Bucky Barnes, to all intents and purposes, was getting better.
He’d never get fully better, regardless of what Steve said, but he could now leave his room and run into someone else in the kitchen without having a panic attack (some days he could even manage a non-terrifying smile, go him!), the nightmares seemed to be verging more on bi-weekly than nightly, and he’d managed to let Natasha clear up his split ends without flipping her over and threatening her life with a pair of hairdressing scissors.
So really, getting better. Any improvement is good improvement, or so Sam had said, no less than five million times, usually coupled with a hand to the shoulder and a therapist-approved, non-patronising, sympathetic smile.
No, the main issue that Bucky found himself facing, was his wings. Or, to be more specific, lack thereof. He’d had a gorgeous pair of wings, once, back in the day, immortalised by dusty film reels in which he proudly fluffed out his plumage and flashed a cheeky grin, showing off to a group of girls. The reels were black and white, of course, but he remembered what colour they were, deep purple with shimmering green in the right light, showy-offy and brash, just like Bucky himself used to be.
After he fell from the train, Buck crushed his left wing. He didn’t need to read the file to remember that, the intense pain of it was one of the few things he didn’t think he’d ever forget. Rather than try and fix the extensive damage, HYDRA, being ruthlessly efficient, had opted to just saw his wings right off, leaving only raw, scarred stumps in their place. Bucky didn’t remember the pain of that. He was too busy mourning the loss of his humanity.
In the mess of things that made up his current life, not having wings was really the least of his troubles. Plenty of people didn’t have wings, whether they were born without them or lost them in accidents, but Bucky was in pain, and he was really damn fed up with being in pain. Stark had fixed his arm pretty soon after he came to the tower, wincing in sympathy at raw, irritated scar tissue and bones permanently malformed from carrying so much additional weight, having noticed what no one else did, which set something warm and fuzzy brewing in Bucky’s stomach that he had, at the time, chosen not to dwell on, and later come to accept as a huge fucking crush on the snarky mechanic.
As seen above, Tony’s almost eerie ability to notice when people were in pain (a skill that didn’t extend to Tony himself, much to Bucky’s annoyance), should really have tipped Bucky off that Tony would eventually notice something was wrong. That day eventually came when Bucky was lying face down on the kitchen floor, relishing in the stretch of his aching shoulder muscles, and Tony promptly tripped right over him, deep black feathers ruffling indignantly.
“What the fuck, Barnes?”
“Sorry.” Bucky mumbled, pointedly not moving. “Just stretching.”
“If you and Steve have had a little domestic, there’s a perfectly good sofa for you over there.”
“Christ, and they tell me this man was a world-renowned deadly assassin.” Tony muttered, drowning out his own complaining with the slamming of cabinet doors. “Coffee?”
Bucky closed his eyes, content to listen to the sound of Tony rummaging with the coffee machine. When the machine beeped, Bucky expected Tony to dart back down to his workshop, as he normally did, but the scrape of a chair on the ground had Bucky looking up to see Tony settle at the kitchen table, wings turning out and relaxing, tips of his feathers dragging on the floor.
“I’ve got nowhere to be,” Tony shrugged, “and I intend to stay here until you tell me what’s wrong with your back.”
“Nothing’s wrong with my back,” Bucky shot back, almost an involuntary impulse at this point, “I’m just fine, thank you.”
“Indulge me, Buck.” Tony said, and Bucky found himself taken aback by the softness in Tony’s voice. “I fix things, it’s just what I do, and so help me god I’ve never wanted to fix anything more than what those bastards did to you.”
“Nothin’ you can fix.” Bucky huffed, moving to sit up, propping his back against the cupboards. “They took my wings, end of story.”
“You’re in pain, Bucky. Pain that I can fix.”
Bucky squeezed his eyes closed, took a deep breath. Tony’s voice was so soft, so caring, so genuinely concerned. Bucky hadn’t heard anything like it since he left his ma to go to war.
“My left wing was crushed, when I fell.” Bucky said eventually, phantom twitches in his back making him wish he had his wings to wrap around himself, to protect himself. “I remember that bit so clearly. Worst pain I’ve ever felt, all bones pokin’ out an’ shit. I’m assumin’ HYDRA didn’t think it was worth tryna fix, so they just sawed both of ‘em right off. Never noticed it when I had all that crap in my head, but I don’t think they healed right, and my back’s been bad since.”
Tony’s face was white when Bucky finished speaking, but he had a dark, determined look in his eye that made Bucky want to kiss him stupid, made him want to smooth down the angry ruffling of his feathers.
