Work Header

Building On Muddy Ground

Work Text:

So this is it. The thought runs through Tony’s head as he hears the footsteps coming towards him. This is it. This is how it ends. Part of him always wondered if it would. If he ever truly had a chance at all or if it was all just some kind of bad joke. He’s certainly been the butt of enough of those. Far more than a prince should be, but when you have a reputation - true or otherwise - this is what happens. 

What better way to ensure that no one would take him seriously? 

Even now the thought sounds bitter. No one would blame him if they knew though, not after everything. Then again, maybe they would. Maybe they would tell him to stop being so dramatic, so arrogant, so spoiled. Other people have it much worse than he does. Maybe they would say that he is about to get what he finally deserves. 

Either way he is about to die and this is not what he wants to spend his last few moments thinking on. Happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts. As if it is that easy. When your castle has been taken over by barbarians, your people killed and injured, your own death imminent, shockingly there isn’t a whole lot of happiness to go around. Funny how that works. 

He stands in the room, alone, back to the door as he thinks. He has no desire to watch his death approach. Everyone else who could be there with him is gone - dead or fled. Only Tony is left. The King and Queen are already dead. They were among the first to die. It should hurt, knowing that. Knowing that his mother is dead. Gone. But he will be joining them soon anyways. Well, if one believes in an afterlife that is. Tony has never been all that great in believing in things he can’t see. Touch. Poke at and figure out how it works. Besides, even if he did, he’d still end up in hell with Howard and not heaven with his mother. He’ll pass, thanks. 

The footsteps reach him. He cannot help but turn then. Maybe if he makes it easier than they will be merciful and end it quickly. Not that he is ever that luck, but he lives in hope. It is the only thing he has left now. It’s been the only thing he’s had for a while now. The only thing no one could take away from him, although many have tried. 

A man and a woman enter, both lethal looking and both surely even more dangerous than they appear. Armour of surprisingly good quality covers them, showing off weapons while not compromising the deadly grace with which they move. The Avengers are not known and feared for their lack of fighting skills after all. Quite the opposite in fact. Or their mercy for that matter. Not for the likes of him anyways. He braces himself, but he still isn’t fully prepared to be seized, forcibly stripped down to his pants and marched smartly out of the room with barely a word. 

Their hands are rough on him, calloused and worn from a lifetime of labor and fighting. He can tell just by touch that the woman favors knives and the man is an archer first and foremost. They take no care as they work and yet are not quite as harsh as they could be. There is firmness in their hands, not cruelty. Small mercy that. 

He doesn’t try putting up a fight. Fighting only makes things worse in the end. Only makes them angrier, more vicious. Even less mercy is shown to those who are stupid enough to pick a fight that they cannot win. Tony is not stupid. Not about this anyways. 

His discarded shirt lays on the floor behind him as he is marched away. It feels like a sign of things to come. A metaphor for his own fate. 

He never stood a chance. Even if he was ever taught to fight, he knows it wouldn’t have done him any good. Tony can already feel where the bruises will form from the rough treatment. His arms are sure to, where they grip him just above the elbow as they walk. It is a surprise that they did not tie him up, but then again what would be the point of doing so? Why waste the rope when he is subdued so easily? When he wouldn’t stand a chance and all three of them knew it. 

He is taken to the throne room, which looks vastly different and yet exactly the same as the last time he was there. The twin thrones are empty of course, and the people filling it are not his own. No, they are all barbarians. Other than that it is like nothing has changed. Shouldn’t it? Everything else has changed so drastically, how can this room not with it? It is almost surreal to see. 

It does not take long for Tony to realize where exactly they are going. To the front. To the man standing in front of the thrones. Nor does it take any great intelligence to realize just who that is. He has many names - the Captain, the Shield, the White Star. The latter two are from the shield he carries, a massive thing decorated in red, white and blue with a white star in the center of it, his signature weapon. How you recognize that your time is up and that death is coming for you. 

He is even more intimidating in person than in the stories the bards tell. They say he is tall, yes, and strong and fierce and deadly and everything else to make a good story. Stories never live up to the real thing. But this one just might. No, this one might be more than the bards ever said. 

