Chapter 1: Love
Set following the epilogue of "Illuminate Me". Bucky gets his second chance at 'I love you' and Tony gets his first.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
They’ve avoided saying the words as long as there was a war going on. They avoided a lot of things - there were long touches, constant check-ins, a warm kind of domestic bliss between emergencies, but it was hardly the kind of intimacy both of them longed for. Bucky was willing to take everything he could get whenever he could get it, but Tony was always restrained.
Always afraid of letting himself have everything. Always so sure he was going to lose it.
They both longed for more, but Bucky found ways to content himself without making Tony uncomfortable or risking the battle to come (even if he wanted to spend hours just holding Tony in his arms, discovering all the ways that his clever tongue could be used, finally getting to immerse himself in Tony’s scent, his heat, his passion-).
Sometimes Bucky would just watch Tony watch him back. He would link their hands and try to decipher all the ways Tony’s face gave away how much he cared. How his feelings grew deeper by the day. Sometimes it would show up in fear, other times in sadness, but Bucky’s favourite was when Tony would seem to glow with contentment and warmth (when Tony would tap Bucky’s name into his palm or kiss his dogtags, a shy smile curving his lips just so and stealing Bucky’s breath away).
By the time they are finally preparing to leave the bunker, they both had the words on the tip of their tongue. But if Tony couldn’t say it (wouldn’t let himself, not when he was so determined to live and saying it felt too much like goodbye), Bucky would refrain. He’d already gotten to once - that would have to be enough.
(When they finally fall into bed together for more than just reassurance and nearly chaste touches, Bucky has to sink his teeth into Tony’s skin to keep the words behind them. He has to press them between Tony’s thighs, pour them into Tony’s mouth, gasp them out as a broken litany of, “Tony, please-”)
They lose the first major battle on Earth - they have supremacy for a long while in the atmosphere because of Tony and Shuri’s advancements and the remains of the fleet Tony had overtaken, but the force that touches ground is still massive. Some cities are lost - no major strongholds, however Tony still considers that a loss. So does Steve.
From within the compound in Washington, they silently seethe. They can’t leave until re-enforcements come from the West. They have a good plan and have made good headway thus far - had good intel that Thanos would show himself personally if things dragged out too long. It’s enough for Bucky. Hell, it’s enough for Rhodes.
Tony and Steve sit side-by-side though at the window, though, pensive and likely planning something disastrous. Bucky ruffles Steve’s hair, gives him a noogie with his metal hand, and throws Tony over his shoulder.
He tosses Tony onto the mattress and pins him down.
“Look at me, sweetheart.”
He says, tipping his forehead against Tony’s and matching their breathing,
“Look at me, let me see how you feel.”
Tony squeezes his eyes shut, so Bucky kisses the tip of nose and slides down to his chest. He rests his head against it, keeping his ear just above Tony’s heart. It beats in a too-perfect rhythm.
“You don’t need to lie to me, sugar, and neither does this.”
Bucky presses another kiss to the pool of light in the centre of Tony’s clothed chest. Tony’s breath hitches and his arms come up, curling around Bucky’s shoulders.
“I don’t want you to look at me right now.”
Tony laughs wetly (Bucky is tempted, not for the first time, to just take him and leave. To go back to the bunker and to say, “Fuck the world.” for not dealing with its own problems for once),
“Because I don’t want to say it, not right now when I’m upset, not like this-”
Bucky pulls out of Tony’s embrace and rolls over, hauling himself up so he can cup Tony’s cheek. Tony’s hands fly up to cover his eyes.
Bucky asks (his heart beating out of rhythm, skipping out of joint like an old record),
“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
Tony whispers. His face heats under Bucky’s hand.
Bucky asks. It hits him a second later.
“Sweetheart, please, please move your hand,”
Bucky begs, a flush crawling up his chest and his heart went from skipped beats to double-time in a single sentence,
“Please, I’ll do anything.″
Tony grumbles, hand still clamped over his eyes,
“You could just move my hand, you ass. I know you’re strong enough.”
Bucky laughs, thready and high, and presses a kiss to the hand Tony is using to shield himself.
“I’ll do anything but that.”
He says. He weaves his fingers between Tony’s and, begrudgingly, Tony lifts his hand.
The look in Tony’s eyes confirms what Bucky thought he was saying. Much to his dismay, Bucky feels tears welling up. Tony opens his mouth, however Bucky cups his cheeks again and kisses him gleefully again and again, crying and getting Tony’s cheeks wet.
Tony kisses him back, fluttering little things, and uses his thumb to try and wipe the tears away. Eventually, Bucky just tucks his head into Tony’s neck and sobs, unable to hold it back anymore.
Tony taps the words onto the back of Bucky’s head even as he says them out loud,
“I love you, Bucky Barnes. It’s not the right time to say it, but I do.”
Bucky smacks him on the chest and squeezes him tightly.
“You kept me waiting-”
He snarls, and Tony’s breath hitches,
“All the time is the right time! You kept me waiting, Tony Stark!”