“C’mere.” Tony instructed, beckoning him over. “Lemme see.”
“If you don’t let me see, I won’t know what’s wrong, and I won’t know how to fix it.”
Bucky nodded and stood up, clinically stripping himself out of his hoodie and t-shirt as he stood in front of Tony, hyperaware of himself in a way that he hadn’t been in many years. The first touch of Tony’s rough, calloused hands on his lower back had him repressing a shudder.
“Cold?” Tony asked, and didn’t wait for a response before his own wings were expanding, curving over Bucky’s shoulders and enveloping him in warmth. “You know, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a hot guy with no shirt in my lap.”
“You’re ridiculous.” Bucky snorted, but nevertheless felt himself relax as Tony’s hands smoothed up his back, mapping out the scarred stumps where his wings once emerged from his back.
“They twisted your spine.” Tony murmured, hands moving between Bucky’s shoulder blades, mapping out the scar tissue left behind. “They must have twisted your spinal connecting bones whilst they were sawing the wingbone off, which did some damage to your spine that never healed.”
“I don’t need to know the details.” Bucky swallowed, though whether his speeding breaths were due to the idea of HYDRA mauling his body, or the sensation of Tony’s hands on his bare skin, he wasn’t sure. “Can you fix me?”
“I’m Tony Stark, of course I can fix you. Depends how you want to be fixed.”
“Spot of scoliosis is easy enough to fix with a couple of metal rods, and that’ll alleviate a good chunk of your pain, but your body wasn’t designed to be wingless. It’s designed to bear that extra weight, and without that extra weight there, you’re always gonna be in some degree of pain.”
“Great.” Bucky deflated, and started to move away, only for Tony’s wings to tighten around him, feeling far more intimate against his bare skin than they had any right to do so. “Tony? What’s wrong?”
“Promise you won’t get mad?”
Bucky turned around till he was facing Tony, noting the way the man was biting his lip, a nervous habit. “What did you do?”
“I made you new wings,” Tony mumbled, “which I know is totally out of line without your permission, but god your wings were always so beautiful on Howard’s film reels and I couldn’t stand seeing you in pain and how dare those bastards take them from you- oof.”
Tony found himself abruptly cut off by Bucky’s lips against his own, soft and warm and just the thing Tony had been fantasising about since six feet worth of dark and mischievous muscle had stepped foot inside his tower. Bucky groaned as Tony moved his hand to rest on his toned stomach, licking into Tony’s mouth with a sort of thoroughness that the scientist appreciated.
“So you’re not mad?” Tony panted as they broke away, “because I’m getting not mad vibes.”
“You’re perfect,” Bucky said simply, as if he were merely stating a scientifically recognised fact, “I think I know you, and then you manage to go above and beyond everything I could have expected.”
“I aim to please.” Tony grinned, raising his hand to trace lightly across Bucky’s jawline, feeling his feathers quiver in satisfaction. “Can I kiss you again?”
Two Months Later
“It’s a different neural uplink to the arm.” Tony murmured, laying a gentle hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “I think it’ll work, but I can’t be certain. Just know that if there are any issues, it’s nothing I can’t tweak.”
“Yeah,” Bucky breathed, “got it.”
To all intents and purposes, an ex-assassin doped out on pain medication wearing a backless hospital gown sat next to his multi-billionaire boyfriend who hadn’t slept in a week should have been ridiculous, but it wasn’t. Tony’s eyes were shining, and the way Bucky held himself with a pair of wings on his back made Tony’s heart sing.
“Try them, Bucky.”
Bucky inhaled, squeezing his eyes closed. Suddenly, Tony jumped backwards as Bucky’s wings fanned out, spanning most of the length of the room, a beautiful, deep violet, feathers ruffling and settling.
“Christ.” Bucky gasped, eyes flying open, wide with shock. “Tony, fuck.”
“By god, it worked,” Tony murmured, “it actually fucking worked.”
“You gave me my wings back.”
“Fucking right I did.”
“C’mere.” Bucky instructed, furling his wings in before pulling Tony back down to sit next to him on the hospital bed. The sensation of their wings rubbing together made Tony shudder with happiness. “I love you so much, Tony.”
“You’re doped up, baby. But of course, I love you too.”
“I’m sober enough to say with confidence that if I hadn’t just had invasive brain surgery, I’d fuck you right here, right now, until you were an incoherent mess.”
“I cannot wait until you’re cleared for strenuous activity.”