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oh my friend, we've had our hopes and fears

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Bright flames of a roaring fire licked the air and warmed the living room of Clint’s farmhouse and all the Avengers crowded into it. Raucous laughter drowned out the Christmas tunes playing softly on the radio.

Outside the frosted windows, the kids staged snowball fights with Wanda, Steve, and Thor, while inside the rest of the team played Bullshit. Barton presided over the game from atop a barstool, Laura sat next to him, feeding her youngest, Nathaniel. Bruce and Natasha sat on the couch together, playfully bumping knees every time one of them called bullshit. Barnes and Wilson sat on the rug in front of the fire, a healthy distance away so they could properly glare at each other over their cards.

Tony sipped his eggnog and stared out at the snowbound landscape from his perch on the arm of a recliner, which Rhodey currently occupied. It was everything that TV had told him Christmas ought to be when growing up. Every surface was adorned with lights, garlands of holly, or an ornament of some kind. A huge tree decorated with knickknacks, everything from the odd bobble brought from a distant land to bits of Avengers merchandise, stood on display in the front of the room, a mountain of presents stacked beneath it.

“Hey, it’s your turn,” Rhodey said, nudging Tony’s leg.

Tony shrugged and tossed a few cards in without really looking at them. “Three, uh, what are we on now?”

“Queens,” Bruce supplied, earning him a good elbowing from Natasha. Everyone else frowned at Tony, even Rhodey. Et tu, honey bunches?

Natasha ignored Bruce’s bewildered look to scold Tony. “Pay attention. You’re slowing the game down.”

“You guys strong armed me into playing, but you can’t make me take it seriously,” Tony said, swirling the eggnog around in his glass. “I’ll take it seriously when we play a real game, something with higher stakes than bragging rights.”

“Fine. Since you aren’t taking this seriously, let’s up the ante a little,” Barton said, hopping off his barstool and dashing over to the closet. He pulled out a beat-up cardboard box with “Christmas” scrawled on the side in sharpie and set it on the counter behind him.  What looked like the ugliest Christmas sweater in existence peaked out of the top. “Winner gets rights to this until tomorrow.”

“Holy shit. A Box. With a sweater in it. Now I have to win,” Tony said, waving his hands sarcastically. He was highly considering finding something to spike his eggnog with. He felt so out of place.

“Your loss,” Natasha said, reordering her cards with a shrug. She refocused her gaze on Tony, her mouth curving into her usual sly smile. “By the way, Stark? Bullshit.”

Barnes coughed. “Actually, I already put a king down when Hawkeye was digging out the box, so you can’t bullshit him.”

Tony expected Natasha to say something, but she just pursed her lips thoughtfully and gestured for the game to carry on. She didn’t stop giving Barnes an odd look though.

The game continued a few more rounds around the table until it came back to Natasha. She held up the single card in her hand triumphantly and called out her play before tossing it down.

Natasha’s last card didn’t even hit the table before Wilson called, “Bullshit! You can’t win!” and snatched up the card. His face fell when he got a look at it, and Natasha sat back with a satisfied smirk. Seconds later, Clint presented the box to her with an exaggerated flourish, while Bruce began picking up the cards and sorting them back into two decks.

“It feels good to win,” she said, holding up the red-and-green knit monstrosity and handing it to Bruce. “Okay, big guy, this is yours.”

Next, she pulled out a headband with felted elf ears and handed it to Clint, who put it on with only a sigh of complaint. Tony really felt like he was missing something when Sam was tossed a pair of reindeer antlers to wear.

“What gives? Why are you handing out your prize?” Tony looked at Bruce putting on the sweater. “Are you really going to wear that, Bugaboo?”

“Handing it out is the prize,” Natasha said, passing a Santa Hat over to Rhodey. “You’d know that if you’d come to game night.”

Everyone else seemed to agree and were wearing their ridiculous Christmas gear with amused resignation. Tony looked to Rhodey in hopes that he’d be the last holdout, but no such luck. Rhodey, looking festive in his Santa hat, just shrugged at him.