Bucky leans back, wiping away the wetness on his face with his shirt collar harshly. He points down at Tony who is staring at him wide-eyed (nervous but still just as loving, damn it),
“I love you, you asshole! I’m in love with you - I’m ridiculously, stupidly, life-threateningly in love with you and you are going to hear it every single day-”
Tony starts laughing. Bucky smacks his chest again, though he can already feel his tirade being swept away. The man beneath him was just too damn beautiful.
Strong arms snake around Bucky’s waist and Tony rolls them over, his blue gaze glowing and warm. He lifts Bucky’s metal hand to his lips,
“If it makes you happy,”
He says, kissing each finger gently,
“I’ll let you say it every day. I’m terrified, Bucky, but-”
He kisses the palm, lifts it so he can kiss the wrist,
“I want you to say it. I want to say it back-”
He kisses the inside of the elbow, right over a plate of gold, and lifts his head so he can see Bucky’s expression,
“I want it too much, so I’m scared. But it’s you and me right?”
He rolls up Bucky’s sleeve and gently brushes his lips over the scar tissue at his shoulder,
“I trust you. I love you. I’m…”
Tony looks Bucky full in the face. Sometimes Bucky can’t believe he’s with this man - this man who brought the universe to its knees, who held the Winter Soldier’s heart in his hand and didn’t crush it, who fought every day for a world that didn’t give him half of what he deserves. This was one of those times - Tony looked…fuck, he looked at Bucky like he was everything he’d ever wanted.
No one had ever done that before.
“I’m sorry I made you wait so long.”
Tony whispers, leaning in and finally, FINALLY, sealing their mouths together. Bucky was going to ruin this man, so help him God, but first…
First he was going to make love to him until he forgot his own name. Then he was going to kill all of his enemies. THEN he was going to marry him.
He had a five year plan. It was going to happen.
I just realized I never inserted a note I intended to here. While Wuthering Heights contains consistently terrible people doing terrible things, and Heathcliff and Catherine are a terrible (and non-sexual) couple, Tony (and me) love misinterpreting quotes by placing them in a new context. Tony and Bucky's romance is a little off-colour. The obsession is there, the terrible mistreatment of one another, the struggle - it's just been subverted. Tony has also had to examine the concept of the soul much more closely than he ever anticipated. His discovery of his own is linked to loving Bucky. It was too good of a reinterpretation to pass up.
Chapter 2: Paradiso
Bucky and Tony live out the rest of their lives together. I sortof handwave Infinity War here, haha.
Warnings for character death and Bucky being...Bucky.
Extremis ensured Tony wouldn’t age normally - he’d known that before he even put the needle in his veins. He’d known even back then that he would outlive some of the people he cared for most. He’d been resentful of it, sorrowful about it, but had ultimately resigned himself to it. Him and Vision spoke about it often.
Tony hadn’t thought anything would make the experience bittersweet (or even just…just sweet).
He had never accounted for growing old with Bucky by his side.
The first time Tony found a silver hair, he’d expected to feel thrilled. He’d finally gotten the salt back in his pepper. He’d finally gotten back a bit of what he lost.
(Rhodey had gone silver so quickly. Him and Carol both, despite her astounding strength and enhancements, and their kids had always been ready with a quick joke about Rhodey’s old man noises)
(They’d joked about them right till the very end. Tony still can’t believe he’s gone…can’t believe how quickly Carol went after him. Though having Lila and Eddy around made things better - they reminded him so much of their parents)
Instead he had been worried. His silver showed up a good two years before Bucky’s and, at the time, he’d been afraid of leaving his husband alone (it had been a silly fear - Bucky was obviously getting older, smile lines forming on his face. Even Steve was showing some signs).
He fretted and dyed over it. Had dyed over the next one he found, too, but Bucky had a sniper’s eyes. That and he was always watching Tony. He didn’t want to miss a thing - actually didn’t miss a thing.
The third silver hair appeared and Bucky had plucked it from his head, laughing as Tony tried to snatch it back.
“I’m gonna frame this one.”
Bucky told him, smirking as he held the hair high above his head,
“So you can’t hide something so beautiful from me again.”
Tony stuttered to a stop, absolutely bewildered, and Bucky’s eyes had widened,
He murmured, turning back to Tony to press a kiss to his lips,
“I want you to get older, even if it’s without me. I’m not upset.”
Tony threaded their fingers together and blinked back the prickling in his eyes. Bucky saw right through him, though. He placed a butterfly kiss over each eyelid, whispering,
“Everything has an end, Darlin’. I’ll be happy if you spend yours with me.”
And then, so quietly Tony wouldn’t have heard it without Extremis,
“And you know I’ll follow you right after, old man or not.”
The sentiment, Hell, all of Bucky’s sentiments (too dedicated to him, too ready to throw his own life away, always saying he’d lived a full life already-) kept Tony alternating between kissing Bucky senseless and fretting until Bucky’s own silver hairs started coming in. When they did, both of them looked on in wonder.
