Tony is not unfamiliar with the weight of his many momentous errors in judgment, but this one is entirely different. While he’s generously compensated for the life he’d lived as a careless, naïve, rich boy, paying in blood and tears and enough issues to give an entire team of therapists daily meltdowns; clarity and an earnest desire to do better does not mean that the universe is done fucking with him. On the contrary.
Instead of giving Tony a break by either forcibly putting him on the bench or giving him a high-five on his way out the door, the universe saw fit to return the Rogues to him, and more notably, the Winter Soldier.
The Winter Soldier who is, bafflingly enough, fascinated by Tony.
Or intent on killing him.
Tony still hasn’t decided.
Either way, he isn’t scared.
He’s not, and as both Pepper and Rhodey have pointed out, that’s a fucking problem.
His self-preservation is at zero. All hope is lost.
His worst nightmare is on the horizon and he’s so fucking done. Tony's been stepped on, taken advantage of, belittled, betrayed and abandoned by “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, and he’s expected to play nice? Fuck that. He’s got five years to prepare for a showdown with a Titan and not enough shits to give if he fails and ends up stuck in space with ash on his tongue. If he can’t stop the latter from happening, then he’s going to live his life as if he has a no-coming-back expiration date and do whatever the fuck he wants.
Carol will probably yell at him, but he gets to feel this, he gets to do this: no one is allowed to tell him if what he's gone through matters or not in the grand scheme of things because it matters to him.
After decades of having his needs and pain spat on, Tony gets this: He’s got five years. Five. He’s going to make it count.
Sure, he’s still going to put everything he has left to give to change the outcome: he’s still going to make reparations and mend bridges with the countries the Avengers have burned, create things to deal with the problems of today, and help anyone that asks for it, but Tony is not a goddamn saint. He takes a feral amount of pleasure in Barton’s indignation, in the looks of condescending disappointment from Romanoff, in the way Rogers looks like he’s going to die of an aneurysm any day now, in the hateful scowls and swirls of spite that radiate around the Witch like a bad smell. See if he cares!
And then because the universe could not give him a goddamn break – he does.
It’s an unwilling thing and all Barnes’ fault.
The Winter Soldier’s staring problem has raised some concerns, as previously mentioned.
While he isn’t the Bucky of Before, he’s still Bucky, as Rogers often insists. And yes, even Tony will admit that with the haircut, the Winter Soldier went from Gucci Jesus to 40s Hunk in a heartbeat, but that didn’t mean he was the Bucky Rogers recognizes.
Barnes stalks around the Compound, blank-faced, and mostly motionless when he finally decides to stop his prowling and stands still in the corner. He doesn’t talk much, if at all, and even then, it’s to mutter in Russian which – fun fact, is the fastest way to break Rogers’ heart. And if it isn’t either of those things, it’s the staring.
Tony’s aware he’s a good-looking guy, but the level Barnes stares at him is just plain impolite.
But Tony’s dealt with worse – lives with worse – so he rubs it in, makes it worth the constant scrutiny:
He’s practically walking the runway with his favorite suits, his tightest jeans, his most worn-out shirts, and tank tops whenever he deigns to make an appearance. What does he care? It’s his house. He’s shown up to meetings looking so good even the Witch double-takes.
And what does Tony care that his flight suit is on the tight side, so’s his ass; if you got it, flaunt it.
And if Barnes looks outright murderous on a good day, Tony assumes it’s just a job well done, and even adds a little roll in his hips for fun.
There’s even a bend-and-snap situation he takes way too much fun in. Tony thinks he hears Barnes’ teeth grind.
Though, all this isn’t to say that Tony puts in any kind of particular effort to look good. When you’ve got an excellent tailor and keep in relatively good shape for a guy almost rounding fifty, the result is Tony Stark: totally casual in his three-piece navy suit with a polka dot tie and a pocket square with a cartoon cat giving people the finger.
He ignores the attempt at conversation by Romanoff at the table as he cradles a cup of coffee as he sits in on a meeting through his Stark-glasses, and pretends he can’t see Barnes standing just outside his field of vision, watching with laser focus, every twitch in Tony’s expression. Tony doesn’t give Barnes an inch, even when the conversation he’s sitting on goes side-ways and T’Challa’s upbringing of foreign diplomacy fails; Tony doesn’t do anything more than take a sip of coffee. Running his tongue along his lower lip as Tony mentally considers solutions, he absently notes that Barnes seems to have stiffened even more.
Good. I don’t know what I did, but good.
What is not good, however, is when Tony gets sick a few days later.
It’s nothing but a ridiculous cold, the only move by Barton to sufficiently annoy him because Tony knows it's his fucking fault.
But Tony’s head is too stuffed, eyes too watery and throat too dry that he can’t do anything about it – except maybe spread it to the other occupants of the Compound.
The kids aren’t due for training for another two weeks, Rhodey’s overseas with Carol, Pepper has meetings around the country; it’s enough time. Plus, Bruce is immune. He’ll hate that everyone’s sneezing, like the germaphobe he is, but Tony’s thrown down with the Hulk before, he’s not too worried if Brucie gets pissy.
Unfortunately, that plan does not go the way he expects it to because Barnes’ constant Murder Face floating around Tony’s general vicinity has meant the Rogues don’t go near him – or can’t, as the case may be.
It only takes thirty seconds for Tony to poke suspiciously at the soup Barnes has weirdly made and offered up, before he eats it. And if his annoying kitten-sneezes makes Barnes falter, Tony’s just going to assume for his own sake that it’s because Barnes doesn’t know how to treat Tony now that he knows Tony sneezes like a kitten. It’s not great, is what Tony means, but for the sake of his dignity, he’s going to pretend that Barnes is terrified.
When Tony gets better, however, Barnes is still lingering in Tony’s shadow.
At first, Tony thinks that he’s gained himself unasked for protection in his own home via the Winter Soldier, but Romanoff’s direct approach changes that perspective entirely: “Tony, I’m warning you, I think…I think Barnes wants to kill you.” And she probably knows this Bucky better than Rogers, so Tony rips the bandage off and asks him, “I give up if you’re going to kill me, can you make it quick?”
The Witch mutters hatefully from where she sits in the far side of the room, squished uncomfortably between Barton and a displeased Romanoff in the designated spot of the Rogues, who seem to have been relegated to a single loveseat in the entire communal floor.
Tony ignores her, and Rogers too when he attempts to intervene with, “Bucky would never -”
Bucky, on the other hand, only seems to be surprised by the directness of the question when he deigns to make a facial expression, English willingly coming out to baffle them further, “What makes you think I want to kill you?”
“You know – that face – the relentless threat of murder in your eyes – the whole, following me around the room and glaring so hard I can feel it searing through my clothes,” Tony points out, hiding his curiosity with well-practiced disinterest. “Although, considering how you’re in my home, where my family lives and everything electronic calls me father, it begs the question: How are you planning to kill me?”
Without missing a beat, Barnes drawls, “Ever heard of la petite morte?”