“Okay, Stark, Barnes, your turn,” Natasha said, holding up a pair of fuzzy red and green handcuffs with little bows glued on them. “Hope you don’t mind spending a bit of quality time together.”

“Are you kidding me?” Tony jumped to his feet, ready to make his getaway, but Barton and Wilson blocked his escape route. “One, what the hell is this kinky christmas fetish gear, Barton? Two, There is no way I’m going to spend the rest of the day handcuffed to him!”

There was a reason Tony didn’t spend much time around Barnes, which would be obvious if anyone thought about it for two seconds. They might have forgiven each other, but by no means did that mean Barnes was going to be comfortable around Tony. They had only just reached the point where they could stand to see each other when the team got together.

Before Tony could even notice how close she was, there were the twin metallic clicks of the handcuffs snapping around Barnes and Tony’s wrists as Natasha said, “You’re right; you two are staying like that until we’re ready to open presents in the morning.”

“That means—” Barnes started to say, wide-eyed.

Tony beat him to it. “No! I’m not sharing a bed!” He knew what the beds in Barton’s house were like and sharing one with Barnes was the most awkward thing he could imagine. He needed to get out of these handcuffs as soon as possible.

“I’ll be taking these,” Natasha said, waving a very familiar tool kit around. Tony patted his pockets with his free hand, but they were empty. He hadn’t even felt her confiscating the tools. “And be happy you are getting a bed. Some of us have to camp out in the quinjet.”

Before Tony could respond to that, Cooper and Lila came rushing through the door, leaving wet tracks across the house with Steve, Thor, and Wanda close behind, stomping off snow outside the door. Clint quickly caught the little gremlins and made them shake off the rest of the snow before coming back inside.

“It appears we missed our chance to play for the winner’s box, Captain,” Thor said, glancing at everyone’s compulsory holiday gear as he shucked his coat and hung it on the already overladen coat rack. Steve caught the coat rack as it began to tip over, adding his own coat and Wanda’s as a counterbalance to Thor’s huge, fur-lined tent.

“I guess we lost track of time.” Steve rubbed the back of his head. “We did get a bit carried away out there.”

“Disappointed?” Tony asked, a smile he didn’t mean plastered on his face. He’d gladly let Steve take his place. He’d probably be glad to be handcuffed to his pal Barnes.

Thor nodded as he set mjolnir down. “Aye, I quite enjoy your little games and looked forward to competing for the winner’s box Barton prepared for this fine holiday.”

“Does literally everyone but me know about this?” Tony tried to cross his arms, but ran into resistance when Bucky yanked his arm back.

“There’s still a few things left in here if you wanted to go a round or two,” Natasha offered, ignoring Tony.

“I want to see!” Cooper shouted, pouncing on the box with his sister. Clint looked on fondly back in his spot on the barstool.

Lila pulled out a cap with an attached beard, both clumsily knitted. “It’s the thing Dad made! I’m gonna make you wear it!” she told her brother.

“You’ll have to win against me first,” Wanda said, ruffling the kids’ hair.

“Thanks, Nat,” Steve said, settling in on the couch with her and Bruce. Wanda pulled up a barstool next to Clint, and Thor sat regally in front of the fire. Steve looked around and asked, “Who else is in?”

“Yeah, I’ve had enough,” Tony said. He already had five different plans of how to get out of the cuffs and wanted to get started. Mentally willing him to agree to get out of there, Tony asked Barnes, “How about you, Red October?”

“I promised Laura I’d help make cookies for tonight. I should probably get started on them...” Barnes trailed off.

Tony half expected someone to drag him into playing again, but apparently Barnes’ cookies warranted a free pass. They shuffled the two decks back together and started to deal out cards. Tony followed Barnes into the kitchen where Laura waited for them with all the tools and ingredients laid out on the counter.

“Everything you need for the recipe you sent me should be out. Thank you for doing this. I’d never make enough to keep this crowd fed, and with Nathaniel…” Laura said, picking up her yawning toddler. “I better get him down for his nap.”