“I didn’t think I could grow old with you…”
Bucky murmured, voice thick as he choked back tears,
“I didn’t think I’d get to-”
Tony sniffled, then chortled. He pressed his lips to Bucky’s hair, deftly beginning to braid it right after as he started to laugh in earnest,
“We’re gonna share a room in a nursing home.”
Tony said, grinning to himself,
“Yell at kids to get off our lawn. Get the senior’s discount at IHOP. Properly earn our titles as Grandpas - don’t think I haven’t noticed you encouraging Peter’s little munchkin to call me that.”
A wet laugh escaped Bucky’s throat. He lunged at Tony, totally ignoring his undignified squawk and the braid Tony had been trying to tie off in favour of picking his husband up and swinging him around.
“We’re gonna start waking up early,”
He announced, kissing away Tony’s exaggerated frown,
“We’ll have bad backs and wrinkles and-”
Tony wiggled to be put down, then stood up on his toes to draw Bucky into a longer lingering kiss. Bucky let him - he loved this. Loved taking their time, just touching without hurrying along, touching without a goal in mind other than just staying in contact. Finally, Tony drew away, eyes fluttering open.
His gaze was warm and content.
“You’re gonna be gorgeous.”
Tony told Bucky, thumb caressing Bucky’s laugh lines,
“Gonna steal my breath away when you finally look your age.”
And the thing is? Bucky believed him. Because he was absolutely sure that from now on, every single silver hair would represent another year together. Every wrinkle would be another line formed by smiling in a way he’d once been convinced he never could, frowning at Tony’s ridiculous antics, even 60 years down the line.
They mutually decided to retire when Bucky’s reaction time slowed to that of a normal person. They’d wanted to for a long time, but the children of their fallen friends had needed guidance, Tony’s kids had been willing to keep fighting the good fight, and neither of them was good at letting go. It was nice to finally have a reason - a reason no one would fight them on (much). Besides, Vision was always willing to watch over the kids.
Tony’s eyes twinkled as he moaned and groaned about arthritis to the latest politician who had come angling for Iron Man’s support. Bucky kicked Tony under the table, tapping out a message about the dirty things he was going to do to his husband later, as he listened to a young super wax poetic about the Winter Soldier for long enough that even Bucky found himself leaning on the old excuse (”Ah, I just need more sleep these days.” He said, releasing a cracking yawn and making one of Tony’s patented ‘old man’ noises, “Early bedtime for seniors and all that…”).
They’d been together for decades, but there were so many things they’d never had time for. So many things Bucky had been afraid to ask for or do because he wasn’t willing to be interrupted.
Like flying out to Catalonia, out to the little house on the coast Bucky had bought and kept a secret for at least…30 years?
Taking Tony back to his mother’s homeland was…it was everything. Indescribable.
Bucky could still remember how, before he’d gotten Tony to really look at him, before he’d gotten Tony to love him back, he used to daydream about this. About Tony on the coast, sun-soaked and golden, tinkering away in some garage while the locals heckled him or brought them their junk. About how much better he’d look there than in the suit. How much happier.
Bucky had never imagined himself there back then. After buying the house, he still hadn’t. Somehow it had always been a fantasy belonging to Tony alone.
But now? Here he was. Salt of the sea soaking into his metal arm, sweeping underneath his fingernails, buffering out decades of dirt and blood and calluses. Sun-soaked and warm, curled next to his husband in bed, kneading his salt-softened hand into the loose muscles of Tony’s back.
Looking and feeling so much better than he ever had as the Winter Solider. So much freer.
Tony mumbled Catalan endearments into Bucky’s skin, smiling against his chest, telling him stories about how the Carbonells (and that’s what Bucky was now, by marriage, by hyphens, by love, because Tony had never really considered himself a Stark) were shaped by this land. By the tides, the salt, and time itself.
Time was finally changing them both. They’d lost a lot, but Bucky wouldn’t give this moment up for anything. As Tony sat in his garage rebuilding microwaves and motorbikes with the assistance of his bots, laughing on the phone with Vision, Bucky got the impression that he wouldn’t either.
Years after they retire, Steve does, too. He tours the world and sends them postcards. He never married, but Steve was happy to fill his life with other people, to give his heart away and take it back just as easily.
Bucky thinks Steve never really got over Bucky and Tony getting together, but he’s not worried about it anymore. Hasn’t been in years. Hasn’t been hurt by the thought, angered, made jealous or possessive in just as long.
Because Tony has never wavered. A bonafide silver fox, Tony was still a flirt (charming the panties off of all the local ladies every time they went into town). Bucky wasn’t, hadn’t been since he’d come out of the cold (except for to his husband), though he still got the thrill of it from watching Tony work. It was one of the best things about getting old together - Tony felt like an extension of himself, so integral to his life that Tony’s experiences rolled right into his, making every day something shared and precious.
