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Let It Grow

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"Love is a flower, you gotta let it grow."
~ John Lennon

 


 

Tony stepped inside the flower shop on pure impulse.

Well, that and desperation to postpone the lecture that awaited him when he eventually reached Stark Tower and the board meeting he was supposed to be attending. It was an important meeting, Tony knew that, but he desperately needed to breathe, if only for a couple of minutes. The trial against Obadiah was dragging and Tony may or may not have forgotten to take his heart medication that day. JARVIS assured him that he hadn't, but it didn't feel like it, what with how often his heart started racing for no apparent reason.

Tony needed a distraction and he found one when he spotted the tiny flower shop, tucked in between a laundromat and a trendy café.

Pepper would no doubt tell him that any delay was inexcusable, especially if it was something stupid like buying her flowers and thinking that would somehow help his situation, but Tony had already pulled over and parked the car by the time he realized that. There was no denying that Pepper counted for about fifty percent of his impulse control and Rhodey the other half — and neither of them were present at the moment.

So, since he had already pulled over, Tony decided he might as well step inside. A quaint little bell alerted his arrival, so innocently cheerful he couldn't help but be a tiny bit endeared.

The smell was what hit him first — thick and almost cloyingly sweet — followed by the rainbow-burst of colors. As he had assumed, it wasn't a very big shop but the space was used to its full capacity. There were flowers everywhere, crammed into every nook and cranny, and Tony was almost afraid he'd tip some of them over if he wasn't careful. They came in all shapes and sizes, presented on tables, neatly organized on shelves, and gathered in rows of black buckets, sorted after type and color behind protective glass doors. Tony had to stop for a second, disoriented by the sheer number of impressions he was expected to take in.

He'd had no idea that there were so many different kinds of flowers and honestly felt a little out of his depth — not that that had ever stopped Tony from doing anything. Truth be told, it usually only made him more inclined to charge ahead, heedless of his own inexperience.

There was movement in the corner of his eye and Tony turned his head just in time to see one of the staff come out from what he assumed was the back room, called by the cheerful little bell. For the second time in less than a minute, Tony had to pause in astonishment.

This was, without a doubt, the hottest florist he had ever seen. Possibly also the grumpiest, but one did not necessarily exclude the other, as this man so perfectly demonstrated. He was tall and broad-shouldered, had his long, dark brown hair gathered into a sloppy bun, and wore a glare that was both intimidating and a little bit hilarious.

No one managed to look frightening when surrounded by daisies and peonies.

The man was quite lovely, though, there was no denying that. There was a hint of scruff on his jaw, which worked beautifully together with his white t-shirt and worn, faded jeans, giving him that rugged, handsome look that Tony might secretly be a pretty big fan of. The florist apron should no doubt have ruined the image, but instead only managed to make the man look just a little bit softer and more approachable — and drew Tony's eyes to that narrow, nicely accentuated waist.

The man shifted when he noticed where Tony's attention was directed, discreetly trying to shield his left side from Tony's gaze. It took a second for Tony to realize that the florist must have thought that he was looking at his arm. And sure, Tony had noticed the prosthetic, but there was no reason for him to stare at it.

"So, whaddaya want?" The florist sounded defensive, which was understandable if he thought that someone had been staring at his prosthetic. There was something about him — the straightness of his posture, the stubborn jut of his chin, and attentive wariness in his eyes — that reminded Tony a little of Rhodey.

Tony smiled his best smile and stepped closer to the counter. He was absolutely delighted to see a name tag pinned to the man's apron, even if he had a hard time keeping a straight face when he read it. The man certainly didn't look like a "Bucky," whatever kind of name that was.

"Hi, I want some flowers," Tony replied, not quite able to stop smiling.

The man raised an eyebrow as if to say, "No shit?"

Tony liked him already.

But Pepper would no doubt skin him alive if she ever found out that Tony was delayed because he debated flirting with a grumpy florist named Bucky, of all things, and decided to stay on subject.

"I need a bouquet that says 'Sorry for missing last week's important board meeting and being late for this week's.'" Tony paused for a second, then added, "'And also for ruining your Louboutins with engine grease the other day.'"

Bucky snorted, which should have been unattractive but somehow wasn't. "There's no bouquet big enough for that, hotshot," he drawled, reluctant amusement clear in his voice.

Tony was torn between feeling frustrated and unexpectedly turned on. That drawl was sinful, yet the words weren't exactly helpful as far as Tony's plight was concerned.

Then again, it was nice knowing that the florist had a sense of humor.

"Not helpful," Tony deadpanned. Bucky's gaze — a light shade of blue or perhaps grey — met his without hesitation. The look in his eyes was perhaps a little bit smug, but there was no hostility from what Tony could tell. After having lived in the limelight since he was a kid, he was pretty good at detecting when people wished him harm.

No, whatever edge there was seemed to come from the same kind of snark Tony was used to seeing in the mirror.

This could get interesting.

"I'm just sayin'." Bucky shrugged. "I sell flowers, not miracles."

The man had a point — the flowers wouldn't make a lick of difference to Pepper — but Tony had come too far to back down now.

"Your sales pitch needs some work," Tony pointed out, not trying to hide the humor underneath. He tilted his head to the side and gave Bucky a wide, fake smile. "What about the customer always being right?"

"Exceptions can be made," Bucky replied without missing a beat. The delivery — the lazy drawl and pointedly raised eyebrow — suggested that Tony might be one of those exceptions.

Tony didn't take offense. Even if it hadn't been a joke — which he was pretty sure it was — his reason for being in the flower shop didn't exactly speak in his favor. Not that it was Bucky's place to judge, but, considering that Tony had boldly shared his recent failings with the guy, perhaps he shouldn't be surprised if Bucky ended up having opinions.

"Aren't you just lovely?"

"I'm a delight," Bucky replied sweetly, without shame or compunction, and Tony couldn't hold back a snort of laughter.

As much as this conversation had derailed from its original purpose, it was certainly proving to be a distraction — and a wonderful one, at that.

"Well, Mr. Delight, I still want to point out that you seem to have misunderstood this whole exchange of ours." Tony gestured between them. "You're supposed to sell me things, not make me want to ask for the store manager."

That earned him another snort, this one noticeably unimpressed. Either Bucky doubted that Tony would actually do something like that — which he wouldn't, to be fair — or he simply didn't feel threatened by whatever superior he might have. It was quite difficult to tell which one it might be.

