Title: Remix #394
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Series: The BAST Chronicles
Series Order: 1
Genre: Fix-It, Time Travel
Relationship: Tony Stark/Bucky Barnes, Howard Stark/Maria Stark
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Canon-level Violence, Canon-level Science, Discussion – Torture, Discussion – Rape
Word Count: 51,082
Summary: After being murdered in a Siberian Bunker by the Defective Soldiers that he trained, Bucky Barnes has a choice. His choice could end the world, or save it.
“До свидания, солдат.”
Bucky jerks awake, hits his head hard, and promptly falls backwards to pant confusedly up at the bulkhead.
“Well, that ain’t no good.”
He turns his head to see a girl sitting to the side popping bubblegum. She’s cute, cheerleader-ish, with brown hair and eyes. A bright, happy, multi-colored shirt under brown overalls. Coveralls, sort of? But sleeveless? He doesn’t even know what you even call.. that.
“My dream?” He asks hesitantly.
“Oh, that weren’t no dream. That were real. But that ain’t what I wanted to happen.”
He can’t say he feels any differently. Dying was definitely not on his to do list for the day. “What was supposed to happen?”
“Well, Zemo was supposed to shoot the baby Winter Soldiers in their cryostasis, not wake ‘em up. But, I mean, ideal, this wouldda been headed off years ago. Cause ole Stevie wouldda acted like a gorram grown up and told his strongest ally what he suspected ‘bout his parents deaths. It ain’t like he had solid proof or nothing, just rumors and a theory. No matter how mad he was Tony wouldda never killed someone without no proof. And in lookin’ for that proof they wouldda found Hydra and you. And the twins. And some other allies that they desperate needed. The Avengers wouldda been ready for what’s comin’ next.”
“But now they’re all dead.” He says as he tries to follow the theoretical ripples of the Stevie Being A Grown-up Plan. No Ultron. No Sokovia. No UN Bombing. King T’Chaka alive. Reinforced Avengers. SHIELD dead or salvaged? With a Stark involved? Transformed, probably. Then he frowns. “And what is coming next?”
She huffs, frowns, and shakes her head. “Don’t matter no more. Not for you.”
“Then why am I here?”
“You thinkin’ you can do better than ol’ Stevie?” She tilts her head to one side.
“I don’t want to be Captain America.” The objection is automatic. He doesn’t even have to think about it.
She waves a hand at him. “Oh, no. Stevie’s the Captain, that’s all set. But you could make the Winter Soldier something a might bit different.”
“I fiddle with you, give ya a might bit-a help, and drop ya into your old body. How far back ya wanna go?”
“As far back as I can,” because, seriously? How many lives would be saved just because he wasn’t there to kill them? How many alternate solutions would Hydra have to find because they couldn’t just wind him up and send him off? How much would it slow them down?
“Well, the Kennedy Assassination is a fixed point but other than that,” She trails off, giving a delicate shrug.
“The Stark Assassination.” If how that event was handled is what lead him here, then he’ll just handle it better. By not doing it.
The girl rocks back on her heels, considering. Slowly a smile spreads across her face until she is full on grinning, “Shiny.”
He blinks and when he opens his eyes, his metal fist is in the door handle of a crashed car. There’s a core of solid steal in his stomach, a furiously centered kind of determination he’s never really managed to achieve on his own.
But he never associated it with the Soldier before, either. He just knew that he lost it at some point.
His body pulls the door open without any orders from him and suddenly he’s staring down the barrel straight into the face of Howard Stark. He’s older than the Asset remembers him but that is, undeniably, him. The mustache, the eyes. There’s a tiredness in him but that’s probably from his age.
Or, you know, the wreck of a car that’s burning all around him.
“Bucky?” His old friend gasps in almost the exact tone Steve used once upon a time.
The Asset blinks.
“Who the hell is Bucky?” His voice asks for him and okay, that’s enough of that. He clamps down on the Soldier and forces the gun down. He steps back slightly as he asks, “Howie?” The surprised tone isn’t entirely intentional but he’s not mad.
“Bucky. You’re alive but-?”
“You’re Howard Stark.” He says, mostly for himself as he struggles against the Soldier, struggles against the programming.
“Yes. Yes, I am. And you’re James Buchanan Barnes. All your friends call you Bucky.”
“You’re my friend?”
“Yes. Always, Bucky. Always.”
The struggle is real as the gun comes back up. “You’re my mission.” Dammit. Didn’t that dame promise to fix this?
“Bucky.” Howard calls him attention suddenly, sharply and he looks up. “Til the end of the line.”
His hand opens and the gun hits the ground.
Just like that, his mind is clear. The Soldier is gone. He can actually breathe.
And god damn he forgot how much this arm hurts.
Howard starts to get out of the car and the Asset immediately moves to stop him. “No, my handlers are two minutes behind. Stay in the car and play dead. If you don’t, they’ll kill us all.”
Howard stares at him for a moment. “Who’s had you? All this time.”
Howard pales. He must of thought Hydra died with the war, poor bastard. “Alright, we’ll stay still and quiet. Do what you must and then we’ll all go home.”
The Asset nods, scoops up the gun and shoots the surveillance camera all in one movement. Then he moves to Howard’s trunk, punches his hand through the lock and pulls it open. He can feel Howard wince as the metal screams and fights a grin as he fishes the case with the serum out from under Howard and Maria’s luggage.
A black car pulls up with its headlights off not even a minute later. “Soldat,” Colonel Karpov barks as he steps out. “Mission report.”
“Primary objective secure.” He doesn’t wiggle the case in his hand. It’s tempting but the Winter Soldier would never waste that much movement or energy.
“Secondary objective complete.” He was to make it look like a car wreck, pulling them out of the car would not look like a car wreck. How had he even gotten away with that last time?
“Secure yourself.” Karpov orders and he puts the 9 mil on his back harness, taking his mask off of there and putting it on. Once he’s muzzled, the Colonel moves in and takes the case from him while his silent passenger holds a machine gun on the Asset. He doesn’t fight it, he needs to wait for a distraction so he can kill them both.
“Retrieve your final objective.”
Silently, he turns and goes for the surveillance cam, all of his attention behind him, looking for his opening.
The camera is 12 feet up which is nothing, really, not for a super soldier with his training. Steve managed twice that horizontally when he was little more than a performing monkey so the Asset just gets to the base of the post and jumps. His left hand crunches the camera’s little leg and the whole thing comes with him, wires snapping almost eagerly on the way down.
Karpov has the case open by the time the Asset gets back to them and both men are staring at the five little bags of blue serum in greedy awe. He offers the camera to the silent sidekick. The guy takes it without thought, not even removing his eyes from the prize.
Close, it’s almost enough but not quite-
He can hear a shift in breathing in the car. Mrs. Stark calls a distressed, “Howard?” and his handlers look up, eyes wide. The Asset has them both shot before their mouths do more than fall open in shock.
Howard is comforting his wife before the bodies even hit the gravel, “It’s alright, Maria. We’re okay. We’re going home. It’ll all be alright.”
Without waiting for instructions, the Asset goes to his handlers’ vehicle and checks it for locator beacons and listening devices. The locator beacon is in the center console. There are three bugs, one in the back of the driver’s seat, one in the glove box, and one in the center seat in the back. He crushes the microphones but otherwise leaves the devices intact in the hope Howard can learn something from them.
The locator beacon he sets on the gravel two feet away from the car. Not far enough to alert Hydra its been found but clear of the car so they don’t take it with them.
The entire time he listens to Howard calm his wife and make a single phone call.
“Carter,” A vaguely familiar voice says on the other side.
“Peg, I need scene cleanup. Two and half miles south of-”
“Howard,” Peg cuts him off. “I don’t do that anymore. You know that.”
“You still have contacts and I don’t know who I can trust. Peg, ple-”
“No, Howard. I’m retired.”
“Yeah, well, I have a very Lernaean reason for you to reconsider.”
There is a moment of hard silence before the woman audibly gasps. “Howard-”
“This is not a secure line, Peg.”
“Right,” She sounds resolute and the Asset starts moving baggage between cars, after first making sure Howard has the serum case and won’t let go of it. “Where are you, exactly?”
“Crashed into a tree lining the back entrance to Seymour Farms.” Stark says with relief. “The security camera has been taken care of. There will be two bodies and a car for your people.”
“Very well, you have five minutes. Be gone before they get there.”
“You’re a doll, Peg.”
“I’m meeting you at your house, is what I am. And you better have answers for me, or so help me, Howard-”
“I will,” He promises with a rough laugh. “With visual aides, even.”
The Asset is standing outside the other man’s door when he hangs up.
“Don’t forget the license plates,” Howie reminds.
The Asset almost rolls his eyes and tears the back one off of Howard’s car to take with them. “Can she walk?”
Howard walks around the car to converse with the woman in question and the Asset tears both license plates off the Handler’s car.
“Can you carry her?” Howard asks when he heads back over. “She’s not sure she can make it and I don’t want her to see this so she’s agreed to keep her eyes closed.”
The Asset nods and Howard keeps at his elbow as he gets the tiny blonde woman out of his car. As they walk across the gravel, Howard pulls out his cellphone again and makes a second call. “Yeah, Jarvis? I need the house under full lockdown. Make sure Tony’s safe, sweep the place for bugs, the whole nine yards.”
“Of course, sir.”
“And, Jarvis? My wife has had quite a trying evening. If Ana is willing to spend time with her until she goes to sleep? And a doctor might not go amiss. Dr. Jenkins, please.”
“I will discuss it with Ana, sir.”
“Swell, Jarvis. Home in twenty.”
Once he sets Mrs. Stark in the car, Howard helps her buckle. “You know the way?”
He nods. Then he shrugs. He could just take off the mask and talk but that feels unaccountably dangerous right now.
“Alright. Well, keep up.” Howard nods gruffly and slams his door.
He kicks on his bike, throws his own locator beacon to the side, and follows the Starks.
The mansion is just like he remembers. From his subject observation both this time and last. Only, the lights are on. All of them. Which is seriously out of character for the household at this time of night.
The Asset goes through the gate first because it’s stupidly overgrown and the perfect spot for an ambush. They’re going to have to trim a great deal of the property. Move several whole trees, too, probably. There’s way too much ground cover. Hydra had him observe Stark for two weeks, and he got right up to the back porch several times without ever being seen.
Granted, he is a cut above the standard Hydra goon. He’s had training and combat experience on six different continents to get where he’s at, but he’s still trained too many operatives to be remotely comfortable with trusting solely in his superiority. He needs back up.
When they pull to a stop in front of the house there’s already a car parked and waiting. Peg, presumably.
The door bursts open and Tony Stark rushes out, young, clean shaven, and so skinny. Wide-eyed with panic he shouts, “Mom!” And he evades reaching hands to open his mother’s door.
“Tony,” She smiles gently at him, cupping his cheek. “Is everything okay? Did you have a bad dream?”
Tony tries to stifle a sob, “Mom, I-” and that’s when he clocks him. Something dark and furious passes over the man’s -the boy’s?- face. Not that dissimilar to the last time the Asset saw him, when he was blowing off his metal arm while they were surrounded by the five defective Winter Soldiers. “What’s with the Russian Murderbot?”
“Russian?” Mrs. Stark asks faintly confused. The Cold War isn’t that long dead yet, after all.
Howard raises an incredulous eyebrow at his son but the Asset only has focus enough for Tony.
That woman, whoever she was, that sent him back. She said she was going to give him help. He assumed that help would be with his programming, but… what if it wasn’t?
Looking for orders, the Asset turns to Howard who nods. “Cover Jarvis while he brings in our bags. Everyone else, inside.”
The Asset goes to the motorcycle for a weapon. His hands shake as he reaches into the saddlebags. This is a definite violation of his standard operating procedure. Handlers choose and provide weaponry. Even if he’s allowed emergency caches on his body, and to carry extra clips, he’s not allowed to touch them without express verbal permission or else.
It’s the kind of or else that is enough to make even the Winter Soldier’s hands shake.
Nonetheless, he pulls his favorite mini-uzi and keeps watch. Because those were his orders.
Jarvis loads himself down enough to make him a liability in a fight but he gets everything in one go which the Asset can appreciate.
Tony is holding the door as the older man slides in.
One look at his face and the Asset knows he’s torn between slamming it and locking him out or letting him in and demanding answers.
As soon as he’s through the door, Tony slams it and pushes him into an alcove.
“What happened?” He hisses in Persian, which is a good bet to keep things private. Based on his career so far, Howard has no doubt focused on Russian, German, and other Northern European languages. The Middle East is a younger man’s game.
Obviously, he rolls his eyes at himself, if Howard made Tony learn those local languages.
“We died,” He pulls the mask off and answers in the same language. “Zemo divided us and then unleashed the copies. The Defective Soldiers.”
“I know that. I was there. How are we here?”
Oh. Right. “A woman offered to let me go back, I accepted.”
“She picked when or you picked when?” Tony glares at him as he thinks, connections sparking so bright in his mind that the Asset can see them flicker in his eyes.
“I picked when.”
That makes the glare soften and slide sideways into confusion. “You could have picked anytime.”
“When my body was alive, yeah.” He interjects but Tony doesn’t seem to hear him.
“You could have saved yourself. You could have saved Steve.”
That rocks him back on his heels. He hadn’t even thought of that. Jeeze, Steve threw away everything for him and he hadn’t even thought of Steve until Tony mentioned him.
Damn, he’s a terrible friend.
“You could have saved so many people but you saved my mom. Why?”
“She said-” he huffs. “That’s what caused all this, your parents’ deaths. I can’t change how Steve handled it or how he theoretically would have handled it? Because time travel? But-”
“But you could stop it from happening,” Tony nods. “You fucked up the timeline so much.”
“Life is about new experiences,” he tries, his smile feeling both flat and foreign. “Isn’t it?”
Tony snorts. “If only Cap had trusted me-”
“Hey,” he interupts. “It was an asshole move, there’s no denying it, but you’ve never been a man out of time. Our circumstances were legitimately, utterly insane. It would be more surprising if we hadn’t gotten anything wrong. And I include you, by the way.
“I don’t blame you for how you reacted. Losing my arm again sucked but. But she’s your mom.”
Tony either doesn’t hear him, or he hears way too much in what he said because he touches Bucky’s wrist. Soft, glancing, and on the metal arm. Like he’s going to comfort him. Like they’re friends or something.
For a moment, he sways in, called by the warmth that is Tony Stark but Stark leans back against the wall behind him.
“Okay,” Tony claps once and rubs his hands together. “What’s the plan?”
“You know, the plan! We’re a team now, Buckaroo, I need to know the plan.” Tony blinks, looks up directly meeting his eyes, and blinks some more. “Did you… did you time travel without a fucking plan?”
“It’s not like I planned to time travel!” He hisses. “The plan was save your parents. That was the plan.”
“Okay, well, you just lost Time Travel Team Planner privileges.”
Tony just snorts at him.
“We got problems, Shellhead.”
“Right. Hydra. I need JARVIS. I’m going to have to invent whole areas of technology. Media storage, telecom, robotics. Programing. Computing. Our world is about to get a rude awakening.”
“I don’t mean that.” Stark focuses on him, must be something in his tone. “This isn’t my final arm, the Vibranium one. This one’s Adamantium.”
The younger man looks suitably horrified. “Adamantium is even more toxic than Palladium.”
“I know. I got damaged on my next mission -that I’m obviously not going to do anymore- and I couldn’t heal right. My body couldn’t fight the Adamantium poisoning and heal the damage at the same time. After they retrieved me, they had to replace the arm. Cut me up to the shoulder to do it.”
“You have more of your own flesh with this arm,” Tony realizes. “I noticed it was bulkier. The pseudo-musculature shaped differently. This star has a little bit of gold around it and the other one didn’t.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know how to get my hands on Vibranium in this time. How did Hydra do it?”
“Pretty sure they bought it from Klaue.”
“Who won’t steal from them until, when? February?”
“End of January, I think? I read about Klaue’s bullshit in some files I stole back when I was running from, you know, everybody, but I’ve died since then.”
Tony snorts and shakes his head but doesn’t bother to look scandalized by him. “I can’t imagine the power source is worth a damn. What kind of functions you want on it?”
“I just need it to work. Like a hand. Preferably with the extra strength. I’m not like Stevie, I need the edge to keep up.”
“EMP resistant would be best, ya? Nat said her Widow’s Bites didn’t touch the other one which is frustrating and brilliant. What about a repulsor? Or magnets? I did a thing for Cap so he could call his shield, I could-?
“Well, you two look cozy, don’t you?” A warm feminine voice says teasingly and that’s when the Asset realizes how close they are standing. He’s practically between Tony’s legs, hunched down like he’s going in for a kiss. He steps back and looks up to see Carter and Stark the Elder standing at the foot of the stairs watching them.
Howard looks like he’s about to blow his top but Peggy gasps, “Bucky? You’re alive?”
“That would be my visual aide.” Howard drawls, stepping forward his eyes still sharp. “In the study, both of you. Jarvis, if you would come as well?”
Howard stands behind his desk in his front, public office. Tony plops down in one of the chairs, playing sullen and bored to the hilt, while Peg alights on the other one, all business even as they edge in on midnight. The Asset props up a wall so he can stare out the windows and keep watch. Jarvis leans beside him, just out of arm’s reach, and helps him with this duty.
“Do you two know each other?” Howard hisses at his son.
Tony raises a bratty eyebrow. “I was trying to get details. It’s not like you to bring home strays, not even hot ones.”
“Hot ones? A Stark-!” Howard immediately raises his voice.
Tony flinches and the Asset can’t -physically cannot- allow Howard to go any further. He grabs the asshole by the neck and slams him bodily into the wall beside the fireplace.
“Buck. What?” Howard chokes.
“I don’t like bullies,” he snarls. “I don’t care where they’re from.”
Howard makes a sound like he’s been stabbed, obviously recognizing the words, but they were the Asset’s first long before Stevie adopted them.
“Can we stick to the point?” Peg asks, her voice breaking. Maybe she recognized the words, too. “Howard, earlier. You implied Hydra is back. Personally, I find that more important than any interpersonal drama.”
The Asset continues to hold Howard against the wall until the other man nods ever so slightly. Once he accepts the rebuke, the Asset puts his ass down.
He straightens his suit, then on second thought removes the jacket and takes his seat. “Hydra sent Bucky to kill me and take the project I’ve been working on. They’ve apparently had him since he fell.”
“Is that right, Bucky?” she asks, pretty eyes wide.
