The business card said “ Professional Companionship ” and “ Specializing in the Intimidating Significant Other Ruse ” and “ Available in a Variety Of Backgrounds, Religion, Platonic but Boyfriend Material to a Point ” and Tony turned it over in his hands at least a thousand times as he waited for the doorbell to ring.
This James Barnes character had come highly recommended by his personal trainer, Sam Wilson, who had hired James to go to a party with him as a show of support for another friend who had recently come out. Surprisingly enough, he had also been recommended by Pepper Potts, Tony's new assistant, who had seen the card and shared a frankly adorable story about hiring him to go to thanksgiving dinner at her new step-mothers home and he had proven himself both smart and hilarious and Pepper credited him as the reason she and her step mother had a decent relationship at all.
So two glowing reviews from people Tony trusted, and one phone call later-- just to set up a time and place to meet-- and Tony was pacing his apartment anxiously, waiting for James to show up.
There was about a thousand reasons why hiring someone to hang out with him felt about six shades of wrong, but Tony ignored all of those. He was lonely, and wanted to be held and both Pepper and Sam had promised that this guy wasn't anything like an escort, so he was the right choice.
Tony supposed he could be out meeting singles at a bar or something, but that idea made him want to scream. He didn't have time to do that sort of thing, not after taking over the company last year after his father had passed. Tony barely had time to sleep, so dating and friends and all that had fallen by the wayside.
Hence calling this… Professional Companion… which all the sudden was seeming sad and desperate and--
- -oh shit, the doorbell .
Tony straightened his suit jacket with a quick jerk, smoothed his hair back and after taking a deep breath and muttering a quick prayer, he opened the door.
Tall, dark and jesus christ he’s gorgeous grinned down at him, and Tony managed to smile back, holding out his hand automatically to shake. “Hey. You must be James.”
“Please, for the love of God call me Bucky.” The man laughed and shook his hand firmly. “Tony, right? You ready to hang out?”
“Uh yeah, yeah, come on in.” Tony stood aside so Bucky could come in, staring helplessly at the way he filled out those dark jeans and cream colored long sleeve. “Thanks for coming by at all. I can't imagine--” he closed his door. “I can't imagine you meet too many people at their home the first time?”
“I usually don't.” Bucky's smile was all things friendly and easy and Tony felt himself relax the tiniest bit. “But you told me Sam and Pepper recommended me to you and they are about the best people in the world so I figured you were good people too.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Oh sure thing, sweet thing.” Bucky winked and Tony nearly melted and that's about when he realized he probably should have taken the time to (ahem) take care of himself in the shower because faced with big and buff and damn he hadn't been expecting that bit of a Brooklyn accent Tony was remembering that it had been months and months since his last ---
“So.” Bucky brought him back from his thoughts. “What are we doing tonight? You mentioned something about a movie night?”
“Yeah.” Tony chewed at his lip, feeling awkward all the sudden. “Just a few hours, I guess. It would just be nice to not watch one alone and maybe to--” he coughed. “Just to sort of--” he hadn't really thought about how he was going to ask Bucky to cuddle him and now it seemed sort of impossible to actually say. “I was thinking we could--”
“Are you a big spoon or a little spoon type of person?” Bucky asked, already looking through the hundreds of movies Tony had in his entertainment center. “What's your favorite type of movie?”
“Oh.” Tony blinked. “Alright, I prefer action movies. I like the old spy ones? Horror films too, but only the ones with big animals. And--” hesitantly, “I'm a little spoon type of person.”
“Well that works out.” Bucky turned and flashed another one of those ridiculous grins. “Because I have yet to meet the guy who can big spoon me but you’re welcome to try. Also, how does a horrible shark movie sound? How is it you have all the Jaws, all the Sharknadoes and honestly just an impressive amount of bad sci-fi shark films as well?”
“I like them.” Tony explained sheepishly. “Um, can I get you a drink?”
