't know better, he'd swear he was looking in his direction but he was far enough away that he doubted as much. Until he felt his jacket tug forward gently, he blinked, looking down in confusion as a wisp of sparkling gold dissipated. He was stunned for a second, looking back at the nightclub, Tony had sat back in his chair, legs crossed ankle to knee with a hand out. When he didn't move. He raised his hand in a very obvious come here gesture. 

He could be reading into things. He could have imagined it. 

For some reason he finds himself nodding anyway, pocketing his binoculars and heading towards the door. He isn't exactly dressed for a night club, black combat trousers, black t-shirt and a leather jacket. He looked at the large line and pulled a face, when he nodded he hadn't considered that. The man at the door however waved him forward, the people in the line giving him looks that ranged from irritation to interest as he was let in. 

He didn't know if it was because of the serum, but the music was painfully loud, loud enough that he could barely hear anything around him other than the music. Which wasn't the most comfortable experience for a person as hypervigilant as himself. A man moved out from what looked like the coat check booth. He was keeping his coat, it was the only thing covering his arm. Instead of taking his coat however he guided him to the other end of the club, pressing his thumb against the door handle then vanishing into the crowd. 

Even in this hallway he can feel the music from the club, let alone still hear it. As he stepped into the vip area however it was cut off. Quick enough that he thought he'd gone deaf for a moment and it caused him to stumble. 

"I could hear you from across the street you know? Sit." 

He followed the clear order and sat in the indicated chair and tried to work out what he was talking about. He glanced out of the window, seeing the building he'd just left, but even in the strange silence of this section, there was no way to hear anything from there. 

"What could you hear?" 

Tony tilted his head as if he was listening to something he couldn't hear, that gold mist playing around his fingers again instantly had his attention, his eyes tinted and looked gold in the light. It was embarrassing how slow he was to put 2 and 2 together. 

"I still like to ask, even though I already know. What is it you desire?"

"You already know?" 

"Hmm, of course I do. I can do it too, we can play the long game darling. Can even give you a little something here and now." 

"Okay." 

Tony's eyes flared bright gold and for some reason that had him feeling suddenly a lot warmer in this room. 

"Tsk, are you not going to ask what the price is?" 

"I figured you'd tell me." 

"Hmm, I like that, come here." 

He gestured forward again, practically identical to the one that had brought him here in the first place with another clear order. Steve would hate how much that relaxed him, like this crushing weight was pulled from his shoulders, even for a little while. As Tony uncrossed his legs to lean forward, another quick gesture had him kneeling. 

"I'm going to make it so your mind is safe, but she will think she is still bothering you. So she won't push. Okay." 

"Yeah that's great.." 

He was worried the gold most that occasionally crackled and sparked across Tony's skin would feel like Wanda's. Which was why he flinched slightly when Tony's fingers brushed across his temples. Before he could apologise he was shushing him. 

"You're OK, it's fine, this won't hurt you darling. I won't hurt you." 

Which didn't prepare him, not even a little bit as the warmth rushed through his system. Clearing away dregs of red grasping magic in a pure gold fire. Leaving him warm, then it turned and oh god that felt good. He heard himself whimper slightly as it pulled away, he listed forward as if chasing the contact. 

"Oh darling, I'll give you a taste, come here." 

The warmth was back but more this time as he dragged his fingers down the side of his face and neck. He felt lips lightly brush his forehead and it was the best feeling in the world. He wasn't exactly sure how long he stayed like that, but his knees ached when he stood up, until suddenly that too faded. His head was pleasantly foggy and clear all at once. Tony relaxed back in his chair, gold still sparking at his fingers and his eyes were full of it and he was smiling widely. He figured that was a dismissal of sorts, mostly because he didn't know what to say next other than when can that happen again? Amazingly, after the ache of his knees cleared, all of his pain cleared. He was suddenly pain free entirely. His shoulder felt amazing, he was practically giddy with how good he felt. 

"You know when I visit, don't you." 

He nodded because he didn't want to lie to the man. 

"Good, I don't tolerate people who lie to me." 

"I won't lie."

"Then feel free to come back darling if you want another. You taste very nice, a man could get hooked on it." 

His mouth was instantly dry as he nodded. He knew there were questions he should be asking, but found that they fizzled almost as he thought them up. Even though his head was clearer than it had been in a long time now there was no shred of the witch left. 

He figured the magic that kept the room quiet was why no one remembered it had been Tony . Why all they remembered was Gold. He remembered the gold, of it in his eyes, and against his skin. 

James however remembered that it was Tony. 

