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Everyone and their mother loved Stevie - it was just the way things were. It had been that way even before Bucky had 'died' and Stevie had then crashed a plane into the ice in a fit of pique. Back in the day, people had loved him the way you loved a tiny, feisty little puppy; after the serum, the dames had been a lot more interested in loving him a different way. Some fellas too, but they hadn't really talked about that back then. It was just... one of those things that was supposed to remain unspoken, 'cause being queer wasn't something most people would have forgiven.

Now? Now dames and fellas both were buzzing around Stevie all the damn time, and Bucky was sure that more'n half of 'em only wanted his best friend for his body. The big lug had lots of other friends too, because once you got over the reckless bravado and tendency to give anybody with any sort of authority over him the finger, Stevie was a genuinely good guy. He messed up sometimes (a lot) and had a 'let's punch our way out' kind of mentality, but underneath was a heart of gold. Steve Rogers was a good, loyal friend who'd do just about anything to help someone in need.

Bucky had more complicated feelings about Captain America, who was just a goddamned pain in his ass. Cap was all of Steve's recklessness and willingness to pick a fight amped up by twelve. Not only that, but what was left of the Winter Soldier still pretty much hated Captain America. Hanging out with Steve when he had his Cap face on was both exhausting and terrifying.

He figured Steve sorta felt the same about his alter-ego, if not worse, so he bit his tongue and sucked it up.

But yeah, people loved Steve. Hell, most people besides him loved Cap almost as much. So when rumors started up about Howard Stark (another person he had conflicting feelings about) finally letting his kid enroll in Nick Fury's ridiculous version of superhero college, Bucky had pretty much figured that the kid would be the same. Especially since Tony was a pretty well known flirt who went after any pretty face whether it belonged to a female or a male - Bucky wasn't afraid to admit that Stevie was plenty pretty. From the warnings and teasing jokes that started getting tossed at Stevie, he wasn't the only one thinking that Tony'd probably develop a hell of a crush on his best friend.

Not that he saw that ending well. He'd never met the guy, busy being the unwilling assassin of a terrorist organization and all, but he'd heard an awful lot. Quite a bit of it had been from Howard while the ass fiddled painfully with his metal arm - and fuck Fury for making that mandatory for his enrollment - and worked on digging the Asset out of Bucky's head. Almost none of it had been complementary, and it all pointed to the kind of guy that Stevie wouldn't be much interested in even as a friend. As the whole campus waited with bated breath for the arrival of the 'new kid', more and more stories began to circulate.

Tony Stark was the first person to enroll without there being a huge fight that nearly wiped out the college beforehand, so it was sort of a Big Deal. People were fucking fascinated.

From what was going around, Tony was a loud, flashy asshole with more money than common sense. He'd been heavy into the party scene back when he'd been too young to enjoy it legally. There was a string of ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends left behind in his wake in some stories, all of them heartbroken because of the actions of a callous playboy. In other stories, there hadn't been anything romantic at all about Tony's conquests - they were all just fucking, no emotions involved at all. Everyone agreed that Tony was brilliant, but everything else was a matter of debate.

Apparently there were sex tapes that made some things a matter of public knowledge, but Bucky ignored all that when he heard about it. He had better things to focus on, like finding a way to tap into that part of him that would always be the Winter Soldier without trying to kill Captain America in the process.

Stevie wouldn't be impressed by the guy in the stories, and everyone was sure that Tony would try to change his mind about that. Steve himself just gave a mysterious smile and changed the subject whenever it came up with more tact than Bucky would have given him credit for. With everyone else poking Steve about it, Bucky mostly just left his best friend alone. He figured that if Stevie was worried about it then he could be the one to bring it up. Poor guy had enough people pestering him anyway.

Despite that mature, high road sort of attitude that he'd embraced, he knew exactly when Tony would be arriving. He also knew when he'd be most likely to run into Stevie for that first time, and he was damn sure gonna be there.

~.~.~

"Capsicle!"

Bucky might have bristled at the nickname that was clearly meant for Stevie, but he was too busy being shocked. Maybe even... vaguely disappointed? Because there was Tony Stark, newly enrolled and meeting Stevie for the first time, and things were not going the way they were supposed to. There hadn't been a moment where the new guy stopped and stared, stunned by Stevie's breathtaking (so he'd been told) looks. Tony hadn't had to scrape his jaw off the floor, hadn't tripped or wolf-whistled or anything like that when he saw Stevie.

He just lit up like a Christmas tree and called Stevie a nickname that should have been super offensive. Stevie, however, laughed and stepped forward to wrap the kid up in a bear hug. The kind of hug he usually only gave to Bucky, or maybe that Sam Wilson asshole once or twice, and what the hell was even going on? Over Stevie's shoulder he could see that Tony looked fucking delighted but not in the least bit smitten. Sure he was hugging Stevie in return, pounding on his back with what looked like a red and gold gauntlet, but there weren't hearts in his eyes or a dumbstruck look on his face.

