If anyone asked, it was because of the sleep deprivation.
Which wouldn’t be out of left field because a large number of things Tony did was because of it – Why did he make the toaster sentiment? Why did he have a Hello Kitty themed Iron Man suit? Why was Harley the proud owner of a thriving potato farm? Why did he buy Peter Netflix when the kid quite obviously meant he wanted an account and not the fucking company? Why did Pepper suddenly own the largest chocolate factory in the Northern hemisphere? Why did Rhodey have a platypus conservation and research site named after him? Why did he allow the Rogues to come back and live in the Compound?
Because he was sleep deprived.
The last was certainly more complicated than that.
Pepper would honestly rather shoot the Rogues into space than let them anywhere near Tony, but even her power was limited when faced with the UN and the Accords council.
Saying the Rogues were gigantic, ungrateful douchebags wasn’t exactly a good enough reason to make the Rogues someone else’s problem. Especially since Tony was a founding member of the New Avengers, and was realistically, the only one besides King T’Challa with the means to contain them the Rogues if necessary.
Tony was sure that if he were more conscious he’d be able to argue guardianship but of course, both the cause and effect of the Rogues’ return were the same: sleep deprivation.
Tony would also like to blame his upbringing for being a helping hand on what transpired after.
While Howard was cold, calculating and uncaring, Maria, deprived of her large Italian family since her move to Stark Manor, showered Tony with all the affection she couldn’t share with them.
Kissing was as natural as breathing – and when you can’t even sleep right, breathing is all Tony’s got.
Barnes had been in the kitchen, minding his own business as he stared forlornly ahead at nothing.
Tony had stumbled in, bleary-eyed.
He probably looked a lot worse than he felt because his ungraceful entrance was enough to garner Barnes’ attention, even if it was limited to watching him closely from the corner of his eye.
Tony had been too tired to care.
Grappling with a mug – why were they on the higher shelf, who moved them? – Barnes was kind enough to turn the kettle on, and while Tony waited for the water to heat, he plopped down on the other end of the counter, resolving to start making his coffee once the water was done heating. He’d just…rest his eyes for a…second.
According to Friday, he’d been out twenty minutes, and Barnes – Barnes was filling his mug and then sliding it across the distance between them before reaching for his own to sip.
While Tony had needed coffee, the soothing aroma of the black forest blend was probably a healthier alternative.
Bruce made it for him all the time too, like a heathen. Tony wasn’t even surprised that his fellow scientist managed to get Barnes doing it too – the two of them got along quite well if all the meditation and tea drinking they did was any indication.
Tony snorted to himself, picturing Barnes in full Winter Soldier regalia and the Hulk doing sun salutes on the lawn. Shaking his head and having already wasted enough time with his impromptu nap, Tony didn’t bother to question it and simply took his mug to leave.
Though not before thanking Barnes – and seriously, if there was a third culprit to this mess, it was that Tony could be too fucking polite, and when he’s sleep deprived, the boundaries of social boundaries are lost on him.
Hence why he brushes his lips against Barnes’ temple and murmurs his thanks in Italian like his Mama taught him, before drifting away, mug in hand.
Tony doesn’t notice that Barnes doesn’t move, doesn’t notice that the man’s cheeks pink up, doesn’t even register the little sigh that he shakily releases as Tony exits. Tony doesn’t realize any of these things are happening so of course, he doesn’t really notice when Barnes is suddenly everywhere.
Tony doesn’t pay it much attention at first because Barnes tends to do that – ever since he’d been defrosted in Bruce’s lab, Barnes tended to just appear.
It was likely the result of his training, though Tony wouldn’t put it past Barnes to have a deep aversion to being noticed.
Being under Rogers’ excessive attention was pretty suffocating. Hell, even knowing that Rogers was paying Tony any attention at all was enough for the engineer to feel an itch beneath his skin, and a belated sense of panic rising unbidden in his chest.
Either way, Tony only starts noticing he’s being shadowed around the same time everyone else does.
As usual, Tony’s too exhausted to really think about what “team dinner” entails anymore, especially since it looks like a cafeteria potluck: ordering an assortment of takeout food, picking off what you ordered from the large dining table and retreating to the little groups that made up, what amounted to, social cliques.
