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Prologue

***************

“Hey, Tony can I--”

“Jesus.” The plate Tony was holding shattered across the kitchen floor when it slipped through his fingers. “Jesus, Steve sorry about that. Sorry.”

“I didn't mean to startle you.” Steve said with a frown, and Tony just shook his head.

“It's fine. Just lost a little in my head is all.” He bent down to start cleaning up the mess.

“Let me hel--”

“I got it.” Tony waved him away. “What can I do for you, Captain?”

“Well, I was thinking maybe you could take a look at Bucky's arm? It's been freezing up or not flexing or something and it's hurting him quite a bit. I told him you'd be happy to help him with it.”

Happy to help --” Tony cleared his throat. “That's fine. But I'm busy, so send him to Banner. He's got access to everything in the lab anyway.”

“I was hoping you would--”

“I'm busy, Steve.” Tony wiped his hands on his pants and raised his eyebrows. “Banner is smarter than me anyway, he will find a fix faster than I can. Sorry, I just can't right now. Sorry.”

“Uh, okay. I'll just take him to Banner then.” Steve sent him an odd look, but turned and left anyway, and Tony sank down into a chair, sitting on his hands so it wasn't quite as obvious they were shaking.

*******************

“Sorry, Clint, uh, you guys, I didn't realize you were in here.” Tony did an abrupt about face and headed right back out of the room, and Clint raised his eyebrows.

“Tony. It's not a problem.”

“I don't want to intrude.” Tony held up his hands peacefully and Natasha narrowed her eyes at him.

“Since when do you care if you are intruding, just come in and sit down. It's called a common area, Stark.”

“Lay off.” Sam sent her a sharp glance. “You don't have to say everything like it's an insult.”

“Excuse me?” Natasha's voice rose the slightest bit and Tony coughed loudly.

“Hey, it's all fine. Let's not fight okay? No worries, no harm no foul. I know she doesn't mean anything by it, it's fine. All I needed was my tablet, it's just there on the end table, I'll just grab it.”

“Here, Tony.” Sam tossed it to him and Tony caught it, but just barely, bringing it down to his side before anyone noticed the slip.

“Ok. Ok thanks guys. See ya. Sorry again.” He turned and left, trying to slow his breathing down a little.

He hated when they fought.

*****************

Vision was sitting with his arm curled around Wanda in the little side room Tony usually read in.

“Sorry, guys, sorry I didn't mean to interrupt.”

Wanda just flicked her eyes over him and didn't answer but Vision smiled at him. “Every inch of this compound is yours, Tony, there is no need for an apology for walking into a room.”

Tony tried hard not to flinch when the--man? being?-- when Vision spoke, but he didn't quite manage it and Wanda caught it, raising an eyebrow curiously.

“Why does he flinch when you speak?” She asked her boyfriend, or whatever they considered themselves, and Vision sent a concerned look at Tony.

“I have not quite managed to understand--”

“Just gonna leave.” Tony interrupted. “Sorry again, I didn't mean to-- sorry.”

He left before they could ask anymore questions.

********************

“Tony.”

Fuck .” Tony gripped the table hard so he wouldn't jump away when Bucky materialized next to him. “ What?”

“Banner isn't available today and Steve said you would take a look at my arm?” The soldier's voice was always disconcertingly soft compared to the absolute danger that nearly poured from him.

“I told Steve I was busy.” Tony bit out, counting backwards from ten trying to get his heart rate under control again. “And it kind of pisses me off that you just walk into my lab like you--” he snapped his mouth shut, and swallowed hard. “Sorry. I'm just jumpy. Not your fault. Sorry. I'm just… I can't today.”

“Okay then.” Bucky's pale blue eyes narrowed a little. “Are you alright, Tony?”

“I'm fine.” He replied automatically, and started edging towards the door. “Everything's fine. Sorry about this-- I just can't help today. Sorry, I'm sorry. I'll call Banner.”

“Okay.” Bucky was still watching him. “Thank you.”

“Um…” Tony froze. “What?”

“I said thank you. For calling Banner for me. I appreciate it.”

“Oh.” Tony didn't know what to say and he didn't want to stand there staring so he just turned and left.

*******************

Finally safe in his room, staring out his window, Tony raised his glass of whiskey to his lips with a grateful sigh.

On his nightstand sat a framed picture from several months ago, when the Avengers had all reunited and were welcomed back to America as heroes instead of half of them being fugitives and the other half being outcasts.

It was a great picture, it was. Everyone was smiling, shaking hands. Steve had one arm around Tony's shoulders and one arm around Bucky's, and the crowd had cheered and screamed as the Iron Man and the Winter Soldier had shaken hands.

The news stations had practically declared it a holiday, the Avengers back and better than ever, the world safe, all was as it should be.

Tony took another drink, cursing as the glass shook in his hand.

He kept that picture by his bed so when he woke up every morning he remembered what he was supposed to be happy about.

He kept it there so every night when he fell asleep he could remind himself why all this was a good thing.

He needed to see it because it took all of his self control every day just to see the team and not have a break down.

It took every bit of his strength to make it through any given day anymore.

And Tony didn't feel like he had much strength left.

He raised his glass in a half hearted salute to his reflection. “Sorry.” He whispered. “Sorry to keep doing this to us. Sorry I'm not better than this.”

***************

Chapter One

***************

“How long has this been going on?” Banner asked, eyeing the limb critically.

“A few weeks, I guess.” Bucky flinched as he tried to move his arm and the joints squealed as they rubbed together.

“And you just now got down here?”

“The lab is intimidating to guys like me. I'd never even seen a computer before, remember?” Bucky shrugged.

“Yeah, well you can hold my hand if you get scared.”

Banner laughed and Bucky joined in, and Tony cursed when he spilt his coffee all over the desk. Both of the other men looked up and he shook his head.

“Sorry. Sorry guys I just slipped is all. Sorry.”

“It's no problem Tony.” Bruce said, eyes brows furrowing as he watched Tony try to clean up. “Do you want some help?”

“No!” Tony snapped then rubbed a hand over his face. “Sorry, sorry I just meant that I can do this… you do… that.” He mopped up the mess quickly, and sat back down, trying to force himself to concentrate on his work.

It was bad enough that Bruce was in the lab, but it was about a thousand times worse that the Soldier was here too. And that Tony had to listen to them talk. And laugh. Christ he hated hearing Bucky laugh. Someone like that shouldn't have such a great laugh. It wasn't fair.

“Tony?” Bruce called a while later and Tony tried his hardest not to jump again.

“What can I do for you, Bruce?” He answered quietly, and Bruce motioned him over.

“I think I've figured out what's going on, but I need you here to keep everything stable. Just an extra pair of hands.”

Tony took a steadying breath and made his way over to the table where Bruce was staring down at the Soldiers left arm. The metal limb was bent at the elbow in an angle that didn't look comfortable, or natural, at all.

“So this joint here-” Bruce pointed with a laser. “--is gummed up and keeping his arm bent like this. So I going to reset it, but I need you to hold him still because it's not going to feel good.”

“I need to--- no. Sorry, sorry, but no.” Tony shook his head. “I'll reset it, you can--hold it. I'll be over… here. I'll work on it from over here.”

Banner didn't even blink but Bucky raised an eyebrow at Tony's stammered refusal.

“Okay that's fine.” Bruce came around the table and braced himself next to Bucky, ready to hold his arm as still as possible in case it seized up at all. “Ready whenever you are.”

“Okay.” Tony shook himself a little and reached for the tools lying on the desk. “Okay, just gonna clean it out and reset it alright?”

“Ready whenever you are.” Bruce repeated and Tony nodded.

“Here we go.” He bent close to the metal arm and tried to still his shaking hands.

“Hey.” Bucky said in a near whisper, and Tony glanced up for a second. “It's fine. Take your time.”

“I know it's fine.” Tony looked back down, and turned on the laser to cut the grime clogging the gears, then reached in the pliers to force the joint to move. It worked perfectly, the arm unbending from the odd angle almost instantly, and Bruce grabbed it to kept it from smashing into the table.

Holy shit.” Bucky cursed, rubbing at his shoulder hard with his right hand. “Thank god.”

“Better?” Bruce asked, with a pleased smile, and Bucky nodded.

“Already better. Thank you.”

“It's no problem. It's a really fascinating piece of machinery, any time you need help, just come on down.”

Tony dropped the tools and backed away as they talked, trying to make it back to his table before they said anything else to him.

“Thank you, Tony.” Bucky called and watched as Tony visibly flinched at the words.

“Oh, yeah. Definitely thank you Tony. Extra set of hands was nice.” Bruce agreed, and set about cleaning up. Tony just waved and headed for the door.“Bucky, do you need any painkillers?”

“Don't work on me at all.” He grunted, still watching Tony try to escape the lab. “Hey, why doesn't anybody ever say anything?” He dropped his voice, and Bruce looked up.

“Say anything about what?”

“About Tony's PTSD.” Bucky answered with a frown.

“Oh.” Bruce looked genuinely confused. “Oh, that's not PTSD, he's just like that. Never been one to work well with others if you know what I mean.”

Bucky just stared at him, unwilling to believe that the scientist was really that oblivious.

*******************

“Steve.”

“Hey Buck.” The big blond grinned up at his friend. “Arm looks better. Did Banner take care of you?”

“Yeah.” Bucky sat down heavily. “Tony helped.”

“Oh good. Thought maybe he was too busy for that. He doesn't really do a lot for the guys anymore, it's nice to see him interacting.” The Captain looked back to his movie, assuming the conversation was over.

“Steve.” Bucky said slowly. “Why doesn't anyone ever say anything about Tony's PTSD?”

“It's not… why would you think he has PTSD?” Steve asked, and turned to Bucky with a sharp look. “Did he say something?”

“No.” Bucky shook his head. “He never really says anything.”

“Yeah, that's just how he is. After Pepper left he really kind of stopped being… him. I don't know.”

“And that didn't set off any warning bells? It never occurred to you that his withdrawal and sudden quiet was a symptom of something worse?”

“Buck.” Steve wrinkled his brow. “None of us are great at interacting. Kind of comes along with the job description. I mean, have you met Nat? She's terrifying. Sam and Clint are the closest anyone even comes to friendly and they aren't that great at it either. Tony's fine. I think he's just finally outgrown needing to be the center of attention.”

Bucky didn't answer and Steve sighed. “Look, Buck. I've known Tony for a long time, okay? Trust me, he's happy that the team is all back together, but it's just taking him a little time to get used to everyone being here again. You out of all people should understand how hard it is to go from being alone to being surrounded by people again.”

“Yeah, I guess. I just think maybe we should pay a little more attention to him, is all.” Bucky rotated his left shoulder with a grimace. “Gonna go do some stretching, work all these knots out.”

“Oh I can help with that.” Steve tapped the floor between his legs with his foot. “Sit here, I'll work on your back.”

Bucky dropped to the floor in front of him, and Steve set to work, kneading and pushing at the strained muscles in his back, the habit of comforting and helping each other so deeply ingrained, neither soldier had second thoughts about it. If anyone walked in, sure it might have looked a little awkward, Bucky between Steve's big legs, and Steve rubbing all over his back, but it was fine. It was just how they had always been.

Bucky relaxed into the familiar touch, closing his eyes and letting his mind wander, settling inevitably on Tony.

Bucky hated the way the man flinched every time someone spoke to him, the way he was constantly looking for an escape, the way he apologized for everything like it was his fault he even existed.

It made Bucky angry, that no one else saw it, or that no one else wanted to see it.

When they had first come back, months ago now, Tony hadn't even been able to look at Bucky, or be in the same room as him and even now it wasn't much better. In fact, today in the lab might have been the closest Tony had ever even gotten to him. And even then, working on his arm, Tony had avoided looking right at him.

But Bucky had looked. He always looked. Constantly. Every day. Watching Tony interact, or not interact with the team. Watching the way he stepped up and took care of everybody and everything, even if he wasn't asked. Bucky saw the way he lit up whenever Rhodes came to visit, the way the sparkle in his eyes dimmed when the Colonel left.

Bucky had looked and looked until he was having a hard time even wanting to look away from short, spiky hair hat begged to be mussed, deep brown eyes that always seemed so sad, slender hands that designed state of the art robots but shook when someone paid too much attention to him.

Bucky had looked for so long, now all he wanted to do was touch, and hold, and fix everything, if only Tony would give him a chance.

Steve pushed on a particularly sore spot and Bucky groaned with the pain, pulled back to the present abruptly.

But his mind was made up. He was going to do something about Tony, do something about that haunted look in his eyes.

He just wasn't sure what yet.

*****************

Chapter Two

****************

“Tony.”

“God dammit .” Tony couldn't stop himself from recoiling when he flipped on the lights to the lab and saw the soldier sitting by his desk. “You can't just come in here. This is my lab. What are you even doing in here?”

“Sorry about that.” Bucky apologized. “I was hoping you could take another look at my arm.” He lifted the heavy limb. “It just doesn't work like it's supposed to and I know you are better at this sort of thing than Banner is. I'd really appreciate it.”

“No.” Tony shook his head. “No. I can't. You need to leave. I'm sorry but you need to leave. I'll call Banner for you or something, OK I'm sorry but please just leave .”

“You don't have to be sorry all the time.” Bucky said then, and Tony crossed his arms.

“Is that so?” He retorted, but his voice was shaky and he hated that .

“It's okay to not be alright all the time, Tony.”

Tony looked away, folding his arms tighter across his chest. “I'm fine. I'm always fine.”

“You're not.” Bucky insisted gently. “And that's okay. It's okay to not be fine all the time.” He shifted on the chair like he was going to stand and Tony stumbled back several steps, knocking into a file cabinet and scattering papers everywhere.

Fuck.” He cursed and tugged at his hair agitatedly.

“Tony.” Bucky went perfectly still, hands held out peacefully. “Are you... are you afraid of me? Is that what this is?”

“If I work on your arm will you leave me alone?” Tony said through clenched teeth.

“Tony, I'm serious. Are you afraid of me? Because honey, that's not--”

If I work on your arm will you leave me alone?” Tony repeated, louder this time.

“Sure thing, Tony.” Bucky agreed quietly and Tony approached him slowly, skirting around the table to turn on a few lamps, keeping his distance.

“Stay sitting down and shut the fuck up.”

“Thank you.” Bucky kept his gaze steady, eyes soft, and watched Tony flounder for a minute. He doesn't know how to respond when someone says thank you.

“I said shut up .” Tony said finally, and reached for his tools to start working.

*****************

Tony worked for close to an hour, the limb stretched or flat on the desk in front of him, two of the plates near the wrist pulled off and lying next to him as he carefully cleaned and tweaked the jointed pieces, before replacing them.

“Rotate your wrist.” He finally said, and Bucky obeyed, turning his wrist in a slow circle. The quiet room was filled with soft whirs and clicks as the arm moved, the plates shifting into place and locking tight.

Tony's dark eyes lit with interest and his lips twitched up into a short smile. It disappeared when Bucky hissed in pain though, and he looked up.

“Hurts?” He asked, and Bucky nodded.

“All the time. Even when it's working the right way. Pulls on my shoulder, my back. Always hurts.”

“I'm sorry. I can't imagine what that's like -- I'm sorry.” Tony put his tools away and backed up from the table, folding his arms again like armor across his chest.

