Honestly, Tony Stark really didn’t have that much to drink. Just a few flutes of champagne, it was Christmas eve. It was the corporate Manhattan Christmas party for Stark Industries, and he had to make an appearance and be his charming and witty self. It was mandatory—well, not really. He was just feeling more generous lately. So it didn’t make sense why he couldn’t find his car. Sure the light snow didn’t help. The bothersome flakes were sticking to his glasses so he took them off.
He didn’t have valet touch his car. He didn’t want anyone to drive, let along park his latest and fastest toy—Jaguar. Pulling out his phone, Tony tried to locate the car’s GPS chip. He found the car dusted in pearly snow. It gleamed, and it looked like it was made out of diamonds. It might have costed as much. Then he noticed the slashed tires. He didn’t have time to be angry before he was pushed up against his car by a couple of punks demanding money, his phone and anything else of value. Here he was, Iron Man, being robbed by common criminals. The absurdity was not lost on him.
That was when Bucky Barnes came out of the shadows, appearing like some holy Angel of Death, clad in all black from his leather jacket, to his jeans and boots. And eyes so cold and dark, he knew why they called him the Winter Soldier. He scared the living hell out of the muggers, and gave them a nightmare before Christmas.
The only casualties were the cracked screen on Tony’s dropped phone and his bruised ego. Because, no, he didn’t find Barnes scary and attractive. Not even when he crushed that punk’s gun with his metal hand. He didn’t—okay, maybe a little.
“Why are you even here?” Tony asked, brushing the snow off his wool coat.
Tony wondered if Bucky’s arm needed an unscheduled maintenance. Tony rarely saw Barnes outside the Avengers’ complex. When he did see him it was usually to fix his arm or go on missions. They didn’t socialize, but now Tony was realizing that was an oversight on his part.
“Needed to see you, is all.” Bucky shrugged, but his metal fingers were flexing.
“About?” Tony asked, motioning with his hand to go on. Barnes wasn’t very forth coming as he just stared at him. His eyes were not as cold as before, now they were more crystalline blue, reflecting and changing in different light.
Bucky glanced over his shoulder, peering off into the distance, then back again.
“It can wait. Do you want a lift?” He asked, motioning over to the motorcycle that was a short distance away.
The light flurries had stopped; the city noises muffled by the new fallen snow. A sparkling white coat covered cars, trees and the ground. There was really going to be a “White Christmas” this year. Tony knew one small person that was going to be overjoyed about that.
"You’re not like him,” Tony said.
“Like who?” Bucky asked, frowning.
“Cap—Steve. I’m not sure what I was expecting,” Tony said, shaking his head. “But, no, you’re not like him.” He was eyeing his rescuer in a new light.
“I should hope not. He’s a small guy with a chip on his shoulder." Bucky gave out a dry laugh. He stared out at the busy street not looking at Tony.
“I wouldn’t call 6’ 4” and built like a Greek god small,” Tony said with a snort.
“You didn’t know him from before." Bucky spared a glance at him. “He’s the same guy, just a different body.”
“I suppose.” He shrugged.
“But I have a thing for scrappy, shorter guys.” Bucky’s boot toed the pavement.
“You do?” Tony’s eyebrows raised to that.
“Mmm...Mmm,” Bucky hummed as he nodded.
“What are you trying to say?” Tony was trying to get a read on Barnes. The man’s eyes crinkled in amusement and he had a faint smile. But his body language was still. So it took Tony by surprise when Barnes was shoving a helmet in his hands. He didn’t telegraph his movement and it unnerved Tony a bit.
“Just get on the damn bike, Tony,” Bucky said, strapping on a pair of goggles. The look too reminiscence of the “Winter Soldier” persona, but was soften by a huff, his breath lingering in a white puff between them.
Tony watched him straddle the sleek black motorcycle with those muscular thighs and his pulse starting racing, mind wondering what else Barnes could be straddling. No, Tony stop that. He cleared his throat.
“You have a license for that?” Tony gestured to Barnes and the cycle, because clearly Tony had lost his mind. Because Barnes clad in leather on a motorcycle had to be against the law somewhere.
“Very funny, Stark, just get on,” he said, kicking the kick stand up and starting the engine.
