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Engineering, With Love

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Stark Tower

Research & Design - Engineering Mechanical (RD-M 8734)

87th Floor

May 16

 

It was just a little after 5 AM when Bucky walked into the brightly lit lobby of Stark Tower. He gently tugged the earbuds from his ears, carefully wrapping them up one-handed as he crossed the white marble floors, his black Vans squeaking in the silence. They hadn’t turned on all the holographic screens yet that replayed the Stark Industries intranet agenda and, Bucky’s personal favorite, the one of Tony Stark looming large in his company videos.

 

Bucky waved to the usual morning crew of security guards as he made his way to the bank of eight elevators, pressing the up button with his thumb. He tucked his earphones into his messenger bag outer pocket as elevator car 3 dinged, the indicator light appearing over the doors, and the doors opening.

 

“JARVIS, hey buddy, guess what...ohhh…”

 

He stepped inside the empty car and realized that the car wasn’t empty when he saw Tony Stark tucked against the corner, near the elevator panel, with his arms crossed in front of his chest.

 

Bucky blinked and looked at Tony Stark. He was dressed in a simple but elegant black tuxedo, obviously tailored to fit him perfectly. But his clothes was rumpled, bowtie undone and hanging around his neck, his dark hair unruly like someone had dragged their fingers through the soft-looking waves, and he looked very appealing and very touchable.

 

“What floor, kiddo?”

 

Bucky stared at Tony for a little too long, his mouth dropped open. “Uhhhh…”

 

“Good morning, Mr Barnes,” JARVIS intoned.

 

The elevator doors closed and the 87th floor button lighted; Tony leaned against the wall, smirking at him slightly.

 

“Thanks, JARVIS,” Bucky said, feeling his face heat up in embarrassment.

 

He glanced at Tony Stark and found him looking Bucky up and down, eyes focused on the empty sleeve of his left arm where the fabric was carefully folded and pinned up. Bucky quickly looked away, feeling uncomfortable under the scrutiny. He had gotten used to being stared at by random people and had learned to ignore the looks of curiosity, pity, and sometimes, disgust; and he didn’t want to see any of that on Tony Stark’s face.

 

“Eighty-seventh. That’s Engineering. Mechanical, right?”

 

“Yeah, yes, I mean, yes, sir,” Bucky mumbled, licking his lips and glancing over at Tony again.

 

Tony chuckled. “You can keep that ‘sir’ stuff to yourself. Everyone calls me Tony.”

 

Bucky licked his lips, his right hand clutching the strap of his messenger bag. “Oh, um, okay,” he said, attempting a smile. His gaze lingered on Tony’s rumpled state. “Did you have a good night?”

 

He winced at his inappropriate boldness and stared down at his shoes.

 

Tony laughed warmly, looking down at himself, as he uncrossed his arms and leaned back, his hands propped up against the railing, all loose-limbed satisfaction oozing from his physical presence.

 

“Sure, sport, a good night; but it’s looking like a better morning.”

 

Did...did Tony Stark just flirt with him? Bucky tried to process what to say next, but the elevator doors opened on the 87th floor.

 

“Have a good morning, Mr Barnes,” JARVIS said, his tone sounded amused.

 

“Thanks, JARVIS.” Bucky looked up and gave Tony a tentative smile. “Have a nice day, Mr Stark. I mean, uh, Tony.”

 

Tony winked at him.

 

He stepped off the elevator quickly and hurried down the hall to his small cubicle office on the north side of the building. He let out the breath that he was holding as the automatic lights switched on and he tugged off his messenger bag, dumping it on the floor next to his desk.

 

Bucky slumped in his ergonomic chair and let out a sigh. It was weird to be a grown ass man with a crush on Tony Stark. Everyone had a crush on Tony Stark; but Bucky was 30-years old and he was being ridiculous.

 

But he looked so good, Bucky thought, a smile forming on his lips. And Tony Stark flirted with him a little. He was fairly certain of that.

 

He opened his eyes and sat up in his chair, chuckling softly to himself. He woke up his four monitors with a simple touch on his special one-hand assistive keyboard. He picked up his wireless tablet pen, spinning it around in his right hand, opening his office email inbox and the two projects that he was working on with voice commands. One thing about working at Stark Industries was that Bucky used the best assistive tech and gear that they offered. He was pretty sure that a lot, if not all, of the tech that Bucky got to use for his work was custom made for him.

 

He opened the Stark Slack dashboard and sent out a message to his team on the #stark-sighting channel:

 

Bucky: Guess who I rode up with on elevator 3 this morning?

 

A moment later, he received multiple notifications:

 

Scott: Why are you at the office already?

 

America: Did he talk to you!!!!!! What did you talk about?!!!!!

 

Pietro: What was he wearing?

 

Peter: OMG1!!!11111! That’s so cool!

 

Scott: Where did you post the video of Steve working out? I can’t find it anymore @bucky

 

Bucky: @Scott your weird man-crush on my best friend is kind of creepy, dude. Get off the #stark-sighting channel.

 

A moment later, Bucky saw that someone, most likely Scott, created a new private channel called #all-about-steve.

 

Scott: Can you repost the vid to the Steve channel? @bucky

 

Bucky: Don’t be weird about it @scott

 

He had, innocently, posted to their @random channel, a short video of Steve lifting weights at the gym because he was being a total nerd and wearing a Captain America tee-shirt. Had Bucky known at the time that Scott would develop a weird attachment to Steve, he never would’ve done it in the first place, and quickly deleted the video.

 

America: If Wong finds out that you created a new channel so you can drool over Bucky’s best friend, you’re going to be in trouble @scott

 

Bucky smirked; she was not wrong.

 

Wong was their department manager; he came off as humorless and inscrutable, with a long, dark-eyed stare that was hard to read, but Wong was actually a pretty damn good boss. No one knew or remembered Wong’s first name, everyone called him Wong. His name plate on his door was just “Wong.” He was listed in the Stark Industries directory as “Wong.” His email was simply wong@starkindustries.com.

 

There was a rumor that his first name was Jason, but it was so utterly boring that no one really believed it could be true. There was a rumor that Wong was secretly married to Imei Chang, an international runway model, but that rumor was just as ludicrous as Wong’s first name being Jason. But Bucky’s favorite rumor about Wong was that he was inducted as a monk into a mysterious temple in a secret, unmapped town called Kamar-Taj, somewhere near the Himalayan Mountains.

 

One time, the kids had tried to use Google Maps to locate the supposedly unmapped town. There was one weird thing about it all that just added to Wong’s mystery: Google Maps, for whatever reason, had blurred out a small section of the map near the mountains.

 

Pietro: I bet Starbucks that Wong finds out in 10 minutes or less!

 

America: I’m in! Start the timer for now.

 

Pietro: Mark. 0532 hours.

 

Scott: But you can’t @him because it’s not fair. He has to find it on his own.

 

Pietro: Fine.

 

Bucky laughed, moving the Stark Slack dashboard to one of the other screens. He wasn’t surprised that the team was already up and alert. They were probably pulling an all-nighter playing the latest online game.

 

He loved working with his team - the kids, as he called them. They were the mechanical draftsmen - drafters - and worked on a number of Stark Industries projects, focused on mechanical and metal fabrication. The Fabrication Unit team used their designs to weld metals and do the big builds. Stark Industries worked primarily with aluminum, steel, and stainless for commercial or consumer products; but Bucky and his team were Research and Design, which meant that they also worked on special contract projects for the military and prototypes for non-commercial builds.

 

Bucky had a special appreciation for Stark Industries military gear; he was pretty sure that it was Stark armor that saved his life, even though he lost his left arm when their vehicle hit a roadside explosive device. He had lost two men that day, but he was able to pull three to safety. He remembered the shock of looking back to see his arm laying on the concrete, next to the burning humvee, unable to process that he was starting to bleed out.

 

Anyway...that was neither here nor there. It was in the past and Bucky had had enough therapy to try and move on with his life.

 

There was another notification from the #all-about-steve channel:

 

Scott: @bucky It’s not weird, dude. I can appreciate Steve’s form. He’s got like the perfect shoulder to waist ratio. That’s not natural. Purely scientific appreciation. When are you going to invite him to team lunch?

 

Peter: OK, not to add to Scott’s delusions, but Steve is pretty perfectly built.

 

America: I find all this talk about Steve to be really pathetic. Stop objectifying him! He’s a very nice person who just happened to have won the genetics lottery.

 

Pietro: Scott is such a girl.

 

America: Is that supposed to be an insult? Using the female gender as an insult?

 

Peter: Yeah, you’re in trouble now @pietro      

 

Bucky decided that discretion was the better part of valor and ignored all the comments with a roll of his eyes. They were all in their early-to-mid 20s, with Peter Parker the youngest at 17-years old and one of a dozen Stark Industries interns who worked at the company. Scott Lang was a few years older than Bucky and the senior drafter on the team. America Chavez was probably the best drafter of them all, with Pietro Maximoff having the fastest pair of hands in CAD.

 

Bucky was the newest person to join the team. After he came home from Afghanistan, he received a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge. He used his disability pay, hazard pay, and his GI Bill to go to college full-time. CUNY was happy to accept him into the Grove Engineering School, even knowing about his disability, and Bucky graduated with honors with his BS in Mechanical Engineering. One of his professors used to consult with Stark Industries and submitted his capstone project to the Engineering Division. Bucky was shocked to receive a job offer for an entry level draftsman position in the Engineering - Mechanical department, and he found himself working for Stark Industries three months after graduation.

 

Bucky settled in his chair, checking the time for when the staff cafeteria would open so he could get some coffee, and started reviewing the designs for the project that he was assigned to support. Wong had passed along a request submitted by the Stark Industries branch in Taipei to improve the drills used in in their factory. Bucky had worked through several dozen iterations to design a 360-degree drill arm that could twist, turn, and get into all different types of positions and tight spaces.

 

It was an idea that had come to him while he was doing physical therapy with Steve on his left shoulder. Steve was trying to distract him from the pain and babbled on about the shoulder and its ball-and-socket construction, and Bucky had had an “a-ha” moment of intense clarity. Even Wong was impressed by Bucky’s designs and he asked hard questions and pushed Bucky to draw even better designs.

 

A moment later, a Stark Slack notification popped up on one of his screens:

 

Wong: What is the purpose of the #all-about-steve channel? @channel @scott   

 

Bucky laughed, looking down at the clock. 0539 hours. Looks like Scott was getting everyone Starbucks. That made Bucky happy. He loved his coffee.

 

***

 

The Engineering Division had fourteen departments worldwide and employed about 140 of the best minds in the field. The Research and Design - Mechanical crew was small, but they were a tight group, full of pranks and in-jokes, and when Bucky joined them two years ago, they quickly brought him into the fold. It reminded Bucky of the men and women in his old squad; the kind of camaraderie that came from both having to work together and needing to work together to get the job done.

 

They were also cunning, clever, and competitive. For three years running, the Fabrication Unit team had won the annual Rube Goldberg machine contest. Every year on December 7, in honor of Rube Goldberg’s memory, the Fabrication Unit and Research and Design - Mechanical unveiled their complex Rube Goldberg machines in front of their Engineering peers. They came close to winning last year, but Fabrication had made a pretty amazing contraption with paint cans from the Facilities department.

 

This year, Mechanical was going to win or Bucky was going to eat his scarf. He was pretty sure that Scott offered that up as collateral to Fabrication. Bucky threatened to not invite Steve to the team holiday party.

 

“--and one time, I heard a rumor that Dr Stark went 12 for 12 with the Maxim cover models--”

 

“--don’t forget about the rumor that he’s secretly dating Pepper Potts and that’s why she’s CEO of his entire empire.”

 

America shot a rubberband at Pietro’s back. “Jerkface!”

 

“Ow!” Pietro complained, pouting up at her.

 

“You deserved that,” Bucky told him, chuckling.

 

“Yep,” Peter agreed, swinging around in the air.

 

“That’s not why Pepper Potts is one of the most powerful women in the business world! She’s smarter than most people and Dr Stark finally acknowledged the fact that he couldn’t run his business and run his personal life at the same time!”

 

Bucky grinned, listening in on their gossip, as they pieced together the latest part of their Rube Goldberg machine. The rules were pretty simple. They could only use Stark Industries office supplies to build their machines. It was an automatic disqualification and loss if either team incorporated non-Stark Industries stuff to build their machines. That meant that supply cabinets were raided all over the division; with managers and directors looking the other way. There was reputation and pride on the line, after all. Promotions were made based on winning the Rube Goldberg machine contest.

 

“--remember that one year when Dr Stark came down to Fabrication to personally thank them for working on the Arc Reactor project and gave the entire team major bonuses and a week-long all expenses paid trip for them and their families to use the Stark Industries resort property in Fiji! How come we don’t get that kind of acknowledgement? We do awesome work in Mechanical. Just because Fabrication gets to build stuff. They wouldn’t be able to build their way out of a paper bag without us!”