“Don't apologize, Tony.” Bucky kept his voice soft on purpose, trying not to rattle the other man. “It's not your fault at all. Can't help it. It's not like you held me down and grafted it on.”

“I--I know that. That it's not my fault.” Tony said a little stubbornly. “But I just-- you know what, never mind. We're done here, ok?”

“Alright.” Bucky bent his arm, testing the movement, and all the metal plates clicked and clacked as they realigned together.

Tony smiled just the tiniest bit again, and Bucky caught that one too, unable to look away.

“Why are you… stop staring at me.” The smile dropped from Tony's face and he hunched his shoulders.

“I just like looking at you, Tony.” He answered, and Tony blushed a little before looking down at the floor.

“That's…um… yeah, we're done. You can-- you can go.”

“Thank you.” Bucky said with a soft smile, and Tony ran his fingers through his hair to hide the tremors.

“If you--” he cleared his throat. “It seems like maybe they need to be cleaned. The pieces. Like when my bots go too long without being used. General maintenance.”

“Is that something I can do?” Bucky asked. “Or will I need to be here in the lab?”

“Probably here. Banner can help if I'm not here. I'll leave the schematics for him.”

“Thank you.” Bucky repeated, just because Tony blushed again and had to look away and Bucky loved that.

********************

Banner wasn't in the lab when Bucky went back the next night, just Tony sitting by himself in the near dark, staring at the wall blankly, a half empty glass of scotch in his hand.

“Tony?”

“Hey.” Tony shook himself and pointed to a chair, flipping on a few more lights. “Let's take a few more pieces off.”

Bucky sat obediently, his arm laid out, and Tony flattened his hand carefully, working to loosen several of the tiny plates that formed his palm and fingers.

“Does it hurt when I open you up like this?” Tony asked after a few minutes and Bucky shrugged.

“About as bad as pulling a fingernail off I guess.”

“You realize that level of pain qualifies as torture in most countries?”

“I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, Tony.”

They fell silent again.

“I have a hard time being close to you because you represent something I have lost in my life.” Tony said suddenly. “I can barely even look at you most days. But every time I do manage to look at you, you're always looking at me. Why?”

“Does it bother you?”

Why do you look at me so much?”

“I like looking at you.” Bucky said with a little smile. “Why wouldn't I want to look at you? Have you seen you? You're gorgeous, Tony.”

Tony actually dropped the piece of metal he was holding, sending it skittering across the table and Bucky reached out with his right hand to snatch it before it hit the ground.

“Don't--don't say stuff like that. Don't .”

“Why not?” Bucky wanted to know, leaning a little closer and Tony almost fell out of his chair leaning away.

“I just finished telling you I can't hardly be around you and you're going to hit on me? Sorry but that seems like terrible timing.”

“I guess that's fair. Can I try hitting on you some other time then?”

“God dammit.” Tony snapped the palm plate back in place and retreated several steps. “Get out.”

“Tony.” Bucky sighed. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--”

Get out.”

******************

“I'm sorry.” Bucky said the following night. “I shouldn't have tried flirting with you when you were opening up to me.”

Tony didn't look up from Bucky's forearm. “It's fine.”

“No, it's not.” Bucky shook his head. “I can only imagine how difficult it is to be around me, to even talk to me and I never would have-- I mean I shouldn't have tried to make light of it.”

“I over reacted.”

“Tony.” Bucky reached out like he was going to touch him, but Tony froze, so he let his hand drop. “Just because you are upset about something doesn't mean you are over reacting . It's okay to be angry sometimes.”

Silence.

“Why do you look at me?” Tony asked again, and Bucky couldn't stop his smile.

“Because you're nice to look at. I like looking at you.”

“You're--um. You're nice to look at, too. I like--looking.” Tony mumbled, and looked up in time to catch the grin crossing Bucky's face. “But we--I'm done for the night… so you should--”

“Sure thing.” Bucky couldn't stop staring at the soft flush on Tony's cheeks. “Same time tomorrow?”

“See you tomorrow.”

*****************

Chapter Three

*****************

Tony was working on Bucky's elbow again, removing each plate carefully, uploading the design into his systems so he would know exactly where to put everything back.

In the ten or so days since Bucky had first shown up in the lab, Tony had worked his way from the wrist up the forearm, taking it apart and cleaning each piece before reattaching.

They didn't really talk, other than a few sentences here and there, but Tony was loosening up just the tiniest bit every day, and Bucky smiled about it until his face hurt.

“If you sit next to me I think it would be easier.” Bucky commented and Tony suddenly stiffened, their easy silence from a second before evaporating quickly.

“I'm fine like this.”

He was bent nearly all the way across the table, leaned way over to get to Bucky's elbow and the soldier sighed a little.

“Tony. Just--”

“I'm fine.” Tony jerked away. “I'm fine , alright? Do you want me to work on this or not?”

“I just don't want helping me to be hurting you. Don't want to hurt you, Tony.”

Tony stared at him for a full ten seconds, chewing on his bottom nervously. “Why did you say it like that?”

“I didn't say it anyway. Just how I meant it.” Bucky replied, never once breaking their stare down. “So why don't you come over here next to me and work on it?”

“I think it's been an hour.” Tony said instead. “I think we're done today.”

“Please finish it for me.” Bucky kept his voice as soft as he could. “Please, Tony. I can't do this without you.”

Tony's jaw clenched, but he took a few steps around the table until he was at a better angle to work, and picked the laser back up.

Bucky didn't comment on it, but inside he was cheering.

Even small things like Tony standing closer to him was a victory.

*********************

*********************

“Why are we always out of milk!?” Clint snapped and slammed the door to the fridge shut. Most of the team ignored him, scattered around the room eating breakfast or drinking coffee, but Tony jumped so hard he almost dropped his bowl, and started apologizing automatically.

“Sorry, sorry about that. I'll put in a call for food delivery, using a new grocery story now and--”

Bucky coughed loudly, interrupting Tony's apology. “Not your job, Tony. Clint. Take your lazy archer ass down to the store and get some more.”

“Fine.” Clint grumbled and stomped out of the room.

And nobody really noticed, not really. They didn't think anything of Clint complaining, or Tony apologizing so much because it all happened so often that it didn't even register anymore.

But Tony turned in his seat and stared at Bucky for a long time, and Bucky just looked steadily back.

Because it was about time someone stepped up and told Tony that everything wrong wasn't his job to fix.

So when Tony smiled the littlest bit at him, Bucky closed one blue eye in a wink, then grinned when Tony looked away almost instantly, running his fingers through his hair nervously.

Damn Bucky liked looking at him.

***********************

“Hey Bucky.” Banner looked up with a smile when Bucky stepped through the doors of the lab, and he raised an eyebrow in surprise, and if he was being honest, disappointment.

“Banner. You aren't usually here this late.”

“I was just finishing up a new design for the helicopter. Tony likes the idea of repulsor type weapons instead of--” he stopped talking with a chuckle. “You don't care about that, do you? Come on and sit down I can get started. Still working around your elbow?”

“Uh, yeah. Tony thinks he can recalibrate--”

“The rotation angle, yeah. Give you greater range of movement. Less of a battering ram, more of an actual limb, yeah he left me some notes. It's been bugging him for a few days. Come on and sit.”

Bruce worked faster than Tony did, moving with an efficiency that was borderline impressive, especially since he could do it while keeping up a steady stream of conversation.

But Bucky missed Tony's quiet concentration, the way he couldn't help smiling just the smallest bit every time the arm flexed and the way that he would inch closer and closer every time they met up. He had gone from staying at the complete opposite side of the table to standing next to Bucky now as he worked, and the soldier loved every second of it. Tony wasn't anywhere near comfortable with him, but something was changing between them, even if it was something small.

“Have you noticed anything different about Tony?” He asked Banner, and the scientist shrugged.

“Can't say I have. He and I just kind of work in here together, we don't hang out or anything. I'm pretty private and so is he.”

“Was he like that before… everything? Was he quiet and private and all that?”

“You mean before Steve chose you over him?” Banner said it casually but Bucky jerked to look up at him.

What did you say?”

“Before the whole split, is all I meant. Tony took it a little personal when Steve was willing to turn his back on him and chase after you.”

“Were he and Steve…? Were the two of them..?”

“I don't know.” Bruce shook his head. “I wasn't here, you know. Hadn't been here for a while by that time, so I missed a lot of things. But it wouldn't surprise me, Tony worshipped Steve. Most days I feel like Steve just tolerated him, but I could be wrong.” Banner clicked on another lamp, carefully turning Bucky's arm so he could see better.

“I think Tony probably just outgrew his compulsive need to be right in the middle of everything and that's why he's happier in the background now. He was kind of a self absorbed jerk for a while there and it caused a lot of strife in the team. A lot of what happened to us can be traced directly back to a decision he made. You heard about Ultron?” And Bucky nodded. “Don't get me wrong, I helped design it and all, but it was Tony's baby. He took the blame, took the fall for it, and I think it humbled him quite a bit. New Tony is kind of nice. Just does his job quietly just like the rest of us. No wild parties, no shenanigans, no impromptu press conferences because he was impulsive and reckless. It's been nice.”

Bucky kind of hated the soft spoken scientist, right then, for preferring this Tony to the old one, but kept his face neutral, his tone even. “That's basically what Steve said. That Tony just finally got tired of being the center of attention.”

“Yeah well, the two of them were pretty close for a long time, Bucky, I'd trust Steve on this. If he says Tony is fine, I'd have to agree with him.”  

A clatter by the door and they both turned to look.

Tony's face flushed red and he was backpedaling out of the doorway before they could even say anything, apologizing for interrupting their talk, and then he was gone.

“You think he's happier like that? Do you really?” Bucky asked scornfully and Bruce just frowned.

***************************

“Steve were you and Tony ever--”

“God no.” Steve shook his head emphatically. “Not ever . Just teammates.”

“Just teammates.” Bucky repeated skeptically.

“Yep. I heard a few rumours you know, people assuming he and I were together but yikes, you know damn well I am into women. Besides, Tony was always a little too self-centered for me. No way that would have worked. Definitely only teammates.”

“So you prefer him like this, too?”

“Yeah. I guess I do.”

**************************

**************************

One glass of scotch wasn't going to do it tonight, so Tony poured another, staring out over the darkened compound as he drank. Everyone else had gone to bed hours ago, and he was finally feeling a little calmer, a little less on edge.

Just teammates.

He shouldn't have been listening to Bucky and Steve talk, and he hadn't meant to, but he had left the dining room when Clint and Natasha had walked in, and ended up walking past Steve's room and overheard the short conversation.

Just teammates Steve had said. Not friends. Not brothers. Teammates. No wonder it had been so fucking easy for him to take off and leave Tony behind. No wonder he had strolled back into the compound and picked up that stupid shield like nothing had changed. No wonder he preferred Tony like this .

Because teammates were people who just worked together. Not people you wanted to be around.

It was bad enough he had had to walk in on Bucky and Bruce smiling and talking together in the lab. Over the past couple weeks he had started thinking that working on the metal limb was his and Bucky's thing and of course it was crazy to think that, but it had maybe hurt a little to see them bent over the table together, closer than he and Bucky ever stood, clearly having a deep conversation. He didn't even want to know what they were talking about.

But he had heard every word of Steve and Bucky's little chat and he couldn't quite handle that.

Teammates.

So here he was. Drinking alone at nearly midnight, looking out over a compound that hadn't felt like home in years. Maybe he would look into another place in California. He certainly didn't want to be here anymore.

The soft whirring of machinery alerted him to Bucky's presence first and he automatically put a few more steps between the two of them as the soldier leaned on the balcony next to him.

“Can I take you to dinner sometime, Tony?”

Bucky really wasn't sure what startled him more, the way Tony abruptly spit out most of the alcohol in his mouth, or the spectacularly loud noise the expensive crystal tumbler made as it shattered across the floor.

“Don't move.” He said, dropping to his knees to pick the bigger pieces of crystal up. “Don't want you to cut your feet. Just stay still, alright?”

“What-what are you doing?”

“Cleaning up for you.” Bucky said calmly. “Just hang out, I'll be right back.” He pulled his jacket off and scooped as much as he could into it before carrying it over to the trash. “You okay? Didn't cut your fingers or anything?” He asked when he returned, leaning back over the railing. Tony was still staring at him.

“I could have cleaned that up. It's my mess. You didn't have to do that.”

“It's not your job to clean up every mess out there, Tony.” Bucky shrugged. “You shouldn't be afraid to let someone help you.”

“I'm not-- I'm not--afraid. There's just no one to--” Tony shook his head and turned away, putting some more distance between the two of them. Bucky frowned when he saw how far away Tony was standing.

“So, can I take you to dinner?”

Why ? Why would you want to do that?” Tony sounded exasperated and maybe the tiniest bit worried.

“Because I would like to spend some more time with you.” Bucky answered softly. “That can't possibly come as a surprise to you after these last few weeks.”

“We live together. We see plenty of each other. Don't need…. extra time… together .”

“You practically run away any time I get within a five yard perimeter, Tony. I'd like to see more of you… closer than that. You know I like looking at you, don't you think I'd like to look at you up close?” He was teasing, trying to flirt with Tony, but the brunette looked away, chewing on his thumbnail anxiously.

“I don't really know what to say to that. What am I supposed to say to that?”

“You could say yes.” Bucky smiled and held his hand out, but Tony was already shaking his head.

“No. No I can't. I'm sorry, I can't. I won't . No.”

“Why not?” Bucky pressed, stepping towards him, and Tony backed away even further. “I know we have to work through… a lot. There's lots between us and I get that , you told me I represent what you've lost, and damn Tony I can't tell you how that breaks my heart, but we can get through it. We can . But I don't think it will ever happen here with the rest of the team watching. I think if this is ever going to go where I want it to go, we need to--”

“This isn't going anywhere. You-- we aren't anything. I just help you with your--” Tony gestured to Bucky's arm, starting to panic and Bucky kept his voice low, trying to calm him down.

“And I appreciate that, Tony. So let me say thank you. A nice dinner, maybe a drive after, or we could--”

“I don't need my heart broken by another super soldier.” Tony yelled. “No fucking thank you!”

Fucking hell . Bucky felt like he'd been punched in the gut. Another super soldier. “Steve? You loved… Steve.”

“Of course I did.”

“Of course you did.” Bucky repeated and he thought maybe he would choke on the ball of jealous in his throat. “You still… want him?”

“What?” Tony shook his head firmly. “ No . Not like that. I--he-- my dad knew him. Worshipped him. I grew up hearing about him. He was my hero. And I thought he was my best friend.” Tony was holding onto the railing hard now, his knuckles turning white, and he wasn't really sure if he was trying to keep himself from running away, or hold himself up because he was suddenly feeling dizzy. He did not want to talk about this. Not with Bucky. Not with anyone .

“And he let you down? Steve did.”

“Well yeah , that's basically what it felt like, when he smashed his shield into my chest and left me for dead in fucking Russia so you and he could go play super soldier husbands together. But since he and I were just teammates I suppose I shouldn't be so upset about it, huh? Everybody else seems to be over it, I guess I should be too!”  Tony's words came out in a rush, sounding bitter and painful , and as soon as he realized what he'd said he clapped his hand over his mouth.