“Alright, alright,” Tony shouted over the roar of the engine. Putting on the helmet, he adjusted it before sliding behind Bucky. He placed his feet on the foot pegs and that was where Tony started to panic, his hands began sweating as he bit at his lip. He absolutely did not know where to put his hands. Did he grasp the seat or grasp onto the man in front of him? Either he fell off the bike or died of a heart attack clung to Barnes like some limpet. Both choices were very bad.
“Just hold on to me,” Bucky shouted over his shoulder.
Okay, that solved that problem. Tony placed his hands on Bucky’s waist. And…were all super soldiers built this solid? It was like holding a tank wrapped in leather. Also this close, Tony caught Bucky’s scent—Irish Spring—clean and fresh and a bit old-fashioned. And it had Tony smiling. It wasn’t what he was expecting, but then Barnes always was throwing him curve balls. He was hard to pin down which intrigued Tony.
They spun off down the street toward Stark’s penthouse apartment. Tony lived separated from the Avengers for one reason, Cassandra.
Tony invited Barnes up for some coffee, because he was grateful for the ride and rescue, also it was cold and he wanted an excuse to have more time with Bucky. It wasn’t logical but there you have it. It was Christmas Eve and damnmit he didn’t want to be alone. Technically, he wouldn’t be alone, but he wanted some grown up company.
The ride up the elevator was uneventful. Barnes had his goggles off and strands of his long hair were falling loose from his elastic tie. He was leaning against the side of the elevator, hands in his jacket’s pockets, eyes down-casted as it he was deep in thought. Or so Tony guessed. He had the strangest urge to brush the fallen strands from the other man’s eyes, but refrained himself.
The doors opened and he was greeted with not more than three Christmas trees decked out in silver and gold complete with twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments. He nodded to the guard at the desk and keyed into his apartment. As the door opened Tony froze. Why were the lights off? Barnes picked up on his alarm.
“What is it?” His body tensed, eyes narrowing, switching from Bucky to someone you didn’t want to mess with—ever.
A wailing cry came from inside.
“Mrs. Campbell?” Tony stepped inside switching on the lights. Everything was the same. Everything was done in soft beiges and creams from the lamps, to the pillows, to the furniture. Just ripped out of ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ with no personal touches, but the purple Christmas tree with silver garland in the corner with the fake fire place, because that was Cassandra’s favorite color.
The guard stepped up and Barnes grew very still glancing from the guard to the inside of the penthouse.
Tony turned to the guard. “Wilkins?”
“Mrs. Campbell left a note,” he said as he pressed it into Tony’s hands.
“I’m goin’ to check inside,” Bucky said.
Tony absently nodded as he read the note. A vein started throbbing in his temple.
“Wilken’s when did Mrs. Campbell give you this note?” Tony stared at the man. His temper was raising but he kept his tone icy.
“An hour ago,” the guard said, then added. “I texted you the message.”
Tony pulled out his phone with the cracked screen and there it was, two messages from Wilkins. But none from Mrs. Campbell. Tony waved the man away. The ringer must have switched off when it was dropped. Mrs. Campbell was fired and he was switching agencies in the morning. Not sending a temp was inexcusable.
Pocketing his phone, Tony entered the apartment. “Friday, status report.”
He had linked Friday to his penthouse for convenience sake. The female’s voice was pleasant and sincere, but he still missed Javis. The house in Malibu was gone, but he was picking up the pieces, moving on, making a new home. He had someone very important relying on him.
Barnes wasn’t in sight and the crying was less. He noticed the door of the nursery was ajar and his heart rate sped up, breath unsteady. He strode to the door, pulling it open to pitch blackness.
“Don’t turn on the light,” Bucky said, his voice a hoarse whisper.
Tony turned the dimmer switch up a notch which illuminated the nursery in a dusky glow. “Had the switch installed just before she arrived.”
“Just didn’t want the light to wake her more. She needs changing.” Barnes was at the changing table readying it.
“How was he able to see so well in the dark?” Tony wondered as he stepped toward the crib.
“Daddy’s here darling, don’t you cry.” He jingled the mobile above her crib hoping the familiar chimes would soothe her.
“Have you changed her before?” Bucky looked over his shoulder at him.
“I may have once or twice,” he said, but inwardly winced. Tony was sort of embarrassed to admit he let the nanny do it most of the time. But he did know how, damnmit. He wasn’t his father—he wasn’t.
“You mind if I do it?” Bucky asked.
“Knock yourself out.” Tony swept his hand at him.