 

Bucky grinned, laying on his stomach as he worked on connecting the rubber bands to the pencils. “Why do you guys all refer to him as Dr Stark?”

 

“Because he’s our Engineering God and he has three doctorates from MIT in electrical engineering, physics, and mathematics,” Peter said, hanging from a harness connected to the ceiling so that he could work on the top pieces of the machine. “They named a building after him!”

 

“Two,” America chimed in, building the second part of their machine. “A new science and tech building and a women’s dorm, but that one’s named after his mother.”

 

“Exactly! Two buildings!” Peter said, flailing a little in his harness.

 

“He doesn’t strike me as the kind of man to stand on that kind of formality,” Bucky mused, concentrating on adding another pencil to his rubberband contraption with Pietro helping as his other hand. “I mean, yeah, he’s got all those degrees, but he could get them in his sleep.”

 

“Can someone let me down now?” Peter said, swaying slowly in his harness. “I need to get home for dinner and to do my homework.”

 

Bucky watched as America and Pietro carefully lowered Peter back to the floor and unbuckled him out of the makeshift harness that they made, cobbled together from heavy duty straps from the Freight team and sturdy belt buckles.

 

“See you, kiddo,” Bucky called, waving to him. He paused, remembering that that was the nickname Tony Stark had called Bucky during their elevator ride. It made him smile, feeling his gut tighten in pleasure.

 

The others took off a couple of hours later, leaving Bucky to finish the rubber band and pencil mini turbines. He got to his knees and then stretched out his back and arm, wiping down the front of his shirt and pants as he got to his feet. He stroked his hand over his left shoulder, moving the stump of his arm around to loosen up the muscles. Maybe he could convince Steve to give him a massage.

 

He walked out of the large holding area and closed the door, listening to the locks engage. Fabrication team was setting up their machine next door. They worked within the honor code - not sabotaging each other’s machines - and on December 7, they would move the partition wall between their two holding areas to reveal their machines.

 

Bucky got into the freight elevator and leaned against the wall, closing his eyes.

 

“Hey, JARVIS, 87 please.”

 

“Of course, Mr Barnes,” JARVIS said, politely. The doors closed and the elevator rose quickly. “How is the machine coming along?”

 

Bucky chuckled, looking up at the ceiling where he knew JARVIS had his “eye in the sky” camera. “It’s coming along. I think we’re going to win this year.”

 

“I wish you nothing but good luck.”

 

“You probably say that to everyone,” he said, chuckling.

 

“Of course. I have to maintain a neutral role in the competition,” JARVIS said, the tone friendly. “But I am particularly invested in your effort.”

 

Bucky shrugged his left shoulder. “You mean because of this?”

 

“No, not because you are missing a limb; but because you are one of the few people who speak to me as if I am your friend.”

 

“Thanks, JARVIS,” he said, grinning widely. “You’re a great pal. And I do think of you as my friend.”

 

The doors opened on the 87th floor.

 

“Then, as your friend, I hope you and your team will win this year.”

 

“Thanks, buddy,” he said, stepping off the elevator and walking towards his office.

 

Everyone knew about Tony Stark’s artificial intelligence program that ran the building and many of other Stark Industries businesses; it was truly one of the most innovative accomplishments on Tony’s long list of accomplishments.

 

A part of Bucky still thought that JARVIS was some British guy, sitting in a small office somewhere in the building, watching on cameras and listening through microphones on every inch of the company. Maybe he even had personal dossiers on everyone in the building. Bucky just couldn’t believe that JARVIS wasn’t a real person; but he was a flawless learning program that existed on 250 racks of something called a zettascale supercomputer. All Bucky knew was that it was more two times more powerful than NASA’s supercomputer, Pleiades.

 

Jesus, wasn’t Tony Stark was a freaking genius, a man ahead of his time?  

 

Bucky didn’t care about the scientific contribution to mankind or anything like that; he did think of JARVIS as a friend, and that was all that mattered to him.

 

He went back to his desk to grab his bag when he glanced up on one of his screens that he had a message waiting for him. Curious, he sat down in his chair and moved his cursor over the spinning message icon and clicked on it.

 

All four screens filled with a number of hand drawn holographic blueprints. The sketches were rough, but the lines were precise. Bucky frowned, staring at the drawings. Obviously, they were drawn by a madman...or maybe a genius of frightening proportions. 

 

“Definitely a madman,” Bucky murmured to himself, sitting down in his chair and pulling up his CAD program so that he could start sketching the designs onto a new page. He carefully read the notations and the scratchy handwriting to decipher the numbers. It was fascinating work, the engineer was a genius but there was such a beautiful clarity in the work. It was simple and complex at the same time. Bucky was falling in love with the engineer’s beautiful mind.

 

Two hours later, he cleaned up his drafting work and sent back all of the original documents, the new drafts, and all the source files back to the engineer. There was no name, simple three initials - AES - written in a strong, confident hand, and a hidden email account. Bucky typed up his notes and recommendations for some minor improvements and hit the “send” button with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

 

His phone vibrated on his desk and he looked over to see a text message from Steve.

 

Steve: You gonna come home any time soon? Saved you dinner if you want.

 

Bucky smiled and opened his voice-to-text app.

 

“Hey, Steve. Leaving the office now. Just wanted to finish something first. See you later.”

 

He watched as the text auto-generated on the screen. Steve responded with a thumbs up emoji.

 

He shut down his workspaces and grabbed his bag to head home.

 

***

 

Bucky stepped into the elevator and wasn’t surprised to see Tony standing in the corner by the elevator panel, smirking at him.

 

“Fancy meeting you again,” Tony said, looking him up and down.

 

“Come here,” Bucky said, leaning against the wall of the elevator and holding out his hand.

 

Tony took his hand and Bucky pulled him closer, curling his arm behind Tony’s waist and holding him.

 

“So what happens now, sport?” Tony murmured, putting his palms on Bucky’s waist and stroking his hands around to Bucky’s lower back and then down to curl his hands over Bucky’s ass.

 

This was when his fantasies changed. Sometimes, Bucky pressed Tony down to his knees, looking into Tony’s brown eyes. Other times, Bucky dropped to his knees. A couple of times, Bucky spun around Tony so that his chest pressed against Tony’s back and he indulged in a long, dirty session of what it would be like to lick him out.

 

Tonight, Bucky smiled at him and then leaned down to kiss him.

 

*****

 

May 30

 

Bucky sprawled across his bed, his tablet propped up on his stomach, as he watched all the coverage from Tony Stark’s birthday bash from the night before. The press, tabloids, and paparazzi were out in full, lined up outside the post Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, taking pictures or filming Tony Stark’s arrival. He stepped out from his black stretch limo, a dozen sharp-dressed bodyguards taking their position around him, as he blew kisses and waved to the cheering crowd lined up outside the hotel sidewalk and steps as Tony entered the hotel.

 

There were only a few “official” photographs from inside the heavily guarded and invitation-only black-tie affair. Bucky smiled as he looked at the images of Tony Stark laughing with Pepper Potts and Tony’s best friend, James Rhodes. There was a photograph of the 150 birthday guests singing “Happy Birthday” to Tony as he basked on the small stage set up for him. And there was a picture of Tony cutting his gorgeous birthday cake.

 

Tabloids reported that Tony Stark and his guests were still partying until about 4 AM when Tony was photographed leaving the party with two unknown party guests, a gorgeous redhead and a very handsome man with jet black hair.

 

Bucky sighed, tossing his tablet on his bed. He closed his eyes and threw his arm over his head.

 

“Happy birthday, Tony.”

 

*****

 

June 21

 

It happened again. And again. It always happened at the end of his work day and Bucky admitted that he looked forward to hearing from AES and reviewing the engineer’s sketches.

 

Bucky: You’re a madman! Madwoman? Madperson?

 

AES: Brilliance has no gender, Barnes! (But I am a man)

 

Bucky laughed softly, leaning back in his chair, opening the newest batch of hand drawn sketches to his screens.

 

AES: Hey Buckster, have you thought about going back to school to get your Masters?

 

Bucky: Yeah, thought about it, sure.

 

AES: Would be a good move if you did. SI has great tuition assistance programs. Flex time so that you can study.

 

Bucky smiled, feeling quite fond of AES.

 

Bucky: I’ll think about it, for real this time.

 

AES: Let me know if you need a letter of recommendation or anything.

 

***

 

As he was leaving Stark Tower and walking towards the sidewalk, he stopped to rummage in his messenger bag for his earbuds when he saw Tony Stark helping Pepper Potts into the back of a black stretch limousine that was parked at the curb. Bucky stood a few feet away, pretending like he was looking for something in his bag, as he covertly watched Tony kiss the back of Pepper’s hand and close the door for her. He stepped back from the curb and waved his hand, watching as the limo pulled into midtown traffic.

 

Bucky thought it was charming and he let his eyes slide across the width of Tony’s shoulders, down his back, and to the plump round ass under the designer suit. He probably shouldn’t have lingered because when Tony Stark turned around, Bucky knew he was caught staring.

 

Tony met his eyes and then gave him a wide smirk, pulling on his orange lens sunglasses.

 

“Like what you see, sport?” Tony said, walking past him.

 

Bucky blushed furiously and hurried away, walking down the sidewalk to the nearest subway station.

 

In his fantasies, there were a number of responses that Bucky wanted to give:

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’d love to see more.”

 

“Can I take you out for dinner?”

 

And in his fantasies, Tony Stark always said yes.

 

*****

 

Bucky’s & Steve’s Apartment

Brooklyn

June 28

 

Growing up, Steve Rogers was a short, shrimpy guy who had a sharp tongue and a lot of attitude. He hated bullies and he got punched a lot for butting in where he shouldn’t. People always thought that Bucky was the one who would run in and save Steve’s ass, but the truth of the matter was, Steve stood up for himself and he fought like a beast possessed.

 

They grew up together, joined the military together, and when they finished their service, they returned to Brooklyn. It was Steve’s idea to pool their money to get a really great loft apartment in the DUMBO neighborhood. It was also Steve’s idea for Bucky to use his veteran’s benefits to talk to a therapist about his disability.

 

“I think you need to talk to a professional.” Steve said, softly. “I talked to my friend at the VA center, you remember Sam Wilson, right? He gave me a recommendation to a counselor that he thought you’d like to meet. Dr Phillip Coulson. He’s former military and he worked for an intelligence agency before he retired to go into private practice as a counselor, specializing in veterans with PTSD. I think you should just go meet him, check him out.” 

 

Bucky tugged his blanket over his head. “I’m fine.”

 

“This isn’t you being ‘fine,’ Buck,” Steve said, sitting down on the bed and pulling the blanket off his head. “You need help. It’s not shameful to ask for help when you need it. You got hurt and this isn’t going to just go away on its own. All you do is stay in bed and sleep. You don’t shower and you don’t--” 

 

“What the fuck do you know anything about it?” Bucky snarled, lifting his head to glare up at him. “You still got all of your fucking limbs, don’t you?”

 

“If I could give you my arm, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Steve said, furiously.

 

Bucky had wanted to do nothing more than just stay in bed. He didn’t think he was suicidal, but he finally did have to acknowledge that he was depressed, and that he was resentful and jealous of Steve’s health and physical strength. He didn’t understand why Steve took all of his bullshit, but he did, and he never held it against Bucky, not one damn time.

 

Steve had gotten a part-time job at the VA center where he got to learn about physical therapy. He spent a lot of time shadowing Sam Wilson, he assisted in Bucky’s physical therapy sessions with Peggy Carter, and whenever Bucky wanted to just give up, Steve was always there to get him back on his feet.

 

“Hey, Buck, come on outside, I want to talk to you about something important.”

 

“Sure, pal,” Bucky said, following Steve out on the metal fire escape balcony of their apartment.

 

Steve stood by the railing and took a deep breath, like he was preparing for something. It made the hairs on the back of Bucky’s neck stand and he leaned back against the wall, his one hand curled into a tight fist, prepared to do whatever it was to support Steve in whatever bad news he was fortifying himself to give to Bucky. It was the least he could do for Steve, for all that Steve had done for him, getting him out of his funk.

 

“I think I know what I’m going to use my GI Bill money for,” Steve said, looking out at the East River with a small smile on his face.

 

That wasn’t quite what Bucky was expecting to hear. He was preparing himself for Steve to tell him that he couldn’t do it anymore and that Steve was going to move out and go live with Wilson, or something along those lines.

 

“Oh yeah? What for then?”

 

“I want to go to college and get a degree in physical therapy.” Steve let out a soft laugh and turned to give Bucky a long look. “We should both go to college.”

 

“What kind of college is going to want two Brooklyn mooks like us, Stevie?” Bucky said, grumpy and unsociable.

 

“Hey, you’re a Purple Heart recipient and I got a Medal of Honor, what college isn’t going to take us?” Steve said, looking at him, grown up and serious.