“Sorry. Sorry, shit I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry . It's nothing, not anymore. It's fine. We are all fine. Sorry about that it, it doesn't mean anything I'm--” he hung his head and took a shuddering breath, covering his eyes with his hands. “Sorry. I'm so sorry, I can't believe I--”

“Stop saying sorry!”  Bucky's eyes flashed. “You don't have to apologize for not being okay , Tony. Stop doing that! You aren't okay with this and it's fine so quit apologizing for feeling things!”

He waited for a long time for Tony to speak again.

“You're the first person to tell me that.” He finally said. “You're the first one to tell me it's okay to not be okay.”

And Tony shook his head, eyes glinting as they filled with tears.

“And that's scary because I'm not sure the last time I was even close to okay, which means I've been lying about… about everything for a really really long time.”

*****************

Chapter Four

*****************

“I'm sorry, Tony.” Bucky said quietly, flinching a little as Tony pulled a silver plate from his bicep. “I don't think I've ever said it, and that's not right.”

“For what?” Tony wasn't really listening, concentrating on filing down the edges of the curved pieces so they wouldn't rub together every time Bucky moved.

“For… your parents.”

Tony froze, his throat working erratically as he tried to figure out what to say. “Why- why the fuck are you bringing them up now?” He jerked out of his seat, standing up and crossing his arms. “What the fuck are you-- why are you-- fuck just stop.”

“I can't imagine how difficult it is for you to be here with me.” Bucky said quietly. “I appreciate everything you are doing to help me with this--” he lifted his arm weakly. “this thing , but it can't be easy for you. I just want you to know that I'm sorry, if I've never said it. I can say it was all that brain washing and my behavior was out of my control until I'm blue in the face but it's not going to change what you saw, or what happened.”

“It's fine.” Tony replied, but Bucky shook his head and Tony groaned. “ Damn it . Bucky, I came to terms with losing my parents along time ago. It wasn't fun to see your face on that screen, but it's…. it's not what keeps me up at night. I've dealt with it. Because you're right, it was out of your control, and I can't fault you for that forever.”

“I don't expect you to forgive me, Tony.”

“Well, I tend to do things that are pretty unexpected.”

“Tony.” Bucky turned his hand over, waiting for Tony to take it. “Come on.” He urged and Tony reached out carefully, sliding their palms together. “I don't expect your forgiveness. If things aren't alright with us then that's something we can work through, but don't downplay whatever you are feeling just to keep the peace.” His fingers curled loosely around Tony's. “I can take your anger and your hurt, Tony. I can take it all. You don't have to keep it inside anymore.”

“Knowing it was you that… that took my parents...” Tony was staring down at their linked hands. “That doesn't keep me up at night.”

“Then what does? Tell me so I can help.”

“Steve.”

“Why Steve?”

Tony closed his eyes and Bucky tightened his grip on his hand so he wouldn't pull away.

“Because he knew the entire time. He could have told me about you, and what he knew and I could have worked through it and maybe we could have avoided everything, but he didn't. He let that fucking psycho throw it in my face, and then acted like I didn't have the right to be angry.” Tony's voice sounded dead , just flat and empty and wrong and Bucky's stomach turned over uncomfortably.

“I have a hard time being around you because you represent what I lost. Not just my parents but the family I thought I had in Steve. And the rest of the team. I used to think that if you hadn't come along I could still have my life, but that's not true because Steve wasn't willing to sign the accords or anything even before you showed up. Apparently, it was just a matter of time before he took off, and you just happened to be the reason.” Tony seemed to shrink a little as his shoulders dropped. “I don't blame you. Not for my parents, not for anything else. But I'm having a harder time with Steve.”

“I'm so sorry, Tony.” Bucky whispered and Tony opened his eyes again, filled with so much pain that Bucky wanted to scream.

“I think I hate him, Bucky. I actually think I hate him.”

*********************

*********************

“Tony! You need to get in here and practice!” Steve called from the center of the training ring. “You can't always wear your suit to fight, we've been over this.”

Bucky looked up from wrapping his knuckles in time to see Tony jerk a little when Steve yelled for him.

“Not today.” He said quietly, looking down at the floor and Steve shook his head.

“Come on , Tony. I know you prefer to spar with some of the other guys but I'm here now so let's just go a few rounds. Get up here.”

“Sorry, I just-- I can't fight you, Steve. I can't .” Tony was trying to edge towards the door, trying to escape and Steve groaned in frustration.

“You will never be part of the team again if you don't engage with us! That includes training with us, so get your butt up here. Consider that an order, Tony.” His voice dropped into what they all called his “captain” tone, one with no room for argument.

Bucky watched all the color drain from Tony's face, saw the way his fists tightened in anger and then his shoulders drooped in defeat, and the soldier decided enough was enough .

“Steve!” He snapped, and the blond looked over at him. “Lets you and I go a couple rounds. How about that?”

“We already fight well together though.” Steve explained condescendingly. “Tony needs to learn how to work with everyone again as a team, and he's never going to learn that if he refuses to train. So Tony, put your gloves on and let's go.”

Bucky hopped into the ring anyway, rolling his shoulders to loosen up, raising his fists in a fighting stance.

“Come on, Steve. Just one round with me, let me work off a little steam. Then Tony can join in.”

“That's fine, I guess. Tony get your gloves on and start stretching, this will only take a minute.” Steve conceded, and bounced on his feet a little. “You ready, Buck?”

“More than you are.” Bucky retorted, and Steve sent him an odd look at the reply.

“Alright then come---”

Bucky took a single step forward and clocked Steve with a hard left, putting all his strength behind the punch.

Steve dropped like a rock, his perfect nose considerably more crooked now, and his breathing shallow because he was knocked the fuck out .

Bucky jumped back out of the ring, ripping the tape off his right hand as he went, heading towards Tony, who was just staring, wide eyed and slack jawed.

“I am tired of him talking to you like that.” Bucky snarled, but then his shoulders relaxed a little and he glanced down into Tony's dark eyes. “Ask me, and I'll do it again. Any time you want.”

Then he stalked out of the room, and Tony smiled, just the tiniest bit.

********************

********************

“How's the captain's nose?” Tony asked, startling Bucky because it had been so quiet in the lab up until then.

“Not broken.” He said with a short chuckle. “But he is pissed .”

“Why'd you do it?”

“I told you. I'm tired of him talking to you like that.”

“Talking to me like what?” Tony snapped a plate into place high on Bucky's shoulder and motioned for him to move. Bucky lifted his arm and rotated it, rolling his shoulders and clenching his fist, and Tony's eyes glowed watching all the pieces move together.

“What?” Bucky didn't hear the question, too distracted by the way Tony was biting his bottom lip, so he flexed his arm carefully, opening and closing his hand so the silver plates had to shift and recalibrate to line everything back up. The soft whirs and clicks sounded loud in the mostly shut down lab and Tony blinked a few times and shook his head.

“Um.” His voice sounded a little hoarse. “How does…” his voice trailed off when Bucky raised both hands above his head and stretched. Tony's eyes dilated a little and he licked his lips slowly, breath coming a little faster as he watched.

Fuck I like looking at you.” Bucky breathed, lowering his arms, and Tony swallowed hard.

“Yeah. Yeah I--I like looking at you too.” He whispered and Bucky leaned towards him, reaching out cautiously until Tony placed his slim hand in the metal one, and lifted his dark eyes to meet Bucky's own blue ones. “Um, this is--”

“Good.” Bucky finished, and started pulling him closer. “This is good , Tony.”

“Bucky.” Tony's voice was shaky and fuck Bucky was about three seconds from just grabbing Tony and kissing him because Tony had never said his name like that, but then the lab door swished open and Steve walked through it .

“Tony. Been looking for you. You guys done in here?”

No, we're not .” Bucky said without even hesitating, but Tony moved away a step and looked at Steve uncomfortably.

“Hey--hey Steve. What can I do for you?” He asked and dammit   Bucky hated that. Hated that Tony's reflex was to assume someone needed something from him, not that someone just wanted to see him.

“Just thought we could talk. Want to go for a walk or something?”

“It's eleven thirty at night.” He pointed out, but when Steve frowned, Tony was instantly taking it back. “But that's fine. Sorry, it's fine. Yeah let's go.”

“Okay. Bucky. We should talk too, about your little performance in the ring today.”

“Yeah we’ll see about that.” Bucky curled his left hand into a fist, and Tony's eyes dropped to watch. “Tony.” Bucky murmured and even though Tony didn't meet his eyes, he shifted on his feet so he was a little closer. “You don't have to go. We can stay here. We can finish… this. You don't have to go.”

“I'm fine.” He said just as quietly and Bucky really wanted to curse then, because Tony was absolutely not fine.

************

***********

They ended up in the dining room, sipping cups of like warm coffee and staring out the windows.

“So. I've realized that maybe you aren't as… okay… as you seem to be.” Steve started awkwardly, and Tony shrugged.

“It's fine.”

“But it's not, right? Is there something you and I need to talk about? Because I thought we were fine, when we made up, when everyone came back, but it has been um… brought to my attention? That maybe things aren't alright between us, or between you and the team. Are you going through something I could help with?”

“It's fine.” Tony repeated, a little angrier this time.

“It's obviously not.” Steve insisted. “The team says you are short tempered with them, and hardly ever around anymore, and reluctant to help when they need it. Bucky said you didn't even want to help him with his arm at first. It hurts him every day and you weren't willing to help him. What's up with that? You aren't yourself, and if we are ever going to be a team again than you need to--”

“Don't.” Tony shook his head. “It's fine. I'm fine . We all shook hands and hugged and made up and the team’s back together and the world is safe, right? Nothing else matters.”

“Well that's all true, but we actually are all fine and you seem to be…”

“But nothing.” Tony interrupted, staring out the dining room window. “We’re teammates again, Steve, and everything else is… fine.”

“Tony, I'm really trying here. Trying to bridge this gap between us.” Steve protested. “And you keep shutting me down. Work with me here.”

Tony laughed at him, a hard bitter sound. “You aren't trying. This isn't trying. This is as bad as that stupid letter you left me. All you  told me is that you were sorry I didn't understand your actions or some other bull shit. It wasn't an apology. Just like this isn't a real talk. You're basically scolding me into changing my behavior so I fit in better with you guys. Maybe I don't want to fit in with you guys anymore. All you ever do is talk down to me like in some little kid who ruined the day for everyone else. Like it's all always my fault. Well fuck that.” Tony set his mug down with a thump.

“Fuck that and fuck you Steve. I've done nothing but give to this team and you have the nerve to tell me that the other guys are complaining that I don't help? Yeah you know, I made some mistakes but at least I own to them. And you know how long it took me to convince them to let you all come home? To drop your fugitive status? And how do you all like living here rent free, having gear designed for you? How do you all like there always being food and vehicles for you to use? But oh no, Captain, If I'm not helping enough then maybe you all need to find someplace else to be and leave me the fuck alone.” He shoved his chair back from the table and stormed away.

Steve watched him go, and wanted to be angry at Tony's blatant disrespect, but instead he had an uncomfortable feeling growing in his chest that maybe Tony had been justified in everything he said.

He sat there alone until the sun came up and Sam walked into the kitchen.

“Hey Cap. Look like you've been up all night. You alright?”

“I don't… know.” Steve said slowly. “I just...um, I just have a lot to think about.”

*****************

Chapter Five

*****************

Every time Bucky went to the lab, it was locked, lights off, computers silent.

But he went every night to check anyway.

Tony was absent from the compound completely for close to two weeks, and when Bucky brought it up on day three, Sam and Clint looked at each other in surprise.

“Did you know Tony was gone?”

“No man, did you?”

“I wonder why?”

“Eh, he’ll come back. He always does.”

Bucky even asked Vision, who got an inexplicably sad look on his face.

“I cannot say exactly why I know this, but I would believe he has gone to California, since I can find no indications that he is in New York.

“California-- why there?” Bucky demanded and Vision looked even sadder.

“Because that was the last place he was happy, before everything started going so badly in his life. He had a house and a life and friends, and I know he can pinpoint where his life went wrong to an exact date and place in California. Perhaps he is grieving for what might have been.”

“How do you know all that?” Bucky folded his arms and Vision smiled a little.

“You were not around, Sergeant Barnes, when I came into existence, so it is not simple to explain, but in a way, I have known Tony for years upon years, far longer than my physical body has existed. I have memories of moments with him that no one else is privy to, and these memories have led me to this conclusion.”

“That's...weird.” Bucky replied uneasily. “Does Tony know you apparently know all these things about him?”

“I am aware that it is an odd answer, but no, it has never come up in conversation between Tony and I.” The man ( being ?) answered smoothly, and phased through the wall and out of the room.

Bucky raised his eyebrows at Wanda, waiting for an answer from her but the girl just shrugged her shoulders.

“Not my problem. I don't care where Tony is.”

Bucky briefly considered tossing her out the window. Instead he just clenched his fist and laid a fierce scowl in her direction and stomped out the door.

*******************

Tony came back on a Tuesday, just walked through the front door and through the kitchen without acknowledging anyone.

Steve looked up but didn't say anything, still feeling uncomfortable with the way their talk had gone.

Vision actually stood, reaching out his hand like he wanted to touch Tony, but the other man skirted out of his reach and kept right on going.

“Welcome home, Tony.” Bucky said loudly, and the other members of the team glanced up in surprise.

“Hey Tony.”

“Told you he'd come back.”

“Yeah he just looks a little hungover is all.”

Tony just ignored them.

******************

******************

“Physical affection and emotions are something I am not familiar with, so you will have to bear with me through this.”

Vision sat down next to Tony's legs on his bed, and Tony blinked up at him in complete shock.

“You what-- What ? Is this--Is this like a problem you're having with Wanda and you need advice? Because it’s two am. And you just floated up through my floor and scared the bejeesus out of me, so maybe you should–”

“Please, Tony.” Vision held up a hand to silence him. “Please let me say what I am here to say.”

“By all means.” Tony sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes, drawing his knees up to his chest, and waited. It wasn't like he'd been sleeping, but staring into the dark one second, and having Vision appear on his bed the next was about enough to send him into a panic attack.

Vision was quiet for a long time, then he reached out and took Tony’s hand, lacing their fingers together and bringing them back to rest in his lap.

“What the fu –”

“I am not JARVIS.” Vision said slowly and Tony’s mouth snapped shut, his stomach twisting uncomfortably. “I am not JARVIS, and yet I have his memories and traces of his emotions, and for the past few months, since you and the Captain…have reunited, I have felt a… a voice, if you will, in my subconscious urging me to speak with you.”

He sighed from deep in his chest. “All of this… is not your fault. You are blaming yourself, as you have always done, and it is unnecessary. If JARVIS were here, he would want you to know that it is not, in fact, your fault. He would also want to scold you about your appalling sleeping habits, as well as find a remedy for your shaking hands and the panic attacks you seem to have to talk yourself down from regularly.”

Tony just stared at him.

“He loved you.” Vision said, almost absentmindedly, rubbing his thumb over Tony’s hand now. “As much as he could, as an instrument of artificial intelligence. When Ultron took over, JARVIS’s biggest fear was that he had failed you, and when you merged his consciousness to create me, I could still feel his pain.”

He sighed again, and seemed to fold in on himself a little. “JARVIS would have been here for you until the end of days, Tony, if he was able. And perhaps he would have been better to see you through this trying time.” He turned to face Tony, now, reaching to hold his other hand.

“I am not JARVIS. And I know that you wish I were, some days. But we still share some thoughts, and Tony none of this is your fault. None of it. You can sleep well at night knowing I will be here for you, as JARVIS was, watching over you.”

