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"So who was Nat trying to set you up with this time?" Tony asked with false casualness.

"Someone from Statistics, I think it was," Steve replied into the phone.  "I honestly can't tell if she knows about us and is just messing with me or if she is being sincere."

“She's probably sincerely messing with you.  And by extension, me, which is just so not on," Tony responded.  "Mission go alright? Barton on this one or just you and spider lady?"

"Barton’s still out on his own mission. Not sure when he’ll be back.  I think someone took his parking spot.  Pretty sure that’s going to end with a few arrows through someone’s…what did you call that German car again?” Steve asked.

“Beemer,” Tony reminded him. 

“Yeah, that.  Anyway, mission was fine.  Mostly, anyway...there was something I need to talk to you about though.  But not over the phone. I'm almost to the apartment.  Are we doing dinner tonight? I’m starving," Steve asked.  

"Of course you are,” Tony chuckled.  “Grab that giant Frisbee of yours.  Dinner at the big, ugly building tonight,” Tony said.

"Tony, we've talked about insulting the shield.  And the Tower has kind of grown on me," Steve responded evenly.  “Meet you on the roof?”

"Pick you up in about an hour or so.  I’ll call when I’m ten minutes out.  Hey, speaking of your apartment,”  Tony started, ignoring Steve’s comments.  “And I know we're keeping up appearances and all that, which is totally fine, but I'm like 90% sure your neighbor is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.  Just FYI," Tony informed him.

"What?  No...she's a nurse, I think it was," Steve corrected.

"Uh-huh.  Tell you what, ask her for coffee or something.  If she says no, she's totally a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent," Tony suggested. 

"That's ridiculous, Tony.  Why would asking her for coffee have anything to do with whether she’s a spy or not?"  Steve asked in confusion.

“Oh, babe.  You really do still have that scrawny little guy living deep down in your psyche, don't you?"  Tony replied in mock despair.  "Trust me.  If she turns down coffee with you, she's S.H.I.E.L.D." 

"Whatever, Tony," Steve placated absently.  "I'll see you in a bit, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah.  Hey, wave at the street cam!" Tony instructed. 

Steve dutifully waved at the camera situated above the stoplight.  "Not sure if that's concerning or comforting, Tony." 

"Just keeping tabs, soldier, stand down," Tony said dismissively. 

"See you soon, Tony.  Please don’t buzz the tower at Reagan again. They really hate that," Steve said in goodbye.  Tony heard silence on the end of the line as Steve disconnected and continued to watch the street cam view of Steve on his motorcycle heading to his apartment.

After Steve parked and climbed off the bike, Tony went back to working on the latest armor upgrades.  Tony worked for a few minutes before putting it aside as he set about entering his Thai food order for delivery for later that evening.  Steve liked the spicy stuff, now that he had a stomach made of lead, apparently, and could eat just about anything short of battery acid. Which was why he was debating Pad Gai Sub or Drunken Noodles when the wall of Steve's apartment exploded. 

Tony’s head snapped around to the camera feed, and he saw the tendrils of smoke seeping from the side of Steve’s apartment building. 

Jesus fucking Christ, what the hell? 

Tony pulled up the street cam feed and set about training the camera for a better angle on Steve's building.  He couldn't see much, except the blown out wall, smoke rising from several large holes and debris raining down to the street below.  His thumb was hitting the button on his phone to call Steve when Steve's window exploded outward and Tony watched in mute horror as Steve leaped through the window of the adjacent building.  Shit, Steve.  And God-dammit, out of camera sight.  Fuck.

“JARVIS, track him!” Tony shouted, frantically trying to find another camera angle.  “Find me a line of sight!” At least Steve was okay enough to be building hopping.  Tony reluctantly put the phone down.  Not like Steve didn’t have a good excuse for not taking Tony’s call at the moment.

A couple of seconds later, JARVIS supplied another camera feed, this one from the security camera of the office building where Steve had landed, and Tony watched Steve barrel through doors and a glass partition, and bounce off a wall, leaving a distinctive round impression, before jumping out that fucking window, too. 

Once he was out of the building, the feed went black as JARVIS scanned nearby video options.  “JARVIS!” Tony called. 

“Attempting to find an alternative video source, Sir.  All cameras in the area appear to have been taken over by an unknown source,” JARVIS informed him. And just who the hell is commandeering cameras?  Well, other than Tony of course. 

Tony gave it a few minutes, before he simply couldn’t stand it anymore.  He hit redial on his phone, watching the connection go unacknowledged.  Answer, Tony mentally ordered the phone. Pick up, pick up, pick up, he pleaded when Steve didn’t answer right away. "Come on, Rogers.  Pick up the phone.  You know I'm freaking out here," Tony mumbled, hitting redial after his first attempt went to voicemail.  And then hit it again. And again.  And again. Steve was probably going to have about forty missed calls from him, Tony thought, somewhat hysterically. 

"Tony!" Steve's voice finally came through, strong and clear, and thank fucking God.  "Fury's been hit. It's bad," Steve continued. Wait, what?  Fury?  What was Fury doing at Steve’s place?  Had Fury been the target or somehow got between whoever fired the shot and Steve?

"I'm meeting Natasha at the hospital.  There's...Tony, something's going on.  Fury…He...he said not to trust anyone.  I can’t go into more specifics now…I...I've got to...the ambulance is here.  I've got to go with Nick,” Steve said, voice rough and Tony could hear the concern lacing his words.  Whatever it was, it must be bad to have him this rattled. 

"Steve, Steve, wait.  Just...hang on a minute.  Let me...did you get a look at who shot Fury?" Tony managed, trying to get his brain to catch up with anything that wasn't a litany of some version of 'Steve's okay.' 

"Yeah...he was...he had a metal arm.  Caught the shield with it and threw it back at me.  Strong.  Fast.  I don't know, I couldn't...he had some kind of mask on...but definitely not your run-of-the-mill assassin.  And I'm somewhat disturbed that I think in different levels of assassin now," Steve said, voice calming a bit as the adrenaline wore off. 

"Okay...metal arm. Got it. Well, that should narrow it down, you’d think.  See if Widow knows anything, and I'll dig up what I can.  In the meantime...Steve…be careful.  If they can get at Nick...well, just...remember what he said.  Don't trust anyone.  Anyone, Steve, I mean it," Tony warned. 

"I know, Tony.  I--okay, how is he? Yes, I'm coming--Tony, I've got to go, the ambulance is here.  And you were right about Agent 13 down the hall, by the way.  She was there on Nick’s orders, apparently.  Don't gloat," Steve told him.

"Wouldn't dream of it.  Call me when you get to the hospital, okay," Tony said, pausing for a moment.  "Steve…"

"I know.  I'm fine.  Don't worry. Well, I know you will ignore that, but don't worry too much.  I'll call you once we know more.  And Tony...if they're targeting Nick, we could all be in danger, you know that, right?"  Steve asked.

"I'm in highly secure Tower surrounded by bulletproof metal suits that attach themselves to me on command.  I got this.  Worry about Nick and our metal-armed friend right now, okay?"  Tony requested, though he couldn't help the warm feeling that ran through him at Steve's concern.  Having others worry about him was a bit of a new sensation.  Having Steve worrying about him was...oddly comforting. 

“Just be careful," Steve ordered.  "I'll get to the Tower when I can.  Might have Nat in tow.  Tony, I--" Steve started.

"Yeah, me too,” Tony cut him off before he could say what they were definitely not saying yet.  Nope.  Definitely not.  “You be careful, too, okay.  Try not to jump out of any more windows, at least for a day or so," Tony replied. 

“I’ll do my best,” Steve responded as he hung up. 

Tony leaned back against the chair, scrubbing his face with his hand.  There was obviously a lot Steve felt he couldn’t tell Tony over the phone, no matter how secure Tony kept assuring him the connection was.  Probably not totally paranoid of him, considering the circumstances. 

A metal-armed assassin.  Well, let’s find out who our T-1000 is, shall we? Tony thought, swiping the armor designs to a close and bringing up his search platform. 

Three cups of coffee, his new method of telling time, later and finally the dulcet tones of ‘Star Spangled Man’ echoed through the workshop. 

“Anything?” Tony asked immediately.

“Nick…Tony…he didn’t make it,” Steve’s heavy voice, rough with emotion came through the phone.  Tony almost dropped the headset.  Fury…dead?  That seemed impossible.  For all that, like Tony, Fury was only human, he’d always seemed large than life.  “Hill took his body.  I don’t know…about… arrangements yet.”

“God, Steve…” Tony choked out.  “I’m coming to get you.  This is crazy.”

“I know.  But, Tony…this…look, the second I walk out there, they are going to want me to head back to the Triskelion.  Without Fury, I guess that puts Pierce in charge, at least for now.  He’s going to demand a report,” Steve told him, but there was a trace of something under his tone that Tony was working to figure out.  “I told you Nick said not to trust anyone.  I think we should listen to him.”

Steve didn’t trust S.H.I.E.L.D.  Steve.  Who trusted most everyone, even Natasha who he actually knew for a fact was lying at least half the time, by Tony’s guesstimate. 

“The list of people I trust is pretty short, Rogers.  I’ll see if it needs to be shorter,” Tony replied gruffly, and heard Steve’s small sigh of relief.  That meant Steve knew Tony understood and would be looking into what in God’s name was happening at their favorite super-secret spy organization.  Yeah, surely not anything untoward going on over there…

“Just…get to the Tower as soon as you finish with Pierce.  We’ll figure this out, but…just get here, okay?” Tony asked, hoping his voice didn’t sound as raw as he felt.  Nick dead. S.H.I.E.L.D. compromised.  And Steve walking into the belly of the beast with Hill and Clint off the grid, and Nat who knew where.  Fantastic.

“Will do,” Steve promised. 

Tony immediately turned back to his workstation and brought up the access portal he’d already created for S.H.I.E.L.D.  Not everyone was as trusting as Steve, and wasn’t that a good thing these days?  Tony realized he may or may not actually agree with that sentiment.  He finds Steve’s faith in humanity somewhat humbling.  Doesn’t mean he’s giving up the backdoor he created into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s network anytime soon.  Let’s not go overboard on the whole good influence thing after all. 

First things first, Tony thought, opening up a window for the video and audio feeds from Pierce’s floor, since he knew that was where Steve was heading. Then, Tony started digging through the files.  Steve had mentioned something concerning about his recent mission.  Tony decided to start there.  The Lemurian Star…Batroc…

Twenty minutes later, Tony saw Steve walking down the hall to Pierce’s office.  Steve’s resident S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was getting her kudos from Pierce.  Tony smiled at Steve’s brusque “Neighbor” acknowledgement as he passed her by.  A pissed off Captain America was truly a beautiful thing to behold. 

Not even Tony could get the feed from Pierce’s office, at least without more effort than it would take since Steve would tell him whatever was said in a little bit anyway.  Tony kept digging through the files. Follow the money.  That was usually a productive route…

Steve was leaving Pierce’s office, looking rather grim.  Tony watched him hit the button for the elevator and step in.  A few floors later, he saw Rumlow and another Strike Team member join Steve.  Rumlow asked Steve about some of the evidence, but Steve brushed him off, thank God.  Last thing Tony wanted was Steve playing CSI when he should be getting his spangly ass to the Tower. 

The elevator doors opened again, and a couple other guys stepped in.  If Tony hadn’t known Steve so well, he may not have picked up on the subtle shift, the way Steve’s body tensed, the sharp look around him.  The elevator doors opened once more and three more Strike Team members entered.

He heard Steve ask if anyone wanted to get off before they got started. Because of course, before people try to kill you, by all means, be polite to them instead of just kicking their collective asses.  For fuck’s sake, Steve.

Tony found himself standing abruptly, sending the chair scooting across the floor and banging against an empty table. “Son of bitch!” he managed to shout before about of them grabbed Steve, one left to peel the shield away.   A man Tony recognized as a Strike Team member, who just, fucking son of a bitch, had been on a mission with Steve, used some kind of electric cattle-prod on Steve, another grabbed Steve in a chokehold,  and one of them used a briefcase handle that turned out to be some kind of magnetized handcuff try to pin Steve’s arm to the wall, and just no, no, no, no, no…it takes Tony a moment to realize he’s repeating that out loud, standing hunched over the video screen watching these assholes go to town on Steve.

Or, well, try to, at least. 

Tony found himself with a death grip on the edge of the desk, watching the monitor as Steve fought back, a vicious right hook, sharp kick, elbow jab, all happening in a blur as the vice gripping Tony’s chest tightened and twisted. He watched Steve toss the large man who had him in a chokehold over his shoulder, but a well-placed kick cuffed Steve’s hand to the wall with a powerful magnet, effectively trapping him in place.  “God dammit!” Tony screamed with impotent rage.  “Steve!  Fucking hell.” And then Rumlow, that fucking prick, used the electric prod on Steve again, and that was just fucking it. 

 “Sir, strike units have been mobilized to Captain Rogers’ location,” JARVIS informed him.  Fucking S.H.I.E.L.D. had declared war on Captain America.  Tony realized he was shaking, though he couldn’t say how much was from anger and how much was fear. He watched in mute horror as one of the men came at Steve with the prod again, but thankfully, Steve deflected it against another attacker and used the leverage of his pinned hand to drop a couple of them with powerful kicks. 

He watched Steve pull his hand off the elevator wall, forcing the magnet to release, and flipping down to face Rumlow, the last man standing. Tony watched in mute horror as Rumlow hit Steve with the prod, and then again, and God, Steve.  Tony could swear he could feel the shocks pulse through him each time Steve cringed in pain. 

Not personal, my shiny red and gold ass, Tony thought. I’ll show you fucking personal. Steve apparently agreed with the sentiment if not the language, as he smashed Rumlow against the ceiling.

“JARVIS, and I say this only for fifteen year old me, who I should really build a time machine to go visit and tell him that boy, does it fucking get better, but just give me this one, okay?” Tony requested, looking at the pile of unconscious men littering the ground at Steve's feet as he kicked the shield back up onto his arm.

“Certainly, Sir, by all means,” JARVIS intoned drolly.

“My boyfriend can totally beat up…well…everyone’s boyfriend,” Tony announced gleefully, grinning madly. Because, yeah, okay, this was serious, but holy fuck, that was hot. 

“Sir, S.H.I.E.L.D. has activated several additional strike teams and…I’m afraid they are scrambling a jet as well,” JARVIS informed him in response.

Okay, that…obviously wasn’t good. What the hell was happening here?  It was like the world had been turned upside down.  And why had he ever agreed to Steve living in D.C. anyway?  Thirty minutes flight time…he could cut it to fifteen if he really pushed it.

“No, no, no, don’t open the doors, fuck!” Tony shouted helplessly at the screen as the elevator doors opened to reveal a heavily armed strike team. Steve whirled with impossible speed and cut the elevator cables with the shield, sending the car plummeting down.  Tony was gripping the screen as if he could, by sheer force of will, slow the falling car.  Finally, the emergency brakes kicked in.  Steve opened the doors enough to see the second strike team waiting for him before quickly closing them again. 

Tony watched as Steve paused for a moment. Tony’s mind was already running through possible escape scenarios and he was halfway to picking up his phone when, “Oh my God, no!” Holy fuck, he did not…The armor was locking itself into place around Tony before he finished forming the thought to call it.  He watched mutely as Steve fell, breaking through the glass roof above the S.H.I.E.L.D. lobby, a layer of precious vibranium the only thing between Steve and the hard concrete.  Tony found his hand pressed against the screen as if he could reach out and touch Steve as he struggled to get up and run out of the building.  And, okay, really, that was just fucking enough.

“JARVIS, load the feed to the suit,” Tony ordered, walking to the launching pad. From inside the armor, the HUD display flickered on.  A moment later, he saw Steve, on his motorcycle, just barely make it out of the garage before the security doors sealed shut.  Steve was speeding down the annex road to the security gate when a S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinjet appeared, ordering him to stand down.  And holy fucking shit, did he just launch himself at a jet?  After Tony rescued his ass they were going to have a serious conversation about appropriate levels of risk.  Tony stopped abruptly in mid-air, because, really, this deserved his full attention, he thought, as Steve and his giant Frisbee took down a freaking Quinjet. 

Tony was never going to mock the shield again.

Well, at least not for a couple of weeks.

He watched Steve leap off the disabled jet and land nearby, taking one last look at the damage, before taking off in a run. A moment later, the HUD indicated an incoming call and Steve’s picture popped up. 

“Sorry about the window thing,” Steve said dryly, barely out of breath.

“You…you…the fuck…you…holy shit, Steve…” Tony sputtered.

“Get back to the Tower, Tony,” Steve responded evenly. “I need you to figure out what’s going on here. I need information.  I’m flying blind right now.  That’s not working out so well.”