With Rhodey, Carol and Hope on business, Bruce still holed up in his lab on the verge of a breakthrough with one of his experiments, and the kids with their families for the night, Tony was content to take his order of Pad Thai and eat someplace else. Like the protagonist in every high school movie ever.
Having Barton pull kindergarten bully moves and attempt to take – and presumably, dump – Tony’s meal solidified the metaphor nicely. Fortunately, Tony was long past caring particularly about Barton’s childish antics and was already deciding whether he wanted to order spring rolls with his next delivery.
While he hadn’t slept since yesterday, Tony had a steady diet of smoothies to keep him going. He didn’t mind having to wait for a solid meal if necessary.
He had learned early that reacting to the Rogues’ bad behavior was akin to encouraging it, and his quick brain was already planning on leaving the room with a sniff of disdain and a signal to Friday to order another round, with the delivery going straight to his quarters.
But having that ordeal avoided entirely was a surprise, as was the cause.
Barnes had all but growled at Barton, and the archer dropped Tony’s food back on the table like he’d been physically compelled.
The Rogues were wide-eyed, and Rogers’ tentative, “Bucky?” was ignored in favor of nudging his chin towards the abandoned take-out Pad Thai for Tony to take.
Not the type to look a gift horse in the mouth, Tony perked up and accepted his meal as being undisturbed and turned to leave, but paused to brush his lips against Barnes’ cheek in thanks.
He caught the split-second flash of hurt on Romanova’s face when he didn’t repeat the sentiment with his guarded drink, and only choose to nod in acknowledgment.
Even sleep deprived, Tony was still angry enough at her not to accept her attempt at a return to the status quo.
Once upon a time, he’d been just as affectionate with all of them, and from the kicked puppy expression on Rogers’ face, he was only now realizing that they could play at being family all they wanted, but Tony had no intention of being cast in their farce.
Barnes, on the other hand, had done his time plenty.
And as Rogers liked to remind him, it wasn’t Bucky that killed your parents.
So maybe from that moment on, it becomes less the sleep deprivation’s fault and more the result of Tony being a petty asshole who adopts brainwashed, socially awkward super assassins.
He passes kisses along like he usually does when he arrives in the common kitchen on Thursday – Bruce stutters like usual, Rhodey extravagantly returns the bit of affection, Pepper absently returns the kiss before continuing her phone-call, Hope swats him on the ass in retaliation and Barnes stills completely.
If his friends notice that Barnes is suddenly included in the routine, they only give him a look, but nonetheless, say nothing on the matter.
After practically a lifetime, Barnes reanimates enough to take a sip of his tea, and when Tony plops down next to him, Barnes’ brow twitches in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it look of bemusement.
Rogers and Romanova do not share that sentiment.
It continues like that for a week.
Whenever Tony’s doling out kisses – whether it’s to say hello or goodnight or thank you – Barnes is always included, and sometimes, is the only one in the room to get it.
As of yet, Barnes hasn’t expressed any discomfort about it, though he did overhear Barnes asking Bruce whether Tony considers it normal to which Tony’s science-bro nodded. “Oh yeah, Tony’s real affectionate. It just means he likes you.”
And honestly – Bruce is right.
Their history aside, Tony likes Barnes.
He likes the way the other man is honest about himself; about how the night terrors keep him up, how he drinks tea to make himself feel better, how he talks to Bruce and Friday when he needs help. Tony likes the way Barnes looks at the world around him – cautious and wary, but openly in awe. Tony likes that Barnes says thank you, in his own way, and keeps the Rogues in line when Tony doesn’t have the energy to deal with them.
Tony likes Barnes, and while there doesn’t need to be a precursor to that sentiment, there is one already: he trusts the resident super assassin.
Which is probably why Tony doesn’t realize that he didn’t enter the elevator alone after returning from a mission until something hurtles towards him through the open elevator doors, and it’s Barnes that catches it right before it can smash through Tony's skull.
Tony’s gotten so used to Barnes being with him that he just instinctively trusts that Barnes will protect him.
Tony only has enough time to pick his jaw up from that realization, when, from deeper in the workshop, Peter and Harley shout in unison, “It wasn’t me!”
There’s some considerable damage in the workshop, reminding Tony of when he first started testing the Iron Man suit.