“Go ahead, I’m happy to help,” Barnes said.

As soon as Laura was gone, Tony whispered, “Now’s our chance to get these off. You don’t want to stay like this, do you Barnes?”

Barnes looked like he gave it some thought before he glanced out at the assembled Avengers in the living room. “They’re watching. If they see us without the cuffs, they’ll just put new ones on. We should wait.”

Sure enough, now that Tony looked, he noticed that Natasha was paying close attention to them. She was good. It wasn’t obvious until Tony really looked for it. There was no way he’d get away with quitting her little penalty game while in her line of sight.

“And do you think you can call me Bucky?”

“What?” Tony startled out of his thoughts.

“You always call me Barnes or some nickname. I like Bucky better.”

“Sure. I guess I could do that.” It was really the least he could do.  

“Thanks. In the meantime, measure out some flour?” Bucky pushed the bag of flour Tony’s way and handed him a measuring cup. “Five-and-one-fourth.”

“This is below my pay grade,” Tony grumbled with one leery eye on the measuring cup.

“No help, no cookies,” Bucky said, firmly pressing the measuring cup towards Tony.

Tony jerked his chin at the gathering in the living room. “They’re not helping.”

“They’re not handcuffed to me.”

With only a moment of hesitation, Tony grabbed the measuring cup and started scooping flour out of the bag. He was surprised he was able to accept the measuring cup so easily; he couldn’t take things directly from more than half the team.

It was only a few seconds before Bucky said, “You’re doing it wrong.”

“No, I’m not. How—” Tony started when Bucky reached over to wrestle the measuring cup from him. Tony pulled back with equal force, unwilling to let Bucky take it. He was perfectly capable of measuring flour on his own.

“Yes, you are. You gotta use a spoon and fluff it.”

The struggle sent flour every which way until Tony lost his grip on the cup and the whole thing went flying into Bucky’s face.

His look of pure shock was priceless. With his dark eyes and mouth hanging open, he resembled a surprised raccoon. Tony spluttered in an uncontrollable burst of laughter.

Bucky shook the worst of it off, but Tony could not stop laughing. The last time he had laughed like this had been…not good. It was refreshing to laugh for a good reason.

Bucky flicked flour at Tony’s face. “Stop laughing, it ain’t that funny.”

“Okay, okay,” Tony conceded.

“These cookies aren’t going to make themselves.”

“Use a spoon, you said?”

Bucky nodded. Tony measured it out like Bucky directed, but couldn’t resist smearing some of the spilled flour on Bucky’s shirt when he wasn’t looking. Bucky whipped around and grabbed his own handful of flour, ready to hurl it in Tony’s face.

“Do you really want to start a fight with me?”

“Do you really think you can win against all of this?” Tony gestured down at himself. He bounced on his tippy toes, ready to dodge at any moment, for what little good it would do while handcuffed to Bucky.

“Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?”

Tony was so shocked that he let Bucky hurl it in his face. “You—you are a giant nerd. How do you even know that?”

Grabbing a towel, Tony wiped off the flour on his face, waiting, and when Bucky didn’t answer, he pushed: “Come on, tell me.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.” Relaxing now that the imminent threat of another flour dusting was over, Bucky wiped up the mess and began zesting the oranges into a bowl. “Can you put three teaspoons of baking soda and a teaspoon and a half of salt in with that flour?”

Tony did as asked and gawked at Bucky’s rapidly growing pile of orange zest. Bucky worked away at his second orange and showed no signs of stopping. “Are you sure we need this much orange zest?”

“Your lack of faith disturbs me.”

“Now you are just messing with me. When did you even have time to watch Star Wars?”

“Are you kidding? I have nothing but time. There is only so much training between therapy sessions a guy can take.” Bucky shrugged, set the fully zested orange aside, and dumped his mountain of zest in with the sugar. Tony had never smelled something so intensely orange in his life. “Besides, I’ve always liked science fiction. There was this magazine I used to read to Stevie when he was sick, Wonder Stories . It had the most amazing stories.”

