They’ve avoided saying the words as long as there was a war going on. They avoided a lot of things - there were long touches, constant check-ins, a warm kind of domestic bliss between emergencies, but it was hardly the kind of intimacy both of them longed for. Bucky was willing to take everything he could get whenever he could get it, but Tony was always restrained.
Always afraid of letting himself have everything. Always so sure he was going to lose it.
They both longed for more, but Bucky found ways to content himself without making Tony uncomfortable or risking the battle to come (even if he wanted to spend hours just holding Tony in his arms, discovering all the ways that his clever tongue could be used, finally getting to immerse himself in Tony’s scent, his heat, his passion-).
Sometimes Bucky would just watch Tony watch him back. He would link their hands and try to decipher all the ways Tony’s face gave away how much he cared. How his feelings grew deeper by the day. Sometimes it would show up in fear, other times in sadness, but Bucky’s favourite was when Tony would seem to glow with contentment and warmth (when Tony would tap Bucky’s name into his palm or kiss his dogtags, a shy smile curving his lips just so and stealing Bucky’s breath away).
By the time they are finally preparing to leave the bunker, they both had the words on the tip of their tongue. But if Tony couldn’t say it (wouldn’t let himself, not when he was so determined to live and saying it felt too much like goodbye), Bucky would refrain. He’d already gotten to once - that would have to be enough.
(When they finally fall into bed together for more than just reassurance and nearly chaste touches, Bucky has to sink his teeth into Tony’s skin to keep the words behind them. He has to press them between Tony’s thighs, pour them into Tony’s mouth, gasp them out as a broken litany of, “Tony, please-”)
They lose the first major battle on Earth - they have supremacy for a long while in the atmosphere because of Tony and Shuri’s advancements and the remains of the fleet Tony had overtaken, but the force that touches ground is still massive. Some cities are lost - no major strongholds, however Tony still considers that a loss. So does Steve.
From within the compound in Washington, they silently seethe. They can’t leave until re-enforcements come from the West. They have a good plan and have made good headway thus far - had good intel that Thanos would show himself personally if things dragged out too long. It’s enough for Bucky. Hell, it’s enough for Rhodes.
Tony and Steve sit side-by-side though at the window, though, pensive and likely planning something disastrous. Bucky ruffles Steve’s hair, gives him a noogie with his metal hand, and throws Tony over his shoulder.
He tosses Tony onto the mattress and pins him down.
“Look at me, sweetheart.”
He says, tipping his forehead against Tony’s and matching their breathing,
“Look at me, let me see how you feel.”
Tony squeezes his eyes shut, so Bucky kisses the tip of nose and slides down to his chest. He rests his head against it, keeping his ear just above Tony’s heart. It beats in a too-perfect rhythm.
“You don’t need to lie to me, sugar, and neither does this.”
Bucky presses another kiss to the pool of light in the centre of Tony’s clothed chest. Tony’s breath hitches and his arms come up, curling around Bucky’s shoulders.
“I don’t want you to look at me right now.”
Tony laughs wetly (Bucky is tempted, not for the first time, to just take him and leave. To go back to the bunker and to say, “Fuck the world.” for not dealing with its own problems for once),
“Because I don’t want to say it, not right now when I’m upset, not like this-”
Bucky pulls out of Tony’s embrace and rolls over, hauling himself up so he can cup Tony’s cheek. Tony’s hands fly up to cover his eyes.
Bucky asks (his heart beating out of rhythm, skipping out of joint like an old record),
“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
Tony whispers. His face heats under Bucky’s hand.
Bucky asks. It hits him a second later.
“Sweetheart, please, please move your hand,”
Bucky begs, a flush crawling up his chest and his heart went from skipped beats to double-time in a single sentence,
“Please, I’ll do anything.″
Tony grumbles, hand still clamped over his eyes,
“You could just move my hand, you ass. I know you’re strong enough.”
Bucky laughs, thready and high, and presses a kiss to the hand Tony is using to shield himself.
“I’ll do anything but that.”
He says. He weaves his fingers between Tony’s and, begrudgingly, Tony lifts his hand.
The look in Tony’s eyes confirms what Bucky thought he was saying. Much to his dismay, Bucky feels tears welling up. Tony opens his mouth, however Bucky cups his cheeks again and kisses him gleefully again and again, crying and getting Tony’s cheeks wet.
Tony kisses him back, fluttering little things, and uses his thumb to try and wipe the tears away. Eventually, Bucky just tucks his head into Tony’s neck and sobs, unable to hold it back anymore.
Tony taps the words onto the back of Bucky’s head even as he says them out loud,
“I love you, Bucky Barnes. It’s not the right time to say it, but I do.”
Bucky smacks him on the chest and squeezes him tightly.
“You kept me waiting-”
He snarls, and Tony’s breath hitches,
“All the time is the right time! You kept me waiting, Tony Stark!”
Bucky leans back, wiping away the wetness on his face with his shirt collar harshly. He points down at Tony who is staring at him wide-eyed (nervous but still just as loving, damn it),
“I love you, you asshole! I’m in love with you - I’m ridiculously, stupidly, life-threateningly in love with you and you are going to hear it every single day-”
Tony starts laughing. Bucky smacks his chest again, though he can already feel his tirade being swept away. The man beneath him was just too damn beautiful.
Strong arms snake around Bucky’s waist and Tony rolls them over, his blue gaze glowing and warm. He lifts Bucky’s metal hand to his lips,
“If it makes you happy,”
He says, kissing each finger gently,
“I’ll let you say it every day. I’m terrified, Bucky, but-”
He kisses the palm, lifts it so he can kiss the wrist,
“I want you to say it. I want to say it back-”
He kisses the inside of the elbow, right over a plate of gold, and lifts his head so he can see Bucky’s expression,
“I want it too much, so I’m scared. But it’s you and me right?”
He rolls up Bucky’s sleeve and gently brushes his lips over the scar tissue at his shoulder,
“I trust you. I love you. I’m…”
Tony looks Bucky full in the face. Sometimes Bucky can’t believe he’s with this man - this man who brought the universe to its knees, who held the Winter Soldier’s heart in his hand and didn’t crush it, who fought every day for a world that didn’t give him half of what he deserves. This was one of those times - Tony looked…fuck, he looked at Bucky like he was everything he’d ever wanted.
No one had ever done that before.
“I’m sorry I made you wait so long.”
Tony whispers, leaning in and finally, FINALLY, sealing their mouths together. Bucky was going to ruin this man, so help him God, but first…
First he was going to make love to him until he forgot his own name. Then he was going to kill all of his enemies. THEN he was going to marry him.
He had a five year plan. It was going to happen.