"Why do you have an arm?" That was not the important question. Tony knew that wasn't the important question, but honestly, the sight of Natasha Romanoff, streaked with dirt and mud and what was probably dried blood had rendered him incapable of thinking about what he should be asking her. Like what the hell she was doing in his compound. She had left the Avengers in Germany, sided with Cap, and no one had seen her since.
Or maybe they had. She was blonde now. Maybe his team had seen her and just hadn't recognized her.
"I need you to look at it. Figure out how it works." Tony knew he was lucky to get that much of an answer. She looked exhausted, but Tony knew her. Knew her almost as well as anyone except maybe Clint. If she didn't want to tell him anything, then Natasha wouldn't tell him anything. She looked at Tony, meeting his eyes evenly, and Tony cocked his head, his eyes searching hers until the faint shaking of her arms where she was holding the metal arm caught his attention.
He gestured with the screwdriver in his hand, nodding to his work table as he did so. "I'll look at it. I make no promises otherwise." Natasha let out the breath she had apparently been holding, carrying the arm over to the table, and set it down gingerly. For a moment, she sagged, her hands pressed against the table, her head bowed. and Tony wanted to ask what had happened. Wanted to ask about whatever battle she and hers had clearly been through.
Instead, he said, "There's a spare bunk just past the conference room. Not much, but there's a bed. You need rest." Tony forced himself to look away from her, down at the arm that just like her, looked like it had seen better days. It was an easy thing to let his attention be taken completely by the arm, though, and he was already focused on what he might need to do to figure this thing out, but he caught Natasha's nod out of the corner of his eyes before she stepped back, heading for the door.
"I like your hair," Tony said, lifting his eyes to smirk at her and she rolled her eyes at him, just a little, just almost like old times. Then he was alone in his lab with a metal arm.
A Russian-made metal arm. That was so obvious he didn't even need to tear it apart to get to the inner workings. Honestly, any other day, any other time, any other owner, and Tony would have killed for the chance to get his hands on decades old Soviet tech. It was fascinating they way they had made things that shouldn't have worked actually work, but this was not a different day or time or owner, and the second Tony really thought about it, the second he had really had time to complete discount that maybe Natasha had just had a metal arm lying around after her days as a Russian agent, he knew.
He knew exactly who the arm belonged to.
He recognized his own handiwork in severing it, after all.
He swallowed hard, covering the arm with an old dust cloth just so he could be in the room and not look at it, not be reminded of that fight in Siberia, but after that was done, he left the room, slamming the door shut behind him, and headed deeper into the compound. Up to the top floor, up to a room that used to have signs of life in it, little things Pepper had left behind that...well, she had taken those when she had left for good this time, and now the room was just cold and quiet.
"Did you need anything, sir?" Friday said as the lights in the room came up, chasing the shadows away but doing nothing about the chill that had settled in Tony's bones after Siberia and never gone away. Tony shook his head before realizing that the disembodied AI couldn't see him.
"No. You can go offline for the weekend, Friday. I don't need anything." That wasn't entirely true. He needed sleep. Food. To not think about the arm in his lab, but that weighed on him more than it should have, and even as he showered and grabbed food out of his mini-fridge, he couldn't shake thoughts of the arm out of his head. He sat on the edge of the bed, but sleep wasn't going to come, no matter how much his exhaustion was weighing him down.
Tony had a project now, one that was niggling at the back of his mind, daring him to try and forget about it, and there was no hope of him focusing on anything else, no matter how much he wanted to. He finally forced himself to his feet and walked to the desk along the far wall, the desk that used to be covered with designs and plans and at least three laptops on any given day that would end up spare parts eventually, but was bare now. Tony had trashed everything the day after getting back from Siberia. He sat in the desk chair and dug in one of the drawers for some kind of paper, finally pulling out an old notebook.
Tony sat there for three days, working on this arm, on schematics and plans and ideas for something better, more useful, than something the Soviets built after the war. He only moved to shower, eat, and take care of his basic necessities, then he was right back in that chair. Working on the arm. Like he had promised Natasha.
Halfway through the fourth day, the burner phone that Steve had sent him rang.
Tony stared at it until it stopped, then he went right back to that notebook, but five minutes later, the phone rang again. Then ten minutes later. All while Tony watched the phone until it stopped ringing. Then another fives minutes after the last unanswered call, Tony finally picked up the phone and said, "If you want me to build your sidekick a new arm, come and ask me yourself," before Steve could say a word on the other end.
There was a long pause, and Tony was almost certain Steve had hung up, but then the one voice Tony did not want to hear said, "Steve doesn't know."
Tony's breath caught, any witty response dying before he could say it as his blood went cold, and he could feel anger boiling inside him. That and the urge to vomit and to hit something or someone, possibly both at the same time. Tony clenched his jaw, trying to swallow enough to find his voice again.
"Stark?" The voice - Barnes - didn't sound entirely certain about whether or not Tony was still on the line, but Barnes saying his name did make Tony snort slightly, shaking his head.
"What I said stands, sidekick. You want me to build you a new arm, come and ask me yourself," Tony said, admiring his own restraint in not just telling Barnes to go fuck himself.
"I never said anything about building a new arm. Just figuring out how that one works," Barnes said, which was the truth. Natasha had just asked Tony to study it and figure it out.
Tony laughed, the sound hollow to his ears, before he swallowed again and said, "You want someone to study the arm, there's plenty of people in the world who can do that. You want something built, you bring it to me." Tony took a deep breath. "You know my terms, sidekick." He didn't bother to say goodbye as he closed the phone and tossed it onto the desk.
He had his doubts about whether or not Barnes would actually show up, but Tony kept working on his sketches and plans until two days after the phone call, when Friday cut into his thoughts because there was someone at the front gate. Tony stood at the security console for several minutes watching Bucky Barnes stand at the entry gate. He would shuffle occasionally, look over his shoulder like he was worried that someone had followed him.
