Tony knew-- he did, he knew-- that the feeling of vines taking root in his lungs was psychosomatic and that he couldn't actually feel it because according to Doctor Cho that wasn't what was happening, but that didn't help the petals clogging his throat and choking the air from his passageway. This, he decided-- not for the first time-- was the worst alien fuck-up to ever happen to him.
Seriously what kind of weird ass fungus was this? And it sure as hell did not help that the natives to the planet claimed it was from the feeling of unrequited love. Tony had nodded along peacefully as they explained that there was nothing they could do and they were very sorry for his discomfort but it wouldn't kill him or otherwise permanently damage his system. They gave him whatever the Famoral equivalent was for a pat on the head, and sent The Avenger on its way, with an open invitation to come back anytime they desired.
Steve was a good Captain, so he'd smiled and told them of course and thank you, and then he stomped onto the ship and told Clint to get them the hell out of there and sent Tony to the med-bay. Doctor Cho did tests and scans and eventually told him-- with a very frustrated air-- that she couldn't do anything to help him yet.
That had been weeks ago. So Tony now knew tricks like not trying to swallow it down and to avoid touching Bucky too much because that only made it worse, and that he could sleep through the night if he went to sleep with extra oxygen being fed into his respiratory system. He probably could have walked around with the oxygen all the time, but the warp core didn't have a good reaction to pressurized containers, and like hell he was going to wait until this went away to step foot back in his engine room.
"Lieutenant Stark?" came Bucky's voice from behind him, and Tony jumped in surprise, hitting his head and biting back a curse.
He was already laid out in the Jeffries Tube, so he let his head fall forward onto the makeshift floor. "Can I help you Commander?" he asked, hand covering his head where the bump would appear later today.
"Captain wants to know when we'll be able to go to warp eight," he said, a hint of an apology in his voice.
Tony huffed and scooted around, crawling back into the engine room. It occurred to him now that he was already halfway out, that he should have told Bucky to go away, he was busy with repairs. "I already told him that I can't do that without a new vibranium spanner since he decided to use mine as a makeshift weapon."
Bucky offered him a hand up, and Tony took it without thinking. "He did save the ship."
"At the expense of a very important tool that we can't just replicate. Maybe next time he'll use a self-sealing stembolt and save me the trouble." Belatedly, he took his hand out of Bucky's, but he did it quickly, guiltily, causing Bucky to give a small frown, brow creasing. "Anyways," he said, adopting an airy tone and running a diagnostic on the system he hadn't had a chance to actually fix yet since Bucky interrupted him, "tell him that unless he has the replacement tool for me, I can't do anything for him, and that's final."
"I will." He made an aborted step to leave, then stopped, chewing on his lip as he turned back to Tony. "Are you okay Tony?"
"Yeah?" Tony said, confused.
"I meant with the..." Bucky motioned vaguely to his own throat, "Hanahaki disease."
"Oh." Tony looked at the console again, pretending that he was studying the results of the diagnostic. "It's fine."
"I know it's personal, but have you tried talking to whoever it is?"
"They're not interested," Tony said flatly, trying to convey that he wanted the conversation over.
Bucky either didn't hear his tone or chose to ignore it. "If you haven't talked to them how do you know for sure? You're amazing Tony, I think that if you-"
"Stop," Tony said thickly, trying to keep down the petals that felt like they were crawling up his throat like Vulcan sand spiders. "If I thought there was a chance, I'd tell them. But there isn't, so I don't." It's not like he thought Bucky hated him or something, but their relationship was pretty firmly in 'friend' territory. Bucky was a Klingon warrior, and Tony was, well, puny in comparison. He'd met Bucky's last boyfriend, and was pretty sure that if Bucky ever kissed Tony he'd accidentally be broken in half. That ex? He was easily twice as big as Tony, four times as strong, and twenty percent more attractive, objectively speaking. That wasn't enough by itself, but Tony had seen Bucky flirt, and he'd seen the people that Bucky took to bed when on shore leave, and he knew that the way Bucky treated him was nowhere near the way he acted when he was actually interested in someone.
Bucky stared at him a minute longer. "If you're sure," he said. Then, "I'm off duty at nineteen hundred, did you want to go to the holosuite? I got that lounge singer program in."
"I already have plans with Rhodey, but thanks. Maybe some other time." It was a clear brush off, and Bucky knew it.