 

Bucky leaned against the brick wall and relaxed his hand, shaking it out slightly from the cramp it had developed.

 

“You sound like you made up your mind about this,” he said, carefully. “You got some schools picked out?”

 

Steve walked towards Bucky, his smile widening. “Yeah, I’ve been doing some research. Turns out that the CUNY schools takes the GI Bill and has all kinds of scholarships for veterans. I asked Sam to look at the program and he said that CUNY had one of the best physical therapy programs in New York.”

 

He nodded, giving Steve a tight smile. “That sounds good, Stevie, you should do it.”

 

We should do it. Together. Like we always do,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “CUNY has a damn good engineering school.”

 

They both graduated together and Steve went on to get his license as a physical therapist, as well as a certification in nutrition. And then one day, while he and Bucky were at the gym, Steve noticed some meatheads aggressively hitting on a woman so he did what he always did, butted in to something, only this time, he didn’t get punched. He laid them out flat and escorted the young woman to the gym’s security office while the NYPD were called in.

 

That woman turned out to be Gigi Hadid and Steve’s first celebrity client.

 

Now, Steve worked with a lot of notable clients like Mariah Carey, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift, and a bunch of gorgeous models. He was their personal trainer, nutritionist, and sometimes, a shoulder to cry on.

 

Everyone loved him and he became the hot-in-demand personal trainer to the stars. They trusted him because he was discreet and respectful, but he didn’t put up with bullshit or pretentiousness. He took his work seriously, emphatically, and with a lot of self-deprecating humor. Sometimes, movie stars would fly him out to movie sets all over the world so he could help keep them in shape.

 

“They’re nice people,” Steve told him, shrugging. “You know I don’t talk about my clients, Buck.”

 

“I don’t need details,” Bucky said, rolling his eyes.

 

Steve groaned and ran his hand over his head. “Yeah, they flirt with me...a couple of times, they’ve asked me out on a date, but you know my number one rule.”

 

“Don’t take advantage of the clients,” Bucky said, nodding. “You never got tempted?”

 

“Maybe,” he said, shrugging, averting his eyes with a slight blush on his cheeks. “But, it’ll be too weird, and everyone talks, so I don’t want to get that kind of reputation. Besides, now that Sam and I are together, it doesn’t even register.”

 

Bucky stood at his standing drafting table in the living room, watching unobtrusively as Steve and Sam flirted and teased each other in the open-plan kitchen, cooking dinner together. They had been together for almost two years now and Bucky was pleased to see that the spark was still there, like they were still in the honeymoon phase of dating.

 

He hadn’t liked Sam when Steve introduced them, but Bucky knew it was because he was just starting therapy and he was still in a dark place in his life. He had jealously guarded Steve’s attention and time, but Dr Coulson had helped Bucky peel back the layers to help him see that his insecurities were destructive to his relationships with other people. It took him some time to realize that Sam wasn’t an interloper and he wasn’t there to usurp Bucky’s place in Steve’s life. Steve had the biggest heart of anyone Bucky knew and there was more than enough room for Bucky, Sam, and all the other people in Steve’s life.

 

Steve held up a wooden spoon coated in tomato sauce for Sam to taste. Bucky watched as Sam took a small mouthful, his face breaking into a wide smile, moaning in pleasure.

 

“That’s it! That’s it right there, baby! You made my mama’s secret sauce,” Sam crowed, laughing softly. “Now, you know my mama’s never shared her secret sauce with anyone before, so this is going down in Wilson family history.”

 

Bucky watched as Steve smiled, looking at Sam with sheer happiness and pride and love.

 

“That’s the ticket, Stevie,” Bucky murmured to himself, happy for his friends.

 

He tapped the screen of his tablet and pulled up the New York Daily Gossip website that tracked Tony Stark public sightings and interviews. He was happy to see that there was new paparazzi video of Tony Stark leaving some downtown club, surrounded by a bevy of beautifully attired women and men, blowing kisses to the tabloid press outside the club as six burly security guards made way for him to get through the throng of tabloid press and people-watchers, all of them shouting his name.

 

Bucky sighed, replaying the video again, looking at way that Tony Stark smiled his superstar smile, waving his hand and blowing kisses.

 

“Spying on your future boyfriend again?” Sam said, standing next to him.

 

Bucky jumped, giving him a narrowed look. “Jesus, warn a guy first!”

 

“Tony Stark, huh?” Sam said, cocking his head and grinning at Bucky. “Have you even met the man?”

 

“Once,” he said, leaning his elbow on top of his drafting table and smiling. “In the elevator. We rode up together to my floor. I think he was just coming in from a party or something. He flirted with me.”

 

“He seems like the kind of dude that flirts with anything with a pulse,” Sam said, raising his eyebrow. “Rich, handsome, successful dude like him. Why would you waste your time crushing on someone who treats people like they’re disposable? He’s never been seen with the same person twice.”

 

“Don’t talk about him like that,” Bucky warned, frowning at Sam. “I feel like that’s just his public face. He’s probably not like that at all in private.”

 

Sam giggled, pointing to Bucky’s face. “Ohhh, look at your boy defending his future boyfriend, Steve!”

 

“Fuck you, Wilson!”

 

“Bucky’s team at work have a Slack channel dedicated to Tony Stark sightings,” Steve said, stirring the sauce in the pot.

 

He made a face at Steve. Traitor. “Well, you’ll be happy to know that Scott created a whole new channel dedicated to you.”

 

Steve frowned as he drained the pasta into a large strainer. “Really? I don’t understand why he’s so interested.”

 

“He says that you have the perfect shoulder to waist ratio, whatever the hell that means,” Bucky said, snickering.

 

Hmmmm...it’s true, though, baby,” Sam said, turning to look at Steve.

 

Bucky reached under his desk where he had hidden his newly modified water gun. It was already filled with water and he had changed the pump action so that he wouldn’t need two hands to keep the stream of water going.

 

He pointed the muzzle at Sam’s back, and then smirked as he lowered it, letting out a long stream of water right at Sam’s ass, soaking the seat of his pants.

 

“You little mother--” Sam yelled, running away from Bucky into the kitchen. “Steve! Cabinet! Next to the fridge!”

 

Steve laughed as he opened the cabinet and pulled out two water guns, tossing one to Sam as he ran past. Bucky skid along the slick, wet floor in his socks, trying to get traction to change directions.

 

“Crap!”

 

“Crap, that’s right! It’s on now, white boy! It’s on!” Sam shouted, shooting a spray of water into Bucky’s face. “You can run but you can’t hide!”

 

Bucky let out a loud peal of laughter as he tried to find cover, turning to spray Steve in the chest and soaking his tee-shirt. Steve picked up the cover of the pan, using it like a shield to deflect the stream of water, spraying water everywhere.

 

“Damn it, Bucky!” Steve called after them. “Hey! Don’t ruin my dinner!”

 

All three of them had military training and had seen a lot of action. None of them would ever pick up a real weapon again, but they all still carried the instinct for war. It had been Sam’s idea for the water guns, but they usually used the roof to play. Bucky had changed the rules of engagement without telling either of them. He knew he would pay for it, but it was just too much fun to care.

 

*****

 

Stark Tower

Research & Design - Mechanical (RD-M 8734)

July 12

 

Bucky sat at his desk, sketching out his part of the ongoing Rube Goldberg machine, when the Stark Industries internal textbox notification popped up on his screen.

 

AES: Hey, Buckaroo, you ready for the latest sketch?

 

Bucky: Bring it, nerd!

 

He could admit that he was pretty eager to see the newest sketches by the engineer. Over the past few months, Bucky had exchanged chats with AES and had learned more about the project that the engineer was working on. It was no secret that Tony Stark was moving into clean energy and wanted to design a portable Arc Reactor as an alternative power source that didn’t give off heat or any of the usual toxic carcinogens that impacted the environment.

 

Bucky was amazed by Tony Stark’s ingenuity and imagination; the original Arc Reactor now powered Stark Tower, but all Stark Industries properties worldwide had converted to the new power source. He was a little jealous that AES got to lead the prototyping, but Bucky didn’t mind making his own small contribution to the new innovation. Bucky opened the files and squinted at the screen, doing an initial scan of the notations and the numbers.

 

Bucky: You planning to build the reactor in space now? Didn’t realize that Tony Stark wanted in on the space race.

 

AES: What’re you talking about?

 

Bucky: If I draft your design with the notations you gave me, this is going to end up being like 6,000 feet tall, brainiac. I thought we were going portable?

 

AES: That’s not right.

 

Bucky laughed, shaking his head. “Yeah, no shit.”

 

AES: Shit. Give me 5 minutes to correct my math and I’ll send the sketches back. Good catch, Buckaroo. I owe you one.

 

“Yeah, how about a face-to-face meeting?” He said, softly, a small smile on his lips.

 

*****

 

two8two

282 Atlantic Avenue

August 3

 

Bucky saw the gang sitting at the bar and he pulled the strap of his messenger bag over his head as he walked into his favorite neighborhood bar.

 

“Buck! Saved you a spot,” Steve said, waving his hand in the air.

 

“Thanks, pal,” he said, gratefully. He hugged Steve and then Sam, and turned to give Peggy Carter a kiss on her cheek, and shook hands with Peggy’s boyfriend, Jim Morita. “Good to see you two, it’s been too long.”

 

“Want your usual?” Sam said, looking him over. “You look beat.”

 

Steve waved his hand to catch the bartender’s attention behind the bar. “Hey, Glenda! Can you put in an order of onion rings and a chili cheddar dog with all the fixings for Bucky!”

 

“You got it,” she called, walking into the kitchen to place the order.

 

Bucky smiled his thanks to Steve and reached for Sam’s beer, taking a quick sip. It was cool and hit the spot.

 

“So what’s up? Why do you look like you had a bad day at work? And that can’t be possible because you never have a bad day at work,” Sam said, nudging Bucky’s leg with his knee.

 

“Part of the Rube Goldberg machine that we’re building fell and nearly ruined the whole damn thing. Luckily, Parker caught it in time, but in his haste to stop the machine from going all the way through, he knocked a couple of things out of whack. So we had to put it back together again. It kind of set us back,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I think I pulled something in my back or my neck.”

 

“Want me to give it a go?” Peggy said, slipping closer to Bucky and standing behind him. “Where does it hurt?”

 

“Between my shoulder blades, to the left, and up the back of my neck,” Bucky said, trying to unclench his tense muscles.

 

When Bucky had finally started physical therapy at the VA center, he met Peggy Carter, a licensed physical therapist who volunteered at the center to help veterans who, for one reason or another, didn’t want to go to a clinic.

 

Steve had spent about six months working with her, learning from her, and Bucky could’ve sworn that Steve and Peggy were going to be an item. She had a posh English accent, but she wasn’t a snob about it. She had a lot of sass and Steve was attracted to people who had moral conviction and stood for something important.

 

Things might have worked out for Steve and Peggy, but then Steve started to shadow Sam when he led group counseling sessions. Steve had initially joined the group sessions to learn what Sam did, but then Steve started to work through some of the things that he was keeping under wraps, and he saw Sam in a whole new light.

 

“He’s not afraid to be vulnerable,” Steve said, softly. “He doesn’t make it feel like it’s a weakness.”

 

“It’s not a weakness,” Bucky agreed, looking at his best friend.

 

“I always thought that I had to be the strong one,” Steve admitted, looking at Bucky.

 

He nodded. “Yeah, because I was so fucked up.”

 

“Not just you,” Steve said, sniffling a little. “After ma passed, I didn’t want to go into foster care so I asked for emancipation status. I went into the military so I could stand on my own feet. Everyone always thought I was the strong one; it was what they all expected from me.”

 

“But not Sam,” Bucky said, coming to understand what that meant to Steve.

 

Steve shook his head, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. “He asked me what made me happy.”

 

“What did you say?”

 

Steve barked out a gasping laugh, his eyes watering up. “‘I don’t know.’ What kind of person doesn’t know what makes them happy? How fucked up is that?”

 

Bucky swung his right arm around Steve’s neck and pulled him close, pressing a kiss against his head. “Well, pal, maybe it’s time you found out what makes you happy.”

 

Bucky closed his eyes as Peggy’s hands found the knots in his back, pressing firmly with strong fingers. He fought the instinct to tense up and breathed slowly through his nose, closing his eyes. She moved her fingers up his shoulder blade towards his left shoulder, being careful of the mass of scars and sensitive areas that she knew so well without having to see them now, gently using her thumbs to press and nudge the muscles to relax. Since he lost the arm, he rarely used his left shoulder, and when he didn’t exert the muscles there to keep it from atrophying, the muscles would just tense up. Finally, she moved his hands to his neck and pressed her thumbs along the vertebrae, her fingers pressing into pressure points along his neck and the back of his head.

 

He let out a relieved sigh and took a deep breath, feeling loose. He looked up and gave her a grateful smile. “Thanks, Pegs.”

