To say Bucky is unimpressed by Stark would be an understatement.
It isn’t that he dislikes him. It’s more that he’s a brand of indifferent that curdles with distain on the rare occasion that Bucky catches him on the TV: Stark is glib and crass in a way his father never was, and he wears suits like he’d slipped out of the womb clad in Armani.
So it’s a surprise when Bucky moves into the Tower and finds that Steve actually gets along with the guy.
Clint brings it up first when the team is out in the lounge eating takeout that Bucky is more than a little bewildered by. Who the hell eats octopus and why were they able to get it delivered to their doorstep? What other crazy crap did modern people eat? Bugs? Dogs?
“You’re staring,” Clint points out, muffled around the straw of his slushie.
Bucky switches his gaze to Clint. Then Clint’s slushie, which according to Clint is ‘blue-flavoured.’ Bucky doubts blue is a flavour, but he’s encountered weirder things in this century. “Didn’t expect them to get along,” he says, not bothering to gesture behind him where Steve is kicking Tony’s ass at pool and looking pretty happy about it.
Still, Clint cranes his neck over Bucky’s head to see them before settling back in is seat. He slurps at his slushie. “Yeah, it took them a while. You should’ve seen them six months ago.”
“What were they like six months ago?”
Clint continues slurping obnoxiously until Bucky jerks the plastic cup out of his hand.
Bucky stretches his arm far enough that Clint can’t reach it without getting up. “What were they like six months ago?”
Clint eyes his slushie, but relents. “You know. Yelling at each other every chance they got. Everything they said turned into an argument even if it started out well-intentioned. Thanks,” he adds to Natasha as she swipes the slushie out of Bucky’s hands upon passing and hands it back to Clint.
Bucky lowers his hand, clenching it around nothing. He hadn’t even heard her approach, and by the look of her smirk, she knew how much it weirded him out. “What changed?”
“They got their heads out of their collective asses and realized that they weren’t actively trying to be offensive to each other,” Clint says. He chews on the end of his straw, grinning around it when Bucky makes a face. “Just in time, too. Everyone was getting fed up with them working together great on the field and then having a screaming argument on the way back home.”
On the other side of the room, Steve laughs in a way that Bucky hasn’t heard since he fell off that freight train. Did Stark coax it out of him? How the hell did he manage that?
“Just didn’t expect Steve to go for Stark’s,” Bucky starts, and then pauses to search for the words. “Glitz and glamour crap,” he decides on finally.
Clint shrugs. He’s down to blue dregs and half of what he’s slurping is air. “Ah, Tony’s okay once you get past all the surface shit. Good luck with that, by the way. Steve’s gonna want you two to get along and it takes a while to get used to… how he is.”
Bucky’s face twists. He’s eerily reminded of the situation with Sam, which continues to be a source of irritation. He’s still not sure whether his dislike of Sam is genuine or not. “What, he’s that fond of him?”
“If he’s not, he’s getting there.”
It sets unease off in Bucky’s gut. What if Stark is trailing Steve along, ready to dump his ass when Steve stops being shiny and interesting? He seemed like the kind of guy to bore of his toys quickly.
He turns on his couch cushion to watch the two of them again. Steve is bending to make his shot, and he’s smiling, and just as he slides the pool cue towards the ball, Tony’s mouth moves around words that Bucky can’t hear.
Whatever they are, they’re effective: Steve jerks enough for the pool cue to hit the ball at the wrong angle, and the ball bounces off the wall an inch away from the hole it was directed at.
Tony starts laughing, but it looks different than his laughter on TV. On screen it’s practiced, rehearsed to a tee and repeated when necessary. But Tony standing next to Steve at the pool table looks nothing like he does on TV: his sleeves are rolled up and his face is creased in the laugh, his eyes bright as Steve straightens up to shove his shoulder good-naturedly.
Tony rocks with the motion, still laughing. It makes him look younger, Bucky thinks.
