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The Weight of Invincibility

Chapter Text

 

“Mission report,” the Handler demands. The words are familiar, a balm to the staccato of his heart hammering against his chest. “December sixteen, nineteen-ninety-one.”

 

They’re not enough.

 

“That man…” Sergeant Barnes, he’d slurred. Howard, the woman had called. “He knew me.”

 

The Handler grips him by the neck, his appendages digging into his arteries. It does nothing to restrict the blood flow, not the way the Soldier knows it should. The grip is not hard enough to harm someone like him, someone like the other Winter Soldiers. “I said,” the man warns as his hand tightens further, almost but not quite enough to cause permanent damage, “mission report, December sixteen―”

 

The pounding of his heart is a drum in his ears, louder than the Words. Louder than the Ice.

 

It’s an unconscious thought, an instinct.

 

He grips the Handler by the throat. He hears more than feels the shattering of vertebrae, the splinters of bone like jagged cuts of glass under the flesh of skin.

 

The Handler drops like a weighted sac.

 

“He knew me,” he accuses at the lifeless body.

 

Chapter Text

 

Ding-dong.

 

The TV screen lights up with the surveillance camera footage of the front door. It’s a small child, probably no older than five. There are dried tear tracks on the kid’s pudgy, toddler cheeks and what looks like a small gash that has already coagulated on the side of his forehead, close to the temple. Other than that, aside from the way the kid is hunkered down within an oversized, purple hoodie, the kid looks fine, physically.

 

And just behind the kid stands the imposing figure of Nick Fury.

 

“Motherf―is he being serious right now? J, connect me to the intercom.”

 

“Done, Sir.”

 

“Closest daycare center is approximately seven point five miles from here. Did you get lost on the way?”

 

Nick Fury’s unimpressed eye settles point-centre into the camera. “I’m not asking for permission.”

 

“And this is me denying said lack of permission. Answer is no, Nicky. This isn’t a place for toddlers to hang around.”

 

The kid’s balefully doe large eyes look up, lower lip protruding into a small pout. “M’not a baby. I’m seven.”

 

“Yeah, I don’t give a shit, kid. Seven or three is all the same to me. Again, the answer is no, Fury.”

 

Fury spares one last glare at the camera before striding forward, ushering the kid along with a hand on his shoulder.

 

“Sir, my protocols are being overwritten.”

 

Tony rolls his gaze skyward. “Yeah, whatever, let them in.” His knees creak as he rises from his swivel chair. He grunts. “Jesus, I’m getting too old for this,” he mutters under his breath, slowly making his way over to the stairs.

 

He takes them up two at a time. He rounds the newest abstract sculpture Pepper had put into place a couple of weeks ago and is greeted by the sight of a definitely undersized seven-year-old looking around with lost wonder in his eyes and with the tall, dark, and brooding figure of Fury waiting for his arrival with his hands clasped behind his back.

 

Fury stares at him for a beat. “Should you be exerting yourself like that?”

 

Tony rolls his eyes. “None of your business. Also, know what is none of my business?” He twirls a finger in the air. “All of this.” He jerks his chin at the kid, keeping a solid five feet between them. “What’s with the kid?”

 

“I’m glad you asked, Mister Stark.” He comes behind the kid, settling both of his hands on each of those small shoulders. “Meet Peter Parker, your new ward for the foreseeable future.”

 

 


 

 

“So, you’re…”

 

“Peter Benjamin Parker.”

 

“Right. And you’re…”

 

“Seven. Eight on August first.”

 

“Yuh-huh. And you’re in…”

 

“I’m going on third grade this year.”

 

“Jesus,” Tony turns sharply to Fury. “Are you insane? Do I look like I’m fit to take care of a six-year-old―”

 

“I’m seven.”

 

“Zip it, the adults are talking. I mean, look at me, Nick.” He gestures down at himself. “It’s three in the afternoon―”

 

“It’s one thirty-one, Sir.”

 

“Thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S.―one thirty-one in the afternoon, and I’m still wearing the same bathrobe I went to sleep in last night. I barely keep a schedule of my own, and you somehow expect me to take care of another human being?”