A darling woman, a tiny 70-something with eyes bluer than the summer skies and curls like clouds, presented Bucky’s husband with a bouquet and an invitation to go for a ‘drive’. Her cheeky grin said everything - she knew he was taken, didn’t care if he’d actually take her up on it, and would absolutely go to town on Tony if he did say yes. The elderly were shameless. Bucky laughed as Tony talked circles around her, bantering back and forth about how Tony couldn’t possibly resist her charms and yet his wedding ring had cursed him to forever be faithful...though perhaps she could break that curse with a kiss…?
Years later, he’d still chuckle about her. Years later, Tony’s heart would still skip a beat at being with someone who would be so happy at seeing Tony happy, even if it meant he flirted around.
Tony toyed with his wedding ring, looking at the reflection of his new freckles and discolouration on his hands in its surface, and thought that getting old with somebody could be sweet.
Catalonia was good to them, even when it was no longer called that, even when it got its name back again after. Eventually though, good wasn’t good enough to keep them both running at near-full capacity. Tony was getting sluggish, so much smaller than before, but God, he still smiled like the sun whenever Bucky slipped back into bed with him.
Their kids are gone by then, all except for Peter and the robotic ones, but their grandkids and greatgrandkids come to visit. So do Vision and Steve. And then the visit just…keeps going. The kids leave often for work, but it seems like whenever they have downtime they are back at Tony’s bedside.
Their little house on the coast is full to bursting.
Bucky finds himself waking up every day and checking Tony is still there. And when he is, Bucky finds tears filling his eyes. Because he doesn’t want this to be over, but God, God, he’s so happy he got to have it. He’s so happy this happened to him.
Tony awakens to him crying and knows why immediately, the understanding between them honed by decades. He always smiles about it, not worried in the slightest.
“All good things come to an end.”
He tells Bucky,
“And baby? We were the best thing. It’s you and me and infinity, right?”
To which Bucky always tells him,
“Right. You and me and infinity.”
In the last week, when Bucky can even feel himself weakening, he starts every day by asking Tony to marry him again. It gets his husband to laugh and Bucky’s heart flips over every single time Tony says yes.
On the last day, Tony asks for his hand in marriage, presents him with a ring and everything. Bucky knows it’ll be over soon, however it doesn’t stop him from saying yes.
Even when Tony passes away, even when Bucky checks over his gun, he decides he wouldn’t change a thing. He’s so fucking happy he got to get old like this.
“I love you, Tony.”
He says into their empty bedroom, only the sunrise to keep him company. When he lifts the gun, there’s a smile on his face. Bucky isn’t afraid to die - never really has been. He’s happy to do it now.
Because if there’s an afterlife? He gets to spend that with Tony, too.
Chapter 3: For Maria
Tony’s memories of Catalonia with his mother in chapter 20 of Illuminate Me. AKA "why Tony is a Carbonell and not a Stark".
For Tony, no, he was still Anthony then (”Darling, carinyo, Anthony-”), for Anthony’s eighth birthday, his mother took him on a flight. It was his first time leaving the country without his eyes covered - his first time being able to look at the glittering ocean, the vast swathes of land, the material covering the wings of the plane (materials his mama couldn’t tell him about, but Tony still remembered being taken to see the Captain for answers, asking him if he was Captain Amer-).
He had been so excited. It helped him get over the disappointment that his father wasn’t coming (Maria never took Howard with her when she flew - never to the coast. To the little house on the rocky path, where sea spray stained the windows a frosted white).
She dragged Anthony to a dozens different fairs, castles (a quirk to her lips that got more and more rare as he grew up - “The land of castles.” She’d whispered to him, “Catalunya.” Teaching him her words), art shows, and flower markets. They stayed for three glorious months in the sun and the salt and sea, three months where Maria’s family cooed over Anthony, taught him their language with a prideful fire in their eyes and a stubborn set to their jaws.
A banned language. Maria always spoke it like it was a challenge - like she was picking a fight. It was the brightest he’d ever seen her.
The morning before they had to leave, Maria, his mother, mama, took him down to the shore and stepped into the waves. She tossed him a piece of candy - salt-water taffy, a great way to silence his motor mouth for a few minutes - and pointed out to the horizon.
She tells him,
“Aren’t made of iron, not like your father. We don’t need to be shaped by human hands, dug out of pits, melted down - no. We’re something else. Can you tell me what, carinyo?”
Anthony blinks up at her, his mouth still full, and Maria throws her head back with a carefree laugh. The wind snatches it away, carries it to one of her brothers on shore (a man Tony, no, Anthony, would never see again).
“We are like the cliffs - carved from soft stone by the salt of the sea. The family has a crest, you know? Can you tell me what it says? In English, darling.”
Maria requests. Even as a boy, Anthony had never been able to deny her anything. He swallows his candy, coughing a little as she chuckles, and dutifully recites what he’d seen scrawled on the family crest,
“The Earth birthed us, but the moon shapes us. The salt makes our sharp edges smooth, but never dull.”
He loved those words. Loved them more when his mother repeated them in Catalan. Loved them even when Howard beat them out of him (shaped them with his hands), out of her (dug them from the pits), and they never went back to the coast again (melted them down - iron to the core).
