Tony Stark was not what people expected of an Omega.
He liked to argue he probably wouldn’t be what people would expect of an Alpha, either – but the point was always a moot one, because Tony Stark, to the eternal disappointment of his father, was born an Omega.
Not that Howard would talk badly of Omegas in general, and definitely not where most people could hear him. Tony’s unofficial Aunt Peggy was an Omega – “and rather a spitfire” as Jarvis would say.
Jarvis was an Omega too.
Howard respected them, didn’t question their capabilities (though as Tony got older, he realized Howard underestimated them a lot still). If he had, Peggy probably would have socked him in the jaw and broken it so he couldn’t say those kinds of things anymore. Jarvis was as typically Omega as they came, and he was good at it all, and he wasn’t in any way weak.
It was why growing up, Tony couldn’t get what he was doing wrong. Why his dad liked Omegas just fine, so long as they weren’t him. If Tony was being too emotional, it was because he was an Omega. If Tony was dirty from sneaking into his dad’s workshop to play with one of the abandoned inventions, he wasn’t being a proper Omega. He was too loud, too small, too disobedient, too adventurous. He was never enough, never right.
As an adult, Tony was pretty sure the only reason he’d turned out less of a mess than he was, was because of Aunt Peggy and Uncle Daniel, Jarvis and Ana. They were all of them different examples of Alpha and Omega and fantastic people. Jarvis taught Tony how to cook and bake, Ana taught him how to dress to look good and stand out, Peggy taught him how to fight and protect himself, Daniel taught him how to observe people and details to find hidden meaning and information.
“Spy stuff,” Daniel always said, winking. “I learned all the best tricks from Peg.”
From them, Tony learned what good, loving relationships looked like, which is why he knew from a young age that his parents’ relationship wasn’t like that. He never did get a chance to really figure out what it was, except both of them were unhappy in some way.
It was Daniel who tracked Tony down after his parents’ deaths. Daniel who dragged him out of a club Tony shouldn’t have been allowed in in the first place, and brought him to Ana. It was Ana who tutted and held him when he tried to get angry and yell, stroked his hair when he finally cried.
It was Jarvis who listened a few days later when Tony explained how he didn’t know how he felt, angry and relieved and upset and so much else all twisted together. It was Peggy who snatched him away a few days after that for a trip to England, where they visited her mother who told Tony a lot of stories about a very young Peggy always playing with her brother, both of them knights fighting a dragon.
They all loved him, and even when they thought he was being reckless or behaving like an idiot, they loved him. They never cared if he acted like society’s idea of a proper Omega or not. They didn’t care about his reputation from sleeping around – they cared if he was being reckless with himself and others. (Even years later, Tony couldn’t decide if the safe sex talk had been worse coming from Jarvis or Aunt Peg.)
He lost Jarvis and Ana before his life turned upside down.
Daniel passed away from a heart attack while Tony was stuck in a cave in a desert. (Tony wasn’t sure he would ever really forgive himself for that. For not being there, for missing the funeral, would never not wonder if it wasn’t partially his fault, if the stress of the news Tony was probably dead hadn’t been a factor.)
Peggy grabbed his neck and gave him a little shake, like he was still a recalcitrant pup, when he saw her after admitting on national TV he was Iron Man.
She did it again, then hugged him and cried when she found out he’d nearly died. (Fury was a snitch.)
Tony held her when she cried after finding out Steve was alive, after seeing the news broadcasts of the attack on New York. (She got herself together pretty quick, fussed over him for “nearly dying on me again, we’ve discussed your recklessness with your safety too many times” and then Tony got the delightful privilege of hearing Peggy call Fury on his personal cell to chew him out. Because he’d not told her Steve was alive yet. Tony considered them even after that, on the snitching front.)
Steve was… strange, in that he was all Alpha in the ways Tony expected and at the same time very decidedly not. He reflected this might have had something to do with the sometimes contradicting stories he had heard growing up from Peggy and Howard.
Steve was polite, he didn’t talk down to Tony, treated him no differently for being an Omega. Hell, it would have been easy to believe that somehow, Steve didn’t even know Tony was an Omega for all that he acknowledged anyone’s orientation. It was kind of fantastic.
“Dude, I don’t treat you different for being an Omega,” Rhodey said when Tony told him about it.
Tony laughed. “You fuss,” he said, absolutely fond. “It’s adorable.”
Rhodey scowled at him. “I do not fuss,” he protested. “I worry about your dumbass getting into trouble, because you are always getting into trouble and someone had to drag you out of it.”
“Peg says you fuss too.”
“Your Aunt Peggy’s probably why you’re always getting into trouble,” Rhodey grumbled, because he’d heard enough stories of the situations Peggy leapt in as part of the SSR (and later, SHIELD) from Tony to know. It was, really, probably, rather true.
Tony tried a relationship with Pepper. It was great, fantastic, until suddenly it was just – not there. He didn’t know what had happened, but it felt like one day he was in love with her, life was different than how he’d lived it before, and then the next, the spark was gone. For both of them. He still loved her, but not like that, and she laughed and said it was fine because she kind of was feeling the same way lately. The rags blamed it on their dynamics – anything from Tony being a “slutty Omega” to Pepper being “too Beta to tolerate a wild Omega like Tony Stark” – but they knew the truth, their friends did, and there weren’t any hurt feelings.
Tony waited for the rags to die down on things a bit before he went back to picking up at parties and galas though.
He had a reputation for it, so no one was really surprised. He’d always found himself attracted to all kinds of people – gender and orientation didn’t matter particularly much to him, he just liked beautiful people. He liked smart people, too. Put the two together and Tony was hardly going to say no.
Sometimes it got him in trouble. Sunset Bain had been a huge mistake, what with her sleeping with him and breaking into his home workshop to steal some blueprints. He beefed up his security after that – actually, he’d started working on JARVIS then (though he hadn’t become “JARVIS” until after Jarvis’ passing; it’d been Tony’s way of dealing with that grief).
Ty Stone had been another mistake, the dangerous kind of smart Tony had eventually concluded. He couldn’t really hate Ty for how things had gone, but Tony made sure to keep his distance from then on. Rhodey had made sure Ty had kept his distance, too, for the first few months after that fiasco.
(It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that Rhodey’s fussing got the papers, and even people who knew them, insisting and certain that they were in a relationship. Tony always laughed about it while Rhodey looked vaguely pained.)
But at the galas, fundraisers, benefits, and parties Tony often attended as owner of SI, head of R&D, the Tony Stark… there were a lot of beautiful, intelligent people. Between making the connections he had to, following up with people and connections he needed to, doing what responsibilities he needed to attend to, Tony would flirt and float around. He’d dance with nearly anyone, he’d buy some people drinks, he’d listen to them talk about their passions or themselves. And eventually, he’d ask one to leave with him, and they’d say yes (or – not often, but it did happen – they’d say no, and he’d smile and apologize for misreading things and leave to find someone else). They’d go back to his place, or to a hotel, or sometimes to their place, and have a good time together.
Even if the people Tony spent a night with never talked to reporters, it always ended up being in the papers in the next day or two. Someone would catch them leaving and take a blurry shot of them getting into the car, or kissing in a corner, or something else and there’d be speculations and accusations everywhere. Tony had learned a long time ago to ignore it.
