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December 1

 

“Good morning,” the man at Tony’s door looked irritatingly chipper, standing there fully dressed with his hands behind his back.

 

“No, it isn’t,” Tony grumbled, downing his fifth mug of coffee. He was still in his pajamas and had a massive bedhead, courtesy of a twelve-hour coma after a three-day inventing binge. “Who are you and what do you want?”

 

“My name’s Bucky,” the man looked shy all of the sudden. “I just came over to ask if you needed help decorating for Christmas? It’s kind of a big thing around here, so I figured I’d offer.” He held up a string of lights that he had been hiding behind his back.

 

“I’ve moved to hell,” Tony whispered mostly to himself. “I don’t need help, because I’m not decorating. I hate Christmas.”

 

And Tony shut the door in Bucky’s face.

 

---

 

December 5

 

Bucky was at his door again.

 

The man looked unfairly handsome in his too-tight shirt, and Tony would’ve invited him in, if not for the garish Christmas decorations he was holding.

 

“I can put them up for you,” he offered. “You don’t even need to do anything.”

 

Tony made eye contact, showing he was serious. “I will burn down your house if you put that mockery of a reindeer in my yard,” he swore.

 

Bucky gulped in fear.

 

---

 

December 10

 

“Just a few lights?”

 

“Burn. Your. House. Down.”

 

---

 

December 12

 

“It’s a tradition.”

 

“I’m getting my damn lighter.”

 

“Wait, put that down! That’s flammable! Tony!

 

---

 

December 16

 

Tony barely dragged himself out of bed that morning. The anniversary was always hard, no matter how long ago it was. He missed his mom, he even missed Howard (but only a little). He almost didn’t answer the door when Bucky knocked, but he figured he could always use some self-flagellation in the form of the man’s wicked puppy dog eyes.

 

“Yeah, Barnes?” he asked tiredly. He hadn’t slept and he knew his dark circles looked like bruises under his eyes.

 

Bucky frowned. Instead of pushing his bullshit Christmas agenda, he asked, “Can I come in?”

 

“I have a moratorium on Christmas in here,” Tony warned, stepping aside so Bucky could come in. “And i have more lighters.”

 

“I understand,” Bucky said solemnly, walking to the kitchen like he belonged there. “I bought hot chocolate, want me to heat it up?”

 

Tony grinned, the expression feeling out of place for the day. “Can we use my lighter?”

 

No, Tony .”

 

With Bucky there, the day went by a little less painfully. He dwelled less on his mother, on the way the car spun out of control on that dark road, and remained a little more in the present. Bucky grounded him, keeping him from falling into that dark spiral he usually did around this time of year.

 

By the time Bucky left, Tony was feeling far better. He actually went to sleep instead of to his liquor cabinet.

 

A real Christmas miracle, he thought sardonically.

 

---

 

December 25

 

Their truce, made on the anniversary of his parents’ deaths, had lasted longer than Tony had expected. Bucky still came over almost daily, but without the decorations and pleading. He brought hot chocolate most of the time, and sometimes wore absolutely hideous sweaters, but he didn't bring up Christmas. For that, Tony was grateful.

 

But, like all good things, Tony figured it wouldn’t last. He’d refuse to decorate, even on Christmas, and Bucky would leave. He was only there to badger Tony into decorating, after all.

 

Tony didn’t expect his doorbell to ring on Christmas morning. His family was gone and his few friends lived across the country (and knew about his absolute hatred for the holiday). He definitely wasn't expecting Bucky to be standing on his doorstep, hands behind his back like they were in the beginning when they were hiding decorations.

 

“Why are you here?” Tony asked immediately. Hurt flashed across Bucky’s face. “Fuck, that came out wrong, sorry. I meant, aren’t you celebrating?”

 

Bucky shrugged. “The fella I wanted to celebrate with wasn’t there,” he said simply. “So I came to him.” From behind his back, he drew out a sprig of mistletoe. “If he wants me?”

 

Tony leaned forward, capturing Bucky’s lips in a chaste kiss. He pulled away, resting his forehead against Bucky’s. “That’s one Christmas tradition I don’t mind following.”

Chapter Text

The brunet at the bar looked like he’d rather be anywhere but there, talking to Steve. His whiskey eyes were bored, a little irritated, and he looked like he was going to throw his glass in Steve’s face any minute.

 

“I feel like we have a connection, you know?” Steve said drunkenly, reaching for the brunet.

 

“No,” he replied, inching away. Bucky winced, knowing how clingy his friend got when he was drunk.

 

“Stevie!” Bucky called, striding up to the bar. “Hey, man, what’s up?”

 

“Jus’ talkin’ to this handsome fella,” Steve slurred.

 

The handsome fella in question groaned loudly. “Not going to happen,” he muttered, clearly uncomfortable.

 

“Steve, I called dibs,” Bucky invented on the spot. “Remember? When we first came in?” In his peripheral vision, he saw angry growing on the brunet’s face.

 

Steve just looked confused. “I… guess?” he said finally. Bucky let out a small sigh of relief as the man ambled away. He loved Steve, he really did, but sometimes he was overbearing (and a bit of an asshole).

 

“What the fuck?” the brunet spat, slapping him. “I am not a thing someone can call dibs on! I’m a fucking person, have some decency!”

 

Bucky rubbed his face. “I deserved that,” he admitted. “But for the record, I didn’t actually call dibs. I saw Stevie was botherin’ ya, and I just said the first thing that came to mind.”

 

“And the first thing was dibs ?” the brunet looked grudgingly amused. “Are you twelve?”

 

“On a scale of one to ten, maybe,” Bucky couldn’t resist. “My name’s Bucky.”

 

The man laughed. “God, your parents must’ve hated you,” he teased. “I’m Tony.”

 

“I’ll admit, James Buchanan isn’t the best name for a child.”

 

Tony snorted. “Your parents named you after the 15th president? The one who was completely ineffective at stopping the Civil War? Like, I mean completely useless . He was bad.”

“He wasn’t that bad,” Bucky defended his namesake, even though he wasn’t sure why. Tony was right. “How do you know all that, anyway?”

 

“My friend made me take a history class,” Tony shrugged. “The only class I went to was pre-Civil War, and they talked about Buchanan. It was so boring that I never went again. Still aced the class, though.”

 

“Slap me again if this is unwelcome, but can I buy you a drink?” Tony was just Bucky’s type, sassy and smart. He figured he should at least try to get with Tony.

 

Tony looked him over appraisingly. “I suppose,” he sniffed haughtily, undermining his act with a small grin. “You are more my type than Captain America over there.”

 

“Captain America?”

 

“That man talks about his short military career more than anyone I’ve ever met, and my best friend is active duty!” Tony paused for a moment. “And seriously, he looks like he’d fuck an apple pie.”

 

Bucky choked on his drink.

Chapter Text

Bucky was hunched over his textbook, furiously scrawling notes. He wasn’t even sure what the chapter was on, really, only that it was on some engineering principle he really needed to know for his test in the morning.

 

Unfortunately, none of the information was sticking. His brain was completely resistant to understanding the writing. It could've been Russian for all he understood of it. Bucky sighed, looking at his clock. 2 am. He was debating the merits of sleeping for four hours or studying more when the fire alarm went off.

 

Bucky closed his book with a loud groan. Was it even worth going outside? If he died in the fire, he wouldn’t have to take his test…

 

Common sense won out and Bucky grabbed his coat, trudging outside. He didn’t even know who else was in the building; he thought the engineering labs closed at night and he was the only one who knew the code to get in (Natasha gave it to him when he started courses in that building; he didn’t ask how she knew it).

 

Outside, a young-looking student was on the phone anxiously wringing his hands. “It’s fine,” he said. “There’s no fire. Yeah, yeah. I’ll see you in a bit.”

 

“Did you set the fire?” Bucky went up to the kid, too tired to try for politeness.

 

The boy raised his head, looking sheepish. “Maybe?” he said. “In my defense, I really did think I was alone in the building. How’d you even get in here, anyway?”

 

“I have permission,” Bucky bluffed. The boy arched a delicate eyebrow, conveying his skepticism. “I have the code,” he amended.

 

“Well, people in glass houses can’t throw stones, I guess,” the kid said. “I’m not technically supposed to be here either, but administration doesn’t care as long as I don’t blow up the lab.”

 

“Or set it on fire?”

 

He swallowed. “Or that, yeah.”

 

The fire truck still hadn’t come, so Bucky didn’t want to go back in the building. Checking the time on his phone only reminded him how long he had until his test. “Couldn't you have picked any other day for arson?” he said irritably.

 

“I didn’t mean to!” the boy said hotly. “I was working with completely non flammable compounds! I bet that asshole Hammer sabotaged my shit again.”

 

“Sabotage?” Bucky scowled, forgetting his test for a moment. “Is that normal?”

 

“For Hammer?” Tony replied, making a sour face. “He’s still pissed that I beat him at the robotics competition.”

 

Something tickled at the back of Bucky’s mind. “Who did you say you were again?” he asked.

 

“Tony,” the boy said. “Tony… Stark.”

 

You’re the Stark kid?” Bucky was shocked. “You look, like, thirteen!”

 

“I’m seventeen, asshole.”

 

“Grow a couple inches, maybe I’ll believe you then,” Bucky sighed, sitting down on the cold ground. “I’m going to fail my test.”

 

“Test?” Tony, if possible, perked up.

 

Bucky smiled, the late hour eroding at his usual reticence. “Yeah, test, you nerd,” he said fondly. “I’m taking Intro to Engineering.”

 

“I can help, if you want?” Tony offered cautiously.

 

Please .”

 

They studied, Tony simplifying the concepts down to a point that Bucky’s sleep-deprived brain could understand them. He interspersed his little lesson with jokes, outrageous flirting, and flailing hands. By the time the fire department cleared the building, Bucky thought he might actually be able to pass his test.

 

“Thanks, doll,” Bucky said, standing up as the sun came up. “I should get to class.”

 

“No problem,” Tony blushed. “If you ever need more help…” he trailed off, looking almost hopefully at Bucky.

 

“Just don’t light your lab on fire next time, yeah?” Bucky joked. “Coffee next time?”

 

“I’d like that.”

 

Out of nowhere, a man that Bucky recognized from Tony’s tangents as his friend Rhodey came and smacked Tony playfully on the back of the head. “Arson?” he scolded. “Really, Tones?”

 

“Run, Bucky!” Tony made eye contact, laughing all the while. Rhodey was dragging Tony away, grumbling about idiot engineers who don’t check their damn materials . “It’s too late for me, save yourself!” Tony paused his flailing, considering. “Or save me and bring me coffee. Your choice.”

 

Bucky grinned, unrestrained. “Its a date, doll.”

 

---

 

:Just because setting things on fire got you a date doesn’t mean you need to do it again for a second one! Arson isn’t flirting, Tony!”

 

“... This was not my fault. Okay, it was a little my fault.”

 

“C’mon doll, let’s get you back to your dorm before you light yourself on fire. Engineers, I swear.”

 

“My hero.”

Chapter Text

“007, report,” Fury was standing in front of Bucky, looking remarkably disapproving. Bucky wasn’t sure why , as he had completed the mission within the acceptable parameters. He was tempted to pull a Tony and sass the man, but he knew he’d get his ass kicked (he wasn’t nearly as essential as Tony).

 

“Successful mission,” Bucky settled on. “I retrieved the Project Insight data as ordered with only minor complications.”

 

The door to the briefing room flew open. “Minor complications?” Tony strode in like a bat out of hell. The quartermaster looked furious, hands waving in the air. “You blew up your goddamn arm, 007! That beautiful piece of tech!”

 

“Figures,” Bucky drawled. “You care more about the arm than the person it’s attached to.”

 

“The arm took me three months to research, design, and fabricate,” Tony shot back. “You’re a dime a dozen spy. That arm is one of a kind.”

 

Fury looked up like he was praying for strength. “007, go down to the labs and get your arm checked out,” he conceded. “We can meet for a debriefing later. Q, do I even want to know how you got in here? The doors were triple locked with extra security personnel.”