He bites back a sigh and settles back down into the couch. If Tony can make Steve relax like that and produce the kind of laughter from Steve he had heard before, he guesses he can make an effort to get along with the guy.
Beside Bucky, Clint continues to slurp noisily.
Bucky watches the last of the blue slush slide up the straw. “Hey.”
Clint eyeballs him.
“No one eats dogs now, right? Or bugs?”
The straw is pushed from Clint’s mouth with his tongue. “Uh. Yeah, they do, man. In China or whatever. Did way back when, too. And you gotta try a huhu grub. Tastes like peanut butter.”
Bucky groans. Then he gets his phone out and googles ‘huhu grub.’
When he turns to stare at Clint, the bastard is grinning.
“You’re fucking with me,” Bucky decides.
Clint shakes his head.
Bucky turns the screen towards him. “It looks like an overgrown maggot.”
“Peanut butter,” Clint says, and leans back to lace his hands behind his head.
When Tony walks into the kitchen with Steve, Bucky curses silently. He’s already had to be civil with Sam while they watched a movie with Steve today, he doesn’t want to put up with Tony, too.
Still, he returns Tony’s greeting nod and pretends not to notice when Tony keeps glancing over at Bucky’s metal arm while he brews his coffee.
Bucky even flexes it for him so he can see the metal plates shift. Fucking scientists.
“Offer’s still open, you know,” Tony says when he has a hot mug in his hands. He sips at it and continues, “There’s a lag. In your arm.”
“You’ve mentioned it,” Bucky agrees. His metal fingers twitch against his cereal spoon. “Doesn’t mean I’m gonna let you open up my arm and play around.”
Tony leans his hip against the counter. “I’d go with ‘fix.’ Or ‘improve.’”
“Doesn’t matter what you call it, you ain’t getting near it.”
Steve fixes Bucky with a look as he slots bread into the toaster.
Bucky ignores it. “Is everyone having breakfast for dinner?”
He’s looking at his bowl as he says it, nudging his cereal through the milk so it goes brown. When no-one answers him for several seconds, he looks up.
Steve and Tony are exchanging looks that seem too close to a silent conversation.
“What,” Bucky snaps.
He’s your friend, Tony’s eyes seem to say.
Steve looks over to Bucky. “Buck. We don’t speak Russian.”
Bucky’s tongue grows thick in his mouth. Shit. He hasn’t slipped into Russian without meaning to in- weeks, almost. Not since his last panic attack, and that was before he moved into the Tower.
A cracking noise brings his attention back to his bowl. He looks down to see his spoon split in half in his hand. He opens his palm and the two pieces shine dully, metal on metal.
Bucky says, “Well, shit,” making sure to feel each letter curl around his tongue as he says them.
There’s a shifting sound to his right, and he looks up to find Tony holding out a spoon towards him. His expression is carefully casual and he doesn’t react when Bucky takes the spoon, only goes back to leaning against the counter with his hands in his pockets.
“Happens to everyone,” Tony says, and turns around to refill his mug. “Steve, you want one? Wait, I forgot, you like your coffee 90% sugar.”
Steve still has that face he only gets when Bucky is being a basket case, all worry and concealed guilt, but it starts to slough away when he turns to address Tony. “Sorry I prefer a drink that tastes nice over that sludge you call coffee.”
“How dare you,” Tony says mildly. He punctuates this with a long sip, smacking his lips. “Ahhh. Sweet nectar.”
“Nothing sweet about that,” Steve says, eyeing Tony’s cup with over-the-top disgust.
Tony waves him away. “Whatever, Captain Cappuccino.”
“Right, can’t forget to add chocolate.”
Bucky watches the exchange in vague disbelief. Even Sam- who’s trained in this shit- has only ever been able to get Steve to pull up a brave front and force a laugh when it comes to this, and yet here’s Stark getting him grinning with some half-assed banter about coffee. What the hell?
In front of him, the two of them are going at it like Bucky isn’t even there.