(“Know your own value,” Peggy had told him, firm and serious, back before he’d even gone to MIT. “”Don’t rely on other people’s acceptance of you, or acknowledgement of your worth. You have to be enough for yourself, always.”)
Tony didn’t ask any of his supposed teammates if they’d want to spend a night having fun together. They were all of them honestly rather beautiful people, and all of them were damned smart, but Tony was pretty sure none of them would say yes, for various reasons. Plus, at the time, he’d been with Pepper, and after they were all so scattered.
On top of that, Tony did know a bad idea when he saw one. He was maybe a bit reckless but he wasn’t stupid. (Rhodey and Pepper both laughed when he said that during one of their rare nights they all managed to get together, eat junk food, and drink. He loved them both so much.)
Point was – Tony didn’t see his “teammates” much (could you call them a team when they hardly saw each other, let alone worked together?). So it took him entirely by surprise to find out from JARVIS one afternoon that SHIELD was in chaos. Steve was apparently a felon? The Helicarriers he’d helped Fury with were actually being used for evil? And HYDRA was alive and fucking well – inside of SHIELD?
Not terrifying at all, Tony replied to JARVIS’ update with a strangled laugh, and set to work doing what he could to help all the way from New York.
He called Steve to cheerfully chew him out while he was in the hospital, since Peggy wasn’t really in a state anymore to do it herself. (She’d been asking him if he knew where Daniel was the other week; it broke Tony’s heart, a bit, every time, to see her realize she had forgotten something like that, to realize Daniel was gone all over again each time.) Steve had sighed, and made agreeable noises, and then asked if Tony was “doing okay” and “staying out of trouble”. Tony figured that was Steve returning the favor of stepping up to do what Peggy would have done, and told Steve he needed to work on his fussing. Steve sounded like he hurt something laughing at that.
Imagine Tony’s surprise when, five months later, he spots an unexpected but weirdly familiar face hanging back in the crowd of the Annual Maria Stark Foundation Holiday Gala.
The thing was – Steve wasn’t the only one he’d grown up hearing all about. Howard talked about the Commandos pretty often. Peggy did too. They both talked about Bucky Barnes, Steve’s best friend, a lot in those cases. Peggy talked about how people were always surprised by the closeness of those two, as they were both Alphas, and at how they easily moved between expected Alpha dominance and unexpected deference with each other.
So Tony knew damn well who Bucky Barnes was. He even knew – despite Steve never mentioning it to him – that Bucky Barnes was alive thanks to evil HYDRA scientists, brainwashing, and torture thanks to JARVIS’ snooping through SHIELD files released thanks to Natasha, and whatever video footage of the few days surrounding the collapse of SHIELD he could find. (JARVIS could find quite a lot when he wanted to.)
What Tony didn’t know what was the hell Barnes was here.
So he decided to find out.
In the days following the chaos of the destruction of SHIELD's headquarters, in the mess of information flying around from all sources, people being arrested and accused of crimes left and right, people up and disappearing and supposedly on the run, The Asset slipped through the cracks. He was good at slipping through those, had been for years and years (and years and years) now, but it was even easier than usual - any possible Handlers were mixed up with that entire mess.
He went to ground, for a few weeks. Not at any recognized bunker or safe houses, because they were no longer guaranteed secure. He ditched the more obvious elements of his uniform, stole a sweatshirt that was too large on him and wouldn't stand out, and disappeared his way into the masses of people of DC.
No one was looking too hard, he concluded a week or so later. That was good.
With his general safety temporarily assured, The Asset decided to do his own recon. The man on the bridge, on the Helicarrier, on the roof. He'd been familiar, The Asset knew that. Past the pain of remembering, he could hazily recall being told it was from a previous assignment.
But... that didn't seem right. The Asset was almost certain of it.
He had a name - Steve Rogers. Captain America. Libraries had computers and internet and didn't ask many questions. A quick search got him thousands and thousands of results.
There was an exhibit in a museum close by. It would include historical information, context, background. The Asset went.
He found his own face looking back - younger, more open, cleaner and happier and /alive/ and by Steve Rogers' side. Only Commando to give his life, the display said. He'd had a family. He'd grown up with Steve Rogers. They'd been best friends. Inseparable.
HYDRA had said he had met Captain America on a previous assignment. They said he was helping shape the world. They said so much, and any time he had questioned them he'd been hurt and made to forget.
HYDRA had taken the man in the photographs, smiling an easy and open, and made him into The Asset.
He was afraid - if they remembered him, tried to find him again, they'd do it again. Wipe him.
More than that though... he was furious. They'd taken that from him - what he had been, who he could have been. Who knew who else they'd done such things to, similar and different. And if they weren't stopped, truly stopped this time, they would do it again.
He knew HYDRA's ways. Safe houses, bunkers, bases. Codes for clearance and information, people associated with HYDRA in varying levels of involvement, places that were abandoned former bases and bunkers.
He knew what they would expect of him, how they fought and thought and planned attacks and how they hid. They'd made him, used him. Now he could take all of that and turn it against them. A secret double agent, a turncoat.
His lips twisted - not a smile, not pleased, but grim and determined. They'd made him into some kind of monster hiding in the shadows. Used him to threaten others into compliance, destroy their opposition and any threats to them. They'd made him - unknowingly - into exactly the kind of monster that could take them down.
And even if they eventually figured out that it was him, they'd still never see him coming.
It was nearly three weeks after his self-assigned mission that The Asset decided that he should stop thinking of himself as such.
He wasn't anymore, was the thing. The Asset - he had been made into that for HYDRA, and he was making himself into something else. Unmaking himself, in some ways.
Taking himself back, in little pieces. He wanted to stop being HYDRA's Asset - but he couldn't be Bucky Barnes again. Even if he wanted to be, he couldn't.
So he let himself be James - a piece of his old self to reclaim. It didn't fit quite right, but then - nothing did. He made it work.
Even then it was tempting to leave his mission behind and run. It was very easy to imagine, to plot out: sneak out of the country, not even risking gaining a new fake passport and ID; find a country that wasn't close with the United States and in that country a city where he could be invisible; a small apartment to hole up in, no big purchases and no getting to know anyone he didn't have to; carve a life for himself out of bits and pieces and anonymity.
But it wouldn't last forever. It couldn't. Especially if HYDRA was still hiding in the shadows, waiting and slowly regrowing.
So instead, he broke into some of HYDRA's old safe houses and bunkers. Stole passports and money and clothes and weapons. The internet was filled with files on SHIELD and HYDRA agents, so it was easy to get those and start making a list. If his pen pushed hard enough to almost break the paper sometimes, that was his business.
In a few months, he decided to do something like a test run. A small-time tech that had assisted with his arm's maintenance. It was important that he be sure he could handle facing someone who had interacted with The Asset directly. James had to know he wouldn't freeze.
He did not.
And if the cost of the world being slightly safer was a little more blood on his already soaked hands, this time by his own choice? It was worth it.
Not too long after that, he decided to go after a bigger fish - an aid to an important senator. They traveled often, but James knew where they'd be next from sneaking into the senator's office and looking at a very convenient paper planner on the woman's desk. So he got himself a fancy suit that mostly fit him, nice gloves to hide his hand from prying eyes, and got himself up to Manhattan for a party.
James thought he might have underestimated his own capabilities. Just a bit.
