“He said no?” Bucky couldn’t help the slightly incredulous tone that crept into his voice at the news, though he regretted it instantly when he saw the way Steve’s face twisted. “I’m so sorry, man, that’s-” He stared at Sam helplessly over Steve’s shoulder. “That sucks.”
“Eloquent as always,” Natasha said dryly.
Bucky narrowed his eyes at her. “Did he gave you a reason?”
Steve shook his head and slumped back against the couch cushions. “No. He just said it wasn’t a good time for us. That he had a lot going on and he didn’t- he didn’t have time for that right now.” Steve’s voice hitched a little and he looked so miserable that Bucky’s immediate response was to go out and beat someone or thing senseless in retribution.
Unfortunately, even if he didn’t mostly like Stark, Bucky knew offering to beat the love of Steve’s life into a bloody pulp was probably the wrong move. He opened his mouth and it came out anyway. “Want me to go beat some sense into him for you?”
“Bucky, no.” Steve looked even more upset, if that was even possible. “No, I don’t want you to say anything. This isn’t anyone’s fault. If he’s not ready, he’s not ready. I just-” He looked away, big shoulders heaving in a heavy sigh. “I thought we were there.”
“So you guys have talked about it before?” Sam asked. He had his therapist voice on, which made the hairs on the back of Bucky’s neck stand on end and made him want to simultaneously run for the hills and spill his guts like a kid in his first confession.
“A little. Nothing formal, but we definitely talked about it. I told him it was important to me. I thought…” He flexed the fingers of his left hand absently. “I thought it was important to him, too.” He finally raised his eyes and Bucky was reminded rather poignantly of the scrawny mutt that had lived behind Steve’s apartment back in old Brooklyn. He stared up at Bucky with something like panic flashing in his eyes. “Did we just break up?”
“Did he say he wanted to break up?” Natasha asked. She perched on the arm of the couch, her hands folded in her lap, her expression carefully sympathetic. “You said before that he was just concerned about the timing.”
“That’s still pretty cold,” Bucky said. “He could have just said yes and then pushed for a long engagement, but he thought it wasn’t a good time. That sounds to me like a guy who’s not ready to commit.”
Sam made bug eyes at him from over Steve’s shoulder and Natasha leaned in close. “You are not helping,” she said calmly before she reached out and laid a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Tony adores you. You know that.”
Steve nodded. “I do.”
“Everyone knows that,” Bucky said, offering reassurance like an olive branch. The guy looks at you like he forgets how to breathe when you’re in the room.”
“And you adore him,” Natasha said. “I know you’re hurt and disappointed, but if you’re this shaken and uncertain, imagine how scared Tony is right now.”
“Scared of what?”
Stark was standing in the door way. He had a pair of safety goggles pushed back on his head, his hair spiking up around them. His tank top and jeans were covered in stains and motor oil and the odd singe mark. His face was streaked with sweat and grease and his hands were stained black all the way up to his elbows. He was wiping at his hands with a rag that had probably been a t-shirt at some point in time but was now nearly as stained as the rest of him. “Scared of you? Maybe. I’m man enough to admit it. You’re an intimidating woman, Romanoff.” He smiled easily, and the corners of his eyes narrowed into laugh lines. He did not, Bucky thought, look like a man who thought his relationship was ending.
Stark took a step into the room, then froze when he saw Steve. “Hey. Steve? Baby? Is something wrong?”
“Is something wrong?” Bucky echoed. “Is something wrong? Come on, Stark, even you aren’t that stupid.”
Stark froze, his hands still, his eyes wide and startled. He licked his lips and drew in a deep breath. His eyes darted from Steve to Natasha and Sam and back to Steve and something a little like resignation and a little like regret settled over him. Bucky had seen that look before, when Stark had screwed up and knew he’d screwed up, but had no idea why.
“Bucky,” Steve said quietly.
“Look, it’s your call to make,” Bucky said. “But for fuck’s sake, give the guy some room to deal with it, okay? You can’t just turn down a guy’s marriage proposal and then act like nothing happened.”
“What? Turn down – Steve never proposed to me.” Stark twisted the rag between his hand. “He never – Steve?”
“Tony, it’s all right. We can talk about it later, I just need a couple of minutes to-”
“You proposed?” Stark stared at Steve, his eyes round with shock. “When did this – Steve what are you talking about.”
“Just now! In your workshop!” Steve stood up so abruptly that Bucky had to take a quick step backwards to avoid getting headbutted by a super-soldier. “You said it was a bad time, and I can respect that, I can, just-”
“You didn’t ask me to marry you.” Stark shook his head, a little side-to-side shake, his eyes never leaving Steve’s face. “You were talking about taking a vacation together.”
“I was not, Tony, I think I would know what I was saying!”
Tony licked his lips. “You said – you didn’t say vacation, but… you said we needed time to be a couple and you wanted us to take a journey together-”
“I was trying to be romantic!”
“I thought it was a romantic vacation!”
“Steve,” Sam said in his therapist’s voice again. “Steve did you actually say the words ‘marry’ or ‘husband’ or anything that wasn’t a metaphor?”
Steve was blushing a fire engine red. “I – I was nervous, all right? I had this whole speech planned out and then it just got away from me and-”
“And I bet he was neck-deep in a project,” Sam said. “And he was working while you guys were talking, wasn’t he? Maybe there was a blowtorch or loud music, and he was distracted, and you were nervous and you two just talked right past each other, didn’t you?”
“Jeez, maybe I should have been offering to pound some sense into you,” Bucky said.
“You asked me to marry you?” Stark said. His hands were shaking, Bucky realized, and he was staring at Steve with eyes that were starting to get suspiciously bright. “You really asked me to marry you?”
“Not very well,” Natasha said. “I feel like you’re owed a do-over on this one, Tony.”
“Steve,” Stark said, and his voice broke on the name.
Steve was across the room in an instant, cupping Stark’s face in his hands. “Tony, will you-”
“Yes,” Stark said instantly. “Yes, now stop talking before we mess this up again.”