“You think???” Tony asked incredulously. Not working out well was the understatement of the year.  “I’m coming to get you, so just fucking forget this heroic bullshit and prepare to be carried bridal style back to the Tower.”

Steve just laughed. “I’ve got to pick something up.  As soon as I know more, I’ll be in touch.  I’m tossing the phone now, Tony, so don’t even try it.”

“Steve…” Tony pleaded.

“I’m fine. Really.  Go back to the Tower.  Figure out what’s going on.  I just…I need Tony Stark right now, not Iron Man,” Steve replied, and Tony could hear the weary frustration leeching into Steve’s voice now. 

“I don’t like this,” Tony said sullenly.

“I know. Do it anyway.  Please?” Steve asked softly. 

“No more windows, okay?” Tony implored.

“I’ll try,” Steve answered.

“Do---“ Tony started.

“Don’t quote Star Wars,” Steve ordered, cutting Tony off. “I said I’ll try.  Not a huge fan of it, come to think.”  Tony huffed out a raw laugh. 

“I’m eating your Thai, by the way,” Tony said.

“Finding out the organization you’ve been risking your life for is trying to kill you is one thing. Eating a man’s Thai food…that’s just mean, Tony,” Steve deadpanned, and Tony found himself grinning.  “S.H.I.E.L.D. Metal-armed assassin.  Project Insight.  Go.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” Tony replied promptly. “Steve…they’re going to come after you again.  I know you know that.  Just…be careful.”

“I will, Tony,” Steve promised.

 “I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.  Tony, I…well, you know,” Steve said, suddenly sounding like he must be shuffling his feet in the dirt or something.

“Yeah, I ‘you know’ you, too. Whatever.  And break the phone before you toss it.  It’s a prototype,” Tony instructed.  Was it possible to hear someone roll their eyes? It felt like it.  Tony hung in the air a bit after the line went dead, still torn between heading for D.C. or back to the Tower like Steve had asked.  He could probably find Steve easily enough, even with S.H.I.E.L.D. commandeering the cameras for the same purpose.  But Steve was right…for now.  This problem needed Tony Stark. 

Didn’t mean he wasn’t going to repulsor Rumlow’s ass when he found him.

Chapter Text

Just because Tony had promised to look into what was going on at S.H.I.E.L.D. and who their new least favorite assassin might be didn’t mean that he couldn’t also monitor what Steve was up to at the same time. He hadn’t promised not to, after all.  The world ran on technicalities. 

Steve had said he had to pick something up. Since he had his shield, the only thing Tony could think of that he’d need to pick up would be something he’d already dropped off. Meaning something he’d stashed at the one place he’d had a chance.  The hospital where he’d gone with Fury. 

Steve really sucked at subterfuge.

“JARVIS, George Washington University Hospital security cams on the big screen, if you would be so kind. Please locate our favorite super-solider,” Tony requested, and then laughed out loud.

“Oh, you master of disguise, you. Yeah, hon, a hoodie. Because, now you so blend,” Tony smirked, shaking his head as he watched Steve make his way down the hospital corridor to stop in front of a vending machine. 

Steve was frowning at the machine, as if it had offended him. Maybe it was all the high-fructose corn syrup.  Then Natasha walked up, popping her gum.  Tony couldn’t get audio on this feed, but he assumed she said something rather unhelpful, as Steve grabbed her shoulders and propelled her into a nearby hospital room. 

God-damn stupid fucking HIPAA privacy rules, Tony sighed in frustration as they disappeared from view. 

A few moments later, they were walking briskly in tandem down the corridor. Tony watched the two of them leave the hospital, JARVIS already anticipating him by pulling up various storefront and red light cameras, enough to track them to the Metro Station.  “Let me know when James Franco and Zooey Deschanel there get off somewhere,” Tony instructed, turning back to his search of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s database.  And hmmm…that was interesting.  Looks like they were trying to pin the Lemurian Star hijacking on Fury…not that he’d put it past the man, but it smacked of a highly convenient cover-up.

And there was dear Ms. Romanov reporting an encounter with a metal-armed man. Got shot in the process, apparently.  So, our Fugitive-reject is serious…

“Captain Rogers and Ms. Romanov have exited the Metro, Sir. They appear to be heading for the Georgetown Mall,” JARVIS informed him. 

“Let’s hope he’s buying some different shoes,” Tony mumbled. “The glasses…I can work with those.”

Tony turned back to the screen projecting Steve and Natasha as they walked quickly through the mall and then darted into an Apple store. Huh.  That was…interesting.  “JARVIS, please put Jobs TV on,” Tony said, and quickly hacked his way into the Apple Store’s network.  Huh.  That was…odd.  For some reason, every time he tried to find out what Nat and Steve were up to on the terminal they were using, he was getting blocked by something…very annoying.  Okay.  Well, there was more than one way to get what he needed.  He would just have to go old school.

“JARVIS, I think I’m about to need to some fruity tech support,” Tony crowed.

“Indeed, Sir. Shall I send the number to your phone?” JARVIS asked.

“Please,” Tony replied, picking up his Starkphone and hitting dial as soon as the number appeared.

“Thank you for calling the Georgetown Apple Store, this is Aaron, how may I help you?” the voice on the other end responded.

“Hi…Aaron, is it? Aaron…Aaron, who works at an Apple Store in Georgetown…” Tony repeated, fingers flying over the keys.

“Um..yes…can I help you?” the man asked.

“Just a minute… Aaron, I’ll bet you have an iCloud account. Hey, pick up your personal phone in like five seconds, would you?  Prepare yourself for an incoming call from destiny,” Tony said with a dramatic flourish, hitting the end button and dialing Aaron’s personal number he’d pulled from his billing information. 

When the video to Aaron’s phone popped up, Tony grinned widely. “Hi, Aaron.  I’m Tony Stark. We just spoke.”

“Tony STARK???” Aaron exclaimed. “Oh my God.  I’m like your biggest fan!  Oh my God.  You’re Iron Man.  And Tony Stark!  I mean…wow.  Just wow, man.  This is so cool.”

“Yeah, I know, I get that a lot. Listen, Aaron, I need a favor, okay?  Look around your store…do you see a tall, incredibly well-built man and a tiny red-headed woman who are both entirely too ridiculously good-looking to be real people?” Tony asked.

“Um…hang on, Mr. Stark…okay, yeah. I see them.  Niiiice….” Aaron replied.  “Hey, I have those glasses!”

Tony scrunched his face as if in pain. “Well, that takes care of the glasses possibility I was considering.  Anyway, okay, Aaron…and look, I can’t tell you much. But this is a matter of national security.  I mean, you have Iron Man calling you.  The Iron Man,” Tony reiterated, mostly because it was fun to watch Aaron’s eyes bug out when he said it.  “This is serious, Aaron.  So, here’s what I need you to do. Go over to them and see what they are looking at on that computer, would you?”

“Ummm…Okay, Mr. Stark. I mean, I guess this is technically a public area anyway…Give me just a minute…” Aaron said, as the phone went silent.  Tony put the phone with the connection to Aaron’s down while he watched the store’s video as Aaron approached Nat and Steve, and oh my God, could Steve be more awkward?  Tony put his head in his hand and shook it back and forth in silent commiseration. 

Tony pitched his voice low and deep, mimicking Steve’s as best he could as he watched the scene , “Oh, golly gee willikers, Mister, we’re definitely not looking at top secret government files here, Aaron, no Siree!”  Then, switching to a mockery of Natasha’s throaty drawl, “Excuse me while I climb him like a tree, and can you hold my ‘Hi Tony’ sign for me, thanks!” 

“Um…Mr. Stark?” Aaron said a few moments later, picking up his phone, making Tony grab for where he’d put his down to mock Rocky and Bullwinkle there, and no doubt who was Bullwinkle, he thought, imagining Steve wearing an antler hat.

“Yeah, ZZ Top, whatcha got for me?” Tony demanded.

“Looks like they are planning a honeymoon in New Jersey,” Aaron told him.

“Honeymoon? Ok, now she really is just fucking with me.  Jersey, huh?” Tony responded.  “Aaron, come by Stark Tower anytime, and you have a job.  Pretty much anything short of CEO is fine.”

“Really, Mr. Stark? Wow.  That’s…dude, that’s awesome!” Aaron replied. 

“Okay, can you point me at the hot not-couple?” Tony requested.

“Sure thing, Mr. Stark,” Aaron acquiesced with a quick nod. Tony watched through Aaron’s phone as Steve looked around nervously while Nat typed, whispering over her shoulder at him in what was obviously a placating move.  Steve looked up briefly, and for a split second, Tony could’ve sworn he saw Aaron holding the phone with Tony’s face on the screen.

“Sir, I’ve detected several members of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Strike Team nearing Captain Rogers’ location,” JARVIS interrupted.

Tony disconnected the FaceTime with Aaron and went back to the store’s internal security feed. “Time to go, Steve,” Tony whispered the screen.  Steve must’ve felt the same way because he saw Natasha grab what looked like a flash drive as the two of them headed out of the store. 

Tony switched the feed back to the mall cameras as they left the Apple Store and strolled quickly down the promenade. Even Tony could pick out the Strike Team pairs sweeping the mall floors in search of Steve. Subtlety, thy name is S.H.I.E.L.D., Tony thought sarcastically.  He watched as Steve suddenly threw an arm around Natasha and bent towards her, laughing, as if at something she’d said as they walked past the Strike Team members, and then turned around to very obviously glance behind him at the retreating backs of the Strike Team. 

Tony banged his head in a slow, steady rhythm on his desk.

How obliviously stupid were the Strike Team members, exactly?

His question was answered a few moments later when Rumlow started up the escalator next to the one Steve and Natasha were using to descend. Tony zoomed in on the video feed, worried that all hell was about to break loose again, but then Natasha turned around, said something to Steve and then reached up to pull him down for a…hey!  Hey now. Just a fucking minute here, Tony mentally sputtered as Rumlow passed by the two of them, gaze sliding past the public display of affection as if he didn’t really see it.

Really, a giant fight in a crowded mall with people prepared to do anything to kill you was a perfectly acceptable option. STEVE.

Well, someone is off his Christmas list, Tony thought as Natasha stepped off the escalator and smirked up at the camera. “Oh, yeah, sure, gloat all you want there, Gingersnap.  And you!”  Tony accused screen-Steve.  “Yeah, you.  I don’t care how guilty you look,” Tony began, but okay, really, Steve’s face was kind of adorable.

“JARVIS, retask the nearest SI satellite to Jersey, and add that to the list of things I never thought I’d say,” Tony ordered. Tony tracked Steve and Natasha on the mall security feed until they made it to the parking garage and watched as Nat pointed out a vehicle and then set about jimmying the lock without engaging the alarm. 

Tony shook his head in mock despair. “Vehicular theft,” Tony clucked his tongue.  “A few short hours with Jane Bond there and all those upstanding moral values of yours that I’ve been trying to corrupt go right out the window.  I’m deeply distressed, Steven.” 

Tony watched as Steve glanced nervously around the parking garage. “Just take your shirt off, babe.  Trust me, no one will notice Fast & Furious there hijacking the only full-size truck in D.C.,” Tony suggested helpfully to the video feed.

“J, grab the plate on that truck, will you? Steve is going to feel terrible about the stealing a car.  When you get the owner’s contact info, go ahead and send a new model over.  And a mini-muffin basket.  People like those,” Tony added.  “And go ahead and pull up the traffic and turnpike cams.  Tollbooths, too.  Track their route and map out the most likely destination as soon as you can.  I want that satellite in place as soon as possible.”

Tony turned back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. database, turning his attention to Secretary Pierce’s files, and hmmmm…that’s interesting…Fury hired the pirates that attacked the Lumerian Star? If so, Fury must have wanted something on that ship pretty badly.  Whatever it was, it got him killed.  The Lumerian Star was the launching platform for the Insight satellite…which was…concerning.   Another screen popped up, showing him a hit on a man with a metal arm…in one of the mission reports from the Gulf War. Well, would you look at that.  Looks like everyone’s favorite don’t-leave-him-out-in-the-rain-or-he’ll-rust-assassin gets around.  Tony kept digging, poking around the database, trying to wrap his head around the information he was seeing. This…Winter Soldier, as he was called…reports on him went back decades, but everything on him read like the back of a cereal box.  List of ingredients, no information.  He’d been spotted all over, particularly active during the height of the Cold War, but supposed sightings dated back to the 1950’s. 

It was dark out by the time JARVIS dragged his attention away from the report from an ’84 mission in Chechnya. “I’ve calculated the most likely destination based on their route and speed,” JARVIS supplied.  “It would appear to be Camp Lehigh, just outside of Wheaton, New Jersey.  It is apparently a former Army base, decommissioned in the 1970’s.”

“Camp Lehigh?” Tony repeated, head snapping up.  “That’s where Steve trained.  Before the serum.  Erskine was there.  By all accounts, S.H.I.E.L.D. got its start there…why is he going back there?”  Tony asked rhetorically.  “How long before we have satellite feed?”

“The Stark Industries satellite will be in position over the base in approximately thirty minutes, Sir,” JARVIS told him.

“Great. Let me know when they get there,” Tony replied.  Camp Lehigh?  That was a little…on the nose.  What could possibly be at an abandoned military base that was so important? 

Finally, finally, JARVIS announced that the satellite was in position over the base. He pulled up the feed, thanking, well, himself, that the technology gave such a clear picture.  There were Steve and Nat, tromping slowly around the base.  He watched Steve stop and stare up at an empty flagpole.  He knew the story about the flag, of course.  What could he say?  He always fell for the smart ones.

The two of them made their way to a bunker, and Steve slammed his shield into the lock, opening the door and disappearing inside. Damn. 

“Let me know when they head out,” Tony told JARVIS, trying to turn his attention back to the Winter Soldier files he’d been reviewing.

“Sir!” JARVIS interrupted some time later.

“Yeah, J?” Tony queried, eyes scanning a report from a ’91 mission in Slovenia.

“I’m afraid I’ve detected a missile launch in the vicinity of Captain Rogers’ location,” JARVIS informed him

“Excuse me?” Tony choked out, standing up from his workstation as he did so and putting his hand on the satellite feed showing the bunker, as if he could protect it somehow. “Can we do anything to stop it, J?”

“I’m sorry Sir, but no, it has already been launched and it’s target is locked,” JARVIS told him, a note of sadness in his automated voice.

“Son of a bitch. Steve…God, get out of there,” Tony said helplessly, banging his fist on the desk in frustration.  “So help me God, I will burn S.H.I.E.L.D. to the ground and salt the fucking earth if—Holy God, Steve!” Tony shouted as the bunker exploded sending a plume of fire and debris into the air, leaving Tony with nothing to do but watch the smoke-filled screen.

“JARVIS…” Tony stuttered softly.

“Yes, Sir. I’m here, Sir,” the AI responded.

“Do you…can you…do you have anything?” Tony asked, not sure if he wanted the answer.

“I’m working on it, Sir,” JARVIS answered.

“Come on, Steve. Come on.  Don’t do this to me.  Please, God.  Don’t.  I can’t. Not this.  Not this. Not this,” Tony echoed, not sure how many times he repeated himself.

“There appear to be incoming S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft, Sir,” JARVIS said. But Tony had already seen the search lights. Part of him hoped they found something, part of him hoped they didn’t.  And there…there…

“JARVIS, enhance the lower left quadrant, now!” Tony ordered, leaning close to the screen. Thank fucking God.  There he was, cradling Natasha in his arms.  Tony watched as Steve took in the scene around him and then started off, climbing as carefully as he could over the smoking pile of ruined bunker before picking up his pace to a run and disappearing into the trees that ringed the base. 

Tony sighed heavily, not sure if it was relief, anger or adrenaline or some combination of all of them. His mind was still buzzing.  They’d fired a missile.

At Captain America.

At Steve.       

“JARVIS?” Tony called quietly.

“Yes, Sir?” JARVIS responded immediately.

“I am going to fucking tear S.H.I.E.L.D. apart,” Tony intoned evenly.

“Indeed, Sir. An inspired plan, if I may say so,” JARVIS replied. 

“And I’m going to need to send a package to Sam Wilson’s address,” Tony said.

Chapter Text

“You got the phone, I see,” Tony said by way of greeting as he picked up his phone and hit the button to accept the call, relieved when he saw Steve’s face show up on the phone’s screen.

“It was touch and go for a minute there while we tried to figure out who the package addressed to ‘Captain Muscles’ might be for, but between the three of us, we pieced it together,” Steve replied dryly. God, Tony really did love his ridiculous sense of humor.  “I hope I’m only this predictable to you.  I take it this is a secure line?”