 

Tony grinned wickedly. “You used electronic locks,” he said like it explained everything. Bucky didn’t know enough about tech, so maybe it did. “Also, your security personnel should invest in some training. Really, if a lowly quartermaster could beat them…”

 

“Get out,” Fury said through gritted teeth. “I swear, Stark, one of these days…”

 

“Bye, Nicky!” Tony skipped out, holding Bucky’s arm in a bruising grip. He didn’t talk as they made their way down the lab, not even pleasantries. Bucky was starting to get nervous; Tony was never quiet unless something was wrong.

 

Tony shut the doors of the lab behind him and clicked a button on the remote in his pocket. “I disabled the cameras,” he explained. “I thought you were dead. Bucky.” Tony looked anguished, Upon closer inspection, Bucky could see the dark circles under the man’s eyes, deeper than they were before his month-long mission.

 

“I’m not,” Bucky comforted, placing one of Tony’s hands over his heart. “Feel that? I’m still going, doll.”

 

“You blew yourself up,” Tony tried for stern but the wetness in his tone undermined him.

“You do that all the time,” Bucky countered, stepping closer to his quartermaster .”I’m fine, baby. I’m safe.”

 

“You almost weren’t,” whispered Tony. “You miscalculated the blast radius, that’s why you lost the arm.”

 

“I’ll have you do my math for me next time.”

 

“You fucking better.”

 

Bucyk could tell that Tony was still scared and angry at the world. The nature of his job, even of Tony;s job, meant that their lives were constantly in danger. Bucky was the organization’s best agent, but even he was faillible. He didn’t really know how to comfort Tony, who was still drinking him in like it was the last time they would see each other. “Come here,” he said, pulling Tony into a chaste kiss. Neither of them tried to deepen it or take control, simply finding solace in the fact that they were both still kicking.

 

Tony stepped away after a minute, putting his professional mask back up. Bucky knew it was because they would be attracting suspicion with the cameras off for so long, but he wished he didn’t have to move away from his genius. A click of a button and the cameras were back on. “Right,” he said. “Luckily for you, I had an extra arm fabricated when I made the first one. Are you free to fit it now?”

 

Without waiting for an answer, Tony marched to the other end of the lab to retrieve the arm. Bucky followed like the besotted puppy he was.


Shit, he thought to himself. I am so compromised.

Chapter Text

“We meet again,” the Merchant said dryly, staring at the Soldier. The Soldier was standing over a corpse, gun in hand.

 

“Show yourself,” the Soldier demanded, raising his gun. “Who’s there?”

 

The Merchant smirked, summoning the Soldier’s gun with a flick of his wrist. “We really have to stop meeting like this. People will talk.” He stepped out of the shadows to meet the Soldier.

 

The Soldier looked at him and sucked in a breath. “ мой продавец ,” he breathed. “I thought you were a dream. I thought…”

 

The Merchant reached forward, lightly cupping the Soldier’s jaw with an ice cold hand. “I’m real,” he said, leaning close. “I’m always real.”

 

“How much longer?” The Merchant had been promising to be with the Soldier for real for years. Ever since they first met, the man’s (being’s? god’s?) response had been the same; soon , whispered lovingly in his ear.

 

The Merchant grinned. It softened the harshness of his face, brought light to the whiskey-dark eyes. “I plan on being born in the next week or so,” he said. “You’ll find me eventually. You always do.”

 

“They’ll take you from me,” the Soldier whispered fearfully. With the wipes, memories of his Merchant were the few things he never lost. The Soldier treasured those memories, hoarded them like precious gems. He knew deep down, that this was the last time he’d see his Merchant for a while.

 

“They can’t,” the Merchant’s eyes flared bright blue for just a moment in anger. “I won’t let them. When we meet again, you’ll know me. I swear it.”

 

The Merchant bent over the broken corpse. “It was quick, this time,” he said almost idly. The Soldier knew better, though. The Merchant was never idle.

 

“Mission parameters dictated it,” the Soldier tried to memorize the planes of the Merchant’s face. The Merchant was the only constant in his life that he could remember. Handlers came and went, technicians died, but the Merchant was eternal. The Merchant brought with him moments of clarity, of free will, that the Soldier didn’t fully understand.

 

The Merchant stood, cradling a black, pulsing ball between his hands. “A fine gift for my Mistress,” he said in gratitude. “Come find me. We’ll burn them down and salt the earth.” The Merchant walked away, become less and less corporeal with every step. “Goodbye, Bucky .”

 

The Soldier was alone. “Who the hell is Bucky?” he asked himself.

 

---

 

Something about Howard Stark looked familiar, the Soldier decided. Not familiar enough to stop his fist, but familiar enough to remember another pair of whiskey-brown eyes and tanned skin.

 

The Soldier completed his mission, though, and reported the malfunction to his handlers. He came back from the wipe dreaming about golden-brown eyes. He didn’t report it again.

 

---

 

Tony Stark moved like a cat, sinuous and graceful. Even simple motions, like walking across a room, looked like a deadly dance. The air around him screamed danger! despite his unassuming stature. Bucky- and he was Bucky now, after seventy years of brainwashing- recognized the threat so evident in the man.

 

Steve shifted nervously next to Bucky, waiting for Stark to reach them. “He’s a good man, Buck,” he said, casting anxious glances at Bucky. “Dark, sometimes, but who here isn’t?”

 

“Steve, who did you drag to my Tower now?” Stark called. His voice was familiar, tickling the edges of Bucky’s memory. “Last week it was that other bird guy, who is it now?”

 

“Bucky Barnes,” Bucky introduced himself, feeling his throat go dry when Stark stood in front of him. He knew that face.

 

“Cat got your tongue?” Stark teased, not unkindly. “Very flattering, I’ll admit.”

 

“I know you,” Bucky breathed. Steve next to him tensed, but Bucky ignored it. “I remember you.”

 

“I’d be offended if you didn’t,” replied Stark. “It took a heavy bit of bargaining to convince my Mistress to allow that.”

 

“мой продавец.” Memories flashed through Bucky’s head of the man with the dark eyes, watching him, talking to him, making him feel human . The Merchant of Death had more mercy than his name implied, which he had given to Bucky without hesitation.

 

“Soldier,” the Merchant replied, grinning widely. “Took you long enough.”

Chapter Text

The demon rose from the flickering flames of hell, putting on his most seductive smirk that could tempt even nuns to sin. His tail flicked behind him as he became more visible to one stunned James “Bucky” Barnes.

 

“What the fuck,” Bucky chanted. “What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck.”

 

“Speak, mortal,” Tony boomed, relishing in the full body flinch. “I am Antonius, first of my name, from the upper echelons of the pit. Why have you summoned me?”

 

“A dare,” the man said weakly. “I really didn’t think it would work.”

 

Tony paused. The flames stopped their ominous pulsing as he fixed Bucky with a level stare. “You summoned one of the most powerful demons in Hell,” he said carefully. “On a dare ?”

 

“You don’t back down from a dare,” Bucky sassed. He was still terrified, Tony could hear it in his thundering heartbeat, but he had recovered from his initial shock.

 

“Mortals,” Tony groaned. “Are you going to make a deal? Because I can’t exactly leave until you give me your soul.”

 

Bucky blanched. “W-w-what?” he stuttered. “No? I need my soul?”

 

“If you’re going to be technical about it, you really don’t,” Tony shot him a devilish smirk. “I don’t have one, and I’m doing just fine. But unless you make a deal and I take your soul, I literally cannot leave. I’m stuck with you until your inevitable demise.”

 

“Shit,” Bucky breathed. “Stevie is going to kill me.”

 

“Well, that’s one way to send me back.”

 

---

 

“Please give me a bite of your pizza?” Tony put on his best puppy-demon eyes. “We don’t have food like this in Hell. It’s all rotten, filled with worms, you know. Hellish.”

 

Bucky rolled his eyes. “You already ate an entire pizza,” he reminded the pouting demon. “And besides, you don’t even need to eat!”

 

Abandoning the sad eyes, Tony let his horns grow and his teeth sharpen. His eyes filled with the grim glow of hellfire and he tilted his head to make sure the shadows played across it just right (part of demonic persuasion was the performance, and Tony had always excelled at that). “Feed me,” he intoned in a voice that had made lesser men pass out in fear.

 

Bucky, the idiot, just scoffed. “Your demon shit doesn’t work on me anymore, doll,” he reminded Tony. “Not after I saw you cuddling the coffee machine.”

 

Tony squawked indignantly. “One time!” he hissed. “I am an Elder Demon, I have powers that you can only dream of, I rule the pit with an iron fist, you should be cowering! And feeding me!”

 

“Cute,” Bucky smiled, booping the irate demon right on the nose. Tony blushed and stuttered in his rant.

 

Interesting, Bucky thought.

 

“Did you just boop me?” Tony tried to glare, but his flushed cheeks made it less effective.

 

“Like a cute little kitten,” Bucky replied with a shit eating grin.

 

“I swear to everything holy and unholy, Barnes, that I will kill you and feast upon your corpse before roasting your bones in- stop booping me!

 

---

 

It was inevitable, Bucky figured, that he fell for Tony. He fell for the crazy demon with all of his quirks. He fell for Morning Tony, with threats against anyone who tried to take his coffee, who drank maple syrup by the gallon like it was the best thing he’d ever had. He fell for Afternoon Tony, who had way too much fun scaring people with his horns and tail and ability to pop in and out of existence. He fell for Evening Tony, who purred like a kitten when he got his head scratched, who burned like a furnace when he slept, who snuck into Bucky’s bed sometimes, to remind himself that this was real. He fell for Tony , even though he knew it was a bad idea. Tony was a demon and he was a human. It could never work.

 

Somehow, though, it did. They fell into a relationship without either one of them really knowing; for all of his (demonic) life experience, Tony was awfully oblivious. He thought their kisses were platonic, for fuck’s sake! It took a long, somewhat awkward conversation (where Tony teleported away no less than seven times claiming demons were allergic to emotions) to get them on the same page, but it was well worth it.

 

Bucky couldn’t be happier, curled around his demonic space heater.

 

“I love you,” he whispered against Tony’s hair.

 

“Dangerous thing, love,” Tony replied quietly. “It makes you weak.”

 

“It makes you strong,” Bucky argued.

 

“I’m a demon,” warned Tony. “I don’t… I never thought I could love.”

 

Bucky sucked in a small breath. “And can you?”

 

Tony looked at him with the same danger and power in his whiskey eyes as the day they met. His teeth were sharp, horns out. Bucky could feel Tony’s tail flicking idly across the bed. Tony's skin burned with hellfire, almost too hot to touch. Tony was a demon, and he was reminding Bucky of that fact before he confessed. “I can.”

 

"And do you?"

 

"I do."

Chapter Text

Tony stumbled into the forest, tears freezing on his face. The snow was coming down hard, making it impossible to see. Even the moonlight was dampened by the oppressive blizzard.

 

Snowdrops or a monastery, Tony thought grimly, pushing on. Howard wanted to send him away without Maria’s permission. If he didn’t find snowdrops in the middle of winter, it was off to the nearest monastery. Tony knew he’d die in a monastery, so he chose to look for snowdrops, instead. All that would come out of it, Tony figured, was he’d die in the snow, instead.

 

Tony kept walking, stubbornly tripping over tree roots and rocks, but continuing to move. He missed the domovoi in the oven, its sweet determination (and its aura of heat, something Tony was sorely missing). He missed spring and summer, long days spent with the rusalka in the river. When he inevitably perished in the woods, there would be no one to give offerings to the chyerti. That, more than anything, kept Tony going.

 

He didn’t know how long he had walked before he collapsed. The snow was cold but welcoming, and Tony felt his eyes begin to close. He thought of Rhodey and Pepper, who he hadn’t been able to say goodbye to, but even they couldn’t make him keep moving. Tony laid against a tree, praying weakly even as he drifted off.

 

In the distance, he heard hoofbeats. Some long-forgotten survival instinct wrenched his eyes open, just in time to see a man on a gorgeous white mare. The man rode up to him, stopping close enough that Tony could feel the mare’s breaths ruffling his icy hair.

 

“Who are you?” Tony croaked, unconsciously leaning towards the heat of the horse. The man looked down on him with icy blue eyes from a pale face.

 

“Are you cold, Snegurochka?” he asked instead of giving his name.