“I never pegged you for a sci-fi buff,” Tony said with a slight frown. The fact of the matter was he never gave much thought to Bucky’s interests at all.

Tony watched as Bucky used the stand mixer to combine the orange sugar with some butter and idly wondered where he learned to bake. From the way Steve talked about it, Tony kind of doubted that it was something Bucky knew before the war. Maybe it was something else he did between therapy sessions.

“Sometimes I think the future is a bit of a letdown, but then I see the stuff you make,” Bucky said over the racket the ancient stand mixer was making. “You’re workshop is like a whole other world.”

Bucky had only been in Tony’s workshop a couple times for tune-ups on his arm, so Tony was a bit surprised to see that it had apparently made such an impression on him. “My tech may be the best on the market, but I’m hardly the only one on the bleeding edge here, just look at Wakanda, or half the bozos we fight.”

Bucky cracked three eggs into the mixer’s bowl then sprinkled in a bit of vanilla. “You’re the only one doing something worthwhile. None of that conquering the world shit or hiding away.”

“How do you know? Maybe I just haven’t revealed my plan yet,” Tony said as Bucky took the bowl of flour from him.

Bucky snorted and scraped the flour in with the other ingredients. Just for a second Tony swore his heart fluttered, but, his eyes following Bucky’s hands as he added the chocolate, it was probably his imagination. He’d felt odd since they flew in to Barton’s this morning.

“Done. Now it’s just got to chill,” Bucky said, placing the dough in the fridge. He scrunched his nose and rolled his shoulders. “Ugh, I’ve got flour down my shirt.”

“Wonder how that happened.”

“Don’t look at me like butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth. I’m on to you,” Bucky said, unsuccessfully attempting to keep his usual scowl from turning into a grin.

Fireworks went off in Tony’s head as he was struck speechless. It was more than just a heart flutter; Tony’s heart had gone supernova. The upward turn at the edges of those pink lips, blue-grey eyes crinkling in the corners--Bucky was gorgeous. How was Tony just noticing this now?

Then it was over as Bucky’s face shuttered, leaving Tony off balance. Tony had fallen for the guy and immediately made it awkward by staring.

“Anyway, we should get cleaned up. Think we can manage a shower with these?” Bucky said, raising his arm to rattle the handcuffs. Bucky’s words were stilted and uncomfortable. Tony needed to salvage this someway.

“Sure, why not? Where there is a will, there is a way and all that.”

He hadn’t felt like this in ages, all weak kneed and heart fluttering. This wasn’t some weird case of Stockholm syndrome, was it? Probably not.

Some distant part of himself was aware of Bucky tugging him up the stairs and into the bathroom. Tony heard the shower curtain pulled closed, but didn’t really register it. Steam filled the room, and suddenly Tony was jerked downward by the handcuffs as Bucky kicked off his shoes and pulled down his pants. Tony stood there, blinking at Bucky, who had paused.

“You know, if you wanted a show—” Bucky looked away as he said it, his hair hiding his face.

Tony cut him off: “I doubt you’ve got anything I haven’t seen before.” He turned around as casually as he could, eyes very deliberately locked on the Christmas themed hand towels hanging next to the sink.

This was awkward in a completely different way than Tony had imagined when Natasha put the handcuffs on them. It was bad enough with the staring before, but now he was ogling Bucky while he got undressed. He was lucky nothing too outrageous had escaped his mouth yet.

Bucky finished getting undressed, pushing his shirt on to the cuff after shaking it out the best he could since there little else he could do with it. He clumsily coordinated with Tony to hop in the shower before closing the curtain behind him, leaving Tony standing just outside.

This wasn’t good for his heart at all. Tony’s mind spun endless images from the sounds of washing up, of water sluicing off of Bucky’s well-muscled body. He really picked the worst time to develop an attraction to the man.

