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Here With Me

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Tony had already sunk several hours into designing a miniature version of the helicarriers he’d created for Fury — this time they would be strictly for Avengers use only — by the time his Sunday afternoon was rudely interrupted.

For a moment, he ignored the angry screeches of the security system. He figured if it was a less-than-critical warning, JARVIS would handle it given a minute or two.

A few seconds after the alarms started to sound, Tony relented. His concentration was already broken thanks to the incessant blaring of two of the tower security alarms anyway.

“JARVIS, catch me up,” Tony demanded. He moved to the nearest computer and pulled up the feed of every security camera on the levels of the tower with Avengers-only access.

“The tower’s secure perimeter has been breached. A number of your security alarms have been tripped by an external threat. There is an unauthorized individual on the balcony.”

Tony paused momentarily because that shouldn’t be possible and there were a dozen redundancies and security measures to ensure that it could never happen. But he pulled up the balcony camera feed anyway. He stared at it, brow furrowed.

“There’s no one there, J.”

“I believe the visual feed has been tampered with.”

So this someone had the ability to mess with his security system. That wasn’t promising.

“For fuck’s sake.” Tony stood up and went for the suit. “I didn’t think it would be too much to ask for a quiet Sunday, but it looks like I was mistaken.” Tony rolled his eyes, despite there being no one around to appreciate his frustration or sassy commentary. “Is this going to be an all-hands-on-deck Avengers-type situation? Or is this something I can take care of on my own?”

JARVIS hesitated. That was never a good sign. Tony stood in a clear area and called the suit to him. The pieces began assembling around him as JARVIS responded.

“I’m inclined to believe you could hold your own against a single individual, sir, but I have no way of knowing whether this particular adversary is human, alien, or enhanced in some way.”

“Right.” Tony sighed. “Excellent.”

The final pieces of the suit slotted into place, and Tony flew to the back Iron Man exit he installed in the workshop a month after moving into the tower.

It only took him a few seconds to fly high enough to get a clear aerial view of the balcony.

“You’ve got to be shitting me.” Tony couldn’t believe it. “Is that who I think it is, JARVIS?”

“All compiled intelligence would suggest that is one James Buchanan Barnes, most commonly referred to in this century as the Winter Soldier.”

Okay. So Tony needed a new approach.

“He looped my camera footage, so he knew I was monitoring the balcony, but he obviously tripped the alarms intentionally,” Tony said, thinking aloud for JARVIS’ benefit. “I don’t think he’s coming in. I think he’s waiting for me to meet him.”

Tony flew back into the workshop and hesitated. He should call Steve. He should. But.

He ordered the suit back to its resting station.

“Sir, I do not think it is wise to address Mr. Barnes without the armor — ”

“It’s fine, J. I don’t think he’s here to hurt anyone.” Tony was about ninety percent sure of that.

“I still would not suggest — ”

“You might as well save it.”

“Captain Rogers would not approve,” JARVIS said in an apparent last-ditch effort.

“Steve doesn’t get to criticize how I address threats to the tower when he’s not home to help. Besides, it’s only Barnes. He hasn’t been hurting anyone but HYDRA agents in months.”

“Shall I reboot the cameras?” JARVIS asked, helpfully. “Then, if something goes awry, I can contact SHIELD.”

“Sure. Reboot the cameras. But I’m going out there to see what he wants.”

“Might I suggest bringing along the portable repulsor tech you spent so long developing?”

Tony thought about it for a second before snapping the repulsor-watch onto his wrist. If he needed it, at least he’d have some kind of protection. Plus, the watch doubled as a repulsor and an EMP, so it could theoretically put Barnes’ metal arm out of commission. That evened the odds a bit.

Not to mention it might keep Steve from killing Tony for being reckless about his own life.

“Call Pepper, J,” Tony said. “Let her know what’s about to go down.”

Again, this was a safety precaution mainly for appearance’s sake. Odds were that JARVIS would be more helpful if this came to a fight than Pepper. But it was good to have a human in the loop, Tony supposed.

With that, Tony marched up the stairs from the lab. 

When he reached the Avengers’ common floor, which was empty and had been for nearly a week now, Tony realized — not for the first time — how much he missed everyone.

Steve had been right to call what the Avengers experiment had become a family. His— no, their family. It’s what Tony always imagined a real family would feel like; sometimes it was even better. God, he missed them.

“Alright, J,” Tony said, standing at the back door. Barnes was still at the corner of the balcony, near the edge. He wasn’t close enough to call attention to himself from the street hundreds of feet below. Both hands, flesh and metal, were obviously and entirely exposed. “If I’m not back inside in thirty minutes call in the big guns.”

He pushed open the door to the balcony.

The wind this high was worse sometimes than others. Today was one of the rare days where there was only a light breeze and nothing more. It was quiet and still.

The setting didn’t match the conversation Tony was expecting at all.

“Stark,” Barnes said after a minute. He hadn’t moved his hands even an inch in a deliberate show of reassurance.

“You can relax, Barnes,” Tony said. “I’m not going to come after you.” He paused and when Barnes showed no signs of relaxing in the slightest, he decided to add, “But Steve isn’t here, if that’s who you’re looking for.”

