A body moves between Bucky and the wall screen in his room.
“Move, or I’m gonna move you,” Bucky warns quietly.
“You can try,” Steve quips. His arms are crossed. His Eyes of Disapproval are cranked up to eleven. He’s carrying two beers.
Bucky knows a peace offering when he sees one.
“Just leave me alone,” Bucky says. “M’not in the mood to be comforted just yet. When Stark wakes up-- then I’ll let you drag me out to do whatever you want.”
When he wakes up. Not if. There’s no if. Bucky won’t accept an if, and if the universe tries to hand him one he’s gonna take that up with the universe.
It fucking owes him.
“Buck,” Steve says, and his eyes go soft. “It’s not your fault.”
“It is my fault,” Bucky disagrees. “I’ve been watchin’ the replay for the last four hours. I wrote out a list of all the things I did wrong. You wanna see?”
Bucky’s been scratching in his notebook, a pidgin language he and the Winter Soldier (two voices, one brain-- such a pain in the ass) had come up with together at some point in the past. Bucky doesn’t remember learning it, yet he can read it and write it fluently, though even JARVIS has difficulty deciphering meaning from words he hasn’t seen translated before.
Stark had called the language they’d come up with “brilliant.” He threw around compliments like that all the time. Handed them out like candy, even to Bucky, who deserved absolutely nothing from the man. Not after killing his parents. Stark insisted that was in the past now, but Bucky never failed to notice how Tony’s eyes followed him in and out of rooms. Aware. Wary. He always seemed to be watching but he could never meet Bucky’s gaze.
He’d plaster on a smile and speak with kindness, but if Tony couldn’t make eye contact with Bucky then clearly there was never going to be any chance at real forgiveness. Genuine friendship.
Or hope for the (terrible) crush that Bucky’d been nurturing for months now. (He gets why they call it a crush )(When he looks at Tony it’s like all the air is being squeezed out of his lungs.)(What even are feelings???)
“Wouldn’t be able to read it if you showed me,” Steve said, interrupting Bucky’s spiral of guilt and heart eye emojis. “And I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to lock yourself up in here and obsess--”
“Captain Rogers, Sergeant Barnes, I am sorry to interrupt,” JARVIS chimes in from the ceiling. “You asked to be alerted when Sir woke up. He is awake. Dr. Banner says he would prefer to fill you in on Sir’s prognosis in person.”
Bucky and Steve are both on their feet and out the door in seconds. They take the stairs down the four flights to the infirmary and skid to a stop in front of the room where Tony’d been put earlier. They aren’t the only ones there. Natasha and Clint are waiting as well, along with Dum-E and U, who are both chirping nervously.
Bruce walks out of the separate room where they’re keeping Tony and Bucky gets a glimpse of Rhodey, still inside, sitting on the edge of Tony’s bed. Tony looks rough. His eyes are open but his face is a rainbow of green and blue and purple bruises and he is clearly in distress. Bruce pulls the door shut.
“Is he going to be okay?” Clint asks.
Bucky’s glad Clint speaks up since he’s desperate to know but he’s having a hard time making words work. His throat is too tight.
Bruce pauses and that’s ominous. Bucky can tell he’s looking for a gentle way to break some bad news. “Physically, Tony is going to be fine.”
“That sounds bad,” Steve said.
“He’s lost his memory,” Bruce says plainly. “Functionally, he’s still a genius. I asked him a few tricky math questions and he rattled off the answers the way he always would. But he doesn’t know his name. He doesn’t recognize Rhodey. And he has a traumatic brain injury caused by an artifact we don’t understand. The damage seems targeted very specifically to personal memory. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen.”
“Couldn’t it be temporary?” Natasha asks.
“It absolutely could,” Bruce agrees. “JARVIS is contacting the usual suspects in rare object identification. Hopefully one of them can give us a better idea. In the meantime, Tony needs rest and we need to keep him calm. I’m afraid visitors will need to wait until he’s less overwhelmed.”
“That makes sense,” Steve says. He doesn’t bother to hide the misery in his voice. It’s written all over every Avengers’ face.
“C’mon,” Natasha says, tugging at Clint’s arm. “If there’s nothing we can do here, let’s go get cheesey fries.”
“And beer,” Clint adds. “Doc. Call us if anything changes?”
“Absolutely,” Bruce agrees. “Bucky, could you stay back for a minute?” Bruce asks. “Steve, you can, too, if you want.”
“Sure,” Bucky says.
He deserves whatever tongue-lashing Bruce or Colonel Rhodes want to unload on him. They’re Tony’s two best friends and this is Bucky’s fault, after all. He tries not to let his human hand shake with the fear he’s feeling. They’ll be angry but this isn’t HYDRA. There’s no punishment coming.