"Open the gate," Tony said finally, staying where he was until the gate swung open and Barnes started up the front drive. He kept his hand at his side, spread just a little, a universal sign that he was unarmed, but Tony wasn't stupid. No one should ever, ever assume that the Winter Soldier was unarmed.
Tony opened the front door just as Barnes made there, and they stood at stared at each other in silence for a minute. Then Barnes said, simply, like this was a normal meeting, like they had run into each other on the street, "Stark."
Tony said, "Barnes," then he reared back and hit Barnes hard in the face with his left hand. It wasn't the best punch Tony had ever thrown, but it landed, and Barnes staggered backward. Tony looked at him, breathing hard, before he nodded and turned to head back inside, leaving the door open in an obvious invitation for Barnes to follow if he still wanted his arm back.
Tony waited in the entryway though, watching Barnes apparently argue with himself about whether or not he was going to come inside, but eventually, he took a deep breath and headed inside, stopping a few feet away from him. Tony nodded slightly and gestured towards the stairway that would lead down to his lab.
"Wait down there. Don't...don't touch anything." Tony really didn't like the idea of leaving Barnes in his lab, but he liked the idea of Barnes following him to his room even less, and Tony needed to get him drawings so he could make additional notes. Or, hell, technically, get Barnes' approval for the designs. He waited until Barnes had left, heading down the stairs before Tony headed for his rooms where he stacked and folded his designs, but once that was done, he didn't move.
His breathing was still shallow, his heart was still pounding in his throat, and he was pretty sure that he was two seconds away from a full panic attack coupled with a resurgence of his own anxiety that had only got worse after Siberia. He wasn't sure he really wanted to do this. The chance at designing a new arm? That was a good thing, something he would have killed for the chance to do...before. Just before. But now it was an issue. A big one. Because technically, that arm laying on that table in his lab had killed his parents. And the man responsible was also waiting on him.
And Tony had made a promise to Natasha that he would figure out the arm, and if it had been anyone else bringing the arm to him, Tony would have kicked them out on their ass. He liked Natasha, though, considered her a friend.
Tony took a deep breath, placing the folded designs under his arm and headed down to the lab. He found Barnes sitting by the table with his arm, but like Tony had directed, Barnes hadn't touched anything. He pulled the door shut behind him, and he leaned back against it, crossing his arms over his chest and holding the designs in one hand.
"Before I help, I need a question answered. Why are you here?" He shook his head. "Why are you here?" Technically two different questions, but whatever.
Barnes looked surprised that that was the question Tony wanted answered, and he shrugged his shoulder. "I need a new arm." Like it was that simple, and Barnes seemed to realize that even that sounded ridiculous. "I'm useless without it. I got a gun, yeah, but how useful are guns against what you guys fight, right?"
"And the second question?" Honestly, Tony could have argued the point. Barnes was useful. Probably. Steve seemed willing to keep him around so he probably wasn't a complete liability, and Tony really didn't want to think about Captain America tearing the Avengers apart for someone who couldn't even take care of himself.
"I told you. I don't need someone to design something. I need someone to build it." Barnes' shrugged his shoulders again before he looked back down at the arm that was still covered with a dust cloth. "And you're the best."
"What?" That exclamation came before Tony could stop himself. Out of all the responses, an actual compliment was not what he expected.
"Are you really arguing that point?" Barnes looked both confused and amused at the same time. It was annoying, and it set Tony's teeth on edge.
"Move, sidekick," Tony said, making a shooing gesture to get Barnes to move away from the table, and Barnes nodded and pushed his feet against the floor to wheel the chair away. Not too far, of course, which only made Tony exhale through his nose in agitation as he pushed the arm to the front of the table and laid out his designs. The last thing he did before he turned back to Barnes was take the dust cloth off the arm, but before he could say a word, Barnes one his feet, standing far too close to Tony and staring down at the arm.
"You haven't even started looking at it. Natalia brought it over a week ago." Tony rolled his eyes and frowned in exaggerated annoyance at Barnes. And the overly familiar nickname that only pinged Tony's jealousy. It was his team, how dare Barnes just think he could name them-- and Tony had to take a deep breath, squeeze his eyes shut, and rub the bridge of his nose. He had to get control of himself. Had to calm down. Had to be a fucking adult for once.
"I don't need to take things apart to start working on them. Tearing it to pieces comes when we're ready to build, not in the design phase," Tony said before he lifted his hands, pressed them against Barnes' shoulders and moved him back several feet. He had been standing too close, and anyone being too close to Tony while he was working had always made it difficult for him to work, but it was worse with Barnes.
Because every time he got close to him, all Tony could think about was his mother and the sight of Barnes' hand over her mouth and nose.
It was a bad idea to be thinking about that too when he was touching Barnes. Tony's fingers bunched in the fabric at his shoulders, and once he noticed his knuckles turning white due to how hard he was gripping Barnes, Tony had to shove him away, a move that sent them both staggering back a few feet. Tony's vision was blurring and browning at the edges, his pulse was in his throat, and his breathing at gone shallow. Barnes was smart this time, though. He stayed back, watching Tony warily, cagily, and he looked ready for an attack.
It reminded Tony of Siberia just before everything had gone to hell, and he had to shake his head as he turned back to the table, pressing his hands against it and bending forward with his head bowed. "We need some ground rules, sidekick. You need to stay at arms' length," Tony said, and Barnes nodded, and Tony nodded back at him, and that was settled. It wasn't. Tony knew it wasn't, but it would have to do.
Anything to keep him from remembering what he had seen Barnes do.
Barnes sat down on the chair again, leaning against an empty worktable, far enough from Tony that it wouldn't, shouldn't bother him, but every time Tony caught sight of Barnes out of the corner of his eyes, that anger boiled up again and the nausea, and he had to bow his head just to try and make it stop.