Barnes’ mouth quirked up slightly in what Tony thought was the ghost of a smile.

“I know. I left him and Sam chasing a trail that’ll go cold in Kharkiv a week from now. Figure I can be back there before then if needed.”

Tony appraised Barnes silently. So. They’d been underestimating him. He’d been leading Sam and Steve across Europe for nearly two months straight, and clearly that remarkable feat hadn’t been the least bit difficult for him. No one had a shot at getting close to him unless he intended to be found. So that was… just great. Fantastic.

Barnes watched the realization play out on Tony’s face and smirked. It didn’t touch his eyes.

“Bucky Barnes,” he said with a slow, careful wave of his non-metal hand. “International assassin. And a pretty successful one at that.”

Tony raised an eyebrow in challenge.

“Tony Stark. Leading name in black-market arms deals.”

The smirk dropped off Barnes’ face immediately. He glared at Tony.

“Oh, sorry,” Tony said, voice laced with sarcasm. “I thought we were introducing ourselves with whatever horrible things we’ve been involved in without our consent.”

Barnes snorted at that, a little sound that could pass for a laugh if you’d been tortured and turned into a Nazi organization’s living weapon for several decades. He was smirking again even as he rolled his eyes. Tony thought that seemed like a good sign.

“Funny,” Barnes said. His gaze flickered to the balcony door behind Tony and along the glass windows for a moment. Scanning the perimeter, Tony realized. The smirk vanished along with any trace of amusement. Barnes took a deep breath. “I killed your parents.”

Tony nodded. “I know.”

Barnes’ eyebrows shot up in shock.

“I wasn’t sure you did,” Tony added. “You remember them?”

“I remember all of them.”

Tony looked Barnes over. His shoulders were tense, and the hollows beneath his eyes were the kind Tony recognized from his own history with sleeplessness. That all-consuming bone-deep exhaustion was painfully familiar. Barnes was leaning forward on his feet as if he were ready to run, but he’d also squared his shoulders in preparation for a fight.

“And Steve?” Tony asked. “You remember him?”

Barnes nodded slowly. Hesitantly. “His mom’s name was Sarah. He used to wear newspapers in his shoes.”

Tony laughed outright at that.

“Okay, wow. That’s just… fantastically embarrassing material I didn’t know I needed on Steve. Thank you for that.”

“Happy to help,” Barnes said, still tense.

“Come on.” Tony waved Barnes toward the tower entrance with one hand and ran his other hand through his hair. When Barnes didn’t move an inch, Tony sighed. “At ease, Sergeant,” Tony said, switching from ‘soldier’ to ‘sergeant’ at the last second. “I’m not going to fight you. And no one else is either. I’m the only one here.”

“I know that,” Barnes said, eyes scanning the empty Avengers floor behind Tony again.

“I know you know that. So you might as well come inside. There’s no reason for us to have this conversation out here. People get nosy sometimes.” Particularly when they know Steve’s out of town.

“Stark — ”

“Why don’t you just tell me why you’re here?” Tony tried again. “If you don’t want to come inside, I mean.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to come inside.”

“Okay, so…?”

“Steve wants me here. I know that,” Barnes said, carefully. “But… this is your home, Stark. I killed your parents. The least I can do is give you the chance to say you don’t want your parents’ murderer anywhere near you without forcing you to deal with Steve’s kicked-puppy face.”

Tony blinked in shock. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that. 

“Just say the word, and I’ll disappear. I’ll get Steve to stop looking for me. I’ll get him to come home. And you’ll never have to see me again.”

“You think you’ll be able to get him to stop looking for you?”

“I know I can.”

“Then you don’t know Steve.”

“Oh please,” Barnes rolled his eyes, looking truly perturbed for the first time since he’d arrived. “I know Steve. Know him well enough to know I could get him to come home to you. He loves you.”

“He— well, yes. But— ”

“Look, I know you have no reason to, but would you just trust me on this? I can get Steve to give up trying to bring me in.”

“Right, sure — ”

“It’s a pretty simple question, Stark. Do you want me out of your life?” Barnes stared at Tony evenly. “I’m not going to tell him it was you. He’ll never find out about this conversation.”

“Of course he will. I love him. I’m not going to lie to him about something like this. He loves you, too. I won’t ask him to choose between me and his best friend.”

“That’s why I’m asking you, not him.”

Tony hesitated.

For just a heartbeat, he let himself imagine a future without Bucky Barnes in it. One where Steve came home unsuccessful in his search, but was somehow perfectly content. Tony didn’t have to see the man who killed his mother over breakfast every morning or share popcorn with him during movie nights. Steve was happy and, most importantly, still madly in love with Tony.

It was good. Maybe even great. 

But it was a fantasy, and Tony knew it would never be real.

Bucky was looking at the ground. He shifted on his feet.

“You’re sure about this?” He met Tony’s gaze and raised an eyebrow skeptically. Tony recognized something light, something that looked a lot like hope rising unwelcome but unstoppable in Barnes’ eyes.