Steve would never let that happen.
Logic doesn’t keep Bucky from feeling nauseated but it does keep him from running.
“Thanks,” Bruce says warmly. “Tony’s very agitated-- I would even go as far as to say frightened-- by the giant blanks in his memory. I’ve experienced those myself, but he doesn’t want to talk to me. He’s not a fan of doctors. And Rhodey lost his trust almost immediately by telling him we’re not letting him leave the room until we’re sure he isn’t a danger to himself. I thought maybe if you could talk to him, you’d be better at this than us. You’ve gotten yourself through some pretty massive trust issues.”
“Talk to who?” Bucky asks. He’s confused. The lack of animosity is really throwing him for a loop.
“To Tony,” Bruce says carefully. “About your experience with memory loss.”
“I can’t-- I-- can’t.”
They shouldn’t be letting Bucky within a hundred feet of Tony. Probably even on a good day. But here, now? How could they be so careless?
“Thank you for being honest,” Bruce says. He gives Bucky a small smile.
Bucky walks away. It’s not a run until the infirmary doors shut behind him.
He’s really not sure where within the tower he ends up. He’d gone down a back hallway. They all look the same when he gets like this. When the part of his brain that’s still the Winter Soldier takes over for him. Tries to keep him safe against the unknown threats that lurk in a world the soldier doesn’t understand.
Bucky pauses. Attempts to reign in his thoughts. Soft lights on the walls begin to glow.
“Sergeant Barnes-- if you will follow the lights, I will guide you to your room,” JARVIS’s calm, even voice reminds Bucky. “You aren’t far.”
It’s been-- months-- since he needed the help. It used to happen all the time in the beginning. Something upsetting or confusing would happen and Bucky would freeze. His brain would stutter step. Tony was the one who wrote the subroutine to notice when Bucky needed an assist. JARVIS controlled the lights but it was a kindness from Tony that was one of dozens Bucky doesn’t deserve.
Follow the lights. Find the room. Sit on the sofa. Deep breath. Another.
“JARVIS, replay the suit footage. Start at minute 42.”
“Sergeant Barnes, might I suggest that you get some food and rest, and come back to the footage in the morning?”
“You can suggest it but I’m not gonna listen to you any more than I listen to Steve,” Bucky sighs. “No offense, or anything. It’s not cause you’re an AI. I gotta watch this till I know how to fix it.”
“I appreciate the clarification,” JARVIS says. Bucky actually thinks he can hear appreciation in his tone. “I will replay the video as requested. If I can suggest a compromise, if food appears here without interruption to your stated goal, would you eat it?”
“Ummm…” This is more effort than JARVIS usually puts in to convince him to eat. “Did Steve put you up to this?”
“He did not,” JARVIS says.
“Fine,” Bucky says. “I accept. Do what you want.”
Thirty minutes later, U rolls in with a delivery bag from SoupSoupSoup clutched in his claw. It’s not soup. It’s Bucky’s favorite comfort food: a dozen garlic cheese biscuits and a bottle of a mango juice.
Bucky eats all twelve biscuits and chugs the drink as he watches. It’s only when they’re gone that he realizes just how much he needed them.
“Pause,” he says.
The screen freezes.
“Thanks JARVIS. I do feel a little better.”
“You are most welcome, Sergeant Barnes. I am here to help.”
“If I try to sleep, will you wake me up if I start lookin’ like I’m dreaming?”
“I’ll keep watch,” JARVIS confirms. “And wake you if necessary.”
Bucky tugs the blanket down from the back of his couch and pulls it over himself as he leans down to get more comfortable.
“Continuous replay, on mute, and dim the lights?”
The lights dim and the video resumes. His thoughts finally slow down as he watches the last few minutes of his mission with Tony go wrong over and over and over.
”Leave, Stark,” Bucky growls.
Iron Man’s laugh is tinny through the suit. “Not a chance, Buckaroo.”
“Whatever this thing’s doin’ it’s not good. Get out while you still can. Go!”
“I’m insulted that you think I can’t figure this out, I really am,” Tony chides. He moves up next to Bucky. Tilts his head as he looks down at the glowing rock and Bucky’s metal hand, stuck to it like glue. “You can’t let go of it at all?”
“Oh gee, hadn’t tried that,” Bucky grumbles. “No, asshole. I can’t let go. If I could let go, you think I’d be standin’ here twiddlin my thumbs while it powers up?”
“What makes you think it’s powering up?” Iron Man asks.
He moves. Shifts. Bucky assumes to get a better view.
“When somethin’ isn’t doing anything and then you touch it and it grabs you and starts flashin’ and then the flashes start to get closer together, you can bet your ass whatever’s comin’ ain’t gonna be good.”
