2018: MCU – I Don’t Paint

I Don't Paint

Banner by Chestnut NOLA

Title: I Don’t Paint
Author: penumbria
Fandom: MCU
Pairings:  Tony Stark/Bucky Barnes, Tony Stark & Leonardo DaVinci, Bucky Barnes & Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan
Warnings: Character Bashing, Dark Themes, Death – Minor Character, Discussion of Child Abuse, Discussion of Murder, Discussion of Torture, Murder, Permanent Injury, Canon Violence
Author’s Note: This was 2017 November’s Rough Trade Urban Fantasy Challenge which I never finished. This is based off of the revenant trope created by Keira Marcos for RT in July 2017. Many thanks to her and to Chestnut NOLA for the gorgeous banner art. Also, in my fic, S.H.I.E.L.D. does not stand for “Secretly HYDRA In Every Last Department”. And most of the warnings are due to canon events for Tony and Bucky (ie torture, murder, permanent injury, deaths, etc) This is un-beta’ed and I don’t need or desire unsolicited beta on it.
Summary: When Tony Stark came back from Afghanistan, he brought more of a secret than an arc reactor in his chest and a suit of flying armor. He anchored a revenant. They mutually agreed it should remain a secret but his passenger aided his recovery, both physically and mentally. It changed things, lots of things. As did another revenant who wanted to help.

Prologue

The blistering desert sun shone down on the billionaire Tony Stark as he buried scraps of metal in a sand dune. The air filled with his mumbled babbling as he dug and shoveled the burning sand with his bare hands.

“Gotta bury it deep, can’t take it, can’t carry it and it’s too busted to wear it. Sei piedi. Nope, nope, deep, deep. Profondo. Gotta be deep enough that the next sand and wind storm doesn’t just uncover it. That would be bad. Pericoloso.

Then no choice, gotta start walking. Che modo siamo perduti. Yeah, yeah, don’t know where exactly this is, not sure what way is north right now even if in time it’ll be clear, attendere per aiutare, and common little kid wisdom and all that, stay in one place but it isn’t like a cop is gonna wander by. Fuga era rumoroso.

Yeah, made a big flare with that explosion series back at the caves but the suit didn’t fly far and they aren’t all dead. Lot of them, hell yeah, but bet it didn’t get Raza. And if he’s alive, he’s coming soon as he can. Only hope all the vehicles got caught in the fireworks. Dove si trova sicurezza. No, don’t know which direction safety is. Wasn’t conscious coming to the area and all, only landmark is to go away for the burning cave system.

Yes, the attention will be drawn to that area but not only the good guys are looking. If the good guys are still looking. And frankly, the bad guys are starting lots closer. Verità. Stay in the valley between the dunes as much as possible, don’t walk along the ridge at the very least, crawl when at the top to minimize the silhouette.

Gotta go, gotta, gotta, gotta go, now. Pick a direction. Lontano dal campo. Opposite to the explosion exactly? Okay, sounds good. Sì, sì. Agreement all around. No waiting for rescue, no damsels in distress here. Un cavaliere più di una principessa.

Tony Stark rescued his damn self so far. Not gonna just let the bad guys catch up. A piedi.”

The decision was made and the battered man made his way as swiftly as possible toward his chosen direction and eventually, his faith paid off and the good guys arrived. He embraced his best friend and collapsed. They all assumed he made most of his escape in a truck which died close by, there was no way the timeline matched otherwise for how far he got in the amount of time he had, and Tony never disabused them of their mistake. Both the suit which crashed and his ability to survive and move in the desert were classified and not for public consumption.

Translations:

Sei piedi. Six feet.
Profondo Deep
Pericoloso Dangerous
Che modo siamo perduti. Which way, we are lost.
attendere per aiutare wait for help
Fuga era rumoroso. Escape was noisy.
Dove si trova sicurezza Where is safety.
Verità Truth
Lontano dal campo. Away from the camp
Sì, sì yes, yes
Un cavaliere più di una principessa. A Knight more than a Princess.
A piedi. Walk

Chapter One

Tony walked into the lab in the basement of his Malibu home and let his shoulders slump in relief. He was alone but for his creations. He smiled lightly but truly. “Daddy’s home.”