Either way, Tony didn't actually want him to stop. He was entirely on board with their sarcastic banter, even if it wasn't exactly conventional customer service.

Suddenly, Bucky leaned forward, decreasing the distance between them and causing a distinct little skip in Tony's heartbeat that was a little unexpected — not to mention inconvenient. Well, okay, the guy was attractive and there was certainly something going on between them, but Tony was there to buy flowers, not flirt.

Or so he told himself.

"Sure, I can get you his number, if you like?" It was a clear challenge — Bucky calling Tony out on his empty threat — and his voice was low and husky in a way that, embarrassingly enough, went straight to Tony's cock.

There was just something about Bucky — the way he carried himself, that confident drawl, and the firmness in his gaze — that was undeniably thrilling. Tony couldn't help being distracted by how close Bucky's face was to his, even with the counter between them. From this distance, Tony could tell that no, he probably wouldn't be able to figure out if those eyes were blue or grey unless he got to spend a lot more time looking into them.

Tony was all for giving it a try.

"Actually," he replied, matching Bucky's tone, "I'd rather get yours."

So much for not flirting.

There was a brief pause, surprise flickering past on Bucky's face, before he seemed to decide to brush it off as a joke. Granted, most of the things they had said so far had been joking or sarcastic, but this hadn't been one of them. Not entirely, at least.

"Very funny." Bucky didn't seem to be laughing, however, the look in his eyes more dejected than anything. "You're losing your edge."

Tony wasn't sure how to react, to be honest. It wasn't that he'd never had his advances rejected before — that happened to everyone eventually, charming playboy or not — but the fact that Bucky's reply suggested that he didn't believe Tony. That he thought Tony was joking about wanting his phone number.

Was it a self-esteem issue? Did Bucky think Tony couldn't be interested in him? That was just ridiculous. Bucky was handsome, sharp, and had a lovely sense of humor — why wouldn't Tony want to take the time to flirt with him?

Well, except for that meeting he was running late for, he supposed. And the fact that Bucky might not be interested back. His response could, in fact, be his way of not-so-subtly saying that he didn't appreciate attention from men.

Tony felt a twist of disappointment he did his best to ignore. It was probably wise to tone it down a little.

"You have got to be the snarkiest florist I have ever met," he said, trying to steer the conversation back to safer topics.

"Have you met many?"

Bucky was quick to respond to quips, Tony had to give him that.

"Admittedly, no," Tony replied. "But that doesn't change the fact that you are, without a doubt, the snarkiest." And the hottest, as previously established, but Tony knew better than to say that out loud. "Now, how about you sell me some flowers?"

"I can't exactly say no, can I?" Bucky's drawl was back and Tony decided that he was quite delighted by that fact.

"Well, I mean, you could."

Bucky raised an unimpressed eyebrow. "Yeah, if I want to get fired."

"I can appreciate a man who knows the fine print of his employment contract." Tony was stalling again, but he just couldn't help it — talking to Bucky was so much fun. It was a while since he'd found someone who could match his quips so effortlessly.

Bucky rolled his eyes.

"Are you always this insufferable?"

It was on the tip of Tony's tongue to reply, "Stick around and you'll find out," but he could tell that would be a bad idea. So, instead he shrugged nonchalantly, grinning all the while.

"If you'd just sold me those flowers when I asked for them, we wouldn't even be having this conversation." Not that Tony minded — not in the least, in fact — but that was probably one of those things he better keep to himself.

There was a beat of silence.

"I'm not forcing you to talk to me, am I?" All of a sudden, Bucky's tone was measured — wary.

The shift came so unexpectedly that Tony didn't quite catch on in time, even if he should have.

"Well, I mean," Tony replied, "if I want flowers, I kind of have to."

When Bucky grit his teeth, Tony knew he'd said the wrong thing.

"Fine." Bucky clearly didn't find what they were doing funny anymore, his voice lacking the teasing edge it had had up until that point. This was, for one reason or another, a sensitive subject.

The conversation was suddenly slipping through Tony's fingers. If they weren't both on the same page, sarcasm and teasing just turned into good, old-fashioned bullying. That was the last thing Tony wanted.

Bucky was glaring again, which caused a clench of regret in Tony's chest. He might have said that Bucky was a snarky florist, but he didn't actually want him to become an angry florist. Especially not because of something Tony said.

"Then tell me what fuckin' flowers you want and—"

"We'll arrange a bouquet for you," a third voice cut in.

Both Tony and Bucky flinched, not having expected the interruption. Tony's surprise only grew when a tiny blond hurried out from the back room. It looked like a stiff breeze might snap him in two but — to Tony's amazement — the guy fearlessly nudged the much bigger Bucky aside and took his place in front of the cash register.

"Inventory, Bucky, in the back," the blond ordered, giving Bucky a warning glare that made even Tony feel a little guilty — and he wasn't even the one being chastised. "I'll take it from here."

Bucky clenched his jaw, clearly on the verge of protesting, but eventually let out a frustrated huff and stomped toward the back instead. Tony watched him go, feeling both a sting of guilt and disappointment. Even if Bucky wasn't particularly service-minded, at least talking to him wasn't boring, but, more so than that, Tony didn't like the thought of having unintentionally offended him.

"I'm sorry about that," the tiny blond said once Bucky was out of sight, offering a tight but friendly smile. According to the tag pinned to his apron, his name was Steve. Tony couldn't help but notice that Steve was actually quite cute and, had he still not been so focused on Bucky, Tony might have made an effort to flirt with him.

"Don't worry about it," Tony replied, waving it off with a grin. He could tell it wasn't quite as casual as he wanted, though. "I'm pretty sure it was my own fault."

Steve still looked apologetic. "He's sorry too."

"Am not!" came an unmistakable bellow from the back. The fact that Bucky sounded petulant was probably a good sign — petulant was much better than angry.

To his credit, Steve's face remained admirably calm.

"He's not usually this rude."

"Quit lyin' to him, Stevie!"

Steve sighed and tilted his head back, the exasperation easy to read on his face. There was fondness, too, but mostly frustration. Tony couldn't help but laugh, hoping that the easy banter with Steve meant that Tony hadn't completely ruined Bucky's day.

"He's not that bad," Tony assured Steve, voice low enough that Bucky wouldn't hear. "Now, how about you get me some flowers and I'll be on my way?"

As much as Tony was enjoying himself, he really should get going.