“I don’t know when they found me. There are blanks. Lots of ‘em. But I remember being dragged through the snow. By a Soviet? I think. And a surgery to remove bits of my stump.” He waves the left hand for emphasis. “And I remember Dr. Zola? Did- Did you not catch him?”
“We did.” Peg confirms, leaning forward. “Right after you fell.”
“Off the train?” He asks for confirmation.
She nods. “Zola was a prisoner until the end of the war, then he came to work for SHIELD. The post-War SSR. He worked for us until he died.”
“He called me the new Fist of Hydra. When I woke up, with the,” He makes a silver fist and Peggy frowns furiously.
“He was working for Hydra from inside SHIELD.” Howard leans back, clearly thinking it through. “And the infection has spread. Only two men know what I’ve been working on. Alexander Pierce, who happens to be my first choice for the new Director of SHIELD when I officially retire, and my business partner, Obadiah Stane.”
The Asset would honestly prefer to just kill them both, for many reasons, but he can verbalize none of them to anyone but Tony. “Pictures?”
Howard turns and grabs a picture frame off the mantle and shows him a picture of him and Obadiah looking young and happy. A smarmy asshole probably a good 30 years younger than Stark.
The Asset shrugs. “He looks familiar but I don’t know him.”
“Like that’s reliable,” Tony mutters and Peg glares at him but he has a point.
Howard pulls out a personnel file and flips it open. There’s a full color photo paperclipped inside.
“Captain,” The Asset says fondly and reaches out to run a finger over the photo. “He asked me to help Karpov with this mission. But. Then. I don’t remember.”
“That is not your Captain, Bucky. That’s not Steve Rogers,” Peg says tightly and the Asset frowns at her. “That’s Alexander Pierce.”
Howard interrupts by pulling some pages out of the file and revealing a candid of a younger Pierce, in an olive drab shirt with dog tags around his neck.
The resemblance to beefy Steve is mind boggling.
“Oh, god,” Peg sits back with a hand over her mouth. “How long has he been your handler?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Howard demands.
“I don’t know.” He snaps back. “They. There’s. The Chair. And it.” And he can’t breathe.
The Chair. The fucking Chair. If they put him in it again-
“Hey. Hey hey hey.” When he looks up Tony is crouching above him. He’s. He’s in the corner, on the floor. His back to the wall. The others- “Nonono. Come on, big guy, focus on me. Just breathe, okay? No ch- the floor is fine for sitting, you know? Or beds. You can sit on beds. Lots of people sit on beds. Couches are easier to get out of in a hurry though. But not really because squish,” and Tony keeps babbling at him. Distracting but grounding. Light hearted, almost teasing. Undemanding.
Over the Tony babble, he can faintly hear Peg say, “I’ve seen that symbol, the one on his arm.” Pause. “When Dum Dum and I infiltrated the Red Room. It was the mark of a hero, they said. The Winter Soldier.”
“That’s a myth, Peg.”
“Eighteen confirmed assassinations.” She informs him. “A dozen possible family annihilations. ‘Nations fall before him,’ they said. None of the necessary skills are unbelievable of the Sergeant Barnes we worked with. He was trained for several months by the SAS, you know. Before he hit the front lines. He survived a dozen things that should have killed him before he ever got captured. The ‘best damn sniper’ his instructor had even seen.”
“You know quite a bit about him,” Jarvis offers tentatively.
“The Howling Commandos served with my unit for almost two years,” She explains softly. “And I intended to marry his best friend.”
“You back with me, bud?” Tony asks, warm and close.
“Yeah.” He nods. “Yeah, I’m here.”
Tony grins, bright and relieved, and pops to his feet. He holds out a hand to help the Asset stand and for once in his damn life -that he’s sure of- he takes it. He let’s someone help him rather than doing all the helping.
It feels… different.
“I’m going to need the Robotics Lab for a few days, dad. And I’m going to have some new prototypes for production.”
“You want to start a business?” Howard asks, eyebrows raised skeptically. “Now?”
“I was going to do it after I graduated in May anyway,” Tony dismisses with a handwave. “What I have could help us track down Hydra but, mostly, I need the lab to make sure the arm isn’t booby trapped.”
“Booby trapped?” Peg asks cautiously.
“Well, yeah. I didn’t recognize him before with, ya know, the whole muzzle thing going on but there’s no possible way James Buchanan Barnes cooperated with Hydra. The ch-” Tony cuts himself off with an apologetic flick the Asset’s way. “That thing that triggered him is probably some sort of mind control. Or a mind wipe. He’s probably been brainwashed and programmed. Or all of it. We should assume all of it, it’d be too dangerous not to, but if he’s enhanced -which he must be since he obviously survived falling off the train. In 1945, no less, but her doesn’t look that much older than me- they couldn’t count on his healing factor not fixing his brain or pushing chemicals out of his system. That leaves the arm.
“His healing factor can’t affect the arm.
“If it was me, I’d start with a remote detonator in it. A tracker, too. Maybe something to incapacitate him, electric shock or something.”
Howard is actually pale by the time Tony stops. After a moment’s thought the man starts nodding. “Very logical. Bucky, do you mind going with him now? I’ll finish briefing Peg and Jarvis and we’ll reconvene tomorrow.”
He nods and wordlessly moves to stand behind Tony.
“Tony. The access code is your mother’s birthday in eight digits, the title of the last book she read you, the second five fibonacci numbers, the author of that book. All with no spaces and appropriate capitals.”
Tony nods to his father and moves for the door.
“And Tony,” Howard calls out and waits for him to look back. “Good thinking, son.”
“Ugh,” Tony complains intelligently as he flops into the same chair he used the previous night. It’s almost noon and he got a solid 6 hours but he still feels like he hasn’t slept in a lifetime.
Seems like dying really takes it out of you.
Or maybe that’s the time travel.
Of course, because that’s how life works with super soldiers, he can see James outside on the front lawn kicking three guys’ asses with his metal arm quite literally tied to his chest. He’s wearing his muzzle again but as Tony watches, he pulls it off to instruct the guys.
He can’t really articulate how but Tony’s sure the act of being able to choose to wear it or take it off is helping James heal.
Especially when the asshole somehow finds enough of himself to smirk at Tony through the window before putting the damn thing back on.
“Long night?” his father asks, sounding cautiously amused.
“The arm is beautiful and brutal. Strangely eloquent, sheer genius. I hate admiring something made by Hydra. Even now its 50 years ahead of our current medical prosthesis. That they had it 50 years ago and chose to weaponize it, makes me hate them more.”
“So, take what you’ve learned and make something beautiful, for everyone.”
“That’s the plan.” Tony nods his thanks as Jarvis appears, drops a plate heaping with breakfast food in front of him, and disappears again.
“Got a name for your business?”
Howard nods. “I had Amy start the paperwork last night. That’s the last bit she needed.”
“Look, I’m just going to be honest, you’re being really supportive right now and it’s freaking me out.” Tony throws down the fork he just barely picked up. “Are you dying?”
“No, no. I’m not dying.” Howard’s laugh sounds like it hurts. “After you left last night, Peg and Jarvis told me what they thought of my parenting technique. Between them and Bucky,” He sighs and runs a hand over his face.
“It’s nice having someone around that’s not afraid to stand up for me.”
Howard takes the blow almost stoically. It doesn’t actually make Tony feel any better. “What I had planned for you, Tony- It was selfish. Heartless. You’re not my accomplishment, you’re my son. And I’m sorry. I’m officially backing off. I don’t expect to be a perfect father but I’d like to learn to do better. You can even have Bucky punch me when I mess up.”
“I’d have him use his flesh hand,” Tony concedes grudgingly. Not that it means much when the guy can punch through cinder block even with the supposedly-weaker flesh hand but, whatever. “You are my father after all.”
“I appreciate it,” Howard quirks his lips into something that’s almost a smile. “Talking about arms, was it booby trapped after all?”
“Oh, yeah. Detonator attached to the arm’s power source. I removed as much of the blasting cap as I could without damaging the integrity of the arm. Locator beacon too. Simple one. No log, so I couldn’t see if its already been accessed. Couldn’t unplug it because it’s all connected through the pseudo-nerves that run the arm.” Tony huffs. “His ring finger was the antenna, though, so I removed that completely.
“I need to make him a new finger so he’s not impeded by the loss but, real talk, we need to get that arm off him. As soon as possible. It’s Adamantium, which I’m fairly sure is poisoning him. Can’t find any solid research on the matter, but from what I can see his skin around and under it is wrong. What does long term poisoning do to a super soldier? Is his healing compromised? His strength? His speed? Is it adding to his brain damage? It’s tied directly into his nervous system, for fuck sake.”
“I’m not a doctor,” Howard frowns, thinking furiously.
“Neither am I, but we need one. Quick. Maybe a dozen, I don’t know. I do know I want to put together a biochemistry team for Stark Solutions anyway. He’s agreed to let us look into what was done to him and see if we can use it to find cures for a bunch of stuff. He also said his mission was to retrieve super soldier serum, you figured out Erskine’s formula?”
His father nods reluctantly. “All signs point to it being the same.”
“I need some. Or do you have some of Roger’s blood left? I don’t think James has quite the same thing and we owe him the best life we can get him. For saving mom. And you.”
“You’ll get it because you’re right, we owe him. I can’t promise you the blood. Pretty sure Peg has a sample but she’s never confirmed or denied it for me.”
“I’ll talk to her.” He agrees because Aunt Peg will want to help her Steve’s Bucky, he’s sure of it.
“You got anyone in mind for this think tank of yours?”
“I’ve been reading theses for a few months now, but it’s more complicated than I expected.” He shakes his head. “The most qualified person to run my bio lab is Betty Ross out of Culver U but she’s the daughter of old Colonel Thunderbolt. His politics are a nightmare and they’re supposed to be real close. I can’t put her in charge of one of my labs.”
“What about her research partner? Can they ride herd on her?”
“I don’t know, I’ll look into it.” The idea of Bruce ‘riding herd’ on someone is as hilarious as it is horrible. His Bruce wouldn’t stay in a lab with more than one other person it in muchless actually run a large think tank-type operation. But this isn’t his Bruce. Hulk isn’t a thing and if he plays his cards right, Hulk will never be a thing.
If Hulk never happens, he’ll never be Tony’s Bruce again but maybe he’ll have a shot at traditional happiness. Marry Betty Ross. Have 2.5 children, buy a house, a dog, the whole nine yards. Bruce wanted that once upon a time and he deserves it.
“What’s happening around here?” he finally asks.
“Bucky spent all night drawing up changes to our landscaping.” Howard flashes him a piece of paper. Looks like a map of the property in three different colors with x’s and arrows all around. “Peg confirmed his changes are good for security, so we’ll get it done.
“Jarvis is putting together a medical facility in the north wing. I’ve been talking to lawyers and doctors all morning.
“Peg’s recruiting men for our security team and sending them to Buck to go through the ringer. She brought six in three hours ago. One failed to meet Bucky’s standard and was sent off to a cushy job at SI HQ. One had a break with reality, we think he might have had an encounter with the Winter Soldier at some point but Bucky can’t remember. He’s been committed, we’ll take care of him for life. The third snarled at Buck in some language I don’t recognize and swallowed a cyanide pill.”
“Hydra? A Hydra agent got this close?”
“Yeah, not thrilled. So now Peg is sticking to the minorities Hydra generally wants to kill. Gays, lesbians, people of color.”
“Your mom needs guards too. It’s either that or I do something horrible, then send her away. Pretty sure someone in this house would stab me for even entertaining the thought of embarrassing her with a divorce. Possibly your mom.”
“I’m getting a guard?”
“You think Buck’s going to let anyone else do it?” There’s something weird in his dad’s smile. Tony can’t really place it, but it makes him edgy nonetheless.
“I think he’s decided I’m his mission leader,” he informs the man. “He had another panic attack last night when I tried to ask what all they did to him. You know, with the arm. My Russian isn’t good enough for out-of-your-mind babbling though, so I’m not sure.”
His dad sighs and puts his head in his hands. “I know I’ve been an asshole in the past but it’s okay that you like men, you know? If he’s what you want-”
“Wow, you’re going all in on the good dad thing aren’t you?”
“I’m a Stark,” Howard sniffs… playfully? Yeah, playfully. “We are the definition of ‘go big or go home’.”
“Go big, then go home,” he counters and his dad laughs.
“Alright, so. Security upgrades are first on our list. I need to brief the President that Hydra is back but I don’t want to do that until we’re more secure. Which, I hate to say it, includes securing Bucky so I’ve reached out to Charles. You know him, Charles Xavier?”
“The guy whose school you wanted to throw me away to?”
Howard has the grace to look abashed. “Yeah, him. He’s coming. He doesn’t know the full details of what I want, just that we have a brainwashed veteran than needs his help, but he’s the most powerful telepath I’ve ever heard of. Pretty sure if anyone can find any programing Hydra hid in him and pull it out without, I don’t know, killing him, it’s Charles.”
“James agreed to that?”
“Not exactly.” He gives his dad the look that deserves. “I get the feeling he doesn’t like or trust me. I am not the person to discuss things that might upset him with him.”
Tony sighs heavily. “I’m so fucking tempted to tell you to grow a pair.”
“And you would have every right to, but this is your show. I saw you pull him out of a panic attack, looked to me like he handed you his leash. And you just said he sees you as his mission leader. If he’s really been who we think he is, he’s the best asset we have in the war on Hydra and he’s yours. That makes this mission yours.”
“I can’t clean up SHIELD and develop all the gear he’ll need and run Stark Solutions by myself,” Tony grumps. “Even I need to sleep.”
“We’ll all help you. Peg will work the SHIELD angle. -I mean, technically I’m still Director because the President and I weren’t going to appoint my successor until the New Year.- But I’ve made her Deputy Director in case something happens to me, so she’s your contact in SHIELD. I’ll play the politics and fill in where you need me.” His dad gives him something more closely related to a smile this time. “And I’m a pretty dab hand making gear too, you know.”
“Where did you get the Vibranium for Cap’s shield?” Tony asks suddenly. “I think it would be the best choice for James’ new arm, if you have any more. Or if we can get it-”
Howard sits back and is silent long enough to make Tony nervous. “It’s complicated. We might be able to get more, but. Let me get you what I have on Wakanda. Your eyes only Tony, I mean it. And I can’t do this with you. They’re very secretive, for very good reason, so you’ll have to find something that will draw them out to treat with you and you’ll have to do it right. You’ll only get one shot at building a relationship with them. I can’t stress that enough.”
“Alright,” Tony shrugs. “What kind of timeline are we looking at for securing this place?”
“Two weeks, at least. Hydra has to know something’s wrong by now with Buck and his handlers never coming back. And they’ll figure out I’m alive soon enough. We need to get enough defense in place to make them pause before they come up with a counter move.”
“Peg’s going to have Pierce arrested. Probably tonight. But, like I said, it’s her show. He’s going to be held on a black site assuming he doesn’t pop a cyanide pill. We’ll question him, learn what we can, then execute him for treason.”
“Obie,” Howard sighs. “He’s been my business partner for years, Tony. COO of Stark Industries for longer than you’ve been alive. He can’t be involved with this. I trust him.”
“I don’t,” he says flatly, feeling cold down to his toes. “I never have. He’s an asshole and I feel dirty just being in the same room with him. I’d bet my right hand he’s dirty dealing under the table. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it was with Hydra, either.”
Howard blinks at him for several moments. “Then I’ll have him audited. If he’s dirty, we’ll put him in jail. The media circus might actually help your mission. But if he’s not-”
“Then I don’t care, just keep him the hell away from me.” Maybe the man hasn’t -technically- betrayed him yet but the wound still stings. And if he was invested in his own gain enough to have Tony killed, who’s to say he didn’t practice that maneuver on Howard first?
“I’ll do that.”
“I’ll see what James is up to and how I can help,” Tony stands.
“Why do you keep calling him James?” Howard finally asks, looking frustrated.
“He’s not Bucky anymore. He’s not the man you remember – there’s too much Winter Soldier in him for that to be true – but he’s not really the Winter Soldier anymore. And he doesn’t want to be just the Winter Soldier, either. Legally speaking, his name is James. Beyond that, he has the right to figure out what nickname he wants for himself, doesn’t he?”
“Take your plate,” his dad orders rather than responding, “so Jarvis knows you ate.”
With a nod, he picks it up and heads for the kitchen. When he gets there, James is standing with the three guys from before around Jarvis’s big butcher block, eating sandwiches heaping with vegetables.
“Hey, Tony,” James greets him with something like a smile on his face. “Wanna meet the first three of the Security Team?”
When Tony nods, James gestures to the man on his right. “Duke, my second, for now,” is a big rough-looking man, who sorta looks like a cowboy. “Jamil or Jamz,” has long dreads and what Tony’s pretty confident are gun calluses on his hand. “And Morales,” is shorter than Tony and prettier but even more broad in the shoulders than Bucky.
“Guys, this is Tony, our primary objective.”
Tony shoots James a look, and he just looks back apologetic but resolute. “Primary objective?”
“Maintain security of Tony, Maria, then Howard Stark,” Duke answers. Then before he can respond the man asks, “Hey, you made Sarge’s arm?”
“Not this one, but I’m making the next one,” Tony grinds out because, asshole or not, he made the man a promise.
“Can you do legs? I got a friend. Best damn fighter I ever seen but he’s missing a leg.”
“We could add him to the Team,” James offers in a tone that sounds like he’s about to start bargaining.
“I’m not going to indenture a man to me for a leg,” Tony scoffs. “He’ll test a prototype for me and he’ll be paid for it.”
“Once the prototype passes?” James asks.
Tony shrugs. “What he does with his life is his business. But it’s going to be a bit before we get to legs. I haven’t even put my team together. My business needs off the ground and human experimentation requires all kinds of legal paperwork. Licenses and stuff. So it won’t be soon. Maybe a year? Maybe less. My assistant will get his information from you. When, you know, I have an assistant.”
“What else are you thinking besides legs?” Morales asks, actually looking interested.
“Once we figure out the nerve interface in, uh, Sarge’s arm, the sky’s the limit. Arms and legs. Hands and feet, obviously. Eyes. Lungs. Spinal chords. Maybe one day hearts and kidneys.”
“That’s really cool,” the man grins, looking like a little boy.
“Yeah, my dad’s business is all about weapons and war but I don’t want to be that. I’m more concerned about what happens after the war, to veterans. To the injured ones, the traumatized ones. Health care, employment, housing, all that jazz.
“I’m worried about the infrastructure of home. People fighting deserve something worth fighting for. Clean air, beautiful cities, futures for their children.”
