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Tony barely registered the time on the microwave in the kitchen as 02:29, and even then, his overly exhausted mind had only made a sound in his head that was suspiciously similar to a dial tone before dumping an entire tray of eight used coffee-mugs into the dishwasher.

He vaguely noted that there were people in the living room, but he didn't really care who.

Most of his houseguests usually left the room on principle whenever he showed up anyway. And, honestly? It made life much easier, no matter how depressed it secretly made him that his former teammates choose to freeze him out after everything they'd been through. Though Tony wasn’t in the right frame of mind to think about that, thank the gods. All Tony wanted was to pass out for a few hours – and the presence of any combination of the Rogues held no weight in his consideration to pass out in the common area’s living room. It was still his Tower after all.

“Finally had enough?”

Hearing that drawl usually had Tony stiffening up, though two months since Barnes’ arrival, Tony had it down to a tense. Progress. “What of it?” he grumbled back, face already mushed up against one of the throw pillows.

“Nothin’," Barnes replied, all easy - unconcerned, amused? "Just wanna know if you need me to wake you up, or if this is just a cat-nap.”

Someone else huffed, and even through crusty half-lidded eyes, Tony caught the flicker of red hair, followed by the heavy footfalls of a dramatic exit.

Ah, he allowed himself the small smile. It's always a good time to annoy the shit out of people, dead tired or not.

Turning his attention to the remaining person in the living room, Tony took stock of the Super Soldier’s soft-looking sweatpants and the off-grey Stark Industries shirt exposed thanks to the open zipper of his jacket, the material hanging limply at his sides as his arms rested on the back of the couch in what looked to be a mock of a waiting embrace, Tony delighted in the sudden thought that occurred to him, “Did I interrupt a rendezvous, Red October?”

From his spot in the corner of the couch, Barnes snorted. “If you interrupted anything, doll, it was a murder.”

“Oh?” Tony squinted at him. “I hope you weren’t planning to do it here – I have a strict, no blood in common areas, rule.”

The man tilted his head thoughtfully. “So, you want me to get creative, is what I’m hearing?”

He huffed out a laugh.

 

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When Tony woke up in his own bed, startled to find that he wasn’t in the living room, he hadn’t thought too much of it.

Somehow, he even managed to ignore the fact that he was wearing a jacket to bed that he didn’t even own.

 

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It was a bad idea.

But also, “Right there, ugh – did I swap out your metal fingers for those handheld massage things because wow.” Tony exhaled in relief as Barnes ran his digits into Tony’s hair.

Tony wasn’t even sure how they got into his position.

He thought it might be because Barnes had taken to commandeering the couch in the ‘shop, and Tony, migraine pounding in his skull from another of Maximoff’s temper tantrums, overestimated the distance of his flop on the couch and landed up with his head on Barnes’ lap.

Not that the Super Soldier seemed to mind. Less than a second after, Barnes was petting his head and –“’fraid you can’t take any of the credit, sugar."

“Can too," Tony pouts, "who made the arm?”

Above him, Barnes snorted, then prodded to tease, "You been working too hard again, darlin'?"

"I wish," Tony huffed. "You try dealing with that red witch."

Tony really should have thought better of that full-body pause.

 

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A couple of hours later, Maximoff was in the med bay. 

“Food poisoning,” Barnes informed, appropriately grave.

Tony raised his brow causing the Super Soldier's expression to drop and a scowl to take it's place as Barnes huffed, “You said no blood.

 

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After finally having a full day off for what felt like the first time in years, Tony epiphany-ed way too late for a genius of his caliber, “Do you think he’s getting my guard down because he wants to murder me?”

“He would’ve done it by now,” Friday mused.

“That should comfort me, and yet…”

 

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His first normal enough response to a walking-talking human-equivalent of a wrecking ball being around exactly when Tony needed him, happened a few days after:

“Don’t give me that look, coffee is not considered a food group," Barnes defended.

Granted, it was rather depressing to immediately be suspicious of any form of kindness offered to Tony, but what else was he supposed to think when Barnes – in addition to apparently carrying him to bed, and petting his head when he didn’t feel good and going for some innocent revenge, also happened to be bringing Tony’s meals in what was probably a regular basis considering how the bots greeted him at the doors?

“- and don’t even try and sell me that ‘I’m not hungry’ shit,” the former Hydra assassin continued, unaware or completely ignoring Tony’s wary look. “you wouldn’t be thinkin’ about licking that carburetor otherwise.”

“First of all, what I do with my tongue is none of your business,” he retorted peevishly, though his mood couldn't stop his stomach from giving an interested growl as the plate was set before him. Tony's "don't hand me things" rule something Barnes had obviously gathered between during his stay thus far. Stupid Super Soldier efficiency, can't even throw a tantrum about it. Tony scowled. “I was going to eat.”

“Yeah, doll," he drawled, "I’m sure that carburetor had all the protein you needed.”

“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, Terminator,” Tony replied. “Second of all, you’re the one bringing my food in every day? Why?"

“Didya think your plates just appeared?” Tony quirked a brow at him, and to his credit, Barnes shifted, looking a little uncomfortable. “You gotta eat sometime.”