Up close he is strong. His muscles seem to almost bulge from him. Everywhere. There are muscles everywhere on him. It is only accented by his clothes - or lack thereof rather. The only things he is wearing are a white cloak made of fur and a red wrap around his waist held up by a belt. There are streaks of blood across the rest of him, clearly from battle and clearly from his opponents for the most part. He does not appear to be injured at all beyond some minor cuts and scrapes. Only his beard and long, blonde plaited hair are clean. The infamous shield is resting against his leg. There is a scowl set firmly on his face. 

No, the stories do not do him justice. At all. Suddenly his mouth is very, very dry. Honestly if Tony wasn’t so scared, so resigned to his fate, he would say he is more than a little attractive for a - supposed - warrior so fierce that even a demon could not keep up. 

Bards. Have to love them. 

As is, Tony is terrified and doing his best not to show it. He still has his dignity if he has nothing else. He will not cower, not show weakness. He will be brave, he will stare death in the face boldly, he will - 

He is released abruptly and thrown to the ground. His knees hit the cold stone floor as he looks up at his executioner before looking away quickly. Alright, so he is a liar among everything else. That isn’t really a surprise. The Captain looks even more fierce from this angle. He says something in a sharp, foreign language. It comes from deep in his throat like a growl or a snarl. Heavy. The woman replies in the same, sounding cool and not at all affected by the anger. If it is anger. Maybe that is just how he always sounds. 

Tony desperately wishes that he could understand them. He speaks multiple languages, yes, but the languages of the North were never deemed important enough for him to be educated on. That was where the barbarians were from after all. One does not communicate with the barbarians, one attacks and kills the barbarians. Or at least that is what Tony was told. Rather a large oversight on their part. Arrogant. Did no one truly ever think that it would be useful for the crown prince to know? Or was that just another power play on Howard’s part? 

Not that it matters now. He won’t be here much longer anyways. 

He folds his hands in his lap and waits. The Captain is not holding a weapon currently, but it is only a matter of time. The cold of the floor begins to soak through his pants into his legs. His bare feet feel it even more sharply. Goosebumps begin to form on his skin and a shiver tries to work it’s way down his spine before he stops it. He does his best not to bite his lip or give any other sign of how disgustingly emotional he is being. 

Howard always did like to complain that he was weak. That he felt too much. The Starks are a proud and noble line, made of iron and ambition. A line Tony is ruining simply by existing. Too emotional. Too caring. Too dumb to know how to rule correctly. He’s heard it all before many times. So many that he can recite it by heart. 

And he is thinking depressing thoughts again. Still not what he wants to linger on when death is so close. What is taking so long? Why draw it out when they already won? 

The Captain lets out another string of harsh words and this time the man - the archer - replies. Footsteps walk away and the woman moves to better guard Tony on her own. That much he can hear without looking. Maybe he went to get a weapon since the Captain isn’t wielding one right now. That makes sense. 

Then the Captain moves, kneeling down in front of him. He rests his arm on his one leg as he examines him closely. There is still a scowl on his face, but it seems slightly less fierce than before. Maybe. Or maybe it is just Tony’s imagination instead, trying to create a comfort, no matter how small or useless it may be. Slowly he reaches out, taking care to make his intentions clear, cupping Tony’s cheek and turning his face towards him. Tony has no choice but to meet those blue eyes. So incredibly blue. Even more than the sky on a cloudless day. He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t do anything else, just looks. 

For what? Tony knows he isn’t anything special. No great beauty or even of average attractiveness. When people want him, they want him for his body, what he can do with it, not his face. That’s not important when it is shoved between someone’s legs or face down on the bed. It’s other things that matter than. People tend to ignore the whole ‘the crown prince is a slut’ thing as long as they can use it to their advantage. Use him. 

Not always the most pleasant thing in the world, but not the worst either. If the only way he can make certain deals is to do it through sex then so be it. His people are more important than his pride. Some would say that he doesn’t have any. No pride, no dignity, but they would be wrong. Tony knows he does. It simply looks different than what they are used to seeing in a noble. In royalty. Just because he had a different set of standards doesn’t mean he doesn’t have them at all. 

And still the Captain continues to stare. It is intense and Tony can feel his face heat up just from the contact. Biting the inside of his cheek helps some to get himself under control, but not enough. Not enough to keep him from reacting. Not enough to help him pull away either. The grip the Captain has on him is strangely gentle, almost, but also strong. Tony is not moving anywhere that the Captain does not want. 