All three of the men are looking at him in a way Tony can’t really describe. Maybe it’s awe? Or gratitude? He doesn’t know, but it makes him feel like a total shit for not thinking like this before. For not thinking of this for real rather than primarily as a cover. As something to drastically separate himself from his father’s legacy and SHIELD.
James clears his throat and all three immediately turn back to their sandwiches. “Can we talk alone, Tony?”
“Yeah, sure.” He stands and let’s James lead him into the mud room between the kitchen and the out of doors.
“Look, I know you want your mom first on the list but I can’t do that.”
He takes a deep breath, forces himself to take a step back emotionally, and think. “Because you need me to take down Hydra.”
“Yeah, and I’m sorry but it’s not just about what we want. There’s something coming, Tones. She wouldn’t tell me what it was but the Avengers as they were when they were all together was not enough to take it down. She made that clear. We need the world to be ready. For whatever it is.”
“So there’s a longer game in play,” Tony nods. “Hydra’s the short game, that makes sense. But they’re still a problem. You up for a mission?”
James just raises an eyebrow and nods.
“Can you sneak into Camp Lehigh without Hydra or anyone else knowing?”
“Of course. Whatcha thinkin?”
“Dad had a point. Hydra is going to know something’s up since you didn’t come home. Aunt Peg is supposed to arrest Peirce tonight so that’s the most visible head of Hydra gone. But Zola would have more information. Information we can access without risk of him offing himself, if we do it right.”
“And that takes out another head,” James nods.
“Right. If they have more than two on the East Coast, I’ll be shocked-”
“Three. But Karpov’s dead and Siberia was his territory anyway.”
“That’s a third of the usual nine heads gone in two days, if we do this right. If I can get what you’ll need finished by tonight.”
James clasps his shoulder all comradely and shit. “Sounds like you need to go to the lab. I’ll bring you food in three hours?”
It’s tempting to argue, but, “Make it four, that breakfast was huge.”
James laughs and shakes his head. “Get outta here.”
The next time he sees James it’s after the door of his misappropriated lab hisses open. The man is holding a tray with two large bowls of Jarvis’s Creamy Beef and Gnocchi with an entire loaf of the bread Ana bakes -normally on weekends, only- balanced between them on the rims. It’s pure comfort food, the kind Tony hasn’t had in over 20 years.
“What’s up, buttercup?”
“I’m late,” James admits, looking faintly chagrined as he sets the tray down. “Didn’t think you’d mind waiting 15 minutes for fresh bread though.”
“Are you kidding? Ana’s bread is the best! I’ve never been able to get a whole loaf out of her.”
“Well, its for both of us so don’t go too crazy, thinkin’ in that big brain of yours.”
“I’ll try to refrain,” he agrees as he pulls a bowl off the tray.
“Jarvis said root beer’s your favorite.” Bucky pulls two glass bottles each of cream soda and root beer from his pockets. Tony’s never seen the point of cargo pants before but suddenly he’s seeing the light.
“For non-alcoholic stuff, yeah. Right up there with coffee,” he agrees as he studies the man indirectly. There’s something weird here. “Seriously, what’s going on?”
“Duke and Morales are down for 6 before night shift starts. Carter brought in another six guys. None of ’em smell like Hydra this time. Jamz and the Jarvises are putting them through their paces out on the lawn right now.”
Tony grins at James’s incredulity. “I forgot about that. They both picked up a lot of skills when Jarvis -Edwin, I mean- started going on missions with Aunt Peg.”
“They looked like they needed something to take the edge of,” James shrugs. “I guess the tense atmosphere isn’t just me.”
Tony shakes his head wordlessly and drags some bread through the cream sauce. It’s messy and amazing and he hasn’t ever been able to get it right himself. He sighs in contentment and James smirks at him before copying his maneuver.
He’s halfway through the bowl of pure concentrated perfection when James finally asks, “My mission?”
“Stuff’s ready,” Tony says around a mouthful. “You’ll need to be careful with it. I had to hand fabricate it all, it’s more delicate that I would like for mission gear. Bigger too.” He gestures to his right. “The thing that looks like a suitcase handle on steroids is the GNAW. You’ll need to get as close as you can to Zola’s bunker, find the communication lines. Phone lines. He’ll have them because he’s pretty useless to them without them but they may be underground. Even if they are, there will be maintenance access so they can fix or eventually upgrade him. Place GNAW on the line and wait a good 5 seconds.
“After 5 seconds, you’ll attach RAIDEN, he’s the big one with the lights. I designed him after Steve told me about Zola because there’s no way that asshole let himself get blown up. Not even for a shot at Captain America. And I wanted to be ready when he came back.
“The red light will come on and stay on while he’s working. When the light goes yellow, attach the Nautilus. That’s the other one, obviously. She’s a frankly gross iteration of what I used to hack SHIELD way back when Loki was our biggest problem and she deserves better than her current form but she’ll harvest everything Zola has to offer, on every level, and serve it up to us on a silver platter.”
James picks up GNAW and turns it over in his hands. “Does it matter which prong I connect which device to?”
“Nope. Though I would recommend taking your surroundings into account and placing it all somewhere you don’t have to hold it the entire time. You’re going to have to guard them and make it out with at least RAIDEN and the Nautilus in something close to their current condition. Though I would greatly prefer Hydra not get their hands on GNAW either.”
“Where’s JARVIS in all this?” He asks as he opens his second Cream Soda. Cream Soda. Tony’s not sure he can take a supposed master assassin that chooses Cream Soda over Root Beer very seriously.
“Thanks to dad, Stark Industries is running physical fabrication for me. His first servers should be ready in 72 hours. I’m writing the code. If it takes me less than a week, I’ll be shocked.”
“You have to come up with that much?”
Tony scoffs. “I have J’s code memorized, he’s just complicated. Lots of code. And I can’t let anyone else do it.”
“J’s written in a unique programming language that was never used again. I’m the only one that knows it. It’s a security feature.”
“What about the other one? You had a girl one in the bunker, right?”
“Yup. Unique. FRIDAY had a similar base to the language I used for my bots but was wildly different from J.”
“Where are the bots?”
“You know about them?” Tony blinks in surprise.
James shrugs. “I read about you. In a magazine, while I was running. I wanted to know Stevie’s allies.”
“DUM-E and U in the corner, charging.” He says, trying and failing to process that confession. “I’ll need to upgrade the charging station soon so they don’t have to shut down to do it but I don’t have the tech or the time right now. Butterfingers didn’t want to come home for Christmas, stayed with my suite mate. I think he’s got a crush on my neighbor.”
James nods and Tony can’t help but wonder why he’s asking. There’s no way he’s legitimately interested in Tony’s AIs and bots.
“Will they be safe from Zola? Once we bring him here?”
Ah. Security concerns. “Zola won’t be a threat to anyone once RAIDEN is through with him.”
“You see, they said that about us capturing him on the train, too.” James’s smile is so wry it’s actually painful.
“Right, well, with GNAW connected the only place for Zola to possibly escape to is into RAIDEN and RAIDEN was made to destroy him. But I’ll come up with additional security measures for the Avengers Network just for you, if you want. An AI to patrol and keep Zola or anyone else out. A guard dog. I’ll name it SPOT or something.”
“Always wanted a dog,” James agrees easily. “What’s the third light for?” He nods to RAIDEN.
“Green means he’s done and it’s time to go. Grab it all and take off.”
“How long should it take?”
Tony shakes his head. “Steve couldn’t give me an estimate of his size and with current data transfer rates? I hope it doesn’t take an hour but I wouldn’t be surprised. If it takes less than that, something probably went wrong and you need to bail hard.”
“Even if I have to leave these guys behind?”
“That’s what the little ripcords on the back are for. Nothing’s worth you being back in their hands again. Just pull the cords and run. Or you can use them as IEDs. Fuse is short as I could make it though, so be careful.”
“I can do this, Tony.”
“I know you can. No one else, in fact, can, though. So it’s not like we have much choice.”
“Morales could probably do it,” James says. “But I’d have to spend at least a good two months getting him ready.”
“And we don’t have that kind of time ” Tony agrees.
James stands and starts collecting dishes. “Get your laptop and come back up with me. You can program in the kitchen, can’t you? Jarvis said something about Apple Turnovers if I could get you out of the lab.”
Tony whines and groans about it because why had this super soldier bastard let him eat so much if there was Apple Turnovers on the line? But still. Tony grabs his laptop and it’s power cable and follows him up.
The kitchen is fuller than he’s ever seen it, even on a holiday. Ana and Jarvis are doing their Merry Kitchen Dance as they prepare food for everyone. His dad is at the informal dining table with his own bowl of Gnocchi and only a third of a loaf at his elbow and Tony tries not to gloat like the petty asshole he can be. Jamz and six guys Tony’s never met surround him.
“How many guys you think we’re going to need?” He asks James once he’s been introduced.
“For 24-hour coverage of a property this size? And a travel team for each Stark? The forty we were planning for might not be enough.”
Tony gapes, “How are we going to house that many?”
“I was thinking about buying the Stone Property next door.” His dad announces and the focuses on James. “We can pull out the dividing fence, extend our perimeter. It’ll double the amount of land but could house a hundred, if they double up. The bottom two levels are all garage and there’s one hell of a driving course which might be useful for training.”
Lights spark in James’s eyes. “We’d still need to house the property team over here but it would be better do that on a rotational basis so that sounds good. Is there room for secondary Medical? What about a gym or an obstacle course? On site mechanics for all the cars? Can we tour it?”
“Yeah, whatever we need,” Dad nods. “You could probably sneak over now but I’ll put in a call. We’ll officially tour it tomorrow.”
Its just before midnight when he boards a train from New Jersey to Tennessee.
He took a car, a bus, and hiked to make sure there was no trail connecting him to the Starks.
Now the train to Tennessee is supposed to give any of his so far theoretical watchers the impression he’s headed to Rendezvous Sigma. Less than 10 minutes after the conductor punches his ticket, he’s off the train and, by his figuring, about a 10 minute march from Camp Lehigh.
Finding Zola’s building isn’t hard, even in the dark. First, because it stands out like a sore thumb to anyone that knows a damn thing about Army regs.
Second, because he’s been there before.
Not in this time but he was sent from here for… something. A while ago.
He circles the building twice before he finds a hatch labeled “Utilities – Communication” and down he goes. The tunnel is dusty with half the amount of lighting it should really have and empty save for a metric ton of wires and smaller pipes.
At the end there’s a set of wires labeled with Zola’s building number. But there’s no way Hydra would make it that easy. Two bunches and a pipe away there’s a pipe labeled ‘water’ with a cleverly hidden side panel that is in no way water tight.
With a snort, James checks the panel for sensors or traps and when he finds none, he opens it. Inside is a cluster of three wires.
He pulls the GNAW from his pocket and lets it grip the bundle. He counts out five seconds, as instructed, and attaches RAIDEN. The thing hums and then settles in to work.
Bucky keeps half an eye on it as he turns to focus back the way he came.
The damn tunnel is too quiet, there’s not even a breeze. It’s making the hairs of the back of his neck stand at full attention.
Of course, part of that could be the haircut Mrs. Stark gave him. He’s had it long for so many years that taking back The Bucky Barnes Look is legitimately foreign to him, even if it does make sense for the long term strategy the Starks are discussing.
Still, he wouldn’t have done it if Tony hadn’t agreed with his mom’s suggestion.
God, he’s become such a sucker for that kid. And it’s barely been two goddamn days.
After what feels like a year but both his internal sense and his watch claim to be just an hour and a half, RAIDEN’s yellow light comes on and he attaches the Nautilus.
Another half hour and he gets the green light. He puts his knife away to gather up Tony’s three little friends but keeps his gun in hand.
He makes it out of the base without having to kill anyone, or even hit anyone, and he’s very confused.
This is not how his plans go. This is not how Steve’s plans go. Hell, he’s seen first hand this is not how two generations of Stark’s plans go. Either he missed Zola in his entirety or his little mechanic-goddess-girl is still helping him out.
He honestly can’t say which one he prefers.
He makes his way to Trenton where he finds the YMCA Tony told him to look for. In the back he finds a shower stall with a 3 piece suit waiting for him, as promised. There’s a hat too, a fedora, and Bucky has to roll his eyes.
He showers, changes, and let’s himself disappear into morning rush hour.
When his second taxi pulls up to the Stark Estate, Jamz and one of the guys from the second wave, Bogart, are standing armed on either side of where construction guys are putting up the small guard houses he asked for and Howard designed.
“You clean up nice, Sarge.” Jamz croons as he steps forward to pay the driver. He throws too much money at the man and tells him to scram.
Once the taxi’s gone, he and Jamz step around and to one side of the construction workers. Bogart moves up to take Jamz position without having to be told, proving Carter does, in fact, know how to pick ‘em.
He tilts his hat back and asks, “Status?”
“Carter showed up with two more sets of 6. One at dawn, one an hour ago. Morales and Rooster are running them through the paces now. None of ‘em allowed in the house, as ordered. None of ‘em got the bubblemouth yet but they haven’t met you neither.” Jamz shrugs. “Stark Senior has an opening to view the Beta Site between 1400 and 1600. He’s waiting on word from you.
“Stark Junior is back in his lab. We made sure he had breakfast before going and Duke took him lunch before he went down for 6 but he said to get him up if you need him.”
“Youngins, they don’t understand the value of sleep,” he sighs and shakes his head ruefully, making Jamz grin. “Alright. I’ll talk to Senior and stomp some new mudholes. You good here?”
Jamz nods. “Got another 3 then I’ll come help.”
They fist bump and he takes off for the house, nodding at Bogart -and his damn fedora- on the way. Bogart just grins and tips the stupid thing at him. To rub it in that they match, probably.
He finds Tony first.
“Well, look at you!” Tony grins when he opens the lab door. “Lose the overcoat and give us a spin.”
He’s just sleep deprived enough not to feel weird about playing along. And he’s glad he does once he gets a good look at the flush on Tony’s face and the shine in his eyes that says he can have whatever he wants for at least one night.
He wants more than one night, though, so he just winks and sets down his overly large suitcase.
“All three of your friends,” He says as he pops open the case and turns it to Tony with a bit of a flourish. “Are present and accounted for.”
“Yay! Any resistance?”
“Didn’t see a single soul.”
Tony tilts his head like a confused little puppy, complete with big brown eyes. “Well I guess that makes sense. The facility is officially abandoned and Zola’s greatest defense is remaining secret.”
“There was a bit of misdirection going on too,” He tells the other man. “But I think I got it all.”
“Alright,” He frowns down at the Nautilus. He must be really tired because he actually says out loud, “I think I need an assistant.”
“Got anyone in mind?”
“I said that out loud,” Tony realizes but continues before he can comment. “Two, actually. But I’m not sure how to get Phil Coulson or Pepper Potts on my payroll without answering a lot of questions I rather want to avoid.”
“Potts was your CEO.”
“Right. And Coulson was a SHIELD Agent that got killed by Loki. Great guy. Dependable. Bit OCD but that’s probably a good thing, really. Scary, not ruffled by anything. Huge Cap fanboy so definitely not Hydra.”
“Carter should still be up with Howard. I’ll see if I can pitch it her way?”
“Uh,” Tony squints at him. “If you wanna give it a go, I promise I won’t be mad.”
“You gonna come check out the Beta Site with us?”
“Beta- The Stone Estate? Do I have to?”
“Are you going to want to trick it out with gadgets and gizmos?” James asks, both eyebrows raised.
“Then, yes. You have to.”
“Fine,” Tony sighs gustily but he can see the tiny smile the guy is hiding.
“I’ll come get you at 1430,” he slides out before Tony can object and makes his way up the stairs to Howard’s private office.
He knocks and enters when he hears Howard’s, “Come in.”
Carter blinks at him a few times before she smiles. “So that’s what Tony wanted an emergency suit for. Looking good, Sergeant Barnes.”
“Thanks,” he gives her the same little spin he gave Tony, making her laugh. “Hey, do you think you can get Tony an assistant? He was starting to look a little overwhelmed when I left him.”
Carter and Howard both watch him silently for several heartbeats. Howard clears his throat. Then the two exchange a look and very carefully don’t ask.
“Requirements?” she asks.
“Well, if he – or she, don’t care – is going to be working close with Tony we need to be sure he’s not Hydra. Like super dedicated Captain America fan level not Hydra. Gotta be good with computers, obviously. Or at least trainable. And he’s gotta be able to take crazy, because that’s going to be Tony’s life for the foreseeable future. Hand to hand combat experience would be great, so I can sneak another guard close to Tony.”
“I think I know just the man, actually,” Carter says, amused. “I’ll have to see if I can steal him from SHIELD.” Then she tilts her head. “SHIELD was handling long range security for the Starks. Would you like me to see if any of that team would like to join us permanently?”
He shakes his head. “Can’t say I do. I never encountered them once. Not even when I was basically stalking Howard for two weeks with intent to murder. Not when I drove them off the road, either. I’m not impressed.”
Carter frowns but nods, obviously filing that away for later. Likely mentally preparing another line of investigation.
“You think you can stick around until after lunch?” he asks her. “In case any of the dozen you brought need to go back with you.”
“Of course,” she raises an eyebrow at him. “I do love having lunch with Jarvis.”
He smirks and nods and stands to leave.
“What time did you want to go see the Stone House?” Howard asks before he gets very far.
“1500? I told Tony I’d retrieve him at 1430.”
“I’ll make it happen.” Howard agrees and Bucky scampers to his room to change.
He really doesn’t want to think about why there’s a bedroom full of beefy Steve-sized clothing in a house Howard didn’t even own until well after the end of the War but, well. They fit him too which has saved all of them quite a bit of pain so far.
Still. Steve’s pants don’t have enough thigh room for him. He’s going to need some of his own.
Tony would probably be willing to help.
If he has time, Bucky rolls his eyes at himself as he slides into some oversized workout pants and an undersized t-shirt.
By the time he makes it back down to his guys, they’re all sitting on the lawn eating sandwiches. He snatches his own off the tray and sits on a chair on the porch rather than in their midst. He’s the boss now, not everyone’s favorite Sergeant, and he’s gotta act like it.
“Men,” Morales stands to address them and waves toward him. “This is Sarge. He’s Head of Stark Family Security. You don’t get into the house with his approval so play nice and introduce yourselves.
Before they even start talking there’s two he mentally marks as trouble. Not Hydra trouble but something. Maybe industrial espionage? When dealing with the Starks not everything is good guys versus Nazis, he reminds himself. They have huge personal wealth, a multi-billion dollar business that focuses largely on advanced weapons manufacture, and intimate connections with governments around the world. Any of that is fit to draw both ire and envy.