Bucky plucked his crying daughter up, hushing her as he laid her down on the table.
“Cloth diapers, now that I remember,” Bucky said.
“I’m trying to be green.” Tony crossed his arms across his chest as he watched.
“Green? Isn’t that the Hulk?” Amusement colored his tone.
“Good for the environment—umm—never mind.” Tony shook his head. “The diaper cream is on the left, wet wipes on the right.”
Barnes had shrugged off his leather jacket, putting it somewhere, because now he was in a white Henley which glowed in the soft light. Tony couldn’t see the outline of his huge biceps moving under the white cloth—it was his imagination—it was too dark. Yeah, he wished. Tony’s tongue was a little dry and it stuck to the roof of his mouth. He was getting turned on by a man changing his daughter’s diaper. Someone help him please.
Barnes proved he had another hidden talent—diaper changing. In quick, expert motions, he had the old one off and the new one on just like that.
“You’re good at that,” Tony said, trying to keep the admiration out of his voice but failing.
“Had three sisters, so I was enlisted to help out. Also babysat for a few younger cousins.”
Tony was silent for a moment. He hadn’t really known, or he just glanced over the history of the Howling Commandos as a kid, that Barnes had a family, a big family, with uncles and aunts and a whole mess of cousins.
“Bet Christmas was crazy.”
“It was something, alright.” Barnes shook his head as he dressed the baby in a fresh onesie dotted with pink elephants. Tony wasn’t even going to ask how he found it in the dark, in a room he was never in before.
“I ended up regularly attending at least three Christmas celebrations—my grandma’s, Aunt Ruth’s and my Mom’s. It was so busy and noisy but in a good way. But sometimes it was nice to get away. I invited Steve over to my Mom’s Christmas dinner. And when Mrs. Roger’s was alive I went over on Christmas Eve.”
Tony just stared at Bucky’s back letting it all sink in what he said. What happened to him in the war and later with Hydra, all those years? It was a fucking travesty to his former life. When his mother received that telegram she must have been devastated—all of them—the whole family.
Tony thoughts turned back to himself. Would anyone care if he died—maybe? He looked over at his beautiful daughter making happy gurgling sounds as Barnes lifted her up and stroked her back with his right hand. Yeah, someone would care, if he’d make the effort, someone would care if he was gone.
“Can you take this?” Barnes handed him the dirty diaper while supporting her with his metal left hand. “It needs to be cleaned.”
“I have a service for that.”
“Just rinse it out and put it where it needs to go then.”
Tony took the crumpled up diaper. Make an effort. He sighed, shoulders sagging, and went into the bathroom.
When Tony was done, he found that Barnes had taken his daughter into the living room. He was relaxing on a sofa that was facing the Christmas tree with his tiny daughter flopped on his chest like a sea barnacle—kneading her little fists into his Henley, drooling into a burp cloth place over his shoulder. And Tony’s breath halted as his heart just melted into goo. When did he become such a sap? Oh yeah, when he held his little girl for the first time.
Barnes was hum singing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” as he carefully rubbed her back. His face peaceful and more relaxed than he ever seen before. And his daughter was eating it up.
“I see she is getting some 'tummy time'," Tony said.
“Eh?” Bucky looked up, raising an eyebrow.
“Something new in child rearing, from the 90’s, after…”
“The Depression?” Barnes let out a chuckle which shook his chest. His daughter gave out a happy bubbling sound, smiling wide.
“You sir, are charming my daughter.” Tony crossed his arms in mock annoyance. He couldn’t help smiling. The whole situation was giving him a warm glow inside.
“Don’t I know it,” Barnes said, giving a smug smirk. He peered down at her. “What’s her name?”
“Cassandra,” Barnes said in a quiet tone, trying out the name. He glanced up at Tony. “That’s a pretty name.”
“I thought so.” No, he didn’t pour over internet ‘baby names’ sites. No, he really didn’t. That was a lie, he did.
“Is she named after anyone?”
Tony shook his head. “No.”
Little Cassandra went back to gumming Barnes’ shoulder. “I think she is a little hungry. What’s her schedule?” Bucky asked, stroking her back.
“Friday, what’s Cassandra’s nighttime schedule?”
“8pm bedtime. 11pm, wakes up to be fed. 3pm, wakes but settles back again,” Friday said, her voice coming from a hidden speaker.
Tony checked his watch. It was past 11pm.