“Hey, we boiled everything back in my day. Having any flavour at all is a plus in my book.”
“This has flavour.”
“A horrible, bitter flavour, sure.”
“You said any flavour was a plus!”
“Maybe, but I prefer mine sweet.”
“I noticed,” Tony says, his voice dropping slightly and taking on a teasing tone. It only lasts a moment during which Steve’s eyes widen, eyebrows drawing inwards in something like confusion, and Tony straightens up from leaning on the counter, his smile wiped clean away before being replaced by a facsimile of his TV-smile.
“I, uh. You drink a lot of Starbucks, is all I meant,” Tony continues, and his fingers start to tap at the rim of his mug as he goes to clutch at it with both hands. He ducks his head to stare into its contents as he takes a gulp. “Anyway, I better go, the Board’s waiting on my latest project.”
“The new green energy schematics,” Steve says, and Bucky can practically see the gears turning in his brain as he attempts to salvage the conversation and keep it going.
“Got it in one,” Tony says. “See you, Cap. Bucky.” He avoids both their gazes as casually as he can as he pads out of the kitchen.
Steve lets out a sound too close to a sigh as he moves for the sugar bowl.
Bucky stares at him until he notices.
“Nothing,” Bucky says slowly. He’s still not sure he saw what he thought he saw- or, he’s unsure if he’s interpreting it correctly. Maybe Stark flirts like that with everyone as a reflex. Maybe the ensuing nervousness was due to a latent belief that Steve would punch him out if he ever implied anything vaguely homosexual.
When Steve narrows his eyes at him, Bucky tries, “He’s different on TV.”
The skin around Steve’s eyes relaxes. “He is,” is all he says, and Bucky lets him finish making his coffee in silence up until Steve adds four lumps of sugar, at which point Bucky snorts and Steve jostles his shoulder automatically.
“You should try the vents.”
Bucky forces himself to inhale slowly before replying. “Vents?”
Bruce scribbles something down in his notebook. “Clint finds them relaxing.”
“Yeah? Does Clint have… episodes like this?”
“Not quite like yours,” Bruce says. His voice is oddly calming. Bucky assumes it’s the mediation he keeps finding Bruce doing in the mornings. “But we all have our own versions of it.”
Bucky snorts. He leans his forehead against the cool metal wall of Bruce’s lab. His hair is sweaty over his forehead. “Yours is big and green, yeah? Smashes shit?”
Bruce makes a humming noise. He’s staying on the other side of the room as they talk, and Bucky appreciates it. Makes it easier to quell his homicidal urges every time Bruce makes a minor movement.
Bucky clears his throat. “I looked it up. They call it PTSD now, yeah?”
“They do. I hoped a therapist would have told you, rather than the internet.”
“Therapist did tell me. I looked it up before I went in. Wanted to know what I was going in for.”
“Damn right.” Bucky sucks air into his lungs. Holds it. Blows it out again. “You want me out of here?”
Bruce doesn’t make eye contact with him, either. Just continues working like Bucky isn’t half-curled up on a stool in his lab. “No. If you need to be here, I have no problem with it.”
“Doesn’t mean you don’t want me out,” Bucky croaks. He clears his throat. His mouth tastes like sandpaper and blood. “I could go to the vents.”
“If you need to be here, you should be here,” Bruce says. He nudges his glasses up his nose and continues to scribble.
Bucky expects him to say something else, but the lab stays blissfully silent apart from the sound of pencil against paper. It’s good: being in the room with someone with no expectations, who isn’t invested in him, who cares for his health but won’t push.
Steve always pushes, even when he doesn’t mean to. Especially when he doesn’t mean to. It doesn’t take much: a twitch of an eyebrow lets Bucky know what Steve is thinking, and it’s hardly ever good when Bucky gets like-
He pulls in another breath. Forces it through his teeth. “You aren’t worried I’ll stab you, too?”
“No.” The answer is immediate and calm. It even sounds like he believes it.