From where Bucky was sitting, they looked like two friends greeting each other after spending quite a bit of time apart. Steve had never mentioned knowing Tony, so why... God, he was such an idiot. That had been what that stupid smile was about, and it was why his sneaky, lying-by-omission best friend hadn't seemed interested in or worried about the gossip.

They must have gotten to know each other through Howard, Bucky realized. Maybe before Stevie and Sam had come to rescue him from Hydra's clutches. That or maybe in those early days of his recovery, when Stevie hadn't been able to let Bucky leave campus without him but hadn't been allowed to be in the room when Howard fucked with Bucky's arm or his brain.

Stevie had adopted the kid, apparently, because once the hug ended he set his hands on Tony's shoulders and gave him an intense, mother hen based once over. "You haven't been eating," he accused instead of using a regular greeting like a normal person. "And how's your wrist doing? Does the gauntlet help? Did you get unpacked alright? Di--"

"Hey, okay, wow. Let's slow down the questions, mom," Tony interrupted, looking way too happy about the way Stevie was smothering him. Though he guessed with Howard as a parent Bucky understood why that might be. "One, I have been eating. Or drinking - smoothies!" he added hastily, throwing his hands up into the air. "Smoothies. J and I came up with this awesome formula that keeps me all full of nutrients without me having to stop working. I also eat cheese - probably too much, but it's yummy. So I'm fine, been working out, gonna be almost as ripped as you soon. B, wrist is fine - achey but fine. As a subset of two, the gauntlet is awesome - of course it is, I invented it after all - and helps a whole bunch. The applications are pretty frigging mind-boggling, and I can't wait to get my hands on... uh. What was the last one? Oh! I'm sort of unpacked? Howard found out I'm in a regular dorm and he's pitching a fit about it to Fury even though I have my own room. So I only got about halfway done before that happened and I stopped just in case Howard gets his way." Bucky was glad that Tony stopped and shrugged then; it gave his dizzy mind a chance to try to process and catch up.

Stevie was frowning now, on the edge of putting his Cap face on. "Where does Howard think you oughta be if not in a dorm room?"

"Eh. You know how he gets. He was talking about a tower or something when I sort of snuck the fuck out of dodge. I'd really rather stay in the dorm, so I hope Howard loses. If anyone can tell him 'no' it's Auntie Nicky, sooo..." Bucky choked on his own spit at this new nickname, wondering if Fury knew about it and how the kid was still alive if he did. It was only then that Tony seemed to realize he was there, darting a quick glance his way before turning his attention back to Stevie... only for his eyes to zero right back in on Bucky and hold there. "Hey. Steve. Cap. Capsicle. Captain my captain. Stevie-kins."

"What, Tony?" Stevie sounded amused, and when he looked over at Bucky his eyes were full of gleeful mischief.

"Who's that?"

"Oh, him?" Now his best friend was the picture of innocence, and the little shit was up to something. "That's Buck. Say hi, Bucky."

Rolling his eyes, Bucky pulled his metal hand out of the front pocket of his hoodie to wave; it was better to get that out in the open right away. Howard was supposed to keep his trap shut about it, and about Bucky's past, so Tony might not know yet. Bucky'd rather he see it right away than hear some of the stupider rumors going around campus. "Hey," he greeted with a finger waggle that caught the light, then cocked his head to the right when he heard Tony whimper. What the fuck?

"Hi. Hey. Wow. You are... ummmm. This is... this is Bucky? You didn't mention..." Bucky watched as Tony swallowed hard, then gestured toward him with one hand. "All that. You mentioned like, none of it. There is... there's just so much there that you should have told me about. I mean, hi! I'm Tony, Tony Stark, it's really nice to meet yo--"

Bucky blinked when Stevie caught Tony around the waist and hauled him back when he tried to step forward to shake hands. "Nope. You can do your awkward flirting later. Right now we gotta go set Howard straight. See ya Buck!"

Awkward flirting? What?

Bewildered and not quite sure what the hell had just happened, Bucky could only watch as Stevie dragged the kid off. Tony watched him and made honest to God grabby hands at him until the pair of them rounded the corner, leaving Bucky feeling like he'd just been hit by a train.

Tony was here but not in love with Stevie. Stevie was friends with the guy but had never mentioned it to Bucky or anyone. There was something going on with Tony's wrist - hand maybe? - that made it necessary to wear some weird metal glove, and he looked too young and too sweet for more than half the stories Bucky.had been hearing. Stories that he'd make sure stopped now, because any friend of Stevie's was (sadly, in the case of Sam Wilson) a friend of his. To top it all off, Bucky got the feeling that Tony maybe had formed a crush on somebody as soon as he’d arrived, which was... flattering, he guessed? It had been a few decades and a couple assassinations since anyone had seemed interested in him that way.

Things on campus were probably about to get real interesting.

~.~.~

"Bucky!"

It was hard not to sigh as he closed the book he'd been reading - there was no way he'd be able to work on his assignments now. Not with Tony rapidly approaching, bright eyed and... dressed in a suit? One that actually looked real good when paired with the eye-catching scarlet and gold of his gauntlet. The boots too - Tony was wearing the Iron Man boots regularly now, so he must have figured out the calibration issues that had sent him flying into more walls than was good for Bucky's heart the last few weeks. "Hey," he greeted, sitting back in his chair. "You look fancy."

