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The Pretender And The Prince

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Dr. Stephen Strange was not a particularly reassuring or gentle man, nor was he very likeable, Tony thought. It was clear that he was only seeing them because Bucky was an interesting case, and because Howard was calling in a favor (and probably paying him a lot of money).

"As far as I can tell, and that's relatively far, there's nothing physically wrong with the boy," he said to Howard, as if Bucky (hardly a boy) wasn't in the room. "Whatever was done to him hasn't left any particular evidence behind, neurologically speaking."

"That's a relief though, right?" Tony piped up. Strange gave him a quelling look, but he'd had worse from Howard. "Means there's nothing wrong with your brain," he said to Bucky.

"How is that possible?" Howard asked. "From what we've been told, there was a physical process in place to tamper with...." he gestured at his temple.

Strange shrugged. "Electrochemical, perhaps, or using some form of undiscovered radioactivity to interfere with the brain's normal memory retrieval patterns. Or he's simply healed from whatever damage was done. The point is there's no brain damage, no lasting traces in his physiology. Though if you ever do find the mechanism that caused this -- "

"No," Bucky interrupted, one of the few things he'd voluntarily said all morning. Strange raised his eyebrows, affronted.

"Well, if you do, you know where to find me. I'm afraid as a surgeon, I can't recommend any next steps, there's simply nothing physical to work with. I can find you a psychiatrist -- you'll want one with a strong neurological background, none of these godforsaken Jungians. I don't really approve of this emotional witch doctor fol-de-rol, but I always like to give my patient an option."

"Thanks, Stephen, we'll take you up on that," Howard said, before Tony could open his mouth. "Tony, Buck, why don't you go tell Jarvis to bring the car around. I need to have a few words with Dr. Strange in private."

"It doesn't mean anything, you know," Tony said, once they were out in the hallway. He lifted his head and sniffed, trying to pick up the smell of coffee.

"That's what bugs me," Bucky said, pointing off to the left. Tony shoved his hands in his pockets, ambling in that direction.

"That it doesn't mean anything?" he asked.

Bucky made a soft, frustrated noise. "That there's...nothing to mean. I don't..." he ran a hand through his hair, recently trimmed back down to the way he'd worn it in photographs Tony had seen from the war. "He can't fix me."

"Because there's nothing to fix. You aren't broken."

"You know that's not true."

"You haven't tried to attack anyone since Zola, and that was justified, plus it was months ago," Tony said.

"Six weeks."

"Okay, a month and a half. Tell the truth, when you jumped me that one time, you were just scared."

Bucky's shoulders slumped. "Doesn't mean it won't happen again."

"But it hasn't. And you only ever went after me once." Tony turned a corner and found a nook with coffee in it. He made a pleased little sigh and grabbed a paper cup.

"You can't keep waiting," Bucky said.

"Waiting for what?" Tony asked, voice light.

"To go back. To Boston. You can't wait for me to be fixed, you have a life."

"And I keep telling you, there's nothing to fix," Tony said. "I'm driving Dad crazy, and both of us know it. He wants me to go back to Boston at this point as much as I want to go. And I'm taking you with me."

"If I hurt you -- "

"You won't."

"You can't know that!" Bucky said angrily. Tony gave him a mild look.

"I don't care," he said, and Bucky blinked at him. "I can take care of myself, but more importantly, nothing in life is certain. You nearly died for me. You broke your conditioning in...days. Do you even remember the Winter Soldier?" he held out a cup of coffee, and Bucky took it slowly.

"Sometimes it...." he looked away. "Feels like a dream."

"Good."

"Maybe it shouldn't. I did things -- "

"No, he did things. You were a prisoner of war, and if you don't remember, I'm glad," Tony said, so fiercely that Bucky blinked again. "Dad says the serum Zola gave you was like Captain America's. You adapt. Which is good news for me anyway because not many people can deal with my very specific brand of...everything," he finished, stirring sugar into his own coffee. "Don't you want to come with me, Bucky?" he asked, eyes big and soulful.

"You're playing me."

"Little bit. Shows how much I want you to come with," Tony said, unrepentant.

