It seemed like mutants and superheroes were everywhere these days, but sometimes there were moments when Tony was reminded. By Howard. Loudly and often. Tony was unprotected outside of the suit and didn’t have a healing factor, so he needed to be careful! He was a sitting duck and there were countless people that wanted to hurt Howard, Tony, and/or Stark Industries. That’s why it was vital no one know who was inside the Iron Man armor-- according to Howard at least.
Tony thought it was bullshit personally. He was about ready to pull off the helmet in full view of the other Avengers and pretend it was an accident just so he didn’t have to lie anymore.
Tony was perfectly capable of protecting himself even without the full suit on, but no one believed that. Howard sure as fuck didn’t, Happy didn’t, and Rhodey and Pepper didn’t. And all four of them knew he was Iron Man.
Whatever. He’d show them. He was working in his ‘shop on a watch that could turn into a repulsor. Right now the biggest problem was size versus power. If it was small enough to be discreet, its power was negligible, and if it had the desired power, it was bulky. He reached for his coffee cup only to find it empty. He glared at the bottom of it and headed to the nearest coffee machine, which happened to be on the Avengers’ floor.
They probably wouldn’t mind, but he did peek around the corner before entering the kitchen. Iron Man was definitely welcome here, but Tony Stark was more iffy.
He didn’t realize he was tired until he tried to start the coffee machine without putting coffee grounds in it first. “That’s not right,” he said, looking at the machine with a frown.
“Grounds are to the right of the microwave,” Bucky said. Tony whirled around and saw him leaning against the door frame. He was in boxers and nothing else, so Tony turned back to the machine before he could do something embarrassing like pop a stiffy.
Then he frowned, because the microwave wasn’t where he was expecting it to be.
“Left,” Bucky provided helpfully.
Tony looked left. “Oh.” He walked over and opened the cabinet, and there was all the coffee paraphernalia like a blessing from the gods. “You are an angel and I love you.”
Bucky choked on air, and when Tony glanced at him, his blush was traveling down his chest.
“Would you believe me if I said I was talking to the coffee?” he tried.
Bucky laughed, still red in the face
and other places. “Maybe. I know that’s an old relationship, I wouldn’t want to get in the way of true love.”
Tony snorted. “I’m pretty sure if you gave me a chance I’d fall in love with you.” Then he froze. “Uh. Sorry. I’ve been- uh, working. Working on a watch. For a while, like a long time, like at least fifteen hours. I tend to talk. I just talk and talk and talk until someone stops me so now would be a good time to tell me to shut up.”
“You still haven’t started your coffee.”
“See? That.” Tony pointed at him-- or at least in his general direction because he was looking at the coffee machine now, hands going through the motions he’d done a thousand times. “That right there is why you’re a hero.”
Bucky nodded. “All good heroes bring the coffee.” He cleared his throat then asked, “Would you like to go on a date? Uh- with me?”
Tony dropped the bag of grounds-- thankfully closed-- and squeaked out, “What! You- Bucky, you- oh dear Tesla this can’t be happening.” He turned towards Bucky, hands pressed together in some vague attempt to center himself. “You are not interested in me.”
Bucky blinked, then frowned. “Yes I am. I don’t think this is the kind of thing you can debate.”
“Watch me,” he said, turning back to the counter and putting the bag away. In the background, the coffee maker started humming.
“Tony… you can just say no. You know that, right?”
“I don’t want to say no! Have you met you? You’re the perfect man. And because you are so perfect, I am not going to let you make a mistake like this.”
“A mistake like going on a date with you? C’mon Tony, what’s one date going to do? If you’re as terrible as you seem to think you are, I’ll figure it out pretty quick.”
“I am so going to regret this,” he said, but he was smiling, so Bucky didn’t take it personally.
3 months later
“Iron Man, you’ve got incoming four o’clock,” Clint said over the comms.
He kicked the last giant bug in the thorax-- causing it to squeal and crumple and die-- and turned, hands up and repulsors ready. Holy shit. “Next time tell me how many,” he growled. A goddamn throng was coming at him, and okay for a giant version of something they were pretty small, only the size of beagles. But a hundred flying beagles would be pretty terrifying, and at least they were cute.
Aiming seemed a useless exercise once they circled, so he didn’t really bother. Carcasses started piling up, and they were all swarming around him. There were too many of them, way too fucking many. He could barely move his arms and they started biting at the armor.
He put full power to the thrusters and jetted away from the horde, a handful of them dying in the blast, but an unfortunate amount getting dragged along with him. He aimed both hands at where most of the group still was and let out a beam, and it worked pretty well-- he thought-- until he saw that only the outside layer had been affected.
“I could use some help here,” Tony said mildly. “Anybody got bug bomb on hand?”