The thought makes dread pull in his stomach as another thought occurs to him. Maybe there is a reason he isn’t dead yet. Maybe the Captain wants a taste of his prize before he kills it. Maybe the other Avengers do. The dread grows at that and he bites down harder. Blood soon floods his mouth as he breaks skin. It stings, but the pain and the familiar taste of it helps center him. Ground him into his body and out of his thoughts. 

Then again, is he really going to want to be present in his body soon? Idly he wonders if they will move to a bed, or perhaps a private room, or if it will happen out here in front of everyone. Sex or death, he isn’t sure which one he is referring to. Both probably. Both seem like a good solid answer if the way the Captain is looking at him is any indication. 

Will it hurt? Will it be quick or will he linger, take his time, enjoy his victory? Again he isn’t sure which possibility he is thinking on and once again it doesn’t matter. Both still apply. There is a certain intimacy in both if you are into that sort of thing. 

At this point he isn’t even particular of which of the two happens. It would put an end to this waiting. Waiting is always the worst part of it. It makes his nerves build and build until he thinks he will explode from it. Or get sick from it. Somehow Tony doubts that the Captain would appreciate that very much. He doesn’t seem the type. Then again he is the fiercest warlord of the North. Warlords are not exactly known for their compassion now are they? 

Then, finally, finally , the archer returns. Nor is he alone. Tony is able to look well enough out of the corner of his eye to see that there is another man with him. If Tony thought that the Captain looked terrifying then somehow this other man is even worse. 

More grim, more fierce, covered in more blood. He wears his dark hair in the same style as the Captain, as well as similar style clothes. The only difference is that his cloak is black instead of white. His entire left arm is covered in deep, savage scars. That alone is enough to tell Tony who he is dealing with. The Winter Warrior. Second only to the Captain in reputation and in battle. Some claim that they are brothers, others not, some as they made an oath to always protect one another. Tony doubts the truth matters. It all amounts to the same thing in the end. 

He is surrounded by deadly, deadly people. Tried and tested warriors who can end his life in an instant should they choose to do so. It would appear that he is not to be granted the mercy of a quick end by the blade after all. 

The Captain finally breaks his gaze enough to look up at the Winter Warrior. He says something, practically growling, and the Winter Warrior replies, rolling his eyes as he replies. Even his voice is similar to the Captain’s in tone. How very reassuring. The Captain says something else and the Winter Warrior huffs, but walks over so that he is in front of Tony. Gracefully he drops to one knee to join the Captain. 

“You are Prince Anthony, correct?” he asks in a perfect accent. 

Tony just barely holds in his look of shock. The Winter Warrior speaks his language? He isn’t sure why he is so surprised, but he is. Maybe because of how well he speaks it. His Northern origins are barely noticeable in his voice. “Tony,” he corrects, “It’s Prince Tony.” That’s his preference anyways, not that anyone ever seemed to listen. Being called Anthony always reminded him too much of Howard, which is something he could really do without. 

“Prince Tony,” he nods as if this is a reasonable thing. “I am James, this is Steve,” he points to the Captain, “He wishes for you to know that our people have successfully taken this castle, but none will be harmed unless they cause harm first.” 

Well that is more than Tony ever expected. 

“That includes you as well,” he adds. 

This time Tony completely fails not to look shocked. He isn’t about to die then? What? That is - that is - what ? Then he narrows his eyes. “What do you want?” he demands more than asks. Not that he’s in any position to do so, but that doesn’t stop him. It’s a fair point. If they aren’t going to kill him then they obviously have some other use for him. His earlier thought still lingers in the back of his mind. Come to no harm leaves a rather large amount of room to maneuver in without breaking their word. 

James snorts, clearly thinking the same thing. “Well your Highness,” there is an edge to his tone that Tony does not understand, “it would appear that Steve has taken a liking to you. What do you think?”

Tony can feel himself pale immediately - oh, oh gods - and the Captain - Steve - snaps something in response, scowling even more than before. 

James rolls his eyes. “I am to reassure you that no harm means truly just that. You will be safe with us. Besides,” he challenges, “did you really think we were just going to let you go?” 

Of course not. What Tony thought should be so obvious that even an idiot should be able to figure that out. This is - both unexpected and not. He is to be kept instead of killed, but kept as what? A bed warmer, a slave, entertainment, what? What exactly does ‘taken a liking to you’ mean? And for god's sake, why ? What could possibly attract him to Tony? 