Bucky looked down. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Then don't. Come to Boston. If Dad won't let us, we'll run away," Tony said, smiling at him over the rim of his coffee cup. "That'd save Mom the headache of finding me a place that fits all of Dad's requirements."

"You hear the latest? He thinks you should have a rooftop terrace," Bucky said, looking relieved at the change of subject.

"Oh yeah, for all the stargazing I do," Tony laughed. He leaned into Bucky, arm around his neck, and rested his chin on his shoulder. "How about until you trust yourself, I'll trust you for all of us?"

Bucky looked sidelong at him. "Yeah?"

"Swear it," Tony said, leaning back again to down the rest of his coffee. "I'll talk to Dad about Boston when we get home."

***

Bucky suspected that Tony and Howard's discussion of Boston was less talking and more shouting, but he'd come to understand that this was the way they communicated. Jarvis had told him that before his time they'd shouted just as much but been much less effective about it, so Bucky didn't worry too much. He had enough other things to worry about.

At any rate, Howard let Tony go, but he didn't come with them to Boston; he sent Maria to arrange housing matters, with Bucky as driver. Their first full day in Boston they looked at five different places, none of which suited; if it was big enough for Maria, then it was too far from SI Robotics for Tony's tastes. If Tony liked it, Maria would find some kind of fault with the kitchen, or the plumbing, or the other tenants.

"Lucky number six," Tony moaned, as they pulled up in front of a nice-looking town house in the Back Bay. "We're eating after this, right?"

"Yes, dearest, but that doesn't mean we can rush," Maria reminded him. Bucky, whose idea of housing was a wall to put his back to and reasonable cover from the rain, looked up at the house warily. "The entire house is for let, three floors plus the requisite rooftop -- a little more than you need, perhaps, but it's a small three floors, and no more expensive than that penthouse Howard insisted we look at."

"What am I gonna do with three floors?" Tony asked.

"I'm sure you'll find some use for them. Divine for parties," Maria said, waving to the agent who was waiting for them on the front step. They air-kissed, and Tony made a gagging gesture at Bucky.

It was an awfully nice house; back in Bucky's neighborhood, before the war, it'd have held six families at least. Maria deemed the downstairs acceptable for entertaining, the second-floor bedrooms had good views of the city, and the third floor came with a billiards table already installed.

"Well, it doesn't have a doorman or a private chef and I doubt very much you could fit a computer in the basement, but those were Howard's ideas and he is, after all, not here," Maria said, re-inspecting the lounge and wet-bar on the first floor. "Tony, any objections?"

"No, I think this is fine," Tony said. "Bucky?"

Bucky looked up from studying the sightlines from the front windows, startled. "What?"

"You like it?"

It took him a moment to realize he was genuinely being consulted on whether they should rent this place (or buy it, for all he knew). When he understood that he could say no and they would actually reject it and go off for dinner and find somewhere else, he felt something tighten in his chest.

"It's secure," he said, because it was -- good locks on the windows, no covert approaches. "S'too big for you but that never stopped you before," he added to Tony, who grinned. "Sure. It's a fine house."

"Glorious. We'll take it," Maria said to the agent, who beamed and nodded. "Right then! Off to dinner we go. Eat hearty, children, tomorrow we'll need to order some furniture, new draperies of course, and we must replace the rugs in the bedrooms."

Bucky looked to Tony, expecting him to roll his eyes, but he was nodding along. "I need to rewire the kitchen. And the basement probably -- I can fit at least a few racks of IBM tape down there, enough to run Dummy on. You should pick out some fixtures for the kitchen lights. And I'll set up for the electric wine cellar."

"Goodness, darling, I hadn't even thought of wine."

"Jarvis is bringing some up from Dad's collection."

"Oh, that was conscientious of him. Did he give you a list for stocking the kitchen?"

"I got it," Bucky said, patting the pocket where Jarvis's detailed, tightly-folded instructions were stowed. "I'll get that stuff while you do the...house," he added uncertainly.

"Well, you'll need to come with us for some of it," Maria said. "To pick out your bedroom furniture, at the least."

It sounded harrowing, but Bucky nodded. Tony grasped his wrist, squeezed it briefly, and gave him a shy, fond smile before sliding into the car. Bucky climbed into the driver's seat and pulled out into Boston traffic, while Tony and his mother discussed dinner.