“Not yet, Shellhead,” Steve replied with a grunt.
“What about grenades?”
“I’ve got some. Headed your way.”
“Bucky!” Steve said, scandalized.
“Code names only on comms,” Nat teased. “Go help out the Tin Man before he looks like a crushed can.”
Tony shuddered. “Thanks for the imagery.” And thank that one asshole bug in particular that tried to take a bite from his ribs and successfully dented it.
“You know,” Clint said in a conversational tone, “with you being the Widow and all, shouldn’t you be the main player here? What happened to web spinning, miss spider?”
“Call Spiderman if you want that so badly,” she replied. “Clear here.”
“Go help Iron Man,” Steve said, back in his Cap voice.
A thousand giant bug corpses later, Tony looked down at the armor as the team was climbing on the quinjet and groaned. The metal was already pricking his head and ribs, making it hard to breathe and get his head on straight. “Howard’s gonna kill me.”
“The armor’s been through worse than this,” Steve said, giving the suit a confused once over like he’d missed something. In Steve’s defense, he’d gotten hit on the head and currently looked a lot more like a golden retriever than he usually did.
The rest of them blinked at him in dumbfounded surprise as they sat down.
“Why are you all looking at me like that?”
“I thought Tony took care of the suit,” Bucky said with a frown.
“Your boyfriend does indeed, take care of the suit.”
“Then why would Howard kill you?” Steve asked.
“He doesn’t like when the suit gets crushed because it tends to crush me . Then he won’t shut up about it for the next two weeks while he tells me he can find someone else to operate the suit.”
Clint called from the pilot’s seat, “Everyone onboard?” When he received various confirmations, he started the lift off sequence. “And can someone explain what’s happening with Iron Man? Cause I’m confused.”
“Howard has strong feelings about his wellbeing, apparently,” Nat informed him. “You know Iron Man, if you told us who you were, we wouldn’t have to speculate.”
“Don’t pressure him,” Steve mumbled, leaning his head against the wall behind him.
“I’m not pressuring him, I’m just stating a fact.”
“You assume knowing my identity would explain why Howard cares.”
“What happened to ‘Mister Stark’ this and ‘Mister Stark’ that?” Bruce asked, then shook his head. “Kids these days, no respect.”
“I’m not a kid,” Tony said.
“Sounds like something a kid would say,” Bruce said.
“You do like Spiderman quite a bit,” Nat said, a speculative gleam in her eye. “Are you maybe best friends?”
“But why would Howard care?” Clint asked. Tony wanted to curse at how easy it was to hear him. Next time, he’d make the cockpit completely removed from everyone else. It would take some effort to convince Howard it was a good upgrade, but he’d manage.
“He’s real protective of Tony,” Bucky offered. When Nat looked at him, he shrugged. “Maybe it’s a ‘this person is the same age as my child’ thing.”
“Can we drop this already?” Tony asked, and he was endlessly grateful that the voice modifier conveyed how serious he was.
Nat stuck her tongue out at him and muttered something about him being a spoilsport, but they all dropped it and she joined Clint up front. Bucky looked deep in thought, so Tony didn’t try to strike up conversation. He wanted to though, because whatever he was thinking about, it didn’t appear happy.
When they got to the Tower, Tony went to the shop, took off the armor, then went to his room. He’d deal with it tomorrow. He changed into sweats and wondered if he could risk calling Bucky. Before he could come to a decision, his phone started ringing. “Hello?”
Tony smiled. Looks like that decision was made. “Hey. What’s up?”
“Not at all.”
“Mind if I come over?”
“I’d love it. I’m in my room, by the way.”
“Oh,” Bucky said, sounding surprised. That was fair; half the time when Tony said he wasn’t busy he actually was. “Yeah I’ll be right there.”
Tony looked down at his phone to make sure he’d hung up. “Love you,” he whispered, then closed his eyes because when had he gotten so pathetic? Well pathetic or not, he was looking forward to cuddling with Bucky. It was one of the only reasons Tony was happy he was short, because he fit so nicely in Bucky’s arms.
But when Bucky walked in, he looked serious, and not the kind of serious where he’d want to snuggle down and talk it out. More like the time they had their first fight about when it was acceptable to be jealous.
“Something wrong?” Tony asked. Best to get it over with and not force Bucky to come up with a segue.
“Not… wrong,” he hedged. Okay, so something was extremely wrong. In any other situation, Tony would either be cuddled up to him or going down on him. It’s not his fault that Bucky looked so sexy in comfy clothes.
“Right,” Tony said, making sure Bucky knew he was unconvinced.
“What are you doing with your life?”
Tony blinked, taken aback. “What?”
“What are you doing here? You’re designing a few things for Stark Industries, and you take care of the Iron Man armor, but what else?”
