Bucky had been having issues with the arm. More often than not, he spent his days working through the hesitation the hunk of metal gave him. It was so frustrating, to go to reach for something and then listening to the metal grind and screech as the stubborn plates resisted him. The noise was ear-splitting, making him wince every time he cut through the calming silence.
Needless to say, this couldn’t go on.
After a brief conversation with Steve, he was persuaded to go down to the lab and ask Tony to fix it for him. It wasn’t something he was necessarily comfortable with. Tony was clearly avoiding them all.
No one had seen him in weeks.
They all told Bucky that this was normal. That maybe Tony was going through something, and he just needed his space. Bucky didn’t know Tony well enough to know better though, he didn’t know any other way to deal with this. Everything that was told to him, he’d just have to accept.
There was no other data.
Blowing some of the dark hair out of his face with a curt puff, he padded to the sleek elevator. If it were up to him, he’d also avoid Tony Stark. Every time he looked at those chocolate brown eyes, he saw Howard. That car, that night. That mission.
With a shaky sigh, Bucky rolled his shoulders back, trying to clear his mind. It was difficult enough dreaming about that damn mission every night, now he had Tony living in the same building, living proof of his forced crimes.
It was just more manageable to not have to look at those eyes.
Maybe that made him a coward, but really, he didn’t care. Stepping out of the doors, the chaotic lab came into view. The silhouette of the mechanic slumped over his work table caught Bucky’s trained eyes.
The man looked asleep, which couldn’t at all be comfortable.
Stepping in as the doors automatically unlocked, Bucky silently padded over to Tony’s exhausted figure. The rise and fall of Tony’s back caused bucky’s body to fill with relief, though he wasn’t sure why. Blue eyes studied the unkempt area around him.
The place was a mess.
There were cups and mugs strewn about the lab, some on the floor because Tony had run out of counter space. Some were tipped over, and most of them were still filled with coffee or some other liquid that Bucky didn’t even bother to try and recognize. Plates upon plates were stacked on top of each other, though thank god they held no food still. At least nothing was rotting away down here, though he suspected the smell would get to Tony too.
Many papers and books were laid out and opened, messy scrawls of unfinished ideas filling the pages. It was like looking straight into Tony’s mind, and briefly, Bucky felt like he was eavesdropping on the mechanic’s thoughts. Clearly, Bucky could see how quickly Tony’s mind moved, how he jumped from one idea to the next, messily scribbling out a thought before he lost it.
It was almost poetic.
Next, Bucky studied Tony’s body and facial expression as he slept. He’d always thought that Tony would be more of a light sleeper judging by how jumpy he was when he was awake. It seems though, that Tony had fallen into a deep sleep, cheek pressed against the cool metal surface.
It was a good thing, too.
It didn’t take an assassin with a trained eye to figure out that Tony had fallen asleep due to exhaustion. Even though he slept, Bucky could clearly see the dark circles underneath his eyes. He could see that Tony hadn’t showered or moved from this lab in quite a while. So Bucky was glad to see that Tony had been sleeping.
Slowly, Bucky reached out with his own his, his real hand, and touched Tony’s mid back.
Tony had been working so incredibly hard to meet deadlines, to build, to call, to sleep, to eat, and to drink. All on top of that, he had to remember that there were other people in his building too. Other people that constantly demanded his attention and his time. It was all building up to be more than he could handle.
Admitting that, did not come easy. Not to Tony Stark.
Pepper was constantly hounding his ass to take care of himself, to take a break. All it took though, was a nod, a reassuring smile. It was enough to appease her. Through all of this, he wanted to check in on Rhodey. Make sure that the legs he’d built were working well, and making adjustments when they were needed.
God knows how many hours he spent working on Steve’s new suit, Clint’s new arrows and a new bow, and Bucky’s new arm. Of course, he’d noticed the resistance the stupid thing was giving Bucky. Of course, he knew that Steve would want him to do this. Howard would want him to help Bucky.
Not saying that what Howard thought mattered.
It took two all-nighters to beat Tony down. Eyelids heavy, he could no longer focus on the words in front of him. The black letters were blurring together, his hands wouldn’t listen to what his brain was telling him. With an incoherent grumble, Tony slumped forward on the work table and was out like a light.
The only thing that would wake him now, was a physical touch.
The reaction Bucky got, was not the one he’d been expecting. Tony jumped awake, back straightening instantly as he sat up. His brown eyes were wide and panicked as they jumped around the room, looking for any signs of a threat. When he found none, his eyes found Bucky’s calm, blue ones.
“ What .” Tony hissed, eyes narrowing as he glared at Bucky, trying to break through his sleepy haze.
“I just- My arm. Thought you could fix it.” Bucky stammered, searching for the right words. The intensity of Tony’s glare caused him to take a hesitant step back. If there was anything he didn’t wasn't, it was to be in Tony’s personal space when it wasn’t wanted.
Tony gave a tired sigh after hearing Bucky stammer to respond. Perhaps he was being too harsh. It was just that he’d only just fallen asleep and the first time he was bothered was to be given more work. Sure, he’d already nearly finished the plans, but now he knew that Bucky would be expecting it. That meant the deadline was pushed up.
