“Hold up,” Bucky raised a hand, grinning. “You’re telling me you’ve never gotten a gilded invitation?”
Tony sighed dramatically. “Nope,” he confirmed. “Maybe Howard or Maria did, but I live in the age of technology, darling. We send emails.”
“Damn,” Bucky said, scribbling on his paper.
“Did I just make you lose Rich People Bingo?” Tony asked innocently, smiling like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. He leaned against Bucky, trying to peek at the English major’s paper.
Bucky scoffed. “I won that when you brought expensive wine to Steve’s party.”
“He said to bring something! I was being nice !” Tony hissed, flailing and falling further into Bucky’s lap.
Bucky valiantly fought the blush back at having a lapful of happy genius. “Beer or snacks, doll,” he said, running his fingers through Tony’s hair. “Not thirty year-old wine that we had to drink out of Solo cups.”
“I happen to think wine tastes better when paired with plastic,” Tony sniffed indignantly.
“That’s because you’re crazy.”
“I prefer eccentric ,” Tony preened.
“Oh, would you look at that,” Bucky flipped over his page to show Tony a hastily drawn bingo board. “ Rich person calls themselves eccentric instead of crazy. I have bingo!”
“You’re the worst person I’ve ever met.”
“You said that to Pepper yesterday when she wouldn’t let you copy her Lit notes,” Bucky countered. “And Rhodey the day before when he took away your coffee. And Steve-”
“Worst. Person. Ever .”
After that, Tony had forgotten the entire conversation. It wasn’t uncommon for him and Bucky to mock Tony’s wealth and classy upbringing; it was how they originally became friends, Bucky teasing Tony about being kicked out of finishing school for his terrible manners and Tony acting like a full-on gentleman with Bucky for a week.
(Tony’s manners, learned at Jarvis’s knee rather than at any school, were a thing to behold if he cared to show them.)
He remembered it when he walked into the dorm room that he shared with Rhodey to see an unassuming red envelope on his bed. He shook his head fondly when he saw the gilded edges, knowing exactly who put it there. Tony pulled the letter out, careful not to tear the envelope more than he had to.
He laughed when the paper itself was just as ostentatious as the envelope. It was red and gold, his favorite colors (which Bucky well knew), written in Bucky’s careful cursive.
My dearest, Tony, it read. Please join me tonight at Peggy’s at eight pm. Dress nicely.
Tony was confused. Normally, Bucky just sent him texts for parties. Peggy’s was his favorite Italian restaurant and a little classier than their usual bars. Maybe they were celebrating something? The dress nicely confused him, because Bucky always got a weird look on his face when Tony wore dress shirts or suits.
The actual text of the invitation was puzzling. There was almost no information except a where and when. Bucky normally gave Tony a list of who and what to expect so they could gossip. And then...
There was a comma, after dearest.
It changed the meaning of the sentence. Instead of being just another descriptor, suddenly, Tony was Bucky’s dearest . The comma brought their usual flirting to a whole new level, to something more serious than it had been. They did pet names all the time; Tony handed out darling s like candy and Bucky was particularly fond of calling him doll . But here, with the comma, Bucky was essentially saying, you are my dearest, Tony.
Bucky was an English major. There was no way he didn’t know what he was saying or that he threw in the comma by accident. Half of his classes were analysing punctuation, for god’s sake!
Tony was definitely not freaking out. Was this another one of Bucky’s jokes? Tony had been so sure that his crush was hidden. Even Nat hadn’t noticed, and she was basically a spy. Only Pepper and Rhodey knew, and they had both been sworn to secrecy under threat of digital annihilation (what was Tony’s genius good for if not hacking things to make life inconvenient?).
A small part of Tony wondered if maybe his crush was reciprocated, but the rest of him shoved that hope back into the dark recesses of his mind where it belonged.
Tony decided to do what he always did when he was having a crisis; call Pepper.
“It’s Tony,” he said as soon as she picked up. Pepper, as organized as she was, always forgot to check caller ID. As a result, she ended up ranting to the wrong people fairly often.
She sighed loudly. “What did he do this time?”
“No, it’s me, Tony.”
“Oh god, what did you do this time?” Pepper’s voice was muffled like she had her face in her hands (Tony was scarily good at guessing, or just very used to her various disappointed noises).
“It’s not me!” he defended immediately. “It’s Bucky!”
“Did he finally make a move?” she asked.
Tony groaned. “I don’t know . He left an invitation- an honest to god gilded invitation- on my bed,” he said. “Say, did you get an invitation, too?” Pepper and Bucky ran in the same circles (namely, Tony’s) and had been known to hang out and gossip about Tony. She was at most of Bucky’s parties, too, so it seemed logical that she would get an invite to whatever the hell Bucky was doing that night.
“No,” she said. “Invitation to what?”
“Something at Peggy’s tonight,” Tony replied anxiously. “There are, like, no details. This could be a kidnapping, Pep. Buky could be planning to kidnap and murder me.”
“He could be .”
“It sounds like a date,” Pepper pointed out. “Didn’t he tell you to dress nice?”
“Yeah…” Tony trailed off. “Wait. How did you know that?”
“Oops,” Pepper swore softly. “I have shitty reception here, you’re breaking up. Bye!’
“I designed your phone so that wouldn’t happen!” he shouted, only to be cut off by the dial tone. “Fuck.”
He was even more lost after talking to his best friend. Pepper seemed to know what was going on but she wasn’t telling him anything. Tony tried not to get his hopes up, he really did, but his mind couldn’t help but to snag on Pepper’s words.
It sounds like a date.
Tony was hoping she was right. He didn’t think he could handle it if Bucky was just messing with him.
He has Pepper’s approval, he reasoned. And Pepper only likes seeing you suffer on every alternate Thursday.