“Can you get some formula ready?” Bucky asked.
This was not how Tony envisioned his evening going. The lab three floors down had a project that he was in the middle of that needed his attention, but he was adaptable, he was. He straighten his shoulders and didn’t sigh as he went into the kitchen. He could do this.
When Tony first decided to adopt, it was a joint idea with Pepper. But when their relationship ended, the idea, the dream of having a child didn’t die. It just grew stronger. He knew he had so much to give. And when Cassandra arrived he’d made sure she didn’t want for anything, including his attention. The rewards of golden moments and unconditional love made him a happier man. Or at least a more giving one. And now in the nursery, he was witnessing and part of one of those moments that made his life more fulfilling.
Barnes was settling Cassandra back down in the crib as Tony asked Friday to play soft music. He also called up a floating hologram of the Milky Way Galaxy, flooding the room with a blanket of twinkling stars. Crouching down by the crib, Bucky started singing in a scratchy but pitch perfect tenor.
“Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hills, from the sky; all is well, softly rest, God is nigh.”
He sang two more verses before she nodded off to sleep.
They both left and Tony softly closed the door before turning to Barnes.
“Did you just sing “Taps” to my daughter?”
“Did I?” Barnes’ brows knitted together, looking confused.
“Yeah, you did. And it worked. She's out like a light so I wouldn’t care if you sang “Highway to Hell” if it got the same results,” Tony said, smiling.
Bucky lips quirked up in a small smile, shrugging. “Just something I remembered. It’s kind of peaceful.” His gaze drifted off to a point across the room, eyes going out of focus. “She really is perfect.”
“That she is.” Tony clasped Barnes on his right shoulder, getting his attention. “So how about that coffee I promised?”
“Sure.” He nodded, shifting his eyes back to Tony.
Tony had Friday brewing some coffee. The aromatic scent filled the kitchen. Barnes was sitting at the breakfast nook, hands laced on the table in front of him, staring at his fingers. Tony noticed Bucky was more relaxed around his daughter then him. In fact, more relaxed than he ever witnessed, period. It gave him an idea.
“So do you have a job? Besides being on call at the ‘Boys and Girls Club of Fighting Crime and Natural Disasters’,” Tony asked.
“I take it you mean the Avengers,” Barnes said, without looking up.
“That’s what I said.”
Barnes glanced up, quirking his lips. “No. Not many offers for a former assassin.”
“Good." Tony started pacing, waiting for the coffee. “Do you want to be my new nanny/bodyguard for my daughter? Granted it is on a trial base—but I do have an opening to fill. You’ll have full access to the top five levels of this building. Competitive salary and benefits. Your own living quarters if you need them.” Tony stopped moving and leaned his hands on the table in front of Barnes.
“Are you asking me to move in?” Placing his hands flat on the table, Barnes pressed back in his chair, staring at Tony.
“What? No,” he said, pushing away from the table. “I need a nanny. This offer is time based.”
“‘Til when?” Barnes’ voice was laced with superstition.
“The end of the year.” Tony was hoping he’d say yes. It was the best fit in his mind. He knew it would work. Barnes was a natural.
“You drive a hard bargain, Stark,” Bucky said, shaking his head, giving a light chuckle, clearly amused.
“It’s what I do best, that and math.”
“I’ll think about it.” Barnes pressed his lips together.
“It’s all I ask. But really, I am the best boss you could ever have.” Tony waggled his eyebrows.
No pressure, when Tony wanted him for the position in the worst way. But no, he didn’t want to appear desperate. And Tony didn’t want to push Barnes into a decision. The guy had enough with people taking away his choices. It really should be what he wanted.
“It’s a good thing I’m not like Steve.”
“Cause he is terrible around little kids. You should see how he holds a baby.” Bucky broke out in a grin. Which had Tony smiling back. It was infectious. It really was.
Barnes was stirring the cream and sugar with his left index finger, the metal one. It was oddly fascinating watching the motion of the cream swirling into the coffee. Ribbons of white blending into the black. The fine articulation of his metal fingers was hypnotic so Tony blames that for missing half the question.
“Bi?” Tony asked, blinking.
“That’s the term—right, if you’re attracted to guys and dolls? Bi? So are you?” Barnes was sucking on his bottom lip, appearing unsure.
