Bucky sat on the battered, well-worn couch in Tony’s workshop, wrapped in the blanket Butterfingers usually brought out when his creator was injured, and finally allowed himself to close his eyes and just rest for a few minutes. The last few days had been a nightmarish blur. He remembered watching the battle with Loki through FRIDAY’s holograms and worrying for Tony when the feed from his suit cut out. He remembered Steve’s demands for Loki to undo the spell that was making Bucky “act this way” and Tony’s pleas for Steve to think about what he was doing. And then … then he remembered everything.
He knew he left the Tower. He thought Steve might have tried to stop him, could vaguely recall lashing out when someone tall and blond stood in his way and reached for him. He hoped it was Steve. He didn’t want to think about what damage he might have done to someone who wasn’t enhanced.
After that, all rational thought gone, he just kept moving, kept hiding, heeding some hindbrain function that insisted if he ran fast enough he could escape the seemingly endless memories of torture and death and frozen nothingness. That he could outpace the dark presence that creeped in the back of his mind. He pushed and pushed, until he collapsed, but even in sleep he had no reprieve from the faces of the dead.
He’d come back to himself in the pitch black of an abandoned subway tunnel, far beneath the city streets, huddled against the tunnel wall and clutching what felt like a small, sharp piece of rusted metal in his hand. He’d thought about using it, about dying there in the dark like the monster he was, but couldn’t. Couldn’t do that to Tony, who was probably already frantic with worry over him. Couldn’t do that to FRIDAY, who was still so young. Couldn’t do that to the bots, who didn’t understand anything except that Bucky was their friend. He let the metal drop from his fingers.
Clear headed, if still exhausted and heartsick, Bucky had navigated his way out of the tunnels, ghosting past the transients who made the more habitable parts of the tunnels their home. He’d traveled back to Manhattan, unremarkable among the other subway commuters, and carefully slipped into the Tower unseen. FRIDAY had welcomed him back, worry evident in her voice, and had been a silent, comforting presence in the workshop until Tony arrived.
Now, listening to the familiar sounds of the workshop, the quiet hum of machinery and soft whirr of electronics, he felt some of the strain of the last few days gradually begin to ease. He thought he might actually be able to sleep without nightmares, at least for a little while, with Tony and the bots puttering nearby and knowing FRIDAY was on guard. He’d ask Tony when he returned; he didn’t think the other man would mind.
He opened his eyes when he heard the workshop door open, but a greeting died on his lips when he saw the expression on Tony’s face. It was equal parts frustrated, guilty, and resigned, and Bucky sat up, concerned. “Tony?”
“Hey, Sugarplum,” Tony said with a small tired smile, pulling out a seat across from Bucky. “I really wish I could let you rest, but things are about to come to a head and you need make a decision.”
“Me?” Bucky asked, surprised.
“Yeah,” Tony said, running a hand through his hair before looking up to face Bucky. “Look, when you left the Tower and FRIDAY couldn’t find you, I contacted the Accords Committee.”
Bucky nodded, subdued, and leaned forward to catch one of Tony’s hands with his flesh one. “I know, Tony. I know I’m dangerous, especially with the trigger words. My pardon was very clear about knowing where I am at all times and what would happen if I tried to disappear again.” He squeezed Tony’s hand gently. “I knew there would be consequences when I came back and I’ll abide by whatever the Committee decides. It was worth it just to see you.”
Tony gaped at him, seemingly at a loss for words, and Bucky, despite the seriousness of the situation, had to fight to keep from smiling at the sight. He must not have been all that successful because Tony rolled his eyes, some of the tension leaving his shoulders.
“Goddamn insufferable flirt,” Tony said, the corner of his mouth lifting. “Actually reading important legal documents and accepting responsibility. How am I supposed to resist you now?” His tone was teasing, but his eyes were soft with affection. “And Jesus, Bucky, the Committee isn’t going to punish you for this mess. They’re just relieved you were able to come back on your own.”
“I … think I attacked Steve,” Bucky pointed out hesitantly. Something stirred at the memory, the dark presence muttering a coldblooded analysis of strengths and weaknesses and a shift from ally to enemy, but Bucky carefully pushed it back into the shadows for now.
Tony snorted. “You punched him, once, after he grabbed you. A bloody nose was the least he deserved. Seriously, you are not the one in trouble here. That’s not the issue.”
Bucky gave the hand he was holding a gentle shake. “Okay, Tony. Then tell me what has you so worried.”
Tony sighed, running a hand down his face. “The Committee wants to pull you from Rogers’ team and move you to the Compound.”
Bucky inhaled sharply, shocked. “What? Why? Why would they do that? What could they possibly gain from that? Steve …”
“Sweetheart,” Tony interrupted gently, “they’re suggesting this because what happened to you was unconscionable. Rogers demanded a known enemy perform an unknown spell to manipulate your mind, a friend’s mind, without your consent. And none of the others tried to stop him. The Committee is livid. There will be other consequences, but right now they just want you somewhere far away from Rogers and his merry men.”
Bucky didn’t know how to respond. Steve had betrayed him, shredding the last ties of friendship between them, and the team had stood by and let it happen. Aside from Tony and his small family of electronic and mechanical children, though, he hadn’t … he hadn’t expected anyone else to care. It was Steve and the other pardoned Avengers the Committee wanted. Not him. He was just an unfortunate concession to make Steve sign.
When Bucky remained silent, Tony continued. “If this had occurred on any other Accords team, the ink would already be dry on the transfer orders and you’d be on a transport away from here. As it is, because of the internal non-interference agreements the Committee made with the returned Avengers, they can only act if you ask them to.”