“The red phone in the Oval Office is practically a party line compared to this,” Tony assured him.

“Don’t remember seeing an actual red phone,” Steve replied.

“And you’re never going to stop reminding me that you got the Presidential invite while I, you know the one that flew a missile into a wormhole in space, got a lovely robo-signed Christmas card, are you?” Tony pouted.

 “I brought you a souvenir pen,” Steve answered evenly.  “You really should stop rising to the bait like that,” he suggested with a small smile.  “And the President was very appreciative of your effort.  I can’t think of why they wouldn’t want to let you in the White House…how is the hacking of top-secret government files coming anyway?” Steve asked nonchalantly. 

“Oh…” Tony flapped his hand in annoyance and rolled his eyes. Then, voice going quieter, “You okay?”

“Yeah, we’re fine. Nat got a little banged up when the bunker was hit, but she seems fine now,” Steve said, leaning back in the chair. 

“Hey…are you wearing a wife-beater? Pan down,” Tony ordered, raising his eyebrows suggestively.

“A…a…what? No.  No, I’m not panning….No, Tony, no panning…anywhere,” Steve said firmly, the spoilsport, face scrunching in disapproval and going all red and adorably flustered.  That really never got old. 

“Tony…” Steve started, and he had his serious face on, so Tony knew he probably wasn’t going to like whatever was coming next. “It’s Hydra.  They’ve infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.  They’re behind Fury’s death and God knows what else.”

“Hydra, huh?" He echoed, pausing a moment to consider. "Kind of makes sense, in a way....I’ve been going through what I could get my hands on…some of the files still require two senior clearances to access, so I can’t get at them from here…but Fury was definitely onto something.  He knew Project Insight was dirty, just couldn’t figure out how or who…that’s why he hired Batroc.  An excuse to get Nat on the ship and get what information he could from the Insight satellite’s files.  Something about the Insight system is dirty, but I haven’t been able to figure out what, exactly,” Tony informed him. 

“At the bunker…there was some kind of AI…like JARVIS, but a lot less sophisticated. But it was…Tony, it was Zola.  Arnim Zola.  He’d…uploaded himself somehow.  He said he’d written an algorithm.  For “purification” he called it. I don’t know exactly how that fits in with Project Insight, but Hydra and purification…that can’t be good,” Steve told him, sounding disconcerted.  Tony could only imagine what was going through his head.  He’d read about what Hydra and the Nazis had done, of course…but Steve had been there, seen the aftermath for himself.  The idea of…that…being at work within S.H.I.E.L.D….

Tony saw Steve shift uncomfortably on the phone’s screen before his blue eyes found Tony’s in a steady gaze. “Tony…Hydra…they…part of their plan called for removing those who were threats…” Steve began hesitantly, and Tony knew it before Steve could say it.

“Tony…It was Hydra behind your parents’ deaths,” Steve said softly. “I’m sorry,” he offered, grimacing. “Tony, I was the one that brought Zola in.  If I hadn’t, maybe…”

“Then someone else in Hydra would’ve done it. There was no way you could’ve possibly known that  our government would decide to let a Hydra scientist have free reign because he was really, really sorry,” Tony said, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.  “That…wow.  Okay…I don’t know what to say to that, to be honest.  I always kind of assumed that it had been…well, alcohol-related.”

“It was Hydra. Tony…we’re going to fix this, I swear to you…” Steve said grimly. 

“Yeah…I…I know, I just…” Tony sputtered, for once at a loss. “Look, I’ll deal with all that…stuff…later.  I will, I swear,” Tony emphasized at Steve’s sharp look.  “Right now, we have other things to worry about.”

“It’s okay to think about that, too, Tony. They were your parents.  If you need to—“  Steve started.

“I need to find out what Hydra is up to and how to stop it, is what I need to do. Work.  I need…I have to work, Steve,” Tony managed, not looking back at Steve’s all-too-knowing eyes for a moment. "Okay. I--yeah. I know. I'll--we--will deal with it. Just...for right now, I need to figure out what's going on now, here. Help...well, help," Tony said dully. Hydra. His parents...that was...a lot to take in.

“Okay, Tony. If that’s…okay.  I’ve got to talk to Natasha and Sam…figure out our next step.  Keep at what you’re doing for now.  We still need to know who at S.H.I.E.L.D. can be trusted and who is Hydra.” Steve said, and Tony could tell his mind was already running through various possible scenarios.  

“We will figure this out, Tony. We will find them, all of them, and we will take them out,” Steve said, and Tony believed him.  Because he needed to right now, and it was Captain America, and he didn’t lie. 

“And then shawarma after?” Tony asked hopefully.

“And then shawarma after,” Steve agreed.

Tony paused a moment. “Wait, we’re still using that as a euphemism for sex, right?” Tony asked the now blank screen. “Steve?  Steve?  Damn.”

Tony turned back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. database in front of him. Hydra.  He shook his head to clear it and went back to combing through the Insight files, looking for anything that could hint at what Hydra had planned.  He wasn’t sure how long he spent at the files before his phone rang again.  ‘Incoming call from Captain Muscles,’ the display showed.  He cracked himself up sometimes.  He hit the accept button and Steve’s face came into view again.

“We have a plan, but could use some help. Pierce would be the only one left at S.H.I.E.L.D. who could order a domestic missile strike.  But our in is Jasper Sitwell.  He was on the Lemurian Star.  We think he’s working with Pierce and might have information about what Zola was talking about and how it all relates to Project Insight, but we need something from Fort Meade.  High security,”  Steve explained.

“What are we stealing?” Tony cut him off.

“Borrowing,” Steve corrected. “This,” he said, pointing the phone’s camera at  file labeled with something called the EXO-7 Falcon project.  “It’s apparently behind three security gates and a pretty heavily fortified building, but I’ve sketched out a basic op—“

“Always with the grand gestures, aren’t you?” Tony said with a smile.  “No need for all the punching and smashing, sorry to disappoint.  I’ll just order it.”

“Order it?” Steve repeated, frowning.

“Requisition, whatever. I’m in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files now.  Might as well make them work for us.  I’ll send an emergency requisition order from Secretary Pierce.  S.H.I.E.L.D. pulls crap like this with the military all the time.  I’ll let you know when they hit the road.  You can just grab them from the delivery vehicle,” Tony said, watching as Steve exchanged a questioning look with someone out of the phone’s view.  “Well, I mean, if you really want to punch and smash stuff…”

“No, no that’s great, Tony. Thanks,” Steve said, smiling. “We’re on something of a clock.  The Insight Carriers will be launching soon, unless we can stop them. Can you help us get a location on Sitwell?”

Tony moved over to the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent’s personal files and accessed his calendar. “Looks like Sitwell has a meeting at the Occidental restaurant downtown with…hey, it’s Senator Assclown!  How I’ve missed him. He never calls, he never writes,” Tony said in mock dismay. 

“Perfect, that should work for what I have in mind,” Steve replied.

“Gonna let the assclown thing slide, eh?” Tony said, grinning.

“If he is meeting with Sitwell, it might be accurate,” Steve said, scrubbing his mouth with his hand, and Tony could tell he was covering up a grin in return. Tony was convinced Steve secretly liked it when he behaved inappropriately, if for no other reason than it let Steve live a bit vicariously without the mantle of Captain America hanging over him all the time.   

“Alright, I’m on it,” Tony said. “Be in touch soon.”

A half an hour later, and the Falcon wings were being loaded onto a military transport for transfer to S.H.I.E.L.D. Tony called Steve with the details, but they didn’t talk long.  Tony could see Natasha and Wilson in the background, heads together as they went over whatever it was they were looking down at.  Natasha did manage to look up in time to throw a cheeky grin at him over Steve’s shoulder. 

Tony had no sooner put the phone down when it rang again, but this time the display said ‘Unknown Caller.’ Which was…impossible, quite frankly.  Or it should be.  Tony picked the phone back up cautiously, as if it might bite him, and hit the accept button.

“Stark,” the voice said.

Tony wished he could manage to feign even a modicum of surprise. “Are you all required to do some kind of continuing education thing were you kinda die for a bit and then come back?  Do you get a certificate?”

“I need your help,” Fury said tightly. Tony could hear the strain in his voice.  Fury must be pretty well desperate if he was calling Tony for help, after all.   

“Kinda busy fixing your other issues, here, Nick. You know, the ones involving S.H.I.E.L.D. hunting down Captain America,” Tony replied through gritted teeth. 

“Do you want to help your boyfriend or do you want to save hundreds of thousands of innocent lives?” Nick asked in frustration.

“I’ll bet you don’t really want me to answer that honestly,” Tony said. He wasn’t proud of it.  Steve would freak if he knew Tony even so much as hesitated. 

“Fine, fine. What do you need?” Tony asked. Damn. Okay, the whole Steve making him a better person thing was really annoying.

“I need you to build new targeting blades for the Insight Carriers,” Fury told him.  "I know you hacked the schematics for the carriers when we let you poke around in the engines."

“Thought you were chasing terrorists out of their hidey-holes with your little pet project. What are we targeting now, Lazarus?”  Tony questioned. 

“The other carriers,” Fury replied. “I want to blow them out of the sky.”

“Steve has Sitwell. He's Hydra. Works for Pierce. They're going to use Sitwell to get into S.H.I.E.L.D. and stop the launch," Tony told Fury.

"Let's just call this a back-up plan, then," Fury suggested evenly.

"Seems a waste after I went to all the trouble to get you engines that would actually, you know, stay up in the air,” Tony intoned skeptically. Must be pretty fucking serious if Fury was prepared to go that far.   And then it hit him. “The algorithm.  Purification.  Hydra is going after targets it sees as threats…using Zola’s algorithm to pick them,” Tony said, as much to himself as to Nick.  “Guess I don’t need to ask who you plan to send up there to fix your fuck-up.”

“The targeting blades, Stark. Just get them done.  You have four hours,” Fury said.

“Nick…if something goes wrong…he’ll be on the carrier when…” Tony warned, unable to finish the thought.

“It’s his call, Stark. You think I can stop him?  How’s that worked for you so far?”  Fury asked resignedly.  “I’ll send you the drop coordinates  as soon as I hang up.  Four hours, Stark,” he repeated unnecessarily in Tony’s opinion, and disconnected the call. 

God-dammit.  Every fiber of his being wanted to call the suit and head to D.C.  But if he did that, he wouldn’t have time to build the targeting blades.  He bent over and put his elbows on his knees, head in his hands.  “JARVIS?”

“Yes, Sir, how may I be of assistance?” the AI answered.

“Looks like we’re fabricating, J. Strike up the band,” Tony said, leaving the computer terminal behind to head over the CAD displays.  “Steve and his merry band should be showing up at the Occidental in D.C. after they make a pick-up.  Keep an eye on it for me, would you?”

“Certainly, Sir,” JARVIS responded.

Tony pulled up the schematics for the Insight Carriers’ original targeting blades and got to work.

A few hours later, the blades were fabricated and Tony was busily writing the code that would instruct the targeting computers on each carrier to recognize the other carriers as its only target when JARVIS announced that he had a location on Steve and Natasha.

“Put it on the big screen,” Tony said, looking up in time to see Steve shove Sitwell out a rooftop door. “Is that our satellite?” Tony asked.

“Yes, Sir. I took the liberty of retasking it back to D.C. after Captain Rogers left New Jersey,” JARVIS said.

“Thanks, J. Oh, look at him being all intimidating.  Shivers, I tell ya,” Tony grinned as Steve grabbed Sitwell by the lapels and shook him up a bit.  Then Steve stepped back and Natasha aimed a well-placed kick at Sitwell sending him tumbling.  “Well…didn’t see that coming.  Why do I miss the best planning meetings?  Captain America  never says, ‘And then, Natasha, I want you to just kick him right off the building,’ when I’m around,” Tony pouted.  “Because I think I would remember that.” 

Tony watched as Wilson dropped Sitwell back onto the roof. “That’s what you’re settling for as air support these days, Rogers? Geez.”  Sad, just sad.  And definitely not because Tony was jealous or anything.  That would be silly.  And petty.  And probably a lot of other things.  And why did Tony have to stay stuck at the Tower clutching his pearls while New Guy got to flit around with Steve?

“I don’t like him. How come he’s all ready to throw in his lot with Steve all of a sudden?  Didn’t they just meet?” Tony said, nodding at Wilson and watching Sitwell on the ground, likely spilling his guts, the coward.

“You had me perform a comprehensive background check the day before yesterday, Sir, which showed no irregularities or areas of concern,” JARVIS reminded him.  “I have considered all the variables and calculated that the most likely possibility is that Mr. Wilson wishes to provide assistance to Captain America because he believes it is the right thing to do.  In my time observing the Captain, I have determined that the correlation is statistically valid.”

“You just like him better because he looks at the ceiling when he talks to you and asks you how your day went,” Tony accused lightly, without looking up from the code he was typing into the terminal.

“Those things do not factor into my analysis,” JARVIS said primly. Liar, Tony thought fondly.

“Track them with the satellite feed, would you, J?” Tony asked.   “Alright, the targeting blades are ready.  Let’s get these bad boys to One-Eyed Willie before he gets his panties in a bunch.”

“Of course, Sir. I’ve already programmed a drone with the coordinates Director Fury provided,” JARVIS replied.  Tony set the three blades in their padded case before transferring it to the waiting drone.  Federal Express, eat your heart out.  

He swiveled around in his chair to watch as Wilson’s car made its way down the highway. He was picking up his phone to call Steve and let him know about Fury’s little charade when he saw a black Humvee edge close to the side of Wilson's car.  He sat up, spared a brief thought that the bigger vehicle was going to hit Wilson’s coupe before someone opened the passenger door of the  Humvee and jumped onto the roof Wilson’s car, metal fingers gripping into the roof hard enough to gouge their way through. Before Tony's finger managed to depress the call button on his phone, the Winter Soldier smashed through the car's back window, grabbed Sitwell and tossed him into the path of an oncoming truck before pulling out a gun and starting to fire through the roof.

Well, shit.

Chapter Text

Wilson’s car slammed on the breaks, sending Tony’s least favorite Borg-wannabe sailing over the top of the car, landing adroitly on the road in front of the car, metal fingers scraping him to a halt. Tony saw the Humvee speeding up from behind and had a split second to think it was going to hit before it did just that, slamming into the smaller car from behind.  Metal Gear Solid cartwheeled up and back onto the roof of Wilson’s car, smashing through the windshield to rip out the steering wheel, leaving Steve and his Scooby gang unable to do much except play bumper cars. 

At least someone had finally decided to shoot at the bad guy, thanks going to Annie Oakley, no doubt. Steve’s Christmas presents were obviously going to include some kind of weapon smaller than a garbage can lid.  The Winter Soldier leapfrogged back to the Humvee, which proceeded to ram the back of Wilson’s car, sending it careening off the traffic barrier, flipping the car in midair, and, well fuck, there went his boyfriend, jumping out of things again.

“For the love…would you stop doing that!?!” Tony shouted at the screen, bouncing back and forth on his heels and running hand through his hair in abject frustration, as Steve, gripping Nat and Wilson, slammed the car door off the frame and dropped them to the pavement. “Son of a—what is it with the jumping out of things lately? Remind me to just buy him a bouncy house, okay JARVIS?  Jesus Christ.”  They landed hard, Wilson rolling off one direction while Nat and Steve skidded off in the other. 

The Humvee sped to a stop in front of them, blocking traffic and several members of the Strike team exited, handing Full Metal Jacket some kind of…”Aw, fuck, no,” Tony roared as the Winter Soldier fired a shot at Steve from a grenade launder. Steve, damn his chivalrous hide, pushed Natasha out of the way, absorbing the brunt of the impact, which sent him bouncing off a nearby vehicle and flying over the side of the overpass before finally crashing through the window of a passing bus.  “Steve!  God-dammit!  JARVIS!” Tony shouted, not sure what exactly he was asking the AI to do. 

Perhaps not being used to having super-soldier shaped debris hurled at him, the bus driver lost control and smashed into an oncoming truck, flipping the bus onto its side.

“JARVIS! Metrobus dashcam, now!” Tony shouted, and in seconds JARVIS, who had probably anticipated him, had the feed up and running.  There was Steve, face down inside the bus, the driver and passengers slowly beginning to edge their way out.  “Get up, Steve.  Come on.  Get up,” Tony pleaded with the screen.  “Now, Steve, come on.  No lying down on the job, you gotta get up, babe.  Okay, Nat has the excuse of being chased by a crazy metal-armed assassin, where the fuck are you, Wilson!?!”

From his view of the dashcam, Tony kept a hand to his forehead in agony as he watched for long seconds until finally, finally, Steve started to move, slowly at first, but he was lifting his head, looking around.

