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Touch Therapy

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The first time Steve tried to talk to him about Bucky, Tony just stared at him over the rim of his coffee cup until he got the picture and walked away.  But later, when Tony was dragging himself up the stairs after forty straight hours in the lab, he saw Bucky curled up on the couch, all but hidden in baggy clothes and staring into the darkness.

“JARVIS, see if he wants to watch something on TV,” Tony mumbled as he fell into bed, fully dressed.

“Yes, sir.  Any suggestions?”

“I don’t know.” What would a traumatized amnesic supersoldier want to watch? Documentaries? Cooking shows? “Put on that show with the rescue dogs and the inmates,” Tony said finally, and passed out without hearing JARVIS answer.

 

Six hours later a breakthrough idea for the lab had him rolling out of bed and heading back down the stairs.  Passing by the living room, he paused when he saw that Bucky was still watching television in almost exactly the same spot.  He came around the couch and saw that it was also the same show.

“Was the dog show your idea?” Bucky rumbled from the hidden depths of his hoodie.

“Do you like it?  Ready for a dog now?” Tony tested the temperature of the pot of coffee in the kitchen and put it in the microwave.

“Sure.”

“Alright, you don’t stab anyone and one of these days I’ll find you the ugliest rescue mutt in New York. Deal?”

Tony felt a smile pulling at his lips when he heard the surprised laugh coming from the direction of the couch.  “Deal.”

***

About a week Tony came into the kitchen to see Bucky sitting at the bar and hunched over something on the counter, dressed in a long-sleeved hoodie, jeans, and his combat boots.  Raising an eyebrow, Tony made sure to clear his throat as he comes around the counter to pour himself a cup of coffee, noticing that Bucky also has one cradled in his hands, both of which are covered by gloves.

“You know it’s like 97 degrees in the city, right? If you’re cold, just tell JARVIS to turn the temperature up.” Tony took a sip as he leaned against the counter.

Bucky shook his head.  “It’s not that.”  Tony waited for him to finish, but Bucky only glanced at him briefly before looking down at his coffee. 

“Ah,” Tony said as he realized. He unconsciously ran a hand over the scarred, sunken space where the arc reactor used to be.  “Can I show you something?” He reached out a hand to Bucky, who looked at it suspiciously before reaching out as well.  “Well, you gotta take the glove off.”

Bucky hesitated but he finally started to pull the glove off finger by finger.  When his hand was bare, Tony cradled it in his own and ran his fingertips lightly over the broad palms, the long fingers and blunt nails.  Bucky had a callous on his trigger finger and in the webbing between his pointer finger and thumb. Turning his own hand over, he spread out his hand and covered it with Bucky’s. After a moment, Bucky ran his fingers over Tony’s hands, feeling every rough callous and the smooth, shiny scars.

Eventually Bucky pulled his hand back and wrapped it around the coffee mug again, but left the glove off.  “What did you want to show me?”

Tony straightened and offered him a small smile.  “Just that you don’t have to hide.”

***

At four AM Tony finally got tired of staring at his ceiling, so he wandered down to the common area to see if anyone else was having trouble sleeping.  He wasn’t really surprised when Bucky was the only other one there, staring out the wall of windows where it was raining buckets against the glass.

“You ok there, R2?”

Bucky gave him a one-armed shrug. Hidden lightning lit up the clouds and Tony could see that Bucky was watching him in the reflection on the glass. “You know I don’t know what that means, right?”

“Yeah. Force of habit.”  Tony joined him at the windows. 

“Why are you awake?”

“I asked first.”

“So?”

“It’s like a rule, you have to –“ Tony saw Bucky’s unimpressed look and gave up. “Fine. Had a bad dream, couldn’t go back to sleep.”

Bucky turned back to the window and made a thoughtful noise.  “I dreamed I was back in cryo.  Woke up shivering.”      

“Huh. And Steve didn't...?"

"He offered to bunk with me, but..." Bucky rolled his shoulders uncomfortably.  "It's hard to be close to him.  Kinda makes my skin crawl."

Tony remembered that feeling well.  Forcing yourself to stay still while fight or flight was buzzing under your skin.  "Can I help? We’ll start small.” Tony waited for Bucky to look at him and give him a small nod before he continued. “Can I touch your shoulder?”  When Bucky nodded again, Tony touched him with his fingertips before slowly sliding his hand to palm the ball of Bucky’s shoulder, squeezing lightly and definitely not noticing the hard muscles there.  “Is this ok?” 

Bucky gave him a suspicious look like he was afraid Tony was teasing him, but Tony made sure to look as sincere as possible. “Yeah,” Bucky grunted. “This is fine.”

The tension in the muscles under Tony’s hand would say otherwise, but he didn’t want to mention that just yet.  “Good.  Do you feel how warm my hand is?”

Bucky’s eyelids drifted lower and he nodded.  He could feel the warmth of Tony’s palm radiating into his shoulder, the touch solid and anchoring.  Something inside him grew still at the sensation, and the quiet was such a relief.