Wonder what it’s like to think you might be able to stop running after all this time. It all but made the decision for him. Tony wasn’t going to be the person who left him without a safe place to go.

“Positive,” Tony said. He turned and pulled open the door into the tower. He held it open for Barnes. He’d made his decision, and now all Tony wanted to do was move forward. “Now, come on. I’ll introduce you to JARVIS, and you two can get acquainted while I call Steve.”

“The tower is empty,” Barnes said, sounding uncertain suddenly. The tension that had eased out of Barnes’ shoulders ever so slightly was back in full-force.

“Yes, sorry. JARVIS isn’t a person, he’s artificial intelligence. Basically, a smart computer that helps me run the tower and keep everyone inside it safe.”

“I feel obliged to inform you both that I resent being called a ‘smart computer,’ sir,” JARVIS said.

Barnes froze in the entryway.

“Sorry, J. So that’s JARVIS,” Tony said, brightly. He thought pushing forward past Barnes’ inevitable elderly-super-soldier weariness was his best bet. It’s what he’d done with Steve. “He’ll answer any questions you have about the tower, the people inside it, and the people with access to it. Got that, J? Let’s give Sergeant Barnes here full Avenger access to the tower and your records. Exercise temporary discretion for records on Romanoff, Bruce, and Barton until they tell you otherwise.”

Tony didn’t want to violate anyone’s trust by giving a professional assassin access to their files. He also knew there was next to no information on Thor that couldn’t be accessed by the general public, so there was no point censoring Thor’s files.

“You’re going to call Steve?”

“Yeah,” Tony said. “Want me to pass along a message?”

Barnes opened his mouth like he was going to say something but stayed silent. He pressed his lips together tightly and shook his head.

“You sure? Even after I charter them a private plane it’ll be several hours before they’re here.”

“I’m sure,” Barnes said. “But uh. Thanks.”

“Sure thing,” Tony said. “Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back.”

He took the stairs down to the workshop two at a time.

Chapter Text

“Steve,” Tony said into the phone fifteen minutes later, more than a little breathless. He was actually surprised he’d managed to get Steve on the line in less than half an hour.

“Tony?” Steve said, question in his voice. “Is everything okay? Your message said urgent.”

“He’s here, Steve. Bucky’s here. You can come home now.”

“What?” Steve fell silent for a few seconds. “Tony, are you okay?”

“Yes, yes I’m good. Everything’s fine. But there’s no point in you being in Ukraine because Bucky is here.”

“He’s there? As in, there with you right now?”

“Well not exactly. I’m down in the lab and he’s upstairs. But yes, he’s in the tower.”

“By choice?”

“The only people in the world who were looking to bring him here are thousands of miles away, so I don’t exactly think he was strong-armed into showing up.” Tony could understand Steve’s skepticism, he really could. But he also just wanted Steve to trust him and start coming home. He knew the frustration seeping into his voice was unfair, but there still wasn’t anything he could do to stop it.

“And he’s just… there? What’s he doing?”

“I can’t see through walls, Steve.” Tony winced again at his tone. He sighed and tried again. “But yeah. He’s here. He’s… JARVIS?”

“Sergeant Barnes is currently sitting at the kitchen counter.”

“There,” Tony said, decisively. Part of him wanted to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. “He’s sitting at the kitchen counter.”

Steve was silent, but Tony thought he could picture how he looked hearing this now. He’d have that crease between his eyebrows that meant he was thinking far too hard, and he’d be too tense for Tony’s liking. But Tony thought there’d be hope in his eyes, too. Not unlike the hope Tony thought he’d seen in Bucky’s eyes earlier.

“I’ve got a plane on standby,” Tony said after letting Steve process for a minute. “I just need to know when you and Sam can be at the nearest airport. And which airport is the nearest airport. Where are you?”

“Uh…” There was a muffled sound in the background, like someone was shuffling through papers. Tony wanted to cry; he’d uploaded all the newest and cutting-edge navigation and GPS systems to Sam and Steve’s secure travel communicators, and now auditory evidence suggested they were still using paper maps. Well, that’s what he got for falling in love with a 95 year old. “Sam says the closest airport is Odessa.”

“Perfect. Can you be there in about an hour?”

“Yes, we’ll be there.”

In the background, Tony heard Sam say something that sounded like, “And apparently we’ll be breaking every speed limit between here and there, too.”

Tony felt a little bad for Sam, who was no-doubt about to be subjected to Steve’s favorite kind of reckless driving, but he was also selfishly pleased. The sooner Steve and Sam got to the plane, the sooner they got home.

“Good. I’m having JARVIS send over more instructions about where to meet your plane and pilot, so let me know if that message doesn’t come through.”

“Okay,” Steve said. He sounded like he was still solidly stuck in the shock phase of this conversation. Tony supposed that was to be expected when the man he thought he’d been chasing through Eastern Europe was, in fact, sitting in Steve’s living room.

“He remembers you, Steve.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. My plan is to go upstairs and convince him to tell me all kinds of embarrassing stories about you.”

That startled a laugh from Steve. Mission accomplished, Tony thought with a smile.