“Great,” Bucky mutters.
He heaves himself to his feet, causing Bruce to finally turn his head to look at him for the first time since Bucky stumbled in and curled in the chair furthest away from the door.
“I’m gonna,” Bucky says, and nods for the exit. “Find Steve, I guess. Apologize.”
“He’ll be fine with it,” Bruce tells him, already turning back to his notebook. The writing resumes. “We’ve all been where you are, James.”
“Uh-huh.” Bucky swallows. It’s true, more or less, but there’s a difference between knowing something and watching it happen. He hasn’t witnessed anyone else in the Tower freak out at the sound of a glass breaking and lurch sideways to stab his best friend in the shoulder.
The door swings shut behind Bucky and he tries not to listen out for every small noise: the click the door settling into place, the near-silent rasp of the AC, a fly buzzing up around the lights.
Hyper-vigilant, the therapist had told him.
He doesn’t doubt it.
“JARVIS,” he says. He’s one of the only people in the Tower who doesn’t look to the ceiling to talk to him. “Where’s Steve?”
Bucky automatically pins where the speakers are embedded invisibly in the walls as JARVIS says, “The Captain is in the gym, Master Barnes.”
Probably breaking it to bits, Bucky thinks as he heads for the gym. The trek is free of people, which could be JARVIS’s doing, if Bucky thinks about it. He doesn’t know if he’s grateful or not.
He goes to push the door open when voices drift in from the gym. He pauses with his hand pressed against the wood, cocking a head to listen. One of the voices is Steve, audibly upset, and the other is low and balmy-
“It just takes time,” Tony says in an undertone. It sounds knowing, and Bucky finds himself wondering just how much crap he has in his past that isn’t in his file.
God, he can just picture Steve- bruised knuckles from trying to take it all out on a punching bag, struggling to pin in his emotions as they flash across his face.
“I know that,” Steve spits, and Bucky edges forwards to open a crack in the door.
Steve is dragging his hands through his own hair, Tony looking sympathetic next to him, the both of them hunched over as they sit against a wall. Steve has been down here for hours, if the state of his knuckles and the sheen of sweat along his body is anything to go by. His shoulder is bandaged, but there’s red staining through the material.
Steve presses the heels of his hands to his eyes. “I know that,” he repeats, and this time is steadier, wearier. His shoulders sag. “Of all people, I know that. I’m just- I worry.”
Tony is rubbing circles in Steve’s back, though he looks unsure about the action, like he isn’t convinced he’s allowed. “His therapist says he’s been making progress.”
Bucky has a second to get pissed at his therapist for fucking over their patient-client privilege before Steve lets out a weak laugh and says, “You hacked into her notes.”
“No, it’s-” Steve digs the heels of his hands into his eyes again. “It’s... good to know you care. Though you gotta stop doing that.”
“What, hacking into people’s private business?”
“No promises,” Tony says, and Steve laughs weakly.
“Didn’t think so,” Steve says, and then he leans back into the wall.
Tony slips his hand out to stop from being crushed between the wall and the super-soldier’s back, but Steve catches it before Tony can drop it to his side.
Tony freezes along with Bucky, but all Steve does is hold his hand between them until Tony leans against the wall, their shoulders brushing.
Bucky lets the door slip silently closed and then spends a while staring at the wood of it.
When Bucky clears his throat, Tony spins around with his arm cocking, ready to brain him with a wrench.
Thankfully, he stops upon seeing who it is. “Oh. Sorry.”
Bucky tries to reign in his Judging Eyebrows. “Hey, no problem.”
Tony drops the wrench back onto the bench and cranes his neck to see behind Bucky. “How the hell did you get in?”
“I asked JARVIS.”
Tony makes a face. “And he just let you in?”
“I asked very nicely.”
Tony eyes how Bucky is actively trying to smile at him. “…Okay. Something on your mind?”