What, exactly, is to become of him? 


Apparently, ‘taken a liking to you’ as it turns out means something completely different to Tony than it means to the Captain - Steve - whatever he is actually supposed to call him. To Tony it means sex or some other entertainment value - usually not the pleasant kind. For him that is. No matter what was promised, he in no way trusts the whole no harm thing. Those are just words and words are not to be trusted, no matter how pretty they sound. 

To the Captain, however, it means being present? Looking pretty? He isn’t exactly sure to be honest. He hasn’t made a move towards Tony. He watches, yes, sometimes staring blatantly, sometimes just glancing at him from time to time, but he seems to require his presence for some reason. As if he likes it better when Tony is around. He makes no move to touch, to claim, to taunt or anything else, just - watches .

It is frankly exhausting. All of this is.

The first night had been truly terrifying. When the Captain had eventually retired for bed he had taken Tony with him. Of course he assumed this was it. Especially when they had gone straight into Tony’s chambers. This was surely it. But no because they didn’t even end up sleeping in the same bed. Tony had slept in his bed. The Captain had slept in the unused servants alcove. 

Tony had spent that entire night sleepless, waiting. Just waiting because this had to be some kind of trap. It had to be because nothing else made sense. By time morning came he had been exhausted, strung out on nerves and stress. He could barely keep his eyes open yet jumped at the slightest noise. 

He spent that day following the Captain around, listening as he talked to various people, gesturing and ordering and - well, okay, that was all mainly guess work. It’s not as if Tony understood him after all. None of the castle’s servants or nobles were allowed near him. In fact the only people allowed near him seemed to be the dreaded Avengers themselves. The four people the Captain seems closest to. And among them only the Winter Warrior who was able to act as translator - and a rather reluctant one at that. 

It was made very clear very fast that he had no trust for Tony. He suspiciously watched his every move and only grudgingly translated for Tony when needed. 

It’s not as if it was a surprise. No one seemed to trust Tony. Why would they? He is the enemy here. And not only the enemy, but the Prince at that. King, he supposes, with Howard being dead, but to be King he has to rule. He is the ruler of nothing right now. Not of his own life and currently not of anyone else’s. 

So yes, the first day had been rather - stressful . It hasn’t gotten any better sense. For the three days that they stayed at the castle the pattern was the same. At night he laid alone in bed, trying to get what sleep he could while still being on his guard. During the day he followed the Captain around like a lost little puppy. The Winter Warrior would occasionally pass on a message, but that was about it. He was either being ignored or stared at. 

The staring was not all done by the Captain either. His people may not have been allowed to interact with him, but that does not mean they are forbidden to look. Their eyes seem to be on him constantly. To reassure themselves that he is safe or to gawk he isn’t sure. Maybe they are carrying tales away so that they can mock him among themselves. They have no reason to be loyal to him. It’s not as if he was a very good prince to them. He was never allowed to be. 

After the third day they depart from the castle. Why? Tony doesn’t have a clue. No one will tell him. To be fair most of them can’t. The Captain can technically speak some , but his vocabulary is smaller than a toddler’s at this point. Whether that is because he is slowly learning it or that is all he knows, it amounts to the same. He is stuck with one person who can understand him and that one person doesn’t particularly like him. At all. 

That doesn’t stop him from wondering though. Why? Why leave? Why walk away from your prize when you already won it? It makes no sense. It’s not as if everyone is travelling with them, just the inner circle as Tony has taken to referring to them as, and a handful more. So maybe the Captain left someone else in charge and left it at that. He hopes. Someone has to be running the country right? Right

One thing for sure, they are taking one of their prizes with them. Maybe the most valuable prize of all, depending on how you look at it. 

It takes another five days on horseback to get to their destination - an abandoned fort in the hills. Or at least it was assumed abandoned before this. Obviously not now. Arriving feels like a minor miracle all on its own. Tony is so sore by then that he could cry. Horseback riding was not something he had been allowed to learn either. This is the first time he had ever been on a horse. If he has it his way then it will also be his last. This is terrible. 

Now, on top of being terrified and jumpy he is so sore and stiff that he has to waddle when he walks. It is humiliating. He looks like an idiot and they all know it. He catches more than one of them laughing behind their hands. Probably wondering what sorry kind of prince he even is. They would be right to wonder. 