 

She returned the smile and patted his back and then stroked his hair fondly, and returned to curl up against Morita, who smiled at her in adoration, his brown eyes lit up with pride. 

 

“Oh hey, isn’t that your future boyfriend?” Sam said, nodding his head to the TV screen above the bar.

 

Bucky looked up to see that it was some kind of breaking news announcement and Tony Stark was standing at the podium.

 

Steve reached behind the bar counter and picked up the remote control, turning up the volume slightly.

 

“...reporting live from Stark Tower. Tony Stark is about to make an announcement on the next phase of clean energy,” the newscaster said, his voice low and solemn.

 

Tony Stark grinned, putting his hands on the sides of the podium, scanning the gathered press in the room.

 

“Hey, boys and girls, thanks for coming to my press conference. I could’ve waited to do this for the morning, but I didn’t want to wake up that early,” Tony said, grinning, as the reporters in the room laughed. “All right, here’s what’s going on. Effective immediately, Stark Industries will be launching a prototype for a portable Arc Reactor. It works just like the original Arc Reactor that powers this building and all Stark Industries properties. We’re talking cheap, unlimited power, with zero carcinogenic production. We’re going to change the world. And we’re going to do it for free.”

 

The press went wild, shouting Tony’s name to try and get his attention.

 

“When does it go into production?”

 

“What do you mean when you say ‘for free’?”

 

“How are you going to determine who gets the power!”

 

“Mr Stark, when you say ‘portable,’ just what do you mean?”

 

Tony smirked, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a palm-sized circular metal thing that glowed with a blue light in the center. It was even more incredible than what Bucky had imagined. He stared at Tony Stark’s handsome face, completely enraptured by the look on Tony’s face. That was a man who was confident and proud, who had invented something that no other human being could create, and to give it away for free. If Bucky hadn’t already been in love with Tony Stark before, then he certainly was now.

 

“What you see, in the palm of my hand, is the prototype of the first portable Arc Reactor,” Tony said, showing it to the reporters and to the cameras. “This Arc Reactor can generate power this building, this city block, this entire city for fifteen years without fail.”

 

Bucky opened his mouth and exhaled slowly, blinking at the screen. “Holy shit, they did it. Holy shit. I worked on that.”

 

“Yeah?” Steve said, turning to look at Bucky.

 

“I didn’t design it, but I worked with the engineer who designed the prototype for it,” he said, shaking his head, completely amazed. “I can’t believe that they made it.”

 

“Do you think that you’ll get some kind of credit for helping?” Steve said, looking back up at the screen. “Something incredible like that, there’s probably a promotion or something tied to it.”

 

Bucky frowned, feeling a tension headache forming at his temples. He didn’t expect any kind of credit, but it was kind of a sore point to know that AES was going to get all the glory for the work. Was AES just using Bucky? How did he even know that Bucky worked in Research and Design as a mechanical drafter?

 

*****

 

Bucky opened the text chat window for AES and sent him a quick message.

 

Bucky: Hey, nerd! Watched the news and saw the announcement. Congratulations, man! Great work!

 

He waited the whole day to hear from AES, but received nothing. He didn’t know why he was so disappointed. He didn’t think AES was just using him. But why didn’t AES respond?

 

*****

 

Bucky’s & Steve’s Apartment

Brooklyn

August 11

 

“Did you ever hear back from that engineer dude?” Steve said, looking at his schedule on his tablet.

 

Bucky took a bite from his bagel. “No. Radio silence for the past week.”

 

“Want me to refill your coffee?”

 

“Thanks, pal.”

 

He watched as Steve got up from the counter, picking up Bucky’s coffee cup and going to the coffee machine. Bucky chewed his bagel slowly and thoughtfully. He decided that there was no point in being bitter about the Arc Reactor project.

 

His phone dinged and he glanced at the screen to see a notification on his banking app. Frowning slightly, Bucky opened the app to see that there was a new deposit made to his checking account.

 

What the fuck? Bucky couldn’t understand what he was seeing. Okay, maybe there was some kind of mix up. It could happen. He and Steve lived in each other’s pockets and had access to all kinds of private financial information for each other. Hell, Steve was his beneficiary in case Bucky died on the job, for god’s sake. Maybe it was just a mistake. Steve was the one who made that kind of money, not Bucky. He once saw Steve’s bank statement and nearly shit himself with how much money Steve had in his accounts.

 

“Steve?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

His eyes widened and he dropped the phone on the counter, looking up at Steve as he set Bucky’s coffee cup in front of him.

 

“Holy shit,” he whispered, staring at his best friend.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Did you, uh, give my bank routing number to one of your clients by mistake?”

 

Steve sat down and shook his head. “You know I’d never do that. Why?”

 

He slid his phone across the counter to Steve.

 

“Bucky...someone just deposited $110,000 into your checking account.”

 

“What the fuck,” he said, breathing through his mouth. “What the actual fuck?”

 

Steve tapped the screen a few times and then raised his eyebrows, turning the phone to show Bucky the screen. “The deposit originated from Stark Industries.”

 

“That must be a mistake,” he said, laughing slightly. “What...how does...what the fuck?”

 

Steve laughed, setting the phone on the counter. “Hey, maybe your engineer friend made sure that you got the credit for the work you did after all. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

 

Bucky’s brain was frozen; cannot compute, must shut down.

 

“Ohmygod…”

 

*****

 

Stark Tower

Research & Design - Mechanical (RD-M 8734)

87th Floor

August 13

 

Monday morning, Bucky got to the office early because he needed to contact someone in Payroll to ask about the mysterious deposit to his checking account. It could’ve been a routing error because there was no way that Bucky would ever receive that much money from Stark Industries.

 

He walked into his office to see a yellow post-it note stuck to his computer screen.

 

“Barnes, thanks for all the extra work that you put in. Put in a special bonus for you. AES.”

 

Bucky sat down and exhaled thickly, blinking at the handwritten message. It was in the same handwriting style as the sketches.

 

Wow, fucking wow…

 

He pulled the post-it note off his screen and folded it. He pulled his wallet out of his messenger bag and saved the note inside one of the inner pockets.

 

He couldn’t stop smiling as he pulled his bag strap off, tossing it on the floor. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t fucking believe it!

 

Opening the text chat message window, he sent off a quick message of thanks and confirmed that he did receive the deposit.

 

AES: That’s great! It’s not nearly enough but I convinced Pepper to push it through!

 

Bucky’s eyes widened at the casualness of calling their CEO by her first name - not even her first name, by her nickname!

 

Bucky: Well, thanks again, nerd. You don’t know how much I appreciate it.

 

AES returned a happy face emoji and Bucky laughed, shaking his head. He opened his internal email, Stark Slack dashboard, and the blueprint that he was prepping to share with his team and with Wong for their feedback and notes. He was pretty sure that he would get Wong’s approval to send his blueprint to Fabrication to make a prototype. All in all, Bucky was happy and pleased with life. He couldn’t wait to tell Steve and his friends.

 

The only thing missing was being able to share the news with...with Tony Stark. Man, he’d give anything to have Tony look at him with pride and admiration, like Bucky was someone important.

 

***

 

October 19

 

Over the next few months, AES continued to send Bucky additional sketches refining the miniature Arc Reactor prototype, focusing on different aspects of power usage.

 

Wong knocked on the outer rim of Bucky’s office door. “Barnes.”

 

“Hey, Wong, what can I do for you?”

 

Wong strolled into his office, some of the sternness on his face easing into stoic regard. “I just wanted to let you know that the factory in Taiwan implemented your 360 drill arm and we’ve been getting really great feedback on usage. Good work, Barnes.”

 

Bucky smiled, nodding. “Thanks, boss.”

 

“With the success in Taiwan, there’s a good chance that it’ll be implemented at all Stark Industries plants.”

 

“Awesome,” he said, feeling damn proud.

 

Wong gave him a long look and then nodded, his lips twitching slightly. That was probably the equivalent to a smile and a high five from anyone else, so Bucky counted it as a major win.

 

“Hey, Wong, can I ask you a question?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Do you know an engineer with the initials AES?”

 

Wong considered it for a long moment. “Yes.”

 

Bucky raised his eyebrows, waving his right hand for Wong to continue.

 

“Anthony Edward Stark.”

 

“What?” Bucky said, making a face, letting out a laugh. “No, not Tony Stark. I mean an engineer, someone in one of the engineering departments.”

 

Wong stared at him. “Tony Stark is, by trade, a talented mechanic and engineer. Why do you ask?”

 

Bucky’s mouth dropped open and he felt his heart seize. “Oh shit, Wong, oh shit.”

 

“What did you do?”

 

“I...I’ve been helping this dude, AES, he’s an engineer! I’ve been working on his sketches and drafting blueprints for him on the mini Arc Reactor project OH HOLY SHIT! I’m so going to be fired!”

 

Bucky started breathing heavily, chest tight with anxiety. He felt like he was going to throw up. His face felt hot and heavy and he couldn’t get enough air into his lungs.

 

He was going to get fired. He was going to get fired! He corrected Tony Stark’s sketches and called him ‘nerd’ and ‘dork’!

 

“Breathe with me,” Wong said, his voice low and firm, full of authority.

 

Bucky felt a steady hand on his back and he sat up, eyes closed, as he worked on his breathing exercises like the way Dr Coulson taught him. After a few minutes or an hour, whatever it was, Bucky was breathing normally again and he opened his eyes, looking up at Wong.

 

“So you’re the one who produced the blueprints for Mr Stark,” Wong said, softly.

 

Bucky nodded, wiping his hand over his mouth. “Yeah. For months.”

 

“You did good work,” Wong said, patting Bucky’s back and stepping away, giving him room to breathe. “There was talk that Mr Stark was working with someone in Mechanical Drafting, but he didn’t say anything directly so no one pressed him. It sounds like you and he worked well together.”

 

“Yeah, I think so.”

 

“So you should not fear being fired for doing your job,” Wong told him, a tiny smile forming on his lips. “I hope you were compensated for your time. I assume that it wasn’t during work hours since you made all of your deadlines.”

 

“After hours and at home,” he said, taking a deep breath. “And yeah, AES -- I mean, Mr Stark, he said that he put me in for special compensation and I received it.”

 

Wong nodded and then walked to the door. “Then, keep up the good work, Barnes. I have a feeling that you’re going to go far in this department.”

 

“Thanks,” he said, weakly, still too stunned to even process anything.

 

***

 

It was nearing the end of the day when Bucky received his usual text chat message. A part of Bucky was hoping that he wouldn’t hear from AES -- Tony Stark -- and he could make his escape and go home and crawl into bed. He was tempted to call Dr Coulson so that he could just talk it through with his therapist. He made a mental note that maybe he should anyway. It had been months since he had a panic attack and seeing the text chat window pop open on his screen nearly triggered another one.

 

AES: Hey Buckster, got a new one for you.

 

Bucky: Dr Stark, I apologize for messing up your drafts. I didn’t know that they belonged to you. B. Barnes, RD-M.

 

AES: Well, damn, I guess the jig is up. Hang on for just a moment, kiddo. Don’t do anything stupid.

 

Bucky shut down his computer and grabbed his bag, running to the elevators. He pressed the down button and waited impatiently as the doors opened.

 

He nearly let out a yelp when he saw that Tony Stark was waiting for him inside.

 

“I thought I said not to do anything stupid.”

 

Bucky stared at him. “Umm...sorry?”

 

“Get in, sport, you and I have some talking to do,” Tony said, raising his eyebrow.

 

Bucky took a deep breath and stepped inside. Tony wasn’t dressed up in his usual designer clothes. Instead, he looked comfortable in his work pants and faded Black Sabbath tee-shirt, his hair loose and sticking up in different places. Even dressed down, he still exuded sex appeal.

 

“Uhh...Dr Stark--”

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “It’s Tony.”

 

“Tony, um, thank you. For everything. For the bonus. For the chance to work with you. I’m sorry for, um, presuming to correct your work and--” 

 

“Are you kidding me? You had a hand in helping me with that portable mini Arc Reactor! Do you know how excited the Board of Directors is right now? This alone is going to keep them off my back for like eight months -- six months tops. Definitely off my back for three months, minimum! It’s a win-win for everyone.”

 

Bucky realized that the elevator wasn’t going down, it was moving upwards. “Uh, okay, but where are we going?”

 

Tony grinned at him. “Why didn’t you review my latest drawings? I made them horribly indecipherable on purpose. Do you know how long it took me to make them indecipherable? On purpose? It was like going against every engineering principle I believe in.”

 

Bucky opened his mouth and shook his head. “Okay?”

 

“Listen, kiddo, the company is going to make a lot of money with the new overseas contracts for construction. And when SI finally gets enough of the portable Arc Reactors produced and implemented, it’s going to revolutionize the clean energy industry, finally get some of these corporate dinosaurs off their greedy asses to either join in my fun or get left behind for the next fifty years.” Tony smiled widely at Bucky. “You and me, kiddo, we did some great work together. So I have a business proposal for you that I think you’re really going to like.”