JARVIS spoke, his voice filled with British stoicism but reverberating with emotions at the same time. “Welcome home, sir, you have been missed.”

DUM-E, U, and Butterfingers surrounded Tony and the whirring of their wheels and clicking of their claws eased something inside of the engineer. “I missed all of you, as well, J. And, I have things to tell you. I’m gonna sit and we’re gonna have story time, guys. There are things you need to know, things that others know and things that no one else knows and things that some people know that they don’t know that I know. And all of this is highest security. Strongest encryption. Deepest vaults.”

Tony walked to the sofa and slouched against one arm, just taking a moment to appreciate home in a way he had never done before. JARVIS waited and the bots circled around their creator and lowered down as if sitting at his feet.

“Sir, my scans show you to be in better health than the reports which I found from your rescue. It has not been long enough for your healing to have reached the level which I can read.”

Tony nodded. “Yeah. I know. That’s part of the whole secret. But I want to be a bit logical about things and go more chronologically. But I bet you’ll figure out the end or the answer to your questions before the story gets there. So, for now, be patient, J.”

“Yes, sir.”

Tony ran his hand through his hair and took a deep breath. “Okay, we’ll go through this chronologically but I’m gonna include things that happened at their time even if I didn’t know about until later. So, just because I tell you something that happened, it doesn’t mean I knew about it then. Okay? And I haven’t actually talked about this with anyone so bear with me a bit.”

Tony rubbed his face and beard and closed his eyes. DUM-E put his claw on Tony’s leg and the man pet it like it was a cat.

“You all know I went to Afghanistan to demonstrate the JERICHO missile system to various military bigwigs. In hindsight, logically and logistically it wasn’t the brightest idea. Going to a war zone to demonstrate a powerful new weapons system? But it seemed natural when it was presented as an idea in the boardroom a month ago. Demonstrate the system where it is most likely to be used to the best effect.”

Tony shivered and the bots beeped at him in concern. He put his arm out and each of them laid their arm on his for a few moments, their version of a group hug.

“But it was a trap. The Ten Rings, the terrorists who attacked the convoy, knew I was there. They weren’t planning on capturing me, they were paid to kill me, but when they found me after the attack, I was badly wounded but not dead, obviously. And they happened to have a gifted surgeon as a guest. He came up with a brilliant idea on how to keep me alive. At least with what he had to work with. My chest is filled with shrapnel from one of our own missiles and within a week it would have made it’s way through my bloodstream to shred my heart. So he cut into my chest and sternum and put an electro-magnet there to keep the shrapnel away. He powered it with a car battery. I changed that. Once I had access to the tools, I miniaturized the arc reactor and used that to power the magnet. But that was after a few days.”

Tony lifted his shirt to show his new accessory, the prosthesis that was keeping him alive.

“Sir, did the terrorists tell you they knew and their initial plan? That seems strange.”

Tony shook his head as he lowered his shirt once more, knowing all of his kids had gotten a look. “Nope. All they ever told me was what they wanted me to do. Build them weapons. But, well, see even planning and trying to be chronological and logical, I skipped something. One of the soldiers in the Humvee with me, Jimmy, his name was Jimmy, was an anchor to a revenant. And when he was brutally killed and the terrorists came, the revenant decided to follow them back to their came so he could bring that location to the military. And when he saw that I was alive and what was happening to me, he decided to stay to see if I survived, so he could take that information as well, to stage a rescue. And when he saw what I came up with to rescue my own damn self, he was intrigued and couldn’t bring himself to leave. He always was a curious man.”

“Sir, are you anchoring this revenant?”

“Getting ahead of the story, J. But yeah, I told you that you’d figure it out. I’m not gonna go into everything that happened to me there. It was bad and brutal and you know enough about the world to make educated guesses. I’m not gonna get into specifics, yes, I was tortured. Yes, I am probably gonna have issues surrounding some stuff, though my new friend will help win that quite a lot, but you’re the best part of me, J. I’m not gonna defile you that way.”

“Yes, sir.” The AI’s voice was quiet and the room almost resonated with it’s bass.