"I don't need to be here. If...if it's too much. I don't want to make everything worse." Tony didn't look up at Barnes as he spoke, and when Tony did finally look up, Barnes had inched a little bit closer, and while he still looked cagey and wary, he was also concerned. And the last thing Tony actually wanted was this man's pity.
"Do you actually remember what you did? You said you did in Siberia, but it was the middle of a fight," Tony said, looking back down at his designs. He shuffled the pages around, carefully laying out the drafts so that eventually Barnes could get a good look at them. After Tony had stepped away, of course.
"And you did have me in a chokehold," Barnes said, an amused lilt to his voice that made Tony glance up just in time to see the smirk fading from Barnes' face before he continued, "I didn't remember, not then. I think I was hoping you would stop if you thought I could." Barnes shrugged. "The memories were slow to come back, and most of them came back as nightmares which was," he laughed, softly and a little bit bitterly, "Not fun for the rest of the team."
"And the brainwashing?" Tony was only asking because, obviously, he needed to know if Barnes was going to try and kill him, and if anyone asked, that would be his reason for it. It wasn't like he actually cared.
Barnes grinned this time. "Never tell a princess of Wakanda what she can't do." Barnes sobered as he said, "Steve said it was impossible, Princess Shuri proved him wrong. Girl's gonna get a Nobel Prize by the time she's eighteen." He took a deep breath. "I'm myself again. Not HYDRA's, not anymore." Tony nodded.
"So Wakanda? Is that where Rogers took his merry band of international fugitives?" Tony stepped back from the table, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned back against another worktable. He nodded at the designs that were laid out. "You need to sign off on what you like, sidekick. And let me know if you want something more. Like lasers," he said with a flippant gesture towards the designs that were laid out.
"I was in Wakanda, officially serving time for the murder of King T'Chaka, just in case anyone asked. I don't know where Steve's keeping the rest of the team." Bucky didn't sound like it was a lie, but his eyes were a little too wide, a little too innocent, and Tony snorted. He didn't actually expect Barnes to tell him where everyone else was. Like Tony had said, they were, essentially, all criminals.
"Why didn't T'Challa just replace the full arm? They rebuilt part of the arm, cleaned up the, um, well, where I cut it clear." Which was putting it nicely, but judging from the way Barnes narrowed his eyes, it probably wasn't the best way to phrase things. "Why leave faulty tech in place? Or the potential for faulty tech, anyway." Obviously any tech that was over seventy years old was faulty. That was just how tech worked. Eventually it would wear down.
Barnes shrugged. "They were under no obligation to do anything but keep my ass frozen, Stark." When Tony looked at him, confusion on his face at that comment, Bucky's lips quirked just enough, just slightly like he was trying to ease the sting of his words when he added, "Besides T'Challa is king. No free time to tinker on arms."
"Tinkering. If that's what you think this is, you can leave, sidekick," Tony said, but there was no real force behind his words, and Barnes seemed to know it as he laughed and focused his attention on the designs. They didn't say anything for several minutes as Barnes looked over the designs, slowly going over each page, and make two stacks on either side of his body.
"Can you actually add lasers?" Barnes finally said, looking over his shoulder back at Tony, who tilted his head like he was thinking about it.
"What are you going to do with lasers?"
Barnes paused, then he grinned. "Annoy Steve."
"I can get you lasers," Tony said with an answering grin. That alone would have made adding pointless lasers to a robot arm worth it. "But only if you promise to take video."
"Deal." Barnes made a move like he wanted to shake on it, but when Tony didn't move, he seemed to think better of it, simply nodding in response. "These are the ones I think we can work with," Barnes said, resting his hand on the stack of designs on his right. It was the larger stack of the two, of course, so obviously they would need to combine designs, come up with an amalgamation that would work.
"Then let's get to work, sidekick," Tony said as he stepped back up to the table, and Barnes moved back to his chair, safely out of arms' reach again. They worked like that for the rest of the day. Well. Tony worked like that for the rest of the day. He didn't exactly welcome Barnes' input or help in the matter. He needed it, sure, it was Barnes' arm, after all, but Tony's skin still crawled every time he thought about asking for Barnes' input. No matter how easy talking to him was when Tony didn't remember this was the man, the arm, that killed his mother.
It was just that that thought always came back, always swimming to the surface and making everything go dark at the edges of his vision again.
Eventually, at some point in time that Tony picked at random, when he reached the point where he couldn't stand to be in the room with Barnes anymore, when he couldn't keep his anger locked down anymore, he called it quits. He dropped his pencil on the plans he had been trying to revise for the past hour as he tried to hold it together and he stepped back from the table.
"It's time to go, sidekick," Tony said, proud his voice sounded genial, even borderline friendly. He hadn't snapped at Barnes. That was progress. Of a sort.
Barnes nodded and rose to his feet. "Tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow," Tony said with a nod. "I'll make sure Friday knows to let you in." The last thing Tony wanted to do was be forced to escort Bucky Barnes into the compound every day for what could be a weeks long project.
Turns out, on most days, Tony beat Barnes to the lab. Some days, Barnes showed up in the early hours of the morning, though, usually carrying coffee from some coffee cart in the city. Tony accepted the coffee without a word and immediately bent back over the designs. It was only occasionally that Barnes forgot the rules and stood too close peering over Tony's shoulder until Tony elbowed him away. Even that became a routine.
A good one, not that Tony would actually admit that.
But even routines wore on Tony. He knew he was working too much, trying to divide his time between his Avengers and the work he and Barnes were doing. He was slipping. Dropping things when he shouldn't. Forgetting steps. Taking micronaps during team meetings, and while Tony really was enjoying working on that damn arm, he was exhausted. Dealing with Barnes was exhausting, dealing with the memories that the man brought up every time he opened his mouth to speak.