***

It was a hell of a week, in the end. Bucky stocked the groceries and carried parcels and mostly stayed out from underfoot, as much as he could. Maria spent most of her time shopping, and Tony was either out with her or in an old boiler suit in the kitchen, ripping wires out of walls with a screwdriver clenched in his teeth. They drove to Cambridge to pack up Tony's old apartment, left standing and unoccupied but still full of his stuff since he'd raced down to Yonkers in the middle of the night to make sure his parents were okay after the Winter Soldier tried to kill them. Tony's friend Rhodey had gone through and cleared out all the food and anything that might start to smell before leaving for the Air Force Academy -- Bucky heard a lot about Rhodey that day -- but they still had to pack Tony's stuff. Which included a robot named Dummy that distinctly did not want to be packed.

At some point, Maria took Bucky to a tailor. He wasn't ever going to recover from that, and he tried not to think about it.

But finally, Friday afternoon, Jarvis arrived on the train with two crates of wine; he installed the wine, inspected the entire house from basement to rooftop, gave Bucky a nod that said he'd done as good a job as any non-professional possibly could, and fed them all dinner from a hamper Anna had packed. After the meal, he collected Maria and the car to take them both home. Tony collapsed on one of the sofas in the downstairs lounge and made exhausted noises.

"Whaddaya want?" Bucky teased, knowing full well that Tony probably wanted a stiff drink. "You want me to put on some music? You want to go out? I bet you know the hot spots for dancin'."

"Nnnnnn," Tony groaned. "I'm never leaving this sofaaaaa."

"Come on, rich boy, all you've done all week is point out where the real working men should put your chairs and curtains," Bucky said, but he went to the bar and rummaged in the little icebox beneath it for a couple of bottles of beer. He poured them out into pint glasses (newly purchased) and brought one to Tony, who sat up just long enough to make room, then slumped against Bucky's arm, feebly sipping his beer.

"I have wrangled my mother all week," Tony pointed out. "And Dad's been calling, asking why we didn't get the place with the doorman, giving me notes for what to do when I invade Robotics on Monday -- "

"Hey, that reminds me, your robot's up on the third floor," Bucky said.

"How'd he get onto the third floor?" Tony asked, vaguely alarmed.

"You're the genius, you tell me. I switched him off till we figure it out, I'm not carrying him down."

"I'll set up a winch or something," Tony sighed. "That and the million and one things I need to do before Monday -- "

"Hey, I was just teasin', you know, about not working hard," Bucky said, slinging an arm around him and pulling Tony's head against his shoulder, the way he used to do with Steve when he was a little fella. "I know how much you did. You don't have to worry about anything tonight."

"I pretty much will anyway," Tony said. "But thanks."

"Howard's got high expectations of you."

"Yeah, well, that's what comes with all of this, I guess," Tony said, waving his hand at the house, the furniture, the...everything. "Can't let the Stark side down."

"You won't. 'Sides, you got me, and you know the last time I sidekicked it was for Captain America, so I have pretty good references."

"You're nobody's sidekick," Tony said, leaning further into his shoulder.

"Nice of you to say, but I'm not the brains of this operation. I'm not the brains of any operation, thank God."

"Bucky -- "

"I'm not complaining. Hell of a lot better than what I used to do."

Tony turned his face up, chin on the ball of Bucky's shoulder. "So you'll look after me, is that it?"

Bucky looked down at him and nodded. "Don't mind if I do."

***

"All right, ladies and gentlemen, I'll keep this brief," Tony said on Monday morning, standing on top of some piece of machinery in the vast warehouse-like open space of SI Robotics' main lab floor, the staff crowded around to listen. Nearly the entire building was really one big, high-ceilinged room, full of desks and machines and tool racks; there were walkways up above but they didn't look like they were used very often. The north end of the building was walled off to make a handful of offices, but otherwise everyone worked more or less in each others' pockets. It made Bucky a little jumpy, but he supposed he'd get used to it, and he tore his attention away from the machines, back to Tony's introduction speech.

"All of you know me," Tony was saying. "Most of you have watched me screw things up at one point or another. And I'm sure none of you think I should be heading up SI Robotics at the tender age of eighteen."