“So, instead of building the weapons, with scraps of the Stark weapons they had, which was quite a lot, I built a mechanical armor. Yinsen, the surgeon, helped me. And my new friend was keeping an eye on the terrorists when he wasn’t enthralled by my brilliance. He learned of their original plans and also that they didn’t just hijack some shipments from SI or raid some warehouse. Someone in SI is selling weapons under the table. My weapons that were supposed to keep American soldiers safe are killing them. Nearly killed me. We don’t know who it is or how deep it goes but it is safe to say that it is someone big behind it all. There was too much there for it to be a little guy. There are several suspects. But no proof. Yet.”

Tony slumped back on the sofa and sighed. “We are gonna update security on the workshop here. First off, replacing the glass walls at the stairs with a more durable wall. And you’re getting a major upgrade, J. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Back to the story. Fast forward through tedium and terror, to the end of captivity. The suit was built but I was running out of time during activation. I had to wait for it to power up and they were going to get to us first so Yinsen ran off and distracted them to give me the time I needed. He knew what he was doing and it was deliberate. His family had been killed and he gave his life so I could escape and take down the Ten Rings, fix my mistakes. Avenge his family and other innocents that were preyed on with the help,of my weapons. And as I hung here waiting for the suit to be fully powered, I saw a blue glow come out of the wall and he asked me to anchor, he would help me be the better man I wanted to be. And I agreed.”

“But we didn’t have the luxury of time after the merge to integrate. It was insane but we eventually managed. It is a lot but we are happy now.”

“Sir, if I may? Is your revenant well known? You have been evasive which indicates we would recognize the name if you said it.”

“Alright, J, well, you know how some of the press idiots call me a modern Da Vinci and I hate it.”

“Yes, sir. You tell them it is ridiculous. You don’t paint.”

Tony smiled wryly. “Well, it’s more accurate now. Fairly true, actually.”

“Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci is the revenant that you anchor, sir?”

Tony nodded. “Yep. Leonardo is in me. We aren’t fully bonded, not the deep bonding. But we are us. It is odd but I can’t – I am happy. I’m not alone and I feel even more brilliant. We agreed not to reveal my status. It would be bad on lots of fronts. But you guys deserved to know, and we wanted you to. Leo is very impressed with all of you.”

“We thank him for his appreciation, sir. How does the anchoring effect you, sir? Other than the increased healing factor?”

“Well, that’s a big part, plus i’m stronger physically and emotionally, too. He helps me deal with my issues, both from my fucked up childhood and from the past three months. I think without him the press conference I just gave would have been a train wreck. I’ve been struggling with the fact that my weapons are killing so many innocents and I wanted to just shut down weapons production but Leo helped me see how short sighted and dangerous that would be, both to the company and to me personally, considering the conspiracy within SI to take me out. So, I just praised the military for finding me, and grieved for the soldiers who died when we were attacked and announced some new product lines SI will be developing over the next few months, like improved body armor and prosthesis limbs and medical tech. Diversification is the thing and then as the weapons contracts come to their natural ends, we will phase out weapons manufacturing.”

“Until then, I need you to go deep into SI systems and track the shipments, especially over the past few years. We need to find the traitors and figure out how to deal with them. And in the meantime we will be re-designing and streamlining the armor I created in that cave. I owe it to Yinsen and his family to clean up my mess over there. Mechanized armor that flies sounds like a good idea to do it. You’re gonna be our co-pilot, J. And you guys are gonna help with the fabrication and testing. It’s gonna be brilliant but we’ll keep it stealthy, too. Powered by my arc reactor primarily with a few back up reactors just in case. Stealth tech, repulsors for flight, mini-missiles, probably more, all locked to my biometrics for security. I’m paranoid but they are out to get me so it’s understandable we think.”

“Are you having a difficult time distinguishing your individuality and personhood, sir? You are using the term ‘we’ quite often.”