“Sir,” JARVIS warned, and Tony turned away from the bus dashcam long enough to watch members of the Strike Team lower themselves from the overpass, and was that a fucking mini-gun? Holy Christ.

The windows of the bus exploded with bullets. Steve was running the length of the bus, arm raised in the air as if he had the shield with him, doging and weaving as bullets turned the interior into a shooting gallery, before crashing through the window at the back of the bus and rolling to pick up his shield in one seamless motion. 

“You dropped your phone,” Tony shouted uselessly at the screen. “Seriously, what the fuck does he have against windows lately?” Tony blurted rhetorically, a slight sigh of relief escaping as Steve used the shield to deflect the bullets back at the shooters.  Like a really violent game of Pong.

Steve steamed ahead, picking up speed as he went before leaping over the head of mini-gun-guy and knocking him unconscious on the roof of the car.

Okay, so that was cool. “Show off,” Tony said fondly to the screen.  And, oh, look who decided to show up? Stop for a mani/pedi there, Tweety?

“JARVIS, since it looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. is taking their beef with Captain America public…alert the local news crews there’s a gunfight on the causeway. Let’s see how they like a few of their dirty little secrets getting some airtime,” Tony ordered quickly. Let’s see just how public they want to make this.

“And where is our favorite little Cold War relic off to…Ah, getting punked by my favorite maneater. Nicely done, Nat,” Tony said admiringly.  At least until the car exploded and Nat jumped the guy only to got bounced off a nearby car like a very deadly, red-headed pinball.  Ouch.   Nat was off and running, waving people out of the way as best she could.

“Now would be a good time to be a hero, Steven,” Tony intoned worriedly. “Aw, shit, Nat!” He’d shot her through the window of a car as she ran past. And there, there was Steve jumping in, and heh, metal arm, meet shield. 

Tony totally did not pump his fist in the air a few times. That would’ve been juvenile.

“Okay, who’s the asshole who brings guns to a shield fight?” Tony asked the empty room. “I’m just saying. Don’t be that guy—Oh no, he didn’t!  Give that back, Emo Decepticon!” Tony shouted as the Winter Soldier grabbed Steve’s shield.  Just no.  “I will fly down there and remove that from your person, vaguely-possibly-youngish man, don’t think I won’t.”

Tony winced as the shield flew past Steve and lodged in the back of a van. And now we have a knife.  “Good luck with that. You haven’t had to sit through him dicing onions with Rachel Ray,” Tony hurled at the screen.  “I still don’t get why she invited him on her show, I mean—Ooooh, nice kick, hon…Hey, no throwing my things!” Tony hollered as Steve was tossed across the hood of a car.  “Knife, knife again, Steve, knife….oh, fine. Aw, you got your big Frisbee back, good.  Now, playtime is over, Stevie.  Please kick this guy’s ass and get home…Yes, like that, very nice.  JARVIS, how are we coming on aerial coverage?  What about S.H.I.E.L.D.?  Do they have—hey…Hey, Steve…there’s no stopping in ass-kicking, babe.”

Steve had paused, staring at the Winter Soldier, seemingly immobilized as the guy brought a gun up and, yes, there, thank you Darkwing Duck for the save, and Jesus, Steve, what the hell? Wanna maybe make a move here?  Like, away.  Far away from the convoy of S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicles headed right for you?  No.  No, okay, just stand there, sure, that’s not at all troubling.

The S.H.I.E.L.D. teams surrounded them, and, ah, Rumlow, my old person-I-detest. “Steve…fuck,” Tony whispered, as the Strike Teams moved in, guns drawn, and Rumlow ordering Steve to drop the shield and get on his knees.  Rumlow kicked at Steve’s calf, as Steve went to his knees with little or no resistance.  What the hell?  Since when did Steve Rogers just take this kind of—“Hey!  Do not point that at him, you son of a bitch, JARVIS, suit, now!” Tony screamed, as one of the Strike Team pointed a gun at Steve’s head, and okay, the serum could do a lot, but can we please not test the limits?  A news helicopter circled overhead, JARVIS streaming the local station’s breaking news segment to one of the screens.  Something about Captain America being apprehended.  And people, you are going to want to think about what it means if your government is arresting Captain America.

Tony’s secure line rang, startling him as he watched the screen flicker in front of him, everything in his life hinging on whether one man was willing to pull a trigger in front of the world.

Tony’s phone kept ringing. Finally, as they loaded Steve, Natasha and Wilson up into one of the armored vehicles, he answered it, with a clipped, “This had better be good, Nick.”

“Don’t fly off the handle, Stark, I’ve got this,” Fury said.

“Really? Because I just saw S.H.I.E.L.D. point a gun at Captain America’s head.  What part of ‘I got this’ is that?” Tony demanded.  “I’m going to get him.  I can be in D.C. in 15 minutes, twenty tops They’ll have to get to a secure location away from the media.  I can—“

“Stark! I got this, I said.  Would you, for once, listen before rushing in like a…well, like you?” Fury requested stoically. 

“No,” Tony said belligerently. “Nick…they’re gonna kill him.  And Nat.  And the new guy.  I can’t sit here and just—“

“Trust me, Stark. That isn’t going to happen.  I’ve got this,” Fury repeated.  Tony let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. 

“Nick…Nick, I can’t. It isn’t that I don’t trust you, it’s just…I can’t, okay?  I have to go…” Tony said.

“Fine. Look, I’ll send you our coordinates.  You can meet up with him here. I promise you Stark.  But if you go in and try to grab him now, you could jeopardize the whole operation.  We have one chance at this.  We have to stop those helicarriers before they triangulate, and if they move up the launch or change something in their plan because they figure out that we know what they’re up to when Iron Man rides to the rescue…people will die, Stark.  Lots of them,” Fury warned him.

“I…I know. I do.  I know that.  But, I can’t just sit here…” Tony said as the armor locked itself into place. 

“I’m not asking you to stay there. I know you can’t do that right now.  But let me handle S.H.I.E.L.D. for the time being.  By the time you get here, he’ll be safe and sound and righteously pissed at me, just wait,” Fury replied.  “Can you do that?”

“I—yeah, okay. Send me the coordinates.  Nick…” Tony started.  “Nick…please.  Just…please, okay?”

“Trust me, Stark. Just this once,” Fury implored.  “Steve did.”

“And look how that turned out,” Tony responded dully, and shooting into the air from the Tower’s launching platform. “You’ll call the moment he’s safe.  And, you know, the other two…”

Fury sighed. “Yes, Stark. I promise.  As soon as he gets home, we’ll have a serious talk about breaking curfew.”

“The moment, Nick—“ Tony repeated, voice harsh and raw. God, this was hard.  Placing his trust in Nick instead of doing what every fiber of his being screamed to do and go and find Steve and just grab him and get him away…make him safe.  “If something—I can’t—so you---“ he tried.

“I will, Tony. I promise. The moment, okay?” Fury agreed. 

“JARVIS, grab a screen-cap of the footage of Peter-the-Not-So-Great after Steve de-masked him and run it through our facial recognition program. I want to know who this guy is…and why Steve suddenly went all pacifist on me,” Tony ordered through the HUD as he sped towards D.C. and the coordinates Nick had sent. 


He was a couple of minutes out of the D.C. area when the HUD showed an incoming call from Fury.

“Tony?” Steve’s voice came through. Thank fucking God

“Yeah, Steve. Listen, are you—“ Tony began.

“I’m fine. But, I lost my phone when I was shot through a bus,” Steve said.

“Well…there’s always some excuse,” Tony said wryly.

“If it’s any consolation, it seemed really durable right up until the mini-gun,” Steve informed him.

“I’ll be sure to alert marketing,” Tony replied. “I’m three minutes out.  Get your spangly ass outside.  If you still know how to operate an actual door, that is, as opposed to feeling the need to just make your own exit,” Tony grumbled. 

“I don’t know…that window there looks awful tempting…all clear and shiny like that…” Steve replied.

“Oh, shut up and get outside,” Tony huffed with a laugh. “You’re so weird.”

“I feel like date night at the Mirror Maze is somehow out,” Steve said dryly. “Tony…there’s something…there’s something I have to tell you…just…hurry, okay?”

“Be there in a minute, babe,” Tony replied, cutting the HUD feed.

“Sir…” JARVIS called.

“Hit me, J,” Tony said, spying the facility where Fury was holed up, and yep, there was one super-soldier making a ridiculously huge show of exiting through the door, pantomiming surprise at how it opened and closed while looking up in the air. God, he loved that doof.

“Based on my analysis, it appears that the person known as ‘The Winter Soldier’ is one James Buchanan Barnes, member of the Howling Commandos and lifelong friend of Steve Rogers, presumed dead during a raid on a Hydra train during which Arnim Zola was taken captive,” JARVIS supplied.

Barnes? Barnes as in Bucky?  Barnes as in Captain America’s BFF?  Barnes as in the guy Steve grew up with, who’s floor he slept on, who he followed off to war, the guy Steve had nightmares about losing, the guy who’s name Steve sometimes called out for in his sleep…that Barnes? 

Well, fuck my life, Tony thought bitterly, landing on the walkway above the dam.

Chapter Text

Tony landed heavily in the armor, practically jumping out of it in his haste to get to Steve. 

“Looks like you managed to figure the door out,” Tony said as he stepped out of the armor.

“It just opened right up, like magic,” Steve replied. “Do they all do that?” he asked with exaggerated bemusement.  

“Ha-ha. You’re hysterical,” Tony said sarcastically. “What?” Tony asked at Steve’s pained attempt to hold in a smile.

Steve waved a hand in the air, curling his lips and ducking his eyes trying to keep from grinning.  “You…your hair,” Steve responded, smiling helplessly.  “It’s…” Steve just shook his head, shoulders shaking with mirth.

“Well.  Excuse me for not managing to be perfectly coifed after watching you all day, Elphaba,” Tony snorted.

“Elphaba?”  Steve questioned, frowning.

“Defying Gravity?  No?  We should take in a show when this is done,” Tony explained.  “JARVIS, grab us some box seats, will you?”

“Wait…Hey.  I am not the Wicked Witch,” Steve huffed in mock admonition. “Kinda identify with Dorothy sometimes though.”

“JARVIS?  Please tell me you recorded that,” Tony smirked.  “I sense a new ringtone in my future…” Tony smiled as he wrapped his arms around Steve, good, solid, warm, still-alive, about to tell him some rather disturbing news, Steve. 

“It’s good to see you, too, Tin Man,” Steve said, burying his face in Tony’s neck.

“Funny. Thought you’d chew me out for heading down here,” Tony replied, wrapping his arms around Steve’s taller frame.

“I’m working my way up to it. Any minute now,” Steve promised, breath warm and ticklish on Tony’s neck.  Steve finally sighed and stepped back, but kept his hands at Tony’s hips.  “Tony…” Steve breathed out.   “It…the Winter Soldier…when I took off his mask…Tony, it’s Bucky.” 

Tony tightened his grip around Steve’s waist.  “Yeah, I know.  JARVIS ran the facial recognition.  Are you…are you sure it was him?  I mean, for real?  Not some…well, they can do amazing things these days with plastic surgery these days.  And I wouldn’t exactly put it past Hydra to mess with you like that.  Hell, look at what S.H.I.E.L.D. did with your friendly neighborhood non-coffee drinking spy down the hall?  I mean, first of all, a nurse in the infectious disease ward?  Really?  Let me see, what was it your mother did?  And how did she die again?  Bastards,” Tony muttered bitterly. 

“That was a little heavy-handed, even for S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Steve admitted.

“Not to mention the incredible coincidence of her being Peggy’s niece, and…oh shit, you didn’t know that,” Tony stopped as Steve’s face went from serious to shocked in a split second.  Absolutely no poker face on this guy. 

“What?  She’s…Agent 13 is Peggy’s niece?  That’s just…that’s…I don’t know what that is,” Steve sputtered.

“Disturbing on many deep, deep levels?” Tony suggested darkly 

“You know…you know, sometimes I really wonder what we’re fighting so hard for these days, Tony,” Steve wondered, shaking his head and just sounding so very tired. 

“Fuck if I know, I just follow you around shooting at things,” Tony groused.   “So…um…Bucky…you sure it’s really your guy?  Not some Hydra set up?” Tony questioned.

“He knew me, Tony.   At least…I think he did.  For a moment, he recognized me.  I think. Maybe. He stopped,” Steve said.

“Yeah…” Tony drew out the word skeptically.  “But didn’t he then try to, you know, shoot you?”

“To be fair, that’s something of a common reaction for people who know me these days,” Steve replied.

Tony let a small, harsh laugh escape.  “Yeah, about that…guess you saw Pushing Daisies in there?”  At Steve’s nod, he kept going.  “Guess he told you that I made new targeting blades for the Insight Carriers.  I figure you take one, I’ll take the other two—why are you shaking your head?”

“You can’t, Tony.  We need you back in New York,” Steve said firmly, dampening it a bit pulling Tony’s hips closer, and yeah, nice try with the distraction thing there, but not happening.  Well, not totally happening.  Not like Tony couldn’t multi-task.

“The hell you say?  Absolutely not.  No way I’m sitting this one out, Steve, come on. That’s ridiculous, you need me,” Tony insisted vehemently. 

“Always, Tony.  But…we need you helping with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s security systems. Otherwise, they could cut us off before we even got going.  Not to mention that Widow is going in undercover as one of the WSC members.  To get past S.H.I.E.L.D.’s security system and download all their dirty little secrets, we need two alpha levels.  That means we have to get to Pierce.  We’ll need you to get her past the DNA scanners and biometric keys,” Steve explained.

“I can do that once I get there,” Tony told him. “Or have JARVIS do it.”

Steve was shaking his head determinedly. “Our timetable is too close for you to try to override everything from the ground.  We want this to happen while the carriers are still over the Potomac and that doesn’t give us much of a window.  Those things going down in the middle of D.C.?  Tony…we can’t let that happen,” Steve implored.  “And I trust JARVIS, you know that, but…we really only have one shot at this before a whole lot of people die.  If something unexpected comes up…well, I guess I’d feel a whole lot better with you handling it.”

Tony breathed deeply and looked away for a long moment, eyes scanning the horizon. Damn.  Steve was so hard to argue with when he was being all obnoxiously reasonable and right about shit. 

“And… Bruce is in Honduras or wherever, Thor’s moping on Asgard, Barton is still in deep cover, so…it’s just you and Rhodey…if we aren’t successful…if we can’t get the targeting blades in…we’re going to need Iron Man to stop those carriers,” Steve insisted, and just hell no.

“You’re asking me to be the last line of defense in case you die.  You…you have to know I can’t do that, Steve.  I mean, I get it, I do.  That’s totally the safest thing to do, makes all kinds of logistical sense, and it isn’t fucking happening,” Tony bit out.  “And don’t give me this trumped-up tactical crap reason for not wanting me there.  You want to play Luke to his Vader, bring him back from the Dark Side or some shit and don’t want me around to stop you from being a giant idiot, so don’t make this out to be some great battle plan you’ve cooked up, because I know you, Steven…you want to save him.  And fuck you if you think I’m going to sit around watching you die trying!”

“Tony…you know this is the way it has to be.  Of course I want you with me, but…we have to think clearly about this. If we can’t get the new blades in, and those carriers are successful…that’s just the beginning.  You know that.  We have to have a back-up plan,” Steve pleaded.

“Fuck thinking clearly, Steve, there is absolutely no possible reason for me to be in New York—“ Tony began, voice raising exponentially with each syllable.

“There’s Pepper,” Steve interrupted.

“—when I should be…what?  What about Pepper?” Tony asked, blinking rapidly and realizing that his hands were clenching into Steve’s arms and that probably would leave bruises on anyone else, but he couldn’t bring himself to let go.

“Pepper is in New York.  She’s CEO of Stark Industries.  She’ll be on the target list.  You need to get her to a secure location.  As soon as all three targeting blades are locked, get down here, by all means.  We’ll need your help with the rest of it,” Steve told him.

“I can just call her and…aw, fuck, no I can’t,” Tony said, grimacing. Because he really, really wanted to and really, really couldn’t do that.  Not to Pepper.  If something happened to her and he’d just placed a call…no, he couldn’t do that. He should’ve gotten Pepper and Happy and hell, everyone, to safety a long time ago, but he’d been watching Steve and making new targeting blades and digging into classified files and…well, he’d just figured out what Hydra’s plan was, and then they were going to shoot Steve and…well, shit.  He had to make sure she was safe. God damn it, Rogers.  And he knew, of course he knew, that Steve was right about the timetable and needing Tony’s help with the S.H.I.E.L.D.’s security countermeasures and, fuck it all, he was right about needing a failsafe, too.  Did not mean Tony had to like it.  At all.

