When the moon covers the sun, we have a solar eclipse. What do you call it when birds do that?
-- Kim Young-ha
The thing that Bucky couldn’t quite understand—and no one had been able to answer him, either, no matter the questions that he asked—was why he never saw Tony Stark with wings spread wide.
It was almost impossible to keep a person’s wings snugged up tight against their back, tucked away and still: little things would cause someone to mantle their wings, spread them out at a perceived surprise or threat, or feathers bristling with the desperate need to groom. Even Bucky had never been immune to any of these tells, wings shifting against his shoulders with unease heavy in his stomach, flaring out in an effort to intimate HYDRA officers as the brainwashing began to wear off over the course of decades, time and time again—
A person’s wings were a part of them, another sort of limb that was used daily, and Bucky couldn’t help but be… curious… as to how and why Tony’s remained still, almost seemingly dead against his shoulders.
The ex-Winter Soldier wanted to reach out, wanted to touch, wanted to bury his fingers in blue-black feathers and encourage the inventor to preen (just for him, if Bucky was truly honest with himself—and he was, had to be, after everything that HYDRA had done to him), wanted to see just how large Tony’s wingspread truly was from tip to tip.
But the wings remained still, oil-spill slick beneath the shifting lights of the engineer’s workshop, and Bucky couldn’t take his eyes away from the midnight-dark sight.
Tony caught him staring sometimes and returned Bucky’s stare with one of his own, but he never offered an explanation—and the gray-eyed man never actually asked the question, multitude of words caught just behind his lips, of why.
A raven’s wings, clever and resourceful for both man and bird, and Bucky wanted nothing more than to lean against the older man’s chest, to be enfolded in a feather-touched embrace.
Bucky wanted—and didn’t know why, didn’t know how to put the words aloud, didn’t understand the want, the need: just wanted.
(And, still, Tony’s wings remained so very, very still against his back. Lifeless in a way that the inventor could never be.)
“You know, you’re really not as subtle as you think you are,” Tony commented idly, not bothering to look up from where he was working on one of his suit’s gauntlets. The engineer frowned slightly, brows furrowing, and reached out to his worktable to snag a new screwdriver to twist the parts into place. “In fact, I might even a bit disappointed in the lack of subtly, Buckster.”
“Wasn’t oftentimes subtle even when I was an assassin. I mostly remember lots of explosions, if anything.”
Tony snorted at that, amusement bright in his mahogany gaze as he glanced up to meet Bucky’s own light eyes. His mouth was lax, quirked lopsided and easy as they shared the joke between the both of them—Steve would have been taken aback and hurt at the fact that Bucky could even think of making a joke about his time with HYDRA. Tony… accepted it at face value, let it go: understood in a way that the blond man never could. Not about this.
“Still,” the inventor eventually countered, returning to the work and allowing the ex-assassin to return to his quiet, muted thoughts. “You’re going to get wrinkles if you continue squinting at me the way that you have been. So spit it out; I might actually be tempted to answer the questions I can see swimming ‘round in your eyes. Only one way to find out, though.”
Bucky stilled at the offer, torn between actually asking the question that had been lingering in his mind for weeks—for months—and keeping silent, letting the mystery linger and the words remain unsaid. Sometimes it was better to not know (and that was a lesson hard-learned before HYDRA ever sunk its claws in him).
“Your wings,” the gray-eyed man eventually began, not able to resist the temptation to finally know the answer to the thoughts that had kept themselves hidden and quiet—but still noticed by the genius before him. “They never move.”
Did something happen to them—is that why they remain so eerily still?
Tony’s movements quieted, stopped, and the engineer continued to stare down at the suit part in his hands. “…that’s not a question, Bucky,” the dark-eyed man pointed out, voice quiet in the silence that had begun to stretch between the both of them.
“Why?” Bucky countered almost immediately, suddenly anxious and needing to know.
I hate seeing the parts of you that should be so intrinsic, a reflection of your soul made flight, dead and lifeless and never once moving around you in the way that the rest of your entire body embraces movement, gestures filling the space around you with your presence.
The question, however, was answered with a quiet sigh, and Tony set aside the gauntlet to bring a hand up to his face, tiredly rubbing at his temple and smearing motor oil across a cheek. “Because people always believe that the inside is reflected through the outside, Buckster,” the engineer began, spinning his footstool to finally face the ex-assassin. “Look at Steve, for example. What wings does he have?”
“An albatross’,” the other man answered, brow furrowing in confusion as Bucky tried to follow Tony’s logic.
“An albatross—a bird that sailors usually viewed as a sign of good luck. A bird that’s able to keep itself aloft for long periods of time, one of the largest birds in the world, gorgeous and strong and talented in the air. And what about you, Bucky? What wings do you have?”
“A gyrfalcon’s,” the silver-eyed man answered, disliking the points of argument that Tony was trying to go down: what was the point of comparing himself to Steve and Bucky when, for himself, a raven was so very clever and brilliant in its problem-solving capabilities—sociable enough in its flocks, loyal and quick to defend its nestmates. Why then would Tony have an issue with his wings…?
“And gyrfalcons are fast in their strikes, deadly in their attacks, uniquely patterned, eye-catchingly so: dangerous and gorgeous for it. Easy enough to see why you have the plumage that you do,” the billionaire replied, voice frank and starkly honest, contrasting with the riot of emotions within his gaze.
Bucky stiffened at the comparison, distinctly uncomfortable as he avoided Tony’s eyes, disliking it still when anyone glanced his way to offer him compliments. “Then what’s so wrong with a raven’s wings?”
The smile that Tony offered in reply was bitter, sharp-edged and dark with too many hurts already dealt throughout the years. There was no verbal reply, not at first: instead, the inventor just glanced over his left shoulder, attention focused and narrowed down to his left wing.
Slowly, carefully, the black appendage lifted and spread, feathers stretching far, far, far to brush against the opposite side of the workshop; a glance over his shoulder to the right wing, and the feathered appendage echoed its twin’s lift and stretch, creating a far-reaching shadow with the wingspan finally on display: blocking out the light and leaving twilight and darkness in their wake. Eyes wide as he took in length and size of Tony’s wings—nearly on par with Steve’s, truth be told—it took a moment or two before Bucky began to realize that the shape of the wings, the more particulars in the coloring of the feathers… it screamed ‘raptor’ rather than ‘raven.’
“For as long as I can remember, Bucky, people have called me The Merchant of Death. I don’t have a raven’s wings; I have a Monk vulture’s. So what does that say about my soul--about me?”
And Bucky? –Bucky could only stare, reaching out with his metal hand to rest his palm against the meat of the too-huge wing, burying fingers beneath down to caress over the thrumming pulse of skin and blood that lay hidden beneath it all.
“They’re beautiful,” the man whispered, and Tony sighed—relieved, perhaps, relaxing against Bucky as the man found the beauty in his death—and carefully brought his wingspan forward, cocooning them both in darkness and silence, and Bucky found that he was finally able to breathe deeply, safe within the warm, twilight-laden space.
(No surprise, then, that Bucky found himself loved and beloved of Death.)