The crowd of people was overwhelming. No one was too loud, but the sounds of their voices and fake laughter grated; the smells of so many different perfumes and colognes - some poorly applied - was sickening. The lights were bright until in the corners of rooms they weren't - useful if he wanted to take care of the HYDRA agent at the party, but he didn't, so instead a liability.
James' heart was pounding, almost in his throat, and he was considering retreating and making a new plan of attack (one that avoided any parties like this, ever again) when someone approached on his left and cleared their throat.
James glanced their way, intending on finding a quick and subtle way to disengage - he hadn't really expected anyone to approach him, why would they when he was no one important? - and paused. He knew the man standing there.
Not like he knew Steve Rogers. Not like he would know any HYDRA agents.
He knew the man before him the same he would know potential targets.
Not that he had ever been sent after Anthony Stark. No. HYDRA had just had a very intensive file on him. One James had taken the time to read through during his recon, since Anthony Stark was also Iron Man, and worked with Captain America.
The file had been interesting. James could admit that, and that he'd looked through it more closely a second time. Anthony "Tony" Stark, Omega son of Howard Stark (and the file note had said The Asset had terminated him but James didn't remember that, yet; he may soon enough, with how many memories were creeping back in these days in the dead of night). Genius by all accounts. Manipulable, according to early in the file, being handled by an "associate" of HYDRA to control the weapons distribution of Stark Industries for monetary compensation. Stark had a reputation for being potentially influenced by sexual relationships, as he had many of them though they were all short-lived.
There had been an incident in Afghanistan, several years back, and Stark had been presumed dead. Instead he'd appeared with a metal suit, a miniaturized arc reactor that kept him alive embedded in his chest, and a sudden distaste for weapons building. Shortly after that, HYDRA's associate had been dead and Stark Industries firmly out of HYDRA's control. Stark had come out as Iron Man and caused all sorts of annoyances and problems for HYDRA since. His file had been marked as 'dangerous, capture inadvisable, terminate if possible'.
None of that really prepared James for facing him in person. He was average height, not particularly slim or muscled, but his presence was - captivating. His smile was friendly, his eyes were sharp and alert, and something about him made James turn into him, almost lean in closer. He smelled... bright. There was some kind of faint cologne - a hint of warm spice, maybe - and under it was something that made him think of... cars? And under that-
"Whoa there," Stark chuckled, placing a hand on James' chest, gentle pressure urging him back a few inches again. "Had a bit to drink?"
James blinked, swallowed, and did not say what was going through his head (which was, mainly, that it was unfair for someone to smell so good, especially when there were so many around them who did not), and instead pulled on a smile like he'd seen many others have - empty, bright, and a little playful.
"Not too much to share a drink with you, if you'd like."
Stark tilted his head back as he laughed - and James' eyes were drawn to his throat, just for a moment, and he wasn't sure if Stark hadn't done that on purpose, really - and let his hand drop from James' chest to his arm. It was a light touch; a purposeful one, James decided. He just wasn't too sure what Stark's purpose with it was.
"Maybe," Stark said, smile going as playful as James', and coy. "I do like to know who I'm sharing a drink with before I do though."
"James," he said, holding out a hand.
Smile twitching just a bit wider for a moment, Stark said, "Tony."
"I know," he said, because he did and because he was pretty sure it would be expected.
It made Stark - Tony - laugh again, though quieter this time. "Well James. Lead the way." He tucked his hand against James' elbow, still a light touch, not quite close enough for their sides to press together. This was fine, James thought. He couldn't risk drawing Stark's suspicion, and his target had come by the bar a few times already so this would perhaps put James closer to eavesdrop on him.
This was perhaps not Tony's best plan.
He still wasn't sure why Bucky Barnes - James, as he'd introduced himself - was at the gala. What he did know was this - James was attractive, and seemed interested in Tony too. That first moment when he had swayed closer had been all Alpha, pushing into Tony's space and leaning closer to scent him. He'd easily backed off when Tony had dodged the situation, and since he had been perfectly polite.
He stood just a bit closer than society would have deemed polite between acquaintances so new they were practically strangers. He let Tony touch him, a light hand to his arm to gain his attention, leaning against his shoulder as Tony gestured for the bartender's attention. Tony was aware he took those moments to quickly test Tony's scent.
James smelled of nothing but Alpha and his own woodsy base scent. No colognes.
His hair looked very soft. It was long, still, just pulled back. The front locks had broken loose and framed his face a bit. It drew attention to his cheekbones - sharp - and his jaw - strong - and his lips.
Tony could admit to himself he probably wouldn't mind kissing that mouth. But also, he wasn't going to, not while he still didn't know why Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier was hanging around here, looking like a goddamn snack in his suit even if it didn't fit quite right. (If he ever got into a properly fitted suit, Tony thought it just might be illegal.)
The gala was nearing the end, people finally starting to leave - the older guests and those who had found company for the night that was far more interesting than anything there. James was sipping at his drink, leaned back against the counter of the bar and staring out across the room. Tony licked his lips.
"Looks like things are winding down here." When James' eyes flicked back over to him, a brow raising, Tony added, "I have a car waiting - it's fast and easy."
James' head tilted a bit, and a little something like a smile but not quite there yet played at the edge of his mouth. "Does that usually work?"
Tony couldn't stop the grin that burst onto his face if he tried, though he hid it again quickly. "Usually."
The soft huff could have been laughter or disbelief or a gentle scoff; Tony wasn't too sure.
“So?” Tony asked. “Come home with me?”
James looked back out over the crowd. He shrugged up from the bar, swung back most of the rest of his drink, and set the glass down between them. He leaned in close to Tony and said, "Not this time, but this was fun." Tony was busy trying not to smile himself as James straightened and slipped away. He disappeared into what remained of the crowd very easily, which didn't surprise Tony at all.
He still didn't know what the hell the Winter Soldier, or Bucky Barnes, or James, or whoever he was now - Tony didn't know why he had been there.
Probably, he should find a way to get in touch with Steve again and tell him. But Tony was sure that he'd vanish before Steve could even get close, and for all Tony knew, telling Steve would only lead to heartbreak. He'd have JARVIS do some digging, before he mentioned anything.
Picking up the glass, Tony swirled the last of the liquor around for a moment thoughtfully, and then downed the rest.
"JARVIS, pull up footage from the gala please," Tony said, loosening his bowtie as he headed for his desk. "Focus in on the bar, around two hours before the event ended, and use footage to follow my new friend as far as you can."
"Certainly Sir," JARVIS said. There was a minute or two of quiet as JARVIS did so, and then a droll, "Shall I make this endeavor classified, Sir?"
"Yeah, I wanna be sure of what I'm going to say before I say anything to anyone."
"That has certainly never steered you wrong before."
Tony snorted, stretching out in his seat a bit and letting out a long sigh. DUM-E wheeled over with one of the blankets that rotated from the couch in the sitting room to down here, heavy with the scents of Tony's friends and himself, comforting and warm. Tony took it with a pat to DUM-E's strut and a muttered thanks, wrapping it around himself. He tucked his nose against the edge, just for a couple minutes, letting the scents sink in and wash away everything from the gala.
"It appears your new friend left half an hour before yourself. I have managed to track him through various security and traffic cameras for ten minutes, but after that I am unable to pick him up. I will of course endeavor to find him once more."