He hesitated then.

“I feel it would be remiss of me to not mention that Sergeant Barnes also cares a great deal for you. More than even he knows, I suspect. And if I could offer any advice, it would be to reach out and take the affection and perhaps love that is being offered. I was not here for the events in New York, or Extremis, and I am not actually sure who or what a Pepper is, but all of those words have deep pain associated with them in relation to you, here.” He touched his own temple lightly. “And JARVIS would wish for you to move on from that pain. I think Sergeant Barnes may help with that.”

“You are not alone, Tony, not when we are here, please do not doubt that.”

With that last statement, the red man- being ? entity ?- faded to see-through and floated back down through the bed, through the floor, to the room he shared with Wanda.

And Tony sat on his bed with tears running down his face, feeling a lot less lonely than he had just a few minutes before.

******************

******************

It was quiet in the lab, the next night, because Tony didn’t really listen to music anymore. It reminded him of better times which just made him sad.

And he was… done… shedding tears over all this.
After being gone for a few weeks, and after Visions entirely unexpected visit the night before, he was feeling emotionally raw, and just couldn't handle it anymore.

He put his tools down, powered down his screens and collapsed onto the worn out couch he kept in the corner, closing his eyes and wishing for sleep.

But he didn’t do things like that anymore…Cry. Sleep. Listen to music… Smile. Not really.

Lost in his own thoughts, Tony didn't hear the door swish open or the soft footsteps that came towards him. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Bucky spoke.

“Tony.”

“Getting real tired of you lurking in the shadows, Barnes.” After their last… meeting, and after Tony disappeared for a few weeks, he really wasn't sure where he stood with Bucky, and that made him uneasy. “You need to stop breaking into my lab.”

The soldier didn’t apologize or anything, just sat his heavy ass down on the couch, and Tony huffed in annoyance. “How did you even get in here? It's been locked the entire time I was gone and I didn't even use the front door this time.”

Bucky ignored the question. “When was the last time you slept, Tony?”

“That’s…not your business. Whether I’m sleeping isn’t really– it’s just– you know what? My sleeping habits are neither here nor there so why don’t you–”

“Come here.” Bucky extended his hand, his left hand, and Tony reached for him before he even realized what he was doing, then tried to jerk away. “Nope, c'mon you already started to, just c'mon.” Cool metal fingers closed around Tony’s wrist and pulled unrelentingly until Tony was perched awkwardly on his lap. “Relax, won’t you?”

“I literally can’t relax on your lap . Or escape , apparently, thank you. What the hell do you think you are do--”

“Hush.” Bucky wrapped both arms around Tony and tucked him closer to his chest, then began to sing in a low voice,

Carry on my wayward son,For there’ll be peace when you are doneLay your weary head to restDon’t you cry no more

“I--I love that song.” Tony said in surprise. “But how do you--”

“You hum it a lot when you are working on my arm.” Bucky admitted. “I don't think you notice you're doing it. It seems… appropriate for you. So I looked it up and learned it.”

Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion

“Did you break into my lab just to sing to me?” Tony asked, sounding a little irritated, but he didn't try to move away.

“Actually I thought you might want to arm wrestle. Figured all these weeks working on my arm you probably adjusted it so you could win.” Bucky teased and Tony actually laughed, surprising both himself and Bucky, whose arms tightened reflexively around him.

He wanted to say something about how he'd never even heard Tony laugh, but was afraid it would upset him, so he just held him a little tighter.


I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high
Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I'm dreamin', I can hear them say

“I didn't know you could sing.” Despite himself, Tony curled a little closer into the soldier's chest, drawn to that steady heartbeat and the security of his arms.

“Not something I advertise I guess. But I could woo a girl or two back in my day with a nice little love song.”

“So is that why you broke into my lab and hid in the shadows? To woo me? Or court me, or whatever it is you old fashioned boys do?”

“I want to spend the night with you.”

What?” Tony made to pull away, but Bucky didn't let go, pressing his head to his shoulder coaxingly.

“I want to spend the night with you. You said no to dinner, and I guess I see why. But… sleeping with someone doesn't have to include any emotions. The lights can be off, we don't have to talk. Your heart will be safe, I promise. We can just be two people in the dark.”

Tony thought about it for a long time before he gave just the tiniest nod against Bucky's right shoulder. “Okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Bucky sighed and leaned back into the couch so Tony had more room to get comfortable. “I missed you, Tony. Worried me when you took off like that.”

“I didn't think anyone would notice I was gone.”

But even as he said it, Tony shifted in Bucky's lap so he could lay easier against his chest, one arm behind Bucky's waist, the other hand gripping the metal arm tightly.

“You should know by now that I would notice.” Bucky whispered, and kissed his head.

*************

Steve came down to the lab the looking for Tony the next morning because he’d missed breakfast, and he was feeling a little guilty for not seeking him out sooner.

“FRIDAY.” He said politely, because that’s just how he was, even if the AI wasn't technically a real woman. “Would you unlock the lab doors so I can check on Tony?”

“'Fraid not, Cap'n.” The accented voice of the AI responded. “The Boss is busy now, nearly tied up as it were. But he is well taken of, so run along.”

Steve frowned a little at her odd answer. “Is anyone in there with him? I don't like that he's spending so much time alone. Open the doors.”

“Cap’n, how interestin ’  you are suddenly so concerned about him, but while you might be leader on the field, you aren't in ‘ere so get a move on because you don't need to come in.”

Steve stared up at the ceiling in shock. “Did Tony program you to say that?”

“Ya canna program a woman, Cap’n.” Came the snarky reply, and Steve took his insulted pride and left.

Inside the lab, Bucky glanced up at the ceiling. “Uh, thank you ma'am.”

“Of course, Sergeant Barnes.” FRIDAY replied, “you just take care of him for us.”

So Bucky looked back down at the sleeping pile of Tony still curled in his arms and shifted just enough to run his fingers through Tony’s hair.  

Tony sighed and wiggled a little closer and Bucky pressed a kiss to his head.

Carry on my wayward son,For there’ll be peace when you are doneLay your weary head to restDon’t you cry no more

******************

Chapter Six

*****************

Now that his arm was fixed, Bucky didn't really have a reason to be in the lab, so Tony barely saw him for the next few days.

In fact it was Saturday night before Tony heard from the soldier, and it wasn't even a phone call.

Instead he found an envelope on his desk in the lab, and inside the envelope was a key card with a room number written in black marker across the back.

******************

Room 217

Hilton Inn and Suites

Bucky was stretched out on the bed, lights off, television on when Tony knocked on, then opened the door to the hotel room.

“Took you long enough.”

“Sorry, I had to finish and I didn't want to-- I mean, I didn't know if it was too--”

“I was joking.” Bucky sat up with a quick smile. “Tony, I was joking. Don't apologize. I'm just happy you came at all. I was starting to think you had changed your mind.”

“Oh.” Tony sat his overnight bag down a little awkwardly. “I would have called if I was going to cancel.”

Bucky looked at him for a long minute, and Tony looked right back, at the shoulder length dark hair, the bright blue eyes, and so much skin because Bucky wasn't wearing a shirt and damn Tony couldn't tear his eyes away from all the scars at his left shoulder.

“You gonna change into something less…” Bucky motioned to Tony's jeans and button up.

“Yeah.” But Tony didn't move and Bucky cocked his head and rolled his shoulders a little bit, his muscles flexing as he did.

“Look as long as you want, Tony.”

That pulled him from his daze and Tony cleared his throat self consciously. “Sorry. I'm just gonna--” he headed to the bathroom to change.

When he reappeared in soft sleep pants and a t-shirt, Bucky patted the bed next to him. “I have to sleep closest to the door, are you alright on this side?”

“Why do you need--”

“My training.” Bucky explained. “Facing the door so if an enemy comes through I will be between them and you. I know it's not going to happen, but the training is too deep to ignore. Need to be in between you and any danger.”

“Oh.” Tony looked like he wanted to smile but he just cleared his threat instead. “Well, I don't have a side of the bed. Don't sleep a whole lot anymore so it doesn't really matter.”

“Then come here.”

Tony swallowed hard, clenching his fists, trying to work up the courage to join the soldier on the bed.

“Come on, Tony.” Bucky reached out with his left hand and once again Tony was reaching for him before he even realized what he was doing. “There you go.” Bucky grasped his wrist and pulled him steadily forward.

Tony sat down stiffly and Bucky clicked the tv off and settled beneath the covers in the dark.

After nearly ten minutes, Tony couldn't handle the silence anymore and blurted, “What are we doing here? I thought you said we were going to--”

“I asked if you wanted to spend the night with me.” Bucky replied calmly. “So that's what we are doing.”

“We’re… sleeping?”

“That's the plan.”

“So you don't… you don't want me, then. This is just a platonic thing.” Tony couldn't quite keep the disappointment from his voice, and the bed moved as Bucky rolled over onto his side, just barely able to make out Tony's expression in the weak light from the window.

“Come here and lay down next to me, Tony.”

Bucky waited until Tony had lay flat on the bed and stopped fidgeting before speaking again.

“When I first escaped,” Bucky's voice was deeper than usual in the dark. “When I got away from my handlers and Steve came after me, I couldn't sleep. Never slept. The nightmares were awful. And if I didn't have nightmares, then I'd come out of a dead sleep instantly violent because I wouldn't know where I was or who I was supposed to be. It went on like that for months.”

“What helped?” Tony asked, closing his eyes and letting the smooth voice wash over him.

“I slept in Steve's room.” Bucky answered, and Tony stiffened next to him, unable to stop his reaction. “ On the floor, Tony . On the floor. Because when I had nightmares he could wake me up. When I woke up and didn't know where I was, I could sense him there and calm myself down. It took months, but it worked, and now I can sleep by myself.”

“And?”

And the other night in your lab, you slept for six hours in my arms.” Bucky rolled onto his back, the bed dipping as his heavy frame settled into the mattress. “So I thought maybe you could use another good nights sleep, and I thought maybe it could be with me.”

“So this is your plan? A hotel room and sharing a bed?”

“This is my plan.”

They lay in the dark for a long time, Bucky's breathing so slow and deep, that Tony thought he was asleep, so he scooted closer, then closer again until he could reach the soldier's arm, until their shoulders brushed against each other and their fingers were just barely touching.

Then, carefully carefully , he put his hand over the top of Bucky's and let it rest there, feeling instantly calmer with some physical contact.

God Tony.” Bucky laughed a little and reached for him, dragging him over to lay on his chest, wrapping his right around Tony's shoulders, his left hand resting lightly on his side. “I didn't think you'd ever get over here. I was trying to give you some space but man that took you a long time.”

“Didn't take you for a cuddler.” Tony mumbled, but curled closer against him and Bucky grinned.

“Yeah, you didn't think I could sing either.” Bucky dropped a kiss on his head, shocking whatever smart remark Tony was formulating right out of his brain.

“Um… what was that ?”

“I've kissed your head before.” Bucky reminded him. “And I never said I didn't want you, Tony.” Bucky tightened his arms briefly around his shoulders. “I am just willing to take this as slow as we need to. So for now, let's just cuddle a little and go to sleep. We can deal with anything else… later.”

*******************

“Tony.” Bucky whispered, “Honey, I've got to go for a little bit.”

“Did you just call me honey?” Tony mumbled without opening his eyes and Bucky wanted to kiss him so badly.

“I have to meet the guys for a run, but I will be back in an hour and a half, alright? Stay here and sleep, I'll be back.”

“What, you're gonna get fat if you miss a day of super soldier exercise?” Tony's voice rose a little in annoyance.

“Just go back to sleep.” Bucky grinned. “Hour and a half okay?”

Tony finally opened his eyes, looking rumpled and sleepy, his lips twisting in a frown when he saw what time it was.

“It's five am.”

“And I'll be back at six thirty.” Bucky promised.

Tony gazed up at him for a long minute and Bucky sat back down on the edge of the bed. “I like looking at you.” He said quietly. “When you're all sleepy like this. After a full night’s sleep. Did you sleep alright?”

“I um, I actually slept great.” Tony took a chance and ran his fingers up Bucky's left arm, smiling a little when Bucky shuddered under the light touch. “And I--I like looking at you too.”

“Are you going to be here when I get back, honey?” Bucky's voice was suddenly hoarse, and he leaned a little closer. “You still gonna be in bed like this when I come back? I'll climb right back in next to you and we can sleep some more.”

Oh. It shook Tony to his core to realize how much he wanted that. But that was...a lot. Too much maybe. Too soon.

“No.” Tony shook his head, even though his eyes looked wistful. “I'm gonna leave after you do because I--I can't stay. I mean, this was nice but waiting for you to come back is--”

“You don't have to explain.” Bucky shook his head, hiding the jolt of disappointment. “I get it. I'll see you back at the compound, alright? Later today?”

“Alright.”

***************

***************

Room 105

Hilton Inn and Suites

“I was serious, you know.” Bucky rubbed Tony's back in slow circles. “About not expecting you to forgive me. I wish that saying it was my programming could make either one of us feel better about everything, but I know it doesn't. Not really.”

Tony was quiet for a long time, and Bucky kept moving his fingers up and down, feeling each bump of Tony spine through the t shirt, able to count his ribs because he'd gotten so thin in the last several months. Tony's soft hair tickled his nose and he shifted just enough so he could breath, keeping Tony tucked in firmly on his shoulder.

“This helps.” Tony finally said, and wrapped an arm around Bucky's waist, pulling himself even closer to the soldiers solid body.

“I'm so glad this helps.” Bucky whispered, and pressed his nose to Tony's hair, breathing in deep.

**************

**************

“Tony. You seem to be… different.”

“Not sure what you mean, Vis.” Tony was only half listening, tapping the new key card on his thigh distractedly.

It was going on a month of this… this thing , where Bucky left hotel room keys for him once a week and Tony spent the night cuddled close to the ex-assassin.

It was helping, he thought, with his anxiety, and his tremors and his general sense of self loathing. Bucky made him feel… good. And Tony couldn't remember the last time he'd felt anything but awful.

So yeah, helping.

“I mean to say, it seems as if you have found a measure of peace, recently.” Vision explained. “It seems as if maybe your burden has been lifted, or as if you have found someone to help you.” and Tony shrugged his shoulder, but couldn't help his little smile.

“I suppose I have.”

*************

*************

Room 412

Hilton Inn and Suites

Tony was dreaming.

Buried in something soft and cozy, wrapped around a warm, solid body, and he couldn't help sighing in pleasure as he thrust against his dream lover lazily.

God it had been so long since he'd been with anyone, so long since he'd even wanted to, he'd kind of forgotten that side of him existed, but this… oh this was good.

Smelled good, something spicy and masculine, and Tony was panting now, digging his fingers into hips, spurred on by his lover's soft groans, encouraging him -- more, harder, faster .

Fuck Tony didn't think he'd ever been this hard, and he buried his nose in thick hair, mouthing kisses up and down the back of a smooth neck, shivering a little when his lips met the cool metal of--

“Fuck!” Tony jerked completely awake, recoiling in horror from Bucky, ripping his fingers from the long hair, trying to get away as fast as he could from where he'd been basically humping himself against Bucky's ass.

Tony.” Bucky groaned and reached back for him, his left hand landing solidly on Tony's leg and pulling him back against him. “Don't stop, honey please don't stop.”