“You remember that from your time as the Winter Soldier?” Tony asks.
Bucky scowls. “I survived a couple of year worth of World War 2, thank you. And the streets of Brooklyn before that.”
“Yeah, I guess you did,” Tony says. “Tell me about it. Where you’ve seen something like this before.”
“I haven’t-- not like you mean-- wait-- you don’t even really want to know. You’re just tryin’ to keep me talkin’ so I stop tellin’ you to act like you’ve got two cents worth of self-preservation in that brain of yours and to get the hell out of here.”
“You got me,” Tony admits. “Though it was more of a two birds, one stone scenario. I was trying to distract you, that’s true. But if you’d had some information about having seen something like this before it would have been helpful. I could have distracted you some other way if I’d wanted. I’ve been told my singing voice is passable. I’m an excellent flirt.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Bucky says, a smile grudgingly appearing on his face.
“I’m also… wait-- did you see the strobe slow for a split second?”
“I wasn’t looking,” Bucky says. “I was lookin’ at you because you can’t keep your mouth shut.”
“Technically the suit doesn’t have a mouth.”
“Technically the suit doesn’t have to be here at all," Bucky retorts. "Get out while you can.”
“Oh you want me out of the suit?” Tony asks, sounding scandalized. “Sexy. Probably not safe, but you know-- I’m nothing if not accommodating.”
“You been takin' survival lessons from Steve or something? I swear to all that is holy if you open so much as a vent on that suit--”
The video scrambles, there’s a sound like a steam train barreling through the room, a flash of light, and then nothing.
Bucky wakes to a flash. It’s the view screen, still muted, at the end of the loop. It begins again.
“JARVIS, end the video.”
Bucky doesn’t need to see more. He’s not going to figure this out. He’s stared at himself and Tony over one hundred times and he’s no closer to figuring out what went wrong. All he knows is that it’s his fault. That if he hadn’t touched the damn rock in the first place Tony would be fine.
He sits up to find his notebook open on the table. There’s a few words written on the page that Bucky doesn’t remember writing. It’s unmistakeably the Winter Soldier’s slanty scrawl.
Mission Assessment: FAILURE. Our fault.
It’s early. 4:30 AM. Bucky usually tries to stay in his room until at least 5 before he goes for a jog, but there will be no jogging today. He dresses in dark clothes and slips on a glove over his metal hand, hoping to be missed by anyone else who may be up and around the tower this early. If he sticks to the shadows he can go unseen.
His plan is to make his way down to the infirmary before he talks himself out of it. He doesn’t want to speak to Tony. Only check on him. But when he gets there, Tony’s in the middle of attempting to break himself out. Bucky can see him on the other side of the glass, jabbing at a lock panel in deep concentration.
The doors are thick. Tony won’t hear Bucky, but if he looks up he’ll see him.
“JARVIS?” Bucky asks quietly.
There’s no verbal reply, but the phone in Bucky’s pocket buzzes. He pulls it out and glances down.
JARVIS: Sir has me on building-wide mute. He reset my communication function 30 minutes and 32 seconds ago so I was unable to communicate even via text until you spoke with me first. Would you like me to alert the others?
The door between Bucky and Tony slides open before Bucky can respond. He does give a shake of his head, hoping JARVIS will understand that as a no. For now he’s got this.
A second later there’s what looks like a stun gun (or a prototype stun gun that Tony’s jimmied together in the infirmary) hovering inches from his chest and Bucky realizes maybe some back up wouldn’t have been a bad idea. From the looks of it, Tony’s make-shift weapon could probably knock out a grown man. It might not work that way on Bucky, but no doubt it will hurt like a son of a bitch and Bucky’s got some unresolved issues with the cattle prods HYDRA used to use on them so he knows he looks at Tony with genuine fear in his eyes.
“Are you keeping me here?” Tony demands. “Are you with them? The doctor and--”
“I’m not,” Bucky says immediately. “I’m definitely not. They wouldn’t be happy if they knew I was here.” Steve wouldn’t be at least. Not if he knew Bucky had a Stark Weapon currently aimed at his heart.
“And where is here?” Tony demands.
“We’re in Stark Tower,” Bucky replies carefully. “Did they tell you that this tower belongs to you?”
“They told me a lot of things,” Tony says, narrowing his eyes. “But I don’t know-- it’s not sticking-- doesn’t sound right. You know a way out of here?”
He sounds upset, sure, but it goes way beyond that. He’s scared. Terrified. It’s not just in his voice, but in the way Bucky can see the pulse in his neck racing and the way Tony’s eyes dart past Bucky every few seconds toward the outer door.