Tony blinked, looking up with a sigh. "Thanks J. See if you can't back-track him as well. If I can't tell Cap where he's going, maybe I can share where he's been."
"Yes, Sir. Will you be proceeding to bed now?"
Smiling, Tony said, "Alright, I can take a hint. Can you get the shower started for me?" Without waiting for an answer - Tony knew JARVIS could and would so so - he got to his feet and headed for the elevator.
JARVIS was very put out by his struggle to track Barnes both before and after the gala. Eventually even the small signs he'd picked up for a few days after disappeared, and they were forced to put it on hold. Tony decided to wait on telling Steve about it until he saw or heard from him next, since there was nothing to share except Barnes had been in Manhattan at a party and JARVIS couldn't confidently track him.
Life went on. Tony worked, did a few things as Iron Man, designed what he felt was a pretty cool new tablet, and traded off Stark Industries events with Pepper.
It was three months later, during a charity gala in Los Angeles, that he saw Barnes again.
He was surprised - and from the startled look on Barnes' face, he was as well. That didn't stop Tony from gracefully extracting himself from his conversation with the physicist in front of him and weaving his way through the crowd. Barnes didn't move - not towards Tony but not away either.
By the time Tony stopped in front of him, Barnes posture had shifted into something - well. There was something about it that struck Tony as flirty and inviting, and all Alpha confidence. Not every Alpha could pull that confidence off without seeing arrogant - Tony would know, he'd encountered plenty who couldn't and wouldn't even realize there was a difference between confidence and arrogance. Barnes though, with the ease in his shoulders, one hand tucked into the pocket of his slacks and the other loosely holding a glass of what was maybe scotch or whiskey, the amused curl to his smile....
"I suppose this is just a coincidence," Tony said teasingly - even though he was reasonably sure it was.
"Looks like we run in the same circles," Barnes said, head tilting a bit. He'd trimmed his hair; it looked much better, like he'd put effort into appearing somewhat more stylish. He hadn't pulled it back like last time.
It looked really fucking soft.
"We may end up seeing each other more. Maybe grow closer," Tony said.
Barnes hummed, glancing down at him and smiling amusedly. "We could end up rivals, you know."
Tony grinned, leaning in closer. "Things could get intense."
"I have heard you're rather... passionate."
Tony smirked, brushing his fingers over Barnes' chest. "Is that what you've heard about me?" he teased.
"Among other things," Barnes said, giving an honest grin. "I'd say all of them good, but then I'd be lying."
Tony couldn’t stop the laugh that burst from his chest, drawing attention from around them. Barnes smiled, a small thing that was wry and amused and easy looking.
Things went almost just like before, they talked and flirted and shared a drink or three. Tony wondered where Barnes had found a suit that fit better this time – in such a dark blue that it looked black in certain lighting. Terribly unfair of him to look that tempting, really.
So Tony could hardly be blamed for tilting his head towards the dance floor and saying, “Care to show me what you’ve got, James?”
Keeping his eyes locked on Tony’s, James slowly finished off his glass and set it aside. He held out his hand, which Tony took, and said, “If you insist, Tony.”
There were plenty of people out on the dance floor, but it felt less crowded than the rest of the room to Tony. James stepped in close, hand lightly keeping hold of Tony’s while his other hand settled just this side of appropriate at the small of Tony’s back. They were close, and James was very warm, and smelled just as good as before.
And he could dance. Tony didn’t know where or when he might have learned it, but he danced with smooth grace and excellent timing and okay, so what if Tony had a bit of a competency kink and this was hitting in all the right places?
It wasn’t the turns around the dance floor that had Tony dizzy, and he knew it. It was tempting to let himself sway closer, breathe in the woodsy scent of him. More than that, it was hard to think of a good reason Tony couldn’t have just one night of pleasure with James, Barnes, whatever he wanted to be called. He was pretty sure James was interested, too; nothing in his scent or body language gave away any disinterest.
The song drifted to an end. Tony leaned that bit closer, tilted his head up so their mouths were close.
Barnes – so very minutely it could probably have been missed by most people – shifted his weight back.
Tony let himself drop back too, and smiled brightly. “We should dance again sometime, honey. But tonight, I have to go kiss up to some investors, so if you’ll excuse me.”
James took a deep breath, smiled wryly back, and gave his hand a squeeze before letting go. “All work and no play,” he teased. “No one would believe it if I said it about Tony Stark.”
Tony laughed and winked. “Shh. You’ll blow my cover.”
For the rest of the night, Tony kept half an eye on him. He drifted around, talked to a few others, bought a woman a drink but turned down her invitation for a dance. He seemed very relaxed.
At some point, Tony lost track of him and couldn’t find him again. JARVIS had no luck finding him even leaving the building when Tony asked later.
A few times of coincidental meet-ups later, James appeared as Tony was trying to find a non-scandalous way of wiggling out of talking with the increasingly pushy Alpha his company happened to be brokering a contract with. The man owned the company, and on a whole Tony had been letting Pepper spearhead this deal. Tony was quickly deciding to instead tear the man apart in his boardroom later, though. He was sure Pepper wouldn’t mind, especially if he explained that the Alpha here seemed to think that just because Tony was an Omega meant he didn’t actually know as much about business as he did, that he was just there to ‘look pretty’ and draw in the contracts.
James appearing at least meant Tony didn’t have to resort to causing a scene. James slipped his arm around Tony’s waist, smooth, touch so light Tony barely felt it. He handed Tony a glass of jack and coke, from the taste of it, and raised a brow at the other Alpha. He didn’t say anything – just stared at him with that raised brow, unimpressed.
Tony almost choked on his drink laughing when the other Alpha started babbling excuses and backed away quickly.
“I’ll let you get away with that kind of Alpha bullshit this time, just because I didn’t want to resort to spilling my drink on him,” Tony said.
James smiled brightly at him. “That would have been a terrible waste of good alcohol.”
Tony couldn’t help but laugh, turning his face into James’ bicep to hide how red he was getting with it. “You should come home with me – let me thank you properly.”
James gave his waist a brief squeeze before letting go. “How about a dance instead?”
Almost five months into their – friendship? Tony wasn’t sure what to really call it – he almost stumbled across James at a Fourth of July party hosted by a very prominent former general thinking of running for congress. James was breathing unsteadily, his scent was off, and his hand was shaking. The glass in his hand slipped down a bit, and Tony got there just in time to snatch it up and finish it off, setting it on the tray of a passing waiter.
Tony looped his arm with James’, immediately talking in a quiet calm tone of voice. “There you are, honey,” he said. “I was looking for you. It’s a bit stuffy in here, don’t you think? Let’s head on outside, it’s a nice night out and I heard that there’s a lovely garden, practically something to make a queen jealous.” James didn’t resist Tony pulling him along, and after a few stumbling steps seemed to get his feet under him.
He stood closer to Tony than was really considered proper. Tony didn’t mind. He was pretty sure he felt James’ nose press, just for a moment, against his hair and he didn’t mind that either.
Outside was far less crowded, less noisy, less everything. The moon wasn’t quite full but it still gave off a lot of light to see by. The garden really was nice, and Tony just led them along a path for several minutes before settling on an out of the way bench. He kept hold of one of James’ hands, stroking his fingers over the back of it in absent patterns.