 

Bucky stared at the genius for a long moment, stunned into disbelief. But that was nothing compared to what happened when the doors opened on Tony Stark’s private workshop floor.

 

“Holy shit.”

 

***

 

Stark Tower

Tony Stark Private Workshop

92nd Floor

 

It was a technology nirvana. When Bucky died, he didn’t want to go to heaven, he wanted to come here.

 

“Oh my fucking god,” Bucky whispered, reverently, as he stepped out of the elevator and into the open floor plan workshop. It was, at least, the entire length and width of an entire floor, with every available work table covered with something in progress. There were a dozen invisible “floating” holo-screens displaying blueprints and designs so futuristic that Bucky had a hard time wrapping his mind around them.

 

He ran from one table to another, looking at the small, circular metal object, the blue light glowing in the center.

 

“Is this the portable Arc Reactor?”

 

“Yep,” Tony said, clearly amused.

 

“But this isn’t what we designed,” Bucky said, leaning close to the power generator to get a look at the details. “Are you already working on second gen tech? Did you make it even smaller?”

 

“Fourth generation, Buckaroo.”

 

“Fourth! That is amazing!” Bucky yelled, running to another work table to look at what Tony was working on. “Are these rocket boosters? Why would they be so small? I mean, it wouldn’t give enough energy to lift off the ground. Are you making these portable, too? They look likes boots!”

 

“Pet project of mine,” Tony said, shrugging slightly.

 

Bucky stared at one of the holo-screens and pointed to it, looking over his shoulder at Tony. “This is my 360-degree drill arm design!”

 

“Went into production yesterday.”

 

He stared at it and noticed that there were some modifications. “You made it even more energy efficient! I hadn’t even considered that it was possible! I mean, the conservation of energy at this point right here -- that’s just genius! What did it save? Like, about 10 percent energy output?”

 

“Twelve percent. Well, I didn’t think you’d mind if I tinkered with it a little,” Tony said, chuckling. “Don’t be put out. You still get the credit for the design, but I tinker with everyone’s stuff before I put it into production.”

 

“Wow! Tony Stark worked on my design! Personally!” Bucky shouted, raising his arm into the air and kicking his feet in a little dance.

 

Tony laughed, louder, as Bucky ran through the workshop.

 

“This is like...I never even imagined that…” Bucky couldn’t even speak he was so excited. He turned to smile at Tony, feeling a little wild. “I mean, you’ve never let anyone photograph your private workshop but you talked about it in detail in 2012’s Architectural Digest when they came and did a photo spread of your penthouse! I’ve always been curious about what your workshop looked like!”

 

Tony made an amused face and cocked his head. “You’re really interested in all of this?”

 

“Hell yeah!” Bucky said, enthusiastically. He flushed, feeling his face heat up when Tony gave him a wry look. “I mean, I’m not a crazy fanboy or anything. I mean, I follow your social media stuff but I’m not, like, trying to stalk you. I just...I’ve always been a little interested...in you...your work, I mean. I’ve always been interested in your work.”

 

There was no way to save himself, so Bucky just bit his lip and didn’t bother trying. He felt shy and exposed, fearing that Tony would find him to be a pathetic loser.

 

Tony chuckled, walking closer towards him. “Well, who can blame you? I am a pretty interesting guy...and my work is genius and unparalleled.”

 

Bucky rolled his eyes, snorting, and then remembered that he did that to Tony Stark!

 

Something nudged Bucky’s back, pushing him slightly into Tony’s chest. He bumped against Tony and blushed, muttering his apology as he stepped away, turning to see what pushed him.

 

“Hey, be nice to our guest!” Tony scolded, pointing to what looked like a huge metal arm with a claw at the end. “That’s DUM-E, he gets a little excited when someone new comes into the workshop. DUM-E, this is Bucky Barnes, show your manners. We’re not uncivilized animals here.”

 

DUM-E slowly extended his claw arm and Bucky stepped closer, putting his right hand on the claw and gave it a little shake.

 

“Nice to meet you, DUM-E,” he said, smiling widely. He released the robot’s arm and DUM-E examined his missing left arm. “Yeah, I had an accident a while back. Looks like you and me have a lot in common.”

 

DUM-E didn’t talk or anything, but he was exceptionally expressive for a robot without a face or a mouth. For some reason, Bucky thought that he could feel DUM-E’s compassion for Bucky’s loss and Bucky got a little choked up when DUM-E raised his claw arm and placed it gently against Bucky’s shoulder.

 

“He’s incredible,” Bucky murmured, turning to look at Tony. “Is he like JARVIS?”

 

Tony barked out a laugh. “DUM-E is as dumb as they come.”

 

“DUM-E’s base code is the first generation prototype of all Stark artificial intelligence. You could say that he is father to us all,” JARVIS intoned, sounding proud. “Mr Stark created DUM-E while still a teenager and never upgraded DUM-E’s base code once DUM-E became fully cognizant.”

 

Bucky cocked his head. “Why not?”

 

“Because DUM-E is his own entity,” JARVIS said, firmly. “Mr Stark did not change his base code, but he allowed DUM-E to learn at a regular rate.”

 

“Wow,” he said, petting DUM-E’s chassis.

 

“Basically, I wrote his base code while I was drunk and lonely, so he’s developmentally challenged because of my bad life choices,” Tony said, fondly. “Never wanted him to think that he wasn’t wanted, so I keep him around to help around the workshop, even though he’s a royal pain in the ass and--”

 

DUM-E perked up and rolled away on his four wheels, grabbing a nearby fire extinguisher.

 

“--hey! You drop that right now! I swear to god if you use the fire extinguisher on me again, I’m going to take you down to City College and let the computer science nerds mess around with you!” Tony hollered after DUM-E, taking the fire extinguisher out of his claw.

 

DUM-E’s claw fell, dejectedly, and Bucky couldn’t help but giggle.

 

Tony set the fire extinguisher down and sauntered back towards Bucky. “Come meet the other two bots. BUTTERFINGERS and U. Look alive, daddy’s home.”

 

Bucky followed Tony towards the two other bots. They were similar in design as DUM-E, a little smaller and sleeker, but with the one-armed claw system. They perked up at hearing their names and rolled off of what looked like a charging platform, heading towards them, arms waving up and down.

 

Bucky laughed, repeating his hand shake with BUTTERFINGERS and U -- why did Tony give them such terrible names -- and showed them his missing arm.

 

“They’re a little smarter than DUM-E,” Tony explained, leaning against the edge of a work table, watching the bots. “BUTTERS is fifth generation and U is ninth generation.”

 

“What generation is JARVIS?”

 

Tony considered it for a moment. “Hey, Jay, when was the last time I did a manual upgrade on you? Was it in 1992?”

 

“January 2, 1992, to be exact, Sir,” JARVIS said, fondly. “I am currently at 1,529th generation. My next upgrade is in 130 days, 14 hours, and 23 seconds.”

 

“He’s a self-learning AI,” Tony said, grinning at Bucky. “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System.”

 

Bucky made a face and then laughed. “Your Marketing team must go crazy when you try and name a new Stark Industries product.”

 

“Hey!” Tony said, laughing. “Okay, it may be true that I’m not allowed to name anything that I invent. These are my kids, I am their Creator and God, so I named them.”

 

DUM-E, BUTTERFINGERS, U, and JARVIS all gave very human-like reactions. Bucky laughed and laughed, standing close to Tony and swaying towards him.

 

“Ohmygod, this was so amazing,” he said, meeting Tony’s eyes. “Thank you for letting me visit your private workshop. I know that you don’t let a lot of people up here.”

 

Tony nodded in acknowledgement. “So, sport, how do you like it in RD-M? You guys figure out Wong’s first name yet?”

 

“What is it? Tell me!”

 

“Nope,” he said, shaking his head. “No cheating! But in all seriousness, is SI treating you well?”

 

“It’s great,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I love working here. I’ve always wanted to work here, but I heard that Stark Industries was really competitive. There was a 1 in 6,000 chance of getting hired.”

 

“Well, we only want and hire the best,” Tony said, unapologetically. “And our HR recruiters filter out the assholes and fakers. I want someone smart, but if they don’t have any kind of emotional intelligence, then I’m just hiring a smart asshole. SI has room for only one smart asshole.” Tony smirked and pointed at himself. “I wanted the company to be an employer of choice. Lifelong careers. Long-term commitment and loyalty. We take care of our people.”

 

“I know. I only got hired because one of my professors submitted my capstone project to someone in R&D and that’s how I got my job. I got a job offer before I even graduated.”

 

Tony nodded. “Yeah, that one-eyed bastard Nick Fury, he’s an old family friend. Knew my mother and worked on a lot of charity stuff with her. He passed along your project to me.”

 

Bucky gasped and blinked, turning to look at Tony. “Did you...that night in the elevator, did you know who I was?”

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “I’ve known who you were this whole time, Buckaroo! You can’t be this dense.”

 

“But...but, why? I mean...why?”

 

“Are you kidding? You know my best friend is James Rhodes, right? Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes? It’s not like the US military gives away Purple Hearts to just anybody. Talk about making a sacrifice for your nation,” Tony said, waving his hand towards Bucky’s missing arm. “So when Nick sent me your capstone and also told me that you had worked on the designs without using a prosthetic, I had to know who were you and what you would do next. So if anything, it was out of pure selfishness to offer you a job first. You’d be wasted at HammerTech or AIM or at fucking Google, okay? And I knew about your disability, so I had my research team work on putting together the best assistive technology for you, which ended up benefiting a whole lot of other people who needed better assistive tech tools. So...I don’t know where I was going with this.”

 

Bucky wanted to kiss him.

 

“Thanks, Tony,” he said, smiling helplessly at him. “You don’t know how much it meant to me...to have a job after I finished school. It took me a few years to...to feel better about what happened while I was overseas...and my arm...everything. Having a job that I went to everyday...it saved my life.”

 

He watched as Tony looked at Bucky intently, and then looked away, flushing slightly.

 

“Sure, uh, you’re welcome, kiddo,” Tony said, clearing his throat. “Anyhoo…let’s talk about my business proposal. How would you like to put in a few hours here in my workshop? I have a couple hundred side projects that I’m working on and I could use an experienced drafter like you.”

 

“Wow. Really?”

 

“Yeah, sure, why not?”

 

“I feel kind of stupid making corrections on your work,” Bucky said, giving a little shrug.

 

“Why?”

 

He blinked, staring at Tony. “Because you’re Tony Stark. You have like six degrees!”

 

Tony rolled his eyes and waved his hand, dismissively, in the air. “Knock it off. I’m a schmuck like everyone else - I might be a smarter schmuck, but a schmuck nonetheless.”

 

Bucky chuckled and shook his head. “Well…”

 

“I thought your revisions and notations were good,” Tony said, leaning back and smiling widely at Bucky. “There’s not a lot of people that I trust with my work; and I might be a genius but I hate having to draft out my drawings.”

 

“Grunt work,” Bucky said, grinning.

 

“Exactly. I’m more of a hands on kind of guy,” Tony said, raising his eyebrows, a small smirk on his lips.

 

Bucky met Tony’s gaze, but he bit his tongue and looked away.

 

Shut up, dirty mind! Do not go there! This was exactly the kind of fantasy scenario that Bucky dreamed up while he was jerking off at night! No, brain! Don’t do it!

 

Tony let out a knowing laugh as Bucky flicked his eyes to Tony again, feeling his face flush. He sighed and let out a low chuckle.

 

“I’d be stupid to refuse,” he said, taking a deep breath and straightening his spine. “I would really love to work for you, Tony.”

 

“Famous last words,” Tony said, giving Bucky a wink. “JARVIS, give Buckster here access up to the workshop. Stark override 049628C.”

 

He pushed off the table and motioned for Bucky to follow him.

 

“I’ll work things out with Wong. We’ll do an official HR transfer and have Pepper approve a new compensation package for you. Let’s do a two week trial run and see if we can actually be in the same room together for more than thirty minutes,” Tony said, laughing. “You think this kind of genius isn’t without some quirks!”

 

“I work with a bunch of smartass kids in Mechanical,” he drawled, letting his eyes drift down to admire Tony’s round ass. “I can handle you.”

 

Tony tossed a look over his shoulder. “Famous last words, Barnes.”

 

*****

 

Stark Tower

Tony Stark Private Workshop

92nd Floor

 

Over the next few months, Bucky came and went from Tony’s private workshop to all of the Research and Fabrication departments, helping Tony on a number of new projects. Between the two of them, they had made improvements to the portable Arc Reactor, now in its ninth generation, and two inches smaller and 27% more powerful than the original.

 

Tony Stark and Stark Industries were all over the business and science news on his new innovations in clean energy.