Damn Howard and his power plays anyways. How did he ever expect Tony to rule if he constantly undermined his authority and ability to do so? Did he expect to live forever? Then again Tony has always doubted, somewhere in the back of his mind, that he would be allowed to rule at all. That he would ever get the chance to take the throne. There have been whispers after all. Whispers and conspiracies and rumours. None of them ever led to anything good. 

Still this is one way he never imagined. Taken prisoner by the Northern barbarians. No, he can safely say he never considered that possibility before. Not with his assumed assassination. That seemed to be the most popular - and most logical sounding - theory out there. By who does not matter. Especially not when Tony suspects that Howard would be more than willing to sponsor one. Or at least turn a blind eye if one did happen to be successful. 

That is the only reason he can think of that would cause Howard to act as he did. Besides the fact that, you know, he hated Tony’s very being. That is a rather large motive right there. The main one in fact, he is sure. He never did anything but try to make Tony’s life a misery. The reason is a mystery, but that hardly matters in the end. What matters is the result. Just like he was taught. 

Enough of that though. He still does not want to think about it, even if he is going to keep on living. For now. Until they get tired of him. It is bound to happen eventually. No one wants to keep Tony for long. That’s just the way it is. 

Life at the fort is, well, it's a mundane sort of terror. That is the best way he can phrase it. Mundane because everything is, well, ordinary. There is nothing special or sinister or really all that interesting about it. It’s just - life. Life that he really doesn’t have a part of. It’s not as if he has been given anything to do and it’s not as if he’s, ah, required to perform certain duties so he is just - stuck. Stuck is the word for it. He is stuck in a place where no one trusts him, he doesn’t speak the language, and is pretty much useless because of the former two facts. It’s isolation pure and simple. Worse than anything he ever experienced at the castle. 

Terror because, well, that should be obvious. He is a prisoner who doesn’t understand the rules of his imprisonment. What is expected of him? What are his new duties? No one has harmed him yet, but he is still waiting for that to change. As a result he has been sleeping even worse than he usually does. He’s easily startled, always on his guard and always watching. That’s how he knows that he’s being watched in return.

The Winter Warrior still doesn’t like him any better than he did before. It’s still clear that he is suspicious and that he resents Tony’s presence. There is no love lost between them. It gets even worse when the Captain begins to play chess with him in the evening. 

It’s the first demand he has been given from the man himself. Tony isn’t sure why he’s so surprised that he’s being used for something so innocent as this. The Winter Warrior has to explain the rules the first time because they are slightly different than he is used to, but after that it is Tony and the Captain alone in the Captain’s room. Playing. If he was being generous he could call it their room because this is technically where they both sleep. Not in the same bed, Tony has a cot lined with warm furs that he sleeps on, but the point stands. Technically he could . But it is best not to give into delusions and assumes that he rightfully owns anything now, so he doesn’t. 

It does not take Tony long to see why the Captain is so successful or so feared. It’s not just his prowess in battle, apparently, but his skill for strategy as well. The first game they play - truly play because Tony was not going to risk winning the first one, no matter what - was truly a battle. There are not many who can challenge Tony’s intelligence, but the Captain is a good match. 

In a way it helps Tony gets to know him better than any conversation would. Which is good because they still can’t have one without the Winter Warrior in between them, translating. That’s happened a few times and he scowled the entire time. He scowled even worse when Tony had won. 

The Captain had huffed with a pointed roll of his eyes and said something that sounded remarkably like “brothers” to Tony before insisting on a rematch. Tony - Tony is not exactly sure what to think of that. 

What Tony tries hard not to think about is what the Captain is learning about him in return. It can’t be anything good. It never is. 

Even worse is that everything Tony learns or thinks he knows about the Captain, he ends up second guessing. Is he truly a kind leader as well as a good one? Does he know what mercy is or is he playing a part? Is he being nice to Tony because he is true to his word or is he luring him into a false sense of security? The Captain is fiercely loyal to those he calls his own, but Tony can never be one of those, right? Right.

But then he will go and try to do something to prove Tony wrong. He’s provided for Tony.  He has clothes on his back and food in his stomach. Good, warm clothes, not rags or anything too patched up to be considered wearable. Food that comes off of his own table, not scraps, not rotten or spoiled discards. The fur blanks he uses came off of his own bed. Anytime he is around then he is kept close as if the Captain is guarding him. There are times that Tony swears that he is joking with him. Trying to make him laugh. 