Fortunately, Steve turned out to be both competent and efficient and had a bouquet ready for Tony in record time. It was almost a little anticlimactic. Talking to Steve wasn't nearly as entertaining as Tony's conversation with Bucky, but at least he got what he came for. And, to be fair, the bouquet Steve arranged for him was beautiful.

Tony paid for his flowers and was headed for the door when Steve called out to him.

"Come back soon."

That was no doubt something they said to all customers, but it still made Tony pause for a second. He wouldn't mind doing that, would he? Tony placed his hand on the door handle and smiled, nodding toward Steve.

"I think I will," he replied, pulling open the door.

Maybe, with some luck, he'd see Bucky again.

Tony was definitely looking forward to that.

 


 

It was a beautiful spring day the next time Tony went to the flower shop, over a month after his first visit. He was tied to New York for the time being — taking his company back from Obadiah Stane, even with the man in custody for treason and embezzlement, was apparently no small task — and had very little time to do much other than travel to and from various meetings with his lawyer and the board. Tony would no doubt have cracked entirely if it hadn't been for Pepper, who had proven her worth ten times over in the months since Tony had returned from Afghanistan.

He had to remember to give her a raise and possibly also an island in the Caribbean.

For now, flowers would have to do, however. Pepper had actually liked the previous bouquet once she was done fretting over the delayed meeting and giving her another — intentionally this time — seemed like a good idea. Tony liked making Pepper smile.

The little bell jingled as Tony pushed open the door to the shop and he had barely taken a step before he heard the unmistakable drawl of the snarkiest florist ever to florist.

"Oh, no, not you again."

Had there been even a hint of malice or sincerity to that comment, Tony might have been concerned — they hadn't parted on the best of terms, after all, and he had been worried that Bucky might still be mad at him. That didn't seem to be the case, however. The snarky ease was back, together with that hint of amusement that softened words that might otherwise have been insulting.

Tony grinned, feeling an unmistakable rush of excitement.

Bucky was in the middle of going through the black buckets with assorted flowers, the glass door to the chiller cabinet propped open with a potted plant. He stopped to give Tony a suffering look and Tony, in return, took a moment to appreciate how nice Bucky looked in that dark red, long-sleeved Henley of his.

Outright flirting might still be a bad idea, but looking wouldn't hurt anyone.

"What a way to greet paying customers," Tony replied teasingly, playing along.

"Customer," Bucky corrected drily. "Just you."

Tony's grin only grew as he sauntered over. He made sure to maintain a polite distance, of course, but he definitely wanted to get closer. Bucky was intriguing.

"I always knew there was something special between us."

Bucky let out a loud snort. "Hardly."

"We've met once before, over a month ago, and yet you remember me?" Tony questioned, casually slipping his hands into his pockets. "That sounds pretty special to me."

Bucky stiffened, clearly not having expected to be called out like that, and seemed to fumble for a suitable reply. When it came, it lacked his usual wittiness.

"Only because you're so annoying."

Tony clearly won that round. Also, seeing the tips of Bucky's ears turn red with embarrassment was an absolute delight. As if sensing Tony's glee, Bucky gave him a sullen glare before turning back to the flowers he was organizing, clearly intent on ignoring Tony.

That would not do.

"So, I'd like some flowers," Tony said, rocking back on his heels.

Tony could tell that Bucky was on his way to reply — probably something less than polite — but held the words back at the last minute. After a deep, frustrated sigh, Bucky straightened and glared at Tony.

"What kind of flowers?" he asked gruffly.

He was clearly a sore loser.

"I don't know." Tony smiled. "What would you suggest?"

For a split second, it looked like Bucky wanted to throttle him. Then he took a deep breath and rubbed his right hand over his face, muttering, "Why me?"

Tony just kept smiling as innocently as he could possibly manage.

"Who are they for?" Bucky gave Tony another one of those grumpy and, quite frankly, adorable glares.

"My assistant."

While buying flowers for Pepper was Tony's main reason for coming, it had also been part impulse. He'd been distracted by the upcoming trial against Obadiah and, instead of driving home, had ended up a block away from the quaint little shop. The moment Tony had realized where he was, he'd decided that he might as well go ahead and buy her a bouquet right away. No one was waiting for him at the Tower anyway.

Admittedly, Tony was also quite eager to see Bucky again.

Odds were that Bucky knew who Tony was — most people did — but he didn't seem to give a shit. That was awfully refreshing, especially after Tony's return from Afghanistan. A lot of people treated him like he would implode at the smallest provocation or, at the very least, break down and start crying. Then again, Tony had thrown his company into freefall by stopping weapons manufacturing and made sure that Obie was charged for his shady business dealings, so perhaps it was understandable if people saw him as a little unstable right now.

Bucky didn't seem to care about that, however, and was the first person in a long while who treated Tony like any other guy. Tony couldn't help but like that.

"What's her favorite flower?" Bucky asked, sounding somewhere between bored and annoyed.

Tony opened his mouth to reply, but soon realized that he had no idea what the answer was. It was yet another one of those details that he just didn't know about Pepper. They kept piling up, it seemed, and were one of the main reasons why Tony had decided not to pursue the attraction brewing between them. He was pretty sure she felt it, too, but Pepper deserved better. Tony had never paid enough attention to her or what she wanted and a romantic relationship wouldn't magically fix that.

It was better for them to remain friends.

"I'm guessing you don't know?" Bucky didn't sound surprised — or judgmental — but Tony felt a twinge of frustration all the same. He felt bad enough about the Pepper situation without being reminded of his shortcomings by a random florist.

"For the record," Tony replied loftily, "I don't even know what my favorite flower is."

Bucky gave him a flat look before shaking his head, then turned to the rows of black buckets.

"Well, you don't want roses."

"I don't?"

Bucky shook his head, throwing the briefest of glances at Tony.

"Not unless you're dating her as well."

Tony knew he had to be imagining the hint of a question in those words — Bucky had no reason to be interested in his love life. He'd turned Tony down when he'd asked him for his phone number. It was a stated fact, nothing else.

"I'm not." Tony might have considered it, more than once, but since he'd gotten back from Afghanistan, it really hadn't seemed like a good idea anymore. "I just want to give her something nice. You know, show my gratitude for sticking with me through the..."

Tony trailed off, partly because there was no easy way to explain what he'd been through the past couple of months — the torture, the grief, the betrayal — but also because of sheer embarrassment. Bucky probably didn't care about any of this and Tony had no reason to tell him about it.