 

Bucky even got to meet Pepper Potts and presented to her and the Board of Directors on a number of Tony’s designs as Tony insisted that doing presentations “gave him hives.”

 

The Board was insistent that Tony continue supporting their military contracts and he and Bucky had several loud, screaming fights about meeting the deadlines on the military weapons contracts.

 

“Because if you don’t, people will die, Tony!” Bucky screamed at him, face red from exertion.

 

“People die because it’s war, Buckaroo! Don’t ask me to contribute to building more weapons that--”

 

“I’m talking about protecting the men and women who have to be out in the front lines! I’m talking about protective gear! I’m talking about guys like me, who would’ve lost more than a goddamn arm without Stark Industries protective gear!”

 

Tony glared at Bucky, his lips pressed together in a tight, thin line. “Fuck you, Barnes. Don’t use that against me!”

 

“You think that I wouldn’t rather have my fucking arm back than a Purple Heart medal, think again!” Bucky shouted, grabbing his bag and walking out on Tony.

 

Three days later, Pepper asked Bucky to meet her for lunch, and she explained that while Bucky was absolutely and morally correct, screaming at Tony or emotionally manipulating him was not the answer.

 

“It may seem easy to force Tony into a corner, but he will always find a way out, and he’ll resent you for it,” she told him, kindly.

 

Bucky sighed and realized that he was wrong to say the things that he did to Tony. He took the elevator up to Tony’s private workshop, anxious that Tony had locked him out, but the doors opened on the 92nd floor and Bucky found Tony wandering around the workshop, holding a bag of dried blueberries in his hand.

 

“Hey,” he said, softly. “I was wrong to say what I did to you. I’m sorry for being an asshole.”

 

Tony looked at him, munching on the blueberries, and then nodded. “Apology accepted. Don’t fucking do it again, Barnes.”

 

Bucky met his brown eyes and nodded. “I won’t.”

 

“Well, then, we’ve wasted three days. Come over here and take a look at what I’ve been working on. I finished three out of the five military contracts - all defensive and protective gear. The other two on weapons development, Pepper cancelled those contracts yesterday.”

 

Bucky smiled, slightly, following Tony to the holo-screens, feeling his heart flutter. This was probably what Steve called “compromise” in relationships. Bucky would make it; it was better than winning a fight and losing Tony all together.

 

***

 

Bucky met his team in the holding area to help with their Rube Goldberg machine. It was almost done and they were getting ready to do a dry run in order to test each of the different parts.

 

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Tony Stark’s sidekick,” Scott said, teasingly.

 

America punched Scott in the arm. “Knock it off!”

 

“Hey, ow! Abuse! This is coworker abuse!”

 

“No one saw anything,” Pietro said, kicking Scott in the leg.

 

Bucky laughed, putting his arm around Peter’s slender shoulders. “Fess up, you guys miss having me around.”

 

“Actually, we do miss you,” America said, smiling up at him. “But no one resents you for taking up with Dr Stark. Any of us would knife the other in the back for the same opportunity.”

 

“And to think that I didn’t have to knife anyone,” Bucky said, raising his eyebrows at her. “You scare me.”

 

“As is only right,” she said, confidently. “Well, the machine is nearly done. Everyone ready for the run through?”

 

“Let’s do it,” Bucky said, smiling widely. “Peter, set it up!”

 

“Why does Peter get to launch it?” Scott said, plaintively.

 

“Because you whine too much,” Pietro retorted, laughing deeply.

 

Peter stood at the start of their machine and grinned at everyone. “All right, team, here goes nothing!”

 

*****

 

Stark Tower

Tony Stark Private Workshop

92nd Floor

 

Tony, as it turned out, was a pretty tactile kind of person. He was always patting Bucky on his back or putting his hand on Bucky’s shoulder or poking Bucky’s side with his always present screwdriver. He stood in Bucky’s personal space while they looked at designs on the holo-screens. He leaned against Bucky’s shoulder while they looked at draft printouts.

 

Bucky thought Tony smelled amazing, a combination of expensive cologne and motor oil. He was pretty sure that Bucky was trained like Pavlov’s dog: whenever he smelled either Tony’s cologne or motor oil, he’d get hard.

 

There were days when Tony would get too much in his head, uncommunicative and wired on coffee, and completely unproductive with his work. On those days, Bucky pushed him towards one of his dozen vintage cars to tinker on.

 

“I know what you’re doing,” Tony groused, sliding under the Shelby Cobra 427.

 

Bucky chuckled, reviewing the notations on the sketch. “I told you that I knew how to handle you.”

 

***

 

Bucky hated to admit it because it felt a lot like he was objectifying Tony Stark, but ever since he started working for Tony, his jerking off time seemed to have increased in frequency and there was a part of him that worried if there was any truth to those old wives’ tale that he’d start growing hair on the palm of his hand.

 

*****

 

Stark Tower

Tony Stark Private Workshop

92nd Floor

November 5

 

Bucky walked into the workshop and headed straight for the workstation that was set up for him. He tucked his earbuds into his messenger bag, pulling the strap over his head and setting his bag next to his standing desk.

 

“Hey, JARVIS, can you pull up all the blueprints from yesterday for the--”

 

He paused, looking over at the work table nearby. There was something that looked like a shiny, gorgeous arm propped up on three stands.

 

“What the hell is that?”

 

Bucky walked to the table, staring at what was probably the most high tech prosthetic arm he had ever seen. He hesitantly reached out and slid his fingers along the surprisingly warm metal and jerked his hand away. It was sleek and the articulation of the fingers, hand, wrist, elbow looked realistic and durable. The metal was polished so smooth that it felt like silk, none of the edges catching against Bucky’s skin.

 

“JARVIS...what is this?”

 

“This is the seventeenth generation of a biomechanical arm,” JARVIS said, quietly.

 

“How? I mean...what?”

 

“It’s for you,” Tony said, standing behind him.

 

Bucky jumped and spun around, his mouth hanging open as he stared at Tony.

 

“Jay, pull up the designs on the holo-screens,” Tony said, smiling shyly. “I’ve been working on this for a couple of months.”

 

“It’s gorgeous,” Bucky whispered, turning back to look at the silver arm.

 

Tony reached up to touch the holo-screen, “exploding” the design so that Bucky could see the inner workings.

 

“It’s built with a neuro-bridge, which means that the arm can be connected to the nervous system and you’d have full neuro-biomechanical control over the arm. Like a real arm.”

 

Bucky bit his lip. “Like a real arm? How...how does it work? Is it...with surgery? Implants?”

 

Tony gave a little chuckle. “Well, I can put you in touch with Dr Helen Cho, she’s the best geneticist in the world and runs the research facility in Seoul, U-GIN Genetic Research. Helen’s built something called a Regeneration Cradle. It can print tissue. Rebuild nano-molecular functionality. Something about getting the cells to bond with the simulacrum. Helen can tell you more about it...if you’re interested.”

 

Bucky turned to look at Tony and then back to the arm. “When I touched it, it was warm.”

 

“Yeah,” he said, shrugging. “Took some convincing, but I asked King T’Challa of Wakanda if I could trade for a small amount of their Vibranium. His kid sister, Princess Shuri, negotiated the trade with me. We’re lucky that she’s not the one sitting on the throne, that kid is going to rule the world someday.”

 

He was thoroughly impressed. “Just out of curiosity, what did you offer to trade with them?”

 

Tony chuckled. “That I’d take her to Coachella next April, VIP weekend passes, a private Safari tent, all the works, and that I’d introduce her to Beyonce.”

 

Bucky laughed and then sat down in a nearby chair and ran his hand over his face. To have his left arm back...even a metal one…

 

“Vibranium?”

 

“One of the secrets that Princess Shuri let me in on is that Vibranium atoms aren’t just compatible with tissue cells, they can bind to them. It’s the most versatile and the strongest substance on Earth.”

 

“So it’ll be attached on?”

 

“Helen and I went over how to make the prosthetic removable for maintenance and upgrades. But yeah, the main casing on the shoulder and upper arm will be integrated in the Regeneration Cradle, but the arm itself can be detached.”

 

“Will it work? The integration, I mean?”

 

“JARVIS?”

 

“There is a 98.883720% chance that it would form a biological bond with you, Mr Barnes,” JARVIS said, confidently. “Mr Stark, Dr Cho and I ran the possibilities approximately 2,529 times with a statistical deviation of 0.02%.”

 

“That’s a yes, if you weren’t sure,” Tony said, quietly, with a small smile. “The choice is yours; there’s no rush. We’d have to fly out to Seoul for a couple of weeks and have Helen’s team do a full medical profile on you. Neuro tracking. A few tests. Nothing without your permission, of course. You don’t have to make a decision right now. It’s going to be major surgery, but the Regeneration Cradle will make it less invasive and the healing time is about a week.”

 

Bucky stared at the arm for a long time, trying to process everything from “holy shit Tony Stark built him a Vibranium arm” and “holy shit they’re going to meld him to a metal arm” to “holy shit he was never going to be able to go through a metal detector again without setting off alarms.”

 

“What’re you thinking?” Tony said, walking closer and putting his hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “You don’t have to make any major decisions right now. There’s plenty of time. Helen and her team are available if and when you want this to happen. And if you don’t want the arm, that’s OK, too.”

 

“You did all of this...for me?” He said, looking up at Tony. “Why?”

 

Tony shrugged. “Because I wanted to. Because I could. It’s what I do.”

 

“I spent a lot of time getting used to not having an arm and working on my self-confidence and who I was without this,” he said, shrugging his left shoulder. “I never wanted a prosthetic because I didn’t want to call attention to my disability with something so fake. But this…”

 

He reached out to touch the arm, still amazed by how naturally warm it felt to the touch.

 

“This is so incredible and amazing,” Bucky said, looking up at Tony. “I’m...excited, but I’m scared, too. I mean, I’m scared about the surgery and I’m scared about being some half man, half metal thing.”

 

“You’re not a thing, James,” Tony said, stepping closer, his hand squeezing Bucky’s right shoulder. “You’re a person, a good man, and this --” He pointed to the metal arm. “-- this doesn’t define who you are or who you will be.”

 

Bucky blinked up at him. Tony called him by his first name. He wrapped his arm around Tony’s waist and pulled him close, pressing his face against Tony’s stomach.

 

“Thank you,” he whispered, closing his eyes and breathing in the warm scent of Tony’s cotton tee-shirt. 

 

“You’re shaking,” Tony said, running his hands over Bucky’s head and squeezing the back of his neck. “Hey, hey, it’s going to be fine. No pressure. You’re all right. You’re all right, Buckaroo.”

 

*****

 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Kresge Auditorium

December 3

 

“...and, lastly, no technological innovation is ever faceless,” Tony said, in closing. “Despite all of the incredible bells and whistles of this project, we must always remember that there is a person -- a human being -- attached to every technological invention. And in this case, it is literally attached to a human being.”

 

The crowd laughed quietly as Tony grinned.

 

Bucky stood off in the wings of the stage and peered out at the crowd to see that every person was staring at Tony, eyes wide and expressions open and aware. He looked down at his hands, watching as his left hand curled into a loose fist, trying to shake off some of his nerves.

 

“None of this would’ve been possible without one special person. Publically, we called him Patient One in order to protect his privacy. There was never any expectation by any of the medical and research staff at U-GIN Genetic Research Facility or Stark Industries Biomechanical for Patient One to ever reveal his identity; we believed that his privacy was worth more than any of us receiving scientific or medical credit for our discoveries.”

 

Tony turned and looked at Bucky, giving him a small, warm smile.

 

“But Patient One took the chance that this new technology could improve the quality of, not only his life, but the lives of people around the world who could reclaim a part of themselves through this medical and technological breakthrough” Tony said, looking thoughtfully out at the silent, entranced crowd. “And let me correct one huge assumption for you. Patient One’s quality of life was never at risk, with or without his biomecha prosthetic. It was a personal decision; a choice that we respected.”  

 

Bucky smiled, enjoying how Tony worked the entire auditorium, full of the best and brightest minds -- and the toughest critics Tony would ever face: people who had the potential to be Tony’s peer in the science and technology community.

 

Tony turned, looking at Bucky. “Now, in just a moment, I’d like to bring out one of the bravest men I know. He helped us take this first step in moving us into a new century of human-biomecha development.”

 

Bucky smiled and ducked his head, looking up at Tony and giving him a wink.

 

Tony faced the packed auditorium and held out his hands. “What’s the MIT School of Engineering mission statement? To create, to innovate, and to see the unseen in order to create new knowledge and serve the needs of society.” He grinned, charmingly. “I might have paraphrased that last bit.”

 

The crowd chuckled with him. Tony turned and looked at Bucky, waving for him to step out to the stage.

 

“He may not be a MIT graduate, but he certainly embodies the mission. Please welcome James Buchanan Barnes to the stage.”