“Not exactly, J. But to an extent I am now a we. lots of anchors refer to themselves as the plural because they are. But since we are on the complete down low I am trying not to get into the habit. But it is difficult. If I start to do it too much, say something, any of you. I can play it off to others if I slip up once in awhile as my ego and using the royal we but not if it is constant. I have too many smart people around who would pick up on the change and that would be ultra bad, both Leo and I agree and Leo doesn’t care what the Council thinks. They would never agree that someone like me should anchor and could bring lots of negative pressure to bear on both of us and while I may be Tony Fucking Stark it wouldn’t be enough. Not now, at any rate.”

“We understand, sir. We will inform you if you slip. Or DUM-E will cool you off with the fire extinguisher.”

“So sassy, J. I’m so proud.”

Section 1.2

Tony stood in his workshop, a box open on the workbench in front of him. A box of specialized supplies that had been ordered for the new project. He glanced across the room at the panels stacked against the wall and reached into the box, pulling out the longest of the tools within.

“I still don’t know about this. It really isn’t me. Anchoring or not, I’m a futurist. Hell, Leo, you’ve always been a futurist, one of the first, really. Winged suits, helicopters? Yeah, it screams the Renaissance, doesn’t it? I work with my hands, fine, yes, but I build, I construct, I fix. I’m a mechanic. I’m an engineer. I’m an inventor. I’m not a – painter.”

His lips curled up in uncertain disgust. He brought the long thin paint brush in his hand to his eye level. The bristles were thin and wispy, the handle a strong but flexible wood. It was a masterpiece of its kind but it wasn’t Tony’s kind of tool.

“I’m not the modern da Vinci. I don’t paint. I don’t do this. Yes, fine, my hand-eye coordination and spacial recognition are excellent and I use them plenty. Holograms! Computers! Not canvas.”

“Sir.”

“Yes, I know. I agreed to try. To channel Leo’s revenant. But it isn’t like we can show it off to anyone if it turns out well. We’re on the down low. And I suspect that Tony Stark producing a painting in the da Vinci style would out us, fairly spectacularly. But, fine, whatever, I agreed. I can’t start yet. We got the canvases and brushes but the paint is special order and won’t be in for a few more days. So stop with the inner sighing.”

Tony stopped talking as he left his workshop for the main floor, the paintbrush still being used as a fidget tool as he walked, internally continuing his discomfort with the idea of creating a painting on a canvas with brushes and oils. Leo had been awesome over the past few months, especially with ideas for the armors and sharing his information on the terrorists that he had gleaned before their first meeting.

The Mark 2 armor was much more streamlined and the flight capabilities were smoother. Working with the best materials and JARVIS’ help was a part of it but also, Leonardo’s thoughts on the use of stealth tech was perfect. After all, while taking on the Ten Rings, Tony didn’t want to alert the military, of the US or anywhere else. It was his problem and he was solving it in a way that they couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.

As Tony entered the living room, he sat down on the couch and before he could lean back to relax, his muscles seized and he couldn’t move. Internally, he began screaming and struggling but his body didn’t twitch, the only thing that he could move was his eyes. From his peripheral vision, Tony saw his business partner, his father’s friend, Tony’s own godfather, Obadiah Stane, approach. He reached out and eased Tony backward onto the couch.

The older man physically turned Tony’s head to show him a small, bullet-like device. “You remember this one, right? It’s a shame the government didn’t approve. There’s so many applications for causing short term paralysis.”

Obie moved around to the front of the sofa and turned Tony’s head again. “Ah, Tony. Did you think I wouldn’t notice what you were doing? The new divisions, new directions, pararmid fibers, communications tech, prosthetics? I was curious at first but then when you didn’t renew the contract with the Navy for the warship guns when it ended, instead when you proposed a new contract to increase the hull plate toughness without thickening or increasing weight, when three of the plants that built weapons were slowly being converted to other purposes? I figured you lost your nerve. But then, oh, Tony, then, I noticed other things.”

“The increased security and steps on both ends to ship weapons, the multiple layers of redundancy in the destruction of weapons that didn’t meet quality standards. The sudden need for documentation of buyers identities. You knew more than I thought. Then more problems.” Obadiah removed the high tech ear plugs from his ears as he turned off the paralysis machine. “My customers, not all of them mind you, Tony, but the ones in the Middle East, which was mostly, though not exclusively, the Ten Rings, they were disappearing. Those backstabbing, double crossing, assholes. But they were well funded little desert rats. You were killing them, there were whispers of a menace, rescuing hostages and villagers, killing the terrorists, destroying the weapons. That was you. Taking your revenge. So like your father.”