In an attempt to turn his mind to something else, Tony glanced around for something that could help him out of the handcuffs. His search radius was somewhat limited, but thankfully it wasn’t a very large bathroom anyway.

The water stopped and Bucky sighed so softly Tony almost didn’t hear it before getting out. Without looking--much--Tony handed him a towel from the stack Clint left for his guests.

“Do you want to get cleaned up, too?” Bucky asked, brushing his fingers over Tony’s flour-dusted hair. Water dripped from his hair to his sculpted chest.

Tony turned away, his heart nearly bursting. “No, I’ll manage, I didn’t get that much on me anyway.”

Struggling not to watch Bucky in the mirror, Tony wiped down with a washcloth while Bucky dried off next to him. Bucky tied the towel around his waist and pulled his shirt back on.

They hunted down Bucky’s suitcase, in one of the guestrooms with Tony’s of course, so Bucky could change into a clean pair of jeans. The shirt was worse off, but Bucky refused to tear it to get it off. As clean as they were going to get, they went back downstairs.

They finished the cookies just in time to get kicked out of the kitchen by Laura, Clint, and Natasha, the big dinner wouldn’t be until tomorrow afternoon, but that didn’t mean there weren’t a lot of hungry bellies in the meantime. Tony certainly wasn’t going to argue with Laura about it, especially considering her red-headed backup, it was better to just take the cookies and run.

The rest of the team roped them into watching Christmas movies with them and the kids. As the losers of the second round of the game, Cooper, Natasha, Thor, Wanda and Steve had been forced into Christmas gear of their own. The most entertaining of which was Steve’s crop-top with ‘Dear Santa, I can explain,’ blazoned across it.

Tony grumbled when everyone voted down Tony’s suggestion of the best Christmas movie of all: Die Hard, but had to admit it wasn’t so bad to settle in to watch cheesy movies with his team and a plate of cookies. Bucky was nice and warm beside him and never seemed to mind Tony’s whispered stream of commentary.


Before long, dinner was called and everyone crowded into the kitchen for their share of it. Tony would have been happy to wait, but Bucky pulled him into the fray. The clamor for food was more terrifying than some actual battles Tony had been in, with certain overly muscled team members and small children elbowing Tony out of the way. Tony couldn’t get anywhere near the food, but it turns out he didn’t have to. When they emerged from the chaos, Bucky was carrying two plates, one of which he set in front of Tony as they sat down.

The chaos of dinner eventually gave way to relaxed conversation and dessert. Time was running out. If Tony didn’t get the cuffs off soon he’d really have to share a bed with Bucky. He didn’t know if he could survive that, he already had a crush the size of Manhattan. He just knew that if he spent the night next to Bucky, curled up under the blankets with him, there would be no going back.

Unfortunately for him, every time he so much as thought of throwing out some excuse to get out of there, Natasha would look at him like she knew .  It was honestly pretty freaky.

Everyone was herded off to bed early so as not to keep Cooper and Lila up too late. Literally, in the case of Tony and Bucky, with Clint giving Natasha a conspiratorial wink and practically pushing them up the stairs and into their room.

As soon as they were alone, Tony pressed his ear up against the door. Bucky quickly followed suit.

When not a creature was stirring all through the house, Tony finally whispered, “Do you think the coast is clear?”

Bucky’s eyebrows came together in confusion. “I think so?”

“Come on, it’s about time we broke out of these.” Tony glared at the cuffs. “I’m sure Clint has something in that old barn of his that’ll do it.”

Sneaking out of the house would be a bit more difficult, but the bathroom had been suspiciously empty of bobby pins, or anything else that could reasonably be used to pick a lock, like one on a pair of handcuffs. The kitchen had been the same. He’d considered snagging one of the hooks off a tree ornament, but Natasha and Clint had been watching a little too closely and now Wanda was sleeping on the couch in front of the tree. She’d rat them out in a second if she so much as heard anything.

“Oh. Right. O’course,” Bucky murmured, confusion slipping back into blankness. He nodded to himself before silently easing the door open. “Follow my footsteps exactly.”