 

Tony snapped back into himself. He recognized the man’s otherworldly aura; he was a chyerti, like the domovoi and the rusalka, but he exuded power in a way the others never did. “Hey,” Tony’s return to himself meant, of course, the return of his attitude. “I’m no Snow Maiden!”

 

The man arched an eyebrow. “You’re in the snow.”

 

“I’m not a maiden,” Tony shot back. “And you are Karachun, bringer of death, are you not?”

 

“Clever, snezhinka,” the man’s eyes danced with laughter. “But I prefer Yasha.”

 

“I’m Tony,” Tony stood up, dusting the snow off of himself with stiff fingers. “Why have you come? Am I dead?”

 

“Not yet, Tosya,” the man looked grim. “Come with me. It is cold.”

 

Tony took Yasha’s icy hand and swung up onto his horse. “Where to, winter-king?” he said cheekily.

 

“Where do you want to go?”

 

“Home.”

 

---

 

When Tony woke up the next morning, safe in bed, there was a single snowdrop on his pillow and the lingering feeling of icy lips on his.

 

Tony grinned and grabbed his cloak, dashing for the forest, snowdrop in hand.

Chapter Text

“This is not what it looks like,” Tony said, a screwdriver clenched in his teeth, one hand tapping the security pad.

 

“Oh, yeah?” the stranger crossed his arms. “Because it looks like you’re trying to break into the engineering labs at two in the morning.”

 

“So it’s a little what it looks like,” Tony admitted. “But I do technically have a lab here. So is it really breaking in?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Shit,” Tony tried for a winning smile. Judging by the look on the stranger’s (unfairly handsome) face, it didn’t work. “Listen, I wouldn’t be going in-”

 

“Breaking in,” the man interrupted.

“-entering the building if it wasn’t serious,” Tony let a little of his desperation sneak into his voice. “Someone fucked with my bot’s coding and I had to run back to my dorm to get his backup memory chip. I got locked out by accident. Please, I have to fix him.”

 

“Okay,” the stranger said. “But I’m coming with you.”

 

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Tony chanted, going back to hacking the electronic locks. “I’m Tony, by the way, for when you inevitably report me.”

 

“Bucky,” the man laughed. “If your bot is cool enough, maybe I won’t.”

 

“Prepare to be amazed,” Tony spread his hands in a showman’s pose as the locks clicked open. He led Bucky to his lab, an inert DUM-E guarding the door.

 

“Is this it? Your bot?” Bucky looked skeptical. DUM-E, admittedly, was not that impressive. He was a grabber arm on crack, about as tall as Tony himself.

 

Tony threw himself at his computer, fingers flying across the keyboard. Whatever bug Hammer released in his system was on a clock; Tony didn’t want it affecting more of DUM-E’s systems before he could shut it down. “Not technically,” he replied, distracted. “ He is a learning AI. Or, he normally is, when assholes don’t shut him down because they're jealous.”

 

“Why is he holding a fire extinguisher?”

 

Tony located the bug, getting rid of it with a triumphant sound. “He loves it,” explained Tony. “Sprays anything and everything. It would be endearing if it wasn’t so hard to clean up.”

 

Bucky looked shocked. “Am I dreaming?” he asked. “Because this is weird. I feel like I’ve stepped into the future.”

 

“Not a dream,” Tony hit another button, activating DUM-E. “Say hello, DUM-E.” DUM-E beeped his greeting, hosing the room down with the fire extinguisher. “I probably should’ve taken that away from him.”

 

“That was so cool,” Bucky grinned. DUM-E was still beeping away happily. “It sounds like he has a personality! And you made him?”

 

“Every last bit of his code,” Tony said proudly. “He’s the first learning AI, ever.”

 

So cool ,” Bucky repeated. DUM-E wheeled up to him, holding a well-worn tennis ball.

 

“Toss the ball,” Tony advised. “He loves fetch.”

 

They stayed in the lab until the sun came up, getting along like houses on fire. DUM-E only sprayed Bucky once.

 

“So,” Tony clapped his hands, waking himself up. “Cool enough to not report me?”

 

Bucky got a mischievous grin. “I might have to take another look,” he said casually. “I don’t really have a concrete opinion just yet.”

 

Tony matched his smile. “It’s a date.”

Chapter Text

Tony stumbled into the Howling Commandos Cafe, dripping wet from the rain. He was exhausted, having stayed up for three days to perfect an SI prototype. He wouldn’t have even gone out if he hadn’t run out of coffee at home. Pepper and JARVIS were conspiring against him to get him out of the house, he just knew it.

 

He walked deeper into the cafe, trying not to look like a garbage troll with no social skills (as Rhodey so eloquently put it). It was a quaint little place, the walls covered in artwork and old photos. It had a military-esque vibe to it, too; the menu board was shaped like a dog tag, there were flags everywhere, and Tony spotted the army logo on the cash register.

 

Standing behind the cash register was possibly the most gorgeous man Tony had ever seen. He was tall, with shoulder-length brown hair and icy blue eyes. One of his arms was a prosthetic; Tony’s professional eye caught on the delays and snags of movement, mind instantly creating blueprints for a better one. He shook himself out of his haze as he approached the front of the line.

 

“What can I getcha, doll?” the man drawled, Brooklyn accent making Tony blush a little.

 

He mentally smacked himself back into coherence. “Um, one coffee, please,” he said haltingly. His brain had not fully understood the whole awake thing, so speech was a little complicated. “Black. And the most caffeinated that you’re legally allowed to make it. Just ruin me with caffeine. Please.”

 

The man- Bucky, said his name tag- chuckled. “Comin’ right up,” he said. “Want anything else?”

 

You. “No, I’m good, thanks,” Tony said, forcing his eyes to stop drooping. “How much do I owe you?”

 

Bucky looked him over with a critical eye. “For you?” he said, clearly taking in the dark circles and overall Tony-ness (three sleepless nights combined with not leaving the lab led to some interesting fashion choices) of him. “On the house.”

 

Tony thanked him and went to sit down and wait for his drink. He propped his head up with one hand, blinking slowly. He’d drink his coffee, then he’d go home and sleep. Each blink felt slower and slower, until Tony was waking up with a flail to the amused smirk of the barista.

 

“Fuck,” he groaned, rubbing his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be,” Bucky smiled. “Here’s your coffee. You look like you need it. When’s the last time you slept?”

 

Tony picked up the large coffee and chugged it, ignoring Bucky’s horrified look. “Three days,” he admitted when he finished. “That was the best thing I’ve ever tasted. How did you make that?”

 

“That was, like, pure caffeine,” Bucky whispered. “And you drank it in less than a minute. I don’t know whether to be impressed or terrified.”

 

“Impressed,” Tony stifled a yawn. “Very impressed. Like, at least twelve percent impressed.”

 

“And three days without sleep ?” asked Bucky. “How are you not dead?”

 

“This is normal,” said Tony. “I had work to do. I was planning on sleeping… soon?”

 

Bucky sighed. “Why are all the cute ones nightmares?” he looked up to the ceiling like he was praying. “Go home, doll. Get some sleep.” He grabbed Tony’s arm deftly and wrote something with a black marker. “Come back when you’re rested.”

 

Bucky led him out the door with a gentle hand, making sure Tony didn’t pass out in the middle of his cafe. Luckily, Stark Tower was only a block or two from the cafe, so Tony figured he could make it home okay.

 

“Thanks,” he said, smiling at Bucky. “If I’m reading this wrong, punch me.” Tony leaned in and pecked him on the cheek.

 

Bucky blushed. “Get some rest, doll,” he said stubbornly.

 

Tony huffed, but walked away with a jaunty wave. When he was halfway down the street, his sleep-deprived brain remembered Bucky writing something on his arm. He pulled up his sleeve to look at at in grinned like a maniac. Written in black sharpie was Bucky’s number and Tony’s miracle coffee order.

 

Tony laughed. He’d definitely be going back to Howling Commandos. He just had to sleep first.

Chapter Text

“Charles Dickens was a good guy,” Tony slurred, unable to sleep. He was laying on his back in Bucky’s bed, staring up at the ceiling. Next to him, Bucky was groaning. “Like, he inspired prison reform because he thought American systems were that fucked up. He visited America and was like, wow, you guys treat your humans like dirt, maybe you should fix that? Why haven’t we fixed that, Bucky?”

 

“I dunno, doll,” Bucky said sleepily. “Because people are garbage and the world is a dumpster fire?”

 

“We should fix that,” Tony carried on as if he hadn’t heard. “We could go, I don’t know, fight the government. Yeah, that’d work. We could fight the Supreme Court on solitary confinement and prisoner treatment. Carry on Dickens’s legacy. I think he’d like that.”

 

“He’s dead,” Bucky shifted, burying his face in Tony’s shirt. “Go to sleep. You can fight the government tomorrow.”

 

“What if there is no tomorrow?” Tony challenged. “What if the sun explodes and Charles Dickens’s hopes and dreams are never realized?”

 

Bucky sassed, “Well, then, doll, you’re going to be very sleep deprived in the afterlife.”

 

“Assuming there is one…” Tony trailed off. “Speaking of the sun-”

 

“We weren’t.”

 

“- do you think it feels superior to the moon? I mean, the-”

 

“I will gag you.”

 

“-moon’s gotta feel insignificant, because the only way it can shine is with sunlight, right? The moon doesn’t produce its own light. It’s a moocher of the highest order. It just steals the light, Bucky. Doesn't even give it back. Do you think that pisses the sun off?”

 

Bucky didn’t answer, choosing instead to put a hand over Tony’s mouth to silence him. The room was quiet, for a few minutes, before Tony delicately peeled off Bucky’s hand, finger by finger.

 

Reverse Medusa ,” he whispered with the air of a serious discovery. “A snake with humans as hair. Turns stones into people.”

 

Bucky groaned loudly, abandoning all hopes of sleep. “A terrible power,” he argued. “What happens if it looks at a mountain? Would that make multiple people or one huge person?”

 

Tony laughed, delighted. “I’m tempted to say one huge person,” he pursed his lips in thought. “But it really depends on the solidity of the rock, right? Like, if it’s fractured into several pieces, that counts as several stones.”

 

“Fiar,” Bucky said. “Your logic there is sound. However, there’s one problem with your reverse Medusa. Snakes don’t have hair, doll.”

 

“Shit,” Tony breathed, sounding inordinately disappointed. “That’s the only logistical fallacy. It was perfect otherwise.”

 

“Sure it was,” Bucky said, ever the supportive boyfriend.

 

Tony fell silent, deep in thought. Bucky felt as his breathing evened out as he slipped into sleep.

 

“Success,” he whispered, closing his own eyes. “Finally.”

Chapter Text

“Coffee,” Tony moaned, collapsing onto the bench in the cafe. He had gone to meet his friends after a three-day workshop bender, but they didn’t need to know that. Three days wasn’t even that bad, and he powernapped for, like, an hour two days ago.

 

“You just said that all out loud,” Natasha said bluntly, cutting into his thought process. She placed a paper bag of pastries and a large coffee on the table next to his face. “Drink. Eat.”

 

“Thanks, Tasha,” Tony chugged the coffee. “I knew there was a reason you were my favorite.”

 

“You said I was your favorite!” Steve sounded affronted from where he was sitting next to Tony.

 

“Huh, I didn’t see you there,” Tony raised his head to actually look at the table, but didn't get very far before his eyes drooped shut again. “And also, I never said that. When did I say that?”

 

“Last night, when I brought you coffee,” Steve deadpanned.

 

“I was talking to the coffee.”

 

A chuckle Tony didn’t recognize stunned him into wakefulness. He knew all of his friends’ laughs, as he was usually the receiver of them, one way or another (Bruce was fond of his puns, while Clint preferred explosions). Tony looked up, meeting slate-grey eyes in a handsome face. His jaw dropped a little. It was too early in the morning to be dealing with hot people.

 

“You’re talking out loud again,” Natasha poked him in the side. “What was so important in your lab, again?”

 

“New neural interface for the prosthetic line,” Tony said absently, still staring at the stranger. “I think I cracked it, too, just… one second.” He pulled the pastry out of the paper bag and shoved the whole thing in his mouth. Then, he put the paper bag over the hot guy’s face. “There, now I can focus again.”

 

“Tony!” Steve sounded scandalized. “You can’t do that!”