 

He watched, he waited. He replayed what happened even though very little was said. The implications that Tony was Mr Gold. That Tony was The Operative. That Tony had magic, had heard his desire from across the street. 

 

The next time he realised Tony was back, the building he had used to watch the club from, was gone, the rubble completely cleared as if it had never existed and none of the other buildings offered even a moderately comparable vantage point. 

The man at the door recognised him instantly, this time he was taken to an office of sorts, offered a drink and shown where he could sit. The music cut off as soon as he entered. This time he didn't stumble. 

"I usually have to be careful you know, I've accidentally killed people like this." 

He hadn't heard the door open, or even felt Tony come up behind him, just that he was suddenly leaning on the back of his chair, looking at him with a strange look on his face. 

"You seem to be different." 

"Is that good?" 

"Hmm, usually after what I gave you last time, it wouldn't be safe to touch you so soon." 

He wondered about that, what his abilities actually were because they didn't seem to have a clear distinction, from what he'd briefly seen however, he knew that Hydra would have had a field day controlling him. He held his hand towards him, hand bare centimetres from his neck. He knew Tony wouldn't hurt him, he wasn't sure how he knew, but it gave him the confidence to shift and push himself against Tony's palm, magic crackled loudly. This time he didn't flinch as the warmth soothed him immediately. This time he kept his eyes open to see Tony's eyes slide partially shut as the warmth slid through his veins. Tony ran his tongue across his teeth a few times before leaning on the back of James chair. It was the closest the man had come to a 'tell', he'd been so careful with his reactions, not just with him, in the media. That told him something, at a guess it was that he wasn't the only one affected drastically. This was Tony's ability, he assumed he used it with others, he wondered why he was different. 

" Would you be up for doing me a favour?" 

His tone made it pretty clear said favour was somewhere south of legal and maybe ended in dead bodies. He raised his wrist, the silver band flush against his skin that had been there for years. 

"Based of my design darling, that's easy." 

"Then yes." 

"Really? I thought you were happy to get out of this gig? Happy to not be following orders." 

He didn't know how to explain that he still felt an itch he couldn't scratch. That maybe hydra had broken him. That under Steve's watch he was expected to ge easy, even on handlers. He also didn't think he needed to because he was sure he saw the same thing in Tony as he held his arm out. 

"It's different when I choose to follow." 

It took Tony seconds to get the supposedly indestructible cuff off. He pressed a button and a man slipped in the room for Tony to snap it on, they didn't comment before heading back into the club. He noticed that the gold that sparked practically eagerly on his skin as Tony removed it didn't spark, that he didn't touch them even slightly. Avoiding even the barest of contact. 

"If you get back quick enough we'll even have some time before you turn into a pumpkin." 

His old handlers would probably be pissed at how fast he finished the job and removed the evidence with an offer like than on the table. He had been out of the game for a while, but he remembered acutely how to be a ghost story. Plus, he was motivated. He was back at the club two hours later. 

 

After the fourth visit and 2 jobs later, Tony seemed to fully realise that whatever it was about James, whatever made him different, wasn't going away. Tony had even showed him what happened to people who returned too many times and it hadn't stopped him. He considered the idea that he might be compromised, disregarded them shortly after. He always had a choice to walk into that office or the VIP room and he barely considered it each time. 



One night he arrived and Tony looked pale and pained, collapsed in the chair of his office with his eyes shut, it had been a few weeks since he had seen him last and he was concerned, yet what he said… it was the final piece of the puzzle that clicked into place and he rolled his eyes at himself for not working it out sooner. 

"What's wrong doll." 

"Nothing.. It's just. I'm.. hungry ." 

His eyes flashed pure gold when he opened them, tracking his every movement and there was an emphasis on hungry , his voice dropped and it was pretty clear he wasn't talking about normal food. 

"Well, it's a good thing I'm here then, isn't it?" 

Which seemed to be all the permission Tony was looking for, in a move faster than even he could track, he found himself pinned against the wall, Tony's hands sliding under his shirt. He couldn't see it but he knew his hands would be sparking gold, could feel it, it was more than any of the other times they'd done this. He hadn't realised how much he'd been holding back as his knees practically went from underneath him with the barrage of pure sensation as Tony held him up, pressing close and he went for his neck. Feeling teeth lightly scrape and bite before his tongue chased the sting away. Anywhere there was skin contact he felt flooded and after a few times, he could feel the pull too, how energy passed or however this worked. He held on to Tony for dear life, to hold him closer. 

"God you taste so good. No one else like you, don't have to be careful about touching you, my magic likes you too, did you know that darling? No one tastes better than you." 