“Can I touch your back?” Tony asked softly.  When Bucky nodded, Tony slid his hand down to Bucky’s shoulder blade and down to the middle of his back. “Still good?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s good.”  Just the simple touch felt better than a pile of blankets or buckets of hot coffee.  At that moment, Bucky felt so grateful for it that his throat got tight. Tony gave him a sideways glance and started talking about something he was working on in the lab until Bucky’s breathing wasn’t so shaky.

***

Bucky heard the shuffling of Tony’s feet and the sound of a jaw-cracking yawn as he approached. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this, my wife is starting to suspect something,” Tony said as he sat down, close enough that Bucky could feel the cushions sag. “Another bad night?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said without opening his eyes. “Steve tried to wake me up from a nightmare and I tried to strangle him before I knew what was happening.” 

“Note to self.  I’ll just throw things until you wake up.”

“Or just let me wake up on my own,” Bucky muttered.  “Steve is still trying to save me, even from myself.”

Tony made a thoughtful noise, and Bucky could feel Tony looking at him. “Can I touch you?” Tony asked finally.

Bucky waited for a beat and then muttered “yeah” as if that wasn’t the sole reason why he was loitering out here in the common area in the middle of the night.  He let out a silent sigh when Tony flattened a palm against the front of Bucky’s shoulder, thumb tracing the line of his collarbone before sliding across to rest on top of Bucky’s sternum. After a moment Bucky let his head fall back against the couch and let out a long, slow breath.  With it, he realized how tense he had been and he felt every muscle relax, unwinding under the uncomplicated and undemanding warmth of Tony’s palm.

Tony couldn’t help but smile when he saw Bucky finally relax, remembering the first time he’d been really able to relax after Afghanistan, that euphoric release of tension you’d been holding so long you forgot what it felt like to be without it.  Bucky shifted on the couch and his knee bumped Tony’s, drawing his gaze downward.  Tony jerked it back up when he realized that Bucky was more than half-hard and had unconsciously spread his knees wider when he shifted.

Fighting back the urge to adjust himself as his own body became more interested in the proceedings, Tony made a sound to get Bucky’s attention.  When Bucky turned his head lazily and cracked his eyelids, Tony patted his chest gently.  “On the bad days remember to start small. And also tell Steve no grabbing or shaking, that’s just asking to get punched in the face.”  He started to pull his hand back but Bucky caught it, suddenly looking uncertain.

“Could you…” Bucky started, but shook his head and released Tony’s hand.  “Never mind.”

“C’mon, you can ask.  What?”

Bucky glanced away for a moment before he could meet Tony’s eyes again. “Could you touch my head?”

“Yeah, sure. Just lean your head back.” Tony determinedly kept his eyes on Bucky’s face as he shifted lower on the couch with a sigh so he could rest his head comfortably on the couch cushions.  “Pepper used to love this,” he said quietly as he started running his fingers through Bucky’s hair.  "Fastest way to help her go to sleep."  When Tony lightly raked his fingernails across Bucky’s scalp, Bucky made a low noise that he tried to cover by clearing his throat self-consciously.  Tony wondered if Bucky knew that his arm was making a deep whirring noise as something in it recalibrated. At the sound, Tony realized that he was starting to relax as well, and he had already forgotten the bad dream that had driven him out of bed.  Mechanical noises were his happy place.

“You know,” he pointed out, tugging lightly on Bucky's hair, “it would be easier to do this if you didn’t wear the hoodies all the time.  In summer, hoodies aren't a fashion choice, they're a defense mechanism."

"I don't like people looking at me," Bucky grunted, sounding like he was halfway asleep himself.

"Believe me, I get it, I'm just saying.”  

Two days later, Tony was headed out the door for a business meeting and saw Bucky eating in the kitchen with Steve, wearing a long sleeved shirt but no hoodie.  Bucky rolled his eyes but Tony saw his lips quirk when Tony gave him a look of exaggerated surprise.

 ***

Not too long after that Tony wandered up from the lab looking for food and saw Bucky was back to lurking on the couch, hands buried in the pocket of the hoodie and eyes far away.

“Uh oh.  What happened, Terminator?”

“Steve tried to give me a hug,” Bucky mumbled, turning to watch Tony cross the room.  “I punched him in the solar plexus.”

“Came in too hot, did he?” Tony said sympathetically.

“No, it’s not his fault.  I’m just…too fucked up, I guess.”  He blew out a long breath and brushed the hair back from his face, eyes bleak.  Tony was happy to see that the gloves were still banished, and instead of his combat boots Bucky was just in socks. Small steps. 

“Don’t say that.  Steve just had the wrong technique.  Get up, come on.” Tony put his coffee down and reached out a hand to help Bucky stand.  He staggered a little when Bucky took it, having forgotten for a moment that the man was like, a quarter metal.  “Hands gotta be open, low, and not too wide,” Tony said, and demonstrated, remembering the time when he had flinched away from an overexcited hug of Pepper’s and made her cry.  “Now you come in, and if it helps, you can keep your hands on my arms or wrists or whatever you need to feel in control.”