 

“Are you really trying to cover up my face with a paper bag right now, doll?” the stranger said, and oh god, his voice was really attractive.

 

“You should gag yourself,” Natasha sounded unfairly amused.

 

“You’re too hot, I literally cannot focus,” Tony said, ignoring her. “And I have to focus, or I won’t be able to get my work done after this.”

 

“You’re going to sleep after this,” the man said, making no moves to remove the paper bag from his face. “I’ve known you for five minutes and I can tell you’re severely sleep deprived.”

 

Tony yawned so widely his jaw cracked. “Can’t, Random Hottie, genius waits for no man’s sleep schedule.”

 

“Bucky,” said the stranger.

 

“Bless you?” Tony was confused. “Do you need a tissue?”

 

“No, that’s his name, doofus,” Natasha swatted him and took the paper bag away. She glared at him, but Tony saw the undercurrent of fondness. “Act like a normal human being or I’m locking you out of your workshop. Pepper will help me.”

 

Tony paled. Pepper was terrifying . He pasted on a charming grin, determined to act normal.

 

“What are you doing with your face?” Bucky asked.

 

“Good question,” Tony replied, falling asleep face-first onto the wooden table.

 

---

 

Tony woke up in his bed, a post-it on his forehead written in unfamiliar handwriting.

 

“Stevie and I carried you home, hope you don’t mind,” it read. “Call me when you’re less sleep deprived. XOXO Random Hottie.” Underneath the message was a phone number.

 

Tony went to reach for his phone, but fell back on his pillow. Five more minutes, then he’d call.

 

---

 

“Tony, it’s been two days.”

 

“Oh, shit, really?”

 

“How tired were you?”

 

“Doesn’t matter. Still managed to bag you, didn’t I?”

 

“Bad choice of words, Tony. Bad choice of words.”

Chapter Text

“Oh, god,” Tony groaned, flopping on the nearest sofa, which happened to be the one Bucky was sitting on. He fell face first into his boyfriend’s lap, who carded his fingers soothingly through Tony’s hair without prompting.

 

“Close, doll,” Bucky drawled. “You can just call me Bucky, though.”

 

“I hate you,” Tony lifted his head to glare, but its effectiveness was hampered by his pleased moan when Bucky scraped his nails lightly across his scalp. “You should do that again.”

 

“How was your day?” asked Bucky.

 

Tony groaned louder than before. “If my day gets any worse,” he swore darkly. “I’m asking hell if they’re having an exchange program.”

 

“That bad, huh?”

 

“I had a three hour meeting with Tiberius Stone,” Tony spat. Bucky winced, remembering their unhealthy history and how much he wanted to punch Stone in the nose. “Then two hours with Aldrich fucking Killian, that crackpot. I go to get coffee and a snack afterward, but I got hit by a car and spilled my coffee! And my fucking croissant got run over!”

 

You got hit by a car? ” Bucky was pretty sure he sounded like a whistling teapot. “Are you okay? What the hell, Tony?”

 

“Relax,” Tony waved off his mother-henning with a sleepy hand. “The car was going slow, I’m more upset about the coffee.”

 

“Of course you are.”

 

“It was good coffee!” Tony defended. “And the cherry on top of a shitty day. It got all over my favorite shirt.”

 

“Poor baby,” Bucky teased, twisting Tony’s curls into small braids almost unconsciously. In his lap, Tony purred like a kitten. “How can I make it better, kotyonok?”

 

Tony, who had closed his eyes, cracked one open to glare at Bucky. “Don't call me kitten,” he said. “I am chaos, I am darkness-” he cut off with a wide yawn.

 

“You are in desperate need of some sleep, Mr. Chaos and Darkness,” Bucky chided, gauging the dark circles under his boyfriend's eyes.

 

“I feel like you’re mocking me.”

 

“That would be because I am.”

 

“I’m very hurt,” Tony pouted. “Just for that, I’m not going to move for, like, three hours.”

 

“I can pick you up and move you,” Bucky pointed out.

 

Tony grinned slyly. “You won’t, though,” he said. “You love it when I sleep on your lap.”

 

“Lies and slander,” Bucky rolled his eyes fondly, planting a kiss on Tony’s forehead. “Go to sleep, doll. Everything will feel better after a nap.”

 

“Factually incorrect,” Tony said, closing his eyes again and snuggling up to Bucky. “Remember that one time I took a nap and woke up with a fever?”

 

“You’re so difficult.”

 

“But you love me.”

 

“You can’t just use that as your defense all the time,” said Bucky.

 

“Why not?” asked Tony. “It works, doesn’t it?”

 

“If you’re not asleep in the next three minutes, I’m going to put all of the blueberries on the top shelf and you won’t be able to get them since Pepper banned you from climbing on the counters,” Bucky pointedly ignored Tony’s shit-eating grin.

 

Tony gasped. “The horror!” he cried, but he was already losing steam. Already, he was yawning instead of snarking back. “I love you,” he said sleepily, turning to bury his face in Bucky’s leg.

 

“Love you, too.”

Chapter Text

“We keep finding ourselves here, don’t we?” a familiar voice came from behind Bucky. He was too well-trained to startle, finger steady on the trigger of his rifle. His target was in his sight, he couldn’t risk moving to indulge his “nemesis”, as Tony had dubbed himself, to defend against a man who wouldn’t attack him anyway.

 

“Stop trackin’ me,” Bucky gritted out when he felt Tony come up next to him. The man’s footsteps were silent; he was as good as Bucky, if not better. Too bad he played for the other side.

 

“I thought you were supposed to be a ghost story,” Tony plopped down next to him, jolting his shooting arm. “Who are you killing today?”

 

“None of your damn business,” Bucky readjusted his rifle; the target moved when he was distracted.

 

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” Tony grinned, leaning up against Bucky like a particularly affectionate cat.

 

Bucky shook him off (gently, though he’d never admit it). “I am one of the few people in the world who can murder you and leave no forensic evidence behind,” he warned.

 

“You like me too much to kill me,” Tony said confidently. Without looking, Bucky whipped out a knife and put it at Tony’s neck.

 

“Try me.”

 

Tony, the idiot, leaned into the blade. “Okay,” he said, the movement of his throat drawing blood. “Do it.”

 

Bucky groaned and threw the knife down. “Damn you.” His finger itched on the trigger of his gun.

 

“I can’t let you fire that,” Tony said regretfully. “Higher-ups say that he's important to the organization.”

 

“Never figured you for a mindless drone, Stark,” Bucky didn’t shift his aim.

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “Independently verified it,” he replied. “You know I’m good for it.”

 

“I have my orders.”

 

“And I have mine.”

 

“Defect.”

 

“You first.”

 

Bucky tightened his finger, breathing out, and-

 

Tony knocked him sideways.

 

The gun went off, but the shot went wide. Bucky’s target fled into the screaming crowd as he and Bucky fought. They were vicious, not pulling punches. Bucky had the upper hand for a moment, pinning Tony with his metal arm, until Tony attached some sort of device to it that turned it off. Tony rolled, landing on top of Bucky with a knife to his throat. Under him, Bucky had a gun to the small of Tony’s back.

 

“You can’t shoot before I stab you,” Tony challenged. “You’re fast, but not that fast.”

 

“Do you have a fuckin’ deathwish?” Bucky growled, tossing the man off him. The knife nicked him as Tony flew across the room.

 

Tony stood shakily, bruises forming on his face but grin unhampered. “I take it I haven’t won you over yet?”

 

“I can’t just leave, Tony,” Bucky said in a rare moment of vulnerability, holstering his gun. “The only way out is in a body bag, you know that.”

 

“I can arrange it,” Tony offered like he did every time. “You know what I can do.”

 

Like every time, Bucky shook his head. “Maybe next time,” he placated, packing up his guns. Unexpectedly, Tony kneeled next to him to help.

 

“Think about it,” he breathed. It was as close to a plea as anyone got from Tony Stark. He leaned in close, closing his eyes in a show of trust. Bucky stroked his face gently, touched his lips, tried to memorize the open look before they met again on opposite sides.

 

The moment was over too soon, broken by sirens. They weren’t normal sirens; they sounded like…

 

“My ride’s here,” Tony said, not quite guiltily. “I should try to keep you here, but you know I won’t.”

 

“You couldn’t if you tried,” Bucky responded, throat tight.

 

Footsteps sounded outside the door, getting louder. “You’d better run,” Tony said sadly, turning away. “I’ll see you next time.”

 

“I could kill you,” Bucky pointed out, climbing out the window. “No one would know it was me.”

 

“Ditto, dear.”

 

Bucky made it to the roof unhampered by any members of Tony’s organization, for which he was silently grateful. There had been enough violence tonight. He watched as Tony walked out of the building, flanked by agents in black. Tony didn’t look back, but the playful smirk meant he knew Bucky was watching.

 

Even though Tony couldn’t see him, Bucky blew him a kiss, mind whirling with ideas of a life he could never have. He left the roof without another look back. He had to report back and get his next mission.

Chapter Text

Tony leaned against the bar, swirling his drink idly. He watched the gala go on, watched socialites laugh and flirt with other people just like him from his vantage point away from the crowd. They were like crows, flocking towards the shiniest thing in the room. At 22 and the CEO of SI, one of the largest tech companies in the world, Tony was undoubtedly the shiniest. He had barely escaped, begging off after one too many gropes in the form of a dance.

 

With a disgusted snort, he downed his tumbler of whiskey. He dropped it carelessly on the bar counter, barely registering when the bartender came to refill it. Tony scanned the room again, taking careful note of people he’d probably have to schmooze with later. In the far corner, Phil Coulson of Shield Corp was chatting up Steve Rogers, a military captain. Pepper, his own assistant, was clearly exasperated with Justin Hammer of Hammertech where they were talking near the band. He recognized Clint Barton and Natasha Romanov, also of Shield, lurking in the corner like the corporate spies they were rumored to be. The only one he didn’t see was his “rival”, James Barnes, of Barnes Incorporated.

 

Him and Barnes had been set against each other in the business world from their teens. Tony, of course, had the advantage, having been groomed to take over SI since he could talk, but Barnes wasn’t far behind. He was cutthroat with his deals, intelligent, and charming. If they hadn’t been from opposing companies, Tony would have definitely tried to get in his pants at least once. Hell, he would’ve done it because of the rivalry thing. But Pepper had made sure to remind him at every opportunity that sleeping with the competition was a bad thing, Tony.

 

Tony still liked to keep an eye out for Barnes at events like these, though. Couldn’t have the guy stealing his contracts, even if his work was halfway decent (coming from Tony, certified genius, that was a compliment).

 

“Fancy seeing you here,” a familiar voice drawled from behind him.

 

Tony groaned. “Barnes,” he greeted, turning around. “Enjoying yourself?”

 

“Not in the slightest,” Barnes looked as weary as he felt. Galas were exhausting, especially when you were a young CEO like they were. “I don’t know how you do it.”

 

“Practice,” Tony said, then held up his drink. “And a lot of alcohol.”

 

“Cheers,” Barnes grabbed his own glass, clinking it lightly against Tony’s. Though tired, his slate grey eyes were intense as always as they fixed on Tony. Tony couldn’t help but to track the movement of Barnes’s throat as he swallowed, the way his lips pursed around the glass-

 

Bad Tony! he scolds. Remember Pepper’s warning!

 

Pepper had, rather graphically, described how she’d disembowel him with one of her criminally expensive heels if he caused a scandal at this party, and there wasn’t much he could do more scandalous than sleeping with the enemy. Really, he couldn’t ask for a better assistant than Pepper, her gifts of foresight and violence assets to him and his company.

 

“So,” Tony started, sly smile sharply in place. “Who’d you have to murder and sacrifice to the blood gods for that deal with BainCo?” BainCo was run by one of Tony’s well-publicized exes, so he never got offered one of their highly exclusive contracts, something Barnes liked to rub in his face (not that Tony would’ve accepted them anyway; Sunset was sleazy and prone to stealing designs).

 

“The next guy I take home,” Barnes smirked lazily. “Any suggestions?”

 

Tony pretended to think for a moment. “Justin Hammer,” he said finally, relishing in the disgust on Barnes’s face. “He’s firmly in your league.”

 

“And here I thought we had somethin’ special, doll,” Barnes broke out the Brooklyn charm that had investors throwing money at him.