And yet he is still a prisoner. Still a captive with no rights and only pretty words as a certainty that he will be fine. In other words, nothing. He has nothing and no matter how much the Captain has ‘taken a liking to him’ that does not change. He is far too familiar with power imbalances to ever be comfortable with this. To ever stop fearing it. 

The only good thing about any of this is that he is able to pick up their language rather more quickly than he thought he would. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he is surrounded by it constantly. That is the only thing he hears day in and day out for weeks as everyone lives and works together in the same space. 

The exception, of course, is his wonderful translator, the Winter Warrior himself - who he has also learned is not called James. Not by those closest to him. Oh no, apparently his name is Bucky, which is just. Yes. Tony is determined to keep his understanding of the language a secret for that fact alone. He has others, of course, much more reasonable and logical ones, but the fact that the feared Winter Warrior’s name is Bucky? It’s the first time he’s felt like smiling since this all started. What a ridiculous thing. No wonder he didn’t tell Tony. Who can take you seriously if your name is Bucky

A bright spot among the fear. It also makes listening in on different conversations so much easier as well. 

Thus Tony is slowly losing his mind between the uncertainty and the inactivity. Learning the language is not nearly enough for him. Not at all. He’s never had this much free time in - ever. At the castle he was always expected to be doing something, attending something, learning something. Told to spend his time productively. It made for busy days and exhausting nights. Here though? Now? He has nothing. He has nothing when he’s had certain lessons pounded into his head his entire life. That is, find a way to be useful and not a worthless waste of space. Or else.

Maybe that thought makes him a traitor, wanting to aid the enemy, but it’s true. And maybe, just maybe, it will help his situation somehow. Not make them like Tony, because he doubts that will ever happen, but ease their watchfulness perhaps. Not be so guarded and wary of him. All he really wants is to lessen the tension. Anything else is a fool's wish. 

That is what leads him to taking a closer look at the fort. At paying attention to all the little details about it. While it is clear that repair work has been done to it, and done well too, it is still obvious to him that it had been abandoned for far too long. There is still much work to be done. Work that he knows how to do. Improvements he can make to the already made repairs. In his mind’s eye he can see it perfectly. 

With that in mind he gets to work. It is surprisingly easy to get his hands on some paper and charcoal, something he had not been expecting. From there it was only a matter of finding the time alone to sketch out his plans. That takes a bit longer and a bit more maneuvering, but he manages. 

Or at least he manages for a time. He should have known that his good fortune wouldn’t last. It never does. His plans are discovered before he can finish them. Fortunately they are mostly done at this point and the ones he has finished are checked over and correct. Unfortunately it ends up being the Winter Warrior who finds them. 

Tony knows that he is in trouble when said man marches in, paper in hand and murder in his eyes. “What is this?” he snarls, waving the papers in front of Tony’s face. 

Now Tony’s first reaction is fear. Just plain old, flat out terror. This is it. This is when he finally gets killed after all. His second reaction, well. His second reaction is anger. And not just any anger, but hot burning rage. It is a combination of everything, all the negative emotions that have been building and building inside of him until they are ready to explode. The rage sweeps through him and he lets it. “Careful with those,” he snaps back, “I worked hard on them. What do you think they are? Did you even look at them? What kind of idiot are you that you can’t tell what they are?” 

“They look like all the weaknesses of the fort laid out in one pretty little plan.” His face is thunderous. If looks could kill Tony would be dead and buried already. 

“They’re plans for improvements, you numskull. I am trying to help . Or do you want to keep using a faulty pulley system, an outdated front gate and however many other problems this place has?” 

“What is going on?” the Captain asks, frowning between the two of them. 

“He is recording our weaknesses,” the Winter Warrior snaps, teeth bared. He thrusts the papers into his unsuspecting hands. “Didn’t I tell you this one was too smart for you? That he was going to cause problems? Why are you always attracted to the dangerous ones?” 

That - that is a lot to unpack right there. But most of that can be done later, when Tony has more time to think on it. As is, he refuses to let such an accusation stand. “ I am not !” he retorts, speaking in their language without thought, “Didn’t you listen to a word I just said ? I am improving this crappy shit of a fort. If you want to live in a shit house, fine, but not everyone else here deserves that. These,” he forcefully pokes at the papers, “are going to help. Help . Do you know what that word means? Or are you really as stupid as -”

“Enough,” the Captain yells, cutting him off. 