There was mostly silence from the assembled staff -- even to Bucky's eye they were a weird group of tweedy professor types, engineers in coveralls, and hippies. And it was true none of them looked happy.

"Yes, I am the boss's son, and yes, I am aware that my voice broke basically last week," Tony continued. "And yes, I am under a lot of pressure to make us profitable but that will not be at the expense of the innovation that we're engaging in here. I am here to protect you from Stark Industries, not grind you into its gears. You, all of you, take care of your business, make magic happen, and I will make sure that if things go belly-up I take the fall. I think you know I can afford it."

"Well, let nobody say Tony Stark's not a politician," Bucky heard someone say nearby. They weren't wrong, he reflected.

"So for now this is business as usual until I can find my ass without a roadmap," Tony finished. "I'm here to build robots, just like you are. Be ready to explain what you're doing to me, but beyond that I'm not going to throw my weight around. I don't care if it's profitable, I don't care if it's useful, I don't care if it's functional. I only care about whether it's interesting. So what I want from you is hard work and passion. Let me handle the rest. Okay, that's all, managers come to me if you have questions, everyone else go grumble about the new guy."

Tony gave them all a winning smile and Bucky could feel the shift as it happened, see the slight posture changes and the adjustments in facial expression. Angry suspicion was ebbing out, wary calm settling over them as they reacted to Tony's cheerful charm. Most of the staff drifted back to their workstations, while Tony shook hands and smiled at a few who'd come forward to speak with him. Out of habit, Bucky watched them, checking for weapons, for any aggressive gestures.

Tony spent the entire day talking, which was exhausting just to watch. He knew everyone's name and the business of most of them, and Bucky just trailed around behind him, drinking everything in while Tony poked and prodded. He kept a respectful distance, and at one point he went out to the food coach sitting outside the building and bought a sandwich that Tony ate without noticing, but otherwise he wasn't sure what he was meant to be doing.

"They're all interested in you," Tony said to him that night, shedding his coat in the foyer of the townhouse. "They think you're my bodyguard. Maybe my enforcer. I told them you were my secretary."

"Nobody buyin' that," Bucky remarked, heading for the kitchen. He couldn't cook much, but Anna had given him a few lessons while he was staying at the mansion, and stew sounded good. Tony followed him, hopping up to sit on the counter. Bucky took out beef and onions, potatoes, carrots, and put a heavy cast-iron pot on the stove to heat.

"You don't have to actually look after me, you know," Tony said. "I know you like to, but Dad isn't paying you to do that, not really. The money's yours, it's owed to you. I mean, the government doesn't know you exist, you can't exactly draw your pension."

"Well, we both gotta eat, and you can't cook," Bucky said.

"I just mean -- "

"I know, Tony," Bucky said, glancing up at him with a reassuring smile. "Look, I always liked this. I used to look after Steve when he was a little guy, much as he'd let anyone look after him. Tried when he...got bigger, too, but he didn't need it so much then. If I didn't wanna do it, I wouldn't do it, same as you."

"Well, if you wanted a job at Stark, or anywhere else for that matter, you know you could," Tony said.

"Sure. Maybe someday." Bucky scraped the chopped onions into the pan and stirred, listening to them sizzle.

"What would you like to do?"

"I like what I'm doing now. Not just the cooking," he added, when Tony sighed. "Look, back when, I liked machines. The night before I shipped out we went to see your dad demo the flying car."

"Still hasn't perfected that one."

"That's not the point. I thought I might like to work for Stark someday. Building things. Didn't think I'd be wearing one, but I like Robotics. They seem nice. I can learn there," he said, standing next to Tony and minding the vegetables. "Same as you."

Tony drummed his heels against the cupboards and let his hand drift out to touch Bucky's metal shoulder, palm curving around the mass of it. It was something he did sometimes, Bucky wasn't really sure why, but he wasn't bothered. Worse people than Tony Stark had done terrible things to the arm while he was held down. Tony had never touched it with anything except awe and skill, and his hands were gentle.

"You're always thinking about the future," Bucky said.

"I can't help it. I'm a futurist, like Dad," Tony said.