 

“Sir does make a good point, Direct Fury,” J.A.R.V.I.S. dutifully chimes in. “Self-care is only in Sir’s vocabulary when it’s convenient or forced down his throat by Pepper Potts or Colonel Rhodes.”

 

“That’s enough help from you, J.A.R.V.I.S.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “My point still stands. I don’t have time for myself, much less a kid. The answer is no, Nick.” He glances briefly at the kid. “Sorry, kid.”

 

Fury regards him silently. A dozen seconds pass before he gently nudges at the kid’s shoulder. “Keep going straight through there. The kitchen is to the left; eat something.”

 

The kid looks between the two adults, staring hesitantly at Tony.

 

Tony can’t stand that forlorn look. “Make yourself at home, kid. J.A.R.V.I.S. will direct you to what you can eat.”

 

The kid stares at Tony for a moment longer then ducks his head. “Thank you, Mister Stark,” he says quietly. His small footfalls echo down the hall.

 

Neither Fury nor Tony watch him go.

 

“He’s a good kid, Tony,” Fury says into the silence. “And life hasn’t been kind to that little boy.” He sweeps his hand out to the sofa; it’s not a gesture of an offer.

 

Tony stays standing on his spot. He isn’t going to be dictated around by Nick Fury of all people in his own home. “Everyone has a sob story, Nick,” he counters, “and I’m not fit to be any sort of adult figure for a normal kid, much less for a kid with a less-than-stellar life.”

 

Fury breathes deeply, gaze veering off to the side. “I know,” he acknowledges quietly. “I’m calling in a favour.”

 

Tony frowns, something unsettled stirring in the pit of his stomach. “Why? Why is he so special?”

 

Fury’s mien darkens. “For one, his parents were two good agents of mine, and they were just murdered in their family home, along with every other surviving relative.”

 

A knife stabs into Tony’s chest. “God, what the hell?” He peers after where the kid had run off to, sharply recalling the gash on the kid’s forehead. “Tell me he wasn’t there.”

 

“He wasn’t,” Fury admits. “He was at school fending off bullies. Real standup kid, that one.”

 

“Sure,” Tony agrees absently, thoughts a thousand miles elsewhere, “another Steve Rogers in the making.”

 

“And that’s my other point.” Fury snaps his fingers. “Stark, eyes down here.”

 

Tony startles. He scowls. “Don’t patronize me.”

 

“The kid is enhanced.”

 

“The kid is― what?”

 

“Enhanced. He climbs walls.”

 

“He climbs―” Tony’s scowl depends. “You’re shitting me, right? ‘He climbs walls.’ That’s what you’re going with?”

 

Fury shrugs nonchalantly. “It’s the truth.”

 

Tony desperately rubs the heel of his palm into his eye socket. He can already feel the migraine brewing. “You brought me an orphan who likes to uphold the morals of Captain America in his freetime and can―he climbs walls. He seriously climbs walls? What, is his superpower souped-up sticky fingers?”

 

“Something like that.”

 

“Something like that,” Tony reiterates, nonplussed.

 

“It’s classified.”

 

Tony rolls his eyes. “You’re just full of shit, you know that, Nick? Okay, fess up: Why is he really here? You’re not fooling me into thinking you couldn’t have found someone to take in an enhanced kid at the drop of a hat.”

 

“Because you’re the only man in this country with a souped-up Guardian Angel, Tony. And everyone and their mother knows what that Guardian Angel of yours will do to anyone that so much as flicks a lock of your hair.”

 

“I’m an unwilling subject.” He huffs. “He’s more of a long-time stalker that occasionally gets me out of trouble.”

 

“He found you within three weeks of you being kidnapped in Afghanistan,” Fury counters, entirely unimpressed. “The military couldn’t do that even without their thumbs up their asses.”

 

“And you want me to, what, ask him to pretty please with a cherry on top take on the protection of another human body?” He throws his hands in the air, frustration eating at him. “Seventy percent of the time, I don’t even know where he skedaddles off to! He only randomly pops in every now again to give me muffins or whatever.”

