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This guy is a mess.

He’s clearly getting over someone, some Pepper person. Bucky’s not sure the gender because the guy kept hitting on Bucky outrageously. It’s nearly impressive because he’s splitting his time between Bucky and the very heterosexual dude at the end of the bar.

“And I’m not the easiest to get along with. I know that. Used to come home with that on my progress reports in grade school.” He points to himself, “Does not play well with others. But… I really thought we would make it you know?”

And Bucky doesn’t know but he nods anyway. “I’m sorry, man.”

“I deserve it. I can’t seem to make it work with anyone. Ty… Ty was a disaster. Just a dumpster fire of a relationship. If you could even call it that. See, I’m clingy. I never used to be but I can’t seem to form proper boundaries. Which is weird, right, because my parents weren’t around much so where did I get that from? Wasn’t like I had anyone to cling to,” he sat up straighter, a light bulb going off. “Oh, wait… I hear it. Christ.”

Bucky stifles a laugh, leaning against the counter. “You sure this is the best way to handle it. You seem pretty bummed.”

“Pret-ty bummed,” the guy repeats slowly. He rests his chin in his hands, “I’m not good at emotions and stuff.” He gestures to himself, “Case in point. Either I drink here or I go home and drink alone. One of those is more depressing but I haven’t worked out which.”

Bucky nods, “Noted.”

“My mom was great at emotions. Like, the best. Wasn’t around much but when she was, she just…” he pauses, gathering his words. He talked with his hands alot. “She just knew how to get people to talk about stuff. And she was pretty. Pepper’s pretty,” he says with a sigh.

Bucky frowns, chewing on his lip. “What happened?”

“With Pepper?” he sighs heavily, tapping the rim of his glass. He shoots Bucky a sad smile, “The usual. I fucked it up. I have this thing where I get things, well, people, they’re not things, I don’t think that, but I get people and then I get needy. I have to have all their attention - all of it, no boundaries, remember? I think I just take too much.”

“Pepper say that?” Bucky asks and the guy shrugs.

“No, but, what else does ‘I need some space’ mean?” he asks and Bucky shakes his head, running a hand over his hair.

“It could mean anything, man.”

“Maybe,” the guys says forlornly, staring down at his glass. He looks up, starting to say more when one of the patrons calls Bucky at the end of the bar. He holds up one finger and starts over to help. It’s Travis, one of Bucky’s least favorite customers and he curses when he turns around. When he returns, the guy is smiling at him.

“You know, I could take you away from all of this,” he says, eyes bright.

“You can, huh?” Bucky asks with a grin.

“You don’t know this about me but I’m loaded. Like ridiculously loaded,” he says and no, Bucky didn’t know that because he was wearing ratty old jeans and a band t-shirt.

Bucky leans over the bar and stares at him, “You’d spoil me?” he asks, mock seriously.

The guy beams, “You betcha. I’d buy you whatever you wanted.”

“I’d never have to work another day in my life?”

“Not a one,” he says and he sounds so certain that Bucky almost believes him.

“I don’t know if I’d like being a kept man,” he says and starts wiping down the counter.

“But my house is cool! It’s so cool! It has like robots and things and these really cool screens that you can play with and rotate. I’m a smart guy,” he says. He focuses on Bucky really hard for a while, “I’m an important guy.” Then his face crumpled, “Why’d she leave me, Britney?”

“Bucky,” he corrects and crosses his arms. “I don’t know, man. You seem like a… passionate guy,” he says kindly.

“I am!” he exclaims. “So passionate! And - and funny and I’m great in bed.”

Bucky snorts, “Okay.”

“Like, some guys won’t go downstairs but I always did. I love that stuff, you know?” and Bucky has to hide a laugh behind his hand. “But she left me. Probably found some new guy that, you know, always came to dates on time and made it to her sister’s wedding.”

“Yeah, dames care about that kinda shit,” Bucky says and continues cleaning.

“They do,” the guy agrees sincerely. “They do care about that kinda shit.” He eyes Bucky for a moment and then stands. “I’m unloading all this on you. I should spread the misery. I’m gonna go to Josie’s.”

Bucky watches him pull his wallet out and scans his appearance. He’s upright, clearly he hadn’t gotten too messed up from the four beers he’d had which meant he drank a lot. Still, “Gimme your arm,” he says and the guy blinks at him.

He comes forward without question and watches Bucky grab a marker and write out a number on the inside of his arm. “This way, if you pass out in the street later, they’ll know who to call,” he says.

“Ghostbusters,” he mutters, trying to tap his nose and poking himself in the eye. Bucky shakes his head with an indulgent grin.

“You should probably go home,” he says slowly and the guy slaps two bills on the counter and turns.

Waving over his shoulder as he leaves, he calls back, “Probably should.”

Bucky sighs and picks up the money he’d left. He’d only bought four beers, a max of $24 but he’d left two hundred dollar bills.

+

Bucky’s asleep when he hears the phone. He checks his cell but it’s coming from the bar. Sighing, he slides out of bed, petting Bear on his way down the stairs. He flips the light on as the phone rings again.

“Alright, alright, I’m comin’.” He picks up the phone and hears heavy breathing.

“You Buster?”

“Bucky,” Bucky says and he hears a voice echo him in the background.

“Well some guy’s here in the hospital with no ID and this was the number on his arm.”

Bucky blinks confusedly for a moment before he remembers. “Oh shit, what happened?”

“He’s okay but he got in a fight at a bar and someone brought him here.”

“Is he hurt?”

“No, but you should see the other guy.”

 

Bucky puts in a call to Sam to look after Bear and hurries down to the hospital. He’s in sweats and an old hoodie which earns him a few looks. Maybe he should’ve taken the time to run a brush through his hair but he didn’t want to leave the guy here longer than he had to.

The guy’s sitting on a bed, eyes closed like he was sleeping but he sat up when Bucky got closer.

“Holy shit, you actually came.”

Bucky runs a worried hand over his head, “Yeah, I actually came. What happened?”

The guy points to the corner and says, “That guy tried to take my watch. So, I clocked him.” Bucky blinks at him doubtful. The guy in the corner was huge and clearly about 300 pounds. True to his words, the big guy had a pretty bad shiner.

“You clocked him?”

“I know what this looks like but I know how to fight.”

Bucky takes in the rest of him and lands on the bandages around his hand. “Your hand?”

“Broke it,” he says with a wince. “They didn’t want me going home alone. They’re finicky like that.”

Bucky nods, “In this case, understandable.” He takes in the crowded room, the tired nurses and the notes the late hour. “Well, come on.”

The guy gets up and grabs his jacket, still staring at Bucky in awe. “What?” Bucky asks.

“I can’t believe you came.”

“You called,” Bucky states plainly.

“Technically they called but I thought… well it’s late.”

“I own a bar.”

“I know but last call was hours ago and - wait, you own it?” he asks, clearly surprised.

“Yeah,” Bucky says with a grin. “So, where’s home?”

“Not far,” he says quickly and then asks, “You own the Howling Commandos?”

“My uh, old army buddy gave it to me. I needed something to do and I couldn’t do another tour; I was discharged and I didn’t really want to, anyway. And I didn’t want to become a cop or something, so, yeah. It’s quieter.”

“There were three bar fights just tonight.”

“Still quieter,” he says and the guy laughs.

“My buddy Rhodey, he’s in the Air Force so I get the going stir crazy thing. He gets restless at the end of every break.”

“He the guy that taught you how to punch?” he asks and the guy laughs.

“No, that was my driver, Happy. He would’ve been pissed. Taught me how to punch without breaking my hand but I sort of forgot all that. Adrenaline and everything.”

Driver? “Well, you made it out pretty okay, it seems. That guy was huge.”

“Definitely.”

“I would’ve just let him have the watch, to tell you the truth.”

The guy dismisses the idea immediately. “Couldn’t do that. My mother gave this to me.” He shrugs, holding it up. “It was Jarvis’ and it’s the only thing I had on me that really meant something. He could’ve had my phone or my wallet no problem but not this.”

“Jarvis?”

“He was like a father to me. Leagues above my real father.” He stops suddenly, looking up. “Well, this is me.”

Bucky blinks, staring up the tall building. “This… this is Stark Tower.”

“Yeah. Thanks for walking me back, Bucky.”

Bucky nods, speechless but he remembers ‘I’m loaded. Like ridiculously loaded.’

“No problem,” he replies and walks away from one of the strangest nights he’d had in a long time.

+

Tony Stark was in his bar.

Not for the first time but now that Bucky knew, he was more than a little confused. The Howling Commandos wasn’t a huge place. It wasn’t on the radar for any “Best of” lists and it wasn’t featured in a Real Housewives of the Jersey Shore or whatever. It was just a small place to get a beer and hang out.

Certainly not on the radar for a celebrity.

Yet, here Tony Stark was sitting at the bar and asking Bucky to pour him a scotch. “Changing it up?” Bucky asks and Tony smiles.

“My dad used to drink this. I always hated it.” Bucky pauses in pouring, staring at him curiously.

“So why drink it?”

“Well, he spent more time with it than he did with me so I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about.” Bucky waits and he sighs, “Christ that was fucking depressing. I’m sorry.”

“S’fine,” Bucky murmurs and Tony waves him off.