"Yeah. Howard says I have to go to this stupid party tonight," Tony said, a hint of pink in his cheeks. "Only reason I'm doing it is 'cause Steve's coming too."

"You're going with Stevie?" he asked. He was aiming for casual disinterest, but he was pretty sure he'd missed that mark by a lot. 'Cause yeah, the two denied they were dating and Bucky was pretty sure they weren't... but whenever people speculated in his hearing, Bucky thought about it. He thought about it and pretended that thinking about it didn't have him wanting to punch his best friend right in the kisser. It was a weird feeling, at least when the Winter Soldier and Captain America weren't front and center.

"Noooo?" Tony dragged the word out for several seconds, looking at Bucky like he thought Bucky was crazy. "I'm going by myself. Unless you wanna tag along, handsome," he said, winking and everything. Bucky snorted and rolled his eyes before he crossed his arms over his chest. "Which I guess you don't wanna do."

Bucky thought he detected just a bit of disappointment in Tony's voice, and it made him feel like a bit of a jerk. Tony had never been anything but nice to him. He'd been sweet even, not intimidated like everyone else seemed to be by what was left of the Winter Soldier. If Tony really wanted him to go to the stupid party…

Before he could offer, the guy was moving on. "Steve's gonna be there 'cause Howard asked him. Every once in awhile he likes to remind people that he knows the great Captain America. He's kind of an ass."

"Little bit," Bucky said. He felt a little bad for agreeing, but from the beaming smile Tony sent him he guessed he’d actually stumbled on the correct resoponse. "Is it really going to be as terrible as it sounds?"

"Probably, Maybe worse. So I figured I'd come say hi, maybe see if I could get a kiss to carry me through the awfulness to come. Even a peck on the cheek would leave me smiling for days if it came from you." Tony leaned against the table with a wink, probably trying to come across as suave. Instead, he rested his hand on top of a book that had been balanced pretty precariously. It fell and Tony almost went down with it. He caught himself, blushing noticeably now, clearly embarrassed. Bucky felt for him, found himself wanting to wrap Tony up in a hug and tell him to stop trying so damn hard. "Uh. I'm gonna. You know." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, not quite meeting Bucky's eye. "Bounce. Maybe crawl in a hole and hope to die. See ya later Bucky-babe."

He was gone before Bucky could offer to give him that peck on the cheek. It was quiet enough to return his attention to his assignments, but Bucky still struggled to focus. Instead he was thinking about the party, how Stevie got to be there and he didn't, and about how good Tony had looked in that tux.

~.~.~

"You're like a candy bar," Tony said over lunch one day. He'd plopped down with Bucky and Stevie a little while ago and proceeded to stare. Bucky didn't like it, but only because the guy had been still and silent the whole time. He liked Tony talkative and awkward, fidgeting so much he could probably power a small country with all that energy. For a second he was pleased as punch that Tony had said something and he shot the guy a smile... then what he'd actually said penetrated.

"... what?" Tony was grinning at him, and he was pretty damn sure that strange thought had been directed his way.

"You're half sweet and half nuts."

Bucky could only blink, because what the fuck? Tony was watching him expectantly, eagerly, but he just didn't know how to respond. In the end he wound up laughing. A real laugh too, not the fake one he used on most people when he needed some breathing room. Tony was such a dork, but he wasn't wrong either, at least about the nuts part, which just made the whole joke genuinely funny. He was waiting for Tony to start laughing too, but when he looked over at the guy he wasn't even smiling. Tony looked pale, stricken even, before his face flooded with color. That put Bucky's laugh on hold real quick, concern overtaking his amusement.

"Tony--"

"Sorry. I gotta.... I gotta be away. Bye."

With that he was practically sprinting away, leaving Bucky staring and bewildered. "Why's he always leaving like that?" he wondered aloud, looking to Stevie. His best friend gave him a look that suggested he was the stupidest man on the face of the planet, then snorted in disgust before he got up and went after Tony, calling the guy's name as he went.

"What?" Bucky asked his empty table, then sniffed his armpits just to make sure. He was pretty sure he didn't smell, so the reason behind his sudden abandonment was a mystery. He thought about going after Tony, but Stevie had it covered. The asshole.

He didn't really want to examine why the idea of his best friend comforting Tony instead of letting Bucky do it made him want to punch Stevie in the face.

~.~.~

Tony had been avoiding him, and Bucky didn't appreciate it. There had been weeks of sudden appearances, interesting conversations and really awkward flirting on Tony's part. Bucky still didn't really get why Tony had been doing all that - Tony had met enough other students by then to have realized why Bucky was probably the absolute worst choice when it came to crushes. First Bucky had thought maybe Tony just did that with everyone, but when he'd mentioned the thought to Stevie his best friend had slapped him upside the head.