“God, please don’t.”

“Oh, honey. You don’t get a say. Maybe if you were here. Maybe. But you’re not. So it’s fair game.”

Steve chuckled again and then sighed.

“You really think he’s going to remember anything embarrassing?” His voice sounded impossibly small in a way Tony hadn’t heard before. But hopeful, too.

“Yeah,” Tony said, keeping his voice soft. “I do. He’s… I mean, I didn’t know him before, but he seems like himself. Or at least like the Bucky you told me about.”

“Really?”

“Really,” Tony said. “But — and again I can’t really stress this enough — I only met the man twenty minutes ago. At any rate, he’s here waiting for you. And so am I. So get moving, Rogers.”

“I’m moving,” Steve said. Tony actually thought he heard movement on the other end of the line to corroborate Steve’s claims. That was improvement. “I’m coming home, sweetheart.” This time, Tony could hear his smile.

“Damn right you are.”

“I love you, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. I love you too.” Tony heard a car starting. “Let me know when you’re on the plane,” Tony said.

“Of course.”

“Fly safe.”

“Are you sure you’re safe?”

“Yeah, Steve. I’m good. He’s not going to hurt anyone. I’ll see you soon.”

“See you soon,” Steve said and hung up.


Time moved slower after Steve and Sam were on the plane. Tony knew that wasn’t possible, of course, but it didn’t stop it from seeming true as he and Bucky waited for Steve’s return.

When Tony came up from the workshop he’d overheard Bucky talking to JARVIS. Unexpected, but likely a good sign. He paused, hovering in the stairwell, to listen.

“Barnes is fine.” JARVIS must have been asking how he preferred to be addressed. “Unless you call people by first names. Then you should just call me Bucky.”

Tony thought about entering the kitchen but decided to hang back for a moment to let them chat.

“Noted, Sergeant Barnes.”

“Don’t think Sergeant really applies anymore on account of the war crimes,” Bucky said, his tone twisting into something angry and bitter. Tony couldn’t really blame him.

“That is still your title in my system and U.S. Army records,” JARVIS said. “You could bring it up with Master Stark if it bothers you. But he personally helped select all Avengers’ titles himself.”

Thanks for ratting on me, J.

“I’m not an Avenger.”

“And yet, you have Avengers clearance.”

“I didn’t ask for that.”

“That’s just best practice. No one who has asked for Avenger-level access has ever been given it.”

“You’re awfully sassy for a supercomputer,” Bucky said. “I take it you have Stark to thank for that?”

“That’s 100 percent correct,” Tony said, walking back into the kitchen with what he hoped would be read as ease. “Glad to see you two cozying up to each other. Is there anything I can do for you that JARVIS couldn’t?”

“No. I’m fine.”

“How’s your arm?”

“Because it’s you, I’m going to assume you mean the metal one. And it’s fine.”

“Good assumption. Okay, then. How about food? Are you hungry? Steve can eat twelve times a day and still be hungry whenever I ask, so if you have even a fraction of his metabolism I’m guessing you could go for some food.”

“No, thank you.”

“Something to drink? Water?” Tony thought about the things he’d craved when he was trapped in that cave in Afghanistan and about the things he’d wanted as soon as he got home. Water had been at the top of the list, but there were plenty of other things, too. “Cold beer? Something stronger?”

“No, thank you.”

Okay… Maybe he wanted space? Some time to himself?

“You want to see your room, then?” Tony tried, finally.

“What?”

“Do you want to see your room? Or, well. I don’t know, maybe you’d call it sleeping quarters? A room with a bed, closet. There’s a bathroom. I know even super-soldiers-turned-unwilling-assassins still need to sleep, shower, and use the toilet from time to time.”

“I don’t understand.” To Barnes’ credit, he looked entirely perplexed.

His blue eyes were narrowed as he looked at Tony with clear skepticism. A deep furrow appeared between his eyebrows in a way that — surprisingly or unsurprisingly — reminded Tony of Steve. The two didn’t really look anything alike, but it was almost as if their confusion and distress etched itself into their facial expressions in the same way. As Tony watched, Bucky worked his jaw nervously.

“Steve’s been off looking for you for about two months,” Tony said. “I’ve had some free time on my hands. And for the past two years or so, I’ve been…” collecting people who need homes is what he would have said if Barnes knew him better. “Housing Avengers and company,” he settled on finally. “You’re important to Steve, which means you’re special. So, you know. You have a room.”

Barnes stared at him in silence for such a long time that Tony actually started to get uncomfortable. But he waited it out stubbornly. He knew if he cracked first they weren’t ever going to make any progress at all.

“You… made me a room?”

“It wasn’t hard.” Tony shrugged. “And it isn’t much. I basically just reworked Steve’s room into something for you. I didn’t know much of anything about what you might like, so it’s pretty neutral. You can spruce it up however you want. Make it your own, that kind of thing. I don’t care, it’s not like we need the space.”

Tony wanted to add that because it was Steve’s old room, it meant Bucky could be safe in the knowledge that he’d be sleeping right across the hall from Steve, who now slept in Tony’s room. But he didn’t.