Nothing in their introductions makes him even wonder if he’s wrong. He takes the less obvious one as his first sparring partner and the more obvious one as his fourth.
There’s a dame that was part of the day’s first group, something no one mentioned, but she’s the biggest threat of the lot. Really fun to fight, too. Some sort of kung-fu master or something with great instincts and a poker face that might as well be carved from stone. Melinda May’s her name and she’s his new favorite.
Duke’s going to be heartbroken, he thinks with a grin.
By the time he’s evaluated them all individually and is giving them a break before team drills against him, Carter steps out on the back porch. He makes his way up to her and leans in, a picture of easy familiarity. She leans in to him as well, helping with the image of intimate friends.
“Rico and Jackson,” he says softly.
She laughs lightly and places a hand on his arm. “Emerson, as well.”
“He’s not a spy,” He counters.
“No but he refuses to engage properly and something about his style screams unreliable to me. That’s a man that will sell out the Starks for a pancake.”
“How do you wanna play this?”
“I’m an old woman, you know,” she says at a more normal volume. “I can’t carry all those things myself.”
“I’ll get you some help.” He turns to the group. “Rico, Emerson, Jackson.” All three pop up to attention. “Help a kind old lady cross the street.”
“When is the last time James slept?”
Tony barely manages to keep his coffee behind his teeth as Aunt Peg slams into the kitchen.
“What are you doing here?” He asks intelligently and gets an judgety eyebrow in return.
“I brought your personal assistant by for James to interview, of course.”
“Why is James interviewing my personal assistant?”
“Because no one gets in this house until he’s kicked their arse at least twice,” Jarvis informs him breezily and he drops a plate with the fresh cinnamon rolls in front of him and a second one in what is quickly becoming Aunt Peg’s spot. “I must say, he’s holding his own better than some of the Security Personnel.”
With a frown, Tony leans to look out the backdoor, and sure enough Agent Coulson is going hand to hand with the Winter Soldier. He’s young, easily under thirty, and the suit in cheaper than the Agent he knew would have tolerated, but that is undeniably him. Holy shit.
“Where’d you dig him up?”
“He interviewed for a position in the SHIELD Academy’s next training class, but was rejected for his prosthesis. He’s missing his left leg to just short of the knee.”
“You’d never know it, looking at him,” Tony muses, and wonders if his Coulson somehow got into SHIELD even with the prosthesis or if time really is wibbly wobbly and this is an unexpected result of the changes he and James have made so far.
He can see how it could have worked out in their timeline, though.
The January 1992 class had been the largest in the SHIELD Academy’s history. Likely, now that he thinks about it, in response to the perceived crisis caused by his father’s unexpected death.
A veritable wave of Hydra had gotten in the door in that class, including Garrett, Ward, and Sitwell. It would not be a surprise if a technically-disqualified amputee made it in as well. Then, by the time they realized their mistake, Coulson would have already proven himself and they’d have had no real choice but to give him an exception.
James saving his dad had probably ruined Coulson’s career.
But it’s also saved his mom and stymied Hydra to an as-yet untold degree, so Tony can’t find it in himself to be upset about it.
“He was Army Special Forces before he lost the leg,” she explains, tugging on one of her rolls to unwrap it a bit. “Unflappable, takes initiative, and smart. He might not be as technologically advanced as you would probably prefer but he’s a fast learner and has a history of performing well in crisis.”
“Not a Nazi?”
“Not a Nazi,” she promises. They watch together through the back door and James takes Coulson down. While he’s down, Coulson uses his prosthesis to take James down too. “I’m serious, though. Xavier will be here at 2 and I’m not bringing any new men ’round today. Make James sleep. Before your boyfriend gets himself killed.”
This time, the coffee makes it past his teeth.
“Sir,” Coulson’s voice breaks him out of his programming fugue state. “If you are attending Sergeant Barnes’ 2 o’clock, you’ll need to head up soon.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m going.” He glances over to where Coluson is sitting at a non-networked desktop, working his way through the Nautilus’s goodies. “Find anything?”
The ever-so-slightly older, technically, man turns to face him directly and after a pause says, “Sergeant Barnes is undoubtedly the strongest man I’ve ever met.”
“Say, what?” Because hello, non-sequitur.
“They kept him on ice for five years while Dr. Zola created his first arm. They shipped him to the US for implantation and further experimentation on his enhancement. Then they shipped him back to Russia for conditioning. It took them almost another 5 years to break him. And that’s with regular mind wipes in the last two.”
Tony can feel his jaw hanging open and can’t do anything about it. “That’s all there?”
“Yes, sir. Zola took a very intense personal interest in the progress of Hydra’s New Fist. He wanted ‘it’ to be perfect and was quite unhinged about the entire thing. Saw Sergeant Barnes’ survival as providence. That he was fated to be the new Red Skull.”
“James would never-” He can’t even say it, the very thought is disgusting.
“I agree, sir.” And that’s a look Tony’s never seen on Agent’s face before. If he had to name it, he’d say it’s something between heartbreak, disgust, and determination to finish. “Am I allowed to remain in the lab while you’re gone?”
“Uh, no, actually. Maybe later when we know each other better, but right now it’s above your clearance. Go get some food, then go back mom up. She’s going to be in the southern library with Vincenzo and the first five security guys. She’ll be glad to have you.”
“Tailor. Not everything is Tactical Gear Chic, you know. Especially not for mom’s security team with all the balls and the charities and stuff.”
“Of course, sir,” Coulson agrees as he leads the way out the door.
“Stop calling me ‘sir’. Sir’s my dad! I’m not that old.”
“Of course, sir.” Phil repeats and looks over his shoulder just enough for Tony to see the amused twinkle in his eye.
Tony shakes a finger at him and moves in front of the keypad to ‘lockdown the secure area’ so James doesn’t kick a fuss.
By the time they make it to the kitchen, James is there scarfing down one of the super soldier sized sandwiches Jarvis has taken to making for lunch. Tuna fish salad this time, based on what Tony can see as he snatches a cheesy poof off the other man’s plate.
James growls at him playfully around his mouthful but there’s a smile barely distinguishable between his squirrel cheeks so Tony isn’t worried.
“Concerns?” Coulson asks as he pulls up a bit of butcher block next to Tony and waits for his sandwich.
James shakes his head. “Our visitors have arrived. They agreed to submit to security protocols, car’s being scanned now. Professor brought two guests.”
“Names?” Tony asks curiously.
“Erik Lehnsherr and Logan, not sure if that’s a first name or last name.”
Ah, the Wolverine. That’ll be fun for the metal detectors, Tony can’t help but smirk. Still, he can see the logic behind the picks, a Holocaust survivor and another amnesiac -who is probably also a World War 2 veteran. Similar enough to hopefully put James at ease or possibly even help the process while still fully capable of maintaining Xavier’s security.
He glances over at James to find him tense and eating more slowly than normal. Since he can’t exactly tell James what he knows in their current company, he reaches over and puts a hand on the man’s arm.
“Relax. Dad and Xavier have been friends for years. If there’s anyone that can break your conditioning, it’s him.”
James gives him a wry smile. “Not really looking forward to someone messing around in my head again. Don’t matter who they are. But it’s his company that I’m more concerned about. Even Hydra knew Professor X and his merry band of mutant heroes.
“Erik Lehnsherr is the mutant they call Magneto. Because he controls metal,” James pointedly looks down at his arm and then back up at Tony. “The other one, I’m pretty sure they call him Wolverine but my memories are all jumbled. If I’m right, he might actually be a better fighter than I am and he’s got surgically implanted knives up his sleeves.”
Oh, well. When you put it that way, “Then it’s a good thing you have a scarily pretty army just a shout away.”
“They aren’t an army,” Bucky scoffs. Then he grins, all shy and quicksilver. “But we could absolutely topple a few nations, if you need us to.”
Tony chokes on a laugh and swallows it back but then Jarvis, of all people, starts snickering. Coulson joins in pretty quickly and then it’s a lost cause. They all laugh until Tony and James are leaning on each other and Phil is holding himself up using Jarvis’s butcher block.
That is, of course, how his mother finds them.
She just shakes her head at them and cups his jaw as he wipes away tears. “Your father wants you in the front study as soon as possible.”
“Okay, yeah,” he hiccups. “We can do that.”
She nods and steps back with her usual poise. “I understand, Mr. Coulson, that you are with me this afternoon?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He glances at Tony and only leaves his post once he gets a permissive nod.
“Don’t forget your sandwich, dear. You can eat in my library, and Vincenzo will need to get through at least Mr. Duke before he gets to you.”
“Before he gets to me, ma’am?” he asks even as he returns for his food.
“Well, of course! One of you needs to look like a professional, and I promise you it won’t be my son.” His mother shakes her head, playfully mourning. “This is your burden to bear, I’m afraid. Being the personal assistant of an eccentric genius.”
The door swings closed behind them, and Tony starts giggling again. “God, I love that woman.”
“She’s something else,” James agrees. “I’m glad I didn’t-” and he stops there for which Tony is unspeakable grateful.
When he looks up, James’s eyes are right there and-
Jarvis clears his throat.
“We should go,” James says hastily as he steps back, but not far enough to make Tony fall. “We don’t want to keep our guests waiting.”
“Right. Right. Psychic. Public study. Let’s go.”
They make it to the study to find only Aunt Peg and Dad there.
Moments later, there’s a knock on the door and Bogart holds it as three men walk in. Well, two actually walking. Charles Xavier rolls along in an actual wheelchair, not the hoverchair Tony remembers him having. He’s not bald like Tony remembers him being, either. He’s got cute floppy hair that’s just going gray at his temples. It’s obviously him, the resemblance to the Xavier he knew is strong, and the weight of his mind exactly the same but, well, it is over 20 years earlier in the timeline than the last time Tony saw the man.
There are bound to be differences in the people he knew just because of the events that haven’t happened yet.
Magneto walks to one side of Xavier, looking content. His gait is slinky and his attention continually returns to Xavier in a way that confirms to Tony all the rumors he’s heard about the two men being long time lovers.
Behind them is a man even shorter than he is with a disgruntled look on his face and an unlit cigar in his mouth. Logan, the Wolverine.
Logan freezes when he sees James.
A glance at James shows the same wide-eyed surprise on his face.
“I know you,” Wolverine points.
“Jimmy. Jimmy Howlett. You used to run night raids with Cap back in the war.” James swallows hard and glances at Tony. “They wouldn’t let us have him full time.”
“Cap gave Colonel Phillips ulcers enough on his own,” Howard breaks in with a nostalgic smile. “He didn’t need back up.” He comes around the desk to offer Wolverine his hand. “I saw your picture when you joined Xavier’s school, I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you.”
“We are discussing World War II, correct?” Magneto asks, sliding gracefully onto a couch without waiting for any sort of invitation. Tony knew he liked the man for a reason. “Why would you logically assume your contemporary would appear any younger than you?”
“The man has a point,” Tony agrees, taking a seat on the love seat opposite him.
“Perhaps if you would explain why we are here,” Xavier redirects before things can completely devolve.
“Three days ago Sergeant Barnes was sent to assassinate my wife and I,” Dad rips off the bandage like a goddamn professional. “In the middle of his mission, he was able to overcome nearly fifty years of Hydra’s mental programing and saved us instead. We already have plans to deal with the returned – or, perhaps more realistically, continued threat of Hydra. But James has the right to any peace of mind we can give him regarding his conditioning. We would like you to assist us with that.”
“There are words,” and James shivers hard enough Tony can feel it on the opposite end of the love seat they share. “All they have to do is say the goddamn words and I-”
“Become a murder puppet,” Tony finishes for him.
James just nods and puts his hands over the lower half of his face in a gesture Tony knows he’s been trained to find comforting. Like that goddamn muzzle. Probably unintentionally trained because, real talk, the last thing Hydra wanted him to have is comfort but Tony knows well the safety of a mask.
They talk for several moments around James but Tony’s attention is all for the man himself as he slowly leans into him for comfort.
Okay, so some of his focus is for Wolverine whose focus is also on James. Its intense in a way that makes Tony wonder if, well. It’s not like it’s any of his business anyway. And he can’t really throw stones at any of James’s former lovers when he has too many to count. And he doesn’t have the right to be territorial, besides.
Still infuriating though.
“What I wanna know is how you survived,” Wolverine finally growls. “If you’re really him, if you’re really Bucky Barnes, how did that fall not kill you? Cause I remember maps of that ravine and it should have.”
“He was enhanced,” Tony answers for him when it becomes clear James can’t yet.
“No, he wasn’t. His smell never changed the entire time we served together. I’d have known if our side changed him.”
Now James laughs and it sounds like it hurts. “It wasn’t our side that did it.”
“I imagine it was before you met him, while he was held prisoner by Hydra the first time,” Tony expands again. “Captured in Azzano, Italy. Held somewhere in Austria.”
“Cap’s first mission,” Logan nods. “He went off to rescue Barnes behind enemy lines.”
“Yeah. And he found me, still strapped to Zola’s table.”
Wolverine watches him closely for a few moments, his nose semi-permanently flared. “It doesn’t smell the same as Cap’s.”
“Knock offs never smell the same as the original,” Tony adds faux chiperly.
“I think I should speak to James and Anthony,” Xavier informs the group sharply. “Alone.”
Lehnsherr and Xavier exchange a fairly heavy look. Lehnsherr clearly doesn’t want to go but eventually he rises to lead the other three out of the study.
As the herd moseys out, Tony can hear Aunt Peg ask, softly but clearly, “Are you quite alright?”
“Not remotely,” Erik Lehnsherr answers with something that sounds suspiciously like a sniffle. “Growing up, Bucky Barnes was everything I wanted to be. Strong, handsome, smart, and so very brave. Selfless. The little Jew boy that gave his life so Captain America could save the world from Nazis.
“He was my hero.” The man takes a shaky breath. “And he still is.
“He still is.”
Tony looks to James to gauge his reaction and isn’t quite sure what he sees. Wide-eyed surprise is some of it. The beginnings of tears at the edge of his eyes. A bare slice of hope. Then the crushing guilt finds him and James’s face shuts down.
They’ll have to work on it. James deserves to see himself the way the world does, as a hero.
One glance at Xavier tells him that Charles feels the same.
“Time travel is a tricky thing,” he says to Tony and James once they’re alone, and both freeze. “But I am not unfamiliar with desperate plans. In fact, I’ve come to the same conclusion you did -or someone did for you- at least once before myself.”
“You-” Tony squeaks. “Is that why so many things are kind of different?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. I can’t give you the details because I don’t know them. I just know the time traveler, and I know that they did not lie to me.”
“How does that even work?” James asks.
“I’m a geneticist, not a theoretical physicist. How would I know?” Xavier smiles almost playfully at them. “I do know you’ve done, and can promise you every advantage I can provide to help you save the world.”
“Such as?” James prods.
“I can pull the trigger code straight out of your head. You’ll likely have a headache for a few days but it’s unnatural to you so when your physical brain heals, they won’t return-”
“Please,” James breaks in. “Yes, do it.”
Xavier just nods and keeps going. “Someone has already added an emotional distance -a buffer, if you will- between you and the crimes Hydra used you to commit. I believe your little mechanic friend did this to keep you functioning and moving toward your goal but I can remove it, if you like. Keep in mind that it’s not impeding your physical brain’s natural healing in anyway nor is it causing you any other distress that I can detect. As far as I can tell, it will fade naturally.”
James looks at him for that one and Tony flails mentally for just a moment. “Let’s leave it but keep an eye on it, will you?”
“In addition, I have a machine, as Mr. Stark knows, called Cerebro. I usually use her to search for mutants in distress but I believe I can use it to search for Hydra. It’s not physical evidence, and my findings will not be admissible in the Court of Law, but it could help you find information that is. I would be willing to aid your hunt for Hydra in this way.”
Tony takes this one without being asked. “We need an in to Wakanda. Ulysses Klaue will attack them sometime in the next two months. We want to prevent it and hopefully earn enough good will to get the Vibranium to replace James’s arm.”
“What’s wrong with his arm? I can tell from here-” Xavier freezes mid-sentence. “Adamantium is toxic,” He brings a hand to cover his mouth. “Logan’s entire skeleton is grafted with Adamantium.”
“Get him to join our team and we’ll see if we can get enough for him, too.” Tony promises. “His healing factor is natural for him though, so I’m assuming it’s better than James’s aftermarket add-on. That should put him overall in less danger.”
“I don’t think he’s going to give any of us a choice in the matter of him joining your team.” Xavier sounds inappropriately amused. “I’ll be surprised if he even leaves long enough to pack a bag.”
“Make him pack a bag,” James sighs. “We’re not going anywhere.”
“I’ll do my best,” Xavier promises. “The last thing I can offer is a bit of perspective.”
Tony sighs. “Meaning?”
“There is more to life than vengeance. Or justice. Make time for each other. Make friends, reach out to your families.”
“I don’t have any family,” James scoffs. “They’re all-” And then he freezes.
“Your sisters are alive,” Xavier corrects him gently. “Your oldest nephew is a man I trust beyond all others save Erik. He’s all but married to a man with the most beautiful mutation I’ve ever seen, and the two of them foster mutant children too young to attend my school. Your youngest niece is a concert pianist that makes the world weep at the beauty she creates.
“Your legacy, Sergeant Barnes, is beautiful and vast. And it is not dictated by Hydra.”
James sits there frozen and after several minutes, Xavier turns to look at Tony. “There is also the issue of the Captain. You and I both know you can find him and you and I both know you are reluctant to do so because of how everything ended between you, but I encourage you to bring him home. It is a proud part of the legacy of this country to never leave a man behind. And more than that, it’s not his fault that his entire introduction to the future was handled by Hydra. They influenced him in ways none of us -save perhaps Sergeant Barnes, once he heals- can tell.
“This time he will be influence by love and friendship. Deputy Director Carter, Sergeant Barnes, your father, and yourself. Your mother, though she’s never met him, could prove an immeasurable difference in the man he will become once he awakens.”
“Not. Soon,” Tony croaks, his mind and his heart racing in opposite directions.
“No, of course not. You have a great deal to do with a great deal of urgency but you also have a great deal of help, this time.” The man smiles at him. “If you need more help, or perhaps an investor, you can count on me. I think I would rather enjoy one of those Starkphones I can see floating around in your head.”
Tony cracks up, and the weight of Xavier’s mind feels pleased against his. “I can probably work on a proper hoverchair for you, too. Limited flight capability and a tighter turn radius to increase your mobility.”