"Anyhow," Tony picked up with forced cheer, "she deserves some appreciation and I thought, hey! Flowers! That's a great idea."

When Tony looked at Bucky, he was met not by grumpiness or indifference, but a calm, searching gaze that was more than a little unsettling. Rhodey often gave Tony those looks, too, as if he was trying to figure out what was amiss and how to best proceed.

Tony wasn't sure what to make of that.

Then he remembered that the majority of the Afghanistan thing was public knowledge and that Bucky might, in fact, know exactly what Tony was referring to, even if he was trying to be cryptic. It had been all over the news — the kidnapping, Obie's betrayal, and the undisclosed health issues Tony now suffered from. Bucky might know it all.

Well, if Bucky had figured out that Tony was Tony Stark.

At least there wasn't pity in Bucky's eyes — Tony wouldn't have been able to stand that.

"Hydrangea."

Tony blinked. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Hydrangea," Bucky repeated, glancing to the side as if he was suddenly the embarrassed one. "They mean gratitude."

Since Tony wasn't exactly well-versed in the language of flowers, he would just have to take Bucky's word for it.

"That sounds great." Tony smiled and nodded toward the rows of colorful flowers. "Which ones are they?"

Bucky turned and scanned the buckets before pointing at one containing what looked like big, blue balls of smaller flowers. Tony shuffled closer, wanting to see better, which would have been a whole lot easier if Bucky hadn't been so distracting. His hair was in a bun today as well, but several strands had already come loose, framing his face in a way that only seemed to highlight his handsome features.

"We've got 'em in white too, but that's usually for weddi—" Bucky cut himself off when he turned back around and found himself face to face with Tony.

He clearly hadn't expected them to be standing so close.

In all honesty, Tony hadn't exactly planned it, either. Staring up into those bright, beautiful eyes wasn't bad, as far as pastimes went, sure, but it wasn't good for his self-discipline, either. Bucky was far too tempting and Tony was beginning to feel like a creep. Being attracted to someone was all fine and good, but Bucky had shown no indication that he would appreciate that kind of attention — quite the opposite, really.

So, Tony took a discreet step back, not wanting to make Bucky uncomfortable.

"We'll go with blue, then," he said, hoping he sounded as carefree as he was trying to.

It took a second or two before Bucky nodded, his face remaining unreadable. "I'll put somethin' together."

"Thank you." Tony backed up another step to avoid being in the way as Bucky started collecting the flowers. A part of him wanted to just stand and watch — there were hints of muscle underneath Bucky's shirt and watching them ripple was hypnotizing — but Tony wasn't that far gone yet. Staring would be rude.

So, Tony turned to the rest of the store instead, curiously looking at the shelves and display tables. He couldn't even name a tenth of all the flowers there, but that came as no surprise. He had never had any interest in botany — much too focused on his machines and electronics — but he knew better than to underestimate the field just because he wasn't a part of it. Running a flower shop required skills and knowledge he didn't have, and he respected those who did.

He spent the minutes it took Bucky to assemble a bouquet looking at the other flowers, feeling distinctly disappointed when Bucky started adding the finishing touches. Being inside the flower shop was a bit like stepping into a different world. It was partly the knowledge that everything in there was alive in a way that Tony's machines weren't and partly the homey feel of the place. The price tags and signs were all handwritten, the display tables and shelves mismatched and lovingly worn, and, wherever Tony looked, there were splashes of color and soothing, deep green.

As surprising as the realization was, Tony quite liked it there in the flower shop.

"This good?" Bucky asked, holding out the bouquet for Tony to inspect. A useless part of the process, really, since Tony had no eye for this sort of thing. Still, he obediently stepped closer and looked at what Bucky had made for him. Well, Pepper, technically.

It was a beautiful harmony of blue and white and Tony found himself wishing he knew what all the flowers were called. He recognized the blue hydrangeas because Bucky had pointed those out to him, but the others were a mystery.

"I added pale blue morning glories, baby's breath, and some green filler," Bucky explained, as if reading Tony's mind.

"It looks amazing." Tony's gaze rose from the bouquet to meet Bucky's and, before he had time to stop himself, he heard himself say, "It matches your eyes."

A stunned silence settled between them and Tony wanted to groan at his own stupidity. He was trying not to flirt, for heaven's sake. At this point, he was just embarrassing himself, blurting out random compliments when they weren't wanted. What he'd said was true, sure, but also just a little too honest for his taste — too instinctual.

It made it painfully obvious that Tony had been paying just a little too much attention to Bucky's eyes.

Surprisingly, unlike last time, Bucky didn't just wave the compliment off. Oh no, Tony got the privilege to see a small, careful smile spread across Bucky's lips. And, just like that, Tony found it a lot harder to breathe, not having been prepared for just how sweet Bucky would look when he smiled. Up until that point, Bucky had mostly been scowling or smirking, but this was something else entirely. He looked so soft — innocent, almost — and Tony just couldn't tear his gaze away.

"Now you're just tryna get on my good side," Bucky said. There was a suggestion of warmth in his voice — a hint of what actually lay beneath that grumpy façade — and hearing it sent a shiver down Tony's spine.

Perhaps Bucky wasn't against flirting after all?

"Is it working?" Tony asked, praying he didn't sound as breathless as he felt. He didn't understand why seeing Bucky smile affected him so much. Perhaps it was the knowledge that Bucky didn't do that very often, making each smile all the more precious. Or maybe it was just the fact that this particular smile was Tony's doing. He had made Bucky smile.

Bucky let out a soft huff that could almost be mistaken for a laugh. "Keep trying, hotshot," he said, before heading toward the counter with the bouquet.

"Should I take that as an invitation?" Tony asked, even if it made him feel a little desperate. Bucky was sending him mixed signals and he just wanted to know if he should actually put some effort into this thing or not.

He was definitely willing to give it a try.

The comment seemed to give Bucky pause and, at least for a second, he looked uncertain. Tony wouldn't say that it was fear or discomfort, but wariness, definitely. As if the thought of flirting with someone wasn't something Bucky usually entertained.

"It might be easier for you if you don't," Bucky replied, regrettably back to his scowling. Despite the melodramatic choice of words, Tony could tell that Bucky wasn't joking.

And, to be honest, Tony wasn't surprised. There had to be a story behind Bucky's lost arm — probably connected to that firm posture and glimpse of a dog tag chain wrapped around Bucky's neck — and it was, in all likelihood, not pretty. Not that Tony felt particularly intimidated by the thought of flirting with an ex-soldier, not even one who was possibly suffering from PTSD.