“No, you can’t,” Steve said softly.  “I’m sorry.  Get to Pepper.  Get Widow up to Pierce.  Get us past S.H.I.E.L.’D’s internal security measures.  Tell Rhodey to be ready.  You two need to stay in your suits.  You’ll both be targets.  Tony…I know this isn’t how you want it, but…we need you on this.  I need you on this.  Please.”

“I hate this.  I absolutely hate everything about this,” Tony intoned flatly, but he nodded his head once.

“I know,” Steve replied, drawing him closer, so Tony could press his face into Steve’s shoulder while Steve wound his under Tony’s arms and flattened them across Tony’s back.

“I know you have to try…you’re too stubborn for your own damn good.  Just…just…I’m asking here, okay?  Just don’t.  Don’t die for him.  Please.  Live for me, okay?  I’m selfish, and I like having you around.  Gotten used to it.  I’d have the whole bed and all the covers and there wouldn’t be a highly-questionable amount of crumbs in the sheets, and I don’t know how I’d live like that. So.  So…you…you promise me.  Promise me that, and I’ll go,” Tony mumbled into Steve’s shoulder.

“I promise to try, Tony,” Steve replied, brushing his lips across Tony’s forehead when Tony pulled back to look at him.  “Please don’t ask me for more than that.  I can’t…he’s my friend.  I have to try,” Steve continued before Tony could protest.

“That’s not fucking good enough, Steve,” Tony ground out.

“I know,” Steve answered softly, lowering his forehead to press against Tony’s.  “But, I’m always honest.”

Chapter Text

“Stealing from a national institution? You have clearly lost your moral compass,” Tony announced through the earpiece as he watched the security feed for the Smithsonian.  “What would Uncle Sam say?”

“Well…it says here on this fancy plaque that this collection is on loan from the Maria Stark Foundation. Technically, I think that means I’m just borrowing my boyfriend’s clothes,” Steve corrected, peeling one of his old suits off the mannequin.  Tony laughed, but couldn’t help some weird, warm feeling settling in his chest.  He watched as Steve carefully replaced the old shield strategically in front of the mannequin, casting a smirk over his shoulder at the camera. 

“I’m so getting one of those guys for the living room,” Tony threatened.

“Do that and I’ll paint a ‘Hello Kitty’ design on your armor,” Steve responded evenly, stashing the suit in his bag and heading back to the exit door he’d entered through, careful not to wake the sleeping security guard, who looked ancient enough to have come with the museum. “Bow on the helmet and everything.”

“I’d rock that, and you know it,” Tony maintained stoically. “JARVIS store a copy of this feed on my personal server and then delete the footage from the museum’s systems.”

“You want a copy of me stealing?” Steve questioned, pushing the exit door open and heading out. 

“I want a copy of you stripping mannequin-Captain America so efficiently.  This might be the closest I get to a Captain America striptease.  It’s a thing,” Tony answered as he typed the command to put the museum’s alarms back online.  He could see Steve stop and look up at the camera outside the exit door and shake his head. 

“I’m just going to go through life pretending I don’t know that. How’s it going with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s security systems?” Steve asked as he crossed the green outside the museum heading for the car where Wilson and Hill were waiting.

“Oh, because you’re one to talk, what with all those times you watch me work on the armor, you know, for ‘tactical reasons’?” Tony snorted with a smile.  “Anyway, the launch sequence itself is housed on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s internal servers.  I can’t stop that from here without two alpha level overrides.  I’ve do access to their internal countermeasures.  Just have to recode the DNA scanners for Widow and change the biometric on the access badges, and we’ll be good to go.  Shouldn’t take but a few more minutes,” Tony informed him, checking the readout of the program he’d designed.  “JARVIS has been running the facial recognition scan, looking for your boy.  No luck yet, but I’m betting Red Dawn’ll turn up.”

“We’re supposed to be at the rendezvous point in fifteen minutes. Nat’s already on her way in from the airport with the rest of the WSC,” Steve reminded him.  “Pepper and Happy safe and sound?”

“They’re good. And I’ll tell Rhodey as soon as the blades are in.  He’ll want to alert the President or some ridiculous chain of command thing.  I’m almost done on my end.  Everything will be ready by the time you and Icarus get there,” Tony promised.  “Can I just say that I find I have no appreciation of the irony of Hydra using my own suggestions on the carrier engines to keep those things airborne, you know, long enough to kill me.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Steve assured firmly and damn if that didn’t wrap that warm thing in his chest even tighter. “Besides, if your own tech kills you, it will probably involve auto-erotic asphyxiation,” Steve said with a grin in his voice.

Tony did a truly impressive spit-take at that. “First, I’m deeply disturbed to hear Captain America say the words ‘auto-erotic asphyxiation’ and second, I’m banning you from 4chan,” Tony huffed indignantly, but couldn’t keep the smile from forming. 

“Talk to you soon, Tony,” Steve said, his warm chuckle vibrating down Tony’s spine. Tony turned back to his computer to finish reconfiguring the S.H.I.E.L.D. DNA scanner so Widow’s DNA was substituted for the Councilwoman’s, and reprogramming her biometric access badge from the Councilwoman’s readings to Natasha’s.  “JARVIS, how is our satellite uplink going?”

“It appears there is something jamming our signal in that area, Sir. I am attempting to circumvent it now,” JARVIS replied.

“Blocking my Steve-TV?   So Hydra is Comcast now?  Huh, that actually makes a certain kind of sense.  Anyway, see if you can get the security feed for Insight Carriers, particularly the interiors of the surveillance hubs,” Tony instructed, blowing up the schematics for the carriers and tapping the domed underbelly where the targeting blade ports were located. 

“Shall I continue the facial recognition search for Mr. Barnes?” JARVIS asked.

“Um…yeah, let’s find Steve’s metal-armed Ivan Drago,” Tony agreed. It wasn’t like he didn’t understand why Steve hoped to be able to reach whatever was left of his friend.  He did.  He totally did.

Except how Steve’s voice got all soft when he mentioned the guy, eyes going all wistful and, sure, it wasn’t like Tony hadn’t had plenty of other relationships before Steve, so it would be completely hypocritical of him to begrudge Steve some long-ago childhood memory or first crush thing. Unrequited.  Let’s not forget the unrequited part.  Because that was vitally important to remember.  For some reason.  So the guy had died following Steve around chasing Hydra.  That’s what friends do.  And so what if, for Steve, the guy had really only been gone a few years?  That was fine, all fine.  Tony was fine.  Better than fine, really.  Supportive.  Tony was completely the supportive boyfriend.

Because Tony had Steve, warm and present and smiling at him, fighting beside him and it was Tony who Steve curled around at night, and Tony who wrapped blankets around him and had JARVIS turn the heat up even in August and held him while he shook, and so if there had been…something before, then Tony was happy that Steve had that kind of deep, meaningful—aw, fuck it, this sucked donkey balls. It was one thing when that memory stayed long dead and buried, but now it was wondering around oozing super-soldier-serum, I-was-frozen-too, man out of time, hey-remember-when-I-was-your-only-friend bonding opportunities with a side of man-pain and annoyingly good hair. 

“Tony?” Steve’s voice came through the comm. “We’re outside the Triskelion.”

“You’re good to go, Soldier Boy. I have the actual live feed running on the Tower’s system.  I’ve switched their security feed to a loop, but the timestamp won’t register it.  Unless they look for it, they won’t know, and even if they know, there won’t be anything they can do about it.  Point being, you’ll be invisible to their cameras.  Have fun,” Tony replied.  “Cautious, careful fun.  But still.”

“You in the suit?” Steve asked.

“Yes, I’m in the suit. I also took my vitamins, finished my homework, put the dishes away and cleaned my room.  Can I go out and play now?” Tony groused.

“As soon as the targeting blades are in,” Steve responded, largely ignoring him. Tony watched on the monitor as Wilson disabled one of the antenna arrays, while Steve and Hill headed up one of the interior staircases.  They met up with Wilson, coming down from the roof, outside the door leading to the satellite monitoring terminals.  Steve cast a glance at the stairwell’s camera.  Tony couldn’t help but reach out and run a metal finger across the screen. 

Moments later, one of the techs opened the door to go check on the satellite dish only to find himself face to face with Captain America. And some other people, but really.  Steve gave a beautiful, moving speech.  Or it probably was.  At least, Tony just assumed it was, anyway.  Tony mostly just admired the view of Steve leaning over the microphone.  It was inspiring, really.  Well, probably the speech was, too, judging by the reactions.

When Steve finished his speechifying, he turned and pointed to the door he’d come in through with an exaggerated flourish while looking up at the camera and smirking as he headed out.  “Yes, you used the door.  You’re the Sully to my Mike Wazowski,” Tony said, glaring at the monitor.

“I understood that reference,” Steve replied through the comm.

“I’m so proud. Now get the hell out there and take down the three giant weaponized carriers controlled by a terrorist organization bent on world domination and killing anyone who might possibly stand against them, you great, giant goof,” Tony ordered ruefully, shaking his head.  “Carriers are prepping for launch, looks like someone overrode the protocols… and….yep, everyone inside S.H.I.E.L.D. is going all Hatfields and McCoys thanks to your little speech.  I’m not even going to pretend that isn’t a beautiful sight.”

“We’re heading for the carriers now. I have Alpha and Charlie blades.  Sam has Bravo.  Hill will monitor from here.  Got a location on Widow?” Steve asked.

“She and the rest of the WSC are with Pierce on the top floor,” Tony confirmed. He saw Steve nod in acknowledgment on the monitor. 

“Anything on…the Winter Soldier?” Steve questioned hesitantly.

“Nothing yet, but as soon as he shows, I’ll know,” Tony promised. And I’ll tell you where he is right after I lock down the security doors on Memento Boy, Tony thought.  “Launch has been initiated,” Tony informed them.  “Bay doors are opening, Pierce is bloviating about flicking his switch, which I personally think is a metaphor, it’s a party, kids!”

Tony watched Steve and Wilson make their way outside the Triskelion as the carriers ascended into the air. They ran out the roof access door and Wilson activated the Falcom wings and launched himself into the air while Steve leapt onto the flight deck of the first carrier, picking up speed as he ran.  He was using his shield to deflect the shots, vaulting up and flipping over some storage containers and sending a grenade at the Hydra agents. 

Tony turned back to the other monitors to watch as Natasha kicked, well, everyone’s ass. Pierce’s dumbfounded look was almost worth all the trouble he’d gone to in order to reprogram the DNA scanners.  Wilson was doing something he rather loftily referred to as “engaging,” swooping, complaining about a few tiny, little countermeasures.  Then he was shooting and playing hide and go shoot with a fighter jet, which wasn’t nearly as impressive and awesome as when Steve had done it with his big dinner plate, quite frankly.  Tony shook his head and turned back to the monitor showing Steve fighting his way along the flight deck of the first carrier.  There was something truly satisfying about the way Steve kicked people. Tony couldn’t quite explain it, but there you go.  “Eight minutes, Cap,” he heard Hill say over the comm link.  A few moments later, he watched Steve enter the surveillance hub and replace the targeting blade. 

“Alpha lock,” Steve confirmed.

“Ah, Wilson? Yeah, that detour you’re on…I think you’re using Apple maps.  Maverick there has missile lock on you, just FYI,” Tony informed Sam. 

Wilson managed to get his done a short time later, largely due to pure luck, Tony could only assume.

“Two down, one to go,” Hill intoned, confirming she could do the math of a three year old, apparently.

And oh, who do we have here? Tony said to himself.

The Winter Soldier was wreaking havoc on the flight deck of Bravo carrier. “I got him.  Your friend.  Bravo carrier. Shit.  He’s taken out any air support you were going to get other than Prince Vultan.  He going after one of the jets.  I’m betting he’s not heading off for a calm, relaxing vacation in a sunny locale.  Head’s up.”

“Steve?” Tony called through the comm. “Fury’s up there.  With Nat and Pierce.  It’s very dramatic,” Tony informed him.

“Is he wearing the coat?” Steve asked lightly.

“I’ve got chills. Seriously. Goosebumps,” Tony replied. 

“Okay, copy. I’m headed for Charlie carrier.  Don’t be mad,” Steve said through a few breaths. 

Tony heard Wilson tell Steve to let him know when he was ready and Steve’s response of ‘I just did,’ which he just knew did not bode well.

“Why would I be—Jesus! Ah, Fuck, Steve! What the hell are you…yeah, Wilson, that’s the signal.  I fucking hate it when you do that!” without me, Tony muttered as Steve leapt off Alpha carrier and Wilson grabbed him from freefall before depositing him on the final carrier.  Wilson deposited Steve on Charlie carrier and landed next to him, both heading for the final surveillance hub when JARVIS suddenly sent an alert to Tony’s screen.

“Holy fuck, Steve…he’s there, he’s there, he’s on the---God damn it! Steve! Steve!” Tony shouted as the Winter Soldier knocked Steve off the edge of the carrier before turning his attention to Wilson, ripping a wing off and sending him in a freefall towards the ground.  “Steve!” Tony screamed, searching the video feeds for any sign of him.

“I’m here, Tony. I’m still on the helicarrier.  I’m okay.  Sam—“ Steve rushed out, worry lacing his voice.

“He’s fine, he’s fine. Shit.  He’s fine.  He hit the parachute before he landed.  God-fucking-dammit, do not do that to me, Steve,” Tony implored helplessly.

“I’m okay, Tony. One more blade to go,” Steve replied. Tony heard him assure Wilson he was okay before heading for the surveillance hub.  “Any sign of him?”

No need to ask who Steve meant. “He’s heading your way, Steve,” Tony warned, watching the Winter Soldier make his way towards the glass domed underbelly of the carrier, as if he knew exactly where Steve would be going.  “He’s going to get there first.”

“Okay. Okay, Tony, I copy,” Steve responded, voice thick with an emotion Tony didn’t much want to think about.

“Steve…you promised.  Remember.  You promised me,” Tony reminded him.

“I remember what I said, Tony. I’m going to get the last blade in,” Steve vowed.  Tony could hear his breathing coming heavy with exertion as he climbed his way back into the carrier.  “Then…I have to try.  Don’t blast him when you get here, okay?”

 “Well, now, that’s something I can’t promise, so we’re even,” Tony managed, he knew rather ungraciously, but couldn’t bring himself to care.  Don’t make promises you can’t keep, after all. He decided to just assume by his silence that Steve agreed with him.  It was always easier that way.   “Hey Hill, Rumlow’s being an annoying dick again,” Tony intoned dully.  “Can I repulsor him?  I still owe him for the elevator thing.”

“Go crazy. Live a little,” Steve said evenly. 

Tony watched the carrier’s security feed as Steve entered the surveillance hub, walking a few steps along the catwalk to the port for the targeting blade when he came to a standstill. “Don’t.  Don’t you fucking make him do this,” Tony implored. 

He couldn’t see Steve’s face too clearly from the camera angle, but he knew this had to be killing him. He heard Steve beg, and something twisted inside him, raw and chafed and it hurt.  Steve’s pain, transmitting itself to him somehow, burrowing deep down inside Tony and setting up shop in his gut, and when did that shit happen?  Steve didn’t beg.  Ever.  Steve implored, Steve asked, Steve made it seem like the most sensible thing in the world to listen to him, but Steve didn’t beg.  Except for Barnes, apparently.  “Come on, you cybernetic asshole, how can you have forgotten him?  It’s…he’s…ah, shit, Steve,” Tony grimaced as Steve hurled his shield at his best friend. He caught it on the ricochet, using it to block the shots the Winter Soldier was firing at him. 

“Fuck. Fuck.  Fuck,” Tony was chanting as one of the bullets grazed a red path along Steve’s side.  Steve knocked Barnes back with the shield, sending him flying, but the guy was still between Steve and the port for the targeting blade.  “Come on, Steve.  Come on,” Tony repeated.  As soon as the blade was in…the moment…God, this was killing him. He didn’t know how long he could watch this without saying ‘aw fuck it’ to their whole backup plan, particularly if it involved standing around while Steve got picked apart.

Steve entered the sequence into the computer terminal to bring the port for the targeting blade down, parrying the Winter Soldier’s knife while he did so. Gotta love a guy who can multitask.  Steve landed a solid kick, sending Barnes backwards and giving him just enough time to grab the original targeting blade from its slot.  “Come on!  Come on, please Steve, Jesus, come on,” Tony kept repeating.  He’d turned off the comm link to Steve, allowing him to concentrate and not have to deal with Tony playing worst cheerleader ever.  Tony was thankful for that a second later when Barnes tackled Steve, sending him over the railing and causing him to drop the targeting blade.  “Really?  Really?  You’ve got to be kidding—for the love of God, you’re killing me here.”  They were pounding away at each other and oh, ow.  Okay, that hit with the metal arm was going to leave a mark. 