“Why?” Bucky asked again, helplessly. “Why is the Committee even offering? Steve is going to throw a fit. You know he will. I’m not worth this fight, not again.”
“What Rogers does or does not decide to do is not your responsibility.” Tony reached up to push a strand of Bucky’s loose hair behind his ear. “Bucky, the Accords Committee is willing to compromise for the sake of peace with the Avengers, but only to a point. What happened to you is too far. They won’t back down on this. The Committee has a responsibility to protect those who’ve signed the Accords, and that includes you.”
Bucky bowed his head and closed his eyes, bringing their clasped hands to his forehead. He couldn’t deny a sense of relief at the idea. He didn’t want to deal with Steve and the others. Whatever trust had been between them was gone, and no matter how much he just wanted to hide in Tony’s workshop for the foreseeable future, he couldn’t stay. If he did, Steve would push and push and with the cold rage coursing underneath his skin again Bucky didn’t trust himself to stop when Steve finally pushed too far. He didn’t trust himself to want to stop.
“What about you?” Bucky whispered. “I don’t want to leave you and FRIDAY and the bots to deal with the team without me.”
Bucky felt Tony stroke his hair and lightly kiss the top of his head. “Don’t worry about us, Snowflake. Once the Accords Committee moves forward, we won’t be dealing with them alone for long.”
Bucky let a few more minutes pass, but he eventually steeled himself and nodded, raising his head. “I want to go to the Compound.”
“Alright,” Tony said, giving Bucky’s hand one last squeeze before letting go. “Rogers doesn’t know I’ve been in contact with the Committee. They’ve been playing it close to the chest, but the game will be up once they approve your transfer. Let’s see if we can’t get you out of here before someone leaks the information to Rogers.”
Decision made, Bucky said goodbye to FRIDAY and the bots and left to pack the few clothes he had on his own floor while Tony made the necessary phone calls. It was strange walking into those rooms. They didn’t belong to the man he was now, not really, but it didn’t feel like walking into a stranger’s home, either. A part of the Bucky from the forties still existed in him. He couldn’t be that man again, but for the first time since breaking his conditioning he believed he could also be more than the monster HYDRA had created.
Tony was already in the penthouse when Bucky arrived. He stood looking through the large glass windows, arms crossed, staring at the Manhattan skyline that was lit up by the setting sun. He looked exhausted, Bucky thought, dark rings under his eyes and hair a mess from where he had been running his hands through it, but he was still the most gorgeous thing Bucky had ever seen. Bucky wanted to tell him that, tell him how precious and wonderful Tony was to him, but nothing would make it past the lump in his throat. Instead, he crossed the room and pulled Tony into his arms, laying his head on Tony’s shoulder and breathing in the scent of him. Tony reciprocated immediately, laying one hand on back of Bucky’s head where it rested on his shoulder and running soothing strokes along his back with the other.
“A quinjet from the Compound will arrive soon,” Tony said quietly, turning his head to place a kiss on Bucky’s temple. “You ready, Babe?”
Bucky nodded into Tony’s shoulder, eyes wet. “You’ll be okay?” He asked in a whisper.
“Always am, Sweetheart,” Tony said. A moment later, almost too soft for Bucky to hear, he added, “I’ll miss you.”
“Me, too,” Bucky said with a shaky breath. They stood like that for long minutes, wrapped up in each other, until their quiet tableau was interrupted by an anxious FRIDAY.
“Boss? Rogers just received a call. I think it must have been about Sergeant Barnes. He’s on his way to the penthouse with Barton and Maximoff. Wilson and Romanoff are arguing with them, but they’re not stopping.”
“Damn it,” Tony muttered, releasing Bucky. “Lock the elevator and seal the doors from downstairs.”
“Already done,” came FRIDAY’s immediate reply, “but they’re coming armed, and the blast doors won’t hold against Maximoff if she uses her full strength.”
Bucky could feel the ice slithering into his thoughts, battle ready and deadly, but he fought against allowing that presence to take over. The penthouse wasn’t a combat zone yet, but it would be if that dark specter came out to play. Having Tony in the open and vulnerable with the team—hostiles—approaching wasn’t helping.
“Tony,” he said through gritted teeth, “call your suit.” Something of Bucky’s internal struggle must have bled into his voice because Tony looked at Bucky sharply, concern obvious on his face, but shook his head.
“If Rogers sees me in the armor he will definitely assume the worst and come in swinging. Let’s at least try to talk him down until the quinjet arrives. Even with the armor, I don’t like our odds.”
Bucky swore viciously, every instinct objecting to Tony remaining this exposed, but he was right. Steve would absolutely throw the first punch, consequences be damned, if he thought Tony was a danger to Bucky. He clenched his fists, desperate to remain in control. Moments later the penthouse doors were outlined in a red haze and wrenched open. A little more of the cold slipped into his thoughts.
“Bucky!” Steve yelled as he strode into the room with Clint and Wanda flanking him. Steve—most dangerous target, greatest immediate threat—held the shield in front of him like a battering ram. The angry red of her powers flickered around Wanda—dangerous target, special priority—while Clint—dangerous target—wore his quiver on his back and carried his bow with an arrow notched but not yet drawn. Natasha and Sam—least dangerous targets, possible noncombatants—slunk in behind them, hands empty, no weapons drawn.
“What the actual fuck, Rogers?” snapped Tony—favored ally, protect—as Bucky stepped forward to place himself slightly in front and to the right of Tony.
Steve ignored Tony, focusing on Bucky with wild-eyed distress. “Bucky, we have to go. They’re sending people for you right now!”