“Just water is great.” Bucky fussed over the blu-ray player, trying to figure out how to turn on the sound system and connect it all to the giant television. “I think I did this right…”
“Here, I got it.” Tony handed him a water, changed the last few settings, and took a step back. “It's sort of a finicky thing so-- oh! ”
He yelped when Bucky just grabbed him and pulled him back onto the couch, right into his arms and against his chest, settling them together until they were both lying comfortably against the cushions, Tony's head resting on Bucky's arm, Bucky's other hand lying on Tony's stomach.
“You good right here?” Bucky asked and Tony just nodded, still a little shocked at the abruptness, but sinking quickly into the warmth at his back. “Alright. Lets see how bad Avalanche Sharks really is.”
“Heya sweet thing.” Bucky nudged Tony gently. “Wake up.”
“Hm?” Tony's eyes opened in surprise. “What? Did I fall asleep?” The movie wasn't even rolling credits anymore, just playing the menu screen over and over.
“Yeah, right after the first bikini babe met a bloody death.” Bucky smiled down at him and Tony flushed in embarrassment.
“Sorry. Damn, I haven't been sleeping well and--”
“Hey it's fine.” Bucky assured him. “It's fine. The movie was hilarious, I'm surprised I didn't wake you up laughing. Plus it's the easiest evening I've had in awhile. Don't worry about it.”
“Ok.” Tony kept looking up at Bucky, and Bucky kept looking down at him, a curious expression on his face. Tony broke the moment by clearing his throat, by glancing away. “Thanks for staying. You could have just left and let me sleep. I would have found a way to get money to you.”
“Aw now why you gotta ruin our date by mentioning money?” Bucky teased, and slipped out from behind him to stretch. “Feels weird to take money from you after just watching you sleep. Maybe I'll add Sleep Bodyguard to my card.”
“Right after Professional Cuddler?” Tony asked, sitting up as well, thinking that maybe he imagined the light of interest in Bucky's blue eyes. “That seems like it should be on your card too.”
“I'll add it right away.” Bucky grinned and reached out a hand to help him up. “Now since you got all awkward by mentioning money, here’s how I do this sort of thing. We go in for a hug-” he brought Tony close, wrapping both arms around his waist and holding him gently. “--and you slip the money into my back pocket, maybe patting my ass a little just to be cute and then we can say goodnight.”
“Is this how it always works?” Tony raised his eyebrows, but put his arms around Bucky anyway.
“Sure.” Bucky winked again. “Bring it in for a hug-- now slip some cash into my pocket and I'll pretend not to notice--yep there you go. A nice little pat because you like my tushy, and we are good to go.”
“Thank you.” Tony said earnestly. “I know I slept the whole time but it was um-- it was--” he spread his hands vaguely and Bucky nodded.
“Make sure and give me a five star review, yeah?”
“Uh sure. Can I call you again?”
“Anytime you want.” Bucky blew him a kiss, grabbed his keys off the kitchen table and was gone, leaving Tony with a smile on his face, feeling happy for the first time in ages.
“Jaws this time?” Bucky hugged Tony hello and held up a bottle of wine. “I thought I'd bring wine this time, maybe you’ll stay awake longer if you’re tipsy and giggling.”
“Yeah, sorry about last time.” Tony said sheepishly. “I like wine though, so thank you. “
“It's no problem.” Bucky assured him. “You ready to start, or do you need a few minutes?”
“No.” Tony glanced down at his sweats and shrugged. “I guess I'm ready.”
“Come on then.” Bucky took his hand and led him to the couch. “Let’s get our cuddle on. Don't worry if you fall asleep this time too, I'll stay until the movie is over.”
“Thanks.” Tony said in surprise and Bucky pulled him onto the couch, tucking him close.
“What kind of Professional Cuddler would I be if I had a problem with sleepy snuggles huh?”
Tony managed to stay awake during Jaws, but Bucky picked Jaws 2 for the next movie night and it was much less interesting than the original. Tony fell asleep almost immediately and Bucky smiled fondly down at him, brushing a piece of dark hair off his forehead.
