Bucky is the best thing that has ever happened to Tony. He doesn't need to be a genius to realize that. He knows he is difficult and selfish and an asshole and a bit of a slut and works way too many hours and... Well let us say Tony is well aware of his faults.
Nor did he need the numerous shovel talks from all of Bucky's friends to know just what his reputation is like – hint, not good. Seriously, every single one of them threatened him. He knows this is an accepted part of dating culture now. And he knows Pepper and Rhodey had a talk with Bucky. But seriously. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. And not the friendly kind either. They were serious.
He'll never admit this to anyone, especially not Bucky, but they kind of scared the hell out of him. Like, he's low key terrified that they already have a way to murder him and get away with it. Especially the Russian redhead Tony is convinced is actually an assassin.
But despite his numerous faults, there is one thing he would never do, not to Bucky, not to any partner he had. And that is cheat. He would never cheat on anyone. For one thing, it's a really douche move. Break up and be done with it or grow a pair and stay loyal. Not that hard. For another thing, he's had personal experience with it to know how much it sucks. He knows he has a reputation as a playboy – and for a good reason, but he has never cheated on someone he is committed to.
And he is most certainly committed to Bucky. He has the ring back in his penthouse to prove it. He made it last week. Made and not bought because he is an engineer. Creating is what he does. Besides that, he didn't trust the news not to get out. Tony Stark buying a ring is a Big Deal.
He hardly wants his proposal ruined because the tabloids don't know the meaning of decency.
Pepper and Rhodey have already approved of it. They have also taken to teasing Tony about how excited he is. Which is true. He is obnoxiously excited about this. He has the perfect evening planned out for them.
It is going to be something simple because Bucky isn't comfortable with big and public things. Dating Tony has definitely taking some adjusting for him. He doesn't like the limelight, even if he is use to it after two years of them dating.
When they first started, Bucky asked if they could keep it quiet for a while. He had just been honorably discharged from the military five months ago and dealing with PTSD and the injury that cost him his arm. Tony agreed, understanding completely. He wasn't asking to keep it a secret from everyone , just the public. It limited where they could go, and sometimes that frustrated Tony, but he pushed through it.
Bucky was worth it.
They came out after a year, when Bucky felt more confident. Everyone seemed to love him immediately, which was a relief. Tony knew that had been one of Bucky's worries.
So nothing fancy and outrageous. But Tony was going to take him to his favorite diner and the a walk in the park and back to Tony's penthouse where he is going to ask. Simple. Perfect. Tony can't wait, it's going to be so perfect.
So the moral of this story is that Tony doesn't cheat. And he certainly isn't going to cheat on the man he is planning to propose to.
Which is why he is understandably confused when Steve, Bucky's best friend, accuses him of it.
Tony stares at him as if he has two heads. “The hell are you on ?” he asks in disbelief.
“Don't give me that shit Stark. I know you cheated on Bucky. I have the proof right here,” he throws down a series of pictures. He glares at him. If the old saying 'if looks could kill' was right, Tony would be dead ten times over.
Tony gives him another look of his own and goes through them. As he does, his eyebrow climbs higher and higher. What the hell? They are of him and Sunset Bain, someone he would never go out with, under any circumstances. She is also the person Obie has been urging him to date. He thought it would be good for business. Maybe even a merger. Never mind that he knows how important Bucky is to him.
They're from the last gala he had been dragged to. Sunset had thrown herself at him the entire time. It had been one of the longest nights of his life.
And he can admit that the pictures don't look good. Especially since someone managed to capture that kiss she had forced on him. And he means forced . Not only had she knocked him against the wall, she pushed him so hard, Tony thought he was going to choke on her tongue, the way she had been pushing it in his mouth. She stuck to him like paper on glue and would not let go. It took some effort to get her off.
During that time, someone obviously decided to make some fun instead of helping him. Douche. He had spent most of the night either brushing his teeth, using mouthwash or chewing gum to get the dirty feeling out of his mouth. He had felt extremely violated from it all.
He never told Bucky about that kiss, just wanting to forget it. Clearly that had been a mistake judging from the situation he finds himself in now. “You can't be serious?” he asks, “She forced herself on me!”