Obadiah tilted his head and smiled grimly. “I thought when I paid that asshole, Raza, to kill you, that I was killing the goose who laid the golden egg. But you, oh Tony, you miniaturized your father’s brilliant generator. My people may not be able to figure it out from scratch, everyone knows you did it, thanks to your pal, Rhodes. Such a big mouth, so caring, so worried. But reverse engineering? Oh, we can do that. And then use it to build super weapons. The Jericho, it’ll be a child’s toy compared to what we’ll make powered by this beauty of yours. A perfect legacy for a weapons manufacturer.”

Obadiah turned away to a case on the edge of the sofa. Tony internally was preparing to die. He knew that Obie was going to take out the arc reactor and it would kill him. The sonic paralyser was one of Tony’s inventions. He knew that the prototype would continue to cause paralysis fro up to thirty minutes. There was no chance he could stop Obie from his plans.

Tony  yelled in his head for Leonardo to leave, to not stay and feel another anchor’s death with them so soon after Jimmy’s. But the revenant didn’t listen. Instead, Tony felt the surge of power in his arms, the bond between them strengthening, as Tony’s fingers twitched around the handle of the paintbrush still clenched in his fist.

As Obie turned back to Tony with a piece of tech in his hand, continuing to monologue, Tony used all of his much reduced strength to swing his arm towards the older man. With Leonardo’s power and the luck that kept him alive through over heart surgery in a cave, Tony’s strike rammed home into soft tissue. Stane cried out and cursed as he pulled away from his godson, a fatal mistake.

The paintbrush remained clenched in Tony’s fist and slid out of the hole it had made and somewhat plugged when Stane moved. The older man clapped a hand over the wound, but it had pierced his jugular. Tony watched as Obie’s eyes widened in horror and he fell forward across the sofa. Tony tried to reach out, to do something. To help? To hinder? To just push the other man off? But his arm simply flopped around, his legs twitched minutely. The paralysis was still in effect though wearing off more quickly than normal thanks to his anchor status.

Tony watched, unable to move as the light left Obadiah’s eyes as the blood flowed from the hole in his neck. Thoughts raced fast through the genius’ mind and he knew he needed to set the scene. And he knew that he couldn’t do it himself. Even if he waited and did it once the paralysis wore off, it would be too long, too suspicious of a timeline. His lips parted, barely. In a whisper that was more breath than words, he slowly stuttered, pausing often“JARVIS. Get the bots. Bring art supplies. Strew it around. Sofa, floor, table. Tools from closet, various junk, hide the anomaly of the painting supplies. When it’s done, call that guy who keeps trying to debrief me, from the Strategic, blah, blah, SHIELD. Tell him he’s needed and I can debrief him.”

The lights flickered a pattern in morse code and within a minute all of the bots were in the living room with boxes of various things. JARVIS non-verbally instructed them on how to set things up and when they were done, Tony’s minimalist, uncluttered living room was overflowing with boxes of junk, as if he was sorting things from storage. Finally, Tony was able to sit up, though he was still weak, and spoke, “Good job, guys, now go charge.”

The bots rolled off just as the doorbell rang.

Section 2.1

Tony stood in his inner workshop, a new section with incredibly tight security that no one but himself was permitted inside. Not Pepper, not Rhodey, not Happy. It was one of the ways he protected his relationship with Leonardo. Tony called it his inner sanctum. When they were alone, JARVIS insisted on referring to it as The Studio. Over the last six months since Stane’s death, Tony had painted quite a few canvases. He didn’t try to create masterpieces, either in Leonardo’s style or his own. He simply painted what called to him at that moment. He surprisingly found it very therapeutic. Leonardo liked the paintings and JARVIS said they were good in comparison to many found in art galleries. But Tony didn’t care. He wasn’t going to show them to anyone, ever. They were just for him.