He knew things were better when James let out a long, unsteady breath, and slumped back against the bench.
Tony wanted to say something – but couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t feel cheap or make things worse. So he said nothing, just gave James’ hand a squeeze.
James tensed again when the fireworks started going off, somewhere in the distance, but Tony just leaned against his side. Once the last few faded away, James relaxed against him again. He turned his head, just enough so that his forehead rested against Tony’s temple for a long, long minute.
“Thanks, sugar,” he murmured. “I need to get going, though, I think.” He shifted, just a bit, and pressed a very soft, almost lingering kiss to Tony’s cheek. Tony’s throat felt tight.
He watched James leave, loosening his tie as he went – not back towards the party, Tony noticed – and did not lift his hand to touch his cheek like some lovestruck teen.
He also didn’t let himself think much about how the kiss hadn’t sent near as much warmth to his belly as it had to his chest.
(Sure James smelled so fucking good it made Tony want to bury his face against his neck to get more. Sure James’ lips were apparently just as if not more soft than they looked. Sure Tony was attracted to him – hello, who could blame him? The kiss, though, hadn’t had anything to do with attraction, on either side Tony suspected, as it did with….)
It became a recurring, if unpredictable, thing. Sometimes it was the very next event, sometimes a few months out, but Tony and James would find themselves attending the same party or gala or fundraiser. It became habit to make his way over to James. It was easy to fall into flirting banter - James always reciprocated - and somehow the occasional dance became at least one, became more than a few.
Every time Tony fought the growing urge to lean in and kiss James. To nuzzle in under his jaw. To brush his scent against James so it stayed and lingered and warned others away at these parties. It was just - James was nice. He was funny, with a dry and sometimes slightly twisted sense of humor that edged into being morbid and delighted Tony to no end. He was polite and charming, Alpha without being overbearing about it. Tony went from curiosity about why James was at these parties, to the tempting tickle of lust for James, to....
Well. To possibly more than that. Because James was nice and smelled good and was warm when he pressed close to Tony when they danced.
It was a whole year that passed like that. A year where Tony found himself looking for James at events now, scanning the crowds of people for him as soon as he arrived. Tony knew he was screwed when he realized that he was disappointed every time James wasn't also at one of the parties. He knew he was extra fucked when Rhodey made a comment during Thanksgiving (which Tony always spent with the Rhodes' family) that Tony hadn't been in the paper for his one night stands as often the past several months.
"Are you seeing someone?" Rhodey asked later that night, stretched out on the sofa next to Tony and not really watching the movie on the TV.
"No," Tony said after a moment, voice just as quiet as Rhodey's had been. "I'm not secretly dating anyone."
Rhodey rolled his head along the back of the couch to stare at Tony, eyes dark and serious and knowing. "Yeah, okay. But is there someone you want to be seeing?"
Tony swallowed. "It's... complicated." He stared straight ahead at the screen, even though he wasn't seeing anything except the impression of bright colors and movement. He stayed that way, even as Rhodey leaned closer and slid an arm around Tony's shoulders, tugging him closer into his side. He nuzzled the side of Tony's temple, into his hair.
"Okay. But I'm not pretending we're dating this time to make whoever it is jealous, that was a disaster last time."
Tony groaned, turning his face to mash it into Rhodey's shoulder. "That was decades ago, please let that die already."
"Hell no, I still get shit about it from Jeanie. I think she saved some of those magazine articles and she makes copies and mails them to me every few months. If I can't live it down, you're not allowed to either."
Tony groaned again, though it might have almost been a laugh. It was a few minutes later, Tony breathing in the soothing, familiar scent of his best friend, that Rhodey spoke again.
"Whatever it is, I got your back, man."
Tony smiled without lifting his head from where he'd wedged it into Rhodey's neck. "I know."
Tony got back from a business trip overseas - where he hadn't seen James, which wasn't as uncommon as one might have thought - when he was warned by JARVIS of "several guests waiting for you on the common floor, Sir."
Several guests apparently meant the others who made up their little team of Avengers. And a dog, that Barton was feeding pizza. Tony was pretty sure dogs were not supposed to be fed pizza.
"It's a Christmas miracle, we're all in the same room," Tony said, dropping his briefcase in a corner and removing his jacket. He loosened his tie, keeping one eye on the others. Clint snorted a laugh, Bruce quirked a small smile, and Steve heaved this huge sigh like that was going to hide the smile twitching at the corners of his lips. Natasha rolled her eyes.
"It's not Christmas for another two weeks."
Tony shrugged. "Early Christmas miracle, then." He eyed the unfamiliar face, though he knew who it was. Sam Wilson, para rescue. Stepping over, Tony held out a hand. "Tony Stark."
"Sam Wilson," he said after a moment. His eyes were alert, but not sharp or harsh as they looked at Tony.
"Oh, I know," Tony said. "Part of the Falcon project. Damn good with those wings."
Sam was clearly trying not to burst into as outrageous a grin as he wanted to. "We should race sometime."
Tony laughed, delighted. Oh, he was going to like Sam.
"So. Jokes aside, I'm sure you're not just all dropping in for the holidays."
"I could be," Clint offered. "My apartment building is kind of..." He trailed off, made a face, and said, "I kind of need a place to stay. For a bit."
Natasha muttered something that sounded like, "Hide out you mean."
Steve's lingering smile fell right off his face. "No, sorry." He shifted, just a bit, and his posture went from Steve Rogers to Captain America. It made Tony's nose twitch towards a grimace, because Steve Rogers was a pretty cool guy for an Alpha. Captain America sometimes edged into condescending Alpha territory. Rhodey did it too, sometimes; Tony blamed it on some kind of military thing. He caught Sam's eye, just for a moment, and they shared a look of complete understanding.
More reasons to like Sam - having another Omega around who would get it where the Alphas and Betas of the team would not.
"HDYRA still has bases all over the world. They've been regrouping - we need to stop them before they gain actual momentum."
Tony hummed. "So you got the band back together."
Steve met his gaze, utterly serious, blue eyes not quite cold but closer to it than usual. "HYDRA needs to be stopped. For good this time."
Tony nodded. "Guess it's a good thing I had floors ready for you all here already." He rolled his head on his shoulders. "JARVIS? Start pulling up what you can for us down in the workshop while I show everyone to their floors." He shot Sam a grin. "I even got one ready for you, Flyboy."
Once Tony saw everyone to their floors and made sure they were comfortable, he headed down to the workshop. He tossed himself down into a chair, letting it spin a bit before settling it so he was facing most of his screens.
"Alright, J. What do we got?"
"I believe Sir that we may not be the only ones planning to go after HYDRA bases. Small outposts and individuals have been appearing in police reports as destroyed or found dead for the past several months."
"Ah," Tony said. He rolled his head around, stretching his shoulders back so the tension was loosened with a few sharp crunches. "And those mostly correlate with our unpredictable meetings, correct?"
"Mostly," JARVIS agreed.
"And you didn't share this before because...?"
"I deduced that Sgt. Barnes presented no threat to your safety, and in fact possibly increased it." JARVIS sounded particularly prim and proper. "As you were also keeping your sightings of him a secret from Captain Rogers, I thought I would assist in that by not informing you of unnecessary data."
"Unnecessary data," Tony said, lips quirking. "You're a smartass."