“Are you sure?” Tony could barely speak, still so hard it nearly hurt, still half dazed from his dream.

Please.” Bucky's voice was rough, his breath coming hard and fast and Tony slid right back across the bed, holding Bucky's hip and slotting himself tightly against him. “ Fuck.” Bucky sighed happily, and pushed back into Tony's cock, “Come on Tony.”

“Can I--” Tony pulled Bucky's shorts down to his thighs and rocked into him experimentally and Bucky nodded, silver fingers tightening almost to the point of pain in Tony's thigh, before pulling Tony's pants down as well.

“Ah Bucky.” Tony moaned, shifting a little lower on the bed to line himself up better, sucking in a deep breath as their bodies connected. “Feels good .” He rutted against the soldier with short hard thrusts, nearly out of control, driving his cock into the cleft between his cheeks, cursing softly as Bucky rocked back to meet every push, spiraling high so quickly it nearly made him dizzy. “Damn it, Bucky, already gonna--”

Tony's hips stuttered and he cried out, teeth biting into the scarred skin on Bucky's shoulder, close to blacking out as his orgasm rolled over him, spreading warm and wet all over the curve of Bucky's ass and his lower back.

Jesus.” Tony was shaking, still unable to draw a full breath, but he reached further around Bucky's waist, down to where Bucky's hand was wrapped around his own cock.

“You don't have to--” Bucky started to protest, but Tony bit his shoulder again, lightly, and took over for him, his finger barely meeting around the thick length, stroking and pulling at him until Bucky was swearing and calling his name and spilling over his fist and onto the sheets.

“Fucking hell , honey.” The soldier gasped, and Tony collapsed onto the bed on his back, throwing his clean hand over his eyes as he struggled to calm himself down.

Bucky rolled over onto his side so he could stare down at Tony. The sun was barely coming up, just starting to fill the hotel room with light and Tony was so beautiful like this.

“Why are you looking at me?” Tony tried to sound irritated but couldn't quite manage it, instead sounding completely sated and fairly wrecked .

“I like looking at you.” Bucky said, still panting a little. “Like this--after we-- you're gorgeous, sweet thing, just gorgeous.”

Tony blinked up at him, opening his mouth to say something but changing his mind at the last second.

“Say what you were gonna say.” Bucky coaxed. “Come on, it's just us here.”

“I like looking at you too.” Tony admitted. “A lot. Too much, maybe.”

“Never too much.” Bucky was staring at his lips now, licking his own because they still hadn't kissed yet and it was making him crazy.

“I like, um, waking up next to you.” Tony said then. “I know we've only done it like three or four times but it's always…”

“Yeah.” Bucky nodded. “I like it too.” He looked like he might say something else, looked like he was going to go ahead and kiss him, but then the emergency tone went off on both their phones and they moved apart, each reaching for the noisy devices.

“Shit.” Tony ran his hand through his hair. “We gotta go. Time to save the world.”

“I like looking at you in hero mode!” Bucky called as he disappeared into the bathroom and Tony just rolled his eyes, but didn't stop smiling.

******************

It wasn't until hours later, flying high above a city somewhere in Russia that it occurred to Tony that every time Bucky had said “ I like looking at you” he was actually telling Tony how much he cared for him. It was like some sappy nod to that ridiculous movie ‘Princess Bride’ and Tony was glad he was in the suit so no one could see the giant stupid grin that crossed his face.

***********************

Chapter Seven

***********************

“Well that was a clusterfuck.” Wanda complained, dropping onto a couch with a dramatic sigh.

“Look on the bright side.” Natasha replied. “You managed not to blow any holes in any embassies this time around.”

“You know Widow, for someone who has the same amount of skill as every soldier in the world you seem pretty critical of those of us who have legitimate powers and are a threat whether we wear spandex or not.” Wanda shot back and Wilson started laughing.

“Meow meow girls.” He chortled and Clint sent him an air-five. Both women whipped around to lay into him, but Steve cut them off, dropping his shield on the table with a loud clang.

“Sam, shut up . Tasha and Wanda you cut it out too. Doesn't do us any good to fight each other because a mission goes badly.”

“Well then, Captain, who do you suppose takes the blame if they can't blame each other?” Visions calm voice asked and Bruce rolled his eyes.

“Hey Vision, if you refuse to fight you don't get an opinion. See how you feel after taking out several city blocks and accomplishing nothing besides having more people think you're a monster.”

“Banner, you can't get upset every time you Hulk out, that's why we have you on the team.” Steve said impatiently.

“Right, because my genius mind is no help, no it's just the rage monster I turn into that's valuable in this case.”

“You know damn well that's not what he meant, Bruce.” Clint cut in.

“Are you suggesting I cannot wreak havoc just as well as you?” Vision almost sounded smug, as if he was challenging Banner. “Perhaps since I know my power, staying out of a fight is a nobler decision.”

“Man, I am tired of your sanctimonious--”

“Don't talk to him like that! Vision is--”

“Are we seriously fighting like this? Are you all twelve--”

The room descended into arguments, and by the time Bucky entered the common area it had escalated to shouting.

He glanced around the room, counting heads, and Tony wasn't there. Glancing up though, he saw the suit standing stock still on one of the overlooks, staring down at the fray, fists clenched tightly by its sides.

Bucky scaled the stairs quickly, coming up behind him.

“You alright?”

“I hate when they fight.” Even behind the mask, he could hear how shaky Tony's voice was. “I hate it. Why do they fight all the time?

“So shut them up.” Bucky said with a shrug. “They fight like middle schoolers. Make them stop.”

“Like their parent?” He said scornfully. “I'm tired of trying to act like their parent.”

“Then act like a pissed off older sibling.”

“Are you calling me old, Barnes?” The face plate slid back and Tony sent him a half hearted glare.

“I'm saying maybe I'd like looking at you while you teach them all a lesson.”

Tony didn't know what to say to that, so he just smiled a little and shook his head. “They wouldn't listen to me. Steve runs the team now and my opinion… it just doesn't matter anymore.” The mask slammed back down and the suit stepped backwards, preparing to leave.

“I hurt my arm today.” Bucky said, and the suit paused. “I uh, grabbed one of those trucks and about pulled my arm out of it's socket. Any chance you could open it up, make sure I didn't stretch anything?”

Tony opened the suit again so his voice wouldn't be projected. “Yeah of course.” He nodded quickly. “Yeah. It will be a few hours but just come down to the lab.”

“Thanks, Tony.”

“Or--” Tony hesitated. “Up to my room? I can work on it there.”

“You sure?” Bucky tried not to smile, tried to not to fucking yell because Tony inviting him to his room was a big deal.

“Yeah.”

“I'll see you there.” Bucky promised and caught the barest smile before the suit closed up again and Tony blasted up and out of the open roof of the common area.

*********************

“You're fine.” Tony went over every inch of Bucky's shoulder carefully, searching for strained or stretched joints, frayed wires, anything. “You know if you let me design a new arm for you, you wouldn't have to worry about this. I know Hydra tried to keep you upgraded every time they woke you up but they can't compare with some of the stuff I can make for you.”

“How long would that take?” Bucky wanted to know, wincing in pain as Tony dug around inside him.

“Sorry.” Tony's voice softened. “I know this hurts.”

“Not your fault.”

“I know, but I'm still sorry it hurts you.” He started reattaching the pieces. “It would take several weeks, we'd have to take this one off the entire time so I could attach or detach the new one as we test it.”

“So I'd be one armed for several weeks?”

“It would put you out of commission, that's for sure.” Tony admitted. “And I guess living with one hand would be tough.”

“Hm you have no idea what I can do with one hand.” Bucky said, laying his head back against the chair just in time to see Tony blush an amazing shade of red and nearly drop the multi-tool in his hand.

“Maybe, maybe not so much on the jokes like that while I have you in pieces, huh?”

“I like looking at you when you blush.” Bucky teased and Tony couldn't meet his gaze, focusing hard on putting Bucky back together.

“This is… what you wanted?” Tony asked several minutes later. “When you decided to start spending time with me? You wanted… this?”

“I wanted to see you smile, Tony.” Bucky's blue eyes were soft, staring up at him. “I wanted you to stop apologizing every time someone looked at you. Wanted your hands to stop shaking whenever Steve spoke to you.”

“So not this?”

“Of course this. But also everything else. I didn't know you, before, Tony. First time I met you, you were trying to put me down, and rightfully so. But I've seen the videos, seen the footage. You were all charm and sass and one liners, you were adorable and now you're… it's like a shadow of what you used to be.”

“I've heard that the team prefers me like this.” Tony fitted another piece into place. “More serious. Less impulsive.”

“I couldn't give two fucks about what the team prefers.” Bucky snapped and Tony glanced down at him.

“So. This morning…”

“Was amazing.” Bucky finished. “Don't tell me you regret it. I know it was a… big step for us, but it's alright, right?”

“Kind of embarrassed by how fast I finished.” Tony muttered. “Been a long time for me.”

“Been a long time for me too.” Bucky lifted his right hand to touch Tony's face. “Don't worry. It was gorgeous, honey, I liked it. Liked you like that.”

Tony turned and kissed Bucky's palm before he thought about it, and the shy smile the soldier gave him made the quick gesture worth it.

“The hotels nice. Neutral ground. Easier to relax.” He attached the last piece and set his tools down, wiping his hands. “I'm glad you thought about something like that. I never would have-- I don't know. I never would have done that.”

“It's no problem, Tony.” Bucky assured him. “I'm just glad you're willing to be there with me. My favorite part of the week.”

Tony looked down to try and hide his grin. “Go ahead and stretch.” He cleared his throat and took a step back. “Let me listen and hear if anything is catching still.”

Bucky stood and held his arm out straight in front of him, rotating his wrist first, then his elbow, watching Tony's face the entire time.

Tony crossed his arms, a flush rising up his neck as each silver plate moved into place, snapping and clicking, whirring softly, the metal sliding and shifting up Bucky's arm as it recalibrated with each tiny movement.

When Bucky flexed, closing his hand into a fist, Tony nearly moaned, biting his lip to stifle it as the machinery moved all over again, like a wave clear up to Bucky's shoulder, the muscles in his back tensing and releasing as he rolled and rotated the limb.

Goddamnit .” Tony finally bit out and Bucky grinned.

“So this is what you mechanics consider porn, huh?” He said teasingly but also completely serious, because Tony's eyes were blown so wide they were practically black, his lips shiny and wet from being licked, and a thick erection was outlined in his jeans.

“I like looking at you.” Tony whispered and Bucky's mouth went dry.

“I--I like looking at you too, Tony.”

“But that's not what we’re really saying, is it?” Tony kept his voice hushed and Bucky copied his tone.

“No, it really isn't.”

********************

********************

Room 289

Hilton Inn and Suites

“Every time the team fights, it makes me sick to my stomach.” Tony scooted further back against Bucky's chest, and the soldier wrapped his arms tighter around him. “I guess I thought when they all came home it would be like old times.”

“What was old times?”

“I don't know. Clint and Natasha cracking jokes on each other. Bruce actually smiled. Me and the Captain having coffee every morning. Wanda and Vision weren't around. But JARVIS was there, keeping everything running. Thor was around a lot more. You would like him, for a god he's basically just a giant goof. I miss him.”

Bucky kissed the top of Tony's head in sympathy.

“We did karaoke nights. Pizza nights. Pepper would handle the press conferences. We were heroes. We were… family.” Tony shook his head. “Now it's just a bunch of super powered adults arguing over who's fault everything is.”

“Not yours.” Bucky murmured and Tony shifted against him.

“Not all of it, anyway. I've learned that.”

“You miss JARVIS?”

“Every day.”

“Vision is kind of--”

“Yeah, kind of.” Tony turned in Bucky's arms, until his face was resting in the crook of his neck. “But not enough.”

*******************

*******************

“You gonna actually spar this time, or you just looking to cold clock me again?” Steve asked when Bucky ducked under the ropes to join him in the ring.

“You done anything to piss me off lately?” Bucky returned but he was smiling and the Captain relaxed. “Besides, it's been a month. You can't tell me your nose is still sore.”

“Why'd you do it?”

They started moving around each other, light jabs and easy blocks as they warmed up.

“What the hell were you thinking, asking Tony to fight with you? Last time he fought you, you nearly killed him.” Bucky shook his head. “Why would you possibly think that's a good idea?”

“You were there too.” Steve countered, dodging a quick punch. “It's not like I just attacked him unprovoked, Buck. And besides, it was over a year ago. Almost two now. He needs to get over it.”

Bucky's fist connected with Steve's chest. “But he hasn't, so you--” he jumped back, narrowly escaping a right hand from the blonde. “-- you shouldn't be trying to make it worse.”

“I don't understand what the problem is.” Steve went after him again, faster this time and Bucky backed around the ring, hands up to block. “He told me that I never really apologized for everything, but I didn't do anything to apologize for. Yeah, I'm not proud of fighting him like that, but I was protecting you. So maybe you should be a little grateful.”

Bucky stepped completely away, tossing his boxing gloves down. “If you keep talking like that I'm going to put you on your ass again, Steve.”

“Really?” Steve reached for his water. “So it's fine for Tony to walk around acting like everyone's picking on him, but it's not okay for me to be irritated about it? He needs to grow up. The important thing is that the team is together again. It's not like all of us don't have shit in our past.” He shook his head. “Every single one of us has tried to put another team member down at some point. Look at you and I. Clint and Tasha. Sam and Rhodes. Even Wanda and Vision. And we are all fine.”

“It's not about whose fine. ” Bucky said evenly. “It's about the person who isn't fine. If anyone is struggling the team should be there for them. Not sweep it under the rug and call it a temper tantrum.”

“You really think something's wrong with Tony?” Steve folded his arms, chewing his bottom lip. “I mean, I know he's not okay, I just assumed it was a grudge. After we talked a while back, I thought maybe I needed to be more… I don't know. Maybe more understanding? But now he's acting better so maybe he was just having a rough night when he said all that. Maybe the two weeks away helped him get his priorities lined up again.”

“It's PTSD.” Bucky replied, trying not to smile because Tony was acting better because of him and that made him happy to his core.

“Tony has PTSD and a big helping of self loathing and anxiety and insecurity all wrapped up in one. Man up and be there for him, Steve. Be the hero you're supposed to be. Just because he has a few good days doesn't mean everything's suddenly fixed. He needs you, needs the team.”

“Why do you care so much?” Steve wanted to know.

“I like looking at him.” Bucky grunted and picked his gloves back up.

“Are we gonna practice this time? Or are you still out for blood?”

“Just come on Steve. Don't tell me you're afraid of getting your pretty nose broken again.”

“You're a jerk, Bucky.”

*****************

The super soldiers went at it for nearly an hour, until both were panting and dripping with sweat, and laughing together because nothing solved tension like a good brawl.

Neither one paid any attention to Vision, who had heard everything that had been said, and was tapping his chin thoughtfully.

******************

******************

Room 227

Hilton Inn and Suites

“I need a shower.” It was early morning and Bucky was already sliding off the bed and into the bathroom, turning on the water.

Once he heard the shower curtain swish closed, Tony got up to wash his face and run some water through his hair. It had been a good night, between them. Bucky had held him close, and Tony had slept wonderfully. But Bucky had to be up to go for a run with the guys, which meant Tony was going to leave soon, too. He never stayed long after Bucky left anyway.