“Right. I’m already one step ahead of you, Barnes.” Tony ran a hand over his face, pressing the heels of his palms into his eye sockets as he tried to remain coherent. The amount of time he spent asleep, wasn’t nearly enough. Though it was enough to make his neck stiff and ache.
“What?” Bucky breathed, watched carefully as Tony’s hand traveled back to rub at his neck. Briefly, he remembered all the times Steve had complained about stiff muscles, and he remembers how Steve used to groan in relief as Bucky worked out all of the tension.
Tony didn’t answer Bucky.
Instead, he rose and wavered on his feet for a moment, before flicking his wrists to bring up a hologram of a metal arm. It didn’t look much different to the one he had, but the point came across. Tony was making him a new arm.
Bucky’s eyes widened as he watched the image of the arm rotate right in front of his eyes. Lips falling open slightly, his heavy breath hitched. Tony, whose parents he had brutally murdered, who Bucky had attacked, who Bucky had attempted to avoid, was making him a brand new arm.
“Yeah, pretty isn’t it?” Tony watched the hologram spin as well, moving to stand beside the shell-shocked soldier. He opened his mouth to say more, but Bucky moved too quickly for that.
Turning faster than Tony could protest, Bucky wrapped his arms firmly around Tony’s small figure.
Tony froze completely. Ice ran through his veins before he was flooded with warmth. For the first time in several weeks, Tony was being touched. For the first time in several months, Tony was being held.
He hadn’t realized how touch starved he was until this moment.
Bucky moved to let go of Tony, and he panicked , arms flying around Bucky’s shoulders to hold him still. Now, it was Bucky’s turn to freeze.
“Don’t go,” Tony mumbled, eyes squeezing shut as his skin ached for attention. Bucky pressed back into Tony, giving him exactly what he wanted. It was such a tender moment, such a thing that Bucky wouldn’t have ever thought would happen.
“ Okay.” Bucky murmured, letting his own eyes fall shut. It had also been so long since he was allowed an embrace like this. Sure, there was always Steve who would offer a comforting hug every now and then, but it was never enough. Tony seemed to understand though, judging by the way he clung to Bucky like his life depended on it.
Several moments turned to several minutes. They were both extremely content with just resting there, clinging tightly to each other. Soon though, they both knew that they’d have to let go. Eventually, all good things had to come to an end. Who would move first though, was the question.
It was Bucky who gave in to the need to move, slowly and reluctantly moving away from Tony’s warmth.
“You need to sleep. In a bed.” Bucky explained, seeing the pain in Tony’s eyes. Tony was under the impression that Bucky was sick of whatever it was they were doing. It didn’t take long to come to terms with the fact that everyone would get sick of him eventually. Bucky’s words caught him by surprise, though.
“Oh.” Tony said dumbly, blinking as he gave a weak smile. “I suppose you’re right.”
Bucky gave a nod in response, watching Tony carefully as he moved to put away his notes. Slowly but surely, Tony got everything put away before moving past Bucky with a glance, and to the elevator.
Bucky followed close behind, a silent and intimidating presence.
“You don’t have to babysit me, I can go without another hug.” Tony snarked as Bucky stepped into the elevator to stand beside him. Truthfully, Tony wouldn’t mind another hug from Bucky Barnes.
Again, Bucky didn’t give a verbal response.
Glancing at Bucky, Tony fell silent. He’d forgotten how Bucky worked, how he functioned. Most of the time, it included silence.
The elevator opened on Tony’s floor and he stepped out, heading straight to his bedroom. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Bucky moving silently behind him, following him even as far as inside the room.
“Okay, you don't have to stay now. You can go.” Tony told Bucky this as he sat down on his large bed. The blankets were expensive and soft, calling to his skin, to his aching muscles.
Bucky didn’t answer Tony again, only moving. He walked around the side of the bed, sitting and shifting so he was sitting behind the mechanic. Just as Tony was going to twist to watch Bucky, he froze as he felt hands against his back.
Those hands pressed and moved, working out any tension that had built up over the past few weeks. It was like magic, all the weight on his shoulders lifted, the tense muscles relaxed beneath Bucky’s expert hands.
“Relax. I won’t go.” Bucky murmured, watching carefully as Tony’s body came undone beneath his hands. Tony only managed a low groan in response, head falling forward as Bucky worked out the tension and pain in his neck. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation or the touch starvation, but Tony wasn’t even sure why he was letting Bucky do this.
When he’d worked to get the fugitive Avengers pardoned, he hadn’t even let anyone near him when they had returned. The lab was his safe place, and if he didn’t want anyone in, they would be kept out. All they ever wanted was to scold Tony for not working enough or not being generous enough. Clearly, though, Bucky was different.
He proved that by showing Tony gratitude , by picking up on what Tony needed, and giving it to him without a second thought. Bucky was still proving it, as he guided Tony’s body back and down onto the bed, he proved it by moving the blankets to drape over Tony’s barely conscious body.
He then proved it by staying.
By keeping his word, and staying.