The boys, however, don’t look guilty about it.
Apparently, there was an attempted breech into his sanctuary and while whoever it was wasn’t able to infiltrate, wires were crossed, and DUM-E had reacted badly and went on a bit on a rampage that was only stopped by the two teenagers while Friday hunted down the source.
“I’ll take care of it,” Tony dismisses them. “You two alright?”
“Fine,” Harley answers while Peter insists, “We can help!”
“Nah, I think that’s enough excitement for now. Thanks, though, Dum-Dum and I are in your debt,” Tony informs with a wink, curling his hands around the back of their necks and pulling them in for a combined hello-thankyou-I’m-sorry-you-almost-got-hurt smooch on the cheeks. Harley makes exaggerated expressions of disgust, but Peter hums at the familiarity, noticing Barnes still lingering nearby.
“Mr. Barnes, sir, that was amazing! You’ve got really fast reflexes, huh? Thanks for protecting Mr. Stark!”
“Yeah, thanks,” Harley adds, arms crossed, and brows knitted together in a glare.
Tony cuffs the teenager on the back of the head. “Hey, come on, it’s fine, Barnes’ fine. Bring it in Tin Man, you know the drill.”
Obediently, Barnes steps forward, even supporting Tony as he reaches up on tiptoe to plant one on the apple of the soldier’s cheek.
Harley rolls his eyes. “We’ll head upstairs if you’re gonna insist on fixing this mess on your own.”
“Go,” Tony waves off. “Good night.”
“Night,” Peter echoes, bounding back to kiss Tony’s cheek and then turning to Barnes patiently.
The other man seemed momentarily confused and looked at Tony for direction to which the engineer only wiggled his brows. With a soft sigh, Barnes tilted his head and Peter bounded forward to repeat the sentiment, looking overly pleased with himself before he followed Harley out of the workshop.
“Better get to it then,” Tony huffed, taking stock of the damage, and was pleased to note that the workshop wasn’t completely turned upside down. Though damn it, whoever it was that tried to hack into his system had gotten pretty close – and to mess with DUM-E on top of that? Now, that just wouldn’t do. God, he hoped he didn't pass out while Friday ran diagnostics -
“I…I thought you were the only one…who…”
“Who – what?” Tony asked, trying to untangle the mental threads his mind was taking to upgrade the security protocol to the Compound, and zone back into the present where Barnes was frowning.
“Ah,” he said in realization, “don’t worry about it. Kid didn’t grow up with a big Italian family either so he’s a bit deprived, gets a little greedy. He just recently got the cahonas to plant one on Rhodey and Happy, Pepper and Carol still scare him though which I’m not surprised by, and I think he’s a bit afraid that Hope will put him in her pocket.” Tony shook his head. “Since you’re around me a lot, I guess he figured he could include you too, hope you don’t mind.”
“No…no, it was good.” That blush was back, and Tony chuckled, patting him on the arm before continuing to set aside some of the damage in the workshop.
Shifting on his feet, eyes flickering from him to the exit, Barnes struggled, “Could I…you?”
“Huh? Oh…oh!” Tony chuckled, biting back his own yawn. “Heading to bed then, no worries, I’ve got this.”
Before Tony could reach over to plant the customary good-night cheek kisses, Barnes stopped him. “I mean…can I…you?”
With his brows were furrowed in concentration and his lower lip caught between his teeth in hesitation, Tony was momentarily distracted before he finally put two and two together and, “Wha…oh! Oh yeah, sure!”
What Tony was expecting was a cheek kiss, and considering how nervous Barnes was, Tony had no reason to expect otherwise.
Right until Barnes cupped his face and gently tugged him forward, his slightly swollen bottom lip brushing wetly against Tony’s and dragging out his with the gentle scrape of teeth as he pulled away.
Tony blinked – not remembering when he closed his eyes and zeroing in on how pink Barnes’ cheeks looked and how obscenely red his mouth appeared. He swallowed, blinking rapidly in an attempt to speed up his brain's sudden blue screen. “So…uh, that…that wasn’t a friendly kiss…”
“No…not it wasn’t. Was that ok-”
Tony dragged him forward by the shirt.
He really wasn’t all that tired anyway.