Not a creak was heard as Bucky headed down the stairs, sideways so Tony could follow him without having to twist around.  The Christmas tree and a dying fire were their only sources of light, casting a warm glow over everything as they ghosted through the living room. Tony tiptoed quietly past where Wanda slumbered on the couch, piled high with quilted blankets.

They made it out the door, their jackets hastily pulled on around the handcuffs, when Bucky paused on the front porch. Moonlight spilled across the snow, lighting everything up nearly as bright as midday. Bucky looked back at Tony, their breath clouding the freezing cold air. He seemed to searching for something in Tony’s expression, Tony didn’t know what.

Then with a nod, Bucky stepped off the porch and they began crunching their way along the paths dug out in the snow to the barn. Well, Tony was crunching, Bucky somehow managed to move across the snow in near silence.

The barn door swung open at Tony’s touch, they slipped inside and closed it behind them, cutting off all but a few traces of the bright moonlight.

“There’s got to be something around here we can use.” Tony whispered, heading deeper into the barn. He gave a strangled shout as he tripped over something, jerking his wrist hard in the handcuffs. Bucky grabbed him by the shoulders to steady him. “Should have brought a damn flashlight. This place is blacker than my coffee.”

“What are we looking for?” Bucky asked, tantalizingly close to Tony’s ear.

The deep rasp of Bucky’s voice gave Tony goosebumps. He was lucky it was too dark for Bucky to see him blush. If he spent the night this close to Bucky, there is no way he could keep his reactions under control; it’d be like declaring his feelings with a big neon sign.

“Anything that could possibly work. I’ll use a saw if I have to,” Tony grumbled after a second.

Light filled the barn as the door swung back open and someone said, “Now that’s not very sporting, is it?”

“What the hell!” Tony jumped, hand clutched to his chest. Did people not realize that he had a heart condition? He did not need anyone sneaking up on him.

Natasha sauntered into the barn, smiling like the cat that ate the canary. “Trying to get out of your penalty early? I’m disappointed in you.”

“Oh, like you didn’t expect it.” Tony crossed his arms, which had the side effect of pulling Bucky closer. He blinked then shrugged it off, secretly glad of his closeness. “You cleared just about everything that could be used as a lockpick out of Barton’s house.”

“I said I was disappointed, not surprised.”

“I know you have no compunctions about torturing me, but are you really going to do this to Bucky?”

“He doesn’t mind that much, do you Sasha?”

Bucky shrugged in response, but the expression on his face was oddly blank. Now that Tony thought about it, Bucky hadn’t been trying that hard to find a way to free them. As many ways out of handcuffs as Tony knew, Bucky probably knew more. Hell, Bucky might be the one person who could steal a key off Natasha if it came to that.

The real question was what did it mean? Tony wanted to read deeper into it, but he didn’t dare get his hopes up.

Natasha pulled her fur-lined coat closer around her.  “I’m not going to stand out here all night, back to bed.”

Not a word was spoken as they headed back inside and upstairs to their temporary room. The gears of Tony’s mind were turning, trying to understand what Bucky was thinking. Bucky, for his part, remained stoic and unreadable.

Bucky closed the bedroom door behind them. He looked down, refusing to meet Tony’s eyes.

“Is this really that bad?” Bucky asked in a gruff voice. He almost sounded hurt. “Being handcuffed to me?”

A lump appeared in Tony’s throat and he struggled to speak past it. “I guess not,” Tony managed in a wavering voice. He didn’t look to see Bucky’s reaction.

Tension filled the air as they got ready for bed, kicking off their shoes and pants and pulling on pajamas in an awkward dance. Pulling back the covers and climbing in, they discovered that the handcuffs made it difficult to get comfortable in the narrow bed. Eventually they settled down to sleep face to face with their hands between them.