After a moment of hesitation, Bucky stepped into the open circle made by Tony’s arms and took a second to decide what to do with his arms, eventually just wrapping them around Tony’s shoulders.  He was being gentle, but Tony could still feel the weight difference in the two arms.

“Alright, I’m going to put my hands on your back now, and…there.  Hugging.” Tony said, patting his back gently.  “Not broken, just require special handling instructions. Are you ok?”

"Well, I am thinking about three different ways to kill you if you try to stab me in the back,” Bucky confessed.  “But other than that, I guess it’s nice. How come this works with you but not Steve?”

Tony shrugged and tried not to imagine what three ways Bucky was thinking of.  “When you are more used to attacks than hugs, a hug can look like an attack.  Besides, I’m not six feet tall and two hundred pounds, so.  Maybe I seem like less of a threat.”

“Yeah, but you aren’t unarmed, are you?”  Was that his imagination or did it seem like Bucky was pulling him closer? Tony didn’t want to push Bucky away, but if he spent too much longer in close proximity to that chest while feeling the movement of the muscles of Bucky’s back under his hands, the tone of this hug was going to change really quickly.

“The watch can turn into a gauntlet. Semper paratus and all that.” Tony started pulling back gently and after a moment Bucky released him, stepping back but bringing his hands up to rest on Tony’s shoulders.

“Why are you…” Bucky stared at a spot over Tony’s shoulder and blew out a breath. “Being so nice to me?”

Tony stiffened and had to fight the urge to withdraw.  “I, um, I don’t wanna talk about it right now.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-“ Bucky dropped his hands and started to step away, but Tony grabbed for his arm.

“No, it’s ok, I’ll tell you, just…not now.”  It was a long moment, but Bucky nodded in understanding and sat back down on the couch.  Tony grabbed his coffee and sat down on the other side of the couch, clearing his throat and trying to offer an olive branch.  “You know, it’s not like I don’t know anything about torture and nonconsensual body modifications.  When I got back from Afghanistan, it took me a long time to, you know…” Tony trailed off and waved a hand in the air between them. “Want to be close to anyone.  So.  I kinda know how you feel.”  Tony sighed and admitted, “Pepper made me see a specialist while we were dating.”

“So that’s where you’re getting all this stuff from? A specialist?”

“Yeah.  Touch therapy.”   There was silence for a while as Tony drank his coffee and tried to ignore the considering look in Bucky’s eyes.  “Asking for help is something I’m still working on, but I do know how to offer it.”

***

“No socks today? Scandalous,” Tony said with a smile, throwing himself down onto the couch.

Bucky grinned a little and dug his toes into the carpet.  “Yeah, the carpet feels nice.” Then Tony saw Bucky glance at his feet and then at Tony’s hands, and Tony headed off the question at the pass.

“Sorry, I don’t touch feet.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, it just weirds me out.”  Bucky stared at his feet as if he could figure out just by looking why someone wouldn’t want to touch them.  Tony rolled his eyes.  “It’s not rational, Bucky.  It’s just one of those things.  If you want a foot massage, I know a guy who does great ones.” Bucky looked a bit queasy at the thought of a stranger touching him and shook his head. “Maybe one day,” Tony offered.

“Yeah, one day.”  But he was still hunched over his lap, looking at his feet.  “Can I touch your feet?” He asked after a moment.

“Sure, that I don’t mind.” Tony toed off his socks while Bucky scooted back and he put his feet in Bucky’s lap.  Then he saw Bucky carefully pulling the glove off his left hand and he tried to act casual; it was the first time he’d seen Bucky’s hand uncovered since…well, since Tony had tried to kill him, and Bucky had to go shopping for a new one in Wakanda. So it kind of felt like a big deal. 

Tony started looking for the remote so that he wouldn’t stare, until Bucky pressed his thumb into the arch of Tony’s foot and Tony fell back against the arm of the couch with a moan. “No, don’t stop,” he said hurriedly when Bucky let go of his foot like it was on fire.  “It felt good.”

Bucky snorted but put his hands back on Tony’s foot, metal fingers unerringly finding all the knots in the muscles and tendons there.  Tony knew that he was probably making all sorts of obscene noises but he couldn’t help it, Bucky’s hands felt too good.  “You know, people are going to get the wrong idea about what we’re doing in here,” Bucky said, amused.

“I don’t care.” Tony shifted a little when Bucky moved his hands to Tony’s other foot.  “Even if this is all you do for the rest of your life, you can stay here forever.”

“Good to know there’s a way I can earn my keep without having to kill people.” Tony’s eyes flew open in alarm but Bucky just winked at him, so Tony scowled and kicked him a little before closing his eyes again.