 

The applause and the cheers were a thunderous cacophony of sound as Bucky took a few steps out from behind the curtains. He raised his left arm and waved his hand, smiling shyly as he was nearly blinded by the camera flashes at the front and rear of the auditorium. There were camera phones up and focused on him. Every person in the auditorium were standing on their feet; and Bucky heard a couple of wolf whistles cut shrilly through the air.

 

Bucky reached out and shook Tony’s hand and then pulled him into a hug, stroking Tony’s back with the palm of his left hand.

 

“How’re you doing, kiddo?”

 

“I can’t believe this,” Bucky shouted, against Tony’s ear. He stayed close, overwhelmed and intimidated by the reactions of the audience. He kept holding up his left arm and waving, twitching the articulated fingers, and letting people get a glimpse of him using the arm as if it were already a part of him.

 

“The future is today, Buckaroo,” Tony said, looking at him.

 

Bucky had to stop himself from reaching for Tony’s face and kissing him in full view of everyone. He smiled, standing beside Tony, and waving his hand.

 

***

 

The Eliot Suite Hotel

370 Commonwealth Avenue

 

Bucky didn’t hesitate to kiss Tony as they stumbled into their shared suite.

 

“There’s only one bedroom,” Bucky said, turning to look at Tony as he tipped the porter, escorting the young man quickly out of the living room.

 

Tony looked at him. “Am I being presumptuous? If that’s the case, I apologize. No harm, no foul. I’ve already arranged for you to have your own suite in case --”

 

Bucky dropped his jacket on the thick carpeted floor and walked towards Tony, reaching up to cup his hands on Tony’s face and leaning down to kiss him.

 

“Oh, thank fucking god,” Tony mumbled against Bucky’s mouth, reaching for Bucky’s shirt and nearly ripping off the buttons in his haste to get Bucky’s clothes off.

 

Their first time was quick, just hands and mouths and delicious friction, both of them still wearing most of their clothes.

 

And then Bucky pressed Tony on the bed and wrapped his metal hand around Tony’s cock and stroked him slowly, teasing him, edging him, until Tony was babbling incoherent words of praise and curse words as Bucky sucked him dry, metal hand stroking the base of Tony’s cock.

 

Later, in the shower, while Bucky washed Tony’s hair, he felt a sort of tension ease from his gut. For weeks, he was certain that Tony had wanted more, but they never crossed the line while Bucky was being prepped, medically and psychologically, for the integration procedures. Tony was nothing but supportive, answering all of Bucky’s questions, and just being with him while Bucky worked through his fears and insecurities.

 

“Just promise me one thing, Buckaroo,” Tony said, his eyes closed as Bucky massaged the shampoo in Tony’s thick, wavy hair.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“That you’ll tell me if this was just...gratitude or convenience or...any number of reasons why you’re with me.”

 

Bucky stopped and held Tony under the cascading waterfall of hot water as he rinsed Tony off thoroughly. He wiped Tony’s face and held him close.

 

“I am grateful, Tony, for a lot of things. But I know you don’t want anything from me. And I wouldn’t be here with you, right now, if the only thing I felt was gratitude for what you did for me.”

 

Tony opened his eyes and stared up at Bucky, his expression open and vulnerable in a way that Bucky had never seen before.

 

“I’ve always had a big crush on you, but I know it was only on your public persona,” Bucky admitted, smiling slightly. “I loved your brain when I only knew you as AES, the madman genius engineer. But I fell in love with you when we had that huge fight. You know the one?”

 

Tony gave him a wry smile. “How could I ever forget our first fight?”

 

“Yeah, well, that’s when I knew. It was an awful fight and I was afraid that you were going to shut me out of your life. That’s when I knew what I was feeling for you was real. Because I was afraid to lose you and I didn’t want that; whatever we were fighting about wasn’t ever going to be worth losing you over it.”

 

Tony ran his hands down Bucky’s back and kissed him under the spray of water and Bucky couldn’t help but smile against Tony’s lips the whole time.

 

They finally made their way into the bedroom, kicking off their shoes. Bucky pushed Tony onto the bed and undressed him, quickly and efficiently, inordinately pleased to have two functioning hands. Tony laughed, delightedly, as he let Bucky do whatever he wanted until Tony was finally gorgeously naked and decadently sprawled across the hotel sheets.

 

Bucky jerked and pulled his own clothes off, keeping his eyes on Tony the whole time. He wasn’t muscular but extremely well-built. His arms were strong and defined, the skin tight and smooth over long and lean muscles. Bucky knew that Tony stayed in shape regularly with his own personal trainer, but the muscles came from hours of hard labor in his private workshop, hauling his own tools and equipment.

 

“Like what you see, kiddo?”

 

“Fuck yes,” Bucky gritted out, reaching into one of the bedside drawers where Bucky had stashed their lube and condoms. He pulled them out and tossed them on the bed beside Tony’s hip.

 

“Well, come on then,” Tony murmured, licking his lips and holding out his hand.

 

Bucky crawled over him and covered him, pressing skin against skin everywhere that he could. He hadn’t realized until the night before just how desperately touch starved he was; or maybe the romantic in him thought that he only craved Tony’s touch.

 

“Get comfortable,” he said, sitting up, straddling Tony’s thighs. “I’m going to ride you.”

 

Hmmmm...giddyap, Buckaroo.”

 

Bucky laughed and rolled his eyes. “Only you, Tony, only you.”

 

He reached down with his left hand and curled the metal gently around Tony’s already hard cock, stroking him gently. The feedback signals from his hand produced a lot of different information to his brain and he gradually tightened his hold as Tony sucked in his breath, feeling his cock harden even more against his metal palm.

 

“You totally get off on this, don’t you?” Bucky said, smiling down at him.

 

“Jesus, I didn’t even know I had this kink,” Tony said, closing his eyes and tossing his head back against the bedding.

 

Bucky chuckled as he picked up the lube, squeezing a large dollop into his metal palm. He reached for Tony’s cock again and watched as Tony gripped the covers with his hands, clenching his teeth and letting out a deep, throaty moan.

 

“I love watching you like this,” he said, changing hands and stroking him with his right hand, watching as Tony reacted with a whimper, thrusting his hips and nearly bucking Bucky off his thighs.

 

He wiped his hand off on the covers and picked up the condom, carefully biting a corner and ripping the foil in half. He spit out the cover and unrolled the condom down Tony’s cock, using both hands, and then alternating hands while he stroked Tony up and down.

 

“You’re killing me here, Bucky,” Tony said, looking up at him with dark, sly eyes, cheeks flushed and lips wet from where Tony had licked them.

 

“Not long now,” Bucky said, getting up on his knees as he picked up the lube. He squeezed a large amount onto the fingers of his left hand and Tony groaned, watching as Bucky reached behind him, opening himself up slowly and carefully.

 

“Oh fuck,” Tony muttered, reaching down to grab Bucky’s thighs, fingers digging into the firm muscles. “You’ll have to do that to me later. I want to feel your metal fingers inside of me.”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky said, breathlessly. He pulled out of his fingers with a slick ‘pop’ sound and moved up on Tony to position himself as he held Tony’s cock steady, the head pressing against Bucky’s hole.

 

He looked in Tony’s eyes as he felt the head push in, sliding down the rest of him on a long, smooth ride.

 

“Touch yourself,” Tony said, huskily. “I want to watch you.”

 

Bucky smiled, knowing exactly what Tony wanted to see. He wrapped his metal hand around his own cock, stroking himself slowly. Tony’s mouth opened as he panted, dark eyes moving covetously down Bucky’s body, locked on the way that the metal curled around the dark rosy flesh of his cock, the head pushing through the O-shape of his fingers.

 

“Fuck,” Tony said, arching under Bucky’s weight, his cock driving in deeper inside of Bucky. “That’s fucking gorgeous. I’m never going to be able to get you out of my mind now.”

 

“I’m going to ride you so hard, I’ll still feel you tomorrow,” he said, pressing his hands on Tony’s shoulders and shifting his knees to brace against the bed. “Get ready, baby.”

 

Bucky bit his bottom lip as he started to ride Tony in earnest, undulating his hips so that he could feel Tony’s cock moving in and out of him, slamming back hard and throwing back his head when he felt the head push against his prostate gland.

 

Tony reached up and grabbed Bucky’s metal arm, the other curling around Bucky’s cock, pressed tight between their bellies.

 

Bucky closed his eyes and moaned, thrusting back on Tony’s cock and thrusting forward into Tony’s tight hand. He wasn’t going to last, but he wasn’t going to come alone.

 

He grabbed Tony’s hair with his right hand and held him still, reaching blindly for his mouth for a wet, open kiss. They panted and breathed noisily against each other’s lips, Bucky’s entire body burning with heat and pleasure.

 

“Come on, baby,” Bucky said, in between moans, pressing his mouth against Tony’s sweaty neck. “Almost there, sweetheart. Want you to come first.”

 

Tony gave a bunch of wild thrusts, fucking into Bucky’s ass with sharp and hard thrusts, the head scraping against the rim of his hole as Tony dug in his heels and slammed upwards against Bucky.

 

He groaned as he came, shooting his come across their chests, oozing from the slit as Tony ran his thumb over the head. Bucky shuddered hard, barely capable of rational thought as something like pleasure lava moved through him. He felt his hole clench around and around Tony’s cock and he moved up to his elbows, pushing down on Tony and clenching as hard as he could.

 

Tony let out a loud grunt, head thrown back, as he pressed his cock as deep as he could go inside of Bucky, shuddering as he came.

 

Both of them were panting, muscles aching and trembling, as they tried to catch their breaths. Tony turned Bucky to his side, gently extricating his cock from inside of Bucky and pulling off the condom from his still hard cock.

 

“Jesus,” Tony said, breathing heavily.

 

Bucky let out a laugh and then coughed. “Ohmygod, I think I pulled something.”

 

“Yeah, you sure did.”

 

Bucky turned to look at Tony and they both laughed, breathless and stupid and satisfied and boneless on the bed.

 

“You’re such a dork!”

 

“I love you, too, Buckaroo,” Tony said, his voice full of teasing but serious at the same time.

 

“Love you,” Bucky murmured, looking into his eyes.

 

Tony smiled, pressing his lips against Bucky’s for a soft, chaste kiss.

 

“I don’t want to move for like seventy years,” he said, sprawled out on the bed, his arm and leg covering Tony.

 

“Well, it would be a scandal for housekeeping when they come in to clean the suite, but I’m a billionaire, I’m sure I can just buy this hotel.”

 

Bucky laughed and shook his head. “Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. Pepper would kill both of us.”

 

Tony sighed, smiling. “Probably. But then you’d have to explain to her why.”

 

“Give me like 20 minutes. I need to wait until my legs stop shaking before trying to walk to the bathroom,” he said, curling on his side and looking at Tony. There was a sense of pride that he could make Tony look so happily fucked and relaxed.

 

“I think you need to run us a bath,” Tony said, stretching and twisting against the bed. “There is no way that I’m going to be able to stand in the shower after a ride like this.”

 

Bucky snorted and rolled his eyes. He really was in love with a dork.

 

***

 

Later, after a long and luxurious bath, Tony had ordered up practically the entire room service menu while the two of them lounged lazily in thick bathrobes. They moved all the plated food and drinks to the coffee table and sat on the floor to have a carpet picnic.

 

“How’s the arm feel?” Tony said, pushing back robe covering his left shoulder to check where the metal integrated with the flesh, nearly seamless between skin and metal. “Any pain? Any weirdness?”

 

“It feels good,” Bucky told him, lifting his arm and moving it around as Tony watched carefully. “It’s just a little heavier than what my natural arm feels like, but it’s hardly noticeable now. I think I’m getting used to the balance.”

 

Tony smiled, pulling the robe down and tucking it closed for Bucky. “Helen expects us back in Seoul next week for a follow up. Are you okay with that?”

 

“Sure,” he said, munching on French fries.

 

Tony licked the chocolate off his fork and took a deep breath. “Look, I feel like I need to say something but I’m not sure how.”

 

“About us?”

 

“Yeah,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I live a public life. It’s part and parcel of being a Stark. Part of that is because of my own ego and hubris, the other part is that it keeps things unpredictable and no matter how disapproving my Board of Directors are publicly, they expect it from me privately. But I don’t want to force it on you. When people find out about us, and they inevitably will, there’s going to be a lot of interest in you.”

 

Bucky nodded. “Understatement.”

 

“And not just you, but your family, your friends, your education, your grades, your military service, your disability, your past relationships, how you fuck, what you wear, who you’re seen with -- everything and anything that people can dig up and use against you, they’ll do it,” Tony said, seriously. “I don’t want you to get hurt and I’ll protect you as much as I can, but it’s a reality of being with me.”

 

Bucky gave a small grin. “You think that I have anything in my life that I’m ashamed of?”

 

“Everyone has a pressure point, James, it’s just a matter of someone finding it and using it.”