“Doesn't look like you're objecting too much.”
“Screw you Rogers, I would never cheat on Bucky. Sunset got the idea into her head that we would make a good couple and decided to drive the point home that night. I'm not sure how someone got pictures of that, but you're missing the context.”
“Then why did you never tell Bucky about it?” he asks aggressively, looming over Tony.
“Because I wanted to forget about it? Because I felt violated and didn't want to have to retell that tale? Because I spent most of that night in the bathroom? Please, take your pick,” he growls.
Steve has the nerve to roll his eyes at him. “Violated, right,” he snorts.
Tony has to take a deep breath to keep himself from punching him. “Not sure where you're from, but from where I am no means no. I told her no and she still threw herself at me. It was non consensual, yes I had an issue with it.”
“Didn't want to push her away too quickly?” he mocks.
“Couldn't push her away fast enough. I know you've never had this problem,” he says bitterly, eyeing those muscles, “but some of us aren't built like Greek gods. If a woman is determined enough, she can be hard to get away from.”
“Because it so looks like you want to get away,” he rolls his eyes again.
“Seriously Rogers, screw you. I know you don't like me. I know none of Bucky's friends like me. But I am in love with him. What part of that is so hard to understand?”
“The part where you're a slut,” he accuses.
Tony has to keep himself from flinching. Hard. He hates being called a slut. It's true, he knows it's true, but that doesn't mean he likes hearing it. That's an insult he refuses to use on anyone , regardless of gender. “When I'm single,” he defends instead, “which I'm clearly not. I am many things, but I am not a cheater.”
He doesn't look convinced in the slightest. “Look Stark, just give it up. We all knew that sooner or later you were going to mess things up. It was only a matter of time. I'm just telling you so you don't come around anymore. Bucky knows and he's through. He doesn't want to see you anymore.”
“ I am not a cheater ,” Tony growls, “I know I'm a wreck, but that's a line I don't cross. And none of you think this is the least bit suspicious? Someone, what, mysteriously delivers you these pictures and you're just going to believe them ? Over me ?”
“Maybe some people just have better morals.”
“And maybe some people are assholes who want to make trouble. Are you this naive with everyone or do you want me gone that badly?”
“Bucky may think you're a good person, but you don't have me fooled.”
Tony clenches his fist so hard that he feels blood start to drip from it. This is ridiculous. Ridiculous and insulting and down right painful. “So you're never going to believe me no matter what I say? Nice,” he gives a bitter laugh, “I'm an asshole, but at least I can admit to being one. Tell me, what does that make you?”
“A good friend.”
“How about an overprotective one? I know my friends are bad, but at least they would get the truth before jumping to conclusions like this.”
“It seems pretty damning to me.”
“And you've already admitted to hating my guts, so forgive me if I tell you to take that opinion and shove it where the sun don't shine. Where's Bucky?”
“ You're a real charmer, aren't you Stark?” Steve snorts, “How do you think he is after he learned you cheated on him? He's hurt as hell. But don't worry, he'll be fine. He has good friends to help him through this.”
“Does he even know you're here? Or have you decided to take matters into your own hands?”
“Why would he want to see you again after this?” he gestures to the pictures.
“That doesn't exactly answer my question, does it?” Tony glares, “I have a right to see my boyfriend, you can't keep him from me.”
“What, so you can give him your sob story and keep stringing him along,” Steve looks disgusted, “I don't think so Stark. You are never getting anywhere near him again.”
And Steve is right, the asshole. Tony can't get anywhere near Bucky. First his number was changed. Then they moved apartments. And he always had a guard, someone who kept Tony from even getting close. He's not even sure Bucky knows he was there.
They have obviously closed ranks against him. No matter what he does, it never seems to work. Something always stops him.
It is when Natasha – said scary assassin – threatens him with an actual knife and a restraining order that Tony stops. He wants to see Bucky, it's true. More than anything he wants to see him, talk to him, explain himself to then. Then, if Bucky still wants him to leave, he will. But he would like the chance to hear it from the man himself that they are over, not his friends.
