January 14, 2017
“He might as well go home,” Dr. Cho stated over the video conference. “There is nothing in the sample analysis you sent me to suggest anything poisonous – just a hell of a tranquilizer cocktail. A regular human would have been out cold after the first dart. I would say the most he can do is sleep it off, but someone should stay with him until it is out of his system, just in case his condition changes.”
“Thanks for taking a look, Doc,” Tony said, remembering what Lewis had said about the value of praise. Eh, he’d rather just pay more. “You know how the serumed bunch get all squirrely about handing over blood samples.” She nodded and he continued, “You going to be back in state anytime soon?” Tony walked as he talked, heading to the medical floor. It was boggling to him that the staff had managed to keep Steve there long enough for Cho to consult – there was no point in prolonging things any more than necessary. Not that Steve would do damage to anyone or anything, but he would start lecturing doctors and giving nurses his patented I-am-so-saddend-by-the-behavior-of-this-century-and-also-I-am-a-hero face and then Tony would have a coup on his hands. He had a strict limit on coups – no more than two per year. As it was still first quarter, he thought it was best to avoid one for a bit longer.
“Difficult to say,” Cho replied. A buzz of noise and a sudden flash of light in the background had her frowning. “I have to go, Mr. Stark. Residents,” she muttered, “completely useless. Hey! Put that down! Did you even use proper-”
The call ended abruptly and Tony could only shake his head. That sort of thing was exactly why he preferred robots over human assistants in his lab. Well, that, and people got unnecessarily skittish after one or two tiny explosions. And they complained if they had to work more than twenty hours straight. It wasn’t like he didn’t feed them. There were pudding cups and smoothies in the workshop fridge. Wimps.
The elevator door opened to the infirmary and Tony was not surprised to see Steve standing in the lobby area, arguing with the head nurse and Wilson while an unimpressed Flash Frozen Fucker looked on. Oooo – that’s a good one, he thought to himself. Triple alliteration. He was mildly surprised Lewis wasn’t in attendance, with the way those two kids had been blushing over each other. It had been Tony’s plan, of course, and a masterful one at that, but he was still mildly nauseated by all the twitterpated vibes they were giving off. He was libel to get a contact romance infection. At least Pepper is in residence…
“The Captain has been cleared from medical,” Tony announced with a loud voice and a dramatic wave he felt set the perfect tone. Apparently the nurse disagreed as she scowled, snapped her tablet shut, and stomped off.
“See?” Steve shook his head slowly and folded his arms over his chest. “’M fine.”
“Was that a slur in your voice, Captain Decorum? Or are you just happy to see me? No matter,” he waved off Steve’s frown and Wilson’s exasperation. Steve’s shoulders were rounded and slumped under the Avengers-branded sweats Tony had provided for everyone. He scrubbed one hand over his face – as if that might wake him up. As a close, personal, intimate companion to exhaustion (through both natural and extremely unnatural means), Tony felt confident it would not. “Your new place is mostly done, El Capitan, and I already had your stuff moved. But Cho says you can only leave under supervision. So, ladies,” he batted his lashes at Wilson and Silent but Deadly, “which one of you will escort Goldilocks? You’ll have to have a slumber party, but if you want to get fresh, I won’t tell.”
“Can it, Stark.” Steve wasn’t even looking at him, so Tony’s impersonation of the offended party was wasted.
“Well, I never.”
Barnes had been looking forward to Steve seeing his new place. It had been mostly done already the first time Barnes saw the plans, but Vision had taken suggestions easily and Stark threw money at contractors for overtime and rushed orders like it was going out of style, so one week was apparently enough to be move-in ready.
He had not, however, thought the first time Steve toured it would be while shaking off the effects of HYDRA’s drugs. If he had, he might have suggested Steve just stay over at the Tower another night or two. As they crested the second flight of stairs in the brownstone and Steve slowed to a stop and leaned most of his weight on Barnes, it crossed his scarred and jellied brain that he definitely would have left Steve at the Tower if he had known he’d need to practically carry the punk up three flights of stairs.
Not that it was an issue of strength. Steve weighed in at maybe two-eighty after a full meal, so that wasn’t a problem. The problem was trying to fit two broad-shouldered guys up a set of stairs designed before either of them were born. Wide, they weren’t.
“Come on,” Barnes said loudly, hoping the volume would snap Steve into focus for at least a few more minutes.
“Lotta stairs,” Steve mumbled. “Shoulda…shoulda taken the elevator.”
Barnes didn’t bother to correct him that they weren’t in the Tower. Steve’s eyes were mostly closed and he was swaying on his feet. One more flight, he thought to himself, then I can shoulder him to a bed if I have to. He glanced in the guest bedrooms on the second floor – not hopeful, but covering his bases. Neither were furnished yet. Barnes huffed. Stark had said the place was finished. Apparently that meant paint and working plumbing, not mattresses.
“If I haul your ass all the way up there and there’s no bed,” he threatened under his breath.
Steve didn’t seem to hear, or didn’t care. Either way it was another tense eight minutes to get him swaying and stumbling to the third floor. Vision had done a good job. Most of the space was open to the front of the building, where a massive bed – thank god – had been made up against an exposed brick wall. Gleaming wood floors and freshly painted walls were bare of rugs or art, and the tall windows had only blackout blinds, but it was a hell of a lot better than most of the places he or Steve had ever laid down their heads.