Tony refuses to show how much that affected him. His heart, already pounding, picks up even more. It is as if it is trying to beat out of his chest.

“Enough,” he repeats, directing his gaze towards both Tony and the Winter Warrior before turning his attention towards the papers. “What are?” he doesn’t finish his question as he trails off, checking over each plan carefully. “These are ingenious,” he murmurs. 

The Winter Warrior huffs, but quiets when the Captain gives him a look. “Not now Buck. Look at this. Really look.” 

He obeys with a roll of his eyes. “Yeah, yeah Stevie, we all know that you’re smitten. No need to rub it in.” 

Once again, what? What in the world does he mean - You know what, no. No. Tony is still  not thinking about this right now. Not even going to attempt to. There is still far too much in that. The situation right now calls for his full attention, not anything else. 

There is a furrow in his brow as both he and the Captain look his plans over. “Huh. How about that,” he mutters, seemingly not realizing he said anything. 

Tony resists the urge to cross his arms. ‘How about that?’ How very promising. He sneers at them both. A tremor begins to work its way through his body and he clenches his teeth to get it under control. “Try not to strain yourself there Buck .” Buck, Bucky, honestly he isn’t sure which one is worse. He’d laugh if he wasn’t so furious. 

The Captain gives him another admonishing look. 

And that? That is just not on either. Tony is done. He is done with these people, he is done with this place and he is done with this life. If this ends up being what gets him killed then so be it. He’s ready. He’s been ready. “No,” he glares, “no you do not get to look at me like that Captain . I am not going to shut up like a good little captive simply because you don’t like the way I am talking. Or are you finally going to shut me up now? Been waiting for it long enough.” 

“Steve,” the Captain corrects, “my name is Steve, not Captain. Not to you.” His tone is gentler than anything Tony would imagine coming from him.

Which is honestly just the last straw. Tony throws up his hands, and seriously considers strangling the both of them. Or trying to at least because he isn’t under the impression he would be very successful. “Steve. Steve. You want me to call you Steve ? You want your prisoner, your captive , your war prize calling you by your name ?”

“You aren’t-”

“No,” Tony cuts him off with no hesitation and no regret. “ No . You do not get to say these things to me. You do not get to act like I am the one being offensive here when it is you who took over my castle, who took me away from my people, who is keeping me here without any rights. Easy for you to say, you are the one with all of the power here. What do I have? Some pretty words as guarantee. That’s it. Everything - literally everything else - belongs to you. What makes you think that it is possibly alright for you to act like all of that doesn’t matter?” 

The Captain looks gutted. Shocked. Eyes wide and mouth open without any words coming out. 

Beside him the Winter Warrior snorts. “This is why his romantic life is so successful, yes.” 

Tony really is going to strangle them.

The Captain hits him on the head instead. “I, err, that’s not, no, you’re right,” he sighs. “I know I have no right to keep you here, but it seemed the safest place for you.” 

Tony crosses his arms and cocks his hip. “Really now? The big, bad barbarian is going to protect me. From what? Yourself?” 

If anything the Captain looks even more sheepish. “No, it was, no,” he shakes his head, “it doesn’t matter. You are free to go if you wish. I can have an escort ready for you within a candlemark. You can return and rule with Regent Stane if you so wish.” 

Wait, what? That is - that is just - “Free? Just like that? No fight, no arguments, no threats? I can simply go without any consequences at all?” Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. There’s no way this is real. It has to be a trap of some kind. It has to be. Nothing else makes any sense. 

“Yes,” he nods, “just like that.” 

“What’s the catch?” Because there has to be one. There has to

“None,” he denies. 

“Stop lying to me!” 

“He’s not,” the Winter Warrior says, “This one is that much of a noble idiot that he is completely and utterly serious.” He treats the Captain to a look and oh. Oh Tony has been on the receiving end of one of those looks too. Huh. How much does that change the context of everything? Not that it matters because he isn’t staying. If this is true then he’s going home and - Wait. “Did you say Obie was regent?” 

“Advisor Lord Obidiah Stane?” the Captain asks, “That’s who is ruling now.” 