 

“We can’t all be geniuses,” Tony sighed, taking another sip of his whiskey. He caught the way Barnes stared at his mouth before his eyes darted away. “You know that better than me, though.”

 

Barnes rolled his eyes. “We can’t all be egotistical dicks, either. Are you compensating for something?”

 

Tony smiled wickedly in a way he knew drove people wild. He turned it on Barnes, who didn’t stand a chance. Barnes went a little red, but resolutely didn’t change his expression. “Wanna find out?”

 

Barnes twirled his glass in his fingers, looking like he was going to say yes. Before he could answer, though, Tony’s watchful eyes snagged on Pepper in the crowd. Hammer had gotten louder and closer to her, touching her arm with his slimy hands. She looked an inch away from getting out her pepper spray, casting a look at the people around her for help. None was forthcoming, because everyone in high society was an asshole, in Tony’s humble opinion.

 

“If you’ll excuse me,” he said, pushing off of the bar and pointedly ignoring Barnes’s look of disappointment. “I have to go make a scene.” He walked off, stopping after a few steps and looking over his shoulder. “Come find me later if you’re still up for some independent verification,” he said with a wink.

 

He could hear Barnes’s choked noise over the din of the crowd as he went to go smack Hammer.

 

---

The next morning, Tony stirred in his bed, where he laid in the arms of one James Barnes.

 

“Fuck,” he whispered. “Pepper’s going to kill me.”

 

“Go back to sleep, doll,” James muttered sleepily, dragging Tony closer.

 

Tony couldn’t bring himself to regret it, curled up in bed like a satisfied teddy bear, but he made a mental note to have JARVIS buy something off of Pepper’s wishlist to appease her (and hopefully spare his life).

 

---

 

On Pepper’s desk the next morning, she found a gorgeous pair of Louboutins, the ones she had been coveting since she saw them, waiting for her. Suspiciously, she opened the box, wondering what Tony had done that he needed to apologize for. Other than punching Hammer (which she wholly approved of), he had been on his best behavior the night before.

 

There was a note on the box. It read:

 

Dear Pepper, light of my life, my tulip, please don’t kill me. I may have made some poor decisions last night about who wound up in my bed, as in, I might have invited James Barnes over, exactly like you told me not to do. In my defense, I was left unsupervised. Please accept this humble offering of shoes from the both of us and don’t use them to painfully murder me.

 

xoxo TS (and JB)

 

Pepper crumpled the note in her fist. She pasted on a pleasant smile, put on the murder shoes, and prepared for battle.

 

Anthony Edward Stark!”

 

Chapter Text

Tony’s lithe body jumped across the stage in a complex series of spins that Bucky could barely follow. He looked ethereal, his delicate features highlighted by his stage makeup and complemented by his white costume. He was alone on stage, dancing something heartbreaking but hopeful. Bucky’s fingers twitched, wishing he were the one playing the accompaniment, on the stage with Tony and his brilliance.

 

The music picked up and Tony started dancing faster and faster. Bucky held his breath as the man flew , barely touching the ground at all. He looked like a bird, arms spread like wings against the glowing spotlight. He faux-stumbled as the dance wound down, falling and tripping like a broken doll, before returning to the hunched position he had started in. Bucky was the first one on his feet to give him a standing ovation.

 

Tony took a last bow before disappearing backstage, smiling radiantly. Bucky wanted to follow, to actually meet the dancer he was so enamored with, but he had his own performance. He grabbed his music as the stagehands wheeled out the piano and the dancer he was performing with stepped into the spotlight.

 

Natasha Romanov was beautiful and talented, but she took no joy in the dance. Her steps were cold, methodical, even as Bucky’s fingers on ivory keys brought her music to life. Her jumps and spins were beautiful in the way ice was, whereas Tony was a raging inferno with every footfall.

 

He shook his head lightly to clear it; he was mid-performance, he needed to focus. The tricky section with the arpeggios was coming up.

 

---

 

Tony watched the pianist onstage more than he watched his fellow dancer. Natasha was wonderful, of course, but they practiced together all the time. He knew her moves like he knew his own. The pianist- Bucky- though, was something else. Every note was played with a reverence reserved for a church, like his music was something holy. Tony desperately wanted to dance to it, wanted to swap places with Natasha for just one rehearsal.

 

Bucky’s graceful fingers didn’t stumble once as they played run after run, Natasha leaping and chasing the fleeting notes. He played with utter focus, almost glaring at the piano as he played. His long brown hair was falling in pieces out of its loose bun. Honestly, Tony was surprised Natasha hadn’t killed him for it. She was rigidly precise, unlike Bucky’s loose style.

 

The dance ended as suddenly as it began, one ringing note as Natasha struck a pose. Tony saw Natasha curtsy out of the corner of his eye, but he was looking at Bucky’s small victorious smile at finishing the piece perfectly. Natasha, walking off the stage, saw him and sent him a knowing smirk.

 

“What did you think, Tony?” she asked, sliding up next to him.

 

“You’re amazing, as always, but you stumbled on landing that last jump,” he said, tearing his stare away from the gorgeous pianist.

 

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Not about me, idiot,” she said. “About the pianist you couldn’t keep your eyes off of.”

 

“Not my fault you always get the gorgeous ones,” Tony shot back. “Clint’s not bad, but damn is Bucky Barnes a looker.”

 

“Clint plays better,” Natasha teased.

 

“Excuse me?” Tony raised his eyebrows. “He puts no life into the music. Seriously, it always feels… flat, you know? But Bucky… god, I’d die happy if I could dance to that once.”

 

“That sounds like a euphemism.”

 

Tony squawked indignantly. “It isn’t!” he paused, considering. “Actually, it so is.”

 

“Looks like you’ll get your chance,” said Natasha, looking at her phone. “Clint says that Barnes signed up to be your accompanist for the next performance. He had to fight Rogers for it, apparently.”

 

“Seriously?” Tony shouted, quailing at the dirty looks he got from the stage crew. “Sorry! But seriously, Nat? If you’re messing with me, I will tear each and every one of your pointe shoes to shreds.”

 

Natasha just smirked and pointed behind him.

 

“Hiya, doll,” Bucky drawled, waving a hand. “Bucky Barnes. I’m your pianist.”

 

Tony whimpered a little (but he’d deny it til his dying days). “Tony Stark,” he managed. “Looks like we’ll be spending a lot of time together.”

 

“I can’t wait,” Bucky said, winking at him. He walked off, whistling all the while.

 

“I’m going to die,” Tony said solemnly. Natasha nodded. “He’s going to kill me, and I’m going to die.”

 

“You do love your petite mortes, ” she didn’t even look up from her phone, where she was presumably live-tweeting Tony’s embarrassment.

 

“I literally hate you.”

 

---

 

Tony and Bucky’s first rehearsal was… not productive. Tony did get a lot of exercise, but exactly none of it was ballet (although, it was a good test of his flexibility).

 

Well, he wasn’t complaining. Natasha had been right, after all.

Chapter Text

“Move, homo,” Rumlow spat, pushing past him as they walked off the field. “I’m trying to walk here.”

 

Bucky growled low in his throat, fists tightening as he glared at the other members of the football team, who had remained silent.

 

“Fuck off, Rumlow,” he seethed.

 

“Fuckin’ pansy,” Rumlow muttered. He looked like he was going to say more, but Bucky launched himself at the other boy, fists flying. He managed to get a couple good hits in before Rumlow started fighting back in earnest. No matter, Bucky could take him; he had been taking boxing classes and had gotten pretty good.

 

Bucky didn’t count on the other members of the football team joining in, though. The first punch took him by surprise, but two opponents was still manageable. He fended off Rumlow’s attacks and countered Sitwell’s, but then two others started kicking and Bucky was fucked.

 

He still fought, channeling his best friend’s fighting spirit, but (like Steve), he lost. It was painful and humiliating, but Bucky refused to show that it got to him. He spat a glob of blood and spit at Rumlow, ignoring the jeering laughter as he limped away to the parking lot, deciding to bypass the after-practice meetings that Pierce and Fury liked to hold. They wouldn’t appreciate him bleeding all over the place, anyway.

 

Bucky threw his car into drive with an angry sort of recklessness that he rarely felt. He drove fast and stupid, blowing red lights and stop signs until he was far away enough to breathe . Rumlow’s shit wasn’t anything new; he had been dealing with the same homophobic assholes since he was outed in middle school. He didn’t know why it got to him so badly that day.

 

Without realizing it, Bucky had driven to Tony’s house. He debated leaving, but there was no way that his boyfriend hadn’t already alerts from the motion sensors all around the property. Bucky grabbed a spare towel and tried to clean himself up a little, before giving up entirely with a loud sigh. He resigned himself to Tony’s mother-henning.

 

Bucky didn’t bother ringing the doorbell, not in the mood to deal with anyone but Tony. He instead climbed up the trellis outside of Tony’s window, knocking twice and hoping the boy was in his room. His muscles protested the climb, burning as he held his awkward position.

 

Luckily, Tony opened the window quickly.

 

“What happened?” he asked, helping Bucky inside. Tony’s quick eyes had already catalogued his injuries, Bucky could tell, and his boyfriend was getting out his absurdly well-stocked first aid kit.

 

Bucky groaned. “Rumlow,” he said sullenly.

 

“And?” Tony was too smart for his own good, really.

 

“Maybe half the football team?”

 

Tony turned around, leveling Bucky with his most unimpressed stare, covering the layer of concern that Bucky could nonetheless see. “Excuse me?” he blinked. “I didn’t hear you right. Did you seriously try to take on half the goddamn football team ?”

 

“It was supposed to just be Rumlow!” Bucky defended. He smiled ruefully, wincing when it pulled at the bruises forming on his jaw. “I took a calculated risk, but, man , am I bad at math.”

 

Tony chuckled fondly, despite the angry face he was desperately trying to hold on to. “That’s why you have me,” he said, kissing Bucky’s bruise lightly. “I’m good enough at math for the both of us.”

 

“Nerd,” Bucky teased, leaning into Tony’s touch.

 

“Jock,” Tony shot back, grinning in earnest. “Now stay still and let me path you up. God, jocks are dumb. Why did I ever agree to date one?”

 

Bucky winked. “Aesthetic.”

 

Tony appraised him. “You look like a rotten peach,” he said bluntly. “I guess I’ll just have to be pretty enough for both of us, too, until you heal up.”

 

“Smart and pretty?” gasped Bucky. “How did I get so lucky?”

 

Tony rolled his eyes, dabbing Bucky’s face with antiseptic. “You got beaten up near me,” he answered. “Terrible flirting technique, zero out of ten.”

 

“I deserve at least a three,” Bucky argued. “It worked on you, didn’t it?”

 

“And just for that, a negative one.”

 

“So cruel.”

 

"Negative two."

Chapter Text

“Tony,” Bucky greeted neutrally, watching the other man step through the door. “We need to talk.”

 

Tony paled, but followed Bucky to their living room, resigned. “What’s the matter?”

 

“I can’t do this anymore,” Bucky said in a rush. “I can’t constantly be second in your life to everything else. You’re always at meetings or in the lab. I get that you have a job, but even your assistant sees more of you than I do!” He teared up. “I can’t live like this, Tony.”

 

“Please,” Tony choked out. “I’m sorry. I can be better. I can-”

 

“No,” Bucky said gently. “We’ve been here before. You always say you’ll be better, and nothing ever changes. I can’t keep putting myself through this.”

 

Tony looked closer to tears than Bucky had ever seen him. “I understand,” he said finally, marshalling his expression to a careful neutral. It broke Bucky’s heart more than it was already breaking. Tony was normally so expressive, but he had completely closed off. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I love you, and I want to make this work. But I understand.”

 

“I know,” Bucky said softly. “But love isn’t enough. We aren’t eighteen and in our honeymoon phase anymore. Relationships are a two-way street, and lately, it hasn’t felt like you even want me.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Tony repeated, sounding broken. “I’m sorry.”

 

Bucky stood up. ‘I’m going to Steve’s,” he said. “I’ll call you.”

 

“Okay,” Tony didn’t look up, didn’t meet his eyes. He stared at the wall, tears running silently down his cheeks.