But the last thing either of them need is to bring the press into this. It's already bad enough, with everyone speculating why Tony hasn't been seen with Bucky anymore. Bucky doesn't deserve having this presenting as front page news.
He hates being 'that ex' as well, but in his mind, it's still not official. Not until he hears it from Bucky. And he hasn't. But maybe this is Bucky's way of handling a break up. Maybe he really doesn't want to see Tony. Maybe he believes the pictures.
He thought Bucky knew how much Tony loved him, but maybe he's wrong.
Or maybe he doesn't believe them, but he doesn't want to be involved with this level of drama anymore. He's not sure which is worse, to be honest.
Still, he hates that he now understands the song 'Somebody That I Used To Know'. Intimately.
When Tony finally does see Bucky, it's completely by accident. Pepper had kicked him out of the workshop and then the Tower itself. Apparently he has been 'moping' too much. He doesn't want to admit to her how right she is.
He's definitely dealing with some heavy depression right now, trying to drown it in work and alcohol. Pepper and Rhodey are worried and supportive and furious. It had taken hours for them to promise to not to take revenge on his behalf – on Bucky and his friends that is. He's fine if they happen to find who dropped the pictures off. Or who took them in the first place.
But there is no easy way to get over a broken heart. He knew that before. He knows it now. Doesn't mean it's easier to deal with. Everything reminds him of Bucky anymore – food and movies and music. He feels like he is drowning right now and nothing is going to save him.
He had thought Bucky was it for him. The love of his life. The one who was going to be his forever. They had made it through so much together and Tony thought they were so close to their happy ending. Shows what he knows.
So he is wandering the streets aimlessly. No one pays him any mind, many because he is in 'disguise'. Which is code for a hat, sunglasses and jeans. He blends in perfectly with the people around him and no one gives him a second glance. He loves New York.
The irony hits him just as hard as the sight of Bucky does. Of course it is only when he's not looking that he finds him. And of course he isn't alone either. He's with Sam, one of his more tolerable friends. At least he never spit at Tony, literally or metaphorically. That doesn't mean he likes Tony any more than the others.
But Bucky... Bucky looks good. Happy. He is laughing at something Sam said and Sam throws an arm over his shoulders.
Tony feels as if the breath has been knocked out of him. Oh. Oh god, he thinks he is going to be sick. Blindly he runs away in the other direction. He runs until he can find a semi secluded park bench and sits down, hands covering his face.
Everything makes so much more sense now. No wonder no one ever liked him. They knew there was another, better, choice for him closer to home. And now that Bucky is free of Tony, Sam is free to make a move.
Bucky obviously accepted, going by the look on his face. He looked so happy. So care free. Did he ever look like that with Tony? Like he didn't have a care in the world? Or was there always a rift between them? Tony didn't think so, but maybe Bucky did.
He must have, to have moved on so fast. It's only been three months and he already has another boyfriend.
Maybe things are better this way. Bucky is happier. Would he even had said yes to Tony if he had gotten the chance to ask? Or would he of and been settling for less? Tony knows he's not the greatest prize ever, once you get past the surface, but he had thought they had something. Something real.
Not as real as what Bucky has now obviously.
Taking a deep breath, he shakes his head and stands up. Enough of this. Enough time should have passed so that JARVIS will let Tony back into the shop. He has work to do.
Bucky obviously doesn't need him in his life anymore. He's the past now, not the future. And he's happy, that's all that matters. Christ he sounds like a angsty teenager, going on like this. Still doesn't mean it isn't true. He's still in love with Bucky. He might always be in love with Bucky. That the same isn't true both ways is only his problem now.
Maybe he can still provide for him, but subtly. From in the shadows. He refuses to turn into a stalker, no matter how much he might miss him. He won't be that person. He won't .
Head held high, he goes back to the Tower. Life waits for no man.
Life may move on, but Tony doesn't. Not really. He may get better at pretending he is, but he's not. He knows his friends are worried, but he can't help it. This is likely something that is going to be with him forever.