“My school does have a rather incredible number of stairs,” Xavier says with a nod.
“Easily manageable. We can also-”
“Alpha Base, this is Main Gate. Come in, over,” a radio squawks, and James is up and digging in dad’s desk before Tony can really register what’s happening.
“Main Gate, this is Alpha Base. Read you, over,” James calls back.
“There’s a man here, name Stane. His driver’s license and Stark Industries ID check out,” the guard replies. He’s a man. One that Tony should recognize but can’t because Stane. Obie. Good old Obie. Of fucking course he wouldn’t stay away if he had any idea Howard was up to something like he’s currently doing. The guard continues, “He won’t submit to security protocols. Demands to see Mr. Stark now or he’s calling the police and reporting a hostage situation.”
James shoots him a furious glare, and Tony can’t help but echo it. The last fucking thing they need right now is police coming in and drawing more attention down on them.
“He let you search the car?”
“Then put ‘im in a jeep and drive him up here yourself. I’ll send Duke down to take over.”
“Sir,” a slightly different voice puts in. “There’s two of them.”
“The second?” James snarls.
“Female, 5 foot 3, red hair, green eyes. Claims to be his assistant. Stark Industries ID checks out.” Which implies her driver’s licence doesn’t. This guy’s sharp. He might not have James’s finely honed spy detector nose but he’s good. Tony wholeheartedly approves, they need more like that guy.
But. Red hair and green eyes, playing an assistant? Tony closes his eyes, knowing what’s coming even as James asks, “Name?”
Yeah, that’s pretty much what he expected.
What he does not expect is James’s, “Send ’em both.”
“What are you doing?” he hisses furiously. “You’re letting her in here?”
“Cognitive recalibration only works if I get my hands on her,” James smirks, looking for once like that old Bucky Barnes from the propaganda reels, a little wild and out for a good time. It’s a distressingly attractive look on him. “And once I do, Xavier can rip out her trigger phrase too. You can run an unofficial Russian Spy Recovery Service.”
“I hate you,” Tony announces with absolutely no heat. “This is a horrible idea, and when we all die, I’m picking where we restart this time.”
“You think the Black Widow can beat the Winter Soldier?” James snorts. “Who do you think taught her all her moves? And deep in her conditioning like she is right now, she can’t even remember that I wrote her playbook.”
Tony doesn’t really have a good counter for that, though it probably does explain why Nat betrayed the team and let Cap -let Bucky- go back at that airport. “You ruin that shirt and I’m taking you clothes shopping. A full wardrobe and I don’t wanna hear a peep out of you, mister, the entire time.”
“Yessir.” James has the audacity to throw him a salute him as he takes off for the door.
“Shopping is a punishment now?” Xavier asks, amused.
“To him? Yes. If it’s not an open air farmers market, its a fate worse than death. Right up there with Hydra-hosted slumber parties.”
“Very well, should we get somewhere advantageous in order to assist?”
“Nah, he’s right, he’s got this.” Tony takes a deep breath and reminds himself. James can do this. James will do this. “We can definitely watch from the window though, if you want to catch the show.”
From the angle of the window they can see Dad, Aunt Peg, Wolverine, and Mr. Lehnsherr follow James onto the front porch.
“Can you tell Wolverine not to engage?” He asks urgently. “If she’s too pressed, it’ll make taking her alive impossible. And we don’t like killing brainwash victims around here.”
Wordlessly, Xavier presses two fingers to his temple. As Tony watches, Lehnsherr turns to Logan and gives him an order that obviously makes the man unhappy but he looks over his shoulder at the window and nods once to them regardless.
Obie climbs out of the jeep, already bitching and trying to throw the Security Team under the bus. Like their not doing their damn jobs or something. James lets him by, which is a surprise, but when Nat moves to follow him up the stairs James is there, leading with a knee that sends her sliding back across the pavement.
“Howard!” Obie protests before he’s silenced by one of Wolverine’s blades to the jugular.
James’s knee disappears in a spin and becomes a high kick. Nat, proving that she too is a super soldier serumed showoff, falls back onto her hands to avoid it. She kicks herself over into a back handspring that just barely misses James’s chin and comes up fighting.
From there is gets fast and vicious to the point when Tony really needs slowmo just to keep up.
Or rewind. Watching on rewind might work.
He’s sure she tries her favorite shoulder maneuver only to get thrown like an overgrown discus into a tree. Twice. She tries it twice, but she doesn’t try a third time so she’s learning.
He’s also sure she pulls a gun. She only gets one shot off -in to James’s side, godammit- before he manages to pull off the slide mid-shot. And stab her with it. In the shoulder. Which. How? The slide on that model doesn’t have sharp edges!
Christ, he thinks to himself. He’s never going to be able to watch them in the field. This is, just- This is terrible.
Then James sinks his metal hand into her hair and forcible introduces her face to the fender of the jeep. More than once!
When she staggers away, he lets her go, watching intently even as he sags against the jeep.
“Yasha?” She asks faintly and then, well, faints.
Or passes out, maybe, if you’re a ridiculous Russian Super Spy that can’t handle honest labeling impugning your inherent toughness.
“Jamz?” James slurs and the man is there in a heartbeat.
“Couch,” He points toward the window where Tony is standing.
“I gotcha, Sarge,” Jamz says as he follows his line of sight and Tony holds up two fingers, indicating he should bring them both. Jamz just nods and pulls one of James’s arms around his shoulders.
Less than five minutes later, Jamz and Morales have James and Nat draped over the couch and loveseat of one the conversation nooks while the rest of them reconvene in the other.
Dad immediately rounds on Obie the moment Wolverine forces him into a chair. “You wanna tell me what you think you were doing, bringing a goddamn Russian Spy into my house? Into my home!? Where my wife is?”
“She’s not a spy!” Obie scoffs. “She’s my temporary assistant! I told you about it in my email, Jane’s on a leave-”
“That she will never come back from,” Xavier interrupts. “It seems like Mr. Stane has many secrets. For example, he knows you’re supposed to be dead right now, leaving the business in his total control -at least until your son graduates school. Though it should be noted that he’s confident he can get around the terms of your Will and maintain control indefinitely by manipulating your son.
“He does not know, but suspects and isn’t at all bothered by the fact, that it was Hydra that was going to kill you. He’s been leaking them information and weapons out of your company since he became your COO.”
“Fifteen years,” his dad breathes, betrayal writ large on his face. “You’ve been a goddamn traitor for fifteen years?”
“Hydra is not the only one he’s been selling weapons and information to,” Xavier twists the knife just a little bit deeper. “And that doesn’t count the straight out embezzlement that he’s been doing all on his own.
“Did you know he has a third of the Board in his pocket? If he can’t murder you, he’s going to stage a coup.”
Dad crashes into a chair and stares at Obie for a moment. “I could murder you right now.” He runs a hand over his face. “But I think I’m going to make a spectacle of you instead. Use this to drag you and all of your co-conspirators to light. In Stark Industries, in the government, abroad.”
“The world will know Hydra is back,” Tony reminds his dad softly.
“They need to know,” the man asserts. “Hiding this in the dark benefits them, not us.”
“Shine a light on the issue and it makes it harder for them get around, true.” Aunt Peg agrees. “Do you have a room that can hold him? I’d rather he didn’t mysteriously disappear like Alexander Pierce did.”
“The old robotics lab,” Howard immediately offers. “Underground with one door and no windows. It’s empty but we can drag a mattress or something in there.”
“You’ll have to feed him three times a day and go to the bathroom twice.”
“We can do that.”
Aunt Peg stands. “Then, as the current Director of SHIELD, you should declare this an official black site. Security level 9.” Howard moves to his desk to grab some paperwork and Aunt Peg turns on Old Obie. “You, Obadiah Stane are hereby under arrest for industrial espionage, conspiracy, and suspected treason.” She nods to Wolverine who nods right back and pulls Obie out of his chair by his armpits. “If you would lead the way, Howard. I’ll review his accommodations and then return with an interrogator.”
“Of course, Peg, right this way. We can set the door with different lock sequences. One for you, one for me, one for the guards. It’ll keep track of who is-” and his voice cuts off as the door closes.
“Well this has been fun,” Tony says awkwardly. Lehnsherr pinches the bridge of his nose and shakes his head while Xavier looks at them in amusement.
“Professor,” James slurs, getting all of their attention.
They all get up and walk cautiously over to the possibly punch-drunk super soldier. “Yes, Sergeant Barnes?”
“Do the trigger word thing,” he orders as he pushes up to a more upright but still reclining position. “Rip ‘em out.”
“You want me to rip them out or remove them slowly? Slower would be less painful.”
“How slow is slow?”
“A few weeks?” Xavier offers even as James starts shaking his head. “We could do sessions everyday, time we agree to meditate together where I work them slowly out of your mind. We won’t even need to be in the same physical location as once we’ve established a link I can reach you anywhere on the planet.”
“Rip ‘em. I don’t want them, they’re too dangerous. Hers too.”
“You can’t give consent on her behalf,” Xavier objects, even as Tony slides onto the couch to help support James’s torso.
“No, Yasha is correct.” Nat turns her head to look at them, her eyes are vaguely glassy but there is definitely someone home. “The words are weakness, weakness is not permissible.”
“Yasha?” James asks. “Why do you call me Yasha?”
“I,” Nat blinks at him. “I don’t know.”
“If I may?” Lehnsherr interjects and they both nod. “Yasha is the Russian diminutive, or perhaps nickname? For James. It also works for Jacob.”
“Yasha,” he repeats. The he turns to Tony with a half-bloody smile, “I’m Yasha.”
Tony laughs and extends a hand. “Nice to meet you, Yasha. I’m Tony.”
Yasha laughs like the sun coming out and shakes Tony’s hand.
Xavier takes a deep breath like he’s praying for guidance while Lehnsherr fails to hide the fact that he’s laughing at his lover.
“This will hurt,” Xavier promises, making eye contact with first Yasha then Natasha.
When they both nod firmly, he places the tips of two fingers from each hand at his temples. There’s no noise, no sound, but suddenly Yasha shudders, groans under his breath, and leans a little harder into Tony. For her part, Nat lets out a bitten off whine and sort of collapses in on herself.
“If they’re smart, they’ll sleep for the next three days.” Xavier tells Tony with a put upon frown.
Tony sighs and shakes his head. “Which means they’ll be up by midnight.”
Magneto, predictably, laughs at them all.
“So what I miss last night?” Yasha asks as he enters what is now officially Tony’s Lab bearing lunch.
A glance from Tony has Coulson rising to his feet and beating a hasty -without actually looking hasty- exit.
“Well, Coulson agreed to the live-in part of the PA arrangement and Duke sent 3 guys home with him to pack up and move it all last night. Even his furniture, guy’s particular. Had to clean out a suite of his choice before he agreed to even pack. Pretty sure he’s the friend without a leg Duke mentioned that first night, ‘cause they’re way too close to have just met yesterday. They were really chummy at dinner.”
Yasha just looks amused as he starts to set out their lunch. Grilled cheese and tomato soup, aww yeah!
And the sandwiches are cut into triangles like he prefers. Further proof that Jarvis loves him.
“And. Seeing Aunt Peg bring Nick Fury to dinner last night and referring to him only as ‘The Interrogator’ was hilarious. Surprised he didn’t bust a vein when I promised to see ya later.” Tony snickers. “Would Nick Fury be a good super soldier? I don’t think so. He gets a little too focused, you know? Too intense. Not that I have room to throw stones but- and we also don’t know the full circumstances that make it work. Personality is obviously a big part but there’s got to be more than that. Otherwise, why did Schmidt get the scratch off face and the Defective Soldiers didn’t?
“I’m thinking it might be related to mutation. Several of your grand nephews are active mutants which means you probably at least carry the gene-potential. Does that mean active mutants can’t be given the serum? What are the consequences if they are?
“Oh, active mutants,” Tony snaps his fingers, thinking. “Wolverine decided he’s officially joining the Avengers -though we technically still don’t have a name yet- and was following me around like it’s his job last night. Talking about last night, I have to say watching him fail at steak knife when I know exactly what is up his actual sleeve will probably never not be funny. But, then Aunt Peg showed up with her first group of imports for the security team about two hours ago and he went off to beat them up in your stead.
“Did you know they’ve started calling that little asskicking/welcome aboard thing you do ‘popping the cherry’? Apparently Aunt Peg has been doing a lot of cherry picking for us and, also, they think they’re clever.”
Yasha nods as he leads by example, picking up one of his sandwich quarters. He dips it in his soup then crunches on it with a frown. “Of course I knew. About the cherry picking, I mean. It takes more than your average combatant to go toe to toe with me, especially to get back up and do it again. But none of that is what has you upset.”
“Found information on Ulysses Klaue, this morning,” Tony offers, dragging his spoon through his soup. “Confirmation that he tried to assassinate King T’Chaka this last May at the Bilderberg Conference, and that he’s being influenced by Hydra into trying to steal Vibranium. His hate on for Wakanda is epic, so it didn’t really take that much. As we know, they want to expose the truth about Wakanda. Apparently they think it will give them some advantage or something.”
“Points for distraction tactics,” Bucky points some sandwich at him. “Vibranium, good choice, but that’s still not what has you upset.”
Tony takes a deep breath. When was the last time someone called him on his shit like this? Was it Pepper? Or Rhodey? Did they ever bother to push past the distraction? He can’t remember.
“My mom’s pregnant,” he finally blurts to his bowl of soup and he can hear Yasha’s spoon hit the worktop. “Twins, according to Logan’s nose.
“I always thought dad just hated me to, you know, destroy my plans for the holiday with mom. That the whole ’emergency business trip’ thing -without me- was a snub or an insult or something, but they were going on the trip so she could get it taken care of. Which is fine. Her body, her choice, and all that. But with everything that’s happened she’s decided she wants to keep them.”
“Oh,” Yasha says softly after what Tony knows to be too long, but what can he do?
If his mom is pregnant now, then she was pregnant then, when the Winter Soldier killed her. That means the Soldier killed four Starks, rather than two that night. Add in the mutual attraction or whatever this is developing between them and-
“Thank you,” is what Tony finally decides upon. Because honesty is the best policy, right? “Thank you so much for saving her. For saving them. I’m not sure if I said it before, but I could probably say it every day and it would never be enough. Not with what you’ve given me, not with what it could have cost you, what it could still cost you. Just- thank you.”
Yasha seems to struggle for a bit, then he focuses down on his soup. “You’re welcome.” It’s barely above a whisper but he still decides to count it as progress.
Especially when Yasha looks up, looks him directly in the eye, and asks, “How do you feel about that? Becoming a brother?”
“Like that moment during the first big flight test of the Mark 2, when the suit froze up because I went too high. All upward momentum was gone and for a moment I just hung there, not really on Earth but not really in space either. My stomach had no idea what it wanted to do and even my brain stalled out.
“I was,” he runs a hand through his hair, “terrified. Exhilarated.
“I need to fix it but I don’t know what the problem is exactly.
“I mean, I know I want them to have more than I had. More love, more attention. Dad’s trying now but supportive and emotionally accessible aren’t exactly things that come easily to him. We haven’t gotten to the emotional bits at all, actually.” Thank god.
“I don’t know,” Yasha drawls after an extended pause. “He’s at least a better husband than I expected, to drop everything to take care of a problem on her behalf. To see his wife’s need met, regardless of the cost to him or what he might have wanted personally.”
“Point. But being a dad is a lot different than being a husband.”
Yasha nods and offers. “Books? There’s like, child-care books now, right?”
“Yeah, Phil offered to bring me his favorites and get recommendations from his sister. She has three spawn, apparently.”
“I had three sisters.” Yasha frowns. “I have three sisters. Duke has two sons that he adores even though his ex won’t let him close after he came out. Jamz is an only kid, but Morales has siblings. We can all help you. And we all will, you know that?”
Tony nods hastily. “Kids means more security, though, right? More men? Is that house big enough?”
“Should be fine but if it’s not, there’s enough land for a Charlie Site if we need it. We’d have to figure something out though because I’d want a solid wall between here and a construction site. Maybe JARVIS and a bunch of your toys can secure the property? Reduce the number of men we’d need.”
“I can work on that once I have JARVIS up. He’ll have ideas, he always does.
“What’s on your plate for this afternoon?”
“Popping some cherries,” Yasha answers with a grin. “Though we’re going to have to cut it short. I think the President is visiting today?”
“Say what?” Tony blurts in confusion.
“Well, there’s a team of Secret Service here that Howard wants me to avoid. Why else would Secret Service be here unless the President’s coming?”
“I need Phil,” Tony demands. “Get Phil down here, right now.”
Yasha shakes his head and pulls a walkie talkie out of a pocket. It’s store bought and Tony’s soul cries out in pain even as Yasha uses it to do his bidding.
“You should eat up,” Tony warns his – well, his Yasha as he puts his walkie talkie away. “You have never met a mom friend until you’ve met Phil Coulson. He doesn’t nag or even frown. I don’t know how to describe it. He stands there in his boring little suit and exudes disappointment at you until you start apologizing for all your life choices. It’s a super power, I swear. Gotta be.”
“He an empath?” Yasha asks between slurps, the heathen.
Tony snaps and points at him. “Good point. Very good point. We should test him.”
“Or we could just ask him,” Bucky counters as the lab door opens.
“Ask him what?” Phil asks as he ducks past Duke.
“If you’re an empath. Tony wants to test you, thinks you have super powers.” The vile betrayer throws him under the bus.
“I’m afraid that’s classified,” Phil answers in his best Agent voice, making Duke snort even as he closes the door behind him.
“Is the President going to be here today?” Tony transitions smoothly. Very smoothly, thank you.
“That’s what I gather from Agent Johnston of the Secret Service. Marine One should be here sometime between 1600 and 1700, possibly staying for dinner.”
“You got a Secret Service Agent to tell you the President’s schedule?” Tony can feel his left eye twitching. Mutation or magic, this is some kind of super powered bullshi-
Coulson smirks, “Not exactly. He perhaps didn’t realize I was there but, to be fair, cell phone communication is hardly secure so there’s no telling how confidential that information actually is.”
“Wow. Second day on the job and getting a Secret Service Agent fired. Vicious, Coulson. I am so proud.”
Three hours later, Tony is less proud. Partially because the time was wrong and partially because he’s stuck in a private meeting with the President and his dad.
To make matters worse, he’s stuck sharing a loveseat with his dad while the First Asshole lords an entire couch over them.