“No, you need to leave right now and take your flunkies with you,” Bucky growled, voice frigid and harsh. The sound stopped the others in their tracks. Steve looked stricken while the rest shifted nervously, sharing uneasy glances. Good.
“Bucky,” Steve pleaded, taking a few steps closer. “It’s me, Steve. Do you remember? You’re James Buchanan Barnes. This isn’t you, you need to fight this.”
Bucky glowered, hands clenching into fists. “I know who, what, I am, Steve. You made sure of that, didn’t you? Now get out.”
Instead Steve took another step forward, but stopped when Tony raised his arm, the whine of a charging repulsor unmistakable as his watch gauntlet transformed. An ugly expression crossed Steve’s face as he glared at Tony before turning his attention back to Bucky.
“Bucky, please. I had to. I know it seems bad now, but whatever Loki did to you, you weren’t thinking clearly. You weren’t acting like yourself. Stark was taking advantage of that, but you wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to warn you. I couldn’t just stand back and let you be used, not again.”
“And what is it you think you’re doing, Rogers?” Tony bit out. “Do you honestly believe a word you just said? Captain America is perfect and righteous and there must be something wrong with anyone who disagrees with you so screw them. But wait, I’ve heard this one before, haven’t I?”
“Shut the fuck up, Stark,” Clint said, bringing his bow up to aim at Tony as Wanda raised her hands. Bucky felt his control begin to slip at the sight, the arctic chill murderous at the threat to Tony—threat to friend and ally—and Bucky began to shake with the effort to hang on to his sanity.
Voice low and dangerous with the suppressed anger, Bucky growled. “Steve, for the last time. I agreed to go to the Compound. You are not needed here. Leave.”
“Steve,” Natasha spoke up urgently, watching Bucky warily from her position with Sam just inside the penthouse door. “You need to stop, now.”
Bucky’s stomach sank when Steve just shook his head and shifted his stance, preparing for a fight. “I can’t do that. Bucky, you’re my friend. I won’t let them take you.”
“Jesus Christ,” Tony swore, “if he’s your friend will you god damn act like it. You fucked up, Steve, and it’s not Bucky’s responsibility to stay and make you feel better. You can’t keep using him as an excuse to avoid facing fucking reality.”
“That’s not what this is, Stark,” Steve snarled. “All of this, all of this, is your fault. You and your petty need for revenge. If you had an ounce of decency in you, if you cared at all about Bucky or anyone but yourself, you would step back before this goes too far.”
“The best thing I can do for Bucky,” Tony said, fury clear in his voice, “is to get him the hell away from you.”
Rage twisting his features, Steve threw his shield with a guttural cry and Bucky … let go.
The Soldier caught Rogers’ shield with his metal hand, the edge inches from Tony’s chest. With Rogers’ loss of the shield, Maximoff was now the greatest immediate threat and the Soldier launched the shield at her with full strength. The witch shrieked in startled fear but stopped the shield in midair just before it hit her. Focused entirely on the projectile, she did not notice the Soldier coming towards her or dodge the punch to her face.
Released from Maximoff’s power, the shield fell into the Soldier’s waiting hands as the witch crumpled to the floor. The Soldier sidestepped and clotheslined Rogers as he barreled by, used the shield to deflect an arrow back at Barton, then swung the flat of the shield at the side of Roger’s head with all the force he could muster when Rogers tried to get back up. Rogers collapsed beside the witch.
The Soldier deflected another arrow and prepared to rush the archer, but a repulsor blast sent Barton into a wall. Barton fell to the floor, out cold. Moving to engage the remaining opponents, the Soldier glanced at Tony from the corner of his eye, even more furious at the intruders when he saw Tony was pale and trembling. The icy clarity of the Soldier’s mind cracked slightly, a flare of concern making itself known, but the Soldier pushed it away.
Wilson went down with a scream and the sound of broken bones when he tried to bring his guns to bear, the shield ricocheting back to the Soldier after hitting its mark. The Soldier then spun around, dropping the shield, and caught Romanoff in midair with both hands and slammed her into the ground with boneshaking force. A rabbit punch to the temple and the Widow was out of the fight. The Soldier stood, satisfied all hostiles were neutralized for now.
“Bucky?” Tony asked shakily. The Soldier turned, worry sizzling around the edges of his mind at the sight of Tony taking an unsteady step towards him. The heat would take over soon, leaving him to again fade away into the darkness, but the Soldier held on grimly.
“Tony. Status?” the Soldier asked. Tony took another step closer, retracting the gauntlet and gently reaching out to touch the Soldier’s cheek.
“I’m fine, Sweetheart. I’m fine,” Tony said quietly. “Come back to me now, OK?” The Soldier nodded, covered Tony’s hand with his, and let himself melt away.
Bucky swayed as the cold receded, stumbling into Tony and taking them both down to their knees. He reached out to clutch desperately at the fabric of Tony’s dress shirt.
“Tony. Oh god, Tony,” Bucky whispered, breath coming in panicked gasps. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”.
“No, Bucky, I’m fine,” Tony soothed, hands coming up to frame Bucky’s face, “Look at me, Honey, I’m fine.” Bucky did, frantically searching Tony’s eyes for pain or distress, but found only warm concern.
“And the others?” Bucky asked, dread pooling in his stomach. “Steve and the others, how badly did I …?”
“FRIDAY, how are the others’ vitals?” Tony requested, running a soothing hand down Bucky’s back.
“Vitals are steady, Boss,” FRIDAY replied. “They need medical attention, but none of their injuries appear to be life threatening.” Bucky closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Tony’s, nearly lightheaded with relief.