He always did have problems with love. Not just falling in love, but falling out of it. It never really happens. Once Tony is loyal to you, once he loves you, he loves you for life. It doesn't matter the type of love – family or friend or romantic. He has to be careful with his heart because once Tony is in, he's in for life. He thought he was safe with Bucky, but he should have known better.
So he works. He pushes himself even farther than before. He pushes in new directions. He finishes the prosthetic branch he started working on when he started dating Bucky. He took one look at what he had and knew that he could do better. Now it is going to be available for everyone.
Of course he makes sure Bucky is one of the first ones who gets him. He even builds it himself. But he never tries to talk to him. And doesn't add anything extra that would give him away. He doesn't want anything else to do with Tony. He'll respect that, as hard as it is. But that doesn't mean he is going to let anyone else make it.
He begins playing with green energy, looking for better, more efficient ways to power the world. He manages to miniaturize Howard's arc reactor. And then he improves it even more. It makes him undeniably proud. And slightly vindictive for one upping the old man, but he doesn't mention that part to anyone.
He expands their technology department – phones and computers and tablets. They had been good before. They are better now. The best. He can hear Apple weeping in despair once he released his newest updates.
The Company grows, expands, gets bigger and better. Tony can see a future where he can be proud of what he has done. He makes the announcement that, by the end of the year, Stark Industries is no longer going to make weapons. He'll still deal with defense – body armour and the like. But no bombs, no guns, no weapons. He ensures that everyone will keep their job and offers personal references to any who want to work someplace else.
Things are going well. He should have known that wouldn't last. It never does.
Pepper finds out who took the pictures that ruined Tony's relationship. That leads to who delivered them. And that leads to the person who started it all. Or should he say, people. Sunset in involved, which is no surprise to anyone. The surprise is that Obie is also involved. He knew he didn't like Bucky and wanted him to be with Sunset instead. But he never thought he would stoop to this level.
But Pepper does some more digging, suspicious. Turns out ruining Tony's relationship is the least of their problems. What is that compared to terrorism after all? He's been double dealing weapons under the table for years, as it turns out. So is Sunset, as it turns out. Black market and double dealings and Christ. It's a mess.
Everything is a mess. Tony puts his plan into action almost immediately, stopping the weapons and moving everyone to other departments. He ends up absorbing Baintronics so that her employees don't suffer. He works with the FBI and the CIA and what is likely MI6 of all things, although he is never officially told, to get everything cleaned up. It takes months of trials and paperwork and investigating and stress. By the end of it Tony wants to scream.
When it is finally finished he does. He hopes into his car and drives and drives until it is just him and the road. Then he finds an abandoned spot and screams until he is hoarse. He screams out all of his pain and frustration and betrayal. He screams for his ruined relationship with Bucky and with the person he thought more father to him than Howard ever was.
He screams because right in the middle of the investigation Natasha shows up, wearing a CIA uniform, along with her partner Coulson. Turns out he wasn't that far off about her being an assassin after all. The look she had given him when she has arrived. She's lucky he didn't throw her out right then and there. Demand someone else. Of all people, why her?
Tony just screams.
When he is done, he calmly gets back into the car and drives home.
He considers moving back to California. New York is becoming crowded with too many memories – most of them painful. The rest are just bittersweet. From childhood to now, New York has always been a city he hated and loved. Maybe it's time for a change. Maybe then he can finally move on.
He thinks about how tired of all this he is. Thinks maybe it's time for another change. He wonders how much Pepper would hate him if he made her CEO. It's certainly more her style. And it would give him more time to work with R&D. Maybe even get an intern of his own.
A week after he has decided that yes, that is exactly what he is going to do, JARVIS makes the last announcement Tony thought he would ever make. “Sir Mr Barnes is down in the lobby. He asks if he could make an appointment with you.”
Tony freezes. Bucky. Oh god, Bucky . Bucky is here. To see him. He's even trying to be polite and make an appointment. A slightly hysterical laugh slips out. How very Bucky. He takes a deep breath and thinks. Does he want to see Bucky? The instant response is yes. Absolutely yes he does.
The better question is, should he see him? How badly is it going to affect him? This might be his only chance to get some closure before he moves thought. He's planning on talking to Pepper tomorrow. He nods. “Bring him up J,” he says.