Tony didn't like things when they were too easy.

But he also knew when not to push his luck and therefore chose to wait in silence while Bucky wrapped up Pepper's bouquet. While his prosthetic was far less flexible than his right arm, Bucky seemed to have no trouble with the task. Watching him was quite fascinating, in fact, at least until Tony realized how insulting it was for him to stare like that.

He averted his gaze just as Bucky finished.

Bucky carefully placed the bouquet on the counter, without looking up, and moved to the cash register. "That'll be $29.99."

Tony paid, thoughts churning, and waved away the receipt when Bucky offered it to him. It would be wrong to say that things were awkward between them, but there was certainly something. Tony didn't like it.

So, after he had picked up his bouquet, he looked at Bucky, catching his gaze.

"I just want you to know, I don't ever do things the easy way." Tony smiled at the slightly stunned look on Bucky's face. Did he really think he'd scare Tony away with a single sentence? "It was nice talking to you, Buckling."

It wasn't quite an apology for what Tony had said last time, but he hoped the message would get through. He really did enjoy talking to Bucky.

With that, Tony headed for the door. He almost had time to reach it before Bucky replied, his tone indignant.

"It's Bucky, not Buckling."

Tony turned, but kept walking, taking the last two steps with his back toward the door. "I know," he said, grinning. "And I'm Tony."

Bucky shook his head, but at least that faint, careful smile was back.

"I know."

That answered the question of whether or not Bucky recognized Tony. Not that it mattered, especially not now.

"Until next time, Bucky." Tony shifted to grab the door, but kept his gaze on Bucky.

"Yeah, see ya'." Bucky sounded almost shy but, underneath that, Tony could detect a glimmer of hope. He knew, right then and there, that he would do whatever he could to see it again — to make it grow.

He was definitely coming back to the flower shop at his earliest convenience.

 


 

Tony became a regular after that. He was able to drop in every week or so, always careful to make sure that no photographers were following him at the time. It wasn't that he didn't think the shop deserved the publicity — whatever brand or service Tony favored always skyrocketed in popularity when the public got wind of it — but rather that Bucky and Steve shouldn't have to deal with the media frenzy that was bound to follow.

With so many visits to the flower shop, it didn't take long at all before Tony got to know both Bucky and Steve better.

It turned out that Steve owned the shop, having inherited it from some relative, and he'd hired Bucky to help him after he'd been discharged from the Army. It went unsaid that not many would have offered — veterans missing a limb weren't exactly in high demand — but the two had apparently known each other since they were kids, which would explain the playful, brotherly banter.

Bucky never really spoke of his time in the Army or how he had lost his arm, but it was obvious that he was still recovering from what had happened to him. Tony was only given fractured pieces of information, but it seemed like Bucky had been home for at least fourteen months. That wasn't long — not when taking into account that Bucky had to get used to living with just one arm — but he seemed to be doing pretty well from what Tony could see.

It took Tony over a month to realize that was mainly because Bucky behaved differently with him — he smiled more when talking to Tony.

Bucky was always civil with the other customers, but also kept his distance. It was almost as if he was afraid of interacting with other people, especially if they were strangers. That wariness was probably what had made Bucky try to push Tony away, and it was understandable for someone who was hurting.

Tony had done the same thing when he first got back from Afghanistan.

It wasn't until Tony made Bucky laugh that he really understood how much Bucky relaxed in his company. Even Steve seemed surprised, his head snapping up at the sound of Bucky's laughter. The look on Steve's face was heartbreaking — a complicated mix of joy, sadness, wistfulness, and hope.

He clearly hadn't heard Bucky laugh much since he returned.

Which was a shame, really, since Bucky had a beautiful laugh. It completely changed his face, erasing the tense lines and lifting that shadow of watchfulness that always seemed to hang over him. He suddenly looked so young and carefree, his shoulders loosening and eyes bright with happiness.

The sight caused a flutter in Tony's stomach which was even more frightening than mere lust, and was therefore hastily pushed aside. He could deal with attraction just fine, but he wasn't sure if there was any use in yearning for anything more. Bucky seemed to like him, yes, but Tony had a hard time figuring out if there was potential for something more than a platonic friendship. Asking was no doubt a bad idea — Tony had done that once already and Bucky had brushed it off. Not to mention that Tony didn't want to put that kind of pressure on Bucky if he could help it. He'd just have to keep that part to himself.

That shouldn't be too hard, should it?

Bucky was still as gloriously tempting as ever, but by then Tony had also gotten to know him as a person and that trumped whatever other attraction he might feel. As grumpy as he had been at the beginning, Bucky was a genuinely good person who struggled to make sense of the world that was suddenly so different from what he was used to. Tony didn't want to do anything that might complicate that.

If Pepper deserved someone better than Tony, then so did Bucky.

By some kind of fluke, Tony had managed to carve out a little space for himself in Bucky's life and that was more than enough — probably more than he should be allowed. Being the one who made Bucky smile and laugh was in no way a consolation prize. In fact, Tony took immense pride in it.

It came as a surprise the day Tony realized that he was content. The court date for Obadiah's trial was getting steadily closer — meaning that Tony could soon start focusing on his company again — the nightmares were getting less frequent, his heart was managing despite one or two scares, and he had found an unexpected refuge in that quaint, comfy little flower shop.

All things considered, he was doing pretty well and had no desire whatsoever to upset the status quo.

He was fine.

 


 

Perhaps Tony should have realized that Pepper would eventually question what he was up to. Over the past couple of weeks, she had been given more flowers than one woman could possibly want, especially from her boss whom she was not dating. Tony could understand if that was sending mixed messages — he really wasn't trying to woo her — and made sure to spread the bouquets around to avoid confusion. Rhodey had been bewildered at first, but ultimately accepted it as one of Tony's quirks, and Happy had seemed genuinely, well, happy.

Tony even saved some for himself, placing them in vases around the penthouse. He'd never really realized just how sterile his home looked before he ended up dotting it with bright, colorful flower arrangements. He quite liked how they livened up the place.

Either way, it was understandable if Pepper started wondering where Tony was getting all the flowers from and why he was suddenly showing such an interest in botany. Without even trying, Tony had gotten surprisingly good at naming flowers and reciting what they meant. It wasn't like Tony was making a focused effort to learn, but Bucky and Steve always told him what flowers they added to the bouquets and Tony was apparently paying more attention than he thought.