“You’re asking me?” Tony straighten up in his chair, taken aback by the question. Because, no, he didn’t expect to have this conversation with Barnes at his cozy breakfast nook in his kitchen.
Bucky just nodded.
“Why do you want to know?” Tony was searching Barnes' face, trying to get a read on him but failing again.
“Rhodes seems to think you are.” Barnes took a sip of his cooling coffee.
“What?” Tony was damn happy he didn’t take a sip himself or he’d be sputtering coffee. “Rhodey? I have never been that way with my best friend, but…”
“His cousin, Eddy. We had a thing."
“A thing?” Barnes raised an eyebrow.
“It was brief—not even worth mentioning. It was a fling—very short. A summer. Kind of forgot about it.”
“Sounds like it.”
“I have. I did. It was awkward when Rhodey walked in.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“No, you don’t. So the answer is yes.”
“Yes?” Bucky narrowed his gaze.
“Yes, I’m bi.”
“Okay, good, good,” Bucky said, breathing out in relief.
“Good?” Tony looked puzzled.
“Yeah, cause I wanted to ask you out on a date. For New Year’s.” Bucky looked down at his hands as if to compose himself than up at Tony. “I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to ask you. But I didn’t expect our first date to end up with us taking care of your daughter.”
“A date? We are on a date?” Tony pointed to himself and then Bucky. Was he that oblivious? Yes, he was. He had no clue.
“Yes.” Bucky licked at his bottom lip, his right index tapping at the table.
“Date is such an antiquated term,” Tony said, clearing his throat. So the attraction was a two way street. Tony was both relieved and panicked at the same time. Now was not to break out in a sweat. Too bad he was.
“So what do you say now?” Bucky questioned.
“A hook up.”
“What if I just want to take you to dinner?”
“Then you say, ‘Want to go to dinner with me?’”
“Thought you’d never ask,” Bucky said, breaking out in a grin.
Tony just stared at him. That smile was dazzling and so was the quick mind.
“You,” Tony pointed an accusing finger at Barnes, “Tricked me.”
“Yep.” He nodded.
“Fine, dinner it is. I’ll text you the details once I get a phone that works. It will be suit and tie.” Tony sat back shaking his head. What was he getting himself into?
Barnes dipped his finger in his coffee again, and swirled it around, glancing up through his lashes with a full closed mouth grin.
Was James “Bucky” Barnes, decorated WW2 hero, member of the famous Howling Commandos, also known as the infamous Winter Soldier, one of the world’s most notorious assassins in history, flirting with him? He had to know.
“Are you flirting with me?”
“Could be, but I must not be doing a good job if you have to ask.”
"No, you’re doing great. I just want to be sure that it is intentional. I have an effect on people. They are just naturally drawn to my good-looks and charm—purely accidental, of course.”
“Of course—no, it’s not accidental. It’s very much on purpose.” And Bucky licked the coffee off his finger.
Tony saw Bucky to the elevator. It was much cooler in the hallway than the penthouse. He had sweated through his shirt. It was luck that he put back on his dinner jacket before stepping out so Barnes wouldn’t noticed.
“The job offer?” Bucky was zipping up his jacket he just put back on.
“Still stands.” Tony nodded. "Sometimes business and pleasure do mix, but I never let it interfere with anything important. I know you are a good fit. And Cassandra adores you already.”
“She makes it so easy. Wish her a Merry Christmas from me.” Bucky was gathering up his hair, to fix the loosen strands, but was doing a poor job at it. It just looked like a sexy mess when he was done fussing with it.
“Same to you.” Tony smiled and pressed the elevator door button to open it.
Bucky leaned in close, so close Tony felt the leather of his jacket graze him. The coiled strength just hidden under the surface.
“I never kiss on the first date,” Bucky whispered in his ear, grinning.
Tony caught the scent of baby lotion now mixed with the Irish Spring. It was enough to make him swallow thickly, because Tony was so unbelievably turned on by that. His body flushed hot and hard.
Bucky let his fingers trail down to Tony’s hand brushing it, before stepping back into the elevator and pressing the ground floor button.
“See you later, doll face.” Bucky’s hand pushed back at a stray lock of hair that fell across his cheek. He was smiling.
Tony watched the doors close, before walking back to his penthouse suite.
He looked at the Christmas tree and the closed door to the nursey. Merry Christmas, indeed.
“Cassandra, your Daddy is in so much trouble.” But Tony hoped it was the good kind.