This was the third time they had met up within two weeks and it was quickly becoming Bucky's favorite thing. Tony was funny and sweet and he always had a soft sad look in his eyes that disappeared the minute Bucky pulled him down onto the couch. Bucky didn't know what made Tony sad, but he hated it, so anytime he could, he tried to make him smile.
Tony had a beautiful smile.
Bucky turned the sleepy man over until Tony's face was tucked into his neck, and then settled in to watch the rest of the movie alone, drawing idle circles on Tony's back.
In four years of doing this whole “friend for a day/ boyfriend for an event” thing, Bucky had never once been tempted to date someone who had hired him.
But he was tempted with Tony.
“I thought we were watching Jaws 2.” Tony frowned. “What happened? Or did we watch that last time and I don't remember?”
“You fell asleep before the opening credits had finished.” Bucky teased him, grabbing a bowl of popcorn and dragging him towards the couch. “I should have brought you a redbull to make it through Jaws 3. How does blood and gore put you to sleep?”
“Maybe we should try sitting up and watching the movie.” Tony suggested and Bucky just shrugged. “I mean at least that way I might stand a chance of not falling asleep.”
“You can fall asleep on me anytime you want.” Bucky promised. “Why aren't you sleeping, anyway? You always seem so tired. “
“Uh, my dad passed last year.” Tony explained quietly. “And I took over the company and I just-- I feel like there’s always too much on my mind to slow down enough to sleep.”
“I'm sorry to here that, sugar.” Bucky stretched out on the couch and motioned for Tony. “Come here. Lets cuddle it up for a few hours.”
Tony smiled faintly and dropped onto the couch obediently, surprised but not willing to comment when Bucky pulled him tighter than usual.
“I'm sorry about your dad.” Bucky said roughly and brushed the barest kiss over Tony's hair. “I'm sorry you’re not sleeping well.”
“It's alright.” Tony yawned. “I've come to terms with losing my dad, and the sleeping thing will happen eventually.”
After Tony had fallen asleep, Bucky turned him around again, and this time he kissed Tony's forehead, lingering over it for a moment as he tried to reconcile whatever he was feeling.
Not a good idea for a Professional Cuddler to fall for a client.
Bucky was falling head over heels for this client, and couldn't be happier about it.
Tony ordered in chinese food for the first Sharknado, and they laughed over chopsticks and feeding each other food and spilling sauce all over the place and one time Tony leaned in to wipe sauce off of Bucky's chin and Bucky leaned in at the same time and they both froze a few inches from their lips touching.
“So um--” Tony was staring at him. “That whole Boyfriend Material to a Point clause on your card?”
“No kissing on the lips and no spending the night.” Bucky answered automatically. “It keeps me firmly on this side of the line rather than pushing into escort territory, you know?”
“Plus it probably keeps people from becoming attached to you?” Tony added, and Bucky nodded slowly.
“That's the idea. Plus then I have plausible deniability if I happen to be seen with someone else by someone who met me at a different event.”
“Smart. Keeps things from being messy.”
“Right.” Tony breathed and licked his lips before moving away and Bucky pulled away as well, feeling like he was about two seconds from drowning in those dark brown eyes. “Um, do you want more--”
“Yes!” Bucky blurted.
“--noodles.” Tony finished, cocking an eyebrow and Bucky wanted to crawl in a hole and die.
“Yes. I am very enthusiastic about noodles.” he muttered, then smirked a little when he saw Tony blushing.
They made it through three Sharknado movie nights before Bucky declared he couldn't watch anymore bad shark movies and opted to switch to spiders.
“I'm terrified of spiders.” Tony muttered and turned on the couch so he was hiding his face in Bucky's chest, arms wrapped around him and their legs intertwined, and Bucky decided he was going to pick spider movies for the next year.
It had to happen eventually, Tony supposed, so he tried not to be shocked when he ran into Bucky and a woman holding hands as they strolled through the mall right before Halloween.
“I can't believe my parents are throwing a Halloween masquerade ball!” The woman was fussing. “Who goes to these things anymore? And of course I lied to them like eight months ago about having a boyfriend and now they want to meet him--” she groaned and Bucky looked down at her sympathetically.