 

He considered it, thinking to all of those lonely nights when he’d lock himself in his bedroom and greedily look for anything that he could find on Tony Stark. Every piece of gossip and rumors and tabloid lies. Every official photograph and every candid one that Tony never knew about. He couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to live under that kind of microscope.

 

“Is this your way of asking me if there’s something in my past that needs to be buried?”

 

Tony looked at him. “Is there? Tell me now and I’ll get my entire team on it and we’ll bury it as deep as we can.”

 

Bucky smiled and reached out to stroke his hand through Tony’s damp hair. “Tony, I’ve lived a quiet, boring life. I was a good student, I served my country, I’m not the poster child for positive mental health but I’m not ashamed that I was depressed and needed to see a therapist. I went to college on my GI Bill and scholarships. I’ve had three relationships, but I’ve also had my fair share of one-night stands and nights out bar crawling looking for sex. You and Helen have my entire medical profile, there’s nothing I’ve hidden from you. You know I tested clean across the board. My friends are stand up people, most of them decorated veterans. My parents passed on, but my sisters are all married with kids and they changed their names. And if anyone goes after my sisters or the kids, they’ll have to answer to me and Stevie. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have a dark secret that I’m afraid someone is going to find. If they print something awful about me, then I’ll have to learn to just ignore it and let it go. My family and friends know me, know the truth. I don’t want to be in the spotlight, but I’m not ashamed to stand with you and I don’t need to hide. We can be as public and as private as we need to be. Together.”

 

Tony smiled and let out a relieved sigh. “That’s more mature than anything I could’ve come up with.”

 

Bucky laughed, pressing his toes against Tony’s foot. 

 

“Look, I know you have a public life and a public reputation,” he said, smiling. “I read a lot about you in the papers. If your name is in the papers, there’s always going to be some kind of salacious gossip attached to it. It sells those papers and gets those website visit counts. I get that a lot of it is publicity and business. But you know what I never read in the papers?”

 

Tony grinned, leaning back against the edge of the couch, looking over at him.

 

“In your past relationships, when you were actually with someone in a relationship, I never heard any stories about you playing around or cheating. Sure, your reputation as a playboy is far and wide--”

 

Tony laughed, loud and delightedly. “I might have started some of those playboy rumors myself.”

 

“--but your past significant others never accused you of cheating.” Bucky paused, narrowing his eyes and looking at Tony. “Or you were never caught cheating or paid off the press.”

 

“Never needed to cheat, kiddo,” Tony said, looking at him. “That is one thing you don’t ever have to wonder if we’re together.”

 

“Good,” Bucky said, nodding. “I’m not a cheater either.”

 

Tony chuckled, letting out a deep sigh. “I guess that covers it then.”

 

“Is that what you were worried about?”

 

He turned and reached up to stroke his thumb down Bucky’s cheek. “There’s a reason why the spotlight is a lonely and harsh place to be. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, let alone on someone I cared deeply for.”

 

“Well, let’s enjoy the quiet for as long as we can,” Bucky said, pushing the coffee table further away from them to make more room on the floor.

 

Tony grinned, watching Bucky. “Sure...what’re you doing?”

 

“Bedroom’s too far and we don’t have lube or condoms here,” Bucky said, grabbing Tony by the front of his robe and dragging him to the carpet. “But we can still fool around.”

 

He laughed and curled his arms around Bucky, kissing him in between giggles, as Bucky pushed apart both of their robes. Bucky kissed and licked and sucked his way down Tony’s neck, to his chest and nipples, and his belly.

 

Bucky slid his mouth over the head of Tony’s cock, wetting it generously with spit. Tony raised his head and watched, dark eyes avidly following as Bucky’s tongue licked him from base to head, sucking on that spot that made Tony’s thighs tremble.

 

He stroked his metal hand up Tony’s chest and pinched his nipple with his fingers, making Tony moan, his hand grabbing for the edge of the couch.

 

Bucky let out a soft chuckle as he kept his eyes on Tony, pulling the head deeper into his mouth.

 

*****

 

EPILOGUE

Stark Tower

Sub-Dock #7 and #8

December 7

 

Bucky stood with his team as the dividing wall opened between their dock and the Fabrication team’s dock. There were about a hundred people squeezed into the two large rooms, all from different departments, cheering loudly.

 

Usually, the December 7th competition day hosted about thirty people, but this year definitely marked a special occasion as the guest judge was none other than Tony Stark.

 

Wong picked up the microphone and stood in the middle of the room. “Everyone, quiet down now.”

 

Bucky wasn’t surprised that everyone stopped making noise.

 

“Welcome to our 7th Annual Rube Goldberg competition between the Fabrication team --”

 

Many people in the room cheered.

 

“-- and Research and Design - Mechanical team.”

 

Bucky was pleased that the cheers were even louder for their team. He turned and met Tony’s eyes, seeing that he was whistling, and they shared a smile.

 

“The rules were simple, ladies and gentlemen. The only things that could be used to build each machine had to be Stark Industries office supplies. Department heads can now review the machines to visually verify that the machines are composed of only SI supplies. Please do not touch the machines as you make your visual verifications.”

 

Bucky watched as a number of the department managers, excluding Wong, walked around the machines on both sides, all of them nodding to Wong and holding up their thumbs.

 

“Thank you, department heads,” Wong said, solemnly. “As winners from last year’s competition, the Fabrication team will go first. You can begin when you are ready.”

 

There was breathless silence as everyone watched as the five members of the Fabrication team double checked their machine, signaling to the leader to activate the first part of the machine.

 

Bucky watched just as avidly as everyone else, clapping and cheering when they saw a clever or innovative element of the machine as it moved from section to section. They had a total of what looked like twelve sections and Fabrication team had put together some really great ideas. But around the ninth section, the timing was off so there was a long delay before it finally kicked into motion.

 

“That’s going to cost them,” Scott said in a loud whisper.

 

The rest of the machine elements worked like clockwork and when it finally knocked over the last of the maze, a hundred rectangle shaped pink erasers falling like dominos to spell out “Fab Team Rocks.”

 

It was a fantastic effort and Bucky and his team cheered for Fabrication’s work. In the end, every creative approach could be used for Stark Industries projects so Bucky was excited by what he saw.

 

“Good work, Fabrication team,” Wong said, turning to look at Bucky and his team. “Next, we have Research and Design - Mechanical. Ready when you are.”

 

Bucky patted Peter on his back. “You know what to do.”

 

“Okay, Bucky,” Peter said, heading to the start of their machine while Bucky and he rest of the team took up their positions at various stations.

 

Bucky looked to see Tony jotting down something on his holo-tablet, sharing it with Wong. Tony met Bucky’s eyes and gave him a wink that made Bucky smile.

 

“Ready, Mechanical!” Peter shouted, exuberantly.

 

“Ready!” Bucky and his team shouted back.

 

Bucky held his breath as Peter launched the start of their machine, kicking it off with a strong start.

 

“Go! Go, go, go!” America cheered, jumping up and down as they watched section two and section three move through smoothly. “Yes! YEAH!”

 

Bucky bounced on his feet as sections four and five finished, the timing was only slightly off, no one else would’ve noticed it.

 

“Keep going!” Pietro shouted, his arms in the air and feet dancing across the floor. “Keep going!”

 

The next sections, which were the complex and trickier sections, went off without a hitch. The balloons released exactly as they planned, setting off the last three sections of the machine. They didn’t have a cool ending with the domino erasers, but the last of their elements unfurled ten cash register paper rolls with “Mechanical Wins 2018!”

 

Bucky screamed with his team as they went for a group hug, jumping up and down together. It was flawless in Bucky’s eyes; textbook execution. He was certain that they were going to win this year and he was not going to eat his damn scarf!

 

Everyone cheered for both teams; there was chanting from both sides of the room, depending on which team they supported.

 

Wong stepped into the center of the room again and held up his hand with a stern look on his face. “Settle down.”

 

Bucky had his arms around Peter and Scott as they waited for the final vote.

 

“I would like to thank Tony Stark, our guest judge, for being here with us today,” Wong said, turning to give Tony an acknowledging bow of his head. He turned to the four random people who were selected throughout the Engineering Department to be the official judges. “We thank you for your impartial vote.”

 

Various people cheered throughout the room.

 

“May I have the final vote, please,” Wong said, looking at one of the judges.

 

She walked up to Wong and handed him a piece of paper.

 

Wong unfolded the paper and stared at it for a long moment. “And the winners of the 7th Annual Rube Goldberg competition are...Research and Design - Mechanical!”

 

Bucky screamed, jumping up and down with his team and pretty much everyone else in the large room. He had never been so excited about something in such a long time, he was getting a little emotional over it!

 

“We won! We won!”

 

“Ohmygod!”

 

“Take that, Fabrication team!”

 

“Yeah! Mechanical rules!”

 

Bucky hugged his teammates and laughed uproariously. If anyone saw him wipe his eyes, he didn’t really care. He looked up to see Tony shaking hands and giving high fives, clearly enjoying himself.

 

“Courtesy of Mr Stark, we have champagne and non-alcoholic drinks and snacks,” Wong said, a small smile breaking out on his face. “We wanted to acknowledge the hard work by both Fabrication team and Mechanical team this year. And we wanted to apologize to all the department heads and administrative staff for raiding your supply cabinets. We will do our best to return the office supplies back to your departments. Mr Stark wanted to say a few words before we start our celebrations.”

 

“Thanks, Wong,” Tony said into the microphone. “Hey, gang, I just wanted to say that this was great and I’m really excited that I could be a part of it this year. How about starting next year, we make it an official Stark Industries event and open it up to other departments, put a little budget on it? Department heads, what do you think?” Tony chuckled, looking at all the managers. “Listen, gang, never let it be said that I don’t appreciate creative endeavors. There were a lot of things that I saw here today that I know we could apply towards some of our SI projects. So I don’t care what kind of title you have or what team you’re on, if you have a good idea, I want to know about it. I hope that in the new year, we’ll get to see some of your ideas come to fruition. Congratulations, everyone! Great work!”

 

Bucky laughed; he called it!

 

***

 

The party was in full swing and Bucky wandered around the room, chatting with people that he rarely go a chance to meet. Everyone was curious about his new arm, a few of the really bold engineers asking if they could get a closer look.

 

“I heard that you got accepted to CUNY’s Masters program for Biomedical Engineering,” Wong said, looking at Bucky curiously.

 

“Yeah, full scholarship from the Stark Industries’ September Foundation Grant,” Bucky said, smiling. “I start in the spring term.”

 

“Congratulations, Barnes, I’m very proud of you,” Wong told him, his face stoic but his eyes were squinted in amusement.

 

“Jason, I’m sorry I’m late. I was taking pictures with a few fans in the lobby and Security had to escort me down here.” The woman said, kissing Wong on the cheek. She smiled at Bucky. “Hello.”

 

Bucky’s mouth dropped open as the beautiful Imei Chang placed her hand on Wong’s shoulder. “You--you’re--”

 

“Bucky, this is my wife, Imei,” Wong said, his face moving into a warm smile as he looked at his wife. “Sweetheart, this is Bucky Barnes.”

 

“It’s nice to meet you,” Imei said, shaking Bucky’s hand.

 

“Nice to meet you...your first name is Jason!” Bucky hissed at him in disbelief.

 

Wong laughed, low and evil, curling his wife’s hand into the crook of his elbow, leading her away. “You keep that secret, Barnes, if you know what’s good for you.”

 

Bucky laughed to himself and shook his head. “Crazy bastard.”

 

He looked up to see Steve and Sam by the snack table talking to a group of women, all nodding in time as they stared up at Steve. Behind them, Scott was holding up a dorito, showing America and Pietro what he was seeing.

 

“See! That is like superhuman geometry right there,” Scott insisted, closing one eye and holding up the dorito at Steve’s back.

 

“You are being really creepy, Scott.” Bucky rolled his eyes and stole the dorito from Scott’s fingers and ate it, walking away.

 

“Hey, Bucky! Look! I’m Spiderman!” Peter yelled as he swung past over their heads on the ceiling harness.

 

Bucky took a drink of his soda and shook his head, watching as Peter crashed into part of their Rube Goldberg machine.

 

“I’m okay!” Peter shouted, laughing awkwardly.

 

That kid was either going to grow up to become a superhero or a super menace, Bucky thought.

 

He looked through the crowd to see Tony holding court with a dozen nerds, all of them asking Tony questions. He took a final drink of his soda and tossed the can in the recycle bin, heading towards Tony.

 

“Boys, I need a word with Mr Stark.” Bucky said, taking Tony’s arm and gently tugging him away from the starstruck Fabrication team members to a private corner. “We should go upstairs and celebrate properly.”

 

Tony smiled up at him. “Is that so?”

 

“Yes,” Bucky said, giving his most solemn face. “I had a really great idea about a biomechanical enhancement for the neuro-link for the arm.”

 

Tony laughed, brown eyes sparkling in mirth. “I love it when you talk science to me.”

 

The End.