So, one day when Tony handed over a beautiful creation in soft pinks and purples that Steve had made, Pepper looked him right in the eye and flat-out asked.

"Are you dating a florist?"

Tony was stumped, he had to admit. Not only because she asked without any kind of longing or wistfulness — meaning that she, too, must have decided that the thing between them was better left unexplored — but because a romantic entanglement was the first explanation she considered.

Then again, she wasn't wrong, per se. There were few things that could grab Tony's interest this long and, for him to go back time and time again to the same flower shop, there had to be something there that intrigued him. Usually, that something would be a person he was having sex with.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case this time, even if Tony might want it to be.

"No," he replied, feeling inexplicably nervous, "but I think I might be friends with two of them."

Perhaps he was being presumptuous, but it really did seem like both Bucky and Steve had begun to like him by then. They chatted amicably whenever Tony dropped by and shared more personal details than they probably should with a normal customer.

Pepper took a moment to smell the bouquet before meeting his gaze again. The look in her eyes made Tony acutely aware that Pepper, while not classified as a genius, was more intelligent than a lot of people gave her credit for.

"And you're in love with one of them," she said.

Tony's heart made a complicated little skip and twist, part panic and part delight.

"No, of course not," he denied. Pepper didn't seem to listen.

"Not the one who made this." She nodded toward the bouquet in her hands. "More often, you keep the ones made by the other florist."

Tony was, quite frankly, stunned by Pepper's insight. The mere fact that she could tell whether Steve or Bucky had made the arrangements was impressive in itself, but that she had noticed a pattern not even Tony had seen was downright frightening. He'd had no idea that he kept Bucky's bouquets more often than Steve's. Was he really that obvious?

Tony swallowed, knowing he had to say something.

"It's not what you think." He cringed when he realized how that sounded and hastily added, "We're not actually involved. I mean, I wouldn't mind, but I'm pretty sure he's not interested. And, given that he's—"

"You should ask him."

Most of the time, Tony would have continued talking without stopping, but Pepper's suggestion brought him up short.

"What? Why?"

"Why not?" Pepper was much too elegant to shrug, but the look in her eyes said that she thought Tony was being silly.

"Because!" Tony spread his arms wide. "I'm me! This past couple of months has been one disaster after another—"

"It will be resolved soon," Pepper interjected.

"—and I have no idea if he's even into men—"

"Then ask him."

"—and it's just a very stupid idea! He's got enough things to worry about without the shit that comes along with dating Tony Stark." That last part was probably the argument that worried Tony the most. He wasn't sure how Bucky would handle the inevitable pressure that came from being involved with a celebrity, especially one whose face was currently plastered over newspapers and magazine covers on a daily basis. Without meaning to, one more sentence slipped through Tony's defenses. "He deserves better."

Pepper frowned. "Tony, you know that you are—"

"A hot mess, that's what I am." He backed up a step, trying to divert the conversation to safer topics. "Speaking of mess, what's the lawyers' final verdict?"

Unfortunately, Pepper was having none of Tony's avoidance tactics. She just kept staring at him, making it known that she was not done. Sometimes, like now, Tony truly regretted hiring such a competent assistant. It would have been much easier if she just went along with everything he said. Then again, if she did, he'd probably be dead by now — Pepper was indispensable and truly more than he deserved — but that was another matter entirely.

"Some of the bouquets he makes are meant especially for you," she said.

Tony felt his heart do a pathetic little flutter — one he squashed as quickly as he could. He was pretty sure he was getting too old for things like that.

"Well, obviously," Tony replied flatly. "Isn't that the whole point with custom-made bouquets?"

"Yes, but he makes them about you. The colors he picks, the flowers he chooses, and how he arranges them. He does it all with such care."

Tony's throat went dry.

Pepper smiled, soft and kind. "He knows you, Tony. He makes them for you. And I don't think he would do that unless he felt something for you as well."

What could he possibly say to that? Of course there was a part of Tony that desperately hoped Bucky felt the same, but none of that changed the fact that Tony was a disaster to be around, let alone date. He shouldn't submit Bucky to that.

"I just..." Tony didn't know how to finish the sentence. This whole conversation was making him uncomfortable; it felt wrong to discuss his love life with Pepper, especially considering that he had wanted her to be a part of it not too long ago.

"Just think about it," Pepper said, still smiling, be it with a hint of sadness now.

"I just don't think I'd be good for him."

Pepper shook her head. "That's not for you to decide."

Well, she had a point there. Bucky would be pissed beyond belief if he ever found out that Tony was trying to make decisions for him. And, to be fair, Bucky wasn't at all as frail as Tony made him seem. The man had lived through war and losing his arm, after all. But he was still cautious around people and dating Tony would definitely force him to face that particular hurdle — Tony was constantly surrounded by people, be they his employees or paparazzi.

Then again, perhaps that was what Bucky needed — to be forced out of his comfort zone and back out into the real world.

Tony pushed the thought aside, knowing he was grasping at straws. Pepper was still waiting for a reply and Tony shook his head.

"Even if I did decide to woo him, what would I give him? I can't give flowers to a florist. I'd have to buy them at a different store and that would be like giving me Hammer tech." Tony gave Pepper a flat stare, his tone grave. "I wouldn't date a person who gave me Hammer tech, Pepper."

She shook her head, looking amused. "You don't have to buy him anything, Tony. Just talk to him."

Tony huffed. "That's a terrible idea. I seriously doubt that—"

"Tony." Whenever Pepper used that tone of voice, Tony knew he was in trouble and had about sixty seconds to start getting his shit together. "Just talk to him."

"I don't know what to say to him!" Tony knew how to flirt, sure, but this was something else entirely. This was someone he knew and whose friendship he treasured — he couldn't just blurt out random pickup lines.

"How about the truth?"

"I thought we wanted him to say yes to a date with me, not run screaming in the other direction?"

Pepper sighed from exasperation. "Why would he—"

"I don't think my heart can handle this kind of pressure," Tony interrupted, placing a hand against his chest. "It might kill me."

"Now you're just being melodramatic."

Tony's heart was irrevocably damaged after what he had been through at the hands of those terrorists, sure, but Pepper was probably right this time. Tony might be blowing things out of proportion.

"Tony, I'm not suggesting you propose to the man," Pepper said. The look on her face told Tony that she was running out of patience and that was never a good thing. Pepper was scary when she ran out of patience. "Just talk to him. I think the two of you might actually want the same thing."