"I learned from the best, Sir."
"Alright," Tony sighed after a moment. "So we may bump into Steve's old friend taking care of HYDRA same as we are."
"Sgt. Barnes appears to only target smaller outposts and individuals," JARVIS said, "so I would hypothesize that if the Avengers team targeted larger outposts and bases - as would be fitting, considering the size of the team - they would be unlikely to cross paths with any other... allies."
"Right." Tony sipped at the coffee DUM-E brought him. "You think I should tell Rogers about Barnes." He stated it even if it felt a lot like a question.
"I could not say," JARVIS replied after a moment. "Informing Captain Rogers of your sightings of Barnes over the past several months could harm your working relationship. It may also prove a distraction to the team's current mission."
"Hiding it isn't a good thing, though," Tony said. "Course. If Barnes wanted to be seen, or found, he obviously wouldn't be hiding and going by an alias."
"I suspect that you are in what is commonly called a conundrum," JARVIS said.
Tony chewed at his lip, staring at the screens - one displaying data about his own interactions with Barnes and cross-checking the data (not a perfect match, not always coinciding with a police report) of HYDRA associates found dead or outposts being destroyed. The other displayed a map, with data points for outposts, bases, labs, and what information JARVIS had compiled for each so far.
"J," Tony said after a moment. "See if you can't find any... pattern to James' movements, and plot us a path that'll keep the team far from James'."
"I will do my best, Sir."
Tony hoped he didn't come to regret this.
Working with the team again was... nice. It was nice to have people around more often. It was nice having something to do regarding HDYRA that didn't feel aimless, that felt like it had immediate and visible results.
It did not help with keeping secrets, though. It didn't not help with Tony finding time to relax and sleep, and he felt torn between so many different projects like he had back during MIT, when he was helping his dad with SI projects, going to parties, going to classes, doing his research on AIs to eventually create DUM-E. Between the Avengers, SI, and the social obligations of being Tony Stark, there were some weeks Tony felt dizzy with how much he was jumping from one thing to the next.
It didn't make him sloppy, per se, but he was sure that spending the week going from LA for a meeting with that office's R&D head, to a board meeting the next morning in New York, to planning and then heading out to attack a HYDRA base in Italy... he wasn't twenty anymore, after all.
Getting hit by one of those rocket guns didn't destroy the suit, but it sure did knock Tony for a doozy. He shook it off, picked himself up, and went straight after the HYDRA soldier with a grumbled, "Lucky I don't shoot a mini rocket at your ass."
It did mean that as soon as he escaped debrief, he went and sank into warm bath, wincing and breathing through the aches that seemed to be everywhere.
He called up Pepper, to beg off the next day's shareholder's meeting. He hadn't said anything he'd felt was particularly worrying, but Pepper appeared in his doorway not an hour later, face tight and eyes pinched.
"Uh..." Tony blinked at her. "Hi?"
She tsked, marching into his bathroom with no sense of shame, none, she just came right on in like when they'd been an item. She knelt next to the tub, reaching out a hand to gingerly touch his jaw. "That looks like it hurt."
Tony didn't shrug - his shoulder ached like a mofo - but he did offer a wry kind of smile. "I mean, we both know I've had worse."
"That doesn't help as much as you seem to think it does," Pepper sighed, but she was relaxing a little, tension dropping from her shoulders and mouth, scent losing that undertone of sharpness.
"It's all just bruises and sore muscles," Tony promised. "I just wasn't sure I'd be so great about moving without looking like the average geriatric tomorrow, and figured that wasn't a good look. You can tell them I'm wrapping up Avengers business."
Pepper hummed, settling down more and raising a hand to run it through Tony's hair. He hummed - nearly purred, he'd admit it - and let his eyes slip shut. "I can go to the senator's party Saturday night, too, if you'd like."
Tony dragged his eyes half-open. "You hate that man."
"Hate's a strong word," Pepper muttered, even though her scent was bitter and hot with it. "I just think he's a particularly large asshole."
"He is," Tony agreed, smiling a bit. "But more to you than to me."
"That's because he still thinks he can charm you into his bed." Pepper made a disgusted face, nose scrunching up and mouth twisting. It made Tony grin, because it was such a rare face for Pep to make. "Which I think makes him an even bigger asshole." Her fingers kept stroking through his hair for a few long moments, and then she tightened them in a gentle but pointed tug. "If you're still hurting tomorrow tell me, and I'll go instead. I'll even play nice with the damned senator."
Tony grinned, tilting his head around so he could see her better. "You're too kind, Ms. Potts."
An amused smiled fought it's way past her mock-sternness. She went back to stroking his hair. "You know I worry."
"I do," Tony agreed. "But I really should be fine tomorrow. Might need your help with the cover-up though." He'd never quite gotten the hang of covering up bruises. Eyeliner sharp enough to slice someone, sure - but covering up bruises and pimples and the like so well they went invisible? Nah.
"Will that be all Mr. Stark?" she asked, gentle and teasing.
"Thank you, Ms. Potts."
James didn’t actually have a reason to be at this senator’s party. He was a slimeball of the highest degree, crooked as hell for sure, but not HYDRA. He didn’t have any connections to HYDRA. He was even one of the politicians spearheading work to make sure it was harder for what HYDRA had done to happen again. So James didn’t have a reason to be at the party.
Except for Tony Stark.
He was aware the Avengers team (Steve) had made Stark Tower a centralized base of operations for themselves. They were going after larger installations, bigger bases and operations than James could manage well on his own and so had been leaving be for the time. Well, now they were being taken care of by the Avengers, so James could worry less about them and focus on his own smaller self-appointed assignments.
Thankfully those two never seemed to end up crossing or coming close together. The closest James was aware of was when they’d both been in France, though he’d been in Versailles and they’d been somewhere outside of Marseille. Still, he was trying to be more careful. He wasn’t… ready, to see anyone yet. (Steve. He wasn’t ready to face Steve yet, not after everything.)
James knew the Avengers had just been overseas in Italy. Probably, Tony wouldn’t show up here, even though his name was still on the guest list. But it had been a couple months since he’d last seen him and… well, James missed him.
Tony was everything his reputation said he was and at the same time nothing at all like it. What mattered most to James was that he genuinely liked Tony. Tony was smart, quick witted, oddly sweet sometimes, and weirdly relaxing to be around. It wasn’t just his scent being appealing, or that he was an Omega and James was an Alpha. Tony as a person was just – the kind of person James wanted to be around, as much as possible.
James felt godawful lying to him, sometimes, when things were feeling particularly dark for him, or when he had to talk himself out of taking that one step closer, shifting his touch that slightest bit past just being flirty. In the beginning he’d been sure it was only a matter of time before Tony Stark figured him out, and he had no idea how he’d gotten lucky enough to not get caught after all this time. No idea, but he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Tony arrived to the party just within the range that James had deduced was Tony’s idea of being fashionably (and acceptably) late. James immediately zoned in on the fact that Tony’s movements were different than usual – less smooth and easy – and the smile on his face sat somewhat oddly.
Frowning slightly, James picked up a second glass of champagne and started weaving his way through the crowd towards Tony.
“James!” Tony said, sounding delighted, pleased. It made something warm and curling spread through all of James’ body, which he pointedly ignored as he had for what felt like ages now. Tony wouldn’t be so happy to see him if he knew the truth, after all.