“Bucky, shh. You’re okay. It’s all okay,” Tony murmured, but Bucky shook his head and pushed closer, almost crawling into Tony’s lap until he could rest his head against Tony’s chest. Tony’s heartbeat, fast but steady, gave Bucky something to focus on, something that wasn’t the terrifyingly slippery grasp he had on his own mind. Tony just hugged him tightly, curling around him as if to shut out the world.
It wasn’t the world that Bucky wanted to hide from, though. When he opened his eyes, he could see the still forms of Steve and the others through the crook of Tony’s elbow and he shivered as the cold, dark presence stirred again. That shadow in his mind, that frigid rage beneath his skin, wasn’t the blank obedience of the Fist of Hydra. It was the Winter Soldier, a part of him, a monster of his own creation, a darkness that could survive under HYDRA’s control and keep the rest of Bucky’s shattered mind hidden. It was the demon that made the handlers scream and bleed when they were inattentive a little too long. He shut his eyes and concentrated again on Tony’s heartbeat beneath his ear.
Too soon, Bucky felt Tony stir and heard him sigh regretfully. “Sorry, Buttercup. You can stay right where you are, but I need to call some people about the unconscious assholes in the living room. FRIDAY, keep an eye on their vitals and let me know if any of them so much as twitches.”
“On it, Boss.”
Bucky snorted weakly and relaxed further into Tony’s hold. He listened with half and ear as Tony spoke first with Colonel Rhodes, who was on the quinjet only a few minutes away and incandescent with anger, and then various representatives from the Accords Committee, Task Force, and a private medical facility equipped for treating enhanced individuals. FRIDAY continued to monitor the others, providing updates and standing ready to warn her creator if any of them showed signs of regaining consciousness.
When FRIDAY announced that the quinjet was preparing to land, Bucky reluctantly pulled away from Tony. He mourned the loss of comfort but there was no part of him, Bucky or otherwise, that was willing to leave Tony and himself in a vulnerable position right now.
Tony studied him after Bucky helped him to his feet and Bucky fought the urge to look away. Tony deserved to know what Bucky was, both the monster and the wreck of a man. He wouldn’t blame Tony at all if he washed his hands of him. Bucky braced himself for the rejection, but Tony’s eyes were nothing but kind as he quirked his lips and gently wiped Bucky’s face with the sleeve of his dress shirt. The tender gesture made Bucky’s heart race and something wild and fierce, hot as the sun and cold as the vacuum between stars, unfurl in his chest before settling into a thrumming warmth. There was no time to examine it, the doors of the quinjet already opening, but Bucky reached for Tony’s hand and was relieved when Tony held on just as tight.
Once Rhodes strode into the penthouse wearing the War Machine armor, he quickly took in the state of the penthouse and Steve’s group, barked orders to FRIDAY and the handful of New Avengers accompanying him, then began to stalk over to where the two of them stood. Bucky was grateful for the grounding effect of Tony’s hand in his because the dark presence was not pleased to have that much glowering weaponry approaching.
“What the actual fuck, Tony?” Rhodes demanded when he reached them, gesturing expansively. Only Tony, Bucky thought with a bubble of hysterical mirth, would design a one-man flying tank that could emote. The War Machine faceplate retracted to reveal Rhodes’ truly impressive scowl. The expression was equal parts anger and worry, though, and Bucky relaxed slightly.
“Thirty minutes, Tony. It only took us thirty minutes to get from the Compound to your doorstep after the Committee gave us the go ahead. What the hell happened?” Rhodes ranted. Before Tony could jump in, the colonel held up his hand and took a deep breath, then exhaled.
In a much calmer voice, he continued, “FRIDAY called us en route to say that Steve fucking Rogers and most of his team broke into the penthouse and attacked you. Yes or no, are you okay?” he demanded, pointing at Tony who quickly nodded. “And you’re okay?” the colonel asked, pointing at Bucky. Bucky paused, then gave a curt nod. Rhodes frowned, clearly unhappy, but eventually nodded in turn. “Alright, this is what’s going to happen. Tony, you and Barnes are going to get on the quinjet and the pilot will fly you to the Compound. You are both going to let the medical staff clear you, you are going to give your statements, and then you are going to get a full night’s rest.”
“Rhodey …” Tony began, but Rhodes cut him off.
“Tony, no,” Rhodes said firmly. “You know the Committee had already decided to put your team on stand down and Rogers under review, they’d just hoped to get Barnes to a secure location first. Now they’re sure to call for an investigation into this incident, and that means you can’t be here.” His voice softened, worry for his friend becoming clear, as he leaned in and placed an armored hand gently on Tony’s shoulder. “Besides, man, you look like crap. It scared the shit out of us when FRIDAY said Rogers was on the warpath and headed your way. Let someone else deal with this clusterfuck for a while.”
Tony had looked ready to argue, but the last obviously took the wind out of his sails. “Alright, Platypus,” Tony said with a sigh, shoulders slumping. Bucky wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist to offer comfort, his face heating when Rhodes raised an eyebrow at the gesture, but the other man was kind enough not to comment. Rhodes simply gave Tony’s shoulder a final pat and turned back to join the growing number of medical personnel, Task Force officers, and New Avengers who were preparing Steve and the others for transport.
Given their marching orders, Bucky grabbed his bag and ushered Tony into his room to pack his own while FRIDAY flew one of the Iron Man armors onto the quinjet. Just in time, too, since FRIDAY was reporting that Steve was beginning to regain consciousness and Bucky had no desire to repeat their confrontation. He had the feeling Steve would find far less mercy if Bucky’s control slipped again.