He felt like he was losing it. Slowly. He needed rest. A day off. A week to sleep. But he work to do, a project, an arm and a plan and an assistant. Honestly, it should have been easy. The Soviets did it without even half the tech Tony had, but he kept getting stumped by the easiest, simplest things. It didn't help that Barnes constantly right there, sitting just out of reach, watching Tony work.
Logically, Tony knew that probably wasn't entirely true, Barnes didn't seem the type to judge, not going by Tony's limited exposure to him anyway. But it was hard to shake that feeling, and the fact that Tony wanted to do this right. Wanted to prove he was better than some evil Russian scientist from the forties.
But that wasn't the only reason he was exhausted. It was part of it, sure, but not the only reason he had dropped to a chair in his lab, still wearing most of the Iron Man suit. Only the faceplate was off, sitting on the floor by the chair.
There were only three Avengers now. Technically, and Rhodey was still only part-time until all the kinks were worked out of the tech Tony had built to help, but all the bad guys, all the lingering HYDRA agents lurking in the dark, a reborn AIM, and whatever career criminals that got delusions of grandeur, it was up to just Tony and Vision to take care of it, and it was exhausting.
"What happened?" Barnes' voice coming out of the dark lab made Tony jump. He should have expected it, of course. Barnes sometimes came to the compound in the afternoon and stayed until late evening, sometimes early morning, after all, but Tony hadn't seen him or heard him.
"Fuck, sidekick, make noise. Run into things. Wear a fucking bell," Tony said, as he started moving to hit the various releases on his armor. He was too tired to make it to the machines that could make this easier, but before he could even get the gauntlets off, Barnes there, moving Tony's hands out of the way, and hitting the releases on his own.
Tony narrowed his eyes as Barnes looked up at him, apparently waiting for an indication of which release to push next. With a sigh, Tony nodded towards his right elbow, then the left.
"For the record, I was never Steve's sidekick," Barnes said as he did what Tony indicate, pushing each release as Tony indicated it. "Hell, he was mine most of his life."
Tony rolled his eyes before saying, "I'm not calling you 'Bucky'. The hell kind of nickname is that? What kind of grown man goes by 'Bucky' anyway?"
Barnes snorted. "Show some respect. My baby sister came up with it. She couldn't say 'Buchanan', and she could barely say 'James'," Barnes said as he gestured for Tony to stand up before Barnes dropped to his knees to focus on hitting the releases on Tony's thighs and knees, and Tony had to swallow as he looked down to watch him. It was a surprisingly intimate position, even with armor between them.
"You still probably shouldn't use a nickname some dead woman came up with," Tony said with a sniff as he forced himself to look away from Barnes on his knees.
"She's not dead," Barnes said as he stood up, all of the release finally hit, and all Tony had to do was step forward and the armor fell away and to the ground. Barnes' hand came up to steady him, but with one look from Tony, he dropped his hand and stepped back, returning to the stool that had become his over the past few weeks they had been working. "She's in a home in Brooklyn. I visit sometimes. Her family thinks I'm Bucky Barnes' grandson." He shrugged again. "She knows the truth. Most of the time. Most of the time, she still thinks it's before the war, right before I ship out." He offered Tony a sad smile. "You know how it is."
Tony stood there in silence, watching Bucky as he did everything he could not to look at Tony. "Oh," he finally said, walking over to stand behind the work table again. "What's her name?" Tony wasn't sure why he asked that. It wasn't important. He didn't need to know, but Barnes' eyes snapped back to Tony.
"Rebecca," he said, and Tony nodded.
"That's the most you've said. Ever. Since I met you," Tony said.
"Whatever," Barnes said before exhaling and nodding towards a table just to Tony's right where there were two take out containers stacked. "I brought food. You need to eat. And you probably need to sleep, too. We can work on the arm tomorrow."
They ate in silence, and then they got to work, but only for a little while before Tony's exhaustion made his hands shake and Bucky Barnes of all people sent Tony Stark to bed, and even that became routine.
A tradition, almost.
Except now, Tony was used to the routine, and now, now, Tony had been alone in his lab all day, and that was the longest amount of time that Tony had been alone in his lab since he and Bucky had started working on his new arm. Bucky had started getting there before Tony had even finished what other work he had to do during the day. Tony still had a team, after all, a team that might be down to three, but those three still needed equipment. But today had been an easy day, and Tony had actually spent most of it looking forward to working with Bucky again.
Only he wasn't there, and the more Tony would work in silence, the more he would find himself glancing at the clock over the door, the one that Steve had demanded Tony put in the lab so that Tony would know when he needed to sleep. Tony tried to force himself to focus on the work, but he still found himself straining to hear boots on the stairs, and it was almost midnight before he finally heard it.
Bucky stepped into the room without saying a word, and when he pulled the door shut behind him, he didn't move from the door. He just stared at Tony, and there was a note of confusion in his eyes, but he was watching Tony like he was searching for something.
"You're late, sidekick," Tony said, exhaling, trying to make it sound annoyed and not relieved as he turned back to the arm.
"Why did you do it?" Tony looked up at that question, and it was his turn to be be confused. "Rebecca's home. The charge nurse said they had just been bought by a foundation that promised top of the line equipment, a full remodel, and money to hire state of the art doctors. Why did you do it?"
Ah, yeah, Tony had actually forgotten he had made that call. "Technically, the Maria Stark Foundation did it. I only made the suggestion to the board." He'd let the board know what he wanted to support, he trusted them to make it happen, and he had pushed it out of his mind. He shrugged, looking back down at his designs. When he looked up again, Bucky had moved from the door and was now standing too close to Tony.
Somewhere along the way, they had both either forgotten about or ignored the 'not within arms' reach' rule, and now Bucky was standing close enough for Tony to feel the body heat radiating off of him. It was distracting, but not like it used to be. It was...pleasant now. Good. It made Tony's skin tingle in a way that he hadn't felt since those first few years with Pepper.
"Why not? I have the money. It's a good cause, and honestly, more people than just you will be happier for the changes," Tony said with a shrug before he pressed his hands against the table and looked at Bucky.