“You know, they used to call me the Merchant of Death,” Tony said suddenly, eyes still closed. Bucky hesitated for a second and then continued massaging his feet, for which Tony could only be grateful.  He really was quite good at it, if only because the metal hand never got tired. “Because the Starks made their fortune in the weapons industry.”

“Yeah, I know,” Bucky said carefully, pressing his knuckles into the arch of Tony’s foot.

“Right, I forgot you knew my dad before…well, anyway.” Tony blew out a breath.  “Man, this is hard. Ok, so when I was kidnapped and…and tortured, they wanted me to make weapons for them.  Only, I looked around their camp and they had piles and piles of missiles and shit with Stark written all over them.  I was like, what the hell, apparently I’m already making weapons for you.”  Tony pinched the bridge of his nose and blinked rapidly at the ceiling.  “That’s when I realized that if my weapons are killing innocent people, then I’m killing innocent people, you know? I’m helping kill more of them faster than these assholes would be able to do on their own.  So I stopped.  But that’s not enough, right?  You gotta make it right somehow…” Tony trailed off, trying to remember where he was going with this.

At that, Bucky’s hands did stop.  “I’m not some project to you, right? A way to atone by saving the poor abused POW?”

Tony sat up and pulled his feet from Bucky’s lap. “No! No, that’s not what I meant, of course not.” He buried his head in his hands.  “Fuck, I’m so bad at this.  You asked why I’m being nice to you, and I know you meant because of my parents.  And, obviously, I wasn’t nice, for a long time, but.” He blew out a long breath and forced himself to look at Bucky, who was watching him patiently. “Look, just because you did bad things, not by accident, but you know-“

“Without agency,” Bucky supplied, sounding like he was quoting someone.

“Yeah, sure. That doesn’t make you a bad person. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty all the time, or be punished.  If I can forgive you, then maybe…” Tony looked down at his hands, picking at some grease under his thumbnail.

“Then maybe you can forgive yourself?”

“Yeah,” Tony said, voice so quiet it was almost inaudible. "That."

***

“Bucky? Is that you?” Tony said, squinting exaggeratedly in the bright sunlight of the morning, shading his eyes as he made straight for the coffee pot.  “I don’t recognize you in the daytime.  Should you be out of your coffin this time of day?”

 “Look who’s talking, Mr. Mad Scientist over here,” Bucky said, grinning.  In the light of the morning he seemed much more at ease than he ever did at night, his rare good humor infectious. “I feel like it’s only a coincidence that you and the sun are up at the same time.”

“Pretty much,” Tony admitted.   He tried not to let his eyes linger on the width of Bucky’s shoulders in that long sleeved Henley as he poured himself some cereal.  “I have some work at Stark Industries today so I had to set an alarm.  But don’t worry, I’ll be back to regularly scheduled insomnia tonight.”

“Yeah? Alright then, it’s a date.” Bucky drained his cup and winked as he slid off the kitchen bar stool.

 “Yeah, sure,” Tony said in distraction, watching Bucky’s ass in those jeans as he walked away. “Wait, what?” 

 

By that evening Tony had already forgotten what had happened at breakfast, streaked with grease to the wrist from souping up one of his motorcycles.  He was so distracted trying to loosen a tight bolt that when JARVIS announced someone was at the door he just grunted a “yeah, whatever.” 

So when Bucky walked in, looking around curiously, he was treated to a cheer as Tony finally got the bolt to move.  “It’s good to see you too,” Bucky said as he found Tony on the far side of the sleek black bike.

“Oh, hey Bucky. Hold on.” Tony rolled across the lab on his wheeled stool to grab a clean shop cloth from a pile next to his desk. “What’s up?”  He brushed a bead of sweat off his temple and left a streak of grease.  Bucky smiled and let his eyes travel down Tony’s body, the fitted black tank top showing off muscled arms and the jean that were sagging around his hips.

“Nothing, really,” Bucky said finally, his smile widening when he saw that the tips of Tony’s ears were turning red and his breath was coming faster.  “Just thinking about what you said about touch therapy.”

“Yeah?” Tony swallowed thickly.  “Like what? Making good progress?”

“I think so.  Can I show you?” Bucky reached out a hand and bit his lip with predatory amusement when Tony stared at it a minute before taking it and letting Bucky pull him to his feet.  He kept his eyes on Tony’s as he slowly backed him against a work table before pinning him there with his hips.  He took Tony’s hand and pressed his lips to the scarred knuckles.

“Bucky, that’s…” Tony trailed off when he saw the heated look in Bucky’s eyes.

“Yeah? You’re not supposed to do that with gents?”  Bucky turned Tony’s hand over and kissed the palm.  “Probably not supposed to do that, either, I suppose.  You’ll have to be patient with me, I’ve only ever tried to seduce dames before.”

Tony meant to say something about…something, but Bucky had caused a short in his brain when he said seduce in that deep, rough tone and had pressed another kiss to the inside of his wrist, tongue darting out lightly. “Yeah?” Tony managed eventually, staring as Bucky traced his lips up the thin skin on the inside of his arms, causing an unexpected shiver. “Is that what you’re doing?”