He couldn't really formulate a response with words but he was preening slightly, until Tony slowly pulled it back, then he whined at the loss. 

"Not leaving, just want your head clear before I offer more."

"More?"

His mind instantly went in one direction, hard, and Tony's eyes glinted like the did when he heard something he wanted. Making him step back close to whisper at him, holding his Magic back but he could feel it straining towards him. Rearing to break free. 

"More." 

If that wasn't a damned beautiful word if he ever heard one. Because he had always wanted more. His whole damned life he has always been wanting more, but never getting it. Starving for food, just getting a taste for life to be ripped away and sent to war. Just getting a taste of happiness to fall from a damned train. Getting a taste of freedom before everything came crashing down around them. Tony, Tony had offered his tastes but now, now he was offering more, and here maybe, maybe this time, he can get what he wanted. All of it. Glut himself on it. 

Tony pulled back, grabbed his hand and lead him around the desk, he was confused until he flicked open a panel. Pressing his hand against a scanner that he's pretty sure he'd geek out on, but right now, the wall shifting into a door and opening up to a bedroom… That is better than any damned tech in the world right now and he happily goes where he was lead. Tony already looked better than when he first walked in, but his eyes are radiating gold as he's pushed back onto the soft bed and for once, everything's coming up James. 

"Clothes." 

Definitely an order he was happy to comply with as Tony shed his shirt, his olive skin seemed tinted slightly with gold that was bright in his eyes, magic crackling across his hands and golden whisps wrapping around his hands and down his wrists. Like his skin was full of it. The scars on his chest, and there were a lot of them, the one thing covered was his left forearm with cloth buttoned to cover it. He barely spared it a glance however because the rest, had a silvery, glittery quality, the whole effect left him looking ethereal, above humanity, but definitely hungry as he took in the bare expanse of James chest and looked at his as if he was the best thing he has ever set eyes on. 

James knew he could get lost for a look like that landing on him. He'd happily fall.




"I do wish I could keep you here throughout the night, maybe something for the future. Could keep you in this bed for days." 

He stretches, luxuriating in the feel of the cool silk sheets against his skin that still feels like is humming with magic as Tony nuzzled into his neck again. He's pretty sure he's never felt so damned good in his life and dammit if he still didn't want more, there's no pain, no complications, just more than he ever dreamed of. 

From how Tony was curled against his side, pressed as close as possible, as much skin contact as he could physically manage even though he wasn't feeding now. How he was idly tracing patterns on his chest, that occasionally crackled with gold sparks, that felt so good when each one soaked in to his skin. Little tiny waves of pleasure that had him arching to Tony's chuckles next to his ear. 

Other people got drained when Tony fed, for him it seemed to have the opposite effect, he was energised beyond anything he'd ever felt before. Where as Tony couldn't even risk touching some people after the smallest sip, well, unless he wanted to kill them. With him however… Tony couldn't seem to keep his hands off him after a full course meal. 

"I'd like that."

"I know you would darling, I can taste it on you. Hm, I'll move up my plans I think. Bring me the Spider." 

"Yes sir."

Chapter Text

Ever since Yasha had told her about the club, she'd been watching. He had held himself tense, withdrawn and pained until one day, he just... wasn't anymore. Until one day, he wasn't flinching at the witch. Until one day, he started eating ice cream in his windowsill more often and smiling easily. Until he started wandering around with a smirk and a glint in his eyes. She was definitely interested. 

She didn't know what had changed, she hadn't had any updates on his observations since he told her the VIP lounge was more like a 'mob boss boardroom' than a party spot. Which said some very interesting things about Tony. Every now and then his disappearances would increase, for several days in a row, he'd be gone for pretty much the entire that they were allowed out. He was very grumpy one day a call to assemble interrupted and even she felt a little bad for the bad guys that day. 

No one came to talk to them, so there wasn't anything suspicious going on, but her senses were twigged anytime he came back at 1am smiling like the cat that caught the canary. 

There was another time they'd been cleaning their gear together and she noticed blood on the inside of one of his sheaths, even though she was pretty sure he had not used that knife on their last mission. There was also the fact Steve tended to dislike large amounts of deaths. Realistically, if he didn't want death, then he shouldn't take the Winter Soldier raiding Hydra bases in her opinion. 

There were rumours of a new player in the assassin game too, another person who flitted in and out like a shadow. Leaving no evidence. 

If it wasn't for the silver band on their wrists, she might wonder if it was him. Over the last 7 years she had tried every trick in the book to get around the bands, including bringing some friends in, but after she realised they were based off of one of Tony's designs she'd mostly given up. She was suspicious, but she didn't bring the information to Steve. 