At the present moment, the canvas before him was one of several of Howard Stark, the millionaire, the genius, the weapons creator, Tony’s father. Howard hadn’t been the best parent. He had been incredibly neglectful and casually abusive. Howard never whipped his son or beat him up, but when he was in a bad mood or in a certain stage of his regular drunkenness, Howard would backhand his son if the boy was close, or throw something violently at him if he was out of reach. Tony had a few scars from before he learned how to dodge the projectiles.

But Howard had been a brilliant man and Tony knew the man loved him, he had recently read several of his journals and watched some videos that had been in SHIELD’s storage. Howard didn’t know what to do with a child and he had plenty of baggage of his own from long before Tony was even thought of. His father’s temper was on par with a volcano, always simmering below the surface and bringing heavy devastation when it blew. Tony had his own share of mistakes and stupid life choices in his own past, he was trying to forgive his father and move on. And the fact that one of Howard’s unworkable ideas was going to save his life just made it easier. Not easy, but easier. Thus the current painting.

Several months ago, Tony had begun to show the early stages of heavy metal poisoning from the palladium in his arc reactor. Without Leonardo, Tony would have had only a few months to live. And he probably would have gone off the rails and made some highly questionable choices. But the presence of the revenant within him provided a buffer. The healing factor that his anchoring gave him had extended his deadline to several years, rather than months.

Leonardo had suggested that since Tony perfecting one of his father’s inventions had previously saved his life – the arc reactor – perhaps there was something in his notes that would work for this as well. And he had been correct.

Howard had discovered a new element but the technology with which he worked had made it impossible to synthesize and there was no record of it anywhere naturally. To honor his contribution, Tony was going to patent it as Starkanium.

But synthesizing a new element wasn’t an instantaneous process. So, Tony decided to use the time for his therapeutic pastime. While his brush added highlights to Howard’s skin, Tony contemplated the last several months.

After his meeting with Agent Coulson, and the cover up of Stane’s death – the public believed the man had driven his car off of a cliff at a hairpin turn – Tony had agreed to work with SHIELD. Not for, Tony was no kind of agent and actually had a deep seated issue with authority. No, Tony consulted with them on advanced armor, vehicles, power sources, communications, but never weapons. In return, Tony and Stark Industries were well paid and Tony was given access to SHIELD’s information on the whereabouts of rogue SI weapons. As Stane had admitted himself, the Ten Rings were nowhere near being his only customers.

At first, Coulson and his superiors had been under the impression that Tony’s armor was a robot, remotely controlled like an advanced drone system. They had seen him on several of his missions, or some of their agents on the ground had, but never close up. Once it was clear that the armor was piloted and powered by Tony himself, they had come to a different agreement from the one Coulson originally had in hand. Tony – codenamed Iron Man by some minion who was too fond of comic books – ran missions by himself with SHIELD intel, but never on his own. He had already caused several long term missions to go FUBAR.

It had worked fairly well so far and had allowed Tony an opportunity to insert JARVIS into their systems. Just to double check the – accuracy – of the intel. Once burned, twice shy and all that, plus his issues with authority. And JARVIS had discovered some deeply buried crazy stuff. Like the former HYDRA scientist brought to the US and put to work for SHIELD to keep him – and others like him – away from the Soviets post World War II, who decided he wasn’t ready to die and tried to upload his evil little consciousness into a computer in the 1970’s. Luckily, the mad scientist had failed in his endeavor and the attempt killed his physical body, too.

The possibility and lack of knowledge of the attempt on the part of SHIELD until well after the fact led Tony to a state of paranoia. Leonardo helped him keep it reined in to somewhat acceptable levels. Tony upgraded the hell out of JARVIS, added extra programming to the SI communications satellites that were launched as part of SI’s diversification into the telecommunications game, and began to build remote controlled versions of his armors, which he referred to as e Iron Legion. Basically, the two geniuses in a single body collaborated to create a benign version of SKYNET and the Terminators. Tony had no desire to end life on Earth and neither did any of his creations, with or without Leonardo’s input.

Tony had yet to use the Legion and wouldn’t unless highly necessary. He thought he could “sell” them to the public – metaphorically, not literally, they weren’t leaving his, or rather JARVIS’ control – as rescue drones after natural disasters and such. And proving that they weren’t as competent at being Big Brother as they liked to present, SHIELD had no idea of their existence.