The salt of the sea could never be taken away from him. Neither could the moon or the tides. He couldn’t go back - iron would rust. But he could watch from afar (on his next flight, one where his eyes weren’t covered, when he was with people he trusted), and sometimes that was enough.
Chapter 4: Hard like Metal
Takes place during chapter 34 of Illuminate Me when Bucky and Tony try to sleep in the same room. Bucky is SO EMBARRASSING, oh my GOD!?
Tony stepped out of the shower, the sound of his wet feet padding across the floor painting an image for Bucky despite his closed eyes. He could hear the rustle of clothing (old worn out band tees and flannel sleep pants were Tony’s favoured pjs. He’d made jokes about sleeping naked until Bucky started guarding his room), Tony’s exhausted mumbling (would he be rubbing at the water caught in his eyelashes? Sweeping it away like he tried to sweep away his exhaustion?), and the spatter of water (Tony always shook himself like a dog to dry his hair. Never towelled it off properly - always goin’ to bed and gettin’ his pillow wet. Bucky’s hand itched to take over the task).
“You can open your eyes, you won’t see my Ass-ets.”
Tony chuckled, sighing when Bucky didn’t even crack a smile.
“How long has it been since you actually got some sleep, Rip Van Wrinkles?”
Tony continued to prod, nudging Bucky with his foot when he still failed to respond. Bucky’s fingers simply curled around Tony’s damp skin, taking a moment to centre himself, before he grumbled under his breath at the effort it took to stand. The world spun for a moment and suddenly Tony’s hands were gripping his waist.
“Ok, that’s it. I’m not tolerating this anymore.”
That was Tony’s Director Stark tone. Despite himself, Bucky whined a bit (he’d known Tony would get tired of his constant hovering, but he didn’t understand - he couldn’t be left alone. Something would happen. There were a million risks-). The fingers on Bucky’s waist tightened as he tried to straighten and push Tony back into his bedroom.
“We’re not going there.”
Tony said, firmly stepping around Bucky’s attempts to nudge him, refusing to let go,
“We’re going to your room. C’mon, I’ll even put on the jacket.”
Bucky stood by in confusion as Tony hurried off, rustling around in his room, before reappearing with his hair dripping all over Bucky’s blue jacket.
Bucky waved at his hair, trying to tamp down on the pounding headache that had been coming back for an encore appearance since Tony had first stepped into his (low-flow, excessively hot) shower. Tony squinted at him,
“Do it for me if you want it done so bad.”
Bucky’s hand spasmed and he frowned at it. He wouldn’t risk doing such a delicate task like this. He could hurt Tony-
Who was grinning triumphantly (that little shit-).
“If I can’t get you to prioritize your own safety,”
He sing-songed, shaking his hair out again and snorting when Bucky wrinkled his nose,
“I’ll get you to prioritize mine. Now let’s go to your room, Sleepless in Seattle.”
“Wasn’t that a romcom?”
Bucky mumbled, following in Tony’s wake nonetheless (as if he were ever going to do anything else - especially not after Tony responded, “I love romcoms. Maybe we’ll watch a few, braid each other’s hair - the works.”).
Back in his own room, Bucky spent the better part of half an hour trying to shove Tony into the safe place underneath his bed without words. All of his attempts were met with a swift and blunt,
Until Tony simply rolled his eyes and climbed into his bed, quirking an eyebrow at Bucky once he was half-buried in the sheets. Bucky might’ve felt like complete and utter shit, but he was willing to focus his brain for at least a few seconds on such a beautiful sight (Tony looked tiny like this, tucked away in layers of fabric, the edges of Bucky’s jacket collar just barely peeking out from the plain linens - just enough to remind Bucky that Tony wasn’t completely undressed).
The quirked eyebrow lifted a little higher as Tony wriggled himself into a more comfortable position (that shimmy was probably the most precious thing Bucky has ever seen).
“I know you’re not one for talking right now, Oh Silent Night, so I won’t ask what the hold up is. Instead, I’m gonna tell you: stop having a hold up. Get under the bed, Barnes, or so help me God I’ll shove you under it myself.”
Tony grumbled. Bucky’s exhausted mind barely managed to parse the good humour from the worry in his tone, hardly managing to shoot Tony a tiny smile before clambering into his hidey-hole.
A sleepless hour passed wherein Bucky focused on Tony’s breathing (unchanged - he was awake, too) and on the door. Then, suddenly, Tony muttered,
“Can’t fucking believe I’m doing this…”
And slung his hand over the edge of the bed, hanging just low enough to be within Bucky’s reach comfortably. He’d even picked the right side. But…there was no way it was what Bucky thought, right?
As if he were reading his mind, Tony sighed, his voice suddenly seeming so much closer than before,
“The hand is for you, Bucky-Monster. I’m not dangling it here for anything else that hides under beds. C’mon, my palms are cold.”
Hesitantly, head still pounding (how long had it been since he’d slept…?), Bucky intertwined their fingers. Tony’s hands were large. The tips of his fingers and much of his palms were rough with calluses, scraping against the ones on Bucky’s own hands. Tiny silvery scars peppered every square inch (added and removed daily by shop work and whatever made Tony...more) - Bucky found himself brushing the very tips of his fingers over them (Tony’s arm shivered in his grip, but didn’t pull away).