And there’s been a TV on a cart wheeled in to his dad’s private office, so show time’s going to happen. Tony can hardly wait to see the Winter Soldier try to kill his parents again. This is exactly what he needs right now.
“You’re telling me Bucky Barnes, Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, is alive?” First Asshole demands. Again.
“Yes, sir, I am,” his dad nods with more patience than Tony has ever known him to possess. Apparently presidents get special treatment, who knew? “We have had facial recognition, genetic match, and a telepath that all confirm his identity. He is Bucky Barnes. He’s been held prisoner by Hydra since the end of the war. They tortured him, sir. Broke him, made him into a wind up toy. Just reading about the process would give anyone nightmares, and they didn’t spare the pictures.”
“Wind up toy?”
“An assassin. They turned his skills from the war to their advantage.”
“That’s how you found him?”
“He was sent to kill my wife and I. If you watch this, you can actually see the moment he broke though his conditioning.”
His dad holds up the remote and hits a few buttons. The scene is familiar, grainy black and white. The video starts earlier than Tony actually saw. It starts with the car crashing and the Winter Soldier parking his bike.
The heartless bastard saunters up to his dad’s car, pulling and readying a nine millimeter with almost insulting ease. Then he slams his left fist into the door and peels it open even though there’s a perfectly good handle right there.
His dad turns, shocked, and the gun is in his face. The Winter Soldier leans forward, preparing to pull dad out of the car by his hair and punch him dead just like he did in the video Tony saw once upon a time but his dad says something and the Soldier freezes. The gun jerks in tiny, spastic movements. Up down, up down, barely even inches at a time.
Then the Soldier’s body language changes. It’s obvious. In a heartbeat, his back goes from the confident powerful line of the Soldier to the terrified and confused hunch of a recovering Yasha.
Yasha takes two steps back from the car. The Winter Soldier takes one forward again.
The Winter Soldier brings the gun up decisively but his dad says something and Yasha opens his hand. The gun hits the ground even though the Soldier could totally have caught it.
Yasha and Dad talk briefly and Dad looks murderous before Yasha scoops up the gun, spins, and the screen goes black.
“Can he be programed again?” The President asks. “Activated?”
“No, the telepath we used to confirm his identity removed the trigger sequence. They would have to capture him again and torture him -probably for another five years- to break him again to put them back.”
“Five years?” The President runs a hand across his mouth. Then he frowns. “What do you need from me, Howard? We both know you didn’t ask me over for story time.”
“For one, we’re going after Hydra. We have reason to believe they’ve infiltrated SHIELD, so I want to handle it a little closer to the vest than usual. Technically, I’m still Director since we weren’t going to name my successor until January.”
“Are you too compromised for this?” The President raises a single eyebrow. “They tried to kill your wife.”
“They’ve killed a lot more than that and they’ve been fostering human/mutant tensions for years, so they obviously intend to kill more. But I trust me. I trust the people around me. I know we’ll get it done on a global scale. But officially, on the SHIELD side of things, I want to turn cleaning house over the Peg, reinstate her as Deputy Director with special privileges. To begin a six month transition into her full Directorship.”
“You’re still retiring?” The President asks. “With all this going on?”
“I still have twins on the way, Mike,” his dad reiterates. “I’m not as young as I used to be. I have to choose, and this time I’m picking my family over my second career. I’ve earned it, haven’t I?”
“And, it will throw Hydra off,” Tony adds. “If he keeps going, business as usual, but officially playing the blame for his almost-assassination on Obie. Make it sensational, make it distracting. Aunt Peg will get more done while they’re focused elsewhere. When that’s played out, we’ll come up with another story to drive the world crazy. I can think of three just off the top of my head.”
“Alright, I’ll get you the right paperwork but you keep me in the loop, Howard. Cliff Notes weekly and prepare me for surprises, you know the drill.”
“Also, we’re going to need to tell the world Barnes is back,” his dad presses. “Bucky was a hero to boys everywhere, and the Jewish Community in particular. Still is. We’re going to have to be open about what happened to him and honest about what he’s done, but that none of that is his fault. We need to make that clear. He wasn’t in the driver’s seat. All those crimes are Hydra’s, and someone trying to prosecute him for it will tear this country apart.”
“True,” The President nods and thinks for a few moments. “He up to a press conference?”
Dad looks at him and Tony can’t hide his momentary surprise. “A small one, maybe. Indoors, controlled crowd, no more than 6 reporters but preferably less. And he’ll need to meet them and their crews before hand.”
“Three reporters and their crews, the Joint Chiefs, him, and your party,” The President offers.
Tony thinks about it but nods. “No individual interviews, yet. Just introductions.”
“Well, while we’ve got you here,” Tony leans forward and focuses on the man. “I want you to make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT and mutated persons. Equal rights for everyone, all the way. Marriage, adoption, property ownership, all of it. Civilian and military.”
“That would be political suicide!” First Asshole objects.
“You can’t run for a third term anyway.”
President Ellison sputters and dad clears his throat. “Maybe if you explained why, Tony?”
“Oh, I skipped that part? Well, first of all, it’s the right thing to do. Canada is ahead of us on equal rights and that’s just embarrassing. Second. I have plans for over a hundred weapons and vehicles that I’m more than willing to let my father’s company develop for the US military. However, I feel it would be stupidly reckless to put my Jericho Missile or the Quinjet in the hands of men that get irrational and even murderously violent about who other people love or don’t love. These assholes already have access to nuclear weapons, it would be irresponsible of me to add to their burden. You gotta bring the standard up. Sharply. Or I’m keeping my toys at home.”
The President blinks. “I’ve never heard of the Jericho Missile or the Quinjet.”
“I’d hope not, I haven’t submitted the patents yet. But I can tell you biblical trumpets ain’t got nothing on my missile, the destructive capabilities will level mountain ranges. The Quinjet is a flexible VTOL vehicle that can do mach five on a whim. Virtually invisible on radar, makes the so-called ‘stealth bomber’ look like a float in the New Year’s Day Parade. And by flexible, I mean flexible. It can be an air-to-air fighter, a long range bomber, can carry a strike team up to 12 with enough ammunition to win a war.
“It floats, too. Pretty sure with a bit more tweaking, I can get it to function as a submersible.”
Ellison and Dad look at him with surprisingly identical expressions. Both shocked to the core. They look at each other and the President clears his throat.
“If that’s what you’re willing to do for your father’s company, what are you doing for yours?”
“You told him about Solutions?” Tony frowns.
His dad shrugs. “I might have bragged a bit. Not every kid in your position turns down a start up loan from their old man.”
Tony shakes his head even as something sort of pleased curls in his chest. “We’re going to drag computing in the country probably a good 30 years ahead of the rest of the world. Then we’re going to do the same for personal communication. Cell phones, I got plans for them. Those two lines of business will fund us doing the same for medical prosthesis and green energy. We’re going to make the lives of people in this country better, richer, and easier.
“Dad saves the world his way, I’m going to save it mine.”
“And you’re not going to be involved in the Hydra issue?” President Ellison presses.
“Well, I am still his heir. If something happens to him -as almost did, not even a week ago- I’ll make them regret it for however long they manage to survive. Not that anyone would expect that from what the media will no doubt dub Howard Stark’s Hippie Son.”
Ellison chuckles. “Alright. I’ll have the UCMJ overhauled but congress makes laws for civilians. I can’t do everything through executive orders.”
“When the UCMJ is updated to this century, I’ll turn the Quinjet over to dad.”
“And the Jericho?”
“I’m a civilian,” Tony counters. “I live under civilian laws.”
It’s a gamble because he really doesn’t want to hand over the Jericho, even if his father would have full discretion over its use and sale. Obie’s gone so the chances of backdoor deals and terrorists getting it is minimal but, well. Still.
Ninety-Two is an election year. They have a Democratic congress to counter their Republican President. The Dems should theoretically be pleased by the President asking for LGBT protections but it will alienate the Repub base, especially after ordering changes to the UCMJ. So it’s a pretty safe gamble for him to make in order to get what he wants.
“Do you have any idea how many individual devices he had to invent to make such a jet, Ellison?” his dad asks softly.
“No,” First Asshole trails off leadingly.
“Everything from the com gear and the engines to the outer skin and payload,” Tony supplies.
His dad nods, looking flatout impressed. “I can’t wait to see it.”
“Alright,” President Ellison leans back, obviously thinking. “Barnes is here?”
“Yup,” Tony nods. “Somehow he’s become our Head of Family Security, though I don’t remember any of us actually hiring him.”
“He kind of just decided it needed done and started doing it,” Howard agrees, looking painfully amused. “I’ll get Amy to draw up a contract and make it official.”
Ellison chuckles at them. “I want to talk to him.”
Tony was afraid of that. “Alright but there are things you need to know. He seems stable -50 years a spy and all that- but if you trigger a panic attack and he gets violent, no one here can actually stop him. He’ll go through your security detail like they’re wet tissue paper, so don’t. Don’t use the word ‘chair’ in any way shape or form, and don’t mention wiping anything. Those are the two big triggers we’ve found in him so far.”
“I thought you had a psychic here to get rid of his triggers.”
“Ah, well, no.” Tony scratches the back of his head. “The brainwashing he went through had trigger words so they could make him murder people. Those we had removed. But he’s still traumatized by the abuse they heaped on him in order to make the brainwashing take. Only time and a heaping load of therapy can heal that.”
“Alright,” The First Asshole nods and, rather than backing down, leans forward. “No chair, no wiping. Bring him in.”
Keeping his sigh strictly internal, Tony nods and stands. When he opens the door to the hall, Yasha, May, and Bogart are propping up one side of the hall while three of the beefiest Secret Service Agents Tony’s ever seen line the other other side.
He’d be impressed with the display, if he didn’t think Bogart alone could take all three Secret Service in less than a minute. May and Yasha are sheer overkill.
Yasha stands at his look. The man has clearly shaved since lunch, going for the clean shaven Vintage Bucky Barnes look. He looks both formal and not nearly formal enough for meeting the President. Black slacks, dress shoes, and a white button up. He has an extra button or two undone than is strictly necessary and his sleeves are rolled up, making it clear that one is flesh and the other is metal. He’s once again rocking one of dad’s driving gloves so that he can, you know, grip things with his slick metal hand but the missing finger has been tucked in such a way that it’s not flapping around everywhere anymore.
He looks gorgeous. Date ready. And Tony kind of hates the President -and Aunt Peg- for putting those thoughts in his head.
Yasha enters the room, walks into their little seating area, and immediately pops a salute. The President smiles, obviously charmed, and stands to return the salute. “Have a seat, son,” And the asshole gestures to the loveseat.
Tony’s dad slides nonchalantly over to a chair so as not to crowd him, which Tony appreciates.
“You are definitely Sergeant Barnes,” Ellison shakes his head. “I have to admit, for a moment I was sure Howard was fucking with me.”
Yasha opens his mouth but nothing comes out and he looks to Tony for help.
There was no question there though, so Tony doesn’t really have anything to offer. He shrugs and Yasha nods and turns back to the President.
The President doesn’t miss their exchange. Probably reads more into it than there is based of his eyebrows attempt to hide in his hair. “I feel I must apologize that we left you there. That no one ever went back for your body. Howard says Hydra tortured you for five years.”
Yasha gives a sad little smile. “Five years implied they stopped at some point, sir.”
“Right,” Ellison nods. “You seem to be in remarkably good shape. Physically, I mean.”
Ellison just keeps nodding. “Thank you, for what you did. Howard might be a pain in the ass, but he’s an American pain in the ass and our world would be poorer without him.”
When Yasha says nothing, he continues almost desperately. “Is there anything I can get you?”
This time Yasha opens his mouth, closes it, and shifts uncomfortably.
“Yasha,” Tony interrupts his thoughts before he can get lost in them. “Whatever it is. Just say it.”
Yasha gives his wide, vulnerable eyes and brings his left hand up to grip the open neck of his shirt. “My dog tags. I want my dogtags.”
“We can do that, son,” Ellison promises, looking relieved. “Have you reached out to your family yet?”
Yasha shakes his head and this time Dad steps in. “Maria was talking about a Christmas Party. Here, to bring all of the Barnes Clan back together. We hadn’t mentioned it to Buck yet, though.”
“I think that’s a fine idea. We’ll want them all to come to your reinstatement ceremony. Are you okay with a public ceremony, Sergeant Barnes?”
“I understand the necessity, sir.” He says softly. “I don’t think a big crowd would be a good idea but I’m sure Tony has advocated on my behalf.”
“He has,” Ellison assures. “Starks have a reputation as stubborn, vicious advocates, but I don’t think the world is ready for young Tony.”
“That would be the definition of impossible, sir,” Yasha says with real warmth in his voice.
The President laughs, looking pleased, and Tony tries not to blush.
Seriously, he is 46 years old. Or 67, depending on how you look at it. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. He has three PhDs! Well, technically one, currently, but he’ll have the other two officially again in May!
The point! The point is that blushing like a school boy is not a thing that should be happening to him.
“I want you to consider doing an interview,” The President throws out there and Tony barely manages not to groan. “I understand you have limitations, both real and imagined, but we need something to humanize you. You’re a big damn hero, son, and once I get through draping you with all the medals you deserve, that’s only going to get worse.”
“I-” Yasha looks at him, and Tony can’t help himself.
“We can pick the reporter together,” Tony finds himself promising. “We’ll handle the editing. You can even approve it before it airs.”
Yasha thinks about it and slowly nods.
Ellison isn’t thrilled but he nods in return. “Alright. I want it ready to go the week before we do the ceremony. So get it done before New Years.”
“Yes, sir,” Yasha agrees.
Another week, another awkward meeting. This time, at least, the scenery is much more agreeable.
“I don’t think you’ve formally met my sisters, Mr. Stark,” Gina –Regina- Sheppard nee Barnes, the youngest of Bucky’s three sisters, says. “This is Dorothy Roth nee Barnes, she’s the oldest of us. And Elizabeth de la Fontaine nee Barnes, she’s the sister between us.”
“The senator and the ballerina,” he confirms, shaking each of their hands. “I did actually read your letters.”
“Letters?” Senator Roth raises an eyebrow as he gestures them over to the seating area.
“We’ve exchanged letters since the end of the War,” he explains.
“You remember the kind letter he sent us on Bucky’s birthday, after.” Regina offers and when her sisters nod, she continues. “I wrote him back that Christmas and it became a tradition.”
“That’s lovely,” Mrs. de la Fontaine smiles at them. “So I suppose you don’t want to look through the albums we brought along?”
“I would be honored, if that ends up being something you’re still interested. Our letters never included pictures.”
“Do you have something terrible to tell us?” She asks astutely enough that he has to wonder how cut throat the life of a prima ballerina must actually be for her to pick up on minor cues so quickly. “If you’re cutting off your payments to the family trust, we fully understand.”
“My payments?” he can feel his face go pale.
“Of course,” Senator Roth scoffs. “We all know MIA payments don’t continue for almost 50 years, Mr. Stark. Not even when the missing soldiers are Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers.”
“It was very sweet of you, to make sure we were taken care of,” Elizabeth de la Fontaine agrees. “You put us all through school, paid for our weddings, buried our parents. Bucky would be so proud to call you his friend.”
He hopes, he really hopes Buck is proud to call him his friend. “I actually called you here to let you know that, among other things, the payments are going to be increasing.”
“Howard, no,” Gina protests.
“Howard, yes,” he smiles at them. “You see, we found him. We found Bucky and he’s working for me now. He wants his whole paycheck to go into the Family Trust, but maybe the three of you can convince him to start his own checking account.”
The Barnes sisters all blink at him with surprisingly identical cases of shock.
“Found him?” Mrs. de la Fontaine asks tremulously. “You- you-”
Right as the Senator demands, “What kind of job, exactly, do you have for a 70 year old man that would pay that much?”
“Ah, well, you were probably never told this -mostly because no one knew- but Sergeant Barnes was given a form of the Super Soldier Serum when he was captured the first time. Hydra used him as an unwilling test subject, and it worked.”
“Bucky’s a Super Soldier?” Senator Roth asks to clarify. “Like Stevie?”
“Not quite. He got the Hydra Knock-off Formula, not Erskine’s actual work, but it’s close enough that between it and the cryogenic stasis Hydra kept him in periodically over the last 40 plus years, he’s physically aged perhaps a year.”
“Can we see him?” Mrs. de la Fontaine asks. “Does he want to see us? Is it safe?”
“You can see him, and we’ve made it as safe as we can. He’s… willing to meet you, but I think he’s afraid.”
“Bucky?” Gina asks, eyes wide. “Afraid?”
“He’s been through a lot,” Howard explains. “I’ve read the files and I don’t think I have a full grasp of it all. The only person he’s been truly able to connect with is my son, Tony, and I think he’s afraid of failing to connect with you like he used to.”
“Let me guess, your son is short, dark, and has an attitude problem,” Gina asks, badly suppressing a smile.
“Sounds about right,” he agrees.
“Bucky’s type to a T,” Gina exchanges fondly exasperated looks with her sisters. “I hope you can be okay with that. Once Bucky finds what he likes, he tends to dig in and not be budged.”
“So, you know your brother is gay?” He can’t be bothered to fight the surprise.
“We grew up in Brooklyn,” de la Fontaine frowns at him. “Stevie studied Art.”
And, okay, that’s a good point. “But, during the war he had all those stories about going out dancing with dames!”
“That’s right. Two at a time,” de la Fontaine frowns at him like he’s stupid. “Back then it wasn’t any more accepted for dames to step out together than it was for fellas. He was, what do you call it now? Bearding them. The only reason he ever-”
Gina clears her throat, hard, and glares at her older sister. “That’s a story for Buck first, don’t you think?”
“You didn’t tell him in your-”
“I did not,” The answer is firm in a way that piques Howard’s interest. What in the world did Gina not tell him?
“Right. Is Bucky here? Can we see him?”
Howard nods at them and stands. “If you’re sure.”
“We’re sure,” Doro confirms even as Liz reaches out a hand to each of her sisters.
The man that has done so much for their family nods again and leaves without looking back. There’s a moment of silence in which Gina looks at her sisters and they all exchange nods, wordlessly sharing strength and comfort between them.
Then there’s a knock at the door that sounds like Bucky’s knock and the door opens slowly.
The man that steps through is young, painfully so, but those are Bucky’s eyes, bluer than the sky and wiser than they’ve ever had any right to be. Bucky’s face, with more stubble than their mother would have tolerated. His hair is darker than she remembers, like he’s been kept somewhere dark.