Bucky’s grin at that was sharp, crooked, and dangerous.  He captured Tony’s jaw with his left hand, the metal cool on Tony’s skin.  “Yeah, that’s what I’m doing.  Guess I gotta try a little harder.” He tilted his head and brushed his lips against Tony’s, lightly, teasingly, until Tony made a noise deep in his throat. “Can I kiss you?” he growled against Tony’s mouth.

“God, yes.” Bucky pulled Tony in closer by sliding his hand over the nape of Tony’s neck, settling his mouth over Tony’s and licking in deep.

Tony finally got the message and carefully slid his hands under Bucky’s shirt, mapping out the miles of skin and muscle there.  “Not that I, uh, mind, but what…”

Bucky hmmed while dropping kisses along Tony’s cheekbone, one hand starting to tug on the button and zipper of Tony’s ragged shop jeans. Tony swallowed audibly as Bucky’s fingers brushed over his clothed erection. Bucky’s arm whirred and whined as it recalibrated, plates shifting along his bicep, and Tony realized was never going to be able to work effectively near DUM-E again. “You know, I can hear the way your heart beats faster when you see me.  At first I thought you were afraid of me, but then came all the touching…” The sound of the zipper seemed really loud in the otherwise quiet of the lab.  “The excuses to get me to take my clothes off…”  Bucky’s voice was whiskey-rough and hitting all of Tony’s sweet spots.  “Can I touch you?”

“Fuck yes.  Please put your hands on me.” Tony didn’t realize that he was holding his breath until it came out of him in one shuddering sigh when Bucky shoved his jeans down his hips. “You know this isn’t why-“

“Shhh,” Bucky said against his temple and lifted him up to sit on the table.  He slid his hand down to frame Tony’s jaw, resting the metal thumb on Tony’s lower lip.  “I know.  Stop thinking so hard about this and just use that mouth to tell me how I’m doing, hmm?”

“Yep, I can definitely do that.” Tony’s voice sounded a little shrill as Bucky started exploring his cock with gentle fingers, so he cleared his throat and tried again. “You’re doing great, just…yeah.”  His hips bucked and he gave a startled groan when Bucky squeezed his cock and ran a thumb over the head.

“You know, those noises you were making when I was touching your feet reminded me how much I like making people feel good.” Bucky was looking down at where he was slowly driving Tony crazy, but his other thumb was still stroking Tony’s lip idly, as if the metal could feel the softness there.  Tony gave in to temptation and flicked his tongue out to taste it.

That made Bucky’s eyes fly up to meet his in surprise. “Yeah?” he said, and Tony shuddered because somehow his voice had gotten even deeper. 

“Oh, yeah.  You never noticed?”

At that Bucky’s eyes got heavy-lidded and his grin filthy. “I do now.” He slid his thumb deeper in Tony’s mouth and Tony closed his lips around it, sucking lightly, moaning around it as Bucky finally got around to stroking him with intent. It tasted like licking a battery and just like that Tony probably invented a whole new kink.

“Can you feel that?” Tony said hoarsely, trying not to squirm. He was so turned on that a few quick strokes could have finished him, but Bucky was still being maddeningly slow and gentle.

“Not really,” Bucky admitted.  “But it looks really fucking hot.” He tore his gaze away from Tony’s mouth and met Tony’s eyes, pupils blown.  He stepped in closer, close enough that Tony could feel his hard length against his thigh.  “I bet you have a really talented tongue, don’t you, Tony? Can we make that a part of this touch therapy thing we’ve got going?”

“Well, that’s a little more advanced than-hnnnng.”  Tony’s brain flat-lined again when Bucky bit into the muscle between neck and shoulder. The metal arm was still making mechanical noises in his ear and Bucky was still stroking him just a little too slowly and he was grinding his cock against Tony’s thigh like he could get off just like this and suddenly Tony couldn’t take it anymore. He buried one hand in Bucky’s thick hair and wrapped the other one around the hand on his cock, squeezing tighter and stroking faster and then he was coming all over their hands with a long drawn out “fuuuuuuuuck.”

He let his head drop on Bucky’s shoulder, still breathing heavily. “You,” he said, and forgot what he was going to say when he realized Bucky was still hard inside his jeans and was moving against Tony like he was so close to orgasm he could taste it.  He lifted his head.  “You’re going to need to slow down if you want to learn about my talented tongue.”

At that Bucky froze, making Tony smile as he tried to reach for the box of disposable shop cloths without falling off the table.  “Yeah, ok. Sure,” he said, cleaning his hands with jerky motions, not taking his eyes off Tony’s mouth as if he could already feel his lips around his dick.

 

Tony didn’t make Bucky scream his name when he came, but Bucky’s metal hand did rip a hole in the arm of the couch, so he counted that a victory.  He left Bucky sprawled on the couch, one arm thrown over his eyes, as he stood to grab a couple of bottles of water from the minifridge.