 

Bucky looked at him for one more minute. He loved Tony, he really did, but he couldn’t keep settling for being second place in Tony’s life. He grabbed his coat and walked out of their shared apartment.

Tony let him go.

 

---

 

Tony sat in absolute stillness for an hour after the door closed. It was too quiet in their- now his- apartment. His world had just been shifted off its axis, shouldn’t there be screaming? Crying? Tony couldn’t bring himself to open his mouth to make a sound.

 

He wanted to break something, to destroy something to reflect how he was feeling. Everything was so perfect outside, but he was a whirlwind. Robotically, he stood to go to the lab. He imagined Bucky’s disapproval as he walked.

 

You care about the lab more than me, Bucky’s voice jeered in his mind. That’s why we can’t be together.

 

“Total lockdown,” Tony announced hoarsely to his AI. “No calls. I don’t care if aliens are invading. And while you’re at it, mute.”

 

The workshop was deathly silent, so Tony started breaking things. He grabbed the latest prototype for the StarkPhone and smashed it with a hammer. He blowtorched the blueprints he had drawn up for a tablet, shattered the glass beakers with his recent chemistry experiments, and broke down the code for his security system into meaningless ones and zeros. He reveled in the destruction, reveled in being able to feel something instead of succumbing to the numbness. He left the prosthetic arm that he had been making for Bucky for their anniversary on display. He deserved the reminder of how terrible he was.

 

Reaching for the liquor cabinet, Tony pulled out a bottle of scotch. He had quit drinking, for Bucky, but he’d never wanted a drink more than right then. He turned the bottle over in his hands, contemplating opening it. Bucky would be disappointed, but Bucky left.

 

Tony cracked open the bottle and drank until the screaming in his head stopped.

 

---

 

“Did I do the right thing?” Bucky asked miserably, laying on Steve’s sofa. “I mean… did I?”

 

“I don’t know,” Steve replied honestly. Bucky liked that about Steve, most of the time, but right then, it wasn’t reassuring. “I thought you and Tony were solid. Really, that man would do anything for you.”

 

“Except spend time with me,” Bucky said. “Except remember dates and anniversaries and actually come to bed once in a while.”

 

Steve sighed. “He’s running a multi-billion-dollar company, Buck,” he said. “I’m not saying that makes it okay, but you have to put it in context. According to Pepper, he skips half of his meetings anyway to spend time with you. And he warned you when you two started dating in college that he was shitty at remembering things.”

 

“I just want to see him more than once a damn week, is that so unreasonable?” Bucky was driving himself in circles.

 

“Well, then, breaking up with him was counterintuitive, wasn’t it?”

 

Bucky let out a long breath that sounded suspiciously like a sob. “I don’t know anymore,” he admitted. “I don’t know.”

 

“Take a couple days,” Steve advised. “Calm down, sort out your feelings. Then see if you still feel the same way.”

 

“What would I do without you?” Bucky said gratefully.

 

Steve chuckled. “Dumb shit, probably.”

 

---

 

“Good morning,” Tony greeted Pepper on Monday morning, stepping into the office.

 

“Who died?” she asked suspiciously. “You’re never in the office on time, or at all. So who died?”

 

“My relationship,” Tony replied, going for cheerful but missing the mark. “So you should expect to see a lot more of me.”

 

“Oh, Tony,” she said, gathering him up in a hug. “I’m sorry, honey.”

 

Tony shrugged in her arms. “It’s my fault,” he said softly. “I work too much, and I put him second. That’s not fair to him.”

 

“We live busy lives,” Pepper said. “It’s no one’s fault, Tony. I know you did your best.”

 

Tony let himself be held for one more minute, drawing comfort from the touch before stepping away. “Now, Miss Potts,” he said, carefully keeping the tears out of his voice. “I believe I have a meeting?”

 

“Yes,” she grabbed a stack of papers off of the desk. “These are for you to review.”

 

“Okay,” Tony said, throwing himself into work. “Make a note to call Fury about this contract, it seems sketchy. Coulson, too, if you can get a hold of him. I heard he was in Tahiti. Push forward the prosthetics launch by about a month; I finished them last night. Also, the StarkPhones are ready whenever. Oh, and send in my eight o'clock.”

 

Pepper wrote everything down, knowing that Tony would forget that he asked if she didn’t. “Will that be all, Mr. Stark?”

 

“That will be all, Miss Potts.”

 

Tony opened up the next set of files as Pepper sent in his first meeting. “Hello,” he said, not bothering to stand.

 

“Stark,” Pierce said, every the charming little snake. “How nice of you to finally make a meeting.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Tony sighed. “I didn’t have anything better to do.”

 

“I’m here to ask you to reconsider your position on your deal with HYDRA,” Pierce said, cutting right to the point.

 

“Fuck, no,” Tony shot back. “Full offense, but you guys seem very shady, and SI cannot be affiliated with that.” Plus, my (ex)boyfriend hates you and I defer(red) to his judgement. He sighed. “Is that everything? Because I really don’t have time for you to nag me about this. I’ve already said no a hundred times.”

 

Pierce huffed, saying something under his breath that Tony was certain was uncomplimentary.

 

“Next!” Tony called, grinning for the first time all week at the look on Pierce’s face.

 

His office hours passed in a flurry, trying to make up for skipping so many meetings by taking as many as was physically possible.  He had been putting them off, for Bucky, to try to spend more time together. Tony knew that he worked too much, but he had tried to make time. There was nothing to be done, though. Not anymore.

 

Pepper stopped into his office before she left to say goodnight, but Tony didn’t get up. Her hug reminded him of Bucky’s hugs, which he couldn’t remember without fear of breaking down. He stared at a contract until he could pretend that the burning in his eyes was from not blinking instead of tears.

 

A knock on his door jolted him out of his focus. He didn’t look up, figuring it was just Pepper telling him he had worked all night.

 

“Come in,” he called absently. “Pep, you better have brought coffee. I’m only seventy pages into this contract and I really needed to have it revised by yesterday.”

 

“It’s me,” Bucky said awkwardly, standing in the doorway. “Can I come in?”

 

Tony stared dumbly. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” he said. “Dreams are weird. Since I’m dreaming, you can hug me, right?”

 

Bucky’s face fell, just a little. “Not a dream, do- um, Tony,” he said. “I brought coffee. And hugs, if you want them.”

 

“Come on in, then,” Tony said, somewhat stilted.

 

Bucky sat on the corner of the desk like he always did. “I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I was unfair to you. You have a job and I can’t ask you to not do it. I just… I missed you.”

 

“It’s not on you,” Tony shook his head. “I should’ve been better about managing my time. I never wanted you to feel neglected. I’m sorry, Bucky. Truly.” He paused. “And, uh, I missed you too. That’s why I’m in the damn office, you know. Home is… well, I can’t be there right now.”

 

“Come get breakfast with me?” Bucky smiled shyly. “We can go to that pastry place you like.”

 

“You’re sending mixed signals,” Tony said bluntly, trying to quash the fluttering hope in his chest. “Is this a trying to be friendly with my ex type of breakfast? Because I’m not ready for that.”

 

“It’s a I made a huge mistake in breaking up with you and I want you to take my back even though I fully understand if you won’t type of breakfast,” Bucky reached out a hand. “What do you say?”

 

Tony grabbed his hand, letting Bucky pull him up. “Yes.”

 

They weren’t fixed, not by a long shot, but it was a start. And there, basking in the warmth of Bucky’s smile, Tony decided he’d take what he could get, for as long as he could get it.

Chapter Text

“That was a bad move,” Bucky said, moving his pawn forward to take Tony’s queen. “I know you said you needed practice, but I didn’t think you were this bad.” On Bucky’s side of the board, half of Tony’s pieces were resting, having already been captured. In contrast, Tony had only taken a few pawns and a bishop. “Aren’t you supposed to be some sort of genius?”

 

Tony smiled. “Oops,” he said, worrying one of Bucky's pawns between his long fingers. The sight distracted Bucky for a moment, eyes catching on Tony’s nimble hands. “Is this better?” He moved a rook, leaving his knight unguarded. If Bucky had been looking, he might’ve seen the mischief in Tony’s eyes mixed with cold calculation.

 

“Not really,” Bucky winced, mercilessly taking it.

 

Tony stared at the board, deliberating. Delicately, he picked up his only remaining knight, moving it into position for-

 

“Checkmate,” he said smugly.

 

Bucky glared at the pieces, looking for a move he could make that his genius boyfriend missed. Of course, there wasn’t one.

 

“How?” he demanded. “That’s not possible. You cheated.”

 

Tony arched an eyebrow. “Or you’re just bad at chess,” he countered, clearing the board.

 

“You said you were bad at chess!” Bucky couldn't decide if he wanted to kiss the smug look off of Tony’s face or not.

 

“I am,” Tony shrugged. “Compared to JARVIS. You should’ve clarified. Loopholes are where I shine, Bucky. I’m a genius, darling. You can’t have honestly thought I was bad at chess .”

 

“You little…” as Bucky seethed, Tony preened under the attention, looking like the cat that got the cream and the canary.

 

“Want to play again?”

 

“Hell, no,” said Bucky vehemently. “You played me. You were Alexa, I was Despacito, and you played me .”

 

Tony’s nose scrunched adorably. “First of all, in this house, JARVIS is our AI. Frankly, he and I are hurt that you’d blaspheme and mention Alexa. Second, stop spending so much time with Peter,” he said waspishly. “That was the single worst thing to ever come out of your mouth.”

 

“You said the same thing yesterday when I called Clint a-”

 

“I know what I said,” Tony cut him off with a faintly disgusted shudder. “But you topped it. You shouldn’t make pop culture references. You’re old.”

 

“Tony, I’m only three years older than you.”

 

“You’re practically ancient,” Tony sighed. “I’m dating a geriatric. Hey, maybe that’s why you’re so bad at chess!”

 

“I’m not bad at chess,” defended Bucky, flicking Tony’s nose.

 

“You lost in, like, ten moves,” Tony pointed out, jabbing his elbow into Bucky’s side in retaliation. “That’s pretty bad.”

 

“You’re a damn genius,” Bucky complained. “The only person that can beat you is your damn computer!”

 

“You were the one who wanted to play!” Tony flopped dramatically on Bucky, curling in his lap like a cat.

 

Bucky twisted to avoid Tony’s flailing. “Because you said you were bad at it and needed practice!”

 

“And you believed me?” Tony snorted. “That’s so sad.”

 

“Are you going to do what I think you’re going to do?”

 

“JARVIS, play Despacito.”

Chapter Text

“Holy shit,” Tony breathed, staring at the rodent scurrying around in its cage. “What the fuck did I do last night?”

 

“Clearly, you bought a guinea pig,” Rhodey said, looking remarkably unamused. “I thought you were banned for life from the PetCo? Don’t they have your picture on the wall with a do not serve sticker on it?”

 

Tony stared helplessly at the sticker on the cage. “I went to PetSmart,” he said faintly. “And someone sold me a fucking guinea pig. While I was drunk off my ass.”

 

“Looks like someone’s getting banned from PetSmart next,” Rhodey grinned. “How are you going to get rid of this thing?”

 

“Rhodey!” Tony hissed, scandalized. “I can’t get rid of the guinea pig! He’s my son now! DUM-E 2.0!”

 

You’re DUM-E 2.0,” Rhodey shook his head fondly. “Only you, Tones.”

 

Tony scowled, digging through the bags of guinea pig supplies for a carrier of some sort. “Now I have to go to PetSmart and ask them why the fuck they’d sell a guinea pig to a drunk guy,” he seethed, finding a leash instead of a carrier. “And why the fuck they make guinea pig leashes!”

 

---

 

Because he had amazing luck, PetSmart was closed for renovations. The only other pet store that wasn’t an hour away was the infamous PetCo that he’d been banned from during his first year at MIT (apparently, they frowned on trying to buy their whole supply of fish to set free. Which he had tried. Several times. In Tony’s defense, he had just seen Finding Nemo for the first time and was feeling quite emotional).

 

“Fuck,” Tony cursed, staring at DUM-E 2.0 on his leash. “The things I do for love.”

 

He got back in his car to drive to PetCo, dramatically imitating the death knells he was sure were ringing somewhere. DUM-E 2.0 chirped in what Tony hoped was happiness.