He nodded, then left without another word, and Tony ran an aggravated hand through his hair. He had no such plans with Rhodey, so he should give him a heads up in case Bucky mentioned something. That was his plan, but then Peter-- an enthusiastic engineering cadet-- came up to him with a question about the way Tony had modified their warp engine and Tony forgot all about his idea to talk to Rhodey until hours later when he was grabbing a bite to eat in the mess hall and saw him on a date with Major Danvers. Even that wasn't enough, except he saw Bucky sitting a few tables away.
Bucky moved like he was going to get to his feet, so Tony decided in that split second that he could eat in his quarters and got the hell out of there. He had decidedly not expected for Bucky to follow him, so it was a surprise when he caught Tony's arm before he got halfway down the corridor.
Neither of them said anything for a minute, and Bucky slowly let go of his arm when it looked like he wouldn't run away again. "Just tell me. Did he blow you off for that date, or did you lie to me about having plans?"
It didn't sound great to admit the truth, so Tony said nothing.
"It's Rhodes isn't it. The person you don't think you stand a chance with."
Tony knew he should say something, but he was tired and his chest hurt, so he just sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Did you tell him? You're best friends, sometimes it's easy to fall in love with someone you know that well."
Tony couldn't help it; he snorted. "Yeah? You wanna fall in love with me Bucky?" He looked up at him, dropping his hand back to his side. "You keep talking about how great I am, and we are friends." He'd meant it mockingly, but towards himself, not Bucky.
The way Bucky immediately flushed in shame though, that kinda showed that they weren't on the same page. He swallowed and averted his eyes, backing up a few steps so they weren't in the same space anymore.
"Sorry," Bucky mumbled. "I only meant-" he stopped and cleared his throat, looking down the empty corridor.
Did Bucky... like him? Everything about him was screaming that he did, and that was dangerous because Tony's heart was raising in hope. The familiar clogging of flower petals in his chest lightened, but he barely noticed, too busy staring at Bucky. "Do you- Bucky do you like me?"
He gave a tight shrug. "I thought it was pretty obvious. Everyone else seems to know. Steve kept giving me assignments to talk to you when he could've just used the comm system to ask you himself, hoping I'd- I dunno, confess or something. As if you didn't already know."
Bucky's eyes shot to him, and he looked a good few seconds from panicking.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Tony said, stepping closer, arms loose and nonthreatening by his side. "We could have avoided all this, not to mention I could've been getting laid for god knows how long."
"Uh, you sure you're okay?" He placed the back of his hand on Tony's forehead, which was patently unfair.
"What so you're allowed to tell me you like me but I'm not allowed to say it back? What Klingon bullshit is this?"
"It's not Klingon," Bucky said rolling his eyes and dropping his hand.
"Ah so it's bullshit specific to you, great."
"I find it hard to believe you didn't know."
"I'm not exactly your type."
"And how did reach that misguided conclusion?"
"The magic of sight," Tony said drily, turning to the side to cough. It felt like something was dislodging, and that was supremely unpleasant. "I've seen the people you hook up with."
"Yeah, and I've seen the people you hook up with."
They both stared at each other, neither of them willing to concede to the other even though they were working towards the same goal. Now that he thought about it, Tony said, "Why are we arguing?"
"I think because we don't believe each other."
"That's ridiculous." He coughed again. "Let's go to the holosuite if one's open. Is this the program with the dancers?"
"Should be. Strange said I'd love it." They were about to start walking, but Bucky paused. "Is this a date?"
"That's what I was going for."
"And me being in love with you doesn't scare you away?"
"You didn't say anything about being in love with me."
"Yeah I did."
Tony meant to say that he most certainly did not, but what happened instead was that he turned to the side-- with someone that felt very much like retching-- and proceeded to spill an entire bouquet's worth of flower petals on the bulkhead.
"Are you okay?" Bucky asked, eyes wide with worry as he placed a tentative hand on Tony's back.
Tony coughed so hard it scraped against his windpipe, and he could tell that the Hanahaki Disease was gone. Just like that. A love confession, a little flower vomit, and it was gone. He wasn't complaining, but this was the weirdest first contact experience he'd had in years. "Never better," he said honestly, turning back to Bucky with a wide smile. "Let me uh clean this up and then we can go."
"You're not allowed to back out now Commander, you're stuck with me until I at least get a kiss out of you."
Bucky swooped down and gave him a kiss. "Do I get another kiss now that it's not required?"
"It was never required, it was just preferred."
"Sure Lieutenant," Bucky drawled. “Whatever you say.”