First, because he wasn’t sure how much Bucky really understood about the nature of his and Steve’s relationship. It was entirely possible Bucky knew they were in love, like live-and-sleep-together-in-the-same-room-every-night in love — He loves you, Bucky had said — but Tony didn’t feel the need to inform him otherwise if he thought they were just close work friends. Or something.

Second, Tony wasn’t really sure he expected Steve to come home and fall back into their old routines like everything was the same. So maybe Steve wouldn’t be sleeping across the hall with Tony at all.

Bucky was back now. Tony knew he and Steve had always lived together before the war. Maybe Steve would think that staying with Bucky would help him adjust. Or maybe Steve would just want to stay with his best friend after so long apart.

It sounded absolutely ridiculous in his head, but Tony couldn’t deny that an incredibly irritating and vocal part of his brain insisted that he shouldn’t be selfish. Steve wasn’t his.

Except, he was. Sort of. It was very complicated, and none of it needed to be explained.

“Besides, they’re not going to be home for about twelve hours or so,” Tony finished finally. “You could take a hot shower, change into more comfortable clothes.” Bucky was only wearing a simple black t-shirt — Tony suspected that choice had been deliberate, to show he was “unarmed” despite the very evident metal arm — but he was also in heavy-looking dark-wash jeans. In June. “You might as well be comfortable while you wait. Your closet’s half-full of stuff that should fit if you didn’t bring anything.”

Tony somehow doubted that the black backpack Bucky had over his shoulders and securely strapped in front of his chest contained anything as mundane as clothing, but maybe Tony was wrong. He still wasn’t saying anything, though.

“Look, I get that you’re probably not loving the idea of trusting some guy you just met. I’m not exactly thrilled about the situation either. This would be much easier for everyone involved if you’d waited until Steve was home. Or come back with him. Or something.” Bucky opened his mouth to protest, and Tony held up his hand to quiet him. “I’m not saying I don’t understand why you did it. And I’m not saying I’m not grateful. I am.

“But I’m not going to kill you. Or hurt you. I don’t know how to make you believe that. So short of us staying in this room staring at each other for the next twelve hours — ”

“I believe you,” Bucky interrupted. “I’m just…” Bucky’s eyes darted around the large Avengers kitchen and swept over the empty living room. “I’m not great with unfamiliar places.” He wasn’t looking at Tony when he said it, but there was something painfully vulnerable in his voice. It made him sound much, much younger.

He didn’t like unfamiliar places. Okay. Tony could work with that.

“JARVIS, bring up the Avengers floor blueprints on the TV, would you?”

“Of course, sir.”

The blueprints appeared immediately. Tony tipped his chin toward the TV.

“That’s the layout.” It excluded the names of bedroom owners because JARVIS was a genius and understood that if Natasha’s file wasn’t Barnes’ to access, her bedroom absolutely wasn’t his to know about either. “And let’s highlight Barnes’ room. Perfect.”

Bucky took two steps closer to the TV and scanned the blueprints intensely. Tony thought that was a good sign.

“If you have any questions about the room — ”

“How many points of entry?”

“Two doors, two windows. One door into the hallway and one onto the balcony we just came from. Bathroom window is small, the one in the bedroom is larger. They’re double-paned with bulletproof glass, but feel free to board them up or hire someone to reinforce them with steel if that’s more your style,” Tony said, entirely serious even as he phrased the words like a joke. “You don’t even have to worry about Clint scurrying through the vents. I made sure none of the residential rooms had air ducts large enough for him to fit himself into.”

“What?”

“Doesn’t matter. Never mind. You’re right next to the elevator, which means if your hearing is anything like Steve’s you’re going to be the first to know whenever someone arrives or leaves. You’ve also got balcony access, so you’ll hear anyone who tries to enter using your preferred method. Speaking of, at some point you’re going to have to tell me how the hell you — ”

“No.”

“Fine, fine. Someday. You just wait, I’ll get it out of you.”

“There’s a staircase across the hall,” Bucky said, ignoring Tony entirely. “Where does it go?”

“Lower level. Also Avengers-only access. My workshop and Bruce’s lab. It’s the only entrance. Elevator doesn’t stop there.” Bucky raised his eyebrows in question. “I’m weird about people being in my space, and Bruce doesn’t like surprises either.”

“And JARVIS?”

“JARVIS is… optional,” Tony said even though that was a terrible way to describe it. “He can be as present or as absent as you’d like him to be. It’s your space. There’s a light switch by the door that takes your entire room off JARVIS’ mainframe.” It didn’t feel prudent to say that he’d installed that feature as a way to tease Steve and nothing more; JARVIS’ dutiful surveillance could be turned off in any room using simple voice commands, and Steve had learned that well before the switch had been provided. “You can either use that or just activate a privacy protocol. Then it’ll be like your room doesn’t even exist, at least to him and the tower systems.

“Doesn’t really make the room any less secure, physically. But it does mean no one’s monitoring your vitals around-the-clock, calling for help if you’re trapped in a flashback, or letting anyone know if you fall and break your arm in the shower.