 

The drive to the PetCo was short. Tony had always wondered about the logistics of putting PetCo and PetSmart so close together- the competition must be insane. He flipped up his hood and picked up DUM-E 2.0; if they had to make an escape, he was pretty sure the guinea pig couldn’t run as fast as he could. The walk into the store was filled with a sense of foreboding (Rhodey hadn’t been kidding about the poster, he saw one behind a register). DUM-E 2.0 cheeped excitedly as they neared the guinea pig section.

 

There was one employee there, a gorgeously grumpy man who was cleaning out a cage.

 

“Can I help you?” he asked without looking up.

 

“God, I hope so,” Tony said nervously. “So, I might’ve gotten a guinea pig when I was really fucked up last night, but I love him and I can’t return him, so I need a crash course on taking care of rodents.”

 

At that, the man, whose name tag read Bucky , looked up, probably to see if Tony was fucking with him. Tony held out DUM-E 2.0 as evidence. Bucky groaned. “Who would sell a drunk guy a guinea pig?”

 

“You’re asking the wrong guy,” Tony held a hand up in surrender. “I’m the victim here.”

 

“I think your poor pet is the victim,” Bucky smirked. Tony bit back a delighted laugh at the snark.  “We have pamphlets,” he offered, pointing to a rack.

 

Dutifully, Tony grabbed one. “Okay,” he said, flipping through it quickly. “Now what?”

 

“Read it,” Bucky deadpanned.

 

“I did!” Tony defended. “I’m a genius. I don’t need that long to read.”

 

Bucky looked like he was praying for strength. He took the pamphlet out of Tony’s hand and a sharpie out of his pocket. “Here,” he said, circling some things. “These are the basic supplies you need. You appear to have a leash, which is completely unnecessary and makes you look like an idiot, so I’m assuming you bought the necessity of food?”

 

“I’m pretty sure, yeah,” Tony chuckled, running a hand through his hair. In doing so, he knocked his hood off of his head. Bucky looked at him and scribbled something else down. “Anything else?”

 

Bucky shook his head and smiled apologetically. “Not for your guinea pig, but I am going to have to ask you to leave, Mr. Stark.”

 

“Fuck,” Tony whined, hefting DUM-E 2.0 up as if their combined cuteness could save them. “Am I part of the employee training or something? It was two years ago!”

 

“I know,” Bucky smiled. “I was there.” He handed Tony his pamphlet back.

 

“PetCo is the worst,” Tony hissed, cuddling his guinea pig close. “This is why I shop at PetSmart.”

 

“Are you sure it isn’t because you got banned from PetCo?” Bucky herded him towards the exit.

 

Primly, Tony set DUM-E 2.0 on the ground so he could walk. If they were being kicked out, they’d do it in style. “I wanted to save the fish!” Tony cried as the automatic doors whooshed open.

 

“Call me if you need help with your guinea pig!” Bucky called back as the doors closed. Intrigued, Tony flipped open his pamphlet, easily finding where Bucky had written his number.

 

“Huh,” said Tony, looked at his pet. “Looks like you’re a better wingman than Rhodey.” DUM-E 2.0 made a happy noise, not unlike his namesake’s, then proceeded to pee everywhere. “And you’re just as terrible as the original. You’re going to a kindergarten classroom, you hear me? They’ll put gum in your fur, or something. It’ll be bad. You’ll hate it. God, why did I get a rodent?”


(He asked Bucky the same question on their first date. Bucky replied to meet me , and Tony had no arguments there.)

Chapter Text

Bucky sighed, staring at his charge’s search history. Tony Stark was an odd man, that was for sure. He was a threat level so high that he had agents watching him at all times, but when he looked up things like “cute animals that are less cute when shaved”, Bucky really wondered how he earned his reputation.

 

That day, Stark had searched up pictures of kittens in costumes, which meant he was in a bad mood. Bucky liked to think that (as creepy as it was) he knew Stark pretty well. Kittens meant guilt and sadness and often led to drunk hacking (far better than the entire tech department’s sober hacking) into various intelligence agencies and, occasionally, Bucky’s computer. On the flip side, funny-looking birds meant happiness, random smiley faces in Bucky’s files and upbeat music piped through the PA at his office, driving his superiors through the roof.

 

Bad days weren’t uncommon for Stark. With everything that he’d been through, Bucky would be shocked if the man didn’t have a major cocktail of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Stark didn’t see a therapist, either, no matter how many emails one Pepper Potts sent him about it. Only, Stark had been having bad days for over a week. The last time they had lasted that long was right after…

 

Bucky was struck with the absurd urge to reach out to Stark. He knew that Stark was aware of his presence; he was only allowed to spy because Stark didn’t really care and kept the secret stuff under so much encryption that even their best hackers couldn’t crack it. If he wanted to, Stark could brick every computer in the office without breaking a sweat. Still, Bucky didn’t think that Stark expected him to be able to glean so much from the man’s mundane searches.

 

Before he could talk himself out of it, Bucky opened up the chat line directly to Stark that the man had set up when Bucky was first assigned.

 

Are you okay? He typed quickly, casting a look over his shoulder. You’ve been stuck on kittens for days. That's never good.

 

Anniversaries, you know how it is, Stark’s reply was fast, flippant, and completely unexpected. Bucky really had thought the man would ignore him, maybe plant a virus on his computer. He was notoriously defensive on his bad days, as Fury’s computer could personally attest to. A second message came in. It’s creepy that you know that, by the way.

 

My job is, by definition, creepy. I write it on my business cards , Bucky typed back.

 

No, you don’t, Stark argued. I would know. I have one of yours.

 

I don’t actually have business cards, though, replied Bucky.

 

Business card, copy of your ID, same difference, Bucky could imagine Stark’s grin. Don’t worry, I collect all of my stalkers’ IDs.

 

Bucky supposed he should’ve been freaked out, but he was acclimatized to the creepy after years working where he did. And here I thought we had something special, doll.

 

Oh, Bucky-bear, you know you’re the only stalker for me, Stark wrote back.

 

Is it stalking if it’s literally my job?

 

Yes, Stark responded. You’re just a professional stalker. Oh! Tell Fury I’m changing his business cards to say that.

 

Bucky laughed out loud, garnering some weird looks from his coworkers. I’d rather keep my dick attached to my body, thanks.

 

And what a shame it would be if it wasn’t ;)

 

It’s a fine line between flirting and murderous intent, Stark, and with a threat level as high as yours, I’m not sure which it is, Bucky flirted back on reflex.

 

Little kitty has claws! Stark typed. I promise, I’m not out to murder you. Besides, if I wanted to destroy you, I wouldn’t kill you. Too easy, you know?

 

That shouldn’t have been as hot as it was, Bucky wrote before slapping a hand over his mouth in shock. He was so getting murdered, destroyed, whichever. A little bubble indicating that Stark was typing popped up at the bottom of his screen but disappeared after a moment.

 

Incoming video call from “You know who I am”

 

Dutifully ignoring the butterflies in his gut, Bucky hit accept .

Chapter Text

Tony was going to kill Natasha. Okay, well, probably not, because she had like, seventeen knives on her at any time, but he was definitely going to glare in her general direction.

 

Only she would suggest laser tag to a group of adults and revel in the chaos, because she was terrible like that.

 

The only consolation was that Tony was on her team, which meant they were going to win because Natasha was terrifying. No one in their right mind would shoot her.

 

Except, Clint, the absolute idiot , shot at her, and somehow, actually hit her. Her glare promised swift and unforgiving vengeance, so Tony shot him in the back to speed the process along. Natasha had been acting as his shield, for the most part, so he was a little angry.

 

Tony ducked into hiding behind one of the plywood barriers, watching as Thor’s little brother, Loki, shot Thor without mercy. He watched Bruce take careful aim, hitting Loki square in the chest before he could look up from Thor and sent his Science Bro a thumbs up. Tony risked a look at the scoreboard; he was winning, but Bucky Barnes was a close second.

 

Bucky Barnes was Natasha’s broody (hot) friend. They went to the same dance school, or something, and he also knew Steve. He was exactly Tony’s type, with the murder strut and a glare to rival Natasha’s, but Tony also had no desire to get murdered by Steve (Natasha had already given him a knowing stare when he blushed upon seeing the man). Tony did have a not-undeserved reputation, if he was being honest, for one-night stands, and he and Steve had barely managed to put the initial rockiness of their relationship aside.

 

In conclusion, lusting over Bucky Barnes was an idea liable to get Tony shot, and not with a laser gun (but if Tony was reading Bucky’s heated glances right- and he knew he was; he of all people knew what desire looked like- then it wasn’t exactly unrequited).

 

Still, he couldn’t help but to admire Bucky’s ass as he shot at Bruce. Then, Tony remembered Bruce was his teammate and Bucky was decidedly not , but it was too late. With a betrayed look at Tony, he trudged out of the room into the waiting area.

 

With a muffled curse, Tony realized that he was the only one left on his team, while Bucky and Steve were both on the opposite side. He was fucked, and not even in a fun way. Still, he really didn’t want to lose.

 

“Shit!” he hissed under his breath, darting from barrier to barrier. For the first time in his life, he was happy he was so small. It made it easier to wedge himself in the small alcove when he heard footsteps. With one hand, he covered the glow of the laser sensor on his chest. With the other, he aimed his gun.

 

Steve, for all his athletic prowess, had no stealth. Where Natasha and Clint walked like they were assassins in a past life, and Bruce and Thor were surprisingly nimble, Steve was like a blindfolded water buffalo in a china shop. Which made it significantly easier for him to press himself deeper into the alcove until Steve walked by. Tony was lighter on his feet than Steve and practically invisible. He slid out behind Steve, fired, and hid again before the man could see him.

 

“Fuck you, Tony!” Steve called good-naturedly, smiling and shaking his head.

 

Tony bit back the instinctual language! to tease him, not knowing where Bucky was and not wanting to give away his position before he knew.

 

He stuck to shadowy corners, eyes peeled and ears open. One hand stayed over the glowing sensor still, so he was walking around in almost total darkness. The thought crossed his mind that maybe he was taking the game a little too seriously, but he dismissed it as soon as it came.

 

Tony got lucky; he literally tripped onto Bucky. They had both had the same idea to hide in the shadows, and had tried to step in the same cover. There was a bit of undignified flailing (from Bucky, of course, not Tony), ending with Tony straddling Bucky, both their guns just out of reach.

 

“Well,” Tony drawled, looking at the man beneath him. His eyes were blown in the blue light of the sensor. “Looks like it’s just you and me.”

 

“Sure seems that way, Stark,” Bucky said, a little breathless.

 

“Stark?” pouted Tony, giving his best doe eyes. “And here I thought we had something special, Snowflake.”

 

“Sorry, kotyonok,” Bucky purred. “My mistake.”

 

Tony was not going to show how much the Russian got to him. He surreptitiously started reaching for his gun, only for Bucky to flip them over and pin his hands lightly.

 

“That eager to get rid of me?” he said with a wicked smirk.

 

“You know, no one mentioned you were an incorrigible flirt,” Tony said, silently cheering. On his back, his hands were inches away from his gun. He just had to distract Bucky long enough to grab it. He leaned his head back, looking at Bucky through his long eyelashes. Two could play this game, but Tony always won.

 

“Only with pretty things like you, doll,” Bucky’s face was angled down, staring right at Tony’s lips. His long hair was tickling Tony’s cheekbones.

 

“Steve’s going to kill me,” Tony groaned, before moving the few inches he needed to be able to kiss Bucky.

 

Bucky immediately kissed back, dropping his hands from Tony’s wrists to tangle in his hair. Tony put one hand on the side of his face to deepen the kiss and reached for his gun with the other. He lost himself in the kiss for a few minutes, reveling in the feeling of Bucky’s lips on his and the sweet taste of impending victory. Then, with his eyes still closed, he shot.

 

The sad little noise Bucky’s sensor made made him pull back, looking playfully betrayed. “Cheater,” he accused, lightly nipping Tony’s bottom lip. The lights flicked on, signaling the end of the game. Tony could hear their friends coming back into the room, setting up for another round.

 

Tony stood up, offering a hand to Bucky. His eyes twinkled with mischief. “You know, all’s fair in love and laser tag.”

 

(Bucky won the next round by shoving Tony into a corner, kissing him soundly, and shooting him in the face.