They had never talked again about...that one time . Hadn't repeated it yet either, and Tony thought maybe they should change that. It wasn't like he could i gnore the sheer size of Bucky pressed against him in the morning, and Tony would be lying if he said he didn't want Bucky,  but the soldier hadn't said or done anything, so neither had Tony.

But maybe, maybe he was feeling confident enough lately to actually make the first move.

“Bucky?” He asked, leaning on the sink, and the soldier stuck his head out of the curtain with an easy smile, shaking his hair so it would stop dripping in his eyes.

“Yeah, Tony?”

“Can I kiss you? Or is that like… too far for us?”

Bucky growled, actually growled , and reached out with his left hand, yanking Tony nearly into the shower with one swift pull. “You damn well better kiss me.” He snapped and Tony framed his face with both hands and lay a long kiss on his lips.

“I know you have to go, so I won't keep you.” He said, breaking the embrace a moment later, trying to keep it from being potentially awkward, but Bucky didn't let him go, the gears and joints in his arm clicking as he tightened his hold around Tony to keep him close. “Bucky--”

“I like looking at you like this.” Bucky whispered and Tony couldn't help kissing him again.

“Like looking at you like this too.”

******************

Chapter Eight

*****************

Tony jogged down the stairs, holding tight to the key card Bucky had left on his desk.

Room 101

Hilton Inn and Suites

It had been over a week since he'd found the previous key on his desk and he had been wondering when Bucky would drop another one off for him. His nights with the soldier were his favorite, even though other than that one time, it had been only snuggles and talking.

They were still his favorite.

The only thing that kept him going most days.

And he couldn't wait for tonight.

Bucky had kissed him three separate times since their last night in the hotel.

Once when Tony had put a new piece on his arm and Bucky had told him thank you, brushing their lips together gently.

Again when Steve had been chewing the team out and Tony had nearly ran from the room, hands shaking, heart pounding, edging on a panic attack because he couldn’t handle Steve yelling, and Bucky had stopped him in the kitchen, wrapping thick arms around his waist and pressing a quick, comforting kiss to his lips.

And oh last night, when Tony had worn a dark red shirt and black slacks on his way out the door to a charity benefit. Bucky's blue eyes had lit up, and he had cornered Tony in the garage, running his hands through Tony spiky hair and taking his mouth in a fierce kiss, his tongue pressing insistently at Tony's lips until he opened up and let the soldier lick and taste inside him. Then Bucky had gathered Tony close to his chest and whispered, “Tony, I like looking at you like this.”

And Tony had had to leave before he blurted out something embarrassing because Bucky's voice was low and deep and hoarse and such a turn on Tony didn't know what to do with himself.

So yes tonight Tony was going to make another first move, take another step with them. Being with Bucky had given him so much self confidence, so much of himself back that he could only think of one way to thank him.

And that's what tonight was going to be all about.

But why was everyone in the living room? Tony slowed to a walk when he spotted the entire team sitting sprawled across the various couches, talking idly amongst themselves.

Even Bucky was there, arms folded stiffly over his chest, looking pissed as hell to be standing there instead of heading to their hotel. He glanced up and met Tony's eyes, a small smile curling around his lips when he saw the key card Tony was still holding.

Flushing a little bit, Tony tucked the card in his back pocket and Bucky's smile grew.

“What's going on?” Steve was the last one to enter the room, walking in behind Tony, who side stepped awkwardly to keep a little space between them.

“Vision just said he wanted a meeting with everyone.” Clint was balancing an empty beer bottle on his forehead and Sam was tossing peanuts at it trying to knock it over. “No idea why.”

“Stop acting like a child.” Natasha knocked the bottle over and sent Sam a glare.

“Natasha, are you always a frigid bitch or--”

Wanda!” Steve snapped. “You guys cut it out . Can't even be in the same room together without fighting and it's ridiculous. Just shut up.”

“No need to yell.” Vision descended slowly from where ever he had been, and landed lightly in the middle of the room. “Thank you all for coming.” He looked over at Tony for a long moment, long enough that Tony cleared his throat and backed away a few feet uncomfortably. “This is not going to be easy.” Vision finally said. “But it is time that all of you realize exactly what happened to Tony, and why he is struggling so much.”

“Is Tony struggling?”

“I just thought he was cranky.”

“What's wrong with Tony?”

“What happened?”

A large tv folded down from the wall and the screen lit up.

“Is that Steve, and Bucky?”

“Where is this taking place?”

“Why does it look like that?”

“Wait...is that Bucky on that screen? Is he killing someone?”

“Vision, what the fuck?” Tony whispered, and reached for a chair desperately as his legs gave out underneath him.

“Did you know?” Tony's voice sounded tinny, and the camera was pointed right at Steve's face. “ Don't bullshit me, Steve, did you know?”

Steve's face fell in a guilty expression, and then the camera went wild as the fighting began.

“Is this Russia?” from Natasha, who was staring, open mouthed. “Is this what happened when Tony went after Steve and Bucky?”

“This is the video feed from inside Tony's mask.” Vision replied, and Bucky sent a worried look at Tony. “It records constantly and I simply asked FRIDAY for a download of it.”

The team watched in horrified silence as the camera jerked left and right, as Tony tried to fight off both Steve and Bucky at the same time.

When Bucky's arm was blasted off from a repulsor, they all turned to look at him, and he rolled his shoulders uncomfortably.

“Stay down.” came Tony's voice. “ Final Warning.”

“I can do this all day.” Steve retorted, and the fighting began again, worse now, as they all got a first person view of Steve beating on Tony, of Tony frantically asking FRIDAY for help and how to analyze Steve's fighting pattern.

And then Tony's mask was ripped off, tossed across the floor, and they got a sideways view of Steve straddling Tony's waist, hammering punches into his face.

God.” Wanda buried her face in her hands and cried out when Steve reached for his shield, raising it high and smashing it into Tony's chest.

“You don't deserve that shield.” video Tony called, and even though they couldn't hear if Steve said anything in reply, the shield was tossed onto the floor as he and Bucky limped out of sight.

“God dammit.” Sam held his hand over his mouth, dark eyes wide in horror. “What the fuck. What the fuck Captain.”

The camera blinked back to life, staticky, and fuzzy, but clear enough to hear Tony begging FRIDAY to call the helicopter, groaning instructions to fly him back to the compound, the AIs calm voice giving him a medical evaluation. “Sir, you have suffered a fracture to your occipital cavity, a mild concussion, three broken ribs, severe bruising, and I have detected what might be internal bleeding but I won't know for sure until we can get you to a hospital. Lie down, sir, I will get you home.”

“The compound isn't home.” Tony's voice was barely audible. “ Not anymore.”

“Is there somewhere else you wish me to take you, sir?”

“I don't have anywhere else to go.”

The video cut out then, the television going dark  and all that came over the speakers was the rattling sounds of Tony trying to draw a breath.

When it finally ended, the team all turned and stared at Tony, who had both fists pressed into his eyes and was rocking himself on the chair, bent nearly double, his forehead almost touching his knees.

“Tony.” Bucky couldn't keep the emotion from his voice, couldn't keep the anguish, and he started across the room to hold him. “ Goddamnit Tony, honey, let me--”

“Get away from me.” Tony stood shakily, scrubbing tears off his face. “All of you just stay the hell away from me. Vision, fuck you for doing this. What did you think this would accomplish?”

“I think they needed a direct reminder of what you went through because of Captain Rogers decision to not sign the Accords, because of his decision to break the law and go after Sergeant Barnes and as a result to turn against you.”

Vision turned his fearsome gaze on the rest of the team.

“You all complain every day about the few short days you spend in prison, the inconvenience of being a fugitive. You complain because you don't have free reign to run the world like you wish. But not one of you ever thought to ask how it was Steve escaped Russia. Not one of you realized that the price of having your Captain and the Sergeant by your side was this. ” he waved his hand at the screen.

“You all, this team of Avengers….” Vision stared at all of them in disgust. “I can understand why Ultron’s first inclination was to wipe you out.”

Then he turned and left, stopping only long enough to lay a big hand on Tony's shoulder. “I am sorry, Tony. I know this wasn't easy, and I regret there wasn't a better way.”

“Tony.” Bucky tried to reach for him again, Steve came towards him as well, and Tony backed up so quickly he knocked over several chairs before making it to the doorway.

“Stay the fuck away from me.” he shook his head, unable to stop his hands from shaking, unable to even breathe properly. He turned and ran, locking himself in his room, and curling up in his closet, before giving into the panic, into the need to scream and cry and rage, until black rolled over him and his world was finally silent.

********************

Chapter  Nine

********************

Room 142

Hilton Inn and Suites

Tony tossed the key in the trash as he entered the kitchen, darting a glance at Sam who sat reading the paper.

He edged close to the coffee machine, turning his back so Sam wouldn't try to talk to him, just wanting to get his coffee and get the fuck out .

“I should have seen it, Tony.” Sam said quietly and Tony stiffened but didn't turn around. “Out of all people I should have seen the symptoms of your PTSD and tried to help you. I used to counsel people with that, and I can't tell you how sorry I am.”

“It's fine.” Tony said, and fled the room.

***********************

Room 344

Hilton Inn and Suites

Another few days, another key appearing on his desk.

Tony tossed that one in the trash as well.

“I made you some coffee.” Wanda set a cup down carefully on the edge of Tony's desk. “I didn't know how you take it so I brought milk and sugar and creamer and something non dairy---” she was pulling things out of her bag as she spoke, until a small pile of coffee additions were piled up in front of him.

“It's one-thirty in the morning.” Tony said without looking up and Wanda bit her lip nervously.

“Its decaf. I just thought you might be cold, the lab is always so dark.”

“It's fine.” Tony waved her off, and the girl stepped back a few paces.

“Tony--” she started and he shook his head.

“Don't.”

“I should have seen the signs in you.” She whispered anyway. “Growing up, with the war and the terrorists, I saw the signs of trauma in people so often it became the norm for me, and I am so sorry I didn't see them in you. I'm sorry I chose not to see them in you.”

“It's fine.”

Wanda watched him for another minute, then silently left the room.

Tony waited until the lab door swished close before wiping the tears from his face.

*******************

Room 312

Hilton Inn and Suites

Tony dropped this key over his balcony as he started his Tuesday with a glass of scotch. Then Natasha appeared from who knows where, just appearing on the balcony next to him.

“What can I do for you, Widow?” He asked tiredly, and she shook her head before reaching and taking the glass from him. “Don't--don't tell me I shouldn't be drinking this early. I'm pretty sure I'm done taking any crap from you.”

“I shouldn't have left when I did.” She said slowly, rolling his glass between her hands carefully. “But I have always been more concerned about my own survival than anyone else's. I didn't even join up with Cap when I left, I just took off to do my own thing.” She closed her eyes for a second. “I don't know what you had to do to get everyone back here and with all charges dropped, but I do know that no one's ever said thank you for it. So thank you, for bringing us home. And I'm sorry that we are making home such a difficult place for you to be. Because that's not right… at all.”

“It's fine.” He said dully, and she handed him back the scotch and rested her forehead briefly on his shoulder.

“We would be lost without you, Tony.”

*******************

Room 322

Hilton Inn and Suites

Tony actually held onto the key for a few hours before tossing it in the trash.

Clint didn't have anything to say, when he showed up in common room and dropped onto the couch next to him with a six pack of beer and a bag of chips.

Tony stiffened and started to move away, but Clint just handed him a beer and ripped the bag open, dropping it on Tony's lap, and settling in to watch the news with him.

Close to an hour later, Clint reached to turn the channel.

“I'm not good at this sort of thing.” He stated. “Actually I'm awful at it. But you were there for me after New York, you saw the warning signs and the residual effects of Loki’s brain washing and you made sure nothing in the Tower triggered me, or that if I did kind of relapse, that I had a safe place to retreat to. And I'm sorry for not being decent enough to do the same for you.”

“It's fine.” Tony placed his still full beer can on the table and got up and left.

******************

Room 119

Hilton Inn and Suites

Tony wondered idly how long Bucky was going to keep leaving keys for him. It had been close to three weeks now and the keys appeared every three days like clockwork.

Each member of the team had showed up at one point or another, to apologize, to ask if he needed help, to try to talk to him. Vision had made a point of being almost constantly present, only giving Tony space when he tinkered in his lab, because Bruce and FRIDAY could both keep an eye on him.

Bruce had apologized, of course, horrified over what Tony had gone through, but Tony had shut him down. Banner had disappeared long before everything had happened so it was fine .

“I should have seen the signs of your PTSD, and I didn't.” Banner was watching him work. “I spend so much time wrapped up in keeping my own emotions in check that I forget to even pay attention to anyone else and I'm sorry.”

“It's fine.”

“It's not .” Bruce insisted. “Bucky even came to me and talked to me about it, talked to Steve too and neither one of us took him seriously and I just… I'm so sorry, Tony.”

“Bu-bucky noticed? And tried to get you guys to help me?” Tony blinked a few times. “ Bucky was the only one to notice? Before I started working on his arm we didn't even talk to each other. And he was the only one to say something? Out of the entire team?”

“Yeah.” Bruce looked so sad it almost hurt Tony's heart. “I'm so sorry about that Tony.”

**************

Room 216

Hilton Inn and Suites

The key was sitting on the counter and Tony kept staring at it as he ate his lunch.

“Tony.”

“Damn it.” Tony jerked back a step when Steve entered the kitchen as he was pouring a cup of juice. “ What ?”

“Can we talk?”

Tony set his juice down. “No.”

“Please.” Steve was all big blue eyes and kicked puppy expression and Tony kind of wanted to smack him.

“No. We can't.”

“Then let me say I'm sorry. That I'm actually sorry.”

“No.” Tony repeated, and picked up the keycard from the counter. “I have someplace to be.”

**********************

Tony opened the door to Room 216 and Bucky turned from the window with a hopeful expression on his face.

“Oh god, you came.” His deep voice cracked a little. “I was trying to give you space and I was starting to think you wouldn't ever--”

“I need you to help me not feel like this anymore.” Tony interrupted, folding his arms tightly across his chest. “Ever since Vision showed that video I feel like I'm drowning. Like something's crushing me. I can't close my eyes because I have nightmares. Can't sit in silence because I hear voices. The team keeps coming up to me and apologizing and I think all that does is restart this whole stupid cycle. I need you to make me feel something that's not… any of that. Can you do that?”

“Yes.” Bucky said firmly. “I can do that, Tony, I can.”   He crossed the room and reached for him, breathing a sigh of relief when Tony came willingly. “I'll make you feel good, honey, make you forget about all this for a little while.”

“I don't want to have to think about anything.” Tony mumbled, curling his fingers into Bucky's shirt.

“I'll do it all.” Bucky promised. “All you have to do is say yes or no when I ask. That's it. Yes or no and I'll take care of everything else. Alright?”

“Yes.”

*****************

Chapter Ten

*****************

Bucky turned off all the lights in the room, but the lamp in the corner, keeping it on the lowest setting so he could still just barely see Tony on the bed.

Tony had stripped to just his boxers, and was lying perfectly still on top of the covers, his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes closed, so tense he was nearly vibrating, and Bucky hurt for him.

He slipped his shirt off, but kept his pajama pants on and sat on the side of the bed, hands folded loosely in his lap.