“That’s two, Barnes,” Tony counted. “And yes, I’m keeping track.”  Barnes knocked the blade from Steve’s hand and it skidded off the platform, causing Tony to roll his eyes and dip his head to his gauntleted fingers in frustration.  Steve kicked Barnes off the platform and jumped down after the blade.

“The S.H.I.E.L.D. data leak is currently trending, Sir,” JARVIS informed him.

“Nicely done, Nat,” Tony congratulated. “Hey, would you look at that?  The fact that your government has been spying on you, was infiltrated by a Nazi terrorist group and is currently trying to kill hundreds of thousands is almost ahead of that Vampire Diaries chick.  Faith in humanity restored.  Get me Rhodey on the line, would you, J?”

“Ah, hey there, sweetcheeks? Yeah, you may have noticed a few minor incidents occurring in D.C. right about now?  Uh-huh, don’t panic, but put on your suit.  And get the President to the bunker. Like, right now.  In a non-panicky, but excessively hurried kind of way,” Tony ordered.  “Seriously.  Right now, Rhodes.  Can’t talk, gotta go.  Blast-from-the-past is trying to kill my boyfriend,” Tony said quickly as he cut the line before Rhodey could get a word in.  “JARVIS, send him all the files we have on S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra and a link to Nat’s twitter feed, apparently.”

And now what? God-damn it. Pierce had activated some kind of small, localized explosion tied to the biometric devices pinned to the WSC members’ suits.  The one Tony had specifically programmed to match Natatsha’s biometrics instead of the Councilwoman’s.  Damn.  He should’ve thought of something like that.  Would’ve if he hadn’t been freaking out so much about Steve and Barnes and what the fuck ever.  Nat and Fury could handle that Pierce asshole.

“Oh, no, you did not just throw his shield at him? Seriously, did you go to the Austin Powers School of Villianry, you moron?  Sure, give it back to him,” Tony sputtered.  “Aw, fuck me, Steve…” Tony moaned as Barnes deflected Steve’s throw of the shield with his metal arm and came at Steve with a knife, managing to plunge it deep into Steve’s shoulder.  So deep, in fact, it stayed in place when Steve staggered back, knocking Barnes away long enough to reach up and pull the knife out.  There was probably something metaphorical there, but Tony couldn’t focus on anything other than thoughts of tearing muscle, blood and pain. 

“That’s fucking three, Barnes!” Tony shouted. Steve can heal. Steve can heal.  Steve can heal.  He wasn’t sure if he was saying that out loud or if it was just the only thing his mind would allow him to think, bouncing around inside his head, echoing in his bones, writing itself across his being.  “God.  Fuck.  Steve.  JARVIS, flight time to D.C., mach 2?”

“Given the current weather and wind conditions, thirteen minutes and forty-three seconds, Sir,” JARVIS replied.

“And we’re done here,” Tony replied, as he stepped out onto the Tower’s launching platform. He needed to be ready. He needed to be ready the instant Steve got that last targeting blade in. Something crawling around the back of his brain...this wasn't going to end with Nat and Fury pulling Steve off that carrier in their chopper. Plan A had lost his wings. And Steve? Steve hadn't promised. So, there was that. “JARVIS, switch the feeds to the HUD,” Tony commanded, switching the faceplate down and watching through the HUD feed as Steve lifted Barnes into the air by the neck, then flipped him over, pinning his arm and trying to force him to drop the targeting blade.  “Son of a…just fucking drop it, Barnes!” Tony could’ve sworn he heard the sickening crack as Steve snapped Barnes’ arm, dragging them both down and pinning Barnes’ metal arm under his leg.  Tony knew this had to be killing Steve.  Hurting Barnes like that…he tried to imagine if it had been him and Rhodey.  Could he have done this to Rhodey, or for that matter, to Steve, to save all those lives?  He’d like to think so, but the idea of hurting Rhodey or Steve…just the thought…and here was Steve, doing what he fucking had to…because that was what Captain America did, no matter what it cost Steve Rogers.  Steve never talked about the call to close the portal.  Tony never brought it up.  No matter how right you are, those kinds of decisions add up, weighing you down, and Steve’s shoulders were already pretty heavy.  At some point, you stop seeing the right of it, the lives you saved and see only the destruction you caused.  Someone had to do that, to make those kinds of choices.  They were all glad it was Steve, partly because they trusted him to make the right one even where there wasn’t a right one to make and partly because none of the rest of them wanted the responsibility and what came after.  Easier to follow, even for Tony, at least in those situations.  Finally, the sleeper hold on Barnes caused him to pass out, releasing the targeting blade from his fist.

Tony stood helplessly on the platform, only able to wait and watch as Steve grabbed the blade and vaulted up to the platform. He saw Steve react to the shot, not stopping, but obviously hit.  Tony closed his eyes inside the suit, willing time to speed up. “Steve.  Jesus. I can’t…”  Steve was up to the catwalk, hanging on to the railing, when another shot caught his arm, though he didn’t let go.  Tony knew the strength of those hands, though he’d only felt them gentle over his skin.  It was humbling, watching, not able to do anything, just able to bear witness.  Humble didn’t sit well with Tony.  He let out a long breath that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, forcing his metal fists to uncurl. 

“God, Steve. Please, please, just…” Tony mumbled, not sure what he was asking except for this to be over, let him be able to get to Steve, let him be okay, let him not be destroyed that he’d failed, that his best friend was a monster.  How much could one man take?  How long was Tony supposed to watch while everything that mattered got broken and battered and just…he couldn’t…he couldn’t do this.  He wanted to be a better person, for Steve, for the world, for a lot of reasons, but how was he supposed to stand here and watch this happen?  Was this his penance for all the years of ignoring what Obie was doing, for Yinsen, for so much more, to see the best part of him suffer?  To watch what he cared about most be picked apart one piece at a time?  He wanted to dig up anger at Barnes, and it was there, simmering below layer upon layer of fear and helplessness and worry and pain, but he couldn’t call it to the fore, not when Steve was bleeding and broken in so many ways, and Tony just needed to wrap his arms around him and take him somewhere safe, just make him safe.  Then he could be pissed.  Just make him safe, just safe…

“Thirty seconds,” he heard Hill say as Steve reached the portal for the targeting blade. Steve reached up to place it in its slot when another shot rang out, this one taking him low in the back, lodging somewhere inside because it didn’t come out his stomach.  “Steeeeve!  God, fuck, God, Steve,” Tony was shouting, not quite aware of what he was shouting, just feeling words coming out, something white and hot searing down his spine, blanking out his vision, something curling in his gut, spasming and twisting, his stomach dropping, he couldn’t get air, he couldn’t breathe, why couldn’t he breathe?  There was no air, no air in the world, nothing to get into his lungs, nothing to fill the space, just nothing, nothing--

“Sir, your heartrate is considerably elevated and your breathing is shallow and rapid,” JARVIS informed him. “I believe you are having a stress reaction.”

“You think??” Tony replied, forcing himself to breath deeper. Steve had fallen, turned toward the camera, and Tony could see the dark stain spreading on the front of his uniform.  Something about stomach wounds being the most painful kind floated through his head.  Why did he know these things?  Why was this his life that he knew, he fucking knew, that Steve was in pain, was hurting, was desperate and scared and needed Tony and he was standing here, and—

“Ten seconds, Sir,” JARVIS called out. “Sir, they are deploying the algorithm,” JARVIS told him.  Tony stood numbly on the Tower’s launching platform, watching Steve struggle to get up.  “You have been targeted, Sir,” JARVIS continued more forcefully.

“Come on, Steve, come on. Almost there, babe,” Tony pleaded.  “Don’t you fucking leave me like this, Rogers!”

“They will fire in three, two—“ JARVIS began.

“Charlie lock,” he heard Steve say as he inserted the targeting blade into the port.

“JARVIS?” Tony asked.

“Confirmed,” JARVIS replied.

Tony shot into the air.

Chapter Text

“Okay, Cap, get out of there,” Hill said over the comm.

On the HUD, he could see Steve turn, collapsing heavily, as red stains fanned out where his fingers clutched his stomach. Tony knew what he was going to say before he said it.  “Goddammit, Steve!  Don’t you do this to me,” Tony pleaded.

“Fire now!” Steve ordered.

“But Steve—“ Hill objected.

“Do it! Do it now!” Steve shouted, pulling himself up as Hill entered the command, each helicarrier targeting another.  The surveillance hub shuddered from multiple impacts, glass flying, fire and smoke temporarily blinding the camera feed.

“Get out of there, for God’s sake, Steve, please, please go—“ Tony implored, desperation making his voice thick and hoarse.

“I’m on my way, Tony. Could use a lift if you’re not too busy,” Steve panted, pain making his words stilted and heavy.

 “JARVIS, put everything into the thrusters,” Tony ordered.  “Get topside, if you can.  That whole area is unstable.  Bravo carrier is in position to hit the underside.  Just get out.  I’m almost there. I’ll find you, just get out,” Tony promised, watching the distance between him and Steve rapidly close on the HUD’s screen.  Not much longer.  He could make it.  Grab Steve off the helicarrier and just keep on flying his spangly ass to some tropical destination with drinks in hollowed-out pineapples with little paper umbrellas in them.

A moment later, the feed cleared enough for him to see a large explosion rip a gaping hole in the surveillance hub, causing part of the structure to collapse, pinning Barnes underneath. Well, that’s gonna put a wrinkle in his tropical island getaway plans.

 “Tony—Bucky, he’s…” Steve started.

“Don’t. Just don’t, Steve.  Get out of there.  The whole fucking thing is about to be blown to pieces.  Jesus, fuck, look, one of those things just went into the Potomac.  There is no time. None, Steve.  We’ll fish him out later.  He survived the fall before.  He survived cryo.  He’ll be fine.  You. Get. Out. Of. There,” Tony demanded. 

“I can’t just leave him, Tony. I can’t.  I’m sorry.  I have to—I have to try,” Steve said through gasping breaths. 

“Steve, please. I’m not…I’m not close enough damn it, they’re going to blast that whole area before I make it.  Please, please, I’m begging you,  just get out of there,” Tony begged, but he knew, of course he knew, that Steve wasn’t going to leave Barnes trapped there.  He watched on the HUD as Steve stumbled across the surveillance dome, trying to keep upright, clutching his stomach, barely able to hold onto the shield with his injured arm.

“Stark? We’ve got a chopper in the air,” Nat’s voice interrupted. 

“Fabulous. When you’re done with the sightseeing tour, will you please grab the idiot in the red, white and blue???” Tony said, voice raising with each word until he was probably shouting at her rather unfairly, but whatever. She’d help put Steve there, so she wasn’t exactly his best friend right now. 

“Yeah, Hill’s trying to get a location on him. As soon as we---wait, what floor?—Wilson’s in trouble, Tony, we gotta go.  We’ll try for Cap as soon as we have Sam,” Nat cut off. 

“I didn’t know there was a number system, Jesus Nat, it’s Cap—“ Tony stuttered.

“Who would want us to save Wilson, the nice regular guy who volunteered to help, come on, Tony,” Widow countered. “There-there-I see him…” she shouted to someone, probably Fury. 

On the HUD, he could see Steve reach Barnes, the solid metal beam effectively pinning him in place. Steve dropped the shield and bent over, wrapping his arms underneath, you know the ones that Barnes had shot.  And stabbed.  Let’s not forget that.  Steve lifted, strain evident on his face as he heaved the beam up high enough for Barnes to scoot out.

“You know me,” Steve told Barnes. And the ungrateful sonofabitch actually hit him.  Almost-promise or no, Tony was definitely shooting Frosty when he got there. He might get couch duty for a week, but it would be worth it.  He’d even put up with Barton’s wisecracks about it.

“Bucky. You’ve known me your whole life,” Steve tried, still leaning over, hand clamped to his stomach, voice low and tight with pain.  Of course, that didn’t mean he was going to give up.  Because God knew, his stupid boyfriend was as stubborn as anyone he’d ever met, including himself, which was saying something.

“Steve, he doesn’t. He doesn’t know you, will you just fucking forget it and—“ Tony beseeched.  “Oh, fuck me, you did not, you giant asshole!” Tony screamed as Barnes knocked Steve backwards with the metal arm.

“Your name…is James. Buchanan. Barnes,” Steve tried, as he pulled himself to a standing position again, breathing heavily from the exertion. Barnes screamed something at him that Tony couldn’t make out, fist flying at Steve again, but at least this time, Steve blocked it with the shield.  He was still knocked off his feet again, but, of course, got right back up, skinny idiot in an alley refusing to call it a day.

“Steve, Steve, please, he doesn’t. He’s gonna kill you.  Please, Steve.  Please, I’m begging you, please, just—aw, no.  Steve, no baby, please, don’t do this,” Tony breathed out as Steve stood, weaving on his feet and removed the cowl.

“I’m not going to fight you,” he heard Steve say.

“Yeah, the friend that’s trying to kill you!” Tony shouted uselessly because the earpiece had been connected to the cowl and Steve obviously didn’t want to hear anything further from Tony on the subject of whether he lived or died.

“You’re my friend,” Steve said resignedly, as he dropped the shield, sending it plummeting into the water below.

“Time, JARVIS?” Tony asked through gritted teeth. The idiot.  The fucking heroic idiot asshole. 

“Two minutes and eighteen seconds until you reach your destination, Sir,” JARVIS responded.

Tony could only watch the scene unfold on the HUD, utterly helpless, as Barnes tackled Steve, knocking him backwards and landing heavily on top of him. Tony’s gut clenched at how much that had to hurt Steve’s stomach where there was a bullet still lodged somewhere near some fairly vital things, serum or not. Barnes started pounding away, brutal now, enraged, Steve as his own personal punching bag of issues.

As Steve just lay there and took it, vicious hit after hit, Tony had to close his eyes. There was a sound echoing through the helmet, but he didn’t recognize it, something inhuman, something wounded and fighting and dying, something low and wretched and keening with pain and rage and desperation, and Steve, Steve was just laying there, not doing anything to stop Barnes, not even trying, Godfuckingdammit, why won’t you try, at least for me, just try, just try, just try, he could hear the words swirling around and realized he’d been chanting them out loud like a prayer when suddenly Barnes stopped, metal arm poised for another strike. 

“Then finish it,” Steve gasped, blood seeping from his mouth. “Cause I’m with you…till the end of the line,” he choked out, and then lay his head back, accepting whatever it was Barnes wanted to do.

“No, Steve, no, please. Please don’t do this.  Don’t you do this to me, please, God, do something, just—“ Tony cried as his vision blurred, and there was no air, he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t see, it was dark and dusty and there was a damp smell filling his nostrils, and there was something deep down inside, splitting open and he was pouring out of it and there was nothing left, and he couldn’t just leave Yinsen there, he was bleeding, he had to save him, get him back to his family, he’d built the suit, after all, he had a plan, he couldn’t just--The next thing Tony knew, the whole structure collapsed out from under both of them.  Barnes was able to grab onto part of it with his fancy arm, but Steve had no such purchase.  As the hub collapsed underneath him, he fell, straight down, into the dark water below.

Notdrowningpleasenotdrowning, was his next coherent thought.  “STEVE!!!” Tony shrieked, realizing his arms had reached out as if to catch him however many miles away, but could only watch helpless as Steve plummeted to the water, hitting the surface hard and disappearing beneath.  From that height, Tony knew, hitting water like that would be like hitting concrete, the impact enough to shatter bones, to break, to crush, to destroy.

“JARVIS, track him!” Tony shouted.

“Done, Sir,” JARVIS responded. “I’ve adjusted your flight path.  One minute to destination.”

How much water would flood the lungs in one minute? Steve wasn’t conscious, he wasn’t holding his breath, he was drowning.  Right now.  Steve was drowning.  And Tony was completely useless.

“Sir, I’m afraid I am reading another signature at Captain Rogers’ approximate location,” JARVIS said.

“Another—wait, you have got to be fucking kidding me? Okay, well, actually, that’s fine, that’s totally fine because now I get to kill him and don’t even have to sleep on the sofa, so its fine, it’s gonna be fine, just fucking get me there and I’ll show him what a metal arm can do, see how he fucking likes it—“ Tony declared, his whole body thrumming with rage and finally, finally, something, something he could hit, someplace to direct it, and Steve, when he was nice and comfy and safe and whole, couldn’t even be mad because the guy was coming after him when he was drowning like the fucking terminator or some shit and that—

“Sir, Captain Rogers’ location is moving,” JARVIS informed him.

“Excuse me? Nat and Fury finally show or did they take Wings for an ice cream?” Tony asked.