"But this is where we are, right here, right now," Bucky replied, turning to look at him again. "We only got here last week. We can just be here for a little while. One thing I learned in the war, all that time I spent wanting to run forward, wanting to get overseas, to get into the action -- I could have been looking around where I was instead. This is enough, now. For me. To have somewhere to put my head down at night and someone to look after, who looks after me. Too long since I had that last."

Tony reached over and tipped Bucky's chin up with one hand, and he had a fleeting vision of Tony's face, young and somber, big blue eyes luminous, before Tony leaned forward and down and kissed him.

Bucky locked up, startled by the sudden affection, but then dusty memory took over, and he tilted his head to the side just slightly and leaned in. Tony's lips brushed against his again and again, like he didn't have much experience at this -- more likely that he was hesitant to push further -- so Bucky reached up with his left arm, pressed his palm to the back of Tony's neck, and pulled him into a deeper kiss.

Tony slid off the counter without pulling away, plastering himself against Bucky's chest, and --

"Shit!" Bucky swore, stepping back, and Tony looked heartbroken until Bucky blurted, "The onions!"

He turned and found the cast-iron pot smoking, the onions a blackening mess in the bottom. He hefted it with the metal hand, carried it to the sink, and began filling it with water. He pressed the heel of his right hand to his forehead, annoyed with himself, and then reached out without looking and pulled Tony back into his body, head against his shoulder.

"The way you distract me," he said into Tony's ear.

"I do?" Tony asked, sounding delighted, if a little muffled.

Bucky kissed the edge of his ear. "You do."

Tony leaned back and lifted his face. "I thought you might -- feel that way about...."

"You?"

"Men," Tony said, and gave him a rueful look. "I didn't hope for me."

Bucky tangled his fingers in Tony's short, messy curls, smoothing them down, fruitlessly trying to put them into order.

"It's not something it's all that bright to talk about," he said softly. "But yes, men, and yes, you. And," he said, ruffling the hair and then letting his hand fall, "I want to make sure you get dinner. So let me cut up another onion, or pony up for a meal down at the diner."

"Diner," Tony said promptly, beaming.

"Anna isn't going to be happy with me."

"Just another opportunity for her to overfeed both of us when we visit home," Tony pointed out, popping up on his toes for a brief kiss before heading to the foyer to pull his shoes and coat back on. "Come on!"

Bucky rolled his eyes, muttered "The enemy is us," and followed him.

***

Tony was exuberant at dinner, bounding along as they walked to the diner, locking a foot around Bucky's ankle under the table in the booth where they sat, casting gleeful looks at him when he thought nobody else was looking. Nobody was, much. Bucky had seen the kind of attention Howard or Maria got when they went out, and the attention Tony got when he went out with them, but Tony on his own, in a city far less obsessed with glitz or celebrity than Manhattan was, didn't merit much of a second look.

Just as well, Bucky thought, eating his meatloaf and trying not to smile quite as obviously as Tony. Tony's delight in this new discovery, this fragile little bubble of theirs, warmed him from the inside out, but it wasn't that much safer to go with fellas in the sixties than it had been in the thirties. His first duty, always, was to keep Tony safe; he wasn't about to let his guard slip on that count in public.

Tony rambled about his plans for Robotics, his opinion of the diner's food, and what they ought to do about getting Dummy down from the third floor. Bucky mostly listened, enjoying not having to respond to much, until Tony wound down somewhere around the last few bites of dessert.

"Do you want to go walk on the Common?" he asked, pushing whipped cream around on his plate with his fork. "Or go home? Whatever you want."

"You got a particular taste for going walking?" Bucky asked.

"No, but people do it, it's a thing people do. With people they...want to...walk around with."

Bucky pressed his lips together, hiding an amused smile. "How about we go home and try to coax Dummy down from the third floor."

"Oh! Yeah, that'll be fun!" Tony said, sounding like he meant it.

Walking back, Tony stayed near enough their shoulders touched, and his fingers brushed Bucky's right hand often enough that, if they weren't actually holding hands, it felt like it anyhow.

"You said yes," Tony said, quietly, at one point. "About men. So did you ever...?"

"Once or twice. Got curious, you know. Never had anyone steady. No steady girls either, though, so that wasn't unusual."

"Oh," Tony said, looking down.

"You?"