That, of all of this, makes her ache for him. Bucky loved being outdoors. Loved being in the sun. Someone took that from him. For a very long time.
And, strangely, he moves like one side of his body is heavier than the other. It almost looks like a strut, but Gina grew up with a ballerina. She knows the meaning of movement. The tell-tale gleam of metal between the end of his left sleeve and the start of the four fingered glove he’s wearing is a pretty good clue too.
He stops in front of Doro. Whether it’s because she’s the oldest or because she’s the closest to the door, Gina can’t tell. She can’t help but hold her breath, though. Does he remember them? Can he recognize them?
His right hand comes up to her face, cupping it just like he used to. “Doro,” he identifies. “Just as beautiful as ever.”
“You jerk,” She takes a shaky breath. “We all know Gina’s the pretty one.”
He smiles softly and kisses her forehead before pulling her into a careful hug. “You’re all pretty ones,” he sasses back, sounding like he’s just remembering his line. “You look like me, after all.”
Liz gives a watery laugh and Bucky turns to her. “Hey there, Rockette.”
She scoffs at him and, even though its a weak attempt, none of them call her on it. “I’m a ballerina, not some jumped up show girl.”
“My mistake,” he smiles and he hugs her too. Finally he turns to Gina. “Well, if it isn’t Trouble.”
She maybe sobs a bit as he pulls her into his arms but she’s not ashamed.
He’s so gentle, like he always has been, but it just serves to show her how much stronger he is. Physically even stronger than she can remember him being when he was just a boxing champion. The sounds of pistons and machinery from his left arm only serve to highlight that as it slides past her head to wrap around behind her.
He steps back from them and takes a deep breath, “Now, what’s this I heard about pictures?”
“Oh, me first!” Doro cries, sounding like a nine year old rather than the veteran United States Senator she is as she all but darts over to her purse.
In short order they have him seated on the couch with Doro on one side, Gina on the other, and Liz, the show off, curled at his feet. “This is my first son, Abraham,” Doro points. “He prefers Bram. He’s running for Mayor of New York City -I hope we can count on your vote- and that’s his fiance, Rajiv Bachchan. They’re going to be the first to marry once we get same sex marriage legalized. They foster kids too young for Charles Xavier’s school. They’ve raised eight so far but only three are still at home full time.
“This is my daughter Esther -she’s a professor of Women’s Studies at NYU- and her life partner Rebekka Undine -she’s a professor of Math at Columbia. I don’t think they’re going to get married when we get the law passed, but they are very committed to each other. They have five cats.
“This is my youngest Isaac, he just left the Army, retired after a full 20 years. He’s a pediatrician. I don’t think he’s interested in anyone, to be honest, but he has a small army worth of dogs.”
“How many is an army?” Bucky asks amused.
“Six. A Newfoundland, a German Shepherd, a Corgi, a Saint Bernard, a toy Schnauzer, and a Standard Poodle.”
“Those are some big dogs.”
“And two really tiny ones,” Doro agrees with a nod.
Then Liz shows off her one daughter, Catherine the Pianist, and it’s Gina’s turn to show off her one son and three grandsons.
“My Patrick did 25 years in the Navy, a SEAL like his papa. Davey is following in his footsteps, but his oldest son, John, went Air Force. He’s a stubborn young thing, has to make his own way. But young Petey -he looks just like you, doesn’t he?- he wants to be a Marine. He’s smart as a whip, too. Doing a year at Princeton before he goes to Annapolis next year.”
“Wow,” Bucky croaks. “The likeness is-”
“Yeah,” Gina agrees with a sigh. “You can’t really tell in the photo, but he has his mom’s green eyes, rather than your blue, but otherwise he could be your double.”
“They all look amazing,” he blinks up at them. “I-”
“That’s,” Gina hesitates, biting her lip like a little girl. “Not all.”
“What?” Bucky frowns at them, a snicker hovering at the edge of his lips. “Did mom and dad have another kid or something?”
“No, but you did.”
“What?” he asks again, this time more sharply.
Gina glances to Doro who clears her throat and pulls out a small Army Green album. “Do you remember Connie Lewis?” she asks gently.
“Yeah, I think so,” he nods. “I took her and her girl out the night before I shipped out to England. Uh, Bonnie. Bonnie and Connie, right? Why?”
“She came to Ima and Aba about a month after you left. She was,” Liz swallows and looks to Doro.
“She was pregnant,” Doro gives it to him straight, but not without sympathy. “Of course, we were all ever so surprised by it, but she explained how you and Stevie had a disagreement, and then she and Bonnie fought, and it made a certain kind of sense.”
Another flick of the eye passes the baton from Doro to Gina.
She takes the book from Doro and opens it to a picture of a young officer in Army Green. “His name was James Buchanan Lewis. He was a Colonel when he died.”
Bucky stares at the picture, eyes wide. He looks absolutely gutted. His own face stares back at him with Connie’s big brown eyes and his own teasing edge to the young man’s smile.
“He married a girl named Lisa, six years go.” Gina turns the page to show a wedding photo. “She was young. A lot younger than him, a scientist on the project he ran. She died from cancer about two years ago but not before she gave us Darcy.” She turns the page again to show him the five year old they all love so much. “She’s been reading since she was two, loves whales, and has capital-O Opinions on just about everything. She’s so smart, Buck. The smartest of any of us, I’m sure.”
He touches her picture with a shaking finger, like he’s not quite sure it’s real. “Can I meet her?” he asks, his voice cracking, but he doesn’t seem to notice or care.
“Of course you can. I’ll have my Patrick bring her along.”
Bucky just nods and nods and keeps nodding.
The door to the study opens without any sort of a knock or announcement. First comes a young man Gina only knows from the papers, Howard’s son Tony. Concern is written in bold dark lines on his face as he makes his way right over to Buck. He pulls her brother off the couch and out of the crowd of them before any of them even think to protest.
Howard comes a step or two behind him, looking surprised by something -likely their reveal- but covering it as he works to smooth the imaginary feathers his son’s extraction of their brother didn’t actually ruffle.
“I’m sorry, Howard,” Gina finds herself saying softly.
“For not telling you. About him. Little Jimmy was- and Connie, being a single mom at that time-”
“Was hard,” He cuts her off. “Harder than it ever should have been. Did-” he cuts the question off and runs a hand over his face, not even sure what he’s feeling.
“The Family Trust took good care of them, Howard,” she assures him. “Little Jimmy never wanted for anything but he wasn’t spoiled either. He was a good kid, we all made sure. And, when he was older, Connie went to school, became a writer. Technical writing and a bunch of those cheap old sci-fi novels like Buck used to love so much.”
“C.L. Barnes?” he guesses. “She was C.L. Barnes.”
Gina smiles at him. Howard’s always been too smart for their own good. “That was her nom de plume, yes.”
“I shoulda known,” he shakes his head ruefully. “I always thought Barnes’s Roger sounded a lot like Buck. And his mouthy little sidekick, Grant, that was Steve. Shoulda known. I mean, that it was someone in your family wrote it. Not that I- even I couldn’t have guessed-”
“Is Buck going to be okay?” Liz asks, worriedly. “He looked-”
“Devastated,” Doro finishes. “He looked devastated.”
“More family’s a good thing,” Howard reassures her. “He wasn’t prepared for this but he’s in the right hands.”
Tony doesn’t stop dragging Yasha through the house until they reach his lab. His isolated, safe, utterly secure lab. And then he locks the door behind them just to be thorough.
“Yasha?” he prods as gently as he can.
The oversized asshole makes a sound like a wounded bear and pulls him close. He folds down, hides his face in Tony’s neck, and just breathes for a bit.
“It’s okay,” he runs his hands cautiously up and down Yasha’s sides. “It’s alright. You’re alright. It’s December 24, 1991. You are James Buchanan Barnes, known as Bucky to some. Yasha to me. I’m Tony Stark. We time traveled twenty five years in the past to save the world. You and me, and we’re right on schedule, bud.”
That gets him a watery laugh. “Will we be on schedule if we add a five year old little girl?”
That sets Tony back a moment. “You want to take in your, uh, Darcy?” Because the word ‘granddaughter’ is just too weird. Even for him.
Yasha pulls back to look at him. “Should I not? I- I’m all she’s got.”
Tony strangles the impulse to scoff. “Pretty sure I just heard an hour explanation of how you’re really not but if that’s what you want…?” He trails off leadingly.
“I always wanted a family. Just didn’t want a dame to go with it.”
“Then you and Connie?”
“I…” Yasha tips his head thinking. “She wanted to try it once, with a fella. And I was so mad at Steve being all fired up to go to war when I woulda done just about anything to stay home. I just didn’t wanna think for a while.”
“Steve can be pretty stubborn,” Tony agrees.
“Stupid, for all he can be brilliant,” Yasha sighs, so put upon. “Short sighted.”
Tony nods. “You want to bring Darcy here?”
“I need to know she’s safe,” Yasha huffs and leans into him again. “But I need to know they’re all safe.”
“Well, I can promise you the Sheppards have never been slackers on the security front, nothing like my family, honestly. Patrick’s a good man. And I know the Senator has security. I heard a rumor she’s considering the Democratic nod for President. She’ll have to start campaigning soon, if she wants it though. It’s either her or the governor from Arkansas.”
“Imagine my coming back from the dead would help her out,” Yasha says sardonically.
Tony nods. “Pretty good bet. And with her in the White House, no one in the military would dare look at you and wonder what they could get away with.”
“I don’t think being the grand niece of the President would up her threat profile.”
“No, I mean-” Yasha huffs and rolls his eyes at himself.
“You mean bringing her here? Well, you know the Security guys. They’d cut off their own hands before they let something happen to her. Between mom, Aunt Peg, and May, she’ll have an amazing compliment of female role models. Though I doubt your sisters are just going to let her disappear into our family.”
Yasha bites his bottom lip. “But should we bring her in to the house while Hydra’s a threat?”
“Realistically they’re probably always going to be a threat,” Tony says gently. “Or if its not them, it’ll be someone else, but we can’t not have lives.”
Tony sets his forehead down on Yasha’s collar bone, copying his earlier move, seeking comfort.
“Why don’t we meet her?” he offers after about ten minutes of letting his mind spin and getting exactly nowhere. “See what she’s like, see if she likes us, and then talk to mom. And dad. And your sisters. I can’t see them telling us no and we’re going to have my siblings here in a few months anyway. Even if she’s only here part time, it’ll be like a trial run.”
When Yasha pulls him back, he’s smiling. A bit of devilry lights up his eyes and he leans forward and kisses Tony. Not on the lips, no. He kisses him in that gray area that’s not really cheek and not really mouth.
Tony huffs at him and he laughs.
This time Yasha kisses him properly. On the mouth, with a teasing bit of tongue but no entry.
Tony huffs again and pulls him closer by that ugly red sweater that looks so good on him, “What?”
“We. Us. I like it when you make us a unit.”
“Well, that’s what we are now, asshole, and don’t you forget it.”
“Is that because it’s what you want, though?” Yasha asks, squinting a little like he expects the answer to hurt and he’s bracing for it. “Or because you feel like you have to?”
“I can’t imagine being here with anyone else. And I don’t want to. Maybe we’ll find out we don’t work as anything more than a… pair of guys fighting Hydra, but I think we can be a lot more. If we both want.”
“We both want,” Yasha assures him and then he picks him up and sets him on one of the lab tables.
“Okay, that was hot.” Tony pulls him in between his legs and wraps them ’round his thighs. “Think you can hold me up while you fuck me?”
Yasha hums as he drops a quick peck on his mouth, then nibbles his way down Tony’s jaw. Then he starts working his way down his throat, alternating nibbles and kisses. “I’d love to try.”
“But not now,” Tony guesses from his tone.
“When my family is set to descend on us and Duke would love nothing better than to interrupt us halfway through?”
“Okay, point. And -it pains me to say this because you are absolutely, mind-blowingly gorgeous- but I’m probably not ready. And I don’t think you’re really ready either.”
“Probably not,” Yasha agrees and takes a step back, breaking contact cold turkey.
“Dinner?” Tony asks. “After the big interview thing but before things go crazy with your whole coming back to life, thing?”
“Interview, dinner, reinstatement, Wakanda,” Yasha confirms. “It’s a date.”
“So.” Tony turns to see John Sheppard stepping out on the balcony behind him. The oldest son of Patrick Sheppard is about six weeks younger than him, physically speaking. They actually had classes together at MIT, unless his memory is completely vodka-drenched. “You’re dating my great uncle.”
And Tony winces.
“My dad’s uncle. That’s, uh-”
“Weird?” Tony offers.
“Little bit.” John squints and does the slinky little lean thing he was always so famous for in their social group.
“Well, have you seen him?”
“Yeah,” John drawls. “He looks just like my brother, just a little older.”
“And a lot more legal. Your brother’s, what? Fourteen?”
“Seventeen,” John corrects with a roll of his eyes. “Like you can talk though, you look twelve.”
“Don’t be jealous because I look good. In fact, you should be respectful. I’m going to be your Uncle in-law one day.”
“Grand Uncle in-law,” John stresses. “So, you’re serious about him?”
“You serious about joining the Air Force?”
“Already did. Start Officer Training School in the New Year.”
“Wow,” Tony says in his best unimpressed tone. “How do you feel about test piloting? I designed something for dad. It’ll be the ride of your life, I swear. I’m sure he can get you in-”
“I joined the Air Force to escape that kind of favoritism, Stark,” Sheppard rolls his eyes.
Tony snaps and points. “You know Rhodes went Air Force, too.”
And John blushes. John Sheppard. Blushing. “I am aware of Captain Rhodes, uh, career choices.”
“Oh, my god. You have a crush! That’s amazing!”
“That’s a career killer,” John corrects, biting a lip and looking weary.
“Eh, maybe. Before I blackmailed the President into changing the UCMJ.”
John sputters, “Before you what?”
“Well, blackmail might be a little strong of a term. I just made it clear why improving the social standards the military is held to would be a good idea and he agreed. Keep your head down for a few months and then I’ll set you two up. It’ll be great. He’s bi, though, is that a problem?”
John’s jaw works for several moments before he jerks his thumb back the way he came. “They want you inside. Something to do with Darcy, I think.”
“Oh, right. Good. I was waiting for this.”
“You know what this is about?” John asks, surprised.
“Well, if my future husband wants a girl child, then my future husband is getting a girl child. The only question left in my mind is, how?”
“Oh. My. God.”
Interlude: Meeting Bucky Barnes
The scene opens to a small, mousey-looking man wearing a tweed jacket and clutching a file folder like a shield as he stands in front of a plain blue background.
“Hello,” The man starts. “My name is Dr. Charles Braunwyn. I am a psychologist and psychiatrist, as well as a medical doctor. I have practiced psychiatric medicine for 45 years. Currently, I still run a small practice while I teach psychology full time at Princeton University.
“My brother in-law, President Michael Ellison, requested that I personally evaluate Sergeant Bucky Barnes for a Presidential Pardon. To do such, I have thoroughly reviewed the file recovered by US Intelligence Agents from Hydra not long after the man himself was found,” the man holds forward the folder in his hands for emphasis before tucking it under his arm. “I have also interviewed the man extensively.
“I do not treat this man, and he is not my patient, though I have offered my services should he ever require them. Instead, he asked that I prepare you who are about to interview him and the audience at home for his reality.”
Dr. Braunwyn clears his throat and shifts a bit. “Out of respect for his privacy, I will not be going into specifics. But I will tell you what I told my brother in-law. This man has no need of a pardon. A pardon implies he could in some way be held responsible for the actions Hydra forced him to do and that is simply not true.
“He did not meet the legal requirement for compos mentis at any time while he was in Hydra’s malevolent care.
“Sergeant Barnes endured torture unlike anything I have ever seen or heard of. Sensory deprivation, isolation, extreme exposure to heat and cold. They beat him. They raped him. They experimented on him, permanently altered his body against his will, and drugged him with all manner of chemical cocktail. Hydra invented new methods of torture, just for him.
“This -physically, very young- man withstood conditions that would have broken any other person in days. Things that would have left you or I a gibbering mess on the floor, and he endured them for years.
“He withstood their conditioning until they invented a method to remove his memory, his sense of self and his experiences, all while maintaining his skills. Even then there were memories they could not take from him, so they perverted them and turned these memories to their advantage. To the point where if Captain Rogers were somehow recovered alive from his watery tomb tomorrow, I would not recommend their reintroduction. Sergeant Barnes’ sense of self is simply too fragile.
“I would not currently qualify him as incompetent, his physical brain is recovering frighteningly fast.” Braunwyn frowns. “Perhaps faster than he can emotionally deal with but he is dealing with it. The re-introduction to his family has grounded him in his recovering sense of self and the carefully controlled introduction of new people and experiences has grounded him in this -to him- new time.
“I would not qualify him as a danger to the public. He is no more or less dangerous that any combat veteran with his skills.
“That said, Interviewer,” the little doctor stands straight and glares at the camera. “If he says he does not remember something, you will cease your line of questioning immediately and move on. If he refuses to answer a question, you will respect his boundary and move on. If he calls a member of his family to him, you will include them in the interview and you will not shame him for his decision to seek the support he needs. If he asks for a break, you will grant it immediately.
“If you fail to comply with any of these rules, I and his personal doctor, who will also be present during your interview, will see you in jail. I can not be any more serious on this matter.”
The screen goes black momentarily then brightens to the face of a smiling young blonde woman in a smart skirt suit.
“Hello. My name is Christine Everhart. I’m a 21 year-old senior at Brown University majoring in Journalism,” she says as she walks through what is clearly a set and sits down delicately in a squishy brown leather armchair. “I am here today to interview Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes on his recovery and return to life after 46 years as a prisoner of war.” She turns and smiles to someone off camera. “Thank you for joining me, Sergeant Barnes.”
The camera pans to include a man under 30 wearing slacks and a dark blue dress shirt. The left sleeve of the dress shirt has been removed to reveal a shining metal arm that goes all the way to his shoulder.
Sergeant Barnes smiles warmly. “Please, call me Bucky, Ms. Everhart.”
“Only if you call me Christine.” Bucky gives her a tight nod and she continues. “So I honestly have to know, you could have given this interview to literally anyone and made their entire career. Why did you pick me?”
“Well, I didn’t really. Tony did.”
“Tony Stark, son of Howard and Maria Stark,” she clarifies.
“That’s right. He said we needed someone without an agenda. Someone that wouldn’t play games with me, but was dedicated to the truth. Apparently he read a buncha your student articles and was impressed. He has a big binder of them.”