 

“All’s fair,” he teased, sauntering off.

 

Tony was so getting killed by Steve.)

Chapter Text

Bucky was about ready to wrap Tony Stark in a blanket and lock him in a safe room. The idiot engineering student had just blown himself up for the fifth time that month.

 

In all the time that Bucky had been an EMT, he’d never met someone quite as accident prone as Tony. For a genius, Tony was scatterbrained, darting from idea to idea and forgetting that several of his ideas were on fire. Bucky had, more than once, been called to check Tony out for smoke inhalation or minor burns. They had struck up a friendship; Tony was wickedly funny, smarter than anyone he’d met, and attractive to boot. He flirted like he breathed and effortlessly drew Bucky into his orbit. Bucky was completely smitten with almost every bit of him.

 

The explosions, though, he could do without. They made Bucky’s heart pound (and not in a good way). Tony had a habit of working with volatile chemicals late at night when no one was around, which meant that when he blew himself up, it was a toss up whether or not someone would call 911 (Tony never did. Usually, he just ignored his injuries until someone dragged him to the doctor or, more likely, to Bucky).

 

That night, Bucky had been told by Clint, one of the 911 operators, that Tony’s number had dialed and something was frantically cheeping into the phone. At Bucky’s urging, Tony had created a helper bot to call when he got injured; Bucky had expected it to speak English, but the beeps did get the point across, according to Clint.

 

He had grabbed Steve and gotten in the ambulance as fast as he could, body thrumming with anxiety. His mind was filled with worst-case scenarios, of Tony burned and bleeding alone in that crazy lab.

 

“What have we got?” Steve asked, sliding into the driver’s seat.

 

“Lots of beeping,” Bucky replied. “Could be nothing, could be Tony’s set himself on fire. It’s Russian roulette with this asshole.”

 

Steve barked out a laugh. “You’re so clearly sweet on him, I don’t know why you bother pretending otherwise.”

 

Bucky blushed fiercely. “Liar,” he said weakly. “You are a lying liar who lies, Steve Rogers.”

 

“You gonna ask him out?”

 

“If he’s not concussed or otherwise badly injured,” Bucky finally conceded. “Call it positive reinforcement. Now, drive faster. We have sirens; use them.”

 

Steve was as crazy a driver as he was a person, so they were at campus within minutes once he decided to floor it. The lab wasn’t ablaze, which was a good sign. Bucky practically ran into the building, using the badge that Tony had made him after the fortieth incident to gain access. He could navigate the labs with his eyes closed, at that point.

 

Bucky had foolishly allowed himself to think that maybe it wasn’t that bad; there were no obvious fires, no screaming, and no alarms going off. He had slowed down, just a little, closing in on the doors to Tony’s lab. Through the glass, he could see the helper bot, a giant claw, running around in frantic circles.

 

When he opened the door, he was assaulted by the smell of blood.

 

“Tony?” he called, slipping into his EMT training to keep from freaking out. “Tony, can you hear me?” Bucky stepped around a table, following the claw arm as it waved him to a corner, where Tony was welding with a bleeding head wound.

 

“Oh, hey, Bucky!” he said, wiping his face with the back of his hand and inadvertently smearing blood all over himself. “What brings you here?”

 

“I’m going to fucking kill you,” Bucky seethed, sitting Tony down and poking around the edges of his wound. “No one will convict me.” The more he poked, the worst he felt. It looked bad enough to need stitches. “What the hell did you do?”

 

Tony winced. “Before I tell you, just know that I’m fine,” he tried. “I might’ve accidentally set off a chain reaction that may or may not have blown me back into a table, where I cut my head. But it’s superficial! Head wounds bleed a lot, you know how it is.”

 

“I’m a damn EMT, I can tell when a cut is superficial, you dumbass,” Bucky grabbed a wad of gauze from his bag and pressed it to Tony’s head. “And it’s not. You’re bleeding a lot, we need to get you to the hospital.”

 

“I don’t need the hospital, I need to finish my project,” Tony said, going to stand back up. He was dizzy, though, and almost toppled over, only to be caught by a glaring Bucky. “Okay, so maybe I need to go to the hospital.”

 

Steve met them at the door to the building, helping Bucky load a protesting Tony into the ambulance.

 

“You don’t need to carry me ,” Tony squirmed in Bucky’s arms. “It’s my head that’s injured, not my legs.”

 

“I will drop you on purpose if you don’t stop,” Bucky threatened, even though they both knew he’d never. Carefully, he laid Tony down in the back of the ambulance. “Stevie, call ahead in case we need a transfusion. He’s lost a good amount of blood.”

 

“Blood type?” Steve, also in EMT mode, asked, dialing the number to the hospital.

 

“Tony, what’s your blood type?” Bucky poked him; Tony was dangerously close to passing out.

 

“How would I know?” he asked waspishly.

 

Bucky stared at him incredulously. “How would you not? You’re the most accident-prone person I know!”

 

“Who am I, Karl Landsteiner, discoverer of blood types?”

 

“So you know what is arguably a useless trivia fact, and not a piece of potentially lifesaving information?” Bucky shrieked.

 

Tony shrugged gently. “Par for the course with me.”

 

“I’m going to kill you,” Bucky said, completely matter-of-fact. “Stevie, I’m going to kill him.”

 

“You’re only upset because you can’t ask him out,” Steve called.

 

“I will kill both of you and not a jury in the world will send me to jail,” Bucky growled, blushing under the weight of Tony’s inquisitive stare.

 

“If you had asked,” he said, eyes fluttering sleepily. “If you had asked, I would have said yes.”

 

Then they were at the hospital and Tony was taken away in a flurry of movement. But Bucky’s brain was stuck on one thing: I would’ve said yes.

 

---

 

When Tony woke up in the hospital later, there was a message on his phone from Bucky.

 

Go a week without blowing yourself up, it read. And I’ll take you out to dinner.

 

Tony grinned sheepishly. Deal.

Chapter Text

“Rhodey,” Tony repeated for the tenth time, throwing his bouncy ball at the wall. “Rhodey, I’m so bored. We have no cases. This is a travesty! I’m going to sue Fury.”

 

“This is what you get for being a ‘psychic detective’,” Rhodey politely illustrated his disdain with air quotes. “I said, just go to the police academy! Be a normal fuckingg person! And what did you say?”

 

“Something wonderfully witty and charming?” Tony offered, tossing the ball to Rhodey.

 

Rhodey batted it away, unimpressed. “You said, and I quote, ‘Honey Bear, I’m too smart for them!’” he said in an annoying falsetto. “So, genius , enjoying unemployment?”

 

“You’re a dick,” Tony hissed. “And fired. So fired.”

 

“Pepper would hire me,” Rhodey smirked.

 

“You’re not even psychic!”

 

“Neither are you, and that hasn’t stopped her yet.”

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “I’m still bored,” he whined. “Why are there no cases? Is it that hard to find a good murder here?”

 

Rhodey snorted. “Use your psychic powers, I’m sure it’ll help.”

 

Tony didn’t dignify that with a response, just flipped his friend off and flopped dramatically on his chair. Of course, that was when the bell over the door sounded, signaling that someone was coming in. Tony scrambled to sit up correctly, ignoring Rhodey’s snickers as he tumbled to the floor in an undignified heap. He landed at the feet of the newcomer, who had hesitantly stepped into the office.

 

“Hi,” Tony greeted, standing, brushing himself off, and not blushing. “I’m Tony Stark, psychic detective. And you are?” Tony had to bite his tongue to not finish that with stupidly attractive.

 

The man was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. “James Barnes .Call me Bucky,” he said in a voice that had Tony a little weak at the knees. “I’m here because I need your help.”

 

Rhodey sat up. “Are you reporting a crime?”

 

“My brother ran off,” Bucky explained. “Or so they say. Steve would never, especially not without contacting me. I want you to find him.”

 

Tony narrowed his eyes with interest. “So you’re thinking kidnapping?”

 

Bucky nodded. “I didn’t know where else to go,” he admitted, wringing his hands. “Peggy Carter recommended you, said you helped her out of a bind a year ago.”

 

Tony vaguely remembered that case, something about a jewel theft. “Give us a minute to talk it over,” he said, putting on a show of being responsible, even though he and Rhodey both knew that Tony was taking the case.

 

Rhodey pulled him to the back room. “Is this a good idea?” he asked quietly. “We don’t normally do cases like this without backup.”

 

“He already tried the police station,” Tony said. “Filed a report and everything.”

 

“How do you know that?” Rhodey asked. “He didn’t exactly say so.”

 

“Ink smears on his hand. Probably from the horrific pens Coulson keeps on his desk. Every time he makes me do my paperwork, the same thing happens. I haven’t found another pen that does that,” Tony recited, thinking hard. “He has spines from that terrible plant that Hill insists on putting in the entryway stuck to his pants. He probably did the same thing that we do-”

 

“That you do,” Rhodey coughed.

 

“-every time, which is run into the thing and consider murdering it,” Tony finished. “There’s more, but it’s boring. Point is, we have to help him. We’re his only hope.”

 

“You’re doing this because he’s hot, aren’t you.”

 

“Honey Bear!” Tony gasped, scandalized. “Would I ever?”

 

“Yes,” Rhodey replied flatly.

 

“Hurtful and wrong, platypus. Hurtful and wrong,” Tony shook his head somberly.

 

“So you’re not going to ask him out?”

 

“I never said that.”

 

Rhodey sighed, looking like he was praying for strength. “Let’s go accept the case, then.”

 

“Knew you’d come around,” Tony shot him finger guns as he walked back out to the main room. Bucky was playing with the fiddle toys on Tony’s desk absently, but he dropped them when Tony came back in.

 

“Will you do it?” he asked, naked hope in his voice.

 

“Yep!” Tony confirmed, popping the p . “Want to meet for dinner to discuss details?” He gave Bucky his best bedroom eyes, relishing in the way the other man’s eyes darkened.

 

“Works for me,” he drawed slowly. “The Jarvises diner, seven o’clock. Don’t be late.” He left, and Tony tried (and failed) to not stare at his ass.


“Good news, Rhodey!” Tony announced as soon as the door closed. “We have a case and I have a hot date. I’m no longer bored!”

Chapter Text

Bucky discovered it by accident, really, but he wasn’t complaining. 

 

He had Tony pinned to the wall, kissing him fiercely after a week apart for missions and meetings and other bullshit.

 

“Missed you, doll,” he panted, kissing his way down Tony’s neck, sucking a mark on the pulse point.

 

Tony groaned low in his throat. “Missed you, too, Snowflake,” he dragged Bucky’s face back up, kissing him soundly. “You’re not allowed to leave for that long again.”

 

“Less talking, more kissing,” Bucky decided, grinning against Tony’s lips.

 

Tony chuckled. “Well, if you insist.”

 

Bucky lost himself in the feeling of Tony’s mouth on his, reveling in the sensations. He pushed against his boyfriend, running one hand down his side while the other went up to cradle Tony’s face. Tony shivered at the cold metal on his cheek, but he didn’t move away from the tender touch.

 

“Love you,” he breathed, turning his face to brush a kiss against Bucky’s palm. 

 

“Sap,” Bucky accused, no heat behind the words. “I love you, too.”

 

Tony rocked his hips against Bucky’s, smirking wickedly. “Well, care to show me just how much?” he taunted.

 

Just like that, the moment was gone. Bucky didn’t have it in him to scowl, not when Tony was doing absolutely wicked things with his tongue. Tony laved attention on Bucky’s collarbones, peering up from under his eyelashes and making Bucky stifle a helpless moan. 

 

Bucky’s hand tightened reflexively where it had shifted to grip Tony’s hair. Instead of flinching away, Tony keened, melting into Bucky’s touch entirely. 

 

Bucky pulled away in surprise. “You like that, don’t you?” he teased, tugging lightly.

 

Tony’s mouth fell open in a silent moan. “Shut up,” he managed after a moment, face flushed. 

 

“I’m totally going to exploit this,” warned Bucky, winding his metal fingers through the strands just to watch Tony shiver with pleasure.

 

“You’d fucking better,” Tony demanded, showing Bucky just how much he meant it by pulling Bucky even closer.

 

With an invitation like that, who was Bucky to refuse?