Obie. It is Obie they are talking about. Obie is regent? It makes a certain amount of sense he supposes. If the Captain isn’t going to rule and with his parents dead he is the next best choice. He and Howard have always been close. Still it’s odd to hear. Does he even know that Tony is alive? Are people looking for him? Or has he been assumed lost? “Right,” he nods. 

“Just one thing,” the Captain adds. 

“And what is that?” So much for no conditions. 

“There is a weakness in the castle’s defenses that you will want to seal up. It’s how we were able to get inside.” 

Not what he was expecting, but - alright. Weakness in the castle. Tony is willing to hear him out on this. He nods. “Where?” 

“The tunnels under the North Tower are far too vulnerable. You can get anywhere from them.” 

The tunnels under the North Tower. Dread begins to pool in his stomach, but he desperately ignores it. “I know,” Tony barely hears himself say, “they are the..” he trails off, the rest gets lost as his thoughts whirl. The tunnels. The tunnels . That shouldn’t be possible. They are a known weakness after all. Take it only the royal family knows about them, but - No. No . “You’re sure?” he asks desperately, hoping beyond hope that there is a mistake.

“Are you alright? You’ve gotten pale sudden-” 

Are you sure ?” Tony repeats again, cutting him off. 

The Captain nods. “Positive.” 

“Yes, I’m one of the ones who found them,” the Winter Warrior confirms. 

No. Oh god, no

“Are you alright?” the Captain asks again tentatively. 

“Those passages are known to only four people. The royal family and Obie.” Tony thinks he is going to be sick. 

They both understand right away. “You think he had something to do with this?” 

“There have always been rumours of plots and schemes, possible assassinations,” he admits, “I’ve known about the threat for years. It’s something I’ve always known. Obie is Howard’s main advisor. You probably think I’m stupid to have never suspected him, but,” But Obie had been one of the kind ones. Not always, but he was more likely to listen than Howard ever was. Uncle Obie, he sometimes called him. He accepted Tony, he tried to help Tony, he - He apparently wants Tony dead. It is a stab to the gut. 

Is it true? Can he believe them? Trust their words? What if they are lying to him? But then it’s not as if they knew the significance of those tunnels. They were trying to be helpful, not manipulate him. Not in this. That he does believe. Which means he’s right. Which means -

What now? What can he possibly do now? He doubts Obie is going to be very welcoming after all of this. 

He’s stuck, even more powerless than before. A wave of hopelessness washes over him. Why he even bothered to hope, even for a moment. Stupid. He can be so stupid and so naive sometimes. He should have known it was too good to be true. 

“Hey,” the Captain - Steve - for some reason it is easier to think of him as Steve in that moment, lays a hand on his shoulder. It is big and warm against his skin, “you still have us?” 

That is so ridiculous, so sad and pathetically hopeful that he can’t help but laugh. There is a sharp, hysterical edge to it, but it is still a laugh. This is what he is reduced to? Then again, looking at the Cap- at Steve’s tentative expression he can’t help but wonder if things could be different. If there was a way for him to fit here after all. He glances at the Winter Warrior. 

He shrugs. “Fine with me. Stevie here will be unbearable if you leave. Sides,” he shrugs again, “maybe you aren’t so bad after all.” 

“What a glowing recommendation,” he says dryly. Still it’s better than nothing. Better than he could ever hope for. 

“This one is always looking for a fight to pick with someone. The prospect of danger just makes you all the more attractive.” 

“Gee, thanks,” Steve says. He doesn’t deny it though. “So what do you say? Do you want to stay? It will get better, I promise.” 

There is something sweet and fairly unbelievable about this fierce giant of a man looking so small, just for Tony. Just because of Tony. Maybe he has more power than he thought after all. “As what exactly?” 

“My partner,” Steve answers promptly and with no hesitation. 

“Might as well start calling me James then,” the Winter Warrior adds, “if you’re sticking around. I’m not actually that fond of my title.” 

“Steve. James,” Tony tries out, tasting the names in his mouth. He stares at the two, thinking. The thought is more tempting than it has any right to be. There are more things to address, obviously, more issues to work out, but for now? For now this just might work. “I’ll stay,” he nods. 

Steve beams at him while James mocks the brightness of his smile. It certainly backs up their claim of brothers more than anything. They are certainly acting like it. 

Maybe, just maybe. After all, who knows what the future will bring?