“Well, I’ve been writing for my school newspaper since I was 10.”
Barnes gives her a small smile, “I don’t think he went back quite that far, but he’s really thorough, so I wouldn’t be surprised, either.”
She smiles but there’s something reserved about it. “And your choice has nothing to do with the fact that I’m Jewish?”
“You’re Jewish?” Bucky blinks. “I mean, that’s nice but it wasn’t a factor in the decision. I didn’t even know ‘til you told me. I don’t see how it really matters, though. Isn’t that what religious freedom is about? Worshiping who you want and it not affecting anything outside of your own personal choices?”
“You’re right. That’s exactly what it’s about, I apologize. I mostly brought it up because my grandfather was a German Jew. He survived and moved to this country, at least in part due to your actions, and he would be furious with me if I didn’t thank you personally.”
“Oh,” Bucky shifts, obviously uncomfortable. “Uh. That’s… good?”
She suppresses a smile and shakes her head. “Why don’t you tell us what’s happened to you since you fell off the train?”
“Uh, I don’t remember most of it. I mean, I remember more everyday, but… mostly, I get flashes. I know I was drug in from the cold by Soviets. Like, physically drug through the snow. I was already missing a large chunk of my left arm at that point but I still don’t know if that’s from the fall or whatever they did to get me out of wherever they found me. I don’t know how many years it took for me to be found, either, or if that happened right away.
“I know they took parts of my arm. I remember them cutting it to here and here,” he gestures to just below his elbow and then halfway between his elbow and shoulder. “Don’t know how much of my own arm is still in there.
“I remember waking up on a table with a metal arm that worked just like my flesh one but was cold. Permanently cold. I remember Dr. Zola leaning over me. A lot like he did in the Austrian HYDRA Facility Steve saved me from, but there was so much light. Like a overhead? I couldn’t see anything but him.
“I’m pretty sure this is my second arm,” he continues, looking down at it now. “I have a – a sense memory of a cord or a tube or something coming from here,” he pinches the pinky side of his left wrist. “But I’m not sure where it connected, either further up my arm or on my shoulder.
“I think it exploded? But I don’t really know.
“Every once in a while, I get flashes of shooting people. Some from the war, some not, but I don’t know why I’m shooting them.
“Then I remember Howard, looking up at me from the seat of a car. That was the sixteenth.”
“Of December,” she clarifies. “Two weeks ago.”
“Yeah,” he swallows and nods.
“That’s a lot of empty time,” she says softly.
“Yeah. They kept me in cryo. A lot. Cryogenic Stasis, I mean. It stops everything, you know? And they didn’t want my brain to heal what they were doing to it. But I guess they miscalculated. The two weeks they had me stalk the Starks was enough, I guess.”
“You guess? And you don’t remember. You don’t seem to trust your mind.”
“No, how can I? I know its been broken. I know I’ve been broken and programmed and-” For a moment he hunches, looks somehow small and vulnerable. “On a good day I wake up knowing my own name. I was up to three in a row so far but the clock reset again this morning. I woke up and I could feel the harness and the muzzle they kept me in. The weight of the weapons I never got to choose. That was it. I was just wearing sweatpants.”
The woman swipes at one eye. “How do you deal with that?”
“I, uh, made an anchor. Something they wouldn’t have given me, couldn’t have given me. Gave myself a mission. I’ll fulfill that mission for the rest of my life.”
“And if you die for your mission?” she asks softly.
Bucky smiles at her, small but sincere. “Then I’ll know it was necessary. And I’ll know it was my choice.”
“What is your mission? Or your anchor?” she presses but Bucky just shakes his head. “Alright. I can see how you’d want to keep that private.” She taps her cards in her other hand. “I feel we’ve danced around this question, so I’m going to ask it straight on. What, exactly, have you been doing since you fell? You’ve implied a lot of things. Shooting people and not being in control but how?”
“You ever heard of the Winter Soldier?”
“The Winter Soldier was an assassin. A Hydra Assassin. Responsible for at least 18 assassinations. Several famous ones, including Kennedy Assassination. Some not so famous ones. Hydra used me, used the skills I earned in the War, in an attempt to shape the world to their liking.”
“You’re saying you were the Winter Soldier,” Christine raises both eyebrows at him.
“I was. It wasn’t my choice but I’ve seen their files, with pictures of me, in cryo and out. My body did those things. It wasn’t my choice and I didn’t want to but I’m not always convinced that matters when we’re talking murder.”
“Of course it matters,” she takes a deep breath. “How did being the Winter Soldier lead you to Howard Stark?”
“Someone betrayed him. Someone he trusted sold his secrets to the wrong people, and Hydra decided he needed to die for them. Hydra sent me. I don’t know if its because I was the best they had or just Hydra-typical sadism, using me to murder someone I knew when I was still a person. But, yeah, that happened. My conditioning broke and I didn’t go through with it, obviously, since Howard’s standing right there,” he points offscreen.
“Does this have anything to do with Stark Industries Chief Operations Officer Obadiah Stane, rumored to be under arrest for Industrial Espionage and Treason?”
Bucky gives her his best Mona Lisa smile, “I’m sure I can’t say.”
“Sounds more like a yes than a no to me but, moving on. I see your sisters are here, with Howard.”
“Yeah, Gina heard Tony and Howard talking about it and insisted she be here. And of course Doro and Liz wouldn’t let her leave them behind.”
“That’s family for you. The stories I could tell you about my aunties, whew!” They both laugh. “How does it feel, having family again?”
“I- I never expected to make it home from the War, to be honest. Being drafted -at the time- was the worst thing that happened to me. I felt like my future was being taken away. And I knew I was never going to get it back.” He pauses, obviously thinking. “Seeing them. And their kids. And their grandkids, was a gift I never expected.” And then, softly. “I’m not sure I deserve it.”
“The history books imply that both you and Captain Rogers were eager for the war,” Christine offers neutrally. “That you wanted to get out and fight the good fight as soon as possible.”
Bucky looks at her like she’s stupid. “That’s why I didn’t join the Army until almost 5 years after the war was declared?” His face might as well be subtitled it says ‘bitch, please’ so clearly. “Stevie was eager to get out there but he never met a fight he didn’t jump into feet first.
“I hate fighting. I always have. If I’d had an option that wouldn’ta destroyed my father, I’da taken it. As it is, I had to lie about getting drafted so Stevie wouldn’t look at me like I killed a puppy.”
“You were a boxer, though,” She counters. “A welterweight champion boxer at that.”
“I learned to fight so I could defend Stevie against his bullies. I stuck with it because I was good at it and could use it to earn money to help my parents. Doesn’t mean I liked it.”
Christine opens her mouth, closes it shaking her head and asks, “Are you still in the Army?”
“Technically I’m on what you call Terminal Leave, which is leave that ends with the termination of your service. I’m gonna be discharged on TV next week. Pretty sure President Ellison’s already signed my Honorable Discharge, though.”
“Do you hold any records in the Army? Longest standing Sergeant?” She asks with a grin.
Bucky laughs. “You know there’s like five or six rates that can be called Sergeant right? Depending on when your talking about. I was a Buck Sergeant when I shipped out to England and a Sergeant First Class when I was captured. I went up like 3 rates during the war.
“Bet I hold the record for longest living POW though,” he says with a smirk and she laughs but then immediately looks horrified. He waves her off. “You were supposed to laugh, I’m not mad.”
“What about the changes? A lot of things have changed since you were captured. Your sister Dorothee Roth is a United States Senator, the first woman to sit in Congress. How do you feel about women in the government?”
He laughs. “I’m more surprised they still allow men in the government. We’re the ones that keep messin’ things up, killing people, starting wars.
“My sister is an amazing person, if she decides to run for President, don’t bother me a bit. She’s got my vote. If they let me vote, pretty sure I’m registered.”
“So you’re a feminist?”
“What’s that?” he frowns and tilts his head. “I don’t know that term.”
“A person the believes men and women are equal.”
“So, what, like a person with common sense? Why does that need a name?”
Christine sits back, looking surprised but not upset. “So what are your opinions on women’s rights?”
“Can I get an example?”
“If your partner ain’t treatin’ you right, go.”
“I ain’t got the right parts to get one. Don’t see how my opinion matters.”
“A lot of people in power think abortion should be illegal.”
“A lot of men,” he corrects. “Sounds like another reason women should be in the government, if you ask me.
“Because, I have news for you, women got abortions in the 30s and 40s. They were doing it before that too. All legalizing it did was make it safe, helped women survive what’s already a traumatic experience. This debate isn’t about the lives of children. It’s about the lives of women being more important than other people’s morals. If you tell me your religion -or whatever your excuse is- is more important than people’s lives, we ain’t got nothing to talk about.”
“That’s,” Christine pauses, then she grins, “hot.”
And Bucky laughs.
“How do you feel about mutants? That’s a new hot button issue right now.”
“You think mutants are new?” he asks her with an incredulous eyebrow. “I’m starting to worry they ain’t teaching you kids history no more.
“Do you have any idea how many mutants fought on our side during the War? If a mutant in this country wants to vote or get married or own property or adopt, they have every right to it. I’m not saying because they earned it -though, they have- but because they’re sentient human beings.
“And besides, why are we gonna do Hydra’s work for them? They want us hateful and afraid. They want us divided so they can take us down. They want to rule the world and if its a world full of corpses, that’s just fine with them. We need to be smart and stand together so they don’t stand a chance.”
“You think Hydra is fueling human-mutant tensions in the United States?”
“They done it before. Where do you think Germany got it from? The name calling, the hate, the isolation. Registering human beings, monitoring them, sending them to camps. Killing them. It’s just history repeating itself.”
Christine’s eyes go wide. “The Republican Party introduced another bill to register mutants on Capitol Hill last week.”
“Mutants and Enhanced,” he corrects. “As currently written, it would include me and Stevie. I dare somebody to try and put numbers on my forearm. Fought those Nazi bastards once, I’ll do it again. And it’ll take more than a train to get me down this time.
“Not that I’m okay with it if they drop the enhanced part,” he points out. “I don’t want you to think that. I’ll still punch those Nazi bastards in the face even if they give me an exception. Maybe especially.”
“So what’s the solution?” She presses.
“Equal rights for everyone -and I mean everyone. This little Jew boy right here, the black trans man working catering, the Latin mutant on the corner. All of us. And education. Different ain’t nothing to fear. If you’re afraid of it, then you know you got something to learn.”
“I’m afraid of sharks, that doesn’t mean I need to learn about them,” she counters.
“Doesn’t it? You can learn the most common types that attack and where you can go to avoid them. We aren’t their natural food so if they’re attacking, something’s wrong. You can learn the causes of attacks and how to prevent them all together, making everyone safer.”
“Okay,” she points at him. “That sounds really smart.”
“Just because I never finished college, don’t mean I’m stupid.” He frowns then and looks off camera. “I didn’t finish college, didn’t I?”
“No, Buck,” the voice of Howard Stark drifts forward, sounding painfully amused. “You got drafted.”
“What were you going to school for?” Christine asks, honestly curious.
“Architecture, I think.” He pauses, and then he nods. “Yeah, architecture.”
“Are you going to finish?”
Bucky sinks back and blinks at her. “I could, I guess. It would be a good example. But I doubt my records exist any more. It’s not like I remember my classes anyway, so really I’d have to start over. Would it be better for me to take the same thing or do something new?”
“Sounds like something to ask your doctor.”
“Of course,” he quirks a smile at her. “Almost everything these days involves my head doctor.”
“That’s good to have, though, right?”
“It’s different. We didn’t use counselors like that. You talked it out with a buddy or suffered in silence.” He takes a deep breath, “Guess that’s something that’s better now.”
“Best thing about the future?” she quickly changes the subject.
“The Starks. Mrs. Stark is lovely and kind, patient and generous. Howie’s brilliant and funny, creative and dedicated. Their son’s the best of them both. I’m not sure what I did to deserve them.”
“Well, you did save their lives,” Christine reminds him. “Worst thing about the future?”
“No flying cars?” There’s a laugh from off screen and Bucky grins that direction. “I mean, Howard had a prototype in 1944. If he stuck with it, everyone would have one by now.
“Maybe that’s something you can work on from here?” Bucky asks the person off screen.
“I’ll look into it,” Howard promises. There’s the sound of a scramble and then, “Oop, Darcy!”
A pretty little girl in a dark blue dress scampers on to the screen. She’s all of five and Bucky jumps out of his chair, goes down on one knee and catches her when she throws herself at him.
“Hey, Little Bit. You tired of Grandma Liz?”
“I wanted and wanted to come to you but she wouldn’t let me, but now I’m here anyway!” she announces, pleased as could be.
“Alright. You can stick with me for a bit. We should be just about done.” He shoots Christine a look that dares her to argue but the woman is nodding emphatic agreement so he takes his seat again, with the little girl on his knee.
“I think my ovaries just exploded,” she confesses in a rush. “Who is this?”
“This is my granddaughter, Darcy Lewis. Say hi to Ms. Christine, Button.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Christine,” she greets the woman, and Christine all-but coos.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, Miss Darcy.” Then she looks up at Bucky. “I didn’t know you had a child let alone a grandchild.”
“Neither did I,” he agrees. “I kind of hope I knew before? But I can see how it would have made everything harder. Either way, my son was a good man -I’m sure they’ll get you a picture or something later. My sisters told me about him. Smart, kind, a good kid.
“The President let me read his service record. He was in the Army, a fantastic officer. Total badass in the field, advanced quickly –without ever using my name- and was trusted at the highest level.
“I’m proud of him.
“And his wife, Lisa, she was brilliant. And pretty, just like my Darcy here.” Looking down at his granddaughter, he asks, “Isn’t that right, Miss Darcy?”
“Yep yep!” she chirps with a grin.
“So how are you, little one?” Christine asks the girl in that exaggerated tone adults tend to take with kids. It makes Bucky want to grind his teeth but Darcy just smiles at the woman brightly. “Is it nice getting to know Bucky?”
“Well, I just started living with Aba a week ago but so far, I like all of it,” she says with a grin.
“You live with Aba now?” Christine sounds shocked. “What’s that like?”
“Well. We start the day really early, working out and being the boss of everyone.
“Then we go to breakfast where if I’m good and ask nicely Mr. Jarvis will put extra strawberries on my plate, even if it wasn’t part of his plan.
“Then I do science with Uncle Tony in his lab. We were trying to find Uncle Stevie as a surprise for Aba but we need more data so we sent minions out to the cold. Now he’s teaching me, um-” she glances up at Bucky.
“Programming,” he supplies. “Tony’s teaching you computer programming.
“It’s the Tony-equivalent of teaching her the folk stories of his people,” he adds in an aside to Christine.
“Right. That,” Darcy continues with a single no-nonsense nod. “And I make sure DUM-E and U are good and don’t mess things up too much. Its practice for when Aba gets me a puppy,” she asserts, prompting Bucky to roll his eyes expansively behind her.
“Then me and Mr. Phil trick Uncle Tony into leaving the lab for lunch.
“After lunch, either Mr. Phil teaches me history or I paint with Grandma Maria or I do math with Grandpa Howard.
“Then I get a snack. Goldfish are my favorite, but pretzels are good too if I can have peanut butter. And then Aba teaches me a language. I picked French first.
“And sometimes Mr. Duke helps. He’s creole, not really French but he speaks French, too.
“Sometimes instead of language, Grandma Doro comes over to teach me about laws. Or Grandma Gina will work with me on our reading and writing. Grandma Gina has the prettiest handwriting. And I like poetry, but I’m ready to move beyond Dr. Seuss. She’s very committed to it, though, so I don’t complain.
“Then we have dinner as a big family, then Mrs. Ana helps me bathe, and it’s off to bed! Off to bed!”
“That sounds amazing!” Christine grins. “I think I’m jealous!”
“Yes, it is. I have the best days. And on weekends I still get to go horseback riding with Uncle Patrick or to the ballet with Grandma Liz. Though sometimes we skip the ballet and hit the cinema instead, but don’t tell Aba, it’s supposed to be a secret.”
Which of course makes both adults laugh.
Darcy tugs on his shirt a bit. “Aba, can we get ice cream?”
“Pretty sure I saw some out on the catering table. Why don’t you go with Grandma Maria and pick some out? I’ll be right behind you.”
“Okay!” Carefully, he scoops her up and sets her on the floor. She takes off almost before he lets go.
“Where are her parents?” Christine asks gently. “You were using past tense when you spoke of them before.”
“Yeah, they died. I’m her next closest relative so legally she’s mine but realistically, she has four grandmothers: my sisters and Maria Stark. Tony loves her beyond all reason, Howard’s wrapped around her little finger, and I’m pretty sure Patrick Sheppard would actually fight me if he didn’t get to see her at least once a week.”
“Sounds like she’s bound to have a great time.”
“That’s the plan,” he nods. “Keep her home as stable as possible, meet her educational needs, and be sure she always knows she’s wanted.”
“I think you’re going to do just fine,” Christine reassures him.
“Yeah,” Bucky gives a little smile. “Me, too.”
There’s a cut to black, then a clip of a press conference plays, President Ellison is gripping the edges of a podium with a line of American flags behind him.
“Sergeant James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes was born in 1917, the oldest of four children. Childhood best friend of Captain Steven Rogers. He was the only one of Captain America’s Howling Commandos to give their life for this country and our world. These are facts we all know.
“It brings me both great pleasure and regret to inform you all that these facts are wrong.
“Through the efforts of various members of the United States Intelligence Community, we have learned that Bucky Barnes did, in fact, survive his fall in 1945. He was captured by Hydra and has been a Prisoner of War for the past 46 years. He was tortured and experimented upon but he endured.” The President makes eye contact with the audience at home. “And now he has returned home.”
There’s another thick black cut and the scene fades back to the President pinning something on Bucky Barnes’ chest.
“I imagine you’re getting tired of being my pin cushion,” President Ellison jokes.
Bucky accepts another hand shake with a small smile. “You’ll have to try harder if you want to draw my blood, sir.”
President Ellison laughs and holds up a light blue ribbon. “Last medal, I promise.
“For outstanding bravery and dauntless spirit at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, it is my honor to present you with the United States Medal of Honor.” He raises the ribbon and slides it around Barnes’ neck.
They shake hands and step up to the podium together.
“Finally, Sergeant Barnes, I formally accept your request of a Honorable Discharge from the United States Army. Thank you for your service.”
Music swells and plays over the video as Bucky turns to shake hands with the waiting Generals, each of whom salute him before offering their hands.
Minute men, from the start,
Always fighting from the heart,
And the Army keeps rolling along…