“No, it isn’t,” he says tiredly, covering his face. “I got stuff.”

“We all got stuff,” Bucky says and the guys shoots him a grateful smile.

“On a lighter note, I got fired today.”

Bucky’s eyes bulge and he asks, “Can… can that happen? Don’t you own it?”

“Yeah. I fired myself. Gave Pepper the CEO job.” He takes a swig, “Wow, I do not like that,” he remarks.

Bucky sets the bottle down and rests his hands on the bar. “You gave your ex your job?” he asks.

“She’s great at it. She was already doing it. Like Bill and Hillary but you know, without the blue dress and everything.” He shrugs, “I was never cut out for running a company. I hated it. I just want to make things.”

Bucky shifts, his metal fingers tapping against his side. “Well, you’re making great stuff.”

“Yeah?” Tony asks, eyes lighting up and Bucky loses his train of thought for a moment. “You have a Stark phone?”

“No,” Bucky says shaking his head. “Too expensive. No offense.”

Tony nods, “None taken.”

Bucky sets his hand on the counter and Tony’s eyes widen. “Can I?” he asks and Bucky nods. He reaches out to take the prosthetic and turns it over. “This is an earlier model. One of the first ones. It still works okay?”

Bucky nods, “It’s great.”

“The calibration’s fine?”

“Almost as good as the real thing.”

“Almost?” Tony asks and Bucky can see the gears turning. “Can I take a look at it?”

Bucky frowns, “Right now?”

“Maybe not now but later?” he asks.

 

Which is why Tony stays behind after closing.

Bucky locks up, turns the lights off and finds Tony waits for him at the bar, tapping his fingers nervously. Bucky gets a crazy thought.

“This isn’t a plot to kill me, right?”

Tony’s eyes narrow, “Most folks would assume I was trying to jump their bones but you jumped right to billionaire assassin and I like that.” Bucky laughs, pulling up and stool and sitting down in front of him.

“I’m not most folks. But please don’t kill me. I have a dog and he’d miss me.”

Tony’s eyes light up, “You have a dog?”

“Yeah, Bear. German Shepherd.” He lowers his eyes briefly, “He’s technically a support dog. You like dogs?”

“Probably,” he pulls out a tool set from his wallet which Bucky found odd for him to carry around. “Never really got the chance to be around them. My dad hated pets.”

“Sounds like a real nice guy,” Bucky says sardonically and Tony shrugs.

“You know, your typical rich guy. Leaves behind a legacy, a fuckton of money and a kid with daddy issues.”

Bucky frowns, “You turned out okay.”

Tony levels him with a pointed stare, “I’m forty years old with no love life and I’m certainly not planning on kids. I ran in the opposite direction of everything my father did.”

“Sometimes that’s best,” Bucky says.

“What about your father?”

Bucky’s mouth twitches, “Now we’re getting personal.” Tony gestures for him to put his arm on the table and he does. It should feel odd but Tony isn’t looking at him like a lab rat. “My parents died when I was young. Lost my dad during the war.”

“Afghanistan?” Tony asks. “Your dad went with you?”

“Something like that,” Bucky says. “I got separated from my sister so, I’ve been alone for some time now.”

“And your sister? What happened to her?”

“She lived most of her life without me. Got a husband and had two kids. She’s happy.” He shrugs, “We’re like strangers.”

Tony hums in understanding, eyes soft, “That sucks. Well, I’m not here to kill you so there’s still time.”

“I’m not good company,” Bucky says. Then, he’s not even sure why but he adds, “I still get them. Panic attacks I mean. I’ll be totally fine one moment and the next, it’s like I’m back there.”

Tony studies him for a moment and murmurs, “I get that.”

“You do?” Bucky’s asks curiously.

“Yeah. I wasn’t in the army but I… went through something. Water is what gets me. I’m better these days. I can be around it but sometimes, I feel like I’m drowning.” He shoots Bucky a look, “I know the papers talked about what happened to me but they don’t know all the details.”

Bucky holds his gaze and nods once. Tony doesn’t have to tell him if he didn’t want to. Something put that haunted look in his eyes and while Bucky was almost afraid to find out, he knows that sometimes it helps to talk about it.

Tony shrugs, “They say you need a support system after you get out of something like that… if you get out. And Rhodey tries but he can’t be here all the time. And I’d never ask him to. He broke protocol coming to get me. I can’t ask him to put his life on hold for me. He’d do it, I know that but I ask too much of him already.”

Bucky studies him, noting that this guy had been through a trauma that left him with panic attacks, recently lost his girlfriend and, from the sound of things, has no support system. He wants to help Tony in some way but he doesn’t know how. “You do talk to someone, right?”

“JARVIS,” he says and Bucky stares at him.

“That the family friend that died?”

Tony blinks at him in confusion and then his eyes brighten with with amusement, “No, god no. My AI. Artificial Intelligence. He runs my home.”

“So, not a real live person?” Bucky asks hesitantly. Bucky talked to Bear and aside from Bear being alive, Bucky wasn’t doing much better than Tony. Steve did his best but he worked a lot.

“JARVIS is about as close as I get. I didn’t even try with Pepper. That was part of the problem. You just can’t drop this shit in someone’s lap,” Tony says quietly.

Maybe they weren’t that close yet but Bucky felt compelled to ask, “But she wasn’t just someone, right? She was your girlfriend?”

Tony blinks at him, his mouth twisting before he says, “Fiancée.”

“Ouch,” Bucky says and the corner of Tony’s mouth turns up.

“I really messed up.” He sighs, opening a panel on Bucky’s arm. He works silently for a while, his tongue peeking out through his lips as he focused. It gave Bucky time to really get a good look at him. He was good looking. Okay, he was gorgeous. His hair was a mess but an artful one that would probably cost hundreds of dollars to try to recreate. His eyes were a dark brown that would’ve looked common on anyone else but there was a light in them that made Bucky get excited along with him. They were framed with dark, beautifully long lashes and he had this smile - it should’ve been rare seeing as his life was currently going down the tubes but since being around him, he’d smiled more times than Bucky could count.

Tony was beautiful.

And he was a mess.

He closes the panel and taps it with his finger, “There, give that a whirl.” Bucky shrugs, shifting his arm around, eyes widening as it moved instantaneously.

It had been great before, better than Bucky could have ever expected but now… it was seamless. Like moving his other arm and he stares at Tony in wonder. Tony packs up his tools and slides off the stool.

“Thank you,” Bucky says sincerely and Tony smiles.

“Thank you for letting me whine for four hours,” he throws on his jacket.

+

Travis was a jackass.

Bucky knew that but the guy had never done anything untoward. Nothing outrageously bad so Bucky left him be. Tonight, he was giving one of Bucky’s favorite patrons a hard time.

Tony had a big mouth. Bucky (and his right hand) knew that but everyone seemed to like him. But now, Travis was making a pass at Janine and she was too nice to blow the guy off completely. Tony had no problem getting in the guy’s face and telling him to back off.

Bucky missed the beginning of the argument but he caught the end. “... none of your business,” Travis slurred and a sober Travis was no prize. A drunk one was even worse.

“See, I think it is. I kinda like it here and you’re making this gal uncomfortable so, if you and your Creed cover band could leave, that’d be great.”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Travis asks and Tony stares at him.

“You know who I am. You’re just quoting every bad movie now, aren’t you?” Travis’ face turns red and Bucky’s sighing behind the bar.

“Someone get this guy out of my face before I put him down.”

“Is that a threat?” Tony asks and Travis’ fist is rearing back.

And Bucky’s leaping over the counter. Tony dodges the first one but Travis is going in again when Bucky yanks Tony back and slides in front. “Okay, Travis, time to go.”

“Who is this clown?” Travis asks, gesturing to Tony. “He your boyfriend?”

“And a homophobe too? Lovely,” Tony chimes in and Bucky shoves him further behind.

“Travis, time to go.”

“You know, Dugan used to run this place-“

“Yeah, I know,” Bucky says.

“And he wouldn’t be picking on me instead of the guy causing problems.”

“By the looks of things, you’re the one causing problems,” Bucky says. He glanced at Janine. “You okay?”

She nods anxiously, “Yeah.” She looks to Tony, “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Tony says quietly, eyes trained on Travis. He stares them down and then gestures for his friends to stand.

“You just lost your highest paying customers.”

“I think I’ll be okay,” Bucky says. He might not be: Travis wasn’t lying. They came in at least five times a week and always spent at least $200 but Bucky would rather lose them than be the guy that let some old bastards make a young girl uncomfortable.

“What kinda place you running here?” one of them mutters as they left.

Travis stares Bucky down and then spat, “I can’t believe they let a faggot run Dugan’s place into the ground.”

Which was Bucky’s breaking point and he shoves the guy, pushing Tony further behind him. Travis rushes forward, overshooting his cross and Bucky slams his fist into his face. He goes down hard, the rest of his crew standing there dumbly for a moment before they charge.

Tony hurries to move Janine out of the way while Bucky jumps into the fray. It was a bar fight, a good old fashioned brawl but it had been ages since Bucky had been in one of these. In some ways, he found that he’d missed it. The adrenaline, the satisfying feeling of his fist connecting with some asshole’s face. It’s cathartic, as unhealthy as that sounds and it’s over before he realizes. He stands, breathing heavily and looking around. The bar is silent save for Travis groaning on the ground.