"I don't like owing people. You didn't need to do this," Bucky said, stepping a few steps forward as he spoke.
"You don't owe me anything, sidekick," Tony said, his voice quiet, conscious of how close Bucky was now. Every breath Bucky took, he brushed against Tony's arm, and it sent a jolt through his body. Before Tony could tell Bucky to move away, Bucky leaned forward and captured Tony's mouth with his. For that first moment, Tony couldn't move, he was that caught off-guard, but eventually, he returned the kiss, parting his lips as he turned slightly and pressed forward.
It could only last a moment, though, before Tony both pulled himself away and pushed Bucky back a little. "I can't," he said, his voice barely a whisper, and he wasn't sure if he was trying to convince himself or Bucky. He forced his eyes open to look at Bucky, and hoped he would understand Tony's meaning when Tony wasn't even sure what he meant. He was no longer full of the roiling, burning anger, but kissing Bucky Barnes was....perfect in a way it shouldn't be.
"Right," Bucky said, nodding as he took two steps back, out of arms' reach again.
Tony cleared his throat and dug around on the table until he pulled out measuring tape. "You want to get to work, sidekick? I think we're ready to actually build this damn thing," Tony said, trying to sound jovial, like nothing had happened, like he wasn't still horribly distracted by Bucky, like he wasn't obviously avoiding looking directly at Bucky.
Bucky nodded and pulled his overshirt off so that he was just in a wifebeater. His left shoulder was still wrapped in black fabric, protecting the inner workings of what was left of Bucky's old arm.Tony stepped forward, reaching out to turn Bucky's body gently so that he could remove the fabric off the shoulder joint. When Bucky's shoulder was bare, Tony let his fingers trace over the scars that move across his back.
"Did they even let you heal before putting the arm on?"
"Why would they? I was a weapon, nothing else. I was lucky they gave me morphine before surgery," Bucky said, and his head fell forward as Tony continued tracing the scars. It was almost an absent motion, something Tony did without even really thinking about it because his mind was half-occupied with ideas of how to get the arm to work and half-occupied with what Bucky was saying.
"Weapons need to be in peak condition to work properly, sidekick," Tony said as he pressed his fingers against Bucky's skin where it met the metal shoulder. Bucky hissed, and Tony immediately pulled his hand away, but Bucky shook his head.
"No. It's fine. It didn't hurt, not really, but...well, you should probably stop." He shrugged, glancing back to Tony where he had moved a few steps away. "If we're not supposed to kiss, we should also probably not touch," Bucky said, offering a faint smile at Tony.
"It's not a matter of supposed to, Bucky," Tony said, hesitating for a moment before he stepped forward again and returned his hands to Bucky's shoulder. Bucky made a pleased sound and let his head fall forward.
"Then what is it about? I thought we'd worked through you hating me, Stark."
"Tony," he corrected without even thinking about it, and he shook his head before he said, "You're not sticking around, sidekick. Eventually you'll take your shiny new arm and go back to wherever it is that Cap has his team stashed."
"Would I even be welcome to stay?" Bucky's question was barely a murmured, and for a moment, Tony considered pretending he hadn't heard it, but eventually he made a soft sound in his throat and let his hands drop down from Bucky's shoulder to his back. His fingers bunched in the fabric of the wife beater, pulling it up, baring the skin of the small of Bucky's back. Tony let his hand fall lower, fingertips pressing against the skin, and Bucky inhaled sharply before leaning back into Tony's touch. Tony's hand slid up, tracing the curve of Bucky's back, pulling his shirt up as Tony moved until eventually he realized what exactly he was doing, who he was touching, and he coughed, let his hand fall away, and stepped back again.
"We, um, we'll get the prototype built, then I'll talk to Doctor Cho, see if she knows any good neurologists to hook the thing up for you, then you can be out of my hair," Tony said, and Bucky sagged forward, pressing his hand against the table as he looked back at Tony.
Bucky's breathing was shaky, just as shallow as Tony's was, but he swallowed, shook his head, and stood up straight, seemingly recovering from...whatever had just happened. "Didn't you make new legs for Rhodes? Why are you depending on Doctor Cho now? Scared?"
"Rhodey trusts me," Tony said, moving back to the other side of the table and giving Bucky a look. He lifted his eyebrows slightly. "And I didn't think you or your captain wanted me digging through your brain."
"He's not my captain," Bucky said, the denial immediate and stern, like it was an argument Bucky had had to have before, possible decades ago during his war, possibly last week. Bucky took a deep breath before he said, "So we'll get Doctor Cho and whatever neurologist she brings along." Bucky smiled, the expression tight and Tony thought it was nervous around the edges, but Bucky didn't say that, and Tony wasn't going to mention it. "Once we're done."
Tony looked away, though, worrying his bottom lip for a moment before saying, quickly, before he could stop himself, "There are some open rooms. If you want one. To answer your question. From before. About staying."
Bucky just stared at him, eyes searching his face before he nodded finally. "Let's get to work, then," he said, moving to the table and looking down at the designs again. They worked until dawn, until the light from the windows actually made Tony's lab look homey and inviting, until Tony's stomach growled, reminding him he hadn't actually eaten that day. Or the previous one.
Bucky actually laughed at him. A full, throaty laugh, the kind that made Tony's stomach clench and made him realize just what had drawn Steve Rogers to him when they were younger. "C'mon, Tony. You need to eat, and I owe you breakfast."
"You don't actually owe me anything, sidekick. I told you that already."
"You're building me a new arm!"
"I'm the reason you don't have the original one anymore!" Tony was smiling as he said that, gesturing for Bucky to follow him to the door. That became a habit for them. They would work, crafting prototypes after prototypes, building arms that were almost right but not quite until Tony needed food, then Bucky would cook or they'd go out to some greasy all night diner.