“Out of the tower?” Bucky asks. “Yeah. I know the way. Where would you want to go?”
“No more questions,” Tony snaps. “I’ll tell you when you need to know.” He nods toward the crackling electric contraption in his hands. “Do you know what this is?”
“A defibrillator paddle attached to the battery of... the portable life support pod?” Bucky asks. “With the battery lines doubled back to produce a feedback charge of... close to 9,000 volts. Give or take a thousand.”
Tony looks surprised by the answer. “It’s a stun gun,” he says. “And if it doesn’t kill you, it’s enough electricity to make you wish you were dead. I want you to get me out of this building. Do that and I’ll let you go. I won’t hurt you. I promise. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Bucky nods. “Okay.” He takes a deep breath. “You need to be able to protect yourself. That’s fair.”
Bucky is faster and stronger and he could disarm Stark if it came down to it. He’s sure that he could. But letting this play out may be the best thing for Tony. Letting Bucky feel in control early on was the only way Steve had ever been able to gain Bucky’s trust.
“So how do we get out?” Tony asks.
“The easiest way out is to ask JARVIS for help. He can lead you to any exit, any time.”
“The ceiling voice?” Tony asks. “I couldn’t trust him.”
“It took me a long time to trust him, too,” Bucky says. “But he’s good. You made him to be good.”
Tony shakes his head. “I don’t trust you, either.”
“That’s smart,” Bucky agrees. “You-- umm... don’t really trust me even when you’re feeling like yourself. At least I don’t think that you do.”
“Why?” Tony asks.
“I was captured. A long time ago. The people who took me hurt me. Brainwashed me. Made me do things. I-- I wasn’t in my own head. Like you said, things didn’t stick. The only things that stuck were my orders. So... I wronged you.” Bucky really doesn’t want to mention Howard and Maria if he can help it. It’s shame more than fear of the stun gun. The burning, swirling misery that he’s already seen in Tony’s eyes before when he found out who had murdered his parents. He’d rather not go through that again, because Bucky is a coward.
“If you don’t want them to find you, there are places we can go,” Bucky adds. “You have other houses. I can fly the jet you keep upstairs, even without JARVIS.”
“You’d do that because you... wronged me?” Tony asks.
He sounds so confused. So much like he’s grasping for one person to be safe for him. And apparently Bucky’s honest has earned him a modicum of trust.
“I owe you,” Bucky says, with all the conviction he feels behind those words. “For... for what I did. And because you took me in, when I had nowhere to go. You made me a new arm and you make adjustments to it every month. There’s no one else who can do it, and so even though I don’t think you like looking at me, or being in the same room with me, and you really don’t want to be that close to me, you take care of it.”
“What’s wrong with your arm?”
Bucky holds it up and pulls off the glove and rolls up his sleeve a few inches. Tony’s eyes widen.
“Yeah.” Bucky pulls the sleeve back down, but leaves off the glove.
“Would you... would you tell me-- if this wasn’t safe?” Tony asks. “If the building? Or the doctor? If-- if I can trust them or if I can’t? I feel like I’m going crazy. I don’t know. There’s this-- this stuff in my head--”
“This building is yours. JARVIS is yours. The doctor and anyone you’ve met-- JARVIS wouldn’t let them near you if they would hurt you. I understand why that’s confusing, though. When I was trying to find myself again, most of my memories were gone. I only had glimpses of my past before HYDRA. I didn’t know who to trust. I aimed a lot of weapons at my friends. For months.”
Tony seems to remember the stun gun in his hand and he lowers it. “I don’t know what to do.”
“How about we go--”
He pauses when the door at the far end of the room slides open and Bruce walks in looking tired and rumpled. He glances up. Pauses. And then puts both of his hands in the air in quick surrender.
“Can you let everyone know they should clear out for the day?” Bucky asks Bruce. “Tony and I are gonna go up to his room. You said physically he’s fine, right?”
“He should be fine to walk around. Tony-- did you mute JARVIS and lock out the overrides?”
“Yes,” Tony says.
“JARVIS can text you if he needs you,” Bucky tells Bruce. “We already talked for a second and he’s all there. Probably just a little worried.”
“Good,” Bruce says. “Tony, do you feel safe with Bucky?”
“Safer than with you,” Tony says.
A flash of hurt crosses Bruce’s face, but Bucky knows that’s probably for reasons way beyond Tony’s current situation.
“Then I’ll leave you to it. Tony, please let Bucky know if you start to feel dizzy or uncomfortable. He can text me and I’ll let him know what interventions are appropriate.”
“Okay,” Tony responds.
“Thanks,” Bucky replies.
Bruce walks away and the doors close behind him. Bucky looks back at Tony. “Is that better?”