“Yeah.” Bucky clicks the fingers of his metal hand together unconsciously and stops once he realizes he’s doing it. He used to wear sleeves and gloves over it, but it’s summer now and he’s made ‘progress.’ Nowadays, he wears sleeveless shirts around the house and barely even flinches when people touch his metal arm.
Tony looks down at the arm Bucky holds out to him, uncomprehending.
“You’ve been bitching about taking a look at it for months,” Bucky supplies.
“Oh,” says Tony. Then: “Oh! Really?”
“Really have you been bitching about it? I’d say so.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Really, can I have a look at it?”
“You can look,” Bucky says, going to sit down on a stool next to him. “But don’t try tweaking anything.”
“Deal,” Tony says immediately, and sits down as Bucky lays his metal arm on the workshop bench.
Bucky expects him to dive right in, so he holds his breath and twists his face away. When nothing happens, Bucky cracks an eye open.
Tony isn’t even touching his arm. Instead he’s giving Bucky this look like he knows him. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
“I know,” Bucky says instantly. Agency has been one of his Big Things in therapy- having it, exercising it to the point of what Bucky considers to be excessive. Why should he give a shit what kind of shampoo he uses? They all get the job done fine.
“The lag’s been pissing me off,” Bucky tries.
Tony doesn’t look like he totally believes that’s the reason, but he shrugs. “Fair enough,” he says, and reaches for a screwdriver. “You want me to tell you what I’m doing while I’m doing it?”
“I don’t have to.”
“No, that’d be-” Bucky tries to imagine it. “That’d help. I think.”
“Tell me to stop if you need it,” Tony says.
Bucky makes an affirmative noise and closes his eyes. Tony begins to talk, and Bucky concentrates on his voice instead of the metallic sounds that come after it.
“Expected you to come here with Steve, if you ever did this,” Tony says at one point.
Bucky opens his eyes, training them on Stark instead of his open arm. “Yeah? I don’t need him to hold my hand.”
“There’s an image,” Tony mutters. He pulls gently on something inside Bucky’s arm, his fingers sure and deft in a way that makes the itch to shove him away lessen. If someone’s mucking around with his arm, at least it’s someone who knows what he’s doing.
“Checking the reaction times. Might be a twinge,” Tony continues.
Bucky nods tightly. The twinge, when it comes, is hardly even a blip on Bucky’s radar. “He would, you know.”
“Hold my hand through it,” Bucky says. His throat clicks as something pulls in his arm again. “Don’t now what the hell happened in guy’s heads since we got iced, but fellas nowadays tend to think that any kind of touching makes you queer. Anyone might be able to get married now, but everyone’s so-”
Bucky struggles to remember the term. “Everyone’s all ‘no homo’ about it,” he says finally. “Never needed to clarify that, back in the day.”
It jolts a laugh from Tony, and Bucky looks to check, but Tony’s hands are steady as ever.
“Fellas don’t touch anymore,” Bucky continues. “Even casual stuff. I think Steve misses it.”
“You saying we should all hold his hand more?” Tony’s voice is oddly flat.
Bucky eyes him. “Don’t think he’d object to it. You, especially.”
The pull on his arm lessens and stops as Tony’s fingers still momentarily before picking back up where they left off. “Me especially.”
“Uh-huh,” Bucky confirms.
Tony’s gaze flickers up to his before returning to his arm. There are gears exposed, tiny things Tony is tapping at with even tinier metal sticks. “What makes you say that?”
“What do you think, genius?”
He hears it when Tony’s throat clicks.
“Just making sure I’m hearing what I think I’m hearing.”
“You’re hearing it.” When Tony doesn’t respond, Bucky raises an eyebrow. “You seem less than enthused.”
“I’m- enthused,” Tony says, as if it pains him. His fingers are working faster now. “I’m just dubious on whether you have the right idea.”
“I’ve known Steve since we were nine.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t be wrong about him.”
Bucky snorts. “Trust me, pal. I ain’t wrong about this.”