That had triggered a really fun fight that Bucky remembered like he was watching it through frosted glass. Stevie had been partly in uniform at the time, and what was left of the Winter Soldier had not appreciated Captain America's choice of self expression.

Whatever the reason - because Tony couldn't really like him, not like that, not when Bucky didn't even come close to deserving a guy like him - Tony had just kept showing up. Bucky had really liked it when he did, even if he wouldn't admit to anyone but himself that he was developing a major crush on Tony. By all rights, he knew that Tony Stark should end up with Steve Rogers as a boyfriend. Everyone fucking loved Stevie, and Stevie was the only one that Bucky thought might deserve Tony. Even if the thought of them together made him want to destroy everything in sight, they would have made sense.

So he hadn't let himself hope, hadn't let himself respond to Tony's endearingly lame come-ons. He had just enjoyed the guy's presence and the way he talked, the way he brightened a room just by entering it. Bucky had basked in the attention and done his best to be a friend, waiting for the painful, inevitable day when Tony's gaze turned to Stevie. They were the two heroes of the story - Bucky had only ever been a supporting role and plot-point in Stevie's arc.

Bucky maybe enjoyed his 'Storytelling' elective an awful lot.

Didn't make it any less true, the way that Tony and Stevie would probably end up together. Bucky had tried his hardest not to get used to the way Tony looked at him, the way Tony would give him casual touches that warmed him from the inside out. He'd done his best not to notice the way Tony seemed to orbit around him or the fact that when Bucky was in the room Tony seemed to forget about everyone else. Bucky had really thought that he'd kept himself from getting addicted to Tony's presence in his life.

From the cold black hole that Tony left in his absence, he hadn't done as good a job as he'd thought.

Tony didn't show up anymore, didn't 'just happen' to be anywhere that Bucky was. Whenever Bucky caught sight of him, Tony was already leaving - fleeing, more like, which hurt. Tony had never been scared of him, not even when he dropped into a more Winter Soldier frame of mind. To have him running away like he was afraid gutted Bucky, wounded him more than he would have thought possible. No matter what he did, he couldn't manage to get the drop on Tony - he blamed Jan, Kamala and Tony's other social media savvy friends for that. One of them always seemed to be around, and probably warned Tony whenever he was close.

Stevie was no help either. He wouldn't help Bucky find Tony, wouldn't pass him a message, wouldn't even let Bucky know when he was seeing Tony or tell him where they were when they hung out. He also swore up and down that he and Tony weren't dating, and Bucky hated that he believed it. If Tony and Stevie had wound up together - the way they were supposed to, the way everyone knew they were meant to - Bucky could have moved on. It would have stung like hell for a good long while, but he could have handled it. He would have sucked it up, congratulated his friends and shoved his feelings for Tony into a deep, dark hole where nobody would ever find them.

Bucky could have learned to be okay with Tony and Stevie being together. Learning to live with the fact that Tony either hated him or was scared of him was harder. Maybe even impossible.

He didn't know what to do, how to figure out what had happened. He couldn't fix it until he knew what he'd done wrong, and he had no fucking clue where he'd fucked up. Stevie wouldn't tell him that either, just gave him a sort of pitying look and told him to figure his shit out. Bucky was trying, dammit, he just... he just didn't understand.

He missed Tony more than he missed his left arm. It was a constant feeling that sent an echo of loss through him, and he really wished that someone would tell him where he'd fucked up. Bucky wanted Tony back, and he didn't want Tony to end up with Stevie. If Tony would just give him one more chance, Bucky would do all the things he'd talked himself out of doing before. He'd flirt back, he'd let Tony know he was interested in being more than friends. Bucky wanted to give Tony all the hugs he hadn't given him before, wanted to play with Tony's fingers and press their feet together while they studied at the same table in the library.

If Tony would just stop running away, Bucky would sweep the guy off his fucking feet. Tony wouldn't know what hit him when Bucky finally got the idiot to stay in the same room as him for more than two seconds. If someone would just give him a tiny break, if Tony would give him one more chance and tell Bucky what he'd done wrong, Bucky was sure he could get it right. He just... he just needed Tony to talk to him again.

~.~.~

In a strange twist of fate, it was the Winter Soldier that brought Tony back into Bucky's life.

Well, it was the Winter Soldier's lingering urge to beat Captain America's face bloody that did it. He'd been doing better at containing it, he really had - Bucky could even train with Cap without losing control. Long as he remembered who was underneath the flag costume, he was fine. That part of him would rumble and grumble in protest in the back of his mind, but he could keep the Winter Soldier confined to only doing that. So long as he was focused, Buck could spar with Captain America.

Except he hadn't been all that focused, too busy sulking over having gone two whole weeks without a single word from Tony. And yeah, maybe he was also nursing a pretty strong batch of resentment towards Stevie - so sue him. Stevie got to see the guy, spend time with him, and he wouldn't even help Bucky figure out why Tony had suddenly cut himself out of Bucky's life.

In retrospect, Bucky shouldn't have been sparring with Stevie at all that day, and especially not when he was Captain America. But he had, and then he was sure he'd caught sight of Tony from the corner of his eye, and he'd dropped his guard. Cap had gotten in a really good hit to his face, and Winter saw red.