Bucky’s scent, orange and musk with a hint of metal, overpowered the freshly laundered smell of the sheets. Bucky’s face was just inches from Tony’s, a faint smile played at his lips. His breath came out in warm puffs that brushed across Tony’s cheeks. Tony’s skin buzzed where it made contact with Bucky’s, creating a hyper-awareness of where their hands touched and the way their legs were nearly tangled together. Tony’s poor, abused heart pounded double-time as he couldn’t help but think about how he wanted to pull closer.

In the span of a day Bucky had gone from Steve’s friend who he really hadn’t known how to feel about to someone he wanted to snuggle and go on sappy dates with and Tony couldn’t quite figure out how. He knew he always fell and hard and fast when he did fall, but somehow this was different.

Tony should just tell Bucky how he felt. What was the worst that could happen?

He could probably live with being rejected, he lived through much worse. It’d be better now than further down the line when he was completely gone on the guy.

“Bucky, I—” Tony cut himself off at the faint clink of the handcuffs.

Tony couldn’t spring this on Bucky when neither of them could escape. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them to have this hanging over them while they had to sleep in the same bed.

Pulling his eyebrows together concernedly, Bucky shifted to get a better look at Tony. “What?”

“Later, after we get these off,” Tony promised, looking down at the handcuffs.

Bucky pressed his lips together like he wanted to say something, but nodded and closed his eyes to go to sleep. Tony tried to do the same, but it was a long time before his mind settled enough to sleep.

The sound of small feet pounding down the stairs roused Tony from his sleep. Bucky was already awake, his gaze focused on Tony. It was unclear what he was thinking. Tony licked his lips nervously.

They listened as much heavier steps, three sets, followed the children down the stairs accompanied by exhausted grumbling. Neither of them moved.

“I guess we better go down stairs,” Bucky said, breaking off eye contact.

“Freedom calls,” Tony agreed.

Tony didn’t really want to move, but he stretched as best he could and rolled out of bed. He ran his fingers through his hair in an attempt to make its wild shape look like something other than bedhead. He changed out of his pajamas and brushed his teeth, trying not to appear self-conscious. His spine tingled with the knowledge that Bucky was right there beside him every step of the way, doing the same. Finally, Tony admitted he stalled enough and headed out.

Natasha met them at the bottom of the stairs, holding up a key. “Okay, boys, you’ve done your time, let’s get those off.”

“Finally!” Tony said with a wide grin he didn’t mean and held out his wrist for Natasha.

There were two clicks of the lock and the handcuffs fell free. Tony absently rubbed his wrist, unable to drum up the courage to look at Bucky just yet. He was going to tell Bucky how he felt, he just had to think of the words first.

“So what was it that you wanted to say?” Bucky peered at Tony, trying to meet his eyes. “Tony?”

Last night what he had to do seemed so clear, but now he didn’t know where to begin. Tony’s usual approach wouldn’t work here; Bucky wasn’t just some one-night stand. How did normal people ask people out? He didn’t even know if Bucky liked him. He needed more time.

“I’m gonna…” Tony gestured vaguely over his shoulder before turning around and rushing out of the room to the shock of all present.

Bucky caught Tony before he even got past the kitchen, stopping him in his tracks. His hand on Tony’s shoulder was loose, giving him the option to pull away if he wanted to. Tony looked up at Bucky, but his eyes caught on the mistletoe hanging above them.

Tony laughed. He hadn’t even realized Clint had put it up. He was so worked up over this, but what the hell, it was Christmas.

Biting his lip, Bucky said, “Tony, What—”

Tony surged upward and kissed Bucky before he could finish was he was saying. Bucky’s lips were slack with surprise, tasting of the toothpaste they shared.

Pulling back, Tony hesitantly asked, “What do you think of making that a regular thing?”

In response, Bucky leaned back in, returning Tony’s cautious kiss with an infinitely more passionate one. Steadying himself on Bucky’s shoulders, Tony parted his lips for Bucky. Bucky consumed every bit of Tony that Tony was willing to give, leaving Tony dizzy with desire.

Their breath burned hot between them as Bucky whispered, “I’d love to.”