He stares up at Bucky, eyes wide in shock, “Let’s get out of here.”

Bucky spits out blood, touching his split lip. “Go back and tell your friends you got your ass kicked by a faggot.”

One of them stumbles into the doorjamb but they all leave. The rest of the patrons start helping clean up and Bucky’s grateful because he hated to think he may have scared off his remaining customers.

Janine comes over, brown eyes wide as she reaches up for his face. “Can I see?” he nods, lowering his hand as she touches his lip and then presses lightly on his face. “Well, doesn’t look like a broken cheekbone, look up for me,” he follows her instructions, a little confused. She pulls a penlight out of somewhere and checks his eyes.

He looks to Tony over her head. Tony’s a little shell shocked but he says, “She’s a nurse.”

Ultimately, she pulls back and says, “Just a split lip. I don’t know how that’s possible but you got lucky. I’d still clean it and that gash above your brow. Those guys didn’t look too clean.”

“I got it,” Tony says and Janine smiles at him. She grabs her things and leaves. It was closing time and Bucky hadn’t even realized it.

Tony steers him over to the bar and sits him on a stool. “First aid kit?” he asks and Bucky directs him behind the bar. Patrons weren’t allowed back there but he doubted Tony would steal something.

He pulls out some alcohol wipes and starts cleaning the cut. Bucky hisses at the sting and Tony leans up and blows in the cut. It was an unexpected kindness and Bucky smiles. Breathes in and smells cologne and mint gum. No booze. Had Tony ordered a drink tonight?

Tony works for a moment and Bucky asks,“You okay?” Tony snorts in response.

“Me? You’re asking me if I’m okay?” Bucky smiles sheepishly and Tony shakes his head, digging through the kit for a bandage. “You’re something else.”

“Thanks? Question mark?”

“It’s a good thing,” Tony says. “Thought I was gonna get my ass kicked.”

“Then why’d you do it?”

“I can take a beating. And in my experience, guy like that considers a successful bar fight enough entertainment for one night and goes home. I figured he would’ve left her alone or she would’ve had enough time to grab her mace.”

Bucky stares at him in disbelief, “Unbelievable.” Tony grabs another wipe and cleans the gash on Bucky’s lip. He takes a smaller bandage and covers it. “You’re good at this.”

“I’m an expert in split lips.” He shrugs, “Don’t ask.” He throws away his trash and closes the kit. “Good to go. You could’ve been a UFC fighter. There’s barely a scratch on you.”

“I’m an expert in bar fights,” Bucky says.

Tony drops his hand on the counter, boxing Bucky in. His eyes are soft, “Thanks, by the way. For having my back.”

“For being your attack dog, you mean?”

Tony frowns a little, “I had it handled.”

“You were planning to get beat up,” Bucky says plainly.

“Wouldn’t be the first time and it was for a good cause.” Bucky shakes his head, unsure why the sheepish look on Tony’s face made him want to hug the guy more than yell at him. Maybe it was a mix of both.

“Well, I didn’t want you to bleed out in my bar.” Tony laughs, eyes sparkling and Bucky’s heart skips a beat. “What’s the deal with Janine?” he asks as Tony moves to put the kit back under the bar.

“What do you mean?”

“You sweet on her or something?” At the curious look, he says, “A lotta guys saw that happen and no one else spoke up. I woulda if I’d heard but you jumped right in there.”

Tony shrugs, laying his hands on the counter and it was funny to see Tony behind the bar. “Been on that side before and it’s not fun.”

“Pushy dames?” he asks.

“Some. Mostly pushy guys. I don’t like men that drink and get mean.”

“But you like some men?” he asks slowly, trying not to appear too interested in the answer. Tony shrugs uncaringly, coming around the counter. He grabs his jacket and slides it on.

“I like men that see a bad situation and try to do something about it.” He starts for the door, adding, “Always had a thing for bartenders.”

Bucky stares after him, hope bringing a smile to his face.

+

Tony could be sweet and funny and charming.

Today, he was just annoying.

“‘M not sick,” Bucky mutters but Tony pushes him down into a chair behind the bar anyway.

“You called me ‘Dony’ and unless that’s a new nickname, you’re sick.”

“It’s St. Patrick’s day weekend and you want me to close up shop?”

“You’re dead on your feet, Buck,” he says and crosses his arms over his chest and tries to look authoritative. It has the opposite effect; instead, Bucky just thought he was adorable. He’s wearing an old hoodie and jeans. He never seemed to dress like the big shot business man everyone thought he was.

“I can’t close today, Tony,” he says. He’s miserable but he puts on a brave face. “I need the money.”

Tony bites his lip, distracting Bucky for a moment before he asks, “And I can’t just give it to you? I could buy out the place for the night.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Bucky mutters and Tony sighs frustratedly.

“Alright.” He huffs out a breath, grabs an apron and ties it on.

“What are you doing?” Bucky asks.

“Running the bar for the night.” Tony says, gesturing with a flourish. “Do I have to fill out an application? I don’t have any good references but I ran a company for a decade. I’m great at making small talk and I enjoy quiet walks in the park.”

Bucky lets out a surprised laugh as Tony glares at determinedly at him. “You’re serious?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Tony asks.

“I never wear the apron,” Bucky mumbles, adding, “They’re gonna eat you alive. I can’t let you do this.”

He tries to stand but Tony, for a small guy, pushes him down in the chair rather easily. “Go up to bed.”

“It’s St. Patrick’s Day, Tony,” he says and Tony stares at him consideringly before nodding.

“Stay in the chair; I’m calling in reinforcements.”

An hour later a big, burly guy and a small brunette appear. The burly guy heads behind the bar and calls out, “Listen up, fellas. As a favor to the owner, we’re pitching in. Line up here for beers and to the left for anything else. Got it?” It was quiet and he calls out, “Got it?” And everyone moved to comply.

Bucky watches the guy expertly working the tap and then looks to Tony and the brunette standing before him. He must look as miserable as he feels because Tony gives him a sympathetic smile as the brunette moves in closer and holds out a hand. Then she withdraws with a small smile, “Janet van Dyne. I’d shake your hand but you’re contagious at the moment.”

Bucky shakes his head with a smile. “I’m fine, Tony’s being a mother hen.”

“Not usually how people describe him,” she remarks with a grin. Tony moves out to work the line asking for cocktails and Jan leans in to say, “So you’re the cute guy he’s been going on and on about the past few months.”

Months? Had they really known each other months? Wait, “Cute?” he asks.

“He didn’t say cute, more like ‘scary and gorgeous’, but that’s Tony for cute.” Bucky blinks at her, a little disheartened.

“Scary?”

Her eyes widen, “Oh, not like that. I just meant like intimidating. You intimidate him. You’ve got your life together.”

Bucky huffs out a laugh, “No, I don’t.”

“You’ve got your own business and an apartment and a dog. You’ve got friends that come around when you call.”

“Tony’s got friends,” Bucky says and she smiles.

“We’re all pretty busy with our lives. I’ve got kids now and Happy… well, I’m surprised Tony called considering what’s going on.” Bucky stares at her and she sighs, pulling over a stool and sitting down. “He and Pepper are together now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got married.”

“And he and Tony are friends?” Bucky asked, a little stunned.

“Started out working for him and then they became friends. Now… well it’s awkward to say the least. Tony’s putting on a brave face. I think that has a lot to do with you.”

“I’m just a bartender.”

“A cute bartender,” she corrects.

“Van Dyne! I did not bring you here to flirt!” Tony calls out and she rolls her eyes fondly.

“Gotta go, cutie pie. I’m returning a favor here.” She waves and hurries off to help.

 

When the night is just about over, Tony finds Bucky asleep on a couch in the back. He sighs, pulling off his apron and setting it down. “C’mon, Big Guy,” he murmurs, bending down and swinging Bucky’s arm over his head. “Let’s get you to bed.”

He lumbers up the stairs, “Where are your keys?”

“Don’ lock it,” Bucky mutters and Tony stops on the landing.

“You live in New York,” he says plainly.

“And no one’s tried to rob me,” Bucky replies. “Unless this was all an elaborate ruse to rob me.”

“Then I really played the long game to get a few twenties and an empty fridge,” he says and Bucky laughs.

“And a dog, don’t forget the dog.”

Tony laughs, helping Bucky in and closing the door behind them. Bucky directs him to the bedroom and Tony sets him down. He sighs heavily and immediately melts into the pillows. “See how tired you are? You could’ve been here the entire time.”

“Had to make sure you didn’t burn the place down,” he mumbles.

“And now you’re gonna pass out?” he asks and Bucky’s face scrunches up.

“Yeah,” he whines, turning over and pressing his face into the pillow. Tony pulls the covers over him and sits down to feel his head.

“You’re burning up.”

“I’m hot.” Tony laughs and Bucky adds, “I run hot, I mean.”

“Not this hot, Buck,” Tony says, taking his hand away and brushing Bucky’s hair back from his face. His hands were nice and cool and Bucky couldn’t help leaning into them. Tony keeps stroking his hair, quiet. Then, “I’m gonna stay, okay?”

“I’ll be fine tomorrow. I can’t ask you to do that,” Bucky murmurs, half asleep.