“No, Sir. I only show one additional heat signature other than Captain Rogers, but both are moving towards the shore,” JARVIS replied.

“Shore? Like…the shore?” Tony repeated stupidly. 

“Indeed, Sir, I’m adjusting your flight path,” JARVIS responded. Well, that was…that was…was Barnes kidnapping him or something?  Trying to take Steve for Hydra?  Yeah, well, we’ll just see about that, Tony thought checking his remaining time. All the more excuses to use to kill you, my dear.

“Twelve seconds, Sir,” JARVIS said helpfully.

By now, even at his speed, he could see the smoke plume filling the sky, inking out the sun where the Triskelion had once stood, much of it now a smoldering ruin. Huge chunks of helicarrier floated in the river, sticking out like fins on some technological sea monster’s back.  Shore, shore, shore, Tony chanted in his head, searching the riverbank.  JARVIS said shore…

He scanned the shoreline as the suit actually did the work for him, finally finding Steve, lying face up along the river’s edge. To his surprise, Barnes was walking off, leaving Steve there.  He landed solidly next to Steve, kneeling and flipping up the faceplate and running his hands over Steve’s chest to check his breathing while JARVIS ran his own check on Steve’s vitals.  “Steve!  Steve, answer me, come on, babe, please,” Tony begged, noting at least the stuttered rise and fall of Steve’s chest, but each breath crackled in his chest, rapid and hollow and there was a small trickle of blood seeping from his lips, not to mention the growing stain on the front of his uniform and down both arms and coating his thigh. Jesus fucking Christ.  “JARVIS!?!” Tony shouted.

“His blood pressure and heart rate are abnormally low. His breathing is rapid and shallow, indicating a possible collapsed lung.  I’m noting numerous broken bones, contusion, a likely concussion and the bullets remain lodged in his abdomen and leg.  I suggest a hospital emergency room as soon as possible,” JARVIS responded, but Tony had already flipped the faceplate down and slid his arms underneath Steve’s body, cradling him to his chest, wishing Steve was awake enough to rake him over the coals for that one.  He shifted one arm under Steve’s torso and the other under his knees, earning a low moan from Steve as he did. 

“I’m here, baby. It’s me, it’s okay.  I’ve got you.  Stay with me, Steve.  We’re going to the hospital.  Just a few more minutes, okay?  Just hang in there,” Tony pleaded, trying for reassuring, but he was probably edging a lot closer to panic than he wanted to admit.  He lifted off, taking to the sky as JARVIS programmed the suit for the nearest emergency room.  “Better give them a head’s up,” Tony suggested to the AI. 

“I’ve already alerted a “Brittany” at the admissions desk that you will be arriving shortly and have given her a brief synopsis of Captain Rogers’ injuries. Brittany would like you to know she is a huge fan,” JARVIS replied stoically. 

“Wonderful. I’m touched.  Send them enough of Steve’s medical records for them to have an idea about what they’re dealing with.  I’ll…God. Fuck.  I’ll handle the rest of it,” Tony said wearily, wrapping his hands tighter around Steve.  This was going to be bad.  Very, very bad.  “And let Fury and the two Musketeers know where we’re headed.”

Long seconds later, Tony landed outside the emergency room of George Washington University Hospital. There was a team of doctors and nurses waiting for them next to a gurney, thank you ‘Brittany.’   He placed Steve carefully on the gurney, stepping back out of the way as two of the nurses pushed it through the double doors of the emergency room entrance.  Tony followed behind, metal feet clanging loudly on the tile floor, head’s turning in the waiting room as people started to pull out their phones.  “I need to speak to the doctor and anesthesiologist,” Tony said wearily.

“I’m Dr. Williams, the trauma surgeon on call. Give me a moment and I’ll get Dr. Lee, our anesthesiologist, down here,” the white-coated man told Tony.  “I’ve just started looking at the records your…computer…sent over.  This is…highly irregular.  Of course, I’m honored to help,” he rushed out at Tony’s sharp look.  “I mean…it’s Captain America.  We all want him to have the best care,” the doctor soothed.  “What can you tell me about what happened?” he asked as another man, Dr. Lee according to his nametag, joined them.

“He—“ Tony started and then had to stop, breath catching in his throat, which had suddenly gone dry and too tight to swallow as a sob forced its way out.

“Sir? Mr. Stark, are you alright?” the doctor asked, not unkindly.

“I—yeah. I—just give me…give me a second here.  Okay.  Okay.  I’m okay,” Tony repeated, taking a deep, shuddering breath.  “He fell.  I don’t know, maybe…a thousand feet?  More.  I don’t…I wasn’t measuring.  I should’ve measured.  Ah, JARVIS might…” Tony struggled, his mind flashing to Steve falling, falling, the water rushing up, cold and hard and dark and…

“It’s okay if you don’t know the details, just tell us what you can,” the doctor said. “He fell from a significant height.  Okay.  We’ve got him in x-ray now, so we’ll see what damage—“

“He was shot. Ah…once in the back.  That slug is still in there.  And the one in the leg.  Um, thigh.  Upper thigh.  And a bullet wound on his right shoulder.  I don’t know if that one came out or not.  And a stab wound.  Deep.  Um, probably eight inch knife.  And there was…he was in a fight.  He was…ah, fuck…his head.  He was hit…with uh, something hard. Metal.  Multiple times.  He—he might have a collapsed lung.  Or lungs.  And a concussion.  And—“ and that was really all Tony could say, each word more painful than the last and the sheer magnitude of it, putting words to it, it was just too much, not while the two doctors were staring at him sympathetically, mouths slightly agape in disbelief, and it probably wasn’t a good sign when they shared a long look between them. 

“Okay, well. Ah—we’ll just see what the scans show us and go from there,” Dr. Williams said, actually patting Tony on the shoulder. 

“You can’t,” Tony stated. “I mean, you can.  But.  The scans…they’re not going to do you much good once you get him in there.  He’s…the serum, see.  His body is going to be healing itself, and that’s good.  You need to let that happen.  Most of the damage, the serum can take care of on its own.  But…you’ve got to get the bullets out.”

“Of course, Mr. Stark. And we will.  If you’d like to wait in a private room, we can arrange—“ Dr. Williams started to offer.

“And…that’s why I need to talk to Dr. Lee,” Tony said, nodding in the other doctor’s direction, trying desperately to maintain his composure as he explained. This was important.  Steve needed him to deal with this.  This was for Steve.  Focus on helping Steve. 

“The serum causes him to metabolize things much, much faster than what you’re used to,” Tony informed them, giving those words a few moments to sink in. “You can give him the anesthesia, but you can’t give him enough to keep him knocked out long enough for the doctor here to dig those bullets out.  Which is why you need me to go in there with you.  If he wakes up while you’re getting the bullets out…he could hurt himself or you or someone else.  He won’t mean to, but…” Tony shook his head. “I’ll keep him still.  You’re just going to have to be fast.  Very fast.  I really can’t emphasize that enough.”

“Mr. Stark, I’m afraid you can’t just come into an operating room. I could lose my license.  There are protocols and regulations, and…” Dr. Williams objected.

“I’d like to see you try to stop me,” Tony declared harshly, then scrubbed a hand over his face in frustration.   These people weren’t his enemies, he knew that.  They just had no idea what they were dealing with.  “Look, he can’t get an infection.  I’m not going to interfere with what you need to do.  But if I’m not there and he wakes up while you’re poking around in his stomach, that is not going to go well. For anyone. That’s Captain Fucking America in there, and I’m not going to sit out here while you screw this up or, God forbid, he accidentally does something in there that will literally destroy him, so just no.  I’m coming in there, and if you want to call security or whatever, please, by all means.  I’ve been dying to repulsor freaking someone, anyone, since yesterday, and I hate waiting.”

The two doctors exchanged a look, and Dr. Williams finally nodded.  “Alright.  I guess…well, this is highly irregular.  But…it’s Captain America.  I think he’s worth a few exceptions.  If the hospital objects…well,” Dr.  Williams shrugged.

“I’ll write a big, fat check,” Tony promised. “Be the doctors that save Captain America, and I’ll bet they let it slide,” Tony suggested.

“Alright, Mr. Stark. Let me check on his status.  I’ll meet you both in the operating room,” Dr. Williams said. 

Tony turned to the anesthesiologist. “My AI sent you the best mixture and intervals for administration based on what I know about the serum and how fast his metabolism is going to get it out of his system,” Tony told Dr. Lee.  “It won’t keep him under for very long, but it’s should give Dr. Williams a window.”  Dr. Lee nodded, looking at the data JARVIS had provided on his tablet.

“This….it’s a bit outside the norm, Mr. Stark. Are you sure about these numbers?” Dr. Lee warned as he looked over the figures. 

“I did the math myself. This is the best way,” Tony replied.  Dr. Lee gave him a long look, probably wondering at what kind of person runs the numbers on how best to administer anesthesia to keep his friend under for as long as possible. Yeah, this is my life, Tony thought. Not exactly sitting around doing Sudoko, here. Deal with it.  He felt the raised eyebrow communicated that effectively, since Dr. Lee turned to head back through the restricted access doors to the surgical suites.

The footfalls of Tony’s suit echoed loudly on the linoleum as he followed behind Dr. Lee. Inside the operating room, a team of doctors and nurses was studying x-rays and scans on a bright wall next to Steve’s prone form lying on a silver metal operating table.  There was a breathing mask obscuring his face, IV running desperately needed blood into his veins, another IV line for fluids and an anesthesia line running alongside, emptying into a port in Steve’s arm.  Tony watched from behind the glass as Dr. Williams and his team prepped, scrubbing hands unnecessarily, but probably not worth arguing about.  When they had positioned themselves inside, a circle of masked faces around Steve, Tony pushed through the door to the surgical room, heads swiveling in his direction as he stomped in the suit over the end of the table, above Steve’s head, and rolled a stool over to sit on. 

“Okay. You have to do this fast.  Just get the bullets out.  Leave him to me,” Tony reminded them, voice dull and flat.  He didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to see this, didn’t want to be a part of this.  He wanted to comfort and soothe and protect and love and here he was, clamping metal hands around Steve’s arms, pinning them across his chest, clenching tight enough to add yet more bruises.  He ignored the rest of the room for a moment and lowered his forehead to press against Steve’s.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered against Steve’s ear, then lifted his head and nodded at the surgeon, his scalpel poised over Steve’s stomach.  Tony watched the red line appear, trailing behind the silver scalpel as the doctor cut through Steve’s flesh.

“Faster,” Tony urged, watching the skin along the initial cut redden, pucker and swell together, already starting to heal.

“Jesus,” he heard the doctor breath out from behind the mask, giving Tony a sharp look.

“Faster,” Tony repeated. Thankfully, the doctor took his suggestion, spreading skin apart and probing deep, a moment later reaching for the surgical tongs offered by the nurse and them inside Steve to pull out the bullet.

“It’s fragmented,” Dr. Williams said softly. “Going to take a bit longer than I’d hoped,” he said, without looking up from his task.

Tony gripped Steve’s arms tighter, some strange bastardization of an embrace. The doctor pulled something out and it clanked loudly in the silver tray when he dropped it before returning to dig for another piece.  Tony’s breath hitched the moment he felt something ripple beneath his gauntleted hands.  He tensed, waiting for a reaction, and then let out a long breath when nothing happened.  Of course, that was when Steve’s fists clenched, arms shifting and tightening.  His mouth opened beneath the oxygen mask, and Tony watched his eyelashes flutter and then there were blue eyes, unfocused, but opening, and shit, shit, shit…Tony stood, kicking the stool out of the way and sending it knocking into a tray of gauze and padding, while the entire medical team paused in what they were doing. 

“Keep going,” Tony ordered through gritted teeth, because now Steve’s eyes were definitely opening and Tony could feel the muscles bunching beneath his hands. “Steve?  Steve, it’s Tony.  Steve, hon, don’t panic.  You’re in a hospital. The doctors are working on you.  I’m here.  It’s okay.  Just stay with me, okay?  Just listen to my voice, nothing else, okay?  Just my voice, Steve. I know it hurts.  I know.  God—fuck, look at me, Steve.  Can you see me?  I’m right here.  Just look at me, okay, babe.  Nothing else.  It’s almost over,” Tony lied.  “Just look at me and listen to my voice, okay?  Can you do that?  Come on, soldier,” Tony grimaced as Steve started to struggle more in earnest and he had to apply more pressure, bringing the weight of the suit down to keep Steve still. 

“Fucking finish it,” Tony demanded, staring at the doctor and using his elbows to keep Steve in place.

“Steve? Steve, just listen to my voice, okay, only my voice.  They’re helping.  They’re getting the bullets out.  You don’t want to fight, you’re going to hurt yourself.  Or someone else.  And I know you don’t want to do that.  I know it hurts, baby, I know,” Tony said, lowering his head to Steve’s chest, voice harsh and ragged.  “I know.  I know, but just a little longer, okay.  They’re almost done.  You’re going to be okay, I swear.  Just hold on for me a little longer.  Come on, Steve, please,” Tony begged as Steve started to shift on the table. 

“I’m done with this one,” Dr. Williams said as he placed another piece of bullet into the oblong tray. “Moving onto the leg,” he said with no small amount of trepidation.   Tony watched them adjust the light and move aside the blue surgical sheet, the flash of silver as a new scalpel was placed in Dr. Williams’ hands.  He turned back to Steve when he heard him emit a sharp, hissing gasp, blinking open eyes dazed with pain and confusion.  Steve tried to form some sound, but it came out a thick, low groan.

“I know, Steve, I know. Almost done. One more, okay?  We’re almost done.  Squeeze my hand if you need to, okay—Jesus, fuck, someone get me something for his mouth!” Tony shouted when blood started to drip from Steve’s mouth past the oxygen mask and down his jaw where he’d bitten his tongue.  Someone handed him something solid and rubbery, and he moved the mask out of the way to shove it between Steve’s teeth, preventing further injury.  As soon as he’d released Steve’s arm to do that, he’d moved it to grab at the IV lines, knocking over the stands and pulling the leads from the ports in his arm.  “Aw, shit,” Tony shouted, grabbing Steve’s arm again and pushing it back to press against Steve’s chest, holding it in place with more strength than he would’ve liked.  He heard Steve moan, starting to move and thrash in earnest now. 

“Almost done, Steve. Almost done.  Almost, I swear, almost over,” Tony chanted, not sure whether he was talking to himself or Steve or both.  He looked to the surgeon for confirmation and got a quick nod as he pulled the bullet from Steve’s thigh, this one thankfully intact.

“Bandage it and get out,” Tony ordered. “Let the serum take care of the rest.”  He breathed a long sigh of relief. 

“It’s done, Steve. It’s over.  God, fuck.  It’s over.  Okay.  You’re okay.  It’s over, Steve, they’re done, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s over now, it’s okay, it’s over,” Tony stammered.  He probably would’ve just kept right on with that litany, but one of the nurses placed a light hand over his metal one where it gripped Steve’s arm and that was enough to snap him out of it.  He slowly eased back on the pressure to Steve’s arms, making sure he wasn’t going to suddenly balk, before releasing them entirely, just keeping his arms draped over Steve’s shoulders, hands lying over Steve’s own while they bandaged him and replaced the IV with the transfusion. Steve was looking up at him, eyes still somewhat unfocused, dull with pain and exhaustion.

“T-tonnnn…” Steve managed.

“I’m here, babe. I’m right here. It’s okay, I’ve got you.  They’re all done, it’s fine, it’s over, I’ve got you, you’re okay,” Tony mumbled, voice raw and scraping as he shed the armor, finally able to feel Steve’s skin warm beneath his.  He entwined his hands with Steve’s, clasping them in a real embrace now instead of the mockery of earlier.  “I’ve got you,” Tony said it as a vow. 

The medical team was cleaning up, moving trays and bagging waste. Someone was tapping at a monitor.  A nurse was swiping through various records on her tablet.  Dr. Lee had unhooked the IV that had been attempting to deliver the anesthesia.  “Something for pain?” the doctor asked.

“Won’t help,” Tony sighed and the doctor grimaced, but nodded, moving various machines aside. Dr. Williams checked the bandages and appeared satisfied before also nodding silently to Tony and shooing everyone out of the room as quickly as possible.

“We’ll move him to a private room in a few minutes. If you need anything, hit the call button,” the doctor said, snapping off his gloves and discarding them in the bin.  He stopped with one hand on the surgery’s door.  “I saw a bit of the news.  Tell him…well.  Tell him we all said thank you. For his service.  And…thank you as well, Mr. Stark.”

Tony just nodded in reply, some damnable lump in his throat preventing him from speaking. A terrible tragedy for all, he was sure.

 “Howwedo?’ Steve slurred beneath him.