"This is torture," Bucky said, one morning over a breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and everything that wasn't good for anyone, and when Tony looked up from his plate of actually, really, decently made scrambled eggs, Bucky was looking down at his own plate and refused to look up at Tony. "I mean, I know it's not actually torture. I'm not stupid. We've both been through the real thing, I've read the files." Bucky lifted his eyes for a moment, met Tony's eyes then looked away. "But this still hurts."
"I don't know what you're talking about, sidekick," Tony said. It wasn't entirely true. He felt a slice of pain through his heart every time Bucky's hand brushed his while they worked, and it was the kind of pain that made him wish he still had the arc reactor so that Tony could be reassured he wasn't dying.
"This," Bucky said, punctuating that word by gesturing between the two of them. "I don't..." Bucky gritted his teeth and made a frustrated sound before he said, "I like you. I think you're cute. I'm pretty sure if you said the word I'd bend over your worktable naked," and Tony choked on the forkful of eggs that he had just stupidly put in his mouth, but Bucky continued, "But you don't trust me. Hell, I'm pretty sure you don't even like me, but I like you, I like this, and I think...." Bucky exhaled and looked away. Tony waited for him to continue but when Bucky didn't, he stood up, taking his plate over to the sink.
"You're right," Tony said, bracing his hands against the sink. "I don't know if I trust you." He took a deep breath and glanced over his shoulder at Bucky where he was hunched over at the table. "But I like you." Tony offered a small smile and a shrug at that.
"Then why did you say you can't...why can't we just make out occasionally?"
Tony laughed, turning back to the sink and shaking his head. "Just because we can't do anything, sidekick, that doesn't mean I don't want everything." Tony cleared his throat and pushed away from the sink. "We've got more work, Buck. You need to finally pick a prototype." As he walked past Bucky, he pressed a hand against his shoulder, squeezing lightly before walking out the door.
Tony was starting to suspect that Bucky was only being picky because he wanted to draw this out.
But maybe Tony was just projecting.
He was also pretty sure he was making sure the designs were just slightly flawed so that Bucky would have to stay, and he was also pretty sure that this was killing him. That Bucky was right, this really was torture, but that was melodramatic. Tony knew it was melodramatic just as much as he knew that the home-cooked meals and long conversations about old wars and new scars was really, actually slowly killing him.
Tony had had enough. He'd hit his limit. He couldn't do this anymore. He couldn't sit there with Bucky Barnes of all people and pretend. Pretend that he still kinda hated him, pretend that the sight of him didn't twist Tony's stomach into knots, pretend that he didn't feel sparks every time his hand accidentally brushed Bucky's. He couldn't, and it was dangerous to even still be sitting there.
The meal was done, it had been done for an hour at least, but they'd been lost in telling old war stories, or, well, Bucky was, and Tony was just enjoying a different side of the war than his father usually told. But it was too much, just being there was too distracting, and finally Tony tossed his napkin onto his plate and stood up from the table.
"I'm gonna shower," he said, moving toward the door, only stopping when he didn't hear Bucky behind him, and for a moment, there was nothing but doubt in his mind. He chewed on his lower lip before glancing back to see Bucky watching him with that same guarded expression that he had had back when all of this had started, like he still half-expected Tony to attack him. Tony let out a slow breath before he let that expression break his heart. "That's an invitation, sidekick," he said before he headed for his rooms
He kept his eyes forward the entire way there. He had to. Tony hadn't heard Bucky move from the table after he had spoken, so it was reasonable to assume that he had just made a complete fool of himself. He left his door open as he he stepped inside, though, pulling his t-shirt off over his head as he moved through the room. He left a line of his clothes and his shoes discarded on the floor as he made his way to the bathroom.
"Friday, offline. No record of this." Tony didn't need what he was sure was his humiliation preserved for anyone to access if they got curious. He focused turning the shower on, accessing the computer controls to make sure the water was just hot enough to be barely scalding. It was a good way to teach him not to act on those stupid feelings that made him feel like a teenager again.
"You seem like the type to want video. To relive this stuff for later," Bucky said from the doorway, and when Tony turned to look at him he was struck. Completely struck. Because Bucky Barnes was standing naked in the doorway, which Tony should have prepared himself for, he did invite the man into his shower, after all.
"Jesus Christ, sidekick," Tony said, his voice quiet, though he did fight to keep the awe to himself. Judging by the quirk in Bucky's eyebrow, Tony failed, but Tony didn't care, not when he couldn't take his eyes off Bucky in front of him. Everything from the scars on his left shoulder and chest, down the well-muscled torso, to the heavy dick between his legs that only seemed to grow harder as Tony stared. He pressed his fingers against the scar on his chest right next to his heart, trying to keep said heart from giving out.
"Don't take the Lord's name in vain, Tony," Bucky said with a laugh as he stepped inside the bathroom and moved closer to Tony. He didn't ask permission before reaching out and wrapping his hand around Tony's own cock that was painfully hard already and practically throbbing under Bucky's fingers.
"Stop playing innocent, Buck, it doesn't suit you," he said, his own voice a little strangled and rough before he reached out and pulled Bucky to him. When Tony kissed him this time, it was better than before. Mostly because Tony was expecting it now, ready to make that kiss hungry, hard, demanding. Bucky's hand was still trapped between them, and he managed to wrap it around both of their dicks pressing one length against the other. The second Bucky started stroking them both, Tony had to breath the kiss with a sound that was half a ragged moan and half a growl.
Tony moved forward, pressing against Bucky again, but all push him back against the shower door that was already covered in steam. Bucky hissed at the temperature change between the cooler air and the warm door, but Tony leaned in to swallow that sound in another kiss.
"Shower, Tony," Bucky said, breaking the kiss as he pulled back. He took his hand off of their cocks and took Tony's hand instead, pulling him into the shower. Tony pulled back for a moment though, stepping away to dig in the top drawer of the vanity, pulling out a small tube of lube before he followed Bucky into the shower. "Confident," Bucky said, his lips curving up at the corners as he saw the lube in Tony's hand.