In order to focus on the deversification and new lines for SI, Tony had taken on the role of Head of Research and Development and handed the CEO position to Pepper. It was a better use of resources and she had already shown she had the chops for it by stomping on the Board of Directors when they tried to go around her. Of course, that had left the position of Tony’s Personal Assistant open and showing their shining trust in him, SHIELD had attempted to fill it with a mole. Her cover name was Natalie Rushman but as Tony read in the hacked files, in reality she was Natasha Romanoff, codenamed Black Widow, a specialist in undercover and honeypot missions. Tony was insulted and with Leonardo’s input, had blown her cover with SI’s Legal Department and not only had her sent packing, but sued her for industrial espionage, as well. SHIELD had unhappily settled for a large sum and never traced the leak back to Tony, leaving his hands clean with the agency and its spy.

“Sir,” JARVIS’ voice interrupted his internal chuckles. “Synthesis of the required amount of Starkanium is complete.”

“Okay, gang, let’s get this party started.”

Tony cleaned his painting supplies and left his inner workshop, activating the advanced security protocols once the door closed behind him. He took the new model of the arc reactor, created to contain the increased output of the Starkanium, and using all proper safety protocols – Leonardo could be such a stick in the mud sometimes – he placed the new element into the reactor.

Once the reactor was closed and the element secure within, Tony removed his upper garments and unlocked his palladium core and carefully lifted in from his chest. Leonardo’s presence helped stave off the panic attack and the heart attack as he eased the new reactor into his chest cavity. He locked it into place and promptly whited out.

I’ve never felt this close to an anchor before nor experienced physicality to this extent since my death.

“Leonardo? I’ve never heard you this clear.”

It appears that Starkanium has bonded us as tightly as I’ve ever heard tell of. I apologize Tony. I don’t think I can change this state. I’m not even sure I can leave at all, at least before your death. And the way this feels, I suspect you may come with me at that time.

“Living forever, huh?”

And bonded tightly until death.

“Okay. Cool.”

Interlude A

Alright, Barnes. Front and center. Explanations, now, kid.

{Barnes is not a known term.}

Alright. I know who that is but you don’t. Got it. Answers some questions. What do you call yourself, then?

{The Asset doesn’t have a designation. The Asset is The Asset. Handlers use the codename Winter Soldier during mission briefings with others.}

The Winter Soldier. The Ghost Assassin? Yeah, right, guess that makes sense, the ultimate ghost assassin being a dead guy. What is your current mission, Soldier?

{Eliminate target with stealth and no witnesses.}

Uh huh. Target being Mark Manning-Barkley?

{Affirmative.}

Your handlers that gave you your mission, what did they tell you about Mark?

{He is an up and coming businessman and philanthropist with many connections to other countries. He keeps a regular routine. Several days of surveillance should present a proper opportunity to kill him.}

And leave no witnesses who would know he was murdered and how?

{Yes. Target should be killed with an overdose of opium based medications. If needed, hallucinogenics may be added to account for a struggle.}

And that’s what you did, yeah?

{The Asset watched the target for four days and injected the opioids during the night of the fifth day after the target arrived home from his work and had eaten his meal and turned on his music. The target did not succumb as the dose was calculated so The Asset struck him in the throat with his augmented limb, injected the hallucinogenics and threw him against the kitchen counter in order to leave bruises on his torso and then after his broken ribs punctured his lungs, the body was placed against the heavy metal table in the eating area and the target’s throat was slammed into the edge to account for the injuries caused by The Asset.}

Right. And may I ask, why exactly are you being so accommodating to me?

{The Voice is within The Asset’s head. It is either a malfunction or an upgraded handler. There is no reason to avoid questions, no way to evade Voice. If it is a malfunction, handlers will erase it when The Asset is wiped. If it is an improved handler, The Asset is reporting mission completion.}

‘K. I’m your handler. That works, for now. Your previous handlers, did they tell you about things called Revenants?

{Accessing. Revenants: unkillable spirits which are a capitalist lie.}

Capitalist lie? So, you’re Russian?