Bucky didn't remember much of what happened after that - mostly he knew that it had taken Cap, Sam and Rhodes to take him down. In the process, they'd had to fuck up his metal arm pretty good. The pain he could handle, since the damn thing had always hurt, but the loss of fine motor control was a lot harder to ignore. He didn't want Howard anywhere near the thing, not again - never again, he'd promised himself the last time Howard had been fucking around in the innards of his arm. Bucky didn't know who else to trust with it, not with Tony so solidly pretending he didn't exist, so he just... didn't deal with it. He pretended the damage had been superficial, started wearing long sleeves with a glove on and stopped carrying things in his left hand.

On the sly - or so he had thought - he'd been taking out books on mechanics and engineering and the like out of the library. It hurt like a son of a bitch, but Bucky started doing a bit of tinkering of his own. He had managed to get the sparking to stop completely, but at one point his hand had been stuck in a fist for a few really uncomfortable hours before he fixed it. Still, at least he hadn't had to go to Howard, and at least nobody knew how bad it was. Fury would bench him or force him to see Howard if he knew, after all, and anyone else might feel compelled to tell the director-slash-dean about his injury. Even Stevie didn't know.

That was why he wasn't expecting anyone to find him late one night in the campus workshop. He had his arm opened up on the table in front of him, a screwdriver in his mouth and a pair of rubber-tipped tweezers in his right hand (he was trying to straighten out some of the wires, which was... fun) when he heard someone say his name. He startled hard enough to knock his stool over and do something horrible with the tweezers, swearing colorfully as the pain hit him hard. Bucky was pretty damn sure a few parts had fallen out of his arm, and now he might have/em> to go to Howard, and fuck but that hurt.

Bucky felt hands, familiar if still unidentified, gently guiding him until he found himself carefully forced to sit down. He knew he was sweating bullets, and he had a feeling that the high-pitched whine in his ears was actually coming from his throat. The pain was all-encompassing, bright and hard and relentless--

And then it was gone.

The difference was enough to send him into a kind of shock. It wasn't only the lack of that new, blinding pain - all of the old aches and complaints were gone too. If he hadn't been staring right at his arm Bucky might even have thought it had been taken off. But it was right there, and when he felt his shoulder with his other hand, he could tell it was still attached, so he didn't really know what was going on. What the fuck?

"It doesn't hurt," he said through numb lips, blinking as he tried to move his metal fingers.

"It's not supposed to hurt, you fucking moron," came a scathing retort. It took a second to move his eyes, but when he did it was to see Tony, perched on the arm of the ratty-ass couch a few of the students had dragged into the shop. Bucky's arm was actually in his lap, and he was working on it with agile, gentle fingers despite the impressive scowl on his face. "You're supposed to turn of the goddamned receptors before you start fucking with it. If you're going to try to fix it yourself instead of coming to me, you really should know at least that much."

"It always hurt when Howard fixed it." Bucky sighed as relief began to displace that sense of shock, and he even felt his eyes flutter shut. He knew he shouldn't, but he still let himself lean to the left so he could rest against Tony. God, he hadn't been close enough to smell Tony in weeks, hadn't even known he'd missed it until he had cologne, coffee and motor oil filling his nostrils in a mix that was pure Tony Stark. Another sigh escaped him, and he felt his body relax even more. Since it was the first time his arm hadn't hurt in about seventy years, he forgave himself for it. "Does he know about receptor thingies? 'Cause it always fuckin' hurt."

"... he knows," Tony said, voice even tighter with anger. "And I'm gonna punch him right in his face the next time I see him. Fucking bastard. Now shut up and let me fix the mess you made. Shit, Bucky-babe... what'd you do to yourself?"

Bucky just shrugged and turned his head, nuzzling Tony's side. "Dunno. Tried to fix it - Stevie messed it up during training a couple days ago."

"A couple--" Tony bit off whatever was coming next, and then it was his turn to sigh. "Shut up," he ordered again, weaker this time. Bucky obeyed and let himself sort of... drift. It was just so nice not to be in any pain at all, and to have that happen while he was with Tony, with Tony's scent and warmth wrapped around him was just really fucking amazing.

"Missed you," he whispered at one point - at least he thought he did. Tony didn't react or say anything, so maybe he just imagined letting the sentiment fall from his lips.

Bucky was half-asleep by the time Tony finally, quietly, said 'done' and brought the receptors back online. Suddenly he could feel his arm again, and he went tense and alert as he waited for the usual pain to kick in.... but it never came. He waited while Tony did just a little more fiddling, then closed up his arm, but he never felt anything more than the feedback that let him 'feel' the warmth of Tony's thighs and his hands against the arm. He could feel Tony's fingers, feel what they were doing, but there was no pain.

"It still doesn't hurt," he whispered when Tony finished, hardly daring to believe it.