It was soothing - having Tony here with him, actually present, focused on Bucky…it was nice.
Nice enough to slip into a fitful sleep at last.
Since the universe hated him, Bucky shouldn’t have been surprised to wake up from a wet dream. He was surprised, though. Confused as all Hell, hard enough to hurt, and sweat-soaked, too. Fuck, fuck, Tony was right above his head-
“Calm down, Boner Boy. I’m not bothered beyond the damp palms. Thought you’d tried to prank me with the old ‘hand in a glass of water’ trick and was pretty fucking offended.”
Tony’s voice was scratchy and rough - still exhausted. What time was it? How long had he even been asleep? Against his will, Bucky’s hand clenched tightly around Tony’s, his sweaty palms making getting a grip hard (By Mary and a Catholic Priest, right, hard. This was the worst. It was like being a teenager all over again - go AWAY, think of something terrible, ok, ok, moving was not an option).
“I’d be more offended if you didn’t have wet dreams about me, to be honest.”
Tony was saying, sleep-rough voice fitting seamlessly into Bucky’s dream (where Tony’s voice had been roughened a different way) and nope, nope, not going there. No.
“I haven’t gone to bed with anybody in long enough that a lack of interest would be an ego blow. It’s human, hey-”
Bucky was never going to sleep again. Ever. Sweet Baby Jesus, this man barely tolerated him and here he was, perving all over him and holding his hand (he still couldn’t - he couldn’t quite let go) while he slept.
“Was I at least any good in your little fantasy? Because it sounded like-”
Bucky cut Tony’s rambling (rambling, not flirting. It was rambling. Probably nervous rambling) off with a miserable groan.
Tony mumbled, his fingers twitching in Bucky’s grip,
“That wasn’t a happy noise. I’ll have to give my dream self a talking to.”
Tony was shifting above him, probably ready to peer under the bed, and wow, no, Bucky did not want to be seen in this state. He tried to release Tony’s hand, preferably to cover himself, however found that Tony’s grip had strengthened.
“Ok, the ‘you’re only human’ talk has never been my best work. I’m just gonna…I’m just gonna let that one go. Not let you go, though. It’s like…ass o’ clock in the morning and you haven’t slept NEARLY enough to go back to your brooding shadow routine, Sleepless Beauty.”
Tony said, slowly settling himself back onto the mattress. His thumb was rubbing gently across Bucky’s knuckles (and not helping Bucky’s case at all - all it did was remind him of the one time Tony kissed his hand in excitement, what it felt like to have his lips brush against Bucky’s skin, the scrape of his beard-).
“Maybe my speeches about humanity suck because I’m the really boring version of a cyborg. Whadaya think, Buck-E-Bot? Cyborg to cyborg, can you deliver inspiring speeches about the birds and the bees? Puberty? Piston action?”
Tony’s laugh was throaty, whisky-warm, and far more intimate than any other noise Bucky had ever heard him make. It had him smiling despite himself, though shame still burned low in his belly.
“The reason I look like this…it’s a virus.”
Tony said, all traces of laughter gone, only seriousness remaining,
“That and nanobots in my blood. My whole body is a machine now. I should still age, but it won’t be quite…right. It won’t be the same - I don’t even know if I’ll ever get to be a silver fox again. Robots dictate my healing now, the beating of my heart, the way my skin-”
The hand in Bucky’s gains a soft glow, a map of veins standing out in the darkness of Bucky’s room,
“Does that thing. Not human, any of it. My brain has servers, uplinks, Hell I could probably jam all that I am into a hard drive if I wanted to. I’m not supposed to be able to do that.”
There was bitterness lingering in Tony’s voice, old and resentful and…resigned. Bucky didn’t have it in him to be resentful at his own situation anymore - he’d already lived longer than he’d ever wanted to. Resignation, though? He understood that perfectly.
“My mama, she always said ‘Anthony, lover of romance, the romance of things - you’d put all of humanity in your heart if you could’. She thought it was funny, that her little boy didn’t like fairytales that ended in a kiss, hated magic, but fell head over heels for human connection. ‘The King mourned his fallen men, spoke to dreary dreadful death, asked it to come for him, too - ah, that sounds like love. You aren’t interested, are you, darling? Oh look at that pout-’ Always laughing at me. Kept teaching me romantic languages because it ‘suits you, Anthony, like a rose tucked between your teeth’.”
Bucky sucked in a sharp breath at what Tony was saying, the way he was saying it - a Spanish lilt with something…
(Memories of a riot, of many riots, of people shouting in the streets - something Southern in their speech. Open high vowels, -et, -eza, suffixes that were familiar but not. An older, rougher kind of Latin origin. Adéu)
Catalan. Falling off of Tony’s tongue, the accent had never sounded sadder.
