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Well, Tony sighed. He did say he would need a guardian angel watching over him to get through this. He just didn’t think that Bucky would be that guardian angel.

See, Tony knows he’s being followed.

He’s always being followed.

When he’s out and about, the press and the public are always there; when he’s in the R&D labs, the interns trail behind him like a bunch of baby ducks following their mother (“Don’t even look at me right now, Rhodey”); when he’s in the East Wing, it’s a combination of his super-children (“Why did you hit me?!”, “I can hear you laughing at me through your eyes, your eyes are judgemental, Gumdrop, and they’re hurting me.”) and several agents, and when he’s in the office, Pepper – CEO or not – is always on his case – God bless her. 

This time, though, is entirely different.

Whereas everyone had a reason to metaphorically cling to his shadow, there’s nothing that Tony can come up with for this particular person to be trailing him like he is.

Tony considered that he was being followed for nefarious purposes, however, a plethora of bad guys have always been in rotation trying to get on his shit-list, and Tony’s convinced that isn’t the case this time.

After all, if the Winter Soldier wanted you dead, you would be.

Anyway, Friday, who had taken to watching the whole thing like a cat just being introduced to a laser pointer, remarked, “It’s fascinating.”

“It’s annoying.”

“How so?”

“He’s not good at it,” he retorted, and seriously what the fuck was up with that? Tony knows the reputation of the Winter Soldier, read his considerable file back to front and gotten nightmares on top of the nightmares, and Tony knows that if Barnes didn’t want to be found out, he wouldn’t be. So that begged the question: what the actual fuck?

“Maybe he wants you to know that he’s watching.”

“That explanation is creepy, so it’s got some merit.”

“It’s rather fun watching him,” Friday informed, an amused lilt to her usually no-nonsense British accent, “Sergeant Barnes is very good.”

“If he was better you wouldn’t have noticed,” Tony retorted, “and I wouldn’t have, for that matter.” Too many people followed him around on a daily basis, it was just easier to let the feeling wash over him and ignore it. But there was just something about knowing that Barnes was doing it that made that notion impossible.

The man had an intense stare – like a physical touch pressing into the back of Tony’s neck, trailing and tracing the vertebrae of his spine with just the barest amount of pressure, but with all the attention reserved for performing heart surgeries, or killing someone in a crowded room.

(Probably the latter.)

If it had been any other person, Tony would’ve thought the man wanted to devour him, and sure that was a possibility, but it also wasn’t.

Who cares if Tony had a bit of a crush on Bucky Barnes as a kid, it wasn’t like he was projecting or anything.

 

“He can’t help it, you’ve made me incredibly advanced, Boss.”

“Ah, flattery will get you everywhere,” Tony said with a snicker, shaking off the Goosebumps because his other shadow has joined them.

“But I maintain, whoever it is wanted to be found out,” Friday informed, knowing too that they were no longer alone, though it didn’t stop her from adding, “Perhaps it would seem less threatening that way?”

“Do you know something I don’t, Fri-baby?”

“Of course not, sir.”

Tony snorted, pressing the rim of his mug to his lips.

If Bucky, stalking tendencies et all, was harmless by Friday’s estimation (and like she said, he did make her incredibly advanced), then Tony wasn’t going to kick up a fuss about it. If Bucky could get Friday in his corner, then clearly the man wasn’t a bad person.

After reading his file, Tony thought that a miracle after all he’d gone through.

Bucky had every reason to go on a Hydra murder spree, and while Tony appreciated that he didn’t for purely selfish reasons (the paperwork, God, the paperwork!), he was also awed over the man’s control and calm in the face of the maddening things he probably heard all the time on the news about himself. 

Tony had already thrown his toys out of the cot magnificently when he was practically ordered to move back into the Tower.

The United States Government and the people of the world needed to know that the Avengers could still get along and come together to fight off a common enemy. Though, in this case, it was more because someone needs to keep an eye on them, but not overtly enough that they feel like someone is keeping an eye on them.

Like Tony was the big brother that needed to make sure his kid siblings didn’t fuck around with any electrical appliances while mom and dad were out

It could’ve been worse.

With the hours that Tony kept, it made things easy enough to stay out of their way which was a relief because Barton was still a goddamn child who was content to blame Tony for everything, and don’t even get him started on Maximoff, who, after being rejected by Vision, really did resemble a teenager for all her sulking.