Tony nods. “Can we get some food, too? And maybe some shoes?”
“We can get you whatever you want,” Bucky says easily. “Then after we get situated I can tell you about what happened. If you trust that it’s the truth, a lot of this will make more sense.”
“They told me what happened,” Tony says. “Or their version. Something about an artifact.”
“Did they let you watch the video?” Bucky asks.
“There’s a video?” Tony asks.
“A couple. Should be footage from your suit, but there’s also video from a security camera that was nearby. JARVIS was monitoring both, and he has the recordings. He’ll show you. I can make coffee and something for breakfast and then we’ll watch. If that’s okay.”
Tony nods. “I-- I trust you. Please don’t make me regret that.”
“I won’t,” Bucky says.
Tony puts the stun gun on the nearest table. “Probably better not to walk around with something that can kill me if I trip and fall.”
“I won’t let you fall,” Bucky says.
Tony turns to smile at him. A real, genuine, smile. “Kind of hard to believe you’re the one I don’t trust.”
“Eh-- we’ll get there,” Bucky says. “If you really want to know. Telling you all over again is not my idea of a good way to start the day.”
Tony looks at him with sympathy. “That bad?”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“I don’t know the any of it,” Tony says. “Lead the way?”
Bucky keeps to a slow pace in case Tony’s not steady on his feet, and they take the elevator up all the way to the penthouse. Bucky’s never spent more than a minute or two there at a time, and always that was with Steve. Always giving Tony his space. Not like this, with Tony moving in sync with him, so unsure, even of his own space.
“This is mine,” Tony says, looking around. “That’s-- I mean-- this is mine?”
“All yours,” Bucky says. “Best view in New York.” He gestures toward the windows, and Tony walks in that direction. Bucky moves toward the bar.
He sees a coffee machine and what it’ll take to make some. There’s a mini-fridge, too, with a couple of packs of muffins. That will work.
“Shouldn’t take me long to have breakfast ready,” Bucky says. “JARVIS? Can you bring up the replay I was watching last night?”
There’s no audio response, but the giant television on the wall turns on. The screen is paused, right at the starting mark. Tony turns toward the screen. Tilts his head.
“Iron Man, yeah,” Bucky says.
“Do you have a name? Like a code name?”
Bucky feels himself make a face. “I guess. People used to call me the Winter Soldier and it kind of stuck. You don’t call me that, though. Ever. Mostly you call me Barnes-- my last name. Or a variation on my first name. Buckaroo. Buckles. Buckshot.”
“God, you must hate me,” Tony says with a slow smile.
“I could never hate you,” Bucky says quietly. “I don’t wanna hate anybody. I just want to live my life. Put all the bad stuff behind me.”
“Then I show up without a memory and shove a stun gun in your face,” Tony says.
“Will you quit makin’ yourself out to be some kind of problem?” Bucky asks. “Leave the guilt to me. You’re the brains of this outfit. I’m the guy sulking behind the potted plants.”
“I have a hard time believing that,” Tony says. “Not about me being the brains. That seems legit. But you in the background.”
Bucky just shakes his head. This Tony and their easy conversation-- it’s not real. But it’s painful just the same, to realize that things could be this easy between them. This unburdened. That if it weren’t for what Bucky had done, Tony would look at him like he’s looking at him now. Like having a friend is what he wants most in the world.
The fancy coffee machine gives a little beep and Bucky pulls the mugs away.
“Don’t know exactly what I made but it’s probably what you like.” Bucky’s not all that picky about coffee, though his first sip is some kind of heaven. “Apparently it’s what I like, too.”
Tony walks over to pick up a mug and grab a muffin. “This is so weird. Can’t believe it’s all mine.”
“I guess I had it easy. When I came round, I woke up to nothin’ except Steve.”
“Big blond guy?” Tony asks.
“Can’t miss him.”
“Well you could’ve woke up to worse,” Tony says. “Are you and he an item?” Tony asks it all casual, but Bucky’s not stupid. There’s interest there. Which might be why his brain flips into flail mode.
Bucky chokes on his muffin. “Nooooo. No. Nope. Best friends since we were kids. Tried it once when I was drunk and we thought we were gonna die the next day. Felt like I was kissing a sister. Not that I’d know what that’d feel like. Never tongue kissed mine. Obviously. Just, that’s what came to mind.”
That makes Tony laugh. He sits down at the edge of the couch and puts his coffee down on the table. “You going to join me or do I have to watch this alone?”
“I’ll sit,” Bucky confirms.
He ends up on the other edge of the couch. There’s no hiding that he’s not exactly comfortable on the fancy furniture. He much prefers couches with normal cushions and square edges and not the sleek, Starship Enterprise look of the gray, curvy sofa, that does not appeart to have been made for actual sitting.