 

Fury’s eyebrow twitches. “Muffins,” he says flatly.

 

“Don’t be jealous, Nick,” Tony retorts. “It’s not a good look on you.”

 

“Um,” comes a small voice, “Mister Stark, sir? Where’s your bathroom?”

 

Tony turns sharply towards the voice. He honestly forgot the kid is even in the house. And Nick Fury wants me to babysit him. “Same way you came, first door on the right,” he points.

 

“Um,” the kid stutters, “thank you.” And off again he goes.

 

Tony turns towards Fury. “I forgot he was here,” he informs the other man succinctly.

 

Fury stares at him intently. Tony gets the feeling he is being mentally judged very heavily. Without another word, he gets up, fixing the fit of his trench coat. 

 

He pats Tony’s shoulder as he passes by. “The kid dies, you’ll be answering to me, Stark. I’ll have Hill send the adoption files later. Make sure the kid has dinner before he goes to sleep, and, oh―” He turns to point a heavy finger in Tony’s direction. “If I hear a word about this on the news, Stark, I don’t care how much your Guardian Angel will try to avenge you. I have my eye on you,” he threatens, showcasing his words with the menacing look of his sole eye.

 

“Wait,” Tony startles suddenly, the words finally sinking in, “did you just say adoption―”

 

Nick Fury disappears off into the rest of the world.

 

The bastard.

 

Chapter Text

 

Steve stares holes into his back. He’s leaning against one of his work tables, arms folded over his chest in an extra effort to show disapproval.

 

Bucky ignores him. He flicks down on the slide release, presses the trigger. The slide comes off. He inspects with a close eye last night’s handiwork. With satisfaction, he replaces the slide with some easy flicks, checks the mechanism once he’s done.

 

“They gave the kid to Stark,” Steve announces into the growing silence. “Fury wanted me to let you know, in case Stark ignores him again.”

 

Bucky snorts softly. That sounds like Tony, all right.

 

The humor extinguishes faster than it came, replaced instead by a dark tension. “Who’s the kid?” he asks tightly. He’s one word away from snapping―the mention of Fury in his charge’s vicinity is a gnawing wound, one that has had little time to scab over. No wonder he sends a messenger he knows I won’t maim in his stead.

 

He sets down the handgun with overly careful movements and turns around. He folds his arms across his own chest, purposefully imitating Steve’s posture. Two can play at this game.

 

“You remember the Parkers?”

 

How could Bucky forget? Mary makes a mean blueberry pie. He’d hoarded an entire half of that pie and delivered it to Tony―he hasn’t seen delight like that on Tony’s face since.

 

“They―” Steve looks off to the side, his expression shuttered. He drops his arms as if an unholy weight has settled on his shoulders. “Someone murdered them,” he whispers into the air, a deadly sin spelled forth, “and then set their house on fire to try to destroy the evidence. There’s not much to go on, but...I know it’s him.” Steve’s steel-blue eyes settle on him, piercing in their intensity. “Buck, I know it was him.”

 

The servos of his arm whine as he clenches his hand beyond the safety measures. “Where does the kid fit into all of this?”

 

“He’s enhanced,” Steve confesses. “He’s strong, as strong as you or I are. And he can do things no one else can.”

 

The implications of all of this―the concealed murder of two government agents, an enhanced child, Hydra. Nausea threatens to swallow him whole. “Steve,” he says tightly. The edge of the table creaks dangerously under his hand. “I swear to god, if I gave a pie to Tony from a woman who would experiment on her own kid―”

 

“There’s no evidence of that,” Steve is quick to assure but leaves the not yet hanging obviously in the air.

 

Bucky stalks forth with menacing intent. His nose is but a few centimeters from that hauntingly familiar face. “ Find it, then,” he threatens lowly, his eyes burning with sudden anger. Those steel blue eyes look coolly back at him. “I’m not placing Tony in danger’s way. Not again.”