Soon Bucky was watching the Tower grow smaller in the distance as the quinjet flew out of the city, Tony’s hand warm in his own.
Bucky woke slowly to bright sunlight warming his face and short, soft hair tickling his nose. All of that was unusual, and normally would have him instantly awake and on high alert, but any concern was swept away by the warm contentment filling his chest and the faint murmurings—safe, secure—of the chilly frost fading from the edges of his mind.
The languid feeling remained as he opened his eyes to take in the simple guest room and Tony’s sleeping form, arm thrown over Bucky’s stomach and head pillowed on his chest. Bucky nuzzled the top of Tony’s head softly and grinned when Tony grumbled and cuddled closer into Bucky’s side. Bucky had been beyond grateful that Tony had insisted on staying with him the previous night. Tony had his own rooms in the New Avengers Compound, along with a small workshop, but they were in an area of the compound Bucky did not have clearance to enter. Between exhaustion and Tony’s presence, Bucky had been able to sleep through the night without nightmares.
“ANA?” Bucky asked, careful to keep his voice soft enough not to disturb Tony’s rest.
“Yes, Sergeant Barnes?” came the equally soft reply, a slight central European accent coloring the feminine voice of the Compound’s AI.
“Can you tell me what time it is, please?”
“Certainly, Sergeant. It is currently 6:12 AM Eastern Standard Time. I am afraid you and Doctor Stark have a meeting scheduled with Colonel Rhodes at 8:00 am,” the AI finished regretfully.
“Thank you, ANA,” Bucky sighed, disappointed the quiet morning would be disrupted so soon.
“You are most welcome,” she responded warmly. “FRIDAY and the boys speak very highly of you.”
Bucky smiled, touched. “Well, I think the world of them as well.”
He closed his eyes, intending to enjoy a few more minutes with Tony, when ANA spoke up again.
“Sergeant?” the AI ventured timidly. The tone of voice had Bucky opening his eyes again immediately.
“Yeah, ANA?” Bucky asked, worried.
“Thank you. Thank you, for protecting our creator,” ANA said, her voice taking on a strange mechanical quality. FRIDAY, Bucky remembered, despite her irreverent attitude, was several years older than ANA. Bucky wished he could give the poor AI a hug when he realized that she probably wasn’t quite sure how to make her voice express the emotions she was experiencing.
“I’ll do everything in my power, ANA, to keep him safe,” Bucky promised, hoping it would be enough. An icy whisper only he could hear echoed the sentiment.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” the AI said softly, then fell silent, leaving Bucky to his thoughts. He carefully rolled onto his side, curling his right arm around Tony’s back and gently placing his metal hand over Tony’s heart. A good heart, he knew, no matter how many times it had been battered and broken, and far better than the likes of Bucky deserved. A vulnerable heart, in more ways than one, that could have been stopped forever if Steve’s shield had hit its mark yesterday. Bucky concentrated on the heartbeat beneath his fingers until the residual fear no longer overwhelmed him.
The guilt, though. That still lingered. How much of Tony’s heartbreak led back to Bucky himself? Twice now Bucky had a hand in ripping a family away from Tony and leaving him to pick up the pieces of his life. It mattered little to his heavy conscience that neither time had been by Bucky’s choice. And Siberia, where Steve’s shield had landed hard enough to shatter the arc reactor of the Iron Man suit. How much damage had been caused to Tony’s heart then, both physically and emotionally, to be injured and abandoned in the freezing cold without even a backwards glance by someone he had thought of as a friend, all for the man who had murdered his parents?
No matter how much he might want to, though, there was no way to change the past. Everyone, Bucky included, had made their choices and they had to live with the consequences. All he could do was move forward and do his best to never allow anyone or anything to hurt Tony that way again. And this morning that meant a meeting with Rhodes.
Bucky slipped out of bed, murmuring to Tony to go back to sleep when the other man stirred, and used the attached bathroom to wash up and dress. When he was finished he looked himself over in the mirror, clean shaven and hair pulled back into a tidy ponytail, dressed in a simple button-down shirt and a clean pair of jeans. It felt inadequate for the upcoming meeting, but his only option besides civvies was his tactical gear and walking in armed and ready for battle seemed a poor first impression to make, no matter what the presence in the back of his mind felt about leaving himself so exposed. Only the fact that Tony would be there with him kept his growing nervousness in check.
Tony was sitting up when Bucky returned to the bedroom, blinking sleepily and looking around in bleary confusion until he caught sight of Bucky in the doorway.
“Hey, Snowdrop,” Tony said, smiling drowsily and opening his arms in invitation. Bucky felt himself blush even as he bent down to give the other man a quick hug. Tony handed out nicknames like candy, always a new one up his sleeve, but his silliest and sweetest only came out when he’d just woken up, warm and affectionate and not yet caffeinated. Bucky had seen him like this a few times when he caught Tony asleep in his workshop and he was always both delighted and flustered at the sheer number of sappy endearments Tony bestowed on him. He knew this was something the others never got to see, at least since their return from Wakanda. He stood up and tousled Tony’s hair, smiling at the other man’s grumbling.
“Time to get a move on,” Bucky said, pulling Tony to his feet. “We’ve got places to be. I’ll scrounge us up some coffee while you’re getting ready.” Tony glared vaguely at him for a moment but the gears must have started turning because his gaze sharpened on Bucky, taking him in, and his eyebrows rose in surprise.
“You’re looking spiffy this morning, Sweetheart,” Tony said with a teasing grin.