“I’ve got shakes.” And as if on cue, DUM-E began blending something in the background.

The discomfort shifted to annoyance, accompanying another eye roll. “That ain’t a food group either, darlin'.”

Waving this off, Tony declares, “We can fight about that later, my spaghetti’s getting cold.”

With a long-suffering sigh, Barnes leaned against the workbench across from him and nodded at the prototype on the surface, brows furrowing in interest. “What’s that?”

Between bites, Tony explained with gusto, singlehandedly waving holograms and bringing up blueprints in demonstration – unaware that misdirection worked one time out of two, and a fifty percent pass rate was more than enough to distract Tony.

That being said: just because Tony could be momentarily diverted didn’t mean he forgot.

Tony was simply gathering the data, and with Friday staying mum on the subject of the Winter Soldier, Tony was more invested in it than he cared to admit.

After all, of everyone in the Tower and amongst the Rogues, Bucky Barnes was the last person Tony expected any kind of relationship with outside of the saving-the-world business. That the review of the past three months’ surveillance feed only confused him further meant that the only person who could give him answers was Barnes himself. 

Fortunately, he was conveniently still in the workshop with Tony, even after he'd finished his...lunch? dinner? Whatever. “If you’re trying to get a babysitting gig, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Winter Wonderland, but I’m on the wrong side of forty.”

“Don’t know what you mean, doll."

“Uh huh,” Tony played along convincingly, the very definition of patience, yet somehow still managing to convey how unconvinced he was. “So, making sure I’m sleeping and dealing with my whiny ass and bringing me food is…what?”

Barnes offered, “Being a decent human being?”

“Right,"  Tony snorted.

At that, Barnes looked incredulous and gestured vaguely around them. “Are you tellin’ me non’of’em ever did that for you?”

“Not without wanting something in return,” Tony said with a shrug. “So, let’s have it: You’ve been laying it on pretty thick, must be something big if you’re willing to play the long game. We don’t have an exact date for the apocalypse so I kind of need to get the ball rolling on your Christmas wish-list.”

For a moment, his declaration only bore baffled silence, and then, “I don’t want anythin’ from you, Tony.”

He chortled, “Hah.”

“Stop,” Barnes ordered. “You’re making me sad.”

Making a "pft" noise, Tony refocused his attention on the parts in front of him, adding, "Wouldn't worry about it, when it comes to almost everyone, I'm used to it."

“Which makes it sadder,” Barnes said with a scowl, and then, to Tony’s bafflement, he started to twist the metal rod at the end of Tony's workbench. “You give them everything – and I know it’s tense now, but it couldn't've always been like this."

At Tony's blank stare, Barnes claw clenched, making Tony shake his head. “Welcome to my world, Toy Soldier.” 

Still baffled and not a little furious, clearly, Barnes informed, “That’s crazy.”

“Part fifteen of twenty on why I go to therapy.”

It took another moment to recover before the Winter Soldier realized in a horrified whisper, “They don’t even thank you.”

Tony shrugged. “In their defense, I don’t do well with positive reinforcement.”

“That’s a goddamn lie,” Barnes deadpanned, and Tony snorted.

“Listen, we’ve only been kosher for three months, I don’t think -”

“You make the greatest things,” Barnes interrupted firmly. “They’re intelligent and cleverly designed, and they take in every possible preference and blind-spot. You make things that improve people’s lives, make them happy and keep them safe, and yet of all the awards you’re proud of in honor of that, it’s that drawer full of kids’ drawings!”

“Hey,” he defended, weak and startled, “that’s private shit, Barnes.”

“But they make you happy, don’t they?” Not even waiting for Tony’s brain to reconnect, Barnes got right in his face as he pointed out, “See, you’re blushing, and your pupils are dilating.”

“And how do you know that that isn’t just because I think you’re hot shit and I’m down to go to bone town?” Barnes snorted, though Tony mentally filed away the blush on his cheeks before plowing on,

“Is there a point to all this?”

“Yes, goddamnit, doll, no one should be treating you like shit, least of all them.”

“Well I’d love to see you convince them,” Tony said, rather ill-advisedly ignoring the determined glint in Barnes’ eyes. When Barnes said nothing further, only continued to stare straight ahead, murder face up to eleven, Tony reminded delicately,  “Whatever you’re thinking, just remember: no blood in the common areas.”

 

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“I can feel you judging me, doll.”

Tony opened his mouth.

“And,” Barnes interrupted, “you said no blood in the common areas, this is a hallway.”

 “Well, people frown on body-slamming others in hallways,” Tony pointed out.

Then, “Really?” Barnes asked, doing a pretty good job of expressing his surprise.

“No," Tony snorted. "But to be fair I highly doubt there was ever an occasion where they needed to make it a social norm."

Annoyed, Barnes put his hands on his hips like an upset housewife. “Did I or did I not stick to parameters?”

“Move Barton’s foot, and…yeah, there you go! Gold star!" Tony applauded before quirking his brows. "You sure I can’t interest you in an upgrade?”

Barnes sighed. “Stop talkin’, darlin', you’ll make me sad again.”