"Uh, no? Buck, I'm done - I fixed what damage Steve did and the mess you made too. There's no reason for it to still be hurting." He looked over and met Bucky's eyes for the first time, and God, Bucky had missed his stupid face so fucking much. "... Buck? Did it... did your arm always hurt?" The question was so soft and sweet, and Tony was right there, so Bucky went against his natural instinct to lie about that source of weakness. He nodded, and Tony growled at him. "It hurt - it hurt all the fucking time and you didn't tell me?!" Tony sounded pissed, and Bucky kind of wanted to edge away... but not as much as he wanted to wrap his arms around Tony so he couldn't disappear again.

He settled for staying close and shrugging, looking at his hand instead of at Tony.

"You are the stupidest fucking-- Buck! Did you think I wouldn't help you? Did you think I wouldn't fix it? Hello!! I'm Tony Stark! I fix shit! It's what I do! When I lost my hand--"

"You lost your hand?" Bucky demanded, sullen mood broken by the need to know more. Despite having no idea what had happened, his eyes still went to Tony's hand, the one that he'd never, ever seen without that gauntlet on... and suddenly that made a lot more sense. "What happened? Who hurt you?" As he spoke he reached for that beautiful piece of metalwork, grabbing hold of it with his flesh hand to give a gentle squeeze. "I could probably fuck them up if you wanted - Stevie probably wouldn't like it if I offered to kill them. I would though. I would totally kill any asshole who hurt you."

"That's... I... you would?" Tony's voice was faint, but Bucky took heart in the way Tony's metal fingers tangled with his flesh ones.

"Duh," Bucky said softly, shrugging and looking away from Tony again. "'S why I been wanting to kick my own ass the past two weeks. Had to have hurt ya for you to just up'n disappear the way you did. Dunno what I did, exactly, but I'm sorry. Now who hurt you and can I maim or kill them?"

"Uhhhh... it was an accident. Science-related accident, and you definitely can't kill Howard before I punch him. Probably shouldn't kill him at all, actually," Tony said, sounding a little bit dazed. Bucky, meanwhile, was making plans to have words with his 'old friend' and with Stevie to boot because he had to know what happened and he hadn't said anything. The fucker. "You'd really... Buck, I kind of thought you hated me. That's why I... I thought you'd like it better. If I wasn't, you know, around. Making you uncomfortable with my dumb... everything. I mean, you never... you didn't flirt back ever, and sometimes you even, you know, laughed when I used pick up lines--"

"I thought those were jokes," Bucky interrupted, some of their interactions suddenly making a lot more sense. "Fuck. Tony, baby, I would never laugh at... what?"

Tony was staring at him with wide eyes, fingers convulsively clutching at Bucky's hard enough that it would have hurt if it weren't for the knock-off serum running through his veins. His face was flushed, lips parted in a show of surprise, and Bucky really, really wanted to kiss him. "You called me baby," Tony squeaked before Bucky could do just that.

"I did?"

"Yeah."

"Oh. Meant it," he offered. He sounded shy, which he hated until Tony gave him a shy, sweet smile in return.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I never..." Bucky paused, trying to gather his thoughts, then shrugged. "Look. You were supposed to like Stevie. Everybody was sure that you'n him would, you know. Be a couple. He's the only one who comes close to, uh, deserving you, and he's my best friend, so I just... I figured I shouldn't get in... the... way?" Wow, Tony had gone from pleased and flattered to pissed off again real quick.

"Let me get this straight. I was flirting my goddamned ass off because I was so gone on you that it wasn't even funny, and you were just waiting to hand me over to your best friend?! What the fucking hell Bucky?" Okay, yeah, he could see where that sounded really bad and like he was a huge asshole, but…

"Good things don't happen to me," he muttered, letting go of Tony's hand so he could leave if he wanted. "There's always a catch when they do. I got away from Hydra and got Stevie back, but part of me wants to kill him. I get to go to college, but I gotta fight'n Fury can pull me from the program whenever he wants. I got two arms, but one of 'em hurts all the damn time. Well... before. Guess it won't now. I thought... I thought that there was a catch. I thought if I... if you knew how I... I thought once you knew how I felt, you'd realize you could do better, and there ain't none better than Stevie. I didn't realize the catch was that I'd drive you away while I tried to keep from getting hurt when you left."

There was a long silence, one where Tony didn't get up and leave but he didn't grab hold of Bucky's hand again either. He felt like a piece of shit, which he deserved, and he was sure Tony would probably start avoiding him again, which he also deserved. He wasn't expecting Tony to suddenly slide into his lap, sitting sideways, and wrap his arms around Bucky's neck. When that was what happened, Bucky was pretty fucking sure he was either dreaming or delusional, but that didn't stop him from putting his arms around Tony both to keep him secure and just to keep him close.

"You're fucking ridiculous," Tony said, looking up into his eyes.

"Yeah."

"I am my own person. I get to decide who I want to be with - not you or the rest of the student body, or Fury or Howard or even fate. I get to decide that. Nobody can take those kinds of choices away from me, Bucky, and it makes me really upset that you kinda tried. Your reasons make a fucked up kind of sense, but I'm still pissed."