“Oh, and there’s even a mini fridge in your room.”

“Why?”

“I told you, it’s modeled after Steve’s.” — it was Steve’s, but no matter — “He eats a lot. Just made more sense not to make him trek out to the kitchen every time he got hungry. There’s some water in there, some non-perishable snacks.”

Tony couldn’t really remember what he’d stocked the fridge with. JARVIS would know.

“I can wait out here while you check it out if you want,” Tony offered. “Or I could show you. Hell, you can pull out your weapon of choice and do a sweep of the room, or the whole floor if you want to.” Bucky’s eyes snapped from the blueprints he was no-doubt memorizing to Tony’s face. His expression went from open shock to tense disapproval and weariness.

“I can tell you’re practically twitching without one, and there’s really no one here but me. Besides, if you wanted to kill me, there are much quicker ways than waiting until I offer you a place to stay and show you the blueprints of my home.” Tony raised an eyebrow at Bucky. “Like throwing that knife in your waistband at me a solid twenty minutes ago, for example.”

Bucky glared at him.

Yeah, maybe Tony was showing off a little. So sue him. He waited a heartbeat. Then two. Then twelve.

“So?” Tony asked, growing a bit impatient. “What are you thinking, here?”

Bucky looked at him evenly for another second before he finally moved. He unclipped the backpack and swung it off his right shoulder and around to the front of his body. After unzipping the bag carefully, he pulled out a small handgun, checked to confirm it was loaded, and slipped his finger down near the trigger all without taking his eyes off Tony. When Tony didn’t duck for cover or do anything beyond watch curiously, the corner of Bucky’s mouth twitched up in a smile.

“You’re kind of a crazy bastard, you know that Stark?”

Tony smiled. Bucky zipped his backpack and slipped it back over his shoulders, gun still in hand.

“Believe it or not, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that. And please, call me Tony.”

Bucky snorted a little.

“You got this?” Tony asked, nodding toward Bucky’s room down the hall.

“Yeah. But if I’m calling you Tony, you gotta start calling me Bucky.”

“If I must,” Tony said, sighing as if it was going to be a challenge. It was, a little bit. “Seriously, I’m sorry but that’s not a grown man’s name.” Bucky just rolled his eyes. “Now, if you need me I’ll be down in the workshop. Or you can always ask JARVIS to pass along a message.

“Try not to break anything, but don’t worry too much if you do. I once had to replace Steve’s bedroom door because he came home a little heated after a mission and crushed the doorknob and part of the frame to bits, so.” Tony shrugged.

Turning and walking back downstairs was much easier than Tony expected it would be. It probably said something negative about him that he didn’t feel the least bit threatened by having an armed assassin he barely knew standing in his living room.

But it’s more or less the same way his friendship with Natasha started.

Chapter Text

The driver Tony had sent to collect them at the airport slowed the car to a stop in the parking garage beneath the tower, and it took everything Steve had not to sprint from the vehicle before the tires had stopped rolling.

The minute the car was in park, Sam put his hand on Steve’s shoulder and squeezed.

“Go on, man,” Sam said, nodding his chin toward the elevators that would take Steve up to the Avengers communal floor. “I’ll get the bags and thank the driver. I’ll be right behind you. Go see your boys.”

On any other day, Steve might have protested. At the moment, though, his internal monologue was essentially a repetitive loop of Tony and Bucky are here, so Steve didn’t think twice. He just moved.

“JARVIS,” Steve said as the elevator doors slid closed. “Please let Tony know I’m here.”

“Already taken care of, Captain Rogers.” If Steve wasn’t mistaken, the AI seemed pleased with him. “I’m sure I will not be the last to say this, but it’s a pleasure to welcome you home, Captain.”

“Thank you, JARVIS. It’s unbelievably good to be home.”

The elevator doors opened, and the first thing Steve saw was the framed version of that photo Steve loved so much from the album Clint had given him for his birthday last year. It was the one where he, Natasha, and Tony had all been caught in the middle of full-body laughter over something Clint or Bruce had said. In the picture, Bruce was smirking a little, but Clint was glaring at everyone — which meant they were probably laughing at him.

Steve had talked about how much he loved that photo enough that one day he’d come home from his run and found a 24x30 print of the image — much larger and yet higher-quality, somehow — matted, framed, and displayed proudly on the wall. It had only taken Steve ten minutes to get Tony to admit he’d been the one behind it. Steve loved it.

He loved how it made the tower feel more like home for all of them, and he especially loved knowing that Tony had taken the time to do something like that for him. It was a reminder of how much Tony loved him, and Steve got to see it every time he came home.

Today was no different.

He stepped off the elevator and registered sounds in the kitchen.

“Tony?” Steve called quietly, already making his way toward the noise.

“In here!” Tony said, his excitement easily heard in his voice.

Tony’s back was to Steve when he reached the kitchen. It looked like Tony was fiddling with the coffee maker.

“I took the liberty of starting some coffee,” Tony said by way of explanation as he turned around to face Steve. He was clearly tired — there were dark shadows under his eyes — but still smiling.