“You don’t have to, I’m offering.” He pulls the covers up higher on Bucky’s shoulders and stands up.

“C’mon, boy. Let’s go see what kinda cold medicine we have here.” Bucky falls asleep to the sounds of Bear’s feet clicking on the floor.

 

It wasn’t a cold, it was the flu and it took Bucky out for three days. Tony brought him to a doctor who gave him some industrial strength flu medicine which put him down for twelve hours. Bucky had vague recollections of Tony walking Bear, Bear lying in bed with him and Tony heading downstairs when it was time to open the bar.

The second day, Tony brought a laptop and laid on the bed with him watching old rom coms. Bucky had looked to him quizzically but he said, “Not my fault. I leant this to Jan and this is all she watches.” He got a little too into Sleepless in Seattle for that to be entirely true.

Still, it was nice to spend time with Tony outside of the bar and he wondered why he’d never asked Tony to hang out before. Perhaps because that would’ve come out sounding like a date and Bucky was a coward.

He falls asleep midway through Overboard and wakes with his head buried in Tony’s chest. He was asleep, his face turned towards Bucky, mouth slightly open. Bucky’s warm but it isn’t sweltering; it’s nice, comforting with Tony’s scent all around him and the soft sound of his breathing. Bucky watches him for a moment, butterflies in his stomach before he falls back to sleep.

 

Tony locks up on the third day and comes upstairs to check on Bucky. He’s sitting up watching How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and it brings a smile to Tony’s face. He comes right over and climbs in next to Bucky with new energy.

“Kate Hudson is a dream,” he says and Bucky frowns at him.

“I thought you were a Sandy B guy?”

“Oh, she’s great but Katie girl is more my speed. I love Goldie, too.” He lays down and closes his eyes, resting his head in Bucky’s lap and Bucky grins.

“How was it tonight?”

“My feet are killing me. I stole one of your hoodies because mine got showered in a toast at a bachelorette party and I’m starving but I’d definitely fall asleep if I tried to make something.”

“Bachelorette party?” Bucky asks, pulling Tony’s sleeve and yes, this was his sweater and he’d never even noticed. “Not my usual crowd.”

“Don’t be mad,” he says in a small voice and Bucky frowns.

“Why would I be mad?”

“Well, Jan thought the place could use a big boost so she hosted a Ladies’ Night.”

“Ladies’ Night? At the Howling Commandos?” he asks incredulously.

“Well, it was just a trial run and so many women showed up. Way more than we expected. Jan’s a big name, you know, and it made loads of money with the usuals buying them drinks and drinks for themselves. Happy nearly ran out of beer.”

“Really?” he asks, a little stunned and Tony nods hesitantly “No, no, I’m not mad I’m just… surprised? She planned a night like this in one day?”

“It’s kinda her forte.” He turns over, “You’re really not mad?”

“Why would I be?” Tony doesn’t seem convinced and Bucky frowns. “Tony, I’ve been sick as a dog the past few days and you took care of me. And the bar. And on top of that, one of your friends made a killing selling cocktails at a dive bar to a crowd that wouldn’t look twice at this place.”

Tony sits up on his knees and Bucky pulls him into a tight hug, “Thank you, Tony.”

Tony freezes and then relaxes into the embrace, petting Bucky awkwardly on the back. “You’re welcome.” He lowers his face into Bucky’s neck and breathes in and Bucky’s heart pounds. He licks his lips, nerves ratcheting up in anticipation. Then he hears soft snoring and he deflates.

Maneuvering back carefully, he lays down and let’s Tony’s cheek rest on his chest. Tony shifts a little, his nose twitching before he settles, his warmth seeping into Bucky as he snored quietly. Bucky’s hand hovers over his head for a long time before he gives in and pets Tony’s hair. He doesn’t stir, down for the count and it brings a ridiculous smile to Bucky’s face.

He finishes the movie though because he does like Kate Hudson.

 

Bucky wakes before Tony the next morning and he’s almost hesitant to get out of bed. Tony was comfortable and warm and, even sleeping, he was adorable. But Bucky really needed to pee and he’d been in bed for three days anyway.

He looks to Bear and calls out, “Bear, hey boy, come here.” The German Shepherd moves in close and bounds up on the bed, instantly settling near Tony and burrowing his nose into Tony’s back.

Bucky smiles and can’t refrain from snapping a photo before he grabs a hoodie and heads downstairs.

He hears sizzling and freezes, grabbing the bat from the closet and heading out. He trusts that Tony locked the door so someone must’ve broken in.

He stops just outside the kitchen and braces himself. Then he bursts out, bat raised and a hand grabs it.

“See, why I never picked you for stickball when we we were kids?” Steve asks and sets the bat down. He starts back towards the stove. “If I burn my eggs, I’m making you eat them.”

Bucky grins, heading over to hug Steve. Steve laughs in his ear, “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Bucky says and sits down at the counter. “How you been?”

“Good, good…” he smiles and says, “Sharon’s pregnant.”

“No way! That’s amazing!”

“I know,” Steve says, lowering his eyes. “We’re really happy, Buck. I think we’re gonna make it work this time.”

“That’s great, Stevie,” he says, even as his heart clenches. He didn’t want to be envious of Steve but they were the same age and Steve was in a serious relationship, even on and off again, and he was having a baby. He was moving on with his life and Bucky was still… Bucky. All alone and running a dive bar in Brooklyn. Was this the rest of his life?

Steve sucks some ketchup off his thumb and sets a plate down in front of Bucky. Eggs, bacon, toast and some home fries. Mercifully not covered in ketchup. “Anyway, I wanted to check on you because it’s been a while and apparently you took my advice and hired some staff?”

“Staff?” Bucky asks. Then, he gestures to the drawers, “Hand me a fork, I’m not an animal.”

Steve tosses it at him, glaring as Bucky catches it easily. “Staff? As in employees? Sam said he came by and there was a lady and some big dude serving drinks. You off on a date or somethin’?”

“Or something,” Bucky answers quietly. “I was a little sick. With the flu, don’t worry about it,” he says when he sees that look on Steve’s face.

“You coulda called.”

“You have a job, Stevie. I’m not gonna interrupt your life because I had the sniffles.”

“I worry about you, Bucky. All alone here, no one to help you,” he says and he has that look on his face that Bucky hates. Used to get him the last scoop of Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and now it made Bucky feel guilty for not calling.

“I’m not alone.”

“Unless Bear can tend bar or make runs to the pharmacy-“

“I’ve got a friend,” he says. And he guesses that’s what they were. He wouldn’t call someone that dropped everything to run his bar an acquaintance. “He’s been helping me out around here.”

“He?” Steve asks with a grin and Bucky covers his face.

“Steve,” he began but Steve already started in.

“Is he cute?”

“He’s just a friend,” Bucky says.

“Sure, sure,” Steve says and Bucky thinks he’s gotten off easy. Then, “But you’re avoiding the question so I’ll take that as ‘yes, he’s cute.’”

“Why do I talk?” Bucky asks, shaking his head in dismay. “Why - why do I talk around you at all?”

“You coulda just said but you dodged the question. Very suspicious. If people ask you, ‘who’s Steve? Is he cute?’ you’d just say ‘yes, he’s handsome’ but you got all defensive like I was gonna make a play for him-“

“Did not!” Bucky objects and he feels a warm snout in his lap as Bear pokes up looking for food.

“Coulda just said ‘yes, Steve, he’s very cute.’ and I would have moved on but you dodged it which means he’s single and he’s cute and you’re interested.”

“You got all that from ‘he’s just a friend?’” Bucky asks, mouth agape.

“No, I got ‘he’s been hanging around’ from ‘he’s just a friend’. That blush on your face tells me he’s very cute and you want to marry him and adopt a few kids.”

Bucky throws a dishcloth at him as Tony enters the room. Bucky freezes, looking to Steve as he tries to gauge how much Tony could have heard. Steve shrugs at him, snapping a piece of bacon in his mouth rather unapologetically. Tony surveys the room and instantly moves over to Bucky. He pets Bear on the head and steals a piece of bacon.

“Who’s getting married?” he asks and Steve beams.

Bucky glares at him, mouthing “Don’t” as Steve wipes his hands and holds one out.

“Steve Rogers, nice to meet you,” he says.

Tony wipes a hand on his pants and takes Steve’s. “Tony Stark. You an old army buddy?”

Steve’s eyes shot to Bucky’s and then back, “You could say that.” Tony sits down next to Bucky, smiling when Bear abandons Bucky’s lap for Tony’s. At least he gives in and hands Bear his stolen piece of bacon.

“Oh, oh shit!” Tony exclaims, smiling at Steve as he steals another piece of bacon. “You’re Stevie! He talks about you a lot. You’re younger than I imagined. Nice to see you, I started to think you were imaginary.”

Bucky jabs him as Steve laughs. “No, I’m very real, I’m afraid. I drop by every few months to pick on this fella.”

“A worthy cause,” Tony says. “You two spending the day together?”

Bucky looks to Steve curiously. “I’m thinkin’ we could catch a ball game. Maybe check on my gal.”

“She sick?” Tony asks concernedly.

“His bike,” Bucky explains. “Stevie here still thinks he can learn how to ride. Someday he’ll realize he can’t do everythin’ I do.”