“So is that your first blowjob in like, seventy years?” Tony said with a smirk when he sat back down on the shop couch.

“Tony, that is literally the only blowjob I ever remember getting.” Smiling, Bucky took a drink of water, looking relaxed enough to fall asleep.

“So by default, the best. Nice.”

“Well, how would I really know without more to compare it to?”

Tony started coughing as the water went down the wrong pipe.  “Smooth,” he said hoarsely when he could breathe again.  “I see what you did there. So you and Steve haven't…” Tony stopped when Bucky started shaking his head.

“Steve and I are…complicated.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love the big lunkhead but there’s just so much…”

“Baggage?”

“Yeah.  He wants so hard to help but he just doesn’t know how, and I don’t know how to tell him, so we just get so tangled up and then we both start feeling guilty until we can barely look at each other.”

Tony nodded and tossed his empty bottle in the recycling bin.  “When people love, they give a part of themselves, but eventually they also want a part of you in return.  And I’m not saying that’s not fair, of course it should go both ways, but…” Tony trailed off, lost in thought and absently picking at a small tear in the couch upholstery.  “It can be hard.  To give a part of yourself to someone, even if you love them.”

“Exactly.” Bucky sighed.  “Can you touch my head again? For a bit? Then I’ll get out of your hair and, I dunno, maybe try to have a talk with Steve. Again.”

“Sure.” Tony scooted down to the end of the couch and patted his thighs. “Lay down.”

Bucky didn’t hesitate, putting his head in Tony’s lap and throwing his legs over the arm of the couch with a contented sigh.  He laced his fingers across his chest and closed his eyes, overall looking pretty damn satisfied with himself.

“Feeling good?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Now that the sexytimes were over, Tony’s mind was racing with everything else he’d planned to do to the bike before Bucky had completely derailed his train of thought, but Bucky seemed too relaxed to make him get up just yet.  So Tony just leaned his head against the back of the couch and finished taking apart the motor in his head.

 ***

Bucky must have had that talk with Steve because when Tony went to the kitchen in the morning in search of coffee and breakfast, he was already there waiting at the table, eyes red-rimmed and tired looking.

“Oh, hey,” Tony said in surprise.  “I thought you were going to be out at HQ today.”

“I wanted to talk to you. Bucky told me that you guys hang out at all hours of the night, so I thought…” Steve shrugged.

“Sorry.  It’s kind of hit or miss.” Especially when I haven’t asked JARVIS to tell me whenever you’re prowling around the common areas, Tony thought, pouring himself a bowl of cereal in case he needed to make a quick escape. “What’s up?”

“Bucky told me that you’ve been helping him with, you know…”

“That knee-jerk reaction to punch first and ask questions later?” Tony finished, measuring out coffee into the machine and grabbing glances at Steve from the corner of his eye.  Steve didn’t look mad that Tony had been making time with Bucky – if Bucky had even told him that much.  He just seemed…tired.  But like, existentially tired.  Tony could definitely sympathize.

“Yeah, that.”

“Ok. What about it?”  Tony finally leaned against the counter to face Steve while the coffee maker burbled behind him.

“I just wanted to say thank you.  Bucky says he’s feeling better and I don’t think he’s having as many bad dreams, so…anyway.  Thank you.”

“Well, I know a bit about what he’s going through, so…I mean, it’s not a big deal,” Tony said around a bite of cereal.  He eyed the level in the coffee pot but there wasn’t even enough for a cup yet, so he had to stay and be emoted at for a bit longer.  He glanced at Steve and saw the miserable look before Steve could cover it up. Sighing, he put his bowl down.  “Look, it’s going to be tough, trying to be with someone that’s dealing with heavy shit, ok? Bucky’s going to hurt you –“

“Bucky would never –“

“Sorry, Steve, but that’s a bunch of horse shit,” Tony said, talking over him.  “He’s already hurting you, and you have to admit it, even to yourself, ok? He can see it and when you try to pretend its ok, then he just feels worse. Look,” Tony leaned over the counter, trying to get Steve to raise his head from where he was examining the marble countertop with determination. “Look at me, Steve.  I can help Bucky, but you also need someone to talk to, ok?  Try giving Pepper a call.  She’ll have some good advice for you.  Bucky loves you, and I know you love him, but I think he needs a friend right now more than anything else.” At that, Tony turned away and poured himself a cup of coffee, so he missed the raised eyebrow and quirked lips that would have been a warning.

“I thought they were calling it a ‘friends with benefits’ these days,” Steve said, and Tony almost dropped his bowl of cereal.

Swearing, he put his bowl down and grabbed a towel to clean the milk off the floor. “Are you mad?” Tony said after a moment.    

Steve took so long to answer that Tony had the impulse to ask again, even though he knew Steve heard him.  With his supersoldier hearing, he probably would have heard him if he’d asked while he was in the lab.  Steve stared at the countertop, drawing patterns idly with his fingers as he thought.  “No,” he said finally. “Not mad. Disappointed.  I’m glad he has found something that makes him happy, I just…wish it was me.”