“Mm,” Tony says. His adam’s apple bobs for a second time and Bucky can imagine his mind racing behind his carefully-constructed calm.
It isn’t long before Tony sucks in a breath and says, “Okay, my curiosity is sated. You want me to close you back up?”
Bucky starts to nod, but it stops in mid-motion. “What’d you find?”
“Nothing I didn’t expect.”
Tony tries for a smile. “Found out why it lagged.”
Bucky nods slowly. He wets his lips. “Could you fix it?”
“I could,” Tony says after a moment. “Would you like me to?”
Bucky glances down at the mess of his arm. It’s not as bad as he thought it would be, but it’s not nice, either. Still-
He lets his head drop back. “Well, you are already in there.”
“Is that a yes?”
To both their surprise, Bucky kicks his stool. “Get on with it, Tony.”
There’s a second of shock, but then an odd smile twitches up Tony’s face. “You got it,” he says, and he reaches for his ridiculously miniscule screwdriver.
“I can’t do this.”
“Jesus Christ, Steve, it’s not a big deal.”
Steve fixes him with a betrayed look. “Buck.”
Bucky sighs. He’d almost forgotten how much the punk could get on his nerves. He finds it’s a fond kind of frustration, even as it tempts Bucky further towards picking the guy up and shaking him.
“They’re only offering because I’m Captain America.”
Bucky sighs louder. “No, they ain’t. And if you make me say they ain’t one more time, I’m gonna smack you.”
Steve pauses to stare into the distance for a second before nodding decidedly. “Sparring would help,” he admits.
Bucky pinches the bridge of his nose. “Fuck’s sake. It’s just the Met, Steve.”
“Oh, right, JUST THE MET,” Steve says, tipping his head back to the ceiling to gain better acoustics so it really bounces around Bucky’s eardrums. “Thank you for reminding me that it’s JUST the goddamn MET who wants to showcase my CRAP.”
“It’s not crap,” Bucky tries, throwing up his hands. “And it’s only a two-week long special event, it’s not like they’re gonna hang it up forever, it’s just publicity shit-”
He cuts off when Tony emerges from the hall. “Thank fuck, come over here and talk some sense into Steve.”
Tony blinks, hovering in mid-step. “I was going to ask if he was still freaking out, but I guess that answers my question.”
“’M not freaking out,” Steve mutters, and then ruins the statement by sitting down on the couch and hunching as much as a guy as big as him can reasonably hunch without spraining something.
“’Course you’re not,” Tony says, coming to sit next to him. He meets Bucky’s eyes and raises his brows.
Bucky raises his hands again and drops them. I don’t know, he mouths.
“Great,” Tony says. Then: “Okay. Steven? Look at me.”
Bucky bites back a smile at the full name even as Steve turns his helpless gaze on Tony.
“Are you a chicken?”
Steve’s face twists in a confused scowl. “Excuse me?”
“Are you,” Tony says seriously, “a chicken? Because only a chicken would turn this down, this used to be your dream.”
“Damn right it did,” Steve says. His hands tighten into fists on his knees. “And I’m not about to get it just because I’m a national icon. I should get it because my paintings are good, not because-”
“Your paintings are fantastic,” Tony says, and swats Steve on the shoulder when he makes a derisive noise. “No, shut up, listen. As Pepper would tell you, I know fuck-all about art, and even I can tell your art is awesome. But if you don’t want to put your art in a museum, then don’t.”
Bucky sends Tony his best what the fuck are you doing, asshole face that he perfected during his time with the Howling Commandos.
Tony ignores it and continues, “You could put together a bunch of art you think should go in a museum. Call it the Steve Rogers collection or whatever you want to name it and use it to boost some artists who wouldn’t get a second glance from the place otherwise because they’re gay or black or- a woman, or whatever.”
Steve stares at him. Tony stares back.
Bucky stares at the both of them.
Steve inhales sharply. “I- why didn’t I think of that?”
Tony pats him hard on the back. “There we go. Hey, you can throw a few of your own pieces in there if you want. Win-win.”