Tony flopped on his bed, careful not to crush the expensive paper that Bucky had given him. Why were people so complicated ?
At seven, Tony was staring in the mirror, trying to get his hair to lie flat. Tufts of it stuck up everywhere, a testament to the amount of times he ran his hands through it while thinking. It was a futile task; only Pepper had been known to wrestle his hair into submission and that was because his hair was as scared of her as the rest of him.
He abandoned the useless comb, tugging at his dress shirt instead.
“Does this tie match?” Tony asked, looking down. “Because I feel like it doesn’t match.” He was wearing a red and gold one that Bucky had gotten him when Tony had gotten his first degree.
Rhodey threw a paper ball at him from where he was laying on Tony’s bed. “You look fine, stop stressing.”
“I can’t,” Tony whined. “Stressing is literally my entire skillset. I can’t not stress.”
“You’re the worst friend,” Tony undid his tie. “I think I’m overdressed.”
“Barnes will definitely think so, yes,” Rhodey grinned, unrepentant. “He’d probably prefer you minus the shirt, pants, and-”
Tony threw his tie with stunning accuracy, hitting Rhodey in the face with it. “Shut up,” he hissed, face burning. “It’s probably just a party for Steve, or something.”
Rhodey shrugged, carefully nonchalant. “Maybe.”
“What do you know?” Tony narrowed his eyes at him. “Rhodey, tell me right now.”
“I know nothing,” he said, clearly lying. Tony knew Rhodey, though, and he knew how stubborn the other boy could be. He wasn’t getting anything out of Rhodey that Rhodey didn’t want to share.
Tony groaned, grabbing a random tie from his closet. “Should I even wear a tie?”
Rhodey looked at the one in his hand. It was modeled after Bucky’s prosthetic, with a large red star on it. Tony had had it made to wear to Bucky’s graduation, the first ceremony after he had gotten his prosthetic, as a show of support. “Wear that one,” he said decisively. “And go back to his place tonight. I have a test tomorrow and I don’t need you two keeping me up.”
“Rhodey!” Tony’s face was flaming as he tried in vain one more time to fix his hair.
“I speak only the truth,” Rhodey replied sagely. “Now get out, you’re going to be late.”
“Fuck me, you’re right,” Tony grimaced, straightening his shirt as he ran out the door.
“That’s Barnes’s job!” Rhodey called as he left.
Tony walked to Peggy’s with anxiety churning in his gut. What if he had misread the situation? The invitation was nothing more than Bucky mocking Tony’s money, like usual. The dinner was probably just a party with close friends, which was why Bucky didn’t invite Rhodey or Pepper. Suddenly, Tony felt overdressed, trapped in the starched collar and tie. Ever a Stark, though, he shoved the panic and fear to the darkest corner of his mind a summoned a cocky smile. If Bucky was throwing a party, then he’d get a Tony Stark who belonged at one.
At eight on the dot, Tony pushed open the glass doors to the restaurant, greeting Darcy at the counter with a smile.
“Hey , Darce,” he smiled, but it felt flimsy on his face. “Bucky told me to meet him, is he here yet?”
Darcy nodded. “Yeah, he’s in the garden. Table four.”
“Thanks,” said Tony, making his way through the restaurant. The garden was the backyard, basically, decorated with fairy lights and flowers everywhere. The tables were bigger, too, which is why Tony figured Bucky picked it. He looked for Steve at Bucky’s side to say hello, trying to think of excuses to leave early.
Bucky saw him first. “Hey, Tones,” he greeted, pulling out a chair for Tony to sit at one of the smaller tables. Bucky sat down across from him. Tony noticed that there were no other chairs.
“Hi,” Tony couldn’t help but to notice how the fairy lights played off of the angles of Bucky’s face. The other boy had dressed up, too, making him look more striking than usual. Tony fought down a blush. “What’s up?”
Bucky blinked in surprise. “Huh,” he said. “Pepper said you’d be oblivious, but I thought Rhodes would set you straight.” He smiled fondly. “This is a date, if you want it to be.”
“Um…” Tony said intelligently, mouth gaping like a fish. “I knew Pepper was in on this, that liar!”
“I had to get her blessing,” Bucky chuckled. “I’m old-fashioned like that.”
“I don’t… why?” Tony was at a complete loss.
For the first time, uncertainty started to show on Bucky’s face. “You’re a genius, you can figure it out,” he said. “It’s because I like you, doll.”
“Oh,” said Tony softly. Then he smiled. “I like you, too.”
The relief was evident in Bucky. “Good,” he said. “Because this is totally a date.”
“I definitely guessed that?” Tony grinned ruefully, tapping his fingers absently against the table. “Because I am a genius and miss nothing?”
“You missed the comma on the invitation, clearly,” Bucky pointed out. “I’m an English major, i don’t mix up my commas.”
“I thought it was a friendly comma!” Tony squawked, indignant. “Those exist!”
Bucky looked up to the sky, like he was praying for strength. “Why am I attracted to you?” He coupled his teasing with a wink and a smirk to make it clear he was joking. Tony’s heart fluttered with the thoughtfulness of the simple gesture.
“No takesies-backsies,” Tony singsonged, leaning across the table to kiss Bucky softly. “You said you liked me, your mistake.”
Bucky made a noise low in his throat and dragged Tony by the tie for a deeper kiss. When he finally pulled away, his pupils were blown. “No take-backs,” he agreed. “Shall we eat?”
The next day, Pepper and Rhodey both had thank you notes pinned to their dorm room doors, on Bucky’s paper with Tony’s handwriting.
(Pepper saved hers to display fondly at their wedding years later, taking full credit for getting the couple together, Rhodey having lost his years ago and unable to contest her claim.)