“You have a bike?” Tony asks, eyes lighting up.

“It’s old and I don’t get her out as much as I used to.”

“And I’m too old,” Steve mutters, taking a sip of orange juice. “You should take Tony ridin’ sometime,” he adds with a smile and Bucky would throw something at him if Tony weren’t here.

“Please, please, I’ll be good,” he pleads and Bucky could never say ‘no’ to that face.

“He’ll be good, Buck,” Steve says with an innocent smile and Bucky throws a piece of bacon at him. Steve catches it in his mouth with a smile.

“Maybe,” Bucky says, to answer Tony’s question.

“Sweet,” Tony says and treats Bucky with a bright smile adding, “I like you around him. You go all Brooklyn on me.”

“Brooklyn?” Bucky asks with a frown.

“You know, your accent slips out and you call each other ‘fella’. It’s adorable.”

Bucky blushes and looks to Steve immediately, “Not a word.”

“I didn’t say anythin’,” Steve says.

“‘Anythin’,” Tony repeats in an awful imitation, beaming. Then he turns to Bucky, “Pepper’s going to send assassins on me if I don’t come in today so I’m gonna go. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Okay,” Bucky says, fighting the nervous twisting in his stomach when Tony smiles and heads off. Bear follows eagerly at Tony’s heels.

Bucky returns to his food but he can feel Steve’s eyes on him. “I don’t wanna hear it.”

“He’s wearing your clothes,” Steve says plainly. “Hey, look at me.”

Bucky sighs, raising his eyes miserably to look at Steve. He’s serious, his Captain face in place. “Whether he knows it or not, you’re into him. He’s wearing your clothes, Bear likes him which means he’s been here enough that Bear got to know him. I’m assuming he’s the guy that’s been helping you out?”

“He comes by sometimes. I helped him out of a rough spot so he was returning the favor.”

“He helped run your bar for three days?” Steve asks with disbelief. “Bucky, come on.”

“He’s not interested.”

“He’s a straight guy wearing your clothes?”

“He’s a straight guy that made his ex fiancée his CEO.”

Steve blinks at him, “What?”

“Tony Stark? As in Stark Industries?” Steve gapes at him. “He made half the stuff they use in the army. He’s rich.”

Steve leans down on the counter, eyes wide. “Wow.”

“Yeah, wow,” Bucky says miserably. Bear comes out to lay down at Bucky’s feet again. He lets out a low whine and Bucky can sympathize; he hated it when Tony left, too.

Steve thinks it over for a moment and then takes up his juice again. “He’s still into you though,” Steve says. He comes around and drops down to pet Bear. “I know these things.”

“You don’t know shit,” Bucky says.

“I know this dog is cute, aren’t you, boy?” he asks and then, in the same babying tone, “I know he’s the best boy in the world. And we know you have a crush on Mr. Stark. Yes we do.” He ruffles Bear’s hair and Bucky wants to kill him.

+

Apparently, sleeping over twice meant Tony using Bucky’s apartment as a home away from home. He dropped by some days to hang out in the bar but some days, he dropped by and went upstairs like he owned the place.

He dropped by once at nine in the morning when Bucky was half asleep. Bucky still doesn’t remember leaving his bed but he remembers opening the door and mumbling, “I work nights. This is past my bedtime” and Tony pulling off his jacket saying, “Thank god, I’m exhausted.”

Somehow, they ended up on the same schedule and it started to feel like Tony was living here. He’d tried to institute boundaries once. He offered up his couch and Tony slept there only to wake up hours later and sleepwalk into Bucky’s bed. He’d woken up between Bear at his back and Tony at his front, his nose buried in Tony’s hair and he’d gone right back to sleep. Acceptance was the first step.

Tonight, he picks up a sneaker that probably cost more than his bike.

“You just leave your shoes around?” he asks, dropping it by it’s twin in front of the couch. Tony winced in apology, shoving pizza in his mouth. Normally, Bucky would find that cute but he was having a rough day. He’d woken up several times after a nightmare where he was back in the trenches. He woke up with a phantom pain in his arm and couldn’t shake it off. Now he just wanted a quiet day and Tony was here. Bucky’s head was killing him.

“You’re here a lot now,” he notes.

“Yeah,” Tony says hesitantly. “I came to visit Bear.”

Bucky frowns, “You’re here almost every night.” His heart pounds at the revelation. How had he not noticed that?

Tony sets down the remaining slice of pizza. He bought pizza with half olives because Bucky hated olives. He knew that. He’d been here long enough to know what type of pizza toppings Bucky hated. At first, it had been comforting but now it was just confusing. It wasn’t like Bucky was great company. He never asked about Tony’s day and he wasn’t who Tony came to for advice. What was Tony getting out of it?

“I just… I sometimes wonder what you’re doing here,” he says clumsily. How had Tony weaved his way into Bucky’s life so seamlessly? His shoes were on Bucky’s floor, his phone charger on the side table. He had frou frou green smoothies in the fridge, fancy Columbian coffee in the pantry and he’d co-opted one of Bucky’s hoodies for himself. Bucky was used to being alone and he’d somehow gained a better half without trying to.

“I’m hanging out with you,” Tony replies in a small voice.

Bucky had woken up on edge and he should probably keep his mouth shut but Tony was here. He was always here now and it was confusing. Was Tony just using him as a replacement? He couldn’t call on his real friends but he was lonely old Bucky for him to latch onto.

“Really? Aren’t there other people you could be spending time with?” It comes out sharper than Bucky intends and he watches Tony’s face fall with a heavy heart. He should stop now. He should shut up and apologize. “I mean, you’re here more than you are at home.”

Tony blinks at him, “I have friends, Bucky.”

His voice was small, Bucky was upsetting but he can’t stop. The more he wanted to pull Tony in closer, the more he felt the need to push him away. “Do you? I mean, Jan told me they’re all busy. When’s the last time you hung out with them instead of coming here? You took over my bar and my apartment and I don’t understand any of it.”

Tony averts his eyes, breathing faster. “I… I just thought… I’m an idiot.”

It’s that feeling, right before the fall. When Bucky sees he’s about to ruin something good and he should stop. He can see the path he’s about to head down but he can’t stop it. Can’t put the brakes on and stop without making it worse. “Maybe we didn’t think this through. I had a life here, you know? And you just sorta moved yourself in here and made everything yours. What are you doing here?” he asks harshly.

Tony shakes his head, biting down on his lip as grabs his jacket. When he moves past, Bucky can see his eyes are wet. He starts for the door. Bucky’s heart pounds, his brain finally catching up with his mouth. “Tony!” Bucky shouts but he’s headed down the stairs. “Look, I’m sorry,” he began but Tony moves fast.

He slides through the bar floor like he’d made this walk in the dark before and he had. “I’m needy, I get that. I’ll get out of your hair,” he mumbles miserably.

Bucky heart drops into his stomach and he curses, “Tony!” he shouts but the door slams shut behind him. Bucky had wanted a day of quiet and he was about to get it. His stomach twists and he buries his face in his hands. Then the phone rings.

“Damn it.” He hurries over to answer it, “Hello?”

“Hi, this is Janet van Dyne. I helped out a few months back? I wanted to know if you’d be interested in hosting an event there?”

“It’s, uh, it’s not a good time,” Bucky says and she laughs.

“Not today, silly. But next month? A friend of mine is getting married and you have the perfect place for her bachelorette party.”

“I do?” He looks around at the dark decor and the army memorabilia.

“You do,” she confirms. “Jessica’s an interesting girl.”

“I’ll think about it,” he says and Jan bids him farewell.

He stares at the door but it was clear Tony wasn’t coming back. Bear whines at his ankles and Bucky sighs, dropping down to hug him. “I know, boy. I think I messed up.”

+

Tony doesn’t come back.

A month passes, Jessica Jones’ bachelorette party comes and goes and Tony doesn’t come back. Bucky realizes he doesn’t know how to reach him short of stopping by his office. Bucky doesn’t leave the bar that often. He gets groceries and occasionally runs other errands. Other than going to the park with Bear from time to time, he keeps to himself.

But if Tony wasn’t coming back… maybe it was time.

He resolves to try sometime this week when he sees a magazine cover at the grocery store. “Pepper Potts, CEO of Stark Industries marries Harold Hogan.” A pretty redhead smiles into the camera with her arms around a big, burly guy. Wait, Bucky knew that guy. He’d helped tend bar that night.

Pepper and Happy got married? That couldn’t have been easy to watch. Sure, Tony had always said he was happy for them but that must’ve sucked.

Bucky curses, adding the magazine to his pile before he pays for his groceries and heads home.

+

“You alright, Buck?” Steve asks one night, taking a sip of his soda. Bucky had asked but it was a solidarity thing between Sharon and he: if she couldn’t drink, Steve wouldn’t either. It was sweet. It was nauseating.

“I’m fine, Stevie,” he mutters but Steve shakes his head, snatching the beer away.

“I, uh, I asked but no one’s seen Tony around for a while.” Well, at least he cut straight to the point.

Bucky covers his face and takes a deep breath, “Steve, I don’t need to hear it.”

“I’m thinkin’ you do because you’re here drinking instead of out there fixing it.”

“You don’t even know what ‘it’ is,” Bucky says.