Clint had seemed impressed when he'd found out about it, they'd both kept it to themselves. The last thing they needed was for Steve to add another impossible quest to his docket. 

"Nat, you busy?" 

"No, bored actually." 

"An old friend is extending an invitation." 

She blinked at that, wondering who until he tossed something her way. She caught it easily out of the air before any of the other Avengers dotted around the room even noticed their quiet conversation. The candy in her hand was a surprise, who had delivered it was a bigger one. How the hell had Tony swung Yasha? When? 

 

She actually made an effort to look like she was going to a club, Yasha did not even make a token effort but walked with the easy confidence of this not being a first time. They reached the line first, trailing around the corner of the building. She schooled her face, but the idea of standing in that line did not appeal. Thankfully they didn't stop there. 

Her musings were confirmed when the man on the door barely glanced in their direction before opening the door for them, the painfully loud music bled out onto the street. It felt like it folded around her as they entered, loud enough that it rendered her almost sense blind in the dark atmosphere with flashing lights. If anyone was to have a chance assassinating her, this would be a perfect opportunity she mused as she followed Yasha across a winding bath to a black, almost invisible until they were on it, door at the back. He walked with a sway that he was happy to be here, that if he said jump people would say how high. It was nothing like he was at the compound. He pressed his thumb on a pad, the door swung open. 

She raised an eyebrow at that and he just shrugged, smiling and nodding to the door. She couldn't exactly question him here. She couldn't hear herself talk let alone have someone else hear her. Even as the door shut behind them, it was still loud enough that it felt like her skin was pulsing. Which made stepping from the dark hall into the softly lit VIP space all the stranger, the music cutting off so quickly it had her stumbling slightly.

Another perfect time to make a move on someone she thought as she scanned the wide space of large, comfortable looking chairs around a low dark table. An assortment of bottled drinks that had not been uncapped sat in the table. Practically wearing a sign declaring them poison free. These.. hadn't been things Tony used to know to do. 

Speaking of the man, he was sitting in a large chair opposite where she had come from. Dressed in a sharp suit, sunglasses hanging casually from his left hand. He was familiar, but not. He was Tony but there was a sense of still readiness emanating from the man instead of frenetic energy. He watched her every move, cool, analytical and steady. Enough for her to know she was being read and to be uncomfortable as she had never expected a look like that from Tony. 

Yasha walked past her, completely comfortable with the situation, snagging a bottle from the table and twisting the cap from it. She didn't find herself surprised when he didn't sit down, but instead leaned against the wall behind Tony's chair on his left, sipping his drink. The placement spoke volumes. 

Tony gestured to a chair and she sat down slowly, not sure how to play this situation. She and Tony hadn't exactly left things on good terms after all. She had freed the people he was to collect. The people who had then left him for dead. That one of said people was at his side didn't change what she had done. 

"How's things Natka?" 

"Oh, you know. Can't complain." 

He tilted his head, gaze sharpening and she wasn't sure what about this was unnerving her so much. She'd gone up against and worked with some of the most terrifying people she'd known, and coming from her, that was a compliment. Tony.. He was throwing her off. She'd known he was sharper, harder than before, had seen it in his business deals and in clips. It didn't quite compare to sitting in front of the man. 

"Can't you? Not one thing you desire to be different?" 

Clint's face flashed into her mind, how the years were weighing on him, how he looked after every conversation with Laura. 

"Thought as much." 

That was when the words clicked in her mind, they should, she'd read them enough. 

"I do think she's caught on darling." 

He blinked and his eyes flared gold. 

"You're Mr Gold." 

"Oh please don't call me that. It's terrible." 

Her mind cast back to Sokovia and the chained handler, and Ross. Gold left at certain kills, although she'd never worked out the pattern. It seemed random, but nothing Tony did was random. 

"Well, your calling card didn't exactly help matters." 

"You know me Nat, lean into it if people name you. Easier. Even if it is awful." 

Somehow, she felt more relaxed now. There was less unknown, even if what she knew couldn't hardly be described as comforting. From The Operative. From Mr Gold. From what she knew about Tony Stark himself and his capabilities. What was held back behind a strong sense of moral code no matter what Steve thought. How he'd flipped Yasha without any of them realising. 

"How did you kill him?" 

"Who?" 

"Ross, it's been bugging me for years." 

"Easily, oh you should have seen his face when I dropped in." 