Tony stared at him while he ate some of his cereal, until Steve started to look puzzled at his silence. Finally Tony shook his head and refilled his cereal bowl.  “Nope, I can’t unpack that kind of ridiculousness right now.  Go read some Chicken Soup for the Supersoldier Soul and I’ll Dr. Phil you later.”

 

Despite the  “if you love something, let it go” martyr moment Steve had clearly been having in his kitchen, Tony was not surprised at all to see them hanging out on the balcony later on that day, giggling so madly about something that Steve was holding on to the railing so he didn’t fall down.  Bucky was trying his hardest to look angry but was failing, forced to look away so Steve wouldn't see him smile.  Tony watched them for a moment, happy for them, before he went to get ready for a Stark Industries R&D press conference.

 ***

“Tony?”

Tony held a hand up so that Bucky could see him on the other side of the piece of machinery he was working on. “Over here.”

Bucky couldn’t walk noisily if he tried, so he still managed to surprise Tony when he appeared next to him.  “Hey.  Whatcha working on?”  Tony looked up to see Bucky staring at it in interest, eyes running over all the pieces Tony had spread out on the floor next to him.

“When I make significant changes to the suit, I also need to update the machine that makes the new parts and repairs for it.  I’ve been putting it off, but after fighting those spiderbots last week I really need a way to manufacture new parts other than doing it by hand.”  Tony wiped the sweat off his forehead with his forearm. “Want to lend me a hand?”

“Sure. What should I do?”

“Can you pick this whole thing up and hold it for a while? I think I left my jack down in the garage.”

Bucky shrugged and found a good place to grip before picking it up with his left hand, balancing it with his right. “Ok, I’m good. Go.”

Tony made a mental note to update his stats on Bucky’s arm when he had a moment; clearly the Wakandans souped it up more than they let on. Grabbing the parts he needed, he slid underneath to start changing them out.  “So how are you and Steve doing?”

“Things are going well,” Bucky said. “Last night we hung out and watched movies all night.  Steve even put his arm around me.”

“Aww. Netflix and chill?”  Tony said with a grin that Bucky couldn’t see.

“Yeah.”

Surprised, Tony poked his head out from under the machine to see Bucky’s face, but from the look there Bucky had no idea what Netflix and chill meant.  “I’m happy for you.  No more punching?”

“Nah, I think Steve’s finally getting the picture.  Well, he did get punched when he put a cold can of pop against my back, but –“

“Anyone would have punched him for that,” Tony finished.  He fished around for the wrench to tighten the bolts down. “So what brings you down here to Dexter’s Laboratory?”

“Nothing in particular. Just hadn’t seen you in a bit.”

Tony’s hands stilled and he slid out from under the machine again to see Bucky smiling down at him. “Really?”

Bucky shrugged as much as he could while holding up hundreds of pounds of machinery. “Yeah.”

“Huh.” Tony wiggled back under the machine to finish up. “It’s good to see you, too, Terminator.”

“One day I’m going to watch that movie and then I’ll finally know why you call me that.”

“It’s a date.”

 

A week later Bucky was tracking Tony down in his lab again, this time with a mission. JARVIS helpfully opened the door to the lab for him, and Bucky was surprised by the wall of sound that hit him as the door opened.  Wincing, he found Tony in the center of a glowing blue hologram, schematics of…Bucky stared at it for a moment, trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together, but after a moment he gave up.  The music was making it too hard to concentrate.  He walked into Tony’s line of sight and waved a hand at his ears to get him to turn down the music.

“Hey Bucky. What’s up?” Tony didn’t hesitate in what he was doing, moving the diagrams around with a wave of his hand, enlarging some and sending others into oblivion.  Bucky looked at the dark shadows under Tony’s eyes and the number of dirty coffee mugs and empty alcohol bottles around his work space and sighed. 

“When was the last time you slept, Tony?”

“I’m sorry, am I past my bedtime, Mom?” Tony’s movements got jerky and finally he just dismissed the entire display with an irritated gesture.  He avoided Bucky’s eyes, searching the table for a bottle with something in it and came up empty.

“JARVIS, when was the last time Tony slept?” Bucky folded his arms and narrowed his eyes at Tony, who was throwing the empty bottles into the recycling with undue violence.

“Going on seventy-two hours.” JARVIS responded, sounding as disapproving as the AI could.  Tony scowled at the ceiling and muttered “traitor.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Tony shrugged him off and dumped all of the coffee cups into a sink in the corner of the lab. “I’m working and I got caught up.”

“For three days? Bullshit,” Bucky said. Four days ago they had settled in to watch the Terminator movies, which eventually turned into a makeout session and then Tony showed Bucky what Netflix and chill really meant.  Today he’d come down to drag Tony out of the lab to go see a new one that had just hit the movie theaters, but…When Tony paced by him, Bucky put a hand on his arm to make him stop moving for just a minute.  “What happened?”