Steve’s expression has gone from blind panic to the face he wears when he’s planning battle strategy. “I follow dozens of blogs with artists who deserve recognition. But no-one puts them up because it’s a niche market, or they don’t think it would make money, just because-”
“That’s the spirit,” Tony tells him, taking his phone out of his pocket. Months ago, Bucky would assume he’d gotten bored of the conversation and stopped paying attention, but now he’s betting Tony’s texting someone in charge at the Met or some artist about to get the shock of his life.
Steve gets louder, his gestures getting looser as he starts to rant about the different artists who he follows online, and Bucky watches with a disbelieving smile creeping up his face.
He catches Tony as he’s heading out of the lounge.
“You played him like a fucking fiddle,” he says, and Tony’s smile ticks and dims.
“Uh. I suppose I did.”
“Not in a bad way,” Bucky rushes to say. “Nah, it was- you did good. You get how that brain of his works.”
Tony squints at him, but nods. “Thanks.”
The press conference has been in play for half an hour and Steve is going to go off any second now.
Bucky’s been watching him out of the corner of his eye since it started. Press conferences are an ordeal for all of them, despite what they show outwardly. Even Natasha hates them, though she’ll never admit it and winds circles around the press better than any of them apart from maybe Tony.
Tony, who has been under fire from multiple reporters for the last ten minutes about whether or not he should be a part of the Avengers at all.
He’s been holding his ground and deflecting most of the comments, but they keep pulling out hard-hitters and even Tony is starting to look affecting.
Steve, though- Steve is winding up tighter with each question, to the point where Bucky is worried he’s about to break the microphone by gripping it too hard.
He turns to watch the reporter who hasn’t shut up since Tony picked her in the vain hopes that she’d be kinder.
“We all remember when Iron Man first emerged,” the reporter says. “We all thought it was a joke. A publicity stunt. I remember one headline comparing it to if Paris Hilton donned a cape and started flying around.”
“I’d be first in line for a team-up if that happened,” Tony says, all dazzling smile that’s been dimming with each minute that passed.
“I have no doubt,” the reporter says flatly. He rearranges his papers in his hands, glances down at them and then back up to ask, “What do you say to the allegations saying you were operating the Iron Man suit while under the influence during the disaster in Turkey?”
“I would give them my medical reports that clearly state I was massively concussed after nearly getting crushed to death under a building,” Tony answers. His tone is bland, but the way his hand is trembling against his pocket under the table is anything but.
He looks out over the crowd. “Could we get questions from anyone else,” he asks, and points at a woman near the back as a dozen hands fly up.
The woman stands, adjusts her collar. Says, “While we’re on the topic, what would you say to the people claiming you’re a sex addict?”
Beside Bucky, Bruce blows out a slow, calming breath and Bucky can almost hear Bruce’s internal dialogue of meditation chants.
Tony opens his mouth only for Steve to talk over him.
“I’m sorry, just who is claiming all of this? The allegations, all these rumours? Just who is saying this about him?”
The reporter blinks rapidly at the sharp bite running through his voice, but she recovers quickly. “Many sources, Captain Rogers.”
“Many sources,” Steve repeats. A muscle is fluttering in his jaw. “And why do you feel the need to voice what these people are saying?”
“It’s a public concern, Captain. We need to know if Iron Man is the right person to co-lead the Avengers.”
Steve nods slowly, a breath hissing from between his teeth. His mouth opens again, and Bucky feels himself wince in preparation, but the only thing that comes out of Steve’s mouth is air.
Bucky looks over at him: Steve is no longer glaring at the reporter with a simmering rage behind his eyes. The anger is still there, but it’s twisted up in knots as Steve looks at Tony, who is touching Steve’s wrist with his fingers.
Because they can’t exactly say anything with the microphones and a hundred people in front of them, all Tony does is squeeze Steve’s wrist and give him a small smile. It’s nothing like Bucky has seen Tony do in front of a camera before- this smile belongs purely at home amongst the family he’s built around him.