Briefly he wonders if he should clean up. He's covered in motor oil after all. Then he realizes what a ridiculous thought that is. As if Bucky hasn't seen it before. As if he hasn't seen worse. There's no point anyways. There's no prize here for looking pretty.
It is clear when Bucky enters that he's nervous. He is fidgeting and he won't look at Tony.
Tony takes a minute to admire him. It has been so long. He looks good. His hair is a little longer than it use to be. There aren't any shadows under his eyes as if he has been having nightmares. He is dressed in simple jeans and tee. His metal arm gleams in the light. He obviously didn't choose to have the skin cover that is available with them.
He just looks good.
But as much as he is enjoying the view, he doesn't have the right to stare anymore. “What can I do for you Barnes?” his voice sounds cheery, careless. As if he is fine with everything. He's gotten good at faking it over the years.
Bucky jerks slightly, as if startled, but nods. “Good. I've been good,” he says, but doesn't continue.
“Is there something you need? I was told you wanted to make an appointment.”
Bucky gives a bitter laugh. “What do you say to the man you screwed over so badly, but are still in love with?” he asks.
Tony's breath catches. 'Still in love with'.
“I know I should have never believed those pictures. I should have never listened to anyone and just talked to you myself. But I was hurt and insecure and you know about my issues,” he shakes his head, “And then, once Stevie got involved there was no stopping him. I should have argued with him more, but I didn't.” He finally looks up, regret in his eyes. “I'm sorry for that. I'm so sorry for listening to the wrong people doll.” He looks down again.
Tony has to squeeze the screwdriver he is holding to stop him from doing something drastic. Like throwing it. Or maybe throwing himself at him instead.
“And then you still made sure I got the arm. You made the arm. I recognize your style,” he adds, “I... wanted to talk to you then, but I didn't think I had that right anymore. But now, after everything that has happened, I couldn't stay away. I just... I just wanted to talk to you one last time. I know you probably hate me now. That's fine. I deserve it. I just...” he shrugs, trailing off.
Tony stares at him, completely speechless for once. What a shame neither one are in a position to appreciate it. Before, Bucky always liked to joke that he would out talk God. Now he has nothing. This is everything he has wanted to hear. Almost a year late, take it, but still. Then again, “What about Sam?” he asks, remembering.
Bucky looks up at that, confused. “Sam? What does he have to do with anything?”
“Aren't the two of you together?”
“Why would I ever date Sam?” he snorts.
Tony shrugs, looking down.
“Doll?” Bucky asks hesitantly.
“I saw the two of you one time. Ironic, I finally had the chance to talk to you without one of your rapid friends killing me and you were already with someone else.”
“Dol- Stark,” he corrects, catching himself this time, “I've never been with Sam romantically. For one you know that we bicker constantly.”
“Sexual tension?” Tony asks.
“And for another,” he shakes his head, “Sam is with Stevie. I don't know what you saw, but I promise I have never been with him. Actually,” he adds after a pause, “I haven't been with anyone since we broke up. It's never felt right.” He takes a deep breath, “I'm sure this is unwelcome, but I'm still in love with you.”
Oh. Oh god. It is true. Tony has to grab the table to keep himself upright. His knees feel very shaky all of a sudden. He only takes a half a second to think it over before saying, “Considering I'm still in love with you too, not so unwelcome as you think.”
A sudden hope fills Bucky's eyes. Slowly he walks over to Tony and carefully cups his cheek, broadcasting every move if Tony wants to back away. “May I?”
“I'd thought you'd never ask,” he answers.
The kiss is shy and sweet and filled with relief. It tastes like Bucky's chapstick and the blueberries Tony is always eating. It feels like coming home.
Maybe Tony will have to rework those California plans. There's no harm in waiting a little longer after all. Probably shouldn't make too many big changes all at once. Let Pepper get settled into her new job first, then talk about moving. Maybe by that time, he can bring someone along with him.
And maybe, someday, he can finish those plans he started. Let the ring rest on the finger it was made for.
For now though, this kiss is a good place to start.