He dumped Steve on the mattress, managing to get his boots off before the man snuffled into a pillow and was out cold. Buck watched him for several long minutes. He counted the seconds between breaths, measured the rise and fall of his chest, listened for moisture or irritation in his lungs. With a sudden snap he turned on his heel. Steve wasn’t a sickly weakling anymore and wouldn’t die from tranquilizers. Really, Barnes should take it like a vacation. It was so rare he was guaranteed a block of time in which Steve Rogers absolutely could not get into trouble.
Over the next couple of hours, as morning fell into afternoon, Barnes poked his head into the master bathroom – full of white tile and a frosted glass window in the shower. A sitting area – dressing room? Reading nook? hard to tell without any furniture – at the back of the third floor had a metal spiral staircase that went up to an empty, glass walled room on the roof. The light was good. Perfect for drawing in the late afternoon or mixing oil paints – now that Steve had the money for that sort of thing. The second floor was more of the same high ceilings and finely crafted woodwork in two bedrooms and another bathroom – this one with a bathtub that looked like something from his time. On the main floor was a living area with a fireplace. A fully stocked wet bar alcove separated the sitting room from a space with built in shelves that could have been a library or a dining room. It contained only three sad looking cardboard boxes marked “Rogers”. Still more history than I got- damned depressing for both of us. There was a tiny powder room as well, and the flimsy, obviously temporary, wall and door that he knew lead to Darcy’s place.
The kitchen was where Barnes had provided the most input and Vision had clearly taken his advice. The rear wall of the brownstone had been blown out, and replaced with an addition in glass – including the roof. A long line of counters on the left included a six burner gas stove and a refrigerator big enough to hold even a super soldier’s groceries. An island in matching marble featured a deep sink and a dishwasher – not that Steve would ever remember to use it. This room too had floor to ceiling built-ins along the right wall, which curled around into a banquette and a place for a table. There weren’t any actual chairs. Not anywhere in the house. The refrigerator was empty too.
Barnes muttered curses to himself as he ordered Thai and thought about having groceries delivered too. Not that he could cook anything but beans and stew, or that there were plates in the house to eat off of, but if he had to be there very long he’d at least like to have some fucking fruit. Only Stark would think a place with no goddamn bread or chairs was livable. Two kinds of whiskey though, he noted with irritation, priorities.
He had just checked on Steve again – still snoring away and mumbling occasionally about flour and flash grenades, Barnes hoped he wasn’t dreaming of exploding cakes – and was waiting for the food when his phone rang.
“Barnes,” he answered gruffly to a number he didn’t recognize. There were only six people who had his number – it had been seven. Lang’s friend Luis had called once to ask him if the Trans-Siberian railway served borscht. How the hell would he know? And who the hell cared? After the first three minutes of non-stop chatter Barnes had hung up and then blocked the number. If Lang ever needed to reach him he could damn well call Steve. It occurred to him that someone – Natalia – might have messed with his phone. Thankfully, it was not Luis.
It also wasn’t any of the six people who had the number.
“Sergeant Barnes.” The soft Irish was instantly recognizable as Stark’s computer, but Barnes hadn’t realized it made phone calls too. “I hope I did not disturb Captain Rogers, but I am afraid you are needed back at the Tower. Mr. Stark has issued a notice to assemble.”
Of course. The billionaire made a point never to speak to Barnes unless he had to, and even then it was mostly insults. Barnes wanted to feel annoyed, but guilt was still outweighing irritation.
“I can’t leave,” he replied. “Someone has to watch Steve.”
“One moment.” He waited while Friday…considered? Compiled? Checked with Stark? “Boss has instructed me to send a healthcare professional to monitor the Captain. Is there a particular staff member you feel would serve his needs best?”
The doorbell rang and Barnes worked hard not to scowl through the door at the kid holding his spring rolls hostage. Spring rolls he wouldn’t get a chance to eat now. His stomach rumbled. Stark sends Steve here, no food, no furniture, and then tries to pawn him off on some nurse? While Barnes was willing to endure Stark’s treatment for his own part – Steve sure as hell didn’t deserve it. He paid for his food and stalked back to the kitchen, a horrible, wonderful, extremely Natalia-esqe idea forming.
“See if Darcy is available.”
“Contacting her now…Ms. Lewis has stated that she can leave the office at this time, and is happy to assist. Agent Romanoff has offered to drop her off and pick you up at the same time.”
“Hn. See if you can get some furniture here, Friday. Please. And maybe some food.”
“Certainly, Sergeant Barnes. Is there anything else?”
Barnes answered in the negative and stood over the sink, cramming hot rice into his mouth and washing it down with tom yum soup. The way Natalia drove he didn’t have much time. Despite having to go back out into the field so soon after Atlanta, he couldn’t help a smirk. Stark thought he could manipulate Steve and Darcy by putting them in the same building. Barnes had a feeling Darcy would have something to say about that. To Stark’s face. Loudly. Fluently. There might even be a knee to the Stark family jewels.
He hoped the mission ended in time for him to see it.