He was wearing one of Steve’s t-shirts, which was too big on him, and Steve could see the outline of his dog tags around Tony’s neck, too. God, Steve had missed him fiercely.

Tony, completely unaware of Steve’s line of thinking, continued talking without much pause at all. “I figure we’re all going to need it desperately, considering it’s 3 a.m. and I don’t see sleep in our near futures. Also, I gave our newest house guest a twenty-minute warning, so he should be coming around any second now.”

And that, for whatever reason, was as long as Steve was able to hold off. Whatever remnants of restraint he’d cobbled together that had enabled him to leave Tony the first time two months ago and then again a couple days after Tony’s birthday dissolved entirely.

“Steve…?” Tony frowned a little now, nervous and unsure. Steve wasn’t going to let that continue. “Is everything oka— ”

Steve rarely used his enhanced speed when he wasn’t on the battlefield, but apparently this was the exception. Before Tony could even finish his question, Steve had both hands cupped around the back of Tony’s neck, as he simultaneously pulled Tony closer and used his thumbs to tip Tony’s chin up just enough that their lips would meet at the perfect angle.

Tony’s words faltered, and for a heartbeat he stayed stiff, lips unmoving against Steve’s. Abruptly and all at once, though, Tony caught up to Steve. He moved his right hand to the back of Steve’s head, his fingers tangling in Steve’s slightly-too-long hair, and he gripped the back of Steve’s neck tightly with his left hand.

Steve made a sound that was almost a moan mixed with some sort of low, vaguely possessive growl and he felt Tony shiver against him.

They kissed for some indeterminate amount of time before Steve decided it still wasn’t enough; he needed more. Steve broke the kiss and went for Tony’s neck, dragging his teeth lightly against Tony’s skin. He was breathing heavily but trying to get control enough to speak.

“I have missed you,” Steve finally whispered against Tony’s skin. He slid his hands down Tony’s body, moving them from his neck to his back to his ass, and squeezed just enough that he was sure Tony noticed. “So much,” Steve finished, capturing Tony’s mouth in another deep kiss. Steve bent his knees just a little and slipped his hands to the back of Tony’s thighs, hoping that Tony was on the same page as him.

As if he could read Steve’s mind, Tony wound both arms around Steve’s neck tightly and then allowed Steve to lift him up so it was easy and comfortable to wrap his legs around Steve’s waist.

Steve wasn’t sure if he should be surprised that he and Tony were still in sync after months apart or unsurprised because they’d spent so many months together prior to that, but either way, Steve didn’t really care. Tony was right here with him.

Steve lifted Tony up onto the counter easily, almost too easily — he’d either forgotten how much Tony weighed (unlikely) or the other man hadn’t been eating regular meals in Steve’s absence the way he’d promised he would (far more likely) — and stepped closer.

Tony had a hand in Steve’s hair again, tugging lightly. It took everything Steve had not to melt under Tony’s touch. He wanted skin to skin contact. To satisfy that need, Steve tugged up the hem of Tony’s battered t-shirt and ran his fingers up Tony’s back greedily. Tony pulled away from the kiss and pressed his forehead against Steve’s.

“Steve,” Tony said, his voice much rougher than it had been minutes earlier when he was casually discussing coffee. “I’m not complaining, but I’m also not sure this is the best time.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Steve agreed, and pulled Tony back in.

Tony laughed against his lips and didn’t try to move away again.

“If this is how you’re greeting him after a couple months I’m a little worried about how you’re gonna want to greet me after seventy-somethin’ years,” a familiar voice drawled from several feet away.

Steve froze in Tony’s arms, and Tony broke away from the kiss to press his face into Steve’s neck as he laughed quietly at Bucky’s comment.

“Don’t tease him,” Tony said, raising his head to look at Bucky over Steve’s shoulder. “You’ve been gone. It isn’t fair.” Steve remained very still in Tony’s arms. Tony sighed and pulled back, trying to look Steve in the eye. Steve felt lost, and he imagined he looked lost as well. “Now look what you’ve done. He’s broken.”

Steve wanted to protest that, but his mouth — infuriatingly — felt like it was glued shut for some reason.

“His brain was functioning enough to get you into a compromising position,” Bucky said, pointedly. “I’m sure he’ll recover.”

Steve felt Tony’s legs drop from where they’d been wrapped around Steve’s waist. Steve figured that was probably because Bucky had given Tony a look.

That was good. Steve knew that was good because that meant Bucky was back but, more importantly, Bucky’s personality was back too. And that was… amazing.

But it also didn’t make any sense.

“Steve? Honey?” Tony placed his hand gently on Steve’s cheek. His hand was rough and warm just like Steve remembered. God, Steve had missed Tony’s hands. “Come on, sweetheart. Come back to me. I know this is a lot, but it’s all good stuff. I’ve seen you process aliens, robot armies, and the return of fucking HYDRA faster than you’re processing your best friend’s triumphant return.”

Triumphant?” Bucky said behind him, and Steve knew he wasn’t prepared for whatever snarky thing he’d say next. “You’re absolutely dreaming, Stark, if you think anything about me dragging my majorly fucked up ass to this god-awful, ostentatious-as-hell tower can be called ‘triumphant’ in any way.”