"Oh, sidekick, you're already naked in my shower." Tony grinned then as he shrugged, "I think my odds are pretty good." Bucky laughed and took the tube from Tony before he pressed himself close again, capturing Tony's mouth in a kiss that made Tony's head swim.
Sure, the kiss made Tony's head swim, but he was trying his hardest to behave. Mostly. It was his shower, they were both naked, both hard, and Bucky's hand kept wrapping around Tony's dick in a way that tore a groan from him every time, but Tony was trying to be good. He was trying to savor all of this because...well, Bucky was leaving. Or would leave. Was planning on it. Something, and Tony had already lost too much in his life and the mere idea of losing this, of not cherishing what little time they would have together, it was dangerously close to setting off some long buried anxiety about being abandoned by the people he loved.
He tried to swallow all of that down, burying it in another kiss as he pulled Bucky flush against him. Both of their bodies were warmed by the near scalding water, but Tony couldn't get enough of the heat of Bucky Barnes. Not even when Bucky pulled back, pressing back against the shower wall. Tony followed him, keeping their bodies pressed together, and Bucky pressed his mouth to Tony's neck, kissing along the line of muscle from his neck to his shoulder and back again.
"You're too far into your own head, old man," Bucky said, laughing softly as he said it. He pulled back, pressing his head against the wall as he smirked at Tony.
"You're older than me, sidekick," Tony said as he leaned in to kiss the corners of that smirk, then across his check, and down his jawline. "And I don't know what you're talking about." A lie, but before Bucky could argue with that or before Tony could come up with some other excuse, Tony kissed him again. It didn't work, of course, and Bucky broke the kiss with a small sound like even he himself wasn't happy to stop.
"Stop thinking," Bucky said, his hand coming up to tangle in Tony's hair, cradling his head as he leaned in to kiss Tony.
"Not going to happen, sidekick. Like, ever," Tony said, smiling against Bucky's mouth, but he wasn't wrong. Tony needed to focus on this, on Bucky, on the man in his arms, on the the way their hard dicks pressed against each other, on just how perfect this was. Anything else could, and would, be dealt with later. Maybe. Or maybe Tony would figure out a way to keep Bucky, to make sure he couldn't leave Tony's side, but Tony had to break the kiss to shake his head and push those thoughts away.
Bucky seemed to understand, and he used his hand in Tony's hair to urge him up into another kiss, and Tony's arms slid under Bucky's thighs, lifting him up enough that Bucky could wrap his legs around Tony's waist.
"You sure about this, Stark? You could break a hip...," but there was laughter in Bucky's voice, the sound making Tony's stomach clench, and he lifted his arms to bring Bucky up enough to kiss him properly.
"I could drop you, Buck," Tony said, his smile bright just before he kissed Bucky softly as he pressed him against the wall. His hand moved down to where Bucky had set the lube, uncapping the bottle, and lifting it to spread the liquid over the fingers of his other hand. He let that hand fall, slipping back beneath and between Bucky's thighs, his slick fingers slipping over Bucky's entrance, massaging it gently as he kissed Bucky deeply. The kissed turned hungry quickly as he pressed one finger into Bucky, working slowly past the resistance and swallowing the sounds Bucky made with that kiss.
It was like that for what felt like hours, just touching and kissing and teasing each other almost to the point of orgasm until it was the easiest thing for Tony to replace his fingers with the head of his cock, pushing in and spreading Bucky open slowly. Tony pressed his face against Bucky' neck just as Bucky muffled his own moans against Tony's shoulder. And there was nothing but the still hot water, the heat of Bucky, and just finally, really having what he wanted. What he had wanted for weeks now.
By the time they finished in the shower, the water had grown cold an hour before, but Tony was warm enough with Bucky in his arms, with their cocks still hard even in the cold water. He had no intention of letting Bucky go either once he finally had to leave the shower and the now icy spray of water. It was not a graceful move as Tony pulled Bucky to the bedroom. Tony was walking backward, Bucky's hand in his, and it was a miracle that Tony didn't fall and kill himself by tripping on the clothes they had both dropped on their way from the door to the bathroom.
"Try not to die before this really get off the ground," Bucky said with that same infuriating smirk that he had had even while Tony was buried to the hilt in his ass.
"You are going to be the death of me, sidekick," Tony said as he sat on the edge of the bed and pulled Bucky between his legs.
"I'm not saying that's the plan but...." He was smiling as he trailed off, and Tony reached out and pulled Bucky to him and onto the bed, rolling so that he was on top of Bucky in one move. He smiled down at Bucky, sliding his hands into his hair and using that hold to angle Bucky's head back so that Tony could kiss him deeply again.
Tony knew he was never going to get enough of this. Though he wasn't sure if he meant the kissing or the sex or the talking or just...well, just the company.
Hour later, after all of that, more kissing, more sex, more talking, just touching, Tony slept. Actually slept, deeply, for longer than an hour just to refresh himself before working again. The exhaustion had finally caught up with him. Exhaustion and finally, finally, feeling sated after so long, and he had slept.
Until the nightmares started. Always the same, always that massive spaceship in the sky, always his team, both current and former, dying on the battlefield, always Tony's fault, always something he needs to stop, always not being good enough to actually stop it. When he woke up from the nightmare this time, there were tears in his eyes, but he couldn't really remember why. Nothing seemed all that different, but the nightmare was already fading in the fog of being awake.
He tensed the second he felt Bucky's hand on his shoulder, and for a moment, in bright relief, he saw Bucky's face in his dream, eyes accusing, blaming Tony for their loss and his death, and he had to shake it off physically, pulling away from Bucky's arm as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed.