Tony couldn’t stop the hurt that wrapped around his chest. As if the poor thing hadn’t been through enough today in a partially crushed chest piece. “I work a lot, Bucky. I know I’m not doing anything right this second, but I deserve a day off every once in a while.”
Bucky rubbed at his forehead. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Then what the fuck did you mean?”
“I meant- Christ, Tony, you’re always talking about how you want to go back to college. You have a whole list of things you want to do, and you’re just sitting here and for what? For fuck’s sake the prince of Wakanda invited you to their country! We don’t need you here, Tony, you should go.”
“You don’t need me,” Tony repeated, tears gathering in his eyes.
Bucky clenched his jaw. “I care about you Tony. I want you to go because it will be good for you.”
“Good for me? It wouldn’t fucking be good for me, and it wouldn’t be good for you either. It wouldn’t be good for anyone! You know why?” He wrenched his shirt up and scratched his skin for the edge of the arc reactor cover. “Because you may not need me, but you sure as fuck need Iron Man.” He threw the synthetic skin at Bucky’s chest, noting his stunned expression with grim satisfaction. The arc reactor was glowing through his shirt when he dropped it down, and even though Bucky was staring at it now, he didn’t feel the need to protect it. It didn’t stop him from crying. “And you know what, asshole? There are easier, less dickish ways to break up with someone, so shut up and get out.”
Bucky did so without saying another word.
Tony collapsed on his bed, sobbing into his pillow as he hugged it. When he finally stopped, he was miserable. His face was sticky, and he had a crying headache on top of the usual ache of a fight.
A gentle knock sounded on his door.
He groaned but rolled out of bed and walked over. He cleared his throat as quietly as he could to get his voice back to normal and asked, “Who is it?”
Tony was comforted that he sounded apologetic. He opened the door, peering up at him hesitantly. Bucky looked small, like he’d thought about it and felt bad. He took a deep breath and firmly told himself he was not going to jump to conclusions. If Bucky said he was sorry, that was one thing-- a very good, perfect thing that Tony really hoped he did. “What.”
“Can I come in?”
“That depends. Are you going to tell me I should leave again?”
Bucky winced. “No, I- I just need to talk to you.”
Tony opened the door wider for him. Bucky walked through, and Tony shut it behind him. They both stayed close to the doorway, as if anticipating the hard left turn it could take. “Okay. Talk.”
“I’m sorry. For- Jesus. I meant to tell you that I understand you have dreams, and it’s okay if you wanted to chase after them. And-” he winced again “-when I said we don’t need you, I meant that we’d survive without you. I’d miss you like my left arm honey, but I didn’t want you to think that you couldn’t go because of me, or anyone else. Does- does that make sense?”
“You said it in the worst possible way last time.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Bucky said, and he looked like he meant it-- not that Bucky made a habit of lying to Tony. “Sweetheart, I want you to be happy. And it- seems like you aren’t.”
“I’m not happy because I’m Iron Man and nobody fucking knows about it.”
“Well,” Bucky smiled weakly, “that certainly makes more sense than any other theory on Iron Man’s identity.”
“You weren’t trying to break up with me were you?”
“No, but- ah, I can see how it looked like that. I-” Bucky stopped. Swallowed. Gave Tony another half-smile. “I probably shouldn’t say that right now. Don’t want you to think that I’m saying it to get out of trouble or some shit. I’m sorry I made you tell me you were Iron Man.”
“I wanted to. I have since before we started dating.”
Tony nodded and walked towards his bed to sit down, breaking the fragile tension. “I never wanted to keep it a secret from the team, but Howard worries, you know?” Tony pat the space beside him in invitation.
“So- you forgive me?” Bucky asked.
Tony shrugged. “I’m getting there.”
Bucky smiled at him and walked over. “I’ll take it. I really am sorry Tony. It felt like you were putting your life on hold for the Avengers, and I didn’t want that for you.”
“I know. And I’ll appreciate that when I stop being scared that you’re trying to get rid of me.”
Bucky put an arm around his shoulders, loose so Tony could push him away if he wanted. “Don’t want to get rid of you darling. Your in-house nightlight’s going to take some getting used to.”
Tony glanced at the arc reactor, then snorted. “I wouldn’t worry about that. I keep it covered around the clock, just in case.” He sighed and leaned into Bucky. “Hey Bucky?”
“How about next time you have a suggestion for me, you frame it like that? Not coming in and asking me why I’m wasting my life.”
“I didn’t say it exactly like that,” he muttered. Tony pat his thigh, and Bucky rubbed his arm where his hand was resting. “I’ll be better about it in the future.”
“Thanks babe.” He paused. “Hey Buck? I love you.”