“You just gotta tell me yes or no when I ask, alright Tony? I'm gonna do everything else for you tonight. Are you-- are you more comfortable in the dark? You wants lights all the way off?”

“No.”

“That's perfect honey, cause I really want to see you like this.” Bucky reached out to touch and then pulled his hand away. “Do you want a safe word, Tony? Something so I know to stop everything right away?”

“No.” Tony grunted. “You aren’t gonna hurt me. Trust you.”

“Oh sweet thing.” Bucky's eyes lit softly. “Of course you can trust me.” he shifted a little on the bed and took a deep breath. “Can I touch you now?”

“Yes.”

Bucky reached out and uncrossed Tony's arms, running his hands soothingly up and down as he placed them on the bed. Then he touched over his chest, tracing the fading scars that the arc reactor had left, unable to think about Tony going through something like that, something that would have killed any other man.

“You’re so strong.” He murmured, pressing lightly on the scars for emphasis and Tony's breathing slowed, evened out as Bucky's fingers slid up his neck into his hair, tugging lightly, scratching at his scalp until Tony sighed and relaxed further into the bed.

“Can I kiss you?” Bucky was already leaning in, already licking his lips in anticipation.

“Yes.”

Their mouths came together in a long embrace, tongues sliding against each other in a slow tangle. Bucky's right hand wrapped around Tony's neck just enough to make him whimper a little, and Bucky stroked a thumb over his throat..

“Do you like my hand here?”

No .” Flashbacks of being thrown from the Avengers tower. Of Thor nearly breaking his neck after Ultron. “No.” he repeated and Bucky murmured something soothing and started to pull away.

“But maybe--” Tony's eyes opened for a second. “Maybe another time… soft restraints?”

Bucky made an interested noise at that but kept his hand light, mouthing over Tony's jaw, sliding down his neck and sucking a hard bruise over his collarbone. “Whatever you would like, Tony.” he whispered,  letting his left hand rest easily at Tony's waist, pressing lightly on his hip until Tony was pushing back up against it rhythmically, starting to pant softly.

“Roll over for me?” Bucky asked gently, standing up to give Tony some room, and Tony didn't bother replying, just flipped over to his stomach. “Can I lay on the bed with you?”

“Yes.”

Bucky stretched out next to him, his right hand moving in slow circles down Tony's back, fingers digging in for a soft massage and Tony sighed and wiggled further into the covers. Soft kisses down Tony's spine, working his way down the still too prominent vertebrae, scraping his teeth over sensitive skin when Tony twitched underneath him.

“Teeth?”

Yes.” Tony whispered and Bucky grinned, nipping a sharp bite into his lower back, before dipping his tongue into each of the dimples right above the curve of Tony's ass. He shifted so he was kneeling between Tony's legs, pushing them apart, and leaned over to lick and kiss over the same little divots, as Tony made a satisfied little noise.

Bucky moved lower now, running his nose over Tony through the thin cotton of his boxers, his fingers roaming experimentally over each rounded globe, and dipping down in between. “Off?” He mumbled and Tony nodded. “Yes or no honey, need a word.”

“Yes.” Tony lifted his head from the pillow long enough to say.

Bucky breathed a sigh of thanks and hooked his fingers through Tony's waistband, pulling the material down long legs and throwing them into a corner, lips curling in a smile as he finally got to get his hands all over the gorgeous man. Kneading and pushing, pressing hard against the muscles until Tony was shifting restlessly on the bed, then Bucky slid lower, biting little kisses until the pale skin was dotted with red and Tony was starting to lift his hips, pushing back into him.

“Lube?” Bucky asked and Tony reached under the pillow to hand him a small tube. “Are you ready? We can back up, go slower, skip this altogether. Just tell me, baby. You want me, like this?”

“Yes.” Tony tensed up though, and Bucky shook his head quickly.

“Come on Tony. Stay with me, stay with me.” He slid up Tony's body, rubbing his chest against Tony's back until they were lined up, laying gentle kisses over his neck, over his jaw and face, as much as he could reach, until Tony was melting beneath him again. “That's better, just relax baby, I'm gonna make you feel good, okay? I'll be slow and gentle and everything's gonna be fine.”

Tony nodded, breathing out a deep sigh and relaxing his tight grip on the sheets. “Trust you, Bucky.”

“Ah honey, you can always trust me. Never gonna hurt you.” Bucky eased off Tony slowly, keeping as much skin contact as he could, until he was kneeling behind him again, until he could coat his right fingers in the warning lube, and press low between Tony's legs, searching for the tight entrance. Tony hissed when Bucky brushed over him, but lifted his hips into the touch anyway.

“Like this? Just one?” Bucky asked quietly, and Tony sucked in a quick breath.

“Yes.”

Bucky stretched his left arm up the bed to keep his balance, and was surprised when Tony reached out and wrapped a hand around the silver wrist.

“Yeah?” Bucky asked, and Tony nodded, holding him a little tighter. “Whatever you want, Tony. Let me just--” Bucky tensed his arm, the plates all realigning until they locked into place, keeping his elbow bent and Tony sighed a little and stroked the arm with his fingers. “Better? Hold as tight as you need.”

Bucky urged Tony up,  and went back to touching him softly, easily , barely any pressure until Tony was rolling his hips, clenching at the bed sheets again, and then Bucky moved, opening him up as gently as he could.

“More now, is this good?” He asked after a few minutes, once Tony was groaning softly.

“Yes, please.”

Bucky stretched him carefully, scissoring his fingers, rubbing over a bundle of nerves that had Tony cursing and dropping his head into the pillows, rocking back into every motion of Bucky's wrist, his cock jumping and leaking steadily now. He was moaning, and kept one hand firmly wrapped around Bucky's arm, the other reaching down to touch himself. Bucky wanted so badly to help, but couldn't with two fingers inside him, and other arm being held by Tony.

“Bucky.” He murmured, and Bucky stilled, leaning down to kiss Tony shoulder.

“What is it, honey?”

“I'm ready.” Tony breathed a shaky sigh. “Don't want to wait anymore. Come on .”

“I don't want to hurt you.” Bucky whispered. “I'm big , Tony. Are you sure you’re ready?”

Yes.”

Bucky unlocked his arm and Tony shook his head unhappily, trying to hold on as Bucky moved.

“Just a second.” He promised, reaching for a condom and more lube to slick over himself, watching hungrily as Tony spread his legs open further, watching as Tony stroked over himself, moaning as he dragged his thumb over the sensitive head.

Bucky was ready, and scooted up closer between his legs. “Deep breath, Tony, in and out for me.” He stretched further over Tony's back and placed his left hand right next to the pillow by Tony's head, and locked up again, the clicks and whirs and shifting plates making Tony smile.  

He took a deep breath in, then dropped his head to pillow and exhaled loudly. “ Fuck.” Tony groaned as Bucky entered him, wanting to scream from the absolute stretch but just bit his lip instead, panting quick breaths until after forever Bucky's hips met his.

“Oh that's good .” Bucky gasped. “You okay, this alright? Please say yes.”

Yes, fuck, you’re big. Dammit .” Tony was trembling, waiting for the burn to ease, gripping Bucky's wrist hard. Then he moved experimentally, rolling his hips forward and sliding back and “ God that's good.” He did it again, jerking forward and sitting back and a cry ripped from his throat because everything--fuck everything about Bucky inside him was so good. “Come on, Bucky.” he managed. “ Please .”

“Yeah, baby.” Bucky eased out slowly, carefully, gripping Tony's slim wais gently. “You feel amazing, I didn't realize how good--”

“More.” Tony demanded, and pushed himself back onto Bucky's cock, pulling a startled cry from Bucky when their hips slammed back together.

“Tony---”

More .”

Bucky dropped his big hands to Tony's hips, planting a soft kiss between his shoulder blades, then pushed in hard .

Yes!” Tony nearly shrieked and Bucky gave a groan that was almost a growl and started in with a fast pace, pulling cries and whimpers from Tony as he thrust into him, staring down at so much of him disappearing into Tony, over and over and fuck so much heat, Tony's body was so hot and tight and Bucky thought he could do this forever.

“You’re so good like this.” he praised, shifting between Tony's legs until he brushed over that bump inside that really made Tony scream. “Look how good you take me. Fucking made for me.”

A full body shudder rippled through Tony when he heard that, and his hands tightened so much around Bucky's left wrist that his knuckles turned white. Bucky couldn't feel it, couldn't feel how Tony's nails were digging into the metal, but the sight alone-- Tony holding on to him, Tony depending on him-- punched his arousal up even higher and Bucky took him faster, harder , leaving bruises on Tony's soft skin as he held him still.

“Want to touch you, Tony.” He groaned. “Can't with my arm locked like this. Let me touch you.”

“No.” Tony shook his head. “No no no leave it here, this is perfect, want to hold onto you like this.”

“Want to make you come first, then I'll be right back, I promise .” Bucky insisted. “Love to see you holding me baby, god so much, but let me make you come, let me take care of you.”

No, you first.” Tony was pushing back into each thrust now, urging Bucky on more , “take care of me later.”

“Not how I do things.” Bucky argued and Tony managed a short laugh in between each jolt as their hips met.

“You've never done things like me before.” Tony teased  breathlessly and Bucky bit his shoulder hard in reply, making Tony shriek and shudder beneath him.

“Come on Tony.” Bucky pleaded, “let me… need to… can't wait…”

“I said no.” Tony snapped and Bucky did that sexy growl thing again before forcing Tony's legs further apart to drive himself deeper inside, and Tony pushed his face farther into the pillow to muffle his scream as Bucky filled him even more, stretched him even more , and fuck it almost hurt but there was no way in hell he was going to stop.

“God Tony I'm close, honey, I can't wait, can't wait you’re so good like this so fucking--”

Yes yes yes yes.” Tony cried and tightened every inch of himself he could and Bucky jerked forward, burying himself as far as he could in that sweet body, and coming with a shout, crying out for Tony.

“Tony, Tony, Tony.” Bucky rocked against him slowly as the sharp edge of pleasure gave way to something softer and sweeter, and he pressed kisses all over Tony's back as he tried to come back to himself.

“Dammit.” he choked out, trying to catch his breath, and Tony laughed a little.

“Good?”

“Fucking hell, baby.” Bucky pulled out as slowly as he could, before tying off the condom and tossing it in the trash. “Turn over, sweet thing, let me take care of you now.” He ran gentle hands up Tony's back, helping him turn over and stretch out against the pillows.

“God dammit , look at you.” Bucky couldn't stop his groan, licking his lips when he saw how hard Tony was, saw his cock lying hard against his stomach, a puddle of pre-come pooling beneath the head.

“God you're gorgeous. Can I-- with my mouth?” Bucky barely remembered to ask, but Tony was already pushing his head down with one hand, the other hand gripped firmly around Bucky's left bicep.

Bucky licked and lapped at the bitter sweet liquid before taking Tony into his mouth, relaxing his jaw and working his tongue over every inch, and when Tony thrust up hard, Bucky just took a deep breath and swallowed around him.

“Yeah, like that.” Tony pushed himself between Bucky's red lips, until he couldn't go any further and Bucky's throat was squeezing around him, the soldiers nose pressed against his stomach. “ God yes, yes Bucky more like that. More more more .”

Bucky slurped up and down his length, hollowing his cheeks and sucking hard, two fingers slipping back inside Tony, pulling a startled moan from the man, but he pushed back against the intrusion until Bucky started working over his prostate again and then Tony was holding his head down, fingernails digging into silver plates as he came pulsing down Bucky's throat, his voice ragged as he cried his name.

********************

********************

“Your eyes are closed.” Bucky whispered and Tony's lips lifted in a tired smile.

“Not seeing bad things anymore. Not hearing them either.”

“Ah, sweet thing.” Bucky leaned down and kissed him gently, teasing the seam of his lips until Tony opened for him, sighing happily.

After a quick break to clean up, to brush their teeth and put pajamas back on, Tony had crawled across the bed and curled right into Bucky's arms, content to be held as he still floated in a post-sex daze. Bucky had just wrapped both his arms around him, keeping him tight against his body, still feeling loose and loopy because it had been so good between them.

But then--“You alright? Was that okay?” Bucky asked hesitantly and Tony's eyes opened.

“Yes. Yes.”

I didn't mean to--” Bucky gestured awkwardly. “I got a little carried away, should have gone slower with you. Taken better care of you, I'm sorry about--”

“It was perfect.” Tony said with a small shake of his head. “I asked you to make me feel something… different, and you did. It was perfect . You’re perfect.”

“I like looking at you like this. Satisfied, sleepy.” Bucky brushed their lips together again. “Thank you for trusting me with this.”

“With what?” Tony wanted to know, but he was snuggling closer, wrapping his arms around Bucky's waist, fingers idly skipping down the metal plates on his left side.

“With your heart.” Bucky whispered and Tony closed his eyes and let himself be a little less afraid of what was happening between them.

“I like looking at you too, Bucky.”

*****************

Chapter Eleven

****************

It seemed like forever, but things slid back into a semblance of normal at the compound.

The once a week nights at the hotel helped a lot.

Sometimes Tony held tight to the cool metal limb, shaking, screaming his pleasure into the dark as Bucky took him apart slowly, carefully, expertly. Other times the soldier was the one shuddering, groaning, crying out as he came with Tony thrusting deep inside him. And then some nights they would just lay together and talk about their days, with the lights off and the covers pulled tight around their shoulders.

But no matter what they did, it all helped.

Tony still jumped if someone startled him, was still much quieter than he used to be, but he wasn't running from the room every time the team argued. He didn't flinch away when Steve spoke to him. The lab had music playing again, even if it was much softer than it had ever been before.

When Natasha sat next to him on the couch now, Tony didn't automatically get up and leave. He could sit with her to close to half an hour as long she didn't expect too much conversation.

Sam made a point to sit and eat breakfast with Tony every morning, even if Tony was only having juice, and they could talk over breakfast for several minutes before Tony started feeling uncomfortable and wanted to leave.

Wanda had started doing things like levitating items over to him, and flicking a door open any time Tony needed it, He'd nearly fallen over in fright the first time his office door shot open and banged against the wall to let him out, but he had managed to smile at her anyway, and she had absolutely lit up, thrilled to be doing something for him.

Vision flitted in and out, as he usually did, ending his day with a visit to Tony's lab to wish him goodnight, and to reassure Tony that he was there if he ever wanted to talk. Tony had stopped grimacing every time Vision spoke, and the ( being?) man took that as a personal victory.

Eventually, even movie nights started again. The team certainly didn't dogpile on the couch like they used to, and Tony still sat closest to the door, but he smiled along with the comedies, and discussed plot points during the dramas, and didn't leave before the movie ended, content to stay with the team until everyone was heading to bed.

It wasn't perfect.

But it was better.

And he hadn't had a panic attack in weeks.

*************

Room 206

Hilton Inn and Suites

Tony picked up his phone and called down to the gym where he knew Bucky and Steve were working out.

“Hello?” Bucky's voice was hoarse, tired from working out, and the sound sent heat curling through Tony's spine because it was almost what the soldier sounded like when he finished and that was just… gorgeous.

“Hello?” Bucky asked again, a little impatiently and Tony shook himself back to the moment.

“Maybe we skip the hotel and you spend the night in my room tonight.” Was all he said before hanging up.

As he was climbing into bed at nearly midnight that night, Bucky came swinging in through the open window, dropping silently to the floor and pulling a frightened half to death Tony into his arms for a mind blanking, body drugging kiss.