"Don't blame ya," he said, voice a bit gruffer than usual. "Didn't think about it like that 'til I said it out loud and then I wanted to punch myself again."

"No punching yourself. And no being all stoic and shit when you're hurting either. No keeping it to yourself and sneaking away at ungodly hours of the morning to try and fix things yourself. Tell me or Steve or somebody. It kills me to think that you've been in pain this whole time and I didn't even know. I want to kill Howard for not... but he's my father, so I guess I'll just do the punching thing." Warmth spread through his limbs at the idea that Tony wanted to go after Howard for him, and his stomach did a few pleasant flips.

"Prolly oughta tell ya not to do that," he said, daring to let one thumb stroke Tony's side through the shirt he was wearing. It made Tony shiver and give a soft, encouraging noise from the back of his throat so Bucky kept right on doing it. "But I don't like Howard much and Stevie'd be mad if I popped him one for whatever happened to your hand, so punch away baby. Can I watch?"

Tony's cheeks were tinged with pink as he slid one hand into Bucky's hair, and Bucky thought both developments were fan-fucking-tastic. "Yeah," he said, a bit breathless. "You can watch. So... you don't hate me."

"Nope." Bucky made sure to pop the p extra loud which made Tony laugh. "Not even a little. I think you're pretty damn swell, Tony. Missed you like crazy when you weren't around. Stevie kept hittin' me too, which wasn't any kind of fun."

"He's kind of protective to the point where it can be super annoying, but he's still one of the best friends I ever had. And I guess I can't really blame him, since he knows Howard and my mom and stuff, and he thinks they're neglectful which is... I don't know. Doesn't bother me mostly anymore, but it bugs Steve. Oh, plus he met my last boyfriend, Ty, and they, uh. They really didn't get along. Steve though he was an asshole and maybe a little bit abusive--"

Tony looked torn between delight and irritation when Bucky let out a growl. He didn't know who the hell that Ty person was, but he sure as shit was gonna ask Stevie. Maybe he didn't actually assassinate people anymore, but if he didn't like what he heard there wasn't anything saying he couldn't scare the shit of the asshole.

"Oh my God. I am not a damsel in distress!" Tony practically shouted, smacking Bucky's chest with his gauntlet - it almost hurt, so Bucky flinched back before pouting up at Tony. "Oh no - don't even, Bucky-babe. I'm not a damsel and I can handle my stuff myself. If I need help I'll... okay, I'll try to remember to ask for it. Not always so good at that, but I'll try since I'm still really pissed off at you for not coming to me about your arm. You can though, you know? I'll do a much better job at fixing it than Howard did. I could probably upgrade it too - I kinda learned a lot about advanced prosthetics in the past year, you know? So you should let me. I promise it won't hurt," he said, his eyes searching Bucky's own. His fingers, which had been playing with Bucky's hair, slid down to his cheek instead.

Bucky shivered as Tony's fingernails scratched gently through the stubble there - that felt a lot better than he would have thought. "Yeah. Okay. I can do that," he said, feeling dumb and drunk off Tony's presence. "Absolutely. Just... you can ask me for help too. If you want. Say - do you have any fancy parties coming up?"

"Mmm," Tony's contented hum probably had a lot more to do with the way he was trailing his fingers down Bucky's neck than Bucky's question. Rolling his eyes, Bucky gave the man a quick pinch on the side. "Hey!"

"'M tryin' to ask you out, Tony. Could you mebbe pay attention while I do?"

"What? You're... oh! Uh. Fancy parties. Uhm. No? Wow, I'm really disappointed by that which is a complete and total first for me because I hate those damn things. I'd love to see you in a suit though," he said, hunger briefly flaring to life in his eyes. "That'd be just... uh. But there isn't one for quite a while. Are you..." Tony paused, seeming to wrestle with his disappointment. "Are you not going to ask me out until the next one? Because I'm not gonna lie, that would seriously fucking suck."

"No I'm not gonna wait 'til then, dummy," he said, smoothing both hands up and then down Tony's sides. "Just like seeing you all gussied up is all. You wanna go on a date with me? It'd be less fancy and more burgers and milkshakes, but we'd both be there and I think it'd be a lot of fun. Plus I might get to kiss ya at the end of it," he added, waggling his brows suggestively. That wiped the dazed look off Tony's face just like he'd hoped and set Tony to laughing instead. "So you wanna?"

"Only if you promise to kiss me before our date ends. And my milkshake has to be chocolate with just a little bit of strawberry in it. Yours too, if you want any kisses after dinner. I am not kissing anyone who has banana milkshake breath or something no matter how much I like them." Tony paused and ducked his head, then just about killed Bucky when he looked up from underneath those criminally long lashes of his. "But yeah. I'd love to go out on a date with you, if you're really sure you want to. I'm not--"

"I'm sure, you're awesome, and we're gonna have the best time. I know a nice diner that's got an arcade a few doors down; how 'bout I take you both places on Saturday?"

