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Law of the jungle

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“He’s doing it again,” Tony hisses, trying to hide his face behind his giant tub of morning coffee.

Steve, the spangled little shit, actually grins and shrugs. “Can’t ban him from eating his breakfast at the breakfast bar, Tony.”

Tony shuffles away from the coffee machine and behind Steve's broad back. He's not afraid for his life right at this instant, much, but it always pays to be careful. As long as Steve is preparing breakfast Tony is probably safe to make his own.

Manfully ignoring the urge to look behind him every ten seconds, Tony quickly throws some bread in the toaster and stares at it to make it go faster, while Cap and his bestie chit chat. Well. Steve chit chats and Bucky grunts. It's almost like it was a few weeks ago, before Tony screwed up and made the Soldier hate his guts. He's not sure what he did exactly. Might not even have been something that terrible. Usually just being his obnoxious self is enough to make people want to strangle him. What is unusual is the blatant way Bucky chooses to make his displeasure known.

The sergeant goes from smiling or snarky to full force murder glare as soon as Tony steps into the room. (He knows, he's checked the footage, which is not creepy stalkerish, Jarvis, and don't you dare flap your yap at the cap…)

Tony sighs as he slathers his toast with chocolate spread. No use crying over what's not to be, better to spend his energy on creating nice updates for his team's gear. He's feeling explosive today. He absentmindedly takes a bite of the toast, calculating how much heavier Nat’s bites will be if he builds in incendiary options. When he turns to pick up his mug it’s to Bucky who thrusts the mug at him with enough force to make the coffee slosh over the rim onto Tony’s arm and the floor.

“Here,” the soldier tells him, probably thinking about the gazillion ways he knows how to make Tony disappear without a trace, but starting with making him get the hell out of the kitchen.

“Thanks?” Tony doesn’t squeak, but he does hightail it out of the kitchen, ignoring Steve and his stupid grin.

Bucky slumps against the counter where only seconds ago Tony had stood. It still feels a bit warm to the touch.

“You really think I stand a chance, Stevie?” He sighs, brushing his hair out of his face. Ever since he realised that warm, tingly feeling in his gut is a crush he freezes whenever Tony is around. According to the history books Bucky used to be quite the ladies man, suave and charming, but for the life of him he can’t remember how to act whenever Tony enters a room. All he has left is staring at the object of his affection from afar, hoping that by some miracle Tony understands and feels the same.

“I'm positive, look at him flee. That's him thinking he ain't good enough for ya. Trust me, he loves you.” Steve singsongs the last part, like the five year old that he is. Steve has been equally supportive and obnoxious, like you would expect from a little brother really.

Bucky sighs again.

Tony’s always late for movie night. He doesn’t intend to be, far from it. He has Jarvis keep his schedule as free as possible, but with his two, no three jobs, it’s almost inevitable that he runs in halfway every time. The team knows and keeps a spot for him, one he can find blindly in the dark by now. It’s five steps straight after he turned the corner, one step to the left to circumvent the side table, which always pays to grope and yes, bingo, they left a packet of Doritos. Another two small steps straight ahead, careful not to bump into Steve’s legs, that are inevitably slung over the side of his chair, then one step to the right and he can touch down next to Tho--

In the flickering light of the movie it’s obvious Thor is not in his usual spot. When Tony's eyes have adjusted he sees the demigod lounging on the floor near Tasha’s knees, with her braiding his hair one handed. Tony’s eye is drawn to a reflection next to him, and his blood runs cold. Bucky is sharpening what seems to be a huge hunting knife. Not one of the numerous knives Tony provided when he noticed Bucky seemed more at ease with a weapon on his person. No, this is a new knife, a very large knife, and Tony knows it’s a very sharp knife as well. He can tell by the way the whetstone Bucky surreptitiously drags across the metal slides over it like butter on a hot griddle.

When Tony looks up it’s to Bucky glaring at him without blinking, the movement of his fingers never stopping, the slow snick snick snick of the wet stone a more obvious death threat than if he’d composed one with letters cut out of a newspaper.

Tony manages to sit through the movie without peeing his pants, but it’s a close call, and as soon as the end credits roll across the screen he jumps and flees. Just before the elevator doors close he hears Steve’s voice. “Better luck next time, Buck.”

“Stop laughing! You’re the worst best friend ever in the history of terrible best friends. You're the Brutus to my Caesar. My days are numbered, honey bear! And you don’t care? I’m disappointed. No. Appalled, I’m appalled. I thought I meant something to you, guess I’ll have to leave the suits to Pepper. DUM-E goes to you, you deserve each other.” Tony is pacing agitated up and down his workshop. A large holographic of Rhodey’s stupid laughing face hangs in the air above his desk.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Tones. You could always go wearing one of the suits,” his traitorous friend snickers, doing nothing to ease Tony’s fear. He hasn’t slept since Bucky finally came to him two days ago, telling him “I want to take you out, Stark.” With Steve beaming behind the assassin like a proud parent at a Christmas recital Tony couldn’t pretend he hadn’t heard and get the hell out of Dodge, so he had agreed to stand ready in the garage in, he checks his watch, in 72 minutes.