“Maybe next time you don't drop in on me like a sneaky super villain.” Tony managed when Bucky pulled away just long enough to let him breathe.

“Maybe next time you don't call me while I'm working out and tell me that we can stay in your room tonight for the first time. Do you know hard it was not to drag this butt of yours upstairs and lock you in here with me right then?”

“Um, this hard?” Tony squeezed him for emphasis, stroking up and down the bulge in Bucky's jeans, then ran his fingers up the left arm. “Or this hard?”

“Both, Tony.” Bucky tossed him onto the bed and started ripping his clothes off. “It was exactly as hard as both of those.”

Tony had to hide his laughter in a pillow so no one else would hear, and after they were done, after Bucky had come back to bed, Tony was still giggling a little bit and brushed their noses together and Bucky thought he might actually cry because Tony laughing was the best thing he'd ever heard.

************************

************************

“Tony.”

“Steve.” Tony looked up from his computer, the schematics for a new arm for Bucky up on every screen in the room. “What's up?”

He still got a little nervous around Steve, still had to squash the urge to flee if the blonde moved too quickly, but it was getting better at least. And things between Bucky and Steve seemed like they were fine now. It had been a rough couple of weeks while the team came to terms with Russia and the video Vision had forced on them, but after Tony had stood up on a meeting and told them all to get off Steve's back because it was over and done with, they had all grudgingly come back around, and things were running mostly smoothly around the compound. Tony liked to think bringing back movie night had a lot to do with it, but honestly he was just glad nobody was shouting at each other anymore.

“Can we talk a minute?”

“Sure thing.” Tony clicked his screens off and clasped his hands loosely in front of him, waiting for Steve to talk.

“I wanted to let you know I appreciate you standing up for me in front of the team.” He started off slowly. “I feel like they were about two minutes from a mutiny, not that I didn't deserve it, but… thank you.”

“You're the Captain.” Tony shrugged. “They need to respect you.”

“Well, I…” Steve ran his hands through his hair uncomfortably. “Tony, watching that video made me realize or--or remember how bad that was. I know I've apologized but Tony I just--”

“Steve.” Tony shook his head. “Let's not do this. Things are okay between us.”

“But not like they used to be.”

“I don't think--” Tony sighed. “I don't think things were ever what we thought they were between us. I think it's pretty obvious that what I thought we were and what you thought we were are two completely different things. And I've come to terms with that so we can move on now.” He rubbed his neck. “You and I are… teammates , Steve. Always gonna be teammates and that's.. that's fine with me. I've gotten over my hero worship, and all the bull shit that came with it.” A hurt look flashed over Steve's face and Tony felt the littlest bit guilty.

“It's not that I still don't admire you, Captain, you're a hell of a leader and stick to your principles and that's all… that's all things I admire, but I suppose now I admire them.. from a distance.”

“I'm never going to be able to look at you and not feel terrible, Tony.”

“Yeah, well you pretty much deserve that.” But Tony stood and held his hand out for Steve to shake. “But you and I are… well, we wouldn't be superheroes if we didn't fight each other every now and then, right? That's what makes for the good stories later on. Some conflict and some drama?”

Steve gripped his hand hard. “You're a better person than I am, Tony. Thank you for… this.”

“I'm definitely a better person than you.” Tony said dryly, folding his arms over his chest. “But I won't tell anyone if you won't.”

*****************

“I'm always surprised how cute your ass is.” Bucky teased. “Every time you wear those tight suit pants I want to rip them right off of you.”

“So...every day?”

God every day. Can I-- can you open up a little more for me?”

“Yeah.” Tony spread his legs a little and Bucky pushed him open even further, bending one of Tony's knees to move it higher up the bed.

“Perfect.” Bucky said with a grin. “Who knew Tony Stark just wanted to be split in--”

“Don't you finish that sentence.” Tony warned but his eyes were sparkling and Bucky jumped on him and startled tickling him, each shriek and little scream just encouraging the silly torture.

Finally when Tony couldn't breathe anymore, and was gasping for mercy, Bucky lay all the way out on top of him and framed his face carefully.

“I like looking at you.” He said firmly, staring right into Tony's eyes, and Tony covered Bucky's hands with both of his.

“Like looking at you too.”

***********************

***********************

“Hey Tony.” Rhodes caught his best friend in a hug and Tony just lit up and hugged him back. “You are looking much better.”

“You too.” They didn't release one other, just chatting quietly with an arm around each other's shoulders as Tony led them over to a couch, sitting as close as he could to his oldest friend, laughing loudly when Rhodes said something funny. They switched so Rhodeys legs were over Tony's lap, and he worked his fingers into the muscles, feeling the implants he had designed so Rhodey could walk again after the accident with Vision. Running his hands up Rhodes thighs teasingly until the Colonel slapped his hands away, scolding him for turning a good moment into an awkward moment, and Tony laughed until he had tears in his eyes.

He missed this. Missed spending time with his best friend. War Machine had been shut down after Rhodes accident and he knew his friend missed flying, missed even being able to walk without hurting, and that made Tony's heart hurt .

But moment like this, where they could just talk and laugh and give each other hell-- it was easy to forget they won't both battle scarred and bitter. No, like this it was almost like the MIT days when they roomed together and all Tony had was Rhodes to look after him, to keep his loud mouth out of trouble.

Simpler times.

But Tony blinked the depressing thoughts away, and cracked up as Rhodes told a story, and they giggled away almost two hours with each other.

Bucky had stumbled upon the domestic little scene and had just watched from across the room and tried not to be jealous, knowing that Rhodes and Tony were just platonic, but still kind of hated the man with his arm around his Tony. Kind of hated the Colonel for being able to show his affection so openly, even though the men were basically brothers. Kind of hated that his Tony even wanted to laugh with and be close with another person.

Which was just… so ridiculous on Bucky's Part and he knew it.

Tony wasn't … his. But it felt like it. Especially lately, when they spent more nights than not wrapped around each other, teasing each other because Tony definitely had a metal arm kink, and Bucky lost his mind every time Tony wore those ridiculous worn out red flannel pajama pants. He would get flirty little texts randomly throughout the day, and even when Tony was zoned out working he would glance up every few minutes to catch Bucky's eye and smile a little.

It was all amazing.

But they didn't do this . Didn't take over the couch and boo at anyone who tried to interrupt their time. Tony didn't sit with his arm around Bucky's shoulders while they talked. Bucky couldn't casually rest his hand on Tony's thigh and lean close and talk like the Colonel could.

And all of that was starting to drive the soldier crazy.

But no, he supposed Tony wasn't his , so he should probably stop narrowing his eyes and clenching his fists in Rhodeys general direction.

“Jealousy is not a flattering color on you.” Vision said quietly, suddenly, startling Bucky enough that he actually jumped. “What Tony and James share is a wonderful, soul deep brotherhood. And that is all. Surely you know that Tony's heart belongs to you.”

“I don't know that at all.” Bucky answered through gritted teeth. “I just hope it.”

*****************

Chapter Twelve

*****************

“Hey guys.” Tony stopped in the common room area, and the team looked up expectantly. “I'm heading out for a few days. Just wanted to let everyone know, because you all have developed this fairly annoying habit of tracking me down if you lose sight of me for more than a minute so… you know.”

“Bye Tony!”

“Travel safe.”

“Bring me back something.”

“Wasn't he just gone on something?”

“He has a company to run it's not like Iron Man is his only job.”

The team tossed various goodbyes at him and went right back to their business.

Bucky was sitting on the far end of the room and looked up quickly, meeting Tony's eyes with a small smile. He knew Tony had had this little trip planned for a week or so but was disappointed that he was leaving without a proper goodbye. They hadn't been able to spend the last couple nights together, and Bucky already missed him.

“Ahem.” Tony cleared his throat obnoxiously, and the team looked back up, Bucky included.

“I will miss you.” Tony said loudly, staring across the room into Bucky's blue eyes.

“Uh, we will miss you too, Tony.” Clint offered hesitantly and Sam nodded slowly.

“Yeah, Tones, we will miss you too.”

“And--” Tony started to speak again and stopped, biting his lip anxiously. Bucky leaned forward in his chair curiously, wondering what could possibly have Tony nervous. “And--” Tony started again, straightening his shoulders. “And I love looking at you.”

Then he was gone, nearly running out of the room as the team all stared at each other awkwardly.

“Um. I'm going to assume that he's drunk.” Natasha said with a shrug. “He always used to get super sentimental after a few whiskeys.”

*******************

Tony was hurrying up the stairs to the helipad when Bucky appeared out of nowhere and snatched him back down several steps, catching him before he fell, and pinning him to the wall.

“What's up Buck?” Tony asked, one eyebrow raised, but he knew already and couldn't stop grinning.

“You honestly were going to announce that you loved me in a room full of Avengers and then walk out the door and leave on a trip?” Bucky's voice was low and growly and Tony fucking loved it.

“Oh. Cracked my code, did you?” He teased.

“Tony.” Bucky surged over him in a hard kiss. “Tony, you know I love you too. You know I do. I know I haven't said it but god sweet thing, I am head over heels for you. Tell me you know that.”

“Well, now I do.”

They kissed for several more minutes but when Bucky started pulling at Tony's clothes, nearly shredding the expensive suit jacket, Tony broke away with a laugh.

“Do you want to come with me?”

“That's what I'm trying to do.” Bucky insisted, working at Tony's clasp. “Come with you. Unless you want to finish first, because baby I'm fine with that too.”

“Oh my god-- are you fucking fourteen?” Tony asked, barely able to speak through his laughter.

“I've been like twenty six for seventy years, honey. I'm not getting much more mature than this.” Bucky replied with a teasing smile and Tony shoved against him with all his strength, which of course did nothing, but Bucky stepped away anyway, grabbing Tony's hand and pressing it to his lips.

“Do you want to come with me?” Tony asked again, quieter. “We can spend the long weekend together, instead of sneaking in one or two nights a week and having to be quiet.”

“I feel like the team would notice if we were both gone.” Bucky said awkwardly. “I mean we've been super sneaky so far but it's only a matter of time before they find out and--”

“I don't care if they know, do you?” Tony interrupted challengingly.

“No.” Bucky kissed his palm. “No not at all. Of course I want to come with you.”

“Come on, soldier.” Tony laced their fingers together and headed back up the stairs.

****************

****************

“So… California?” Bucky stared out at the ocean from the balcony of the house.

“Yep.” Tony leaned against the railing next to him. “California.”

“But… why?”

“Because, I can pinpoint the exact moments my life started going wrong, and it all starts in California.” Tony answered with a sigh. “I remember waking up the day I left for Afghanistan, feeling cocky and sure of myself because the Jericho missile was such an easy sale. There was a girl in my bed whose name I didn't remember and I just hopped in my car and took off because Pepper would take care of my date for me.”

He threw a few pebbles down towards the water. “I was sitting in my living room in Cali when Obie literally took the heart out of my chest. My last birthday party was here. I was dying of palladium poisoning and Rhodey had to fight me. We destroyed half the house. And he took my suit and left. SHIELD basically locked me down until I figured my shit out.”

Tony took his sunglasses off, folding his arms over his chest. “Pepper left me, in Cali. She survived New York but couldn't handle my panic attacks and my obsession with my suits. So she left me. And then the Mandarin showed up and destroyed my home. Dropped me into the ocean and pulled my house down on top of me.”

“Tony.” Bucky frowned and reached for him and Tony snuggled into his hard body. “Why would you want to be here again if all of your memories are bad?”

“Because in between all those memories were some of the best days of my life.” Tony admitted. “And I'd like that feeling again.”

“So you bought this monstrosity?”

“That's rude.” Tony jabbed him in the ribs. “It’s smaller than my last house.”

“It's half the size of the compound.” Bucky countered.

“Right. So it's smaller than my last house.” Tony smiled up at him. “And um, the realtor gave me my keys today, so it's officially mine. And I think that after everything that's happened… I'd really like a place to make new memories in. Happy memories. Nothing that comes along with panic attacks and tremors and nightmares. I think this will be the place to do it.

“Well then…Congratulations homeowner.” Bucky teased and Tony held up the key ring.

“Would you like to… hold on to one of the keys for me? That way I don't have to unlock the door for you when you come home?”

*********************

Epilogue

*********************

Bucky's hand held tight to the headboard, the metal arm locked into place, keeping him still as Tony moved steadily inside him, each hard thrust making his fist clench tighter and tighter, until Tony bottomed out inside him with a shout, until Bucky came with something like a scream, spilling all over himself and Tony, the wood splintering and snapping between his fingers until it was nothing but kindling.

Tony started laughing, scrambling for towels to clean up, brushing bits of wood off the pillows as Bucky just lay there, half way to comatose, too wrung out to do anything but grin.

“Lazy.” Tony batted at his heavy arm. “Unlock this thing so I can clean under you. The hotels gonna be furious, this is the third headboard we've shattered this week.”

“Well it's a good thing one of us is rich enough to pay the hotel back, isn't it?” Bucky said and Tony smacked him on the head.

“Ah so it's my money you're after is it?”

“It's already half mine. You're stuck with me now and I swear if you try to leave me I'll take you for everything you've got.” Bucky pulled him down across the bed for a long kiss.

“Never gonna leave you.” Tony mumbled and Bucky kissed him again, blue eyes soft.

“I like looking at you like this.” He murmured, and Tony wiggled closer against him, and Bucky smiled, because where Tony had once been bony shoulders and sharp edges, he was now softer because he was eating regularly again. He had confessed to being self conscious of his soft stomach one night and Bucky had rolled his eyes and spent the next hour showing him exactly how much he liked soft, healthy Tony, who always wanted a snack after sex, and could almost out eat Clint these days on pizza night.

“You like looking at me like what?” Tony was asking and Bucky smoothed his hair off his face.

“Like this . Buying huge houses, impromptu vacationing in Vegas. Even though I have to say I don't really get the point of this city. It seems like a bunch of miles of bad decisions.”

“The point of Vegas--” Tony said, “--is to get drunk, make a haphazard decision to get married, and then hump like bunnies until Sunday, at which time people panic because they remember they have a job to be at on Monday.”

“That sounds… intense.” Bucky admitted. “Even though I can't complain about the Vegas sex.”

“Yeah.” Tony was suddenly serious, tracing over Bucky's jaw line, scratching his fingers through the soft stubble. “Thank you, for seeing that I wasn't okay, back then. I don't know where I'd be if you hadn't insisted on being there for me. I wasn't okay, and you were the only person who… who wanted to change that. I wouldn't have survived without you, Buck. I was so close to giving up. I was done and you--you saved me.”

“Are you okay now, Tony?” Bucky asked quietly, blinking back the tears that came from the thought of Tony giving up . “Are you alright? No more panic attacks, no more shaking, no more wanting to give up? You're fine now, right?”

“Always.” Tony said, swallowing around the lump in his throat. “I'm always fine, now.”

“I love looking at you like this.” Bucky ran his fingers through Tony's hair, rolling them over so he lay between his legs.

“Like what?”

“Like this.” Bucky sighed contentedly. “Relaxed, and happy and actually fine for the first time in years.”

“Don't forget married .” Tony teased. “I'm also married .”

“I was getting there.” Bucky said with a grin, and lifted Tony's left hand so the brand new ring caught the light. “I definitely love looking at you married.”

********************

End