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The Pinball Wizard in a Miracle Cure

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"Is that a pinball machine?"

Barnes' voice wasn't as deep as Tony expected it to be; then again, he'd had pretty vague expectations, given the contrast between the SHIELD brief Fury had forwarded over with the prosthetic and the pale, silent man Steve had herded into the Tower like a particularly assertive Golden Retriever. Granted, Tony's experience with master assassins probably wasn't representative (something he was inclined to see as a good thing) but Barnes had obediently followed in Steve's wake, watching Tony's work or staring off into space with apparently equal disinterest. JARVIS had more of a personality that this guy.

But Steve (who had not ceased hovering even while interrogating Tony about the prosthetic redesign) followed Barnes' line of sight to the Black Knight machine in the corner of the workshop, and his eyes lit up. "I'll be damned," he muttered, then glanced Tony. "Would've thought those things were too old-fashioned for you, Stark."

"I'd have thought they were too new-fangled for you," Tony shot back. He fitted the exterior housing back into the prosthetic and wiped the traces of lubricant from his hands. "Pinball was really a fifties thing, wasn't it?"

Steve ignored the question, probably because he didn't know; instead he crossed the workshop to stand in front of the game, Barnes shadowing him like always. "How many pennies did I lose on these things, huh, Buck?" Steve asked fondly.

"All of yours and half of mine," Barnes said quietly, and Steve laughed like this was the cleverest thing ever put to words.

Tony wasn't used to hearing Steve laugh...ever, really, especially not that warm and sincere. He definitely wasn't used to the furniture taking center stage in his workshop. "Yeah, they take quarters now," he called out. "Plus, little hard to work the flippers with one hand."

The brief kicked-puppy look on Steve's face was enough to make him feel a little bad, but only a little. Barnes didn't even acknowledge the comment, instead offering, "They're all legal now, you know that?"

"When were they ever illegal?" Tony asked.

"You really don't know your history," Steve said instead of giving a straight answer. "What're these...? Oh!"

He was poking the button on the side like a moron, making the flipper audibly clank, and Tony's desire to show off the rebuilt prosthetic gave way to the desire not to be mocked in his own damn workshop, thank you. "All right, old man, stand aside," he declared, shouldering Steve out of the way. "JARVIS, flip this thing to free play, will you? Let me show you two how it's done."

Tony wasn't bad at pinball, since he wasn't bad at anything he actually gave enough of a damn about, and Black Knight had seen him through plenty of staggeringly boring late nights and weekends at boarding school—they'd had a machine in the rec room, whereas actual video games required getting off the grounds and into town. Which he had also done often enough, and gotten away with thanks to his name and his father's bank account, but sometimes it had been easier to just stay in and drive up the high score tally, whether or not there was anyone around to witness it. "So this thing was one of the first machines to use solid-state electronics, very high tech for the time, a sufficiently motivated high-schooler could build one in a weekend these days. You launch the ball like so--"

And for a moment it was 1983 all over again, skipping Brit Lit on a Friday afternoon or waiting out Thanksgiving break because Howard had gone to Japan or something. Tony was perversely pleased that he still had the reflexes for it—yeah, sure, he engaged in low-altitude dogfights in the suit on a regular basis, but that was JARVIS-assisted, and anyway this was about pride.

When the first FREE BALL light started flashing, Steve suddenly said, "Let me have a spin."

"In your dreams, Rogers," Tony shot back without giving it too much thought. "Not letting your magic fingers erase all my high scores."

"Right," Steve said. "I haven't played pinball in—in years. The mayor made 'em illegal."

"Didn't actually stop us, of course," Barnes said, almost too quietly to be heard over the music. Steve cleared his throat and might've actually blushed a little.

And as much as Tony wanted to hear all kinds of daring tales about secret underground pinball dens of the thirties, he also suddenly had an idea. "Okay. Okay, JARVIS, pause this contraption on the next ball, will you?" As much as it pained him he let the ball currently in play drain away. "And protect my scores. We're doing an experiment."

"Experiment," Steve echoed dubiously, and actually moved a little closer to Barnes like Tony was suddenly gonna come at the guy with a test tube.

Tony started disconnecting the prosthetic from the diagnostic equipment and sealing all the ports. "Obviously not properly controlled or repeatable, but this thing needs a shakedown cruise and you two have a roughly comparable amount of practice on this particular table, that being none."

They both proceeded to stare at him like he was out of his mind, not that Tony wasn't used to getting that look from, well, everyone. "You want to test Bucky's arm," Steve repeated slowly, "by playing pinball?"

"Did I stutter?" He took the prosthetic off its cradle; it was heavier than it looked, but still lighter than the version Fury had shipped him, which had been all stainless steel and lead-acid battery packs. The gross motor control wasn't a question, and the original mount was actually pretty ingenious—given the time period and the materials used and the fact that it was implanted on the site of an emergency amputation. Most of the modification had been in the hand, and if he was going to test the fine motor control and tactile sensitivity, pinball seemed like as good a dry run as any. "C'mon, Comrade, winner buys the booze. Or, y'know, milkshakes. Whatever it is Cap'll drink."