A lazy grin spread across his face that was more chilling than his assessing looks. He leaned forward, picking up a bottle, the cap clinking off under a spark of gold. 

"I suppose it would be shocking to see you come back from the dead." 

"Oh no. He knew I was alive, he was there for my training." 

She'd never even considered that Ross had been Hydra. When he had taken out hidden Hydra targets, he left evidence neatly around him. She'd had a nightmare putting the files together as he didn't use a single method for his kills, there wasn't always gold left at every scene, just some. No one had worked out why there was gold at some scenes and none at others. Sometimes 6 in a row, and then nothing for months. She had a feeling Tony would make her work for that information. 

"Training?"

"Hmm. They thought that blindfolding me would protect them you see."

"I'm guessing that it did not."

"No. Not a single one of them. I could still smell them. Hear them. Feel what they wanted." 

She figured a conversation change was needed given how still the pair of them had gone. But then she understood, she had killed every handler after she switched sides. Yasha was renowned for killing handlers and techs even when he was under control. She wouldn't begrudge Tony the same. Even if his smile was somewhat unnerving. 

"So, why did you tell Yasha to bring me in. Why now?" 

"You only just worked out what you desired." 

"I.." 

"This file here will release Clint from his parole and shift him to home confinement for the rest of his term with Laura. I've even included a stipend." 

Yasha handed him a manilla folder, she'd been so focused on Tony she hadn't seen where he got it from which was a stupid move. The small smile Yasha sent her way told her that he'd seen. Tony tossed the file carelessly onto the table, yet it stopped right in front of her, sparking gold at the edges. She looked at it with longing to the point it was painful. But she remembered the second part. 

"Price?" 

"Oh you already know it, and this is my assurance you will never switch sides again. Isn't it?" 

She swallowed thickly, nodding, the reach Tony seemed to command now, Clint could be safe and happy for the rest of his life with his family. There had never been something so concrete that would hold her to a side before and she knew it. 

"Fantastic." 

"People will recognise me." 

"Not in here they won't little Spider. Not when I decide it. I have a meeting in five, why don't you come over here and you'll see what I mean." 

Yasha held his hand out for the folder as she stood next to him, grudgingly she handed it over. She knew she couldn't exactly come to the compound with it, but it didn't mean she wanted to let it out of her grip. This time she saw Yasha turn to slide the folder back onto a darkened shelf that she hadn't even seen from her chair. It wasn't the only one, there were several shelves full of them.

Years of training was the only reason she didn't gape as the group of 4 men entered the room a few minutes later. She knew every single one of them. Had screwed them over enough that they wanted her dead, two of them had the highest paid contracts on her. The woman that entered behind them was Yelena Belova. She got to see them stumble as the silence cut through the music and thought she was less obvious. 

She didn't know whether to be impressed or unnerved that Tony had managed to gather the 5 people on the planet who most wanted to kill her. Slowly and painfully. Or what to think if she hadn't taken the deal. Despite the 5 guests being unconnected except for the fact they all wanted to kill her, Tony had worked out a perfectly legitimate reason, albeit quite far from legal, to have them all in the same room in a way that benefited him and proved his point. 

Vager barely glanced in her direction, but then he had little time for women, even when she'd worked her way up through his gang. Max for Maxor Corp was a letch, which had made the corporate espionage ridiculous easy, he looked at her. A lot, she could practically feel him undressing her, yet there was nothing in his eyes that showed he recognised her. Her hair had been a different colour, but there was nothing. Pier she had spent 15 months married too and he gave her an assessing look before moving on. 

Draighan had only seen here a year before she joined SHIELD, her hair was practically identical to how it had been then, there was also the fact that Draighan was not human and was notorious for grudges and the bloody trail he left behind. How well he and Tony seemed to get on probably should have concerned her. He had picked her out under a disguise good enough Madam B had walked past her. Across a room, by scent, that she'd masked. Yet, he was sitting closest to her, laughing at a joke, leaning close enough to the billionaire that she could smell him . Yet, nothing. Barely a cursory glance, even when Tony intentionally drew his attention to her and Yasha. She was practically holding her breath as Tony winked at her. 

Yelana came over and spoke to her. Which was the most bizarre conversation she had ever had, given the woman absolutely despised her and they struggled to be on the same continent without killing each other, yet she started a friendly conversation with her. 

She was still a little shaken when they left, but she wasn't stupid enough to show it. 

"So, Natka, how do you think we should go about this? I'm thinking there's a kingdom we can topple with just a few words. As long as he doesn't push me too much, it could even be.. relatively painless?" 

Oh, this might be fun.

Chapter Text

 

 

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