Steve clenches his jaw, but nods minutely. Around them, cameras are flashing.
Tony releases his wrist.
Steve turns back to the microphone and takes a bracing breath inwards.
“Any further questions,” he asks.
They finally end the press conference ten minutes later when Clint threatens to climb over the podium and punch a reporter’s teeth into his skull, and the ride back home is silent as they are each lost in their thoughts.
It’s the same once they enter the house.
Tony moves towards the hallway that will take him to the workshop, but Steve stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “Tony-”
“It’s fine, Cap.”
Steve falls silent when Tony lifts a hand to squeeze the one that Steve has on his shoulder. “It’s fine,” he repeats, and gives Steve another soft smile before vanishing into the hallway.
Steve watches him go, his hands clenching around nothing.
“You know,” Natasha says, “there’s a time when Tony needs to be left alone.”
“Mm,” Steve says. He doesn’t look away from the door. “Think this is one of those times?”
“I think you should go after him.”
When Steve continues to stare, Bucky heads over and knocks their shoulders together. “Steve. Move it.”
Steve hesitates, but he goes.
Later, Bucky is gritting his teeth and doing his best to concentrate on anything that isn’t the splitting fucking pain that’s running in currents up his arm. He’s been lying in bed for hours, but sleep is far from an option now.
“Fuck,” he mutters as a particularly nasty wave hits him. “Okay, yeah, no. JARVIS, where’s Tony.”
“Sir is in his workshop, Master Barnes.”
“Is he decent?” He has no desire to catch him or Steve canoodling.
“He is clothed.”
“Shit. Good enough.” Bucky eases himself to his feet, hissing when it jars his arm, and hoofs it down to the workshop as fast as he can without moving his arm too much.
He’s stepping inside before he notices the couch and the extra person on it: Steve is leaning against Tony, head pillowed on his shoulder as he snores quietly. Tony, thankfully, seems a little more alert and a lot more nervous.
“Hey,” Bucky says. It isn’t hard to see what Tony is nervous about: Steve’s shirt is undone and Bucky can spot what looks like a love-bite adorning the side of his neck. “Don’t want to interrupt, but my arm is making me want to rip it off.”
Tony sits up, then stills when it jostles Steve. “It’s hurting you?”
Bucky forces a smile as agony shoots into his shoulder. “Little bit.”
Tony nods, gestures towards his workbench. “Go sit over there.”
“You got it,” Bucky says, and pointedly doesn’t watch as Tony tries to extract himself from Steve’s grasp without waking him. When Tony starts to pad over, Bucky allows himself a glance- Steve is still snoring quietly, though this time into the cushions. “Huh. He must be really comfortable with you.”
“I like to think so,” Tony says.
Bucky muffles a laugh when he spots a clumsy love-bite the size of Texas on Tony’s neck. “Jesus, Stevie.”
Tony’s hand lifts to touch it before changing course and tugging through his hair. “I- yeah.”
He starts reaching for tools as Bucky settles on a stool next to him. Bucky watches nerves play out over his face, nervous twitches making his fingers tap against the tools as he arranges them.
“You’re good for him, y’know.”
Tony startles. His gaze darts up to Bucky, then back down at his bench. “You’re kind of the last person I expected to tell me that.”
Bucky doesn’t know what to say to that. He decides on, “Doesn’t change the fact you’re good for him.”
Tony still looks like Bucky’s going to pull the rug out from under him, but his smile is genuine when he says, “Thank you. I hope- thanks,” he finishes with a mumble, eyes down towards the tools again. “We probably should talk about this when I’m more coherent.”
“Probably,” Bucky says easily.
Behind them, there’s a mumble that fades into a questioning noise.
“Still here, go back to sleep,” Tony calls.
Steve mumbles something unintelligible and turns over on the couch, rubbing his cheek into the warm spot where Tony had been sitting.