“I know he made you happy. I know you used to spend most of your days talking to Bear and no one else but that guy comes around and you’re acting like you got something to live for again.”

“Wow, fuck you, man,” he spat and Steve stares at him unapologetically. “I had a hard enough month-”

“Wonder why,” Steve chimes in and Bucky’s face twists.

“Not this shit again.”

“Buck, listen, I know I haven’t talked to you in a while-”

“Exactly! You’re too busy to check in on me more than twice a month and that’s fine. I get it: you’ve got your life and your new baby and you don’t have time for me anymore but you don’t get to just drop in when you feel like it and lecture me.”

“Bucky, I’m not trying to-”

“I’m tired, Stevie. Yeah, it was real nice having Tony around and maybe I was happier with him here but you act like that means he was happy here. You got stuck on this idea of us having some kinda life together but what about him, huh?” His words lock up, throat sore as he adds, “I’m a screw up, man. You know that. Sometimes, I’m great with people but I’ve never been good at keeping ‘em.”

Steve scans his face for a moment, brow furrowed before he pulls Bucky into a hug. He fights it at first but Steve is a stubborn bastard. He holds on until Bucky deflates, hugging him back. “Goddamn it, Buck.”

“I really messed up, Steve,” he whispers.

“Then fix it,” Steve replies.

+

Another month passes before Bucky can gather the courage. He puts on one of his nicer jackets and takes to the streets. He’d brought Bear. Having him there kept Bucky calmer as he walked through the city.

He can’t recall the last time he’d just walked through the city like this. Probably the night he met Tony. People move around him rather easily. He slows down when he gets to Tony’s building and then realizes there’s no way to get in.

He sees a call pad, presses a button and gets an automated response, “Stark Industries is now closed. Doors will reopen at 8am on Monday.”

“Great, great. Nice going, Bucky. Of course they are,” he mutters.

“Would you like to leave a message, Mr. Barnes?” the voice asks and Bucky nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Excuse me?”

“Would you like to leave a message for Mr. Stark?”

“You can understand me?” he asks and there’s a rather annoyed beep.

“Yes, I am capable of understanding you. My name is JARVIS. I am asking if you would like to leave a message for Mr. Stark but I must warn you, I am rather fond of him and I cannot guarantee I will pass it on.”

Bucky stares, confused, “Why not?”

“Mr. Stark doesn’t make friends easily. When he does, it’s rather permanent. Whether they feel that way or not. I’d rather not give him some hope of your affections only for you to disappoint him later.”

Bucky stares, heart pained. “I didn’t… I didn’t mean to do that.” A group of teenagers passes by, eying him curiously. Great, he was having a heart to heart with a robot on the sidewalk. “Look, can I just talk to him face to face.”

“Mr. Stark is out at the moment.”

“Where?”

“I am not his keeper, Mr. Barnes. Now, if you don’t intend to leave a message, please let go of my call button.” There’s a small shock and Bucky steps back, eyes wide.

Well, he supposed he deserved that.

+

The next night, the phone rings.

Bucky’s in the middle of filling a glass with beer. He smiles at the customer and goes to the phone. “What?” he asks figuring it was Steve or Sam.

Instead, “Hi, is this Bethany?” a small voice asks and Bucky sighs.

“Bucky, what do you need?”

“Well, there’s a guy here they brought in and he had this number on his arm.” Bucky’s heart pounds, turning to look out over the crowded bar and then turning further into the corner, listening closely.

“Yeah? Older guy? Short hair?”

“Yeah, sounds like him. Talks a lot?”

Bucky laughs, heart twisting, his hands shaking as he holds the phone to his ear. “Yeah, that’s him.”

“He’s okay to go home but he’s got a concussion and he couldn’t guarantee someone would be there. So, we called you.”

Bucky nods, covering his mouth. He turns to look out over the bar, taking in the packed room. It was mid shift but there was no way he could leave Tony there until closing.

And he didn’t want to.

“Sir?” she asks.

“I’ll be there,” he says and hangs up.

He grabs his jacket and his keys, rushing out to the center of the floor. “Alright, listen up. I gotta go. I’m gonna close up shop. Anyone that can drive, grab a friend, you know the drill. Anyone need me to get a cab?”

There was some grumbling but no one said anything. His heart was pounding, worry settling in but he didn’t have time to let that take over. Janine comes closer, rubbing his shoulder gently.

“Go, I’ll lock up,” she offers and Bucky smiles gratefully.

“Thanks,” he says and leaves.

 

The hospital is busy, as it was the last time. Bucky finds a nurse, pushing his hair behind his ear as he stutters out, “Hi, I - I’m Bucky and - I…” his brain goes blank and the nurse frowns.

“The maternity ward is on the next floor,” she says and Bucky gapes at her. “Usually someone this nervous about being here is here because of a baby.”

“I - uh, no - I-“

“I’m the baby,” Bucky hears over his shoulder and he breathes a sigh of relief. Tony appears beside him, a bandage over his eye and bruise on his left cheek. “I’ve got it from here,” he says and the nurse bustles away.

Bucky studies him, reaching up to tilt his head back for a better look but Tony steps back. “Tony,” Bucky began but he’s starting to leave.

“Hey, where you going?”

“Home. I don’t know why they called you.”

“You - hey!” Bucky calls, the relief turning to anger fueling his blood. He reaches out and takes Tony’s arm, turning it to reveal the inside. There in faded marker was Bucky’s name and the number for the bar. “You wrote this.”

“Yeah, well, still when a drunk guy tells you not to call the number on his arm, it’s common courtesy not to.”

Bucky frowns at him, “Why didn’t you want me to come down here?” Tony rolls his eyes and moves ahead. “Tony!”

“Stop shouting,” he says, turning with a wince.

“What happened tonight?” he asks and Tony shakes his head, moving ahead. Bucky’s feels his anger and worry melding together and starting to reach a boiling point.

“Tony, I swear to god-“

“I’ll tell you but I need to lay down and you needed to stop yelling in the street.”

 

Bucky follows him home, texting Steve to check on Bear. Tony doesn’t stop in front of the Stark building when they arrive. Instead, he goes around to the side where there’s a keypad and a separate entrance. Bucky follows him into an elevator that looked like the entrance to a rocket ship. The ride is quiet and seamless. In no time, they’re stepping out into a living room the size of Bucky’s entire apartment.

He tries to keep his reaction to a minimum but he was gobsmacked. “Good evening, sir,” Bucky hears and it’s the voice from outside. Then, with less enthusiasm, “Mr. Barnes.”

Tony doesn’t seem to notice his AI’s distaste as he goes to the kitchen. He opens the fridge and it slips out before Bucky can stop it, “Please tell me you’re not getting a beer right now.”

Tony slams the door closed and glared at him, “And if I was? S’my house.”

“You have a concussion. The doctor said-“

“The nurse said and I’m fine.” At Bucky affronted look, he huffs out a breath and shows him the bottle of water in hand. He tosses the cap on the counter and moves back into the living room. Bucky moves in closer, staring at Tony in silent disappointment.

He feels compelled to say, “I came by, you know. Your robo butler turned me away.”

“He deserves a raise. And he’s not a robot,” he spat and Bucky sighs.

“Tony, I wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

“You told me you hated spending time with me,” he says plainly.

“When did I say that?” Bucky asks.

“You as good as said that. ‘Why don’t you have any other friends to hang out with, Tony? Why are you pathetic?’” he says and Bucky shakes his head.

“I didn’t say that!” Bucky exclaims. “I just meant-“

“You just meant you were bored of me hanging around all the time. Like I was some kind of burden. So, I did you a favor,” he mumbles. He shoots Bucky a wounded glace before lowering his eyes to his water bottle.

“Tony, I’m sorry that’s what you heard. I really screwed things up and that had nothing to do with you.” Tony rolls his eyes and then winces, holding his hand up to the bandage on his head. His fingers come away wet and Bucky curses, moving in. He goes to the sink and wets a paper towel. “You have a first aid kit?” he asks and Tony mutters directions.

Bucky retrieves it from under the sink and sets it down on the island, handing Tony the towel to clean his hand. Then he stands there waiting for Tony. “What?” he asks.

“Up,” Bucky instructs and Tony glares at him. Having had enough, Bucky takes hold of his hips and lifts Tony up onto the counter. Then he starts digging into the kit while Tony is still staring at him in red faced. He picks up some gauze and starts to pull the bandage off. “You wanna tell me what happened here tonight?”

Tony shrugs, wincing as the bandage pulls at his skin a little. Bucky takes in the neat stitches, the mottled skin around it and the bruise on Tony’s cheek and his blood burns with anger. “Nothing.” Bucky gives him a look and Tony sighs. “Got in a fight.”

Bucky hums in acknowledgement, examining Tony’s head. Somehow he’d torn a stitch. “With?”

Tony bit his lip, silent long enough that Bucky pulls back his hands to stare at him. Tony winces, “Travis.”

“Travis?” Bucky asks, dropping his hands in shock. “How - when did you even - where?”

“Calm down,” Tony says, scooting back on the counter. “I didn’t know that was his new bar but I didn’t want to walk all the way to Josie’s and I couldn’t go to your place,” he began and Bucky frowns at him. “So, I went to this new place, the Hellfire Club and there Travis was.”