“Seemed like the thing to do,” Bucky shrugged, cheeks warming at the compliment. “Haven’t really dealt with anyone outside the team since Wakanda.”
Tony’s grin softened and he leaned up to kiss Bucky’s cheek. “You look fine,” he said reassuringly before his eyes turned mischievous, “I might even go so far as to say you look swell.”
Bucky huffed and rolled his eyes, fighting his own grin at Tony’s bright laughter while giving Tony a gentle shove towards the bathroom. Once Tony had closed the bathroom door, Bucky made his way into the hallway and followed ANA’s directions to the dining hall. It seemed busy for the hour, far more people than Bucky was accustomed to or comfortable with, but those who noticed him simply nodded. Nodding back, he made quick work of filling two coffee cups and retreated to the quieter residential area.
Tony was groomed and dressed in a sport coat over a t-shirt and jeans when Bucky returned to their room, his arms crossed and expression unreadable as he watched a news report on the room’s television. Bucky quickly closed the door behind him and moved to stand next to Tony. On screen a young newscaster looked intently into the camera.
“For those just joining us, we have breaking news. WHiH World News is reporting that several members of the Avengers, the latest addition to the Accords response teams, were hospitalized last night due injuries sustained during an altercation that took place inside Stark Tower. There has been no official word on what occurred, but sources close to the situation indicate that an argument between team members escalated out of control. The names of the injured have not yet been released.
“As you may recall, most of the current Avengers, including team leader Steve Rogers, were labeled as criminals by numerous countries after the events following the bombing of the Vienna International Centre by Helmut Zemo where twelve people lost their lives, including King T’Chaka of Wakanda. They were later pardoned, with conditions, after their aid in the battle with the Mad Titan Thanos. As a term of their pardons, all members of the Avengers now act under the direction of the UN Sokovia Accords Committee along with other Accords emergency response teams.
“The reconciliation between the returned Avengers and Tony Stark and his agreement to join the reinstated team was considered a powerful symbol of unity and cooperation in the difficult days following the attack by Thanos.
However, the decision to pardon and restore the Avengers team was not without controversy.
Many argued that those harmed both physically and financially during the confrontations in Romania and Germany deserved the chance to see justice served in a court of law. Others questioned the returned Avengers’ sincerity in abiding by the rules established by the Sokovia Accords for direction and accountability. Some even challenged the need for the Avengers team at all, pointing to the many successful Accords teams already operating around the world.
With strong public and political opposition, the Avengers find themselves on shaky ground. What concerns do these new allegations raise about the stability of the Avengers, their ability to protect the public, and their continued standing under the Sokovia Accords? Here with us today to help us answer these questions are …”
“That’s enough for now, ANA. Mute TV, please,” Tony said, already sounding tired despite the previous night’s rest. Onscreen the newscaster silently introduced a panel of professed experts. Turning to Bucky, he took the offered coffee with a halfhearted smile.
“Thought I would try to get the lay of the land, see what kind of pressure the Committee is under and from where.”
Bucky nodded, his thoughts racing ahead of him. “What do you think the Committee will do?”
“I know what they wanted to do,” Tony said, frustration clear, before taking a deep drink of his coffee. “Like Rhodey said, the Committee had already decided to bench the team and put Rogers under review for how he dealt with Loki. That wouldn’t have been pretty, but it would have been relatively straightforward. Rogers made a poor decision in the field that endangered a teammate and then compounded it by withholding information from the Committee, including the fact that you were missing and possibly compromised.” Tony looked away at that, guilty and unhappy.
“Tony,” Bucky said gently, waiting until Tony reluctantly looked back at him to continue, “I told you I understood why you contacted the Committee. I am dangerous, and you had no idea what state I was in.”
Tony shrugged noncommittally, but some of the guilt faded. “For better or worse, it would have been handled by the Committee itself. Rogers would have lost command of the Avengers, and the others would have another black mark put on their record, but the team would have survived. When the review was released it would have focused on Rogers’ failure to follow proper Accords guidelines and wouldn’t have even mentioned you by name. Nothing is more boring to the public than arguments about following protocol.”
“But then someone tipped Steve off and he ruined that plan,” Bucky pointed out.
“Yeah,” Tony said with a sigh, rubbing a hand over his heart before he seemed to catch himself, “we didn’t expect Rogers to take the news about your move to the Compound well, but him leading the team straight into committing multiple felonies was definitely not in the plan. Which, granted, seems short sighted now considering Rogers’ history, but anyway. The Committee takes a dim view of that sort of thing, especially against teammates.”
Bucky looked at Tony skeptically. “They put you alone on a team full of people who had betrayed and attacked you.”
“Okay, first of all,” Tony said, pointing at Bucky, “I volunteered. There had to be a pro-Accords member on the reinstated Avengers, and I knew the whole ‘forgive and forget’ thing they were trying to sell would work best if it was me. They didn’t force me.”
Bucky raised an eyebrow. “You mean you volunteered so no one else would have to.”
“The point is that it was my choice,” Tony said, glaring slightly for a moment, then grimacing. “Also, I may have … let the Committee assume things were going better between me and the rest of the team than was completely accurate.”
“Damn it, Tony,” Bucky said, closing his eyes in exasperation. He opened them again when he felt the coffee cup being taken away and a moment later a warm hand in his.
“Sweetheart, listen. Zemo wanted revenge for his family, but it was our own decisions that tore the Avengers apart, mine included. I’ll never be sorry I supported the Accords. There were things I could have done differently, though, and maybe one of them would have been the tipping point that held the Avengers together. I don’t know. All I know is that I agreed to come back to the Avengers because I wanted to try to fix what I helped break.” Tony seemed to deflate before he continued, “That didn’t work out the way I’d hoped.”