“I always did like robots better than people, though. Give me an android and, well, you’ve seen Vision. I was going to say give me an android and I’ll be in Heaven, but I guess the real answer is: I’ll be a father. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised I wound up like this. The Arc Reactor was just step one.”
The bitterness was still there, the accent lingering too, but…the resignation sounded a bit less like defeat.
“So me and you,”
Tony said, squeezing Bucky’s hand, his own still glowing just a bit,
“We’ve got a bit of metal in us, yeah? Protocols to follow. Processes we carry out. Your body is just carrying out a process and, as long as it doesn’t affect the mission, we can both just see it as another cog in the machine, yeah?”
Bucky released a shuddering breath, realizing he felt…calmer. Less like a shrapnel bomb waiting to go off, shredding the mattress and tearing apart the man above him. Who was less delicate than Bucky gave him credit for.
Bucky responds, squeezing Tony’s hand and willing his eyes to shut, his breathing to slow, his body to relax,
“We’ve got a bit of metal in us. Makes us hard.”
He huffs at the chuckle that slips free above him. They won’t be doing this again, so he should enjoy it while it lasted (this kind of mutual understanding between man and machine - it was dangerous. For both of them, but mostly for Tony. Still, Bucky needed sleep to defend him, so he’d allow it…for now).
(When he tells Tony that in the morning, there’s an odd set to Tony’s brows that tells him Tony doesn’t doesn’t believe a word out of Bucky’s mouth)
(He’s right, of course)
(Bucky was a weak weak man long before he was a machine)
Chapter 5: Pluto (Sleeping at Last)
The prompt was: what if in Paradiso, the bullet Bucky shoots himself with doesn't kill him? The asker pretty much guessed the answer, but I wrote this short little bit anyway.
So show me where my armor ends,
Show me where my skin begins.
Like a final puzzle piece
It all makes perfect sense to me…
The heaviness that I hold in my heart belongs to gravity.
The heaviness that I hold in my heart's been crushing me.
Bucky never got to know Bruce all too well, no matter how much Tony liked him. The concept of willingly leaving Tony wasn’t one he could relate to, and it was something Bruce did all too often (he had a right to his peace. Bucky knew that. It didn’t mean he approved of it when Bruce was one of the only humans who just wouldn't die). He knew stories about Bruce, though.
‘I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spat it out.’
He supposed he could relate to Bruce now.
Raw unhappy laughter spilled from between the hands (one built by his husband, god, Tony was gone-) he had pressed over his lips. Of course he wouldn’t be able to end it with a bullet. Of course he wouldn’t get the same kind of peaceful (relatively - this was peaceful to him) ending his husband had.
The monster in him had only ever yielded to one thing. Until his husband came to him, that is. Because what crushed Bucky never had any hold on Tony.
Gravity. He needed gravity.
Just like the first time he died and was reborn (Tony baptized in fire, him in ice, Tony rising and Bucky falling, and God he just wanted to be with him in this, in death, in the great equalizer without some greater force mocking their differences again).
Fortunately, their home in Catalonia has an excellent view of nearby cliffs. Bucky wouldn’t have to walk far.
He could only hope they didn’t have too much trouble recovering the body.
Peter said into the receiver, listening closely to Steve’s breathing on the other end of the line,
He’s surprised to hear a chuckle, low and sad, but still with a hint of humour.
“Of course he did.”
“I think that’s what’s going to take me, too. The fall.”
He sighs and Peter feels a deep sadness stabbing at his heart (he knows this is what Bucky wanted. He knows Steve will want it, too, but he doesn’t want them to go. Not so soon).
“Tony would’ve laughed about it…after he stopped being angry.”
“He’s always been catching the two of us. And with Buck, it was like they said in their vows: two stars pulled together by their own gravity. He’s always been a force of his own.”
Peter laughs. It’s a watery sound. He's said a lot of things about Tony in his life, and 'force of his own' had underscored every compliment, every joking insult, and every fight.
“It makes sense that with that force gone, the one keeping us balanced, that gravity would come back. It’s had something against us from the start.”
Steve is rustling around with something. Peter is pretty sure he’s packing a bag - grabbing his keys. He wishes his spider senses would stop pinging him about what’s coming.
He asks, waiting until he hears an affirmative hum.
“Tell Bucky…tell him and Tony that gravity isn’t what’s going to make me fall, too. That I’ll always get back up. Ok?”
He hears the sound of a door opening over the line, the crunch of Steve’s shoes over the rocky ground outside of his cabin, and tries his best to memorize this moment (because he’s sure it will be the last).
“Of course it won’t be. You'll keep moving forward.”
Steve’s tone is wistful,
“You’re Tony’s son, after all.”
Chapter 6: Down the Line (Asymptote)
A snippet of Steve's feelings as he moves on with his life...but never quite moves on from Tony.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
There were times over the years, at least at first, where Steve thought…
Well. More like his therapist thought, though Steve tried his best to agree with him. The old man had seen things far worse and seemingly immutable than Steve’s struggles in his life (missing fingers sometimes bathed in the glow of holo-technology, twitching at the same time the old man’s scarred mouth did. An amused smile before a dismissal - he didn’t regret losing those appendages, though he never told Steve how or why).