“I take it you don’t spend much time up here?” Tony asks.
“You wouldn’t want me here,” Bucky sighs. “S’kinda nice bein’ up here with you not looking at me like...”
“Like what?” Tony asks.
“Like you’re afraid of me,” Bucky admits, with a sad, rueful smile. “JARVIS, go head and play the video,” he adds, because he needs to not think too much about how nice this is. Being with Tony. Talking to Tony. Tony.
The video begins and they watch it through together. Tony doesn’t seem bothered by it at all, and even smiles in a few parts. Then there’s the boom, and the screen goes black.
“Can I watch that again?” Tony asks.
“JARVIS, play it again,” Bucky directs.
The video loops back to the starting point and goes from there.
“I can’t believe you think I don’t like you,” Tony says, after the second playthough. “I definitely do.”
“It’s different in the field,” Bucky says. “You’re in the suit. If you could see your eyes in this video you’d know what I mean. They’re the give away.”
“The give away to what?” Tony asks. “I was blatantly flirting.”
“Which you do with everyone,” Bucky argues. “Even the villains.”
Tony considers it. Takes a sip of his coffee. Fixes Bucky with a look. “What did you do?”
“After the tape ends?”
“To make me afraid of you.”
“That,” Bucky says. He shifts on the couch. Braces himself for whatever’s coming next. It’s been nice. And Bucky doesn’t get to keep nice things so it’s fine this has to go away. It’s exactly what he deserves. “I killed your parents. I had orders from HYDRA, and I murdered them. There was a video. You saw it... You’ll never forget what happened, and that’s smart. I don’t know why you ever agreed to take me in and I don’t know why you fix my arm or you have JARVIS help me when I get confused or why you do pretty much anything you do. I am so sorry but you don’t wanna hear it. Don’t want my apologies. Don’t-- don’t want to look at me.”
Tony stares at him in disbelief. There’s no judgement there. And no pain. Because he doesn’t remember his parents. There’s no connection. It doesn’t mean Bucky doesn’t feel like utter shit because he totally does.
“I should go,” Bucky says. “You like Bruce. And Steve. Or-- pretty much any of them. I can get you company you can trust.”
“Don’t go,” Tony says simply. “Please. I want to talk about this.”
“There’s nothin’ to talk about.”
“It hurts you, him-- that Tony-- being afraid. Doesn’t he know that it hurts you?” Tony asks in confusion.
“He knows,” Bucky says. “It’s not enough for him. That means it can’t be enough for you.”
“I don’t even know him-- me,” Tony objects. “At this point I’m highly skeptical I’d even like me. My taste in furniture leaves something to be desired.”
“Why do you have to be so perfect?” Bucky asks, before he even realizes he’s said it out loud.
“I’m guessing any version of me is far from perfect,” Tony points out. “But seriously. That video? Me not leaving... doesn’t seem like he hates you.”
“There are days I wish he did,” Bucky says. “Because it’s not hate. He’s too good to hate me. It’s something worse. Can’t really put my finger on it though. I’m not great at emotions. It’s been more than a year and I still get lost in my own head sometimes.”
“Well. I’m not afraid of you,” Tony says simply. “And until the other guy comes back, you want to watch the city with me? I don’t think I’m ever going to get over that view.”
Bucky nods. He knows he’s setting himself up for trouble. This crush. It’s like the ultimate cosmic punishment and spending more time with Tony’s not going to fix that. There’s no penance that will earn him reprieve. He’s asking for heartbreak. He should leave.
“You want more coffee?” Bucky asks. “We could drink it outside.”
“I do,” Tony agrees. “You make it, I’ll try to find some chairs.”
Bucky’s not sure why there are no chairs they can see out on the balcony. Bucky’s not sure why Tony’s downstairs workshop is lined with art and pictures and robots and life and his penthouse looks like a hotel room. On a space ship. That’s waiting for someone to move in.
The coffee machine is easier the second time around. The mugs are about halfway full when Tony comes stomping back inside.
“What the hell is wrong with me?” he demands. “Do I have a vendetta against logical seating?”
“Not in the rest of the tower you don’t,” Bucky says.
Tony grabs at one of the giant, heavy chairs that sit near the couch and starts to drag it toward the door. Tony’s no light weight but the chairs are clearly ridiculous and possibly made of Osmium or some other element that’s way heavier than it looks.
“You get the coffee. I’ll get the chairs,” Bucky says.
“Might take both of us,” Tony sighs.
“Get our drinks. I’ve got this,” Bucky insists.
He picks up the first chair like it’s made of wicker.
“Holy shit,” Tony says. “How strong is that arm?”
Bucky shrugs. “Strong enough.”