It was difficult to argue against her when she said the words with such conviction. Tony knew that Pepper couldn't know for sure — she'd never even met Bucky — but she did manage to light a burst of hope in his chest all the same.

He really did want more than friendship with Bucky.

The mere thought of asking was daunting, however. Tony was terrified of ruining things between them, especially when he was perfectly content to remain friends. Still, Pepper did bring some pretty good arguments to the table.

"I'll think about it," Tony promised, albeit reluctantly. Though he'd make no guarantees that Pepper would like whatever conclusion he reached.

She seemed to know that too, but chose to just nod. "Good."

Tony managed a faint smile. "Now can we get back to that huge lawsuit we filed against my former business partner that will hopefully rid my company of his influence for good?"

Pepper laughed. "Sure, we can do that, Mr. Stark."

"Thank you, Ms. Potts."

Tony had a feeling Pepper would bring up the subject again when she felt an appropriate amount of time had passed, but at least she gave Tony a chance to think things through and prepare better counter-arguments.

He truly hoped he would have an answer next time she asked.

 


 

Two days later, Tony made another visit to the flower shop. Pepper's words were still fresh in his mind but, even then, he wasn't quite prepared for the smile Bucky greeted him with. How long had he been doing that? Did Tony only notice it now that Pepper had planted the idea that Bucky might actually be reciprocating?

"Hello there, hotshot," Bucky drawled, in the middle of wrapping up two finished bouquets. They had to be ones that were to be delivered, going by the lack of other customers in the store.

Tony might or might not have figured out which hours were the calmest in the shop and always made sure to show up at those times, just so that Bucky would be less distracted.

Tony had it bad.

"Buckling."

Bucky rolled his eyes at the nickname, but he looked more amused than anything.

"Hi, Tony!" Steve shouted from the back room, popping his head out to offer Tony a smile.

"Glad to see you've gotten rid of that cold of yours," Tony said, returning the smile. It was a little worrying how often Steve got sick, but there didn't seem to be much to do about that. Bucky fretted enough for three people, much to Steve's obvious annoyance.

As if on a cue, Bucky cut in, giving Steve a disapproving glare. "Barely."

"I'm fine." Steve rolled his eyes, but he did sound a little hoarse still. Tony knew better than to point that out, however, lest he wanted the two to start arguing like an old married couple. "You need me?" Steve asked Bucky, clearly referring to who was going to help Tony.

More often than not, Steve seemed to go out of his way to let Bucky handle Tony's orders. Or maybe that was just Tony's imagination.

"Nah, I got it," Bucky replied, "you keep working on the cards."

Tony had learned that Steve was the one who did all the signs, price tags, and hand-written cards that came with the flowers. Had he not inherited the flower shop, Steve's dream had been to become an artist, he'd told Tony once.

Steve gave Tony a quick wave before ducking out of view again.

"Just give me a sec," Bucky said, not taking his eyes off the bouquets he was wrapping.

Tony didn't either. His fascination with Bucky and his prosthetic hadn't calmed in the least, but the reason had changed. Nowadays, it was to collect data to perfect the schematics for a prosthetic arm that Tony had tucked away on his private server — an arm that was much more intuitive than the clumsy one Bucky had now. Tony didn't know if anything would ever come of it, but it was a nice side project that he liked to work on when his responsibilities got too unbearable. Maybe, one day, he'd even dare to show it to Bucky.

"No rush," Tony replied, taking a sauntering loop around the store. He still kept Bucky in the corner of his eye, not quite able to pull his attention away from him.

Bucky's hair was loose today, which always made him look both softer and more rugged, somehow, but in the best way possible. Underneath his apron, he wore a simple black t-shirt that was, perhaps, just a little too small, though Tony was certainly not one to complain. Over the weeks, Tony had come to respect Bucky for how he never tried to hide his prosthetic. It would have been fine even if he had, but there was certainly a lot of bravery involved in wearing t-shirts and always pushing up the sleeves when he did wear something longer. Bucky got uncomfortable if people stared, sure, but he wasn't ashamed and didn't try to hide his arm.

After finishing packaging the bouquets, Bucky briefly disappeared in back — to set them aside for delivery, Tony assumed. Once Bucky returned, the sight of his smile made Tony's heart skip a beat. Nowadays, Bucky was always closer to a smile than a scowl, his eyes bright and posture relaxed. Tony wasn't sure how much of that was his influence, but he knew he had some part in it.

The contemplative looks Steve had been giving them had hinted at that, at least.

"So, what can I get you, darling?" Bucky asked, faltering a split second later when he seemed to realize what he'd said.

Bucky had never called Tony that before.

They had both thrown various nicknames at each other over the past couple of weeks, sure, but never actual endearments. Never words that might imply that level of tenderness and affection. It might not mean anything at all that Bucky suddenly did so now, but Tony was going to cherish it all the same.

He smiled, hoping Bucky would understand that he hadn't done anything wrong. Tony would be lying if he said that his heart wasn't racing, though. He'd been nervous even before he stepped inside the shop — thoughts churning after his conversation with Pepper — and Bucky's offhand endearment hadn't helped in the least.

"I haven't decided," Tony replied. "How about you surprise me?"

He'd given both Bucky and Steve that request before and Bucky — unlike the first couple of times when Tony had asked for a bouquet without much direction — looked adorably excited. Perhaps Pepper was on to something when she said that Bucky was getting more and more invested in making these flower arrangements for Tony.

"Will do," Bucky replied with a grin. He headed over to the chiller cabinet, steps light. "How are the bots doing?"

Tony always felt a subtle thrill whenever Bucky was the one who asked the first question. At the beginning, Tony had been the one to start their conversations but, nowadays, Bucky had apparently grown comfortable enough to do so himself. He also seemed genuinely interested in Tony's replies, which was all kinds of flattering.

"They're good." Tony smiled, not-so-secretly endeared by Bucky's fascination with his bots. He'd tried to explain that they were pretty simplistic, all things considered, but Bucky would hear none of it. To him, they were the coolest thing invented since the watering can. "DUM-E made a mess of my kitchen again, but at least there was no motor oil in the smoothie this time."

"Was it edible?" Bucky's back was turned, but there was no mistaking his amusement.

"Probably his best one yet." Tony put his hands in his pockets, lazily drifting around the shop while Bucky worked. "Though I have yet to figure out his obsession with parsley."