“In little more than an hour I will meet my maker, Rhodey, I have a very different definition of fine . But you’re right, I should bring the briefcase suit.” Tony runs an agitated hand through his hair, his thoughts whirring, unable to stay on one topic. Maybe he needs another coffee. He eyes the stack of used cups critically, but Rhodey interrupts.

“How long exactly have you been awake?” Tony is glad to hear some concern in his friend’s voice now. Being laughed at is exactly as much fun as it sounds.

“Meh, sleep is for the weak,” Tony evades the question. He has no clue, might be around 60 hours, might be longer. He doesn’t see sounds yet, so it can’t be over 80.

“Sir has been awake for nearly 75 hours, colonel,” Jarvis, another traitorous being, speaks up.

“Tattletale,” Tony murmurs just when Rhodey does his exasperated, long drawn out “Tony…”

“I'm fine! You're right, it'll be fine, gotta go now, don't want to go to my death looking like this, bye now.” Tony pats Dum-E on his strut and goes to prepare.

“I'm not wearing a tie, Stevie, go away.” Bucky shoves his stupid grinning best friend away, which he only manages because of the metal arm. The days where he was afraid Steve would fall over if he sneezed too hard are long gone.

“Just tryin’ ta be helpful, jerk,” Steve says, looking pleased like he's the one going on a date with America's most eligible bachelor.

“Yeah, like you're an expert on modern day clothing, mister Khakis-are-sensible.” At Steve's kicked puppy look Bucky pulls him in for a hug to soften his words, glad his friend returns it without question. “Sorry, Stevie. ‘m just nervous, I guess. What if Tony hates where I'm taking him?”

Steve pulls back to smooth the wrinkles in Bucky's shirt. “You'll be fine. You booked a table at that out of that way place, right? I'm sure Tony will love the drive and eating somewhere a bit secluded. Didn't Pepper recommend it herself?” With a final pat on Bucky's chest Steve steps back. “It'll be great, you'll see.”

Tony pats his pockets a final time before he signals for Jarvis to open the elevator doors. He’s packed a few surprises in case everyone is wrong and his natural paranoia proves right. He does a double take when he spots Bucky at the car. He’s dressed all in black, and Tony can’t deny he cleans up good. Freshly shaven and with his hair in a complicated bun, no doubt done by Natasha, he’s as gorgeous as on the posters Tony might have had on his bedroom wall during puberty. When Tony steps closer the man actually smiles, and it transforms his whole face, but Tony isn’t so easily fooled, especially when he notices Bucky’s wearing gloves. Who in this day and age wears gloves in a car? Assassins, that’s who. With a nod and a scowl he allows Bucky to open the door for him, and he sits down, prepared for anything.

After three failed attempts at small talk Bucky has given up. If he wasn’t nervous before, the way Tony just can’t sit still, coupled with this unnatural quiet makes him feel antsy and certain of impending embarrassment. Why did Tony agree to go on a date he obviously doesn’t want to be on? Bucky knows the genius can be viewed as eccentric, with his mannerisms and miles a minute speech. But the way Tony is now surreptitiously patting his pockets while stealing glances at Bucky is pushing the limit even for him. Bucky’s glad the drive is almost over at least, maybe getting some food will help improve the mood.

The restaurant Pepper recommended is just a bit out of the city, and Bucky slows and rolls down the window to appreciate the fresh scent of nature at night.

All of a sudden a small explosive goes off and Tony jumps out of the vehicle, yelling something incomprehensible before taking off into the woods with a limp. Bucky slams the breaks and jumps out of the car, stopping behind some low shrubs as he looks for signs of their attackers, the car coming to a halt against a tree.

He doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and when he strains his ears there’s nothing but nighttime critters going about their critter business. After a careful examination of the car which reveals nothing he sets off in the direction of Tony.

As soon as Bucky drove into the woods, Tony knew he was right. No one takes their first date to some remote spot in the woods. That’s second, maybe third date stuff, provided you’re still in high school. Grown ups take their dates to dinner, or to a movie, or some other civilized place. Driving someone out into the woods, at night, without asking, while wearing gloves, can only mean one thing, and Tony thanks his lucky stars he put the explosives in his pocket. They bought him precious time until his bracelet armour gets here. Laboriously he climbs a tree, not easy with what he assumes is a sprained ankle, but it’s eat or be eaten out here, and he sure as hell knows what he chooses. He just prays his surprises are enough to hold off the Winter Soldier until Jarvis gets here.

Bucky sneaks through the undergrowth without making a sound. It comes easy to him, second nature at this point, to move without making sound, no matter where he is. Whoever attacked them is either as good as he is, or planted something in the car, designed to take Tony out at a distance. He’s almost positive Tony is the intended target, but he’s careful, it wouldn’t do to walk into an elaborate ambush set to capture them both. The woods are quiet though, until he picks up heavy breathing, like someone has been running, or climbing a tree…

The dart comes out of nowhere. There’s a flash of pain and immediately a numbing sensation from the entry point outwards. Bucky pulls it out of his upper arm as quickly as possible but he already feels the effects, his arm a dead weight on his shoulder. He needs to lead their attackers away from Tony! Create a distraction and lead them on a goose chase.