Bucky sighed and squeezed Tony’s hand. “I understand, Tony. I do. But it’s not all on you. It’s not even mostly on you. Maybe it’s time for you to let someone else pick up the slack.”
“Maybe,” Tony said quietly. He squeezed Bucky’s hand back and then let go. “It may be a moot point now, anyway.”
He pointed at the silent television screen where a lively discussion seemed to be happening. “Rogers and the other morons will almost definitely be suspended and the Committee will ask for an investigation. And after last night, people are paying attention. They’re rehashing all those old arguments against the pardons, and now that the fear Thanos inspired is starting to fade, a lot more people are going to listen. The pardons can’t be revoked, but depending on the results of the investigation, Rogers and the others could be removed from the Avengers, banned from serving under the Accords entirely, and handed over to the civil authorities who would prosecute them for last night’s attack. Take three guesses what Rogers is likely to do then.”
“Punk never did like people telling him what to do,” Bucky agreed, suddenly tired too.
“I know,” Tony said, crossing his arms and glaring at the screen, “And if it was just him? Or his little band of lackies? That would be one thing. But Steve Rogers isn’t just Steve Rogers anymore. Hasn’t been since he went into the ice. He’s not even just Captain America. He’s an image, an ideal, the gold standard by which all heroes are measured by. He’s the guy who fights for the little guy, for freedom, for what’s right. People follow him, mimic him, because we’ve told generations of children to do just that. How many of those working under the Accords idolized him as kids? If he tells them the Accords are wrong and to follow him instead, how many will we lose? How many of the people I trust will I end up fighting this time?”
Bucky didn’t know what to say to help. He could remember the awe on fellow soldiers’ faces when Steve led the Howling Commandos through an army camp, how morale improved just because the men knew Captain America was nearby. Add seventy years for the stories to become more legend than fact and he could understand how easy it was for otherwise rational people to follow Steve without question. Finally he wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulders and drew him in.
“Tony, I can’t tell you everything will be fine, but none of that has happened yet. Okay? Don’t go borrowing trouble, plenty will find us on its own.” He pulled back just far enough to place a kiss on Tony’s forehead. “But no matter what, you’ve got me, and Rhodes, and I’m betting a lot more. You’re not alone.”
Tony smiled ruefully at Bucky. “Worst case scenarios are kind of my default setting these days, Freeze Pop, but you’re right. Let’s see what Rhodey has to say and go from there.” He gave Bucky a chaste kiss on the lips and stepped back. Bucky watched him straighten his shoulders and put on an air of confidence, smirking at Bucky and bowing slightly as he gestured grandly at the door. “Shall we discover what trouble will find us today?”
Bucky rolled his eyes but couldn’t hold back a grin at Tony’s antics and suddenly lighter demeanor. “I’m sure there will be plenty with you around, Doll. Let’s go.”
Rhodes greeted them with a grim smile when they arrived at his office, ushering them in and closing the door behind them. Even in his service uniform rather than the War Machine armor he struck an imposing figure, the mechanized leg braces that allowed him to walk only adding to the effect. There were bags under his eyes, though, and an air of weariness about him that made Bucky wonder if the colonel had worked straight through the night. If the worried look Tony shot his friend was anything to go by, he must have thought so too.
After everyone was seated, Rhodes placed his clasped hands on the desk in front of him and regarded Bucky with a serious expression. “Sergeant Barnes, the first thing the Committee wanted me to express was their sorrow over the traumatic nature of the return of your memories and the regrettable circumstances surrounding their return. The Committee in no way condones Steve Rogers’ actions with regards to his demand that a dangerous and unpredictable being such as Loki use magic on you without your knowledge or consent. They were also deeply displeased that none of your teammates aside from Tony Stark raised any serious objection to Rogers’ plan. Everyone on the Committee was relieved that you were able to return to the Tower under your own power and cognizance.”
Bucky nodded and tried to swallow the lump in his throat. Tony had said much the same the day before, that the Committee was concerned about him and angry on his behalf, but the idea still felt foreign to him. Before everything with Loki he had been sure that no one but Steve would care if a monster like him lived or died. Even the team had only tolerated him for Steve’s sake. He’d thought the Accords Committee was much the same, that he had been pardoned with the rest because it would keep the peace with Steve, and they had no further interest in him. Maybe there was some truth to that, but he had signed the Accords all the same. That made him accountable to the Committee, but it also put him under the Committee’s protection, and apparently that meant something even for the likes of him.
Tony briefly laid a hand on his forearm and Bucky sent him a grateful look before turning back to Rhodes.
Rhodes’s expression was sympathetic. “Now, about where we go from here. Some of the information I need to discuss with you is sensitive in nature. If you would prefer, I can ask Tony to step outside for a moment.”
Bucky shook his head. He appreciated the consideration for his privacy, especially after Steve’s need to insert himself into any decision that involved Bucky for the last few years, but the truth was he needed the support right now. “No. No, Tony can stay.”
Rhodes gave Bucky an assessing look before continuing. “Alright. Sergeant Barnes, by accepting a temporary transfer to the New Avengers Compound, you will be expected to follow the rules and regulations of both the Sokovia Accords and the charter of the New Avengers. It also places you under my command. Do you understand this?”
Bucky straightened and met Rhodes’ eyes. In all honesty he hadn’t thought that far ahead, but he had known he was placing himself at the mercy of the Accords Committee. By all accounts, though, Rhodes was a good man and an excellent commanding officer. He was also someone Tony trusted. Bucky could do much worse. “Yes, Sir.”