Bucky snorted on a laugh and Tony marveled at how easy it was to talk to Bucky. They'd had an uneven start, sure, but that had given way to a surprisingly heartfelt friendship. They rarely touched on extremely personal subjects, but Tony had no trouble talking about his bots, his projects, or even the trial against Obie, given that it was common knowledge anyway. Bucky, in turn, talked about his family, Steve, music, movies, and whatever else seemed to come to mind. It was effortless in a way that Tony hadn't experienced very often, and he found himself paying more attention than he usually would.

Perhaps that meant that a relationship between them might work after all.

As they continued to talk — about whatever lighthearted subjects caught their interest — Tony just couldn't stop thinking about what Pepper had said. Would it really hurt to ask if Bucky wanted to go out for coffee sometime? Tony asking for his phone number had been a long time ago, after all — perhaps Bucky's feelings had changed. And, even if he said no, that wouldn't be the end of the world. Perhaps things would get a little awkward for a while, but Tony would still like to remain friends, even if Bucky wasn't interested in more.

It might just be worth it.

"There, I'm done."

Tony turned to look at the bouquet held out toward him, feeling his heart skip a beat. It was unconventional, to say the least, warm and soothing with its browns, deep reds, and subtly glowing oranges. It reminded Tony of fine whiskey — a rich, golden amber — or perhaps molten honey. Several of the flowers were roses, mixed together with a couple of others that Tony recognized but couldn't for the life of him name in that moment.

He stepped closer, reaching out to gently run his thumb along the petals of one of the red roses. Was this was Pepper meant? Was this how Bucky saw him?

"It matches your eyes."

Tony looked up, startled. Bucky was smiling, sweet and a little shy, his gaze full of cautious hope. And, just like that, Tony forgot how to breathe.

Bucky was flirting with him.

There was no other explanation.

Tony had spent the past two days wondering if he should take things a step further between them, but Bucky had managed to beat him to it. Tony wouldn't say that his hesitation was gone — there were still things that would make a relationship between them complicated — but they didn't really matter all that much, at least not in that moment.

They could at least give it a try before deciding it didn't work.

Tony realized he should say something — this was his chance to tell Bucky that he had kept coming back to the flower shop just to see him. He wasn't nearly as interested in the flowers as he was in Bucky.

"I don't really like flowers."

Well, maybe that wasn't the way to go.

Bucky's face fell, confusion and hurt mingling in his eyes. It only took a split second before that brief show of vulnerability was replaced with anger, however — Tony was pretty sure that wasn't any better.

"Then why the fuck do you keep buyin' 'em?" Bucky lowered the bouquet and drew back, as if needing to put a physical distance between them.

Tony had fucked this up royally, hadn't he?

"Before, I mean," Tony added, fumbling to correct his mistake. This was why he didn't want to talk, dammit. It had never been his strong suit to be thoughtful and sincere. His heart was beating just a little faster than he would like, either from nerves or panic — probably a bit of both. "I didn't really like flowers before I started coming here."

"So?" Bucky was still angry, there was no doubt about that, his tone harsh.

"I like them now." Even to Tony's own ears, that sounded pathetic. Judging by his glare, Bucky seemed to agree.

Tony had forgotten just how hostile Bucky could look while glaring. He'd only seen him smile lately.

"I'm not making this any better, am I?" Tony ran a hand through his hair, letting out a frustrated sigh. "Look, I'm just gonna go ahead and say it, okay? I like you. And, if I haven't ruined everything with that thoughtless comment of mine, I'd love to ask you out on a date."

Understandably, Bucky looked confused — it was quite a sudden shift.

"You... what?"

"I like you," Tony repeated, trying to fight down his nerves. This was the most disastrous love confession in recent memory, he was sure. "Did you really think I came in here that often just for the flowers?"

Bucky blinked, frowning softly. "Well, no. Not really." He gestured vaguely. "I mean, I hoped there was another reason..."

"There was." Tony's throat was dry, but he did his best to ignore that. "You're that reason. I wanted to see you."

A silence settled between them and it was difficult to tell if it was a bad one or if Bucky just needed time to process what Tony had said. This was probably the most unsmooth Tony had ever been with someone he wanted to be romantically involved with, including his time as an embarrassing teenager at MIT. But at least Bucky wasn't angry anymore — that was something.

Bucky cleared his throat, scratching his neck. "I, uh—"

"He'd like to ask you out for coffee!" came a sudden shout from the back room.

Both Tony and Bucky jumped in surprise, having forgotten that Steve was even there. Bucky recovered quickly, turning his head to glare at the open doorway.

"Shut up, you little shit!" he yelled back, his cheeks a fetching shade of red. "I can get dates without your help!"

The words might have been harsh, but Bucky's tone held a certain amount of relief. If nothing else, Steve's interruption had broken the stalemate.

"Then fucking prove it!" Steve challenged. Even without seeing his face, Tony could hear the smugness.

Bucky groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I swear, one day, I will throttle him in his sleep."

"Bite me!" Steve shot back.

Tony couldn't help but laugh, allowing himself to relax. As embarrassing as it was to realize that they'd had this entire conversation while Steve was listening, Tony didn't regret it when he saw the crooked smile on Bucky's lips. That was a good sign, he knew.

"I would like that very much," Tony said. Then, a second later, quickly added, "The coffee, I mean — not throttling Steve."

Bucky kept smiling. "Yeah?"

"Yes. Definitely."

There was a brief pause, Bucky tilting his head to the side.

"You know what? How about I take you out to lunch instead? Tomorrow?"

A big, giddy grin spread on Tony's lips. "I'd love that."

Bucky smiled and held out the bouquet to Tony. "Alright," he said, "it's a date."

Tony took the offered flowers, feeling his heart flutter as he looked down at the soothing, warm colors, the sweet scent of roses filling his nose. Over the weeks since he'd started coming to the shop, Bucky had made him several bouquets, but none as beautiful as this one — none that felt quite as personal.

"How much?" Tony asked.

Bucky shook his head, his smile warm enough to send a shiver down Tony's spine.

"Nothing at all, darling," he said. Carefully, as if to make sure he wasn't overstepping, Bucky reached up with his right hand and gently stroked Tony's cheek. "That one's yours."

The surge of joy, hope, and yearning left Tony a little breathless. His heart was racing, his skin tingling where Bucky had touched him, and he realized that, in this instant, he was more than just content.

He was happy.

It was a feeling Tony could definitely get used to.