Tony studies him. “It’s not just the arm is it. You’re enhanced.”
Bucky stops at the door. “I am. I don’t know how exactly. Happened after they caught me. Or maybe just after they caught me the first time.”
“Jesus,” Tony whispers. “I can’t believe I’m the kind of dick that would hear shit like that and just... hold a grudge. Knock some sense into me, when I come around, will you?”
“No,” Bucky says. “Not ever.”
He carries the chair over to where they’ll have a good view and goes back for the second. Tony’s sitting in it when he returns.
“Are you going to make me carry this thing with you in it?” Bucky asks.
“Could you?” Tony asks.
“You’re like a gnat. Won’t make a difference,” Bucky says.
Tony looks adorably offended. “Fine. Then I think I’ll stay.”
“Fine. I’ll move you and the chair, then I’ll come back for the coffee. Anything else while I’m at it, your majesty?”
“I could still use some shoes.”
Bucky shakes his head, but picks up the chair-- more carefully this time-- and takes it and Tony out to the balcony. He sits him down carefully and tries to ignore the warmth he feels at the way Tony’s looking at him.
He turns around before he says something stupid, and goes to hunt down shoes from Tony’s closet, then brings them back along with a blanket, and two mugs of coffee. It’s not easy to balance but he manages it and Tony looks unreasonably pleased.
And not just pleased. He looks free. Younger. Unburdened.
Bucky can’t help but wonder if maybe memories aren’t better lost. What it would be like to lose his own.
“I have thoughts,” Tony says. “Plans, really. If this tower really is mine.”
“It really is yours,” Bucky assures him.
“Then I want my part of it to look a little less like a futuristic mausoleum and a little more like a place where a person lives.”
“We could go down to your lab later,” Bucky suggests. “For all I know that might be where you stay. It looks a lot more lived in.”
“That’s another thing I’m going to fix,” Tony says. “We should be friends. Real friends. Not only friends when I’m wearing a mask.”
Bucky nods. “I’m not going to say no to that.”
“Good. Because there’s more. I guess I’m going to need to learn to fight crime. That’s not a skill I’m recalling off the top of my head. Think you could teach me?”
“You sound like you don’t think your memory’s coming back,” Bucky says.
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” Tony says.
“Some things don’t change,” Bucky agrees. “Sure. I’ll teach you. Maybe I can teach you some self-preservation while I’m at it.”
“The other me knew that thing was dangerous. He wasn’t going to leave you to face it alone,” Tony says. “What do you think that means?”
“I tell you what,” Bucky says. “If I ever see him again, I’ll ask him.”
They get quiet after that. Tony’s got a lot to sort out, and Bucky does, too. Maybe it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the elevator opens in the penthouse not even half an hour later.
“We found Stephen Strange,” Rhodey announces.
Tony practically jumps out of his skin at the sudden noise from inside.
“Rhodey’s your best friend,” Bucky says in a low, gentle voice. “I promise. You like him.”
Rhodey shakes his head. “I can’t believe after all the crap we’ve been through, one random magical artifact is all it takes to sweep it all away. Good thing there’s some other reverser artifact that can give it all back. At least that’s what Strange says.”
“Why did it affect Tony and not me?” Bucky asks.
“Something about the suit and magical conduction. Apparently if he’d been out of it, he’d have just gotten flung back like you did.”
Bucky makes a face. Can’t help but remember Tony’s joking threat to climb out it, and how Bucky had all but threatened him to keep him safe inside it.
His head throbs.
“I gotta go,” Bucky says. “Sorry. I just... I can’t.”
Tony doesn’t even try to stop him. Just says, “Ask me. Promise me you will.”
“Promise,” Bucky says.
It’s a promise he’s not sure he intends to keep.
“Good morning, Sergeant Barnes,” JARVIS greets him, some hours later.
Bucky doesn’t know how it’s morning. He barely remembers going to bed. After he’d left Tony he’d gone for a run, and he’d made it all the way to Brooklyn before he stopped for air. Made it back again before he let himself have a drink of water. Worked out in the gym. Stuck to the shadows. Avoided the Avengers like they were carrying around the plague. Finally collapsed in his bed at Stupid O’Clock and had slept in till nearly 8 AM.
“Glad you’re back, JARVIS,” Bucky says. He is. He really is, even if he knows what that means. “Tony okay?”
“Sir’s memories have been restored. He did ask that when you woke, I recommend you visit the lab. He expressed concern about your arm and that accident. If the magic amplified through the metal in his suit, it may have caused you unexpected damage as well.”
“Okay,” Bucky says.
Tony worrying about the arm is nothing unusual. If anything, it’s perfectly usual. Tony likes the arm just fine. It’s the person attached to it that makes him nervous.