Nodding, Rhodes continued. “ANA can give you an overview of both the New Avengers charter and the differences between how the Sokovia Accords apply to you now compared to how they have applied to you in the past. The most pressing of those issues is your own well-being. To begin with I am going to require you to undergo mental and physical evaluations by our medical personnel. Due to Loki’s actions against you, I will also require a metaphysical evaluation by Dr. Strange to determine whether there are any lingering traces of his influence. For now I am placing you on inactive status. We will reassess once the evaluations have been completed and I have reviewed their recommendations. You’ll be contacted in a few days to schedule the first appointment. Until then, I want you to get settled in and familiarize yourself with the Compound.”
“Yes, Sir,” Bucky said, feeling some combination of frustration and relief. Physically he might be fine, but he knew his head was a mess, not even taking the trigger words or the cold, calculating other that haunted his mind into account. He doubted he would be approved for active status any time soon. Realistically, he probably shouldn’t have been out in the field even before Loki blocked his memories and only Steve’s blind insistence and the compromises the Accords Committee had made to bring the returned Avengers into the fold had allowed it at all. Still, he didn’t like the idea of Tony going into danger without him, ice prickling at the back of his consciousness at even the thought.
Some of what Bucky had been thinking must have shown on his face because the colonel gave him a wry smile. “Don’t worry too much about it right now, Sergeant. No one does what we’re asked to do without coming away a little worse for wear. You may have a lion’s share, but everyone here has their own demons to contend with. Be patient. If you truly wish to continue to work under the Accords, despite the most recent events, there will be a place for you.”
“Now,” Rhodes said, face growing more serious as he took both Bucky and Tony in with a glance. “About the Avengers.”
“The Committee’s come to a decision, then?” Tony asked, leaning forward.
“They have,” the colonel said, sounding weary. “They’re calling for a full Internal Oversight investigation into the incident, for transparency’s sake, but Tony, I’ve seen the footage. After their actions last night, the Committee won’t have any choice but to expel Rogers, Maximoff, and Barton from the Accords and hand them over for prosecution. Romanoff and Wilson might be spared, they were obviously trying to deescalate the situation and only used force when the Winter Soldier broke through, but their past actions are going to work against them.”
Tony lowered his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. “And until the investigation finishes?” When the colonel was conspicuously silent, he looked up and frowned. “Rhodey, what is the Committee doing with them until the investigation finishes?”
The colonel sighed before answering. “The Committee has decided they’re too much of a flight risk to be released until the conclusion of the investigation, and too dangerous to all be held at the same location. Barton, Romanoff, and Wilson are going to be held by the Task Force at their enhanced holding facility in the city. Unfortunately, the Committee needed someplace more secure for Rogers and Maximoff.”
“Some place more secure … Fuck,” Tony said after a beat, rubbing the center of his chest with a shaking hand, “they’re sending Rogers and Maximoff here.” Bucky stilled, an echo of threat and hostiles accompanied by a sliver of cold rage slipping through his control.
”Yes,” Rhodes acknowledged with a frustrated twist of his lips. “The New Avengers Compound has the detention facilities required and the enhanced individuals strong enough to contain them if it comes to that. It’s the Committee’s only real option. A combined team of Task Force and New Avenger members will be overseeing the transfer this morning.”
“Damn it,” Tony muttered. Bucky couldn’t help but silently echo the sentiment.
“Tony, you won’t have to see them, you won’t have to deal with them. Neither of you do. In fact, I’m making the detention level off limits to both of you until this is finished. Listen to me for once and just let the investigation run its course. They’re someone else’s responsibility now.”
Tony let out a shaky breath, then nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, alright.”
Bucky only hoped it would be that simple.
The rest of the morning was spent with Tony. Nominally Tony was supposed to be giving Bucky a tour of the common areas of the Compound but, much to Bucky’s amusement, Tony kept getting sidetracked by various members of the New Avengers and support staff. One excitable young woman had squealed in delight when she spotted Tony and stretched her arms nearly halfway across the room to draw him into a hug. Another young man, around the same age, spent nearly twenty minutes with the indulgent engineer discussing in great detail an experiment that sounded fascinating if only Bucky could understand half of what the kid was saying. Similar interactions were repeated the entire time as they slowly made their way through the Compound.
Tony apologized after each interruption, but Bucky just smiled. It was good to see Tony happy and appreciated after seeing him so miserable around the Avengers, and it served as a good distraction. The prospect of having Steve and Wanda so close again after yesterday’s confrontation left Bucky uneasy.
They were in the hallway just outside the dining hall Bucky had found earlier that morning, debating on lunch there or venturing out to a local restaurant Tony favored, when the Compound alarms began blaring.
“Attention,” came ANA’s voice over the loudspeakers, “medical staff, report to infirmary. Prepare for incoming wounded. New Avengers team members and mission support staff, report to staging area A. Repeat, medical staff, report to infirmary. Prepare for incoming wounded. New Avengers team members and mission support staff, report to staging area A.”
Tony met Bucky’s eyes, worry evident in his expression, then grabbed Bucky’s hand to pull him into an out-of-the-way alcove as the hallways filled with personnel. He quickly took out his phone and brought it to his ear.
“FRIDAY, what’s going on?” he shouted over the alarms. Bucky couldn’t hear FRIDAY’S response, but his concern ratcheted up several levels when Tony’s face suddenly went very pale.
His face looked haunted when he turned to Bucky.
“The prisoner transport to the Compound was attacked. Rogers and Maximoff escaped, and someone is helping them.”