“You’ve gotta stop going to dive bars,” Bucky murmurs and he means it more as general advice because, for a small guy, Tony sure seemed to find himself in some pretty dangerous places. He picks up a swab and cleans the blood around the ripped stitch. The cut seemed okay with the remaining stitches holding tight so, he covers it up with a fresh bandage. “What happened?”

“I was minding my own business and he came over. Had some very choice words about you and then he took a swing at me,” Tony mutters. “Never got good at dodging punches.”

Bucky holds his gaze and sighs, moving in to stroke his hip in comfort. Tony sighs, his brow furrowing as he waits for Bucky to speak. “I’m sorry.”

Tony’s face scrunches up, “What for?”

“This is my fault.” He lowers his head, stroking Tony’s hip with his thumb. Even with things still rocky between them, it felt good having Tony this close again. It felt right. “If I hadn’t made things worse that night…”

Tony looks at him incredulously, “You mean if you’d let him knock my teeth in, none of this would have happened?” Bucky’s temple pulses and he straightens up. Tony’s eyes soften, “Look, what you did was really nice and if I can take a hit meant for you, I’m glad.”

Bucky doesn’t know what his face looks like but it loosens Tony’s tongue some more. “I, uh… about that night… the one where we fought. I just… you know all my baggage,” he says, his eyes bright and clear. “All of it. I just laid everything out for you that first night, some stuff not even Rhodey knows and when you rejected me, it really hurt.”

“I didn’t reject you, Tony,” Bucky says softly. His eyes catch on the way Tony’s lip gets caught in his teeth. Swallowing, he continues, “I was having a bad day. I just wanted it to be quiet and there you were.”

“You wanted me to be quiet,” Tony says slowly and Bucky realizes how that sounds.

“I just,” he groans, running a frustrated hand through his hair. “Yes and no,” he says quickly. “I’m not good with words.”

“You’ve done okay so far,” Tony replies drily.

“No, I haven’t because if I had, this would’ve been cleared up months ago but I’m a coward.” Tony blinks at him in surprise. “You want me to lay it out?”

“Go for it,” Tony says.

“All of it? No filter?”

“No filter,” Tony says with a wry smile.

Bucky huff out a breath and leans in, his hands on either side of Tony’s hips. His face is close, closer than it’d been since that night he fell asleep on Tony’s shoulder and Tony’s eyes go wide, drinking him in. When Bucky speaks, his voice is quiet, “I didn’t want you to leave and that was the weird part. I just wanted it to be quiet and I wanted you there with me. I wanted you in my bed. I wanted you in my clothes. I wanted your head on my chest, quiet so we could watch a movie or somethin’.”

“Or somethin’?” Tony asks quietly, a little dazed and it was honestly adorable.

“Or somethin’,” Bucky repeats. “And for a second, I freaked out because before that, on the bad days, I just wanted to be alone but that day I wanted you. I just wanted to crawl into bed with you. And I couldn’t exactly ask for that because there was no way you’d be interested in a guy like me.”

“A guy like you?” Tony repeats quizzically. “A guy that would knock out five guys-”

“Six guys,” Bucky corrects and earns a soft punch to the chest.

“Six guys for me. A guy that came running to the hospital to walk a drunk guy home. A guy that let me complain for six months straight about my ex fiancee long past when I should have moved on. Why would I possibly be interested in that guy?”

Bucky shakes his head, “None of that is special, Tony. It’s just being a person.”

“It’s being a good person.” His lashes fan out over his cheek before he looks up again, eyes firm. “You’re a good man, Bucky.”

Bucky shakes his head, “If you say so.”

“I do,” Tony says plainly. “I did,” he adds pointedly and Bucky wants to kiss him.

“You have low standards,” Bucky murmurs, leaning in closer. Tony blinks at him slowly before his eyes fall shut.

“I have the highest of standards. I go after CEOs and supermodels and…” he trails off, running his tongue over his lips.

“And?” Bucky asks, breathing in slowly.

“And bartenders with ridiculously cute dogs.” Bucky kisses him, his hand coming up to cradle Tony’s head as he moves in. Tony’s lips are soft and he opens for Bucky immediately, his hands in Bucky’s hair. He sighs, nipping at Bucky’s bottom lip before he pulls back, “The bar?” he asks and Bucky loves him.

“Closed,” he says. Tony gasps and Bucky takes his lips again.

Then, “Bear?” he asks.

“Steve,” Bucky says.

Tony pulls back to stare at him, clearly affronted. “Tony.”

“No, I meant Stevie’s gonna look in on Bear,” he says with a laugh and Tony stares at him before nodding to himself. He pulls Bucky in eagerly, smiling into the kiss. Bucky takes hold of his hips, leaning in closer when Tony hisses in pain. “What? What is it?” he asks concernedly.

“My cheek kinda hurts,” he says and Bucky kicks himself.

“Sorry, sorry,” he steps back and Tony frowns at him.

“Don’t do that,” he whines, making grabby hands. “This sucks.”

Bucky smiles at the pout on his face and steals a quick kiss. “You’re injured and concussed and it’s probably for the best that we wait until you’re all healed up.” Tony rolls his eyes but he’s happier when Bucky pulls him in for a hug.

“Well, you need to stay up for a few more hours and I can’t go back to sleep,” Bucky says and Tony perks up.

“I’ve got just the thing.”

Which is how Bucky ends up in bed alongside Tony watching Raising Helen at midnight on a Saturday night.

+

The second Tony has a clean bill of health, Bucky takes him back to his place. Steve left a note saying he took Bear with him to Sharon’s which leaves them alone for the night.

“You’re not opening up tonight?” Tony asks and Bucky smiles, locking the door behind them. He brings Tony up the stairs to his apartment.

“Jan helped me out and hosted some kind of event earlier today. Twice what I’d make tonight anyway so…” he pushes Tony up against the door. “I get a night off with you.”

Tony beams and Bucky it’s contagious. He wondered if he’d ever stop lighting up like this whenever Tony smiled at him but it’d been over a year of knowing him and this feeling hadn’t gone away. He leans in and presses their lips together. Tony lets him for a moment before pulling back and murmuring, “So, we have an apartment to ourselves?”

“Yep,” Bucky replies, leaning in to nip at his lip.

“No dog?”

“No dog.”

“And you don’t have to work?” he asks and Bucky pulls back with a frown.

“What?” he asks and Tony stares at him like he’s stupid.

“What are we doing here? You have a bed,” Tony exclaims and grabs Bucky’s shirt. He drags him through the apartment, pulling off shoes and socks as he went. Bucky lets himself get dragged to the bedroom, laughing as he does. He takes off his boots and crawls on the bed, pulling Tony in after him.

Tony settles on his knees above him, pulling his shirt over his head and reaching for Bucky’s. He barely manages to tear his mouth away from Bucky’s long enough to toss the shirts aside before he’s starting in on Bucky’s pants.

“You sure you’re okay?” Bucky asks, helping Tony get him out of his jeans.

“I’m sure,” Tony says, working on his own pants. “God, I’m sure.”

Bucky laughs, pulling Tony back into his lap and crushing their mouths together. Tony writhes, dragging a groan out of Bucky’s mouth. He rolls his hips slowly, the friction making Bucky see stars behind his eyelids. Tony pulls back, panting softly as he asks, “Do you… do you have, you know, stuff?”

“Stuff?” Bucky asks, pulling back with a smile.

“You know what I mean,” Tony says and Bucky opens his eyes to see a fond smile and soft, red lips. Bucky has to steal another kiss before he reaches over into the nightstand drawer to pull out some lube and a condom. Tony watches, eyes lighting up when he sees what else is in the drawer.

“Not a word,” Bucky says and Tony mimes zipping his mouth shut.

Bucky wraps Tony in his arms and tugs his underwear off. Tony’s cock is flushed and dark at the head, curving up and leaking precome along his belly. Bucky’s mouth waters but he has to focus. He slicks a finger, holding Tony’s gaze as he circles the entrance and feels Tony tense. He waits, just circling the rim gently before Tony relaxes and Bucky dips his finger inside. His arm tightens around Tony’s hip, the tight heat drawing a low moan from his throat. He pumps his finger in carefully, working it open slowly. Tony watches him, mouth open as he pants, trusting Bucky.

Bucky slides in a second, his cock jerking at Tony’s soft gasp. He pumps them slowly and crooks them, watching the pleasure wash over Tony’s face. He crooks them again, watching Tony’s cock jerk needily against his stomach. He presses his thumb against Tony’s perineum, letting Tony come down a little before brushing his prostate again and feeling him rise up on his knees, lip caught between his teeth. Bucky pulls him in closer, kissing the corner of his mouth as he slides in a third.

“Bucky,” Tony breathes, his breath coming out in tiny puffs against his cheek. Bucky strokes his fingers in carefully, each drag of Tony’s tight, sucking heat making him more and more desperate to bury his cock inside. He’d thought about this so much over the past few months and now he was finally about to do it. And part of him was terrified.

It’d been a long time since he’d been with anyone. And even then, it was just one night stands. But he cared about Tony. He really cared about Tony. He doesn’t want to screw this up. He couldn’t screw this up. He’d spent the past two months without Tony and it was a nightmare.