“I’m coming for you!” he yells, as he stumbles through some shrubs, making as much noise as he can, making himself a target and hoping Tony will stay put until he’s led the attackers away.

Damnit! Tony had to guess at the ratio of his homemade sleeping potion since Jarvis refused to cooperate, and clearly he guessed the soldier’s weight wrong. Stupid super soldier metabolism. The yell scares the bejesus out of him, and he loses his handhold, dropping from the tree with a grunt and a yelp of pain when he lands on his sore ankle. He scrabbles wildly around him and his hand closes on a large branch just as the soldier turns around, looking wild.

Tony! Bucky looks behind him and his heart sinks when he sees Tony fall from a tree. Looks like they shot him too, but without the serum… He quickly makes his way to him, maybe he can pick Tony up and make a run for it, or at least defend him…

As soon as the soldier is within reach Tony takes the branch and whacks him on the side of the head. “LAW OF THE JUNGLE NOW, BABY.”

“Ow! Fucking… Tony, no, it’s me,” the soldier grunts as he grabs the side of his head with one hand, but doesn’t stop advancing on his knees.

“I know who you are! You won’t get me! Jarvis will be here any minute and then you’ll be sorry.” Tony crawls backwards away from his killer, wincing when he jostles his ankle again. Might be a bit more than just sprained now.

“Did they shoot you too? Damnit, the poison must work faster on you. Tony, please, try to concentrate, it’s me, Bucky, we we’re going to have dinner at la Foresta, remember? But they ambushed us, and I… I need you to stay still, okay? I--”

“Ambush… what? What are you talking about? You are about to kill me, anyone else can wait in line,” Tony huffs but tries to look in all directions at the same time. He still has a knife stashed in his coat pocket that he can jam in the soldier’s eye if he comes any closer, but he’d rather keep him talking until Jarvis arrives. If there really are other attackers James can take them out before coming for Tony again.

Bucky is afraid now. Whatever was in the dart they shot Tony with messed up his brain real good. He just hopes it’s as temporary as whatever was in his, the feeling is already returning to his fingers. What surprises him is that there’s still no sign of anyone other than them, which doesn’t make any sense for an ambush. Warily he shuffles a tiny bit closer to Tony, keeping an eye out for any sudden movements from the surrounding shrubs.

“Are you hurt?” It's hard to see in the dark under the trees, but he thinks one of Tony's feet lays at an unnatural angle.

“Hurt?” Tony is about to raise himself up in indignation. Isn't it enough to kill him, does he have to be hurt as well? But suddenly the armour comes flying through the trees and hope blooms in his chest, only to die immediately. Bucky swats the armour pieces out of the air with his metal arm like they're nothing more than annoying flies, and desolate Tony lets himself drop back on the soft, soft leaves, who have no right to be as comfy as they are.

Bucky acts on instinct as soon as he hears the projectiles coming, nothing's gonna touch Tony on his watch, but it's only the armour. He picks up the left boot and reaches out to Tony's hurt leg. “Sorry, baby,” he mutters as he gently lifts the leg with two hands and puts it onto the armour piece,  watching in satisfaction as it closes around Tony's foot and calf, securing the break.

When he looks over he sees Tony's out cold, which might be for the best. He makes a quick phone call to Steve to ask for extraction and settles in to wait.

Tony wakes feeling warm and fuzzy, strong fingers stroking through his hair. As soon as he turns his face into the touch, his eyes still closed, the fingers hurriedly disappear, and he pouts. At the chuckle he looks up in surprise to see Bucky sitting in a chair next to his bed. His hair hangs in dirty strands around his face, and his suit is wrinkled and mud stained, but the smile he sends Tony can outshine the sun in its brilliance.

“Hi,” he whispers, “glad you're awake.”

It's the most Bucky said to him in weeks, and the tenderness in his eyes steals Tony's breath away.

“You are?” This is a 540 degrees turn from yesterday, and Tony has severe difficulty wrapping his head around this new concept. “Then why were you trying to kill me?”

Several emotions flicker over Bucky's face, Tony thinks he recognizes worry and anger, but in his drugged to the gills state it doesn't worry him as much, especially not when Bucky takes his hand and holds it like something precious.

“We were attacked. The team is out looking for clues if you're wondering. We don't know who or why yet, but we'll get them, Tony, I promise you.” Bucky's grey eyes contain nothing but sincerity, and Tony has to swallow hard as he reviews his actions yesterday. First things first though.

“So you wanted to take me out like on a date , not out like sleeping with the fishes?”

The look of affront on Bucky's face is almost comical.

“Course not, been wanting to ask you out for weeks, didn't know how though, what with you running away as soon as you saw me…”

Tony has to look away, feeling embarrassed and relieved in equal measure.

“Yeah, about that, funny story…”