Tony scrubbed a hand over his face.  Bucky leaned against the work table behind him and tugged him closer, and finally Tony rested his head on Bucky’s shoulder with a tired sigh. Bucky put his arms around him and felt him sag against him, as if now Bucky was the only thing keeping him upright. “Pepper told me she’s dating someone.”

Ah. Bucky stroked a hand down his back in what he hoped was a comforting manner. “And you’re upset?”

“Yes. No.  It’s…” Tony turned his head so that his forehead was resting against Bucky’s neck. His sigh was a warm gust on Bucky’s chest, and he felt Tony’s arms go around him as well. “I don’t deal with change well.”

“Understandable.”  Bucky wracked his brain for something to say. “If it helps, you’re not alone.  You don’t have to deal with this locked up here in your lab all by yourself.”  Tony’s only response to that was a ragged breath. “Come on, let’s get some sleep. You’ll feel better. I would know, I spent the better part of the last seventy years asleep.”

Tony snorted but raised his head.  “On days like this I usually have to drink until I pass out to get any sleep.”

Bucky put a hand on his back and half ushered, half shoved him out the door of the lab, lights going off in their wake.  “Luckily for you, I’ve been learning ways to help people relax.”

Tony rolled his shoulders uncomfortably as they went to Tony’s room.  “I don’t know if I feel like-“

“Get your mind out of the gutter and take a shower,” Bucky said, helping Tony pull off his grimy tank top and sweatpants. “I meant a massage.  You think I haven’t noticed that the first thing to pop up on my laptop whenever I try to use the internet is a YouTube page full of massage tutorials?”

 

Tony woke up ten hours later with a dim memory of Bucky kissing him on the head as he climbed of bed.  He stretched and yawned, feeling sore from sleeping so much and also feeling like he could go back to bed and sleep more, but his bladder and stomach were making demands that could no longer be ignored.   He took care of the former and put on some boxers and a shirt to take care of the latter, scratching the back of his neck and still yawning as he searched blearily for some food.   Leftover Thai food became breakfast and he shuffled into the living room to see Steve there, sneakily reading on the couch.

“Good morning,” Tony said as he fell into an armchair.

“It’s after noon,” Steve said with a smile as he looked up.

“Whatever.”  Tony started eating and cursed himself for not remembering to get coffee, but at the moment that was way too much effort.

“Rough night?”  Tony shrugged, not really interested in talking about it.  “Are you feeling better?”

“Sure,” Tony said, hoping Steve would go back to reading his book, but instead Steve put it down and sat up from where he’d been reclining. Tony sighed inwardly.

“Are we still friends, Tony?”

Now Tony sighed outwardly and put his chopsticks down.  “Really? You gotta hit me with this now? I just woke up.”

“Yeah, I’m saying it now because I feel like you are avoiding me.” 

No one said you had bad instincts, Tony thought sardonically. He crossed his arms over his chest defensively. “Fine.  No, Steve. We’re not really friends.”

Steve nodded like that was the answer he was expecting but afraid of.  He turned his book over and over in his hands, staring down at it like the cover would have answers for whatever questions were going through his head.  “Think that will ever change?”

“I don’t know.  Sometimes when things are broken, they just…stay broken.” Tony picked up his Thai and kept eating, mostly for something to do with his hands.  He really felt the need for one of Bucky’s hoodies right about now.

“What about Bucky?”

“What about Bucky?”

“Well, you and he are, you know…” Steve gestured at the couch like he knew what Tony and Bucky had done on it a few days ago.  “Involved.”

Tony shrugged uncomfortably.  “Yeah, but…I mean, you are his endgame, Steve. He loves you, he told me so.  I’m like…training wheels.  Until he’s ready.”

Steve met Tony’s eyes and the look on his face when from morose to disbelief. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Well, it’s not my best metaphor, I guess, but –“

“No, I mean, you’re not training wheels.  He doesn’t think you’re a- a means to an end, and I’m the end.  He really cares about you. He likes spending time with you.”

Tony stared.  “I care about him too, but…He’ll still choose you.”

“Are you going to make him choose?”

“No, of course not,” Tony said with a scowl.  He put the empty to-go box down and buried his head in his hands, scratching his scalp as he tried to figure out what was going on. This conversation really went in a direction he hadn’t been expecting. “I figured we would fool around for a while, and then one day it would be the last time, and then you guys would go off and be happily married centenarians.”

“Well, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, as you suggested,” Steve said, waving his book at Tony.  Tony lifted his head and squinted and saw The Ethical Slut on the cover. “And I don’t think Bucky should have to choose between us if none of us mind.  You’re good for him, I think he could be good for you, and he deserves as many people who care about him as possible.” With a satisfied air, Steve dropped his book on the coffee table in front of Tony and left, leaving Tony stunned.  He fell against the back of the chair, desperately wanting coffee so that maybe he could understand what just happened.