Tony groans and Bucky holds him tighter, pulling back to see his face. Tony’s eyes are closed, a little line between his brows as he worked with Bucky’s rhythm: pushing down when Bucky fucked his fingers inside. They’d always worked well together and it warms Bucky to see they were in sync, even in this. He watches Tony’s lashes flutter, his mouth falling open in tiny gasps and low, needy moans until his eyes open suddenly and he meets Bucky’s eyes. Bucky’s fingers curl and Tony tenses. His hole clenching tight around Bucky’s fingers and he comes all over his chest and Bucky’s.

Bucky swallows his moans with kisses and works him through it. Tony lets out a low keening noise that goes straight to Bucky’s cock. He could keep him here forever, crooking his fingers and watching Tony nearly shake out of his skin. When he comes down, he noses into Bucky’s throat and reaches for his underwear. Bucky smiles, petting Tony’s hair. “You don’t have to.”

“I want to,” Tony murmurs, pulling Bucky out of his boxers. Tossing them aside, he takes hold of Bucky’s length. He was hard, dripping embarrassingly and he expects Tony to bring him off with his hand but then Tony’s rising up and grabbing the lubricant. He pours some in his hand and slicks Bucky’s cock, grinning wickedly when Bucky’s hands buck in response. He settles over Bucky’s lap and Bucky takes hold of his hips. Tony sucks in a breath and slowly lowers himself down.

It’s a tight fit and they both let out a groan when the head finally pops inside. Tony sighs, resting his hands on Bucky’s shoulders as he sinks down and takes more of him inside. Bucky tries to hold Tony’s gaze, he makes a valiant attempt but the tight, wet heat engulfing him is too much to handle. His hands tighten on Tony’s hips, his head falls back and smacks into the wall a little harder than he expected. Tony lets out a breathy laugh, sinking down lower until he’s all the way down and Bucky forgets how to speak.

His fingers tighten on Tony’s hips as Tony takes over. He rises up carefully, the drag drawing a soft gasp from Bucky’s mouth. He falls, rises again and falls, building momentum, his cock slapping against Bucky’s stomach as he rides. Tony was so hot inside, his hole milking Bucky’s cock with every withdraw and Bucky knew he wasn’t going to last long. He leans in closer, enveloping Tony in his arms and bucking up when Tony bounds down. Working together, Bucky holding tight to Tony’s body, leaning up to take his mouth as best he can. It’s more intimate than anything Bucky had before but it was perfect. Because it was Tony.

Tony’s fingers tangle in his hair as he rolls his hips cleverly, his needy hole clenching down on Bucky’s length. They’re moving too fast for Bucky to think, too fast for him to restrain himself and he’s rougher than he means to be, taking hold of Tony’s hips and pulling him down hard, his balls slapping against Tony’s ass. Tony shudders, crying out out, squeezing tight around Bucky’s cock as he comes a second time. Bucky lets out a guttural moan, fucking into him roughly before he spills inside of him, his vision whiting out. He holds Tony tight throughout, sighing as he fucks into him lazily, his cock still pulsing and spilling more. Tony rolls his hips, swallowing Bucky’s desperate whine with sweet kisses.

And Bucky loved him.

He falls back and Tony lays on his chest, breathing in deep. “That was… Christ.”

Bucky scratches at his scalp and tilts Tony’s head back to get a look at his face. “It was good?”

“It was good,” he says firmly. “It was very good.”

Bucky smiles tiredly, turning his cheek into the pillow, “I’m glad.”

“Me too, Big Guy.” He stretches out, murmuring, “Let’s do that about five hundred more times. But after. Sleep now.” His breathing evens out and he falls asleep.

Bucky strokes his back and follows his lead.

 

The next morning, Bucky finds Tony in the kitchen reaching up for the cereal bowls. His shirt rides up and Bucky can see eight circular marks on Tony’s back and he’s willing to bet there’s two more on his front. Tony notices him staring and follows his eyeline. He freezes, “Is it weird that they turn me on a little bit?”

Bucky’s stomach tightens, his cock taking interest and he strides forward. Tony keeps babbling, “It’s weird, isn’t it?” he asks as Bucky takes him up in his arms and rips his shirt over his head. He turns Tony to face the counter and yanks his underwear down, dropping to his knees.

The moment Bucky swipes his tongue over his messy entrance, Tony gasps, taking hold of the counter. “Christ, Bucky.”

 

When Steve shows up with Bear, Bucky and Tony are sitting mercifully clothed on the couch and watching Made of Honor. Bear races over to Tony immediately, welcoming him with slobbery kisses. Tony laughs, hugging him eagerly and chatting with him. Bucky watches on fondly before he feels Steve’s eyes on him.

Steve raises his brows, asking, “You good?”

“We’re good,” Bucky says, walking Steve to the door. “He’s gonna stay.”

“Look at you, Buck,” Steve says with a proud smile. “I like this one.”

“Me too, Stevie.”

When he returns, Tony is walking Bear through the plot. “That’s Kevin McKidd. We don’t like him in this movie, got it?” Bucky pulls Tony in close and rests his chin on Tony’s head.

+

When Rhodey finally meets Bucky, it’s under less than stellar circumstances.

Rhodey comes up to surprise Tony and finds Bucky on top of him on the couch. Rhodey drops his bags and covers his eyes, “Tones? Tones! My eyes! Why are you always naked, man?” and Tony bucks Bucky off the couch. Bucky gets to his feet rather quickly, grabbing a pillow and holding it over his crotch.

“Who is this guy, Tony?” Rhodey asks and Tony winces, rather unashamed of his nakedness.

“Hey, Honey Bear,” Tony says slowly. “This is Bucky. Bucky, this is Rhodey.”

Bucky pushes his hair behind his hair with a nervous smile and holds out a hand. “Bucky Barnes.”

Rhodey stares at him, “Where was that hand a minute ago?” Bucky flushes deep red and falls back. Rhodey sighs, “I’m gonna go out and walk back in in a few minutes and we’ll pretend that’s the first time I ever met you, cool?”

“Cool,” Bucky says gratefully.

 

They take Rhodey to the Howling Commandos. Bucky goes up to get ready for the night while Rhodey and Tony catch up over beers. “So, you really like this guy?”

Tony sips his soda, a hesitant smile on his face. “Yeah, why? You don’t?”

“I didn’t say that, I’m just asking,” Rhodey says. “You’ve dated some pretty crappy guys before and I don’t wanna get invested if he’s an ass.” He scans the bar, his eyes catching on all the war memorabilia. “Seems alright. A little tough for your tastes.”

“Hey, I can be tough,” Tony says and Rhodey rolls his eyes. “I can.”

“He find your chick flick collection, yet?” Rhodey asks plainly, sipping his beer.

“Knew that was his,” Bucky says with a shake of his head. He drops down on the stool next to them and Rhodey laughs at the indignant expression on Tony’s face.

“He tell you it was Jan’s?” Rhodey asks and Bucky nods, grinning at Tony’s flush. “Yep, nothing’s changed.”

“It’s not all bad,” Bucky says with a smile and Tony spares him a grateful look.

“I’m a Witherspoon man myself,” Rhodey says and Tony groans.

“Here we go. I wanna respect you but you keep making me reconsider.”

“I like her!” Rhodey exclaims and Bucky got the feeling this was a recurring argument.

“She does the same thing in every film!”

“Legally Blonde was a treasure!”

+

Bucky finds the tattoo one night when Tony’s conked out and lying diagonally across the bed. Bucky’s tired, having just come up from the bar and he’d like to sleep on the mattress, not Tony’s bony, bony back. He pushed softly at Tony’s arm.

“Babe, babe, move over,” he murmurs and Tony manages to flip him off without waking. Bucky would be mad but it brings a smile to his face. He starts to push Tony over himself when he sees writing on Tony’s arm. Since that last night, Tony hadn’t gone out to get black out drunk. He had a drink from time to time, usually at Bucky’s bar but never more than one and never with the intention of getting so drunk he couldn’t find his way home. He stayed over more often than not these days and Bucky was happy to see he’d found other vices.

Sex seemed to be one of them and some nights Bucky came up from work only to get mauled the second he stepped in. Still, it was nice to have someone in his bed and he always slept better well fucked.

Today, Tony had been in and out of meetings all day and had apparently climbed out of his suit and passed out immediately. When Bucky sees the ink, he fears Tony had a bad day and went out drinking after work. Then he swipes his thumb over the ink and it doesn’t smear. He feels the raised lines of ink and his heart stops. He pokes Tony’s shoulder and gets a sleepy mumble, “Fuck off.”

“Wake up,” he says and Tony ignores him. He shakes him a little, “Tony, wake up.”

Tony sighs, rolling over and sitting up when Bucky takes hold of his face and kisses him. Tony hums in surprise, relaxing into it a bit dazed. “I love you,” Bucky breathes, stealing another kiss.

When Bucky pulls back, Tony is wide awake. “What was that for?”

“When did you do this?” Bucky asks, gesturing to his arm and Tony smiles.

“A month ago.” He shrugs, “Couldn’t recreate the original, I was a little too drunk to remember what it said but I got JARVIS to recreate handwriting from a picture. Seemed fitting.”

Bucky crawls on top of him, running his thumb over the words.

If found, please return to Bucky Barnes.