 

“Buck, Afghanistan wasn’t―”

 

“The hell it wasn’t!” Bucky explodes. He pivots on his heel, his other leg swinging with the momentum. The work table flips on its end and slams with a thunderous clunk against the wall. His tools, his guns, his knives, everything on top, lies squished between the wall and the table in a heap of metal and other odd bits. He breathes in heaves. The anger quivers through his muscles. 

 

The sudden quiet is deafening.

 

“I should have been there,” he hisses under his breath. His fists twitch restlessly, curling and uncurling. “Instead,” he accuses over his shoulder, “I was running missions with the fucking Avengers. And a good man suffered for it. He’s still suffering for it.”

 

He drags his hands down his face in despair. “Most days, he can’t even get out of his own fucking bed.” He swivels to settle his condemning gaze on the other man. “What was the first thing I told you, Steve?”

 

Steve stands with a careful stance. Guilt wars on his expression. He doesn’t answer the rhetorical question.

 

He’s afraid, Bucky thinks to himself; he sees it in what Steve doesn’t say with his body. As he should be. This is what I am: a monster in human's flesh. “Answer me!” he demands.

 

Steve doesn’t startle. He never does. “Tony overrides the Avengers,” he repeats the words spoken so long ago. “Your first responsibility.”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky says flatly, “and guess where that left him.”

 

Steve’s shoulders slump. The whole world knows how that story goes. “You were brainwashed,” he returns softly, trying a different tactic. Afghanistan is a deep wound that stretches several decades. “You can’t keep blaming yourself for something you couldn’t stop―and, all these years, you’ve more than made up for it. You know Stark would agree with me, Buck.”

 

Bucky scoffs. “Steve, he forgave Whitney Frost for nearly murdering him―he was in the hospital for three months healing from six bullet wounds that should’ve killed him.” He snaps his fingers. “That’s how fast he was over it.”

 

Steve stares incredulously at him. “That’s…”

 

“I know,” Bucky acknowledges quietly; he’s never managed to curb that particular habit from Tony. “Even if Tony is stupid enough to forgive the murderer of his parents…Those things done under Hydra’s name, it was still my hands that did them. I’ve killed hundreds, Steve. I’ve tortured innocents. I left a seventeen-year-old an orphan. No amount of time or penance will ever make up what I’ve done to all of those people, to Tony.”

 

“Maybe it’s not stupidity that allowed Tony to forgive you,” Steve allows after a moment of thought. It sounds as if he’s reaching for straws to try to comfort Bucky. “He has a good heart.”

 

Bucky raises a sardonic eyebrow. “And now you’re singing his praises? I thought he was a ‘selfish brat who doesn’t care about anyone but himself.’” He’s quoting Steve, word for word. He remembers that day with an icy clarity―Fury had threatened to take him down with charges of misconduct for punching his superior in the face.

 

If it hadn’t been for Tony suddenly jumping in the middle, he would’ve ripped Steve a new one, consequences be damned. “Stop plummeting people in my goddamned name, Barnes; there is literally no virtue you’re protecting,” Tony had told him, hand pressed against his heaving chest. “Now go apologize to your grandpa BFF before I make you take out the trash for a fucking month―don’t think I won’t.”

 

He still made Bucky take out the trash every day for a week as “punishment.” The trash only gets taken out once a week. And Bucky doesn’t even live in Malibu.

 

“Stark isn’t…all bad,” Steve hedges.

 

“Real convincing, Rogers.” Bucky crosses his arms. “Tell Fury I’m off the roster.”

 

“What?” Steve startles. “Bucky―”

 

“This was the last goddamned straw, Steve!” he bellows, the last of his composure snapping. “Fury brought a kid with a trail of death and fire after him into the home of the one person―the one person I owe fifty fucking lifetimes to!― For fuck’s sake, how many times have I warned Fury to stay away from Tony?”