Steve scowled again over that, but Barnes—obedient little soldier—slithered right out of his SHIELD-issue sweatshirt. The socket for the prosthetic was exactly as ugly as Tony had anticipated (and he had to look at the damn arc reactor in the mirror every day) but the new equipment mounted smoothly, and as he started hooking up the rest of the connections, Barnes exhaled loudly. "Okay, Buck?" Steve asked immediately.

"Yeah," Barnes said; Tony felt he deserved an award for not adding a sarcastic Mother. "Just...feels good to have it back."

"Okay," Steve said, but the little frown line between his eyes didn't quite go away.

Tony made the last mounting connection, and before he even had to say anything, Barnes made a fist and flexed the elbow. "How's it feel?" Tony asked him.

"...different." He rotated the wrist, spread the fingers, compared it to his natural hand.

Tony eventually prompted, "Good different? Bad different?"

"Sure," Barnes said.

"Look, I realize they didn't have the SATs in the Iron Age--" Tony started to say, because there was a fine line between laconic and willfully obtuse, but Barnes turned away from him and headed back to the pinball machine. "Or we could go ahead and do that, too, that's fine."

Steve, at least, was smiling warily, even if he was sort of conspicuous about not looking at prosthetic, or actually that entire side of Barnes' body. "What d'ya say, best two out of three?" he asked brightly.

"Don't sound so eager to lose," Barnes said dryly.

"Hey, I'm just trying to give you a fightin' chance," Steve protested. "Seein' as you're an invalid and all."

"Who you callin' an invalid, jerk?"

"Who you callin' a jerk, jackass?"

It was like some kind of bizarre optical illusion, where Tony could see Captain High-Waisted Khakis with his hair parted like he was gonna be graded on it, but somehow he was hearing an extra from Newsies whenever Steve opened his mouth. He almost asked, Is this what you're like when you have friends?

(Almost, but didn't. Pepper would've been so proud.)

Instead he said, "Yeah, watch it with the 'invalid,' I worked hard on that thing," and leaned against a wall to watch Barnes launch his first ball.

"The KGB worked hard on this thing," Barnes muttered, though Tony wasn't sure if it was a correction or some kind of implication.

He settled for a breezy, "Standing on the shoulders of giants, Ensign Chekov. Or industrial espionage, depending on your point of view. Either way it's standard industry practi—holy shit did you just lock three balls already?"

"Is that good?" Steve asked earnestly.

They turned out to be terrifyingly fast learners, the both of them, even while they were lobbing grade-school level insults at each other. Well, maybe up to middle school-level. Point was, the arm held up on the technical end, or at least Barnes didn't have any complaints that overwhelmed his kibbitzing of Steve's technique, or Steve's of his. And when Tony pointed out the absurdity of a couple of time-travelers trash-talking each other at a game they just picked up, Steve stepped back from the table and said, "All right, Stark, your turn."

"My turn?" he echoed. "Sorry, what part of 'enhanced reflexes' didn't you hear the first time?"

"Hey, if you're chicken, you can always get the suit," Steve pointed out.

Tony scoffed. "Yes, because four hundred pounds of metal is going to increase my manual dexterity..."

But of course, never let it be said that anybody had successfully labeled Tony Stark a chicken.

By the time they'd hit best-of-seventeen numbers, Tony gave in to the inevitable and called out for pizza. By the time Happy actually arrived with the pizza, JARVIS was tracking their scores in giant illuminated letters on the wall, AES and SGR and JBB projected in retro-pixellated fonts. Because like Tony, JARVIS had style. "Which is better than super-serum any day," he reminded everybody, mostly because he was losing.

It was a testament to Happy's loyalty and unflappable calm in the face of bullshit that he didn't say a word about the shirtless cyborg in the room as he set down the pizzas. He did ask, "Are you guys playing pinball?"

"No, it's a flight simulator," Tony shot back. "C'mon, put your quarter down, help me out here."

"We're not playing in teams," Steve protested, but since this was clearly inaccurate Tony ignored him.

"I can't stay for pinball, sir," Happy said in the meantime.

"Then stay for a beer."

"I'm driving, sir."

"Well, then you have to stay for pinball after your beer," Tony declared. "See? You can't fault my logic."

"Stark," Steve said, like he was trying to bring a dog to heel. "You can't change the rules just 'cause you're losing."

"No, see, that is the best time to change the rules," Tony tried to explain. And Happy was already wavering, glancing at the scores on the wall like he was doing the math in his head. "C'mon, do it, you don't even have to drink the beer."

"One round," Happy eventually said. "But that's it, okay?"

"Sure. Perfect. JARVIS, add all Happy's scores to my column." Obediently, the third column on the wall became AES + HJH and Steve started to protest. "Hey, my table, my experiment, my rules."

"Besides," Barnes said, smirking slightly as his last ball drained away in the outside lane. "I think he just admitted we're each worth two of him."

Steve seemed to be seriously considering this proposition. "One and a half!" Tony protested. Happy gave him a jaundiced look. "Okay, one and three-quarters, but don't be too hard on him, he's trying to slim down. Ow!" he added, because Happy smacked him on the back of the head. "I could fire you for that."

"No, you wouldn't," Happy said with a completely unfounded confidence.

"Play the game, Stark," Steve said briskly. Tony stepped up to the table once again and launched his first ball.