“Well. Buy a dramatic outfit and we can have a big dramatic blow out break up at the party and then you can have an entire year off of your parents bugging you about dating, because you can just cry and bring up the halloween party.”
“I love that idea!” She exclaimed. “How much would that--”
“Oh we can talk about that sort of thing later.” Bucky coughed politely. “Lets go get couples costumes and we can work out the details.”
“I'm so glad you were recommended to me.” she beamed up at him. “You are just lovely.”
“So glad you approve, darlin’.” Bucky winked and she giggled, and Tony wanted to fall through the floor, but he didn't have a right to be jealous so he just kept walking.
Bucky saw him though, at the last minute, and those pale blue eyes lit up with genuine affection, a warm smile on his face, then an apologetic look down at the woman with a half shrug and Tony nodded.
It didn't make it any easier though.
“How was the halloween party?” Tony asked as casually as he could the next movie night and Bucky burst out laughing.
“Easily the most dramatic break up of my life! I had a friend of hers who was in on the whole thing videotape it so I can use it as a reference!” He laughed even harder. “You should have seen the look on her mothers face when I accused her of sleeping with the pool boy. They don't even have a pool boy! And then she screamed something about me moonlighting as an escort which is sort of true? And then her dad threw me out. It was wonderful.”
“It sounds like a party.” Tony admitted. “I would have liked to see her dad throw you out.”
“Thank god for costumes.” Bucky helped himself to another slice of pizza. “I think her brother would beat the shit out of me if he saw me in public.”
“Speaking of which.” Bucky took a quick drink and sent Tony a serious look. “Are you alright? I'm sure it was weird to see me with that girl. I hope it wasn't--”
“Oh come on.” Tony waved him off. “I know you have other clients. It's not a big deal. It's not like we’re--” he shut up before he said dating because he knew it would come out wistful and he didn't want to sound like that.
“No we’re not--you know.” Bucky shrugged. “But I have a strict no more than twice rule with people who hire me because it ends up being bad for business because they get attached or I get attached.”
“No more than twice?” Tony repeated curiously.
“Yep.” Bucky wiped his hands on his napkin. “And this is what, number nine for us?”
“Oh. Yeah, it is. So, um--”
“Ready for our movie?” Bucky held out his hand and Tony took it slowly, trying not to smile but probably failing horribly. “Let’s go get our cuddle on.”
“Hey I'm gonna be out of town next week.” Tony mentioned, glancing up at Bucky during a boring part of the movie. “So no movie night.”
“Why not?” Bucky frowned down at him. “Almost four months we’ve been doing this, you can't just take my movie nights away from me. Who will I cuddle with on Thursdays and the occasional Monday?”
“I'm sure you have other clients to cuddle with.” Tony elbowed him gently and Bucky rolled his eyes.
“Not on Thursday or Monday nights. Those are for you. I keep my schedule clear.”
“Well I appreciate it, but I have to go to California. I'll be back in time for our next one though.” Tony snuggled closer, turning to he could put his face in Bucky's chest. Sometime after the Chinese food almost kiss but definitely after the whole no more than twice conversation, Tony had taken to just snuggling Bucky however he wanted.
The big brunette never complained, never made feel self conscious or anything, and Tony appreciated it. Especially after what had happened last Thursday.
Tony had fallen asleep half through Eight Legged Freaks and woken up warm and wonderful and then nearly fell off the couch in his haste to make sure Bucky didn't notice just how awake he was. It wasn't the first time it had happened-- Bucky was hot as hell of course, and they were spending hours pressed up against each other-- but it was the first time that Tony had lain there half awake (but completely interested) and rubbed himself against Bucky for a few minutes before realizing what he was doing and nearly having a heart attack and jumping off the couch.
But Bucky had only reached out and dragged Tony right back against him without even opening his eyes, grumbling something about being cold and not being paid to sleep through movies alone, and that had been the end of that discussion.
So this time Tony pressed as close as he wanted, winding his arms around Bucky and sighing contentedly before asking, “How close are you to paying off your school loans now?”