 

Steve opens his mouth―

 

“Don’t fucking answer that, punk.” He stalks forward and is somewhat gratified when Steve takes a couple steps back until his thighs hit the edge of the other work table. He snatches the backpack behind Steve’s back and swings its single strap over his shoulder. He takes the closest Glock, checks the magazine, and slides it into the holster strapped around his thigh, following that up with several knives concealed in various parts around his body. “Tell Fury I’ll keep the boy safe,” he says as he settles a hat low over his eyes. “No kid deserves the hand he’s been given.”

 

“Bucky―” Steve tries to interrupt, something desperate in his tone.

 

“And you tell that sonuvabitch,” he growls, turning sharply to face the other man, “that he just lost himself one of his precious Avengers. If Tony gets so much as a scratch from this, I’ll be coming for Fury’s ass.”

 

Steve catches his wrist as he turns to leave. “We’ll keep him safe,” he promises in a heated tone tinged with desperation. “Him and the kid. It won’t be like last time, Buck. Don’t quit the team; we need you more than ever, especially with Thor still off-world. I just need your trust on this.”

 

Bucky huffs. “It’s not you I don’t trust, punk.” He twists away from the grip. He points at the mess across the room as he heads for the fire escape outside the window. “If I come back and I find you’ve stressed cleaned that, we’re gonna have words, Rogers!”

 

Steve huffs a half-empty laugh. “No promises.”

 

Chapter Text

 

The resonant purr of the motor cuts off abruptly as Bucky dismounts the Harley. He kicks down the stand in the same motion as he disengages his helmet.

 

He heaves in a heavy breath as the frigid air of the garage hits his face. The humidity within the helmet had almost been stifling, especially during the unusually warm night. He’ll have to clean out the helmet later to get rid of the musty, old scent of sweat that is sure to settle.

 

J.A.R.V.I.S. doesn’t greet him as he makes his way through the lab and towards the staircase. Unless he speaks, the A.I. will continue to cloud the Soldier’s presence within the mansion―mainly for the safety of his charge but also, sometimes, because of guilty pleasure. He enjoys seeing the raw delight on Tony’s face when he makes his sudden presence known―and the way Colonel Rhodes jumps a mile in the air every time he sneaks up behind them.

 

This isn’t a social visit.

 

He rounds the water feature―if it could be called that; the monstrosity that is being displayed as “art” is nothing more than some twisted pieces of scrap metal glued together at odd angles―and comes to an abrupt stop. Tony and what he guesses could only be the Parker kid are on the couch.

 

There’s something disproportionately strange about seeing a man who prides himself being tougher than steel running careful fingers through a child’s hair, Bucky observes to himself. Tony is affectionate to a point, but anything that could be considered too “touchy-feely” is pursued briefly and with too much shame to pink cheeks.

 

The picture rights itself when he sees the small hitches to even smaller shoulders―the only exception the Stark Rule, so far that Bucky has found, is to comfort others in need. They’re near silent sobs―probably why he didn’t hear them over the gentle trickle of the water fountain―almost as if the boy has exhausted all emotional capacity. There’s misery in every line of that young face, from the splotchy red of his wet cheeks to the trembling downturn of his lips. 

 

No child should ever look like that.

 

Bucky recalls the argument he had with Steve in the afternoon. The seething anger. The desperate panic threatening to overtake his limbs. It’s one thing hearing that someone’s family was murdered in cold blood―it’s something entirely different to be made to bear witness to the consequences of such an atrocity: a child suddenly finding himself with no mother, no father, and no home and nothing but a stranger to offer him dull comfort.

 

“Can’t I go home?” the kid mumbles, his words mushing together almost indiscernibly. “I wan’ my mommy.”

 

His heart wrenches within his chest. “I want my mom back, you fucker!” Tony snarled, his fists pounding uselessly against Bucky’s chest. “Give her back!”

 

He had no words to offer then, no way to soothe the hurt. The memory paralyzes him into a standstill.

 

Tony shushes the kid gently. He wipes at those splotchy cheeks, doesn’t offer any false consolations. “I know,” he says, and a note in his voice tells Bucky this isn’t the first time he has said this, though it seems no less sincere. “I’m sorry, Peter.”

 

Peter. Bucky catches the name almost desperately―and almost in that same moment catches Tony’s eyes.