He took the glass James handed him, even as he leaned in for a one-armed hug. James kept his arm around him, keeping him close, and set his glass aside. Very carefully, James reached up and touched Tony’s cheek, where make-up was covering, and almost perfectly hiding, what was probably a nasty bruise. Anyone else, without serum-enhanced vision, probably wouldn’t have noticed it.
Tony’s breath hitched.
“I bet whoever did that regretted it.”
For a moment, there and gone in a flash, Tony looked surprised, and relieved. Then it was gone, replaced by a vicious kind of glee. Tony all but bared his teeth in a mockery of a smile.
“They did, for the five seconds they had to realize their mistake.”
Well, that was just… hot. Probably it shouldn’t be, James thought to himself, but hell if it was. He swallowed, licked his suddenly dry lips, and imagined it. Tony all battle-fierce, dangerous. He’d seen enough footage – from news sites and civilians with cell phones – of Iron Man fighting. He wasn’t sure how the hell Tony had gotten a bruise on his face from inside the suit, really, but he was very sure he’d have liked to see Tony make whoever had done it regret all their life choices.
Tony’s grin didn’t – soften, per se, but it shifted. Still vicious and dangerous, but also pleased seeming. “I’m very glad I decided to attend this party after all, since you’re here,” he all but purred. “I was starting to miss you.”
James bit his tongue against the first words to pop into his head – which were, basically, that he usually stared missing Tony within hours of leaving him – and instead said, “Well, can’t have that. How do I make it up to you, sugar?”
“Since you usually say no to coming home with me….” Tony winked, to show he was teasing. “You know I’m a sucker for the way you dance with me.”
“Well, tonight I’m all yours,” he promised.
Tony’s eyes were still dark and pleased and – probably, James was imagining how possessive he looked.
Tony was lost in thought when he got back, so he actually startled when Steve spoke up from the kitchen.
“I’m sorry, what?” Tony asked.
Steve’s head was tilted to the side, and raised just as bit as he took a deep breath. Scenting, Tony realized, something in him going ice cold.
“Are you wearing a new aftershave or something?” he asked, sounding somewhat confused.
“No,” Tony said. He forced on a wry kind of grin, not quite ashamed, and shrugged helplessly. “I was at a senator’s party – danced with this one Alpha most of the night. You’re probably smelling his cologne or something.” He laughed. “I’ll go take a shower, get any weird smells off of me.”
“Sure,” Steve said, though he still had an odd note to his voice.
Tony’s heart was in his throat, but also he was almost burning with guilt. He should tell Steve. It was what friends would do.
But also, Tony was certain that if James – Bucky – wanted to be found… he would be. He had to have his reasons for not coming to Steve. He had to know where Steve was, and if he hadn’t gotten in touch with him yet…. There had to be a reason he was still hiding.
It all came to a head a cold winter night in late November.
Tony was in DC, at a holiday-themed charity fundraiser hosted by one of the congresswomen that didn’t entirely hate him or the other Avengers. Tony liked her because she had straight up told him to his face that “I think you’re all stupidly reckless and not as great as you all seem to think you are, but you’re not the biggest headaches I have to work around and you all seem to have good intentions.”
Tony appreciated a politician that could be honest to him. Hence him making sure to attend as many of her hosted events as possible. (It had the added benefit of making her sigh and ask what trouble he was going to cause her this time; it wasn’t his fault the second time he’d been at one, he’d uncovered a very nasty embezzlement scheme going on between two other politicians.)
He was more than glad to see James there. He had on a dark gray suit with a red vest and tie. The smile that he gave Tony when he spotted him was… indecent, really, Tony wanted to call foul. It wasn’t fair for someone to look that good, to look at Tony like that, and always turn Tony down when he offered to take him home for the night. Tony didn’t do it often anymore – it had started to ache in all the wrong ways about a year ago and so he’d cut back on it – but hell if that smile didn’t make him want to try again.
James slid an arm around his shoulder when he was close enough. “You look decadent tonight,” he said.
“You look like sin in a suit,” Tony responded, giving him a smile that usually made people melt. It made James just smile at him, and it was almost too soft a look for Tony to handle.
They fell into their usual flirty banter, and they hadn’t even gotten more than a minute into their first dance of the night when the roof exploded and people dropped in.
Not HYDRA, thankfully. Looked like some idiot on a power trip, wearing a ridiculously fancy – in the outrageous sense – costume of some sort.
Tony didn’t bother listening to his grand speech of intentions. He was already calling the suit to him, easing his way quiet and quick through the crowd to one of the busted windows. James followed at his side, every inch of him giving off dangerous vibes. Tony risked only one glance back at him, and James’ eyes were dark and focused, intense. He met Tony’s eyes and raised a brow.
Tony shot him a vicious grin.
In the end, Tony had distracted and drawn most of the idiot’s attention, while James had taken out one of the hired guns and stolen his weapon, used it to take out others. In the end, Tony had met the congresswoman’s annoyed expression with a shrug and a “This one’s hardly my fault, c’mon, I saved your life.”
“I’ll let it slide this time,” she said back, so serious that Tony was certain she was messing with him. He grinned, saluted, and blasted out as soon as the police had things under control.
“J, where’s our dear friend?”
“He’s ten blocks south, heading for the bus station it appears.”
Tony caught up to him in two minutes, dropping down in a dark alley and letting the helmet retract.
James had stopped at his appearance. He hunched slightly, head down and hair in his face where it had broken from his hairtie.
“What’s the rush?” Tony asked, injecting a bit a humor into his voice even if he didn’t feel it. The guilty look and unhappy posture of the Alpha in front of him hurt. He didn’t think he ever wanted to see James of all people like that, not towards him.
“I’m sorry,” James said, voice coming out raspy. “I’m sorry Tony.”
“What? For having my back, back there?”
“Cause I’ve been lyin’ to you. I’m-“
“James Buchanan Barnes. I know.”
For a moment there was a heavy silence.
“You know,” James repeated, and Tony couldn’t decipher what was in his voice. “How long have you-“
“Oh, since the first night we met,” Tony interrupted again, swallowing down what was a lot like anxious panic in his chest. “At first I was curious what the Winter Soldier was doing at a holiday fundraiser. Then JARVIS lost you, which was just – interesting, not many people can hide from him when he’s looking for them. After a while though… you didn’t seem to be causing any trouble, and I figured you had your reasons for staying incognito.” He shrugged.
“You knew. All this time, you knew and you just… didn’t say anything? To anyone?” James sounded disbelieving. It hurt, oddly.
Tony shrugged again. His throat was tight. “If you wanted everyone to know, you’d let them know, I figured.” Licking his lips, he added, “And I didn’t want you to worry, about me knowing.”
James didn’t say anything, just stared at him with a slight furrow in his brow. Tony felt his heart sink.
“Look,” he finally said. “I won’t stop you. You can leave if you want. Do whatever it is you’ve been needing to do – destroying HDYRA or figuring the shit out in your head or whatever. Whatever it is you need to do, James.” He smiled though, soft and wry. “When you’re ready, if you want. Tower’s always open to you – and I don’t mean that as a come on.”
James opened his mouth, but closed it again after a few moments, soundlessly.