It had been a hilarious story about how Bucky had come to the decision to rent himself out as a platonic but pretend significant other to counteract his school loan payments. It had helped him double his monthly payment, and still allow him to work as a veterinarians assistant until he had all of his intern hours done.
“I am twenty five hundred dollars away. So I've got to be a significant other at someone’s wedding on Saturday, a date to a work function Tuesday, movie night with you on Thursday, then I am spending a weekend upstate as a groomsmen, and then that's it. All my loans are paid off and I can stop doing this, and just work at the animal hospital full time since I'll be debt free.”
“It's weird that you’re a vet.” Tony yawned and burrowed closer.
“Why’s that?” Bucky drew the blanket further up Tony’s shoulders. “Do I not look like the type to want to cuddle animals all day? I like to cuddle you, don't I?”
“Are you saying movie nights with me is like cuddling animals?”
“You’re practically a cat, Tony.” Bucky said affectionately, sliding his fingers through Tony's hair. “All sleepy and cuddly and I'm pretty sure I've heard you purr.”
Tony laughed, then pulled away with a troubled look. “Wait though. Wait. If you will be all paid off by next weekend, does this mean no more movie nights? If you don't have to be like a friend for rent, or whatever? I won't get to see you anymore.”
“That's dumb, of course you can see me.” Bucky scoffed. “Actually you’ll probably see me more since the vet office is only open 9-5.”
“But if you aren't doing this anymore then--”
“Tony.” Bucky peered down at him. “We can just hang out now. It's felt weird taking money from you since like the third or fourth time, but I had bills to pay so I had to. Movie nights with you are my favorite night of the week.”
“Unless you don't want me to come around anymore?” Bucky frowned. “But I thought you were enjoying this too.”
“Well I am but--” Tony cleared his throat. “But I mean, we are just-- this is just a platonic thing so--”
“Well it doesn't have to be.” Bucky countered. “If you don't want it to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” Bucky dragged the word out. “You know I broke my two times only rule with you. And it's about all I can do to keep from kissing you. We hang out twice a week already and the last few times we haven't even put on a movie, we just laid together and talked. I mean, doesn't that sound like dating? I want to keep doing this, if you do?’
“You do?” Tony felt like he squeaked just then and by the smirk on Bucky's face, he probably had.
“Well yeah, I mean--” Bucky turned them on the couch until Tony was lying almost beneath him, pushing a thick thigh between Tony's legs. “I mean, you aren't the only one trying to hide how awake we are after watching movies together. And my Boyfriend Material to a Point clause means that I don't kiss anyone on the lips, but I've wanted to kiss you since the first time you opened the door looking all confused and shy. And I'm so glad that my loans will be paid off next Saturday because I'd really like to spend the night with you when you get back from California and I don't mean in the Professional Cuddler kind of way.”
“Oh yeah?” Tony licked his lips and then grinned when Bucky's gaze dropped to watch. “You could spend the night tonight, if you want. You should spend the night, I mean. I leave in the morning so--”
“I'll stay.” Bucky said quickly. “Even if you don't want to do anything but lay together. I'm fine with that.”
“The hell with that.” Tony surged up and kissed Bucky hard, smiling when the big man groaned and kissed him back just as eagerly. “I've been wanting to kiss you forever.”
“Come here then, sweet thing.”
“So how do I slide money into your back pockets when you aren't wearing pants?” Tony asked, sliding his hand around Bucky's waist and down to pat his bare ass playfully. “That seems difficult.”
“Sugar, I'm not going to let you pay me this time or any other time from here on out.” Bucky cuddled Tony closer, winding their legs together and rolling onto his back to Tony could put his head on his chest.
“So. Retiring as a Professional Cuddler, then?”
“Happily retiring.” Bucky held him closer. “I'm sure there will be thousands disappointed that my awesome arms and soothing presence will not be available for rent anymore, but they will have to deal.”
“I'll make it worth your while to be a one-guy-cuddler.” Tony promised.
“It's already worth it, baby.” Bucky kissed him. “Already worth it.”