Bucky showers first, since he hadn’t the night before, and dresses in sweat pants and a t-shirt, hoping to give Tony easy enough access to the arm that this can be an in and out visit. He’s not expecting warmth. Gratitude for his help yesterday. Conversation.
He’s not even sure if Tony will remember his brief stint as his would-be kidnapper and then morning coffee-pal. It had only been a couple of hours, and Tony hadn’t made any effort to contact him yesterday evening. Bucky knows because he had checked his phone about 300 times or so.
There’d been nothing.
It’s quiet in the lab when he gets there. Tony’s alone, sitting on the floor with one leg tucked under him and one leg stuck straight out, soldering some metal together. It’s only when Bucky gets closer he realizes it’s a chair.
Tony’s making a chair.
Bucky’s chest tightens. That can really only mean one thing...
Tony flicks off his torch, and then lifts his welding glasses up off his face to rest in his hair. He’s got a smudge of black across his cheek, and his smile is a little nervous but not wary. Not wary at all.
“I think you’ve got something to ask me, Barnes.”
Bucky nods. Moves to drop to his knees to join Tony on the floor but Tony stands.
“I’ve got coffee,” Tony says. “And a couch. We should use it.”
The couch in the lab is much more comfortable than the couch in the penthouse. The coffee tastes the same. Bucky tries not to feel too nervous. He doesn’t even have the hard part. All he needs to do is ask. Tony’s the one who’s going to need to give an answer.
And as much as Bucky hates to hope and knows that hope has never been his friend... He hopes. He hopes that some of what happened yesterday can continue, even if it won’t be the easy comraderie they’d found with no bad memories in between them.
“Why did you stay?” Bucky asks hesitantly. “That artifact could have killed us. You knew it was dangerous. Why risk it? At least, why risk it for me?”
Tony smiles, soft and sort of apologetic. “I really thought it was more obvious. I had no idea-- I guess I’m not as smooth as I thought. The lights with JARVIS. Fixing your arm. Flirting on missions. I wouldn’t do that for just anyone. But I thought you didn’t like me. Thought looking at me reminded you of things you didn’t want to think about. Then when I’m in the suit you’re so much more relaxed. That made it seem like I was right. You don’t like looking at me.”
“What?” Bucky asks.
“I thought you didn’t like looking at me. Whenever I look at you, you look away.”
“Whenever I look at you, you look away,” Bucky insists. “And— well, there’s no use denying I’ve been lookin’.”
“We might be idiots,” Tony says. “I mean. Genius-level idiots, but still. Idiots. I don’t hate you. Even the day I found out, that was-- that was me lashing out at a convenient target. It wasn’t--
“I deserved it,” Bucky says. “And more, if more was what it took to help you grieve.”
“I still wish I hadn’t,” Tony says. “I’ll forever wish I hadn’t. But I can’t change it. And since getting rid of my memories makes me rude to Bruce and JARVIS, I’m going to have to live with them. I’m afraid even if you liked the other Tony better, you’re stuck with me.”
“Well, I coulda woke up to worse,” Bucky says, echoing Tony’s words from the day before.
“As much as getting whammied by a magic rock sucked, I can’t say that I’m sorry it happened,” Tony admits.
“How bout in the future, we leave all the magical rocks alone?” Bucky asks. “This one seems to have got something right. No need to press our luck.”
“Agreed,” Tony says. “So what do you say to finishing this coffee, helping me bend some more bars for my new chair, and then carrying them up to the penthouse. I’ve got some ideas. Some plans. They start with chairs, and they end with me and you sitting on them, looking out over New York for our first date.”
Bucky’s smile is impossible to stifle. And why would he bother? This is more than hope. This is reality. And it’s his for the taking.
“Sounds like you’ve got yourself a deal,” Bucky says.
“And all it took was a magic rock, a brain injury, and a stun gun,” Tony says. “Why hadn’t I thought of that before?”
“Your flirtin’ could use some work,” Bucky teases, as he leans in a little closer. “Can I kiss you? Just-- just to make sure this is real?”
Tony’s smile radiates warmth. “Best idea I’ve heard yet today.”
Bucky kisses him on the cheek, shy and sweet. “I like that.”
“Me too,” Tony says. “I’ve got some suggestions though. Notes, if you will. Like that should last longer. Be on my mouth. Hopefully nothing like kissing your sist--”
Bucky cuts him off by planting a much better kiss against Tony’s lips. Tony opens his mouth into it, and it’s warm and perfect and everything.
“Genius,” Bucky whispers as he pulls back.
“Your genius,” Tony says. “If you’ll have me.”
“Buddy,” Bucky says. “You don’t know the half of it.”