{The Asset is The Asset.}

Got it. Your previous handlers were Russian? Red Room?

{My previous handlers often spoke Russian. The Asset does not recall the other designation.}

What else did they speak?

{German, Italian, French, Spanish, Polish, Czech…}

Right. Basically, you were handed around a lot?

{The Asset is a weapon of prime importance.}

Uh huh. Explain the term wiping to me.

{After missions, The Asset is wiped of memories and placed into stasis until needed.}

Memory modification and brainwashing. Yeah, that’s, yeah, damn it where’s a genius when you need one.

{Unknown.}

It was a rhetorical question. Okay, this is so not on but I ain’t letting this stand. I’m gonna go deeper and find if there’s anything left in you but The Asset. Just relax.

{Acknowledged.}

~ Is someone there? Am I still in hell? ~

Barnes?

~ James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. ~

Yeah, kid. You are there. Was hoping but then again, Jaysus, what you been through, Bucky.

~ Who? Am I still in hell? ~

Aw, kid. No. Never literally, at least. It’s Dugan, kid. Remember me?

~ Dum-Dum? ~

Yeah. Good. Okay.

~ What’s happening? I don’t – did HYDRA get me again? Zola? ~

God. Um, right, okay, short version of what I figure from stuff, we went on the mission to capture Zola, the train? You got knocked out the door and Steve couldn’t reach ya. You fell. We all figured you were dead. A fall from that height, he train at that speed? But from what I know now, you didn’t die. We never talked about it. What Zola did to ya. But we all saw how you weren’t exactly a regular guy anymore. Not like Steve but maybe ya coulda been. You survived the fall and at some point the Russians found ya. Maybe. Maybe someone else but not sure. They brainwashed ya, Bucky, turned you into a weapon. An assassin. Constantly messing with yer head, wiping your memories. Bucky, you been wi them a long time. Near 70 years. Not quite but close enough. I’m not actually completely alive. When I died I became a revenant.

~ And they let ya anchor with ME? ~

Not quite. My first anchor, he was just murdered. By –

~ By me? ~

By the Winter Soldier. The weapon that they turned her body into.

~ Kill me. ~

What?

~ Kill me, Dugan. You’re never gonna be able to trust me. Not if they’ve had me that long working for them. ~

Not gonna happen. You’re one of ours, Barnes. You were a Howlie. And I ain’t letting those assholes win. I’m in yer head, yer body. I can’t control it but I think I can keep you in control over the Soldier. Just got to figure out where to take ya.

~ SSR? ~

Huh. Well, the SSR got folded into a new bureau SHIELD after the war.

~ Shield? ~

Yeah, right. Stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. Created by Howard, Peggy and Phillips. I worked as an agent for a while. Most of the Howlies did.

~ Stark named it, didn’t he? ~

Probably. Comes off like him. And as an homage to Steve.

~ Stevie’s dead, huh? ~

Yeah. Took out Red Skull and a plane full of bombs. Crashed in the Arctic somewhere, never found it. Bombs woulda taken out half the East Coast.

~ So, to SHIELD then? ~

No. They’re a bit too opportunistic these days. They’d probably love to get their hands on ya but not so much to help as to use your – skills.

~ Okay, then. Where to? Peggy? Can’t see her as doing that. ~

No. Peggy’s alive but she don’t remember much anymore. Dementia.

~ Stark? ~

Howard’s dead. Car accident years ago. Him and his wife but you might just be on the right track. Howard’s son, Tony. He’s even more of a genius than his old man. Lost his way for a while but recently really grew up. If anyone could figure it out, it’s him.

~ And if he can’t, he can kill me. ~

He can. And when he does and you’re back to being you completely, I’ll leave.

~ No! ~

Not anytime soon. And only by your choice. My anchoring with ya wasn’t consensual. But I couldn’t let it be when I recognized you. I had to try to help you or at least figure out how the hell you were alive and looking like you ain’t aged a day. Once you’re compos mentis though, it will be your call. Yes or no.

~ And the people in charge of revenants won’t have a say? ~

They won’t know jack if we don’t tell ‘em.

~ You never did like taking orders, Dugan. ~

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