The cherry on the shitcake was that Rogers too hadn’t changed a damn bit. He still maintained his position that kicking Tony’s chest in and leaving him internally bleeding with no way to call home, was the right thing to do, and Tony didn’t have enough goddamn patience for such shittery.

Hiding out in his lab was his best bet, and it worked like a charm for the past month since his move into the Tower, and he told Friday so too.

Catching Bucky stalking him, aside.

“He’s being very unobtrusive about it,” Friday informed primly.

“Yes, I should give him points for doing what assassins do when they target people.”

“If he wanted you dead, you would be, sir.”

“Point.”

“Besides, with Colonel Rhodes busy with UN business and Vision keeping Doctor Banner company, you do seem quite starved for company here…”

He chuckled, patting his work table. His little girl really was the most advanced of them all. “What are you talking about, sweetheart? I’m not lonely, I’ve got Bucky.”

A few hours later, when Tony finally deigned to take a break from his building binge, a sticky-note with a kitten holding a “THANK YOU” sticker between its paws greeted him. At the time, likely due to sleep deprivation, Tony thought nothing more of it, even as the stickers started to pile up.

Whenever he actually went to bed at a normal hour (“GOOD BOY!” said the kitten), ate something solid that wasn’t flash fried something (“WOW!” said the kitten) and didn’t somehow cut his hands bloody during his work binges (“YOU’RE DOING GREAT!” said the kitten), Tony was rewarded with stickers, and he was…Baffled? Amused? Weirdly endeared?

“There are presents now.”

“It seems he really does want you to know he’s watching.”

“Are you sure you aren’t in on this, Fri?”

Innocent sounding as always, the AI informed, “He did ask to leave something, yes.”

“And you let him?” Tony asked, brow arching quizzically.

“I didn’t know kitten stickers were detrimental to your health, sir.”

Sighing heavily, Tony dumped the latest offering in a drawer – along with the others – before putting his hands on his hips. “Alright, out with it, what’s the situation?”

There was a pause, and slowly, Friday replied, “I’m afraid that breaches privacy protocol.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right, of course.”

By then, now that the jig was well and truly up, Tony tried his damnest to catch Bucky in the act – whether it was coming face-to-face with the man while he was doing his sentinel thing, watching over Tony while he engineered the future in the Tower’s basement, or catching Bucky leaving behind the damned stickers. Unfortunately, while Bucky seemed happy enough to be known he was doing something, it didn’t translate to wanting to be caught doing it.

Tony even braved the communal area of the Tower in a bid to catch Bucky out, but even that was to no avail.

His visit to the communal kitchen proved to be a minefield – Maximoff’s glares could burn holes through him while Romanoff’s iciness could freeze his remains to the wall, Barton was as quick as ever to catch an attitude at the sight of him, and Tony felt his hackles rise to meet them.

Right until Bucky walked in.

Not that Tony saw him – according to the video feed Friday let him watch later – the ex-POW was standing in the doorway of the kitchen and he was glowering so magnificently that Romanoff was cowed to indifference and both Barton and Maximoff made wounded puppy noises in dismay.

At the time, Tony had been bewildered that the mood in the room had so quickly changed, but when he glanced over his shoulder to see what Maximoff was scowling at, Bucky had gone.

The morning after, on his bedside table, a still-hot mug of his favorite coffee and another kitten sticker exclaiming, “DON’T LET THE JERKS GET YOU DOWN” greeted him. 

He snorted. “Will do, sugarplum.”

The following mornings after that was the same mug of coffee and a different sticker to go along with it, until one day, a magazine with Tony on the cover, accompanied it. The sticker declared, “Looking good!”

And yeah, Tony may have preened a little at that. “Not too bad yourself, Tasty-Freeze, although,” he paused, looking around the room deliberately as he spoke, “actually seeing you to confirm that would be helpful.”

He waited one minute, and then two, before, heaving a sigh, Tony shrugged. “Suit yourself. I appreciate your contribution to the cause,” he raised his mug in thanks and drained it. “Anytime you want to actually have a conversation, let me know. Or you know what, you can keep me company in the lab if you want – I mean, you do already, but we can make it official. Consider this your formal invitation.”

“Sir?”

He hummed.

“Sergeant Barnes is waiting for you in your lab.”

“Great," Tony exhaled, a smile stretching slowly across his face. "Show him where the drawer is. We need to have a serious talk about his kitten obsession.”