"Guy I knew in college, Ty. Well, we knew each other before college, our dads are friends, but we didn't hang out until I got to MIT."

Bucky's brows drew together. "You were fifteen in college."

"Only the first year! Besides, I'm old for my age. We just fooled around. I guess we weren't steady either."

Tony's shoulders hunched, drawing away from him a little, and Bucky slung his arm around his neck, pulling him back in.

"We can be steady, if you want," he said. "I got no other interests. Unless you like that nice punch card programmer lady who was makin' eyes at you today -- "

"Bucky!" Tony yelped, outraged. "She was not!"

"Or that fella with the gyroscopes -- "

"No," Tony said sullenly, but he huddled up against Bucky as they climbed the stairs to the front door. "I thought you weren't paying attention to the gyroscopes, anyway."

"I'm always paying attention to everything," Bucky said. He held the door for Tony and let him slip inside, then followed him in, shedding his coat and boots in the foyer. Tony turned to face him, blocking the way into the lounge.

"You don't have to," he said, and Bucky could see what it cost him to say this, not just the heartbreak but the humiliation of it. "It's not like...a condition of living here, or my dad paying you, I mean he'd have fits if he knew anyway -- "

Bucky leaned in and kissed him, because he was willing to bet this was a conversation Tony was well-versed in, the complexities of love when it came to Stark money.

"I know that," he said, when Tony was silent, eyes closed, face tipped up to his. "If I didn't like you I wouldn't have come to Boston. Yeah, I grew up poor, and I...lived through some stuff since. But that means I know I can live without it. I don't need any of this, I don't need money. Nice to have," he added, and Tony opened his eyes, smiling weakly at him. "But not necessary. Not something I'd lie to you for."

"I had to offer," Tony said.

"I know."

"So," Tony said, rubbing his palms on his trousers. "Let's go get Dummy down the stairs?"

Wrestling Dummy back down two flights of stairs to the ground floor took what Bucky was sure was at least two miracles, plus a lot of pulling and pushing and ducking whenever the poor thing flailed, trying to see where they were going. As soon as they got Dummy back to ground level, the mystery of how he'd gotten up in the first place became clear: he rolled himself right back over to the dumbwaiter behind the kitchen, hiked his chassis into it using his arm, and then squeezed his arm in, folding it a number of ways before he managed to fit himself fully into the little box. Tony caught his claw just before it pushed the button to automatically carry him back up to the third floor. With Bucky's help, he pried him out of the dumbwaiter and then closed the hatch; Bucky distracted Dummy in the living room while Tony dug out his wrench and drill and bolted the hatch shut.

"He can use it as much as he likes once I put some security barriers on the stairs," he said, setting the tools aside and joining Bucky in the living room, where he was sitting cross-legged on the floor and playing fetch, throwing a balled-up scrap of paper for Dummy to chase. He patted the housing on Dummy's arm and then flipped the switch on his chassis. Dummy powered down with a betrayed little meep.

Tony settled on the floor, dropping his head onto Bucky's shoulder, hooking his chin over his collarbone. Bucky reached up with his left hand, the metal gleaming as he chucked Tony under the chin.

"Whatcha thinkin', genius?" he asked.

"Thinkin' I'd like to fool around with you," Tony said, imitating the hint of Brooklyn in his voice.

Bucky let himself be kissed, leaning back a little as Tony slid around him, only startling for a moment when Tony kept moving to straddle his legs. He was warm and eager, pushy the way Tony always was, but cautious too, always three steps ahead, thinking out his next move, anticipating Bucky's reactions. Bucky had known some bright bulbs in his day -- Howard of course, and Steve wasn't a slouch in the brains department, and Peggy was the cleverest, most well-educated woman he ever met -- but Tony took the prize.

"This fella you fooled around with before," Bucky said, and Tony leaned back to roll his eyes.

"I don't want to talk about him right now," he said pointedly. Bucky pressed two metal fingers to Tony's lips before he could lean in again.

"How old was he?" he asked.

"I don't know, twenty one, twenty two. He graduated the next year."

"So, my age."

"Yeah, but three years ago. Almost four now."

"He was twenty-two and you were fifteen."

"I knew what I was doing," Tony said, starting to sound annoyed.