“Hey!” Steve said — or more like squeaked, really, no matter how embarrassing that fact was — and he whipped around to glare at Bucky as the general feeling of being overwhelmed faded slightly. “You are not majorly fucked up.”

Bucky gave him a self-deprecating little half-smile. “I really am, pal.” He looked Steve up and down, and Steve fought the urge to blush and squirm under his friend’s gaze. “Being in love looks good on you, Steve.”

Steve wanted to be serious, but he suspected Bucky said what he did to prevent exactly that. Steve couldn’t help blushing at Bucky’s comment, and Tony wasn’t exactly helping matters. Quite the opposite, in fact. Tony used the hand that he’d dropped from Steve’s face when he’d spun around to look at Bucky to pull Steve back by his shoulder just enough that he was able to plant a smacking kiss on Steve’s cheek.

“It does, doesn’t it?” Tony said, smug as ever. Steve rolled his eyes.

“Thanks,” Steve finally managed, still blushing bright red. He had not expected this sort of tag-teamed attempt to embarrass the hell out of him. Maybe he should have. He tried to push past it. “You look good too, Buck.” Bucky raised an eyebrow, skeptically. “Or better, at least,” Steve said with a scowl. “Than the last time I saw you.”

Bucky snorted, but there wasn’t really any humor in it. “Yeah. That’s fair.”

Steve took a step closer to where Bucky was standing by the fridge, and Tony let him go. He didn’t really know what he wanted, but evidently being closer to Bucky was part of it.   

“Do you…” Steve paused. He knew what Tony had said on the phone, but he still wanted to hear it from Bucky himself. “You remember me?”

“Yeah, Steve, I do.” Bucky gave Steve a minute to process that, which was considerate of him considering his next words. “And I remember getting punched a few times defending you against assholes who claimed you liked men more than was considered acceptable at the time,” Bucky said, a teasing lilt to his voice. “Don’t ever remember you telling me they were right, though.” His eyes held a challenge, and for the first time in his life Steve wasn’t sure he wanted to rise to it.

Steve shuffled a little, and scratched at the back of his neck nervously. Yeah, he definitely hadn’t thought any of this home coming through at all. He hadn’t even paused once to consider that, really, Bucky had no way of knowing that he was into men. Or specifically into Tony, even.

Steve stared at Bucky carefully, looking for anything that might give him a clue where his friend’s head was at. But Bucky just looked… playful. The way he always looked when he teased Steve.

“Yeah. Sorry,” Steve said, shrugging. “Wasn’t really relevant at the time, but obviously…” Tony must have hopped off the counter behind Steve at some point because he was standing beside him now. Steve reached over and took Tony’s hand in his. Tony squeezed his hand lightly, just enough to say I’m here. “Obviously they were right.”

Bucky smiled. “You could’ve told me, you know. I still would’ve defended you,” Bucky said as if it were the simplest thing in the world.

Maybe it was.

“I know,” Steve said, knowing full well he sounded — and probably looked — like the short, ninety-five pound punk he used to be as he smiled just a little at the tiled kitchen floor. “You were always trying to fight my battles for me — ”

“You got into more ‘battles’ than anyone your size had any right to.”

“ — even when I was perfectly capable of handling things — ”

“ — Perfectly capable my ass, Rogers! You’d be dead five times over if I hadn’t been around when we were growing up.”

“ — on my own,” Steve finished. For just a second, he managed to keep the stubborn look on his face, but it quickly slipped into a cautious smile. “You’re probably right,” Steve admitted.

“Wow, Steve Rogers admitting I single-handedly kept him alive for twenty years,” Bucky said, smirking. “Someone record this.”

“Would you like visual as well as audio, Sergeant Barnes?” JARVIS asked, startling everyone in the kitchen, even those used to experiencing AI-interruptions to general tower banter.

Bucky froze for a moment then barked a laugh.

“Oh, I absolutely want video,” Bucky said, his grin wicked now.

Steve huffed and rolled his eyes. But again, his frustration melted away almost as quickly as he mustered it up.

Steve stepped forward again, his hand slipping from Tony’s as he decreased the distance between him and Bucky once more.

“I, uh,” Steve started and stopped. “Y-you can say no, if you want, Buck. But if you think it’d be alright, I’d really like to give you a hug.”

Bucky’s smile shifted from well-intentioned-evil-genius to genuine and a little sad. “I’d like  that,” he said, holding his right arm up and motioning Steve forward slightly.

Steve moved — too fast, he knew, but Bucky was a super soldier now too, so maybe it was okay — and pulled Bucky close in a hug that was almost definitely too tight. Steve thought about loosening the arms he had wrapped around Bucky’s shoulders, but realized Bucky was holding him just as tight, if not tighter.

He was close enough to hear the steady beat of Bucky’s heart now, and that was almost as reassuring as knowing Tony was standing a few feet behind them, safe and sound.

We’re going to be okay, Steve thought, and for the first time in a while, he knew it was the absolute truth.