Steve had thought that maybe time could stop standing still for him. In a lot of ways it had. He’d started his own initiatives, he painted, he taught, he loved and lost. He travelled, mostly. New cultures, things he never would’ve seen if he hadn’t come to the future, always reminded him of why he was here (the months he spent travelling Asia had been brilliant - there were pockets there that felt more like home, more like the time he’d been born in, than anything in America. There were also pockets that couldn’t possibly be more different, and the side-by-side comparison grounded him).
They reminded him of why he was still trying to move forward.
But God, in the end one thing just couldn’t change.
In the end the future was always Tony. It would never stop being Tony. And the future…the present would always be the future to him. It would always be coloured in shades of blue (beautiful and untouchable like the hottest point of Tony’s electrical blowtorches - Steve had compared them to fuel and fire once. Truly, he’d never stopped. He just didn’t think of fuel and fire the same way anymore).
Immutable. Even his therapist could agree that the core of Tony Stark would never change (he didn’t say he thought the same of Steve, but when he died he left Steve a few items. They…they got the message across loud and clear. There were parts of himself that would never leave. And that…that was good. It kept him alive. Kept him strong).
He loved Sharon (and countless others after her). He really truly did. She was brilliant like the sun - all fire and passion and energy. Sharon threw herself into everything she did until she burned out. The way she felt about him…it burned out, too. Probably because-
(He still remembers the wedding. Bucky’s tie dyed the same colour as the glow of Extremis. Tony’s eyes, bluer than Steve could ever paint, glowing as he powered on fairylights strewn across the archways over Bucky’s head. He remembers the vows with clarity that had hurt for a few years, but made him smile now - he loved the two of them more than he’d ever loved himself)
Probably because Steve had never-
(‘I’ve got all the money a man could ever want. I can own whatever I want in the blink of an eye. I’ve earned it, too. Nothing in my life…none of it has ever been free or cheap or easy.’)
(’I’d lose it all for just one thing. I have lost it all, several times over, for one thing. That’s love - mom always said I was a romantic and she was right. She always was.’)
(’Love has cost me before, y’know? Love of people…it has cost me more than I’ll ever know. But you. You just…’ Tony had teared up. His hands had shook. The glow of Extremis had rippled like a pool of water over the heart he had given away long ago)
(’You didn’t cost me a thing. I thought you did for so long. But every gamble I made, you matched me bet for bet. Every challenge I gave you, you met. You didn’t ask me for anything more than you were prepared to give yourself. You always zeroed out. You were…you were always easy.’ A watery laugh. Bucky had smiled and winked, that rakish grin from the 1940s, and Tony had shoved him jokingly)
(’Letting myself love you was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because it would mean loving who I could be more than loving who I was. It would mean leaving behind some of the things that weighed me down most. Letting myself - that was hard, like letting go of gravity and hoping to God you don’t float away. But the actual loving part? Easiest thing ever, starshine.’)
He’d never been able to-
(A quicksilver Tony Stark smirk. A crinkle of his nose, his fingers twining with Bucky’s metal ones. ‘We could’ve been a natural disaster. We were, too.’)
(Bucky resting his forehead against Tony’s with a huff. ‘But we were also natural, yeah? Two neutron stars pulled together by gravity. If they got close enough, it was always gonna happen. Besides-’ He murmured, just loud enough that the mics could pick it up. ‘What’s a forest without a little fire?’)
(Tony’s surprised laugh, the one that still warmed Steve’s chest no matter how squeaky the sound. ‘What’s the universe without the Big Bang? It wasn’t meant to be, but it happened, easy as anything, and now the world’s a different place. It’s more than it was before.’)
(’I’m a cheap date.’ Bucky replied, ‘And I’m never gonna cost you a thing, sweetheart. Even if you stop loving me back, I’m still gonna love you. However you want me, you’ve got me, and that can’t be undone.’)
He’d never been able to be easy. Sharon had always had to work to keep Steve from drifting away into work and duty. He had never promised her forever.
(’It’s you and me and infinity.’)
And he never would. Because that was the future, and the future belonged to Tony Stark.
Steve and Tony. Fire and fuel. Steve always burned too bright, always exceeded his means, and has always required support to continue to do so. Tony is a source of perpetual energy. The arc reactor, his greatest invention, is exactly that. An energy source beyond any anyone else has ever conceived of. A fuel for the fire. The future.
Steve saw himself burning Tony out and finally managed to stop. But, despite his best efforts, neither of them ever fully recovered. Tony will always bare the scars of that particular shattered relationship through Extremis. Steve bares them through his attempts to become fuel for his other relationships, despite that not coming naturally to him and things eventually always flipping around (re: his partners having to start supplying him with more of their time and energy to keep him burning before they give up and leave). Steve could probably move on if he'd allow himself the kind of relationship dynamic he needs, but he's tasted the best of what he could get before it burned him, and...well, let's just say he never does try again.