Tony's smile was bright enough to light up the whole room, and the way he bounced a few times in Bucky's lap was great for a couple different reasons. "An arcade too? You'll spoil me, Bucky-babe."

"Kinda the point."

"Does that mean you'll win me lots of prizes?" Tony teased, batting his lashes in a way that made Bucky want to promise him the world.

"I'll do my best, anyway. I think you oughta try'n win me some stuff too. You'll probably be better than me at most of the games. 'Cept for skee ball - I could kick your ass at skee ball any day of the week."

"You think so, huh? Fine - it is on. I'm gonna show you how it's really done. By the way, I think you might have missed the hint earlier about kissing, so I'm gonna try again. You should totally kiss me like, right now. I don't wanna wait until Saturday."

Bucky could absolutely get on board with that. Never letting his fingers lose contact with Tony, he ran his flesh hand upward, moving over Tony's side, chest and neck until he could cup Tony's chin in his palm. He'd deny forever that he was shaking a little bit - he wasn't nervous, just excited. Bucky wanted so badly for this to go right; he'd curl up in a ball and die if Tony decided not to date him after all on account of his kissing technique. He watched as Tony's tongue darted out to moisten his lower lip, then dragged his thumb over that same path.

Heart pounding and stomach doing enthusiastic somersaults, Bucky leaned in and caught Tony's mouth with his own. For long moments, the kiss remained a chaste press of lips - it was still one of the best that Bucky had ever had. Then Tony made a soft, eager noise and slid his hand to the back of Bucky's neck, and it was unreal how much better that made the kiss. By the time Tony tipped his head to the left just so and turned the kiss deeper, sweeter, Bucky was putty in his hands. He was more than happy to let Tony take complete control and groaned softly when Tony shifted so he was straddling Bucky's lap.

It was Tony's turn to moan when Bucky grabbed hold of his hip with his metal hand and squeezed, flesh fingers moving to Tony's hair and tugging carefully on the silky locks. He didn't know how long they sat there making out, but it was probably the best way to lose time that he'd ever encountered. Eventually the kisses went from heated and passionate to playful and brief. After a few last sweet brushes of Tony's mouth against his, Tony gave a soft sigh and pulled away, head finding its way to Bucky's shoulder. In turn he pressed his lips - which were throbbing pleasantly and were probably kiss-bruised - to the crown of Tony's head.

Another considerable chunk of time passed in silence, both of them breathing in sync. It was nice, comfortable, warm... it was perfect, and Bucky vowed to himself that he was going to do his absolute best not to fuck this up. Against all expectations, he'd gotten the guy and he was never letting Tony go.

~.~.~


Everyone and their mother loved Stevie - it was just the way things were. The sun rose in the east, water was wet, and Steve Rogers was a lovable son of a bitch. Dames and fellas both buzzed around him like bees, something Bucky and Tony teased him about all the time. Stevie laughed it all off and focused most of his attention on jumping out of airplanes without parachutes and picking fights with the villains Fury was hoping to 'rehabilitate' at the school when they were being awful. Bucky was pretty sure he'd never really gotten over losing Peggy, and it was gonna take someone real special to turn his head again.

The students and professors - probably even Fury and Howard - had been sure that Tony Stark would be the one to do it. They'd thought Tony was loud, flashy and prone to falling in love with every pretty face that passed him by. Bucky was really fucking lucky that everyone had mostly been wrong about that. Because while Stevie had a real pretty face, Bucky was sure his own was more 'ruggedly handsome' if anything. Tony loved his scruff and pouted like a dork whenever he shaved it off to start fresh. His fella was loud and flashy for sure, but he was also scary smart, oddly sweet and endearingly geeky. Tony was an amazing guy, and even the Winter Soldier liked Iron Man.

Captain America was still a little trickier, but Bucky mostly had a handle on that situation. With Tony's superhero self on the scene, Winter was far more focused on keeping him safe than beating the shit out of Cap. It was a much better balance, enough so that Fury usually had them all working together. Bucky didn't mind that one bit.

For a long time, no one really believed that Tony was dating Bucky instead of Steve. A good portion of the student body even accused Tony of using Bucky as some kind of beard to hide the fact that he and Steve were doing the do. It was a lot of fun to have hot and heavy makeout sessions in as many public places as they could manage to show those idiots how wrong they were. That ended when Fury caught them exchanging blow jobs in the stacks at the library and demanded they stop. With Bucky's future at the school at stake, they obeyed and only got freaky in public when they went out to a club or were forced to make an appearance at one of Howard's fancy parties. They were a terrible influence on each other, and Bucky hoped that never changed.

Stevie wasn't impressed with their antics, at least not where anyone could see. In private he found it all hilarious and supported their relationship completely. He was happy for both of them, had even confided that while the rest of the school had been sure Tony would fall in love with Stevie, he'd been damn sure that Tony would fall head over heels for Bucky. There'd been a whole plan, apparently, one Bucky had consistently fucked up, so Stevie was just glad he'd finally gotten his shit together and gotten his guy in the end.

Bucky, meanwhile, was more thankful than he could say that everyone had been so wrong about Tony Stark.