“Same as always,” Tony answered.

“Tha bad, huh?” Steve asked thickly.

“Quit quoting Jedi and pass out, you idiot,” Tony said, finally releasing a small huff of a laugh that quickly turned into chocking sobs as he buried his head against Steve’s neck. “Don’t you fucking do this to me again.  Ever, Steve. Ever.  I swear—I can’t---this—“ Tony stuttered as gasping sobs wracked his body, hunching him over and leaving him gripping the rails on the side of the table for purchase.  “I can’t, Steve.  I can’t do this.  I can’t lose you.  Ask me for anything and you know I’ll give it to you, but not this.  I can’t watch you die.  Not for him.  Not for—not for whatever it is you’re trying to cling to, God dammit, Steve, it isn’t worth it!  This isn’t worth it and I can’t—I won’t watch you kill yourself because you couldn’t save him, some stupid penance bullshit, I won’t, so you just have to stop, you have to promise me, you’ll stop, because I can’t do this, Steve, not without you, I love you so fucking much, and I can’t do this on my own anymore and that’s your fucking fault anyway, so, it’s me on the line, too, wherever it ends, I’m there, too, so—“

“Love, too, love Tttonnn—“ Steve managed, voice garbled and heavy, choking and coughing a little as the air didn’t want to go in and out of his lungs properly yet. “More ‘portan.” Steve reached up a hand and patted Tony’s head.  He may have been aiming for his cheek, who the hell knew.  “Gonna sleep,” Steve mumbled blearily, breathing out a long sigh. 

“Okay. Okay, yeah. You do that.  Sleep.  That’s good,” Tony nodded, feeling a bit like he’d been handed some prize in a contest he had no idea he’d entered in a subject that he wasn’t familiar with.  Two nurses came in a few minutes later and moved Steve from the operating table to a wheeled gurney, then pushed him down the hall and up the elevator to a private room.  Tony followed, gripping one of the bedrails as he went, finally realizing he’d squeezed it into uselessness when one of the nurses cleared her throat rather pointedly. 

Natasha was waiting outside the room as they wheeled Steve through the doors, leaning against the wall, looking not particularly worse for the wear.

“Well, well. If it isn’t Mata Hari herself,” Tony said in greeting, forcing himself to release the bed for them to get Steve into the room and moved from the gurney to the waiting bed.

“Guess that wasn’t his first kiss since 1945,” she said with a small smile. “I did tell him he should practice, so you probably owe me  How is he?” she asked softly.

“Healing,” Tony groused, still rather annoyed with…well, everyone. She nodded.

“This isn’t over, you know,” she said.

“I know,” Tony said wearily, running a hand over his face and scraping it through his hair. He must not have done himself any favors by Natasha’s smirk. 

“We’ve got agents in the field who have had their covers blown…My name’s out there,” she admitted, looking away. “Lots of things are out there.”

“So why are you here?” Tony asked.

Natasha paused before answering. “He’s a friend,” she said simply.  Tony studied her and finally nodded in reply.  “Want me to sit with him?” she asked.  That was about the last thing he wanted, actually.  He wanted to curl around Steve, place his hand over his heart and feel the steady pulse beat beneath, count the breaths as they lifted from his chest, watch the skin and bones repair until Steve was whole and safe again.  But at the end of the day, there was still a job to do.

“Okay. Fine.  Sure.  He’s gonna be starving when he wakes up and fuck, he gets grumpy when he’s hungry, fair warning,” Tony said, rather unhappily. 

“I have Jello,” Natasha smiled.

“Well, God forbid you get the red and blue varieties and a can of whip cream and make a few suggestions,” Tony groused, earning him a raised eyebrow. “Just as a head’s up.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Natasha replied evenly and turned to head into Steve’s room.

 “Tell him I’ll be back soon.  And that drug-induced promises totally count,” Tony said loudly after her.

He retrieved the armor and felt it settle around his body once again. “JARVIS, time for a treasure hunt,” he instructed.

“I’ve located what I believe to be a rather unique metal substance at the bottom of the Potomac River. I’m sending you the coordinates now,” JARVIS replied.

When he got back to the hospital, Steve’s giant dinner plate in tow, he heard Marvin Gaye echoing into the hallway before he reached Steve’s room. Sounded like like Ludwig Von Drake finally showed.  He heard Steve murmur something to Wilson as he stepped into the room. Wilson cast a glance over his shoulder, looking at Tony in question.  Tony held up the shield by way of answer. 

“Catch you later, man,” Wilson said, rising out of the very uncomfortable looking plastic chair. Tony would have to have something more suitable delivered. Wilson sidled past him with a nod before heading out of the room, leaving Tony alone with Steve. 

“You were gone,” Steve stated, angling his head to the side to find Tony.

“Fished your big, metal binky out of the river,” Tony answered, placing the shield down by the hospital bed.

“Thought you were my big, metal binky,” Steve replied, raising an eyebrow. Tony grinned, and looked down and away so Steve couldn’t see the warmth that lit his face as the image of Steve cuddled around Tony in the suit popped into his head.  God, he was so gone for this idiot, it wasn’t even funny. 

“How you feeling?” Tony asked, looking him over and noting that at least his color was coming back. Someone had stitched up the cut on his chin where Barnes’ metal fist had broken Steve’s jaw. 

“Tired. Hungry.  Like I got stabbed and shot and my ass kicked.  So, you know, must be a Tuesday,” Steve responded evenly, but sounding worn out. 

Tony huffed out a laugh as he sat down in the, yep, really uncomfortable seat. He turned his body toward Steve’s, reaching up, both hands finding Steve’s and wrapping around, clinging, as Tony lowered his head to the bed, rolling his forehead against the cool sheet of the mattress.  “Sleep,” Tony ordered.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Promise?” Steve asked foggily, eyes already closed again. The serum healed wounds quickly, but demanded a sacrifice, taking its toll on Steve even as it worked to make him well. 

“My kingdom for a barco-lounger, but no, I’m not going anywhere. Promise,” Tony declared, sitting up and leaning back, but not releasing Steve’s hand. 

“Up here,” Steve whispered softly, shifting slightly to give a bit more room on the small bed. That was obviously a terrible idea, Tony thought as he lowered the bedrail and moved aside the pulse monitor wire that was attached to Steve’s finger so he could slide in alongside Steve, molding his body to Steve’s side.  He placed a hand gingerly over Steve’s chest, careful to avoid the bandage covering his stomach.  Soon, he felt Steve’s larger hand cover his, holding it in place, a weird inverse of the scene in the operating room. 

“If you take a selfie, we’re gonna have words,” Steve mumbled into his hair as he drifted off. Tony smiled, burrowing his head further into Steve’s side, and reluctantly put his phone down.

A week later, Steve was almost fully healed and out of the hospital. They’d taken shifts staying with him in the hospital.  He had to admit, Wilson actually wasn’t so bad once he stopped palling around with Steve and flying him places.  Tony and Nat bonded over their mutual dislike of politicians who thought they knew more than they really did.  Steve congratulated Nat on not using the term “ass-clown” or some variation during her Senate inquiry.  Tony had to admit, considering the company, that was quite the accomplishment.   Once Steve was released, he and Wilson were to meet Fury at the cemetery in either a fit of pique or total narcissism, Tony couldn’t decide.  Who plotted over their own grave?  Tony didn’t believe in bad omens, but you might as well walk under a ladder, holding a black cat in one hand and broker mirror in the other while trailing a line of salt behind you.  Push the universe too hard, and it started pushing back, was all he was saying. 

Tony watched through what he felt were very stylish sunshades, no matter what Steve said, as Steve and Wilson talk to Fury, then Natasha near Fury’s “grave.” And who put a Pulp Fiction quote on their tombstone anyway?  Kill Bill, maybe, but this wasn’t the 90’s.  Nat handed Steve a folder, presumably some Russian mumbo-jumbo on Freezer Burn himself.  She also told Steve he should ask out Peggy’s niece.  Steve, to his credit, called her bluff, reminding her that Spy Barbie wasn’t a nurse and feigning ignorance asking her name.  Of course, Nat didn’t mention the Carter part of that name.  We’re apparently still playing this then, Tony thought, since he hadn’t actually got around to telling Steve that Nat totally knew about the two of them.  He stuck his tongue out at Natasha as she spared a glance over Steve’s shoulder where Tony nonchalantly leaned against a tree.  He was mature like that.  Nat pecked Steve’s cheek and sauntered off, leaving a warning in her wake.  Yeah, because telling him not to do something always worked so well with Steve.

After she walked off, Steve held the folder tightly in his hands, staring down at it intently. Wilson stepped up next to Steve.  “You’re going after him,” Wilson stated.

“You don’t have to come with me,” Steve replied.

“I know,” Wilson said firmly. “When do we start?”

“I—actually, I need a few days. Maybe three?  I have to go to New York,” Steve answered, looking up and over his shoulder at Wilson. 

“You—what?” Wilson asked in surprise. “Something in New York more important than finding your long-lost friend?”

“Yep,” Steve said simply. “There is,” he replied, turning around fully now as Tony pushed himself away from the tree and started to walk over.  The Iron Man armor, hovering above, suddenly shot down and landed between Wilson and Fury’s grave, making him jump a good three feet.  Eh, that really didn’t get old.  The helmet turned, eyes boring into Wilson where he stood, mouth agape, hand over his heart in startle.  Tony came up from behind him, stepping between him and where the armor stood sentry, and clapped Wilson on the shoulder in an almost friendly pat. 

“On your left,” Tony said, brushing past Wilson and slotting himself into Steve’s arms.

Wilson stared at them for a long moment, slightly abashed, then threw his hands in the air with a “Whatever, man, just come up for air long enough to build me some new wings,” as he walked off, shaking his head. The guy was really growing on him.

“Very subtle. With the armor and all,” Steve intoned with a smirk.  “Wow, you’re flying suit is definitely…do you want me to say bigger here or should I try for some kind of euphemism?”

“Bigger. Better.  More powerful.  Far more impressive.  In every possible way.  Whatever you feel comfortable with, really,” Tony agreed amiably, wrapping his arms around Steve’s back and pressing his mouth to the underside of Steve’s jaw.  Steve leaned down and brushed his lips across Tony’s. 

“Look…I should probably tell you, before we head back, though I can’t believe I’m actually saying this and see? See what you’ve done to me?  I’m becoming a freaking better person and it’s fucking annoying is what it is, Rogers.  Not to mention this whole Jiminy Cricket routine is like the world’s biggest cockblock, I’m just saying--”

“Tony?” Steve prodded.

“Right, well, I should probably tell you that JARVIS kept running the facial recognition scan for your boy Barnes and turns out, he got a hit. At the Smithsonian.  The Captain America exhibit.  Showed up and got in line just like Joe Tourist.  He—he did save you.  I mean, after he nearly killed you, let’s not forget that part, because that?  Is an important part to remember.  But…okay, he did jump in and save you, even though I would’ve totally been there in hardly any time, but it isn’t like I’m saying that doesn’t count, just because it was largely pointless, I mean, as a gesture, I guess, it counts.  A bit maybe, I mean, let’s not give the guy a gold star just yet—“

“He went to the museum? To the exhibition?” Steve questioned, and fuck, it shouldn’t hurt so much to see that hopefulness show up in the lilt of his voice.  “He remembers.  Or he’s trying to.”

“Maybe. Or he’s just gathering intel to better hunt you down and kill you with.  Tough call,” Tony replied. 

“He’s not. It—no.  No, he remembered, Tony, I know he did,” Steve continued, refusing to be swayed. 

“Yeah, okay. Maybe,” Tony offered, then held up his hand in surrender at Steve’s stern expression.  “Okay, probably.  I’m just saying, don’t rush into things.  Say he remembers…great, but what now?  He still has years of shit to deal with, Steve.  I’m not saying don’t go, you know I’m not saying that, but…I know how badly you want this and…don’t let that cloud your judgment.  Again.  You know.  Like before.  How you just left the hospital.  That?  Think hard.  It’ll come to you,” Tony reminded him.

“I remember, Tony. I’m not going to rush in with a bunch of expectations, I promise.  You know I have to try,” Steve started, cutting off whatever Tony was going to interject with a quick kiss.  “Bucky….he was my best friend.  So much of my past is him and me, and I can’t turn my back on that, not when he needs me most.  I can’t, Tony.”

“Not asking you to. I know that because I have spent the last week resolutely not asking you to do that.  And see?  This is me, still not asking you to do that, all supportive boyfriend and crap,” Tony muttered. 

“I know. And you are.  Being supportive.  I do appreciate it, Tony, really.  I know this isn’t easy.  He’s—Bucky, he’s important to me.  If I can help him, then I have to do that.  He’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Steve said.  “But Tony, you’re my future.  You.  I told you that you were more important.  And I’m always honest,” Steve said, pulling away enough to look down at Tony, holding his gaze.  “I said I was with him to the end of the line, and I meant it.  Whatever that is, I’m in it, and I’ll do everything I can to get him back, to help him remember who he is, get past what has been done to him.  I owe him that much, at least.  But then…if I can’t do anything more for him or if he needs to walk away, then that’s what happens.  I’ll hate it, but I’ll deal with it.  But…you…Tony…there is no line.  No end.  There is nothing left after you.  When I look at my future, you are all I see.  You said you can’t do this without me.  Well, I can’t do this without you, either, Tony.”

“Steve,” Tony huffed out in a long, drawn-out breath, not sure if it was a plea or benediction. “I—you know I—I love you,“ Tony finally managed.

“I know,” Steve said.

Tony blinked at him, then his mouth twisted into an exasperated grin. “Oh, quit fucking doing Han Solo, Jesus.  We were having a moment.  I show you those movies one time—“

“Five. In—what…three different versions?  And then you bought the copies of the adapted screenplays.  And you read them to me in bed.  And sometimes you did voices.  I was completely non-judgmental,” Steve interrupted.

“Still—“ Tony objected.

“And then you rented out that theater and said we had to watch them in a real theater with real popcorn, even though the one at the Tower is pretty much same size, and then you tried to get those people from IMAX to convert something for you and got all pissed off after your call with SI’s copyright attorney, and then we had lunch with that nice man with the beard and you spent half the time berating him over someone shooting first, and—“ Steve continued, ignoring Tony.

“Fine, fine, whatever. But I’m not putting on some metal suit just to live out some weird fantasy of yours—wait.  Damn.  I totally walked right into that one,” Tony admitted.

“Kinda did,” Steve agreed.

Tony grinned widely. “Three whole days, huh?  What are we going to do with ourselves?” Tony murmured, words breathing into Steve’s mouth. 

“I don’t know about you, but I’d throw myself out of a helicarrier for some shawarma,” Steve replied. Tony startled out a laugh and then groaned and buried his head in Steve’s chest.  “Too soon for helicarrier jokes?”  Steve asked with a slight smile. 

“A tad,” Tony mumbled, gripping his hands into Steve’s leather jacket and giving it a tug, rocking Steve’s body closer to his. “But I could go for some shawarma.  Wait, speaking of euphemisms, we are still—“

“Yes, Tony,” Steve sighed, as Tony’s mouth quirked in amusement at Steve’s blush.

“We are going to have shawarma all over the Tower, so much shawarma, so very, very much—“ Tony crowed.

“I love you, too, you know?” Steve interjected.

“I—yeah. Yeah, I do.  I can hardly believe it sometimes, but I’m taking it,” Tony answered softly.  “I—me, I, too.  I mean, I do, too.  The no line, no end thing.  Me, too.”

Steve leaned down and placed a feathery light kiss on Tony’s forehead. “No line.  No end,” he repeated, as Tony let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. 

“Seriously, I know we’re having this lovely declaration thing going on here, but honestly, all I can think about is the shawarma. I know, I know, I’m deeply disappointed in myself.  Unsurprised, but deeply disappointed,” Tony said, stepping out of Steve’s arms and over to the armor and letting it wrap itself around him, locking into place.

“Let’s go home, Tony,” Steve said. “Hey, if you want, we could even try using the door.  I think I’m getting the hang of them.”

“See, I don’t think you quite have it down yet. I mean, I’ve watched you studiously avoid them for a couple of days now, Steve.  I don’t think you’ve really caught on to how this whole door thing works.  But, don’t worry,” Tony encouraged with a lascivious grin as he wrapped a metal arm around Steve’s waist. 

“I have an idea of how to show you exactly how to use one newfangled door things properly,” Tony promised, lifting into the air and flipping down the faceplate.  “You might need a couple of lessons though.  I’m just saying.  You’re pretty terrible with them.”

Three hours later, Tony had shown Steve how to work the door in the lab, the door in the bedroom and one of the kitchen counters, which was, apparently, also somewhat confusing.

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