 

There’s no surprise on the other man’s face. His brows are furrowed, his jaw clenched tight. Bucky is all too familiar with those emotions.

 

I can leave, he mouths.

 

Stay, Tony mouths back. Please.

 

 


 

 

It’s late enough into the night to be considered morning. The sky has gained that gray tinge that is signaling the approach of the sun. In a couple of hours, it’ll start into a glorious, Malibu sunrise.

 

The kid―Peter―had crumbled sideways into Tony’s lap, hunched into a tiny ball of misery. They’d gone through the whole grief cycle a couple of times before the kid wore himself and, by extension, Tony out. The coming dawn will signal the way the day will go. Bucky has a feeling he’ll have to interfere while Tony crashes in his own room―the latter hasn’t said a word, but Bucky can tell Tony reached his limit, both physically and emotionally, several hours ago.

 

He’s on his way to crashing: Tony has spent the past hour staring at the ceiling. His eyelids will flicker close every few moments, letting slip an occasional, stray tear. Bucky has made no mention of them, any more than Tony has mentioned Bucky’s persistent distance while the kid had been conscious.

 

Bucky stands before the tall windows, scanning the beach below and the ocean beyond for unusual stragglers. “You all right?” he asks into the dark silence. His question feels inadequate in light of the night’s events, but the vague, verbal comfort is as far as his mind can extend.

 

Tony’s brows furrow into a pained grimace. “I don’t think I can do this,” he confesses quietly.

 

Bucky sees an easy solution to that. “Then don’t.” There are more qualified people to care for Peter, experienced people who know how to care for a kid with unique abilities and who could just as easily protect him. Fury could have brought the kid elsewhere ―should have brought the kid somewhere else―but decided, of all places, to put the kid where Bucky can’t pass on as someone else’s job.

 

It’s exactly the kind of manipulative bullshit Bucky both admires and hates about Nick Fury. Right now, however, with Tony’s pale, weary, and drawn expression and the distant echoes of Peter’s cries burned into his mind, he’s leaning towards very strong hate.

 

“It’s not that easy.” There’s more of a bite in the sentence than Bucky expects. Tony scrubs a hand across his temple. “Sorry, shouldn’t snap at you.” He sighs haggardly, finally allowing his neck muscles to relax into the couch cushions. “How was your mission?”

 

Bucky turns to lean a shoulder against the window. He stares off into the middle distance, not quite willing to meet judgement. “Didn’t go,” he reports succinctly. “I quit the team.”

 

Tony snaps to attention at that. “What?” he exclaims, then quieter when the kid moves restlessly, “What the hell do you mean you quit?”

 

Bucky looks down at Tony, in a clear Do I really need to explain?

 

Tony huffs as he settles back down. “Well, that’s sure to have pissed off Rogers,” he mutters under his breath, low enough that Bucky thinks he wasn’t supposed to hear.

 

A strange silence passes between, where neither of them knows what to say. My condolences? or Good for you? where just as equally lacking enough to incite an argument. Tony has always supported Bucky’s decision to join the team, even as he becomes more withdrawn into himself the longer Bucky stays away. Though he is the public benefactor and official consultant to the Avengers, Tony has always had a strained relationship with Steve and some of the others  It’s a complicated back-and-forth that Bucky doesn’t quite know from where it emanates or whether it would eventually blow up in their faces as some things have done in the past.

 

Not that it matters now, Bucky contemplates to himself. I’m done.

 

Then, out of the blue, “You staying here, then?” Tony says it so nonchalantly it’s almost as if―

 

“You want me to?” Bucky frowns, a nameless emotion swirling in the pit of his stomach.

 

Tony offers him a sardonic smile. “You’re the one with experience with this whole…” He waves an encompassing hand. It’s enough of an explanation. “It’ll be like old times. I’ll even cook breakfast.”

 

Bucky snorts in amusement, smiling faintly. “When have you ever cooked anything edible in your life?”

 

It’s about as much of an enthusiastic yes if Bucky had uttered the words out loud.