"I'm sure you did." Bucky let his fingers drift down Tony's throat, the delicate olive skin, the point of his pulse. He wasn't at all sure Tony had, and he'd like to find this Ty fella and have some words with him, but he'd let that go for now. "You and me aren't in any hurry, are we?"

"No," Tony said, tilting his head. "I mean, I guess not. Actually I'm kind of in a hurry, but it's not like we're on a deadline, I just really -- like you," he finished, a little hapless, eyes searching Bucky's face. "You want to, don't you?"

"Yeah, I do, I just want to have a little time first," Bucky said. "Things moved slower in my day, you know."

"What, all of twenty years ago?"

"Closer to thirty, and yeah. It was a different time. Just...this for tonight, all right?" he said, and kissed Tony quickly.

"Okay," Tony agreed reluctantly. "But...why?"

Bucky shrugged. "Instinct. Little bit of time to learn more about this, what it's gonna be. Lemme take you out to a movie, buy you some popcorn -- take you walking on the Common if you want. Do this properly."

"We can take turns," Tony said, sounding like he enjoyed the idea. "Can I buy you flowers?" he teased, and Bucky grinned at him. "Big bouquets of roses and tulips, orchids for your buttonhole, boxes of chocolate -- "

"No flowers!" Bucky insisted, twisting to the side, knocking Tony off his lap in a controlled fall that brought them both to the floor, lying facing each other on the old well-varnished wood, laughing. Tony was brilliant when he laughed.

I almost killed his parents, Bucky thought, the idea drifting across his mind like an unwelcomed stray, and he pulled him in close, holding Tony's face against his chest, hand protective over the back of his head. Tony went as though Bucky were -- worthy of this, worthy of trust, and it nearly broke his heart how much he didn't deserve it. And it scared him, that Tony might find that out.

"Let me keep you safe for a little while," he said into Tony's hair.

"Yeah, okay, whatever, you big weirdo," Tony replied, and pulled away. He sat up, finger-combing his hair back pointlessly. "But I bought dinner tonight so you have to take me to the movies. On Thursday."

"Why Thursday?"

"Because it's gonna be a long week at Robotics so I'm giving everyone Friday off, since I'm the best boss ever," Tony said, yawning. "I should sleep."

"Probably," Bucky agreed dryly, pushing himself up off the floor with a grunt. "Tomorrow we have to put in the robot-proof stairway gates too."

"Ugh, don't remind me." Tony patted Dummy's arm affectionately as he stood up. "And we need to seal off the second floor dumbwaiter hatch completely. I'm not going to wake up someday at three am and find a robot arm leaning over me, watching me sleep."

"If that happens to me, there's gonna be one less robot arm in this house by the time I'm done," Bucky said. Tony smiled and kissed him, but only quickly, only in passing as he headed for the stairs.

"You lock up," he called over his shoulder. He knew full well that Bucky had to lock up; he didn't feel safe unless he'd seen each lock done personally. But it was a nice touch, Bucky decided, not a taunt, just an order that made his paranoia seem less weird.

Tony was good at that, taking the strange and making it ordinary. Bucky watched him go up with a smile, then went to make sure the doors and windows were sealed for the night.

The last thing he did before going to bed, as always, was to peer into the cracked-open door to Tony's bedroom, to see if he needed anything. He never lingered, but he always checked, just to be sure.

Tony was built on sturdy lines, the same way his father had been as a younger man, with the same thick, useful sort of muscle that must be a condition of being an engineer. He wasn't delicate, at least not in that way. But still, asleep, he had the same sort of childlike fragility Steve used to have before the Serum -- a terrible vulnerability that triggered every instinct Bucky had.

Steve would have hated to be thought of that way, and Bucky was sure Tony didn't much care for it either, but he was helpless against the feeling -- he couldn't stop wanting to defend Tony any more than he could grow a new arm. Especially now.

He'd find a good movie to take Tony to on Thursday -- there was that new Disney flick, The Jungle Book, though it was really for the kiddies -- and if they sat in the back, maybe he could put his arm over Tony's shoulders, pull him in close and enjoy the manic warmth he always seemed to exude.

Yes, that'd work fine for now. He'd deal with the future when it arrived -- he was good at that, after all.