"Hey," Bucky said, his voice quiet in the dark of the bedroom, and Tony felt him move on the bed. Tony glanced back to see him kneeling right behind Tony. "Nightmare?" It wasn't a question that really needed to be asked, and Bucky seemed to understand that. He shifted his weight again, moving to press his chest against Tony's back as he wrapped his arm around Tony's waist. He rested his forehead on Tony's shoulder.
Tony laughed. "It's always nightmares, sidekick. Same one, ever since New York," Tony said, hesitating for a moment before he leaned back into Bucky's weight. It was also a lie. The dream had changed, but it was always about what was coming, what Tony needed to do to fix it, about how he would inevitably fail.
"Are you seeing someone?" That was what finally made Tony look over at Bucky, a second away from joking about why Bucky was asking about his dating habits, but he had to look away just as quickly, focusing on a spot on the wall passed his shoulder. He could still see him out of his peripheral vision, though, it didn't actually help to look at something else. Even after everything they had done, Bucky was still a distraction, and Tony kept his hands firmly on the edge of the bed, trying to keep from touching and exploring Bucky's skin.
"My nightmares cannot be as bad as yours." Tony sounded petulant, even to his own ears. He only knew that Bucky had mention having nightmares before, not what the subject was, not what Bucky saw in dreams that had to be caked in blood and gunsmoke.
"But you still have them. You have nightmares and you curl up into yourself." Tony had no choice but to look at Bucky as he tightened his arm and pulled Tony closer. Tony finally took his hand away from the edge of the bed, touching Bucky's arms and digging his fingers in slightly, just to make sure that Bucky didn't move away or let him go. Tony turned his head, enough that his nose brush against Bucky's temple, and for a moment, Tony was lost in the clean scent of him, fresh from the shower. Tony lifted his head to press a kiss to Bucky's temple.
"Bucky. We're both messes" Tony's voice was soft, quiet, but he tried to sound like he was only teasing but it didn't work, and his fingers pressed tighter against Bucky's arm, his knuckles turning white. Bucky made a soft sound in his throat at that, but his arm tightened and Tony was pressed flush against Bucky's body. Tony swallowed hard and looked back down at the floor, fighting to keep his heart rate under control. To keep his baser urges under control.
"They're easier. My nightmares," Bucky said, the words just as soft and quiet as Tony's had been. "I mean, Shuri's thing helped, knowing HYDRA couldn't control me anymore, but since coming here, the nightmares are easier." Bucky lifted his head to press a kiss to Tony's shoulder before he continued, "Pretty much just one recurring anymore."
Tony could guess what the subject of that nightmare was. It was probably the same thing Tony had had nightmares about right after Siberia, before everything had gone back to being about the darkness, the oppressive evil of space that he saw, dead friends and family. "Sidekick," he said, the word breathed out in a sigh.
"I'm sorry," Bucky said, cutting off any other words Tony might have said. "I'm sorry it was them. I'm sorry it was me. I'm sorry Steve didn't tell you when he first found out."
Tony finally pulled away from Bucky, but only to turn and press his own back against the headboard. He pulled Bucky back against him, into his lap, letting him lie across him comfortably. "I don't really know if him telling me would have made a difference. That video...." Tony still saw it sometimes, it replaying behind his eyes when he got too tired, too unfocused, when there wasn't some earth-shattering crisis to deal with.
"Yeah, well, that's the closest you're ever going to get to an apology from him," Bucky said, lifting his head to offer a smile that was barely there and didn't really reach his eyes. "He's a stubborn ass."
Tony let out a surprised laugh at that, but he didn't say anything else, not right away. He let himself get lost again in the heat of Bucky, the warmth, the scent, of just him. Finally, though, Tony said, his voice barely above a whisper, "Stay."
Bucky pulled himself away from Tony, propping himself up on his one arm. "I've already got my stuff ready to move into the empty room on the third floor...." There was confusion plain on Bucky's face, even in the dark of the room, illuminated only by moonlight.
"No. I mean stay here." Tony patted the bed with one hand before he returned that arm to wrap around Bucky. "Right here."
"Oh." The moonlight caught Bucky's smile, and Tony returned it. "Okay."
"Do you only want to stay because the nightmares are better?" That was the kind of thing he should have asked before making the offer, it was the obvious thing to check on, Tony knew it. Bucky didn't respond though, and Tony felt the other man's head shake as Bucky rested his head against Tony's chest again.
"Being here...being with you means there's no expectations," and Tony looked down then, mouth opened, prepared to argue with that statement, but Bucky looked up at him, lifting his eyebrows slightly, and Tony's mouth snapped closed. Dramatically. It made Bucky smile, and Tony's heart jumped at the sight. "I don't have to be anything here," Bucky said, his voice continuing to be the soft, quiet tone, but with Bucky pressed against Tony's chest, he could feel the words vibrating through him. "I don't have to be the Winter Soldier. I don't have to be a weapon." Bucky gave a short laugh. "I don't even have to be Captain America's Best Friend. If I want...I can just be Bucky."
"Is that what you want? To just be Bucky?"
"I want to stay. But only if you talk to someone."
"Like couples' counseling?" Tony pressed a finger to Bucky's chin to lift his head, but only so he could see that Tony was just teasing. The nightmares weren't getting easier, and eventually it would break Tony if he didn't talk to someone. Bucky shifted slightly only to lift himself up so it was easier for him to reach and slide his fingers into Tony's hair. He fingers wrapped around the strands, and Bucky pulled, just slightly, but sharp enough to be a definitely rebuke before he let himself curl up against Tony again. Tony relaxed into the feeling, settling back against the headboard. "Fine. I'll talk to someone."
Bucky made a pleased sound, and once against he pulled out of Tony's arms. This time it was only to straddle Tony's hips as he moved more firmly into Tony's lap. He rested his arm on Tony's shoulder as he pressed enough that not even air could get between them. This close it was an easy thing for Bucky to press his lips to Tony's, teeth catching on Tony's lower lip as they kissed, tugging gently when the kiss eventually broke.