“I’m just saying, if you need somewhere to land at the end of whatever this is, you’re welcome there.” Tony gave him a bit of a wider smile, as understanding as he could make it. He wanted James to know that he got it – he got needing to fix your own mess after realizing how much of it you’d been culpable to, knowingly or not. He got needing to do penance in your own way… but he didn’t know if James had somewhere safe to go at the end of it, somewhere to call home. He wanted James to know that… Tony was more than willing to offer that, whether or not James wanted anything with Tony. Sure Tony was pretty sure he’d be more than happy to fall into a relationship with James. But he also liked him, as a person.
Giving James one last nod, Tony let the faceplate fall back into place and lifted off. He was sure everything that had happened at the party would be on the news. If he was lucky, none of the footage would contain shots of James, but probably he wouldn’t be. He had some explaining to do, some serious apologies to hand out. No reason to put those off.
James had met up with Steve earlier that week. Steve called him Bucky, and it finally didn’t hurt. He’d asked Steve not to mention it to Tony, though, because he and Tony needed to talk first.
Steve leaned back in his seat at the coffee shop and eyes him, arms crossed.
“You makin’ a move?” he asked, something like censor in his voice.
James narrowed his eyes. “Why’re you asking, punk?”
For a long moment, Steve just stared at him. “Tony gets a lot of shit, for bein’ an Omega. He ignores a lot of it. Maybe not as much, or in the same way, as we grew up hearing. But still.”
“Steve, I spent the last several decades not even-“ James paused, swallowed. Still couldn’t find the right words to explain how HYDRA had just… made it a non-issue. They’d needed him to be able to kill anyone, and they couldn’t have instincts or biases getting in the way of that. It’d been weirder as whatever drug cocktail they’d been feeding him for years and years had finally started wearing off enough that he’d started picking up on that kind of thing again. It’d been months of research and memories creeping back in for him to remember why any of it mattered.
Taking a deep breath, he said, “Tony could be any orientation, it wouldn’t matter to me. He’s Tony, not some Omega that’s attractive.”
Steve’s eyes flickered over his face. Everything about him was screaming protective Alpha, which James mostly found amusing. He had a faint memory of Steve pulling the same thing when Becca’s first boyfriend had come calling, only then he’d been small and without the muscles to back up the threatening glare. (Steve had always fought dirty though; his stature hadn’t been too big of a factor in fights when Steve was more than willing to kick someone in the balls if he had to.)
“I think he’s missed you. He doesn’t talk much about you or anythin’, but….” He shrugged.
James glanced down at his cup, swirling it a bit so the coffee spun around inside. “Yeah. I’ve missed him too.” He looked back up at Steve. “Which is why I’m asking you not to tell him I’m here. I wanna… surprise him. Do it right.” He gave him a bit of a pleading look, and Steve cracked like James had hoped he would.
“Alright, Buck. But if you don’t within two weeks, I’m bringing the whole team with me to hunt you down and drag you back to the Tower.”
James laughed. “Yeah, whatever Stevie. You couldn’t find me before, what makes you think you could now?”
Steve kicked him under the table, petulant, and James laughed.
It was good. It felt right, it felt like coming home, to hang out with Steve Rogers and not feeling all that twisted up confusion inside, the guilt and the fear and the anger and the hope. It felt good to just feel that same brotherly love he always had before.
That was on Monday, and it was Saturday night now. James had walked into the Tower, and JARVIS had immediately somehow connected to his cell phone and directed him to an elevator. It needed an ID pass, but it opened without it once he stopped in front of it.
The elevator either moved so slow it couldn’t be felt, or was so high tech it moved smooth at any speed. James was betting both were possible, especially when JARVIS spoke.
“Sir is at a Maria Stark Foundation charity dinner.”
“I know,” James said. “And I’m sure you wanna call and tell him I’m here, but I was hoping to surprise him.” He licked his lips. “Thought maybe it’d be better for us to… talk, here in private.”
JARVIS was quiet.
“I’m not gonna hurt him, JARVIS. I swear,” James said quietly.
“I trust you won’t,” JARVIS responded, and the elevator opened. “This is Sir’s private floor. He should return before midnight. Please make use of the kitchen if you are hungry or require something to drink.”
James did make himself a sandwich and have a bottle of water while he waited. Mostly he sat there, going over and over in his head what he wanted to say. He probably owed Tony a huge apology too, and an explanation, and they needed to talk to see if they were really on the same page – was all that flirting just flirting, or was it serious or…?
All of it though dropped right out of James’ head when Tony stepped out of the elevator at 11:52pm.
He was loosening his tie – a delightful dark shade of maroon – as he stepped out, his shoes already off and dangling from the fingers of his other hand. He dropped them down next to the elevator, started to shrug off his suit jacket only to freeze at the sight of James standing at the other end of the short hall.
“Hi,” James said softly.
“Hey,” Tony replied after a moment, just as quiet.
He licked his lips. Everything he’d planned to say was gone, and all he could really think was that it had been almost five months since he’d had a dance with Tony, since he’d been close enough to catch Tony’s warm soft-spice scent. Since he’d gotten a smile, a playful tease, a friendly touch.
“Wanna dance?” he asked.
A slow smile spread on Tony’s face. He finished shrugging off the jacket, tossing it over the back of an armchair as he neared James. He took James’ offered hand, without a word, and even though there was no music they fell into the familiar movements of a slow dance. Tony was warm under his hands, smelled relaxed and familiar. James tilted his head a little closer, and felt his heart start racing when Tony leaned his head against James’ chest, careful and light.
They just danced for a few minutes, not saying anything, breathing each other in and relaxing into the familiarity of it.
“I have a floor made up for you. It’s above Steve’s,” Tony finally whispered into the quiet, not moving his head from James’ chest. “He helped me set it up with stuff we thought you’d like, after he was done being pissed at me for hiding you.”
James snorted. “You hardly hid me.”
“I didn’t tell him you were showing up to parties. Or that I knew you were running around going after HDYRA on your own.”
“Like Steve would have had room to talk,” James scoffed, and enjoyed the soft chuckle Tony gave at that. They were mostly swaying in place now.
“You figure things out?” Tony asked, almost tentative.
James smiled, turning his face so it pressed into Tony’s hair. It was still a little stiff with whatever remains of gel or hairspray he’d used to style it, but not too much. James could almost find the softness under that.
“Think so. For the most part, at least.”
“That’s good. I’m happy for you.”
“Yeah.” James stopped their movements and stepped back, though he kept a hold on Tony’s hand. “Hey. Come home with me? I need to break in my new bed.”
Tony grinned, ducking his head with a soft huff of laughter. When he looked back up, his smile was wide and bright, and he looked almost calm, like he’d just been waiting this whole time for James to catch up with him and ask.
“Does that usually work?” he teased.
James grinned and shrugged. “I don’t know. Did it work?”
Grin growing just that bit more, eyes crinkling at the corners and bright with affection – they’d been bright and soft with it for a while know, James was finally ready to admit to himself – Tony said, “Yeah. I’d like that. Let’s go.”
For James, it finally felt like the final piece of things slotted into place. HYDRA was still out there, but they were all working to stop them. He wasn’t Bucky anymore, but he also wasn’t the Asset or Winter Soldier, or anything that he didn’t want to be.
He had a home, again.
And he had Tony’s hand in his, fingers linked together.